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Pets as Christmas gifts not the best idea

COVINGTON -- "How much is that doggie in the window?" may have been a good question when Patti Page sang the song, but this time of year it may be a bad idea. The conventional wisdom among experts is springing a puppy or a kitten on anybody, even a child, on Christmas morning is not the thing to do.

"People who give animals as gifts mean well, but their good intentions often misfire," the PAWS.org, an animal protection group, website states. "While it is true, pets bring us untold joy and wonderful companionship, they are a huge responsibility. People who receive a pet as a gift don't pay, but the gift is hardly free. It means a long-term commitment of time, money and energy that may exceed their abilities."

Local expert Teri Key-Hoosan, executive director Newton County Animal Shelter, agrees.

"The puppy or the animal tends to get lost in the shuffle of Christmas activity," she said. "It's better to give a coupon, I think. If you give the coupon that says this is for an adoption of a pet at the place of your choice and maybe include the first visit to the vet, that's a better gift as it doesn't put pressure on the person who is receiving the animal. They can pick out the pet at their leisure."

A good suggestion is to place the certificate in a basket suitable for bedding for the animal, with toys, a collar, leash, treats or other paraphernalia the pet will need.

Experts also ask that the public consider adoption of pets from a shelter or rescue group as an alternative to buying one from a pet store. With millions of dogs and cats euthanized in shelters each year, buying a pet spells death for one in a shelter.

Hoosan said even at the shelter puppies are usually adopted first, but there are pluses to consider to getting a grown dog.

"Personally, I prefer it. They tend to already be housebroken. You don't have to worry about them chewing things up. And, they don't have as good of a chance as being adopted as a puppy," she pointed out. "They are generally wonderful animals. They just need somebody that can give them love and care."

A drawback to getting an adult shelter dog is there may be necessary medical treatments as they sometimes have issues that need to be addressed, but that is usually manageable.

CiJi Baker, manager for the Rockdale Animal Shelter, says it is common for parents to want to get a pet for a child in order to teach them responsibility.

"They're thinking the kids are going to take care of the animals, but I tell them, ultimately, you are going to be responsible. Definitely the kids should help out, but the animal can't suffer because you're trying to teach your child," he said. "When the child suddenly doesn't show interest in the dog, don't bring it back to us. Don't punish the dog. It's a commitment of 10 to 15 years and the parents are going to have to be able to handle the animal without the children's help."

He said many adopt an animal without counting the cost not only in time and effort, but in real dollars and cents.

"Yes, we see people who put their dogs on a run and give them the minimum rabies shot once a year, but to truly keep a dog healthy, they need to go to the vet at least once a year and be on heart worm and flea preventative. People sometimes just don't realize the amount of money that takes," he said.

And, of course, a puppy or kitten today will be a dog or cat tomorrow, often growing beyond expectations. Many dogs can grow to 100 or 150 pounds and that means lots of food and lots of room are needed.

If purchasing a puppy is the decision made, Dr. Jessica Kidd of Conyers Animal Hospital, suggests a private breeder for optimum chances at good health.

"When purchasing a puppy, you want to be able to go to the facility where the puppy was raised. See the parents, see the conditions it was kept in, see that it's clean and that the parents look well cared for," she said. "Make sure they've had all their routine care for their age up to that point, deworming and vaccinations."

And, also make sure the puppies are ready to be separated from their mother.

"You don't want to take a puppy from it's mother any earlier than a minimum of six weeks, but actually, eight weeks is better," she said. "They need that social interaction to be with their mom and learn the ropes. It helps them to be better adjusted as they grow older."

And everybody agrees if you're thinking of purchasing or adopting a pet for another adult, make absolutely sure that person wants a pet. It's one thing to think a pet would be company for a senior citizen, but the senior citizen will be the one who has to see that the pet is trained, exercised and fed. Those pets are often given up at shelters because the person really didn't want a pet in the first place.

"When adopting a dog or cat, we try to encourage people to bring in the whole family and see how everybody does with the animal. Make sure this is the one that's going to be right with your family or for the person. Bring in your other animals and make sure the animals are going to get along with each other," Baker said. "The worst thing that can happen is to have a great adoption success in December and then in January and February, we're getting them all back."

Newton County Animal Shelter is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Adoption fees are $25 for a dog or puppy and $10 for a cat or kitten.

Rockdale Animal Shelter is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and fees are $30 for a dog or puppy and $20 for cats or kittens. Available pets can be viewed on petfinder.com.

Both shelters welcome the public to come in and browse their pet population as it changes daily. Local stores such as PetSmart and PetCo often facilitate adoptions by rescue groups.

Neutering or spaying is required for all adoptions.