A dog is for life, not just for Christmas

Suzanne Harrington loves her dogs but knows that ownership is hard work, 365 days a year, and so has some straight talking for those planning to get one for Christmas

A dog is for life, not just for Christmas

What are you getting your beloved for Christmas? No, not your spouse — your pet. The poshest pet shop on earth, Harrods Pet Kingdom, is no more — its Qatari owners shut it down last January to make way for more ladies fashions, so you will have to look elsewhere for your cat’s four poster bed or your pug’s diamond collar. There’s always Etsy, which may not have its own inhouse dog bakery selling pupcakes, but you can still get pet-related goodies like dog collar tags (“Have your people call my people”), sweaters for dogs (“Long as my bitches love me”), or if you really feel you must, a portrait of your pet with matching earrings (for you, not them).

This year my dogs will be opening their canine Christmas stockings full of edible doggy treats and chewy toys on Christmas morning, because they are part of the family and to not get them a present would feel weird. (Although spending more than a fiver per dog would feel even weirder, so it’s probably just as well Harrods pet department closed down). Last Christmas they got doggy chocolates — human chocolate is poisonous to them — and they were delighted.

I love my dogs almost as much as I love my kids. In fact sometimes more — as screenwriter Nora Ephron said, if you have teenagers in the house, make sure you also have a dog, because that way there will always be someone pleased to see you. But as with kids, just loving your dogs isn’t enough — you have to meet their needs too. Exercise, care, company. Seven days a week, every day of their lives.

Here is what dog ownership involves: getting up early every single morning, winter and summer, in all weathers, to walk them. A second long walk in the afternoon. The bigger the breed, the more exercise they need. Mine need minimum two hours a day, with no days off or they go insane. Not just on the lead, but running around, being proper dogs, not hand-held accessories.

Dogs are pack animals, so they cannot be left home alone for longer than two or three hours, or they get stressed and anxious — if I didn’t work from home I wouldn’t have dogs at all, I’d have cats. Or goldfish. I pay someone to walk them two days a week so I don’t spend my entire life trudging around in my wellies. Puppies are like babies — they are high need, and can’t be left on their own or they totally freak out, and then you have an anxious dog for life.

When I go away over night, for a weekend, or on summer holiday, I have to pay someone to look after them and walk them, which adds an extra fat chunk to the cost of any travel. They eat loads too, and processed dogood is expensive and like feeding your kids junk food every day. This means buying cheap fresh meat and cooking it for them, which is extra disgusting if you are vegetarian. My house, despite dog-friendly laminate flooring, is filthy and mud-splattered all winter and covered in dog hair all year around. When they were puppies, they chewed up everything from the skirting boards and several mobile phones to my only pair of posh shoes.

Their basic health needs — jabs, spaying, microchips — cost a fortune, and that’s before the German Shepherd cut her paw and needed stitches, or the Rottweiler got a stomach bug and needed antibiotics. I can’t afford to insure my Rottie because it’s so expensive, so I just hope she never has an accident or the vet bill will involve remortgaging the house.

Dogs cost a fortune, and not just financially. It’s like having extra kids who will never grow up, who have very specific needs which, if not met, will result in total chaos and misery for all involved. And when they get older, you can’t put them in a nursing home.

Why I am telling you all this? Because this Christmas, some people will think it’s a great idea to give a puppy as a present. Even with the most beautiful intentions, this is never a good idea.

“Christmas is not a good time,” says Kathrina Bentley of Dogs Trust. “The house is full of visitors, tinsel, chocolate, or you’re out visiting people for hours on end — it’s not the right time to introduce a puppy.

“We’ve had to build a puppy wing at Dogs Trust which cares for 103 puppies at the moment — it’s like the Rotunda. The dog pounds destroy 10 dogs a day. But it’s not all bad news. Last year we rehomed 4,400 dogs, so if you are thinking of getting a dog, wait until after Christmas, and get a rescue.

“There are thousands of dogs for sale on sites like Done Deal — we’re going to be getting the same calls in January as we do every year, when people realise what is really involved in looking after a dog, or in March and April when the honeymoon period has worn off. Don’t do it!”

Check out #canaldogs — an instillation of 51 cardboard cut out dogs along the Dublin canals, each with an actual reason given by people to Dogs Trust about why they were no longer keen to keep their dog. “Too lively”; “Can’t afford vet bills”; “Down sizing”; “Too old”. Dozens and dozens of abandoned and surrendered dogs. It’s heart breaking. Remember — a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.

What the experts say

The Irish Blue Cross provides medical care for animals whose owners are in financial need and cannot afford private vet care. This is their advice on giving animals as Christmas presents: Giving a puppy, especially as a Christmas gift, may seem like a lovely gesture by a boyfriend, girlfriend or parent, but careful consideration should be given to:

Is it the right time for the person to take on a pet? Is she/he going to be able to provide enough care for the pets ?

Is he or she responsible and have access to finances to cover vaccinations, vets bills, dog license fee, etc?

Is there enough space in the home, is there a garden, will the pet get enough play and walks, etc.

For good reason, welfare organisations do not rehome animals in their care around the Christmas season.

If you should go online to buy a pet with the intention of giving it to someone as a gift or if it’s for yourself, be alert to the possibility you could be dealing with potentially unscrupulous breeders/importers and for example the advertised puppy may have been bred on a puppy farm, not have been properly cared for or have received the veterinary attention it needs. It may not be correctly vaccinated. Worse, you may not get any vaccination history at all.

Try to deal with rescue centres and don’t be tempted by online offers. Engage with your family and friends well in advance and over a period of time to plan in the best possible way for taking on a pet that will become a member of the family and enrich everyone’s life.

How Much A Dog Costs:

(Quotes supplied by Sunbeam Veterinary Clinic, Cork)

Basic consultation €32-€45

Vaccinations € 70

Microchip € 30

Worming € 8-9 every month

Male neuter €100

Female spay €140 /depends on

breed

Pet Insurance € 20 a month /up to

€ 45 for ‘high risk’ & pedigrees

Walking € 20 per day

Kennels € 20 per night

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