My wife and I live in a densely populated community that sits on a small, man-made lake. While I do not flatter myself thinking that everyone in South Florida reads this column or takes my advice, someone in my neighborhood obviously missed the last memo.
It is to you, dear neighbor, that I direct this latest missive. I don’t know who you are, or exactly where you live, but I know what you did this Christmas: You bought a puppy for your children.
How do I know this? Because I started hearing your new puppy crying in your yard on the night of December 26th.
I can hear the collective gasp of gentle readers already - not that night, they’re thinking. It poured that night.
Indeed it did. And the night after that, it also poured. Through both of those nights, your puppy cried for you. She cried on New Year’s Eve when fireworks exploded over the lake and scared her half to death. She cried because she is a social animal, and she is not yet mature enough to cope with being alone, especially when she is cold and frightened.
I’m guessing by now you are probably thinking what so many other holiday pet buyers are thinking. You’re thinking this puppy is way too time-consuming, no fun for the kids, and would be happier in a new home.
Let’s explore some of the most common perceptions of "re-homing," and the realities your Christmas puppy may face.
If you’re thinking of dropping off your puppy at a shelter, then you have probably never been to a shelter. These institutions are an invaluable part of our community, and are staffed with some of the kindest, hardest working, most dedicated professionals I know. But these folks are not fairy godmothers. They do not wave magic wands and find perfect, loving homes for all of the pets who need them. The sad truth is that many -- perhaps most -- of the animals in our shelters are put down because nobody comes to adopt them.
I know what you’re thinking - not this dog. She’s a good girl. She’s just too much work for us. She’s so cute and friendly, she’ll get adopted in a heartbeat.
From the sounds she's making, the Christmas puppy my neighbor got is a large breed dog. Statistically, this means she is not likely to get adopted. If she is dark colored or black, she will probably be overlooked by potential adopters. No one knows why this happens, but the statistics speak for themselves. If she resembles a breed that is perceived as "dangerous," she will be doomed from the moment she walks through the shelter door. And even if she is a "good girl," shelters are scary places for dogs. After a week or so of constant noise, little human contact, no fresh air or exercise, and no mental stimulation, your good girl is bound to feel frustrated. The first time she shows her hackles or teeth to a shelter worker, she will be killed. Period.
If you think I’m exaggerating for the sake of the press, think again. Or better yet, go visit our shelter. There is a reason I chose not to work in shelter medicine. I simply could not handle it.
A Home In The Country
Perhaps you’re thinking it would more humane to take your puppy for a drive in the Redlands and leave her there. After all, those people have big houses and lots of land - surely they have big hearts too. How much trouble would it really be to take in one more dog
I practiced in the Redlands for many years, so I can assure you that this is not a novel idea. The good people of the Redlands can only take in so many discarded suburban pets. Most of my clients were maxed out, and faced with tough decisions regarding how much
they could do for their ever-growing menageries.
It is not unusual to see stray, injured, malnourished animals wandering through fields and communities, or killed at the edge of the road. Do not solve your problem by creating a burden for your neighbors, and do not assume that “someone will take her in. There are already thousands of homeless pets in these areas. This is not an option for your puppy.
Free To Good Home
Last year, the gruesome story of “Puppy Doe” made local and national headlines. The young dog was dumped in a Boston suburb after being brutally beaten, burned, stabbed, and starved. Her injuries were not survivable, and she was humanely euthanized. Her story went viral as the public demanded justice. Her original owner recognized her picture and stepped forward. She was utterly devastated that the dog she had posted for adoption on Craigslist had fallen into the hands of an animal abuser.
Dog fighters, testing labs, puppy mills and garden variety sickos are forever trolling classified ads and online bulletin boards in search of their latest victims. And phrases such as “free to good home” are sure to get their attention. These individuals will often go so
far as to pay women with children to pose as an adoptive family! So if you think you are smart enough to spot an abuser, once again, you are wrong.
And so, dear neighbor, I respectfully suggest that you reflect long and hard on the moral obligation you have to the living being you stuck into a Christmas stocking. You owe her more than what you have given her so far, and I am calling you out. The good news is that I’m not asking you to build a rocket or cure cancer. I’m asking you to train - and love - your puppy. And yes, there is a connection. It is so easy to love a dog, but as a trainer I know so eloquently put it, it’s easier to love a well-trained dog. My wife and I are
the busiest people I know. We did it twice, and we’re still working on it. If we can do it, so can you. But be warned - I’m not done with you yet. Next time, we’ll talk about how to help your family and your puppy adjust to these new expectations.
Spoiler alert: it’s going to fun! I promise. If you’d like to get started ahead of time, please call my office - or any veterinary office for that matter! We vets are easy to find, and we all have behaviorists that we recommend without hesitation or agenda.
In the meantime, for the love of God, it’s starting to get cold. If nothing else, please bring your puppy inside.