Saturday, December 10, 2011

Things to consider before gifting a pet during this holiday season

By Ines de Pablo
Ahh...the season of giving! Why not add a pup to the human pack? Please take the following suggestions into consideration before slapping a red bow on a puppy then stuffed it into a box and hope no one notices until Christmas morning – hint…not our or the puppy’s preferred method to join a pack! Don’t believe me? Read a Dog’s Plea.
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. 
We strongly discourage parents from giving pups and/or kittens to their children as impulse holiday gifts. While some children can help with some age-appropriate responsibilities, pets require adult caretakers. Here are some facts about pet adoption and living with children:
- As the adult you will be in charge of training both the animal and the child to be safe around each other. 
- Reasoning with toddlers and puppies is a colossal waste of time and oxygen.
- Most dogs brought to shelters are surrendered because of the animal’s lack of training leading to “ bad behavior”. 
- Since animals became pets living inside our homes and with improved preventative and emergency veterinary care a dog’s lifespan ranges from 8 to 18 years depending on size, breeding, training and overall health care. Cats can live well into their 20s. 
- Even the brightest youngsters typically don't have the strength, attention span, self-discipline and physical strength to care for a dog or cat. Time will get the child’s attention redirected to friends, school, social activities and eventually dating and planning for college before you even know it…and your pet is still very much alive and wagging. Still yours to care for.
- Unlike with other holiday presents, owners cannot just replace or remove batteries or put the animal away in storage when life gets busier after school starts again…oh yeah, puppies do pee on things they are not supposed to. 
- Too many pets that were given as gifts get ignored, or surrendered to shelters, once the excitement of the holiday is over and the realization of the responsibility involved sinks in. 
- Most pets you adopt, especially the younger ones may not be trained…like at anything. Are we really ready for that and how will we handle the first incident. 
- What Dogs Need: Training, Time, Exercise, Food, Water, Shelter, Health Care, Grooming, some more Training, Love, Respect, Leadership, some more Training, definitely more exercise and for you to care enough to keep doing this for the next 15 or so years.

We have all met that great responsible youngster – your kid, right? -that promises to take care of the pet FOREVER AND EVER, but let’s face it, they are not lying, they just cannot predict the future. Neither can we, however since we – the adults – have been around a bit longer we have to recognize that change is the only constant in life. Based on experience I can assert that in a great majority of cases, parents becomes the primary caretaker, doing the feeding, walks, litter scooping and all of the other chores. One of the greatest errors parents make is treating the animal as if she were the property of any one person. The “Jack wanted a dog, he promised to take care of it and so he will” mindset meant to remind Jack that the animal is his “property” in most cases accomplishes nothing more than setting the stage for family conflict to determine who is going to feed or clean up after the animal. This sends kids the message that caring for companion animals is a burden, rather than a privilege. This is wrong for the child and especially the animal. Both look up to you, the adult, for leadership and responsibility.

Great ideas need to sound good in your mind and out loud! Discuss the matter with your spouse and other family members. Listen to their input. Balance out the pros and cons. Then make a decision.

Furthermore, animals are not toys and giving a pet just to entertain a child sends the wrong message to the child. Animals are living breathing creatures who require substantial time, daily care, food, obedience training, vet bills and occasional pet sitters or kennels. Children get bored with gifts, and it's heartbreaking when families grow tired of the growing dog. Studies show that too often the gift puppy is given up within the first year, starved for training, socialization and affection. Regardless of what parents tell children and neighbors, the reality is that too many wonderful dogs go un-adopted at shelters.

So as you walk by that pet store, consider the following:
- Pets should not be an impulse purchase. You can’t just turn the puppy off when it whines too much, takes a number 1 on your new iPad, chews the cables of your new Xbox, chews or swallows those toys your kids had also been asking for, etc.
- Most of us are just too preoccupied with the festivities to take on the responsibility of a new pet.
- What will you do with the animal when you travel? Will you be traveling with the pet or boarding it somewhere? How long will you be gone for? Do you have any idea how much boarding cost? Can you afford it? Find out before you get the animal home. 
- Should the Puppy phase fade out and you decide that the family cannot take care of the animal – generally happens in gifting situation within the first year following the adoption – that cute, irresistible pet will probably end up at a shelter. An important fact about local shelters is that there are only so few public shelters for so many animals, most of which are filled to capacity. That means that unless other animals are adopted out to make room for the new ones, euthanasia is the most plausible ending to an already sad tale.

And ask yourself 
- Is the entire household ready for this?
- Why do we want a pet for the holidays?
- What do pets need? How can I provide it?
- How much time can we spend, starting the moment we get home to train and care for both child and puppy?
- Is this an “impulse want” or a “well thought out” want?

Refrain from Giving an “Unexpected Living Gift” because
- A person should be able to choose his or her own pet companion.
- Never give a cat or a dog to replace one that just died without their request. Some people need time to mourn their loss before they can welcome a new animal into their lives. When that person expresses the interest, discuss the next adoption with them first. They might not want the same breed or may prefer a certain age group.
- Unlike sweaters or socks, they aren’t as easily returnable if the fit isn’t just right. The new owner must be ready to make a commitment for the animal's entire lifetime and be prepared to accept the responsibilities that come with their new family member.
- You can't be sure that the recipient wants to take on the responsibility of a pet, including providing medical care for the next 10 to 20 years.
- It could backfire and cause heartache all around, especially for the animal involved.
- If you are gifting a pet to a person that has never had one, there are many factors to consider including the person or family's financial situation (can they afford veterinary care and dog food costs?), their living situation (is the home/building pet-friendly?), and their lifestyle (do they have time to invest in proper training, exercise, and attention?). Also consider that the adoption fee is a financial drop in the bucket compared to the lifetime cost of caring for another being. Food, litter, toys and other supplies quickly add up making a pet the gift that keeps on costing. And that’s if they are healthy and don’t need any medical attention. A sick pet can put a huge dent in a wallet in no time. In this economic climate, giving someone a gift with a potentially huge price tag is simply not fair.

Still considering adding a pet to your family? Here are some alternatives we invite you to consider this holiday season:
- Visit a local shelter or breeder or go on their website and find out what it takes to adopt, what breed or breed mix would be best for you and why; why they don’t recommend adopting during the holidays; what support and references they can provide once you adopt a pet and get an idea of what it will cost to care for the animal (veterinarian costs, food, fun, training, travel, boarding, etc).
- If your child is old enough to volunteer at a local shelter, sign him/her up for a couple of months. The child will learn something about compassion, responsibility, how to behave around animals, etc. If he/she still wants one of its own you will at least know that the desire is well-informed. That does not by any means get you – the parent – off the hook in terms of responsibility, however your child will have demonstrated that he/she is as ready as he/she will ever be.
- Give the Promise of a Pet Instead for those kids that have persistently been asking for a pet. For example, add a pet collar, toy or dog training book under the tree. You can also enclose a gift certificate or card from a shelter promising a pet for after the holidays so the family unit can go and visit a shelter or breeder together
- If you don't plan on giving an animal as a gift, you can still help the animals by donating food and toys to your local shelter.
- You could also donate money to pay for a neuter or spay for an animal at a shelter or for a pet owned by someone having financial difficulties. You might also make a donation in a name of a favorite animal lover. 
- You can also foster rescue animals with your local shelter. Fostering is temporary –unless you decide to adopt – and helps an animal in need get some loving and wagging during the holidays. That also gives you time to assess if this is the right breed or time for your family to adopt.
- Give your child a stuffed dog instead.

My parents gave me about 20 stuffed dogs throughout the 13 years I pleaded for the real thing. Waiting was by far the best decision they made for all of us. Got my first dog at the age of 13 and my first unplanned dog at the age of 26. My first dog lived a happy 17 years ... and ended up dognapped by my parents when I moved to the make sure I study hard...bla bla bla....which led to my second dog adoption when I was 26. The Gypster is still very much Wag'N now that she is almost 9 years old. My college years were filled with kitty love.No regrets. Many Wags!

So Wag Responsibly This Holiday Season!

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