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Christmas Pets

December 7, 2009
Times Observer
BY JULIE DUDGEON, MIDDLE SCHOOL COORDINATOR, CHAUTAUQUA SRTIDERS

Picture Christmas morning with the cutest puppy in the world jumping out from behind the Christmas tree. He’s all fur and feet with a big, red bow, bounding towards the outstretched arms of squealing, happy children. While giving a pet during the holidays can be rewarding and exciting, there are some things to carefully consider beforehand. All too often, unwanted and uncared for pets end up at the animal shelter or worse, become victims of neglect and maltreatment.

Make sure the person or family really would like a pet. It’s one thing for a child to say he or she wants a pet but the reality of having one is another matter. Perhaps the family can’t really tend to or afford one at this particular time. Bringing a dog, cat, or even a goldfish into the household should be a family decision. Parents need to make their expectations clear to their children about who is responsible for what when it comes to care and feeding. If your child is five or six, you, as a parent, can’t assume he or she is ready to take on all the duties of pet care. Rationality needs to win out over emotional desire and if no one is home to take care of Fluffy, then maybe this isn’t the best time to own a cat.

Pet owners need to connect to their pets. Does the pet you’ve selected meet the needs and match the personality of the prospective owner or family? Does anyone have allergies that might be adversely affected? If a child is deathly afraid of dogs, even the smallest would not seem to be a very good fit.

The holiday season is very hectic. Many families just don’t have time to take care of a new pet during the holidays. Plans have been made to visit Grandma or go sledding or skiing without prior thought about how to accommodate a new puppy if she’s not even housebroken yet. If your child has been fortunate enough to receive a number of presents, it’s possible the new kitten or bunny will “get lost in the shuffle” especially if the new Wii or video game is more appealing. Occasionally, children become aggressive or jealous of the new addition to the family. This might be a particular problem during the holidays when usually so much attention is focused on them.

Pets need regular veterinarian visits and require basic necessities for their well-being. Anyone who has adopted a “free” dog knows that “free” quickly adds up! Pet beds, dishes for food and water, vaccinations, behavior classes, food, collars and leashes, pet carriers, kitty litter, toys, aquatic plants, dog runs or backyard fences, time for exercise and regular doctor examinations. Just like people, pets need lots of “TLC”.

There might be a viable alternative to giving an actual living, breathing creature. Perhaps buying and wrapping pet supplies or toys and enclosing a homemade gift certificate conveying the offer but also giving the recipient an opportunity to gratefully accept or decline the offer is best. A card shaped like a longed-for pet and a promise to make an “all expense paid trip” to the animal shelter at a future day and time might be a fun and exciting way to prepare, for example, a child for pet ownership. This would allow for discussions about what kind of pet would be best, who cares for it, and maybe what its name will be!

Giving a pet as a gift should be a rich and rewarding experience for everyone concerned. Remembering to put some forethought into the process and avoiding impulse buying or giving will go a long way in making sure the wonderful memories of this experience last a lifetime.

Julie Dudgeon, Middle School Coordinator for Chautauqua Striders, supervises the after school tutoring programs at Jefferson, Washington, and Persell Middle Schools, and also CARE (Community Academics Reaching Everyone) tutoring program at the Jamestown YMCA, Second Floor. A resident of this area most of her life, she is married and has two grown sons.

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