Second wind: Making plans for the furry guests |

Second wind: Making plans for the furry guests

Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we go, driving right smack into a giant yam and marshmallow casserole. Yes, it’s coming up on holiday season again and we older family members can expect all kinds of guests – some of them with four legs.

These guests are called dogs. Some of them may belong to your adult children. Then they are called granddogs. I have five granddogs. They visit, bark at the goats next door and pee on my wall-to-wall. That’s OK.

Because as holiday social companions, dogs are stellar guests. At Thanksgiving dinner, they don’t notice if you use the wrong fork and they don’t say tactless things to the host after one too many.

They may flirt briefly with other guests, but they’ll never try to get a phone number. They clean the floor of spills, eat the leftovers without wrinkling their noses and are grateful for the hospitality. (Have you ever met an ungrateful dog? I tell you – my kind of mammal.)

Yes, dogs can decorate for the holidays in unusual ways. They may throw up on the carpet and slobber ever so slightly on the upholstery. And yes, they may bark a bit, transport a flea or two and, with their tails, clear a coffee table of wine glasses faster than you can yell “No!”

Dogs perceive “No” as a command to wag the tail. So, of course, they break more wine glasses, which is yet another reason never to buy expensive glassware. Burn money instead. It’s more direct.

Doggie hospitality

A few things to consider if King is coming to visit:

Dog Dishes – It’s nice to offer water and food in some out-of-the-way spot where you won’t stumble over the water dish because you forgot it was there. You don’t want to break a hip this year. It will crumble on its own soon enough.

Dog Food – Keep it in a lidded can, unless you want to feed the mice, too.

Dog Treats – You can serve cow bones or vegetarian treats. Your kids will tell you if their dog is a vegetarian. Today, dog owners decide this, not evolution.

Leashes – In the excitement of packing for a trip to grandma’s house, these may be forgotten.

Dog Gates – If the yard isn’t fenced, think of using baby gates to keep an animal safe on the porch.

Dangerous Things – Unless you want the poodle to ignite its pompom, don’t keep candles on a low coffee table.

Accidents – It may not work to yell “Bad Dog!” because dogs seem to interpret that command as permission to do it all over again in the same spot next time they pass by.

Culture changes

Dog Crates – Don’t ask me why, but today’s young parents refuse to use a playpen – (“That means babyproofing your whole house, grandma”) – and yet they use a crate – a portable folding doghouse – for the dog indoors. I don’t get it, but I go along with a lot I don’t get – like free-range babies. So make space for the moveable doghouse.

Language – Dogs in the 1950’s knew the commands “sit,” “lie down” and “shake.” They ignored them. Dogs today are more literate and know even more commands to ignore. You may hear their owners say “off,” “drop,” “take it,” “kennel up,” “quiet” and the intriguing command, “potty.” Which means go on command.

Pardon my cynicism, but ha-ha.

OK, back to the rules of dog hospitality:

If you are allergic to dogs or just don’t like them, don’t issue the invitation, but your dog-loving friends will make you pay. Maybe not now, but someday. So when they invite just you and ask you to leave your family at home, you’ll know where they got the idea.

Last, please remember that dogs can make older people fall. If you are visiting a very frail elder or one recovering from surgery, please leave the dog at home unless asked to bring it. Because a little dog can trip people if they forget he is around. A large dog can knock them over. And a fall is not what anyone wants for the holidays. Or ever. The old song is not…. “Over the river and through the woods to the ER we go.”


The author of four nonfiction books, gerontologist Mel Walsh has a new book of advice for the 50+ woman coming out in March – “Hot Granny,” published by Chronicle Books. Write Mel at or at 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, CA 95945. More info at

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