Column: Pets as presents

Illustration by Sara Scherba

By Morgan Daigneault

Illustration by Sara Scherba

As holiday music begins to blare prematurely from malls and department stores, gift-giving may already be on the minds of the consuming masses.

Black Friday sales will entice shoppers in droves to purchase disgusting amounts of electronics, clothes, and nearly anything else a credit card swipe can buy. But toys, housewares, and dubiously-useful Skymall-esque gadgetry aren’t the only items up for grabs; some may want to add a new pet to their home, or gift a pet to a friend or loved one. While bringing an animal into your life can be a tremendous joy under the right circumstances, it is not a decision to be made with misinformed haste.

A good starting point is to evaluate whether a pet is really the right decision, especially during the hectic winter months. Infused with a generous spirit, it is easy to put reality on the back burner when confronted with a wide-eyed, adorable ball of fuzz. New pets require a ton of work and patience, and will continue to demand this effort from you for the remainder of their lives.

Dogs need house training, obedience training, food, toys, veterinary care, and plenty of attention. Cats may be considered “easy mode,” but their needs should not be underestimated either, especially when it comes to litter box maintenance and furniture scratching.

If you’re truly up for the challenge of pet ownership, the research shouldn’t stop there. Change in living situation, for instance, is one of the oft-given excuses for surrendering (or worse, abandoning) a pet. Most rented housing will have restrictions on pets along with a hefty deposit and monthly fee. Roommates and family members could have allergies, so testing beforehand can prevent unneeded heartbreak later.

Dogs and cats come in a variety of breeds, each with their own traits, sizes, special needs and health issues. If you and your fiancee are living in an apartment, for instance, it would be ill-advised to bring home a Great Dane or St. Bernard. Plenty of resources are available for free online to help you find the best fit for your family.

After a thorough amount of research, if you still feel ready for a new pet, all that’s left is the question of where to find one. While contacting a breeder or dropping in at the nearest pet store might seem like convenient options, please consider the tragic and widespread problem of animal overpopulation. A common misconception is that the only way to find a purebred is through a breeder or pet store.

However, many breed-specific rescue organizations exist all across the country, and have puppies and kittens as well as more mature pets. Even local animal shelters will often have purebred animals rescued from hoarding situations or given up by their previous owners. Of course, purebreds aren’t your only option – in fact, mixed breeds can look very unique, have less breed-specific health problems and will love and adore you every bit as much.

If you need more guidance, seek out animal shelters and foster networks. The employees and volunteers care tremendously about the animals and are more than happy to help you make the right decision. Some great organizations in the area include Great Plains SPCA (, Wayside Waifs (,  and LL Dog Rescue ( and are also fantastic resources with searchable profiles of adoptable pets from shelters in your area.

As the holidays close in, don’t let the excitement of the season override your judgment as it concerns the fate of a living creature.  If you and your loved ones have swapped visions of sugar plums for puppies and candy canes for kittens, proceed with enthusiasm, but include a heap of caution and knowledge.

Contact Morgan Daigneault, production designer, at


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