Your social media feed may be full of images of elated boys and girls getting their surprise new puppies this holiday season and you may be tempted to give the same presents to your loved ones. Growing up with a pet certainly makes children more empathetic and teaches them responsibility. But the first step is helping them make the choice on their own. There are also several factors involved in making the important decision of adding a new family member, whether you are thinking of gifting a kitten to your grieving grandma who just lost her cat or an adult dog to your active sibling who loves the outdoors.
Some say living gifts are a bad idea because it might result in pets being returned soon after the holidays. However, those in the rescue industry often consider the holiday season a blessing, as shelters are brimming with so many animals in need of loving homes. While public opinion is divided, it’s always a good idea to bring pets into your lives when everyone involved is ready for the commitment and the decision is made with great care.
To help you make pet gift-giving a successful and memorable experience this Christmas, we have put together some advice with help from experts in the pet industry.
Consider pet adoption
An estimated 6.5 million pets are currently in shelters across the United States, and they are eagerly waiting to find their forever homes. Best Friends Animal Society (BFAS), the largest no-kill animal organization in the country, encourages families to choose adoption over buying. This means that the money isn’t going towards inhumane puppy mills that churn out millions of dogs to supply pet stores and online retailers.
Additionally, a shelter animal doesn’t mean a troubled animal. In fact, s/he may have been bought as a puppy and given away through no fault of their own. And these pets come in all sizes and temperaments. So, you are more likely to find the right match for that special someone at a shelter than at a pet store. Besides, adoption fees are far less expensive and some shelters have promotional events with discounted rates during the holidays.
Kristen Hassen-Auerbach, director of Animal Services at Pima Animal Care Center in Arizona, said they look forward to the holidays. PACC holds several events and promotions to encourage people to adopt pets for themselves or as gifts. “It’s so rewarding to see people adopt pets as gifts for family members and friends and we love helping people pick out the perfect match for their loved one,” she explained.
Temma Martin, from BFAS, added, “Adopting is a good investment too. Adoption fees generally cover the pet’s spay/neuter surgery, health exam, vaccinations, microchip ID and sometimes other freebies, like food samples and treats to help support the adopter on their new path to pet parenthood.”
Don’t make it a surprise
When giving a pet as a gift, it’s imperative that all parties are on the same page. If the kids are pining for a new pet, but Mom is not onboard, it’s a problem. Make it a family affair; bring everyone to the shelter to meet potential pets before choosing the right one.
On the actual holiday, you can surprise the recipient with a gift certificate, or a gift box full of pet supplies. Ana Bustilloz, Director of Communications & Marketing at spcaLA, suggested giving a promise of a gift rather than an actual pet. “Create a gift box will all the things for an animal and then go get the animal together,” she said. At their three adoption centers, if you like a pet, they will hold it until the whole family, including other pets, are able to come meet him or her.
Martin said at BFAS, “we suggest purchasing an adoption gift certificate, rather than an actual pet, to allow the recipient to take their time and choose the animal that's the best fit for their family and lifestyle. To make the gift cuter and more substantial, you can fill a pet bed or basket with pet supplies, toys and treats to go along with the adoption certificate.”
Make a compatible match
Puppies are cute and cuddly, but they may not be the best choice for everyone. This is especially true for people who work 10-12 hours a day or already have enough on their plate. Similarly, a Siberian Husky might not be a good fit for someone who is home a lot. Consider the lifestyle of the intended recipient before selecting the right animal or, better yet, get their input and help them find the right pet.
Bustilloz said, “Think about activity level, grooming level and talk to the shelter people. They know the pets really well. We want to avoid an animal getting back to the shelter. We don’t want them ending up on Craigslist. Finding the right home for the right animal is key.”
While you might think you know what kind of pet to get, Bustilloz also recommended being open to possibilities. “Come with an open mind and an open heart. Some people might be thinking I want a dog who looks a certain way, but what they really want is a dog that can hang out with them on the couch or play outside. Look more into the pet’s personality rather than their looks.”
Additionally, check ahead to see if there are any restrictions that could prevent the recipient from keeping the animal. “Make sure the person doesn’t have any housing restrictions that could prevent them from keeping the pet you’re gifting. Having to give back your puppy because your apartment complex says no could be a real bummer,” said Hassen-Auerbach.
Make sure your other pets are happy
If you are already blessed with dogs and/or cats in your life, bring the potential pet over (if it’s from a local rescue) or take your pets to the shelter to see if they get along. Oftentimes, they will either hit it off right away or exhibit behavior indicating they can’t be friends. Your responsibility is towards the happiness of your current pets first.
And if, for some reason, the pets don’t get along once you are home or the animal is just not the right fit after taking all the right measures, consider bringing the animal back to the shelter. They will be taken care of until a more compatible match is found. Most shelters have a return policy. Hassen-Auerbach explained, “We’re always happy to take pets back if they aren’t the best fit for their new owner but, happily, we see no increase in the rate of adoption returns after the holidays; studies have shown pets given as gifts are no more likely to be returned than other adopted pets.”
There are inherent costs to pet ownership, whether it’s a kitten, a teen-aged or a senior pet. Before giving a pet as a gift to a family member, have money set aside for veterinary visits, insurance, food, supplies, pet sitting and dog boarding. After you’ve selected the right animal, and before bringing them home, visit a pet store to gather essentials to make this new family member feel comfortable and loved.
If you are giving the gift to someone outside of your family, find out if the person is prepared to provide for the duration of the pet’s life. You can extend the gift and offer to help with vet costs or pay for a year of pet insurance.
Schedule time to bond
One of the best things about the holidays is that you are home from work and the kids are off from school. Take advantage of this precious time to bond with your new pet by playing with them, taking walks and socializing them. If you are adopting, the animal has just come from a stressful environment and needs extra TLC. You being there for them and showing attention is the best gift you could give.
Martin shared, “When it comes time to bring home a new pet, few people will argue that adopted animals reward their people with a depth of love and loyalty that pets from other sources don’t seem to rival. They appear to appreciate that they were given a second chance, and they spend their lives repaying their families with years of unconditional love.”
Invest in training
Whether it’s a puppy or an adult, a dog needs basic obedience training. In some cases, training is needed to help the animal get over a fear of strangers, deal with separation anxiety or food aggression issues. While you could learn to train your dog by reading books or watching videos, it’s wise to invest in training to help your furry family member get a good start.
Lauren Jay, owner of Paw & Order: Canine Intent, has been a professional dog trainer in New York for five years and has helped new pet owners train their dogs adjust to life in a home. In her experience, she’s found that most people overlook how important it is to properly train their dog.
“Dogs need constant care, walks (in all four seasons), training, vet visits and pet sitters (should you wish to take a trip). Many people never realize how important it is to train any and every dog they bring into their home. Every dog, whether they are young or old, bought or rescued, previously trained in their old home or not, needs training in their new home.”
She recommended not to wait until the problem has already begun. “Train your dogs from the start so that they understand what’s expected of them from the beginning in order to avoid future problems.” A well-trained, well-behaved pet who is happily adjusted is indeed a wonderful present worth investing in.
So, go ahead and bring cheer to a grateful shelter pet this holiday season, and give yourself or a loved one the gift of unconditional love and companionship.
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