SUFFOLK, Va. - Picture this: It's Christmas morning and you're opening gifts with your family.
From around the corner, a loved one brings you a dog with a bow around their neck. Immediately, you're overwhelmed with joy, but that joy comes with a lot of responsibility.
Shelters say between December and February, they see the highest number of animals being returned to shelters.
"We run into the problem with buying holiday pets -- the nostalgia runs off [and] when it comes time to clean up, [the new owners] has to clean the poop out of the yard or the litter boxes, the feeding, the walking [and it can be overwhelming]," Executive Director of the Suffolk Humane Society Kerri Shallcross says.
Soon, a little animal becomes a big responsibility.
Shallcross says bringing the animal home during the holidays can be stressful if you're not prepared.
"When you just brought this new animal in the home, it's nervous, it's scared, it hasn't had time to adjust," Shallcross says.
She also says the animals can be overwhelmed by the Christmas trees, decorations and candy left around for children.
It's those distractions that cause an animal to misbehave, leading a lot of people to bring the fur baby back to the shelter.
However, it's not all doom and gloom and not every pet taken out of the shelter is returned. Those who have recently adopted may be wondering what to expect in the coming days or even weeks.
Shallcross says if the animal is nervous or acting out, they may just need time to adjust. If they have a kennel, she suggests you put a blanket overtop to give them quiet space.
When it comes to adopting a dog specifically, the humane society reports that it takes them about three days to figure out their new home and family; three weeks to have figured out they will live with you and start a routine; and three months until they realize they are fully part of your family.
"Take the animal in and love the animal, let it have time to adjust, let it have time to get to know your family," Shallcross says.
If you think you may want to adopt an animal for a pet this year, the humane society suggests you buy a stuffed animal with a tag that says, "After Christmas we get to go as a family and pick out a new pet." That way, the whole family will have an opportunity to select which cat or dog may be a perfect fit.