Holiday movies, television programs and advertisements seem to make it seem like the best time to give or get a new pet is under the tree on Christmas morning. Cute little puppies and kittens festooned with big floppy ribbons, who can resist? But what we are seeing is a very well orchestrated and edited best case scenario. Not all Christmas pets live up to the hype, and bringing a new animal into the home during such an exciting holiday can be just the opposite of a positive beginning. There are a lot of variables to consider before bringing an animal into your home.
A lot of people feel that the most wonderful way to present a new pet is by surprise, but the last thing you want is a frightened, cowering little animal that is overwhelmed by the kids’ squeals of excitement and clamoring for an opportunity to hold it. Christmas morning is an especially chaotic time, with everyone tearing into gifts, hazardous (to little animals) strings and wrappings all over, and the usual loud toys that can be disturbing to even the most seasoned holiday veteran. Worst case scenario? The new pet bites someone, bringing a pall of gloom to an otherwise loving holiday.
Discuss how a new pet will change the family’s life with your children, even older children. It is easy to imagine that the older a child is, the easier it will be to enlist them in the care of the pet, but older children tend to have more social engagements, and may not have a lot of time to spend with the pet. A pet can change a lot of the family’s day to day arrangements, like schedules (walking, feeding, training), sleeping arrangements (who gets to keep the pet in their room?), clean-up chores (remember that what is left on the floor is fair game to a dog or cat).
Consider carefully how a pet will affect your family's daily lifestyle and do diligent research on which type and breed is best suited to your family and home. Never, but never choose your new pet based on cuteness or wishful thinking. It may be that the pet you think is most unlikely to be your perfect companion is the very one that is. Besides having family talks over the joys and responsibilities of pets, reading books on the care and training of the breed you are hoping to bring into your family, also make some time to visit your local animal shelter. In the same way that you may have an image of what the perfect breed is for you when it could very well be another that is more suitable, an older, calmer and already trained cat or dog may be more practical than a baby animal that needs strict attention and training.
With all the holiday decorations, foods, and bustling around, a busy holiday-day can be a dangerous and scary time for a young puppy or kitten to be introduced. This is when bad habits can begin. Frightened animals will bite, soil on the floors, or will hide in difficult to reach places. Your pet’s first experience in your home with your family should be positive and calm. In addition, on Christmas day there are usually lots of ribbons and bows, candies and small toys littering the floor, all of which look to an animal like good things to chew on. You don’t want your first night (or any night) with your new pet to be in an animal emergency room with obstructed breathing or blocked intestines. Not a good harbinger for domestic tranquility.
In order to properly introduce a new pet, you will need to prepare your home in the same way that you would prepare it for a newborn baby. No dangling cords or curtain/blind pulls, no small toys on the floor, no candies or other foods within easy reach, toilet closed(!). There is a lot to do in preparation, and a lot you won’t think of until after the fact. Then there is all of the necessary equipment, including the food, crate, leash, bed, collar, etc. One of the most important preparations is to create a quiet place for your pet to sleep, eat and just get away from things when s/he is feeling overwhelmed.
Instead of gifting your family with a puppy or kitten, you might want to wrap up a stuffed animal or some other pet-related accessory – think of it as a pet promise. This will let your children know that you are prepared to go out and select a new pet, but now is not the time. In fact, you may find that many of your local shelters will not permit adoptions during the holiday season.
Another way to show your love for animals is to take your child to the shelter and make a donation of cash or food and/or pet supplies.
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