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Is a Christmas pet a good idea?

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Greg Peck
December 10, 2013

I found the stories about pets in Sunday's Gazette Marketplace section interesting. They suggested families must consider many things.

Who will make sure that new dog gets exercise daily? Who will clean that cat's litter box? Are you willing to deal with more cat or dog hair all over the house and to clean more often? What happens if family members or frequent visitors are allergic to your new pet? Are you ready to invest in not only food and toys but veterinarian bills that can run hundreds of dollars a year—or more? Are you ready for a commitment that might last 10 or even 20 years?

These stories came just days after the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection warned against making rash holiday pet-buying decisions.

“Who doesn't love the idea of a cute kid screaming with joy as Mom or Dad reveals the cute, fuzzy little puppy emerging from a meticulously wrapped box?,” the consumer protection department suggested in a news release.  "The vision can bring tears to your eyes, but the reality can bring frustration and heartache to your household.”

“Getting a pet is a serious choice and a commitment,” state humane veterinarian Yvonne Bellay said in the news release. “It should never be a surprise.”She offers these four suggestions:

1. Match the pet to the person.

2. Don't buy from a breeder blindly. Use the department's website at  to find licensed dog sellers.

3. Exotic animals are rarely, if ever, good pet choices.

4. Get a certificate of veterinary inspection.

After receiving that news release, I bounced it off Brett Frazier, new executive director of the Rock County Humane Society. He thinks the department's advice is sound.

“Pets can be wonderful presents,” Frazier wrote in an email. “They just don't make great surprises, and the traditional image of a puppy in a box under the tree isn't perhaps the best way to go about it. Pet ownership is a serious responsibility. We see pets from time to time at the shelter who were given as a gift and then regifted and rehomed and eventually end up at the shelter.

“Parents who want to give their kids a Christmas present of a pet aren't doing a bad thing. I think parents who give their children a pet dog or cat just need to go into the whole thing with eyes wide open, recognizing that the responsibility of that pet to a large degree is going to fall on the parents. If Mom and Dad are willing to buy the food, make sure the veterinary needs are met and that the pet has a safe and loving home, then I say come on down! Children can learn responsibility from having a pet, but I don't think there should be any doubt that the learning process will include Mom and Dad shouldering a lot of the responsibility along the way.

“What I would suggest is that rather than giving the puppy or kitty itself as a present, people consider making the selection of a pet an event in and of itself. Picking the perfect friend from the shelter can be a really exciting process! I would encourage folks, if you plan to give a pet this Christmas (and we have plenty who would love to chase wrapping paper around under the tree), that you consider taking a family trip to the shelter to visit the wonderful cats and dogs here and pick the one that's the best fit for your situation.”

Frazier says lots of people consider giving pets to newly widowed parents.

“This can absolutely be a tremendous idea but not one that should be forced upon anyone. Lots of our pets each year go to homes of people who have suffered a loss, either of a pet or a spouse. Pets can be comforting and can help the healing process.”

Frazier added that the humane society's adoptions do tend to slow considerably in winter, but the needs are still there. The shelter has perhaps as many as 200 animals needing new homes.

Just think before you rush into it. Above all else, as Sunday's Marketplace advised, determine what type of pet best fits your family and lifestyle.

Greg Peck can be reached at (608) 755-8278 or gpeck@gazettextra.com. Or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.



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