Few things are cuter than a puppy or kitten -- throw in a red and green bow, the cuteness is almost impossible to resist.
But resist you must, at least according to local pet rescue shelter directors.
"We really discourage giving pets as gifts," Pet Refuge vice president Nancy Whiteman told the South Bend Tribune (http://bit.ly/JvYph6 ).
The main reason is compatibility, she said. A person must choose the animal they fit best with -- and the same goes for the animal choosing its human.
"It's their lifestyle, and you've got to pick the right match for a personality," Whiteman said. "In the back of everyone's mind, we're hoping all of our dogs and cats can be home at Christmas. It's an exciting time, but keep in mind that we're not just going to be giving a dog to someone just because they want one. There's an application process."
Whiteman said they have seen fewer "gift" pets given to the shelter around the holidays over the last couple of years, but it still happens.
"People are starting to become aware" that pet compatibility is an issue, Whiteman said. "It's a big responsibility. But I've been here for 12 years, and it's gotten less and less. The local organizations have done a good job of educating the public."
Dr. Carol Ecker, executive director of the Humane Society of St. Joseph County, said that they offer gift certificates for those who would like to get someone an animal. She suggested getting a gift certificate and wrapping it up with a stuffed animal instead of giving a pet for a gift.
"We are very careful with how we adopt around the holidays," she said.
Each year, about 2.7 million healthy animals are euthanized in U.S. shelters, according to the Humane Society of the United States' online fact sheet. Between 3 million and 4 million animals are adopted from shelters each year. Animals do need to be adopted, but at an appropriate time and by the appropriate person, Ecker said.
Christmas morning, with its bright lights, loud noises and crowded houses, might not be the best time to bring a new dog or cat home, she said.
"It's not good for the animal to be thrown into that situation. They need to adjust for a while and get acclimated," she said. "You need to have the commitment of time with the animal, and at the holidays, with visitors and loud noises, that animal might not behave well."
Pet Refuge does have gift certificates, but Whiteman suggested a homemade coupon so that the person can get the pet from wherever they find one that fits. A gift certificate from one specific shelter might limit their choices, she said.
Ecker also said now is a good time to look at Christmas decorations to make sure they are pet-friendly.
"There are a lot of dangerous items around the holidays for pets," Ecker said.
She cautioned pet owners to avoid tinsel and ribbon, which cats or dogs may eat and cause intestinal issues. Pet owners with live Christmas trees should also keep an eye on the water basin for the trunk -- animals might try to drink from it, but the sap may make them ill.
Outdoor animals might need some extra attention, too, she said. Make sure outdoor pets are away from the wind with some form of shelter and have fresh water.