Adopting a pet from a shelter ranks as one of the top impulse buys of the year and should be avoided during the Christmas season, according to experts.

Folks who care for stray and abandoned pets at area shelters and pet foster homes agree that bringing home a pet shouldn't be a surprise and should be well thought out beforehand. In addition, because the holidays are typically very busy, it also isn't a good time to bring home a new dog or cat.

“This shouldn't be an impulse buy,” said Debbie Bauer, adoption coordinator at the Effingham County Humane Society.

“We don't do same day adoptions,” said Bauer. “We want to give people time to go home and think about it, before making that commitment.”

Bauer said when someone adopts a pet, it is intended to be for the lifetime of the pet, which in some cases could be about 15 years.

“Everyone wants to get a pet that's cute and cuddly, but they grow up,” she said. “Then they go through the teenage stage. They get obnoxious. Then, the owner wants to bring the pet back to us – or worse.”

Bauer said instead of adopting a pet as a surprise for a child, it might be better to start with a stuffed animal, and attach a certificate saying the young recipient could consider adopting a pet later, after the holidays.

This adoption would come after they've visited various dogs or cats and talked about the responsibilities that go into being a pet owner. It's also good to match the potential owner's personality, schedule and energy level, with the pet's personality.

“An elderly person might not enjoy a puppy or a kitten,” said Bauer. “It might not be a good match.”

At the Effingham Animal Rescue Sanctuary, also known as E.A.R.S., there's an application process to help match up the person receiving the pet with the best dog or cat that fits their schedule and personality.

“We don't adopt out pets to be Christmas gifts, without the application coming from the proposed owner,” said Sally Perles, founder and president of E.A.R.S.

Sometimes children of elderly parents believe their mother or father would want a puppy or kitten, but that's not always the case. Through the application and interview processes this will be revealed.

“We want to be sure these animals are going to a capable, caring forever home,” Perles said.

E.A.R.S. uses foster homes around the area to care for their pets until a forever home is found.

Effingham County Animal Control agreed that discussions are needed before a pet goes to a new home.

“There are a lot of variables,” said Brent Budde, chief animal control warden. “This is a decision that needs to be thought about in depth, before deciding on a pet."

Budde said sometimes people adopt, then bring the puppy back a week or two later when they realize the amount of work, time and money that the animal needs.

Fees for cats and dogs vary at each of these three agencies in Effingham County. Dogs, cats, puppies and kittens of all breeds and ages are available at the humane society, E.A.R.S. and animal control, but thinking through the idea is important.

“A lot of people have big hearts and they think a pet is a wonderful gift to give, but it isn't necessarily the appropriate gift for that person, at that particular time,” said Perles.

Dawn Schabbing can be reached at or 217-347-7151, ext. 138.