Don’t let hol­i­days lead to heart­break for an an­i­mal

Austin American-Statesman - - BALANCED VIEWS -

When I was 4 years old, I got the best Christ­mas present ever. Af­ter months of pes­ter­ing my par­ents, they fi­nally got me a dog. I named him Bingo and smoth­ered him in hugs. I showed him off to my friends and, once the snow melted, pa­raded him up and down the side­walk. And about six months later, I com­pletely for­got about him. Poor Bingo got left be­hind while I rode my Big Wheel and built cas­tles in the sand­box.

But Bingo didn’t mind, be­cause Bingo wasn’t a real dog. He walked and barked, but he was pow­ered by bat­ter­ies, not a beat­ing heart. Sure, I was a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed at first, but I’m so glad that my par­ents re­sisted my pleas for a puppy. They knew that my prom­ise to feed, brush, play with and walk a dog ev­ery day would last about as long as the cook­ies I left out for Santa. And they were hon­est enough to ad­mit that our fam­ily sim­ply didn’t have the time, re­sources or abil­ity to make a life­long com­mit­ment to an an­i­mal at that point in our lives.

Un­for­tu­nately, ev­ery year, many peo­ple make the mis­take of giv­ing a liv­ing, breath­ing an­i­mal as a present to some­one who isn’t pre- pared to care for a furry de­pen­dent for the next 15-plus years. When this hap­pens, real dogs and cats fare far worse than my Bingo did.

A new puppy or kit­ten may be the cen­ter of at­ten­tion for a while, but re­al­ity soon sets in. An­i­mals make messes, chew on things, shed, whine, bark and need con­stant at­ten­tion. Ve­teri­nary bills, food, toys, beds and leashes take a toll on bank ac­counts that have al­ready been drained from hol­i­day ex­penses. And few fam­i­lies can give new an­i­mals the at­ten­tion that they need dur­ing the busy hol­i­day sea­son, which is a recipe for fail­ure. Leav­ing an­i­mals alone for long pe­ri­ods with noth­ing to do and no way to go out­side to re­lieve them­selves re­sults in clawed couches, chewed shoes and pud­dles on the floor.

Fam­i­lies find them­selves over­whelmed, and once-- adored an­i­mals find them­selves ban­ished to a back­yard chain or pen for the rest of their lonely lives, or jailed in a crate all day while their guardians are away — which de­prives them of their ba­sic needs and can lead to life­long be­hav­ioral prob­lems, in­clud­ing sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety and ag­gres­sion. Other an­i­mals are dumped on the streets or in ru­ral ar­eas to face death from star­va­tion, hy­pother­mia, at­tacks by preda­tors or col­li­sions with ve­hi­cles.

Some fam­i­lies do the right thing and take their un­wanted an­i­mals to a shel­ter, where they will be cared for and have a chance of find­ing a new home. But aban­don­ment is a trau­matic and heart­break­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and shel­ters must eu­th­a­nize many an­i­mals be­cause there aren’t enough homes for them all.

Please don’t let the holi- days end in heart­break for an an­i­mal. If you are cer­tain that your loved ones are will­ing and able to give a dog or cat a life­long home, wrap up a bowl, a leash and/or an adop­tion spon­sor­ship cer­tifi­cate from a lo­cal an­i­mal shel­ter. That way, they can choose an an­i­mal who is a good match for their per­son­al­ity and life­style af­ter the hec­tic hol­i­day sea­son has passed.

And if your Christ­mas just isn’t com­plete with­out an an­i­mal un­der the tree, wrap up one from a toy store — not a pet store. Stuffed pups and kit­ties are sure to de­light, and they don’t mind be­ing re­turned, tossed in a box or even “regifted” next Christ­mas. Pol­lard-Post is a se­nior writer for the PETA Foun­da­ She wrote this for McClatchyTri­bune News Ser­vice.

Santa Steve Stick­ley holds Ed­ward, a mixed-breed, ear­lier this month near Winch­ester, Va. SCOTT MA­SON / WINCH­ESTER STAR / AP

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