“Surprising” someone with a gift of a darling little puppy or cute little kitten is protrayed in movies and television commercials as a wonderful holiday gift. This is such a wrong idea, from so many perspectives, not the least of which is the idea of a living, breathing, feeling BEING placed in a BOX underneath a CHRISTMAS TREE like a Battleship game or a pair of slippers.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has produced a video which highlights some of the considerations for those who may be moved to give a pet as a holiday gift. Please watch it, and if you know someone who may be thinking about doing the same thing, forward this link to them as well.

Humans really need to consider their relationship with their companion animals, and know that as the ‘smarter species’ that we have a responsibility to care for them and do what’s best for them, whether that is recognizing when a companion needs to see the vet, to knowing that a furry friend is getting a tad chunky and needs less food and more exercise. I feel the need to expand on the ASPCA’s video a bit, so bear with me again. And while I personally talk mainly about dogs, I feel the same way about all companion animals, whether we’re talking about dogs, cats, rabbits (which make astoundingly cool house pets who can be litter trained), birds (yes, even including Rick’s dad’s carnivorous Amazon Green parrot, Isaac)

1.) Animals are NOT inanimate objects, and they need to be regarded as living beings with potential lifespans of up to 20 years (or LONGER for some species). That’s a long time to live with an impulse gift. They’re members of your household, of your family, and when welcoming a new family member, the entire family must be aware of the animal’s needs, and must be willing to provide the animal with the necessary things to give it the best-quality life possible: Food, water, exercise, training, love and affection, grooming, spaying/neutering and veterinary care are the basics.

Other things to consider are whether your family’s lifestyle has room for a dog–is there someone home to spend time with the dog at least part of each day, or are you all so busy with work, school, sports, socializing, after-school classes and activities that the dog will be by itself all day, with no one to exercise it or keep it company? Dogs are pack animals, and what they want most is to be with their pack, whether that’s you and your family, or other dogs. They do NOT want to be tied outside in the backyard, alone, while everyone else runs their busy day-to-day routine and forgets about them.

AGAIN: We’re smarter than they are, we domesticated them for our purposes, therefore it is OUR RESPONSIBILITY to make sure that they are taken care of in the best way possible. So if you get a dog, you must make sure that you’re meeting all of its needs: Food and water, shelter (IN THE HOUSE WITH YOU, NOT IN A BOX OUT IN THE BACKYARD), exercise, training, health care, and socialization. If you can’t meet all of those needs, then you shouldn’t have a dog, regardless how much you may want one. Try going to Build-A-Bear in the mall instead.

2.) Are you really CERTAIN that your father/maiden auntie/cousin/daughter truly WANTS a dog? Again, pets require tremendous commitments of time, money, and attention. Maybe after retiring, Auntie Mabel really wanted to fulfill her dream of traveling the world, instead of becoming a mommy to a new puppy. And even though she enjoys loving up your Great Pyrenees pup when she comes to visit, she didn’t really want to have one of her own. Now she’s got to think about where to board her pup when she’s traveling, as well as pay to have the pup boarded, not to mention pay for veterinary expenses and grooming if she can’t handle bathing and brushing a 100-pound-plus dog. A gift of a living animal may be more of a burden than a loving gesture, if it’s not handled correctly.

3.) If you’ve done your research and found the pet that will enrich you and your family’s life, and you understand all the aspects of the animal’s care for which you’ll be responsible, then go ahead and adopt a pet. Just DON’T bring it home on Christmas Day! Think about what it would be like (from the animal’s standpoint) to introduce an animal into your household at the busiest, most chaotic time of the year. That’s so unfair to the animal, because they’re going to be confused and stressed as it is with their new home, let alone all the confusion of the season. The holidays are a time of socializing, shopping, charity work, and general activity that’s stressful to us, not to mention our animals. Add in irregular schedules and houseloads of strangers, and a new pet will have a hard time finding a place to fit in.

4.) Consider, too, whether you want to add to your holiday chore load with feeding and caring for a stranger in your household. Do you have the time to make sure that a shy new member of your household is eating well, and not having diarrhea all over your livingroom carpet? How would you feel about coming home from the kids’ Christmas pageant at school and discovering that no one remembered to put the new puppy in its crate and it had destroyed the sofa while you were gone? A hurried introduction into the household makes for a rough settling-in period for the dog, which can result in behavioral problems later on. To have the best possible experience for everyone involved, please wait until AFTER the holidays before you bring your new furry friend home. That way you’ll have the time and attention to get to know your new friend, to make them comfortable and communicate to them what you expect of them.

5.) And when you do decide to add someone fuzzy (or feathery, or scaly) to your household, PLEASE DON’T BUY THEM FROM A PET SHOP! Buying animals from a pet shop supports puppy-mill-type breeders, who are not concerned at all for their animals’ well-being. Puppy millers breed their dogs constantly, disregarding the animals’ health, and their sole concern is making money from selling the babies. This is animal ABUSE, and the animals do not deserve to be used and tossed aside when they’re too worn out or too ill to produce more babies.

Instead, find a rescue group that specializes in the breed in which you’re interested. You’ll be doing two things at once: You’ll be talking with a group of people who are experts in that particular breed, so you’ll get the best possible advice from them, and you’ll be offering a rescued animal a second chance at a happy home. You’ll be amazed when you find out how many rescue groups are out there, from horses to guinea pigs to dogs to snakes to…well, you get the picture.

If you want to keep things simple, visit your local animal shelter. Your local shelter is likely filled with great personalities searching for their forever home, so be a hero to one of them and adopt your new best friend. In 2007, the Young-Williams Animal Center in Knoxville, TN euthanized more than 12,000 animals in 2007. Maybe you can save one of those deserving little lives while you’re enriching your own

Having an animal in your household is a tremendous responsibility, and can be a huge commitment requiring lots of money and time. But the rewards that companion animals bring to us in love and affection far outweigh whatever costs they bring, and we owe them the best possible care for their unconditional friendship and devotion. Please consider their needs as well as your wants before blithely chucking them under the tree!

Comments are closed.