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Pets as Christmas Gifts?

Steve Jurvetson [Flickr]

A few weeks after Christmas every year, pets who were surprise gifts end up in animal shelters, already in need of another new home.  It's traumatic enough for an animal to be in a shelter the first time, but doubly so to end up there again so soon.  If you want a new pet, make a commitment to take home a pet you love, and to love (for its lifetime) the pet you take home.


Recently I saw a posting on Facebook, a montage of videos of adults and children, each opening a box on Christmas to find a cute puppy or dog inside. They were surprised and happy – some even cried they were so overcome with emotion. You may be considering doing the same thing, surprising someone with a pet for Christmas.

But wait – holidays are a hectic time, and it may not be fair to ask a new pet to adjust to unfamiliar people and surroundings when so much is happening in the household. In addition, unless arrangements were made in advance for pet food and supplies (such as a pet bed, a crate, a collar and leash, a litter box) it could be difficult to shop for those things on Christmas Day.

Another reason why a pet might not make a good surprise Christmas gift for a child is that the animal will be competing against other fun presents like toys and gadgets. We expect a toy to be played with and later put away and maybe forgotten. That should never happen to an animal. It’s important that a young person understands the difference between a toy and a living, breathing pet that carries with it ongoing responsibility for love, attention and care.

A pet for Christmas is not necessarily a bad idea, but there are other ways to do it. Rather than giving a live animal, consider wrapping up a stuffed toy dog or cat. You might want to include a collar and leash and a few toys, or a harness, carrier and litter box. Add a note that explains you will go together to pick out your new pet after the holidays are over. You can spend time talking about what kind of pet you will get, and who will be responsible for helping to care for it. You might also include as part of the Christmas gift a book on taking care of your new furry friend. Then schedule a time when you can log in to to look at pictures of pets that need homes, to get an idea of what your ideal pet might look like.

Choosing the perfect furry companion for your household after the holidays can make every season to come happy and bright, when you’re speaking of pets.


Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.
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