christmas-kittenIt’s a wonderful thing to give, and we all have good intentions when shopping for truly special gifts for our loved ones.

You may have visions of one you love opening a beautiful box with an adorable kitten inside, or of covering their eyes and leading them into a room where a puppy wearing a big bow is waiting. We aren’t to blame—we have these joyful images lingering from our own childhood as well as from movies. It may feel like we are giving the gift of unconditional love, especially to a child.

But here’s a dose of reality: in years spent working in animal shelters, we noticed a significant spike in animal surrenders right after the holiday season. The happy surprise became just a surprise—and not a pleasant one—for all concerned; and the solution to the problem for many families is to get rid of the unwanted pet. Why? Because…

  • The one presented with the “gift” simply didn’t want an extra commitment (for the next 10 or 15 years!) in an already-busy life
  • A household member had an allergy where short-term exposure had not been problematic, but the person could not live with a pet.
  • Some children, especially those not exposed to animals previously, become frightened of the strange new creature, and in turn scare the pet, which creates an air of distrust for all involved.
  • Although a previous guardian might say that the pet was good with kids, the animal’s actual socialization might not have been good enough to handle a different home.
  • Resident animals in the home may be unwilling to accept the new pet. It takes time and patience to introduce a new cat or dog; this calm period may be impossible to come by, especially during the holidays.

Now that we’ve outlined the reasons why you shouldn’t surprise family and other loved ones with animals as gifts, rest assured that there are ways to bring four-legged love home for the holidays without all the risk.

Many animal shelters have gift certificates you can buy instead of an animal. (You won’t have to poke air holes in the box either!) These generally cover the cost of adoption; and you can also cover the cost of basic supplies such as a collar, leash, brush, bowl, or litterbox as part of your gift. (If your local shelter doesn’t offer gift certificates, computers, tablets, and even smartphones have programs that enable you to make one yourself.) That way, your loved one can find the perfect new companion at a better time.

Nowadays, many shelters have websites with pictures of their adoptable animals, so the whole family can go online and check out the choices. (See, where you can search all shelters in your area.)

There is also empowerment in a child in going to a shelter and picking out his or her own companion, once they understand that caring for a living thing is a constant, long-term responsibility. It’s never too early to instill the concept of stewardship.

It is essential to introduce everyone who lives in the home, from children to housemates to other pets, to the new pet before adoption. In fact, many shelters require this. There’s nothing to lose, but important lessons to gain. For instance, the adoptive family may discover that their resident dog requires a bit more training in the “down-stay” so that he or she doesn’t relentlessly pursue the new addition. Or a housemate’s allergy may act up in the presence of specific animals. 

Remember, no surprises are good surprises when it comes to animals this holiday season. Have a great one, and congratulations to all of you who will adopt and bring a homeless pet into your heart and home the right way.

And what is that “right way”? See our articles about setting up a “base camp,” cat-to-cat introductions, and cat-to-dog introductions for all the details on bringing a new pet into your heart and home.

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