PETS: The Worst Surprises — Pets Can Make Great Holiday Gifts, But Not Without Planning

A surprise pet is a horrible gift idea, for both the animal and their new owner, experts say

Giving someone a pet as a Christmas gift might be the only thing worse than leaving them coal or onions under the tree.

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Need proof? Just look to the world of cinema. There’s Aunt Bethany in Christmas Vacation, who wrapped her cat like a gift and put it under the Griswold’s tree. That earned her the title as the only person in the movie goofier than Cousin Eddie, a challenging feat no doubt.

Or there’s Tommy from “Trainspotting.” He gives his girlfriend a cat she doesn’t want and then spirals into heroin addiction and eventually death.

So don’t be like them.

A surprise pet is a horrible gift idea, for both the animal and their new owner, experts say.

If you really want to give a loved one a dog or a cat this holiday season, experts say you have some options, but none of them should include a pet waiting under the Christmas tree with the Barbies and Legos.

The best place to start, says Joan Thielen, communications specialist at the Denver Dumb Friends League, is by talking to whomever you are giving the gift to so you are sure they are on board with the responsibility owning a pet requires.

Sure, that ruins the surprise, but it will mean a better life for the animal and the owner.

The next step, Thielen says, is to bring the gift-receiver along for a visit to the shelter where you’ll get the pet.  Even if someone insists they are a “cat person,” that doesn’t always mean they will be a fan of a particular cat.

That’s a two-way street, Thielen says, because some cats or dogs might not be especially fond of that person, so it’s good for them to meet and make a connection before taking the ownership leap.

And if you want the gift to have some element of a surprise, there are options. Thielen says a good idea is to get a collar, pet toys and treats and give those along with a Dumb Friends League gift certificate.

That surprise can be the start of the process and from there you can make those trips to the shelter and pick the ideal pet.

Another factor to consider is whether the Holidays are the best time to bring a new pet into the home. If your travel schedule is heavy, Thielen says it’s not a good idea to get a pet around the Holidays — especially a puppy or kitten, which requires attention like any other newborn or child.

But for some people, the holidays are actually the ideal time to add a pet to the household.

“If the kids are on Christmas break it might actually be a great time to transition a pet into your home,” she says.