By Joe Wilkes
This holiday season, many of us who are stumped for a gift for a loved one will be tempted by the adorable faces peering out at us from behind the display windows of the local pet store. Who doesn't love puppies and kittens?
This could be the gift that cements a budding relationship with a significant other. It could be the gift that makes your child realize you are the best parent a kid could have. It could be the gift of companionship that brings a lonely or elderly relative back into the world. Or not. Here are some do's and don'ts to consider when considering a new pet over the holidays.
DON'T Buy puppies from pet stores that buy from puppy mills
The ASPCA urges holiday gift givers to boycott pet stores and Web sites that sell puppies. Why? Because the animals at these pet stores usually come from puppy mills, where mothers are forced to have more litters than nature intended, and puppies are given inadequate nutrition and medical care. The goal of these mills is to deliver as many pups to pet stores as possible, ignoring the genetic and medical issues that the new caregiver cannot.
DON'T Buy anything else from pet stores that buy from puppy mills
If you're picking up a bag of dog food or a chew toy from your local pet store and see cages filled with squirming puppies and kitties, think twice. I think most of us would agree, it wouldn't be enough to just buy from the aisle of the store that didn't use child or slave labor. We probably would refuse to buy from the whole store. Any purchase you make from a store that supports puppy mills, supports puppy mills with their overall profits. So try and drive the extra mile or surf to another site to make sure you're not inadvertently supporting an immoral operation such as a puppy mill.
DO Adopt your puppy from a shelter or rescue operation
If you're looking for a reputable pet supply store to buy your kibble and bits, look for the ones that host adoptions from local shelters as opposed to the ones who keep the animals on hand.
Of course, any pet owner knows, the pet itself is just the gateway to a lifetime of buying food, treats, beds, leashes, collars, etc. So any honest pet store will know that there's plenty to be earned without resorting to selling mill puppies. They will be happy to host matchmaker events for you and your new four-legged companions with hopes of your continued business.
There are also the shelters themselves. Your local chapter of the American Humane Society and American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) will be happy to hook you up with places where you can adopt a healthy pet without supporting the cruel practices of the mills.
DON'T Give pets as presents over the holidays
There are any number of reasons why this is a bad idea. It's a romantic notion of the recipient waking up Christmas morning to a furry ball of love, but there are two main reasons this is a bad idea, regardless of where you got the pet:
Is the recipient ready for a pet?
Does the recipient work 16 hours a day? Do they live in a studio apartment with no yard? If they're a child, are they child old enough to appreciate the responsibility of caring for a pet? Is the recipient allergic to pet hair? Questions like these are all good to consider and just the tip of the iceberg of what could go wrong with surprising someone with a pet. Pets can be a blessing in our lives, but also come with the burden of care. And that burden is often too much for the recipient to handle. It's easy to imagine the joy of having a puppy in the house on Day 1, but Day 2 through infinity become a little more problematic. A responsibility as great as a pet is better for planning, not surprising.
Is this a good time to introduce a pet into a home?
Think about the first time you brought your significant other home for the holidays. Introducing them to your family in the midst of the holiday chaos probably didn't make for the most stress-free time. Now imagine they're another species… and they're going to live there forever. It's probably not the best time to introduce a new canine member of the family when everybody is out of their mind with holiday cheer. Dogs don't get that this is an annual aberration to what their life will be. They will be confused by the multitude of people, the lights, the sounds, and the indoor tree. In calmer times, your recipient will be more appreciative of adopting a new friend, instead of being presented with a freaked-out mess of a dog in the middle of the winter social scene…and the dog will appreciate it too.
DO Plan ahead for a pet adoption and involve the recipient
Okay, the holidays are coming, you're out of ideas and you're about to get in the car and head down to the local puppy mill retailer and buy a bag full of birth defects for your loved one. Your heart's in the right place, but your head has moved to some other part of your anatomy. How about this instead?
Buy a stuffed dog, a dog toy, or a book on dog care and then when they open their present, you can say, "I wanted to get you a dog, but I wanted you to pick it out. I found some local shelters and rescue organizations and we can go together tomorrow and find the right match for you." You get full credit for the romantic idea. You won't make your loved one figure out how to housebreak a puppy while hosting Christmas dinner. And if a pet was a bad idea, you won't be taking it to the shelter the next day.
How did you and your dog first meet? Share your puppy love story in the comments.
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