Dear Santa: Words of Wisdom From Becker College Veterinarian

WORCESTER, Mass., Dec. 6, 2018 /PRNewswire/ --

Dear Santa:

I'm writing to you as the mom of three boys who would absolutely love a puppy for Christmas.  Oh, the joy a puppy would bring on Christmas morning.  It would be priceless!  Our dog, Biscuit, an 8-year-old beagle mix, is a celebrity in our house, outranking mom and dad on a regular basis.  Santa, the boys have been so good this year, and I say that with a forgiving heart and not the heart of a mom who just last weekend reminded the little one that throwing snowballs inside the house is a violation of the rules.

But here's the thing, Santa.  While it would make for an epic – and yes, that's the word the boys would use – Christmas to see the joy that would erupt when a furry little puppy with a big red bow emerges from under the tree, it simply should not be.  Now I know I sound more like Ebenezer Scrooge than a kind, loving mother.  But it simply can't happen this way in our house, Santa.  Just as a stork didn't swoop down and bestow three boys on us unexpectedly one night, you should not deliver a new four-legged family member to us as a "gift".

A new pet is a new family member and should not be put in the same category as a toy car or the latest video game, which after a few hours of playtime end up in the Toy Room Hall of Fame or lost under a bed.  You see, Santa, my boys are the lucky—or unlucky—children of a veterinarian. 

If and when we do bring a new pet into our home, there will be dozens of teachable moments that will last a lifetime.  Before we decide on a pet and where we will get it, we will talk about sizes and breeds that will suit our family.  We'll talk about puppy versus dog, ultimately settling on a dog because this vet mom feels better taking in an adult dog in need of a home than a puppy who still has that adoptability advantage based on its cuteness.  As a family we will make sure the house and yard are ready to safely contain our new pet, discussing hazards the puppy may take an interest in, like electrical cords and toxic foods such as grapes, raisins, chocolate, and gum containing Xylitol.  Getting Chinese food is certainly a treat in our house.  But a wooden teriyaki skewer tops this vet mom's list of hazards because they are harmful if swallowed and cannot be seen on an X-ray.  Preparation will include a discussion about costs: adoption fees, food, supplies, flea, tick, and other preventions.  That's on top of vaccinations and unplanned veterinary costs, including surgical and emergency care.  We will consider pet insurance, the benefits, the drawbacks, and how it will add to our monthly bills.  We will discuss how we hope this new dog will have the same calming presence that Biscuit has, assisting with moments of anxiety rampant in our house.  But we'll be realistic and understand that every dog is different.  We could end up with a nervous, loud, or destructive dog, and while training can help, there may be challenges.  Finally, we will discuss the hard realities of life; some animals encounter unexpected illness or accidents and, even when all goes well, there is still the inevitable aging process and the short lifespan of pets.

So yes, Santa, a puppy tops their list, but please ignore it.  I'll take the fall for you, letting them know mom asked this wish go unanswered.  The joy of bringing a new pet into our home comes with big lessons about commitment, responsibility, love, life, and loss.

Thank you, Santa.

Julie Bailey

Julie Bailey, DVM, is Dean of Becker College's School of Animal Studies and Natural Sciences and Allerton Chair of Animal Health Sciences who spent the past 15 years as a veterinarian, working in emergency medicine and surgery.  Becker College, located in Worcester and Leicester, Mass., is an undergraduate and graduate, career-focused private college, with distinctive programs in animal studies, game design, nursing, and more.

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