Fur is currently flying in Tesco's direction over a page in its new Tesco Gift Guide featuring a young child in front of a blackboard on which is written 'All I want [for] Christmas is a pupp[y]'. Part of the wording is obscured. Whether deliberate or simply bad judgment, the photograph has successfully raised awareness of the retailer's gift guide!
Whilst animal charities, some sections of the press, dog lovers and customers quite rightly chastise Tesco for its actions, it does serve as a reminder that pets are frequently at the top of children's Christmas lists every year. And parents are faced with making difficult decisions. I was no different as a child and I now shudder at what my parents must have thought as I eagerly entered the WH Smith's Win a Pony competition each year.
Unfortunately I had to wait until I was 27 for my first pet, but in this job I see the results of ill-considered pet purchases every day. Interestingly, at the National Animal Welfare Trust, we don't see a significant increase in unwanted Christmas presents being handed over in January, we tend to see an impact about six to eight months later, particularly with dogs when they have hit adolescence and families suddenly find they have 'Kevin the Teenager' in their midst. This is one of the most common ages that dogs arrive in rescue as they have started to become independent, the hormones are raging and they like to take risks and see what they can get away with. If proper training has not been put in at the puppy stage, these dogs become too much for a family to handle so we are left to pick up the pieces.
Other casualties of irresponsible pet purchases can be the older pets in the family and every centre has tales of 12 year-old cats that owners want to sign over because they don't get on with a new kitten in the home.
Buying a pet for a Christmas present should not be an easy, impulse purchase. Rescues and reputable breeders will not just hand over a puppy. The homing process takes weeks, sometimes months if there's a waiting list. This is to ensure the animal is going to a good home. Unfortunately this leaves puppy farms and websites as the most expedient options, and you only need to look on the internet to read the horror stories of sick or ill-bred puppies that have been purchased through these channels.
The NAWT has put together a short guide for parents offering ways to approach and discuss with their children why Christmas is not the right time for the family to get a pet. We are encouraging parents to start a 'research project' with their children on all the aspects of owning their chosen pet from breed selection to everyday care, long before they actually make a purchase.
I was impressed with the approach used by my local reptile store when a young lad came in with his dad wanting to buy a snake. The shop owner showed him the sort of snake he may want to own and then asked the boy to go away and read up about the care of this sort of snake and come back next week. What a fantastic way to encourage responsible pet ownership.
So some good must come out of this row. And let's hope retailers like Tesco support rescue charities like ours by actively promoting responsible purchasing instead. Then we won't have to take calls like the one from a rabbit owner who said they were going away for Christmas and wanted to sign over their rabbit to us as it would be cheaper to buy a new one when they got back than to pay for the boarding while they were away.
You can read our guide here.