Thinking About Getting a Puppy for Christmas? Go to Your Local Shelter.


Photo by J. Michelle Bennett |

The holiday season is one I love, but in recent times my joy has dimmed, as I know that this time of year brings misery for thousands of dogs. The unrelenting puppy market gets a seasonal boost as people look to buy puppies as presents, and behind the cute puppies bought as gifts from stores and online, there are parent dogs who are stuck in puppy mills, enduring a terrible life of breeding. The puppy business is lucrative and thrives on impulsive shopping behaviour. Puppies have sadly become just another desirable item to be bought, and never more so than in the holiday season, a fact the puppy millers cash in on as they increase their ‘stock’ in preparation.

For generations, puppies have been given as presents and while various campaigns and welfare groups have tried for decades to educate people not to do so, I have to question the effectiveness of the message when we see large numbers of unwanted dogs handed into rescue every year, some of which will have been bought as gifts.

So, instead of trying to find new ways to stop people buying puppies as presents, a message the public resolutely fails to take on board, what if we change our thinking and put the focus on helping people source what they want in time for the holidays? Not from the puppy mills via the stores and dealers, but from decent, responsible shelters. Radical it may be to grasp the nettle, but if we accept the fact that people want to bring a dog into their lives, and the holiday season might be a good time for them to do so, we can educate them on finding their perfect one in rescue. A potential win-win for all: the dogs get the gift of a home, the families get their perfect pet having taken all the advice on offer, and the puppy mills, backstreet breeders and dealers lose their hold on the market.

A strong advocate of this idea is Debra Tranter, founder of the Australian campaign group Oscar’s Law. In her view, making people feel guilty about getting a pet as a present or because it’s the holiday season has proven ineffective and it’s time we busted the myth and guided people down the road of rescue and away from puppy sellers.

She told me,

“There’s nothing wrong with giving a pet as a gift if the family have thought it through and decided that it’s the right time to get one. Instead of making people feel guilty, we should be educating them on the most ethical way and directing them towards rescue. Giving the 'gift of a home' to a rescue pet is the best thing we can do leading up to Christmas”.

I agree with Debra, but we also need to accept many will want a puppy, not an older dog and some shelters won’t home with very young children. So part of the education we can all engage with, must also be helping people know that puppies and young dogs are found in shelters. It’s also important that potential adopters seek and accept the advice that’s given by shelter staff. The image of an old, troubled dog with problems and behavioural issues is not typical of the dogs found in rescue today. Many are simply there because they’re unwanted. Young dogs, puppies, older dogs, all great family pets are out there if people are prepared to look.

Another issue, aside from overturning years of campaigners saying a dog is not a present or appropriate to get during the holiday season, is that many shelters have a boycott on rehoming in the lead up to the holidays. This is sad for the dogs and after researching it, having previously accepted it as a good thing, I’ve changed my mind on the sense of this policy and hope to help others see the limitations of this policy.

Debra Tranter’s view is,

“We should be adopting and emptying the shelters in the lead up to, and during the holidays, using slogans like “Give the Gift of Home” or “Home for the Holidays”.

Some shelters already take a flexible approach to rehoming over the festive period. A spokesperson for a local one to me, which does exactly this told me,

“We’ve never felt it necessary to suspend rehoming during the holiday season.  Our interview process, and pre-adoption home visit eliminates the possibility of "impulse" rehoming. Our requirement that all family members meet any animal before adoption rules out the surprise present. If families are busy, it’s not a good time but with many people having a quiet time, or not celebrating at all, this can be a wonderful time to add a new friend to the family.  What better gift for one of our animals than a loving new home?”

I think it’s time for something new. As previous campaigns haven’t proven effective, the dogs have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

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Positively Expert: Janetta Harvey

Janetta is a writer, blogger, independent commentator & campaigner against puppy farming. She is the author of two (soon to be three) books on what a tragedy for dogs the industry is.


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