Halloween can be scary for petsPublished 10:16am Saturday, October 27, 2012
Disguised as little goblins, ghosts or ghouls, kids will soon be prowling the streets in their annual Halloween quest to extort candy from benevolent neighbors. But for some family members, the spooky festivities may be downright dangerous.
Whereas a candy overdose may induce the occasional belly ache in kids or send some into brief fits of hyper-sugar overdrive, sweet treats can lead to more serious problems for pets. The greatest danger comes from chocolate which contains theobromine, a chemical that is especially toxic to dogs.
Oddly enough, theobromine contains no bromine (nor, for that matter, any theo). It derives its name from Theobroma meaning, more or less, ‘food of the gods’ – quite appropriate for anything to do with the heavenly confectionary.
Other dangers for dogs include raisins which can affect their kidney function. Special vigilance is also needed around impatient puppies that might be tempted to sneak wrapped Halloween treats on the sly. In addition to the chocolate risk, tinfoil candy wrappers can lodge in a puppy’s throat or lead to bowel obstructions. Halloween food hazards are less of a concern for cats, since they don’t usually have a sweet tooth. But they still face dangers this time of year.
When it comes to cats and Halloween, no one is more familiar with the nocturnal October ritual than actress Cassandra Peterson, better known to millions as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, who passed on some Halloween advice when I spoke with her a while back.
Sporting an oversized black wig, a low and behold form-fitting black dress, and enough makeup to give the Avon lady a hernia, Cassandra has been playing the campy Elvira character since 1981. She first poured herself into the famous tightfitting attire when hired to host late-night horror movies for a Los Angeles television station.
Cassandra has used her popularity and high public profile to support a number of causes, including animal welfare. She starred in a pro-vegetarianism commercial proclaiming that ‘dead things should be buried, not eaten’ and has narrated a radio public service announcement asking people to keep their cats safely indoors at Halloween.
Though her witty, wisecracking humor is a treat for adults, Cassandra finds nothing funny about tricks that some people play on cats, especially black cats which are traditionally associated with the darker side of Halloween.
“There’s always a few pranksters who may tease, injure, steal, or even kill pets during Halloween,” she warned. “Many animal shelters are aware of increased thefts of black cats around Halloween and some won’t even adopt out black cats during October.”
Of course, weird costumes and spooky rituals are standard for the Mistress of the Dark who recalls many interesting Halloween stunts of her own, such as being buried in a coffin for up to 30 minutes at a time, while preparing to emerge for photo shoots or filming. “I think I’ve spent more time in a coffin than any person alive!”
Over the three decades she has been performing as Elvira, Cassandra has also interacted with some less than cuddly critters. “I’ve had to lie down with over a hundred snakes piled on top of me, and kiss tarantulas from time to time.”
Cuddly or not, she emphasizes that all animals used in Elvira promotions were handled in a safe and humane way, a philosophy consistent with her concern for animal welfare.
Clearly, her message along these lines is a simple one: “With kids dressed in wacky costumes running all over the place and ringing doorbells, pets can get scared and run away, and dogs may even bite. So it’s a good idea to place pets in a secure, quiet room during the trick-or-treat evening hours. I just hope people will do their best to watch out for all animals not only at Halloween, but throughout the year.”
Nick Thomas is a guest columnist for The Outlook.