By Tracie Korol
Punctuating the back-to-back Christmas TV movies and holiday specials are the heartfelt appeals by various celebrities to “pleasepleaseplease” adopt an animal for Christmas. Every commercial is loaded with heart-tugging film of sad-eyed pets behind bars, little paws against chain link. I can’t watch them.
Christmas IS the season for giving, but it’s not the season to gift anyone with a pet. Sure, puppies look cute in the beribboned basket under the tree. The kids squealing in paroxysms of delight is worthy of a YouTube viral video. However, a living creature should never be gifted because they require a commitment from the owner (the giftee) that surpasses the longevity of anything one could purchase at a big box store. We’re looking at a 15-year, time-money-space intensive commitment following a split-second exclamation of “let’s get her a puppy!”
Sure, owning a pet is one of the most rewarding things life can offer and it’s the start of a friendship that will last for years. But pets also come with serious responsibilities and a commitment to their health and happiness. Consider this: Is the giftee ready for the responsibility of pet ownership? If the answers end up being no, are you prepared to take on full responsibility yourself? Has the giftee expressed a clear desire for a new pet? If you’re not sure, don’t even think about it.
The highest incidence of pet abandonment arises from animals given as gifts. Manoj Oswal, head of People For Animals, says, “When we receive complaints of animal cruelty, 85% of the time, the pet will have been received as a gift. In such cases, the owner is not really an animal lover, but finds that abandoning the pet is morally wrong and will hurt the sentiments of the person who presented the pet.” In such a case, the owner doesn’t devote his time to care for the pet and simply ties it up and gives it meals but deprives it of any human companionship.
Here’s an idea: Take the time this holiday season to have a serious discussion, or even a series of discussions, concerning your family’s thoughts about adding a four-legged member to your pack. Consider the ages of all family members — are they too young for a pet or are they too old? Who will be responsible for the day-to-day maintenance, who will be responsible for exercise and play and who will be responsible for the less fun occasions — the heaps in the yard or the hair all over the couch. What is the “style” of your family? Is your family high energy, on the go all the time? Do you even have time for a pet? See, it’s not a spur of the moment decision.
Should your family decide that they are ready to get a pet, make Christmas the time for preparation. Make your gifts for your dog-to-be useful, practical and fun. Leash, collar, chew toys, grooming gear, Nature’s Miracle, food and water bowls, a gift certificate for a new puppy exam from your favorite vet, and perhaps a chic dog sweater are good pre-presents. Create a file with all the info you’ll need to keep for the pet. Get a crate. Give each other these gifts because a pet is a family present. As family members unwrap the various pieces of the “puzzle”, their delight and anticipation will grow. This will increase the family’s mutual commitment to, and investment in, the well being of the newest family member. It will be a project the family has done together which is a wonderful way for any adoption to begin.
Then, when the drama and chaos of the holidays has morphed into the chilly doldrums of January and February, THEN visit the local shelters and shelters in neighboring communities to find your new Best Friend. A dog with a good introduction to its adoptive family is much more likely to become a long-term companion rather than another tragic holiday mistake.
Note: This article is a follow-up to a conversation I recently had with an extremely helpful and well-informed Beaufort County Shelter representative (and inveterate dog lover). Thanks, Jan, for the reminder.