Gift ideas this Christmas might include a puppy or kitten as a child's surprise with instructions from an adult that the animal is the sole responsibility of the child. This action will most likely cause problems for child and animal alike.
Adoption of an animal into the home is the financial and legal responsibility of adults. Food, water, shelter and training requirements must be met every day and veterinary care will be necessary. Expecting children to handle these necessities could lead to failure. Daily arguing over feeding the cat and walking the dog demean the animal in the child's eyes and the pet is seen as an unwelcomed burden instead of a welcomed member of the family. Animals are regularly abandoned by people of all ages who refused to care for them.
If the new puppy does not receive care from the child, the adults might then decide to "get rid of" the animal. The child is devastated and has learned a negative lesson regarding animal companionship. Forcing a child to care for an animal might cause the young caretaker to resent the puppy or kitten, which could result in neglect or abuse of the animal.
Animal adoption will be a rewarding experience only if the adults in the family want an animal and then teach, by example, responsible care. In addition to daily requirements, ensuring that the new pet is already spayed or neutered or having a plan in place to provide the surgery as soon as possible is an excellent demonstration of kindness to animals. Fewer puppies and kittens born translates into more homes for those who are already here.
As a Christmas surprise, a child can be provided a home-made pet adoption gift certificate attached to a stuffed animal. After the excitement of the holidays, the family can visit the local animal shelter where, due to pet overpopulation, many mixed and pure breed dogs and cats are in need of homes. Adoptable animals of all ages are also available by using the Internet. Type in, for example, "Labrador retriever rescue groups"; "cat rescue groups"; or try Petfinders.com. You will be led to already-trained, lovable dogs and cats who will easily fit into the family.
True humane education begins when the new dog or cat is brought home. As legal guardians of the animal, the adults' example of quality daily care for the dog or cat will create an atmosphere of kindness within a family, which can be a true holiday gift handed down to each generation.
Tanya Tuell, Program coordinator of the Harrison County Spay Neuter Assistance Program
December 14, 2011