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The holidays are in full-swing! For many, that means traveling to spend time with friends and family, gifting them with items you think they’d enjoy. The feel-good season also invites the desire for families to visit their local animal rescue or shelter to find a new four-legged best friend. Six to eight million animals enter U.S. shelters every year, but only three to four million get adopted, so adopting a new furry family member is a wonderful thing to do, whether it’s the holiday season or not. But the good cheer of the season may soon be lost after December when the reality of a dog or cat’s responsibilities come into focus.

If you, or someone you know, is considering adopting an animal this holiday season, we’ve broken down a handy checklist to ensure the adoption isn’t just a knee-jerk reaction.

1. Understand That Animals Are NOT Gifts 

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The intent of gifting a dog or cat to a friend or family member during the holiday season may be good. Seeing your loved ones’ faces light up as they receive dozens of puppy kisses is certainly joyous, but what happens after the holidays? Typically, animals given as gifts are forgotten, with animal shelters and rescues across the U.S. seeing an uptick in surrenders after the holidays. In some situations, unwanted animals are carelessly dumped on the side of the road when they are no longer wanted.

If you know a friend or family member who seems like they could benefit from a cat or dog, TALK TO THEM FIRST. Animals are a life-long commitment and should be treated as such.

2. Take Every Family Member to the Shelter  

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There shouldn’t be any surprises if your family is interested in adopting an animal. To ensure that all members are on board, take the entire family to the animal rescue or shelter to look at prospective dogs or cats.

Every family member should understand the responsibilities of having a dog or cat (including children), including, but not limited to:

  1. Who will take the dogs for walks? Who will feed and provide fresh, clean water to the dog or cat?
  2. Can you provide life-long care? Animals require time, patience, and money.
  3. Are the veterinarian responsibilities clear? The dog or cat will need regular vet-check ups. Can you afford the costs?
  4. Does your living situation allow for a dog? If you rent, will your landlord allow an animal?
  5. Will the dog be left alone all day? Will a dog walker come to let the dog out? Is someone in the family committed to cleaning out the cat’s litter box daily?
  6. Will the dog need to be groomed? Are you able to afford grooming expenses?

You’ll also want to make sure you research the dog’s size and mix prior to making the adoption final. If you have children, adopting a dog with an energetic personality may not be ideal. Puppies, kittens, bunnies may not be ideal for a small dog because they may unintentionally hurt the animal.

3. Do NOT Buy an Animal

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There are serious considerations when adopting an animal but never purchase an animal. Many think that by buying an animal they are “rescuing” them from the puppy mill, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Puppies that are bought from pet stores can come from large-scale commercial dog breeding operations, also known as puppy mills.

Puppy mills are large commercial dog breeding facilities, typically run on a “factory farm” model that prioritizes the owner’s profit above the dogs’ health and well-being. Breeding dogs in such facilities are typically confined to tiny, crowded wire cages and provided with the bare minimum of care required to keep them alive. A chronic lack of space, insufficient nutrition, poor hygiene standards, and routine overbreeding of the dogs are par for the course in puppy mills, causing a number of serious health issues for the dogs. These issues can include severely matted fur; eye, ear, and throat infections; dental problems; and severe genetic deformities such as cleft palates.

When you buy a puppy from a pet store, even if the conditions in the store aren’t all that great, don’t allow yourself to believe you’re rescuing that animal. What you’re really doing is creating an open spot for another puppy to be sold for profit – and the parent dogs stuck in the puppy mill who pay the ultimate price.

When you adopt, you are truly saving a life and creating an open spot for another animal, who may have otherwise been euthanized, to have a second chance. Just make sure you understand the responsibilities before adopting a furry friend this holiday season!

For more information on how to keep your dog or cat happy and healthy, check out these other One Green Planet articles.

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