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MONDAY, DECEMBER 4, 2006
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By Danielle Komis
dkomis@decaturdaily.com· 340-2447

Ahh, the holiday season. For many, it’s the most wonderful time of the year. There are presents to wrap, family to see and goodies to bake. For others, the holidays are the worst time of year, often for the same reasons.

But whether you’re a fan or foe, one common denominator exists — all the hubbub is distracting. And little oversights can lead to a variety of accidents or risks, and unfortunately, tragedy.

But don’t run screaming into your home, deadbolt the door and disconnect the electricity just yet. Instead of letting the arms of paranoia envelop you like Aunt Millie’s at Christmas dinner, take some simple precautions that will keep you, your family and even your pets safe.

Fire hazards

Lt. Doug Davies, Decatur Fire and Rescue public education officer, said he has seen too many homes damaged around Christmastime because of preventable oversights.

“We’re all a little lulled into complacency at Christmas,” he said. Davies offered these tips to stay fire-free during this time of year.

Use your light bulb: Differentiate between decorative lights intended for indoor and outdoor use and then use them only for what they were intended. Indoor lights should not be used outside because they are not moisture resistant and outdoor lights cause problems inside because they may generate too much heat, Davies said.

A dry tree is a dangerous tree: A dried out live Christmas tree is extremely flammable, so take every precaution to prevent your tree from drying out, Davies said.

While many people know they should water their tree daily, many don’t realize that placing the tree over a vent or near electronics will cause it to lose moisture more rapidly.

Close any vents near the tree and place it away from electronic equipment that produces heat, Davies said.

Never leave your tree lights or outdoor Christmas lights on if you’re not going to be home, even if you think you’ll be gone only a few minutes.

Cooking dangers: As cooking increases around the holiday season, so do grease fires, Davies said.

Always keep the lid of the pan nearby in case a fire flares up, and immediately cover the fire or snuff it out with baking soda or a fire extinguisher. Nowadays, thermostat-controlled deep fryers are available, which would prevent grease from heating to a dangerous temperature, he said. Never throw water or flour on a kitchen fire.

Crime prevention

People need to be extra aware during the holiday season, because criminals are looking for quick cash, said Lt. Chris Mathews, Decatur police spokesman. To keep from becoming a sitting duck for criminals, he offered these hints:

Break it down: Once electronic presents have been opened, the empty TV, DVD player and computer boxes often get tossed to the curb. But don’t tempt thieves to burglarize your home, Mathews said.

“Tear the box down and turn it inside out,” he said.

Or, take it somewhere where it can be recycled, he suggested.

Faking out burglars: While there’s no need to go all out like Macaulay Culkin on “Home Alone,” a little pretend activity at your house when you’re out of town will help deter would-be burglars.

Mathews suggested setting light timers and having a trusted friend pick up newspapers and mail while you’re gone.

For extra protection, Decatur police will keep an eye on your home while you’re gone, providing you request this service, Mathews said.

Pet safety

While many parents are careful to keep little Billy or Jenny away from Christmas hazards, sometimes pets slip under the radar and get into home décor or food that is hazardous to them.

Dr. Tracey Black-Lowery, a veterinarian at Animal Tracks Veterinary Hospital in Decatur, offered several tips to keep your “other” little ones safe.

ID, please: Because people are
traveling during the holidays, their pets are usually traveling, too. However, travel provides a scary opportunity for stressed, confused pets to dart out of vehicles once the door is opened when you stop at a rest area or gas station.

Black-Lowery advised keeping pets in carriers when they’re traveling, and making sure they have a collar with their name, address and phone number on it so they can be returned if found. Or, visit your vet and get a microchip implanted under the animal’s skin.

People food is not for pets: Just because you’re eating ham for Christmas dinner doesn’t mean that your pet should. Many “people” foods cause problems for cats and dogs, Black-Lowery said.

Ham and other types of pork often cause digestive problems and can lead to inflammation of the pancreas.

Also, chocolate is well known for its danger to dogs, but few people know that baking chocolate is the most deadly.

“You don’t have to leave it out, they’ll seek it out,” Black-Lowery warned.

If your dog ingests chocolate, give it hydrogen peroxide as soon as possible to induce vomiting, and immediately seek medical care.

Limit the tree décor: Cats and dogs are curious creatures often attracted to shiny tinsel and foil icicles on your Christmas tree. The animals often end up eating these items, which can lead to vomiting, diarrhea or other problems, Black-Lowery said. Leave the bottom part of your tree decoration-free to limit the animal’s ability to chomp on items they shouldn’t ingest.

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