It is better to give than to receive, right? Well, that depends on what is being given. Standard gifts like a movie, iPod, laptop or even a car can be welcome surprises. But what about a pet? Sure, a great cuddly puppy would look cute under a tree with a nice ribbon around its neck, but it is not always that simple.

"These pets can have a life span of 15 years or more. My plea to you is to give these decisions some serious thought before you head off to a local pet store to pick out that perfect present," said Cathy Kangas, a member of the Humane Society of the United States' National Council. "After the novelty wears off, these pets are often discarded like Christmas trees and wind up in our shelters -- facilities already straining to care for older pets given up by those who can no longer afford to feed them."

Many animal activists agree with Kangas, and believe welcoming a pet should ideally be decision made by the family as a whole.

"A dog is for life, not just for Christmas. Raising a puppy is difficult enough without adding all the other stresses of the holidays. Getting a puppy for the kids for Christmas might be a good idea in theory, but in reality the responsibility falls back on the adults in the household," said Shirleen Dubuque, of Village Critter Outfitter. "Getting a puppy should be a well-thought out family process to make sure the breed that's selected fits the family's lifestyle. Careful planning with responsibilities clearly defined, is the kindest and most fair thing you can do for your family and the animal. The process allows everyone to get involved and plan ahead of time."

For Dubuque, it is always about the pet and setting up the animal for success.

"Owning an animal requires a lot of time, patience and dedication to do it right. Commitment is key to having a well adjusted animal for life. The first few weeks of its life are crucial for proper adjustment," she said. "A puppy or a dog should never be a surprise. If the puppy is truly a surprise all the details will not have been worked out. Statistics show that after the holidays are over, shelter organizations are overwhelmed with all the unwanted `surprise' puppies as gifts. Please do not add to that statistic."

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It is a sad truth that several animals are abandoned and placed into the pound after the holiday season because their owners were not ready for the responsibility.

"We see this a lot because people rushed into getting pets," said Marguerite Mebane, president of the Cleveland County Humane Society in a report with the Shelby Star. "People start to realize they're a responsibility."

Dubuque has suggested several ways families could make the decision together and even still make it a surprise. She says to wait until after the holidays to actually get the pet but use Christmas day as a chance to announce the intention or getting the animal. Some of the recommendations include giving a stuffed animal or picture of the pet you may want to get later, personalized food and water bowls for the prospective pet or even a gift certificate for pet goods like food and leashes. Whatever the animal, the one thing they need is attention, Kangas said.

"That cute kitten or puppy requires more than love; it needs to be trained, cared for constantly and watched for any signs of aggression toward other animals in the home of small children," Kangas said.

"Even a goldfish requires a commitment of time."