Think Twice About that New Pet for Christmas

November 25, 2012

Image“When the snow is gone and the season is spring you can trade this in for the real thing.” This was the note on the hobby horse that I found under the tree on that very special Christmas day when I was 13 years old. I had hurdled all of the obstacles that my parents had set for me. They of course never thought that I would actually become an accomplished rider, learn to care for a horse in every way, get a job at a farm and even take on the responsibility of caring for other people’s horses every day – just to prove that I could do it for my own. They had finally run out of excuses to deny me my greatest wish.

My parents must have done a little research about how to find a horse for a young girl, because they did not make the mistake of picking out an animal without my input and tying it up out front in the snow – which is, of course, what I always dreamed of: one Christmas morning there would be my new friend and companion out in front of the house waiting for a carrot. This, I know was unrealistic, but you wouldn’t believe how many well-meaning parents do make this mistake. Not so much the horse-in-the-yard thing, but they faithfully pick out a pet for their children, present him on Christmas day and are then left with the reality of caring for an animal and a young, needy family. By presenting me with the promise of my new pet, we were able to spend the next few months deep in research, reading my new books about finding the perfect horse and talking with my mentors about this prospect. In the end, we all found the right four-legged addition to our family at a time when school was ending and the weather was appropriate for walking to the barn every day.

Parents must put a lot of thought into bringing a new pet into their home, and holiday time may not be the best time for this. Before you think about a Christmas pet, remember that pets are not toys. They are living, breathing, pooping and peeing beings who need a lot of attention. Winter can be a hard time to raise a puppy who needs to be taken outside in the cold to housebreak him.  Even a thirteen- year old child who has promised to care for the new pet will likely be asleep when he or she needs his final walk of the day. In reality, the addition of a pet ultimately becomes the responsibility of the parents, and usually Mom. So, if you are going to bring a pet into your household, Mom and Dad have to want this pet. They have to want to care for him when kids are asleep, at a baseball game, on a road trip and eventually away at college.

The first few months of a new pet’s life are crucial as bad habits are far easier to prevent than they are to break later. For some people, it may be easier to put the time into caring for a new pet or training a dog while the kids are in school, but, if your child really wants to be the new trainer, then this is another reason to wait until spring or summer to adopt.

Pure bred puppies will be more expensive and of lower quality at Christmas time. For this reason, unless you have a unique relationship with a very good breeder, I would avoid them all together at this time of year. Shelters are by far the best places to adopt a pet at any time. You may even decide that you want to avoid kittenhood or puppyhood. There are many adults available at shelters all year around, so maybe you can begin your search after Christmas, but don’t be compelled to come home with a pet on your first visit. Shelters also have puppies, kittens, guinea pigs, rabbits, ferrets and hamsters all year around. What better Christmas than the promise of saving a life? It is the promise to do this that counts, not the timing. So, re-think the idea of a Christmas pet standing under the tree and use the time instead to give the gift of learning to love and care for another being forever and ever.

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