The Washington Times-Herald

December 17, 2011

Pets and holidays are not always a good combination.

By Andrea McCann
Washington Times-Herald

WASHINGTON — If you’re tempted to give a pet as a gift, my advice is: STOP!! Don’t do it unless you’re a parent giving it to your own child and the family has discussed it previously and planned for it.

Consider how hectic your holiday schedule will be; bringing a new pet into an unfamiliar environment filled with lots of sights and sounds and crazed relatives could be a recipe for disaster. It sometimes can be a challenge to acclimate a new pet to the household without the additional distractions. They need attention and consistency to ensure proper training and to make them comfortable and secure in their new home. If your holiday schedule will  include trips to visit friends and family, attending events, participating in activities, hosting parties and guests in your home ... it’s probably a good idea to wait for a less frenzied time to introduce a pet to your household.

Pets need a lot of care, especially new pets. You need to monitor a puppy almost constantly so you notice when it needs to go outside to potty and so you can teach it to stay away from things that might harm it — toxic plants or a hot oven, for example. Holiday decorations can be dangerous to pets, as well. Mistletoe is poisonous to them. And tinsel or curling ribbon are sooo very fun to play with, but ingested can get balled up or tangled in the intestinal tract, forcing an upsetting and expensive holiday trip to the vet’s office.

As exciting as it might be to surprise someone with a fuzzy puppy or kitten, keep in mind there are related costs to owning a pet. Can you handle a vet check, vaccines, deworming, food, treats, bowls, litter pan, bed, collar, leash, toys, grooming, and whatever else the pet may need if you get one for your child? A child won’t know how to train a pet; are you willing to do it?

A pet is a long-term commitment; will your child take on the responsibility of learning to care for it? Dogs need walked. Bowls need cleaned. Animals need fed daily. They need to be groomed and played with and loved. If you get a pet for another relative or a friend, can they afford its care and maintenance? Will they have the time for it?

Another consideration is pet selection. If, by chance, you gift a pet that’s not exactly what the recipient wants or can take care of, that animal will more than likely end up at a shelter. An active dog breed, for instance, is not a good choice for a sedentary person. A cat may be the preferable choice for someone with a busy schedule, as cats don’t need to be walked and exercised like dogs and can generally take care of themselves a little better. So I highly recommend researching breeds and their characteristics before selecting a pet — for yourself or someone else.

Perhaps a better solution for a pet-related Christmas surprise is to give the recipient some of the things s/he’ll need to care for a pet. You could get a dog bed and put bowls, a collar and leash in it; or fill a litter box with cat toys, a collar and treats. The animal itself, then, can be picked up after the holidays when schedules are back to normal. Another option might be a book on selecting or training a pet, or one on the gift recipient’s breed of choice.

If you do decide to gift a pet, I cannot emphasize enough the quality of pets found at a shelter. Many times, purebred dogs and cats find their way into a shelter, but mixed-breed animals are happy to have someone to love and care for them, too. In fact, shelter dogs can be very devoted and loving. Because they’ve often led a tough life, it sometimes takes a while for them to develop a trusting relationship. But once they do, you’ll never have a more loyal friend.

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Andrea is the proud bestie of a shelter dog named Gypsy, who gives her unconditional love and after four years will finally sleep with her — until Andrea rolls over. Andrea can be contacted at amccann@washtimesherald.com.