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Posted on Thu, Dec 15, 2011 : 5:44 a.m.

With the excitement of the holidays, is it really the right time to get a new pet?

By Lorrie Shaw


flickr photo by SMN

Having time off around the holidays, coupled with the frenzy of the season, can make the scenario of welcoming a pet into the household seem like a great idea. The urging of excited children makes it feel even more so. After all a new puppy or kitten adds a certain joie de vive to home life — and really, what's not to love about that feeling? Exotic pets are a popular choice for families with kids, too, because of their unusual nature.

But is the holiday season really the right time to get a pet?

That depends on how much preparation and thought is going into doing it.

After all, a pet requires a lot of consideration on a daily basis — regardless of what is going on in life, or how the humans are feeling.

But, sadly, the following scenario occurs all too often:

A prospective dog owner traipses over to a pet store to pick out a cute puppy as well as a leash, food and water bowls, a bed, a few treats and a bag of food.

So, with very little real preparation or forethought, they bring everything home, they surprise their kids with a puppy, and everything is great — for about a week. By this point, the parents are fed up with the kids' natural tendency to not pitch in, the accidents, the chewing, etc.

Additionally, the newness has worn off, and everyone goes back to their lives with work, school, extracurricular activities several times per week — while puppy has to sit home alone.

No one realized how much time and care a puppy needs to become a well-adjusted member of the household. Nor does anyone have the time or patience to carry out the consistent job of age-appropriate training and housebreaking.

The cycle begins.

Puppy then grows into an unmanageable adolescent dog that isn’t so cute anymore. They are is given away to someone else — or they end up in a shelter — because the family just can't manage the responsibility anymore. It is hoped that the new family, if one can be found, will have the ability to give the proper attention that the dog needs.

Imagine how confusing and sad it is for that pet to be shifted from one environment to another like that?

Having a companion animal is an extraordinary experience. However, there are no pets that are "low maintenance" — period.

Welcoming a new companion animal into your family takes a lot of consideration and research to prepare for, regardless of the animal's age or breed. Here are some issues to consider:

* All breeds of cats and dogs are different, from their dietary needs and behavioral attributes to health issues. Did you know that some breeds of cat actually like to play fetch like dogs do? Some pets are more prone to cardiac issues, liver dysfunction or disorders that require maintenance medication.

* Thinking about a new puppy? It's really like having a new baby in the house. I mean that. When Gretchen came home at 5 1/2 weeks, it was like bringing home an infant. Because of her age, she wasn't anywhere near being housebroken — that meant frequent potty breaks. In the middle of the day while I was out working (yes, I had to get home in between appointments to get her outside to give her exercise and so that she could do her business). It also meant waking up at night to do the same. The house had to be puppy-proofed, completely! Despite the fact that crate training was employed, one ear and an eye needed to be kept on our furry bundle of joy to be sure she wasn't getting into anything. Having a puppy meant a lot of things. Life was different.

* Is everyone in the house 'on board' with the decision?

* It is a considerable financial obligation, too, over the life of the animal. Do you have the financial means to pay for the food? You need to get your pets spayed or neutered, and that costs money, too. What about vet visits every six to 12 months for vaccines, check-ups, medicine… what about more serious medical issues? (We've personal experience in the area of serious medical problems that required surgery.)

* The life expectancy of a pet is important to consider as well. Depending on the breed, dogs can live anywhere from 7 to more than 16 years. Ditto for cats, but their life expectancy can be upwards of 20 years. (Yes, really.) Ditto for exotic birds, but it's more like 30 to 70 (or more) years.

* What is your lifestyle like? What is your life going to look like in seven or eight years?

* Your living situation: What is it like now? Do you own, rent — will that change?

* What is your schedule like? How many hours do you work? Do you have a solid support system set in place as a backup to provide care, like a reliable relative, friend or a pet sitter?

* Are you one who has a tendency to have a more laid back, sedentary lifestyle? Are you a runner? Somewhere in between? Some breeds of dog absolutely require a good vigorous run outside everyday to keep their behavior in check. They need lots of playtime. Yes, true playaholics!

*Exotic pets have special needs. Environment requirements, specialized food/feeding schedules, enrichment toys/time, not to mention a veterinarian who deals with exotics or pocket pets — and not all do!

* Do you like to travel? Can you take a pet with you to the places that you typically like to go? Who will care for your pets when you go away for any length of time?

* Are you married, single… do you have kids — have you had kids yet? What will life be like once kids go off to college? The people in your life (or who will be in your life) should be huge deciding factor with regard to your consideration of a pet.

Pets aren't accessories: They're living, breathing beings who require serious consideration at all stages of their life. They count on you to provide not only for their basic needs to survive, but also for companionship, enrichment and fun to keep them whole.

Making the decision to bring a pet into the family when the time is really right for you, as opposed to doing it because it seems like an awesome gift idea has a domino effect: it sets up the whole family — including the animal — for success in the long-term, it teaches children about the responsibility of having a pet and it keeps pets out of already over-burdened animal shelters.

Lorrie Shaw is lead pets blogger for Connect with her on Google+ and follow her daily pet adventures or email her directly.