To buy a pet for Christmas or not

Must See 18/12/2018

Waking up early on Christmas day and hearing the mewling of a kitten or puppy behind the living room door can inspire excitement or a renewed sense of purpose.

For some, pets are much needed company; for walks along the beach on a hot summer day or to snuggle with after work. The idea of nurturing an animal of their own can make a child light up as bright as a Christmas tree.

But for others, owning a pet can come with dreaded thoughts of toilet training, fencing the section off, or buying a plethora of exotic plants to fill a fish tank no one yet knows where to put.

The additional responsibility can sometimes be a stressful burden over the Christmas and summer break, when families want to sit back and relax beside the pool - not run around picking up dog poo.

Carolyn Press-McKenzie, co-founder of Helping You Help Animals (HUHA), says the bubbling anticipation of surprising a child with a new furry, feathery or scaly friend under the Christmas tree must be considered with the understanding a pet can often be a 15-year commitment.

"You have to consider the long-term relationship you are going to have with this animal that needs food, water, shelter and love," she says.

From buying the correct food, to installing a cat door, to getting the animal its proper vaccinations, there can be a lot to think about.

Unfortunately, it all comes with costs, and making a spontaneous decision to purchase or adopt a new pet can lead to "catastrophic" endings if the animals doesn't get the love it deserves.

Andrea Midgen, the chief executive of SPCA NZ, echoes Ms Press-McKenzie's thoughts, relaying that new owners often need to go to great lengths to give their pet just a satisfactory standard of living.

But if they have thought about it for long enough and are prepared for the extra responsibility, Christmas can be the perfect time to get involved, she says.


"There is a big school holiday break, and so [potential pet owners] know they have got six or eight weeks at home. So it is a really good time from that perspective if you are not going away... spend a bit of time with them, just get them comforted," says Ms Midgen.

"If you are planning on going away, probably not such a good time, because to leave it with someone else to look after isn't a good way to bond your pet at the beginning."

Most kennels and day cares won't allow pets to stay if they haven't been vaccinated. That can lead to a lot of trouble for some families who realise the day before going off on a big summer holiday that their new dog isn't welcome just yet at the local pet hotel.

One benefit of adopting from the SPCA is that a lot of those necessary veterinary jobs have already been sorted out.

"When you adopt from the SPCA, you know what you're getting. They've been desexed, it has been microchipped, so if they do go wandering and someone finds it, we can track back to where they belong," she says.

But don't expect to turn up at the SPCA and adopt a pet for someone else.

"If you think you're going to come in and surprise a friend and for another home, that's not we do because we've got to make sure the pets are going to the right home," says Ms Midgen.

Ms Press-McKenzie says instead of surprising someone with a pet they may not yet be prepared for, she recommends gifting them a pet voucher, pet toy or something else that can act as an "I owe you".

That way there is still the elation of knowing a pet is coming, but the recipient can also be a part of the joy of choosing the pet while understanding the extra responsibilities.

Southern Cross Pet Insurance says its research shows roughly one-third of pet owners find it difficult to care for their pets and struggle to pay mounting bills - which can be a struggle straight after the expensive Christmas holiday.

A 2016 survey by Southern Cross found 32 percent of pet owners found it difficult to pay for vet bills, with 55 percent only able to afford up to $1000.


It is common that bills exceed that figure, with one dog Southern Cross dealt with last year undergoing a surgery costing $23,924.54 after being hit by a car.

"When your dog or cat is sick or injured, it's a stressful time. There's no public health system for pets, so you're sometimes confronted with difficult decisions about how much care and treatment you can afford," says Southern Cross Pet Insurance general manager Anthony McPhail.

For those that believe the responsibility may be a little too much, or wish to stick with pets that won't bite into your white leather couch, there are always the robotic kinds