Pass up that doggy in the window

Published 8:38 pm Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Think it’s a good idea to get the animal lover in your life a pet for Christmas?

Think again.

A pet is a 10 to 20 year commitment, and not an item you can return in a few years if it’s isn’t working out for you, animal welfare specialists warn.

“Animals naturally bring joy and companionship into a home. It seems logical that people would want to give them as gifts,” said Michele Thames from the Suffolk Humane Society. “Unfortunately, animals are turned in to Suffolk Animal Control every single day. It is not fair to adopt an animal without thinking your decision through — no matter what time of year it is.”

When children who are too young receive a pet, the animal can be ignored or improperly cared for. There also can be increased stress for parents or other siblings to whom the responsibility is shifted.

And things aren’t likely to improve with time. Those young children will become older children with busier schedules and a hard time fitting a pet in to their schedule.

“When children are given as pets, it can be amazing chance to teach responsibility, kindness and compassion. These lessons, however, cannot be taught alone,” Thames said. “A responsible adult needs to ensure the pet is taken care of under any circumstance.”

If a proper support system is in place, your home can become an ideal place for a pet. Take the time to consider the following factors: Are there pet restrictions where you live? Does your homeowner’s insurance restrict breeds? Is anyone in the home allergic? Are you financially ready for veterinarian bills, food costs, training time, and boarding? Are you prepared to care for a pet for the rest of the animal’s life? What is your plan if your family goes on vacation/moves/deploys?

“Adopting a pet at Christmas isn’t a bad idea, but it is an idea that requires discussion and input from each family member,” Thames said. “When thinking about adopting a pet, think of the adoption as having a new family member join your family.”

If you’re sure your family is ready for a new member, “my suggestions would be a gift certificate to an animal shelter,” Thames said.

Your pet-lover will be happy and “waiting until the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is over will keep both you and your new pet calm.” Meanwhile, the owner-to-be can take the time to research what kind of pet would be most suitable for the household.