Imagine what a picture it would make for next year’s Christmas card: A new four-legged and furry family member on Christmas morning. But wait just a sugarplum minute, Santa.

Is your family ready for the responsibility that having a new pet — especially a puppy or kitten — in the home requires? The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) offers a checklist that can help you answer that question:

* How old are your children? Different pets are appropriate for different ages.

* Have you thought about the cost? Many people don’t think past the initial fee required to adopt. But wellness vet visits, food and normal expenses for a cat can be about $350 to $400 a year. For a small or medium dog it’s about $400 to $500 a year.

* Are you committed? Pets are not something that you can take home, try out and return if they don’t suit you. You’re taking on a commitment to care for that animal for the rest of its life.

* Does the person you have in mind to give a pet for Christmas want a pet? If you’re not sure, ask. Don’t worry about it spoiling the surprise. While pets can be wonderful companions, especially for older people who live alone, some may not feel financially able to care for a pet of their own.

Whatever your decision, when you are ready for a pet, please consider adopting a shelter animal, especially older animals, to make your family complete.

Older animals are more accustomed to human companionship and can be among the most loving — even somehow demonstrating gratitude — to their rescuers.

Still haven’t decided? Call and arrange a visit to your local animal shelter or humane society adoption facility. We guarantee: You’ll be hooked.

Scripps Howard News Service.