No Gift Wrap Necessary

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Just barely past Halloween, weeks to go before Thanksgiving, and the holidays are already knocking at the door. At my daughter’s house the door was opened early, and in walked Mack who might be – no bias here – the softest, mushiest, most adorable Papillon-Pekingese mix East of the Mississippi.

“Come see our new dog,” Chad said, to which I responded, “Come outside and see my new pony.” Just the day before when I asked my daughter if there had been any puppy talk since the very sad putting down of the family’s vizsla over the summer, she said there’d been talk but she had said absolutely not now. Actually, she was more direct than that. “Over my dead body,” were here precise words.

So Mack was a shocker, all black and white fluffy hair and ears that couldn’t decide whether to stay up or flop. Shows you how much power the words “no dog” have when you venture out “just to look.” If the kids’ “Pleeaase” doesn’t get you, your own heart might. And there you go, dog, crate, food, treats, toys, leash, bowls and kids in tow.

A dog-resistant friend of mine with eight- and 11-year old kids and a brand new job told me, “The kids are begging for a dog. How much longer can I hold out?” And across the country, the number one item on the lists of many thousands of children is, no doubt, a puppy. Some things to think about before putting a pooch under the tree – or anywhere else – this holiday season:

· If you do not live in the Sunbelt, are you willing and ready to go outside at 2 a.m. in the middle of the night in freezing weather?

· Have you done your breed homework? Not all dogs can put up with lots of little hands picking it up, innocent roughhousing, or thriving without a lot of exercise (be warned, apartment dwellers)?

· The harsh reality: Well-meaning pledges of “We’ll all help,” are often broken – before a pup is even housebroken.

· Dogs need healthcare, dental care, shots, food, vaccinations, and depending on breed and season, clothing. Not to mention dog walkers and sitters depending on work/school schedules and who is home when. If you have never owned a dog, ask friends what a typical vet visit costs – even if the dog is healthy. Prepare for sticker shock. Can your budget take it?

· Have kids? It is worth considering having a professional dog trainer give a puppy you are considering a temperament test. Better safe than sorry to learn after the fact that the cute little fluff ball you bought home does not do well with children or other animals that are already part of the family.

· Most breeds have rescue organizations (e.g., Grateful Greyhounds) with older pets ready to be part of a family, and human-canine affairs of the heart have been born at shelters, where the price is right and the pre-adoption care good.

· A gold-star pet requires both training and socializing. Whether the trainer is you or a pro, you have to be prepared to become the Alpha. Like kids, dogs are at their most loveable when they are well behaved!

Dogs are, according to humorist James Thurber, “obsessed with being happy.” Maybe that is why they bring so much joy into the lives of the people who love them. If this is the season of the pooch for your family, just make sure you take the time to learn the poop about pet ownership!

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