At this time of year, you hear a lot about keeping your pet safe from holiday food, but you won’t hear a lot about keeping them safe from well-intentioned holiday humiliation.
Both are important.
Let’s deal with the food issues first. Many things you like to eat are bad for pets, and the merry bustle of holiday gatherings could end up allowing them a few unintended morsels to sample.
We all know not to let the dog eat macadamia nuts. They can cause paralysis, websites say. So make a note to put the dog outside when the nuts are passed around and count the nuts to make sure they’re all accounted for. Don’t give dogs hot chocolate. No grapes. No ice cream, dairy’s bad.
Oh, and don’t give cats booze. This seems self-evident; it’s like saying, “Don’t give hamsters cocaine.” Why would you? What’s wrong with you?
In other words, just because it’s the holidays doesn’t mean that the rules of biology are suspended. Feed your pets pet food, because they are animals.
There, that’s the obligatory pet-safe-holiday story. Now let’s address something less dire, but also important to your pet’s well-being.
Hats and antlers.
There are approximately 9 hundred million pictures on the internet of dogs wearing Santa caps. (That’s a rough estimate; we got tired of counting after 37.) These merry images make you go “Awwww … ” especially if it’s a cheerful pup with a loopy grin.
What you don’t see is what happened right after the picture was taken: The dog pawed that danged thing off his head because it was bothering the heck out of him.
Dogs have no context for hats.
Perhaps some dogs regard them like the thermal jackets their people make them wear, causing said dog to think: “What have I done wrong? I have done something wrong. I must remain very, very still. This strange danger may pass if I look away, and do not move my tail.”
As for the antlers, well, plenty of pet stores sell adorable felt reindeer antlers that make your dog look like one of Santa’s airborne assistants.
Here’s what we think about dogs wearing fake antlers: “Oh, look at you, how cute!”
Here’s what your dog thinks about wearing fake antlers: “I don’t understand what’s happening.” Or, if it’s one of those happy, compliant dogs not overburdened with intelligence: “Everyone is happy, now. That’s just great. I must be happy, too.”
Needless to say, we put antlers on a dog. Our first. He eventually came to accept them, but only in his dotage. On the occasion of his 18th Christmas, he wore the antlers without complaint. He lay on his bed, perhaps remembering the smells of holidays before, associating the fugue of pine and gravy and candles and stuffing with a good day, a day when he got to lick the bowl. The antlers had always been the price he had to pay.
On his last holiday, he wore them only long enough for a photo: the annual indignity. What had begun as a joke ended as a tradition, as often happens with many things we do every year.
But dogs don’t know it’s Christmas, even if you give them rawhides shaped like candy canes. To them, it’s an ordinary day: “We’re all together and there will be food and — oh boy, oh boy — what a world.”
Every day is Christmas for a dog, and they never think: “Where are the macadamia nuts? How about the grapes? And those antlers?”
Dogs, as usual, know what matters.
James Lileks • 612-673-7858 @Lileks