Contributed by Elko Veterinary Clinic

People who give animals as gifts mean well, but their good intentions often misfire. Giving a pet as a gift is usually an ill-advised decision that can end tragically. Movies and TV have given people the idea that puppies and kittens make heartwarming holiday gifts for kids, spouses and other significant others. But the reality is more often heart-wrenching for most of these living, breathing “gifts”, not to mention the families who end up giving up the pets once they grow and require more time, attention, training and expenses than the families can or choose to give. Animals cannot speak for themselves, but you can be their voice – and convey the message that pets aren’t disposable; they need love and commitment their whole life.

Pets should never be an impulse purchase. Individuals and families thinking of getting a pet should research, prepare and then, when the time is right, seek a pet who realistically complements their lifestyle, schedule and energy level. Many people do not have the time, energy or money to care for a pet over the long term. A new owner may enjoy the animal for a few weeks, but then resent the gift once the novelty wears off, and the cute puppy starts growing into an active, needy, larger dog.

Also, discourage parents from giving pups and kittens to their children as gifts. While children can help with some age-appropriate responsibilities, pets require adult caretakers. Remember, even bright youngsters typically don’t have the strength, attention span, self-discipline and physical strength to care for a dog…or even a cat. Older children typically wind up redirecting their attention to friends, school, social activities and eventually dating and planning for college. Unlike with other holiday presents, owners cannot just pop in a fresh battery or put the pet away in the closet after the novelty wears off. In nearly all cases, one of the parents becomes the primary caretaker, doing the feeding, walks, litter scooping and all of the other chores the children once promised to do themselves. The decision to bring a dog into your family should be a family decision, not a surprise gift. Everyone, including the children, should educate themselves on different breeds of dogs and decide what breed or mixed breed would fit best into their lifestyle. An adult in the household will be responsible for this pet, not the children. The adult must be willing to accept this responsibility and be willing to care for this pet for the next 15 or so years, which may well be long after the children lose interest or leave the nest.

Pups between the ages of 7 to 14 months often wind up at shelters vet for euthanasia, because the owners did not train them, resulting in “behavior problems.” Even worse, some owners dump unwanted pets on the road or in the woods, where they cannot survive on their own, since dogs and cats are domesticated animals that depend on humans for care. Because owning a dog is a huge emotional, financial, and time commitment, any person taking on this responsibility must be fully prepared. Puppies need to be house-trained, watched and confined when they cannot be watched to prevent typical puppy chewing and pottying behavior that leads to destruction, accidents and even injuries. Before bringing a pet home, the prospective owners need to have pet care supplies, a crate, safe and sufficiently large place to exercise the pet, a chosen veterinarian ready.

Instead of buying that cute little puppy or kitten as a gift, give books on pet selection, training, care, health and diet, and individual breeds or a gift certificate to the shelter for adoption when they are ready. These presents are wonderful ways to introduce the joys of pet ownership and will help the family or individual decide on the right dog to bring home. It’s a decision that everyone in the household should make together – when they decide they are truly ready for a new lifetime companion and family member. This will benefit everyone – the gift giver, the family and the deserving animal. Please consider these 5 points if thinking about getting a pet this holiday season.

1. Animal abandonment skyrockets during the holidays.
While many shelters report an increase in adoptions leading up to the holiday season (whether due to people wanting to give the gift of an animal or just feeling more generous in spirit during this period), many more report an increase in abandonment in the weeks after. All over the world shelters are swamped with dogs and cats being returned by owners who weren’t fully prepared for raising an animal. Sadly, abandoned pets in shelters are often euthanized.

2. A person should connect with a pet.
There are numerous breeds of dogs and cats – each with different personality traits. That’s why it’s important for people to make a trip to the shelter or rescue organization themselves to make sure a pet will match their personality. Every animal looks cute when he’s young, but as he grows bigger he may bring on a whole new set of trials. Someone with a laid-back, indoor lifestyle should definitely not be given an exuberant Labrador retriever.

3. Pets are a huge financial responsibility.
Sure, you’ll spend a lot of time training and feeding your pet, but you’ll also spend a lot of money. That cute puppy who cost only $100 at the shelter is going to require a lot of additional expenses. The ASPCA estimates that the first-year cost of owning a cat or dog runs between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on size. That’s not even taking into account potential illnesses or training expenses. As they get older, the costs will only increase. All owners should be aware of the costs before making a commitment.

4. If you have a kid, your kid will do kid things.
It’s great to want to teach a child responsibility, but not at the expense of an animal’s welfare. In all likelihood, you’re going to be the one picking up after that pet, making sure he’s fed and driving him to the vet when he gets sick. Children love animals when they first meet them, but the honeymoon period tends to wear off fairly quickly. Is that short moment of bliss on your child’s face worth the stress on both humans and animal? A surprise pet means the recipient likely hasn’t had the time to think through the responsibility.

5. The holidays are a busy, stressful time for the most well-adjusted pet.
Raising a pet takes time, as does getting him situated into a new family. And the time between Christmas and the New Year often involves a lot of traveling and time away from home. Leaving a new puppy or kitten behind while you go visit the in-laws can cause undue stress and anxiety, leading to health problems and plenty of accidents on the carpet or claw marks on the couch. Remember, once Christmas is over, that new pet isn’t going to train himself, and he’ll still need attention when the last ornament is packed away. Pets can be a wonderful addition to a family. Just not when they’re gifted to an unsuspecting recipient.