Published on December 24th, 2015 | by Debbie Martin0
Pets are Not Just for Christmas
In the seventies, the National Canine Defence League (an organisation now called the Dog’s Trust), launched a campaign claiming that ‘a dog is for life, not just for Christmas’. It was an enormously powerful message which resonated with the public in a way that few such campaigns match.
Decades later, and we live in a vastly different world, with vastly different attitudes toward pets and Christmas. But while it would appear that while the public’s awareness of the problem has risen, the ease with which they can buy animals has risen co-ordinately, thanks to the emergence of the internet.
In the seventies, animal shelters placed an embargo on pets being rehomed during December, in order to prevent impulsive shoppers from choosing an animal as a Christmas present. But many online traders suffer from no such scruples; they’ll happily sell an animal without a care for where it eventually ends up.
It’s easier than ever now to go online and find a young puppy or kitten with just a few clicks of the mouse. It’s a trade which regulators have been slow to clamp down on, and animal welfare organisations face a struggle to get the message out there.
Why shouldn’t I Buy a Pet as a Christmas Present?
The answer is ‘probably’. It’s probable that a child who loves animals will love a new pet. But ‘probably’ is not ‘certainly’. Children, and indeed many adults, are impulsive, and what they thought was interesting yesterday might be forgotten tomorrow. This means that, of a large enough group of children who will probably enjoy their pet, a few will inevitably discard theirs.
This is to say nothing of the process of introducing an animal to a new home itself. All of those new and unfamiliar sights and sounds can be hugely distracting – especially if the dog has already been rehomed. During Christmas time, this upheaval will be more severe and disorientating than ever – and so the stress will be all the greater for the animal. What’s more, by the time the animal has gotten used to the normality of the household, things will change again as everyone starts to return to work.
It’s in this sort of environment that causes many animals suffer stress. Loud noises, boisterous laughter and alcohol-fuelled games are all part of the festive fun – but they can be disorientating for pets that haven’t yet been exposed to them.
The result of all of this stress can be problem behaviours. These might include whimpering, yowling, destructiveness and unwanted urination. Unfortunately, pet owners who have had an animal foisted upon them will be less likely to take responsibility for these problems, preferring instead to place the blame on the person who bought the pet – or the pet itself!
This may enter both pet and owner into a downward spiral of resentment – at the bottom of which is misery for both. Throughout the year, animal shelters have to contend with a steady influx of homeless pets. They lack the resources to do this at the best of times – but this seasonal spike in unwanted puppies and kittens is enough to strain their facilities to breaking point. The result of all of this is cut corners, crowded cages and euthanasia.
Introducing a pet into a home is not like bringing home a new Xbox. It involves a serious conversation with the household’s members about what their responsibilities will be. If the household is not ready for such a responsibility, then it’s important to know this before proceeding.
It’s also worth taking the time to educate yourself on your new animal and how it thinks and behaves. This will help you prepare for what’s to come, and allow you to make life more tolerable for both you and your pet. If you’re not aware that your pet is arriving, then you won’t be able to undertake this vital research beforehand.
Investing in a pet is a considerable commitment. The owner must be able to look after the animal, and to tolerate all of the minor annoyances which come with ownership. These might include having to contend with barking, veterinary bills, sleepless nights and damaged property. That’s just part of the deal.
The owner must accept this if they’re to give a puppy or kitten a good home. And no-one, no matter how much they might appear to love animals, can enter into this agreement unwittingly. Despite this, many are entered into exactly such an arrangement by well-meaning friends or relatives who foist an animal into a household that cannot provide for them.
So, if you’re thinking of getting someone a puppy, kitten, hamster or goldfish this Christmas – then think again. Your gift might be well-received on the day itself, but there might be second thoughts further down the line – and all too often this results in misery for the animal in question.
What Can Be Done?
As with almost every other problem in the world, the solution comes in the form of more education and public awareness. By reading this article, you’re making an excellent move in that direction.
The Dog’s Trust has recently launched a campaign, which coincided with the point near the end of November at which online sales of puppies are at their highest. The charity has commissioned a series of street artworks, inspired by some of the heartbreakingly asinine reasons families offer upon giving up their new pets. These excuses include gems like ‘he wags his tail too much’, and ‘he looked different after we walked him in the rain’.
For dog lovers, such things are difficult to hear – but all animal lovers should be aware and vigilant of the dangers of impulsiveness in pet adoption. It is hoped that this campaign will help to raise awareness of this important issue, and thereby prevent many animals from suffering unnecessary hardship.