With the holidays right around the corner, everyone has gift-giving on the brain. Most will hit the mall or shop online for more traditional gifts, but some of you may be considering giving someone on your list a pet. Or if your family dynamic has recently changed due to situations such as separation, divorce, children moving out, etc., you may be considering getting a pet for yourself.
The idea of giving a pet as a gift has a certain appeal to it. Studies have shown having a pet has all sorts of benefits, both mentally and physically. Who wouldn’t want to do that for someone they love or as an unconditional source of companionship? While the “gifter” always has good intentions, there can be unplanned consequences for the “giftee.”
There are so many factors to consider when considering get a pet for you and/or your family or getting a pet for someone who doesn’t live with you. It is a much more complicated issue than we are able to delve into here. In general, it’s best to let that person get a pet when he/she is ready or to be sure that you are ready. For this article, we’ll focus on parents that are considering giving their children a pet for Christmas, but these questions are also helpful in deciding to get a pet for yourself.
This year, before you decide to give someone a furry, feathered, or scaly 10-year commitment, consider these questions. If you don’t know the answers, now is probably not the best time for a new addition.
- What type of pet is best? Not every pet is right for every family. Do you have the time needed each day to exercise and train a dog? Cats can be less maintenance, but kittens scratch and climb, and a cat probably won’t play with the kids the way a dog might. Reptiles don’t need walks around the neighborhood, but they do have specific dietary and other needs. Some birds can live 30 years or more. Take the time to learn about the different pets and determine which is right for your situation.
- Are you financially prepared for everything the pet will need? An adoption fee is often negligible to the cost of supplies and medical bills. All pets need yearly checkups at a minimum. Many need vaccinations, spay/neuter surgery, and preventative medicines. You’ll also need to budget for food, toys and other supplies like a specific type of bed (bird cage, dog crate, rabbit enclosure, etc.).
- Who will be responsible for its care? Children mean well, and a child who wants a puppy will promise six ways to Sunday he/she will walk the dog, pick up the yard, and clean up the house so the puppy doesn’t chew on anything. The fact of the matter is that children are just that – children – and cannot be expected to be solely responsible for a pet. Chores can of course include caring for the new pet, but any parent knows kids don’t always do what they’re told. Parents must accept they will need to make sure the dog is properly cared for.
Let’s assume you’ve thought through these questions and determined you are ready for a puppy. No one at home is allergic to or afraid of dogs. You are financially prepared for yearly medical care, and you’ve accepted that you will be doing most of the work, not the kids. Congratulations! You’ve taken a big step! The last thing left to consider is timing. We already know pets are wonderful, so the kids will be happy whenever the pup arrives. Are the holidays the best time to bring home your new addition? Consider the following and then make your decision:
- Are you having family over or traveling to see family? Christmas and other holidays are traditionally a time when families make a point to reconnect. Being in a new home will be stressful for a new puppy. Adding additional people into the mix also adds to the hustle and bustle, making everything that much more stressful for your new pup. If you are traveling somewhere, it can be confusing for the pup to get used to his new home and then go somewhere else so soon, whether that means traveling with you to see the family or being boarded while you’re away.
- What if your pet gets sick? It’s important to remember that a puppy’s immune system takes time to develop and won’t receive all necessary immunizations until they’re several months old. Because of this, they are susceptible to almost everything when they’re little. Because of the stress that comes with going to a new home, intestinal parasites, viruses, and upper respiratory infections are all very possible after a puppy comes home. Will you be able to provide what your puppy needs if he gets sick during the holidays?
- There are other ways to make a pet’s arrival memorable. The SPCA offers adoption gift certificates, so you can pay for the adoption fee, but the intended owner can pick out the pet that works for them. Have “Santa” write a note saying he couldn’t keep a rowdy puppy in the sleigh all night, but the family should go pick one out together. He could even leave a few dog toys under the tree!
- For the animal lover that just isn’t in a position to have a pet just now, consider donating to a rescue in his/her name. Visit the SPCA Tribute Shop (http://spcawake.org/shop/) for festive ways to make a difference in the form of calendars and sponsorship packages.
The companionship of a pet can be wonderful, filled with unconditional love and a form of therapy. However, all of the cuddles, tail wags and wet kisses come with a great deal of responsibility. So if you’re thinking about getting a pet as gift or for yourself, be sure to seriously consider the obligation and make sure it’s a good fit.
Writing and Design Specialist
SPCA of Wake County