BESIDES decorating the tree and mailing holiday cards, it's time to start thinking about the perfect gifts for pets and pet-loving friends.
Beyond the perfect gift, it's important to consider pet welfare during the holidays because of all the hustle and bustle that surrounds this time of year. Visits from relatives, road trips to Grandma's house, cocktail parties: all offer opportunities for pets to be either naughty or nice.
We have some strategies to help involve Baxter and Boots in the holidays, keep them safe, and provide them with goodies in their stockings instead of lumps of coal.
* Kick off the season with good scents. When you're baking holiday cookies, whip up a batch of dog treats, too. You'll know exactly what's in them, and your pet will love them because they come from you. You can find lots of great recipes online.
* Adapt holiday decor to the realities of life with pets. If you have a Christmas tree, leave lower branches bare of ornaments to prevent curious pups and kittens from pulling them off.
* Choose unbreakable ornaments, and avoid using tinsel, which can cause intestinal blockages if swallowed.
* If you have a puppy in the home, set a small Christmas tree on top of a chest or tabletop, out of reach of your young canine pal.
* Instead of decorating packages with ribbon, which some pets like to chew and swallow - with regrettable results - make pretty bows out of wrapping paper, using scissors to curl the ends.
* Consider setting a pet-proof table, especially if you have a new puppy or kitten in the home, or if your big galoot of a dog is a well-meaning klutz. Leave Grandma's antique Irish lace tablecloth folded away and substitute a holiday-themed vinyl or machine-washable tablecloth instead - one that's less vulnerable to spills and tears.
* Schedule a pet picture with Santa. Lots of pet-related businesses, shelters and even malls offer sessions. You'll treasure the memories, and often the price you pay goes to help pets in need.
* Be sure there's something under the tree for your pet to tear up, er, unwrap. Some that we like: Skipping Stones, by Kurgo, are brightly colored floating fetch toys that skip across water; Chuckit LightPlay Max Glow Ball, specially designed to light up play when days are short and night comes early; Galaxy Mojo Maker Air Wand, a feather toy with a retractable cord, comfortable handle and spiral motion to send your cat into orbit - in a good way.
Cat lovers who are design aficionados will appreciate Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You!), by Jackson Galaxy and Kate Benjamin. New cat owners or anyone who loves cats can find a wealth of feline facts in The Original Cat Fancy Cat Bible: The Definitive Source for All Things Cat, by Sandy Robins, with Arnold Plotnick, DVM.
For dog lovers, select from The Life and Love of Dogs, by Lewis Blackwell, a collection of hundreds of images of dogs accompanied by insightful and inspiring text; and Rebecca Frankel's War Dogs: Tales of Canine Heroism, History, and Love, which Washington Post reviewer Jonathan Yardley calls "an exceptionally interesting and surprisingly moving book."
What are my dogs getting? Keeper is rocking a new blue leather collar with matching leash, Harper is going to Santa Fe with us for Christmas and Gemma, well, she's tough to buy for. I'm still shopping.