The scene is set. The tree stands in shimmering glory with garland and lights winding like twisting ribbons of color. Music filters softly in the background, merry tunes of carols and jingling bells. Scents of gingerbread and pine drift lazily through the rooms. Boxes of every size and shape line up under the tree, wrapped in colorful papers and bows. Curled in one of those little boxes hides a tiny, furry body—waiting for small and eager hands to open the red-bowed top.
Sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Straight from a classic holiday movie. What could be better? Except for that tiny, furry body inside the small, dark box. Let’s switch to a new perspective.
You are young, recently separated from your mother and siblings and all you’ve ever known, taken away by people you don’t know. You’re scared. They laughed as you were stuffed inside this dark box. You can barely breathe through the small holes poked in the sides and you cannot see anything beyond except a blur of colors. So you huddle and wait, afraid and lonely, your heart pounding in your dark prison. You only want your mother and siblings back.
Now fast forward. A small child grabs your box and you feel yourself being shaken around. The top lifts and you blink against the strong lights. Lights, smells and sounds all assault your senses and surround you. Hands grab you, hauling you out of the box.
You don’t understand what is happening. These people pull your ears and tail, and bare their teeth as they laugh. You try to show them you’re scared and mean them no harm, but they don’t seem to know why you’re wagging your tail and whining.
Fast forward a bit further. The hands have tired of pulling and poking you and you’re set down amid a sea of wrapping paper and curly ribbons as they find new interests. Timidly you wander away, forgotten. You are so scared. Maybe you can find your mother.
The point of this sad tale is this: while it may seem wonderful to bring a puppy or kitten home for Christmas, the reality is it is often a bad idea. There are times when it can be delightful, but conditions have to be met first. Impulsiveness and pets are seldom a good mix, especially at the holidays. The pets are scared, the kids get overwhelmed and it doesn’t take long for the novelty to wear off. Unlike a toy to be pushed to the back of the closet, the pet usually ends up relegated outside or taken to the shelter. Statistically, a large percentage of puppies and kittens are surrendered to shelters in the weeks of January and February—discarded Christmas gifts.
Instead, there are important questions and good options before bringing a new baby home. If the family is determined to get a new pet for the holidays, have the adults in the household decide beforehand where the pet will live, who will take control of its care, and whether all necessary supplies are included as additional gifts? Is there going to be a quiet place the pet can go and escape loud celebrations? Will the family be home to care for it or are do they have travel plans over the holidays?
If a new pet is really desired, but the answers above aren’t in the pet’s best interest, there are still options. Give the gift of supplies and an IOU, and maybe even a photo, all neatly packaged to be opened, along with a promise to deliver once things return to normal. For a family already stressed on holiday obligations, this is a far better option. It also teaches children that pets should never be obtained impulsively and that they require time and commitment.
Bottom line: If the holiday season is not a good time to introduce a pet, it would be better to wait. Hopefully, your new pet will be a member of the family for years to come. Waiting a week or so to get it can make all the difference in making the transition smoother for everyone.
Ryan Jo Summers is a local author, dog-sitter, and long-time animal advocate. She lives with several rescued and stray pets. You can learn more about her pets and writing at www.ryanjosummers.com, http://www.summersrye.wordpress.com and on her Facebook pages.