By Pets and the Holidays: A Commitment, Not a Gift, and Pet Proofing for the Holidays

By Cheryl Burns

The holiday advertising images are almost as iconic as the snow-coated driveway and a shiny car topped with a giant red ribbon. There’s a box with the top conveniently wrapped separately from the base. The pajama-clad recipient begins to open the package, the cover wobbles, and out pops a puppy. Or there’s simply a kitten sitting in a basket under a tree, a ribbon tied around a small collar.

A pet can seem like a perfect gift, especially amid the stress that has characterized 2020. Pets can provide companionship, laughter, and endless love. Those of us who share our lives with animals know a shared truth: We never truly “own” pets any more than we own any member of our family. We love them fiercely, but pets are a big responsibility. This is why Points on Pets strongly advises against giving pets as presents. Animals are not objects to be gifted. Adopting a pet means making a commitment and undertaking an obligation – adoption is a promise for the life of the animal.

According to The Spruce Pets, adoption fees and time commitment aside, caring for a healthy dog can cost anywhere from $1,500 to $9,000 per year. The website cautions that between extra vet visits and the initial investment in supplies, the first year of a puppy’s life can cost twice that. Emergency care or surgery, something some might dismiss as frivolous until they’ve truly bonded with an animal, can easily run $2,000 to $5,000. Canine lifespans varying depending on breed and size, but the price tag on 8 to 11 years of companionship easily runs in the tens of thousands.

What about cats? The cost is a bit lower, but still substantial. Like dogs, the first year is particularly pricey. PetCoach estimates an average cost of $1,174 during the first year of cat ownership and around $800 annually thereafter. Indoor cats can easily live from 9 to 15 years making the financial cost of adding a cat to someone’s life around $7,650 to $12,500. And that’s simply an average; depending on a cat’s needs and location, it can easily double or triple.

Ponder these figures before gifting an animal. Would you give someone an object that came with a $10,000 bill? The financial cost pales in comparison to the time and emotional commitment. Pets should be wanted and carefully chosen by the perspective pet parent. This is one of the reasons King Street Cats asks to meet all members of a household before placing a cat in a home. It is also why KSC doesn’t offer same day adoptions and doesn’t run “specials” or fee-free weekends. They also strive to ensure a good match between a cat and the human family. (Side note:  One of the benefits of KSC’s free-roaming shelter is that the volunteers know the animals’ unique personalities!)

It bears repeating: Pets are family. Adoption is a commitment to devote time and money to an animal for the duration of its life. Unless the person specifically asks – not a passing comment in the presence of a cute furball, but a true indication of the desire and willingness to adopt an animal – please don’t give a pet as a gift. Obviously, there’s a difference when the recipient is a child in your own household, but parents should still be prepared for the expenses and obligations of ownership (no matter how much the children swear they’ll walk the dog or take on litter box duty!).

We also want to take this opportunity to remind pet parents to keep their animals in mind as they prepare for and celebrate the winter holidays. Just as you’d babyproof for a young human, remember to pet proof your holiday décor. A few reminders, courtesy of the ASPCA:

  • Always anchor your Christmas tree. If you choose a live tree, do not allow pets access to the water. It is often teeming with dangerous bacteria that can cause health problems for your animal (and a mess for you!).
  • Skip mistletoe and holly. Both are dangerous if ingested. Cat owners should add lilies to that list; they can cause liver failure in cats.
  • Avoid tinsel, especially around kittens. Curious by nature, they love to play with the shiny strands, but even a small nibble can cause serious illness or injury that may require surgery. Glass ornaments can also be particularly tempting – and particularly dangerous.
  • Don’t leave lit candles any place where a pet can burn itself or accidentally start a fire. While candle lighting is an essential part of many holiday observances, you should always monitor lit candles until they are fully extinguished.
  • Watch out for wires. Both dogs and cats explore with their mouths and easily electrocute themselves. Stepping out from behind the laptop for a moment, your author will never shed the memory of seeing a puppy nip at a wire, a split second that ended its life.
  • Don’t leave food unattended. “People food” is awfully tempting to pets, but many foods that we enjoy are hazardous to animals. Chocolate, alcohol, and poultry with small bones are on that list, but absolutely not the only risky items. Sometimes the best solution, although not always the easiest, is keeping pets in a separate room during holiday festivities.

Exercising care can ensure that the holidays are a time of joy, not tragedy. An ounce of prevention on behalf of your pets – another example of the responsibility that comes with an animal – pays dividends in the form of kisses, head butts, and cuddles.

The team at King Street Cats wish you and your families, humans and pets alike, a happy and healthy holiday season.

About the Author: Cheryl Burns and her husband have been King Street Cats’ volunteers since meeting another volunteer running a mobile event in late 2016. They are proud to have been chosen by Smoky Tiggs and Sweet Potato Bailey Burns as their human caretakers and diligent staff. A Legal Editor by day, Cheryl’s love for animals is matched by a passion for words and she has amassed a collection of more than 600 books.

Sources:

Jennifer Coates, “How Long to Dogs Live,” PetMD (Oct. 9, 2013) (https://www.petmd.com/dog/wellness/evr_dg_how_long_do_dogs_live).

Lauren Jones, “How Much Does a Cat Cost?” PetCoach (https://www.petcoach.co/article/cost-of-owning-a-cat).

Jenna Stregowski, “The Cost of Owning a Dog,” The Spruce Pets (updated Feb. 4, 2020) (https://www.thesprucepets.com/the-cost-of-dog-ownership-1117321).

“Holiday Safety Tips,” ASPCA (https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/holiday-safety-tips).

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