With the holiday season in full swing, it can be tempting to surprise a loved one with the gift of a Christmas Kitty or a Hanukkah Hound. While the sight of a puppy under the Christmas tree may be adorable, there are many things to consider before giving the gift of a sentient being that will live roughly fifteen years. At the risk of raining on the holiday parade, here are just a few things to bear in mind.
The intended recipient may not want a pet
Many folks will gush profusely over other people’s pets, yet lack the desire or the ability to keep a pet of their own. Pet ownership requires time, energy and financial commitment. If your loved one cannot provide a suitable environment for a pet, or simply does not want to do so, it is not appropriate to give them one as a gift. Do not assume they will change their mind or make adjustments when they see that cuddly kitten in their Christmas stocking. If they tell you they do not want a pet, please respect their wishes.
Kids may not truly understand the responsibilities involved with pet ownership
Children tire of new things quickly, and younger kids may be frightened of a nipping puppy or a kitten’s sharp claws. They may not have had enough exposure to animals for you to assess whether or not they are ready to live with one. Sadly, too many parents learn their children are allergic to pet hair or dander after adding a pet to the family.
While bringing home a pet is a great opportunity to teach kids responsibility, many parents are unprepared for the worst case scenario of having to care for the pet themselves if the kids lose interest in the new addition.
Now might not be the best time
Let’s face it - the holidays are hectic. It may not be the best time to do an honest lifestyle assessment, nor to help a new pet acclimate. New pets come with new rules, especially for children. And the chaotic holiday season isn’t the time for rolling out a new set of expectations. I always recommend adding a pet to the family either before or after the holiday hustle and bustle.
Puppies and kittens are a lot of work
While puppies and kittens are adorable, they can try the patience of a saint. This is especially true of puppies. They cry throughout the night. They need to be potty trained. They must be properly socialized, and are constantly learning. They chew, they jump, they make mistakes. And just when you think the puppy nonsense is over, they morph into rebellious adolescents.
Our young Zohan was an easy puppy, but his adolescence was a nightmare. Raising him from eight weeks was rewarding and fun, and was he ever cute! But make no mistake - it was a lot of work. Ask yourself if you have the patience for a puppy, and be honest.
Pet stores are eager for your holiday dollars
Pet stores, particularly puppy stores, are keenly aware of the temptation to give pets as presents. They know exactly how to mix cuteness and holiday cheer into a concoction that neutralizes any semblance of impulse control. Unfortunately, puppies purchased from pet stores are more likely to suffer from both behavioral and medical problems.
Our little Grendel is a four-time rescue whose original owner bought her from a low cost, high volume puppy store. While we love her dearly, her medical record is a litany of congenital problems that never should have been passed to another generation.
Such stores are often breeding grounds for highly contagious, and potentially deadly diseases such as parvovirus, distemper and canine influenza. Those puppies in the window were probably purchased from a puppy mill or puppy farm.
Such operations are notorious for prematurely separating puppies from their mothers, and forcing puppies to spend those vital first weeks in conditions linked to permanent psychological damage. Whatever the time of year, please contact the American Kennel Club for tips on finding a reputable breeder before visiting a puppy store or pet store.
It’s a lot to think about - and that’s the point! Every January our shelters are inundated with discarded holiday “gifts”. Every pet deserves a forever home, not just a home for the holidays.
Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic.
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