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October 26, 2010 > Ohlone Humane Society: A hair-raising holiday for some

Ohlone Humane Society: A hair-raising holiday for some

By Nancy Lyon

Long ago in a distant land, the ancient Celts believed that at this time of year, a time we now celebrate as Halloween, the border between this world and the next became thin. It was the end of the "lighter" side of the year and the beginning of the "darker" half. During this time spirits both good and evil could cross through, and people tried to protect themselves from harm by wearing masks and costumes in an attempt to disguise themselves as spirits.

Today, wearing scary masks and costumes on Halloween is more about kids and adults just having fun, but if you happen to be an innocent critter those ghoulish fiends can be pretty darn real. Faced with such terrible apparitions, it might well appear that evil spirits had made it across the border and were after them and their family. At that point their choices are pretty limited - stand and defend, or run.

No matter how you look at it, neither choice is a great solution for an animal - bite someone to try to protect family and territory and end up in big trouble or beat a fast retreat into the big scary world where they may well become lost, perhaps forever, or worse - injured or killed on the road.

So how can you make merry and yet make it safe for your animal? The best thing is to try to make it as stress-free as possible for them. They are going to be subjected to noises, sights and smells that are unfamiliar and frightening, and your job is to create a place of safety and quiet where they can relax until the evening is over. The following tips will greatly improve their chance of surviving the excitement and hazards of the holiday:

First and foremost, make sure your animal is wearing a collar (not a choke chain) with ID tags and current contact information. To further protect them, keep them in a closed, quiet room away from scary trick-or-treaters to ensure that they don't bolt out the open door in fright or bite what to them is an intruder.

Don't be tempted to take your dog, cat or other animal along if you're into trick-or-treating. For safety's sake leave them at home. Unexpected or terrifying incidents can cause even the most stable animal to react in an unpredictable manner if there is commotion. A bite or lost animal is a poor end to celebrations.

Candy is just as much a magnet for critters as it is for children. Candy can be harmful and you can end up with a very sick animal with messy results. Chocolate is toxic to dogs, cats, and ferrets, and in some cases is deadly. Make sure to keep it safely out of the reach of determined counter climbers.

The Humane Society of the United States correctly states that "The only costume most pets want to wear is their own furry birthday suit." Even a supervised animal wearing a costume or mask has their risk of injury increased. The feeling of confinement and restricted movement is unnatural to most animals.

Outside animals can fall victim to sick "pranksters" that think injuring or killing them is cool and great fun. Keep your animals inside and away from harm several days before and after Halloween. Free-roaming black cats are especially at risk.

Young animals are naturally "mouthy," so keep that in mind when you decorate. Swallowing bits of dangling cob webbing or other "indigestibles" can lead to serious intestinal obstructions or choking, plus a lot of distress to your friend and a whopping big vet bill. Fire carries the same precautions - keep it at a far distance from your pets.

Revelers should keep in mind that the night belongs to a number of critters. Nocturnal creatures such as raccoons, opossums, skunks, and foxes wake up and venture out for food, and Halloween night is no exception. The best advice is to keep a safe distance between you and any animal you do not know, including cats and dogs. So respect the night time regulars and their space. It's their world too.

You may do all the right things to protect your animal family and the worst may still happen. Remember, make sure your dog or cat is wearing current identification and give serious thought to micro-chipping them as most shelters now routinely scan for one. If for any reason they escape and become lost, you increase the probability that they will be safely returned to you.

If your animal companion does disappear, contact your local animal shelter as soon as possible and ask for advice in finding your lost family member. Don't wait hoping they will "show up;" it could cost them their lives.

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