Thursday, December 1, 2011

All I Want for Christmas

Is a puppy dog. That was the only thing I ever wanted when I was growing up – and never got because my parents didn’t want an animal in the house. In hindsight, it was good that they so stubbornly refused to give me what I longed for most. Good for the dog, at least. My family put the “dys” into functional, and life in our house would have been very stressful for any poor pooch.
Kids grow up and eventually make their own decisions, and as soon as the time was right mine was to finally make my wish come true and get meself a dog, and then another one, and…
So, these days I am as happy as a human can be, and the only reason why I am boring you with my miserable, dogless childhood is because “a puppy” is a repetitive plea on wish lists to Santa.
Profit-driven breeders and pet stores are well aware of that, and gear up production for the Holiday Season. What parent doesn’t love to see their offspring’s face light up as bright as the tree on Christmas morn’? What parent doesn’t want to fulfill their child’s dream? Because commerce plays on that, advertises and supplies the goods, every December many a youngster is given a leash, and a whelp at end of it.
Unlike folks whose priority is the bottom line, non-profit humane societies and rescue organizations put animals first and were, in the past, by and large against adopting dogs out shortly before Christmas. Their explanation was that: a) they didn’t want the animals in their care to be a last minute, emotional-based or spontaneous acquisition that might be regretted soon after, and b) they wanted to prevent that a dog, likely already somewhat stressed by the shelter environment, won’t be more so when exposed to all the commotion that is typically part of the festivities.
That position has changed a bit in recent years. With the Iams “Home 4 the Holidays” program and alluring tagline: “What better gift can there be during the Holiday Season than to save the life of an orphan”, more and more shelters join in with the goal to adopt out as many of their charges for Christmas as possible. Sounds like a noble enough move, doesn’t it? Well, I am not so sure. I know that I might be paddling against the current here, but whenever meeting a projected quota and dogs are in the same sentence, I become worried.
Since "Home 4 the Holidays" inception in 1999, 5.7 million families worldwide found a new family member, and this year’s goal is 1.5 million, with 3.790 shelters participating. Impressive numbers indeed, and reading them automatically evokes an image in our mind of a white picket fence family and a once lonesome, sweet dog who is now, cause adopted, eagerly fetching a ball or peacefully sleeping in his doggy bed by the fireplace. Except, do we have any evidence that confirms what we see with our mental eye? Do we actually know how many dogs are still in those homes after 6 months, 1 year, or 2? Is someone checking how many live inside and call that soft cushion to sleep on their own, are supplied quality food, are loved and cared for the way they should? Maybe there are follow-ups. I don’t know. If there are, I’d be interested in those numbers as well.
Of course, statistics that show how animals make out in a home long term are important regardless when in a year they are adopted out, but more than any other season the Christmas one takes advantage of people’s open hearts and warm, albeit perhaps vulnerable, emotions. In that sense, is the Iams campaign any different than the pet store’s front window and breeder’s website home page, both littered with darling cute puppies ready to go for December 25?
I get it. It feels good to believe that every homeless person will have turkey dinner, and every lonely dog a home, but life is not a Hallmark movie, and more not always merrier. My fear is that once new year reality hits, a good number of pets invited in from the cold by people who were sad, in a temporary fuzzy-giving mood, or wanted to make Christmas especially memorable for the kids, find themselves returned like undesired presents exchanged at the local mall. Or, when the new owners realize that the pooch means time and work, might not be house trained or has separation anxiety, are exiled to a solitary life in the yard or on a chain. People might opine that any home is better than no home, but I disagree. Some dogs are better off at a shelter where friendly volunteers take the time to walk and talk to them, and perhaps even allow playtime with compatible friends.
Said all that, I am not categorically against adopting before Christmas. Any effort that places an animal in need of a home into a good one, including during the month of December, is fabulous. If a family unanimously agreed to open their door and hearts to a dog all along, if the decision to choose a homeless one was well thought through, if the expectations are realistic, and if the pooch they all fall in love with is confident enough to handle a festivity-busier-than-normal new environment, it would be senseless to leave him lingering in a shelter cell longer than he has to.
But all those criteria have to be in place, otherwise "Home 4 the Holidays" is nothing more than clever PR for Iams, with little regard for the animals. The question I am pondering over is if participating shelters, during a busy adoption drive, are able to evaluate potential owners with the same scrutiny they apply at other times. If yes, then that is wonderful, and the campaign also is, and I am all for it.
Another thing that is wonderful, and has to do with Iams, is their Local Heroes Contest that was seeking life saving success stories. The competition was open to shelters and rescue organizations across Canada, and I can proudly say that our Nova Scotia Provincial SPCA in Dartmouth won for their palliative foster care program that places old animals, and those with compromised health, in loving foster homes. What I think about human scum who ditch their old or sick pooch is another topic, but I am glad our shelter was recognized with an award for their compassionate care for animals that otherwise would likely have to be euthanized.
And also wonderful is the Hallmark movie “A Dog Named Christmas”. If you have the chance, watch it, but for dog’s sake don’t let your children talk you into a family member you don’t want for the next decade or so. Taking responsibility for a pet is an adult decision – one of the rare mature ones I can give my parents’ credit for making.

1 comment:

  1. What an awesome Blog. So well written. Let's hope that many Parents, store, breeders and shelters use their heads and not their hearts. Because come spring just in time for Easter many of these same pets will be back and ready to go out again for the next round. Sad to say.