Adopting a New Idea

A child bursts out of bed Christmas morning, ecstatic to find an adorable kitten wearing a red bow and curled up in a ball under the tree.

This is the scene I have imagined for more than a year as my husband and I have discussed and debated when the right time is to adopt a pet for our animal-loving daughter.

It’s a big decision. We’re talking about a whole new member of the family who needs to be loved, fed and cleaned up after. The mom in me dreams about the fun she’ll have with a new buddy. The obsessive in me worries about the cat hair and litter box.

One thing that was holding us back was the impression that animal groups discouraged pet adoptions during the holidays. The idea of a cute new pet can quickly become an unwelcome reality if you’re not ready to deal with the care, cost and wear and tear that come with a new pet.

But the latest advice from many shelters is that adopting for the holidays is OK. Studies show that pet return rates after the holidays are no higher than at other times of the year, said Denise Deisler, Jacksonville Humane Society’s executive director.

The key is to use the same adoption process whether it’s a holiday or not. That means good communication with the shelter about your expectations and lifestyle so that you get the right pet for you.

“There’s something extra special about bringing home a new family member during the holidays,” Deisler said. Plus, people tend to have time off work and children are home from school, so there’s more time to bond with a pet.

At the Home for the Holidays Pet Adoption Event, between 1,100 and 1,200 dogs and cats will be available from more than a dozen Northeast Florida agencies. Each will be spayed or neutered, inoculated and treated for fleas, ticks and parasites. Each pet will also be implanted with a microchip or will come with a gift certificate to have it microchipped.

Adoptions from Jacksonville Humane Society, Jacksonville Animal Care & Protective Services and First Coast No More Homeless Pets will cost just $20, a deep discount from their usual fees, although donations will be accepted as well. The other groups might have different fees for their pets.

You will have the opportunity to spend some time with the animals and talk to a counselor who will ask you some questions:

• What describes your ideal pet — calm and snuggly or energetic and rambunctious?

• Are you home during the day?

• Do you work long hours?

• Does your social life take you away from home often?

• Do you have other pets at home?

All the questions are meant to help you select a pet that’s right for you so that you can take one home that day.

Around 6,000 people are expected to attend the event, with a goal of at least 850 adoptions. The Mega Adoption Event in July brought more than 10,000 people and 946 adoptions.

Events like these have helped promote the no-kill policy animal groups have been working toward. Through this work, the save rate (the number of pets adopted out of shelters) is better than 70 percent in Duval County. Deisler is confident they will get to 90 percent in the next year.

If all the area animal groups work together, it’s not unrealistic that in three years, Nassau, Clay and St. Johns could all be no-kill, said Rick DuCharme, founder and director of First Coast No More Homeless Pets. His group has helped lower pet euthanasia in Duval Country from 23,000 in 2003 to slightly more than 5,000 in the last year. A major factor in that change is the number of spay and neuter surgeries FCNMHP performs in its high-volume clinic: 25,000 in the last year.

If you’ve been planning to adopt a new pet — and you’ve done the research about the kind of animal that would be a good fit — then the holidays are a wonderful time to introduce a new family member. If it seems more like a last-minute or impulsive idea, remember to factor in the time, money (food, supplies, veterinary care) and adjustment for you and the pet.

If the pet is for a child, Deisler advised that parents must still be primarily responsible for its care. But it is a wonderful opportunity to teach responsibility to a child with parts of the pet’s care, such as feeding or exercise. And there are larger lessons such as how to be gentle, kind and thoughtful.

“What a great lesson for kids to rescue an animal, to do something generous and charitable,” Deisler said.

If you have doubts about the timing, buy a shelter gift certificate so that your family can pick out the right pet at the right time. Or you could create an adoption kit with all the supplies you’ll need for a pet. And you can still make a donation to your favorite shelter.

If the time is right for you to adopt a pet, this is a great opportunity to see a huge variety of cats and dogs in one place at one time.

DuCharme said that without adoption, the shelters remain full, eventually leading to the deaths of some homeless pets.

“If we don’t find homes,” DuCharme said, “they’re going to die.”