"A Dog is for Life, Not Just for Christmas"
"A dog is for life, not just for Christmas" must be one of the all-time successful slogans. Clarissa Baldwin, the former Chief Executive of Dogs Trust, thought it up forty years ago.
The reason for the success of the slogan is that it is just so true, yet people still forget. Parents get carried away with the idea of impressing their children with a gorgeous fluffy puppy on Christmas morning. They ignore the fact that a dog lives for up to fifteen years, takes up huge amounts of time and effort, and costs (over a lifetime) as much as a new small car.
So every November, in the run-up to Christmas, there is a huge increase in the number of pups being advertised for sale. And in the New Year, the switchboards of rescue charities are swamped with calls from people who cannot cope any more with a Christmas puppy that's become an exuberant, bouncy, hard-to-handle adolescent.
Dogs Trust are still campaigning as energetically as ever to change people's attitudes. Last week, I went out to the Dogs Trust Rescue Centre in Finglass to see for myself what's happening on the ground. The facility is just six years old, and it's still state-of-the-art. The sole reason for its existence is to take in homeless dogs and to find homes for them. When I was visiting, there were over a hundred adult dogs and over a hundred puppies. The facility is custom designed to make it easy to view and choose a new dog. There are large brightly lit corridors, with rows of dogs in large, perspex fronted kennels on either side of the corridor. The dogs are pampered: they have underfloor heating, plenty of toys, and high quality food. As you walk down the corridor, pausing to talk to each dog, there is none of the barking that you might expect: these are contented, relaxed dogs.
When a prospective owner visits the facility, they browse the kennels, to see if any of the wide range of types of dogs grab their attention. They then spend time talking to Dogs Trust rehoming staff, filling in a questionnaire and talking about their home set up. The staff member knows all about the personalities and foibles of each dog, so they then do their best to match the right dog to the right owner.
All of the dogs and pups are "free", but there's a compulsory donation of €100 to help cover Dogs Trust's costs. Taking a strictly commercial viewpoint, it's excellent value: for €100, you get a new dog that's vaccinated, microchipped, neutered and treated for fleas and parasites.
If you bought a pedigree dog, you'd spend €3 - 500 or more on buying the pup, then at least that much again at the local vet having all the necessary bits and pieces completed. So apart from the kudos of "helping the world" by taking on a rescue pet, you save money too.
While I was there, I visited the centre's new Puppy Wing. If a pregnant bitch is rescued from the dog pound, she ends up in a special part of the Dogs Trust centre where she is cherished until the pups are born and reared. It's a lovely place to visit: I saw half a dozen litters of playful pups. I was allowed to get "down and dirty" with one litter (after donning a protective paper boiler suit to prevent spread of infection). While interacting with the pups, I was reminded about an all-important aspect of choosing a new dog: chemistry. Of course you need to be objective when choosing a new pet, making sure that the animal is the right type to suit your situation. But there is also that subjective side: which pet appeals to you emotionally. As I sat there, surrounded by enthusiastic puppies, one pup took it on himself to snuggle right up to me, laying his head on my chest and gazing into my eyes. I fell for him at once, and if there had been room in our household of animals for another dog, he'd have been the one.
But back to that "no pups for Christmas message". You could argue that pups are born all year round, so surely they need to be rehomed all year round. A pup is a big investment, so why not do it as part of the Christmas spend for the kids?
If you have thought carefully about it, and it's a long term plan, there may be nothing wrong with linking a new pet with Christmas. But Dogs Trust have two strong, unarguable reasons as to what you should not do.
First, you should never get a dog on a whim, as an easy way to keep the kids happy on Christmas Day. You need to think very carefully indeed about it, and the fact that it will be a Christmas gift can easily distort level headed thinking.
Second, even if you have thought and planned carefully, Christmas Day is a bad time for a pet to arrive in a new home. There is too much going on, and the pup won't get the concentrated attention that it needs and deserves. If you do decide that Christmas is the time you want to introduce a long awaited new pup, change the way you do things. On Christmas Day, give the family presents of a new dog bed, some dog toys, and other doggy paraphernalia. They'll enjoy the fact that a dog is soon coming, and then in the days or weeks after Christmas, when the normal routine of life has resumed, you can pick up the new arrival from the rescue centre or breeder.
Whatever you do, remember that slogan. How does it go? All together, one-two-three, "A Dog Is For Life, Not Just For Christmas"!