Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Animals at Christmas Time--Tuesday Journal

Whenever I need to recapture some of the natural and pure joy I felt as a child around this time of year, I recall the animals around me. They don’t know Christmas is coming; they don’t care about the family visits and the shopping and the cards and decorations, the cooking and the wrapping and the carols. They don’t expect anything, and most of them can't reciprocate in material ways..but they all give something back in their pure and innocent fashion!

Giving something to an innocent creature reminds me why I loved the Christmas season in the first place. The satisfactions of making others happy, or providing for even small needs, satisfactions which were meant to be the unique focus of this season, go beyond how any of us celebrate a holiday, or whether we celebrate it at all.

I dedicate this Christmas, and this post, to animals. Enjoy these small, true anecdotes from my archives, and consider giving to an animal, wild or domestic, this Christmas season. I give many thanks to those of you who help creatures in your homes, in shelters, or in the wild, all year. And I wish special happiness to those of you who bond with your domestic animal companions, and who know the terrific joys and sorrows attached to that bond. You are the best example of what it means to be human!
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Maggie our Bassett Hound made Christmas her special domain. She used to help us open our gifts by completely shredding the wrapping as soon as it was torn off a package.

When the tree was up at last, she would lay under it and look at us contentedly, with an air of calm, of safety, a look that said that all was right in her world, the way good children feel when they know Santa is coming.

She loved the snow, burying her nose deep within it to catch the many scents still trapped in the frozen ground below. Her little legs made it hard to transport her sausage-body through any more than 3 inches of snow. We would actually shovel a path for her in the yard.

Her ears and belly were sensitive to the cold, and so we dressed her up in the most fashionable Bassett garments, a fleece coat and babushka made from a bandana…so that she looked like an extra in “Fiddler on the Roof.”


Squirrels are plentiful in our neighborhood. In a large knot-hole in the maple tree in our front yard, a mother squirrel annually builds her nest within. One would not think that her plump, furry body would fit comfortably in there, but she manages to glide in gracefully. Once in a while if she hears us nearby, she will come out to chatter at us, often running away for a while, and always returning. She had babies in there once. I just learned that baby squirrels are properly known as “kittens”.

You can buy “squirrel food” at many pet-feed stores. Basically, it is a bag of raw corn. We use Maggie’s old food dish (she would have approved) to fill with this “squirrel chow” and set it near the back patio, where from the bedroom window facing the back yard we can observe sometimes five critters, sitting up on their haunches as at a trough, happily munching, or stuffing their cheeks with kernels, and running to the back fence to bury their treasures.

Some of these squirrels are good farmers, as we have found forgotten kernels sprouting into full-fledged cornstalks in our garden.

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Birds are particularly needy in the winter.  Even a small seed cup filled with bird food is a real gift to small non-migratory birds.  Here, I want to pay tribute to an English teacher who taught me poetry in grade school.  One of the poems we analyzed was the lyirc to Simon and Garfunkel's "The Sparrow".  This was a powerful influence on me, and set me on the road to paying more attention to my non-human friends.  Read the lyrics here.

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Mark had the great idea to use only animal-related decorations on our little Christmas tree this year.  We have a collection of ornaments that goes way back:  among them lots of dogs, (hounds mostly), cats,  a Russian polar bear, and several cardinals (Mark is from St. Louis, and the cardinal is Illinois' state bird).  A couple of our ornaments were purchased to raise funds at our new local animal shelter, The Buddy Foundation With the purchase of the ornaments, a pet could be remembered on their tree.  We are remembering one sweet dog, and one loving cat. You may recall I will soon attend orientation here to prepare myself to volunteer as a caregiver to the sheltered dogs and cats.

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Most animal shelters could use your donations.  If not money, many items are needed, from dog and cat foods, paper towels, stainless steel bowls,  blankets, office supplies, and cleaning supplies.  Call your local shelters to find out what they need the most.

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Take care of your domestic companions.  Be sure their paws are clean after trudging through salt and sharp ice.  Avoid anti-freeze (it tastes sweet and dogs like it)... keep poinsettia plants far away from your canine friends...  Be strong and resist their begging for extra holiday treats, for the sake of their health.... Don't leave your animals out in extreme cold, because the fur on most dogs can't protect them for very long in near-zero-or-below temperatures.  And wait until after the holidays before considering a pet adoption, unless you are committed to making this animal a part of your home for good.   Have a great holiday season, and thanks for reading!!


  1. What a sweet tribute to all of our animal friends -- and the peace and joy of our Christmases with Maggie that will always exist in our hearts. Merry Christmas, Tom. Keep doing what you're doing!

  2. Great post, Tom. I heartily agree that our pets add another dimension to the joy of the season. At a time when many are stressed out or depressed, our animal friends always come through with the love and comfort needed to pull us out of a funk. They patiently let us hang silly Christmas collars around their necks and put Santa hats and silly Christmas elf costumes on them to stir our funny bones, when clearly they would rather do without. That's love.

    Great story and pics and some great tips as well. Maggie would be very proud! Well done!