Consider Pet Adoption a Family Decision Instead of a Surprise

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Contributed by Prince William County

pets 42While puppies and kittens are really, really cute, it’s probably wise to think and then think again before giving them as holiday gifts. Too often, those pets wind up at the shelter after recipients discover how much responsibility a pet can be.

“Make sure that if you’re going to give an animal as a gift that the person really, really wants it as a gift,” said Capt. Dawn Harman, Prince William County’s Animal Control Bureau Administrator.

Harman said there are other considerations to take into account when getting a pet. Children will ask for them, but it will often be parents who wind up caring for the animal. Children can’t buy food for the animals. They can’t drive the animals to the veterinarian’s office, or pay veterinary costs. “A lot of kids want pets as gifts, but you’ve got to make sure that all of the family is on board for taking care of that pet. If something goes wrong, the parents are going to have to step up. It’s a joint venture. Everyone has to be involved.”

People should also think carefully about what kind of pet they should take home during any time of the year. Harman said so-called “pocket pets” – such as gerbils, hamsters, mice and rats – aren’t good for small children since they are nocturnal animals. “When the child is awake and sticking their fingers in the cages, the animal really isn’t receptive to that. So, we get a lot of those in, and we have to find homes for them.”

Guinea pigs or rabbits might be better suited to the younger pet owner, Harman said.

People who are thinking of getting pets should also consider their lifestyle. If the family has many activities and is home infrequently, a cat might be better than a dog. “If you decide you want a dog, you need to consider what breed. Some are very high energy and need a lot of activity; and if they don’t get it, they’re going to become very destructive.”

People who get pets for the holidays and those who already have pets should remember that the holiday season offers hazards to animals. Chocolate and poinsettias can be harmful to animals, and cats love to climb Christmas trees.

Harman said that people who have considered all things, and still want a pet, should check the shelter at the beginning of the year when the surplus of animals is at its highest. “Usually those unwanted, gifted pets start coming to the shelter in week two, week three of January. So, we’ll start getting an influx of those pets that were great when everybody was home, but once everyone gets back to the grind of their schedule, they find that it doesn’t fit their lifestyle. If you didn’t quite see what you were looking for in December, come back in January.”

For more information about the shelter and the animals available at the shelter, visit or call 703-792-6465.

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