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A dog is a lifetime gift Kate Davies | Sat, Dec 10 2011 12:00 PM

When I was about 9 years old, all I wanted for Christmas was a puppy. I begged and begged my parents until finally they got sick of the whining and gave in.
She was a beautiful Airedale puppy named Holly and I loved her. My parents made me promise that I would take care of her; that I would walk her and feed her and train her and clean up after her, which of course I did… for about six months. And then the responsibility for her naturally fell to my parents.
Looking back, I am horrified with myself for shirking the accountability that I had had for another life — a responsibility that I swore would be mine and mine alone. But I was a child, and really shouldn’t have been trusted with it, but my pleading was so heartfelt and my supposed dedication so adamant, that my parents believed me.
This kind of parental indulgence happens every year, and by the end of January, the shelters are full with the discarded furry Christmas presents that no-one wants to take responsibility for.
They also fill with another kind of dog … the older family dog that is taken to the shelter to make room for the new Christmas puppy. Having one dog is responsibility enough, but two dogs (especially when one that's an infant) can be a handful that many families don’t want to deal with.
Every year, proof of this can be seen in the countless gray muzzles and rheumy eyes that gaze confusedly out through the bars of the kennel cages of the shelters; eyes that belong to devoted family dogs who have loved and been loyal to the families they belonged to, until nothing more than their age made them superfluous.
I have more trouble understanding this human behavior than any other that we are prone to — the ability to discard another life because it is no longer convenient or “new and shiny.” Dogs are not toys that can have their batteries taken out when they make too much noise, nor can those batteries be recharged when they start to run down. How someone can drop their old dog off at a shelter without a twinge of conscience regarding the fate of the animal is absolutely beyond me, and makes me so angry that there are almost no words. The fact of the matter is that dogs over a certain age have much less of a chance of finding another home than a younger dog, and so the fate of many of the abandoned senior dogs is not a happy one.
This Christmas, please consider what it would be like to be dropped off at an unknown and scary place, and separated from the people you love; what it would be like to be ushered into a concrete cell with no warm bed or prospect of cuddles. And ultimately, what it would be like (having spent so long in that cell that you have started to lose your mind due to lack of affection and companionship) to be restrained on a table by strangers and given an injection that will end your life.
This is the fate of far too many senior dogs whose families have dumped them at Christmas. I adopted Darcy (who was an 11-year-old beagle) in January four years ago, and she spent the remaining years of her life with me, until she passed away at the age of 15. She was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
As the idiom goes, “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.” In the same vein, “A dog is for life, not to be abandoned at Christmas.”
Responsibility is not just feeding and walking; responsibility is also love and compassion.

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