With the holidays approaching, videos of “Christmas puppies” have taken over my social media timeline. It’s hard to resist the allure of these scenes, as kids and adults alike burst into happy tears at the sight of an adorable puppy wearing a big, festive bow. Cute as they are, however, these videos only show part of the story. It won’t be long before that cute ball of fluff starts barking, pooping, and chewing off its bow, and the realities of new pet parenthood set in.
A new pet can be a wonderful gift, but it can also be a challenging surprise. Before you give a Christmas puppy of your own, consider the pros and cons of bringing a new pet home.
There’s no denying the comfort and joy of a dog in the house, but a new pet means a whole lot of responsibility, and an unprepared recipient may not be up to the challenge. After the excitement of Christmas morning wears off, the real work of puppy parenthood starts.
Having a dog can be costly, both financially and emotionally. Think of the resources needed to care for a pet (and the true costs involved):
- Veterinary care
- Toys, bedding, and other supplies
- Walking, boarding, or pet sitting costs
- Time and energy for house and obedience training
- The ability to maintain a schedule that suits the dog’s needs
According to the ASPCA, 3.9 million dogs are taken to animal shelters in the U.S. every year, and 20% of them are relinquished because their families don’t have enough time for a pet, or can’t handle behavior issues that come up. If you’re considering the gift of a “Christmas puppy,” you should be as sure as possible that your puppy won’t become part of that 20%.
A new pet can fill a family home with happiness and excitement, but it also means a lot of work. If you’ve been thinking about giving a puppy to a friend or family member who doesn’t live with you, make sure the gift of a pet is wanted and planned by asking the following questions:
- Can the recipient commit to 10-15 years of care?
- Is the recipient allergic to pet dander?
- Will the recipient have the financial resources to provide the animal with proper care, including veterinary visits?
- Does the recipient live in a rental, and are pets allowed?
If you can’t answer all of the above, you probably shouldn’t give the gift of a pet. But don’t worry, Christmas isn’t ruined! You can still bring some Christmas puppy cheer into your loved ones’ lives. Take them on a holiday outing to volunteer at a local animal shelter, where you’ll get the benefit of puppy time without the lifelong commitment, and do a good deed, to boot.
If you can answer all of the above questions, and you think your loved one or family is ready for a dog, give the gift of puppy planning. For many people, bringing home a new dog is a personal decision, and a “surprise” puppy might not be the puppy they want. You can make the holidays bright by kick-starting the dog adoption process. Before Christmas, open the discussion of bringing a dog home. Then, you can surprise your loved one with a gift certificate to a pet adoption agency. It’s a wonderful way to give the gift of choosing the pet they want, and planning for its arrival.
Bringing home a new dog requires a lot of preparation, and experts recommend having a family discussion beforehand to make sure everyone agrees on how to care for the new arrival, and who will be responsible for what tasks. WebMD suggest laying down some ground rules before bringing a dog home: “Don’t overwhelm Pup the first day, and don’t fight over him or create mob scenes.” Christmas morning can be overwhelming to a small dog in a new place, so instead of putting a puppy under the tree, consider a “puppy starter kit.”
Think of it as a surprise promise: you’re still saying “Guess what? We’re getting a puppy!” while leaving room for the important planning and discussion phase. Your puppy starter kit can be as large or small as you have room for under the tree, and might include:
- A children’s book about responsible pet parenthood (My Dog!: A Kids’ Guide to Keeping a Happy and Healthy Pet is a great choice)
- A fun assortment of toys and treats
- Food and water bowls
- A pet first aid kit
- A stuffed dog to act as a stand-in for now, and a puppy chew toy for later
- A gift certificate to a local animal rescue agency
A puppy starter kit lets you surprise your kids on Christmas morning, and at the same time involve them in the planning and preparations needed for a new pet. It’s a great way to encourage responsible pet parenthood and gentle introductions, which will only strengthen your family’s relationship with each other and the new pet.
The ASPCA‘s official position is that pets should be given as gifts “only to people who have expressed a sustained interest in owning one, and the ability to care for it responsibly.” In other words, pets are great gifts for people who won’t be surprised!
The best way to give the gift of a dog is to make it a planned gift. If your family has been talking about getting a dog for a long time, and the grown-ups are prepared to take on the responsibility, then by all means, bring your new dog home for the holidays. Just make sure you have all the supplies and resources in place in advance.
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