|Puppies are Forever||
There's no doubt about it -- there are few things more precious than a fuzzy yellow puppy, with a big red bow on his collar-snoozing soundly next to a big bone, under a sparkling Christmas tree. I was thumbing through a magazine the other day and happened on one of these pictures in an ad for puppy food. It was a sight, and truly made me long for the pitter patter of puppy feet again. Funny thing is though, when I flipped the page -- it didn't have any ads about puppy care, puppy training, puppy health, puppy shots, puppy worming, puppy using your Christmas tree skirt for a wee-wee pad, or puppy eating the new "First woman on the moon Barbie" -- and there was nothing about crate training, whining at night, chewing, digging or any other puppy activities. There was just the one ad and the one picture of perfection -- and it was perfect.
Before you load your film in the camera for that perfect picture on Christmas morning, here are a few things to consider. First, that puppy won't still be asleep under that tree come morning -- OH NO -- he will have long since been awake and up to puppy business. Don't expect there to be any wrapped presents left under the tree, any decorations on it, or much of a tree left at all. Yes, the picture was perfect and even the idea wasn't too bad, but the reality of it is much different.
The fact is -- Puppies aren't for Christmas, they're forever.
Once you get a puppy, the tasks don't stop at getting the bow on the collar. A pet is a life long commitment for as long as it lives. There will be daily and nightly trips outside to potty, (even on Christmas Eve and morning) And remember the poem? "Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse" Well, forget that. Puppies stir a lot and whine and cry, especially on their first week or so in a new home.
Yet you say "Billy" or "Betty" really, REALLY wants a puppy for Christmas and you promised if they were good... . Well, consider this: Is Billy or Betty going to be the one to get up every single night at 2:00 AM, 4:00 AM and again at 6:00 AM, in the cold and snow, to take the puppy out? Are they going to remember to feed the puppy in the morning, afternoon and evening? Are they going to clean up each and every mess and mistake the puppy makes? Are you sure they will always have fresh water down for the pup and keep a constant eye on him to make sure your new Christmas present (that silk robe you've been dying for) doesn't end up torn to shreds? Are they really going to tear themselves away from the Nintendo 64 and new CD player to spend the hours of quality attention with the puppy that he needs? Sure they will -- for a week or two maybe. But eventually, all kids get bored with chores and forget. Its one thing to forget to pick the dirty clothes up off of your floor, but its a whole other ball game when it comes to taking care of another life. Forgetting to leave water down for a puppy could cost him his life. Forgetting to feed a puppy at the right times and right amounts can cost him his health. Forgetting to care for and attend to a puppy will probably cost him his home. Its sobering and tremendously sad, but the facts are, many Christmas pups end up in humane societies and shelters all over the country, sometimes just weeks after the holidays. It is the busiest time of the year for shelters and humane societies, and perhaps the saddest.
So before you take that plunge and give into those "picture perfect" holiday ideas -- here are a few things to stop and think about:
1. While holidays are for happiness and celebration -- they are also some of the most stressful days of the year. When you bring a puppy or dog into a new home, the last thing you want to introduce him to is chaos and a lot of excitement. They need a calm and stable environment to adjust well. The first few days in a new home and with a new family are critical to a puppy. There is a lot of bonding and routine setting to be done -- without which could be disastrous. You will probably be busy with guests, cooking, decorations, shopping and other endless holiday preparations Can you ensure a quiet, calm and stable setting for your puppy and give it the almost 24 hour-day care, love and attention he needs?
2. Many of our favorite holiday pleasures are dangerous to pets. Glass and breakable decorations on a tree are great fun for puppies, until they swallow a piece. Electrical cords and lights can be deadly if chewed on. Garland, tinsel and some wrapping papers can contain lead or other toxins that can poison or cause intestinal obstructions if eaten. People coming in and out of your home, kids running back and forth can get puppies stepped on. Many holiday foods and candies are dangerous to pups. Can you be sure your new puppy will be out of harms way and completely safe at all times during the holidays?
3. Who will be the primary caretaker for the animal? One adult in the home should be designated as the primary caretaker so that the pet's needs do not become lost in the shuffle of busy schedules. Also, a pet should not be given to a child to "teach them responsibility" or as a "surprise" or "reward." Too often, the exact opposite can happen. The child becomes bored and frustrated with the daily responsibilities -- the dog suffers, the parent, unhappily has to take over, no positive lesson is learned, and the dog ultimately ends up in a pound, shelter or worse. So if you're thinking about getting a dog for your child, be positive it's something you really want too and that you are more than willing to be the person who takes on the bulk of the care, patience, love and time it takes. Share the responsibility with your children, sure, but don't make the mistake of thinking they will, or even can do it all themselves.
4. Are you ready to make a long-term commitment? Getting a puppy means being responsible for its health and happiness for the rest of his or her life, which could be up to 15 years for dogs. A dog needs daily feeding, exercise, attention, love and care. There are emotional, physical and financial responsibilities in owning a dog. There are decisions to be made, lessons to teach and learn and daily care and routines that must be adhered to. There are medical expenses and trips to the vets to consider.
I'm certainly not against owning a pet. I, myself have so many that it's hard to keep from stepping on one of them on a calm day. Being prepared and committed to care for a pet is not unlike the preparing and readiness you need to bring a new baby home. Once you take a life to care for -- it's your responsibility until the end.
Still set on a puppy for Christmas? Perhaps you can wrap gifts such as leashes, bowls, safe puppy toys, a crate and a good book on the breed of dog you plan to add to your family after the holidays. Children love to help be prepared for the new addition too and this way, it makes it a family affair and commitment.
Christmas is a time for love, rejoicing and giving. No puppy wants, or deserves, to be homeless for Christmas or any other time of the year, especially because of an impulse or bad judgment. So if the idea of still cleaning up puppy puddles come spring doesn't appeal to you, maybe you should put that sweater or gravy bowl back on your Christmas shopping list. Happy Holidays, love your pets, kiss your kids and call your Mother! 'Tis the Season!