Think twice before giving pets as gifts


My wife and I adopted our first pet while still in college. Herman, a tabby cat, lived for almost 20 years.

When we moved to West Virginia, Linda visited an animal shelter and came home with Jenny, a two-year-old lab/spaniel mutt. It was a sad day when we put her down 15 years later.

Daisy, our beloved yellow lab, gave us 10 wonderful years. And we put down Pip, a terrier/Chihuahua mix, almost exactly a year ago just a month shy of his 19th birthday.

Major commitment

My point is that owning a pet is a major commitment. Dogs and cats become members of the family, and many live at least 10 years. They require daily attention and affection. Travel plans and vacations must include provisions for their care.

So, if you think a puppy or a kitten might be a perfect Christmas gift for a child, parent, or friend, think again. Young animals especially need a lot of attention while adjusting to a new home. Puppies and kittens must be fed multiple times each day. House-training must begin immediately, and it takes time.


Is the winter holiday season really the best time to take on this responsibility? Who’s going to get up in the middle of the night when the puppy has to pee? Who’s going to clean up the inevitable messes? Is it realistic to expect a child to assume these responsibilities?

Puppies and kittens need time and attention to adjust to new surroundings. The chaos associated with holidays isn’t conducive to welcoming a pet into the family. Chances are the animal will be ignored amid a flurry of gifts and family activities. And a playful puppy or kitten is likely to get into trouble if left unattended.

Another problem is that the rich foods that abound during the holidays might seem to be great treats for a new pet, but fatty and sweet treats can easily make a puppy or kitten sick. And anyone who’s ever raised a dog or cat knows how curious they are. Puppies, in particular, love to chew, and electrical wires, tinsel, glass ornaments, and poisonous plants can all spell disaster.

A lot of new pet problems can be avoided by getting an older dog or cat that is already housebroken. Adult adoptees crave attention and seem to appreciate a loving new home more than puppies and kittens.

Preparation is key

Finally, getting a pet should be a process filled with anticipation and preparation. We searched for weeks before we found Daisy. Emma wanted a yellow lab, and she researched the breed thoroughly. When we finally got that dog, Emma was giddy with excitement. I’ll never forget the smile on Emma’s face as she cuddled Daisy all the way home that day.

New pet advice

These are all reasons to defer getting a new family pet to another time of year. If, however, you decide to take the plunge, here’s some advice.

Be sure the gift recipient wants a pet. In the case of a child, get parental approval. If you’re the parent, understand that many of the pet care responsibilities may fall to you – for years to come.

In the case of an older adult, ask if a pet would be welcome. Some seniors value their freedom and might not want to be saddled with the responsibility of caring for a pet.

Then there’s the question of where to get a dog or cat. I recommend visiting a local animal shelter, humane society, or no-kill shelter. They usually have plenty of healthy animals to adopt. Our Pip came from a no-kill shelter, and he was a perfect fit.

And don’t rush the process. Make several visits over a few weeks. And make sure the pet’s caretaker goes along to choose the pet. Choosing a pet is more complicated than it may seem. It’s a decision that will impact the entire family for years. So, don’t take it lightly.

For best results, spring or summer might be better times to find that perfect addition to the family.

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