The holiday season is here! Time for the biggest gifts and the best surprises, eating and drinking merrily, countless visits to friends and family, and generally overdoing it.
This year, you’ve decided it’s time your child had a pet. Or perhaps you and your friend, spouse, partner or other family member have been discussing adopting a cat or a dog. The holiday morning seems like the most exciting time to present the new kitten, the best gift of all, a memory to last a lifetime.
But what about the kitty?
Considering that entire books have been written on the complexities of introducing a new kitten or cat into a household, you’d think most people would avoid, or be discouraged from, introducing a pet to the household at an overcrowded, overstressed time like a holiday. But determined gift-givers are not easily discouraged.
An animal is not a gift
An animal is not a gift. The kitten or cat or any other animal is a living being with physical and emotional needs as complex as yours. Her life does not begin when she enters your household but, like you, she is involved in her own cycle of existence, including past experiences and present needs which are as much a part of her as those stripes on her forehead that caused you to choose her over all the other cats at the shelter. The real gift is the lifetime of memories and love that grow through the years.
The holidays can be dangerous
We get so caught up in our excitement and honest goodwill that we forget about what can go wrong. The holidays actually hold potential dangers for our animal companions (see “Pet Proofing for the Holidays”). For instance, mistletoe and holly are both somewhat toxic to cats but we may decide to go all natural with a centerpiece that contains both items, or swag garlands of them enticingly around the windows. Even tinsel and ribbon can cause serious harm to a cat who decides to eat it, getting tangled in the twists and turns of the digestive tract and sometimes requiring emergency surgery.
If the recipient household isn’t accustomed to the presence of an animal companion, then those dangers are multiplied. You may not adequately prepare your household for a curious or frightened feline, and an accident within the house or an escape is entirely possible. Even if the household already has a feline or two, all cats are not the same and the new kitty may have habits the resident kitties have never had. The last thing you want your gift to turn into is the tragedy of an injured or lost pet.
Veterinary care at the holiday
Whether the household is accustomed to cats or this is the first entry, finding emergency care during the holiday season is difficult. Most shelter kittens and cats today are healthy and have received all the veterinary care they need up to the time of their adoptions; indeed, many shelters won’t even let animals go until they are spayed and neutered, have all the recommended basic care and are healthy and socialized.
But a new kitty is more likely to develop an illness under the stress of changing living accommodations. It may be due to an underlying condition not evident at the shelter or it may be acquired after joining the household. An injury may occur if the cat is frightened by the changes, or the cat may totally embrace its new accommodations and end up climbing the tree, walking across the stove, eating holiday decorations, leaving you to find an emergency clinic open on Christmas Day.
What about the recipient?
As fun as surprises are, it’s the recipient who will be living with the kitty from this day forward. Even if the giver is in the same household and has furtively questioned the recipient to discover details of the recipient’s preferences, here are at least three quick reasons why the recipient should choose the kitty.
First, all cats are not the same, and forming a bond with an animal is just as complex as it is with another human. Of the billions of other humans on earth, or the hundreds we come to know in our lives, we only become real friends with a handful. What makes us think we can bond with any animal who comes along, or that a future pet owner shouldn’t have the chance to look for that little spark of love themselves?
Second, the recipient may have some preference as to where the kitty comes from. Every city and region has a list of shelters and rescue organizations which are generally bursting with cats who need good homes, and as difficult as it may be, you can narrow down the list somewhat using your own homemade criteria—the shelter that has the most cats at the moment, for instance, or one that has a clinic for which you can buy a membership for low-cost care in the future.
Third, you need to be absolutely certain the recipient really wants an animal companion. Yes, you’re sure that if you just get the cat into the house it will all work out, but it’s wrong for both the animal and the human to try to force the bond when neither of them actually wants it. Many people talk on end about adopting, play with other peoples’ animal companions and even visit or volunteer at shelters, but only they can decide when and even if they are ready for the commitment.
One other issue to consider is the impact on shelters after the holidays from impulse adoptions of pets. After the surge of summer kittens and stray animals is over, animal shelters are again besieged after the holidays with pets adopted then returned, or purchased elsewhere and surrendered because it just didn’t work out. Pets can’t be returned or discarded. You’ll find plenty on this topic on the internet—just two possibilities are a CatChannel.com feature entitled “Carefully Consider Kittens as Gifts” by Pam Johnson-Bennett, CABC, IAABC-Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, and Amy Shojai CABC has an in-depth article on cats.about.com entitled “Pets as Gifts: How to Give Cats as Gifts”.
I can speak to a number of these warnings. Indeed, I received my first kitten in a box under the Christmas tree the year I was nine and I will never forget that morning, but the kitten had an illness, my parents were inexperienced, emergency care was hard to find and I lost him the day after Christmas. The experience obviously didn’t dim my love for cats, and I wrote about this and how cats became an important part of my life in “The Unintended Gift”.
So let’s go shopping—for pet stuff!
All is not lost! “Most people are so busy during the holidays—parties, shopping, guests, travel—that we often recommend people think about purchasing a gift certificate from their shelter so they can bring the animal into the household at a less busy, less stressful time and allow that animal to relax into its new environment and bond with its new family,” says Gretchen Fieser, Director of PR and Business Relationships at the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. You can see if your local shelter or rescue organization has a gift certificate policy where you can prepay for an adoption or alternatively, make a donation in the name of that person. If not, make up your own certificate and put the money aside. Give the certificate at the holiday.
Best wishes on your new arrival!
When the big day comes, we wish you a future full of love and good memories with your new kitty. Take your time and get to know her—you’ll be glad you did!
Carefully Consider Kittens as Gifts
Pets as Gifts: How to Give Cats as Gifts
I’ve used photos of black kittens—the Fantastic Four as babies and my little neo-natal foster Fromage—since black cats and kittens apparently difficult to adopt, though I can’t figure out why!