A Go or a No: When Pets Are on the Holiday Wish List

“Please! I promise I’ll take care of it and walk it and love it and hug it and feed it and …”


Those saucer-shaped eyes and muted whimpering tug at the heartstrings, each and every time—whether it’s your child begging for a new best friend, or the pet staring back at you from a computer screen while you’re doing a little “What if?” online homework.

It’s the holidays, and nothing speaks to warm and fuzzy memories than something that’s actually warm and fuzzy. It makes for a fantastic memory – but is it smart?

It’s really all about the level of commitment, says Kennelworth Kennels owner Zack Karr.

Who’s ready to get cold? Your 8-year-old or you?

“Think of it this way—a dog at a year old is like a kid at seven,” says Karr, whose been training dogs for more than a decade. “The repercussions of that first year last a lifetime. If you haven’t trained or exposed a child to new sights, sounds and experiences before their seventh birthday, how would you expect them to act?”

Karr likens the experience of a puppy in those cold winter months to being in a box, where, unless they are getting regular physical exercise in a wide variety of outdoor environments, there is little left to the imagination.

“If an owner is not getting the dog outside and exposed to new sights and sounds in that first six months, dogs can become skittish once they are finally exposed to them,” he says.

Still insistent on a puppy? Dress warm!

“The next three months are going to be nothing but bundling up and taking the dog out every 20 minutes,” Karr says.

And the emphasis on training can’t be over-emphasized.

“That first three months is crucial,” Karr says. “You have to build a dog’s confidence at a very young age. Dogs absolutely need to be exposed to a variety of sights and sounds at a young age.”

It’s also important to note that the most effective training doesn’t involve just money – it involves time.

“If people just want to drop their dog off for me to train, I explain that while the end result will be that the dog behaves well for me, it doesn’t necessarily equate to behaving well at home,” Karr says. “A dog knows what he or she can get away with in their home environment, especially if training and practice exercises aren’t enforced with any kind of consistency.”

Pet adoption makes sense for some

Maybe you don’t have time to housebreak a puppy or like the additional freedoms that a cat provides over dog ownership. A pet can work as a holiday gift, says PAWS Chicago founder Paula Fasseas, provided it’s the right family dynamic.

“We actually have a more progressive view of it,” Fasseas says. “Pets are a wonderful holiday gift, but it all depends on who’s giving it. If it’s parents who are going to be the caretakers, giving to their children, then it’s great. If it’s children doing it for their elderly parents, it’s great. But if it’s boyfriends for girlfriends and girlfriends for boyfriends… that’s not always a good idea because they’re usually young kids and don’t realize the responsibilities (that come along with pet ownership).”

Other shelters enforce strict policies about adoption, especially during the holidays. Riverwoods’ Orphans of the Storm, for example, will not adopt to people with the intention of gift giving.

“A pet is a member of the family and as such, it should be adopted as a family,” says Jackie Borchew, director of development and community relations. “We even ask that prospective families bring in their existing pets if they have them to meet the new one.”

That said, Borchew says now is an excellent time to consider adoption, especially of an adult pet, whose personality and character are already formed and easy to observe.

You can promise that pet…

One suggestion? Offer up a “gift certificate” – something that says, “Congratulations on your new pet, which will arrive later this spring.”

“I would strongly recommend a promise of a pet,” says Karr. “A card that says the pet is on its way is a great idea for everyone involved.”

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