Finding a real live gift under the tree may seem like the ultimate Christmas miracle. And it is — on TV. In your living room? Not so much. First, it’s super tough to hide a critter and keep it quiet (and calm!) until the big moment. Plus, even though the kids are excited to get a dog/cat/whatever, the surprise could ultimately backfire: When you spring an animal on kids without their input, you run the risk that they won’t really bond with the furball you picked out, says Justine Lee, D.V.M., vet and author of It’s a Dog’s Life . . . but It’s Your Carpet.
None of this means you need to cross a four-legged friend off your kids’ list. With this foolproof plan, you can make their holiday wish come true:
Give a stand-in. Wrap a stuffed animal with a sign that says “Good for one kitten” (or whatever animal the family’s researched and settled on). Then tell the kids you’ll be taking a special trip together to get one.
Teach kids what’s involved in pet care with a good read or DVD. Try Paws, Claws, Feathers, & Fins
), narrated by kids, or the American Humane Association’s Beginning Pet Care series ($22 each, Barnesandnoble.com
Pick an adoption date. Vacations are the perfect low-key time to bring a pet home. And because everyone relates to an animal differently, go as a family to meet and choose your new furbaby.
Shop for supplies. Letting kids help pick out the basics as well as a few toys allows them to feel more connected to their new animal, not to mention in charge of keeping him happy.