The Perils of Holiday Adoptions

Kittens and puppies under the Christmas tree are a common seasonal theme in American advertising. There are few pet lovers of any age who don't sigh at the sight of those downy babies nestled in beribboned baskets. However, we never see the animals that arrive in shelters one or more months after the holiday, when the adoptive family realizes that it was a poor idea to put a pet under the tree. The truth is that pets, regardless of species, are a great responsibility that should be approached with preparation and dedication, not with the anticipation that they can be "returned" like any other holiday gift. Luckily, there are ways to indulge the entreaties of the pet-fevered in your family without bringing home the actual animal; read on for the details!

How come pets and holidays don't mix?

Animals need loving care and quiet surroundings as they become familiar with their new homes. Appropriate introductions to other pets and to children are hard to pull off in a noisy atmosphere of blinking lights and family gatherings, and the new pet may quickly become overwhelmed. It's difficult to encourage good litterbox or housetraining habits in a scared pet; because of that, many animals may engage in persistent and inappropriate elimination that results in their surrender to a shelter. The bonding that takes place between a pet and its new "parent" can also be disrupted, particularly if the pet is hiding under the bed or under the sawdust in its cage to get away from the hubbub. In addition, there are physical dangers associated with the holidays, including unattended alcoholic drinks, overly-rich holiday foods such as eggnog and cheesecake, open fireplaces and candle flames, chocolate, temptingly chewy Christmas light strands, and ribbons and tinsel that beg to be played with (and swallowed). Unfortunately, even longtime pets can wind up in the animal E.R. with foreign objects or poisons in their systems; it's best not to entertain this awful scenario with a new, young animal who is caught up in holiday excitement. And the stories of cats climbing Christmas trees are legion; just ask the Purr-fect Cat Shelter volunteers, many of whom tether their trees to the walls to avoid messes of splintered ornaments and scared pets. There are easier times to introduce a new member of the family!

My daughter expects to see a cat from Santa under the tree; what should I do now?

Many area shelters do not permit adoptions during the December holidays, because of the high return rate for those pets and the complications listed above. However, you may want to write a letter from "Santa" with a promise that the child can visit a shelter after the holidays and choose the best pet for her. After all, imagine the pandemonium if Santa had to fly through the air with a sleigh full of dogs, kittens, ferrets, and hamsters! When the child is able to interact with a number of possible pets and choose the one she fits best with, this ensures her love for the animal and her dedication to its welfare. There are other great gifts you can give the new pet owner before the pet even arrives. A pet carrier is a natural conclusion for bringing the new "baby" home; these are available at almost every store, from specialty pet suppliers to supermarkets. Grooming tools such as brushes and combs encourage pet care; pair these with a basic book on the species so that the new owner can become familiar with the signs of good and poor health. Even more fun are toys such as ping-pong balls for cats and chew bones suited to puppies or dogs. A cat bed, ferret cage and hammock, or dog pillow also make big, exciting packages to open. But most important is the household's commitment to making the new pet feel comfortable when it arrives; planning ahead, and choosing a time after the holidays when the family can give its undivided attention to the pet, is the best present you can give.