Think through the specifics before you commit

The image of an adorable puppy, adorned with a bow, running towards a child on Christmas morning is a winner for a television commercial. But if you're considering giving a dog or cat to your child for a birthday or the holidays, think through the specifics before you commit. If you're considering giving someone outside your household a pet as a gift, reconsidering may be the better path.

Caring for a pet requires a host of commitments: time, money, resources, and love. Unless you're deciding for yourself, determining if someone is willing to make those commitments is difficult, if not impossible. The result of giving someone an unexpected - and potentially unwanted - gift of an animal often ends with the pet going to a shelter.

No matter how mature or responsible a child is, an adult is ultimately the one who will be accountable for the pet's welfare. Having a dog, cat, bunny or other animal is a decision the entire household should make together. Knowing the right temperament and needs of the animal are essential in making the proper choice: is the pet good with kids; does he require a lot of exercise; can he be left alone while the adults are at work and the kids are at school?

Even a single person should decide for herself if and when she wants a pet. Hearing someone say how much she wishes she had a dog doesn't mean she's ready for one. If she likes to go out of town, the pet needs to be watched. If she works long hours, how will the pet be fed? Did she just buy a new living room set? She may not want the extra wear and tear a pet can put on furniture.

Visit your local shelter or breed rescue

Although the gesture may be heartfelt, the act of giving someone an animal as a gift can often lead to heartache. If, however, you are confident that a loved one wants and is ready for a pet to love, visit your local shelter or breed rescue. Too many of the animals there are last year's holiday gifts. Give them a second chance rather than sending another one to the same fate.