A puppy for Christmas? Reasons you may want to rethink giving a pet

WASHINGTON — It may be tempting to put a puppy under the tree as a surprise for someone this holiday season. But becoming a pet owner is a decision that includes a lifelong commitment that shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise, says veterinarian Dr. Katy Nelson.

Adopting a pet for a holiday gift should be a step that is carefully thought out, she said.

“If this is something that you and your family have been discussing about bringing a pet into your life, the holidays can be a great time to bring them in,” Nelson said in a WTOP interview. “But the gift of a pet to someone who is not in your household is where I really pull the reins back.”

While television shows and movies often depict the fun scenes of puppies being fun surprise gifts, that’s often not realistic.

“I know we all love the vision of the ‘Lady and the Tramp’ with the puppy popping out of the box. We all have that in our head, but how realistic are car commercials with big red bows and how realistic is it to have a puppy popping out of a box? Another thing is don’t wrap your pets,” Nelson said.

Factors to consider in adopting a pet are the financial and emotional commitments required to keep the pet happy and thriving.

If there is uncertainty as to whether someone is really ready to adopt a pet, Nelson said that the surprise should most likely be avoided.

In addition, picking out a pet at the shelter includes an experience and an emotional connection that is important to both the pet and its owner.

“The reason I encourage everyone to bring their family in is that it’s a very special moment when you find that perfect pet,” Nelson said. “It’s a very special moment when you realize that this is the one and that’s something that you really want your entire family to be a part of. You want the personality of that pet to match the personality of your family and you want everyone to feel involved in the care of that pet because there is a lifelong commitment that is going to be involved.”

And if surprising that neighbor across the street with a new pet is on the shopping list, Nelson said maybe try a gift card or pay that adoption fee instead.

“I realize the little old lady down the street you might think that she would do well to have a dog or a cat but realize that it might not be in her budget,” Nelson said. ‘Maybe pay the adoption fee at the local shelter or something along those lines. That allows them to have that special bonding moment as well, decide on the pet that’s right for them. Maybe it’s a cockatiel, maybe it’s a turtle, maybe it’s a dog. You don’t know but they can make that decision and you’ve been a part of it.”

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Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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