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Sunday, November 27, 2016

A sobering Yuletide tail... a dog is for life, not just for Christmas

Toys cover a stop sign for a new Dogs Trust campaign which highlights the plight of the horrendous conditions on Puppy Farms. Pic: Fran Veale

WHAT’S that they say: “I wish I was the person my dog thinks I am”? And little wonder because there is, quite possibly, no better feeling than the one that washes over you when a dog comes charging out to greet you at the front door.
There is no love like the love of a dog. They are always glad to see you. They don’t care what you look like, what you’re wearing or how clever you are and, for the most part – aren’t there always exceptions? – they’ll shower you with unquestioning, unconditional love. What harm, if it’s a little spittle-tinged and messy.
Better still, they provide a wonderful example of how to live life in the present tense. You don’t have to look any further to see what living in the moment looks like. The rapturous welcome is followed by the Dance of Ecstasy when you put some dried pellets into a plastic bowl. Though, that’s nothing compared to the gushing excitement that comes when there’s the slightest hint of a walk.

They also have a knack of finding the sunniest spot in the garden, the comfiest spot on the sofa and the tastiest crumb on the kitchen floor, though I don’t begrudge them the latter.
Dogs have also made me realise that I’ve completely missed the point of slippers. The human tendency to wear them on stockinged feet seems terribly unimaginative after seeing what a Jack Russell can do with them. It turns out that they are the perfect prop for that great game – pull, tug, then shake the living daylights out of the furry-animal substitute. (Warning: real slippers may be harmed in the making of this merriment).

No wonder it seems like a good idea to add a canine to the household at Christmas. What better way to light up a child’s face than putting a furry ball of wriggliness under the tree on Christmas morning. The thought of a little mouth curling into a wonder-filled ‘O’ as it takes in the sight of a pug in a Santa hat would melt the hardest heart.

But please don’t be tempted to do it. The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) and other wonderful organisations, such as Dogs Trust, warn every year that dogs are for life, not just for Christmas.
I’d go even further than that and say that they shouldn’t be bought at Christmas at all. The festive season is not the time to bring a new dog into your home, particularly if you have children.
Parents may be under immense pressure to allow Santa bring a puppy. Heaven knows, that’s not easy. As a child, I remember starting my campaign for a dog around July. If truth be told, it was more like a war of attrition: my mother nicknamed me the ‘steamroller’, though she was well able to withstand the attempt to flatten her resolve.

And hard though it is to admit, mother did know best. She knew only too well that the contract between human and dog is not one to be entered into lightly. At Christmas, there are far too many distractions. Just where are you going to fit ‘house-train puppy’ into a schedule packed with parties, visiting relatives, family meals and get-togethers?
‘Cute’ doesn’t go very far when your bare foot steps into puppy wee – or worse – on the kitchen floor on St Stephen’s Day, or you realise that the leg of your favourite chair has suddenly got teeth marks in it.
Dogs are very, very smart and can do wonderful things when trained but that takes time, commitment – and money. Patience, too, of course. Anyone who has found themselves with a distracted dog in the dog obedience class will know that but, hey, no tales out of schools (about canines – or humans).

Honor, a springer spaniel who was rescued from a puppy farm and subsequently rehomed by Dogs Trust. Picture: Fran Veale 

The point is that dogs are an utterly joyful addition to a household, but they need time, training, company and lots of exercise.
They will also cost you an estimated €10,000 over a lifetime, according to Dogs Trust.
The dog welfare charity has just launched a campaign (#stopkeepingmum) to highlight the plight of dogs in puppy farms. As part of its annual ‘A dog is for life, not just for Christmas’ initiative, it is asking people who are thinking of buying a dog to always ask to see the mother first to ensure that they are not buying from a puppy farm.

At a time when so many families are homeless and so many migrants are facing an uncertain future, it might seem a little indulgent to be talking about the welfare of dogs, but conditions at those farms are horrendous.
Dogs Trust says dogs are used as breeding machines, producing litter after litter, often in shocking conditions and without any interaction with humans or dogs.
The demand for so-called ‘designer’ dogs has made things even worse. The trend to own dogs that look impossibly cute, like some kind of living teddy bear, fuels the puppy farming trade.
Crossing purebreds also has huge ethical and health implications. Such dogs can have physical and behavioural problems because of poor breeding and transport conditions.

Then, there are those awful made-up names: yorkipoo, schnoodle, maltipoo, puggle, cockapoo? Seriously, that’s far too many poos for comfort, though I suppose that’s the least of it.
What’s really disconcerting right now is the sharp increase in the number of puppies being advertised online.
If you are going to buy a dog this Christmas, at least take the advice of the dog-welfare experts and make sure you are not inadvertently supporting puppy farms. How you can do that is spelled out in detail by the Irish Pet Advertising Advisory Group (

If you can wait, get in touch with one of the great organisations rehoming dogs in the New Year and give an abandoned dog a home. Doing just that was one of the very best things we did in 2016.
Clodagh Finn