There’s nothing quite as classic or positively Hallmark as gifting someone a puppy for Christmas. Everything from the giant bow around their neck to the squeals of excitement from your children belong in a made for TV movie, complete with the swelling orchestration in the background and the slowly closing vignette. However, real life is much messier and so are animals, so before you commit to fulfilling your families’ dreams of owning a pet iguana, make sure you are all ready for the responsibility.

The first question you must ask yourself is, “Why am I getting this pet?” Is it because your child has simply been begging for a kitten, or is it because they truly have shown the responsibility it takes to take care of an animal? Every year children get dozens of toys for Christmas that they end up bored with in a week. In order to make sure this won’t be the case with your new fuzzy friend, talk about the responsibility with your family. Decide who would take care of an animal if you had one and assign hypothetical jobs to each person and see if they are up to the task. You have to be sure that this pet won’t just be a fad in your house but will be a loved member of your family for years to come.

Next, consider what kind of pet is appropriate for your house and family. The ages of your children are extremely important to consider. A 4-year-old is not nearly as capable of taking care of a dog as a 10-year-old might be, so therefore a smaller animal, such as a guinea pig or a cat might be better. Also, it is important to consider the lifespan of the pet you choose. Knowing that your child will be leaving for college in 5 years or so might affect the age of the pet you choose and what breed as well. You want to be sure that you can either take care of it once they have left or they can take it with them when they go. A lizard or fish can be taken into a dorm room while a Great Dane cannot so choose wisely based on the circumstances you will knowingly be in during the lifespan of the pet you choose.

Along with choosing a pet, you should also be considerate of the cost that you will be taking on. If you have older children, you can use this as a motivation for taking responsibility and letting them help pay for some of the care the pet will need. Otherwise, you will have to shoulder a majority of the cost yourself so you should look into what you will be facing as far as food, vet visits, grooming, and sanitary supplies such as litter, bedding, doggie bags, etc. It is important to know what costs you will be taking on before you make the commitment so you don’t risk having to surrender your pet and break your family’s heart.

Once you have chosen the kind of pet you want, and know your family will enjoy, educate yourself on them. Find out what sort of behaviors to expect and which are trainable. Look up the qualities they might have and which are unusual. Know how much exercise or play they will need, what types of food are best for them, and where they like to sleep. Decide what rules you will apply to them. Will you allow your new dog to sleep on your bed? How will you prevent your cat from scratching on the furniture? Where will you put the litter box or keep the leashes? Who will walk the dog? There are so many decisions to be made before you even go and pick out your new pet, so be sure you are prepared with answers for all of them.  

Lastly, before you go and pick out the special gift, spend some time with another animal who is similar. Go to a friend’s house and meet their dog, hold their guinea pig, or pet their cat. Ask them about the kind of things they have dealt with while caring for their pet and what has been difficult for them. Get a definitive list of pros and cons so you will absolutely know what you are getting into and decide if you and your family is ready.

Finally, go and pick out your pet! While it may seem anticlimactic, it is generally not a good idea to spring a brand new pet on people unless they are somewhat prepared, so Christmas morning suprises should be avoided at all costs. A gift card to the shelter is a great way to still use the element of surprise without facing the possibility of rejection by the pet and/or new owner. You can even buy all the necessary supplies, like a leash, collar, or bed, and substitute a stuffed animal until you can all go to the shelter and decide on a new pet together. That way you still get the “big reveal” but the entire family still gets to go and pick out an animal together. It’s a great way to help your family bond with your new pet and with each other during the process. You are adding a new member to the family, after all, and each person should have a say and get to meet him or her.

If you are considering getting a pet this holiday season, make sure you look at our adoption process and let us help you decide which pet is best for you and your family. You won’t be disappointed!