The Gift Of A Lifetime

Many of us who are of a certain age will remember Miss Patti Page’s pup pop hit that she recorded in December of 1952, just in time for Christmas. Although the song wasn’t about gift-giving, mentioning it still conjures up visions of TV commercials featuring a child opening a box containing a (surprisingly still alive) red ribbon-festooned puppy that no doubt came from a puppy mill-stocked pet store.

Today, Miss Page has changed her tune and has recorded a more worthy version, “Do You See That Doggie in the Shelter?” with all the rights to the song donated to the Humane Society of the United States: “Do you see that doggie in the shelter—the one with the take-me-home eyes? If you give him your love and attention, he will be your best friend for life.”

It’s the giving season again, and kids still put pets on their Christmas lists—doggies, kitties, bunnies, hamsters, baby brothers. Adopting a pet as a gift for a child or a grownup is a great idea as long as the gift is received in the same sense as would be a gift of friendship or a long-awaited child. A new pet, however, isn’t advisable as a neat surprise to spring on someone who may not be ready or responsible enough to nurture and care for him or her. Pets aren’t fashion accessories, movie bobbleheads, or replacements for loved ones absent during the holidays. And they certainly aren’t toys that may be discarded by the middle of January.

If you are thinking of giving someone the gift of a new best friend, here are a few tips to consider:

•    In general, the recipient should be financially and emotionally responsible as well as physically healthy enough to care for a pet. Can he or she afford even inexpensive food and yearly visits to the vet, whether it’s a low-cost or please-fund-my-Maui-timeshare doctor? Is the animal spayed or neutered? If so, will the human pay anywhere from $30 at the low-cost clinic to $400 at the Maui one? What about annual inoculations and checkups, grooming, medical emergencies? If children or other animals live in the home, will they treat the new pet well—and will the new pet treat children and other animals well? Is someone in the home allergic to fur or feathers? Remember that a pet is a lifetime commitment for both animal and human. If the landlord or college dormitory doesn’t allow animals, or if the pet is going to be dumped at a feral colony or shelter once the owners move or start a family, get the recipient a nice inanimate object instead.

•    Even if you have the funds to spay/neuter or are aware of low-cost clinics, dogs take time and a half. Most of them crave the society of humans and other dogs and need exercise and walking, and (for the rest of us—please) the responsibility and the stomach to clean up dog waste. Here in Long Beach, we have a dog beach and a dog park, with another park in the planning, but does your friend have time to take the new pet there? Will the poor dog hang around the house, bored out of his canine brain while the human is at work for 12 hours, and chew up the coffee table and bark his head off, driving the neighbors insane? If so, will your friend have the time or the money to take the dog to obedience school? As for specific breeds, you don’t need to go to a pet store or breeder when a good number of breed-specific rescues can be found on petfinder.com, but breed-specific health problems—e.g., miniature dachshunds are prone to slipped discs, German shepherds may suffer from bone dysplasia—must be considered. Yep, dogs can be like Barbie dolls, with all the accessories, and for anyone who regards them as such, a dog is not the perfect gift.

•    Cats may be self-cleaning, but they’re not self-reliant, aloof or independent, opinions to the contrary notwithstanding. They demand your time for play, socializing and snuggling (to varying degrees, depending on the cat). They make terrific indoor pets, which we recommend them to be, not only for the protection of the cat but also for that of the birds and the neighbors’ lawns. Cats also need their claws clipped, coats combed and treated for fleas, and their litter boxes changed regularly. Does your friend have furniture of which he or she is particularly fond? Cats can be trained to use scratching posts but they occasionally fall off the wagon—while you’re looking straight at them, of course—and there exists a handful of wack cases who will spray the furniture even after the animals have been altered. If the intended recipient falls into this category—and don’t even suggest declawing—don’t put the cat in the bag.

•    Birds absolutely must be kept indoors away from drafts or full sun. They need exercise, so be sure that the windows and doors are closed when they’re exercising. They need a quiet place for sleep (as will you, because once the sunlight hits, they’re up with the—er, birdies and chatting away like Kelly Ripa). Cloth cage covers are recommended. They can get lonely, so if your friend can take care of one, two should be no problem.

•    We’re saving rabbits for the spring, but if there’s a request for a bunny on a Christmas list, the child (it’s usually a child) must know that the bunny’s quarters must be temperate and shady—rabbits cannot take heat and may die if exposed to direct sunlight. Rabbits’ teeth grow continuously, and the animals must have gnawing blocks to chew on. Rabbits are also very delicate and more susceptible to diseases—is there a vet in the recipient’s area who is knowledgeable about rabbit treatment? And here’s a timely warning: A rabbit under the Christmas tree sounds bucolic in a peculiar sort of way, but bunnies like to chew things, and electrical cords are particularly dangerous snacks for them (remember that godawful scene in the Chevy Chase vehicle Christmas Vacation, with the electrocuted cat? It wasn’t funny, and it really can happen).

•    Other pets such as rodents and hamsters need to be kept out of drafts and in cages large enough and containing sufficient playthings to keep them occupied. They, too, need face time with people. They pee and poop a lot and will become annoyed at a dirty cage if you don’t clean it (remember what happened in Willard?) They’re also short-term pets—rats don’t live much longer than four years, and during this brief time, their humans bond strongly with them. (But don’t put a fence around your heart if you adopt one.) Snakes as well as rodents have specific veterinary and housing needs. Ferrets, of course, are illegal, and we’d never suggest that you check petfinder.com to rescue one of these delightful animals, or even how much fun they are and easy to box-train. They do need a special diet with no vegetables, a cage with a lot of places to crawl through and time to socialize with you. And they smell—oh, how they smell. If illegal doesn’t put the kibosh on a gift of ferret, that little thing might.

In the words of Chris DeRose, president of, Last Chance for Animals, “Adopt—don’t shop.” Stay away from the pet store window. And one last tip—the new pet is going to be a gift for someone else and should be chosen by that someone else. During gift exchanges, give your friend a note or a homemade gift card offering him or her time with you to visit the shelter or rescue to choose the gift that really does keep on giving.

To hear Patti Page’s new recording, “Do You See That Doggie in the Shelter?” written by Chris Gantry and Bob Merrill, and listen to her talk about her inspiration for recording it, visit here.  This is one heck of a great video!

Creature Comforting
Don’t forget that pets need gifts at the holiday as well. Long Beach Animal Care Services (ACS)is still conducting the Classic Kong Drive project, accepting donated Red Kong toys at Long Beach Animal Care Services, 7700 E. Spring Street, Long Beach, CA 90815.

Justin Rudd is asking for volunteers, donations and setup of donation boxes at businesses for Operation Santa Paws. Delivery of the items will take place at ACS on Saturday, December 20, at 11:15 a.m. To volunteer, e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

For information and wish lists, visit santapaws.info/ and this donation page.

Mistletoe hung from the gas brackets in all the front parlors; there was sherry and walnuts and bottled beer and crackers by the dessertspoons; and cats in their fur-abouts watched the fires.
- James Joyce, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales”
 

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