The image is strictly storybook. The kids scamper down the stairs on Christmas morning. There, under the tree, is the cutest little kitten wearing a jiggle-bell collar. Or a sweet little puppy with a big red bow around his neck.
The image does not include the kitten trying to climb the tree or the puddle the puppy left under the tree.
Adopting a pet at holiday time is not a good idea. With all those decorations, the visitors, the noise and the excitement, it can be downright scary for a new family member.
“Moving to a new home can be a traumatic experience for any animal, even when it’s ‘life as usual,’” says Lynn Gensamer, executive director of the Humane Society of Savannah/Chatham. “For a kitten or puppy, Christmas chaos can instill a fear that lasts a lifetime. Even an adult cat or dog may take much longer to settle in.”
Gensamer says it’s important to bring a new pet into the household at a quieter, more routine time when every family member can provide the attention needed to help the pet feel safe and secure, to see that it is properly socialized, to provide consistent house-training, and to build trust and help the pet understand its place in the family and household.
As far as presenting a pet as a gift under the tree, a really bad idea, this time as much for the children as for the pet. Equating a pet with a toy sends all the wrong signals. Most parents know all too well what can happen to holiday toys when January or February roll around: the kids loose interest, forgot, break or misplace them. Furthermore, a pet that gets treated like a toy can easily become a “problem” pet, hauled off to animal shelters such as HSSC.
Adopting a pet can and should provide valuable experiences for children by teaching responsibility, loyalty, caring and respect for living things. And, of course, for the child there is the reward of unconditional love and companionship.
If you are committed to acquiring a four-legged family member, Gensamer recommends postponing the actual adoption until after the holidays.
Parents should determine ahead of time whether the pet is to be a dog, cat or other.They should also decide what age pet is most appropriate for their family. Ideally, parents should go to the shelter alone to prescreen potential adoptees before bringing the kids to join in the final selection.
More detailed advice can be found on the HSSC Web site — www.HumaneSocietySAV.org.
You can still have something pet-related under the Christmas tree. Gensamer suggests borrowing the American Humane Association’s idea for an adoption kit. Wrap a box filled with pet gear — toys, treats, a collar, grooming tools, a pet bed and a gift certificate from the local shelter.
The promise of a new pet is sure to delight almost as much as the real thing, says Gensamer.