By John Andersen, DVM
The holiday season is upon us! Don’t ever give into the cynicism of people who can’t help but portray the holidays as just about commercialism, marketing, annoying music, or uncomfortable family get-togethers. Although these things may be part of our holiday culture, the holidays are, and will always be, a special time full of a truly distinctive human spirit that fosters love, hope, and kindness every December.
Such is true in my own life as a pet owner, and as a small animal veterinarian. Personally, my early Christmas memories as a “grown up” involve the many holidays my wife Michelle and I spent together as a young couple “BC”—Before Child. We had a dog and two cats, and these were our babies—such simple times! I love looking back at the Christmas cards with us wrangling our two cats and crowding up with our dog around our homely Christmas tree. Those images always bring me a lighthearted joy, remembering when the life we had had a whole lot less responsibility.
Christmas will also always bring up a tough memory of losing our dog Kaya on December 27 several years ago after a yearlong battle with cancer. Kaya was my girl and journeyed with me from bachelorhood to marriage to parenthood. There are holiday photos of her in her weakened state, but still enjoying the spoils of an adoring family around the holidays. The day she died and we buried her was busy and bitter cold, and I’ll always remember being taught the lesson that there really is no good time to lose a cherished friend.
At the vet office, Christmas generally brings a cheery attitude where, for the most part, humankind shows its better side. Appreciative clients bring us cookies and snacks, which are always so appreciated. I am always in awe of the thoughtfulness of someone’s baking us cookies and writing a kind note, just for our doing our job and caring.
There are also the holiday parties, both our office party and those with our friends and neighbors. These keep our weekends busy and keep us generally cheery as we celebrate the season with people we care about, and these stories carry into the workday where we just have a little something extra to talk about.
Let’s not forget about all the dogs who get into chocolate! Oh, ’tis the season for chocolate toxicity! We get a lot of calls about dogs who get into some chocolate chip cookies or milk chocolate, and fortunately, these are usually just fine. But the darker chocolates have a lot of the toxic metabolite that dogs can’t tolerate and these are the ones we see a lot. The 60 percent Cacao bars, Hershey’s Dark, full pans of brownies, full bags of dark chocolate truffles. I’ve never met a dog who had any regrets about eating as much chocolate as they could fit into his or her stomach. Best-case scenario is some vomiting and diarrhea and some unexpected carpet cleaning. Worse-case scenario is convulsions and seizures and a weekend at the ER. Keep your fancy chocolates and your baked goods up high this holiday season!
And last, there are the touching stories that come along and make us feel a bit more human. The couple with no money whose dog had just been attacked, and a random stranger wanted to pay their entire bill. The sick cat we made feel better, only to learn that this pet is the owner’s only connection to a recently deceased child. And, of course, the holiday loss of a pet. One of our good friends lost their cherished family dog right on Christmas Day. It was tragic, but the power of the season made us all appreciate what we had, and we celebrated a life well-lived, even if cut short.
I hope you all have an inspiring holiday season this year. Enjoy those holiday office parties that drag on forever. Cherish the family time while you’re stuck in the car traveling. Take some inspiration from your pets, loving, non-judging, loyal, honest, grateful. Be a light in your world this December like they are in yours every day!