Cesar hugs his dog.

Today is the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, which means that it’s the beginning of Advent. You may or may not have heard that term before, although you might know that this is when kids start opening up those calendars with the candy or toys hidden behind the little doors, one for each day leading up to Christmas.

The term “advent” actually comes from the Latin word for arrival, and the holiday refers to expectation of the arrival of Jesus as an infant in Bethlehem — Christmas. But I’m going to be looking at it metaphorically today. Think about how excited little kids can get about Christmas because it means they’re going to get big presents — and how un-exciting those little toys or candy in the Advent Calendar can appear to be because of that.

It’s easy to lose sight of the little daily gifts if we obsess too much on something big that may or may not actually arrive, and it’s this kind of thinking that can be very bad for dogs this time of year.

Owners Ditch Their Dogs

Believe it or not, there are actually far too many people who dump their older dogs in shelters right around now in expectation of the holidays. The reasons can be as trivial as not wanting the dog around while family is over or not being able to take her on vacation. There’s also the worst reason of them all: because the family is planning to get a new puppy as a present. That sounds pretty heartless and cruel, doesn’t it? That’s because it is, but it keeps happening.

Think about that for a moment. How would it look if parents gave up their toddler because they were going on vacation, or Mom was expecting again? Yet that is absolutely no different than what happens to far too many dogs this time of year — and if a family is going to dump a dog like this once, what’s to say that they won’t do it again and again?

I want to focus on the giving up an old dog for a new one part, though, because it brings up another big issue that happens this time of year: People get puppies for holiday gifts without fully planning ahead for it. Consequently, a year to a year-and-a-half from the holidays, a bunch of dogs get dumped in shelters because they’re no longer cute; they’ve become big, furry problems.

This can often happen because people don’t take the time to learn exactly what it takes to properly train a new puppy. While they’re cute and tiny, they’re also a lot of effort. Puppies require a time commitment that a household where all the members are full-time workers or students just does not have.

They also require consistency with the rules. If just one person in the house lets the puppy cheat or get away with things that are supposed to be prohibited, then all the training everyone else is doing can become useless.

Think of it like buying a car. If you have the resources to go out and buy a brand new car, then do it — but it’s not an investment you’re going to make blindly. Chances are, you’re going to look at your budget, figure out how much you can pay a month, what you’ve got for a down payment, and how much car you can afford.

Maybe you can go buy that new Tesla — or adopt that puppy. But probably you can’t, or shouldn’t. There’s nothing wrong with buying a used car, and one that’s only a year or two old is a lot cheaper than new. But it comes already broken in while still having almost as many miles left on it.

I think you can see where I’m going with this metaphor. It’s the rare family that has the time and resources to handle taking on a puppy — and the shelters are full of “slightly used” older dogs that probably come housebroken and don’t require quite as much time and attention as one that’s fresh out of the litter.

Important Things Around the Holidays

So as we wait for the holidays to arrive, the most important thing to remember is that they should never be an excuse for abandoning the dogs you already have. Adopting a pet is a commitment you make for their lifetime, and if something like a vacation would make you give them up, then you shouldn’t have pets in the first place.

Second is to research adoption as seriously as you’d considering buying a car or a house, because the investment, at least in time, is just as major — dogs can last as long as or longer than a 15-year mortgage. Ask the right questions first to determine whether you can handle a puppy or should stick with an adult dog.

Finally, the most important thing to consider is whether you want to get that new dog right now for the holidays, or wait. This time of year can be very different than any other in terms of energy, and it’s not always good to introduce a dog to a new home when everyone is excited and the regular schedule is off. If you can wait until things have calmed down in the New Year, that might be better for everyone involved, human and canine.

Dogs can be the greatest gift any family or household can ever give themselves — but it’s a present that should not be obtained on a whim or given as a surprise. It’s an investment worth researching, but if you do it right, that investment will give you an enormous return in love and loyalty.

Stay calm, and enjoy the season!

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