The weather is changing. We are well into the fall season, and winter is on its way. According to some store shelves, Christmas is right around the corner.

Many people will consider giving a pet as a Christmas gift to someone they care about. This is truly a gift that takes a lot of thought and planning. Re-gifting may work for a tie, but if the pet doesn’t work out, the ramifications are much more complicated.

There are many well-documented benefits to owning a pet. Pets can decrease your blood pressure, decrease feelings of loneliness, and increase your fitness by encouraging more time being active outside, and that’s just a few of the noted benefits. But pet ownership also comes with many responsibilities. It requires a commitment of time, money, and heart. So before you give someone a pet, please be sure they are ready to have one in their lives.

Once you’re sure of that, then the question is what kind of pet. Fish, reptile, amphibian, bird, cat or dog, all could be viable options when selecting a pet. Goldfish are often the first pet for many people. There are other options to consider also if you’re angling toward fish as your selection. Freshwater or saltwater, solitary or group, simple or complicated? Fish can be beautiful and calming companions. We had goldfish in a tank in the orangutan building at a zoo where I used to work. They were calming while still providing visual stimuli for the orangs, and they can do the same for you.

There are numerous reptiles and amphibians that can make good pets. But can everyone involved handle that aspect of pet ownership that may include feeding out rats, mice, crickets, worms, etc…? Another facet to consider: Is there a veterinarian in the area that will help care for the new member of the family? Dogs and cats are regular patients for most veterinarians, but you may have to look a little harder for one who will deal with more unusual pets, including birds.

Birds and reptiles may also require some long-term thought prior to making the commitment of ownership. Some macaws and tortoises will probably outlive their owners and require a follow-up plan. While this question may not need to be dealt with immediately, it is something to consider. Is the new pet owner you’re buying for ready to deal with that type of commitment and long-term issue?

If you’re looking for a relationship, don’t overlook cats and dogs. Their connection with humankind is ages old. It’s even documented in hieroglyphics. There’s a breed of cat or dog that meets about every descriptor you can think of. Big, small, furry, doesn’t shed much, hypoallergenic, loud, cute, cuddly, quiet, easy to train, challenging, white, red, even “blue.” You name it, and you can probably find a dog or cat to match. But it’s not just if the pet fits the needs of the owner; the owner needs to fit the needs of the pet also. There are even websites to help match prospective owners with a particular breed that will mesh well with their lifestyle, and there’s also assistance at your local Humane Society to find just the right Fido or Mittens to adopt.

The questions abound when considering pet ownership, including is it even legal to have that type of pet in the area? Be sure to check local and state regulations (apartment leases, too). Laws are changing all the time. If someone may be moving soon, it would be wise to stick with a more traditional type of pet that most states cover with similar regulations.

There are even more pet options than already discussed, including pigs, rabbits, millipedes, even tarantulas. But there are also animals that should not be pets. Monkeys, apes, bears, and wild cats (lions, bobcats, mountain lions, etc…) are not meant to live in human households. They are wild animals with behaviors that help them survive in their world — the wild. Sanctuaries are full of animals that someone thought would make a good pet, and they just had to have it (or give it to someone). The problem is, after being pulled from proper habitats, social groups, etc., and made, unsuccessfully, to try to fit in with humans, most of these animals don’t fit in with their own kind any more either.

Some ex-pets can also be found in zoos, and for the reason mentioned above, they require special arrangements and care. Zoos are all about trying to support the animals in as natural a setting and grouping as possible and encouraging natural behaviors. That’s not something most people can accomplish in their living room.

There are so many other options out there that can still give a new or experienced pet owner the challenge or companionship they’re looking for. If you really want what’s best for that exotic animal you’ve been dreaming about, contribute to the conservation of wild habitats or support your local sanctuary or zoo.


Kristi Newland is the executive director of Lee Richardson Zoo.