It was Christmastime and Paige, the Greenwald family dog, decided to leave something under the tree, too.
By even the most charitable standards, this could not be described as a gift.
"I went to put a present under the tree," recalled Carol Greenwald of the incident with the family Labrador retriever-dachshund mix. "And it was all wet and smelly. . . . I guess she thought it was the outdoors."
Talk about charitable.
Paige's behavior is not uncommon for dogs, cats and other family pets discombobulated by the frenetic season of giving. While the holidays can be a time of good cheer for people, pets can often come to regard it as a time of fear and stomach upset.
"There's all kinds of activity going on and pets can get really withdrawn during the holidays," said Dr. Roger Valentine, a Los Angeles veterinarian. "They can start defecating and urinating in inappropriate places. It can get really bad."
To the furry and four-legged, the season often brings easy access to scraps of intestinal-distressing foods, the sudden appearance of forestry and tempting shiny objects, and a boisterous parade of odd-smelling strangers into the house.
The yuletide confusion is compounded all the more by travel--either they are stuck in a box for hours on end on the way to Grandma's house or they are left behind by their owners.
Stacey Mickell still isn't sure what got into Dusty, her Labrador retriever, a few holiday seasons ago. Well, actually she knows what got into Dusty, it's the why part that is less clear.
Mickell left out a bowl of wrapped holiday candy--something she had done for years with Dusty without incident. One night, the attorney came home from work and then rushed out again to another party. When she came home, the bowl was empty.
"I thought I'd been burglarized," said Mickell, who had just moved to Santa Monica. "But then I saw that Dusty was very sick. . . . The next day she pooped unwrapped candy."
Mickell doesn't leave out the candies anymore.
It's through holiday experiences like these that owners quickly learn to strike a balance between festive holiday decorations and their pets. Friends of Inglewood's Rita Murphy are now accustomed to her family's unusually decorated Christmas tree. Murphy found that with Lumpy and Louie--two Siamese-Himalayan cats--it's best to keep the ornaments on the top half of the tree.
"They'd get to the low ornaments," said Murphy. "Oh, they would play hockey with them and then bash them on the wall."
Other owners employ more sophisticated methods to keep their tree decorations intact. The Greenwalds position a light sensor near their tree, and, if Paige crosses the beam, it triggers a loud blast. After a couple of times, Paige got the idea and left the tree alone.
Beyond basic pet-proofing steps, however, the single most important thing owners can do to help their pets get through the holidays is to relax. Cats and especially dogs often mirror the moods of their owners.
So, if owners are over-stressed by the holidays, it's almost certain the pets will be, too, according to Dr. Carol Osborne, a veterinarian with practices in Los Angeles and Cleveland.
"Pets feel the moods of the owners just like children," said Osborne. "In many cases, in fact, people consider their pets children."
Owners can help alleviate a pet's holiday anxieties by setting aside between five and 10 minutes of "special time" each day with a pet, Osborne said.
"They need to let pets know that they are not forgotten and that they are still cared for."
Even if a pet's feathers are unruffled by the onslaught of unfamiliar decorations, foods and people in the house, almost none escapes the anxiousness produced by travel. Carting an animal by plane or auto can be a traumatic experience.
So much so, veterinarians recommend leaving animals at home in the care of a pet-sitter unless the trip will last more than a week. Shuttling back and forth between places may unduly upset the pet, which needs at least a couple days to adjust to a new environment.
"You just don't want to be in a situation where the pet is finally acclimated to the new place [and] it's time to go home again," said Valentine. "That's too much for the pet."
Not all pets react so strongly to the swirl of events around the holidays. In fact, the moods of some pets barely change at all.
"Fish and reptile pets are oblivious to the whole season," said Osborne. "They have no idea what's going on."