By Crissy Neville
A pretty new puppy or cuddly kitten under the Christmas tree may sound like the perfect Christmas present for that someone special. However, unlike most gifts, furry friends are not so easy to return or exchange after the holidays are over if your gift idea is not the right fit.
It is a huge misconception that pets make great Christmas gifts, according to Melissa Longo, shelter manager at the Fayetteville Animal Protection Society (FAPS).
“When potential adopters come in and say they are looking for a pet for gift giving, big red flags go up for me,” she said. “I explain that pet adoption is a decision all the family members must make and agree on in advance so there really shouldn’t be any Christmas morning surprises.”
At FAPS, all family members are required to come in and meet the dogs or cats they are interested in as part of the adoption application process. Any pets currently living in the home are also required to be brought into FAPS to interact with the potential new pet to ensure compatibility. If these and other criteria for adoption are met then the pet owners and new pet can be united within two to three days.
“We try not to deter potential adopters but we do want to educate them on the commitments of pet ownership,” Longo said. “Adopters have to be aware of the responsibility required. The new animal is not a new toy to be abandoned after Christmas if they find it not to be so much fun anymore.”
Other local animal adoption agencies, such as the Cumberland County Animal Control Department and Tilted Acres Rescue and Adoption (TARA), have different policies but it makes sense that all family members are in agreement with the addition of a new pet. If all parties involved are on board and the new animal is wanted, then a new pet can make a good holiday gift. It is all about being educated about pet ownership and commitment to the cause, according to Longo.
“We ask potential adopters to think through the entire process before making the decision to adopt,” she explained. “They need to think about the responsibility, the costs, the time commitment, the ages of family members, upcoming moves or deployments, and during the holidays, they must also consider how chaotic it can be with traveling and finances. Christmas may not be the best time to add a family member to this mix.”
Karen Richardson, director of TARA, suggests giving gift certificates for future pet adoptions along with a picture of a potential pet.
“That way, they can look for a pet after the holiday rush is over and will have some funds to help with the adoption fee or other necessities,” she said.
The American Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends giving pets only to people who have expressed a sustained interest in owning one and who have the ability to care for the animal responsibly. They also encourage potential adopters to obtain pets from animal shelters, rescue organizations, friends, family or responsible breeders, not from places where the source of the animal is unknown or untrusted. Finally, the ASPCA wants you to consider that if the recipient is under age 12, the parents or guardians of the child should be ready to assume care for the animal.
While sources say that giving a pet as a gift may sometimes be amiss, there are situations in which it can be spot on. Here are some tips to consider before purchasing that new companion:
- Always ask first. It is not a good idea to give a pet as a surprise gift. Your widowed mother may not want a playful puppy to keep her company but she may enjoy a low-maintenance cat. Inquire before purchasing.
- Make sure the recipient can care for the pet properly. This includes giving the new pet shelter, buying its food, keeping it clean and healthy through immunizations and vet visits, and spending time with it.
- Avoid impulsive decisions. This is a decision the whole family must be included in on and it is not a choice to make on a whim, so choose your pet wisely.
- Do your homework – check out the specific needs and habits of the different breeds and species. Your intended recipient may have a particular breed they really want.
- Know what your responsibilities are including licensing, vaccination and leash laws.
- Do not expect your pet to be perfect as there will be accidents. Your pet may require a lot or a little time to train. Be patient and work with your pet to correct any bad habits.
Because of the high number of animals that are surrendered to animal shelters or even abandoned after the holidays, as well as all year long, it is important to consider these words to the wise. If the holiday season now seems to be off the table for pet adoption, then consider other times of the year.
How else can you help if not through adoption? You can foster an animal in your home through animal rescues such as TARA, Second Chance Ranch, Three Sisters and a Brother, or Abandoned Love, all of which sponsor fostering and adoption options. Fostering can also help you to see if a particular pet is right for you.
During the holidays, FAPS erects a “Giving Tree” with gift ideas as tree decorations. They deck the halls with ornaments allowing you to donate toward an animal’s adoption fees, gift toys, treats or supplies or to donate volunteer time if you are 16 or older.
Pick an ornament and help make a difference. Volunteer. Adopt if you are able and gift a pet if you find the situation right.
Longo reminds us of why it is important to remember our furry friends through all these means.
“There are always homeless pets,” she said. “Not just at Christmas.”