As the joy of Christmas presents wear off, Aoife Hardesty, looks at those animate presents that must continue to be cared for.


EVERY year on Christmas day, people wake up and rush to the Christmas tree to open up their presents. Underneath the tree lie parcels, big and small, adorned with ribbons and bows, funny shaped lumps, awkwardly wrapped in bright, sparkly paper, and for some there may be a puppy/kitten/lizard/turtle wearing a big bow around their neck (or shell).

The gift-recipient is joyful and grateful and makes a fuss over their new pet.

And every year, in the weeks following Christmas, thousands of animals are brought to animal shelters. Dogs Trust Ireland have twenty animal shelters around Ireland, and they say roughly one thousand dogs are brought to these shelters in the weeks following Christmas, every single year.

Introducing a new pet into the mix during the holiday season presents a variety of challenges, not least due to the business of the season with visitors coming and going and large meals to be cooked. After all the excitement of the holidays, with people returning to work and school and few daylight hours, the new pet can feel like a burden.

Giving a pet as a surprise gift to someone is handing them a commitment, one which they might not be ready for or might not want.

Giving a pet as a surprise gift to someone is handing them a commitment, one which they might not be ready for or might not want.

Dogs are the biggest victims of pet-abandonment around Christmas. This may be because cats and dogs are the most popular pets, but dogs take more work than cats. They need to be walked regularly, they may require behaviour training, and have to learn where to do their doggy business. The sheer size of some dogs means that they can, just physically, get in the way.

Every year, animal charities here in Ireland and in the UK launch appeals to discourage people from giving puppies as Christmas presents. But, interestingly, across the pond, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) has begun encouraging the gifting of pets for Christmas. This is attributed to research the charity conducted, via a telephone survey, which found that 86% of pets given as gifts were kept, and other research they funded which found that pets given as presents were less likely to be given up than pets chosen by an individual.

Here in Ireland, and in the UK, a huge amount of Christmas puppies given as gifts are bought from breeders, and this presents a lucrative opportunity for puppy farms. The term puppy farm brings to mind a multitude of puppies frolicking in a big green field, running around, playing, and being happy. The reality is quite different.

Here in Ireland, and in the UK, a huge amount of Christmas puppies given as gifts are bought from breeders, and this presents a lucrative opportunity for puppy farms.

Puppy farms are like conveyor belts. A farm will have a huge amount of breeding bitches, in some cases up to 500. These dogs are bred, over and over again. Taking proper care of this sheer volume of dogs is a huge challenge. The bitches will spend most of their lives in the dark, in big sheds with little light, lying on straw. Some puppy farms take greater care than others in keeping the bedding clean, but in many, the straw is filthy and full of faeces, urine and waste products.

And into these conditions puppies are born. Often they are inbred, and they spend their first weeks of life in big dark sheds with little to no human socialising until they can be sold.

Puppy buyers are often duped into thinking that they are buying from a genuine dog enthusiast. Puppies will be brought to a house where buyers will come see them, and it will appear as though this was where the puppies were born and grew up.

Other puppies are smuggled across the Irish Sea to England, Scotland, and Wales where the market is far bigger than in Ireland. Over 100 puppies were seized in Dublin Port, and in Holyhead before Christmas. These were puppies who would have been sold for the Christmas market. Puppies are smuggled in car boots, in the backs of vans. These puppies have no passports, they have not been vaccinated and they have not been microchipped.

A combined effort between the SPCAs of these countries has been working to clamp on puppy smuggling as part of Operation Delphin.  But to date, no one has been prosecuted for puppy smuggling.

Also puppy farming is not illegal. Ireland has 73 registered puppy farms producing 30,000 puppies a year. There are no limits to the amount of breeding bitches a farm can have, and no limits on the amount of litters a bitch can have.

Ireland has 73 registered puppy farms producing 30,000 puppies a year.

In the UK, puppy farms are more tightly regulated, in total they produce 70,000 puppies each year, from over 800 puppy farms. Where each farm is allowed no more than 10 breeding bitches. The IPSCA have been campaigning for such regulations to be implemented here in Ireland.

Ethically sourcing a pet is not the only consideration to make when giving a gift however. Unfortunately, Christmas is not a great time to introduce a new pet to your home. Pets are a big responsibility. After the initial excitement wears off, the work that goes into keeping a pet can be tiresome. We are now well into the New Year, and any feeling of festive fun and Yuletide spirit are long gone. New pet owners may be facing unforeseen difficulties.

The ISPCA recommends waiting until after the Christmas season to introduce a new pet to your home. Waiting until later in the year, for spring or summer, allows long evenings where you can frolic with a new pet in the sun, or at least in the daylight.

Having a pet is a big responsibility, whether that pet was a surprise present, a known-about gift, or if a choice you made on your own. It is having a creature entirely dependent on you, and whoever else is in your household. They are depending on you to make sure they are fed, walked, get outside, and taught where to do their business. They are depending on you to love them.

If you are ever asking for a pet as a present, be self-aware, and realistically think about whether or not you’re up to the responsibility of having a pet, and consider adopting a pet from a rescue shelter. If you have received a pet as a present, or if you already have one, own up to the responsibility of taking care of them. New pets, young or old, can bring huge joy into people’s lives, and properly cared for and loved, they can have a wonderful life themselves. Make sure, if you are going to gift a pet, that they will find the love and care that they deserve.