The holidays are a time for happiness. We give gifts, spend time with family and friends, and try and forget about all the difficulties of the year gone by.
It’s a time to be thankful for what we have, remember those we love, especially those we have lost, and to look towards the future without the cynical lens we carry with us most of the time. It's also a time that we let our guards down, become more vulnerable and can sometimes make rash decisions, flush with the cheeriness of the season and perhaps a little too much fortified wine.
So when you have the urge to careen headlong into the fray, throw caution to the wind and bring a four-legged friend home, all fuzzy and licky and cute, remember, they are not there for a visit. A dog is for life.
Not that I don’t think it's a wonderful idea. I myself got two puppies six years ago in Utah while spending Christmas with my friends and they are still my best friends. I have absolutely no regrets. But please consider all the potential repercussions, the mess, the problems, poop and everything else. Because if you are not ready to have your life turned upside down, your pocketbook routinely emptied, your furniture covered in hair and occasionally your loafers chewed and pee'd on, then you are absolutely not ready.
Having said that, when are we ever ready for life’s messy miracles, both big, small and smelly?
So if you are seriously thinking about it, which means you are looking online, wondering about pet deposits and how much dog is 15lbs and, heaven forbid, searching for pet adoption events in your area, then here are a few tidbits of advice that, as a four dog person, I have to give…for free, which is about the last free thing you will get once you have a dog.
1. Adoption is the best option
California has just changed the law and pet stores are now only allowed to offer dogs that need rehousing, so no more puppy mill puppies!! The reasons are clear. There are thousands of beautiful and not so technically beautiful dogs that need homes. If you have the nerve to go anywhere near a pound or shelter then you will know this only too well. If you have your heart set on a fresh little puppy, then I challenge you to visit a pound first and have it broken. All these wonderful, lonely little loves are hoping for a home. Please take this route, at least at first. You will find someone who needs you and will make your life complete…I guarantee it. http://www.laanimalservices.com
2. I really mean it when I say that dogs are for life.
The caveat to that is that you will have them for the length of their life, which is considerably shorter than ours. So be prepared for a commitment of 10 - 15 years on average, which goes by in the blink of an eye and you will be blessed to have them in your life for as long as they are with you. I once read that a little boy told his parents after they lost their dog to old age and everyone was feeling very sad, they were all wondering why it is that dogs aren’t with us very long. He said, “Humans spend their whole lives trying to be better people, but dogs are already better than all of us, so they don’t need to stay as long.” But it’s worth the tears…a thousand fold.
If you have children, make sure they are not allergic to a breed that you want, this is very important and sometimes why pets end up in a shelter. There are enough things to deal with in life, being allergic to your pet shouldn’t have to be one of them. If your child is allergic to fur then find a breed that doesn’t have any! There are many, many breeds like this, much more than you might imagine. Not just Bichon Frises either!! Some are manly dogs like Bedlington Terriers and Schnauzers. Go to the American Kennel Association for a full list. http://www.akc.org/about/faq-allergies/
3. Dogs aren’t cheap…but what is these days!?
You can find low-cost vets for vaccinations, checkups and even neutering, although if you go to the shelter the dog will already be neutered and up to date on shots.
There are all kinds of programs to help you keep the costs down, but be prepared to spend some money. Petco will become your new Armani. Also, understand that you if you want to travel you can, but it will cost you either in dog sitting, or plane fares or additional hotel and fees. You can get them passports now, and there are more and more airlines that allow dogs on flights with you. But it’s not cheap. Then there's the food, the fleas, the treats, the bling and the replacements to your shoes, furniture, cushions, plants, car interiors, walls…they can chew anything, and at times, your sanity.
But they love you, oh how they love you…and it’s all worth it.
4. Try and find a dog that fits your life and your space.
If you live in an apartment then maybe a breed that isn’t so energetic would be better for you, especially if you work all day…see above reference to chewing your stuff. But Los Angeles is the city of dogs. There are more dog parks and dog-friendly spaces than just about anywhere else on earth it seems, and you might be lucky enough to be able to take your dog to work even! I know several people who do that. So don’t rule anything out, especially if you are visiting pounds. Sometimes the biggest dogs need the littlest action…think Great Danes. It’s the sporting breeds like Spaniels or Labs that have more energy. But if you have a garden then anything goes! And don’t just go for looks, there are some mighty ugly dogs out there who are absolutely adorable and love can make even the craziest looking pooch a prince!
5. If you are getting a puppy for a gift, and you don’t personally know the puppies parents then be sure to vet the breeder.
Get as many recommendations as you can and meet the puppy's mum and dad. There are wonderful breeders out there, but there a still many puppies mills masquerading as breeders, so beware. Like I said, I have bought puppies, but they were mutts and from the owners of the parents and both the last of their litters…oh, how I love them. It’s also more likely that the dog could have problems if they are purebred, which is, of course, more costly in the long run and more importantly, potentially heartbreaking. Giving a puppy as a gift might also backfire. It might not be the right breed, they might not want a dog and you might end up getting called in a few weeks/months to come and pick it up. So be warned!! Never buy a puppy for someone else's kids, even your grandkids, without first consulting the actual parents.
6. Lastly, be prepared to fall in love.
We all know love can be wonderful and it can also be messy…very messy. But owning a dog can change your life for the better in so many ways I just don’t have the time to list them. Mine drive me crazy and fill me with joy every single day, even when they make a mess, or eat my food when I answer the door, or lie right in my way and nearly kill me, or fall asleep on me so I can’t reach the remote, or knock over their water bowl as they rush to greet me, or eat their bed…again…or take up all the space on my bed, or run away when its bath time, or chase the cat, or bring me a dead bird/ squirrel/lizard, or roll in chicken poop, or piddle on something new in the house, or lie on my just vacuumed and washed couch after they have dug a hole in the dirt outside and rolled in it and especially when they all howl together at the fire truck sirens…very loudly and in my ear.
Dogs are the ‘joy’ in joyful, the ‘thanks’ in thanksgiving and the ‘mess’ in Christmas and they are the best decision you will ever make. Just accept them as they are, all hairy and slobbery and silly and perfect and they will never let you down.
A dog is not just for Christmas it’s true. But in many ways, they personify the spirit of the season. They LOVE. No matter what and they do that forever…