Adding to the Family
Pets as presents: A Good Idea?
You've seen it in the movies - sweet little Suzy toddles down on Christmas morning to find her new puppy sitting patiently under the tree with a big red bow around his neck. Suzy squeals, runs to hug the puppy, who gives her a big lick on the cheek, and the two live happily ever after. While it would be great if such holiday surprises always worked out so well, that's often not the case. More frequently, 3-year-old Suzy, who is too young to know what caring for a pet really means, cries the first time Puppy bites her on the hand while the two are playing. Mom and Dad then pile him up in the car and drop him off at the local animal shelter along with the three to five million other dogs and cats returned to shelters each year. But according to American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) Senior Vice President Stephen Zawistowski, it doesn't have to go this way. With some forethought and a sincere commitment, pets can be a wonderful gift to give your family.
Are You Ready for a Pet?
Before you decide to surprise your family with a new pet for the holidays, take into consideration the following to determine if your family is ready to take on the responsibility of caring for a pet:
Planning the Surprise
OK, so you've thought it through, and you feel that everyone is ready and committed. Now what? It's probably not the best idea to have Fido or Socks waiting under the tree on Christmas morning - and of course, don't EVER wrap them up, as we've all seen done on TV a million times.
Belinda Clarke, a mom living in Evanston, Ill., decided to surprise her mom with a new cat on Thanksgiving. "She was slightly apprehensive at first, since it was sprung on her, but since we had had a cat before (which had died several months before), I knew she would love it," she says. "And she did - after about two minutes. Now both my parents absolutely love her."
While Clarke's holiday surprise did work out, many times the apprehension she describes doesn't go away. So rather than have to take Kitty back to the shelter or find her a new home, Wills recommends purchasing a gift certificate from the shelter to give to your loved one. (You can also give a Pet Promise Certificate.) That way you still keep the element of surprise, but in case it's unwanted, no animals are affected.
Another idea, according to Zawistowski - which may be more fun for kids - is to buy a stuffed dog or cat and have it sitting with the gifts. You can purchase some of the equipment for the pet like a carrier, leash or bed and have the stuffed animal all decked out in gear. Then you attach a note (or Pet Promise Certificate) saying everyone will go together to pick out their new pet after the holidays.
Bringing Home Your New Family Member
Before you go pick up your new pet, get your family involved in deciding what type, size and breed of animal you'd consider. Take a trip to the bookstore or library, and read up on which breed's characteristics might fit in best with your family.
Once you've got an idea what you're looking for, where should you go? An animal shelter. According to the ASPCA, each year millions of dogs enter shelters, yet of the approximately 59 million owned dogs in this country, less than 20 percent are shelter adoptees. By adopting at a shelter, you're giving a homeless pet a new chance at life.
But there are other great reasons for going to a shelter. The cost is low, and there are often discounts on spaying and neutering. "They're in the business to help animals have good homes, not to make money," says Zawistowski. They also have a good selection of pets and knowledgeable staff to make sure you're getting the right animal for your family.
Zawistowski also suggests logging on to PetFinder.com, either at home or at the library, which allows you to search more than 4000 different shelters by breed, location, size and more for animals up for adoption. The whole family can get involved, looking at pictures and profiles to find the perfect pet.
"You can turn this whole experience into an extraordinary experience for the kids," says Zawistowski. "It's fun to surprise, but it's as much fun to have kids be a part of the process."
When you've done it right, your child will likely end up with a longtime friend and companion. Says Zawistowski, "A child who can have a pet, it can be one of the most magnificent parts of their life."
Use the following guidelines when choosing pets for your children, as provided by the ASPCA:
Black Dog Syndrome
BDS is observed by shelters and rescue groups throughout America and affects black dogs, as well as cats. It is possible that there may simply be more black pets in the shelter and rescue population. However reports from across the country seem to illustrate the problem, and multiple national organizations have long recognized BDS as an issue that adversely affects the adoption rates of black pets.
What is Black Dog Syndrome?
In a recent survey, Petfinder member shelter and rescue groups reported that most pets are listed for 12.5 weeks on Petfinder, whereas, less- adoptable pets (such as black, senior, and special needs pets) spend almost four times as long on Petfinder.
What you can do?
Whether or not you're currently looking to adopt, you can do a lot to help pets who suffer from BDS!
Top 10 Reasons for Owner Relinquishment to shelters and rescues