It is the same thing Christmas after Christmas. Among a throng of otherwise welcome gifts, all of us get some present we don't want. Most of the unwished tokens can be stuck away in a drawer or dropped into the ashcan or, at best, put by for another year and then palmed off on someone else.
But there is one mighty exception. That exception is the Christmas Gift Dog.
He can't be hidden away and forgotten. Often he cannot be passed on to someone else. He is there. He must be fed and watered and exercised and trained. It is a delight to do all these things for him - or her - if you are fond of dogs and understand them and have a suitable place wherein to keep one.
But is you aren't fond of them and don't want a dog and can't provide
for such a pet, it is a minor tragedy for you and a very major tragedy
for the dog. It is of the dog, rather than of you, that I am thinking
in this article of mine.
Christmas time, for some reason is the accepted season for dog-giving. I receive perhaps ninety letters, during December, from people who want to buy a Sunnybank collie puppy as a Yule gift for some relative or friend. The letters go unanswered. I won't sell Christmas pups. It would be more merciful, often, to shoot them. Next to an unwanted child, an unwanted gift-dog is the most pitiful of helpless creatures.
Make certain the recipient not only desires greatly such a present, but has the brain and heart and the time to take sane care of it, and suitable quarters for its housing, before you give a Christmas dog. You will sleep the sounder for this caution, if you have any understanding or pity. In brief, my expert advice, two times out of three, to a would-be giver of a Christmas dog is - DON'T.
In the third instance, try first to find out what dog is suitable for the quarters to be provided for it. If the recipient lives in a city apartment, don't give a big dog. The average big dog is as out of place in a cooped-up city flat as a hawk in a canary cage.
If the beneficiary lives in the country or has a home in the suburbs
with grounds ample enough to minimize the danger of the gift's death under
the wheels of a motorcar, that is the place for German Shepherd ("police")
dog or for a collie or bird dog or for any other of the big breeds.
Incidentally, it is the place for Airedale or Irish terrier or for one
of the larger varieties of spaniel. There is elbow room and breathing
room for animals which need much space. To keep them in more cramped
quarters is a refined form of torture.
There are certain kinds of dogs which seem to have been made by Nature for the benefit of children gentle and wise enough to appreciate them. For instance, the Boston terrier, the cocker spaniel, the gallant Scotty, the Sealyham, the Cairn. Any or all of these can live comfortably in a city apartment, given the right food and enough daily exercise. I don't say they are better for such hemmed-in surroundings; but they can endure the false environment more easily and healthfully than could a larger and more active dog. The Peke and the Pom might be added to this list, but for their occasional hairtrigger nerves and a semi-occasional tendency to resent undue romping. They are dogs for city grown-ups.
Yet - when I see a tired little Peke parading down Fifth Avenue in the
crowds and noise and dirt, by the side of an overdressed woman who is not
bothering to accomodate her snappy stride to the powers of his four stumpy
and over-exerted legs, and who yanks him along with a vertebra-jerking
pull on the leash whenever he lags or halts - well, let it go at that!
I suppose the S. P. C. A. is too busy to watch for such petty cruelties.
There is one thing worse: namely, to give him too little exercies and too
much food. More dogs die from under-exercise than from over-exertion.
Infinitely more of them die from too much food than from too little of
Please do not get the idea that I am advising you not to give a dog as a Christmas gift. I am only asking you to use common sense in regard to the gift. It is because of the dearth of common sense, among most humans, that I refuse to sell Christmas collie puppies; even as I refuse to sell collies to anyone living in a big city. If you have a friend who craves a dog and who can keep a dog and who is likely to give it sane and kindly treatment, there is no more desirable and delightful gift in the world.
But you would not give a watch to a blind man or a radio to an acquaintance who is stone deaf or a bottle of perfume to someone whose sense of smell is gone. In like manner, it is criminally foolish and foolishly criminal to give a dog to someone who does not want it or who has not the surroundings or the intelligence to keep it rightly.
Nothing else can form and develop gloriously needful traits in a child as can a dog of its own. On the other hand, there is nothing else which can develop a child's latent traits of cruelty and bullying as can the possession of a helpless puppy. It depends wholly on the parents whether their child shall learn patience and common sense and kindliness and consideration and protectiveness from the gift-dog; or whether the dog is to be tortured and neglected and illtreated. In the latter case, the poor puppy is not the ultimate loser; but the child itself. Soon, the pup will die. Its troubles will be at an end. But the child's newborn love of tormenting and of domineering and of petty tyranny will live on - to be wreaked some day on human victims.
Yes, that may sound far-fetched to you. But I have taken the trouble, more than once, to prove its truth.
When I was six years old, my father gave me a pointer puppy. It occurred to me that it would be vastly amusing to pick the pudgy youngster up by his long ears and swing him to and fro in pendulum fashion. I did so. The puppy squealed most entertainingly. My father came out on the lawn, behind me. I did not know of his presence until he lifted me high in the air by my own ample ears, and swung me to and fro. It hurt horribly, and I bellowed like a smitten bull-calf. He set me down, without a word, and went back into the house. As I stood there howling and wishing he were dead, it dawned on me by degrees that the luckless pointer pup had suffered exactly the same pain from my playful antics as I had suffered from my father's punishment. I remember it as vividly as though it had happened yesterday. It impressed me as no lecture or spanking could have done. For some reason, it cured me forever of any impulse to cause suffering in others for my own amusement. I think I began, unconsciously, my study of dog nature from that hour. Perhaps this was an extreme case with an extreme penalty. But it shows what I am driving at in this preachment.
The Christmas dog can be made a joy or a tragedy, according to the instincts of the recipient. It is the most ideal gift or the worst gift in all Santa's pack.
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