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Joan Merriam: Make this a giving holiday

Joan Merriam

The Holiday Season is officially here, even though every year it seems to appear sooner and sooner. My parents always said that the older you get, the faster time flies — and I sure do believe them now!

This year, as you set out the festive decorations, plan your special holiday menu, find the perfect gifts for your loved ones, and plan for special get-togethers with friends and family, take time to think about helping others during this season of giving. Those “others” also include the dogs in your life, as well as dogs in need.

Here are some ideas that could help make the holidays happier for your own dog and those in your community.

I’ve said it before: giving a puppy as a surprise gift for a child is NOT a good idea. Not only is it unfair to the child — how do you know that this particular puppy is a good match to this particular child? — but it’s also unfair to the dog. Few young children understand that a new dog is a huge commitment, not just of time but of daily care, training, and nurturing. In the best-case scenario, it’s the parent who ends up caring for the dog . . . in the worst case, the special “surprise” results in one more innocent animal being sent to the animal shelter.

The holidays are also a bad time to bring a new dog into your household, simply because of all the chaos that the season brings. It has to be disconcerting for a new dog to find itself in the midst of strange people coming and going, weird twinkling lights and shiny objects on a tree that normally grows outdoors, and all kinds of luscious foods that your new caretaker says you’re not allowed to eat.

Bottom line: wait until the holidays are over to bring that new pup into your life. Think about what kind of dog will work best for your circumstances, then visit your local shelter or talk to rescue groups. You’ll discover the special joy that being the pet parent to a shelter or rescue dog can bring, and that no amount of money can buy.

If you have a dog in your life right now, how about “gifting” it with more of your time this season? In our frantic, 24/7 lives it’s easy to take for granted our animal companions, and forget how little they ask of us in return for how much they give. Pledge to give more of yourself to your dog with a few more minutes of quiet time together, petting, playing, and cuddling. If your dog likes to romp with other dogs, head to the dog park, or set up a play-date with other dogs. Take your pup for a car ride to the mountains to play in the snow, or to the ocean to dance in the waves, or just go for a leisurely walk. By spending more time with your dog, you’ll be enhancing both your lives.

While we’re on the subject of your own furry companion, make sure the holidays don’t end up with an emergency trip to the veterinarian. Keep a close eye on potential dangers like strings of holiday lights, candles, ribbons and garland, and even glass or hard plastic ornaments if your dog is an unrepentant chewer. Avoid the temptation to feed your dog people-food, especially rich, fatty foods like turkey skins, which can cause pancreatitis, and bones (especially those from poultry) that can tear or obstruct your dog’s intestinal tract. Instead, keep a supply of pet treats handy — low-cal ones like green beans and carrots if your pal is pudgy! — so your dog will feel included in the feast.

Beyond your own dog, reaching out to others can be a terrific way to bring hope and happiness into the lives of other dogs in your community. If you have a favorite animal charity, now’s the perfect time to make a special year-end donation.

Don’t toss those old blankets or towels: instead, donate them to an animal shelter or pet rescue group. The same goes for unused dog toys, food bowls, leashes and collars, beds, or grooming supplies. You can also donate food directly to shelters and animal care and rescue groups, and to organizations like Nevada County Pets in Need. Remember too that many pet stores — both local and online — have special sale items that you can purchase very inexpensively, and pass on to needy pet nonprofits.

The gift of time is especially welcome during the holiday season, when no one seems to have enough time to do anything except be in a rush. Offer to be a volunteer dog walker at Sammie’s Friends or another shelter, or to transport dogs to and from foster homes, or to be an extra pair of hands at a pet adoption day, or to help out a local pet nonprofit with a fundraising event. There’s literally no end to the number of worthy organizations that depend on people who love and care about our canine companions.

So during this special time of the year when our thoughts shift to those we love, remember those four-legged companions who love us so unconditionally. Make a gift of yourself, your resources, and your caring to help make the holidays a little brighter for yourself, the dogs in your life, and the countless dogs in need.

Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Coon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at joan@joanmerriam.com. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue .

Here are some ideas that could help make the holidays happier for your own dog and those in your community.
Metro Newspaper Service



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