At Christmas, puppies have no place under the tree


December 04, 1993|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

For me, the Christmas season starts neither with the washing of the Thanksgiving dishes, nor with the heavy thunk of an ad-filled newspaper on the front porch the next day.

Rather, I mark it from the time I get the first Christmas Puppy Call.

"We're surprising our 10-year-old with a golden retriever puppy. Can you recommend a breeder?"

"My wife has her heart set on a shar-pei. Any suggestions?"

"My mother has been so lonely since my father died last year. Where would we find a nice cockapoo?"

Later, the calls will take on an edge, as puppy-buyers react in frustration and anger to reputable breeders who refuse to deliver a puppy on Christmas Eve, and to shelters who shut down adoptions a couple of days before the big date.

So anxious are they for that precious Christmas snapshot that they don't stop to wonder why so many experts are convinced Christmas puppies are generally a bad idea.

Try to put yourself in the puppy's place and imagine how it feels. A puppy is just a baby, after all, and hasn't seen much of the world beyond his mother and his littermates. The first day in a new home should be a day of gentle bonding. A little quiet play, a good meal and a soft bed -- and suddenly the uprooting doesn't seem so bad.

Contrast that with the experience of the Christmas Day puppy. He is introduced to the family late on Christmas Eve, pulled out of a box by squealing children. He likes children, but isn't so sure about their rough handling as they struggle over who gets to hold him. Suddenly, he's dropped, and he cries out in surprise and pain. As the mother swoops him up, he piddles all over them both, an act of nervousness and of fear.

"Bad dog!" she says, and he spends the night in the garage. He, who'd never been alone. He cries himself to sleep.

He's back in the house the next morning, the children fighting over him again, the parents flashing a bright light in his eyes. There are more people than the night before, and it seems they all want a piece of him. They give him treats, carry him around and yell at him for squatting.

He is tired and a little sick, but they won't let him sleep. The children put a leash on him for the first time and drag him off to show the neighbors.

Is this any way to start off a decade-long relationship? If he's like many Christmas puppies, the attention he gets on Christmas Day will have to last all his life, for when the kids go back to school and the hard work of puppy-rearing looms, he becomes a backyard dog with no house-training, no manners and no love.

If he's one of the most unlucky ones, he'll be in a shelter by summer.

That's why shelters, trainers and top breeders are all so adamant against the Christmas Puppy phenomenon. They're not Grinches; they're people who love dogs and want people and dogs to live happily together. They know a dog's life isn't worth a perfect holiday snapshot.

I feel the same way. So please don't call me for that Christmas puppy referral. Any other time, any other question. None of the breeders I respect would put one of their puppies into such a sad situation.

No real animal-lover would.

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