A pet for Christmas? Plan carefully

Cat expert Sally Bahner

A commercial shown this time of year, for a hand-held vacuum, I believe, features three Golden Retriever puppies popping out of a box under a Christmas tree. They’re wearing red bows and look ever so adorable.

Now, erase that image from your mind.

And ignore the pleas of your child begging for a puppy or kitten for Christmas.

Without a doubt, puppies and kittens become integral parts of a family. They help teach a child about responsibility and provide an incredible amount of warmth and companionship. Too often, however, pets are purchased impulsively and the end result is a willful, disobedient puppy or a kitten that is left to fend for itself because it is destroying the furniture or urinating inappropriately due to stress.

Pets are not disposable. They are living, breathing creatures who require a long-term commitment to their care. Branford Compassion Club in North Branford and Forgotten Felines in Clinton have presented many cases in which kittens and cats are discarded like used tissue.

The holidays are stressful enough for us humans, let alone a small animal in a new environment surrounded by strangers and unfamiliar sights and smells.

So what’s the best way to bring a pet into the family or give one as a gift?

Discuss what kind of pet is suitable for your family’s lifestyle. If both parents work all day and the kids are in school, who will housebreak and train the new puppy? If you have a toddler or a young child, be sure that he or she learns that a pet is not a toy. Dog bites and cat scratches are too often caused by the impulsive behavior of a child who hasn’t learned the right way to approach an animal.

Avoid the impulsive purchase of that “doggie in the window” — pet shops are not the best place to purchase purebred dogs and kittens since their sources are often puppy and kitten mills, which turn out inbred, poorly socialized animals that are removed too soon from their mothers.

While you save a life when you adopt a pet from a shelter, try to learn something about its background — an adult dog with aggressive tendencies may be unsuitable around small children, as would a timid cat used to a quiet household.

Read books on cat and dog breeds to learn behavioral and physical characteristics of breeds you’re considering. Persian cats are docile, but Siamese and related breeds are active and need to have their energy channeled properly. Golden Retrievers make great family dogs, but Rotweillers need extra training and must be properly socialized.

Make sure your house and yard can accommodate your pet — a small puppy that will grow into a large dog requiring space and exercise will not be happy in a three-room apartment.

Learn something about the health requirements and nutritional needs of the animal companion you’re considering. Although pet food companies put a lot of money into marketing and want you to believe their food is best, you should learn what constitutes a good food for your cat or dog.

Now go shopping for your anticipated pet. Buy a comfy bed, leash, collar, litter box and litter, safe toys — everything you need to make your new family member feel welcome, so when the holidays are over, you’ll be really prepared to welcome home the new addition to your family.

Maybe all of this planning will take away the “gift” aspect of adopting a pet. But shelters and the streets are full of unwanted souls — some of whom wore red ribbons and were found under a Christmas tree.

Connecticut Media Group