‘Tis the Season for a Brand New Fur Baby…Maybe

Kait Leonard

Parents tiptoe into the bedroom where their child sleeps toasty warm. With secret agent stealth they place a bow-bedecked basket on the bed and step back. Instantly, the fur ball jumps out, wiggling and licking and wagging. Shrieks of laughter and the litany of thank-yous follow. Santa has come. The Christmas puppy (or kitten) has arrived.

Is that sleigh bells I hear?

All of us have some version of this scene stored in our memories. I was once that child. My daughter had her turn. Movies, TV shows, and ads for holiday cards all perpetuate the image.      

Unfortunately, the reality of a holiday pet might not sparkle as brightly as the distant memory or the fairy tale.

Giving a pet as a gift isn’t necessarily a terrible idea…not necessarily. But if you are considering adding a furry friend to your family’s holiday pictures, it’s best to do some homework before finalizing the order with St. Nick. Let’s start with the puppy or kitten you’re probably picturing scampering through all your holiday festivities.

While adorable, a baby or adolescent animal might be the worst choice for a family with children, according to Michelle Sathe, Public Relations Manager of Best Friends Animal Society. You don’t know what you’re getting with a young animal. The adult personality isn’t showing yet, and this pet may not end up being a good fit for children or for your lifestyle, Sathe explains.

Add in the simple fact that puppies and kittens bite and scratch and jump while they slowly learn human expectations. The image of the kitten Velcro-climbing pajama legs is cute until the crying begins because those little needle claws go right through fabric and into skin. Puppy teeth are just as sharp, and pups aren’t careful about what they nip. Slippers, fingers, faces, these are all fair game.

With an adult pet, you know exactly what you’re getting, says Sathe. She even advises people to participate in a foster-to-adoption program. This allows you to work with an “adoption expert” to choose an animal that suits your lifestyle and then take the potential family member home for a brief trial run. Not a good fit? No problem. You provided an animal in need with precious time outside the shelter and real-life socialization, explains Sathe.

If you still have your mind set on a baby furball, remember that while they’re harder to find in shelters, they are there. It might take a bit more searching, but that certainly beats the risk of supporting a breeding mill, which most pet stores buy from. Many of these animals have illnesses and genetic problems due to the poor conditions they are born into. You can easily end up with a beautiful new pet that instantly puts you into debt for vet bills.

And let’s talk about the actual cost of this present. Planning for veterinary needs is crucial. If you work with a reputable shelter, you should save a bit on the front end because a shelter will vaccinate, spay or neuter, and microchip before adoption. If you choose a pet shop pup, the medical bills start almost the minute you walk out the door.

Either way, you might want to start stashing some cash aside and investing in pet insurance. Illnesses and emergencies happen. To put this in perspective, consider that an average emergency visit can run around $1,500 and bills can easily exceed $5,000 according to John MacFadyen, Business Manager of Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center in Thousand Oaks.

Training is the next expense you should budget both time and money for, especially when bringing a puppy home. That little two-pound gremlin jumping up every time she sees you is adorable. When the 30-pound adult jumps all over your children or house guests, it’s not so cute. In the Los Angeles area, you can find group classes for around $10 a session (and you’ll need plenty), and private lessons run upwards of $150 per hour.

With careful planning and commitment from the whole family, adopting one of the 6.5 million animals surrendered to shelters every year might be a great holiday gift. But perhaps it’s better to consider volunteering at shelters or becoming a foster family for animals in need. You can have the joy of interacting with wonderful pooches and kitties without the long-term commitment and expense. If you do fall in love with someone, and sufficient thought and planning have gone into the decision, adoption is always an option.

Don’t forget to set some money aside for an extra Santa hat. Even foster friends need a hat.                

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Kait Leonard
Kait Leonard

Kait Leonard, Ph.D., holds graduate degrees in literature and psychology. She shares her home with five parrots and her American bulldog, Seeger. Her writing interests include psychology, holistic wellness for both people and animals, and whatever human interest topics cross her path.

2 Comments
  1. Another great article, Kait. While I’m not in the market for a pet, if I were, your article provides exactly the kind of advice I’d seek out before looking for a furbaby.

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