Pet Peeves: Is Your 'Surprise' Gift a Keeper?

Are you keeping your tree afterwards? No. Are you planting those bouquets or that wreath? No, of course not, those aren't for "keeping." What about that "surprise" puppy?

I had some minor surgery recently and needed to spend most of my school holiday in bed, so far, but I was finally able to join a friend for tea at Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf.

The tea was nice and warm, my friend was funny and full of life, but my ears drifted to the couple next to us.

WIFE: "I just hope he won't be disappointed--"

HUSBAND: "Every boy needs a dog."

WIFE: "I'm just not so sure..."

HUSBAND: "I don't want to raise a kid who hasn't had a chance to have that relationship!"

They went on to decide to put a puppy under the tree this Christmas.

Are you putting a puppy or kitten under the tree this holiday? That can be a really great gift—for all of you!

  • I secretly hope you adopted it.

  • I secretly hope you thought through owning an animal.

  • I secretly hope you are ready for that pet, because it can make the most wonderful present in the world.

Why can pets be such a great gift?

1. So many lovable, adoptable pets need homes right now. Giving them a nice home is good for that animal.

2. Dogs and cats bring personality and love to the home (as well as a host of documented health and psychological benefits).

3. Kids can learn more responsibility by helping to care for an animal.

4. Priorities of the home shift from purely self-centered topics to include concerns like proper care for this new kitten, puppy, gerbil, mouse, etc. (concerns like walking, feeding, nurturing, exercising).

Here's my Pet Peeve:

You surprise your child with the gift of living thing. The kid, like most modern kids, is amused as long as everything about it is fun and pleasant. A predictable moment:

Your new, delightful animal, like all living things, has its own needs or desires onr fine afternoon, and it's just not interested in your child at that moment—and your son or daughter loses interest instantly. There is less room, today, for moments that require patience and understanding.

That's an adult delinquent disorder, too, by the way. "What is your evidence? What is your source of information?" I drive around town. Parking lots like Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, the mall in Sherman Oaks,

In an age of changing channels, flipping games on and off, cutting You Tube videos in half because there isn't enough action or funny business to sit out the entire three minutes, there is little "patience" in young people.

I'm with young people every day, all day, most days of the week. I know how fickle their emotional lives can be, and I watch how few are asked to be responsible or considerate.


Many of the animals that are locked up, neglected, discarded were once gifts. They were given with the best of intentions. They were supposed to bring joy, to add love, and to wrestle responsibility from a young person who hasn't been expected to be responsible in other ways yet.

A site like Petfinder can help you think through which animals or types of animals might be best for your particular flavor of household. If you are gone more than 8 hours a day, a dog can be in agony from waiting and loneliness, from boredom, from needing to relieve itself outside. Maybe a cat, which is able to handle more time alone and can usde its own litter box, would be a better choice?

Also finding the right breed of dog can help homes that are expecting a particular experience. You will have a completely different experience with a cockapoo that you will have with a mountain dog, for instance. Unless you are ready to go to the beach, up mountains for rigorous hikes, and to the dog park for relentless runs and frolicks, you may want to think through getting a sporting dog or working dog breed.

It helps to think these things through. I love the idea of giving a pet, obviously. But I look at the faces behind the bars at most pet rescues, and they are desperately lonely, disapointed, rejected creatures who were once just being themselves when the family decided to change the channel. Now they alone on a slab of concrete, confused and afraid.

HUSBAND: "I'm willing to do all the walking, if our son craps out. Don't worry about it. I want the dog as much for us as for..."

Good. Because Mom and Dad will definitely have to step up to the plate often. Kids can learn, but they shouldn't be expected to suddenly be completely different. If you don't already have them doing their share of chores and household work, the pet won't be as much a "gift" as it will a punishment.

Making care and understanding a gradual part of the process by planning to help out or by planning to have the child begin to learn helping out is a good plan. I hope that is what's happening.

The trees end up on the street right after Christmas. Bouquets eventually go into the trash. Wreaths are piled into the same bins as wrapping paper and empty packages. Many adorable, lovable, and trainable household pets are discarded, because people didn't think about house training, or exercise, or regular feedings.

Make your holiday pet (gift) a keeper—think it through, or go to Petfinder or a smiliar site and ask yourself some questions about feeding, training, exercise, and which lifestyle describes your home before you bring home a pet which might not fit.

Happy Holidays.


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