Why People Give Christmas Gifts To Pets

By Bill Hall

If you ever doubted that a lot of people really do believe it is more blessed to give than to receive, consider the statistic that nearly half of all American pet owners give their pets Christmas presents.

Granted, some of that is attributable to those people who believe that dogs, cats, horses, birds and ferrets are a lot smarter than everybody realizes. These are people who talk to their pets not just for the fun of pretending to hold a conversation with an affable animal but because they actually believe the pets understand what we say (except "Get off the table!").

These are people who actually believe that pets know when it is their birthdays and know when it is Christmas. And of course, these are the same people who give birthday parties to their pets.

If you believe that pets are that smart, it becomes imperative that you get the pet a Christmas present. If a ferret, for instance, is all excited, like some hairy little kid, about Christmas coming and you don't provide a present, it is too sad to contemplate. It's like disappointing a child. If a ferret really does know the difference between Dec. 25 and a rock, then you must buy your ferret something appropriate to a ferret -- a box of worms, ferret fur mousse, toenail clippers, etc. Otherwise, you would break its little heart.

However, most people who buy their pets Christmas presents know better than to believe a pet is even remotely aware that it is due a present. Not that animals are totally in the dark. Many animals are capable of affection for their benevolent oppressors. There is even some actual rudimentary communication between the two. But it is a form of communication that involves pet and owner knowing when they are pleased or upset with each other. It involves engaging in some genuine play together -- fetch the stick, fetch the ball, fetch the ferret, etc.

There is also kind of a vague awareness by the pet of the fact that, together with its keeper, they drive away each other's loneliness.

But most pet owners realize that communication between pet and person does not extend anywhere near as far as the pet's being able to understand sentences like "What do you want for Christmas, Fluffy?"

So most people who give Christmas presents to pets do it for reasons other than being afraid of hurting the feelings of the pet. While we all like to play at pet awareness of Christmas, pretending that the pet knows about some of these matters, the sane and the sober pet owner knows better. He knows that Christmas can come and go and the pet won't know it from the Fourth of July, Guy Fawkes Day or any Tuesday. The calendar is just a blur on the wall to a cat or a dog or a ferret.

Even so, people who don't buy into pets knowing about Christmas give their pets gifts. And that isn't easy. What in the devil do you give a dog or a cat beyond food and water?

A toy maybe. A ball to slobber on, a catnip mouse perhaps. But there isn't a long list of gifts appropriate to a pet. Clothing for a dog maybe, but not for cat. Dogs are such eager doormats that they will put up with practically anything. But have you ever seen a cat crammed into a doll dress or something equally humiliating? It has the look on its face of someone who doesn't know it's Christmas but does know it would like to rip somebody's throat out.

Nonetheless, many of us play act a bit on Christmas and put some treat for the cat or some breath mints for the dog under the tree, sometimes even making a show for the pet of unwrapping the surprise.

Not that the pet doesn't get something out of it. It gets the treat. And some pets are capable of plugging into the happiness and excitement of humans.

But mostly we give presents to pets on Christmas for a reason other than avoidance of guilt. It's not because we believe the pet will have the slightest realization of whether it has been forgotten at Christmas. We do it because it makes the pet happy for that moment on Christmas morning. And it is a pleasure to give pleasure to others. There is some natural impulse still alive in most humans to lighten other lives, even the lives of strange little friends who walk around on all fours and drink out of the biffy.

Merry Christmas, Fluffy.

And get off the table!



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