The Truth About the Christmas Puppy

by Karen Camerlengo

So you have the romantic vision of a puppy under the Christmas tree, and the shiny happy kids in awe of your magical gift, huh? Stop, drop, and roll. Now get up and look me in the eyes. Please don’t do it.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have given a dog as a Christmas present to my children. This makes me a complete hypocrite in writing an article about why you should not give a puppy as a Christmas present. Yet here I am.

Every January, two things happen without fail. One, people go to they gym for the first three days and, two, Craigslist, shelters, and rescues will be inundated with unwanted “Christmas presents.” These puppies will absolutely crush an already saturated system.

I’m seriously not trying to be bah-humbuggy here. I’m a parent, too. I want nothing more than to make my children’s eyes light up and dreams come true on Christmas morning. Christmas is magical and there’s nothing like making that magic happen. But! There is another side of being a parent and that involves teaching kids about responsibility and common sense.

Puppies are super cute, but they can also be horribly unpleasant if you’re not prepared. They need a lot of attention, they pee and poop everywhere, eat stuff, and whine. You can’t just stick them back in the box and carry on with your Christmas plans. They make the normal life of a parent who is already on the go all the time nearly impossible. You can’t always arrange school pickup, soccer, dance, and birthday parties around a puppy’s needy schedule.

In addition to the general time-consuming nature of puppies, far too many people elect to buy a puppy from a pet store, a flea market, off an ad, or from someone whose dog had a litter. So now your impulse Christmas present is not only annoying, but you have one with a good chance of having some significant health problems. Nothing crushes holiday magic like a puppy with parvo (which has been happening from certain pet stores in our area recently).

So what to do when your little one has a puppy on his list? First, the adults need to have a discussion about the realities of life with a dog—truly research what this means for your family. While you may tell Sammy the dog will be his responsibility, the adults also have to know he is going to fail at this at times, and it will not be a reason to get rid of the dog (or Sammy). You are the adult, just go ahead and assume this responsibility.

You can still make magic happen…
Once the adults in the home have decided that they can live life with a puppy, go ahead and get your child a toy or a collar for Christmas with a note that this is for his new dog! Include a certificate or note telling him a dog will be adopted after the holidays. I can nearly guarantee there will be a HUGE smile and squeals, just the same. Let your child know that holidays are very dangerous times for a puppy to be in the home and it will be best for him to arrive after the decorations are away and the craziness is over. Then get to work together!

Perhaps you’ve already eyeballed some puppies (or older dogs that may already be trained) on rescue sites and have been talking to the fosters or rescues. Arrange time for the family to meet the dogs. Research together. Make a decision and lifetime commitment together. At the end of the day, you will have given your child not only a furry friend for Christmas, but a valuable lesson in research and responsibility. This puppy or dog will be with you until he is old and gray and needs a little help walking. The moment you bring him home, he is family. You can teach your child that, too!

One final note—the Christmas “puppy” given to my kids was actually a two-and-a-half-year-old stray who had been our foster for six months—we were keeping her. My girls screamed and cried and were just as excited than if we had given them 100 puppies. Sometimes when kids say puppy, all they really want is a dog. Think about that, too!

Sure, there’ve been successful “puppies under the tree” moments that have turned into life-long amazing family moments. The problem is that the numbers that have gone horribly wrong far overshadow the happy stories. If you’re thoughtful with this decision and prepare, you can save a lot of heartache and make the magic last an entire lifetime. •

Karen Camerlengo is an animal advocate and raiser of many dogs, a few humans, and Jasper the bird. Karen lives in Jacksonville, Fla.