Smart Consumer: Buying a Christmas pup could come back to bite you
Experts agree that festive pet purchases are a bad idea, writes John Cradden
It's probably the most famous campaigning slogan ever devised on the subject of buying pets: a dog is for life, not just for Christmas.
It was created by the Dog's Trust, a UK-based animal welfare charity, in 1978, but has been since been applied to all kinds of pets.
And it remains as relevant today as it was then.
Its aim is mainly to discourage parents from buying pets for their young children at this time of the year, who risk losing interest in them very quickly in the same way as they might with any other toy they pester their folks to buy them for Christmas.
Unfortunately, more than 30 years on, many families in Ireland continue to overlook this advice.
1 What's wrong with getting a pet for Christmas?
"Christmas is really not the best time to introduce a new pet in the home," says Carmel Murray of the Irish Society for the Protection of Animals (ISPCA).
"With shorter evenings and bad weather in December and January, coupled with the fact that there is extra activity around the festive season and children are back to school shortly after the arrival of a new puppy or kitten, means families don't have sufficient time to bond with their new pet."
This advice may be particularly relevant if you are thinking of getting a dog.
"Christmas is the worst time of the year to get a dog, as parents are under pressure from kids and rash decisions are made," says Suzi Walsh, owner of Positive Dog Training, and who has worked in dog rescue for many years.
Walsh strongly recommends waiting until after Christmas is over.
2 But I really want to get one this Christmas...
"If you are determined on getting a pet for Christmas, it should be an informed decision by all members of the family," says Murray.
Miriam Kerins of the DSPCA says that you can certainly give a home to a rescue dog at Christmas time, but don't expect rescue homes' strict adoption policies to be more lax just because it's Christmas.
"What we would advise strongly is that people should not get someone a pet as a present," says Kerins. "And we would insist on meeting the new pet parent face-to-face, interview them and carry out a home check."
3 I met this farmer in a car park last week, who had these puppies who were so cute. I nearly bought one, but I'm not sure what stopped me.
It's very, very easy to buy a dog in Ireland. According to Suzi Walsh, a car park or side of the road are actually among the most common places for dog sales here.
"Puppy farmers are well known for meeting people far from their breeding facilities as they know they will be untraceable once the puppy bought is found to be ill or have physical problems, and this is nearly always the case."
She says no responsible breeder will sell a pup around this time as they know that the puppy has a high chance of being discarded once the holidays are over.
4 Okay, so how should we go about getting the right pet?
Pet experts say many people will spend more time researching what mobile phone they will get than what pet to bring home with them.
In particular, looks and pedigree are the two most influential factors in deciding what type of dog to get rather than what would be most suitable for your home, says Suzi Walsh.
"Make sure you research the breeder or rescue centre where you get your dog from, and remember so many puppies are surrendered into dogs pounds after Christmas so you're very likely to get a breed that is suitable to your own home."
She also suggests asking advice from a dog trainer or behaviourist about what kind of dog you should be looking for, as they can provide so much information.
5 Why are so many abandoned after Christmas?
Kerins says there is usually a surge in people trying to give up animals around February.
"That's when we see the tragic cases of those who bought dogs for Christmas who were young, adorable puppies, then the puppy grows and pees and poos, decides to use mom's shoes or the kiddies' computer games as chew toys, needs regular walks and obedience training."
As well as the extra attention a fully-grown dog requires, the family may not be able to afford the basic costs of bedding, food, healthcare and boarding kennels for holidays.
However, Carmel Murray at the ISPCA insists that animal welfare organisations across Ireland are finding the run-up to the festive period and all year round to be just as busy as the months after Christmas.
6 How much should we be putting by towards the purchase and upkeep of a new pet?
There is an increase of people in Ireland who are willing to spend money on their pets, such as on pet insurance (see Tina Leonard, p36), dog walking and "doggy daycare", says Suzi Walsh.
But even the basic costs over a pet lifetime add up. A dog that is properly taken care of, makes regular trips to the vet, and leads a healthy life for approximately 16 years could cost you as much as €30,000, says the DSPCA. A cat is estimated to cost about half as much.
Bear in mind that some pedigree dogs can be more susceptible to illnesses and other genetic issues that can become expensive to treat in time, such as skin issues or heart problems. In addition, many pedigree dogs require more regular grooming.