Tuesday 23 January 2018

Dilemmas: Should I cave in and get my young son a puppy for christmas

Dear Virginia, My partner wants to give our son a puppy for Christmas.

He’s only seven but longs for a dog. I feel he’s too young and the walking and feeding will all be down to me, as I work part-time. They promise they’ll look after it, but we live in a flat and I dread it becoming lonely and unwanted after the puppy stage. I have no interest in animals — but I’m not cruel. I fear it’s just a craze that my son and his dad share. How can I dissuade my partner from getting him one?

Yours Sincerely, Susie

What Virginia says:

I have to say I can't imagine how you've even got to the point of discussing this. Even if your son and partner did take over all the walking and feeding and taking it to the vet -- which is highly unlikely -- the dog would still have a miserable life, stuck on its own most of the day in a flat, with only someone indifferent to animals for company part of the time.

What would happen if it had a road accident, or, heaven forbid, snapped at someone else's child? Some dogs live for around 15 years, by which time your son would be 22. I doubt if he'll be returning from university daily to care for his dog, however much he loves him.

I'd turn the argument around and say, simply, that to have a dog would be cruel to the dog. Not only that, but it would be pretty cruel to you, too. A loved dog becomes a member of a family. You are a member of that family and you don't want a dog living in your home.

Not only that, a dog is expensive. It's worth working out exactly how much it might cost you each year, not only in dog food, but vet's bills and kennelling if you ever want to go away. It's estimated a dog costs around €22,000 during its lifetime.

I'd compromise. Say you might consider a puppy once your partner and son have proved themselves with, say, a hamster. If, after a year, they've taken responsibility for everything then you'll think again.

With any luck, they'll either have realised what a tie and drain having a pet is -- any kind of pet.

Readers say:

Start in summer

The best time for a child to get a puppy is the first week in July, when he has his two months' holiday from school. The child himself (because it is going to be HIS dog, not yours or his Dad's) should be given responsibility for the dog's care including feeding, taking it for walks, cleaning up excrement and training the dog to go to the toilet outside -- which should hopefully be done by September when he returns to school. Is your son old enough to take on this level of responsibility?

Cait, by email

Wait until he's older

I know how Susie feels, as I had the same problem many years ago. I told my husband and daughter they should wait until she was old enough to take responsibility for the dog herself. We got her a puppy when she was 12 and she looked after him very well. When she went away to college I had to take over, but by this time I had got very fond of him! He lived for 17 years.

P Cohen, by email

Borrow a dog

Your local cat and dog shelter will have lots of dogs that need walking regularly. Why not suggest that your partner and son walk a dog from a shelter every Saturday and Sunday, come rain or shine, for a set period? You can agree to discuss the issue again after that.

D Power, Dublin 7

Try a virtual dog

Some years ago our child asked for a pet. Fearing, like Susie, that the responsibility of caring for a pet would fall on the stay-at-home parent, my husband bought our child a Tamagotchi -- the electronic toy pet. If, he said, that Tamagotchi is still "alive" in a month's time, we will get a real pet. It wasn't, and we didn't.

L Walsh, By email

They're ganging up

I'm afraid the two men in Susie's life are ganging up on her and making her feel guilty. But Susie must resist. It would be bad for the boy for her to give in to demands that he must know are unreasonable. But I wonder why the boy wants a puppy so much. What gap in his life does he think it is going to fill? Perhaps they could address this need, and come to some other way of satisfying the boy's longing.

M Jones, By email

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