First consider the whole paraphernalia and splurge of the festive season — from the glitter and baubles on the tree to the sharing of a selection box.
“The tinsel, the cables for Christmas lights — these are all potential hazards for puppies and kittens. Chocolate can be toxic to dogs,” says Conor Dowling, ISPCA chief inspector.
And what kind of Christmas are you planning — lots of family reunions and visitors in for big dinners, lots of trips out and about? Christmas is a busy enough time without adding an animal to the mix, says Kathrina Bentley, from Dogs Trust.
“So much fuss and excitement in the home can be very unnerving for a puppy that has just left his mum and siblings. It can be quite a traumatic time for him.”
Bentley recalls last January when, on just one day alone, Dogs Trust took 51 surrender calls from people who regretted getting a puppy for Christmas — complaints ranged from the dog soiling the carpet to his insistence on jumping on the furniture.
But, says Bentley, puppies need time and calm to settle, they need structure and routine, and the owner needs to devote plenty of time to toilet-training, lead-training and socialisation. Even when you’re putting in the time, toilet-training a puppy can take a couple of weeks.
“And you can’t leave a puppy alone for more than two hours maximum at any time — you need to ensure it has companionship, or it will get anxious.”
Brian Gillen, CEO of DSPCA, says animals should never be given as a gift. “It’s very easy to sit with a smartphone and, after a few clicks, make a deal over email. But you don’t know where or in what condition the animal has been bred, what its medical condition is, whether it has been vaccinated— and there’s no back-up if anything goes wrong.”
Sourcing a puppy from an organisation like DSPCA, he says, is infinitely better than “meeting someone in the supermarket car park and taking a puppy from the boot of a car. Come to the DSPCA and every animal is vaccinated, micro-chipped and neutered and if something goes wrong we’re here to back you up”.
Gillen advises choosing as a pet an animal that fits with your lifestyle. “If you don’t want to walk two hours a day everyday, a red setter or husky is the wrong breed of dog for you — better a bichon which needs a half-hour walk a day.” He counsels asking yourself plenty of questions beforehand: Who’s going to walk the dog? Have you got a secure back garden? Who’s going to be company for the dog?
And if a kitten is top of your kids’ wishlist, do you realise you’ll have to keep it indoors for three to six months so it gets used to its base and won’t wander off? Do you want a cat that’ll be affectionate?
“If you want a cuddler, we’d steer you towards a male cat. And if you’ve got a young family, it’s best to go for a kitten rather than an older cat, which can be set in its ways.”
With 95,000 puppies bred in Ireland annually and 3,500 dogs destroyed in pounds each year, Bentley urges wannabe pet-owners to consider an animal from a rescue centre or pound over what she calls a “designer” puppy. But if you’re planning to buy a pedigree pup, do ask the breeder to let you see the puppy’s mother and her litter in advance. “This allows you see the welfare standards. Was the mother’s welfare important?”
The Irish Kennel Club has a list of registered breeders on www.ikc.ie
No matter how appealing is the image of a surprise puppy wearing a red bow under the tree on Christmas morning, it’s a no-no for animal welfare groups. By owning an animal your children can learn responsibility, caring and empathy— but for this to happen, it’s best to include them in the decision from the start. “By including the whole family in choosing the animal, everybody can feel part of the decision and the shared responsibility,” says Bentley.
A good resource is www.learnwithdogstrust.ie , which educates young people about dog ownership.
With a dog or cat likely to live for 15 years, it’s a huge commitment of love, time and money. Dogs Trust estimates that a dog, over its lifetime, can cost up to €15,000, while the DSPCA puts the lifetime cost for cats at up to €18,000.
So if all you want from Santa this Christmas is a puppy or kitten, do bear in mind that the care and commitment required will far exceed the boundaries of the season.
If giving a pet a permanent home isn’t an option for your family, why not consider...
Fostering: The DSPCA looks for foster homes for dogs and cats for a period that could be two to three weeks but a minimum of 10 days. “We try to get as many animals as possible out to give them a break from the shelter,” says CEO Brian Gillen.
This Christmas, DSPCA will send 150-200 animals to foster homes. “We look for fosterers particularly over Christmas but also throughout the year. In the height of summer, we could have 150 cats out being fostered.”
Opportunities to foster are available nationwide.
“We provide the food (supplied by Purina), bedding, litter and litter tray (for cats) and feeding bowl. The fosterer looks after the animal, gives it plenty of cuddles, plays with a kitten, walks a dog and brings it back in the New Year. If there’s a medical problem, we provide 24-hour hotline support.”
The ISPCA is always looking for volunteers to walk dogs. “It’s to ensure the dogs get out and to help their socialisation. We get teenagers walking dogs. We’d have two to five volunteers out walking dogs every day,” says ISPCA chief inspector Conor Dowling.
With 55 volunteers registered on its volunteer programmes, other tasks include helping clean out and feeding/handling kittens.
For more info, phone 043-3325 035.
It’s also worth contacting your local animal rescue centre to see if they need volunteers.