Thinking of Adopting a Pet for the Holidays?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JULY 27:  Milly, a 13-week-old kitten looks through the glass of her pen as she waits to be re-homed at
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - JULY 27: Milly, a 13-week-old kitten looks through the glass of her pen as she waits to be re-homed at The Society for Abandoned Animals Sanctuary in Sale, Manchester, which is facing an urgent cash crisis and possible closure on July 27, 2010 in Manchester, England. The Society for Abandoned Animals exists entirely on public support and unless it can raise GBP 50,000 in the next couple of months it will have to close down. The registered charity started in 1967 and in the last five years alone the charity has rescued and found homes for more than 1,000 cats, 290 rabbits and 262 dogs. The rescue centre is one of the many who are suffering a downfall in donations due to the economic recession. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

During the holidays, our hearts go out to those who are less fortunate; we may decide to become part of charitable endeavors to help people, the environment or unwanted animals. While we strategize ways to prevent the births of unwanted pets through targeted spay/neuter programs, this is a time during which many homes consider adding a four-legged family member to the household. If a new pet is on the horizon for your home, please make a wise choice; there are many ways to make this a good decision for your home and for your community, too.

If you are considering adopting a pet, your best bet is to plan to adopt from a shelter. However, millions of unwanted pets never reach an animal shelter and are at-risk of hunger, cold and abuse; they include free-to-good-home pets listed on sites like Craigslist or strays. If you add one of these to your home, please make sure she is spayed. Ask your veterinarian to make an appointment for her spay as soon as her juvenile wellness visits and vaccinations are complete. Don't contribute an accidental litter to the tragedy.

If you are indeed in one of the many rural areas of our nation without public shelters, consider adopting from a good quality local rescue organization. Always visit the location where the pets are kept (no parking lot hand-offs), ask for veterinary records and plan a wise, long-term strategy... a grown dog or cat can be a much more pleasant addition to your home than a puppy or kitten. Cute wears off quickly. Also, does that animal really fit your home and lifestyle? You may want a dog, but an active household with little time for walks may do better adding a litter-box-trained cat to the mix. A tragic number of older puppies of larger breeds lose their home a few months after the holidays when, surprise... they have grown "too big." Don't contribute to the heartbreaking number of Christmas pets that enter shelters after the holidays.

Want to have a bigger impact than one at a time? Please consider supporting low-income spay/neuter programs in your community. Many spay/neuter clinics have "spay-it-forward" programs that enable you to pay for a spay or neuter for someone who cannot afford to have a pet altered. Your gift of a spay or neuter today prevents four to 10 unwanted puppies or kittens from being born this spring. The benefit of spay/neuter is in what is not seen (it's really very Zen); your gift will prevent suffering and the tragedy of homelessness for those never born while helping an animal in an at-risk home to have a better life.

Want to have an even bigger impact? Make a New Year's resolution to be more active for animals and the communities they live in. A call or letter to an elected official, a letter to the editor or an appearance at a city council meeting all go a long way toward letting those who count on your vote know that you care. Let this be the year of activism to stop animal suffering!