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    Care is watchword for holiday pets

    People need to think carefully before making a gift of an animal, experts say.


    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 23, 2000

    What boy or girl wouldn't love to find a puppy or kitty under the tree Christmas morning?

    [Times photo: Jill Sagers]
    A collar is clipped from Mojo at at the Humane Society of North Pinellas on Friday. Greg Cox was getting the kitten for his 3-year-old daughter, Ellen.
    Often, though, the thrill of a new pet wears off soon after the holidays, and Spot and Daisy find themselves at an animal shelter.

    "If you're looking for a pet for a lifetime commitment and it happens to be this time of year, that's great," said Rick Chaboudy, executive director of the Humane Society of Pinellas County. "But if you're looking for a pet to be a Christmas gift, it may not work out -- and the animal is going to pay the price in the long run."

    Chaboudy said December is the busiest month of the year for adoptions at the society's shelter on State Road 590 in Clearwater. But he said that doesn't mean everyone who walks in the door looking for that perfect gift will leave with one.

    "Don't be taken in by the cute faces of the puppies and kitties," he said. "That feeling wears off very quickly in many cases."

    Chaboudy said he won't permit some "secret" gift adoptions at the shelter. Unless it's a parent buying an animal for the household, he won't approve the adoption.

    "A pet is a very personal decision," he said. "The idea is that for the next 13 or 14 years, you're going to have another member of the family."

    Steve James, owner of Petland at Largo Mall, says only a handful of his customers each year experience buyers' remorse.

    He said that's because his shop takes extra precautions in matching customers with the right pets. If follow-up phone calls prove otherwise, his employees don't get commission on the sale.

    "We want to make sure all our babies go to the right homes," he said.

    That's not what happened in 1996, when parents across the country bought Dalmatians as Christmas gifts for their children. According to the Humane Society of the United States, within a year of the release of 101 Dalmatians, animal shelters and humane organizations nationwide were bombarded with Dalmatians that had been purchased on a whim.

    Months later the families discovered their cute, cuddly puppies were prone to deafness and grow into big, rambunctious and often moody dogs.

    James says education plays a key role in buying the right pet. People need to learn as much as they can about the breed of cat or dog they're interested in owning.

    Is the home the right environment for the pet? For example, he said, a Siberian husky doesn't belong in a one-bedroom apartment.

    Another thing to consider is lifestyle. Will the owner be able to properly care for the pet? Giving a pet to someone who isn't home a lot is not a good idea.

    And one must think of the expenses involved in owning a pet. Food and veterinarian visitsadd up, James said.

    Like Chaboudy, Connie Brooks tries to discourage people from buying a pet on impulse, especially for Christmas.

    "The pets aren't going to get the attention they deserve," said Brooks, shelter manager for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Largo. "There is just so much going on on Christmas Day."

    Instead, Brooks recommends putting a wrapped box of pet accessories under the tree. Then the future pet owner, whether it's a 5-year-old boy or an 80-year-old grandmother, can be involved in the selection of the pet.

    "They should understand that this pet is an adoption for life and not just for the holidays," she said.

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