Hanukkah toys available for dogs and cats

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Muzzle tov.

Congratulations are in order for Jewish pet owners, who now can find Hanukkah toys for their Rover and Tabby.

Christmas-theme pet toys have been available for decades. But in recent years, such selections as stuffed menorahs, puffy gefilte fish and chewy holiday bones have become available for Hanukkah, which began this year at sundown Tuesday and runs through Dec. 15.

“My dog absolutely loves the menorah,” said Barb Gutthoff-Volk, buyer for the gift shop at Temple Israel on the East Side.

The shop is among a handful of central Ohio locations selling Hanukkah toys for pets, including a stuffed nine-candle menorah or hanukkiah.

The holiday symbol recalls a revolt by the Maccabees, Jewish freedom fighters, against their Syrian-Greek oppressors in 165 B.C. Tradition says the lamps at the Temple in Jerusalem had only a one-day supply of oil, but it miraculously lasted eight days. The menorah thus has eight candles, plus one more to light them.

Modern Hanukkah is also called the Festival of Lights. Although it is not a major religious observance, it has come to emphasize family celebrations and gift-giving.

Rabbi Howard Apothaker, spiritual leader at Temple Beth Shalom in suburban New Albany, says giving gifts to pets for holidays is a logical extension of the Jewish obligation of kevod habriut or “honoring creatures.”

“Jewish law requires that when you’re eating a meal you feed your pet before you eat,” he said.

Gutthoff-Volk’s Shih Tzu, Chanel, gets eight gifts, one for each day of Hanukkah. Gutthoff-Volk discovered a line of Jewish pet toys three years ago at a gift show in New York. Stuffed toys for cats cost about $5 and for dogs, $7 to $13.

Dog bones wrapped in clear plastic and other gift items, including the Chewish Toys brand, proved irresistible.

Some of the items bear shapes and symbols that are fitting any time of the year, but others are pegged to specific seasons, such as the stuffed matzo ball suggestive of the unleavened bread eaten during Passover. The bread symbolizes the haste with which the Israelites fled Egypt.

Joni Sucan, receptionist at the temple, has a small group of friends who have exchanged Hanukkah gifts for their pets the past decade. When they became aware of the specialty toys with Jewish symbols, they gobbled them up.

In Sucan’s case, so did her cat, Mookie, and dog, Meisha.

The dreidel, or top, that Jewish boys and girls play with during Hanukkah has its counterpart for the animal kingdom, Draydal the Dreidel.

It’s likely that hundreds of pups and kitties will be swiping paws at the boinging springy toy. Among them will be Emily, the 6-year-old mixed-breed dog of Elaine Tenenbaum, executive director at Temple Israel.

The shop’s goods are among $4 billion worth of pet toys expected to be sold this holiday season, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, based in Connecticut.

“Kosher” cows and menorahs are the top-selling Jewish pet toys at Posh Pets just north of downtown, manager Logan Kendrick said.

Such items take up only a part of the space devoted to pet toys at the shop, but interest is building, he said.

Whereas many of the Jewish toys pay at least marginal attention to the religious part of Hanukkah, all of the Christmas toys reflected only that holiday’s secular side.

Jo Johnson, owner of Posh Pets, said she’s never seen Christmas pet toys with religious emphasis and couldn’t explain why they’re not on the market.

She learned about the Jewish line of pet toys from a friend and sought them out at a trade show in Chicago in 2002.

“The first season it was insanity, because people had never really seen any of the products directed toward that particular religion,” she said. “Everything was much more so for Christmas. You had squeaky Santas and bears and moose that you see in general advertisements for the Christmas holidays.”

Adding Jewish products not only helped her reach out to a more diverse customer base, but also heightened her awareness about Judaism.