It’s interesting when you’re canine-focused – one of my sons likes to say, “Mom, you have the most bizarre dog filter” – the things you notice around the holidays.

That’s how I got one of our most unusual Christmas decorations. The very first year I became a “dog editor,” as I now describe myself, my husband and I were in Home Depot. It was probably before Halloween, and the clerks were just starting to put out Christmas merchandise. At the end of one of those huge shelving units, they had created a display of large yard-type decorations. Among them, was a big black dog wearing a Santa hat that occasionally turned its head. It caught my eye, of course. It was really cute, and we had a good laugh about it.

I never gave it another thought. But come Christmas morning, there, under the tree, was the big black dog. My husband remembered that I’d admired it and braved a return to Home Depot – not one of his favorite stores – to get me one. It’s spawned a lot of smiles and laughter over the years.

Just this week I was in a big store, picking up cat litter. Yes, we’re a bi-species family. As I passed the dog toy aisle, I saw a man without a cart or bag whose hands were literally stuffed with toys. Whether he was buying them for his own dogs or a friend’s, I don’t know. But it was quite obvious that he was either having a tough time deciding or he was shopping for a number of his canine family members or friends. Either way, it made me smile. So many of us give our dogs gifts at the holidays, and it’s great to know that at least some owners, and I’m guessing it’s a lot of them, take the time to pick out something they know their dogs really will enjoy.

It could be, too, that he was picking out toys for some needy dogs as lots of organizations gather supplies and toys to donate to local shelters and rescues over the holidays. A long-term resident of our community is active in organizing and promoting such local activities, as well other dog-centric events. His efforts were strategic to the creation of a dog beach not far from our apartment. He’s at the helm of the annual Halloween dog parade, dog beauty contests and a blessing of the animals.

Since 2001, he’s organized Operation Santa Paws. At 29 businesses around our area, people drop off all kind of supplies and items to help dogs that don’t have permanent homes. From durable toys to treats to shampoo, puppy food, laundry detergent, bleach, peanut butter and paper towels, the myriad donations serve to make the pets’ lives better as well as the job easier for those who care for them temporarily.

So many people donate in our city and others nearby that Santa Paws is able to support four major shelters: Long Beach [California] Animal Care Services, Long Beach SPCA-LA, Seal Beach Animal Care Center and Orange County Animal Care Services.

It does my heart good to know that so many people care about homeless animals.

Walking in our neighborhood is particularly fun around the holidays. Just last night we saw our dog Max’s closest relative – looks-wise anyway. Fenway’s a Chihuahua mix too, much larger than a Chi and with a brindle coat. Both dogs are gray in the face, although Max is clearly advanced in that department. But instead of Fenway’s normal beautiful coat, we were treated to a Santa Claus outfit. As we enjoyed the lights and trees in people’s homes along the way, we got to giggle at Fenway’s outing as Santa Claws. (See what I did there?)

It’s not only such “costumes” that we see around this time of year. I’ve seen a couple of sweaters on dogs that I’d like to own for myself – in a much larger size, of course.

Max isn’t a clothing guy – not even a sweater when it’s damp and cold despite his hairless chest and abdomen. But he will agree to wear his Christmas scarf one day a year. He looks absolutely darling in it – even if I have to say so myself. Don’t you agree? By the end of December 25 when we take it off though, he’s ready for a good scratch around the neck – with his collar off, too, of course. I think he might tolerate the scarf for the day just in anticipation of that long, lovely ministration.

One more doggie thing before I close. When I was a magazine editor, I had a reader who often sent in photos of her Scottie – just for me to enjoy. Bear was a real cutie. One time she posed him with the magazine and sent that. Over the years, we became friends of a sort. She once sent me a note that was imprinted with “Everything I know I learned from my Dog,” after which she added the name of the magazine. I took that as high praise.

One holiday season, she sent me one of those pop-up cards that have gotten popular over the last few years. It’s a cozy scene of a fireplace with stockings hanging from the mantle – and a little Scottie at the ready to protect her home from the interloper – Santa Claus coming down the chimney. I put the card away with our decorations every year so I can see it on an annual basis. It brings back memories of my old friend who loved her Scottie like nobody’s business.

Of course, none of these is the best part of being a dog person at the holidays. It doesn’t matter whether you give your dogs a gift or not. It doesn’t matter if it’s just you or a whole houseful of relatives. It doesn’t matter if you’re preparing a turkey frozen dinner or a festive feast. Your dogs are there beside you, ready to play or go for a walk, making you smile and giving you joy on the holiday and every day of the year.

Now, that’s a real present.