Cathy Unruh is the host of a TV news show on a Florida PBS affiliate and author of "Taming Me: Memoir of a Clever Island Cat." She is a nationally known animal advocate who discussed how families should handle pets they may have given their children last month as holiday gifts, now that the excitement has worn off and the reality of the work involved sets in.
What is the problem with giving animals as gifts?
It's fairly common to do that on a holiday. Everything from chicks and bunnies on Easter to cats and dogs on Hanukkah, which is fine as long as the family is prepared and has the necessary bandwidth and equipment to care for the creature. But that's not always the case, and sometimes the child doesn't realize the responsibility.
How would you advise families who took on an animal this holiday season and now find it too much to handle?
Virtually in every community there's a branch of the humane society or an animal sanctuary. I'm not advocating they turn their animal there immediately. That is a last resort to take them, but the humane society can offer tips to help your family acclimate to the pet.
What do kids need most to care for a pet?
The adult role model who is always positive. And with animals anyway, all positive reinforcement is what gets you an animal that is a loving companion. They want to model the positivity, so it doesn't become, "Ugh, it's time to feed the dog." If you model positively for the children, they will see it's a wonderful thing, and the animal realizes it, as well.
What should families do to make sure an animal is a good fit before bringing it home?
Talk to their children if children are involved. Figure out where the animal is going to eat, sleep. Find out who is responsible for what. Figure out the schedules. In all circumstances it can be done, but if it's not, it's not beneficial to bring an animal into a home until the family is ready.