Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, perhaps because I've always loved make-believe. These days, though, if anyone in my family is pretending to be something he's not, it's likely to be the younger dog, Benjamin.
Two years ago, in fact, the retriever won a gift certificate for his costume. Glossy black from nose to tail tip, Benjamin became a "reverse Dalmatian" with the strategic application of round white stickers from the office-supply store. The gift certificate I spent that very day -- on something nice for the dogs, of course -- but the stickers are still with me. I find a couple every time I clean out my car.
I haven't quite figured out what the big dog will wear this year, although I know that, as always, the smaller one won't tolerate such nonsense. Andy is 11 now, but even as a puppy he had the attitude that he was above such silly human behavior.
While Halloween can be fun for both people and pets, there are some commonsense precautions you should take to ensure a safe celebration. Dr. Stuart Turner, director of the Pet Care Forum on America Online and an emergency and critical care veterinarian, says the two biggest problems with the holiday are frightened pets and poisoned pets -- and he has seen plenty of both.
"With people running around and so much activity, cats and dogs get nervous and some will take off if they can," he said. "We'll see an increase in animals hit by cars as a result. Other animals may become territorial and become a bite risk. "The solution is confinement. Bring your pets in and keep them in a secure place for the night -- a back bedroom, perhaps, or a crate. It's just safer."
Turner says that although humane societies warn that black cats are especially at risk from cultists, he has never personally heard of any incidents. "That doesn't mean there isn't some risk, though," he says. "But really, it's a better idea to bring in any cat for that night, no matter the color. You just never know."
Candy is a problem more for dogs than for cats, says Turner, because cats are a little pickier about what they eat. Not so most dogs, he says, who'll wolf down candy wrappers and all if given the opportunity, giving many a serious case of what the veterinarian calls "garbage gut." "I'd keep all candy out of reach," he says, "but especially chocolate, which is toxic for dogs."
Turner hasn't seen any problems with costumes for pets, but he says common sense should apply there, too. "Be sure any costume you have is comfortable for your pet," he says. "It shouldn't obscure vision, or constrict around the neck and chest. And if you use any dye or paint, check to make sure it's safe before applying."
It doesn't take much to keep the holiday safe for pets and people alike, Turner says, adding that he'd be happy if more people took precautions. "Believe me, I'd rather give out candy than medical advice, anytime."
Pets on the Web: Halloween makes me think about wild animals, maybe because a little girl I know wants to be a tiger on her make-believe night. Tigers are gorgeous, and a wonderful animal for make-believe, but problems always result when people think they make interesting pets. Two Web sites of nonprofit groups make this point again and again, and both are worth visiting. The Galt-Calif.-based Performing Animal Welfare Society (http://www.envirolink.org/arrs/paws) is a sanctuary for animals who were once performers or pets. The stories of these beautiful former animals -- elephants, big cats and wild canines -- are sometimes heartbreaking to read, even if the endings are as happy as possible for animals meant to live free. The PAWS Web site is clean and easy to navigate.
The Cat Tales Endangered Species Conservation Park's Web site (http://www.spokane.net/cattales) isn't as pretty a site, but there's good information here. The Spokane, Wash.-based organization cares for big cats -- 29 currently -- and offers an impressive library on the various species. The links are plentiful and well worth exploring, to various zoos and other sites dedicated to wild animals and environmental issues.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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