It's a classic scene from Hollywood movies: The camera zooms through a frosted window into a living room full of Christmas presents. A young child eagerly opens a bow-tied box, and out comes a bounding puppy. • A new pet for the holidays is on many kids' wish list, but "wrapping" one and putting it under a tree is not the best way to give a pet. "Like anything in Hollywood, it rarely goes like the movies," says Donna Bainter, behavior counselor for the SPCA of Tampa Bay in Largo. "It's a really busy time for many people. There are many family members. The kids are opening lots of gifts with boxes getting tossed over their shoulders. The puppy, who is a baby, is put in quite a traumatic situation at that time." • Bainter has some suggestions for less stressful ways to give a pet as a gift:
Get a gift certificate for the animal, then, as a family, they can go in to select their own pet. They always pick something different from what the gift-giver had in mind, Bainter says. "It's a very personal thing. It's like picking a husband or a wife."
Wrap a collar, toys and supplies to build the anticipation. "Knowing that you're getting a pet is an exciting experience, too," Bainter says.
Meet the animals, again as a family, before you decide on what you're getting. Some animals are afraid of little children, or some kids might not like certain breeds. "As a parent, I'd want to make sure I was happy with the interaction with the child and the pet," Bainter says.
If you're going to have a puppy, the family should agree to focus on acclimating and training the animal during the time you have off.
Puppies and kittens are in high demand for the holidays. "People would argue and fight over these guys this time of the year," Bainter says. Animals are available year-round, many times a few weeks after the holidays. In some cases, bouncy adolescents are returned to the shelter because the owners were unaware of the effort needed to keep a puppy.
Don't have time for a puppy? Consider getting an older pet that's already house-trained.
Look for support
Consider adopting from a shelter with a good support system. Failure rate for the SPCA of Tampa Bay is low, because of their help line, Bainter says. "Not only do they get a dog or a cat, they also get the support, which no mall offers."