A few years ago, we had the traditional big Christmas lunch at my aunt and uncle's house. There would have been about 40 people there, a couple of cats who made themselves scarce and one dog. My cousin was working up in the country at the time and had acquired a beautiful pointer named Poppy. Poor Poppy didn't have a great Christmas. She wasn't at home with her person - she was in an unfamiliar house, with a big crowd of people and every time she found her person in the crowd she was told to go lie on her mat. For her, it wasn't a special or joyous day; it was stressful, confusing and upsetting. As Christmas approached, I was pondering what Christmas meant for Ishka, Frankie, Bolo and Czar.
This year, our Christmas plans involved four different branches of our families, on four different days. The dogs would be being left at home in their pens for quite a lot of time. To them, Christmas would be somewhat lonely, being shut out in their pens, watching the birds on the back lawn but unable to chase them down. It is also our last Christmas before the Wee Monster arrives - next year, we will be balancing the needs of an 8-9 month old and 4 huskies (4 and a half, since J is clearly at least half husky!) I decided I needed to do two things to share the Christmas spirit with the dogs - spend some special time with them each day, and buy them a little Christmas present each - I decided on some toys, to alleviate the boredom of their time home alone.
For Frankie, who likes to play fetch with himself, I found a set of three Kong balls - tennis ball sized, but one decorated as a soccer ball, one as a basketball and one as an eight ball. For Ishka and Bolo, who like to disembowel stuffed toys, I bought a pair of beanie bears from the $2 shop. For Czar, who is obsessed with things that squeak, I got a squeaky rubber ball - it kinda looked like a small zombie head. Czar will chew any squeaky toy constantly and endlessly, and has even been known to lead a husky howl with a squeaky toy that hits the right note. Of course, the reason the dogs would like these toys all comes back to prey drive - things to chase, things to shake to death and tear apart, while squeaking. Huskies aren't retrievers, they're more like well fed cats that want to hunt to play with their prey.
On Christmas morning, J and I gave each other presents - he is very thoughtful and absolutely devilishly hard to buy presents for, so I won't give you details, just that he is much better at presents than me. And then we got up and spent some time with our fur babies, opening their presents and watching them play. Our dogs don't often get presents and I wasn't sure, especially for Ishka and Bolo, that they would really get the idea, but all of them were very excited about their presents.
Czar, of course, loved the squeaky zombie head and immediately dived into his crate to munch on it. The chorus of squeaks kept us company for the rest of the morning.
Bolo grabbed Ishka's teddy bear, but she was just as happy to have his.
Frankie was delighted to have balls to play with, and just as well it was three, as the first one bounced near the door of Czar's crate and Czar's head popped out, snatched the ball, and retreated back into the crate like a striking snake. I took Frankie and the other two balls into the kitchen and he showed me how he pounces on them to make them bounce and then chases them down.
Four happy dogs all hunkered into their crates with their toys while we cooked and ate breakfast before we headed out to spend Christmas with our two-legged family.
This is one of the ways that dog ownership is so good for people's morale. My Facebook feed on Christmas day was filled with three things - photos of children opening presents, photos of tables laid out with delicious food being eaten by smiling family and photos and videos of dogs playing with their presents. We share the things that are most important to us, and give us the most joy. J and I are lucky enough to enjoy two of those three, and in future, hopefully all three, but for those people who don't have kids, or family near by, watching a dog chase a ball that you've chosen specially for them is a lovely, warming, Christmassy feeling.
Of course, we had to watch out for sibling rivalry - what's a family Christmas without arguments? J and I took turns to watch the dogs and ensure that there was no growling at other people getting too close or stealing each others' toys. We headed off arguments early. Fortunately, the dogs respect the privacy of each others' crates, and the plenitude of toys meant that there was no need to get too jealous about someone's private stash. Bolo tried to hide his teddy under his mat just to make sure.
And what's Christmas without a broken toy or two? Czar split his new squeaky ball in a couple of hours, and by the end of Christmas day it had to be thrown out to stop him accidentally swallowing pieces of rubber. Bolo disembowelled his teddy; it still has stuffing in its head, arms and legs, but nothing in the body. And the score board is currently Dogs 1, Kongs 2, as the "soccer" ball has also had to be thrown out before it becomes dangerous. The good thing about dogs is that, like small children, they don't cry about their toys when they're gone... or missing lots of stuffing.