Another year, another round of racking our brains for the perfect gifts…be it for Valentine’s, Easter, birthdays, or Christmas. How about a pet?
We’ve seen it in the movies: the kitten in a red bow that goes along with a box of chocolates, the big-eyed bunny or fuzzy chick in a basket, a mysterious moving box emitting puppy sounds. And then the smiles and squeals of surprise. Oh, my!
Hopefully, after those first few minutes of amazement and wonder, it’s a tale that “ends happily ever after.” Unfortunately, for many, the story comes to an abrupt halt a few chapters in.
Why? Despite the good intentions of the giver, the recipient didn’t make the thoughtful decision to invite the animal into his/her life and assume the huge responsibility involved in terms of time, energy, and money. Soon, the novelty wanes. The “cute” puppy/kitten/bunny becomes a larger, needy, dependent, often untrained “burden.” Even less demanding hamsters, reptiles, and birds require daily care that can develop into an unwelcome chore. “Cute” or “cool” are no longer descriptors that come to mind.
Unlike a sweater, you usually can’t get a refund if a pet isn’t a good fit. Instead of being returned to Walmart to be repackaged, the pet may be neglected, abused, dropped off at a shelter, or transferred to another family.
So much for the perfect gift.
Basically, prospective owners should choose their pets. They’re making a commitment that will last years. Cats and dogs live an average of 12-18 years, rabbits can live ten years, parakeets 12-14 years, geckos 20-30 years, and rainbow boas 15-25 years. Even little hamsters live up to three years.
If you’re a parent wanting a pet for the family, know that most of this responsibility falls to you. Animals aren’t playthings or “lessons to be learned.” Children tend to be easily distracted, and that hamster in their bedroom may die of thirst.
If you’re absolutely convinced that a pet is still the spot-on gift, ask the following questions, even if in a roundabout manner. (The Humane Society, ASPCA, and American Kennel Club all recommend asking questions upfront, and I daresay they have some experience in this realm):
- Does the person really want a pet? (“Say, have you considered getting a pet?”)
- What type? What breed? (This avoids getting a Bull Mastiff when s/he has zebra finches in mind.)
- Does s/he have the time, ability, and interest to care for a pet? (Will it receive proper training, exercise, and attention? Animals generally require a minimum of 30 minutes a day for feeding, cage cleaning, grooming, petting, litter box changes – whatever the animal may need at any given time.)
- Are there any allergies or housing restrictions?
- Is s/he prepared for the costs involved: food, vaccinations, spay/neutering, grooming, fencing, crate/cage/aquarium equipment, obedience training, license, etc.? (According to the ASPCA, the average first-year costs for fish are $235. The costs go up for other pets: cats average $1,035, rabbits cost about $1,055, and large dogs run about $1,843.)
As you can see, it’s a matter you don’t want to lightly impose on another.
Even if your children are pleading for a pet, go over some of these questions too. Have them also read a book on pet care, so they can help with the animal’s well-being.
Will these questions ruin the surprise? Maybe, but having everyone on board ensures a happy ending for all (pet included) beyond the initial few minutes of excitement.
Besides, anticipation may be the most exciting of all.
First printed in Pets in the City Magazine, February 2013