The number of pets given up for adoption consistently surges after Christmas, showing that, despite the advancements in animal rights these past decades, people still do not understand that “a dog is for life, not just for Christmas”.

The well-repeated phrase was coined in 1978 by Clarissa Baldwin, then the Chief Executive of The National Canine Defence League – now known by the nation as Dogs Trust. It was created in an attempt to shine light on the (still present) issue of dogs being turned into nothing more than Christmas presents when the recipient lacks either the long-term love, time, or financial stability to properly care for their new canine companion.

The RSPCA’s recently released figures show that, in the months between June and September of 2015, 3,642 animals were neglected with the peak in July, when 1087 pets were taken in by the RSPCA. Though it is not confirmed, it is likely this rise in neglected pets comes about when the novelty of the barking Christmas gift wears off and the family finally realise that they do not have what it takes to care for a pet. This theory is supported by the fact that only 626 animals were neglected in December, one of the lowest months of the year.

However, it is not only people’s inability to determine whether or not they are capable of caring for another living being that is the issue. Even if a family is one hundred percent sure – and correct in their assumptions – that they can care for a dog or cat or whatever it may be, there remains the issue of introducing the member of the family to the household.  

As can be seen by the endless Facebook videos, that are particularly prominent around Christmastime, children are always more than happy to receive a fluffy puppy with a shining red ribbon noosed around its neck. For the pup, however, it likely has the very opposite effect. In fact, a spokesperson for the RSPCA details that:

Christmas can be a busy and hectic time for many households. Unusual noise, activities and extra demands upon the household can make it difficult for any pet to settle into their new homes so it is not always the best time to introduce them into the household

Additionally, it is hard to imagine puppies (who are often taken from the mothers for the first time only the day before) enjoying the sound of children shrieking and screaming with delight, even if it is endearing for the parents bestowing the gift. Often, children are seen to be bursting into tears (with happiness), or else jumping about with joy. Can you imagine, as a puppy small enough to fit into a shoe box, how intimidating that would be?

Puppies and kittens need to be introduced into a family with a regular routine and relatively – being a little excited is understandable – calm atmosphere. They do not want to witness families arguing among themselves about whose turn it is to check the turkey or the disorderly debates that occur throughout a particularly heated game of monopoly.   

The RSPCA spokesperson, however, does go on to acknowledge that “for some people, the festive period is a calm, quiet time and may well be a good opportunity to introduce an animal into the home as families tend to be around the house with more time to spend with them”.

So, by no means should a rule be instigated that prevents people from bestowing puppies, dogs, cats and kittens as Christmas gifts. What should, instead, be instituted, is the raising of awareness surrounding the care of pets. People should understand exactly how difficult it is to care for animals, particularly dogs. They should be educated on the sacrifices – both financial and social – that need to be made in order to raise a happy pup. They should be taught how to properly introduce their four-legged friend to the family, particularly if the dog is rescue and therefore, often more temperamental. Families should be able to detail with certainty exactly what they will do in order to give their new member the best life possible, rather than picking it up on a cold Christmas eve and thinking ‘we’ll just see what happens’.

So, for everyone thinking of buying a pet for future Christmases, please, consider these things long and hard before making a final decision.  And, for those of you who received a puppy, dog, kitten or cat this Christmas, it’s not too late to think about these things! Plan for their future. They are, after all, part of the family now.

Emily Thompson - Heathfield Community College