Ten Holiday Commandments for Pets


I’m a list-maker and as I’m writing this, I face my usual crammed-full, ever-lengthening holiday do-list.  Most people would consider my list laughably short and simple compared to theirs. Even so, it seems like a lot to me, and even an overwhelming “a lot” some days. That got me thinking about holiday list-fulfillment as it relates to my animals. And that led me to the realization that my list is all about me. Even the items on it related to them.  Nor do I think I’m alone in this regard. Most pet-owners certainly don’t plan it that way any more than I did. But the truth is that, getting everything done that needs to be done during the holiday season, assumes that the pets will allow us to do this. That includes getting or making gifts for them, or doing special things with them.

To accomplish this, we may carry a lot of  unspoken commandments for our pets during this time of year. My Ten Holiday Commandments for Pets looked like this:

  1. Thou shalt not give me strange looks when I throw a fit because I forgot to buy ribbon and wrapping paper.
  2. Thou shalt not disturb me when I get up earlier or stay up later to get things done.
  3. Thou shalt not nudge and lick me when I toss and turn at night, trying to remember where I put the ____ (fill in the blank) last year.
  4. Thou shalt not gravitate to the kitchen and get underfoot despite all those those alien exotic aromas coming from there.
  5. Thou shalt know enough to stay away from all  boxes of decorations that suddenly appeared from under the eaves.
  6. Thou shalt not even think about touching any decorations once in place.
  7. Thou shalt  promptly eliminate  when I take you out.
  8. Thou shalt accept that play sessions may be short, at best, until I have more time.
  9. Thou shalt behave perfectly when invited or unexpected guests arrive.
  10. Thou shalt intuitively know what I do or do not want you to do and do or not do accordingly.

These rules make a wonderful recipe for pet-related guilt. Who but a self-centered ego-maniac could impose such expectations on her beloved pets? I should be–and was–ashamed of myself.  Who needs that during the holiday season? If nothing else, there’s no time for it. But, not to worry. There’s a solution for this madness that could turn out to be the best gift you ever gave your pet and yourself. It was for me.

It’s called sleep.

I can hear you muttering already: “Yeah, sure. Does that moron think I want to be subsisting on 4-5 hours of sleep every night?”

I’m sure you don’t, any more than our pets want their sleep disrupted by all our banging around and holiday-related stress. However, research done by University of California at Berkeley neuro-scientist Matthew Walker and others might cause you to rethink  just how much that lack of sleep costs you. Admittedly the study was done on those ubiquitous college students. Still, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if our pets experience some of the same negative effects of sleep-deprivation as humans.

We’re not talking about  long-period of sleep deprivation here.  The test group of healthy young people was only deprived of sleep for one night. The next day, they and a group of comparable young people who slept the night before were hooked up to brain scans. Then the researchers showed all of them pictures that ranged from  non-threatening to highly disturbing.  (The latter category included pictures of a tarantula on someone’s shoulder, an attacking shark, and disfigured burn victims.)

What did the brain scans reveal? People who had slept perceived the pictures and their responses to them in context. They recognized that these were pictures shown to them in a safe environment for research purposes. However, the sleep-deprived brains sent panicky signals to the areas associated with primitive fight-or-flight responses. Those people also exhibited the extreme mood swings common to those with mental illness, laughing wildly one minute and crying hysterically the next.

The dramatic effects associated with such a short period of sleep-deprivation becomes even more intriguing when coupled with other studies of those with depression and other mental illnesses. It turns out that those folks often are chronically sleep-deprived. Now some scientists wonder if they may have gotten it backwards: Perhaps sleep-deprivation is a cause of the mental instability, not an effect.

Reading about those studies made me to think about my do-list and my 10 Holiday Commandments for Pets. It dawned on me that the best gift I could give my pets and myself this holiday season was a good night’s sleep for all of us every night. And that’s what I wish for you and yours. Take to heart all those holiday carols and stories that remind us that what makes this time of year special isn’t the frantic running around and constant doing. It’s those silent, calm nights, those long winter’s naps during which nary a mouse stirs. It’s peace for all humans and animals alike.

What better way for you and your pets to end one year and begin another than well-rested and filled with such peace?

So, from all of us here in the little house on the hill to all of you,

HAPPY HOLIDAYSzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz



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