In the rescue world, holidays are hard for many reasons but the hardest of all is Christmas. December is “Christmas puppy” time, that time of the year when people ask us to adopt a puppy as a Christmas morning surprise. We, as most reputable rescues, do not allow surprise adoptions: Many years of experience and the number of dogs ending up at animal control a few months after Christmas tell us that is never a good idea. So what should you do if you or one of your adopters wants a surprise for their kids? Here are some ideas.
One option is to adopt before Christmas. This option is fun because having a puppy at home during the holidays is fun plus having kids at home during the key puppy training weeks is very useful. How to make it a surprise? Contact your nearest rescue and get approved for adoption. Then on the day of your appointment, make it a surprise date with your kids. Don’t tell them where you are going, show up at the place and tell them “Surprise! Let’s go pick the puppy you have been asking about!” You will be surprised how much kids love and appreciate being involved in the choice of the puppy. It is also not unlikely that the same kid who has asked for a small puppy for months, will be terrified when the puppy is jumping all over him. In these cases an older dog may be a better choice. Having kids involved in the choice also significantly increases their commitment to the dog. Our best family had the kids sign their own commitment contract with well specified duties while the parents where signing the official adoption contract. For the parents worried that the kids will choose the wrong dog and there will be no way to change their mind… that has not happened once in my life in rescue. Discuss with the rescue volunteers your worries ahead of time and explain your kids that, while they can say who they like, the rescue volunteer that will have the last word. We will happily take over the hard job to say “no” if needed. There isn’t a time that I remember when I could not steer a kid toward a different dog with a good reasoning.
If you really want the puppy to be a Christmas morning surprise, then put a box with a new leash, collars and dog toys under the Christmas tree. For smaller kids you can explain that it was too cold, or too long of a trip, for Santa to transport a puppy so he sent toys/food/dog bed instead with instructions on where to find the right puppy. You can even include a note from Santa explaining all this. Then together you can start looking at pictures on rescue websites and jointly choose your new addition. You will be surprised how much kids love to go online to look at dogs and create their short list. We often have kids coming to adoption recognizing and knowing the stories of all our dogs better than us. Choosing, dreaming about the day they will pick their puppy, and reading stories on line it is as fun as actually having a puppy. I think if we give the kids the credit they deserve the process can be fun, constructive, and assure a successful adoption.
Surprise Christmas puppies are never a good idea, but this does not mean that adopting a puppy around Christmas time cannot be a fun and surprising adventure for your kids!