HELENA — Gifting four-legged friends around the holidays can get some of the biggest reactions, but it is important to remember the responsibilities that come with it.
"It's a living creature, and it's going to live a long life," said Lewis and Clark Humane Society Director of Development and Communications Cassidy Cook.
The kennels at the Lewis and Clark Humane Society are full of dogs and cats who don't have a home, and it is one of the reasons that the humane society asks people considering pets as gifts to think twice before committing to a new furry friend.
Cook said, "Dogs can live 15 to 16 years [and] cats can live 25 years. So, just be prepared for that to be something that you are committing to."
If you unexpectedly receive an animal you do not want to commit to, Lewis and Clark Humane Society has services that can help.
"We have resources for how to circumvent them from coming directly to the shelter. Perhaps you can re-home them. We utilize a website called Home to Home, which means they get to stay with you until you can select the perfect family for your animal," said Cook.
Keeping animals out of their facilities is the shelter's main goal, and if you are looking to help this holiday season, there is a way to do it temporarily.
Cook said, "The best place for an animal is always a home. You're already going to be staying home; why not help an animal who would otherwise be alone in a shelter."
Their Home for the Holidays fostering program runs for about a week, from December 23rd to after New Year's.
The program not only helps pets potentially find fur-ever homes, but it also allows shelter staff to spend time with their families.
"It also massively limits the burden that is on our staff and volunteers when they have to come in on Christmas Day and Christmas Eve to come take care of the animals," Cook said.
For those who would like to foster a cat or dog, ensuring that your home is prepared is essential.
That means securing your holiday decorations like Christmas lights, ornaments, and, of course, trees.
"It's like having kids; one of the best things you can do is keep it out of reach. Keep an eye on them...pay attention to what they are doing and what they are getting into. Fences around the Christmas tree, like puppy play pens, is a really common one," said Cook.
Heading into the new year, Lewis and Clark Humane Society hopes to grow their Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR) program, which has been formally running for a year.
According to their website, feral cats are "identified, trapped, brought into a vet clinic or shelter to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, ear-tipped, and then brought back to their home."
Some cats are not socialized enough for adoption, and TNR helps reduce the number of cats in an area while preventing a vacuum effect that draws in new cats.
During their first year of informally running TNR, they worked with less than 50 cats, but last year, they were able to neuter nearly 250.
If you want to bring a furry friend into your home, they have plenty of animals to foster and adopt.
You can find those that are available and other ways to support Lewis and Clark Animal Shelter by visiting their website at https://lchsmontana.org/