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Editorial: Make pet gifts, returns happy

Easter's almost here and with it comes the traditional signs of the season.

Colored eggs, baskets of candy, bunnies and baby chicks jump to mind first. These often are given as gifts for the holiday.

But a rabbit isn't a perfect present, nor is a chick. In fact, giving either for Easter might end up being a perfect mess instead.

The same goes for kittens, ferrets, miniature pigs, exotic animals and any other pet, cautions a Wisconsin state humane veterinarian. Getting a pet should be a choice and a commitment, never a surprise, she says. Even if it's known the recipient wants a particular animal, wait until later, she advises. That's because bringing a creature into a home during the chaos of the holiday is a bad way to start the relationship.

Adding to the problem is the influence of all those cute animal movies too often resulting in some species or breed getting to be a fad--and in animals showing up in shelters a few months down the road. Family members tend to think a bunny or a chick is ideal for children at Easter, though they should resist the temptation to give this gift because they're not doing either the child or the pet a favor.

The best approach is to talk it over first and, if the recipient really wants a pet, do the research and get the right one after the holiday, the vet recommends. Instead of the pet itself, some supplies could be given now or even some reading material to help prepare for the pet's arrival.

Here's some more advice when choosing a pet:

--Match the pet to the person. Consider lifestyle, space and financial demands. Consider exercise needs, grooming, need for attention, and costs of feeding and veterinary care.

--Don't buy from a breeder blindly. Insist on visiting the breeder's facilities to see how the animals are cared for. If the facilities are bad, walk away. If an animal is bought just to get it out of those conditions, all that's being done is rewarding bad behavior, and setting more animals up for neglect and abuse.

--Exotic animals are rarely, if ever, a good pet choice. They have special nutrition and health needs that may be expensive to meet, and finding veterinary care may be difficult. Reptiles often carry salmonella and pose a risk, especially to children. Some cities prohibit ownership of exotic animals and some may not be brought into Wisconsin--prairie dogs, for example, and some African rodent species--because of disease threats.

--Get a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI) if bringing any animal into Wisconsin from a different state. The seller should provide the CVI but, if not, it's the buyer's responsibility to have the animal checked by a vet and get the proper paperwork.

There's another issue with gifts at the holiday or any other time of the year--pets or otherwise. It's returns, and the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) reminds consumers to learn how refunds and returns work before buying.

Retailers set their own return and refund policies, and these can be complex, according to the DATCP administrator. A different return policy may apply to each item purchased.

For example, different conditions may apply to sale, clearance or closeout items. A restocking fee may apply to returns of electronics items. Or a retailer's online return policies may differ from in-store policies.

Consumers are advised to ask specifically while in a store whether they offer cash-back, in-store credit or a credit card adjustment. If the return and refund policies aren't posted or printed on the receipt, ask a store employee to write the policy right on the receipt.

When shopping online or over-the-phone, buyers should double-check to see who pays for the return shipping and get the return policy in writing. If the return policy can't be found on a website, wait to purchase until clarifying the policy with a company representative.

The following tips are offered to make returns and exchanges go more smoothly:

--Provide a gift receipt or sales slip when giving a gift. At the very least, leave the price tag on--cut off the price and leave the rest of the information on the tag.

--Keep the item in its original packaging material and unopened, if possible. If the item's in new condition, there's a better chance of not being charged a restocking or packing fee.

--Know the limited time frame for a return. Make returns quickly.

--Understand the conditions when buying items on clearance or sale. Some stores may not accept returns on these items, making a good deal not so great.