With hundreds of thousands of abandoned cats and dogs awaiting a new leash on life at shelters nationwide, eyeing a furry new friend as a gift to oneself or to others can be irresistible during the holidays.
"There are so many animals right here in San Diego that need loving homes," says Kelli Herwehe, public relations coordinator for the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA (SDHS). "The holiday season is a great time to add a new member to your family, and
we encourage everyone to adopt."
Despite the annual furvor, Herwehe cautions against surprising loved ones with a new kitten or puppy-recommending that all family members meet and interact with the animal beforehand to determine compatibility. "Part of the joy of adopting a rescue animal is feeling that special bond when you know you've foundthe right pet," she says.
To help prevent rash decision-making, consider giving a pet in the form of an adoption certi?cate from Muttique, the online and retail stores operated by SDHS. Or pay a pre-holiday visit to a reputable local shelter that can address your questions, offer guidance and provide animal spaying/neutering and needed vaccinations.
One such shelter is Helen Woodward Animal Center in Rancho Santa Fe. Named for the late philanthropist who established the nonpro?t with a group of friends in 1972, the organization has sponsored an ever-growing annual adoption campaign called Home 4 the Holidays since 1999. This year, the drive involves more than 3,000 participating shelters and organizations worldwide, all collaborating to secure 1.5 million cat and dog adoptions by January 3.
According to Helen Woodward spokesperson Beth Chee, pet adoptions during the holidays can be very successful-especially if members can take time off from work to bond with and help the animal acclimate to its new environment. Chee dispels the suggestion that shelters don't have quality pets, noting that such facilities are well-stocked with healthy kittens, puppies and purebreds.
(Purebreds, per ASPCA statistics, account for up to 25 percent of the dogs entering shelters. For adopters whose hearts are set on a particular breed, Helen Woodward will search shelters and canvas breed-speci?c rescue groups to help ?nd the ideal companion.) The plight and cuddliness of rescue animals, warn some experts, make love at ?rst sight a potential pitfall.
"All puppies are adorable, but consider pet size, activity level, hair length and any special needs of the breed," says dog psychologist Linda Michaels, proprietor of Wholistic Dog Training and a mobile behavioral consultant in North Coastal San Diego and Rancho Santa Fe. Michaels works in partnership with celebrity dog trainer Victoria Stilwell, host of the hit Animal Planet TV program It's Me or the Dog, and practices the "All-Positive/Non-Aversive" dog training approach endorsed by her. "Make a list of 'must-have,' '?exible' and 'won't- have' pet traits-like 'already housetrained,'" she says, "and stick to your criteria."
To avoid barking up the wrong tree this holiday season, follow these tips (from the experts consulted for this article) prior to adoption:
Hit the Paws Button: Cuteness is seductive, but choose the pet that best suits your lifestyle, family and home environment. Housing a Golden Retriever in a one-bedroom condo, for example, won't work.
Furriest Impressions: Make sure all family members meet the prospective new pet in advance-and that the pet, in turn, meets with everyone's approval.
Here, Kiddie, Kiddie: If the pet is primarily a gift to children, don't count on them to walk the dog or clean the litter box. De?ne and divvy up responsibilities beforehand and educate children in safe and proper pet handling.
Welcome Waggin': Introduce the pet into your home by pre-stocking food, chew toys, a water bowl, a leash, etc. This will help you provide the attention your new family member requires-and enjoy each other's company.
Visit the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA (and its online store, Muttique): sdhumane.org