1. Are you ready for a pet?

Chances are, if you’re planning on getting your child a pet for Christmas, a lot of the corresponding responsibilities will fall into your hands. That doesn’t just mean letting it inside and outside and remembering to feed it daily. This means finding and paying someone to take care of it if you go out of town, regulating its exercise, giving it the required attention, and a whole lot of added expense (To put it in perspective, I pay around $50 for a nourishing dog food choice, and based on the rate my 50-pound dog eats, this is a monthly-recurring expense.) -- not to mention the added dog hair all over the carpet that never wants to admit defeat to the vacuum cleaner, and the muddy paw prints that trot across your kitchen tile after a rainy day. Although the pet might be considered a belonging of your child, a pet is a family responsibility and its presence will affect the lives of each family member.

2. Have you considered the other options?

It’s easy to imagine the joyous reaction of your child upon receiving a pet as a gift, and it’s even easier to get your mind set on this one, perfect gift idea. However, before settling on the idea of gifting a pet, consider the other options. When I was younger, my sister adopted an endangered manatee from the World Wildlife Fund. No, we didn’t have a manatee living in our pond, but instead she received a stuffed, plush manatee, a certificate of adoption, and recurrent updates on how the endangered species was doing. Of course, it wasn’t the same as having a pet, but as kids, we found fun in simply learning about the species and seeing images of the manatee she adopted. World Wildlife Fund offers adoptions for 143 different species of animals and proceeds go towards improving the habitats and their lives. If a pet is going to be too demanding on your family’s lifestyle, consider this symbolic adoption as an option, as it will help educate your child on animal welfare, while also supporting a positive cause.

3. Down the road, what will change?

Pets are a long-term commitment and although this sounds obvious, it is often an overlooked statement. Think about a couple of weeks down the road, or months, or years. A pet becomes an additional member of your family so regardless of where your life takes you in the future, you must accommodate for your pet. Consider how your life and mind may change in the near future, and how having a pet will affect your life in the years to come. If you are on the fence already about whether or not a pet is the right idea for your family, you should wait until you feel confident that the time is right.

4. Is your child ready for a pet?

In order to properly care for a pet, a person must first develop the maturity and responsibility required to nurture the animal to the standards it needs. It is easy to fantasize about the loyal companionship provided by a dog and all the great joys pets can bring, but caring for a pet is a different story. Before giving your child a pet this Christmas, make sure your child is informed of the love and attention necessary to raise a pet, as well as the discipline and training. Along with all of the wonderfully rewarding, positive aspects of having a pet, comes all of the hard work, time, and commitment towards caring for it.

5. Adoption

So, after careful thought and planning, you have decided to buy your child a pet for Christmas. I have but one last thing for you to consider: adoption. Each year, approximately 6.5 million animals enter animal shelters in the U.S. alone and of those, only 3.2 million are adopted in the year. Before looking for a local breeder, and definitely before searching nearby pet stores, consider rescuing an animal from a shelter.