Cuddly pets not suitable for gifts during hectic holiday season


December 22, 1997|By Lisa Breslin | Lisa Breslin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

WITH A DOG, a cat, two rabbits, four fish and a hamster in our house, I thought we were past the animal requests on Christmas wish lists.

But no, my children joined millions of others this season by asking for a puppy. They didn't ask their father or me directly; I found their requests on school work sheets listing their hopes and dreams for the holiday.

"A puppy with soft fur," our second-grader wrote on her wish list. Our kindergarten student drew a beautiful picture of a puppy beside a wrapped package on a work sheet titled, "What Should Be in Santa's Box?"

Weary from sweeping up tumbleweeds of golden retriever hair from every room in the house, I found their lists: "Girls, you are thinking about stuffed animals, right?" I asked.

Wrong. Cuddly puppies and mewling kittens always have a special attraction during the holiday season.

Let the children dream, but don't buy into their requests, warned Nicki Ratliff, executive director of Carroll County Humane Society. Ratliff and Westminster resident Tracey Burgess are trying to shatter images of soft puppies with red bows sitting patiently under the Christmas tree.

To curb impulse buying, Dec. 13 was the last day for pet adoptions at the humane society until the holiday season ends. Burgess, a volunteer at the Baltimore County Humane Society, has been offering private and group workshops about the responsibilities of pet ownership.

"My goal, and the goal of the humane societies, is to reduce animal abuse and homelessness," Burgess said. "By educating people about pet ownership, I am part of a pet's fate -- will it live a long, happy life with one family, or will it be tossed from home to home and eventually destroyed?"

Burgess' workshop, for kindergarten and older children and their parents, covers the responsibilities of pet ownership, veterinary care, training and ways to love a new pet. With stuffed animals she shows how to pick up puppies and warns young owners not to pull ears or tails.

Participants create Puppy Owner Manuals that highlight "Doggie Dangers," "Daily Dog Duties," "Supplies" and "Fun Things To Do FTC With Your Dog." The workshop also includes a skit about crate training.

"The whole family needs to be involved in the pet's care and training," Burgess said. "Parents shouldn't expect an 8-year-old [to] be in charge of pet care."

Parents telling children "if you don't take care of this puppy ," irks Ratliff. "If I'm filling out adoption papers and I hear that, I stop, and we have a long talk."

"Animals need consistency and undivided attention when you bring them into a new home," she said. "The time that is the least calm in our lives is Christmas. It is not a good time to bring in a new pet. We want to stop that spontaneous, uneducated purchase."

Things such as lights, loud toys and tinsel will confuse a new pet. Pity the poor animal trying to understand the outdoor smells of the Christmas tree and greenery that are now inside. You can guess where that pet will want to find relief.

There are creative ways to share the joy of a puppy-to-come, Burgess said. "Put a furry toy version with an IOU pinned to the collar; wrap up a book about a specific breed or about puppy training; or put together a puppy care package with grooming supplies and treats."

To order Puppy Owner Manuals or book a workshop, call Burgess at 410-840-8453 or Carroll County Humane Society at 410-848-4810.

Lisa Breslin's Central Carroll neighborhood column appears each Monday in the Carroll County edition of The Sun.

Pub Date: 12/22/97

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