We have all heard the saying “a dog is for life, not just for Christmas,” a sentiment that applies to people who impulsively purchase a puppy as a ‘special gift’ for a loved one over the festive period. On many occasions, the puppy is either gifted to someone that doesn’t have the appropriate means to care for it, or to someone not inclined to fund lifelong care to an animal they didn’t ask for. Because of this, many Christmas puppies find themselves abandoned to a rescue centre or left on the streets within a few months of their adoption.
We don’t advocate gifting a dog for Christmas or any other occasion. If you are more excited about the immediate thrill the gift of a dog will give on Christmas morning than you are about the prospect of caring for it for the duration of its life, it is probably best you come up with a different present idea this December.
However, if you are looking for a dog as a forever companion, then Christmas is the perfect time to welcome one into your home! Rather than purchase from a breeder, think of all the thousands of rescue dogs that are eagerly awaiting adoption in the numerous shelters around the country.
What better time than Christmas to embrace an abandoned dog – one that has probably suffered through no fault of its own – into your home and family? Unless they are adopted, millions of dogs (and cats) will spend another Christmas alone, deprived of the love and affection they deserve.
Every year, it is estimated that 5-7 million dogs and cats find themselves in rescue centres around the world. Of this figure, some 4 million are destroyed either because they are not adopted or because their centre has become too overcrowded to continue to house them.
The majority of dogs initially enter shelters because their owners can no longer care for them (often because of financial difficulty or changing circumstances) or they have escaped from their homes and are picked up as strays roaming the streets. I say initially because many of these dogs will find themselves returned to a shelter, with roughly 20% of people dropping dogs off at rescue centres, having acquired them from one in the first place.
Rather than invest a large sum of money into purchasing a puppy from a breeder (who may or may not be responsible) or from a pet shop (something which isn’t advised as their animals are usually acquired from puppy mills – establishments that churn out puppies indiscriminately for profit, with no thought to the health of the mother or her litter), give a donation to an animal shelter instead!
Unlike pet shops, rescue shelters screen all dogs that come to them and most UK centres ensure all their dogs are micro-chipped, flea-treated and very often neutered before being placed in a new home. If the dog has a treatable health condition, most rescues will provide the appropriate veterinary care, footing the bill themselves. Rescue dogs are also given personalised care based on their individual needs and prospective owners are provided with all the information they need regarding the personality, activity level, compatibility (with children and other house pets), quirks and general temperament of their dogs so that people can make an informed decision before adopting.
Most behavioural problems observed in rescue dogs are a direct result of their being housed in busy and noisy kennels where all the dogs compete for attention, while they await their forever homes. These issues usually correct themselves once the dog has become accustomed to its new home and family, but if they don’t correct naturally then attending specialised training classes or seeking the help of a canine behaviourist will usually solve the problem. Dogs that have a history of aggression or are terminally ill are not accepted by rescue centres as they cannot re-home them or fund their care. Therefore, most dogs you find at shelters will be loving, healthy and perfectly trainable creatures given time.
With a range of breeds to choose from (mostly cross-breeds and therefore entirely unique!) of different ages, personalities and appearances, what better way to find your perfect companion than at your local shelter! If, however, you are looking for a pedigree, it is not unheard of to come across one at a rescue centre, with 25% of all dogs entering them being purebred. It may take a while longer to find one, but the wait is definitely worth it to adopt a beautiful animal desperately in need of a home.
Dogs aren’t the only animals to be abandoned or separated from their owners and in need of loving families this Christmas. Thousands of cats, horses and small animals like rabbits and guinea pigs are destined to wake up alone in rescue centres on Christmas morning. If you were already looking to purchase a pet in the New Year and have thought long and hard about the commitment, why not adopt one a month earlier and welcome it into your home ahead of the festive period?
With so many animals left homeless through no fault of their own, whilst there is nothing wrong with purchasing from a reputable breeder, it seems almost a betrayal to do so at this time of year. As with any animal, considering how you will care for it for the rest of its life is very important, and there is nothing worse for a rescue animal than finding its ‘forever’ home, only to be returned to the shelter because its new owners cannot care for it.
For those that feel they are ready to take on the responsibility of owning a dog, please pay a visit to your local animal shelter and view the wonderful canines on offer! A dog’s gratitude will show itself plainly from the moment you adopt it until its very last moments with you.
Written by Hannah Dyball