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‘A pet is for life, not just for Christmas’

Friday 17 December in Community

‘A dog is for life not just for Christmas’ is one of the most recognizable strap lines in the UK and it’s stood the test of time – perhaps because its message is such a simple, but important, one. The slogan was created and first used by the Dogs Trust in 1978 when the charity estimated that about 20% of dogs were given as gifts.

Why is giving a dog, or any other pet, as a gift such a problem? Well, in some cases it isn’t because the lucky recipient will be well aware that they are about to receive an animal into their lives, and they will have the appropriate resources (from both a knowledge and financial perspective) and environment to give that animal the best possible care.

The problem arises when the recipient may not have the necessary skills or money, or live in appropriate accommodation, which means that the gift eventually becomes a burden.

There has been a lot of publicity in the last year about ‘pandemic puppies’ and the need for people to have a pet in their lives to help them cope with loneliness, or as a diversion from world events … and it remains to be seen whether we see an upturn in unwanted dogs, and cats, on the Isle of Man in the next year as more people go back to work in offices, and start to travel more frequently. There are already signs that dogs are being left alone in their homes on a more frequent basis, if the number of complaints to the ManxSPCA is anything to go by – the charity is fielding several calls a week about dogs that bark all day while owners are out at work. So, whilst these dogs may not have been purchased as gifts, it’s clear that the long-term implications of ownership were not thought through.

Separation anxiety is a common problem in dogs, and the pandemic has made it worse: puppies became used to owners being around them most of the time, to then suddenly be left on their own for prolonged periods. It’s little wonder that they bark incessantly, wanting their owners to return, and then start to display destructive behaviors such as chewing furniture and urinating in inappropriate places. Responsible dog owners put remedies in place, and either pay for dog daycare or a dog walker, ask relatives to help out, or return home to give their dog a long lunchtime walk.

Thankfully most people understand that dog ownership is a huge commitment, and they know that if they can’t cope they can turn to the ManxSPCA who will take their dog and find him, or her, a loving new home.

But spare a thought for the humble rabbit, or guinea pig. For many years these poor creatures have been the real victims of ill-thought-through purchases, and have often been bought as gifts (birthday and Christmas presents) for children. But, contrary to popular belief, they are not an ideal children’s pet not least because they can live for a very long time – ten to twelve years in the case of rabbits; and six to eight years in the case of Guinea pigs.

Rabbits, in particular, require careful handling and can suffer spinal problems if they are picked up in the wrong way, plus they can give a nasty scratch with the nails on their powerful back legs. They are also high-maintenance and require cleaning out daily and regular husbandry, and a six or seven year old child soon loses interest.

Over the years the ManxSPCA has witnessed many rabbits and Guinea pigs leading wretched lives, stuck in small cages with tiny runs, with little human contact or enrichment. Whilst the charity will always rehome these poor creatures, it’s far better that they don’t suffer from neglect in the first place.

And so the ManxSPCA’s message this Christmas is – always think about the long term; be realistic; and don’t give in to ‘pester power’ … and , of course, adopt don’t shop. By adopting an animal from a rescue centre like the ManxSPCA you will be given all the advice and support you need to ensure you and your pet are a perfect match.

Article by MSPCA

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