‘Tis the season for holiday lights, delicious feasts, and gifts galore. On your list for Santa might be a Star Wars Lego set, a Barbie dream house, and maybe even a new puppy. But before you head out to your local pet shop or shelter to surprise the kids with a 12-week-old Labrador pup, consider that soon that ball of fluff will blossom into a 70-pound ball of energy – and a lifetime commitment. Here are the top five reasons you should think twice before adding a furry friend to your family for the holidays.

1. Puppies Aren’t Forever

Dirty white dog

Source: Watson Media/Flickr

Sure, Fido may be tiny and cuddly now, but soon, he’ll be enormous — in size and commitment. You may be looking to replace your house slippers with a slumbering furball at your feet, but you’ll also be getting chewing, whining, and puddles in the kitchen. Growing puppies and kittens need constant attention and a structured life — two things that are extremely difficult to provide during the busy, stressful holiday season. A puppy can go from being like a five-year-old child to being like a 15-year-old kid in a matter of weeks, without proper training and support, your puppy may turn out to be more than a handful.

2. Don’t Forget the Maintenance Costs

Buying a puppy is only the beginning. According to Petfinder, in the first year alone, the costs of providing a home for a dog can range between $766 and over $10,000. Those costs include not only food, toys, leashes, heartworm preventative, vaccines, and regular vet check-ups, but also spaying and neutering — essential to keep unwanted litters off your hands —and potential emergency visits if and when Bruno gets into a tub of cocoa powder you forgot to put away or catches kennel cough from the dog park.

3. Animals Aren’t Trinkets

Unlike toys, kittens and puppies can’t just be tossed aside when they get old. The commitment lasts a lifetime — maybe even up to 20 years. Yet many kids aren’t prepared for that level of commitment wrapped up in a holiday present. That’s why shelters like the Helping Hands Humane Society in Kansas have seen increases of up to five percent in admissions immediately following the holidays as families realize that they got more than they bargained for. In 2010, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals also noted that three animals were abandoned every hour in the days following Christmas.

4. Shelters Are Overflowing

Those discarded Christmas “presents” become a fraction of the approximately 7.6 million companion animals who enter shelters each year in the U.S. alone, as estimated by the ASPCA. Of those, nearly three million, many of whom are healthy and adoptable, are euthanized, while only about a third of dogs and cats entering shelters are ever adopted. Shelter animals come in all shapes, sizes, personalities, and breeds (about a quarter are purebred, but don’t forget the lovable mutts!). Buying a dog or cat from a breeder or pet shop instead closes the door on one of these millions of adoptable animals, who will be spending her holiday behind kennel bars.

5. Puppy Mills Are Real

Pet stores love to reel holiday shoppers in with the promise of a tiny furry friend — with a thousand-dollar price tag — to put under the Christmas tree. However, according to the Humane Society of the United States, most pet store puppies come from puppy mills, or “dog-making factories where mother dogs spend their entire lives in cramped cages or kennels with little or no personal attention.” After months or years of neglect and confinement and when they are no longer producing up to par, these mother dogs are killed. Furthermore, because of poor husbandry and breeding at puppy mills, where the dollar is the bottom line, the pup you take home could be ridden with ailments, from diabetes to anemia, hip dysplasia, heart disease, and epilepsy.

Adopt, Don’t Shop

If you still feel ready to add a dog or cat to your family, consider adopting from a local shelter, which is bound to be packed with friendly, adoptable animals. Instead of surprising the kids on Christmas morning, pick a stable, quiet time of year, and be sure the whole family is prepared for this new adventure. Your new best friend will thank you with years and years of sloppy kisses and furry cuddles.

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