By Dr. Julie Damron
Stockton Record December 13th, 2008

The holidays are a time filled with joy, but they are traditionally also very hectic. People are often not at home much, and there can be many pet hazards in the household this time of year. Even if someone really wants a new dog or cat, it may not be the best time for that person to work with a new companion.

Often when an animal is given as a gift, the receiver is not ready for the responsibilities associated with pet care. People think puppies and kittens are cute and cuddly, but they frequently are not prepared for the realities of pet ownership. The decision to own a pet really should be a family choice, not a surprise. When things go wrong, the pet may be given to someone else, placed in an animal shelter or euthanized.

Pets can add tremendous joy to someone's life, but they are a lifelong commitment. Owning a pet is not a decision to be made lightly. Here are some important things to consider before deciding to give someone a new pet.

» Make sure the receiver has enough space to care for the chosen companion comfortably. If you are giving a dog, does that person have a yard that is large enough for the exercise needs of the companion? How close are the neighbors? Will barking be an issue? Are there restrictions or regulations where the person lives that state what type of pet the person can and can't have?

» Make sure the person or family has time and is financially able to provide a good home. In addition to food, toys and bedding, there are also medical expenses to consider. All pets need routine exams, vaccinations, and parasite control. There are unexpected health problems that will need care as well. Do they have time to walk a dog? Do they have time to clean up routinely after a dog or cat?

» Remember to take into consideration any pets the recipient may already have. Will the new animal get along well with the existing household? Does the new owner have space to manage multiple animals?

» Does the temperament of the pet fit the lifestyle of the person? Is it an animal that will need a lot of exercise, and is that person willing and able to do that? Does the person travel a lot; are they home enough to meet the needs of the companion? Is anyone in the household allergic to animals? Is anyone in the household fearful of animals?

Ideally you should be able to answer the majority of these questions before getting a companion for someone. If you are uncertain, there are some additional options. Some rescue organizations provide certificates. This allows the receiver to pick out the pet they think best suits them. You may also want to consider making a donation to a rescue organization in someone's name. This provides a wonderful legacy for any animal lover.

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