When I was 5, I went to see Santa at a local mall, like many children my age. Being the animal loving child that I was, when Santa asked me if I had been good and what I wanted for Christmas I replied, “Yeah. A kitten.” Now, I think this Santa had it out for parents of children like me. He smiled, and, as my mom tells it, looked her in the eyes, smiled again, and said, “Well, of course! I think we can make that happen little girl!” My mom was now in between a rock and a hard place… does she crush the hopes and dreams of her 5 year old or does she get the 5 year old a kitten. Now, mind you we were already a very pet friendly house–we had Ginger our English Bulldog and Sammy, a beautiful tabby (though he was less fond of my 5-year-old-ness and, on most days, avoided me kind of like the plague).
Well, Christmas morning came and at the crack of dawn the pitter-pattering of my 5 year old feet sound as I go running down the stairs to check that Santa ate his milk and cookies, that the carrots for the reindeer were gone, and to get my stocking (that was the rule, when I woke up I could have my stocking but we couldn’t open the other presents until after 8am). When 8 o’clock finally came, I raced down the stairs to see what Santa had left. Sure enough, in a cat carrier under the tree was a small gray-ish long-haired kitten (little older than a kitten). “Fluffy” as I named her was exactly what I wanted… cute, cuddly, small, fluffy, and mine.
All was great until about 2 months later. One morning my mom woke up to the sound of itty-bitty mewing coming from her closet. Turns out the kitten who she thought was spayed was actually pregnant when she got her from the shelter and had just given birth to 4 kittens. This was certainly a stick in the spokes, so to speak. This was an entirely unexpected result… we went from two cats to six over night. We raised the kittens and found homes for all of them and it wasn’t terribly dramatic but it could have been big problems if she were in a different home.
Now, that drastic change in the number of cats in the house is nothing compared to the challenges of raising a single puppy. That cute, cuddling, wobbly 8 week old puppy that a parent impulsively purchased for little Johnny (or purchased because of a Santa conspiracy), very quickly becomes a nibbling, growly, chewing, and peeing monster. Puppies are high maintenance creatures that require an immense amount of time and energy. Many people who buy puppies are completely unaware (or in denial) about the work they are getting themselves into. The joy parents feel as they see little Johnny discovering Fido under the tree often quickly fades as they get knee-deep in the work of puppy raising.
Choosing a dog is a very serious decision that requires rational thoughts. Adding a puppy, is like adding a toddler to the house–if you wouldn’t want the work of having a toddler in the house again, you probably should reconsider the puppy. Parents need to be honest with themselves… are they prepared to be the sole provider/caregiver of the puppy/dog if the child loses interest? Little Johnny may swear up and down and cross his heart promise, that he will feed, walk, or train Fido…but the reality is, young children aren’t necessarily aware of all the work that is required and aren’t always capable of providing the care they promise. Parents really need to think about whether or not they want to take care of the pet–are they willing to work on house breaking, socializing, training, and exercising the puppy. If the answer is no, they really ought to reconsider their decision of that Christmas puppy for Johnny. While parents can probably wing-it for a few months, eventually the lack of training or socialization will catch up with them.
That poorly socialized, under trained, and under stimulated 8 week old puppy will very quickly become a poorly socialized, under trained, and under stimulated 8 month old puppy. I’m sure we all know a how much fun an unruly, untrained, under socialized 8 month old puppy can be, right? Like way more fun than a barrel of monkeys, eh? Or not. It is not surprising that when you look at shelters in June, July, August, or September that they are filled to the brim with 8-11 month old puppies… I would guess that a number of these puppies were Christmas puppies gone wrong.
My best advice for parents who are reluctant to add a pet is… don’t. If you have thought about it and are not prepared to be the sole provider, then the best choice is to explain why adding a dog is not right for the family at the moment. Be honest but hold your ground. If there are older children in the house who are more physically capable of being a significant care-giver, another option is to find a local rescue group and be a foster home; the children can really experience what it’s like to care for a dog and the parents can see the level of dedication the kids have and go from there (all while doing a good deed).
If parents make a well thought out and rational decision and are prepared to accept the responsibility of a puppy in the house long-term, I don’t think Christmas puppies are inherently problematic. I would, however, say that there are ways to add a puppy to the house that increase the likelihood of a successful experience. Adding a puppy should be a family decision. Parents and children should come together to talk about what qualities they are looking for in a dog OR at the very least should go together to the shelter or breeder to select the puppy/dog to bring home. Many young children who like dogs tend to like the friendly adult dogs who know not to bark/nip/jump but when they encounter an untrained exuberant puppy, the kids get very scared. Kids may say they won’t be afraid but it really is the best choice to make sure all family members are comfortable with the puppy in person.
If the time around the holidays are crazy busy for your family, I would strongly suggest holding off until after the holidays. As a parent, you could wrap dog items and leave them under the tree and explain that once the hustle and bustle of the holiday is over the family will work together to find their puppy. The children will still be surprised at the doggie items and you can make a well thought out decision once the family has more time. This will set the family up for a successful puppy addition.
If the holidays mean lots of time off for the parents and lots of time home, it could be the perfect time to add a puppy. I would suggest starting to open up doggie-themed conversations around thanksgiving about selecting the right dog for the family and then visit the shelter/breeder right around the holiday. This will build up the suspense but won’t really give away the surprise because the puppy is the surprise and even if you talk about it extensively, the family is still surprised with the actual puppy that is selected.
So, what do you say to kids, like me, who ask Santa for a kitten or puppy or pony? My response would be a short conversation explaining that Santa makes toys and games but not kittens and puppies.
Well, from me and the kids, HAPPY HOLIDAYS! We hope you all have a safe and loving holidays filled with lots of doggie fun!