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A Puppy is Forever

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When a friend called the other day to tell me she'd found the perfect family gift'a puppy'I had to smile to myself and gently help her unravel her reasons for giving a puppy as a holiday gift.

When a friend called the other day to tell me she'd found the perfect family gift-a puppy-I had to smile to myself and gently help her unravel her reasons for giving a puppy as a holiday gift. Too often, puppies are purchased impulsively at this time of year.

Like many people, my friend embraced the romantic notion of joyous surprise when a new puppy bounds in on Christmas morning. Unfortunately, Christmas is probably

the worst time of the year to welcome a new pet into the household.

Fresh from its mom and littermates, a puppy needs to be introduced to its new home and family during a quiet time, avoiding the confusion and activity associated with Christmas. Fears learned during the transition to a new home can have a permanent impact on a puppy's personality as an adult dog, setting the stage for long-term behavioural problems.

Upon introduction to its new home, a young puppy requires frequent feedings and usually needs to eliminate every time it drinks, eats, or wakes up from a nap. It is unreasonable to expect a puppy to develop stable routines amid the hubbub of holiday celebrations without the full-time commitment from family to properly attend to its needs.

Puppies require constant attention, especially around children. They are inquisitive by nature and love to explore, most often with their mouths. Decorative ornaments, extension cords, or leaves from seasonal plants such as poinsettia and mistletoe represent health hazards that could cause injury or serious illness. Easily accessible Christmas staples such as nuts or chocolate, often situated on low coffee tables, are inviting to inquisitive noses. Chocolate, however, contains the alkaloid theobromine, which could cause symptoms from nervousness, vomiting, and diarrhea to coma, convulsions, and possibly sudden death.

Some pet stores, breeders, and, surprisingly, even my local shelter take advantage of the Christmas season to promote the purchase of puppies. However, puppies purchased or adopted for Christmas gifts may find themselves at the local shelter in the New Year. On the other hand, caring, reputable breeders or guardians usually won't let a puppy go until after Christmas, wanting to ensure the best start possible with its new family.

What are the alternatives? Wrap up a cuddly toy puppy with a card that promises a real puppy after Christmas or put together a gift basket of puppy supplies and include a photograph of a favourite breed of puppy.

Once the holiday season is over the entire family can visit a breeder to pick out the new family addition, involving everyone in the selection. When choosing your new puppy, consider one of the thousands of homeless puppies and dogs in shelters and rescues across the country.

"Whatever you choose," I told my enthusiastic friend, "the right puppy will be worth the wait." She had to agree.

Before deciding to give a puppy or any other pet as a gift, remember that a puppy should be forever, not just for Christmas.

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