The calls are coming in. “I want to get my kids a puppy for Christmas.”
Can you hold it until Christmas Eve?” We certainly understand that kids love puppies and kittens, and many would be very happy to see one as a member of the family on Christmas morning.
However, if you take a step back and think about it; there probably isn’t a worse day to introduce a new member of the family into your house. Animals need routine and take time to adjust to life away from a shelter and into your new home. On Christmas, you’re much more likely to have a house full of people, a big Christmas tree with lights and decorations, unwrapped toys and wrapping paper all around the house. Not exactly the best environment for a young puppy trying to find his way in a new home.
We also have to look back when we were kids. The excitement of opening our presents was one of the most memorable parts of the day. However, we all remember discarding one toy, when we opened a new, more exciting toy. The puppy may end up being the one discarded when the new video game system or new bike grabs little Johnny’s attention.
Holidays are typically stressful times in the home too. There is nothing like reliving an old family argument that happened 20 years ago with people you only see a couple times of year to make you grab for some more of the spiked egg nog and start looking at your watch hoping it is time to go. Now add in a little puppy or kitten that knocks over the tree, or pees on the rug, or chews on mom’s new fuzzy slippers that Santa brought her.
Next thing you know, the pet is back at the shelter. The kids are heartbroken; the parents are frustrated.
Is there a solution? We think so. We don’t enjoy seeing homeless animals in shelters around the holidays anymore than you do. But we also don’t want to have a long return line at our front door on Wednesday the 26th. That sight is tough to swallow.
If you are serious about adding a new pet to your home this holiday season, here is what we recommend. First, decide what fits best in your home, dog or cat, young or full grown. Next, go out and buy the supplies you will need. Let the kids open up a new leash and collar, a bowl and dog bed, a crate or little box. This will build the excitement of the new addition.
Print them out a little “gift certificate” good for a new puppy, kitten, dog or cat. Have them go with you and the entire family after Christmas to “redeem” their coupon for an animal that the whole family can agree on. You will have time to have a family discussion about who will walk the dog or clean the litter box and do other pet related chores that are important to discuss in advance. Remind them that this is a big commitment and that the new pet will be with the family for many, many years, and although they are lots of fun, there is work involved too.
By the time Wednesday rolls around, they will have likely grown bored with many of their toys. You can put them in the closet. The family tree can be taken down, and the homemade ornaments made of macaroni can be tucked away for next year. You can finish vacuuming up the tinsel from the carpet and move the furniture back in its normal place. You can then spend the rest of the weekend braving the crowds at the local movie theater or mall, all the while knowing your kids’ great gift is waiting for them at their local shelter next week.
By the time you come out and adopt, everyone will know the plan.
You’re set up for a successful and long lasting adoption. You’re teaching your kids about responsibility and planning, and that instant gratification, isn’t the only way. Long after they are tired of the new GI Joe or video game, they will have a companion that will love them unconditionally.
Gary Willoughby is the president and CEO of the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare