I continued my publicity tour for Bespotted last week and encountered a question I did not find surprising, but which was unanticipated nevertheless. ”After the re-release of 101 Dalmatians,” asked a member of the audience at a bookstore reading, “wasn’t there a run on the breed that resulted in nasty temperaments and a lot of inbreeding? As the author of a book on this kind of dog, what do you think?”

I objected to the characterization of Dalmatians as nasty, and said what was most sorry about the movie’s popularity was that hundreds of this breed were shoved into kill shelters, or abandoned by the side of the highway, because so many had bought them without researching what they required in terms of care, exercise and attention.

Puppies and Christmas don’t mix. Unless you are the breeder…Here’s my friend Vania, with Mac, right after the litter was born at our house.

Or, they had given them as well-intentioned gifts around holiday time, thinking that they were buying a photogenic, malleable puppy. But as the pup matured these ill-informed people discovered they owned a full-grown dog with full-grown needs that needed a lot more than mere cuddling.

When I was raising my third litter of Dals, I got a phone call from a woman and her daughter who were looking for a puppy. They came to the house and although they initially maintained that the pup was to be for the daughter as her companion, it developed that in actuality he was to be a present to cheer up the husband, who was, the wife said, suffering from a midlife crisis. As I politely–and quickly–ushered them out the door, never to be seen again, I privately thought that she should better bleach her hair blonde and buy him a Ferrari.

Every part of this story applies to more than my favorite breed, of course. It extends to all kinds of dogs, purebred and mixed breed as well. A dog will live with you, and demand of you–in his relatively small way–over a long period of time, and he can’t be sent away to boarding school. It won’t be as easy as a trip for a rabies shot, or whether he can beg for a cookie. It will mean training, discipline, love, friendship, expensive veterinary bills, and above all dedication–the kind you usually reserve only for a child or an elderly parent.

And here we are again, nearly at Christmas-time, facing the age-old and ubiquitous quandary of what to give our loved ones as a present. Despite my viewpoint and my arguments, the person in the audience at my reading insisted that if you couldn’t give a puppy as a holiday present, surely one should provide a gift certificate that entitled the recipient to get a puppy afterwards. I bit my tongue and did not offer up the selfish thought that rather than buying someone a puppy for Christmas, he would be smarter to purchase Bespotted.

How odd that I couldn’t convince this man that a dog is a commitment. A dog requires your love, attention, and total willingness to offer up your “innermost you.” A dog often lives for thirteen to fifteen years, so you’d better be ready for what is always a long-term relationship.

Don’t go to a breeder, or a pet shop, or even a rescue, looking for a birthday or Christmas present for someone you know, no matter how close he or she may be, or for yourself either. Do everyone concerned a big favor, especially the dog, and refrain from such impulsive purchases. Puppies deserve more than pretty paper and a bow. A dog is a gift, one that will enrich your life for some time to come–but only if you are ready to give the gift of yourself.

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