By Dr. Becker
I'm wearing my Scrooge hat again, I'm afraid.
As a general rule, I'm not a fan of giving pets as holiday gifts.
This is because in most cases (not all, but most) the act is driven not by thoughtful planning but by impulse.
Gifting a family member or friend with a 10- to 20-year commitment to a live animal is not something one should do on impulse.
It's rare for people to plan well in advance to acquire a pet during the holidays.
It's much more common for people who have planned well to add a pet to the family at virtually any other time of the year.
If you subtract Christmas week from the rest of the year, you still have 358 days to bring a new furry loved one into your home and heart.
Chances are, if you visit your local shelter in late January or February, you'll have your pick of pets who've already worn out their welcome as Christmas gifts.
It happens every single year.
If that's not enough incentive, here are a few more things to consider.
My Top 5 Reasons 'Tis NOT the Season to Bring Home a New Pet
- Reason #1: The holidays are crazy enough.
The holiday season is often very busy for families. In addition to the usual hectic daily routine of school, work and other activities, end-of-year festivities mean even more demands on your time and energy.
Extra shopping, cooking and cleaning chores are usually involved, plus trimming the tree, decorating the house, gift wrapping, parties, overnight guests, trips away from home to visit family and friends, and so forth.
With all that going on, the last thing most households need is a new puppy or kitten to add to the commotion and stress. Nor does a new four-legged member of the family deserve to be introduced to a brand new, slightly scary environment in the midst of chaos.
A new pet requires a great deal of time and attention from his new family. It's in everyone's best interests to wait for a less busy, exciting time of year to bring home a new dog, cat or other pet.
- Reason #2: The weather outside is frightful.
Puppies and many adult dogs must be house trained upon arrival in their new home. The short days and cold, wet weather around the holidays and into the new year are far from ideal for this chore. Why not wait for the warmth of spring if you're planning to add a pet to the family?
Another good reason to wait for warmer weather is so children are out of school for the summer. Without school and related activities to distract them, they'll have time to bond with a new pet, help with house and obedience training chores, feeding, litter box duty, accident clean-ups, playtime, dog walking, etc.
- Reason #3: Pets should not be surprises.
Surprising a loved one with a puppy or kitten on Christmas morning is a romantic but usually misguided idea.
Yes, the recipient may be extremely excited and happy with a new puppy or kitten, but unless the 'surprise' has actually been well researched and thoroughly planned for, it can be a risky thing to do. It's hard to resist a warm, furry little bundle under the tree on Christmas morning. But unless the new pet parent is wholly committed to the idea of raising a puppy or kitten, the bloom can come off the rose in a hurry.
In my experience, it's best to let a prospective pet owner, no matter what age, be very engaged every step of the way in selecting a new pet and preparing in advance for the homecoming.
- Reason #4: A pet for a child shouldn't be viewed as a new toy.
A living creature shouldn't be considered the same kind of 'wow' Christmas gift as, say, a new bike or the latest Xbox console.
Caring for a dog or cat is a big responsibility and far different from getting a new toy that is taken out, played with, and put away again. It's important to impress upon a child the difference between her belongings and her pet, from the very first minute a new dog or cat enters her life.
Even if your youngster is pleading for a pet and you think he or she is old enough to take on the responsibility, I recommend you keep the 'pet project' separate from the holiday festivities.
Adding a dog or cat to the household is a big undertaking all on its own, so my advice is to plan for it accordingly, and not around the holidays.
- Reason #5: Pet stores, backyard breeders, puppy mills.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, certain disreputable individuals and businesses are bursting at the seams with all the latest popular puppy models. Most of these babies are shipped in from puppy mills. Some are healthy. Many are not. All are bred and born in inhumane, often filthy conditions.
Every time a dog is purchased from an irresponsible breeder or mill operator, it is incentive for those businesses to stay up and running. So while you may give a puppy mill baby a good home for Christmas, her mother remains back at the mill, having litter after litter until she's too sick or old to reproduce -- at which point she's disposed of.
Since some shelters and rescue organizations shut down adoptions this time of year to prevent problems associated with giving pets as Christmas gifts, there is a greater tendency by people who would ordinarily adopt to go the pet store or backyard breeder route. Please don't be one of them. Wait until the holidays are over and visit your local shelter or rescue organization.