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The holidays are almost here! And what better time to adopt that cat or dog you’ve been longing for? The temptation to present a child, or an adult, with a cuddly canine or fluffy feline on Christmas is hard to resist, but until recently we were told the holidays were not the right time. Children might equate a puppy with a toy, and the animal could be neglected in all the chaos of the holiday season. Better to wait, we were told, until after the holidays.

However, shelters are embracing pet adoptions over the holidays – any time is a good time to bring some love into our lives and what greater gift can we give to an animal than a loving, lasting home? If you’re considering bringing a pet home, don’t let the holidays dissuade you. Whether it’s now, or six months from now, you just need to be prepared.

If you are considering adopting a pet these holidays, take a look at these helpful tips:

Get the whole family involved in the process. There’s an emotional connection that comes with selecting a pet – it may be the look on the pet’s face or the way he held out his paw, but it’s an emotional bond that usually begins when you first see or spend time with him. Choosing a pet is personal for most people, so it’s important to involve the whole family.  A pet is a lifetime commitment so it’s also important to ensure that all your family members are on board with getting one.

Look into potential allergies. It is astonishing how many people are heartbroken that they have to return pets because they were unaware of their allergies. Be prepared beforehand and interact with cats or dogs to see if there could be an allergy issue.

Understand the financial costs of a pet. Calculate the cost of purchasing supplies and ongoing fees for your new pet such as food, treats, litter for cats, boarding costs, walking gear for dogs, yearly vet exams and vaccinations, as well as a contingency budget in case the pet becomes sick.

Make sure to research what is included with the adoption. Pets adopted from reputable rescue groups will come fully vetted for a small adoption fee. At TEARS Animal Rescue, we charge an adoption fee of R750 which includes initial vaccinations, sterilisation, deworming, tick and flea treatment, an ID tag and a microchip. It could cost up to R2000 to get all that for the “free” kitten or puppy you found online.

Take your mind away from the holiday-hype. A pet can be the best gift in the world, and while surprises are great, giving a pet for Christmas may be more surprise than someone is expecting – and it may not be appreciated. Don’t just give a pet as a gift to someone without first making sure they want a companion animal. Some people might love animals but not have the time or the ability to care for one. If you want to give someone a pet for Christmas, it’s best to offer paying the adoption fee so they can have the fun of picking – and being picked by – their new family member.

If you have young children, just accept that you’re the one who is going to be taking care of the pet. Children may promise to take full responsibility, and they’ll mean it with all their hearts, but it’s just not going to happen, no matter how much we want it to. And constant battling with a child over the pet might build resentment. It’s important that children realise from an early age that a pet is a sentient being that requires gentle handling, proper feeding and a certain amount of clean up. Children learn to love and respect all animals by having a pet in the family. Show them how it’s done and you’ll help your child become a better, kinder person.

Timing is everything. The holidays tend to be rather busy and pets can get a little stressed. If you’re planning to go on holiday or have a houseful of family guests, schedule the adoption when you’ll have more time to devote to your new pal. That might mean adopting now, giving the pet a chance to acclimatise to his new home before the madness starts, or waiting until after the holidays. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a pet now; you’ll just need to take precautions to keep it safe and happy. If you need to wait, you still can check out the animals available at shelters – perhaps even join as a volunteer and spend time with the animals, getting to know them, taking them for walks or grooming them. By spending more time at the shelter, you’re more likely to find the perfect pooch or kitty than doing a once-off tour around the shelter. And, you’ll be able to hand out extra holiday cheer to animals who need it most!

Are you sure you’re ready to be a pet parent? Owning a pet is a lifestyle and you’ll need to be able to dedicate time to exercising, socialising and going to training classes. Having a pet will impact future decisions like where you live and how often you travel and your home, garden and fence may require modifications. If you rent, you’ll need have to get your landlord’s permission.

Consider an adult or senior pet. While puppies and kittens are adorable, they require a lot of work and dedication so that they flourish into well-balanced adults. Consider adopting an older pet; there are so many young adult and senior pets in shelters who are looking for loving homes and they may adapt more easily to your home and be more conducive to your lifestyle. Our adoption counsellors will help you select your new furry friend that will be the best fit.

No matter when you adopt a pet, be sure you are ready for a long commitment to care for and love your new family member. We really hope you’ll consider bringing a pet home this holiday. The love they share is the greatest gift of all!