Finding the perfect friend for the holidays

Finding the perfect friend for the holidays

By Isabel Alvarez

As soon as the turkey is out of the oven Thanksgiving Day, we’re on the quest to find the perfect holiday gifts. We scour the Internet, catalogs and shops for that hallelujah moment — when bells chime, lights shine and we exclaim, “It’s perfect!”

We hope to make a lasting impression. We want our family and friends to squeal in delight as they unwrap our thoughtful and deeply meaningful gifts. It’s all in the holiday spirit, and it’s precisely why this is such a joyful time of year.

But beware the enthusiasm, friends. We wouldn’t want the glittery holiday haze to distract you into making a poor pet decision.

First and foremost, pets are not gifts. Pets are a serious commitment. Regardless of size or species, all pets require a considerable amount of time and dedication. And they often come with a hefty financial obligation.

Pets are not toys. They are living, breathing creatures that require proper nutrition, care and exercise. Simply feeding them is not enough. Having the money to buy the very best and offer outstanding veterinary care is not enough. Loving them to pieces is not enough. Pets need all of the above and more.

Puppies look adorable with a festive bow, but there is a lot more to that sweet, squirmy surprise than you may bargain for. And the recipient of your special gift may not know the level of commitment it takes to raise a puppy, dog, kitten, cat, rabbit, turtle — you name it. Pets are a responsibility, not a gift idea.

What’s that? You’ve thought long and hard and still want a pet this holiday season? And you’re committed to raising your new friend right? Great!

Let’s discuss the obstacles that you may encounter in your search.
You may have heard the term “puppy mill.” If you have, the words should conjure up images of suffering, filth and, well, absolute terror. Puppy mills are hell on earth for dogs, and you want to avoid a puppy-mill pup at all costs. Cats and small mammals aren’t bred as poorly or as extensively as dogs because they are less popular in purebred form. But puppy-mill equivalents exist for many species and should be avoided.

A puppy-mill pet will not only come with extensive psychological issues, but may also cost you a fortune in veterinary bills as a result of deplorable breeding practices —including inbreeding, unhealthy and overbred moms and pops, and high levels of contamination. Buying from a puppy mill is as much a bad investment as it is an utter lack of social responsibility. Don’t do it.

How do you avoid a puppy mill? Start by doing your homework. Research the breed, contact a number of highly regarded breeders, and ask friends, colleagues and — most importantly — pet experts for recommendations. Once you’ve narrowed down your search, refuse to buy pets off the Internet or from pet shops, visit a number of breeders and observe their operation before committing to a purchase, and report questionable breeding practices to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Bad breeding is a vicious cycle, and we can contribute to its end. Buying a pet from a less-than-reputable breeder only helps fund future litters and encourages the disgusting scheme. You may have saved an animal, but you’ve supported the operation and ensured future generations of pets will similarly suffer.

I would skip the breeders and purchases altogether, considering the thousands of wonderful pets waiting for a home at local shelters and rescue organizations. This holiday season, open your heart and home to a pet that has dreamt of you their entire life — they will not only repay you in love but also in gratitude. Don’t make a purchase, save a life. What better way to celebrate the true spirit of the season?

Alexandria resident Isabel Alvarez owns The Wag Pack, a professional pet services company that the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters named its 2012 business of the year.