This past week I received an email from a concerned Livermore woman. A neighbor told her of plans to have Santa bring her child a dog or cat for Christmas. The child had been through a rough time and the mother thought a pet would be comfort for the child.
The letter writer had talked to the child about the Santa request. A lot of work comes with having a pet, she said. Would the child be up to providing that care? The child assured her that the pet would be, but as the child is fairly young, the woman knew that much of the responsibility will fall to the mother.
So she had the same discussion with the mother. The mom confessed that she isn't really a "pet person," and said if the pet became too much trouble, she would just ditch it somewhere and tell the child the pet ran away.
At that point in the letter, my head exploded.
I agreed to keep the details of the situation vague so as not to create a problem between neighbors, but if you are this mother, or if you share the same attitude about pet ownership, then please, listen very closely. Step away from the pet.
Buy an iPad mini or a truckload of interactive toys, but do not bring a living being into a home where it will not be valued as a breathing, sentient creature with needs that aren't always convenient for its human companions. If you do get a pet and decide you're not up for it, then do not turn it loose to fend for itself, which it probably won't do well.
Also, I'm astounded that this woman wants to give her child something to love and to receive love back, but has no regard for what the child will feel -- sorrow, blame for not taking better care of it, and loss -- when the pet "runs away."
I've no doubt that throughout the long history of domesticated animals and humans sharing accommodations, children have been promising their parents that they will care for whatever creature it is they yearn for. They have lofty goals, as well as unreasonable expectations of what the pet will do for and with them. They are earnest, but they are children.
They will forget to feed the pet, clean the litter box or the fish tank, and neglect the animal in favor of homework and baseball practice. These tasks and more will fall to the parents, who, I hope, also are earnest but who should be adults.
You better be just as willing and able to care for a pet as you care for your own children. I'm not equating children to pets, but they do share common needs of food, water and affection.
Pets are not toys, just as they aren't status symbols, fashion accessories or compensation for a bad year. They are amazing creatures with the power to make the day brighter and give you unconditional love while asking only for a few things in return.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with adopting a pet at Christmas as long as you recognize these things and accept that you, not the child, are accepting the responsibility.
So for all of you who aren't delusional, I hope you will consider adopting a cat or dog for Christmas. The shelters are overflowing with love, and what represents the spirit of the season better?
If you're like this woman, however, then I beg you to save everyone, pet and child alike, a lot of unnecessary pain and take a different route. I hear Rainbow Loom bracelet makers are popular this year.