Thinking about a pet as a gift? Hold off during the holidays

By now you've have probably heard about the gift to avoid during the holiday season: a pet.

Dogs and cats, small animals too, need training, socialization, veterinary care and love. Making the decision to bring them into your home- for many years don't forget - should not be made in haste. Consider the breed, age, temperament and health needs of the animal. Consider how they would mesh - or not- with your own lifestyle before taking the plunge.

So, instead of getting a puppy or kitten to "unwrap" on Christmas morning, consider a pet bowl, leash or collar instead (that tip from Karel Minor over at the Humane Society of Berks County. Then, sometime after the holidays (even Dec. 26) take a trip to the shelter, your local PetsMart or other store adoption center (among them, Doggie Style's Oporation Ava), or let your fingers do the clicking on to find your perfect pet. The Humane Society of the United States keeps a list of pet stores that help shelters with adoption programs. If you have your heart set on a specific dog breed there are many breed rescues or check out your local kennel club for a recommendation for a responsible breeder.

Considering a pet shop purchase? Read this compelling investigative report in the Palm Beach Post first. The reporting team traced healt certificates connected to thousands of puppies sold in area pet stores and found they came from puppy mills in the mid-west - many of which were the subject of scathing USDA inspection reports over the years but continue to operate.

If you adopt a pet from rescue without a bricks-and-mortar facility, you want to make sure you do your research and establish that they are a legitimate rescue and not a dog broker or importer. New Jersey Consumers Against Pet Shop Abuse has a "Rescue Watch" page on its website to give you guidance on adopting from a rescue group.

Then there are are many things you can do to support homeless pets throughout the holiday season. Donate to a humane society in honor of someone as a gift. Give a gift membership to a shelter. Head to your local shelter during the holidays with a gift for a homeless animal or offer to volunteer. [The Pennsylvania SPCA in Philadelphia and its satellite branches throughout the state is ready to take in a rope toy or Kong toys, American-made rawhides, beds, blankets and treats - don't forget catnip for kitties - including on Christmas Day] Better yet, sign up to foster a pet.

For the animal lover who has everything, how about buying them a "gift adoption" of a farm animal at the Farm Sanctuary ? (Don't worry, you don't have to find room for that calf in your condo. The animals stay on the farm.)