Pets - the Holiday Gifts That Keep on Giving (and Taking)
By Andrew Ryan / December 1, 2016

The typical family holiday photos collection is full of images of happy children tearing through wrapping paper and playing with new toys. What you won't find are any photos of those gifts collecting dust a few weeks later after their newness fades. That's why the professionals who devote their lives to finding happy, long-term homes for animals want parents who are considering giving their kids pets as gifts to think far beyond the photo opportunity.

"Getting a pet means making a commitment to that animal for its entire lifespan, not just to keep the kids occupied during school break," said Cherie Wachter, vice president of marketing at the Human Society of Broward County. "The adults should insist that kids assume part of the workload, like making sure the water dish is always full. But the ultimate responsibility for taking care of that pet falls on the parents' shoulders."

The Humane Society does not want to discourage people from bringing new pets home for the holidays. It does ask them to conduct some due diligence in advance. That requires putting more thought into the decision beyond whether to select a dog or cat.

The first step is to match your prospective pet's demeanor and level of activity to your entire family's lifestyle. Puppies and kittens are adorable, but like toddlers, they demand constant attention for the first few years of their lives.
"If you are active and have the time to take multiple walks, make regular trips to the park, and oversee house training, a puppy or kitten with energy to burn may be a great fit," Wachter said. "But if you prefer to spend time indoors quietly reading, watching movies, or your kids are growing up and spending more with friends, an older dog or cat will be a much better companion."

The next step is to select a specific breed. You have a large selection to choose from. The American Kennel Club registers 189 dog breeds, everything from the Affenpinscher and Bichon Frise to the Xoloitzcuintli and Yorkshire Terrier. Think you just want a common, ordinary spaniel? There are 13 different types, from the Boykin to the Tibetan.

Searching for one breed used to mean making multiple phone calls and visits to pet stores, breeders, the Humane Society's locations in Fort Lauderdale or Boca Raton, and the Broward County Animal Care and Adoption Division's brand new Adoption Center on 42nd Street in Fort Lauderdale. Fortunately, the Internet can make your search much easier.

The Broward County Animal Care and Humane Society both regularly update their web sites with the animals awaiting adoption. The web site is a national directory where shelters and rescue centers list animals for adoption. The site also features a tool to help you select a breed.

Another key consideration is how a pet will affect your household budget. Dr. Meg Formoso with the Nova Animal Hospital in Davie said it's common to underestimate how much money you will spend every month on veterinary care, food, toys, training, and perhaps boarding while the family is on vacation.

Those are the costs you can anticipate. It's the sudden injuries or illnesses that can result in unexpected vet bills that can runs hundreds of dollars. That's why Formoso recommends considering purchasing pet health insurance. If an insurance provider will cover your pet, choose a plan with a low monthly premium and high deductible. Pay for standard exams and medicines out-of-pocket, saving the insurance for emergencies.

Both Formoso and Wachter advise against picking up your new pet the day before you plan to surprise your kids.

"It's critical to keep a new pet isolated from other animals and children for at least seven days to avoid spreading any illnesses," Formoso said. "Even if you purchase from a reputable breeder and the animal appears healthy, an illness may be incubating. If that illness breaks, you'll spend the holiday season caring for sick animals and kids whose immune systems are more vulnerable than yours."

Wachter recommends asking a friend or family member to play the role of pet sitter for a week. If that's not an option, you can still get those pictures of surprised, excited kids.
"Purchase a Humane Society gift card, wrap it with pet toys and treats for the kids to open, and then go to the shelter as a family to pick out your new pet together," she said. "I understand people want that surprise gift, but if the holidays are hectic at your house with people coming and going, I strongly encourage you to wait. It can be a rough time for you and the animal."

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