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It's the week after the holidays. You received everything you
wanted this year… and then some. A well-meaning relative decided
that you needed a new pet in your life and gifted accordingly. What
are you going to do now?
Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that
whether or not you decide to keep the pet, you have a few
"It is never a good idea to give a pet as a surprise gift,"
notes Stickney. "There is no such thing as a 'free' animal. Proper
care of a pet requires a lot of time and resources, which the
receiver of the pet may not be able to spare."
If you find yourself the surprise recipient of an unwanted pet,
do not panic or do anything drastic, such as turning the animal
loose. This can cause problems for not only the animal, but also
for any people who find the animal.
"Never turn the pet loose," states Stickney. "The weather can be
very unfriendly to abandoned animals, especially during the winter.
In addition to freezing or becoming ill, they may be hit by a car,
starve, or be attacked by other animals. Pets are not accustomed to
finding their own food or shelter, so turning them loose is usually
a death sentence."
Rather than turning your predicament into somebody else's
problem, try giving the pet back to the giver. If he or she can
return the pet, then the situation is out of your hands. If that
fails, however, another option is to take the pet to an animal
shelter. Adoptions tend to be higher during the holidays,
especially for puppies.
If, however, you are too worried about the fate of the animal to
leave it at a shelter, you can still find it a suitable home if you
have the time and patience. Fostering is a big responsibility, but
it can be very rewarding once you place your pet in the perfect
If you decide to foster the pet until a home is found, there are
several different avenues you can go through to locate that
"You can post an ad online," says Stickney. "Petfinder.com is
one site that allows the public to post animals that need homes. If
the animal is a purebred, you can also ask breed-specific groups if
they will post the animal for you on their site as a courtesy
listing. Additionally, there is the Craigslist pet section, but be
careful when meeting people or when giving your pet over to them.
You never know who is on Craigslist."
Keep in mind if fostering a young pet that it will need
vaccinations and socialization. You may potentially keep the animal
for a month or more while a home is located, and you will need to
make sure that you stay up to date on its puppy or kitten shots. It
will need at least three series of vaccines and dewormings; these
usually take place at six weeks, nine weeks and twelve weeks. If it
is to be spayed or neutered, this should be done before six
"The first three months are very important for socialization,"
explains Stickney. "Puppies need to be safely exposed to new
stimuli, such as people and other friendly animals, so that they
will be better adjusted and less fearful adults. A well-trained dog
is a happier and more relaxed individual."
If you decide that you would like to keep the pet, there are
several things that you will need to do. Keep in mind when deciding
to keep the "free" puppy or kitten that the first five months can
cost up to $500 in expenses. Flea and heartworm preventative, the
latter of which is especially necessary in the south, are
"Before you bring a puppy home," says Dr. Stickney, "there are a
few things you will need to purchase. These include food and water
bowls, puppy food, appropriate chew items such as a small rawhide
or squeak toy, and a crate for house breaking and for providing the
dog its own area. A kitten will also need food and water bowls,
kitten food, and a litter box, particularly one with low sides for
a smaller kitten."
If you have existing pets, you will need to slowly introduce the
new pet to them. You will also need to take the new pet to a
veterinarian within a week for a physical examination and to get it
dewormed and vaccinated.
"Puppies and kittens come with their own unique warnings," adds
Stickney, "especially around the holidays. Be prepared for some
destruction and messiness. If you have guests visiting, be sure to
alert them to the presence of the puppy or kitten so that they do
not accidently step on or sit on your new friend. Also watch that
your pet does not climb underneath furniture, like recliners, where
it can be squished."
Additionally, kittens may try to climb Christmas trees or swat
ornaments. They, and puppies, may chew on tinsel. If tinsel is
accidently swallowed, it could require an emergency surgery.
Puppies may gnaw on electrical cords, causing a severe shock. They
may also try to get into treats such as dark chocolate, which will
make them very sick.
Providing a new home for a pet can be a big commitment, so pet
ownership should never be an unexpected gift. An unwelcome pet
needs to be cared for until a suitable solution is reached and
should never be dumped to fend for itself. Do your research, and if
you decide that you have the resources to take in a lucky kitten or
puppy this holiday season, make sure to provide for all of its
needs so that it can grow into a healthy adult companion.
ABOUT PET TALK
Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine
& Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be
viewed on the Web at /pet-talk.
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