And no matter how many times people are urged NOT to buy a puppy or a kitten, a dog or a cat at Christmastime, some people do.
There are two REALLY IMPORTANT reasons why acquiring a family pet at Christmastime might be a Very Bad Decision:
1. There is inadequate preparation for the new family member. The purchase is on impulse, and, sometimes, the recipient is TOTALLY surprised. Not. A. Good. Idea.
2. Holidays are noisy, chaotic days in many homes. A living creature trying to adjust to its new home, trying to figure out the house rules, is at a severe disadvantage and might--probably will--communicate its confusion and distress in "unacceptable" ways.
Pets acquired under these circumstances will almost inevitably be new "intakes" at public shelters, humane societies and rescues over the course of 2011. And because these facilities are filled to the max right now, many wonderful domestic pets' lives will be sacrificed to the thoughtlessness of humans during this time of giving.
If you are planning to add a dog or cat to your household this month--or any month, for that matter--I urge, I beg, I plead, that you consider the following points.
1. Any breeder who sells a puppy, kitten, dog or cat through a third party is being cruel, uncaring, irresponsible about the well being of that animal. This most certainly includes "donating" a living animal to be auctioned for charity.
2. Any breeder who is purposely breeding and selling mixed breed puppies--regardless of the cute "breed" label they are given--is ignorant, greedy, dishonest--take your pick.
3. Pet shops depend on puppy mills, which are the canine equivalent of Auschwitz. Yes. The puppies they sell have "papers." Auschwitz kept good records, too.
4. Care of the pet will be the responsibility of adults in the household. It's wonderful for children to help adults care for pets, but they must be junior partners. All children--especially children under ten years of age--must be supervised in all interaction with pets. Small dogs are EXTREMELY vulnerable to injury by young children. Toy breeds are not good choices for families with young children. Furthermore. Dogs who depend on children to feed them go hungry. Dogs who depend on children to water them go thirsty. Dogs who depend on children to let them into the back yard or walk them relieve themselves in the house.
5. The Help--nannies, housekeepers, gardeners, etc. should NOT be left to look after a family pet. However, if you are adopting from a responsible rescue, expect The Help to be included in the screening process. Actually, the very careful breeder of our Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers screened all Help before she would consider selling a puppy to any family.
On The Other Hand. The Holidays are a time when there is an emphasis on thinking of the needy, remembering those who are dependent on the generosity of others. Pets in shelters and rescues certainly fit that description.
1. If you are thinking of making a charitable donation as a gift to a friend or relative, consider an animal rescue. It is never too early for children to learn generosity toward the helpless and needy. There is a list of fine rescues on the right hand side of this blog that will put your donation to good use.
2. If you really are considering a dog or cat as a Christmas gift for your family, make the gifts actually given on Christmas Day be items that the new family member will need: food and water dishes; beds and cushions; grooming aids; safe, durable toys. Then, when life gets back to normal, your home will be ready for the new dog or cat.
3. Think seriously before taking children with you to choose a dog from a pound. Seeing rows on rows of rejected dogs, all of whom need a home, all of whom deserve a second chance, and knowing that the majority of them will never find that home, that second chance, is painful for the most mature adult to bear. In his book, A Small Furry Prayer , Steven Kotler refers to the process of acquiring a dog from a pound as Sophie's Choice. That's a little too "real" for many children--and some adults.
This is not meant in any way to discourage you from adopting from a pound or humane society. It's a wonderful, rewarding thing to do. But make that heart-wrenching trip an adult only undertaking. Before confronting all that canine pain, think seriously about the size of dog you are looking for and try to keep your basic criteria in mind in spite of all the heart tugs. If you are looking for a mid-sized dog, try not to succumb to a five pound mite or an eighty pound galumpf, no matter how appealing they are. VERY SMALL DOGS ARE NOT SUITABLE FOR FAMILIES WITH SMALL CHILDREN. There. I said it again. And if a dog is eighty pounds while living in the stress of a shelter, it will easily be ninety or ever one-hundred pounds when it settles into a happy home.
4. The internet is a wonderful resource when looking for a dog or cat. We found our first "rescue", Daphne, online.
5. Regardless of the source of your adopted pet, be prepared for a screening process. In general, public facilities have fewer but more rigid criteria. Private rescues tend to be more thorough but will take individual situations case by case.
For example, my dear friend Edie, who is a model caretaker of small dogs, was refused permission to adopt a West Highland White Terrier mix from her county animal control shelter because she has no fence on her five acre property. She walks her dogs on leash as many times a day as they need it. This is actually the safest option for her little dogs, because coyotes, hawks and rattlesnakes frequent her property and letting a small dog loose--even in an enclosed area--for only a few minutes is risky. By the way, the dog that she applied for was euthanized because no one who met the agency's criteria wanted it.
On the other hand, John and I adopted our first rescue, Daphne, from a private rescue that waived the fence requirement because we were accustomed to walking our dogs on leash several times a day.
But there are also rescues--typically overwhelmed breed rescues--who may place dogs with no screening of adopters and little or no profiling of the dog. If you are a dedicated, experienced dog person, you will do everything in your power to make the adoption work. But for families with little experience with dogs, this type of adoption can end in tears. The less experience you have had with dogs, the more information about your adoptee's past, his or her behavioral patterns, and the more follow-up support you will need.
Remember. Even the least traumatic transition from one living arrangement to another--when a dog moves directly from one loving home to another--is stressful for a dog. It is a safe bet that the dog you adopt will not be experiencing "the least traumatic transition". Be patient. Be kind. Six months is not too long to expect as an adjustment period.
But whatever you decide to do, Think First. Please do not add to the misery of innocent cats and dogs who fill our rescues and shelters during this season of giving and good will.
Note: I usually write and post on the same day. This post has taken me eight days to write. The subject was too painful to deal with in just a few hours. Yesterday, as I was answering the phone for Greyhound rescue and thinking about finishing this post, I received a call from a Humane Society in the Central Valley of California, north of Sacramento. There are no large cities in the county they serve and they are hundreds of miles from San Diego County. But they have taken in a dog that appears to be part Greyhound and they are very crowded, so they were calling to see if we might have room for him.
The very nice lady I spoke with was apologetic: "I know you are probably full. Every shelter, every rescue I know of is full. I know you are at the other end of California. But I thought I would call, just in case..."
I am not the person who makes intake decisions for the rescue for which I do volunteer phone answering once a week. I don't have to decide the fate of a mixed-breed sighthound in a shelter miles away. I do know that the people who will be making that decision are compassionate, caring people, who will extend themselves on his behalf. But he is just one dog among hundreds of thousands of dogs who need homes this Christmas.
Please do not add to their numbers.