Pets on the Naughty List: Our Favorite Stories of Holiday Mishaps

Image: Black kitten with toys

Stacy Nordstrom Hackett vividly remembers her Cornish Rex cat Jordan’s first Christmas. “He climbed halfway up our Christmas tree, grabbed the garland in his mouth and jumped out of the tree” – and took off running with the garland in his mouth. “The decorated tree followed him across the living room and halfway down the hall,” says Nordstrom Hackett, “before he let go of the garland and hid under the bed.”  

If you’re a pet owner, Nordstrom Hackett’s story probably sounds familiar. What would the holidays be without stolen treats, an episode of manger danger or a not-so-festive trip to the pet ER? We’ve gathered some of our favorite funny, sweet and, yes, cautionary pet holiday tales to make your Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Festivus or winter solstice celebration just a little brighter – and maybe a little safer, too.

Holiday Dangers

Seasonal treats are a hallmark of the holidays – and, not surprisingly, our pets want in on the festive goodies. Even professionals can be fooled – dog trainer Mikkel Becker has fallen victim to multiple sneaky snacking pets over the years.

Scooter, the Becker family’s Wire Haired Fox Terrier, once devoured an entire holiday sampler tray of fruit covered in white chocolate. Thankfully, Becker says, there were no medical repercussions, other than an upset tummy. Unlike dark and milk chocolate, white chocolate contains less significant amounts of theobromine and caffeine, the substances that can give dogs (and less commonly, cats) the runs or cause vomiting, a rapid heart rate and seizures – just a few of the signs of chocolate overdose. So it’s less likely – but not impossible – to result in toxicity. That said, overindulging in white chocolate can still lead to gastrointestinal upset and the food’s high fat content can contribute to pancreatitis. If your pet eats any type of chocolate, it’s still best to contact your veterinarian or ASPCA Animal Poison Control immediately.

More recently, Becker’s Pug, Bruce, has carried on the family canine tradition of food thievery. “My best friend came to my house during the holiday season with a turkey sausage in her purse,” Becker says. “Bruce smelled it and while we weren’t looking, he dug into her purse and ate the entire thing!” These days, when guests come to call, Becker greets them by asking if they have food in their bags, just to be on the safe side.

But no matter how careful pet owners are, sometimes things go wrong. Tracy Cawley of Halifax, Nova Scotia, recalls the Christmas Eve when her father was puttering in his workshop, preparing to use his table saw. He checked the sawdust bin for their black cat, Midnight, but didn’t see him.

“He started up the saw and out zipped Midnight,” Cawley says. “He made it upstairs and was running around the living room in a panic with his tail partially amputated. My parents caught him, brought him to the vet and stayed there until they could bring him home after surgery. Christmas morning, we had our beloved cat back, missing his tail.”

Midnight’s Christmas encounter with the table saw left a lasting memory – for everyone. “He never slept in the sawdust bin again,” Cawley says.

Image: Riker the dog

The Life of the Party

Holiday parties can turn even the best-behaved dog to the dark side – at least temporarily. Liz Palika, a dog trainer, discovered this truth one year at her annual Christmas party.

Her dog, Riker, an Australian Shepherd and a certified therapy dog, had a reputation for being well-behaved. During the party, Palika says, Riker and Palika’s other dogs typically remained in a separate room, to keep them from getting under guests’ feet – and to prevent them from being given too many goodies. “One year, though, a guest asked to see Riker, so I let him out. The guests petted him and made him feel special.” Palika relaxed, trusting Riker to be his usual well-behaved self.

“Then, out of the corner of my eye,” she says, “I saw his head swivel. He spotted the sugar cookies on the coffee table, and before I could say a word, my good dog who would never steal food dove headfirst into the bowl of cookies. He was gulping as fast as he could. When I grabbed his collar, his face came up covered with frosting and sugar and sprinkles. I admit I was laughing so hard I couldn’t say a word to him.”

Cats also like to get into the holiday spirit – but not necessarily by being the life of the party. And often, our cats seem to know exactly where they belong, even if they don’t exactly fit in. During the holidays, Debbie Phillips-Donaldson’s cat, Deacon, likes to sleep right in the middle of the family’s manger set – because every stable needs a cat, right?

“I think Deacon is mainly attracted by the cheap fake-snow blankets of white felted stuff,” Phillips-Donaldson says.

Luckily, he has never broken or attempted to eat any of the painted ceramic pieces, which were handed down to the family by her husband’s mother.

Joy to the World

Even when they’re being naughty, our pets bring us smiles and laughter. One of Palika’s most heartwarming moments came the year she fostered a litter of five kittens after Thanksgiving. Still younger than 8 weeks, they were small and timid, with a big need for some tender loving care.

Thinking that the kittens were too young to get into too much mischief, Palika had set up a live Christmas tree in her living room. She had it about half decorated when the phone rang and she left the room to take the call. When she returned, her three dogs were sitting in front of the tree, staring. Palika noticed that the branches were moving. She sat down to watch, too.

“The five tiny kittens may have been scared and skinny, but they had a great time in that tree,” Palika says. “They climbed up and down and all around inside the branches. Every once in a while a tiny black face with bright eyes would peek out.”

While there are some serious potential dangers in letting kittens climb in the Christmas tree – they could fall and hurt themselves, chew on electrical cords or ingest ornaments or tinsel – this moment of supervised mischief brought the kittens (and Palika) so much joy. “It was their Christmas present from me,” Palika says.

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