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'How my husband grew to love the puppy present he hated at Christmas'


Family's best friend: Deborah Spillane with Cosmo at The Radisson Blu Hotel, St. Helen's, Stillorgan last week. Photo: Colin O'Riordan.

Family's best friend: Deborah Spillane with Cosmo at The Radisson Blu Hotel, St. Helen's, Stillorgan last week. Photo: Colin O'Riordan.

A Bichon Frise.

A Bichon Frise.


Family's best friend: Deborah Spillane with Cosmo at The Radisson Blu Hotel, St. Helen's, Stillorgan last week. Photo: Colin O'Riordan.

At this time of year you can't help but notice the car stickers - the bus-shelter ad campaigns and the clusters of people waiting to have a go at petting rescue dogs in numerous shopping centres countrywide. They're all raising awareness and money for various dog shelters and charities.

The message that a dog is for life, and not just for Christmas, has to be one of the most focused charitable statements of all time. Yet, year after year, puppies fall prey to the emotional blitz of Christmas Dog-buying mania. In fact, thanks to YouTube and its heartbreaking scenes of children being overwhelmed by being given puppies on Christmas morning, the hysteria has gotten even more intense. I know because I am one of those people. I bought a dog for Christmas.

Now before you tut-tut too much, I should add that I am a responsible dog owner with a good deal of previous hands-on experience: Missy, a gentle-souled Golden Retriever had been a vital part of the family for 14 years.

It all started when my youngest daughter suddenly developed a phobia about dogs. Her fear was so intense that she would run away from any approaching dog with no heed to the danger of passing traffic. We took her to meet a Retriever puppy, and her fear dissolved within minutes, and we brought the dog home with us. Missy soon became her dress-up dog and bestest friend. Missy also helped the other children - and their parents - through the teenage years; Missy was a source of comfort through the years of broken hearts and the endless battles that three teenagers generate. But, while she was adored, she was also hard work - what with the walks, grooming and general mayhem that dogs can cause even in a well-ordered home. In fact, it sometimes felt that our lives were governed by her needs.

When her time did finally arrive, it was a truly traumatic experience for us all, and I swore never again to keep a dog - never, never again. As time passed, I became used to my personal liberty. I now had a clean and pleasant-smelling home, and, a year after her death, I nostalgically hoovered up the last of her hair from some forgotten corner of the house. I did miss her big bounding welcomes when I came home, and country walks did seem - well, a bit pointless without her. I never did get around to scattering her ashes - or throwing away her old tatty collar. But when friends began to ask "Are you ready to go again?" I would answer definitively: "No way." But the truth was that I missed her, we all did. A picture of her that was given with the best of intentions as a Christmas present resulted in a huge family upset, and it was put away for a long time before it could be openly displayed. Her adventures grew in the telling, and became part of our family folklore: Missy may not have been the brightest dog, but she was one of the sweetest natured - and we cherished her memory.

Then, four years ago, after a particularly harrowing and stressful year, my elder daughter came up with an unexpected suggestion: "Let's get Dad a Labradoodle for Christmas - we nearly got one for you last year, and he said the other day that dogs were like living tranquilisers. Besides, you need to exercise!"

I guffawed, but I think I knew deep down even then that it was only a matter of time. Of course, I tried to deny the inevitable. However, I found myself glancing with growing regularity at Done Deals, and protesting a little too stridently that we just couldn't manage another pup. Despite my best attempts, images of divinely cute pups kept arriving in my email and phone. My adult children reverted to kids again, and the day arrived when we decided to look - and just to look - at some Labradoodle puppies. Naturally, this was the end of my resolve. Rose O'Driscoll is one of the best breeders of Labradoodles in Ireland, and she had three pups left. I zoomed down to Marshalstown - between Gorey and Enniscorthy - along with my son Jamie, his partner Caoimhe, and my daughter Kirsty. Rose brought out the pups, and I now believe in love at first sight. I knew the second I saw one of them that he was "the one". And when this sleepy warm gorgeous bundle of fur was handed to me, it was obvious that he was also coming home with us. Jamie maintains he watched me fall head over heels. Perhaps, it was all due to displaced maternal instincts, but I simply had to have him. Perhaps that's why they call it puppy love. It was then that Operation Puppy Surprise kicked in. We had collected our beautiful pup and brought him home, but he was still supposed to be a surprise gift for my husband David. So, for the first few days of his life, the new arrival bunked up with our very dear and supportive neighbours - true dog lovers, Una and John. Then, the great day arrived. We had a military-style plan drawn up for Christmas morning - which involved us Skyping our daughter Sarah then based in Canada. She was wildly excited at the thought of how much joy the pup would bring to her father. And, of course, all this was to be captured on our iPhones - so that it could be posted on YouTube later that morning, and the whole world could share in his joy. Everything seemed to be going to plan when David arrived in the living room.

He was distracted to see his darling girl in Canada- and by the rest of us screaming at him something about a dog. As he turned towards her, Kirsty held up the puppy, and we all exploded in a mix of laughter and tears. When I say all of us, I should add "except David". Far from being overcome with joy, he did not seem delighted-or even pleased. In fact, he looked in a state of shock and utter dismay. I went into the kitchen to fetch some champagne. I thought it might cheer him up, and ease some of my own disappointment. As I left, I heard David muttering in doom-laden tones, 'This is going to be a very big dog!'

Predictably, David's reservations did not last- he was the one who named the pup - and four years later Cosmo is definitely part of the family. For all of us, he is a constant source of happiness. Of course, I think he is the cutest dog ever, but I'm not alone: He has is own programme on RTEjr co-starring with the infamous Mr.Splash and he has a cameo role in the latest Marios Rosenstock Series - he is by far the best thing in it!! So, at this stage, he's thinking of getting an agent....

He features in his own blog, in which he poses as the main character in some of his (aka Sarah's) favourite classic films - Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Rambo, The Muppets, The Elephant Man, Harry Potter, Edward Scissorhands, The Life Aquatic and Citizen Kane to name but a few……

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Apart from the cuteness, he has a great personality. He has, let's say, a somewhat demanding temperament, but everyone loves him. Everyone, that is, with the exception of our lovely but dog-fearing Postman Joe. Cosmo waits for him every morning - eager to shred everything that comes through the letterbox. We have tried to tell Joe that Cosmo's bark is worse than his bite - but I don't think he believes us.

As a family pet, Cosmo has a lot going for him: he is non-shedding, and full of beans. But this energy can be problematic if not channelled - in that he can become a bit destructive if bored. Furnishings can be chewed and he can get quite amorous with cushions and pillows, so he needs to get out for a good walk at least three times a day. This did lead to a frenetic lifestyle dashing home from work every day at lunchtime. I was super fit but always exhausted. My advice; find a good dog minder like our wonderful Roisin and all will be well.

Cosmo is also a picky eater with a very select diet - I learnt the hard way when a treat of lamb bones turned out to be a painful experience for pup and the justified wrath of the vet made it quite clear that knowing what a dog needs to eat is essential.

Dogs require a huge commitment from you.

Cosmo goes to his vet for regular check-up and to receive an annual jab against a selection of harmful diseases - all dogs need regular vaccinations and check ups.

He is also regularly de-wormed - it can be quite tricky getting dogs to swallow tablets so it can be mixed in food to disguise it.

To make sure he doesn't bring any 'little' guest home aka fleas and to ensure no horrible bloodsucking ticks don't get him he receives regular doses of a spot-on liquid between his shoulders which keeps us all happy!! Dog fleas are a divil to get rid of.

All dogs should be microchipped in case they get lost or stolen - a data bank holds the details and means they can be traced back to the owner when found. Vets fees can be high, so it's well worth insuring your dog.

Consider taking on an abandoned dog - there are lots of poor creatures that need care - some older dogs are abandoned when their owners die and it is very stressful for them. It also means it's already house-trained.

A word of warning; Do not enter into the commitment unless you are prepared to give as much as you will receive; but there is help out there - books, DVDs and online materials and many training classes to help and support you. The ISPCA will have details.

Officially, Cosmo is still David's Christmas present, but everyone knows who he really belongs to. He will probably be the death of me, but my life is enhanced with him in it, and he is welcome to limit at least some of my freedom.

Reasons people give for getting rid of their dog

DOGS Trust, Ireland’s leading dog welfare charity, says that we should expect to spend around €10,000 on a dog over its lifetime, depending on the size of the dog. The average dog lives for 15 years.

Last January the charity received 51 surrender calls to its switchboard in one day alone from people who wished to surrender the dog they got for Christmas.

The number of surrenders can go into hundreds, and will continue throughout the year as cute little puppies get bigger and bigger. 

More than 1,000 abandoned and unwanted dogs a year arrive through the doors of the charity’s rehoming centre. 

Dogs Trust currently has 208 dogs looking for their forever homes.

Reasons given to Dogs Trust staff as to why owners could no longer look after their dog include:

1. My dog doesn’t match the sofa.

2. The dog looks evil and has different coloured eyes.

3. My black dog doesn’t match my new white carpet, can we swap him for a white dog?

4. My current dog is too old, can we swap for a puppy or younger model?

5. My dog ate the Christmas turkey cooling on the worktop.

6. My pet guinea pig got worried with a dog in the house.

7. The dog opened all the presents on Christmas Eve.

8. The owner accidently knelt in dog wee while cleaning it up so brought the dog in the very next day.

9. The puppy was bought as a present for elderly couple with dementia.

10. The owner was paranoid about recent bad press on Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and the dog was given up through no fault of its own.

Dogs Trust will offer free training and behaviour advice to dog owners.


The Top 10 pups we buy at Christmas

THE dogs we buy at Christmas tend to be different to the ones bought throughout the rest of the year.

"Yes, there is a change in the buying pattern coming up to Christmas," says Sean Delmar, president of the Irish Kennel Club. "The 'aaaah factor' kicks in, especially with presents for girlfriends and children.

"So the 'cute breeds' are to the fore," he says.

It seems the more cuddly the dog the better when it comes to giving one as a Christmas gift. Sean says, "I would ask anyone buying a pup to check the IKC website (ikc.ie) for advice on a type of dog, and also preparing for its arrival and ongoing care."

Most popular breeds of puppies bought as pets for Christmas are:

1. French Bulldog

2. Bichon Frise

3. Cross Breed (so called 'designer' breeds.)

4. Chihuahua

5. Pug

6. Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

7. Shih Tzu

8. English Bulldog

9. Yorkshire Terrier

10. Maltese Terrier


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