With the mail filled with holiday cards depicting kittens in Christmas stockings and puppies popping out of festively wrapped packages, a la Lady and the Tramp or a Kodak commercial, it’s little wonder that people seize on pets as the “perfect holiday gift” for their loved ones. But before you purchase a wiggling little bundle of fur, feathers, or fins, you should stop to consider if giving a pet as a holiday gift during the chaos of the holiday season is the ultimate gift—or if it will turn into a huge nightmare. Bringing a puppy or kitten into your Christmas party plans is usually unkind to the animal and almost always more difficult than expected for the family.
The acquisition of an animal companion should be thought out carefully. Unless you play an integral role in the family, you won’t know what kind of animal would fit in the best. A family meeting should be held so that all members can openly express their likes and dislikes regarding pets. In addition, discussing who will take on what chores ahead of time will make things easier in the long run.
Things to be discussed should include:
- Who is going to be responsible for the pet
- How much time can reasonably be spent with the pet (especially if it will need training)
- What type of pet is suitable for the lifestyle of the pet owners
- Whether the pet will need a lot of space, training, grooming, food, exercise, etc.
- What the average lifespan of the type of pet being considered generally is
Research on proper care and necessary equipment (and cost!) can be done at a local library or via the Internet. What may have initially sounded ideal—a parrot, for instance—may be scaled back to a bird such as a cockatiel, which is less expensive to maintain and less demanding to care for. Puppies and kittens are always adorable, but an older animal might be easier to incorporate into a busy household in which both adults work and do not have time for housebreaking the animal.
If these concerns have not dissuaded you, I might suggest that you rethink your timing. Introducing a new animal into a household during the tumultuous holiday season is frequently an invitation for trouble. Homes are bedecked with poisonous plants, lit candles, and fragile decorations, all of which are decidedly not pet-friendly. In addition, routines are often set aside in favor of rounds of parties, visiting relatives, and even vacations. Is there really time for housebreaking a new puppy or conducting the water tests to set up that new aquarium? In most households, the answer would be a resounding “no”—at least not at Christmastime, another reason to reconsider whether you should give a pet as a holiday gift.
However, if you truly have your heart set on sharing the gift of love and laughter a companion animal can provide this holiday season, be organized about it. A puppy or dog is not an impulse buy; it is a living creature. Children will be much better dog owners if they can be part of laying the groundwork for the new family member. A toddler needs to learn how to pet a dog without grabbing it. A child that is kindergarten-ready or older can be part of the decision-making process.
Be sure to discuss the idea beforehand with all adults who will be involved in its care and upkeep. If they agree that your gift would be welcome—and well cared for—wrap up a stand-in for the live animal in the form of a plush toy, or a specialized pet care book, attached to an IOU, to place under the tree. Once the holiday craziness is over, you can then escort the family to a shelter to select their new best friend. Do not buy a puppy from a breeder for Christmas. Most reputable breeders (those who really do care about the puppies and the breed’s good health and temperament) will not sell puppies for the Christmas market. Instead, as I mentioned for a shelter animal, give the PROMISE for Christmas. Inside that beautifully wrapped box, the child can find, what? How about a leash? A tag with the family’s phone number on it? A photo of a young puppy too young to leave its mom? Will the child’s Christmas be ruined because he didn’t open up a box where a living Lassie puppy jumps out at him? No way! You have given him a promise.
A child who is too young to wait another month or two should not be given this promise. Such a child should not be encouraged or promised unless you actually have a puppy or dog already chosen, one that you will bring home a few days after Christmas, when the family can focus on training the new puppy or dog. But if the child is old enough to wait, give the promise. Every couple of days or weeks (depending on how long you will be waiting), you can go shopping for dog supplies. Your new puppy or dog will need a crate, chew toys, dog food, and other things. If you can wait until February or March, your local animal shelter will be taking in many puppies and kittens that were abandoned Christmas gifts, and you may find the perfect friend in the form of a recycled young dog or cat.
Don’t worry about your child being disappointed. It is far better to wait for something you want and be in a good situation to care for it, than it is to have a big splash on Christmas morning and end up with nipped noses and puppy poo on the carpet, or a small kitten lost somewhere among the wrapping paper. Your child will be very happy with a promise. In fact, the new pet promise helps to extend the Christmas joy long past the season—which every child, and adult, will love.