Every Christmas Eve, we went to my maternal grandparent’s home. While the food and presents were great, it was the ride home that we most looked forward to. My brothers and I would watch the sky hoping to catch a glimpse of Santa and his reindeer. We would speculate on what we might be getting and who would get up first in the morning. The 45 minute drive was one of excitement and merriment.
So, you can imagine my parents’ surprise one year when they heard their six-year-old daughter sobbing uncontrollably in the back seat on the drive home instead of watching for Santa.
“What’s wrong,” my mom asked.
“I forgot to tell Santa what I really wanted,” I sobbed.
“Oh dear, what was it? Maybe he will hear you,” my mom helpfully said.
“I want a puppy. I want a puppy more than anything,” I cried.
Well, needless to say, Santa did not have any extra puppies on his sleigh that year. Although, I found out later that had my parents been able to think of a way to contact Santa and get the puppy, they would have done it. I guess I was really heart breaking to hear as I sobbed on my way home. But, 9 p.m. on Christmas Eve is not a good time to try and find a puppy.
And what child doesn’t love the idea of a puppy popping out of a box or a kitten in a stocking? Never mind that A. an animal could die wrapped up in a box overnight (not to mention just chew out of it) and B. kittens might shred the stocking, but they are not going to sit prettily in it until a child comes into a room. Christmas is such a magical time that we often forget that reality doesn’t always match the pictures in our mind.
It is the reality that comes with that cute puppy or kitten that often leads to heartache and perhaps even finding a new home for the animal in the days or weeks after Christmas. So, if you are thinking of getting someone you love a living, breathing animal for the holidays this year; ask yourself if you are prepared for the reality rather than the Christmas card image in your mind.
Are you prepared for the puppy or kitten biting or scratching your child when it gets hugged too tight? The trip to the emergency vet on Christmas day if the animal decides to eat the tinsel from the tree? Cleaning up puppy poop and pee while your home is filling with relatives and friends for the annual Christmas gathering? Walking the puppy in the sleet and snow? Watching the puppy eat your new shoes or perhaps take another trip to the emergency vet once the puppy eats Barbie and her playhouse? All of these things can happen. Or maybe you just decide the puppy should live outside, which makes life easier for you, until a few months later you realize you have a totally unsocialized adolescent dog that you can’t control, so it’s off to the pound.
Getting a pet should be a family decision. The person who most wants the pet and who will be the pet’s caretaker should be the one to pick the pet out. While you may think your mom is lonely and just needs a cat to keep her company, what if your mom has been waiting to tell you that she now plans to travel extensively or that she never really liked the cat you had growing up, she just tolerated it because you loved it? Does your child want a puppy or the idea of a puppy? According to the ASPCA, children under the age of 10 may not be ready for a puppy or a kitten. Read their recommendations here.
While the holidays can be a good time to get a pet because the entire family is home and the kids are out of school, what is going to happen on the day you go back to work and the kids go back to school?
Above all, think carefully about the fact this is an animal, not something you can return to the store if it isn’t the right size. It will live for years and cost lots of money in annual maintenance. If you are ready for a new pet, get a gift certificate and take the entire family with you to choose the new family member. Consider getting the pet a week or two before Christmas so it has time to settle into your home before the hustle and bustle of Christmas or go looking for a pet on the day after Christmas. After all the toys will be old news by then and the kids may have more time to spend with the new addition.
And while you are thinking, ask yourself if a puppy or kitten is the right fit for your family. Maybe a mature animal will make more sense. One that may not need lots of potty training or a cat that may be past the desire to take apart the Christmas tree. That puppy or kitten is only going to stay cute and tiny for a very short time. It might make more sense to get something that is an adult so you know what it is going to look like and act like as an adult. Not to mention, if you adopt an adult animal, you are saving that animal’s life. Everyone wants puppies and kittens and any animal past that “cute” stage is often overlooked. Christmas doesn’t have to be just about your family and the perfect gift; it could also be about giving a gift of a home to an animal in need.
Choose wisely and you will have a story for Christmases to come not to mention the love and devotion of a new four-legged friend.
Photos from Polly’s Christmas Present, story and pictures by Irma Wilde, first published in 1953.