Christmas, we are told, is a time for giving. We rush around trying to find gifts for our loved ones and from films we're all too familiar with the woofing or purring present that comes out as the main gift. Across the world thousands of animals may be given as Christmas gifts. Many of them are later dumped when the responsibilities of pet ownership become too much or when they stop being cute. It may seem like a nice gesture but it is, of course, problematic. To discuss this matter further I'd like to share a story close to my heart...
I only went to the store to buy rat food. At the time I had a trio of fancy rats that needed feeding. When I walked into the pet supply store I was pleasantly surprised to see a cage featuring four kittens, three black and one black and white, all set up near the till. The pet supply store sold pet food and accessories mainly but the owners, being registered and licensed breeders, on rare occasion had a litter of cockapoo or chihuahua puppies bred from their own dogs that sold for high prices and to good, pre-approved new owners. I was surprised to see kittens in store, especially since they were so small, at only a few weeks old I knew that they were too young to be separated from their mother. They were lacking in proper socialisation and could sit comfortably in the palm of my hand. The store owner told us that she was looking to rehome the kittens after they had been dumped in a nearby wheelie bin for an unknown amount of time. They had been starved, dehydrated and left in the dark. Since black cats are so hard to rehome due to stigma and silly superstitions she was doing all the work in rehoming them herself. This way she could give them around the clock care until they found their forever homes. Someone clearly had been so heartless and so unwilling to care for these kittens that they thought to abandon them even if it meant their death. Since the store owner knew nothing of their background she was giving the kittens free to a good home. We left ten minutes later with a cardboard box and a newly adopted little black kitten.
We named the little black kitten Wednesday since black cats are unlucky and Wednesday is said to be the unluckiest day of the week. Also we're big fans of The Addams Family. It had been a fateful Wednesday morning, however, when she and her siblings had been found and rescued from the wheelie bin and so I suppose Wednesday as a day held some luck for this unlucky cat. We noticed quite quickly that she couldn't stand being picked up. She'll rip your hands to ribbons before she'll let you hold her. She freaks out if your face even goes near her. It's hard because we don't know what made her act like this or what difficulties she may have had to endure in those first few weeks of her life before she was dumped.
I want you to think of this if you're contemplating giving someone something that is alive for Christmas. Animals aren't gifts. They are living things and it is a privilege to live alongside them. If you are introducing an animal to a home this Christmas then I urge you to think of what happens after Christmas day. After those first excited cuddles are over will the animal still be cherished? Will it be walked and cleaned up after? Will you be able to keep it should your circumstances change or are they likely to change soon? Will you treat that animal with the same love and compassion when it's old and suffering from skin irritations, hip dysplasia or an uncontrollable bladder? Animals are a joy but they come with a shed load of responsibilities. If you're bringing an animal into your home or giving it as a gift, is that animal going to be loved and appropriately cared for every day for the rest of their lives? Also, if you're thinking of getting an animal friend, why not consider adopting a pet rather than buying one? I've written a previous article on the matter.
It has taken two years for Wednesday to even be comfortable and affectionate after her adoption. If she had been given to someone without the patience and understanding to work with her then I truly don't know what would have happened to her. She could have been dumped again or, like so many other animals, left to live in a shelter in favour of kittens curled up in pet shops. Wednesday is now at the stage where, though not usually affectionate, she picks her moments and suddenly/desperately wants attention and affection and I make it my business to stop what I'm doing and cuddle her. It is rare but it is special. When she comes to me and is comfortable enough to let her guard down for a cuddle it feels like through me she is forgiving all the bad she's had to overcome and living alongside her has been a privilege. Please just remember that a pet is a lifelong commitment. They have their own personalities, needs and problems and they all deserve someone who will respect the responsibilities of pet ownership. Christmas, they say, is a time for giving so if you are giving an animal a home let it be a good home and let it be forever.