If there’s something cuter than a puppy (or kitten, or bunny) spilling out of a bow-topped gift box into the arms of a delighted child — well, there isn’t.
And maybe that’s why, despite the advice of many experts, giving pets at Christmas continues to be something of a tradition.
With the cost of care — including food and routine veterinary visits — averaging between $1,200 and $1,500 annually for a dog, “you need to really sit down and consider this very carefully,” said Charlie Powell, spokesperson for Washington State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine.
Pet ownership can boost owners’ emotional health, Powell said. But the trauma of giving up a too hastily acquired pet can do the opposite.
“When you introduce animals to a child, the child will develop an extraordinary sense of caring,” he said. “If you suddenly have to get rid of that animal if you haven’t thought it through, if you suddenly have to break that bond, that tells that child that’s not really important.”
And that’s the key, Powell said: Thinking it through.
“Overall the relationship is beneficial in most cases,” he said. “But it has to be planned.”
That means not just being prepared to spend a not-insignificant amount of money, but to invest considerable time into shaping the animal’s behavior.
“If you’re going to get a dog, it is vital that you get that dog through at least basic behavioral training,” Powell said.
Humane Society of the Palouse Director Sierah Beeler doesn’t dismiss the idea of getting a new pet during the holidays, but she emphasized that several factors need to be taken into consideration.
Most people give at least cursory thought to the ongoing expenses of food and veterinary care, but that’s just part of the list.
“One of the biggest things is what’s going to happen when you have something else come up in your life,” Beeler said.
Finding reliable, affordable boarding or pet sitting is something people might not think about, but most pet owners eventually need. The time and potential expense of training a young animal is another factor often overlooked.
“(We) try to get those things in front of people so they can consider them all,” Beeler said.
For these reasons and more, she cautions against choosing a pet for another person.
“We usually do not allow pets to be adopted as gifts if the other person has not met the animal,” she said.
Instead, she suggests a “gift certificate adoption,” so the potential recipient has the excitement of getting a pet but can make sure that pet is what they’re looking for.
“They get to meet them first before making that big decision of bringing a pet home,” she said.
A gift certificate also lets the potential new pet owner control the timing of the adoption, so if the holidays are hectic, with lots of family visiting, the new pet can come home later.
“Just kind of making sure your schedule will align with helping that animal transition into the home environment,” Beeler said.
With proper planning, a pet can be a gift of a lifetime.
“Overall, we know that pet ownership leads to people with better mental health, better physical health,” Powell said. “It can reduce blood pressure to just sit there and pet a pet.”
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