Ready or not, the holidays are here! Last week, my interfaith family kicked off Hanukkah, and this week we will dive into the joys of Christmas. Our home is filled with the smells of two wonderful traditions.
Regardless of the nature of your holiday plans and celebrations, there is one important detail that you cannot overlook: keeping your pets safe and happy with your guests.
The holidays are a very stressful time for pets, especially when young children are around. Holiday treats, loud noises and added excitement can present problems for our furry friends. An enthusiastic child mixed with a stressed pet is not always a good combination.
Below are three tips to keep the joy in your holiday season as you entertain young children:
2. Don’t be afraid to speak up: As a pet parent, you have a responsibility to keep your pet and those around your pet safe. If a young houseguest is negatively interacting with your pet, you should firmly and politely address the problem with the child and his or her parent. If the behavior continues, it may be best to remove your pet from the room.
3. Have an action plan: Before hosting guests this holiday season, it’s important to create a safety contingency plan. Prepare a safe, quiet room in your home where your pet can retreat—this room is a guest-free zone. Baby gates also help keep the peace. If you choose to take your pets outdoors, ensure that they do not remain outside for long periods of time. If the weather is too cold or uncomfortable for you, it’s not suitable for your pets, either.
Caroline Golon is a busy mom of two young girls and two rascally Persian rescue cats living in Columbus, Ohio. She’s passionate about animal welfare and creating happy households with both kids and pets. She’s a regular contributor to Vetstreet.com and other pet-centric sites. You can read more about Caroline’s adventures with kids and pets at her site, Crayons and Collars.
When couples who once doted on their pets become parents to human beings, the pets may get shuffled lower on the priority list. It doesn’t mean they’re loved any less, but parenting humans is tough work—it can be exhausting and all-consuming.
Yet I love my cats even more now that I have two human children. Here’s why:
They offer quiet companionship. When both of my daughters were infants and I awoke in the dead of night to feed them, I was never alone. One or both of my sweet cats would wander into the room to see what was happening, often hopping up on the chair with me as I rocked the baby back to sleep. I was exhausted, sometimes near tears, but my feline boys were always there with me.
They have never-ending patience. My cats have accepted their new human companions, who are now three and six years old. They’ve watched patiently as the girls grabbed at them as babies, staggered toward them as new walkers, ran after them as toddlers and tried to carry them around as preschoolers. Of course, through the years, we’ve always supervised interactions and made sure neither the cats nor the kids were in danger. The cats tolerated changes and unpredictability, and they still want to be with us—snuggled on the couch, on the back of the chair during story time and even sometimes in one of the girl’s laps. It makes my heart swell that they give such unconditional love.
They’re easy to care for. Compared to little humans, cats are easy to care for. Popping open cans of cat food and scooping the litter box is nothing compared to trying to devise healthy meals for a picky preschooler, or constantly wiping bottoms.
They teach valuable lessons. My cats taught my daughters at an early age to be gentle. The girls have learned to move slowly around animals and to respect their space. I see this when my kids politely ask to pet strange dogs or carefully approach other peoples’ cats when we’re visiting.
They’re still my babies. As my kids grow and become more independent, they don’t always want to be picked up or cuddled. They have their own lives, and I’m learning to adjust to that part of parenthood. But my cats? They’re still my babies. They still need me and want to be around me as much as possible. Everything changes so quickly but through everything, they’ve remained the same sweet, loving felines they’ve always been. And I love them more each day because of that.
Here at the ASPCA, we’re always inspired when we see people taking a stand for animal welfare. We’re extra inspired, though, when some of our youngest supporters speak up for animals! Pennsylvania fourth- and third- grade animal enthusiasts Veronica J. and Kamryn V. recently teamed up to write a guide book for pet parents titled Hamster Fun Facts. We checked in with Veronica and Kamryn:
Do you have any pets? If so, please tell us about them.
Veronica: I have three hamsters. Midnight is a black Syrian hamster and he is nice, he does not bite. Oreo is a black and white Syrian hamster. Pipsqueak is a Chinese dwarf hamster and stays at my Grandpa’s house. He is small and timid. I also had another hamster named Pipsqueak, but he passed away a month ago.
Kamryn: We had a black Lab who passed away, and we'll be getting a new dog soon.
What inspired you to write Hamster Fun Facts?
Veronica: I love hamsters and needed a project for my media lab class at school. My teacher suggested I write a book on hamsters.
Kamryn: My love of animals inspired me to help write Hamster Fun Facts.
What is the book about?
Veronica: How to take care of hamsters and fun facts about hamsters. It is a great book for someone thinking about getting hamsters or who already has hamsters.
Kamryn: The book has lots of ideas about what you can do with hamsters, what types of toys and food you can give them and it has a lot of fun puzzles to solve.
Why do you think it’s important to be an animal advocate?
Veronica: I think it is important to be an animal advocate because they cannot represent themselves. I want to stop animal cruelty.
Kamryn: Some animals are endangered and need us to speak up for them.
How can other kids your age help animals?
Veronica: They can help animals by volunteering at an animal shelter or donating treats, dog food or toys, etc. to local animal shelters.
Kamryn: You can donate some allowance to a local animal shelter and write your own book.
Thanks for supporting animals, Veronica and Kamryn! We can’t wait to read your next book.
Guest post by Dana Wilkosz of KIWI magazine. The views expressed in this post are not necessarily those of the ASPCA.
I’ve been an allergy-sufferer for almost my entire life. Dogs, dust mites, grass—you name it, I’m probably allergic to it. (As my allergist put it to me at the tender age of five: “You probably shouldn’t have any animals in the house…But you can still hug the trees!” I was devastated.) So I can relate to parents who may be hesitant to introduce a pet to their young child—especially if they themselves have ever suffered from being around animals (itchy eyes, itchy nose, itchy throat—so much itching.)
However, you may want to think twice before deciding against four-legged companions completely. A recent study suggests that it is unlikely that being around a dog or a cat for most of the childhood years will increase a child’s chances of developing allergies, and early exposure could actually lower the risk.
Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit studied 565 18-year-olds who had been followed from birth. They found that teens who had cats during their first year of life had 50 percent less chance of developing pet allergies later, compared to babies born into cat-free homes. Boys who lived with a dog during the first year of life had about half the risk of developing allergies as compared to those without a dog in the house, though, oddly, this wasn’t true for girls—a fact that researchers were unable to explain.
In fact, being exposed to pets anytime after the first year of life seemed to have no effect on allergy risk at all, which, researchers feel indicates that a baby’s first year is a critical time when it comes to the possibility of a child developing pet allergies. The reason for this? Researchers believe it may lie in the “hygiene theory”—the idea that early exposure to certain environmental factors, like dust or animal dander, might trigger the immune system to develop a tolerance for common allergens, therefore reducing the likelihood of a child developing sensitivities.
Still, researchers are quick to point out that even though the study indicates that having pets early in life could help protect kids from allergies, this doesn’t prove a cause-and-effect relationship—meaning you probably shouldn’t rush out to get a pet in the hopes that it’ll make your child immune to pet allergies. However, if you’re planning on getting a pet, it might be better to get one sooner rather than later.
Fortunately for me, my allergies have never been life threatening, and my mom agreed to keeping pets in the house so long as my symptoms didn’t get out of hand. To this day, I live quite happily with a cat of my own, and though I still take a pill everyday to help relieve some of that awful itching, I’m an animal lover and a pet owner, and I wouldn’t have grown up any other way.
What about you? Did you grow up with animals and allergies? Do you think exposing your child early in life to common allergens could prevent them from developing allergy symptoms later in life? Please share in the comments.
Guest blog by Emily Schneider, a proud mom of two feisty yorkies and a two-year-old living in the Garden State. Emily works in media and public relations for the ASPCA. Find her onTwitter.
With Thanksgiving and the holiday season right around the corner, I started thinking about family photos and the challenge of getting my son and pets to cooperate for a photo shoot. I tried all sorts of strange tactics when I’m behind the camera: bribing them with treats; placing weird objects and toys by my camera to get their attention, squeaking, barking and when nothing else works, threatening everyone to “stay still or else…” (not my proudest moment). Out of my hundred shots, there is at least one decent photo where my son’s eyes are half-closed and my pets are in the frame.
I asked a few pet photographers for tips on how to capture great photos, because quite frankly, I’m tired of acting crazy just to get one good photo. It shouldn’t be that hard, right?
Here are some tips from the experts I spoke with:
Choose a good background. Avoid distracting objects or backgrounds that are too busy, such as street signs and walls with patterns or posters. Natural light is always best, but it may not work if you have an indoor pet, or if you decide to do the photo shoot at home.
Shoot after playtime. Playing a game of fetch with your dogs, or letting your cat catch chase a laser pointer will help your pets loosen up and relax. You could also get nice photos if your dog has its mouth open or panting, it looks like they're smiling. For cats, some of the best shots happen when a cat is resting after playtime.
Draw attention to the eyes by getting everyone to look up or toward a light source that illuminates their eyes. Experts say this is especially important for cats and animals with black coats.
Avoid using direct flash. Some animals are afraid of the flash and it often gives the photo an unnatural look. If your flash can be adjusted to different angles, try pointing it at the ceiling or a wall to bounce the light and brighten the room.
Find a sound that gets your subject's attention. Wait until everything is set up and then make your noise to get the animal to look at you. I discovered that saying “cheese” and “cookie” works for both my son and pets. It’s important to follow through with a reward after taking the photo.
Allow everyone to act naturally as much as possible. This might not work if your pet likes to curl up in a ball and sleep, or if you kid likes to do jumping jacks, but the key is to not overwhelm your subjects by forcing them to do something that’s unnatural to them. Everyone will pick up on your energy and vibe, so keep every photo shoot fun and know when to call it quits.
I’m not an expert photographer, but I’m starting to get a hang of what works and what doesn’t (i.e. trying to force your kid and pets to stay still). Patience is the name of the game—it might take a few tries before you get the money shot, but the good news is that most people have digital cameras and you take as many photos as your memory card will hold. And the best photos are the ones where everyone is relaxed and happy, so snap away and say, “Cheese!”