You know the scene: A child ambles downstairs in footed pajamas. She runs to unwrap her holiday presents and sheds joyful tears as she embraces a new puppy rescued from an overcrowded shelter. The music swells, hearts double in size and faith in humanity is restored.
While a sweet thought, surprising a loved one with a sentient being isn’t a decision that should be made lightly. Before taking that step, there are a few things to consider.
First is the element of surprise. “The timing could be a surprise, but the animal should absolutely not be a surprise,” said Leslie Granger, the president and chief executive officer of Bideawee, a New York shelter and animal welfare organization in New York. The decision should be based on many conversations, and everyone involved should understand the long term implications — children included. Parents might consider assigning children responsibilities before their new pet even comes home.
Next, you’ll choose whether to adopt from a shelter or rescue. Shelters are usually government-funded and tend to be larger and quicker to process applications. They offer brick-and-mortar locations where you can meet a lot of animals at once. And they are, across the country, inundated with lovable animals. Rescues are smaller and funded by donations; they often rely on fosters to house animals.
Whichever you choose, here’s a tip: Apply and become approved as an adopter before you find your new family member. Applications and their processing times vary and can include tasks like proving that your landlord allows pets. Check to see if applying online is possible, and if you’re applying in person, make sure you know what to bring.
If you’re worried about the immense responsibility of choosing someone else’s best friend, Katy Hansen, the director of marketing and communications for Animal Care Centers of NYC, suggests wrapping a leash or litter box as the surprise, and then taking the future pet owner to the shelter. Julie Castle, the chief executive of Best Friends Animal Society, said that several shelters offer gift certificates to cover the cost of adoption. “You can achieve this in a thoughtful way without it just being an animal shows up on Christmas morning in your house,” Castle said.
I adopted my dog, Peter, in the spring. He didn’t pop out of a box with a red bow on his collar; I didn’t weep with surprise. We came into each others’ lives without holiday fanfare. But every day, I get to wake up to his dripping nose and perfect dog breath. I can’t imagine a greater gift.