A recent survey by the RSPCA (1) has revealed that 55% of pets will get one. According to the figures we spend £300m on our pets at Christmas. Almost all pet owners surveyed will buy a present for their animal chum, with just over half saying they will spend up to £10. Almost one in five say they will spend more on little Alfie or Poppy than on their mother-in-law. I am not sure whether this says more about our relationship with pets or with the in-laws.
Joking aside, pets play a major role and often are part of the family, or the only family we have. The Pet Foods Manufacturer's Association (pfma) (2) shows in their Pet Population report, that in the UK 45% of households (13m) have a pet, with the total pet population now at 71m (24.5 mill excluding fish).
It may not be easy for those who spend Christmas without their pet friend - who might have died; or cannot travel with us, if we go away; or we are too unwell to look after them.
Pets can be the children or partner we have never had, or replace those who have left us. They can be companion, our reason for being. They can keep us active, help us meet others, give us a sense of responsibility and purpose. Pets can also give us unconditional love, a sense of safety, companionship, understanding and warmth.
We may also worry about them. How long can we leave them at home alone? Can we continue with the financial responsibility? What if they fall ill? Can we pay the vet bills or pet insurance? Who will look after them, if we get ill, old or may die? And losing them may cause the same feelings of pain and bereavement we may have for the loss of a human.
If you travel this Christmas and have to leave your pet behind with friends, a pet sitter or a kennel you may also miss the daily routine of, say, walking the dog. You may also find you enjoy a lie-in for a change! You may wonder how s/he is getting on, and whether you will be missed. You may have an arrangement to get picture or text updates.
Unfortunately, not every pet story this Christmas will be a happy one. The RSPCA warn that many Christmas dinners are not safe for pet consumption (such as poultry bones, stuffing and chocolate). No doubt, some animals will also be abandoned and treated cruelly this year.
So, if you are without your animal this Christmas, you might be able to relate to the sentiments expressed in the following poem.
The tree is all trimmed.
The gifts are all wrapped.
The hymns are all sung,
Ant the travel plans mapped.
And still there's a sadness
That lies in your heart,
For a dog that was lost
And a love now apart.
A stocking is missing,
With toys and a treat.
A lap is now empty,
A space at your feet.
Yet remember this season
God's small gift to you,
To treasure life through.
MA (Couns.Psych.), Reg. MBACP (Accred)