Make sure you have the time for new pets

Scottish SPCA's Gemma Barbour with Barney the King Snake. Picture: Dan Phillips

Scottish SPCA's Gemma Barbour with Barney the King Snake. Picture: Dan Phillips

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The festive season often leads to silly season, says Mike Flynn

Each and every year, staff at Scottish SPCA animal rescue and rehoming centres hear a wide variety of frankly ridiculous excuses from owners trying to give up their pets.

These have included a dog “making love” to cushions, not wanting their cat to ruin a new sofa soon to be delivered and a dog’s hair not matching the colour of the owner’s car upholstery.

One person had bought a terrapin thinking it was a tortoise and another said they had meant to buy an old English sheepdog online but had chosen a collie by mistake.

Perhaps the most tragic tale is when owners try to rehome their older dogs to make way for new puppies, which is an all-too familiar occurrence over the Christmas period and into the New Year.

Once we were given a hard-luck story and took in an elderly dog before discovering the owners had gone out and bought a puppy.

These excuses and stories are so absurd they may even seem made up. However, the Scottish SPCA and fellow animal rescue charities will testify they are very real – and heartbreakingly so.

We should stress that there are many owners with legitimate problems who ask us to rehome their pets and we will help if we have space and where we are concerned for an animal’s welfare.

However, our rescue centres are not dumping grounds and pets must not be seen as disposable items owners can just give away whenever they choose.

This message is particularly fitting in the run-up to Christmas, when many people and families in Scotland may be thinking of taking on a new pet and perhaps even giving an animal as a present.

It was Clarissa Baldwin who coined the famous phrase “a dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. This is a saying which can and should be applied to all types of pets.

There will no doubt be many examples of animals being given homes over the Christmas period which have been much loved and well cared for.

Indeed, new owners often purposefully choose to take on an animal during holiday seasons, when they might have time away from work to help a pet settle into their home.

Here we come to the crux of the matter. Pets, once again, should be for life and new owners must make sure they have the time, resources and commitment required.

This includes ensuring animals are fed, cared for and exercised and that vet fees can be afforded if pets become sick or injured.

It is also vital that animals are not rehomed on impulse. Throughout each year, we encourage potential new owners to consider taking on a Scottish SPCA rescue pet, most notably through our “Rescue Pets Make Great Pets” campaign.

Over the Christmas period, our centres postpone rehoming puppies and kittens precisely because we want to make sure they are not being taken on by anyone who may lose interest once the festive season is over.

The idea of a puppy at Christmas may seem very appealing but the reality can be quite different when the novelty wears off. Often early in the New Year we receive calls from people trying to rehome pets they took on over Christmas. Worse still is when these animals are simply abandoned.

At the Scottish SPCA we will always emphasise the joys and benefits of pet ownership. No one knows more than we do the happiness animals can bring to homes and families.

But our message is to think carefully about taking on a new pet and make sure it’s the right decision not just for you but also for the animal you may be taking on for its lifetime.

• Mike Flynn is chief superintendent of the Scottish SPCA.

www.scottishspca.org

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