Dear Everyone, Pets are Not Good Christmas Presents

Jessica

They'll love you for their new pup, but when Christmas is over and the new toy is no longer exciting, who will raise their new furry friend?

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Photo by Cole Keister on Unsplash

"Can we pet your dog?" a group of little girls asked me as I walked my dog on our Sunday morning stroll. I looked down at my 10-year-old dachshund mix, a grumpy senior citizen who was far too busy smelling the nearest bush to notice them.

“Sorry girls, he really doesn’t like it when new people touch him. But thank you for asking!”

The girls replied with a collective sigh and a disappointed-sounding, “Ohhhhh.”

My pup and I carried on with our walk, but not before I gave the girls a wave goodbye and a sorry smile.

It always made me feel bad when kids ask to pet my dog. But he doesn’t like kids, and it’s best for everyone involved if they just ignore his cute little face. Or at the very least, ask me if they can pet him first.

But not everyone knows to ask first. And that’s dangerous.

My pup is a rescue dog; he has behavioral issues, he doesn't like kids, he doesn't like men, and he really doesn't like to be home alone. It's to the point where he has been seen by several trainers and veterinarians to try to treat his severe separation anxiety. He goes to daycare when I leave the house because I can't leave him by himself.

And all my life, I thought all pups were good boys you could train into loving all people and all other animals.

Until I became a pet owner as an adult, I never thought about how serious the decision is to adopt an animal. As a kid, my parents bought me dogs for Christmas all the time, like a chihuahua when I was twelve or a lab when I was 14.

Sure, in the beginning, I was over the moon. "Best present ever!" I shouted.

But when the sparkle of my present wore off, and I didn't want the responsibility of a dog anymore, my parents would take care of it themselves with resentment until they decided it would be better for everyone if they took the dog back. They'd either drop it off at a shelter or find a new home for it online. It's heartbreaking to imagine the poor animals who once knew us as their forever home, just to be left in the hands of a stranger.

My parents never let us keep a dog long enough to have the chance to teach us how to be good pet parents because they weren't good pet parents themselves. I never learned about how to greet a dog, how to socialize a dog, how to approach strangers with a dog, and how to introduce my dog to new people. I certainly never realized that adopting a dog into a family is really like adopting a new family member.

And when we see the annual spike of dog and cat adoptions during the holiday season, and then a devastatingly high number of pets abandoned after the holiday spirit wears off, it's clear that many people being gifted a pet are not in it for life.

It isn't a mystery as to why so many people gift dogs or cats to their loved ones for the holidays. Sometimes it's a cute pup for the kids or a kitten for your girlfriend. But unless you've had a thorough discussion with the person you want to give an animal to, it's best not to dump the responsibilities of a living, breathing, being on their lap just for the sake of getting that "Best present ever!" reaction.

Do your research, don't adopt a pet during the holidays unless you're in it for the long haul.

Like most kids, my younger sister and I would go through phases where all we could talk about was getting a dog. We’d draw pictures, write letters to Santa, and pester our parents to let us have one.

We'd do our best at negotiating: “If we can get a dog, we won't even ask for anything for Christmas!

We eventually got the dogs we wanted, but we weren’t a pet family. We never kept an animal long enough to learn how to care for them.

There were always people standing outside of the local grocery stores trying to sell their new puppies, or get rid of their adult dogs for free. Whenever my sister and I went through an “I want a puppy” phase, we knew if we begged hard enough, our parents would give in and get us a dog.

It was the same routine every time:

We’d bring the new dog home and overload him with treats and toys. We’d invite our cousins and friends over to our house so we could show him off. We’d carry him around like a baby and feed him whatever and whenever we wanted. We were obsessed with our new furry friend.

But after the first few weeks were over, the puppy wasn't as exciting to us as before.

We’d get lazy and complain about taking him for walks or cleaning up his accidents on mom’s rug. We’d forget to feed him and get in trouble when he chewed up the furniture. Like kids who stop playing with their new Christmas toys after a few hours, our new toy had lost its shine and we no longer wanted to do the work.

But unlike other families, our parents didn’t use our dogs as an opportunity to teach us a lesson on responsibility. Once we got tired of our dog, our parents decided it was time to find them a new home. They’d reach out to family friends, or they’d stand outside of that same store and wait until someone else took the responsibility for the dog they’d adopted only a few weeks prior.

My sister and I would cry. We’d be upset for days and then we’d move on. Until next time.

My parents did this so many times I lost count.

I have pictures in photo albums of my sister and I holding dogs at different stages of our life, all unfamiliar to me now. Their names, just like the dogs themselves, completely forgotten. It was a sad circle of life. My heart breaks for those animals we cycled in and out of my childhood home.

I wish my parents had used our pets to teach us a valuable lesson because having a pet with kids in the home is the perfect opportunity to teach children responsibility, safety, and commitment.

Teaching our children proper pet etiquette is not only responsible, but it’s also necessary. In the United States, approximately 85 million families own a pet, according to the 2017–2018 National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Association. Of those 85 million families, 89.7 million dogs are a part of households across the country.

Chances are, even if you don’t own a pet, your neighbors or your child’s friends probably do.

Wouldn’t you want your child to grow up valuing animals instead of seeing them as replaceable objects?

It's our role as authority figures in our homes to sit down with our children and talk to them about the responsibility that comes with owning a pet, and about the lifetime commitment we make when we bring an animal into our home.

Pets are not temporary family members, and the decision to adopt an animal should not be taken lightly.

Adopting an animal is the perfect time to show our family that sometimes things get hard. Sometimes we want to give up, but when we commit to something, we must do the right thing and follow-through, even when the going gets tough.

© Jessica Lovejoy 2020. All Rights Reserved.

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I share my life through stories about relationships, healing, self-improvement, and pets. Sometimes, I write articles that online trolls can't resist.

Los Angeles, CA
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