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Dear Santa, I want a pet

As Christmas quickly approaches, my children's Christmas lists are surely growing and growing and growing.  Despite the fact that we have talked to our children about the fact that we are limiting presents this year and that there are many children around the world who don't have anything, my children continue to write the Christmas lists to Santa.  At the top of this list...pets.

Yes, that is pets - plural.  For some reason my children think that our house should be Noah's Ark.  The list of appropriate pets to have ranges from dogs (of which we already have two), cats, birds, bats, and even unicorns (Yes, the great Unicorn Debate continues).  What my children lack in comprehending is the needs and responsibilities surrounding pets.

Pets are wonderful creatures, no matter the type.  They have allowed me to teach my children about kindness towards animals, being careful, asking permission to pet them, understanding hearing "no" can protect both child and pet, loving something that doesn't act or look like you, appropriate manners of expressing love, understanding when an animal is scared or unhappy, responsibility with feeding and caring for someone other than yourself, and so much more.  Even at a young age, my children are learning through our pets.

But, getting a pet just to cross off an item on a Christmas list and make a child happy for a day is not the way to approach becoming a pet owner.  This doesn't mean you shouldn't give your child a pet for Christmas, but rather means you should be sure to do your homework.

Take, for instance, one of my pets: a female Siberian Husky.  I like to call her my ornery teenager or large cat.  She doesn't act like a dog.  She is finicky, does what she wants to do when she wants to, sometimes extremely playful and other times just wants to be left alone.  She is highly trained, but continues to remind us that she isn't a trick pony and will not perform on command.  She is an escape artist.  When we moved into our home, our back yard was specifically tailored to her needs: a 6-foot tall wrought iron fence, with minimum spacing between posts, paver stones were dug into the ground under the fence with the bottom of the posts coming no more than three inches above them so that she could not escape.  This wasn't a cheap need, but it was required to keep her safe.  We were prepared to take on this need because we had done our research on huskies.  None of these behaviors is unique to our dog.

So, where do you begin the task of lighting up your child's face when they find out they're getting a new pet for Christmas?  Here are some thoughts on starting small...

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