A Christmas Puppy
We've seen movies and commercials that depict children opening a Christmas present and finding a happy, hoppy puppy inside. It always looks great - what a gift! Unfortunately, the parents didn't do their homework, or they would have realized that the holiday season is probably the worst time of the year to introduce a new pet to the household.
Psychologists agree that the most stressful time of the year is the Christmas holiday season. It's stressful in that there is much activity around the house and many tasks to be done to prepare for the event. It often means family gatherings and kids home from college or off school for the holiday. It also means there will be very little quiet, patient time to work with and train a new puppy.
Pet stores that sell puppies find this their busiest season. There are many people coming into the stores that are primed for a quick, impulse sale. And best of all, they can charge it! It may be easy for you to walk in and walk out with a puppy, but you end up paying a premium for questionable goods. There is only one source that can supply so many puppies to the pet store industry, and that is the puppy mill. The store managers know how naive and gullible the American public is, and how believable their "We don't buy from puppy mills" sounds.
Each puppy purchased from a pet store this year ensures that its mother will spend her life in a cage, bred twice a year until she is worn out, and then destroyed. The puppy mill industry supplies a demand, and if the demand is eliminated through education, this business will wither and, hopefully, end. If you want a new puppy, take the time to do some careful shopping. This isn't just a pair of shoes; it's a potential family member who will share your home for 12 years or more.
Talk to your veterinarian about the right breed for you and your family. Ask about breeders in your area or check out advertisements in the classifieds and dog magazines. Contact local training clubs and get feedback about different breeds, or write to various breed organizations. The Internet is a great source to learn more about different dog types.
No matter where you look to find a puppy, be sure to see the mother and the father. Beware of sellers who do not have the parents on the premises, or will not allow you to see them. Get a written guarantee that covers genetic defects that may not be evident until the pet is older, such as hip dysplasia and epilepsy. A week's guarantee isn't worth much. Have the puppy thoroughly checked by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
If you want to give a puppy as a gift this Christmas, wrap up a stuffed puppy with a promissory note to find one in the spring. You might even arrange with a breeder to reserve a puppy of a future litter. This will give the whole family plenty of time to prepare for the new arrival, and maybe involve them in the selection. Better yet, there are thousands of homeless puppies and dogs in shelters and pounds across our country. Why not consider giving a home to one that's already here and in need? Some of the best dogs I have ever owned were "unwanted" pound dogs. It's almost as if they appreciate what you've done for them. They return the favor a thousand-fold.
Donald K. Allen, MS, DVM