Adopting a pet is one of the greatest gifts you can give an animal, and they make great companions for loved ones, too.
But before you head out and choose one, especially around all the chaos of the holidays, make sure you're being honest with yourself about what you're really looking for.
If you're looking to get one as a gift for someone else, keep in mind that selecting the animal yourself may not be the best choice-- you may not have an accurate understanding of what that other person is looking for. If the pet is a gift for a child, it's not a good idea to give it as a surprise, because you need to make sure the animal gets along with the child beforehand.
So here are some other ways you can get the same smiles on Christmas morning and still get to pick out the animal together as a family:
-Consider putting together and wrapping an "adoption kit". Fill a box with toys, a bed, a leash, a collar, food, treats, and anything else your new furry friend may need.
-You can also include a gift certificate or gift card for your local shelter. The SPCA of Central Florida, as well as many other shelters, offer them so that you can contribute to the adoption fees, but still allow the receiver to select their own pet.
-If you don't have a specific shelter in mind, you can also make a homemade coupon good for the cost of an adoption
-You can wrap a book about the kind of pet you're looking to adopt, or one about how to train the animal
Before you head to shelter, here's some questions you should be prepared to ask:
-What is the health history of the animal?
-If you have kids, what is the animal's history with children?
-If you have another dog, make sure you describe that dog's personality to the adoption counselor. Some animals don't do well with others, based on gender, or toy or food aggression. Some get along better with a submissive personality, with others do well with one that is more of a pack Alpha. You'll want to make sure your new pet will not only math your family's personalities, but also the personality of an existing dog.
-Is the dog housebroken?
-Has the dog been spayed or neutered yet?
-Does the dog get along with cats, if you have them?
-How much can you expect to spend on a pet?
-Make sure you advise the adoption counselor of your daily routine and activity habits. Do you work many hours a day or are you home most of the time? Do you take trips often in the car? Do you prefer someone who is more cuddly and will snuggle on the couch a lot of the time or someone who will go on a run with you? All of this matters to make sure you find the right fit.
-Also ask if there are any known behavioral issues. Does the dog have separation anxiety, does it like to chew, etc. These are things that are helpful to know going into the adoption so it's less likely you will return the animal to the shelter. Be warned, though; all dogs are prone to occasional chewing and other mischief, especially when they're first in a new environment and are getting settled. Be patient.
-Ask about training classes or advice on any training issues.
The most important thing to remember is nearly every dog can be taught to be a wonderful family pet. Some just may take more time and effort than others, and if you properly prepare your home and carefully choose your new pet, the chances of a successful pairing are much higher than if you were to just adopt a pet on an impulse.
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