The dog days of Christmas

You think you’re overbooked during the holidays? Be glad you’re not a dog.

Between photos with Santa, doggie day care parties, fur blowouts, charitable commitments, and playing peacemaker at dysfunctional-family get-togethers, some canines are busier than people. There are antlers to model. Christmas cards to star in. Instragram poses to strike. Gifts to make.


“It used to be the kids who were overscheduled, now it’s the dogs,” said Julie Klam , author of the memoir “You Had Me at Woof: How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness.”

Consider Shale Bernstein, a 4-year-old border collie from Winthrop. Last year she “hosted” a holiday party for four dogs (and their owners). But with Thanksgiving falling so late this year, her regular swimming and agility lessons, and volunteer work as a “dog ambassador” at Ravenswood Park in Gloucester, who can find a free weekend?

“She’s already going to a tree trimming,” said her owner Karen Bernstein, an editorial specialist at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. Shale is also painting ornaments for her dog friends, a DIY project the dog accomplishes by rolling clear ornaments through blobs of non-toxic paint.

“Her style is very abstract,” Bernstein said.

There’s no shortage of statistics about America’s love affair with its animals. Over 90 percent of owners, or parents, consider a pet a member of the family, according to a 2011 Harris Poll. Americans are projected to spend $55.53 billion on pets this year, according to the American Pet Products Association , up from $32.4 billion a decade ago. Almost one-third of pets sleep in bed with their owners, according to a June poll by Public Policy Polling , and one in five owners prefer their pet’s company to that of most humans.


But numbers that capture the growing canine social whirl have yet to be calculated. All Kristi Andrews knows is that she’s a less sought-after guest than her black lab mix.

“Kiki gets invited to more parties than I do,” said Andrews, the owner of The Barkery , an all-natural gourmet bakery and pet spa in Tewksbury. “It’s sad — I’m only there as transportation.” (Andrews says she socializes with the other owners while the dogs party, “but I’m there because of her.”)

The malls are crazy this time of year, but as (human) socialites know, if you’re going to make the social scene, you’ve got to have something to wear.

Olive, a 5-pound Brussels Griffon, has been schlepped from store to store in search of a flattering holiday bow.

“It’s hard,” said her owner Deb Heroux, an accountant from Chelmsford. “She’s so small that anything on her head can look too big.”

At Pawsh, a Back Bay dog boutique, a shih tzu recently popped in for not one but two festive sweaters.

“She was going to two parties and the same people [and dogs] were going to be there,” said Pawsh co-owner Michael Maida. “She couldn’t wear the same thing.”

Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff

Karen Bernstein’s dog Shale decorates ornaments.

‘Kiki gets invited to more parties than I do. . . . I’m only there as transportation.’

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If dogs have a Red Carpet season, this is it, said Jeremy Greenberg , the author of “Sorry I Pooped in Your Shoe,” and other books about pets.

“All summer long the dog is ignored, then toward the end of October someone puts a cape on him, and he goes straight through to New Year’s.”

On a deeper level, Greenberg added, it’s often the dog, not the patriarch or matriarch, who keeps the peace at family get-togethers. “The dog is the only one who’s not tainted by who got more love as a child.

“The dog is there to love you and be fed,” he said. “That’s how we wish our relatives acted.”

And now that some dogs are guests in their own right — and not just tagging along with their owners — they’re expected to bring hostess gifts.

“Usually they buy three or four [fancy dog-cookie presents] knowing they are going to multiple parties,” Maida said. He re-created the owner-dog “conversations” that regularly take place in front of his bakery case: “Would Fido like this? Or that?”

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Lebowski gets fitted with a holiday outfit.

This is also the busy season at D’Tails in the South End, where a grooming can run up to $85. “We’re booked past New Year’s,” said owner Dawn Chin. “We get a lot of calls from people calling to see if we can squeeze them in. They have family coming in, or they’re taking pictures. They say it’s harder to get a dog-grooming appointment than a hair appointment for themselves.”

So central have dogs become to holiday traditions, that when Durty Harry’s, a dog boutique with locations in Charlestown and Brookline, hosted a photo session with Santa, a customer asked if it would be OK if she brought her children, too.

“Sure,” owner Michelle Fournier replied. “The kids are part of the family.”

Fournier posted pictures of the Dec. 1 Charlestown Santa photo shoot on the store’s Facebook page. As expected, the adorable shots were enjoyed by many — and triggered social media-induced insecurity in those who weren’t in on the furry fun. “Bummed to have missed this with Muppet-Head,” Muppet-Head’s owner wrote.

But being a dog about town can take a toll. In Charlestown, Lucky, a 7-year-old rescued golden retriever, has put on several pounds since Thanksgiving.

“He can’t keep his paws off the holiday treats,” said owner Tim LeCam, a consultant with Ernst & Young.

“Last night the upstairs neighbors asked me to help them carry up their Christmas tree, and Lucky was in there sniffing the tree and licking everyone’s wine glasses,” he said. “I think he loves the holidays because there’s so much food accessible.”

But not all dogs are “social butterflies,” said Claudia Kawczynska, editor in chief of The Bark magazine. “If the dog’s shy or nervous, or there are a lot children, or a lot of drinking, some dogs would rather stay home.”

Many people would, too, of course.

“But we’ve got to go,” she said. “We shouldn’t force that on our dogs.”

Beth Teitell can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.
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