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Animals are for life, not just the holidays

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Two kittens are hoisting themselves up my pant legs as I write this, sinking their needle-like claws into my shins. Before their attention turned to scaling my legs, kitten No. 1 was clambering up the wastepaper basket in an attempt to reach the power cords that I had stashed out of her reach, and kitten No. 2 was toppling her mama's food bowl for the third time that day.

When I got up this morning, I found that they had "decorated" my office -- using the contents of their litter box. And now ... please excuse me while I run off to rescue my (nontoxic) houseplant from their mama's eager jaws.

I knew I was courting this kind of crazy when I volunteered to foster animals in need. But along with the chaos, this feline foster family has brought so much joy, love and laughter into our home.

Fostering has reminded me that taking in a new animal is a big commitment that brings with it big changes and big challenges. Every year, many families who buy kittens, puppies or other animals because they think they'll look cute under the Christmas tree find themselves overwhelmed and unprepared. And many animals who were purchased as "gifts" find themselves tossed out like used wrapping paper.

In Germany, animal rescue facilities report a 40% increase in the number of dogs and a 50% spike in the number of felines returned in January. The problem is so widespread that several countries have prohibited the adoption of animals during the holidays.

Even for people who are committed to caring for an animal for life, the holidays are typically one of the worst times to bring home a new family member. Parties, shopping, cooking, decorating, visitors and travel keep many people busy and away from home more often during December. This can make it difficult for an animal to adjust and can hinder the crucial bonding process.

Animals need time, a calm environment and gentle, consistent, positive guidance to understand the do's and don'ts of their new home. There will be mishaps, messes and mischief. It's our job to set animals up for success -- by spending plenty of time with them, keeping a close eye on them, ensuring that all their needs are met and never punishing them for the inevitable "oopsies."

For 16 million people each year, the pain and fear caused by stroke is not “unimaginable” – it is their direct and immediate experience, one that is not shared by the anesthetized rats used in our studies.

The holidays also introduce all kinds of dangers and temptations into animals' environments -- twinkle light cords to chew on, trees to climb, irresistible (and breakable) ornaments to bat at, candles that can be knocked over, poisonous plants and an abundance of foods that can sicken or even kill them.

And, there's no getting around it: Caring for an animal is expensive. In the few weeks that they've been with us, our feline trio has needed medications, vet visits, shots, special food, litter, toys, lots of paper towels and cleanser and more. With many families' budgets already stretched thin during this time of year, the added expense of caring for an animal can rack up debt -- or worse, result in animals being deprived of vital veterinary care or even abandoned.

Fostering has also reminded me of how many wonderful animals are waiting for loving, responsible people to commit to caring for them for life. If you fit that description and have given the decision careful consideration, please visit your local animal shelter to adopt your new family member -- after the hectic holiday season is over. After all, nothing helps chase away the post-holiday blues like taking a canine companion for a long, leisurely walk or letting a purring kitty share the warmth of your lap, which is what I'm doing right now.

Lindsay Pollard-Post, senior writer

PETA Foundation

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