By Eileen Gallagher
All across the country, parents hear the same refrain from their children– “Can’t we get a [dog/cat/rabbit/hamster/bird]?” As the holidays approach, the requests get more urgent, and increasingly difficult to resist. Who wouldn’t want to see a child’s eyes light up at the sight of a cuddly ball of fur in a festive box? And it’s not just children that receive pets as gifts for special occasions. Parents are surprised with a gift that keeps on giving, as well as spouses, significant others, siblings, and roommates.
Is it wise to bring a pet home for the holidays? According to Stephanie Petruccelli, an long time assistant at Mt Kisco Veterinary Clinic, it’s all in the planning. “As long as the whole family is on board, especially the parents,” she advised. “It’s a whole family responsibility.”
“Avoid impulse buys,” continued Petruccelli. Taking the time to visit shelters or breeders is important in finding the right fit for your home situation. For example, some families have a more active lifestyle than others, and might do well with an energetic dog. Others might be more suited to have a calmer, more sedentary pet.
Charmaine McCleave, owner of Charmaine’s Dog Salon in Somers, stressed taking the age of the children into account. Her “pet peeve” is hearing people say that their dog is matted because their children didn’t keep up with the brushing and grooming. Parents are the ones who will ultimately be responsible for the care of any pet, reminded McCleave, herself the mother of three boys. “Children are children, and often forget to brush their own hair.”
McCleave brought up another point –cats and dogs are a 10 to 15 year or longer commitment. Your child might be going off to college and leaving you as the sole caregiver. Knowing this ahead of time makes the adjustment less jarring.
If you are unsure about surprising your family with the right pet, Petruccelli offered a creative suggestion. “Make up a gift basket with a picture of a dog or cat and some toys and supplies to put under the tree, and then go as a family after the holiday to pick out your new companion.”
Asked if she has seen many cases of returned pets after the holidays are over, Petruccelli said not really in this area. “People are making educated as opposed to snap decisions.” She stressed that the two most important factors in getting a pet for the holidays, or at any time for that matter, are to be prepared, and to avoid impulse decisions.
The Frasch family decided to take the plunge and recently brought home their golden-doodle puppy, Buster. Georgia Frasch, who happens to be one of the moderators of the Facebook group “Chappaqua Moms,” shared their story.
“We believe our children should grow up with animal love, compassion, responsibility, and empathy,” said Frasch, herself a longtime dog rescuer. For 30 years, she had either fostered or permanently adopted dogs she found abandoned in the streets of her neighborhood in Manhattan. She would have loved to rescue a dog for her family, but one of her daughters, seven year old Gracie Bea, is very allergic. “We needed to be really careful about the breed,” Frasch explained. After watching their friends’ puppy (a sibling of Buster) for 12 hours with no breathing issues for her daughter, Frasch felt comfortable having Buster join their family.
Was everyone in the Frasch family in on the decision? “This will be a member of our family,” Frasch had said to her husband. “If you’re not on board with this, I don’t want to do it.” Frasch’s three children, Honor, Christian, and Gracie Bea, had all wanted a dog for years, but their parents were waiting until the time was right.
Buster, named for the special nickname Frasch’s father Joseph had for 10 year old Christian, is very much loved and appreciated. Frasch told of the close relationship between her father and son before her father passed away, and how Christian always said that he would love to have a boy dog so he could name him Buster in honor of his grandfather. When Buster became available, with his sibling Bella living right down the street, the Frasch’s knew the time was right.
If you do decide to make a happy addition, keep it fun but do your homework first. It is best to have food, an appropriately sized crate, bedding, toys, a collar, and a leash on hand before Fluffy or Fido comes to stay. Arrange an appointment with a veterinarian and, if this is a first pet, a trainer as well. “Baby-proof” your home which might have such holiday hazards as small toys, ribbons, and wrapping paper. And enjoy the new member of your family!
Eileen Gallagher is an 11- year resident of Chappaqua and the mother of four boys, two of the canine variety. An avid dog lover, she recently joined the organization “Puppy Rescue Mission,” an organization which assists in bringing dogs home from war to their military companions.