Guest blog by Mary Dell Harrington, co-founder of the parenting blog Grown and Flown.
'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse; The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. (Clement Clark Moore, A Visit from St. Nicholas)
Clement Clarke Moore’s poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, is a Christmas tradition that never grows old. I think of his lines while I carry boxes of ornaments from the attic and begin to decorate hearth and home. When it is time to place the pine roping over the mantle and hang the stockings, I do so “with care” for everyone in our family, including, of course, our dogs.
Once the tree is up and decorated and the stockings in place, we are ready for the holidays. Soon, kids will be home from school for winter break and we will greet out-of-town family with big hugs. Amidst the merriment, though, households can easily tip into a state of festive chaos giving family pets plenty of opportunities to find trouble. With snacks spread out on coffee tables—at perfect grazing height for dogs—and suitcases overflowing in guest rooms, inquisitive pups will search for both edible and non-edible treats.
Our family’s pack now includes eight-year-old Moose (pictured above with his stocking) who has been known to snatch many a peanut butter sandwich left carelessly on a counter. Our younger dog, four-year-old Gus, has an unfortunate taste for socks.
This holiday season, amidst the presents and the feasts, the cards and the decorations, I plan to use Moore’s poem as a way to remind my family that our dogs cruise for their own Christmas treats. For Gus’s sake, I will ask them to please remember to hang their stockings and, especially their socks, with care.
He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, And away they all flew like the down of a thistle. But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight— “Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!” (Clement Clark Moore, A Visit from St. Nicholas)
You might recall I shared our dog Hayley’s story about being diagnosed with diabetes a couple of months ago. Since her diagnosis, it has been very difficult to control her blood sugar levels. Although her vet, Dr. Beverly, has been diligent about Hayley’s course of treatment and implementation of her daily insulin, her blood sugar remains high despite us having increased her insulin doses.
Dr. Beverly informed me that since Hayley’s diabetes was so challenging to control, she likely had an underlying problem—and testing revealed that the problem is Cushing’s disease. Cushing’s disease is an adrenal-dependent or pituitary-dependent tumor that causes excess production of the hormone cortisol, along with a host of symptoms including increased thirst and urination, pot-bellied abdomen, skin moles, infections or flakiness, thin skin and loss of fur. Hayley’s Cushing’s case is pituitary dependent. She has gone on a daily medication that should eventually help control her diabetes. Just a few days ago, she began displaying symptoms of a urinary infection—a common effect of diabetes—and was given antibiotics.
Our little Hayley is having a tough time. There has scarcely been a week that we haven’t been to the vet. Yet through it all, if you saw her, you might never know she was sick. She is eating (voraciously), running around, spunky, happy—just like her old self. Her high spirits have helped our family absorb her diagnosis. She is the sweetest little thing, this little girl who came from an abusive past. She happily endures her insulin shots and pills.
I’m learning so much about Cushing’s disease and how common it is in certain breeds of older dogs. Our veterinarian has been so informative, patient and helpful over these past few months. He calls with Hayley’s test results and explains everything in detail, always willing to listen and answer questions. Hayley has a team of people pulling for her—and I think she feels our support.
Access Hollywood Live Co-Host and Access Hollywood Correspondent Kit Hoover brings enthusiasm to every story and celebrity she covers—but her greatest passion is for her family and her rescue animals. Hoover and her husband Crowley Sullivan live in Los Angeles with their three children (daughters Campbell, 12, and Hayes, 11, and 7-year-old son Crowley) and four rescue pets: cats Prince Harry and Button, Pickles the bunny, and Dr. Disco Bubbles the guinea pig. Hoover’s dedication to rescue animals is life-long, starting during her childhood in Atlanta.
Oh my goodness, I was raised in home that you could almost call “the farm.” We had tons of animals, and we rescued all of them—particularly German shepherds, because there was a huge German shepherd rescue in our suburb. Max was our pet, but we would house all of them until they could find homes. Many of the dogs had dysplasia in their back legs, so people who loved them as puppies didn’t want them when they got older. We’d find great homes for them.
I have an amazing story about Max. For a week before he died, Max couldn't walk or move his back legs. Suddenly one morning he got up, walked over to my brother and me, and licked our faces. Then we got on the school bus and he passed away that day.
Of course, my mother has a whole bunch of other stories that may or may not be true, like how he grabbed me by the diaper and stopped me from walking into the fireplace—there’s plenty of Max folklore in our family!
We also had two rescue cats. Growing up, I didn’t even know that such a thing as pet stores or buying pets even existed.
What did you learn from having a pet as a child?
Living with Max was the first time I experienced the unconditional love, support and protection that you get from a rescue animal. I think when you rescue an animal, it’s as if they know what you did for them, and the loyalty, support and love they give you is overwhelming. It’s like they’re saying, “I know what you did, and thank you so much.”
If you’ve never had a pet, you don’t know what you’re missing. We just had Betty White on the show, she’s 92 years old, and we talked about Pontiac, her rescue golden retriever. He’s her life. It’s amazing the way animals make such a difference in your life.
Did you always know you’d have pets when you had a family of your own?
It was a no-brainer that we were going to have pets. We rent a home in California, and they said we couldn’t have dog—but they didn’t say anything about other animals! So we’ve rescued three kittens, a bunny and a guinea pig!
I love pets for children because it teaches them responsibility and kindness. They pick them up, cuddle them and worry about them. It’s the greatest thing to watch them care about a living, breathing creature. My girls were in charge of cleaning the bunny’s cage and making sure there’s enough food and water. Of course, now that they’re back in school, I’m stepping up my duties! Yes, there’s work involved, but the play and fun are the best part. My kids all have their own Instagram accounts, so Dr. Disco Bubbles is big on social media.
Why do you support the work of the ASPCA?
It’s such a wonderful organization that does great work raising awareness for all these animals. I can’t imagine the thought of buying an animal when there are so many great animals that need rescue. And don’t even get me started on animal cruelty! I love an organization that works on behalf of shelter animals and helps find them homes.
The best bumper sticker I ever saw about rescue animals said, “Who rescued whom?” I love that! It’s such a winning combination: You will come out so far ahead if you rescue an animal.
Guest blog by ASPCA Volunteer Manager Julie Sonenberg, mom of one daughter and two dogs in New York City.
The holidays can be a stressful time for everyone, including your pets. Throughout the holiday season, human family members may have less time than normal to spend with pets, and there may be times when company comes over and there is a flurry of activity. During this hectic time, it’s best to keep an eye out to see how your pet responds and to give her the space she needs. You may want to use baby gates or keep your pet in a separate room to give them space during holiday activities. If possible, set aside time for one-on-one activities for your pet to enjoy, such as providing a stuffed Kong toy or special treat. Likewise, encourage guests and kids to interact with your pets in a way that they would appreciate.
We recently brought our two dogs to a big family event including eight children between the ages of three months and 13 years. It was a challenge to make sure the dogs weren’t given too many table scraps. Our dogs like being part of the action, but of course interactions with kids should be monitored. We like to show off a couple tricks they know and answer questions about our one-eyed dog (kids ask a lot more questions about this than adults).
We also attended a gathering with five two-year-olds. The host family’s dog doesn’t feel comfortable around large groups of children, so they kept him in another room. Knowing your pet is crucial to safe and healthy relationships with visitors.
My two-year-old daughter loves visiting her aunt’s house because we get to see her cat, but the cat sometimes gets overwhelmed by this little visitor and decides to hide. I tell my daughter, “We can look for Suki, but if she’s hiding it means she doesn’t want to be pet right now and we can wave hello instead. If she’s not hiding, we can go pet her but we need to remember to be quiet and gentle, even when you get excited.”
Another consideration is to make sure that your pet wears an ID tag. This is important year round, but especially with visitors coming and going, you don’t want your furry loved one to slip out the door. When you make plans this holiday season, just give a second thought to what your dog or cat may or may not like being a part of and plan accordingly. They’re part of the family too.
Guest blog by Joel Schwartzberg, a father and cat rescuer from Chatham, New Jersey. A nationally-published author and essayist, Joel works in executive communications for the ASPCA. Learn more about his personal writing at joelschwartzberg.net.
As a kid, I grew up with a string of great dogs: a loyal German Short-Haired Pointer, a handsome and majestic Collie and an incredibly smart black Standard Poodle. I never thought twice about where they came from, or why that might even be important.
When I started talking about animal welfare issues with my own 15-year-old son Evan and his twin 12-year-old sisters Mylie and Josie, they processed it as if we were talking about astronomy. To them, the points were mostly distant and theoretical.
Even when we visited animal shelters or spent time with PetSmart’s sweet temporary tenants, the origins of these dogs and cats never really intrigued them—as if all dogs come from Dogville, and all cats from Catville.
So one day, as we passed a strip mall puppy store for the umpteenth time on our way to the bowling alley, I impulsively stopped.
“We’re going to check out the puppy situation here,” I said.
“But isn’t this the place you said was bad for puppies?” Josie asked.
“Yes, but I want to see what it’s actually like from the inside. I think it’s important to know what we’re talking about.”
We went in, and the kids immediately gravitated to the front window’s cuter-than-cute puppies who were scampering, whimpering, and begging for attention. There were only a few other items for sale. This place was all about one thing: selling puppies.
Within my kids’ earshot, I approached a saleswoman.
“Where do these dogs come from?” I asked.
“Good breeders,” she said.
“How do you know?”
“We have a list.”
“Can I see it?”
“No—we only give that information after you buy a dog.”
“So I can’t simply see the list of breeders you work with?”
“No—but they’re good places.”
“Have you visited one?”
“Visited one what?”
“One of these breeders.”
“No,” she said, as if I’d asked her if she’d ever been to the moon.
I thanked her, then called for my kids. Twice. They were reluctant to leave.
Safely back in our car, I turned to them.
“What do you think happens at the pet store when someone buys a puppy from them?” I asked, trying to sound objective.
“They get another one,” my son said.
I nodded. “Those puppies’ moms are somewhere in a very small cage, pumping out puppy after puppy—as many as they can, for as long as they can—just to keep these places in business,” I said. “That’s what a puppy mill is, and the conditions there are usually horrible and cruel. Meanwhile…”
Evan interrupted: “There are lots of dogs in shelters who already need homes.”
“Desperately,” I said.
The girls said they felt bad for the puppies they’d played with, and I sympathized.
“Those puppies deserve homes as much as any other,” I said. “But that’s why we support pet stores that work with shelters to find homes for homeless animals, not those who mass-produce puppies to make money.”
As we talked, a large family entered the puppy store, their eyes wide with excitement and anticipation. If we’d stayed, chances are good we would have seen them leave with two things: a tiny, furry animal, fresh off the conveyor belt; and a piece of paper describing an idyllic Dogville from which it came.
As we drove away, our conversation shifted away from animal issues and to thoughts about Iggy Azalea and the merits of ziti pizza.
But like many of my own childhood memories, I hope this trip sticks with them, so that when it’s time to get a companion, they're adding shelter animals to their families, instead of adding to the problem.