It was Christmas Eve, 1967, and I was ten years old and anxiously waiting for Santa to arrive. Yes, it is a bit old to still believe in Santa, but to this day, at the ripe old age of sixty-six, I still believe. Maybe not in the physical essence of a jolly man with rosy cheeks and a cherry nose, but I believe in the spirit of Christmas and, thus, one of the symbols that is closely associated with the holiday, which is Santa.
I still remember my dad asking me on Christmas Eve, if I were to get a puppy for Christmas, what would I name it? Without hesitation, I replied, “Lucky, because I would be so lucky to have a dog.” A couple of hours later, my dad returned from running an errand and walked into the family room. He placed a small salt and pepper puppy on the floor and said, “Meet Lucky.” I was ecstatic, for I had been asking for a puppy since I was five. Waiting half of your life for something you really want is a significant accomplishment for a young child. Lucky was the best Christmas gift I had ever received, and as I have mentioned, he was with me until I was 32 years old—twenty-two years with the best gift and friend ever.
Has a new pet joined your family this Christmas or Hanukkah? How is it going with your new addition? Are you ready to admit defeat and return the animal to the animal shelter or breeder? Let me give you one word of advice: Don’t.
Do not give up on a pet, regardless of the pet’s age. They need to acclimate to their unfamiliar environment and home. It takes three days for a pet to settle down and investigate their new surroundings. It takes them three weeks to feel less fearful and more at ease. It takes three months for them to feel like they are family and to understand expectations. Now, just because they know what is expected of them does not mean they will behave accordingly.
When I worked at the shelter, we would have people return animals they adopted just before Christmas because they did not fit well with their families. No one was allergic, and the animal did not bite anyone. The animal just didn’t fit in. This type of reasoning is prevalent at Christmas time and year-round. The return rate of animals given as gifts is no greater than that of animals adopted without the intention of gifting the animal. One thing people always need when introducing a new pet into a household is patience.
As noted above, it can take three months for an animal to feel welcome and safe. Pet owners need to allow their pets to adjust. Some pets need two to three years to adjust before they evolve into the perfect pet.
I have gone through the adjustment period with many dogs. Labs and Golden Retrievers will usually be a handful until they reach around thirty months of age. Then, as if someone had flipped a switch, the dog is suddenly a perfect pet. Listens, obeys, respects, plays nice with others, and more. Unfortunately, many pet owners never make it to this level. They give up and surrender the animal to an animal shelter. The following week, a new prospective pet owner visits the shelter and adopts the same dog.
Once home with their new best friend, the new owner will say, “Why would anyone surrender this dog? He’s perfect!” I know this to be true because four times that I have adopted, this was the scenario, and I inherited a near-perfect dog.
Although challenging, my experience with Mini-Cooper (who is on a diet because he’s starting to look like Maxi-Cooper) was similar to my other dogs, not yet thirty months old. Cooper was just a year old when I adopted him, and it took another 14 months until he settled into being a very good dog. He still has moments, but overall, he is much better than when I first brought him home.
I could have given up on Cooper and returned him to the shelter, but then I would miss the joy he now brings to our family. I can’t imagine him not being with us.
My point of this column is to strongly suggest that all pet owners give their new pets the time they need to go from a troublesome random guest to a well-behaved, treasured family member. Patience is the most important gift you can offer to your new pet. Over and beyond the walks and treats, new pets need patience from their owners. Please, adopt, don’t shop, and be patient. You will see a miraculous transformation in a couple of years.
Barry KuKes is the former Community Outreach Director of Halifax Humane Society. E-mail him at bkukes @gmail.com View more of his work at minicoop erproductions.com