EDITORIAL: Do a bit of research before giving a pet for Christmas

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With Christmas just around the corner, folks are scrambling to find the perfect gift for friends and family, and often the idea of a brand-new puppy or kitten under the tree is an attractive option, especially for kids.

But officials at animal shelters, veterinarians and pet-related websites agree: The giving of a pet is not something to do on impulse.

“Kittens and puppies are really cute for the first half hour,” said Barb Muecke of the City of Powell/Moyer Animal Shelter. “Especially with little kids, with all their toys, they can forget the puppy or the kitten. We suggest they come early and get one, or wait until after Christmas, after all the confusion and chaos of the day. It’s neat to get that surprise, but in a way, it’s not the best thing for the animal.”

The debate on whether pets can make a viable gift is one that has raged for years, with organizations such as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) strongly cautioning the practice without having thought the matter through. 

A pet is a lifelong commitment, with a monetary value attached. According to the ASPCA, first-year pet care cost estimates — not including the cost of purchasing the animal — range anywhere from $1,314 for a small dog to $1,843 for a large dog, and $1,035 for a cat. That’s just for the first year, not taking into account future trips to the vet as the animal ages or becomes injured or sick.

Often, gift animals end up at shelters, many of which are full of unwanted animals to begin with. But that’s not to say giving a pet as a gift can’t be a rewarding experience for all involved in the process.

An ASPCA survey showed that 96 percent of those surveyed who had been gifted a pet “thought it either increased or had no impact on their love or attachment to that pet. The vast majority of these pets are still in the home (86 percent). The survey also revealed no difference in attachment based on the gift being a surprise or known in advance.”

However, the ASPCA also cautions giving a pet only to someone who has expressed an interest in getting one and has also shown a willingness and ability to care for it responsibly. ASPCA recommends pets be obtained from “animal shelters, rescue organizations, friends, family or responsible breeders — not from places where the source of the animal is unknown or untrusted.”

Time is also a factor, as the recipient’s schedule should also be free enough to help assure an easy transition into the home. This is especially important during the holidays.

A few suggestions when considering a pet as a gift, according to the experts, are these: 1. Never give friends or family a pet as a gift without discussing it with them beforehand; 2. Adopt, and pay the pet’s adoption fees. If they ultimately decide against the pet, you’ll have made a much-needed donation to the shelter; 3. Forego Christmas Day surprises. 4. Be prepared. A pet is a commitment, so make sure the person you’re giving one to is prepared to accept the responsibility, environmentally and emotionally.

Muecke said adoption certificates are available at the Powell shelter for those who want to give a pet as a surprise, but prefer to pick it up at a later date.

“Make it a special after-Christmas trip,” she said.

There are five dogs of various shapes and sizes and about two dozen cats — including eight kittens — currently available for adoption at the Powell shelter.

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