Holidays in our family wouldn’t be the same without pets: standard poodles in reindeer antlers, a pit bull in a fisherman’s sweater and light up Christmas collar, an otherwise proper relative (identity hidden to avoid coal in my stocking this year) startled into yelling “Crotch Dog!” at the holiday feast. Ah, the memories.
Then, there is the flip side of four-footed family reunions. Dodging dogs while lifting heavy trays from a hot oven, an unplanned trip to the store for pet stain remover for carpets (for the rental house with pets forbidden on the lease), the chemical warfare waged by the dog with dietary intolerances who gets into his “cousins’ ” food.
Blog posts about safe travel with pets and holiday pet hazards are as ubiquitous as cherries in fruitcake this time of year. But people rarely seem to write about the hazard of an exasperated host wanting to serve pet and owner as the main course.
Let’s peek into the wrappings of successful pet visits with stocking stuffers for both hosts and guests.
A basic tenet of hosting is to ensure the comfort and safety of your guests. Unless you’re Dorothea Puente, for most human guests, it’s pretty easy – bed, indoor plumbing, food, soft toilet paper. If your visitors are of the four-footed variety, you can get away with economy toiletries, but you may want to take a few other steps to keep everyone’s holiday merry and bright.
- Keep the holiday sweet – stash food and baking supplies out of canine and feline reach. If you aren’t used to having pets in the house, this may take some rethinking. That candy bowl on the bookshelf? It isn’t high enough. The turkey on the table? Assign it a body guard. The kitchen trash? I don’t care how tired and full of fruitcake you are, take it out before you collapse. The alternative is NOT the festive morning scene you’ve envisioned. Many foods are not only pet nuisances, they can be downright dangerous to animals.
- You don’t have to provide a bed for your furry visitors, but it’s a good idea to map out areas of the house that are on or off limits to pets and determine in advance among the human participants how these boundaries will be maintained. This helps avoid the awkward, “Your incontinent, geriatric pit bull just peed on my bedroom carpet and wandered off with a tree from your niece’s diorama” discussion. (Not that I’d know anything about such topics…)
- Saying “Second door on the left” and providing soap, towels, and the afore-mentioned squeezable paper product will probably meet most of your human guests’ lavatory needs. However, accommodating Fido or Mittens may take a bit more finesse. If you have pets of your own, you’ll want to be careful to avoid having them feel that strangers have settled into their throne rooms with newspaper in hand and locked the door. Again, this is something you’ll want to coordinate with the human guests in advance. If your cousin is bringing his cat, will he also bring the cat’s litter box and preferred litter? I assure you, (again, totally not based in personal experience) that this is not a safe assumption. If your siblings are bringing dogs, find out where they are accustomed to doing their business. If it’s in your back yard, make sure to discuss any fence issues and sort out who will remove any deposits before they arrive. You do not want to hear your child say “There’s dog poop all over the back yard!” as everyone is loading into the car to go home.
- At dinner, a good host avoids seating Uncle Bob the gun enthusiast next to Hilary the feminist studies major taking the year off to work for Greenpeace. Likewise, it’s wise to take precautions to ensure animal harmony. If you have pets of your own or multiple furry companions are visiting, take some time to figure out which members of the non-hominid branch of the family are likely to view others as appetizers rather than as engaging companions. Then figure out how you will manage this menagerie. It may not be as simple as distracting Uncle Bob with the pie.
Guests need to think hard about the impact of their pets on the host's family and household.
- Look deeply into a mirror before you pack. Will it be in everyone’s best interests, including his, for you to bring your pet on this trip, or would he really be better off with a responsible sitter or in a good boarding facility? I know that he will miss you terribly, and no one can look after him as well as you can, but does he really want to ride 10 hours in the car to be told every 5 minutes to get out from under the table? If he has medical issues such as a recent surgery or need for regular medication, might he be better off being boarded where the holiday festivities don’t mess with his recuperation or timing of pills or shots? How good is your pet with other animals and strange children? No, really. How good?
- Pack your own Charmin. Well, pack the equivalent. See the above paragraphs regarding cat box and litter. Do not be the relative who shows up at 9 p.m. and is confused by the fact that the family members who haven’t had a cat in 15 years don’t have a litter box waiting for Fluffy. If you have dogs, bring a supply of “yule log” collection baggies.
- BYOK(ibble). Pets by definition have special dietary needs. If you believe that your pet can or will “eat anything,” it would probably be a good idea to review his diet next time you’re chatting with your veterinarian.
- Exercise restraint. Even if your dog responds brilliantly to voice command or you have the best-behaved housecat ever, remember that you are taking them to new, probably chaotic, and frightening surroundings. Remember how you wanted to flee the first time you met your in-laws? All three generations of them? That’s how your pet feels. And he doesn’t care if you make him sleep on the sofa when you all get home. Bring leashes for dogs and carriers for cats and be prepared to use them inside and outside.
- Consider renting a room. Finding a pet friendly motel can smooth out a number of visiting bumps. You score the king bed rather than the air mattress on the living room floor, and Fido gets his own space and can eat dinner without having to fight off his fuzzy cousins.
Keep the holidays merry and bright rather than red of tooth and claw. When you discuss who is bringing the glazed ham and whether you will let Aunt Martha make fruitcake again this year, also remember to talk pets. If you have them and are considering bringing them, be honest with your hosts about any particular quirks or needs. (Fido gets food possessive, so he shouldn't be fed in the same room as their pets. Mittens is scared to death by the noise of coffee bean grinders and tends to climb the nearest tall thing when she hears one, so Uncle Bob’s toupee could be at risk.) Let your hosts know how you plan to minimize the havoc wrought on the household by your extended-limbed family. Follow through.
If you are hosting a holiday, be honest about what you can and can’t accommodate. Do you really have room for your family’s furry children in addition to their two-legged ones? Are you still fuming in the dark over the pee-stain on your carpet from last time? If you have doubts, express them in advance. Resentment is a lousy flavoring for eggnog.