It seems right out of a Hallmark movie to have a puppy or kitten pop out of a box Christmas morning.
In real life, however, there is much to consider before giving a child or an adult a pet — even if they have been really, really nice all year. It’s a reality many families are confronting in early January as the initial excitement of the gift of a pet wears off.
Does the recipient even want a pet? In the beginning, kittens and puppies require that someone spend extra time with them and teach them the house rules. All dogs need exercise. That means walking them and maybe even bringing them to the local dog park, so they can socialize with other canines. Puppies — and sometimes older dogs — must be taught how to walk on a leash.
“Typically, when somebody gets somebody a pet for Christmas and that somebody isn’t ready for a pet, or hasn’t met the pet, it can often be overwhelming,” said Lina O’Leary, president of Stand Up for Animals (SUFA), a nonprofit organization that maintains the state-of-the-art animal shelter, adoption center, and regional outreach facility in Westerly.
When new pet owners cannot care for the pets, O’Leary said the animals often end up back at the shelter.
“A pet should be considered a member of the family, so the entire family should be able to make the decision on the pet that is suitable for them,” she said.
You might think giving your 60-year-old mother a cat is a good idea, because it will keep her company.
However, O’Leary pointed out that she might not want a cat or be able to take care of it.
“Plus, it’s a lifelong commitment,” said SUFA Community Outreach and Development Director Deb Turrisi. “They’re (pets) not just going to be around for a year or two. They have a long life expectancy.”
At the Westerly Animal Shelter, families are encouraged to sit in the acclimation room and interact with cats. O’Leary said this eliminates discovering later that for some reason a family member was not compatible.
“There are some people who are allergic to cats and they don’t even realize it until they adopt a cat,” she said.
Also, by meeting dogs in the large community room and interacting with them at the three-acre dog park across the street, Turrisi said, “You get to see their personalities. It’s very hard to get to know a dog’s personality when they’re sitting in that kennel.”
A perfect example is Bernard, a 3-year-old male that Turrisi described as “handsome, beautiful, so kind and gentle.”
“When you see him in the kennel, he is jumping up and seems very high strung. So it’s really important to get to know the pet before you adopt them. You can see how you react to each other.”
After one of her cats disappeared two months ago, 19-year-old Keighla Lyons, of North Stonington, said she noticed Calimar coming up on her Facebook newsfeed. After waiting one month to see if someone else would adopt her, the nursing student and Groton emergency medical technician volunteer decided she “wanted to give Calimar a good life for the remaining time she has left to live. I feel like animals have such pure souls. I enjoy having their energy around.”
Several weeks ago, Lyons visited the Westerly Animal Shelter and noticed that Calimar, who has arthritis, couldn’t enjoy the sanctuary room as much as the other cats. Two days later, she came back to adopt her. Estimated to be between 10 and 15 years old, Calimar is happy “to sit around and cuddle with me all day,” Lyons said.
Even though Calimar is not technically older than she, Lyons added, “She is probably more mature than me. She is so accepting of everyone. She loves people, doesn’t mind other animals, and that is how I try to be — accepting and open-minded.”
The Westerly Animal Shelter and Stand Up for Animals are located at 33 Larry Hirsch Lane in Westerly — across from the dog park. Schedules vary during the holiday season. Normal hours for the shelter are Monday and Tuesday from 8 a.m. to Noon, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Call 401-584-7941. Stand Up for Animals is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 401-348-9595.
The cost to adopt a dog is $150; a cat is $100, and a small critter such as a rabbit or guinea pig is $25. This fee includes an examination, vaccinations, a spayed/neutered procedure, and micro-chipping. The low-cost Wellness Clinic is open to the public every Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m.
To schedule an appointment, sign up for the newsletter, make a donation, or submit information about a lost pet for an Oscar Alert, go online to www.standupforanimals.org.