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23 December 2001 Issue
From the Bad Idea Department

by Michelle Rivera - MichelleRivera1@aol.com

In what looks like a Norman Rockwell painting. a cute puppy or kitten sits obediently under a Christmas tree, bright red bow around his neck waiting to be discovered by loving children.

The real deal is nothing like that fantasy because companion animals make for disastrous Christmas gifts. Countless animal shelters are swamped with animals, especially the more expensive, purebred pet store dogs, after the holidays. The honeymoon period may last a few weeks, but then the stark reality of dog or cat guardianship sets in.

So if some of your friends are considering surprising a loved one with a live animal for the holidays, here is some information you can pass on:

Present them with a shelter gift certificate and then offer to accompany them to the shelter to help them choose the perfect family member. After the holidays the shelters are full of purebred dogs and cats people got as gifts and now don't want. To make a dramatic presentation, wrap a stuffed animal and a box filled with pet supplies -- leashes, toys, dishes, food, litter -- along with the gift certificate. Don't forget books and videos or Dad's on basic care and feeding of the new companion animal. Anything by Larry Lachman or Brian Kilcommons, or the HSUS Companion Animal Care Book are all good choices. Even long-time dog or cat guardians enjoy those well-written manuals. (Brian has a book out entitled Mutts, America's Dog, for those friends with "natural dogs" or who will be visiting the shelter for a mixed breed.

According to Karen Buchan, a project manager for Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control, .....Ask your friends to ask themselves these questions: Who will take care of the animal after the holidays? A new puppy requires several hours of attention and training [each day] to become a responsible family member. Can the family afford caring for a new dog or cat? The American Animal Hospital Association recommends talking to your veterinarian about the breed you like. Some breeds require special care and grooming which can be expensive. Are the children in the home old enough to handle a new animal? Will the animal become too big for the home once he's fully grown? Is the yard fenced? Will the landlord allow a dog or cat? Is there an expensive "pet deposit" to consider? What part is refundable? Does the family have other animal companions that should be considered? Will the animal fit into their lifestyle? Are they on the go so much the dog or cat wouldn't get much attention? Does everyone realize that adopting an animal is a long commitment -- 10-15 years long?

And for the safety of ALL family members during the holidays Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control offers these safety tips: Cats and dogs love to chew on electric cords and tinsel. Cover the cords with duct tape. Put tinsel and glass ornaments higher on the tree, out of reach. Secure the tree so animals can't knock it over. Many holiday plants are poisonous to pets, especially poinsettias, holly and mistletoe with berries attached. As animals age they may become more sensitive to noise. By placing the animal in another part of the house -- a safe room -- during the excitement, it will make both you and him happier. Make sure your animal is wearing his collar and county rabies license tag. Dogs and cats may slip out of the door unnoticed during all the hustle and bustle. A county tag is a lost animal's ticket home. Give your dogs and cats gifts but make sure they are safe and nontoxic ones.

Enjoy the holidays!

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