Community members considering giving pets as gifts during the holiday season should conduct thorough research before Christmas morning arrives, according to Fort Belvoir Veterinary Center officials.
Pets may appear to be good presents but, combine them with the wrong Family and the animals could end up back in the givers' hands or into a shelter, said Sgt. Margaret Wells, VETCEN noncommissioned officer-in-charge.
Those thinking of giving a pet as a present should consult with the intended receiver of a pet before selecting any animal, Wells recommended.
"If you're giving a pet make sure the person that's receiving the pet has definitely committed to taking care of it, because that's lot to ask somebody to do," Wells said. "When Families wind up giving pets as gifts and the pet isn't wanted, (the animal) ends up in the shelter."
Among the numerous factors anyone receiving a pet must consider before committing to caring for the animal are; the financial costs of hospital visits; food costs; training and other expenses. Receivers of pets must also know of any possible animal-related allergies within the Family. Receivers should also consider that animals require more attention and care as they become older, Wells said.
"Everybody sees puppies and think I'm going to keep this but as they get bigger they become more of a responsibility than just being a cute, cuddly animal and then people start changing their minds," Wells said.
If a receiver of a pet expresses a commitment to caring for the animal, Wells said the giver's responsibility is researching the breeds.
Different breeds of dogs and cats, for example, have different personality traits and require different levels of maintenance. A hunting dog, outdoor cats and other high energy animals would fit better with an active Family, said Wells, citing this as an example.
Wells said no breed of animal is a safer option over another, when compared to other breeds. The relationship between the pet and the Family depends on the level of care the animal receives.
"There's no way to pinpoint a specific kind of breed to say that it's a safe bet," Wells said. "You just really have to look into it and do your research."
Community members who do receive unwanted pets this holiday season should return the gift back to the giver, who can return the pet back to the breeder or the shelter.
"If purchased from a breeder, (the animal) can go back to the breeder and be relocated to a new home for somebody who's specifically looking for that breed," Wells said.
Fort Belvoir Police Chief Timothy Wolfe also recommends that those receiving unwanted pets should send the animal to a shelter. Wolfe said shelters will take the animal free of charge and find a Family searching for a pet.
"Don't mistreat an animal somebody gave you that you don't want," Wolfe said. "Find a no-kill shelter and they'll find a good home for it."
One thing Wolfe won't tolerate is the abuse of unwanted pets. Code of Virginia statute 3.2-6570, among other things, finds any person who tortures, ill-treats, abandons, unnecessarily beats or kills any animal, guilty of a Class 1 Misdemeanor. Additional foul treatment punishable as a Class 1 Misdemeanor includes depriving any animal of necessary food, drink, shelter or emergency veterinary treatment. Penalties can include one year of jail time and a $2,500 fine, Wolfe said. Repeat offenders receive felony charges and harsher penalties.
Residents who suspect animal abuse can call the Fort Belvoir Police Department at (703) 806-4277.
"You mistreat an animal or children and the whole world will tell on you," Wolfe said. "People are not afraid to call the police in those matters."

Page last updated Fri December 7th, 2012 at 15:38