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Ian O'Doherty: Seriously, when will people learn that a dog's not just for Christmas?

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Putty in their paws: Ian with Sam the Cairn terrier (front) and Molly, a King Charles

Putty in their paws: Ian with Sam the Cairn terrier (front) and Molly, a King Charles

Putty in their paws: Ian with Sam the Cairn terrier (front) and Molly, a King Charles

'This is the time of the year I dread. I can't believe that so many people still think it's a good idea to get a dog for Christmas and then decide by the start of January that the novelty has gone and they don't want them any more."

These were the depressing words of a woman I know who works in a dog shelter.

Incredibly, despite the fact that anyone with a brain knows otherwise, people still insist on getting a dog -- usually a puppy -- for Christmas.

And, as a result of their stupid, feckless selfishness, rescue pounds around the country are this year suffering even more dogs being left on their doorstep than normal.

Indeed, rescue shelters have pointed out that since the recession, people are dropping off more dogs than ever before, citing financial constraints as the reason why they are abandoning one of their own family; something which seems, frankly, disgusting.

Okay -- I have a confession to make. As regular readers will know, I'm a dog person. Actually, scratch that, I am a dog nut.

I have honestly never met a dog that I couldn't make friends with and while I am not a sentimental person, when it comes to these beautiful, brilliant, amazing creatures, I am putty in their paws.

Let's put it this way, I have still never managed to finish the book Marley And Me because I know what the ending entails and as for watching the movie? Forget it.

All Dogs Go To Heaven? I have no idea if that movie is any good or not, because just looking at the title makes me want to cry.

And that's why I am genuinely stunned -- and, in fairness, murderously furious -- when I hear from friends and volunteers at rescue shelters these tales of stupidity and cruelty from people who, despite all the advice and warnings, seem to look on dogs like refundable Christmas purchases. Seriously, some of these people will spend more time worrying about their book vouchers and what present to return than they will about their own dog.

I honestly didn't think people could be so callous until I spoke to some of these brave souls, like Linda Martin, who devote their lives to making the lives of rescue dogs that little bit better.

For example, I was told the incredible tale (tail?) of one dog who was handed in to a shelter -- and I'm not joking here -- because he didn't fit in with the new furniture.

My only response to that? I sincerely hope that nothing but bad things befall those people. Very. Bad. Things.

But, sadly, I've seen such callous selfishness at first hand.

A few weeks before Christmas I received a call from someone I know -- their dog, a rescue dog, was running out of control and they were going to have him put down the next day.

I prevailed upon them to at least give me a chance to re-house him rather than execute him, and the next day I was presented with this dog with the terrifying reputation for aggression and biting.

The reality? He was a lovely little guy with an incredibly sweet nature who was simply going insane with boredom, because his owner, a single person who lived in an apartment, couldn't give him the time and attention he needed.

We took him in -- much to the displeasure of Molly, who twice chased him out of the sitting room -- and, thanks to Linda Martin and the indefatigable Maggie at Dogs Aid, we were able to get him sorted.

But what was incredible about the situation, and this is emblematic of the stupid, callous, selfish nature of some people in these post-boom years, was that it was still all about them: they had wanted a dog even though they were manifestly unsuited to looking after one, so they got a dog.

Then, when reality, as well as the dog, finally bit, they decided that they were the victim in all of this, not the dog, and were prepared to have him killed. (The individual involved then went on Facebook to say how upset they were about giving him up -- before boasting about what a great night out they were going to have that night, which kinda shows you the character involved).

I will never forget the walk of shame as I accompanied this great little guy up to Maggie at Dogs Aid -- sure, he wasn't ours and it simply wasn't practical to keep a third dog (although in my more selfish moments, I still curse myself for not trying to keep him) but that didn't change the taste of failure in my mouth. After all, any previous time in my life when I had been in a rescue pound, it was to pick up a dog and make their life better -- this just felt wrong.

But then I realised that it doesn't matter how we feel -- what counts is how the dog feels.

People who get dogs need to realise that apart from the boundless joy and happiness they bring, they are also a huge responsibility.

They need to be walked -- three times a day in Molly and Sam's case -- they need to be played with, cuddled, loved and mentally stimulated.

My pair are, obviously, the greatest dogs in the entire world, and, if you're a dog owner, hopefully you will say the same about yours.

They are mad, eccentric, completely spoiled -- why would you have a dog, or any pet, if you're not going to spoil them rotten? -- and the love they give back is still humbling to me.

And that's when it hit me when I had to drop that poor guy off at Dogs Aid -- why would you abandon love at a shelter? Who abandons, turns their back and then walks away from . . . love?

If you reckon that you're worthy of a dog, or, God forbid, you're the kind of person who wants to hand theirs back, then check out dogsaid.ie, the DSPCA or the great people at Dogs Trust, who also do brilliant, unrewarded and unacknowledged work.

Indeed, if you're looking for a dog, then please feel free to contact me, I can certainly point you in the right direction.

And if you're looking to get rid of your dog?

Well, then you best stay out of my way, buddy.

iodoherty@independent.ie

Irish Independent