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Pets as gifts

By Gay Published: November 30, 2009

You’ve heard it dozens of times, but as the holidays are on us, it bears repeating—and it is important enough to give some thought to it: Don’t give pets as gifts, unless you are sure about the animal and the recipient.

Many years ago, my husband, my brother and sister-in-law, and I had an opportunity to receive, free of charge, a four- year- old Norwegian Elkhound. She had won all kinds of best-in-breed shows, her grandfather won Westminster, and she was a gentle, well-behaved and loving dog. I had come upon this gem quite by accident. I was taking some kind of needlework classes, and one of the other students happened to be a wealthy woman who bred these gorgeous dogs. If you have ever seen a Norwegian Elkhound, you are missing a great dog experience. As the name implies, this medium –sized dog was bred to bring down elk. Their bodies are compact, they are fast, and they are smart. My oldest son was only five or six when we acquired the dog for my mother, and he said, “ Taringa has no wasted space.” He was right: Everything about her was perfectly put together, and she had a sweet disposition.

The woman, who, over years, had sold dogs to extremely famous people, was herself famous for ‘checking out the premises’ of the place her beloved pups would reside. I am pretty sure she had a private investigator checking out the character of the potential owners. She was very picky, but wouldn’t it be great if all breeders were? We became friendly, and I said I’d like to look at her dogs. The dog I had had in my high school years, a Border Collie, had aged and become sick, and Mother had her euthanized. We were all heart-broken, but Mother especially. My Dad travelled a lot, and Be-No was Mother’s constant companion. She was all alone in the house now. I thought she needed a new dog.

Glenna, the breeder, said she knew my Mother, and she knew that her property was wooded, large, and securely fenced, and she had been inside and there was nothing that would be injurious to dogs.

“Wow!” I thought. “Passed the first tests!” The next was a visit to her kennels, digs I would have been excited to live in. I bonded with all the animals. So now it was on to step three.

Husband, brother, his wife, and I took a trip to Glenna’s house. All the way there, we were saying.”Ok, we’re not going to act excited, we’re not going to jump and just shell out the money.” Each of us had $400, not having the faintest idea that her justly famous Elkhounds sold for a minimum of $2,000.
Entering the house, we were met by little bits of puppyhood—they were, as all puppies, adorable, and any ideas of being careful went out the window. The house was amazing. Not only was it beautiful, but there were microscopes everywhere so that the dogs’ feces could be examined to determine they had no worms. In the living room, in the corner of an enormous, gorgeous, antique Persian rug was a kind of boxed off area. That, Glenna explained to us, was where these latest pups had been whelped.

She bade us sit down, and we did, and she began telling us about a female whose family returned her because they were moving overseas, and it would be a year in quarantine for Taringa. We talked about the puppies and said we had twelve hundred dollars. She didn’t laugh or say, “oh, you are about a MINIMUM of eight hundred short!” Taringa was sitting quietly in the living room, and each of us called her and she sat politely while we petted her soft, soft fur.

“Now, what I propose,” Glenna told us, “is that you take Taringa for your mother. She is a well-behaved dog, and your mother won’t have the hassle of puppyhood, house-breaking teaching commands and so on.” She told us that Taringa needed a few more entries in order to win her whatever-- some kind of standing that is difficult to earn and is a credit to the breeder. She wanted us to allow Taringa to enter these competitions, and the drives were not too long, but if we didn’t want to go, she’d take her.

“I’m going to give this dog to your mother without charge, because it is doing me and Taringa and her former family a favor.”

“We’ll take her!” I said, even though we agreed we going to talk it over. No one spoke up, so we put her in the car with us and delivered her to Mother and Dad.

She settled in beautifully, and she was gentle with our children. In fact, our five year old son showed her in a little competition in the town my parents lived and she won first place. He had learned to walk her around, hold her tail ,and how to best show her to advantage. My sister-in-law learned how to put Taringa through her paces and took her to the competitions, where Taringa—no surprise—won all the awards the breeder had wanted her to have.

She was a wonderful companion. Quiet, loving, and very well-behaved, she was, my Mother said, “The nicest dog I have ever had. But Gay, you should never buy another person a dog. Dog and person have to like one another.”

She was right. It turned out well for my parents and Taringa, but you should NOT buy a puppy or a kitten for a friend, your uncle, your parent. It may be all right to buy a child a much-wanted pet, but before that happens, you need to discuss what the child’s duties are. An older child should change the cat litter box, clean the poop from the yard or pen, walk the dog, play with it and the cat, teach it basic commands. The animal must have water at all times, and you must be sure that your child is old enough and gentle enough to be around an animal. If your kid is afraid of dogs, don’t get him/her one in the hope the dog will alleviate fears—everyone, especially the dog, will suffer greatly. If your great-uncle is a curmudgeon and lonely and hates cats, for goodness’ sake, don’t bring home a kitten expecting him to change his ways. He won’t, and the cat may end up sick, hurt or dead.

Animals and people can fall in love at first sight, but a person is going to love a dog only if it is the kind s/he likes. If you buy the wrong kind of breed for a person, both will be unhappy. Don’t get an energetic retriever whose idea of heaven is a six mile walk every day for a couch potato. If your boyfriend thinks a hunting dog is the most wonderful animal in the world, don’t present him with a toy poodle.

Animals are wonderful to have and good for teaching a child responsibility. But if your child is not a responsible person, please don’t think to teach him/her how to become one with an animal. It’s a living creature and deserves to be treated lovingly.

And think of searching for your new pet in an animal rescue. There are wonderful dogs and cats yearning for a home. These lost animals, the ones who somehow were tossed aside, wandered off and couldn’t return home—whatever—are, it has always seemed to me, especially grateful to find a forever family.

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