Keri Matthews, a mom of two, has worked in the ASPCA’s licensing department for more than five years. She lives on Long Island with her husband, Tom, her children, Gabriella and Tommy, and their Greyhound, Clyde.
The New Year is a great time to reflect and plan what we would like to accomplish for our pets and kids. Here are just a few goals my family set for the New Year:
We made a resolution to take more walks with our 12-year-old senior pup, Clyde. Our family really enjoys this time together, and it really connects us! We are also planning to take Clyde to the new dog park which opened last year in our town. I think this will be a wonderful learning experience for the kids, as they will see Clyde playing with his friends--some old and some new. And when you think about it, all the same sort of play date rules apply for pets as they do for kids: sharing space, taking turns and welcoming others into the group to play. Visit the ASPCA’s Pet Care section to learn more on how to get the most of your visit to the dog park.
We are also going to start taking Gabriella to volunteer at our local library. Recently, opportunities have opened up for kids to read to shelter dogs. I believe this experience will be extremely fun and rewarding for her and the dogs we get matched up with!
Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to a year of celebrating and strengthening that special bond we cherish with our pets and kids.
Our Lab mix, Django, likes to be with us. When we are in the living room, she’ll jump up next to one of us and snuggle on the couch. At night, she sleeps soundly in our bed, or sometimes in one of the kids’ beds. When we hang out in the yard, she’s there, too. She is our fourth child. Wherever we go, she goes, and it’s usually not a problem—except when she is underfoot while I’m cooking, hoping to catch a scrap or two that falls to the floor. When we are in the kitchen, she really has nowhere to go.
In the beginning, she’d try to find a spot on the floor, but our kitchen is small and when I’m preparing meals and the kids are in and out, there’s not a lot of free space for her. So I guess out of (her) necessity, she began to take a seat at the table…literally.
One day, I noticed that she was trying to get all of her body up onto one of the kitchen chairs. It was a slow process, and she tried her best to stay there as her hind legs and tail threatened to cause her to slide off. It was a sight to behold, and I called in my kids and husband to come see exactly what she was doing. Over time, she perfected the process and now she is a pro. In fact, when one of us gets up from the table to get an extra fork or drink, she takes our seat!
It’s one thing when a small dog will jump up and rest on a chair, but it’s a whole other experience when a big sloppy pup is trying to sit comfortably on a straight-backed chair. Django has always acted human in her own way, so it’s not a particularly big stretch to think she might want a chair of her own.
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)
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.