’Tis better to give a pet voucher

By Patricia Meade

People will cut back for themselves to make sure there’s money to spend on their pets.

The image of a kitten or puppy snuggled inside a Christmas stocking is cute — but not the way pets should be given as gifts, experts say.

Think about giving a gift certificate for the animal, to be redeemed after the holiday at a local shelter or breeder. Place it with a pet-related present, such as a collar, toys or food bowls, under the tree, suggests the Web site cat-world.com.

There’s a lot to consider before you reach the point of buying a dog or cat as a gift, said Diane Less, operator of Angels for Animals in Canfield.

“Does the person really want and have time for a pet? This cannot be taken lightly and needs to be discussed. To surprise a person with a 15-year commitment may not be a good idea,” she said. “If this gift idea fills the bill, the pet should be brought home far enough ahead of the holiday bustle to adjust to the new home. If this is not possible, it would be best to wait until the bustle subsides.”

She, too, recommends buying a gift certificate that can be redeemed later. The gift recipient can visit the shelter to “meet the entire mass of pets” and pick the one they want, she said. The shelter’s Web site is angelsforanimals.org.

“We always get 15 to 30 calls in January from people who want to get rid of an animal they got, not from here, for Christmas,” said Joann Barrows, operator of Second Chance Animal Rescue in Austintown. “It’s absolutely not a good idea to give a pet for Christmas. The household, with too many people coming and going, is very stressful. It puts the animal in a bad situation; some animals get dumped. I recommend a gift certificate.”

After the holiday, at a quieter time, the gift recipient can pick out the pet he wants, she said. The shelter’s Web site is secondchanceanimalrescue.org.

Dave Deems, PetSmart manager in Boardman, agreed that a Christmas gift certificate for a pet is the way to go. PetSmart, he said, works with local shelters to get dogs and cats adopted, having saved more than 3.5 million nationwide so far.

The store in Boardman, for example, provides space for cats who need a home, allowing them to stay until they’re adopted or the shelters take them back. Adoptable dogs come in the store on weekends only.

Pets aren’t limited to dogs and cats. PetSmart has parakeets, fish, guinea pigs, hamsters, lizards, frogs and snakes. For the fish enthusiast, check out the Star Wars R2D2 1.8-gallon fish tank.

Christmas, Deems said, means gifts for pets, too.

Deems said people care a lot for their pets and will cut spending in other areas to make sure their animals still eat premium food and have toys to play with. “Like me, I eat out less,” the store manager said.

He adopted a racing Greyhound, Ron, now 11, and also has Buster, a little beagle.

Pointing to a display of huge bone-shaped rawhides, complete with festive red bows, Deems said it’s been a hot seller for dogs this Christmas. Last Christmas, Buster, with some effort because of the size, dragged one of the huge chew toys under the couch and stayed there.

PetSmart also has a wide variety of plush Loofa dog toys, made popular by the TV commercial that featured Bobo, a dachshund, getting passed over the checkout scanner with his new Loofa. Deems said the toy has been a hit since the TV ad.

He said a lot of people buy dog jackets and sweaters that have reflective strips for nighttime safety. As he spoke, a woman with two schnauzers — Winston visiting from New Jersey and Scout from Poland — stopped to check out the outerwear display.

Other gift-giving ideas in the store are cat and dog beds, carpet-covered cat condos, automated litter boxes and charcoal-filtered water systems. During the year, people will “eyeball” some of the big-ticket items and then come back at Christmastime to buy, Deems said.

Barrows said cats are easy when it comes to toys — they love to bat around catnip-filled squares and little plush mice. She puts catnip inside tissue paper and sits back to watch her cats rip it apart.

If buying a cat bed, she suggests also buying a yard of flannel and cutting it to fit the inside of the bed. When the flannel is covered with cat hair, just remove it for washing. This saves washing the entire bed, she said.

Less said Angels for Animals has toys that can provide plenty of environment enrichment. She recommends doggie yogurt cups and Kong toys.

“Give that puppy a peanut butter-filled Kong toy and watch them light up,” Less said. “The toys can be loaded up the night before and put in the freezer so that it takes even more licking to remove all the gooey goodness.”

For cats, try “Da Bird,” a feather lure on a fiberglass rod, a catnip bag, mice and balls, and beds. Each purchase made at Angels benefits the shelter’s dogs and cats.


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