Giving a pet as a gift can be tempting; animals like Hamish (below, with Elaine Nelson, of BC SPCA's Surrey Educaiton & Adoption Centre) need homes year-round.

Homes for the holidays

Adding a pet to the family is not a decision to make lightly

The commercials are fittingly heartwarming: a child in a cosy onesie, still rubbing the leftover sleep from his or her eyes, pads downstairs to spot what is clearly a special gift under the Christmas tree.

The child excitedly lifts the loosely placed lid from the red-ribboned box.

Screams of delight – and sometimes tears – come next, as the undeniably adorable bundle of fur that’s inside pops up to plaster the giggling recipient with puppy kisses, its little body practically bursting with an uncontrollable case of the wiggles.

But while giving a pet may sound like a great gift idea, there are a number of reasons to avoid the gesture on special occasions, said Kim Monteith, BC SPCA’s manager of animal welfare.

“It’s a wonderful thought, however, the person receiving it really has to be ready,” Monteith said. “Christmas is a busy time of the year… sometimes it’s just not the right time to get a new addition.”

At any time of the year, there are challenges that come with welcoming a pet to the family, ranging from having the proper time to train it, to having the appropriate space to meet its needs.

Those challenges can become particularly difficult endeavours to negotiate over the holidays, when lives are already bustling with decorating, shopping, cooking, visiting and other festive activities.

Not only can it be overwhelming for the recipient, but for the animal, too.

Elaine Nelson & HamishNew pets – be they puppies, kittens, guinea pigs, birds or other animals, of any age – benefit from regimented schedules and a calm environment in which to adjust.

And if the pet is a complete surprise to the recipient, regardless of whether that recipient is a known animal-lover, that just adds to the challenge, said Elaine Nelson, assistant manager of BC SPCA’s Surrey Education & Adoption Centre.

Nelson knows the feeling well. As a young adult, she had a pet rat. Within days of her pet passing way, friends arrived with a gift they were sure she’d be thrilled with: a new rat.

They were wrong.

“I was still mourning my first rat. I wasn’t ready in any way to have a new rat at that point,” Nelson. “I treated it nicely. But it took a long time for me to feel warm to him.”

Everyone responsible for the pet should be involved in the decision, Nelson said.

Manel Dias, a Surrey resident with a heart for animals that she said has led her to volunteer for, and support, several animal-welfare organizations including the SPCA, agreed that holidays are not the time to give a pet, nor spontaneously adopt.

“These are living beings,” she said. “These are not ornaments. It is not just for a few weeks or months.”

Options for those determined to gift a four-legged member of the family to a loved one or friend include presenting a written promise instead, for a pet that will be chosen together a month or three down the road; or, wrapping up a book about the desired breed to help the recipient understand the commitment.

Monteith said providing a gift basket of supplies that will be needed for the new addition is another alternative. Then, when things have settled down, take the recipient to choose their pet.

“Then the person’s involved,” she said.

There is also the option of fostering a pet over the holidays, or volunteering at a local shelter. Both not only help homeless animals and those charged with caring for them, but can help prospective pet owners get an idea as to whether taking that next step of owning is indeed the right move for them.

For those looking to adopt a pet, there are many at the Surrey Education & Adoption Centre in need of permanent homes – including a 12-year-old cat named Loretta, who doesn’t like being around other cats; one-year-old Hamish, an albino rat with an endless curiosity; and guinea pigs, Goofie and Gizmo.

For more information, visit spca.bc.ca/surrey or call 604-574-1711.

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