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Mansfield Magazine

What You Should Consider Before Giving the Gift of a Pet

Nov 26, 2015 11:32AM ● By Laurie Fox

As the holidays approach and you consider the perfect gifts, it can be tempting to lean toward one that purrs or barks. What well-meaning boyfriend, parent or grandparent hasn’t wanted to wrap up a Fido or Fluffy in a festive holiday bow to place under the Christmas tree? After all, pets bring joy, loyalty and unconditional love. They’re soft and furry and lick, too.

Puppies and kittens and their adorable antics may inspire plenty of “Awwws” while viewing those daily Internet videos, but as potential Christmas gifts, they may not be the best idea. Pets become permanent members of the household and require more than good intentions and warm holiday vibes. Giving a pet to a loved one is a major decision and shouldn’t be done on a whim, animal care experts say.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals recommends “giving pets as gifts only to people who have expressed a sustained interest in owning one and the ability to care for it responsibly,” according to its website. The organization also recommends that if the receiver is under age 12, the child’s parents be ready to assume care of the animal.

And if the gift is a surprise, “The gift-giver should be aware of the recipient’s lifestyle and schedule — enough to know that the recipient has the time and means to be a responsible owner.” Also consider whether the holidays are the best time to give a pet because the hectic season may not allow for an easy transition for pet and owner, the organization advises.

“People mean well, but you have to think ahead,” says veterinarian Dr. Tricia Latimer, owner of Walnut Creek Animal Clinic in Mansfield. “People see a cute, cuddly puppy or kitten and it’s hard to think rationally. It can be impulsive. They don’t think about the commitment to the life of the pet as a whole.”

Pets can be popular at the holidays for those looking for a unique gift, says Lori Strittmatter, the animal care and control manager for the City of Mansfield. She says boyfriends who want to give their girlfriends a warm, wiggly Christmas present come to the city’s shelter. Parents wanting to surprise a child also show up.

But many of those same cuddly critters can wind up back at the shelter if the recipient doesn’t want them or can’t care for them.

Strittmatter says shelter employees try to match animals with compatible homes. They also encourage prospective pet owners to do their homework and discourage those who haven’t thought it through.

“People think with their heart and not necessarily their head,” she says. “Getting a pet is a huge responsibility.”

Strittmatter says there are factors about the animal - size, activity level and personality — that must be considered as well as several important considerations about the owner.

Dogs that need a lot of exercise probably aren’t the best fit for an apartment, she points out, unless the potential owner is a runner and consistently takes their pet for outdoor exercise. Some breeds are higher-strung than others, she says. So take the time to consider your own personality and look for an animal that lines up with a new owner’s lifestyle.

3 Factors to Consider

Local animal care professionals caution that there are three major categories to consider before taking on a pet: costs, available free time and home and family.

Taking proper care of a furry new friend requires buying food, toys and supplies, paying for preventive and emergency medical care and arranging pet sitting and boarding when away from home.

Like humans, pets require the right food, regular exercise, medical check-ups and dental care. Grooming and training help keep pets comfortable and show them how to behave.

Strittmatter says cats require less care than dogs regarding exercise, training and attention, but they still have medical needs that require proper nutrition and they can have health problems or allergies just like dogs.

Latimer says pets usually suffer when owners don’t think long-term. “A lot of people do it for the kids and that’s the wrong reason,” she says. Families also should examine their schedules and available time because those who work long hours or travel frequently may not have room in their lives for a pet. Puppies in particular require patience and routine, animal experts caution. “They’re like toddlers,” Strittmatter says. “I’ve seen them do thousands of dollars of damage to a home.”

Even older dogs can wreak havoc when they’re not properly trained or exercised. Putting them outside when they act up can result in chewed irrigation systems, air conditioning units and fences.

“The more you do on the front end, the better relationship you’ll have with your pet,” Latimer says. “You have to think about your family and your home environment.”

Examine indoor and outdoor spaces like flooring and furniture, fences and yards and consider your family’s size, any pet allergies and personalities before you bring a pet on board.

“It’s almost like having a child. They rely on you so much,” says Rob Verdeyen, who pet sits in Mansfield and southern Tarrant County through his business Angelfish to Elephants. Verdeyen watches over pets when clients travel or work late. He says animals are creatures of habit that depend on their owners to think about their welfare. “You have to do your research, think things through and consider what you can offer the animal,” he says.

Animal care experts say that if you really want to give a pet-related holiday gift, consider assembling an adoption kit that includes toys, a bed, leash, collar, food, treats and a gift certificate for costs associated with adoption at a local shelter.

A good match between an animal and a family can add as much to its life as it does to ours. But the best gift of the holiday season may be thinking about its needs ahead of our own.  

Source: Pet profile information provided by contributors Frank Indiviglio, Dawn Ruben, Bruce Stutz and Suzanne Zweigart.

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Petra Photo courtesy of Petfindercom

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