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December 19, 2006 > The Gift of Life

The Gift of Life

by Nancy Lyon

The spirit of giving is a part of many holiday traditions and you may be considering bringing a new animal friend into your life or perhaps presenting one as a gift to a loved one. But that happy image may not live up to the reality and there are serious concerns that should be considered before taking the big step.

It may be tempting to want to give a cute little puppy, kitten or other animal as a holiday present but it is never a good idea or in the best interests of all concerned; however well intentioned, giving a living creature as a gift is always unwise. Animals coming into a new family and strange environment need the transition to be a calm and safe one, away from avoidable noise and activity - and if we are honest, this is usually not the holiday scenario.

This special life requires that the new guardian make an informed, lifelong commitment before taking on the responsibility of a trusting creature. They need to understand that this is a living, feeling being, totally dependent upon his human family for many years to come. Stop and consider - you will be taking on a new "baby" with all that implies - veterinary bills, schooling, meeting the emotional and physical needs of the vulnerable life you will be bringing into your family.

And because this is a serious decision, it's very likely that someone who is ready to take on the responsibility of an animal will want to be part of choosing their own lifetime friend.  If the emotional connection is not there the chances of bonding are at risk and that works both ways.  

Add to this fact that during the holiday season a family may be distracted because of the excitement of the festivities and unknowingly put not only their new addition in harm's way but other resident "pets."

It's all too easy during the holidays to momentarily forget that decorations and festive feasts can be hazardous to your animal friend. Dinner leftovers, candles and garlands can easily attract momentarily unprotected animals and are dangerous choking hazards. Electric decorations such as incredibly enticing stringed lights can give your critters a serious shock should they chew on the wires. Indoor holiday plants such mistletoe and poinsettias can be toxic or irritating to sensitive digestive tracts. The list of holiday hazards is long and should be given much thought not only for your animal companion's well being but also for the sake of your finances - veterinary care can be very expensive.

Bringing an animal into your lives should be done with awareness and forethought. OHS suggests as an alternative to directly giving an animal as a present, that instead you make up a gift basket containing all the essentials. Suggestions for the perfect gift basket would include books on specific animal care, leashes or collars, water and food bowls, safe toys and treats, and a gift certificate for obedience or puppy socialization classes. If children are part of the family, a stuffed toy representing their new friend is a gift that gives anticipation and excitement of their future friend, a part of the joy of helping chose a new "sibling"
If you want to include the "Gift of Life' - then give a certificate for a free adoption from your local animal shelter -- on you, then go for it.

Happy Holidays!

For a comprehensive list of holiday Dos and Don'ts for your animal companion's holiday safety check out ASPCA website:

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