Think Twice Before Adopting that Pet for Christmas
You don’t have to be a child to want that Hollywood moment of finding a puppy or kitten curled up underneath your christmas tree with a red ribbon around its neck and a tag bearing your name. Like a Hallmark movie child actor, you’d scoop up your little bundle of fur and have those first saccharine moments of love where you become best friends. Reality is--that kitten would probably be batting at tree branches and breakable ornaments while the puppy tears and chews at the paper of surrounding presents. The bond could be the same, magical relationship as seen in the movies--but there is a lot more to consider beyond that moment of movie magic. You could live happily ever after, lots of pets with their owners do--but let’s talk about the darker side of this common tale.
Down the road, Christmas puppies and kitties are guilty of nothing more than being themselves. They scratch up the furniture, bite a hand while playing too rough, or otherwise require a lot more care than previously anticipated (SHOCKER). The story then turns into mom and dad driving the now-unwanted animal back to the shelter with their fate undetermined as they are torn from what they might have felt was home. Now THAT’s a sad story.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t get that pet for Christmas, just please make an informed decision. Below is a series of questions to ask yourself before adopting a furball as a present.
If you have kids, how old are they? They might not be old enough to understand how to interact with a pet, or they might be too young to understand the responsibility of caring for one. Many children grow up with pets from the time they are babies, but the situation changes if the pet is an exclusive gift to the child, and depends on how much responsibility the parents are also willing to take on.
Does the suggested recipient really want a pet? Lots of children put puppy, kitty, or the classic PONY on their Christmas List. What might be the solution here is a stuffed animal. Many children do not think about playful, biting puppies or having to pick up poop out of a litterbox or yard. Sometimes plush is what they really want and should have.
Has the cost for the care of the animal been discussed? Adoption fees aside, animals require food which costs money, vet care, and other unknown expenses that can add up. Sometimes animals have allergies or a condition that suddenly requires medication or a specific food that can cost more. Occasionally, there are accidents where your pets will need to be taken into the Emergency Room. We of course want all our animals to be happy and healthy for a long time, but we have to remember that the unexpected can happen.
Are you committed? Cats and dogs [& even rabbits!] can live over a decade. It’s a short time for most of us, unfortunately, but if you’ve never owned either before, it can seem like a long time. If this is a concern, consider a hamster, gerbil, or fish. Although even those animals require and deserve care for a few years.
Are you educated? Did you read about owning the pet you are thinking of adopting? Do you know about their behaviors, breeds, diet, and required exercise? Consider doing some research online, in your library, in magazine articles, and talk to other pet owners you might know about caring for this kind of animal and their experiences.
Would everyone in your household be on board with adopting this animal? Is dad a little nervous about getting a pet but you haven’t talked him into it? Do you have an older cat that doesn’t like other animals very much and prefers to be the only pet? These are all very important things to consider. You want to avoid a toxic living situation for your new pet as well as yourselves as a family.
Are you trying to teach your child responsibility? This goes back to points brought up in 1 or 2. Trying to teach a child who might not be old enough or willing to care for an animal at the potential expense of the proper care the animal deserves is a disaster. If you’re willing to take on full responsibility for the animal in case your plan doesn’t work, great. Maybe they can learn with you and grow into it. Or, perhaps a goldfish or chores for earned allowance will suffice.
Do you have adequate housing to take in a pet? If you rent, are you allowed to have animals in your lease? If you're looking to adopt a bigger dog, do you have a fenced in yard? Make sure the space in which you live will work for the animal you are adopting.
Who will be the primary caretaker(s) of this animal? This goes back to number 7, but really, who will feed your furry friend, exercise it, discipline it, take care of it if it gets sick, clean up its poop?
Will you pet-proof/enhance your home? Animals can get into stuff, and you have to make sure your home is set up for their safety. In certain cases, you might even need to enhance your home to better their quality of life and let them be themselves. Don’t want your cat on the counters? Get it a cat tree.
Will you be home enough to take care of your pet? Animals can love unconditionally, and if you’re never going to be home they will get lonely and likely receive inadequate care. Pets deserve to be in homes where they will be loved as much as they love their family. If you want true companionship, pets are amazing for that.
What would happen to that animal if you were to move? As previously mentioned, pets like dogs and cats can live over a decade. If you move and don’t look for places that can accomodate them, then you’re faced with returning them to a shelter, which should never be a result of this question. If you bring in an animal into your life, you work your life around them so you can keep them for the long haul.
This post might be a bit long-winded, but these are all important questions to ask yourself before adopting a pet, especially this time of year when your mind might be in the fog of Holiday Season Magic filled with glittery snowflakes and sugarplum fairies. We adopted a cat last year just before Christmas, and during the application process all these questions were asked of us by the rescue. I had owned cats before, was very choosy about which cat to apply for, and we talked it over as a family before bringing Monty home.
I will say this, we definitely had no idea Monty was sick when we adopted him. There was no way of knowing that. Suddenly, we found ourselves in the ER one night having to say goodbye to him. That cost us money, but it also was a very sad time for us. Nothing could have prepared us for that, and our case was very rare and extreme, but it is something to think about.
We want all pets and people to live long, happy, healthy lives and hopefully together. Mostly, it’s important to not put an animal’s life in jeopardy. How devastating would it be to be suddenly taken from your home with an undetermined future?
If you can answer all the above questions and feel prepared, we strongly encourage you to go adopt that animal and bring them home in time for the Holidays. They deserve it, and so do you.
The Girl in the Unicorn Pajamas
This post was written in collaboration between myself and a friend that works in animal rescue.