Gifts that eat should be avoided. That is a firm rule I’ve followed over the years. Even as a dog breeder, I tried to avoid Christmas puppies because the chaos of the holiday is not a healthy environment for introducing a new dog, and I’ve never wanted to be responsible for someone giving a puppy as a fun new “toy” only to have her be less favored in January for soiling the carpet and eating brand-new electronic devices.
And then I gave my mom a dog for Christmas.
My dad has been concerned about mom for a while. She just seemed to lose a bit of interest in life. When they married, they moved in with Dad’s parents on the family farm, and while each family had their own half of a house (with separate kitchens), Mom ended up taking care of her in-laws in their senior years. Mom was very hands-on in raising grandkids, too. She lives to be needed. At her current life stage, she’s not needed as much. In her boredom, she brought one of the barn cats inside for a pet, cut a hole in a screen window so that he could come and go as he pleased, and pampered him well. Unfortunately, she lost this cat to cancer just before Thanksgiving last year.
Dad and I decided that mom needed a dog. A dog would force her to get up off the couch and be active, and she could take a dog with her to their cabin. I mentioned as much to mom, and she was adamant that she did not want a dog, mostly for the reasons we thought she needed one. She would have to take the dog outside all the time and would have to get someone to dog sit when they went to the cabin. I told Dad I’d get her one anyway, and while he recognized that it would be more work for him up front, it was the best thing for Mom. He also wished me good luck with the gifting.
I talked this idea over with my own family, of course. What would Mom say? How would she react? What if she absolutely refused to keep the dog? We decided that whatever dog we chose for Mom would have a permanent home with us. It wasn’t fair to rescue a dog only to put her back into a shelter.
We live in a rural area, and most dogs in the shelter are big dogs. Mom needed a small lap dog to snuggle with on the couch for hours on end. She needed one she could pick up and carry easily. She needed an adult who was housebroken and wouldn’t eat their slippers. Surprisingly, this was tough to find. I searched rescues and shelters, and found that the cost of adopting a dog was sometimes more expensive than buying a purebred. I was deterred by adult dogs who didn’t get along well with children or didn’t like men. And then I found Trixie at the local humane society.
Trixie was rescued from a home with more than 80 dogs inside. We are guessing that she didn’t have contact with humans, but was rather allowed to live a feral life inside the home. She was at the shelter a month before she was deemed adoptable, and in that month she was in therapy to become a normal dog. At the time we adopted her, she would allow herself to be petted, but would tremble all over in fear. Trixie needed a lot of love in a quiet environment. Mom needed someone to need her. The two were a perfect match.
My kids and I purchased dog dishes, a collar and leash, a bag of dog food, and some treats and toys, and we delivered them, along with Trixie, to my parents’ house. Mom was less than enthusiastic, as I knew she’d be, but I asked her to give the dog a month as a trial. I assured her that we’d keep Trixie if she decided she just couldn’t keep her.
The morning after, Mom called to ask why she wasn’t eating and what she should do about it. We talked about how she was probably just afraid because of the big change in environment and the new people, and to just give her time. Mom went into “someone needs me” mode and cooked Trixie hamburger and rice. Unfortunately, she fed her too much and messes ensued, but after two days of not going to the bathroom at all, Mom was at least glad the dog’s bowels worked. Mom had a mission, and that was to get Trixie to eat dog food and pass house training.
I started getting daily calls from both Mom and Dad with updates on what Trixie was doing. “She doesn’t like peanut butter treats, but loves soft chews.” Within a few days, Dad called to say that Trixie follows Mom all over the house, but is still afraid of him. I now know that Trixie likes to sleep on top of baskets full of laundry, drops kibble into her water bowl to soften it, and peed outside for the first time within three days. And while she’s absolutely terrified of Dad (who is the kindest and most gentle man ever), she won’t bite when he picks her up, despite being so afraid that she trembles.
Mom and Dad had photos taken with Trixie for their Christmas card. It was a collage of three photos; one of the three of them, one of just Trixie, and one of a granddaughter with Trixie. The first time Trixie went to their cabin, she became car sick during the hour-long drive. She then ran up and down the stairs to the loft and wriggled in glee. I gave mom advice on medication for car sickness, and rejoiced that Trixie loved the cabin.
I no longer get daily updates regarding Trixie’s behavior or preferences, and I’m a little sad about that. I have to make a point to call and ask, but Mom won’t stop talking about her dog when I bring up the subject. Trixie has made Mom feel needed again. As I was talking to her the other week, she said she needed to apologize to me. “I’m sorry I wasn’t excited when you gave me the dog.”
“Mom, I know you didn’t want one. I didn’t expect you to be excited. I just knew you needed one,” I replied.
“I’ve always loved a project, and poor Trixie needs someone to love her. She’s still timid, but I’m patient. She’s a perfect fit. Thank you.”
It’s not smart to gift pets, but if you do, it’s important to know the person, the pet, and the situation. Trixie and Mom were meant for each other, and I’m so glad I was able to be a part of making that happen.
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About the author: Karen Dibert is a wife, mom, and dog lover living in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. She has five kids, two French Bulldogs, and a flock of useless chickens. Karen authors a pet column for her local newspaper, advocates for her son with Down syndrome, manages Louie the French Dog’s Instagram account, compulsively photographs everything, and lives in the sewing room, filling orders for her Etsy shops,The French Dog, and The French Dog Home. A snapshot of her life can be seen on Facebook.