During the holiday season, folks talk a lot about tension among family members, and how relatives from polar ends of the political spectrum almost come to blows over the Thanksgiving table. I've already heard of a man flinging a handful of stuffing at a female relative after first calling her a "liberal bra-burner" just for supporting Elizabeth Warren.
It can't have escaped anyone's notice that political infighting has become worse in recent years. I'm convinced this escalated in the wake of 9/11. That's when we lost our national confidence and began blaming "other" for perceived slights and any negative traits of the country itself. If you're progressive, you believe conservatives are holding us back from moving forward, if not driving us back into the Dark Ages; if you're conservative, you're convinced liberals are nothing more than socialists, trying to take from the hard-working "haves" to give to the deadbeat "have nots."
What most people don't mention is animal angst during holiday get-togethers. These days, many animal lovers take their pets everywhere, and it matters little whether the dog, cat, rabbit or peacock causes grief for others. Chalk it up to apathy toward other human beings; a selfish insistence that whence goes the human, also goes the pet; or the inability to afford a pet sitter and the unwillingness to clean poop from the carpet bestowed by an obstinate pet left behind.
My extended family doesn't get together anymore for holiday dinners. Reunions started falling by wayside once my grandparents were gone and the "grandkids" were old enough to have opinions that didn't mirror those of their parents. Geographical distance is a predominant factor, but politics, religion, and other bristle-worthy topics have also taken their toll. Sure, we talk about setting aside our differences, placing bans on any subjects likely to spark verbal vituperation, and meeting up at someone's table. So far, it hasn't happened – not for the whole clan, anyway.
These days, I suspect pets would also be a problem. With the growing number of people insisting they need "emotional support" animals, not to mention those who would rather spend time with their pets than other human beings, it seems inevitable the animals will jump into the fray. And some of them can't get along any better than their human counterparts, although animals don't care whether Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders is president.
Animals have always caused consternation of one level or another in our family during gatherings. It started with my Aunt Pauletta, another of those who probably prefers pets to people. Pauletta, my dad's youngest sibling, is only 12 or 13 years older than I am, and when I was little, she had a cat that my cousin Scott tried to flush down the toilet. I don't know if the cat was obnoxious; the truth is, Scott just liked flushing things down the toilet. That included toothbrushes, hairbrushes, and on one occasion, one of my sister's dolls.
Once Pauletta was out on her own, she always had a pet. First was a chihuahua named Chica, known for biting the ankles of hapless couch-sitters. That dog didn’t like “strangers” – anyone but Pauletta and my grandmother – and the diminutive beast barked herself hoarse almost every day any of the grandkids were around. The Christmas after my cousin Stacy was born, the Butler family sent out cards with a photograph, featuring Pauletta holding Stacy, and Chuck holding Chica. The message: "Merry Christmas! Love, Chuck, Pauletta, Stacy and Chica." The ankle-biter never had the best temperament, but when she was in heat, it was worse: She waddled around my grandmother's house in a baby diaper, glaring and baring her teeth, and muttering under her breath. No one would have dared trying to flush her down a toilet, even if she deserved it. On an early Thanksgiving occasion, one of the grandkids dropped a piece of food on the floor, and Chica moved in to snatch it. Unthinkingly, the kid reached down to retrieve the morsel. A loud "Yipe-yipe-yipe!" ensued, along with the screech of the bitten child.
My husband and I had a German shepherd for several years, and sometimes we hosted dinners. The dog weighed about 90 pounds and looked intimidating, so everyone cowered in fear when he slouched through the living room. What they didn't realize was that his bark was worse than his bite; he sounded vicious, but he'd lost his canine incisors as a puppy in the wake of a near-fatal illness that required two weeks of strong antibiotics. He would have had to have gnawed on his victim for several minutes to cause any damage.
Most tales I've heard of family dinners going wrong through pets rather than politics have involved enraged cats or miniature Yorkies. I know two dozen people who own a dog of that breed, and though they're sweet with humans they like, they're not that friendly with strangers. The mother of one friend was bitten three years ago by that friend's Yorkie, and last year, Mom refused to come around unless the pup was either caged or sent to a dog-sitter. The friend declined to banish the dog, so Mom spent the holiday alone. This year, the mother – who hadn't seen her daughter in three years – offered to pay for the dog sitter. My friend accepted the gift, but admitted she laughed privately when her mother stepped on an obscure piece of poop the dog had deposited on a throw rug.
And then, there was my own Thanksgiving 2019 experience. My son arrived late the night before, with his black cat, Obie, in tow. Our white cat – named Zeus, but generally just called "whitecat" – not only hates other cats, but he despises the humans who bring them around. This includes Cole, who was in high school when we took in the whitecat. Thanksgiving evening, when Cole stuck his head in the door of the master bedroom, the whitecat – who was lounging with my husband and me on the bed – began to snarl. Cole ignored him and walked away, but the whitecat continued to emit a series of growls, punctuated by an occasional hiss. He kept this up for about 10 minutes, until he was satisfied Cole wasn't going to return. The interloper cat never even emerged from Cole's old bedroom.
It's not over yet; Christmas is around the corner. So for all you pet lovers who insist on bringing your dog or cat along for the ride, I suggest you pack your own pet food, water supply, pet bedding, treats, toys, litter box and poop scooper before you hit the road. And apologize in advance, because if there's another pet at the end of the road, there may be trouble ahead – the kind that has nothing to do with party registration.