How tempting it is to surprise a family member or friend with a holiday puppy or kitten. “Grandma’s lonely and needs a furry companion,” you think. But has anyone actually asked Grandma if she wants to take on a fifteen-year commitment to another life?

Every year, after the holidays are over, surprise-gifted dogs and cats end up in shelters and rescues because the recipients either didn’t want that type of pet or didn’t want a pet at all. How sad for everyone involved, especially for the pet, who thought they had found a loving home, only to end up in a shelter.

Pet ownership is a long-term responsibility. A person should take on that kind of commitment knowingly and with preparation. Besides, isn’t picking out your own furry companion the best part of the process?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I think giving a dog or cat, especially a homeless one from the shelter, as a holiday or birthday present is a generous and caring idea. You’re rescuing an animal in need and making your loved one happy at the same time. Just don’t make that darling wagging or purring fluffball a surprise gift!

Here are some things to keep in mind when thinking about a dog or cat as a holiday gift:

First, remember that a furry gift is wonderful, but should never be a surprise. According to Peggy Post, author of Emily Post’s Etiquette, “Pets are a wonderful addition to life, yet not everyone has the time, energy, money or interest in having a pet. Always ask the receiver if they want a pet, first.”

Second, why not pay the pet’s adoption fees and give your loved one a gift certificate to P.A.W.S. so they can come and choose their own pet. If they decide that they don’t want a pet, after all, you’ll have made a much-needed donation to the shelter. A wonderful gift in itself! P.A.W.S. offers Holiday Adoption Gift Certificates at the shelter.

Third, make sure it’s a family decision for the gift recipient. Pets are like children, they come with a lot of financial, emotional and time concerns. They also come with a lot of wags and purrs and unconditional love, but, like children, they’re vulnerable to our adult decisions, so be sure.

Fourth, beware of impulse gifts. Acting on impulse doesn’t give you or the recipient the chance to select a pet by size, activity level, and temperament, all important factors when choosing a pet.

So the takeaway is, ask Grandma before you surprise her on Christmas morning with a new dog or cat. Remember, it’s up to you to ensure that both your loved one and their new pet have a happy ending together.

P.A.W.S. is located at 123 John Street in Camden. We can be reached at 236-8702. For more info go to pawsadoption.org.