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Santa's sleigh-pulling reindeer, it turns out, are probably girls!

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!"

Santa said those words to his reindeer when he "whistled and shouted and called them by name."

Those lines, and the names of the reindeer, were immortalized in the Christmas poem, "A Visit from St. Nicholas" by Clement Clarke Moore. That's the tale that begins, "'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house ..."

The sleigh-pulling reindeer depicted in books and movies always have big racks of antlers atop their heads. Perhaps that's why I've always assumed Santa's reindeer are males. But for the fourth or fifth year in a row, I've received e-mails telling me that all of Santa's reindeer are females.

The first e-mail on this topic this year was sent Oct. 24 by my co-worker, Steve Karlinchak, who works in the Post-Gazette library. Karlinchak has frequently helped with background research and column ideas. Although his official title is "information specialist," he sometimes signs his e-mails with the moniker, "Conan the Librarian."

Here's his latest contribution to Pet Tales:

"According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, while both male and female reindeer grow antlers in the summer each year, male reindeer drop their antlers at the beginning of winter -- usually late November to mid-December. Female reindeer retain their antlers till after they give birth in the spring.

"Therefore, according to every historical rendition depicting Santa's reindeer, every single one of them, from Rudolph to Blitzen ... had to be a girl. We should've known. Only women would be able to drag a fat man in a red velvet suit all around the world in one night, and not get lost."

It's hard to know where this type of e-mail comes from. There are no footnotes or references -- just a long list of e-mail addresses of other people who have received and forwarded the information.

So I contacted the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. To save the cost of a long-distance call, I sent an e-mail that was picked up by Nancy Long. She forwarded my questions to another employee at Alaska Fish and Game, adding, "Martha, It's that time of year again."

Here's what a very patient and good-natured Martha L. Krueger e-mailed back to me:

"Yes, we get contacted every Christmas (at least for the last four or five years) about this story. While we won't commit totally to the fact that 'the girls' are the only ones who can keep Santa on track and on time around the world, it is a biological fact that adult males do shed their antlers in very early winter. The females don't shed theirs until they calve in the spring, and some 'young-of-the-year' don't shed until early spring."

So there we have it, from people who live and work in the land of reindeer: It's not impossible for male reindeer to have antlers on Dec. 24, but it is unlikely. Therefore, the sleigh-pulling reindeer are probably females.

Although Cupid is a male name, six of the reindeer names are sexless. I guess we should have wondered about the gender of a deer named Vixen, though. A vixen, by definition, is a female fox or a shrewish ill-tempered woman.

The e-mails may have come from the snopes.com Urban Legends Reference Pages. A longer version of the e-mail I received can be found at www.snopes.com/holidays/Christmas/reindeer.asp .

Some of the information in the e-mails and the snopes site seems to have been pulled from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Reindeer Research Program internet pages. Reindeer, according to that site -- reindeer.salrm.uaf.edu/ -- are actually a "semi-domesticated caribou."

The site has lots of other information including pictures and a "name the calf" program. Schoolchildren in Alaska have provided names that include Charlie, Daisy, Zoey, Shelby, Jasmine and Tundra Joe. I didn't see a Rudolph or a Blitzen or Vixen anywhere on that list.



Santa always finds out who's naughty or nice, and so do pet owners.

While good pets will undoubtedly get toys and treats for Christmas, here's something for the dogs and cats who have been naughty.

Petrotech Odor Eliminator is guaranteed to eliminate bad odors instead of just scenting over bad smells. The product will work on urine, feces, skunk spray, smoke, sweat or food odors, according to the people at SeaYu Enterprises who make the product.

The product has received two "editor's choice" awards from two of the bigger pet magazines -- Dog Fancy and Cat Fancy. Both magazines report this month that Petrotech Odor Eliminator is the best product on the market.

The company says SeaYu/Petrotech Odor Eliminator "encapsulates odors on contact" and eliminates them through a "biodegradation process." They say their "all natural" product contains no harsh or toxic chemicals and is noncarcinogenic, noncorrosive and nonflammable.

A 16-ounce spray can sells for $12.95 on the company's Web site -- www.sea-yu.com -- or it can be ordered by phone by calling toll free: 1-877-854-6624. Currently no Pittsburgh stores are carrying the product, according to the Web site.

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