Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Christmas Gift? Or please don't give a pet as a Christmas gift!

A Christmas Gift?
Or please don't give a pet as a Christmas gift!
Author, Bob McMillan

It’s a heartwarming image. Christmas morning. The family is gathered, the tree is
lit and the kids come thundering down the stairs to tear into their pile of
presents. And there it is wearing a bright bow, a wiggly new bright-eyed puppy. Squeals of joy fill the room.

Fast-forward two months. The puppy’s behind bars at the local shelter along with dozens of other whimpering dogs jettisoned after the holidays. The house is a wreck, mom and dad are frostbitten and frazzled and relations with the kids are less than jolly.

Ho, ho, ho. It’s not a great way to start the new year, huh.

Raising a puppy is a staggering amount of work and time if you care about the dog’s well-being, if you’re aware that you’re committing to meeting its needs for at least the next decade and if you like the idea of hanging onto a shred of sanity during the winter months ahead.

Yet the idea of the Christmas gift puppy persists, and so does the flooding of animals shelters in February and March when reality sets in.

Still leaning towards that Christmas puppy? The Web site has a brilliant article this month (
suggesting ways you can get ready for that bundle of joy under the tree:

• Pour puddles of cold apple juice in unexpected places all through the house.
Then walk around in the dark barefooted or in your sock feet. Step in it again
and again. Swear profusely. Then start scrubbing. Some spots will come out.
Some won’t. You’re okay with this, right?

• Rip out the toes and heels of all your socks and wear them. Day after day. Wear
them. Does the expression “bundle of joy” still just roll off your tongue?

• With a razor blade, make tiny cuts in your fingertips and knuckles. Prick your
hands all over with needles. Puppies have tiny, sharp teeth and love to use
them, remember?

•The second you wake up, rush outside in the dark and rain and say, “Be a good
boy and do your business.” Relish the icy wind whipping through your pajamas. You’ll get that a lot.

• Company coming? Scatter your underwear all through the house. Make sure you
tear holes in it first.

• String rolls of toilet paper all through the house and shred it like confetti.

• Chip and nick the legs of all your furniture with an ice pick or whatever else
you think best resembles marks left by a set of busy little teeth.

There’s more but ... you get the idea: Just like bringing a new baby into your home, a
new puppy brings a lot of smiles, but a tremendous amount of work and
responsibility, too. Most folks make plans well in advance and get the house
ready for the new addition. They don’t spring it on someone on Christmas

Christmas is probably one of the worst times you could pick to introduce a new puppy to your household. Sure, the kids are home on break, but after that first hour of running around the house like maniacs with the puppy, they’re likely to want to play with those other presents. The puppy is left to its own devices. And teeth.

Even if you kennel your puppy inside until it’s housebroken, it still needs
near-constant attention making sure it gets outside regularly for potty breaks
and to show it (over and over) that puppy toys are fine for chewing, but
clothing, furniture and electric cords are not.

Even if there happens to be a puppy class starting the day after Christmas, you’ll
have your hands full showing your new puppy the rules for living with people.
And Christmas is usually time for travel, school begins shortly and you’re soon
back to your regular work schedule. The puppy is left alone. A lot.

And remember, the clock is ticking on your puppy’s socialization. He has 16 weeks from birth to meet more than 100 people. Nature allows a window of opportunity when a puppy is open to new experiences. His brain is growing fast. If he’s not met at least 100 new people by the end of the 16 weeks, he could have trouble
later on meeting strangers. Possibly “trouble” in the form of biting. Once the
window closes, he’s lost the potential to be easily comfortable around

Most new puppy owners are pressed to arrange enough encounters during the “window.” It takes a real effort to get the puppy out and around. Even if you have a large family, you’re usually busier during the holidays and so is everyone
else. Unless you’re planning on crashing a lot of parties with your puppy,
socialization over the holidays is hard to schedule.

Walking your puppy, waiting for it to do its bathroom business, playing with your puppy, they’re all a lot more fun when it’s not two degrees and ice pellets
aren’t bouncing off your head. Giving the gift of a puppy at Christmas could
also mean giving the gift of frostbite.

And while you’re thinking about timing, ask yourself why that puppy was available for Christmas wrapping. Most responsible breeders go to great lengths to bring together two dogs whose strengths will improve their line. Sometimes the stars align to produce a quality litter just in time for Christmas, but usually not. If you’re interested in a healthy purebred, remember it’s possible that Christmas money and not the healthiest puppies possible was the motive for that litter.

Puppies are a wonderful adventure and, ideally, the start of a long-term relationship between you and your dog. Why not plan an advantageous start? And for goodness sakes, don’t surprise someone with a 10-to-16-year commitment. The recipient — and the animal shelter — will thank you for thinking things through.

Bob McMillan is an editor and columnist with the
Cookeville Herald-Citizen
newspaper and lives on a mountain with several giant hounds and wary cats.

This column was originally printed in the Herald-Citizen
in Cookeville, Tennessee.
Please visit for more information on the
newspaper. We thank the Herald-Citizen
staff for allowing FFBF
to re-print this piece.

Finn is Bob & Peggy McMillan's Irishwolfhound. Photo is courtesy of Peggy McMillan.

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