'Hey, we got a dog. Can’t keep it. Come take it' - Thousands of 'Christmas puppies' facing a bleak future in 2016
Seven dogs a day were 'put to sleep' in pounds across Ireland in 2014, latest figures show
It is the cautionary tale that is always being told - the one where the unconditionally loved Christmas puppy suddenly becomes an unwanted burden, and all promises of responsibility are abdicated.
“It’s too much work”, “It’s too big”, “The kids aren’t interested anymore”, these are all too familiar excuses heard by those forced to take in family pets abandoned after the festive season.
“People are starting to wise up but you still get people who call up days before Christmas saying they need kittens for the kids,” says Gillian Bird, Education officer at DSPCA.
“Then there are emails asking to come take away the dog away before Christmas.
“I got a lovely one this week for example ‘Hey, we got a dog – can’t keep it. Come take it.’
“It is these kinds of things that get you frustrated.”
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Animal welfare groups say that all too often parents get carried away trying to impress their children and ignore the fact that a dog will usually live for between ten and fifteen years.
“Imagine a child forced to go from home to home; meeting and bonding with a new family and then losing them. All those broken attachments… dogs are no different,” says Mark Beazley, Executive Director for Dog’s Trust.
For more than 35 years the group has been saying that "a dog is for life, not just for Christmas”.
But, as Dog’s Trust explains, it is a common misconception that many poor pooches will be dumped before the decorations are even taken down.
The ‘doggy deluge’ actually begins a few months later.
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Rescue centres, already chock-full of abandoned animals, brace themselves for the inevitable in March, not December, when, almost on cue, hundreds of owners sick of their darling puppies bought for Christmas chuck them out.
“People think we see a flood of puppies in the weeks after Christmas but mainly we see these poor animals come in around the end of March, into April,” said Mr Beazley.
“It is always the same story – the cute puppy grows into adolescent and having never invested into its training or given any thought about how it will affect their work and life, people suddenly realise they’ve got a 15-20kg dog jumping about the place.
“This is when they go ‘oh my god – what have I done’ and come in and try past the dog on.”
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Echoing this assessment, Ms Bird from the DSPCA says many reported abandonments over the Christmas period are “usually cruelty cases more than anything else.”
“No, the real problem starts much later – when the kids go back to school.
“I’m expecting a big glut coming up to Paddy’s Day because around Christmas time and the New Year, people still think they want the animal.
“The kids are interested, the dog is small and cute, and when it chews something it is still funny… and, sure, if it acts up, you can stick it in the shed for the night.
“It is early days and the parents aren’t at the stage were ‘the dog has run away’, as they say.”
Negated, unloved, or left on the roadside, thousands of dogs are handed over to shelters or are picked up by dog wardens every year in the months following Christmas.
And while rescue centres may not put healthy dogs down, council pounds are, sadly, a different story.
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“Even though the vast majority of wardens and pounds will try and rehome dogs they are often left in the unfortunate situation were they’ve too many dogs already and more coming in.
“The only thing they can do is put some to sleep,” said Mr Beazley.
The latest figures show that some 14,500 dogs entered Irish pounds last year. Of these, 2896 were euthanised.
This means, on average, seven dogs a day are ‘put to sleep’ in pounds across Ireland.
“Dogs come with many benefits but people need to look at their situations,” continues Mr Beazley.
“Puppies are no different than children. They need consistence; they need to come into an environment that has a routine. That is why Christmas is probably the worst time to bring one into your home.
“People are busy, children are running around, visitors are coming and going – it is very easy for the dog to get pushed to the back of people’s minds.”
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Of the many breeds popular at Christmas there is usually one that is the ‘must have pooch’ for the Christmas season.
"We get a mixture of animals in but for a while we had a whole run of Huskies,” said the DSPCA.
“They were very popular because people wanted the dire wolfs from Game of Thrones.
“It can be difficult to tell if the ages match up with the Christmas season, especially with older dogs, but every year you see a lot of animals you can tell were Christmas puppies because of the breeds.”
Ms Bird continues: “This season we’re expecting a lot of Lurchers – mainly due to their dominant genes. If you breed a Jack Russell with a Lurcher, you’re going to get Lurcher puppies.
“A lot of people don’t like the look of them once they get older.”
Also a ‘popular’ choice this Christmas has been Bull Terriers – due in part to them being seen as a “status symbol” among certain dog owners.
“We’ve seen quite a dramatic increase in Bull breeds – Bull Terriers and crossbreeds as well,” said Mr Beazley from Dog’s Trust.
“For many years in the UK these animals were bred in certain areas as status symbols.
“And we’ve certainly seen an increase in the number of these dogs coming into us here in Ireland.
“These are dogs that have been bred by what we call ‘backdoor breeders’ – in houses and apartments, where two or three dogs are kept for breeding so the puppies can be passed on to friends.
“Unfortunately some of the people who have these dogs try and get them to react in a certain manner, and of course its not the dogs fault – they are only as bad or good as their owners and training.
“We see a lot of bull breeds coming into us that are hard to retain and rehabilitate because they’ve been socialise a certain way.”
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For those interested in getting a puppy or dog in 2016, the DSPCA say that fostering is the best approach.
“We say adopt, don’t buy because fostering is a good way to gauge whether you want an older or younger animal.
“Getting an adopted dog from the DSPCA means the animal has undergone basic vet care, it has been chipped, and that there is a support system in place where you can come back if there is behavioural issues.
“We are always very clear when families come in and say they had a dog for 12-14 years that passed away and now they really want to get a puppy.
“We suggest they foster because going from an older dog to a six-seven month year old puppy is a completely difference experience.
“People forget about the commitment, and dogs suffer as a result.”