A "Christmas present"

By Akis Varsamis (in Notopolis magazine)

It's just a few days till Christmas. In prosperous western societies, there are millions of parents ready to give in to the sometimes-strong demands from their children to get them a pet for Christmas.

The arrival of a new living member in the family, however, cannot be considered an ordinary gift; by offering a pet to a child as a gift, we also give it the wrong message. A dog or a cat, a rabbit or a bird, is not a toy. It is not something to be liked or not, returned, exchanged or be left on a shelf after playing for a few minutes until it can be used again on the following day.

Getting a pet involves emotions, but it also involves responsibility. It requires a long-lasting, personal relationship and commitment and we must be aware of all the changes it brings into our life. It shouldn't be the result of an impulse with an end date, followed by the discovery that the new family member is not what was expected, is not compatible with our lifestyle and requires more care and expense than had originally been estimated.

Unfortunately, during this festive period, much of the above is overlooked, with the result that the number of abandoned pets in streets or in animal shelters rises dramatically in the first weeks or months after the New Year. The majority of these animals are dogs.

In an attempt to limit the phenomenon of abandonment, which is a real problem, and a shame on our society, we would like to discuss the factors that prospective dog owners must bear in mind, before they make their selection.

The family

A new dog entering the home is an exciting family event. It is the joyous addition of an equal member in the family, to the extent that each other of its members are prepared to give the required time and make the required effort.

This is why everyone must participate in the decision. We must not forget that this is a coexistence that will, under normal circumstances, last fifteen to twenty years. The family must therefore feel ready to undertake the commitment for the lengthy care involved and to have answers to key questions ready; for example, who will deal with feeding and the daily walks, or who will look after the dog during the holidays, etc.

Once these are resolved, the family must decide on the type of dog that fits its objective lifestyle conditions and its temperament.

The lifestyle

The lifestyle, the finances, the type and size of the family or the available space at home, are some of the factors that need to be examined before selecting the appropriate dog. For example, it is very important to decide whether we want a walking companion or a big-bodied guard dog that will discourage intruders. If we have the time or the inclination for a dog that needs a lot of exercise or if we prefer one that is more relaxed and laid back by nature. Most dog breeds have been "designed" for specific needs and work. Before deciding, we must ask ourselves seriously whether we need a hunting dog, a herder or one that pulls a sleigh across icy wildernesses, at home as a pet.

The main reason why dogs are abandoned is that they are not appropriate for their owners' lifestyle.

Space

The home and available surrounding space is a very important factor. A small apartment or conversely a detached house with a fenced garden play a decisive part in the breed and size of dog we wish to get.

Small breeds tend to adapt better in the smaller available space of an apartment; this, however, does not preclude a number of larger breeds that are less energetic and can adapt just as well.

The rule of thumb is: the larger or more energetic the dog is and the smaller the available space, the more exercise and walks the dog will need.

Time

Contemporary people, in particular the ones living in large cities, have busy lives and the time they can give their dog is limited. Sometimes there is nobody else living in the home, resulting in the dog being alone for many hours, awaiting the arrival of his best friend.

In this case we must select a breed with fewer requirements that can better deal with being alone. We must also provide for freedom of movement in the home and plenty of toys so that it does not become bored. It is also best to avoid puppies, as their rearing requires a lot of time and guidance.

If your absence exceeds ten hours a day, seven days a week, it is best to opt for a cat, which requires minimum care, due to its independent nature.

Children

When there are toddlers or young children up to 10 years old in the family, we must be extra careful in selecting a breed. Small breeds are more prone to accidents and injuries in the course of playing with children or other dogs, due to their small size. They have thin and fragile bones and are easier to slip from unsteady childish arms and fall from a great height.

Conversely, large or nervous breeds may inadvertently hurt a small child. Select a medium breed, or a large breed known for its love and tolerance for small children.

In any event, never leave small children and dogs in the same space unattended.

Senior citizens

Dogs are beloved companions to senior citizens. After children have left the parental home to lead their own busy lives, a dog is the ideal companion for someone to share the love with during the lonely hours. As well, the daily need for a walk constitutes beneficial exercise for the dog's owner.

The two most significant factors to be examined in such a case are the dogs' size and personality. Usually small dogs have fewer maintenance needs and are easier to handle. Their exercise needs and the distances they have to walk daily, are reasonable.

There is proof from conducted studies that a pet at home significantly improves senior citizens' health and quality of life.

Puppy and sizes

A puppy is ideal, because it will grow up learning the family's lifestyle and needs; however, it should be kept in mind that it is exactly like a baby. There will be time required for constant supervision and training and frequent visits to the vet. Tolerance is also required to soiling, chewing on furniture and objects as well as separation anxiety, when you leave. The appropriate age is 7 to 12 weeks and it is very important to know the size that the dog will reach when fully grown.

Small dogs weigh less than 10 kilos, mid-sized dogs weigh 11-25 kilos, large ones are 26-50 and oversize ones up to 51-80. There are also breeds that are exceptionally large and can exceed 100 kilos. It is therefore obvious that knowing the end weight of the dog is very important when making a selection.

The most common excuse just before abandoning a dog, is: "I didn't know it was going to turn out so big".

Exercise and training

With the exception of very small breeds, the majority of dogs need a fair amount of exercise. The best way to achieve this is to take long daily walks in parks or open spaces where they will have enough room to run. Sufficient exercise is vital for a dog and avoids unwanted behavior such as hyperactivity, annoying barking and destructive behavior.

When outside with our dog, we must always have carry along small bags for collecting their dirt. It's not only our obligation, it's also a show of social culture.

Training our dog in basic obedience is a very important chapter in its development and social inclusion. It will solve all possible problems of behavior towards humans and other animals, such as aggression, biting, destructive chewing etc. Training can be conducted by the owner, to the extend he believes he is capable of it, or, even better, by a professional trainer, who will teach the dog other skills besides basic obedience.

Costs

Getting a dog involves a long-term commitment with recurring expenses. There are three main categories of expenses; feeding, veterinary care and the various accessories, such as collars, leads, toys, feeding bowls etc. All three go without saying and must be provided in the best possible quality. There are also occasional expenses, such as for example the stay in a kennel, if the dog cannot accompany us on a trip or holiday.

Two more factors affecting the level of expenses are the size and the hair. It makes sense that the bigger the dog the bigger the expense for feeding it. As for the hair, long-haired breeds or those that need special care, need more frequent visits to professional groomers, besides the time consuming grooming care provided by the owner.

Dog owner friends and acquaintances are a good source of information for the expenses that arise from living with their beloved pet.

Nutrition and health

Correct nutrition is the first and most important part of a dog's life and directly affects its health and energy. It is determined by its body type, the breed, health and level of activity. Irrespective of size, the dog is a descendent from the wolf and is not meant to consume foods made or prepared for humans. Its nutritional needs in proteins and other elements are close to those of its origins.

Maintaining the dog's good health is the second most important part of its life. It starts from when it is a puppy, when it follows an appropriate inoculation schedule, after it has been thoroughly examined by the vet, so that it can acquire immunity from serious diseases. When a health problem or accident occurs during its adult life, a visit to the vet is mandatory; he is trained to deal with any pet health problem.

By providing the best possible food quality and constant veterinary monitoring to our pet, we have a happy companion for many - many years.

Man‘s best friend

It is true that of all pets, the dog is man's best and most loyal friend. But are we, humans, worthy of this friendship? How can we bear this title of honor, when we leave our friend to wander, sick and hungry in the street? We must rise from the comfortable couch of social indifference, where we have been passively languishing in recent years and take action. We should not leave animal groups and associations fight for the strays by themselves. Each one of us, with whatever means we have at our disposal, can help find a local solution to the problem, wherever it arises, in our own neighborhood.

 

So, if for whatever reason we have decided this Christmas to add a pet to our family members and the decision is to go for a dog, let us choose a stray dog. We will have a companion who will be grateful all its life and we will give our children an excellent example of social sensitivity and selflessness.

During these holy days of kindness, let us turn our homes into areas of shelter for animals, rather than places from where animals are taken to shelters.

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