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Thinking of giving a pet as a holiday gift?

Read this before you do...


A kitten or puppy as a holiday gift...

There is a right way and a wrong way to give a pet as a gift. Unfortunately, most people choose the wrong way.

We have a glorified notion of a cute puppy or kitten under a Christmas tree, a big red bow around its neck, waiting for the excited boy or girl to find the little darling under the tree. This is such a pervasive sentiment of the holidays that it's common to see this scene again in again in holiday-themed television commercials, cards, and drawings.

What will happen to the puppy or kitten when the excitement of the holidays is over and the puppy is chewing the leg of the dining room chair, or the kitten is using the couch as a scratching post? The child who was initially thrilled with the pet isn't paying as much attention to the animal, with so many things competing for limited attention spans. Mom and Dad are now having to face the realities of pet ownership (don't count on young children to take primary responsibility; although a few do, most are happy to play with the animal but don't want any part of the 'yucky' or inconvenient parts). Housebreaking a puppy and walking it is time consuming. Some dogs and cats have strict grooming requirements. Too many times, even expensive animals bought from breeders and pet stores end up showing up in shelters when the family finds themselves unprepared for the commitment of time, resources, and energy having a pet requires.

Or, perhaps you've gotten a fluffy Persian kitten for your Aunt Jane, and it turns out you misinterpreted her wishes and she doesn't want a cat after all. She's planning to spend the next two months with your cousin, several hundred miles away. Or she finds that grooming a Persian every day is too much work. Or she wanted a Siamese, not a Persian. What seemed like a good idea becomes a real situation, with a young animal trapped in the middle.

And what is puppy or kitten thinking, sitting under that tree? It doesn't know what is happening. The house is unfamiliar and strange. There are lots of people around the animal doesn't know. It's busy and noisy. It got slapped for finding that shiny Christmas ball and playing with it; it didn't know it wasn't a toy. The holidays can be extremely stressful for pets under any circumstances, with the strange decorations and holiday bustle, but it's much more stressful for a young animal uprooted from familiar surroundings and thrust in the middle of the chaos.

Working with responsible breeders

A responsible breeder will not ever sell a puppy or kitten to be given as a gift. The reason is that the breeder will want to meet the person who will assume primary responsibility for the animal's day to day care and know it is going to a home where it is wanted. They want to be sure the person understands the commitment of pet ownership. A pet animal should have a safe, loving home for its entire life. For dogs and cats, this lifespan can possibly range from ten to twenty-five years, depending on the breed.

How you CAN "give a pet" as a gift!

The person who will be responsible for the pet should have a pivotal role in choosing a breeder and pet animal. There is a way you can give this joy to a person as a holiday gift. It just takes a little creativity.

If you are sure your recipient would want a particular breed, make an appointment with a breeder or two in your area you would want to work with. Make sure it's at least a couple weeks after the holidays, so that you can be sure the breeder will have his or her own holiday obligations out of the way. The appointment should be an opportunity for you to take your family or the person receiving the animal gift to visit the kennel or cattery in person. (You might wish to make two appointments -- one to preview the cattery or kennel yourself so you can be sure you are dealing with a quality operation).

Get a pretty card and write out a "gift certificate" -- that this certificate is good for a puppy or kitten of the recipient's choice. Include the name, phone number, and time of the kennel or cattery appointment for a visit (or the name, address, and office hours of an animal shelter if you are going to acquire your animal from one). Buy a stuffed dog or cat (you might even find one that resembles the breed!), and tie the "gift certificate" around the stuffed animal's neck. Put the stuffed animal under the tree instead of a live animal. (You might wrap it together with a general dog or cat care book. Even if the recipient has owned dogs or cats all of his or her life, these are great books and a good addition to any pet library).

People who are involved in the process of choosing their dream pet are more attached to the animal and more invested in its future. Besides, it's important to find an animal who "clicks" with the primary caretaker.

This method can actually be more fun than placing an animal under the tree -- and it's far more humane to the pet.

Please feel free to link this article to your own web page with proper authorship citation (Barbara French, Fanciers Breeder Referral List).

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