It’s a popular time of year to acquire a pet. If you will be seeking a new dog or cat in the coming weeks, resist the urge to rush in where angels fear to tread. Don’t allow the holiday countdown to pressure you into an ill-considered choice. After all, you’ll be reaping the consequences of this decision every single day for the next several years. If you are not 100% confident that your household is ready for a pet, put it off until you are. Are your children offering tearful vows to prepare every meal, supervise every walk, scoop every pile, and give every bath? Ah, children and their promises. If caring for the pet doesn’t fit into your schedule, it might be best to put it off.

Do you have enough cash on hand to pay for the startup costs of a dog or cat? If you don’t have a clear idea of what these are, be sure you check it out before proceeding. It’s not usually wise to choose a veterinary clinic based solely on its fees, but two or three calls to local hospitals can give you a rough idea what to budget for all the necessary vaccinations and a spay or neuter surgery.

Now that you are confident the timing is right, allow yourself plenty of latitude to select the most suitable individual. Many of you are toiling away at massive research projects via library and internet to ferret out the right breed. Breed books have their place, but there is no substitute for talking with a real, live person who has owned that type of dog or cat. Remember to seek counsel from an unbiased source and not exclusively from the salesman, just as you would when selecting a new car. Try an online breed-specific bulletin board, a veterinary clinic, or just asking around to your friends. It should be obvious that choosing a particular breed because it is the largest, smallest, baldest, or rarest is not a reliable way to embark on a lifelong relationship. Have you considered looking for a mixed-breed pet at the shelter?

Placing too much emphasis on the surprise aspect of a pet purchase is a frequent temptation. Try to look at this from the animal’s perspective. It is an ordeal, especially for a youngster, to be jailed in secret overnight, then ripped open, screamed at, and squeezed by a throng of chattering strangers in an unfamiliar house—all this on a day already burdened with complicated meal preparations, hyperkinetic travel plans, noisy new toys, and sleep deprivation. What if you put aside your pursuit of that perfect, album-worthy, Norman Rockwell-inspired Christmas-morning moment and presented the kids with a homemade coupon to go out and choose a pet together when the holiday din has subsided? A little pragmatism won’t spoil the season, and your patience now will be worth the years of reward that lie ahead.

Dr M.S. Regan