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The holiday gift that keeps on giving: opt to adopt a pet, save a life

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Updated: 1/17/2013 10:08 am

(BPT) - It's not surprising that pets are often a popular holiday gift. The darling image of the bow-bedecked puppy or the kitten-stuffed stocking is a holiday classic, but gift givers should make sure that an animal's charm doesn't overshadow other important factors to consider when making a pet purchase, including where the pets came from and who the recipient is.

Each year more than 4 million homeless pets are killed as a result of overpopulation, but families who adopt from animal shelters or rescue groups can help preserve these lives and support the growing trend of socially responsible holiday shopping. Best Friends Animal Society encourages families this holiday season to give the precious gift of life by adopting homeless pets rather than buying from breeders, pet stores or online retailers.

Also, resist the urge to surprise a friend or family member with a living gift. Choosing the right pet is an extremely personal decision, one that should be made carefully by the adults who will be caring for the animal for its 15- to 20-year lifetime. Instead, offer an adoption gift certificate paired with a basket of pet care items or stuffed animal for the holiday itself, and then let the person or family choose the actual pet that feels right to them.

Once you've decided to adopt, keep in mind that welcoming a pet into your life is a big decision and requires important preparation. Best Friends offers tips and advice to help make a smooth transition at home:

* Determine roles and responsibilities - Before bringing home a new pet, discuss what roles and responsibilities each family member will take on. Who will be in charge of feeding, walks, changing the litter box and taking your pet for regular visits to the vet? Giving each family member a specific task will help everyone feel involved, especially young children.

* Prep the house - Adding a pet to the house means adding new items to your shopping lists. For dogs, the basics are a collar and leash, chew toys, a kennel and dog bed. Cats need a litter box and litter, a scratching post and a carrying crate for transportation. Also don't forget food and toys.

* Have your pet spayed/neutered - Spaying or neutering is one of the greatest gifts you can provide your pet and community. It not only helps control the overabundance of pets, but can also help prevent medical and behavioral problems from developing. Most shelters include this with the adoption package or can recommend a local veterinarian in your area, so check with the staff at the shelter before you leave.

* Research community rules and resources - Do a little research on what identification (tags, microchips, etc.) you might need for your pet. Scout out the local dog parks and runs for future outdoor fun, and make sure you know where emergency vet clinics or animal hospitals are located.

* Set limits - Having pre-determined rules will create consistency in training and help make the home a pleasant environment for you and your pet. Will your pet be allowed to snuggle with you in bed or curl up with you on your furniture? Will treats be limited to one a day? It's important to discuss these questions as a family before your new family member arrives.

An estimated 17 million people will be adding pets to their families this year, so this season, help bring some holiday cheer to a homeless pet by adopting your newest companion.

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