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In the run up to Christmas, the usual range of promotional billboards, television adverts and radio commercials hawking the latest toys and gadgets are hard to ignore. But no pet lover or dog owner can fail to notice that occasionally interspersed within these promotional adverts, the canine welfare message that has now become synonymous with the whole festive season itself is also prominently featured: “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.” The Dog’s Trust (formerly the National Canine Defence League) has been using this slogan and promoting awareness of the surrounding issues every festive season since 1978, and the message is no less relevant today than it ever was. But what exactly is meant by “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas?” Is it a bad idea to buy or adopt a dog during the festive season at all, or just a bad idea to give dogs as presents? What are the underlying reasons for why the campaign repeats year after year? Read on to find out more.
The slogan “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas” was created by Clarissa Baldwin, the then-Chief Executive of The National Canine Defence League all the way back in 1978. Pet care and dog ownership was very different back then some 34 years ago, and our views on responsible pet ownership, the appropriate care of dogs and the place that dogs play in the lives of people have progressed significantly in the meantime. During the 70’s and 80’s, dog rescue centres and rehoming shelters would see a peak in the amount of dogs that were adopted into new homes during December- and then a correlating peak in the number of dogs handed back over into their care or abandoned to fend for themselves over the months of January to March. This represented the approximate time span it took for those Christmas dogs and puppies acquired on a whim to begin to lose their appeal to the adults of the household, when faced with their children’s waning interest in the pet and the day-to-day realities of having to provide for their care. These days, the vast majority of dog rehoming centres, responsible breeders and many privately owned pet shops place a complete blanket ban on adopting or buying a dog from them during December. This has gone some way towards stopping the acquisition of dogs for Christmas gifts on a whim by people who have not thought things through or done the necessary research. However, as it is by no means impossible to find a dog for sale at Christmas time, a number of dogs do still end up abandoned or surrendered to shelters in the early part of the New Year nevertheless. However, these numbers have reduced dramatically due to the advent of the ‘no-adoption December’ policies, and the highlighting of the reasons behind it.
It used to be relatively common for parents to buy pets such as puppies and kittens for their children at Christmas, bringing the new addition into the home late on Christmas eve and presenting the new pet with a bow around its neck for the excited children on Christmas morning. For the pet-loving child, it would be hard to imagine a more thrilling gift to receive! However, the fact of the matter is, for the pet itself this was probably no fun at all. Introducing a new animal into the home can be very stressful for a puppy or kitten, or even an adult animal, and it is best to do this calmly and gradually, after the whole family have had the chance to learn about their potential future pet and how to handle it. Today, it would be considered highly irresponsible to simply carry home a puppy and a couple of tins of food and present it to the children without first spending a significant amount of time talking to them about caring for a dog and how to keep it safe and happy. Additionally, Christmas and New Year are generally times of much celebration, rowdiness and excitement for families, with constant upheaval going on in the household and the normal routine of day-to-day life suspended. This is not the appropriate environment into which to bring a new pet, and will almost certainly have a detrimental effect on how the animal settles into the household and gets on in his new home in the future. It is a bad idea to buy or adopt a pet at any time when you know there is going to be a significant change made to the household routine before the animal has had a chance to settle in fully. Buying or adopting a dog in the run up to Christmas or at Christmas itself is a particularly bad idea, due to the foreseen upheaval and change in the atmosphere within the home that your dog will be subjected to before he even has a chance to get used to being with you at all. If your child is clamouring for a pet, or you are considering getting a new dog or puppy, don’t rush into it. It takes time to learn about dog ownership and make an informed decision as to whether or not a new dog is a good idea for the family and the household. Take the time to learn the things you will need to know, do your research, and educate your children on how to deal with a new canine addition. Taking a protracted amount of time to do this is absolutely fine, and even recommended- plus, it gives you the chance to determine if your child really is committed to the idea of owning and helping to take care of a new pet, or if their interest is just a passing phase. A dog is for life, not just for Christmas- not for the short term, not for the wow-factor, and most certainly, not as a toy. Have a great Christmas, and remember to take special care of your existing pets.
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