By Molly Daly

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Some people think the gift of love in the form of a cat, dog, or bunny is a great idea for the holidays — but animal advocates say it’s not that simple.

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PAWS Executive Director Melissa Levy says if parents are looking to bring a pet into the family, and are prepared for the lifelong care and commitment, great. But she says there are important things to consider.

“What we do encourage parents to think about is the commotion of the holidays,” she says.

Which is enough to stress out any human — so imagine the effect on a little critter.

“We encourage people to think about bringing their new pet into the home at a time when they can get used to a routine,” Levy says, “and when things are relatively calm when they can adjust well.”

Hear the entire interview with PAWS Executive Director Melissa Levy in this CBS Philly podcast…

What she does not recommend is surprising another adult with the gift of a pet.

“The person who is actually going to be caring for the animal is the one who is ready to make that commitment,” she says.

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Instead, Levy suggests giving a gift certificate that covers the cost of adoption, which includes neutering and vaccines — ensuring a pet gets a great start in the right home.

Another way to honor an animal-lover, or a beloved pet who’s passed on, is with a donation to an animal rescue organization.

“Rather than being handed a gift,” Levy says, “they love knowing that they’ve been honored with a gift to an agency that’s helping other animals in need.”

In tough economic times, it’s difficult, and sometimes impossible, for low-income pet owners to pay for much-needed veterinary care.

“Our clinic in the Grays Ferry section is a low-cost clinic that serves pet owners who can’t afford to go to other veterinarians for the spay/neuter and basic vet services that they need,” says Levy. “But we see a lot of pet owners who can’t even afford our low prices for services. So we have a fund set up that is to provide free care, free spay/neuter and free vet care for people who cannot afford to pay for services at all. It’s called the ‘Paws and Claws Fund.'”

For people who love the company of an animal, but may not be ready to adopt, Levy says fostering is a terrific choice:

“Fostering is an incredibly rewarding experience, and it really does save lives,” she says. “We depend on fosters to provide temporary homes to animals who either can’t stay in the shelter because they’re too young or too fragile, and they need a safe environment outside the shelter to grow, or just to relieve crowding in the shelter,” says Levy. “Every animal that we send into a foster home creates a space in our shelter to rescue another animal who is in danger. So it’s a temporary commitment — it’s usually two to eight weeks, roughly. We help you find the right adopter so it can eventually go into a permanent home, and in doing so, you have helped save that life, and the live of the animal who gets that cage that gets freed up in our shelter.”

To find out more, visit, or find a shelter near you at

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