Pets Are For Life

Pets Are For Life, Not Just For Christmas

By Christie Keith

What is the best kind of pet to ask for as a Christmas gift?

A stuffed one.

Imagine a puppy, delivered the night before and kept in a corner of the garage until the kids get up. Along with the toys and books and video games, there is also a tiny living creature, in a strange and confusing new place with young hands and arms grabbing at it. Is it a thing, a toy or game? What do you think it's like for that puppy or kitten when your friends come over to see your new pet? Pets have needs, for rest and training and love and play and quiet time, just like human babies do.

Maybe a family saw the cutest little dog, an adorable little bear-like creature. This puppy, who was in a pet store at the mall, was so bright and perky, and ran right up to the people who bought him. "How cute," they thought. By 10 PM on Christmas night, this little guy is exhausted from trying to play with all the kids in the family, and is curled up in a corner. He feels pretty sick from the turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie he had on top of his dinner, and he throws up under the coffee table. When he was outside he was so distracted playing with the kids that he never relieved himself, so he finds a private corner and does that too - say, on little Susie's new coat.

A couple of weeks later, the new puppy has been shut up in the garage while the family is out all day. He has piddled and pooped all over the house, chewed up the baseboard in the kitchen, and destroyed the VCR. In the garage, he destroys his own bedding, a rolled up carpet, and the tires on the kids' bikes. He's bored, he's lonely, he's a baby.

Dogs and cats are not "things." If the holidays are a good time for your parents to take some time off work or you to be out of school and ease a new pet into your family, that's great. Ask for a collar and leash, or scratching post, and a book on pets, under the tree, and head for the shelter or breeder a couple of days after Christmas. Lynn Spavik of San Francisco's SPCA recommends giving an adoption gift certificate, and actually adopting the pet at a quieter time.

Said Sherry Richert of California's Peninsula Humane Society, "Puppies and kittens are a lot of work, as much work as having a new baby. An older dog or cat, mellow and well-behaved, is often a much better choice for a family." PHS, which does not do any adoptions for the week before Christmas, also requires the whole family to be interviewed when placing pets in homes with children. They instigated both these policies after noticing a sharp rise in abandonments and surrenders about two months after Christmas.

The American Kennel Club, the largest registry of purebred dogs in the world, makes most of its money on puppy registrations, and you would think the idea of hundreds of thousands of purebred puppies under American's Christmas trees would make them happy. Instead, over the years they have sponsored several public education campaigns about Christmas puppies, including its "A Dog is for Life, Not Just for Christmas" campaign, followed by "Look Before you Leap; A Dog is for Keeps."

Animal experts agree: Pets don't make good Christmas presents!
- adopt, foster, volunteer and until there are none ... save at least one -