Q: In this season's Christmas catalogs, I've seen lots of clothes for pets. Fancy collars, bandannas, boots, visors -- even pearls for a cat! And what about sweat shirts with team logos on them, colorful "apres ski" sweaters, rain coats and matching pet/owner sweat suits? Is this all foolishness, or is there ever a legitimate reason to put clothes on a pet?
A: I guess it depends on what you consider a "legitimate reason." A lot of people get a kick out of making their pet look "more human" with the addition of sunglasses and a hat. (Anyone who has ever judged a pet photography contest can vouch for this.)
Other folks like to add some fun to a holiday gathering by putting a bow tie on the cat. For the most part, animal clothing is just for fun.
In other cases, pet wear is more than a frivolous fashion statement. A friend of mine bought her lovely collie a rain slicker for bad-weather walks, and brought me up short when I teased her about it.
"Any water that hits the slicker doesn't hit the dog," she says, "and any water that doesn't hit the dog doesn't hit the couch when we get home. A big, wet, long-haired dog makes one smelly mess, and the slicker keeps me from having to deal with it."
Fair enough. Of course, protective gear is especially helpful on old or sick dogs, or on chronically cold-blooded breeds such as whippets. Having spent the better part of two winters dog-sitting an ancient beagle, I can vouch for the shiver-suppressing benefits of a well-fitting sweater on an old dog. It's a kindness bordering on necessity for owners of such old-timers.
Even young dogs with a good coat of fur can use the extra protection if they're house pets in a cold climate. Such animals don't spend enough time outside to develop a winter coat, and can use a little help staying warm during brief trips out.
Despite what you see in the catalogs, winter protection for older pets doesn't have to be expensive. For larger dogs, a castoff sweater or sweat shirt will do, if you shorten the sleeves a bit and aren't fussy about the ragtag look. And machine-washable polyester sweaters will keep small dogs comfortable with little cash outlay.
*Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o At Home, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md., 21278