If you work all the time, or you are gone quite a lot, then you may even think about fostering a cat. There are so many animals in shelters that would love to spend time with a real family, even for a short time. This is preferable to spending days on end locked away in a cage with other frightened animals.
So Happy Holidays! Think about this, won't you?
The last time I wrote about Valerie Kennedy, the movie "102 Dalmatians" was a holiday blockbuster and Kennedy wanted to spread a message to shoppers:
Do not go out and buy a Dalmatian just because you like those movie dogs. That cute dotted puppy could turn into an unhealthy, hyperactive hound you'll soon discard.
Kennedy got in touch a couple of days ago with a different Christmas tune: Why not adopt a dog, even if it's just for the holidays?
Kennedy isn't suggesting giving pets as presents. Shelters are filled with barking Christmas gifts the recipient didn't want or couldn't handle.
But a foster dog is different from a gift dog. It's a gift you give yourself, maybe just for a while.
"I keep seeing stories in the news -- and in e-mails that I get -- about dogs who are dumped at the shelter these days because the economy is so bad," Kennedy says. "I can't imagine what it must be for them to go from the arms of a child, or the dog bed on a kitchen floor in someone's home, to a shelter. In the spirit of Christmas kindness, maybe folks could consider fostering a homeless dog."
Kennedy owns four dogs. She's drawn to mutts, rejects, orphans. The dog rescue service she founded was once featured in People magazine and though she gave up the business when she got breast cancer, she never gave up the cause.
One of her dogs, until his recent death, was Lucky, the paraplegic, incontinent son of the dog who played Pongo in "101 Dalmatians." Lucky, who had been abandoned in a house in Malibu, wore a diaper and ambled around attached to a wheelchair. Kennedy adored him.
Since we talked about dogs nine years ago, Kennedy's life has changed. She has moved from Chicago to Wilmette; left her job as Midwest media director for Humana to work with her husband's TV production company; survived cancer, lost Lucky and acquired Wrinkles, another Dalmatian.
One thing hasn't changed. She hates to see a homeless dog.
"I had my son at 41," she says. "People said, 'Oh, when you have that baby, you're not going to care about those dogs.' That might have been somebody's truth, but it's not mine."
Helping dogs, Kennedy says, doesn't mean you don't help people too. And vice versa.
"There are a lot of sad things in the world," she says. "There are people who have different passions. And these guys, they bring me joy. Whatever I do for them, I get back in spades."
I'm not a dog person, but I admire passionate people who act on what they love, which is why I think Kennedy's message is worth airing.
And she's not alone in advocating a foster dog. Petfinder.com, an online consortium of more than 13,000 pet adoption agencies, including many in the Chicago area, is running a program this year called "Foster a Lonely Pet for the Holidays."
If you do it, Kennedy warns, think about it first.
Does your mother-in-law who hates big dogs baby-sit for you? Don't get a big dog. Do you work all day? Don't get a puppy. Consider how much dog hair you can tolerate.
Then give it a try.
"It's like test-driving a car," she says, "or going on a date."
You may fall in love, but if it doesn't work out, you haven't lost much.
"If someone's looking for an easy Christmas kindness," she says, "this is such an easy kindness."