Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Importance of Play Dates for Dogs

By Suzanne Alicie

You can take your dog for a run or enjoy a game of fetch in the backyard to provide him with much needed play and exercise, so why would you go to the trouble of arranging play dates for your dog? Don’t you have enough to do with kids, work and home? Keep reading to find out the importance of play dates for your dog.

Imagine that you are walking your dog in the park; suddenly he sees another dog and goes crazy pulling on the leash, barking and dragging you along as he runs after this other dog. This can lead to reluctance to take your dog anywhere he may encounter other dogs. The fear that your dog will attack another dog or even a person can lead you to feel much safer playing with and exercising your dog at home.

This is where play dates come in. Dogs are social animals, and many of their behaviors that may seem threatening are simply their pack nature. Dogs are either submissive or dominant, and in any group of canines there will emerge a natural alpha dog. By setting up play dates and allowing your dog to indulge in the sniffing and romping that is normal for him, you are allowing him to be a dog.

Dogs need to be socialized not only with other animals, but with other humans as well. A dog who is isolated and only interacts with their own family will tend to be more high strung and vocal when he encounters other people or animals.

Early socialization helps puppies grow up to be amiable and cooperative around other dogs and people. If your dog is already grown and hasn’t socialized with other dogs and people very much, it is important to start slowly to socialize him. Arrange to meet a friend to walk your two dogs together at the park. If your friend’s dog is used to other dogs and not afraid, it will be better for your dog to adjust to.

Muzzle your dog to prevent any accidental damage should he become frightened or aggressive. When you meet your friend, allow the dogs to do their doggie thing. Give them time to sniff and become accustomed to one another before beginning your walk. Don’t despair if your dog growls or even cowers from the other dog in the beginning. He is simply reacting to the other dog and after a few moments will take his behavior cues from his new friend. This is why it is important to introduce your dog to another dog that has been socialized. Bringing two un-socialized dogs together can be chaos.

As your dog becomes more accustomed to his new doggie friend, find a few more people that you know with dogs to join you on your walks. Over time your dog will grow to look forward to the time he gets to spend with his canine friends. You will be able to remove the muzzle and in certain situations even unleash the dogs and allow them to run and play together. These play dates make for dogs who aren’t timid or aggressive with new dogs or new people that they encounter.

Your dog will thrive and be much happier if he is allowed to play with other canines. While interaction with people is important, dogs need time to be pack animals, to find their place within their circle of friends, and to learn more about being a dog as well as a pet.

Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How to Handle Soft Tissue Injuries in Dogs

By Linda Cole

Dogs love to run, jump and romp inside and outside. But just like us, dogs can pull a muscle, sprain an ankle and even break a bone. Most soft tissue injuries in dogs come from falls, fights, accidents, and during exercise and play. My dogs love chasing each other around their enclosure and until recently, we had a nice layer of snow to run and play in. However, dogs can slip in the snow and ice, and end up with pulled muscles, stretched tendons or torn ligaments. Soft tissue injuries in dogs can range from mild to severe. When a dog develops a limp, that's a sign they're in pain and we need to pay attention to it.

Like us, mild muscle pulls or sprains will heal in a few days; however, unless you are a qualified vet, never try to treat your dog at home if you notice them limping more than two days. Broken bones need to be x-rayed to make sure there are no complications or other injuries associated with it and a vet needs to properly set the bone. Pulled muscles, sprains or strains need to be evaluated to insure an injury is not something serious. Dogs are also not the best patient in the house when it comes to bed rest to allow something to heal.

Soft tissues are muscles, ligaments and tendons. Tendons attach the muscles to the bones, and ligaments connect one bone to another bone. Swelling and pain usually occurs when one of the soft tissues is injured and unless the pain is severe, dogs seldom complain about an injury. To them, it's a sign of weakness and they will try to hide pain and not show they are hurt. We probably won't know how serious an injury is unless they are limping or indicate pain when we touch the injured area. A soft tissue injury can be a mild bruising to a severe tear or rupture and treatment may include medication and bed rest. Surgery may be required to repair the damage.

Anytime your dog is limping, has swelling and can't put his full weight on a leg, an immediate trip to the vet is necessary. If he has taken a fall down a flight of steps or slipped while running in snow or playing with you or other pets and you notice him limping in pain, it's always best to be safe with a call to your vet.

Mild strains and pulls should heal quickly on their own. Two days is the maximum time you should allow for a mild soft tissue injury to heal. If he continues to limp, it indicates the injury has not healed and is more severe than you thought. The severity of the injury can only be diagnosed by a vet who will want to take x-rays to make sure there's been no bone damage before deciding on a treatment.

Soft tissue injuries can be difficult to diagnose. X-rays will only spot problems with the bones and not injuries to muscles, ligaments or tendons. A vet will make his evaluation based on the amount of swelling and pain around the affected area and range of motion the dog has around the injury.

A dog may be limping because they have a cut on or between their paw pads or between their toes. They could have a toenail that needs attention or they could have a rock, burr or some other foreign object stuck in between the pads of their feet. Limping isn't always caused by a soft tissue injury.

A dog with a soft tissue injury will need to be confined to a small area in the home to allow his injury to heal. When he needs to go outside, make sure to keep him on a leash so he doesn't do more damage by trying to run and play. Try to avoid any stairs if possible. Consider a temporary ramp if you have to use steps and the dog is too big to carry. Like kids, they may try to convince you they are feeling better before they've had adequate time to heal. It's important for them to heal completely before allowing them to go back to their usual routine. If their injury isn't completely healed, they will only aggravate it and you'll have to start all over again, and it could be more severely injured the second time around.

Dogs love to play, and things can happen we can't foresee. We may not be able to prevent soft tissue injuries in our dogs, but responsible pet owners need to understand how to handle them. With proper vet care and home care, your dog will get back on his feet in no time.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

Monday, March 29, 2010

Do Our Emotions Affect Our Pets?

By Julia Williams

I recently saw a TV commercial that featured a depressed man whose dog sat there looking very sad because his owner was not giving him any attention. An internet search revealed it was part of the “Depression Hurts” campaign for the anti-depressant Cymbalta. This ad asks, “Who does depression hurt? Everyone.” Apparently, this includes our pets. Delving further on Google, I found this interesting post on Twitter: “Is it just me, or does the Cymbalta commercial kind of guilt you into taking depression meds so your dog won't be sad for you anymore?”

This got me to thinking about human emotions, and pondering whether we, as pet owners, pass our moods and feelings on to our pets. Could a depressed owner create a depressed dog? Could the pet of a stressed out, anxious, angry, manic or overly fearful owner begin to feel the same way? In contrast, would the pet of a cheerful, optimistic, happy-go-lucky human be just like them?

I suppose one first has to ask, do pets have emotions? Some people, especially scientific types and those who are not “pet people,” say no. They believe emotions exist only in humans. However, most pet owners tend to disagree, because they see proof that animals have emotions every day. Responsible pet owners who spend quality time with their animal companions, can tell what kind of mood they are in by reading their body language and facial expressions. We know whether our pets are eager or fearful, happy or sad, mad or content. What are those then, if not emotions?

Every pet owner likely has no shortage of anecdotal evidence of their dog or cat picking up on their emotional state. We see firsthand just how sensitive animals are to our moods, and we see them react accordingly. When I am sad and crying, my cats all crowd around me. They head-butt my hands and face, try other things to get my attention, and stick to me like glue if I am in bed. It’s as if they are saying, “We know you are hurting, how can we make it better?”

I also know that when I am in high spirits, my cats seem happier too. Rocky will sometimes meet me at the door when I come home. After I pick him up, hug him exuberantly and tell him how glad I am to see him, he then prances around the kitchen like he’s king of the castle. Dogs are often more aggressive to people who fear them. Much like children will do when their parents fight, dogs and cats slink away to hide or sulk when their owners are arguing.

Nonetheless, it can be hard to convince science-minded individuals that animals have emotions, primarily because it's nearly impossible to measure feelings. While it may be crystal clear to a pet owner that their dog or cat has as a full spectrum of emotions, science can’t quantify them – yet. As such, it’s easy to discount the role that emotions play in pets.

From an evolutionary standpoint, it seems silly to believe that the ability to sense mood occurred for the first and only time in the human animal. Yet even if we believe that animals have emotions and can sense our moods, does that mean we automatically transfer our feelings to our pets? If a person is constantly agitated or angry, I am positive this would negatively affect their pet’s emotional state. But is the pet taking on those emotions, or are they merely reacting to them? What do you think?

Read more articles by Julia Williams

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Does Dog Gender Make a Difference?

By Ruthie Bently

I grew up with female dogs, and have owned both males and females. All my AmStaffs seem to have been picked for me for one reason: there was a dog that needed a home when I wanted a dog. I didn’t consider gender, because I didn’t think it mattered.

I haven’t read anything definitive on whether females or males are better, though I’ve read that many police departments tend to choose intact males for their canine units. Female dogs tend to be smaller in size than their male counterparts, in both weight and height. Males in theory have more stamina and energy, though you can’t prove that at our house. To exercise Skye we spend at least twenty minutes three times a day in the yard playing ball or chasing a disk, or we go for a long walk. She will be panting at the end of our exercise sessions, but doesn’t want to quit.

There are differences between the genders of intact male and female dogs. A non-spayed female dog usually has two “heat” seasons a year. Her behavior during this time will change and she’ll be receptive to males, will wander the neighborhood if allowed out, and be more vocal. If she has young puppies she will be more protective of them and may act aggressively. She may even mark her own territory, to let the neighborhood males know she’s available. A non-neutered male dog will search out a female in season, fight other male dogs, may behave inappropriately toward their owner by “humping” their leg, and will mark their territory to attract a female in season. While this may be the norm, I have known spayed females that mark their territory too. Depending on the age your dog is spayed or neutered at, if they have already developed some of the behaviors described they may never get over them.

To my knowledge there is no scientific study that shows whether a male or female dog is better. Several obedience judges and veterinarians were surveyed about their opinions in the book, The Perfect Puppy, by Lynette and Benjamin Hart. The traits of behavior between males and females were discussed and the consensus was that male dogs were more dog aggressive and more apt to attempt dominance over their owners. Females on the other hand, were thought to be easier to housebreak and train.

I have read a lot of forum threads on the subject lately, and have seen information that shows no marked behavior differences between male and female dogs. One forum I read stated that males were preferred as pets, but that it also depended on the breed of dog. If you are looking at a breed with specific traits like being laid back, gentle and quiet, it won’t matter if you get a male or a female. The same can be said for a breed that is known for being more active; either sex will have the breed’s traits. Theoretically this would hold true for a mixed breed as well; a Lab/terrier mix would have Labrador Retriever and terrier traits. Both dog genders can have temperament and behavior issues.

When trying to decide whether to get a male or a female dog, I think it depends on you and what you want or need. The most important thing is to evaluate your situation. The needs of your family should be considered too. What do you want in your new companion? Do you need a working dog or a companion? Your energy level should be considered as well. While all dogs need some amount of exercise every day, if you are not overly active you won’t want to be going for a five mile walk every day. If you have children, the size of the dog should be considered. Too large a dog can bowl over a child if they are running full tilt with a ball.

At the end of the day, I personally don’t think gender makes a difference. You want a well-behaved dog that won’t be afraid of you and cower in a corner. You’re taking on a responsibility that will last the life of the dog, which could be between 15-20 years. Leave yourself open to the possibilities, and don’t let gender cloud the issue.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Feline Health Concerns

By Suzanne Alicie

Cats seem to be pretty easy pets to care for; all they really ask for are food, water and a clean litter box. But felines in general have many health concerns that responsible pet owners should be aware of and discuss with their veterinarian.

Hairballs - Because cats groom themselves they are always swallowing loose hair. Occasionally this hair forms into a ball and lodges in the cat’s stomach; your cat may do a great deal of coughing and hacking to dislodge the hairball, eventually coughing it up and out. If your cat is unable to expel a hairball then it is time to take action. There are over the counter medications that you can use to help the cat pass the hairball one way or the other, or you can visit your vet and he will administer a treatment after examining the cat to make sure there are no other problems.

Worms - Roundworms, tapeworms, hook worms and even heartworms can affect your cat. If left untreated, worms can be fatal to your feline friend. You can take your cat to the vet to be checked for worms and choose the best treatment for the specific type of worms.

Urinary Tract Infections - Bladder problems are common in both sexes of cats; however male cats risk a life threatening blockage due to urinary and bladder infections. A veterinarian should examine any cat you believe has a UTI or any problems with urination.

Fleas - Flea infestations cause anemia and have been known to kill kittens. Many times you can deal with fleas at home with flea dips and treatments to prevent infestation, but in the case of kittens younger than 6 months you should contact your vet before using any topical treatments. Linda Cole has written two helpful articles on how to fight fleas: Natural Flea Control for Dogs and Cats, and Winter is the Best Time to Fight Fleas.

Cat Flu - This viral infection that affect the upper respiratory tract can make your cat very sick, and can even kill young kittens and older cats. Pus leaking from the eyes, sneezing and thick discharge from the nose, fever or loss of appetite are all symptoms of cat flu. A veterinarian should be consulted immediately if your cat is displaying any of these symptoms.

FIV - Also known as feline AIDS, this disease lowers the cat’s immunity to common infections. A cat that suffers a long list of illnesses is commonly found to have FIV. While there is no vaccine for FIV, all cats should be tested so that preventive steps can be taken.

Feline Leukemia Virus - Thanks to a recent vaccine, FLV is no longer the most common fatal disease in cats. Cats that contract FLV rarely have a long life expectancy, and all cats should be immunized while young before they are in contact with any other cat that may have FLV.

Abscessed Wounds - The skin on a cat is tough and does not tear easily. This means that when a cat gets a scratch or bite the skin heals over quickly, often trapping bacteria underneath. These bacteria can cause your cat to become very ill as the infection spreads. An abscess can rupture on its own releasing thick yellow pus. If you clean this with warm salt water or peroxide the abscess will usually heal with no further problems. If an abscess does not rupture you should take your cat to the vet so that he can drain it and resolve the infection with antibiotics.

By keeping a close eye on your cat and his behavior, you can many times head off any health concerns before they become a problem.

Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie

Friday, March 26, 2010

Signs That Show Your Dog Respects You

By Linda Cole

The loyalty of our dogs cannot be questioned; they will stand by us through thick and thin. Dogs can be well behaved and guard our homes and property, but it doesn't necessarily mean they respect you. You can tell if your dog respects you by how they interact with you.

Happy tail wagging, ears laid back and submissive body language when you return home is one sign your dog respects you. Lip licking, grooming you and even a kiss on the cheek are signs that they recognize you as their leader and respect you.

In the dog world, the leader always goes first. A dog who races to the door ahead of his owner is showing disrespect, and doesn't see the human as the alpha of his pack. When your dog respects you, he stays calmly behind you and waits for you to walk through the doorway first. Whether you are going outside for a walk, up or down steps or someone has knocked on the door, a respectful dog will never push ahead of his owner.

The alpha always eats first and never gives out scraps of food while eating. The dog who recognizes you as his leader and respects you will never steal food from your hand, the dinner table or your plate. He will wait until you decide it's time for him to eat. Anytime you feed your dog, if you haven't eaten beforehand, take a snack and eat it in front of your dog and then feed him. If you can leave your food unattended for a short time, that's a big sign your dog respects you.

The leader of the pack always takes the prime places for sitting or lying down. The respectful dog will move out of your way anytime you claim a spot on the couch, your chair or in your bed. There's nothing wrong with allowing your dog on the furniture or in bed with you, but never allow him to push you out of your spot. When you get up, the dog should take a position on the floor and if he is lying in your path, he will get up and move if he respects you. Never walk around your dog. Make him move out of your way.

We need to groom, bathe, trim toenails, give medication, put on flea control and do things the dog may not like. A dog who respects and trusts his owner will not growl while things are being attended to no matter how much he dislikes it. Dogs use eye contact to challenge and intimidate subordinates in the pack. If your dog respects you, he will break eye contact with you first. Never look away from your dog first if he is staring at you.

A dog who completely ignores your commands to sit, drop it, stay or lie down is showing they are the ones who decide when and what they will do. Following your rules and basic commands not only shows your dog respects you, but it's important for them to learn and obey commands because they don't understand the danger a moving car can present to them if they ignore it.

Being the leader of the pack is an awesome responsibility. Your dog is giving you his trust that you will provide him with what he needs and do so in a respectful matter as his leader. But you have to earn your dog's trust and respect. It's not automatic and you do have to prove yourself to your dog. An owner who appears weak as a leader, is inconsistent, unfair, shows that the dog intimidates them and allows their dog to be dominate has lost the battle for control, and the dog will not respect them.

When a dog doesn't respect his owner, it can open the door to an out of control, unhappy dog and owner who clash every day. An owner who has not taken full command of his dog will have an unstable and potentially more aggressive pet that is difficult to handle. These are the dogs that often end up in shelters or even abandoned.

It's not difficult to earn a dog's respect and trust. By taking the alpha role and showing your dog love, kindness and your own respect for him, your dog will gladly follow and obey you. Be consistent in your training, fair in your punishment if and when it's needed and give your dog lots of praise. Set aside playing time to bond, and stay in control to earn your dog's respect and the right to the best places to sit and sleep.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Social Media Has Gone to the Dogs... and the Cats too!

By Julia Williams

Not so long ago, it used to be frowned upon for people to give human characteristics to animals, which is known as anthropomorphism (how’s that for an unwieldy word!). Those who were against it said things like “animals shouldn’t talk” and “animals can’t think or reason” etc.

My, how times have changed. This public disapproval of anthropomorphism seems to have faded into oblivion. I suppose it’s to be expected, given that the age we live in is so vastly different now, technologically speaking. The internet is firmly entrenched in the daily lives of everyone from teens to seniors. Most of us check email at least daily and visit many different websites and blogs every week. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have become the new gathering spot. Moreover, humans aren’t the only ones using social media to communicate – now there are countless dogs with blogs, and cats that tweet! Not only that, they are doing it with great success.

Consider these impressive numbers:

Surf Dog Ricochet, the inspirational canine who has raised over $20,000 surfing for charity, has nearly 5,700 Facebook fans. Surf Dog Ricochet also has her own website.

Nora the Piano Cat apparently tickles more than the ivories – she has more than 1500 Facebook fans and 1600+ Twitter followers. The Piano Cat also has her own website and blog, both of which “she” updates regularly.

● Charlene Butterbean is a surrogate mama cat to kittens fostered by Laurie Cinotto, aka, The Itty Bitty Kitty Committee. Ms. Butterbean (or “the Bean” as she is often called) has nearly 1,100 Facebook friends and the same number of Twitter followers.

Giant George, a blue Great Dane who is the world’s tallest dog according to Guinness World Records, has more than 40,000 Facebook fans.

Compare some of those numbers to the Facebook fans of world renowned writers such as Anne Rice (60,000) or J.K Rowling (58,000) and you can’t help but be impressed. Truly, the following these canines and felines have amassed in just a few short years is a testament to the power that pets have to touch our hearts.

In addition to all of the Facebook pages and Twitter accounts purportedly manned by canines and felines, there are many other technological pet inventions that indicate we are in a new era. Take for example, the Twitter-enabled dog collar from Mattel called Puppy Tweets. When the collar’s tiny device detects barking or movement, it randomly posts one of 500 phrases to the dog’s Twitter page. According to the Huffington Post, there’s also an intriguing new app from Japan called BowLingual, which supposedly analyzes your dog's bark and translates it into one of six emotions. It syncs the phrase, which can then be tweeted through your dog's Twitter account.

Last year, the aforementioned Charlene Butterbean wore a “Cat Cam,” a collar with a tiny camera attached that automatically snapped photos every 15 minutes. The pictures were then uploaded to the IBKC blog so readers could log on to see what the Bean was doing throughout the day – mostly sleeping, eating and kitten wrangling (but please don’t ask me how I know that).

The “Shiba Inu Puppy Cam” became an internet phenomenon in 2009. This website featured a live-streamed webcam focused on six adorable newborn Shiba Inu pups doing all of the things that puppies normally do. I confess to getting my daily virtual puppy fix, although I usually only watched for a few minutes because it seemed like every time I tuned in the puppies were asleep. Those puppies eventually went to their forever homes, and now there is a new Shiba Inu Puppy Cam with five more fluffballs the public can fawn over via their computer monitor.

Should dogs blog? And what of tweeting cats? Should people put their puppies on a virtual display for the world to view whenever they want? I don’t see why not. If one chooses to pretend that a dog can type and is sending them a message on Facebook, that’s their business. If one considers it cool to get an email from a cat (ahem…that would be me), why should anyone else care? There’s no harm done to the animals, who are probably asleep in a corner of the room while their designated “PR agent” types away to their adoring fans. Intelligent people do realize that dogs and cats can’t type. Right?

Read more articles by Julia Williams

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Disaster Preparedness for Pet Owners

By Lexiann Grant

Disasters come in all types and sizes, from local mishaps such as industrial fires or chemical spills, to regional or larger weather disasters like flooding, tornadoes, ice storms and hurricanes.

Every household should have a disaster plan for situations that require evacuation or remaining in your home. And that plan should include your pet.

First, if you have to leave, never leave your pets behind as this puts them in extreme danger. It’s important to know in advance where you can go with your animal companion – a relative’s, a pet-friendly hotel, or a kennel where you can board your pet until it’s safe to return home.

If you are away when disaster strikes, have a neighbor lined up who is willing to get your pets out and to safety. Provide them with keys or access ahead of time, as well as detailed instructions on your pets’ care, where their supplies are and where to take them.

Although the Red Cross website notes that health regulations prohibit pets in emergency shelters, some areas are beginning to set up disaster relief shelters for people with pets. Consult your local chapter for further information.

Make sure that your pet’s ID is current, whether a tag or microchip registry, and that your cell phone number and away-from-home contact information is also available. Carry a current picture of your pet in your wallet in case you get separated.

Keep a doggy (or kitty) survival kit ready to grab and go. This kit should contain such items as:

* Water and non-perishable pet food for about a week

* Portable or disposable bowls

* Medications; copies of medical records including rabies certificate

* Extra leash and collar, possibly glow-in-the dark or lighted

* Dog license

* Collapsible crate; bed or blanket

*Quick clean-up items like paper towels and pooper-scooper bags

* Small bag of kitty litter, pan and scoop

* Sweater for thin-coated dogs in cold climates

* A toy to help pass the time

Also consider a pet first aid kit. These pet-specific kits can be purchased from the Red Cross or pet-supply stores, or you can put one together yourself with your veterinarian’s advice and suggestions from Linda Cole’s informative article found here.

Your pet survival kit should also be readily available for times when you have to take shelter in your home. For severe weather like tornadoes, make sure there is space and you have provisions in your home shelter to care for your pet until the danger ends. Longer events, like power outages or blizzards, require additional plans to keep your pets warm.

In extreme situations, it may be necessary to pre-arrange for a relative or neighbor to take care of your pet until you are reunited. As much as you might not want to think about it, a pet owner’s disaster plans should include a person who would take your animal(s) in the event of your death. Include this information in your will, but also give it to a trusted friend or relative in advance.

Several organizations offer pet disaster preparedness and planning information online. Search the web pages of such groups as the ASPCA, the Red Cross, NOAA,, FEMA, and the AVMA.

Hopefully you’ll never need to use your pet emergency plan, but if you do, knowing that you – and your furry family members – are prepared, should give you more peace of mind if disaster strikes.

Read more articles by Lexiann Grant

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How Well Do You Know Your Pet?

By Linda Cole

Our pets are as individual as we are. They have their own little quirks and preferences. They don't always follow what the experts say and they may or may not come when called. Understanding your pet on an intimate basis is important because during times of stress, you have a better idea of how they might deal with events that upset their normal routine. Our pets are creatures of habit and getting to know them well is as important as knowing a close friend. It's possible your intimate knowledge of your pet's personality could actually save their life during an emergency or if they were to ever become lost. Do you know your pet well?

How many times have you heard someone say, “He just wasn't acting like himself?” Most likely he was, it was just a side others hadn't seen before. Pets are the same way. It's easy to learn and understand a dog's body language and what their bark is saying. Your cat's swishing tail will tell you it's time to leave them alone and you know by their yowls if you are late with their supper or if they want inside or outside. It's also important to understand their moods and the subtle looks they give you that sets them apart from other dogs or cats. When you know your pet well, it's easier to understand why they do specific things.

Does your pet have a favorite room in your home? If they are upset, scared or not feeling well, do they hide under the bed, in a closet, under the recliner or someplace where you can't find them? Does your cat like to catch up on what's going on in the neighborhood from a certain window? What's your pet's favorite game or toy? Do you know when they want to play or go outside? Did you notice how much your dog enjoyed going on a hike with you? Is your pet comfortable around strangers or in unfamiliar surroundings? Do loud noises or storms make them nervous?

Some pets are more sensitive than others. They do get hurt feelings and will pout. They can also get mad at us and can display their anger via behavioral problems. If you know your pet well, it's easy to see how things you do or changes you've made can affect them. They don't have a vote in our decisions, but they do let you know how they feel about it in their own way.

My twelve year old cat, Taylor, decided one day she didn't want to eat with the other cats anymore. She started to hide under the bed at meal times. The other cats intimidated her and meals had become traumatic for her. She would hiss and growl and wildly attack anyone close to her, including me. After a checkup with the vet revealed no medical reason for her actions, I was able to help her best by changing where she ate her meals. Some cats just prefer to eat alone. My work schedule had also changed and she wasn't able to curl up next to me like she'd been accustomed to. She now eats in peace in my office while I work which is in a room away from the other cats, and she's able to get the extra attention she craves.

When you know your pet well, there is a bond that continues to strengthen. The trust and loyalty your pet gives you is special. They will be by your side no matter who you are, where you go or what you do. Rich or poor, they will give us everything they have and expect nothing in return. Pets are always happy to see us no matter how long we've been gone.

Our pets do have feelings and fears, and we can hurt their feelings and miss their fears. They look to us to be their rock in good times and bad. Pets can sense our emotions and read our body language, and they love us unconditionally in spite of our faults. They react like children to our outbursts and cower or hide if they think they're in trouble. They don't reason the same way we do, but they do understand more than they are given credit for.

When you know your pet well, you see them for who they are – imperfect beings just like us. If you haven't gotten to know your pet, there's no time like the present. You might be surprised by what you learn. Having an intimate relationship with your pet says a lot about you, and benefits both you and your pet.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

Monday, March 22, 2010

What Does an Animal Shelter Volunteer Do?

By Julia Williams

If you love animals, becoming a volunteer at your local shelter is definitely something you should consider. You will be making a difference not only to the animals that reside there, but to the shelter and to your community. Words can’t adequately describe the rewarding feeling you get from helping these beautiful four-legged souls that are without a family to love and care for them.

Since most shelters operate on shoestring budgets, volunteers are an essential part of their daily operations. Although there is no central data reporting agency for animal shelters, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) estimates that 6-8 million dogs and cats end up in America’s shelters every year. That, my friends, is a lot of animals who desperately need some TLC.

There are a variety of tasks assigned to volunteers; some include working with the animals, some do not. You can walk dogs, socialize cats, clean cages, help with feeding, watering and grooming, do adoption counseling or administrative tasks. Some volunteers choose more than one “job” so they can contribute wherever help is needed most. Shelters also need foster parents to care for animals in their home – you can read more about that here.

Most shelters ask for a two hour commitment every week. That said, they usually won’t turn you down if you have a sincere desire to help but only have a few hours every month. They do, however, expect volunteers to honor whatever time commitment they’ve made. They need to know you’ll be there when you say you will, and if your life is in flux, it’s unfair to the shelter and the animals to make promises you can’t keep.

Getting started as an animal shelter volunteer is easy. You fill out an application, and typically attend a “new volunteer” orientation. Shelters use this orientation to familiarize volunteers with their operations, and to make sure this new relationship starts off right. It’s similar to starting a new job, except you don’t get paid, at least not with currency you can spend. Shelter volunteers get paid with emotional dollars they can put in their personal bank of pride and self-appreciation.

I’ve volunteered at three different shelters throughout my life. My first was at age 17 (the minimum age requirement varies, but is usually between 16 and 18). I signed up as a dog walker, because I felt bad that the dogs had to be cooped up in kennels all day long. The excitement and happiness the dogs exuded when I approached with leash in hand was palpable. They all clamored to be chosen to get out in the fresh air for some exercise.

Those dog walks were always enjoyable, but I’ll never forget one in particular. There was a dog at the shelter I knew quite well, since she had belonged to a friend. I took her out to the large open field and decided to unleash her, because I was certain she wouldn’t run away. The moment I unleashed her, she took off like a rocket across the field. Soon she was just a tiny speck, and as I stood there with the leash, I contemplated how to explain this to the shelter staff. I was certain my dog walking days were over. Much to my relief, Trixie reached the end of the field, then turned around and raced back to me.

At another shelter I was a cat socializer (sometimes called a cat cuddler). The primary duty was to give the shelter cats some much-needed love and attention. I cared about all the cats I interacted with, but sometimes I’d feel a special connection to one of them. Paige was a cat I considered a “lifer.” She’d been at this no-kill shelter for at least a year, and I didn’t think she’d ever get adopted because she had a bit of a split personality. I’m good at reading the body language of cats, and most give you clear signals when they want you to stop petting them. Not Paige. One minute she loved the attention and the next, she’d claw my hand to bits. I could never tell when she was about to go psycho on me. But as it turns out, even a cat like Paige can get adopted if the right person comes along. I’ll always remember the day I came in to find Paige gone. I dreaded asking, for fear she had been put down for some reason. But no – Paige had found her forever home!

Volunteering at a shelter is something I highly recommend for all animal lovers. If you’re like me, it may make you sad (and mad) to see so many beautiful animals without a loving home. Yet it will also fill your heart with happiness to know that you are enriching their lives as they wait to find a family of their own.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Invisible Fencing: Pros and Cons

By Ruthie Bently

Many communities these days do not allow fencing, as they feel it ruins the aesthetics of the view from one’s front yard and can affect property values. One alternative many pet owners are trying is “invisible fencing.” The premise is that invisible fencing allows containment of the family pet without putting up a wooden or chain link fence, while presenting an unobstructed view of the neighborhood. There are pros and cons to invisible fencing, however, that you may not be aware of. While I have no personal experience with these systems, I have plenty of anecdotal evidence from clients who have used them.

It is suggested that if you install invisible fencing, you should spend several weeks training your dog. I always recommended that my clients mark the edges of the entire containment area with flags to give the dog a visual perception of their new boundaries. Your dog needs to be conditioned so they do not have the urge to approach the fence. Only in this way will you be successful containing your dog with invisible fencing. Some of these systems also let you set a height to the fence boundary in case you have a jumper. This is important if you have a dog that can jump vertically, as they can leap over the invisible barrier without fear of getting an electrical reprimand.

The biggest plus according to manufacturers of these systems is that they are buried underground and you don’t have an unsightly fence line. After your dog is trained, another plus (in theory) is that you can allow your dog access to the yard without the fear of them running off and you don’t have to constantly monitor where they are. You can have the system installed by a company for you, or install it yourself if you are handy. After installation you put a collar on your dog which will first give them an auditory warning that they are too close to the fence line. If they attempt to leave the yard they will get a mild shock.

While the idea of containing a dog without a physical fence may sound wonderful, it will not prevent neighborhood dogs from entering your yard on their own. It won’t prevent wildlife from entering your yard either. While you may not be worried about a deer, if you are in an area that is populated by foxes, wolves, coyotes, raccoons or skunks it may give you pause. Your dog will not be protected behind a vertical barrier from any of these creatures. It should also be noted that dog theft is up during these economically challenging times, and invisible fencing will not present much of a barrier to someone determined to steal your dog.

Last but not least, there are some dogs that will not be contained by an invisible fence. I had one client whose dog was aggressive, and if they saw a dog walking on what they considered their turf (now that there was no physical barrier to break their line of sight), they would charge out of the containment area and the owner would have to go and retrieve their dog. Because the dog knew it would get a shock coming back into the yard, it would not venture back across the border without having the electric fence turned off first. You do not want them charging out into the street where they might be injured by a vehicle, or onto the sidewalk where they can accost the mailman or passers-by.

If you are considering purchasing invisible fencing, see if the company has a system set up that you might be able to use to evaluate your dog. Or check with friends or family members to see if they know someone who might have one that you could use for your evaluation. It is a good idea to keep an eye on your dog, whether you have a classically fenced yard or an invisible fence. Only in this way can you be sure that they will be truly safe.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Dangers for Outdoor Dogs

By Suzanne Alicie

Some dogs just aren’t able to be kept indoors. You can set up your yard in a way that you think is wonderful for your outdoor dog but there are dangers that even fenced and penned outdoor dogs face. You can’t simply put a dog out in the yard and assume he is safe. Some things you need to monitor and check are listed below, along with the reasons why these things are a danger to your dog.

Broken Fencing - No matter how much your dog loves his yard, if he sees a way to escape he will do so. There are so many intriguing smells coming from the other side of the fence that he will want to explore. The first danger in this is if the broken fencing creates a small hole, your dog will try to squeeze through and may injure himself on the broken edges. This can lead to tetanus, infection and possible life threatening injuries if the dog becomes stuck or pierced by the fence pieces. Once your dog is out in the world he faces the dangers of being hit by cars, attacked by other animals, and becoming lost. Even a short time out can cause serious damage to your outdoor dog. Check your fencing and any areas that the dog seems to be attracted to regularly, so you can repair any breaks before they cause a problem.

Disease - Outdoor dogs can be exposed to many kinds of disease in the back yard. These diseases can be spread through nature in the form of animal feces, dead rodents and even the occasional break-in by other neighborhood animals. When you have food and water out, stray and wild animals will attempt to get to it. Squirrels, rats and even birds can carry diseases that can pass to your dog. Some of the diseases that your dog can face are parvovirus, rabies, and even food contamination illnesses.

Exposure - Placing a dog house with a solid floor and a good roof is one step that you can take to protect your outdoor dog from exposure to the elements, but in extreme heat or cold your dog may still face the risk of exposure. In cases of extreme weather, moving an outdoor dog temporarily to a basement or garage is a better option than an outdoor doghouse.

Alienation - An outdoor dog is not included in the central family unit and may become somewhat unfriendly and territorial of his yard. It is important to make sure that you spend time paying with and grooming your outdoor dog to help him feel like part of a family.

All outdoor dogs not being professionally bred should be spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted puppies, which can happen if your dog goes into season and either gets out or other dogs get in. Besides the dangers listed above, there is also the chance of dehydration if the outdoor dogs water supply gets spilled or drank on a hot day and no one notices or refills until the next morning. Outdoor dogs should be checked on several times a day.

Remember that accidents can happen, dogs can get out and it is up to you to do everything you can to keep your outdoor dog safe and healthy.

Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Great Cat Debate: Indoor Versus Outdoor

By Julia Williams

Should cats be allowed full access to the outdoors to roam at will, or should they be kept indoors 24/7? This question has likely been debated for as long as people have kept cats as pets. Some people are adamant that cats should never go outside, while others insist that not allowing a cat the pleasures and instinctual experiences of the outdoors borders on cruelty. Bird lovers, and gardeners irked by neighborhood cats digging in their flowerbeds, are understandably in the “cats should stay inside” camp. Veterinarians usually recommend that cats be kept inside too, because nearly every day they see firsthand the bad things that can happen to outdoor cats.

Others, like me, believe there are pros and cons for each side of the indoor versus outdoor cat debate, with no clear-cut “winner.” I think the decision of whether to keep your cat indoors or allow it to go outside is an individual one that every responsible pet owner must make for themselves. It does help, however, to be as informed as possible on the subject, so you can feel confident in the choice you are making – because this choice affects you and your feline friend.

It’s a fact that indoor cats live longer, healthier lives. Outdoor cats face many dangers, including getting hit by cars, attacked by dogs, coyotes and even cat-hating humans. Outdoor cats can be exposed to infectious diseases like feline leukemia, distemper and rabies. They can be poisoned by pesticides, herbicides, antifreeze, motor oil, rat bait, ice-melt products and toxic plants. Turf fights with other outdoor cats are common, and bite wounds can become infected. This is called an abscess, and it requires antibiotics and sometimes surgery. Parasites like fleas and ticks are more problematic for outdoor cats as well.

Even something as seemingly safe as a five-acre field with no car traffic can pose a threat to an outdoor cat. My cat Tiger got a foxtail sticker up his nose, which required an emergency vet visit. These nasty barbed stickers mimic a porcupine quill, and will migrate in only one direction after attaching to fur or finding a way into an opening – pulling it out of his nose myself was definitely not an option.

As you can see, the list of bad things that can happen to outdoor cats is quite long. However, I have to dispute the “average lifespan” figures I’ve seen claiming indoor cats live about 12-14 years whereas outdoor cats live only 3-4 years. I realize these are averages, but in my opinion they aren’t accurate. I’ve had outdoor cats that lived to be 19, 16 and 14, and many of my friends have had outdoor cats who lived similarly long lives.

If you have a pet door which allows your cat to come and go as they please, they may bring things into your house that you won’t like, including mice, rats, gophers, lizards, snakes, bugs, possums and frogs. Dead or alive, these are not things you want in your home. There is nothing worse than getting up in the middle of the night and stepping on something squishy in your bare feet. Trust me.

With all the dangers and disadvantages of allowing a cat outdoors, one might wonder why everyone doesn’t keep their cat inside 24/7. One reason many give is that they don’t think an indoor cat can be happy. Until a few years ago, I believed that a cat deprived of the outdoors would lead a miserable existence. This was primarily because I’d always allowed my cats the freedom of the outdoors, and I saw how happy it made them to climb trees, hunt gophers and sun themselves in my garden.

However, my viewpoint changed somewhat when we moved to Montana. I wanted to keep my cats indoors for several months so they wouldn’t get lost or attempt an “incredible journey” back to their old home. Then winter came, and when my California kitties felt snow on their paws for the first time, they decided for themselves that indoor life wasn’t so bad. In the winter, I don’t think they’d go outside if you opened a can of their favorite Felidae cat food and tried to lure them out with it. In the summer they have the freedom to choose, and they still stay inside about 85% of the time.

This arrangement suits me. My carpet stays a lot cleaner, my vet bills are much lower, and I like knowing they are safe. I think it suits them too, for the most part. Were they happier being outdoor kitties in sunny California? Yes, in all honesty I think they were. But I play with them and pet them often, and I find other ways to enrich their indoor lives that hopefully makes up for not being able to play outdoors.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Why Pets Need to Play

By Linda Cole

Some form of play is found in all species of mammals. People play card games and video games, they jump out of airplanes just for fun, and engage in a host of other stimulating activities. Dogs and cats need to play for the same reason – it helps to beat boredom!

I have a cat named Pogo who was born with one back leg shorter than the other. Because of this he has a pronounced limp, but you would never know it to watch him play. He began to walk at the same time his siblings did, but instead of walking, he bounced across the floor on his back legs hopping like a kid on a pogo stick. He is now almost 5 years old and still bounces while he plays. No string, ball or cat toy can escape his clutches as he leaps and strikes at the exact right time to capture his prey. All of my cats are expert acrobats and clowns when it comes to play, and I've spent hours watching, laughing and playing with them as they learned important skills and life lessons through play. Dogs and cats need to play to keep their minds active and their bodies in good physical shape.

Cats need play in order to hone their skills as hunters, to learn how to socialize with us and other pets in the home, and develop good mental skills. Playing with your dog or cat is one of the best ways to bond with them. They love having their favorite human interacting with them and any moving stimulus will grab a cat's attention. Even an older cat that has become a couch potato can't resist something moving.

Dogs need play for many of the same reasons as cats. Puppies learn about social order in the pack by playing with their litter mates. Play gives both dogs and cats confidence and helps them lead happy and stable lives. Like cats, dogs learn important hunting skills through play. As puppies and kittens grow, the lessons they learn from playing teaches them what they need to know as adults.

Even though most dogs no longer need to depend on predatory skills, they are still learned and instilled in a dog's mind during play. Every time they chase a stick or ball, they are learning how to chase prey. Each leaf or toy that is caught teaches a dog or cat how to pounce and attack. To them, these activities are just plain fun, but the specialized skills they are learning will never leave them. These skills are stalking, patience, sizing up their “prey” and knowing when and how to attack.

Play gives dog and cat owners an insight into their pet's health. As dogs and cats age, most will continue to play even though it may require some coaxing from us at times. A pet who doesn't play and doesn't respond to a stimulus can indicate a health problem that may need to be addressed. It can also tell you if your pet is unhappy or depressed.

Just like kids, dogs and cats need to play to keep them out of trouble and help burn up excess energy. A bored pet can do a lot of damage to a garbage can, recliner or couch cushion. I had a bored cat who took on a couch pillow all by himself one afternoon. Of course he tried to blame the dog, but the dog had been confined in the basement that afternoon, far from the scene of the crime.

Dogs and cats need play to maintain a healthy mind and body. The skills they learn are invaluable as they mature. A puppy or kitten who doesn't play will still develop normally, but they could be at a disadvantage to others their own age.

A dog will show you they want to play with a “play bow.” They lower the front part of their body to the ground and stretch out their front legs. Their back end is in the air with their tail usually wagging. Cats are always ready to pounce on anything moving and all it takes is a crumpled ball of paper to get them into a game.

Dogs and cats that play together learn how to interact with each other. The best time for puppies to be socialized is around 8 to 16 weeks and kittens between 5 and 12 weeks. Don't be afraid to romp on the floor with your pet. Playing is fun for them, and for us!

Read more articles by Linda Cole

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Plants That Can Poison Your Pet

By Suzanne Alicie

The week of March 14-20 is National Animal Poison Prevention Week. There are many items around your home that are poisonous for pets; sadly, many of the pretty plants and flowers we enjoy seeing can be deadly for our pets. National Animal Poison Prevention Week is designed to bring attention to all the dangers that our pets face every day.

Many times animals will naturally avoid dangerous plants, but occasionally the color or scent will attract them to ingest something that could potentially kill them. Removing these temptations from areas that your pet uses and watching carefully when your dog or cat happens to be exposed to plants or flowers that may be harmful can help prevent your pet becoming a victim of poisoning.

The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center provides a great deal of information on plants and other items that can be poisonous to our pets. While there is a long list of plants that are poisonous to pets which you can see here, there are five plants that have the most potential to create life threatening problems for dogs, cats and other companion animals. Those five plants are:

• Lily - This is a common plant in many yards and flowerbeds, and although they are pretty to look at, lilies are highly toxic for felines. Small amounts of a lily ingested by a cat can cause severe kidney damage.

• Azalea - This flowering shrub contains grayantoxins which cause vomiting, drooling, diarrhea, and central nervous system problems in animals. Ingestion of the azalea plant can lead to coma and even death.

• Oleander - While beautiful and elegant, the oleander is very dangerous to your pets. Considered to be highly toxic, the oleander contains cardiac glycosides which affect the heart, and gastrointestinal tract. Ingestion of the oleander plant can lead to abnormal heart function, hypothermia and death.

• Sago Palm - Each part of this plant is poisonous, but the seeds contain the largest amount of poison. If your pet eats one or two seeds from the sago palm he could suffer from vomiting, diarrhea, seizures and liver failure leading to death.

• Castor Bean - The castor bean plant contains ricin which is a highly toxic protein causing abdominal pain, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. If your pet ingests a large amount of this plant the result is dehydration, muscle twitching, seizures, coma and death.

If you have plants that are considered toxic to pets in your home or garden, in an area that is accessible to your pets, the safest thing to do is to remove the plants. Even if your pet has never shown any interest in playing with or chewing on plants, it’s far better to remove the temptation than to risk accidental poisoning.

If your pet is exhibiting any symptoms of poisoning such as excessive thirst, unexplained vomiting or diarrhea, confusion, dizziness, seizures or lack of muscle control you should immediately contact your veterinarian. If for some reason you are unable to reach your vet, you can call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline: (888) 426-4435. (A $65 consultation fee may be applied to your credit card). You may also call the National Animal Poison Control Center at 1-900-680-0000 or 1- 800-548-2423. When using the 900 number, the charge is $20 for the first five minutes, then $2.95/minute thereafter. For the 800 number, the charge is $30 per case (VISA, MasterCard, Discover, or American Express only).

When you call, be ready to provide:

• The species, breed, age, sex and weight of your pet.
• The animal’s symptoms.
• Information regarding the exposure, including the agent (if known), the amount of the agent involved, and the time elapsed since the exposure.

The 5 plants listed above are just the tip of the iceberg when considering the plants that can be poisonous to your pets. Your vet, the ASPCA and the National Animal Poison Control Center can provide you with not only a list of other plants, but also many ways to prevent accidental poisoning of your pets.

Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why Do Dogs Lick Us?

By Linda Cole

I have a dog who loves to lick legs and feet anytime she catches an unsuspecting bare foot or hand dangling from a chair. I also have one who will sit right beside me while I'm watching TV or working at the computer. Every now and then out of the blue, she'll slurp me on the side of the face. Do dogs lick us because we taste like salt, are they giving us a kiss, or is it more complicated with no clear answers?

Puppies are groomed by their moms to keep them clean and help stimulate body functions. This is warm and gentle, and feels good to them. The pleasant feeling of their mother's grooming leaves them with positive memories they carry into adulthood, and they may be trying to share those positive feelings with us.

We know wolf puppies and adolescents greet the adults returning from a hunt by eagerly gathering around them and licking them on the mouth and chin to induce a regurgitated meal from them. Licking is also considered a sign of respect, and is a submissive behavior of welcome given to the alpha and those who are higher in their social order.

No one really knows the exact reason why dogs lick us. A lick on the hand or face will usually cause us to scratch them behind their ears or pet them. So perhaps their lick is asking us to return their “kiss” with affection of our own. Often times, a lick is followed by tail wagging and a submissive posture in their body language which results in a playful reaction from us. So the lick could be their way of respectfully asking us to pay attention to them.

When we return home, most dog owners are greeted by their dogs with happy tails waving. Ears are laid back telling us how happy they are to see us. Their eyes sparkle as they wait for us to acknowledge them. In a way, they are greeting us with the same excitement wolf pups use to greet the returning hunters to their home. But they aren't looking for us to share food from the hunt, they are just wanting to say “Hi, I'm really glad you're home.”

Licking may be a subtle social activity and could be part of the body language of dogs. It's thought that wolves and wild dogs lick themselves and each other to help remove any debris left over after a meal. This helps keep them clean as well as removes odors that could let their prey know they are around. Even though our dogs don't need to disguise themselves or us from prey, it's possible dogs lick us because of an instinctive need for cleanliness that has been passed along from their wild cousins. But it could also be a stress reliever or something they do to help break up their boredom.

More than likely, dogs lick us to show their respect and by doing so, they are submitting to us and saying they understand we are their leader. I know in my pack, the dogs who lick the most are the lower ranking members in our social order. Most of the time when they lick us on the face, leg, feet or hands, they receive positive reactions from us. So in a way, we encourage their “kisses” by our response.

If we have been sweating, they may lick us because of the salt; however, no one knows this for sure. Dogs will lick interesting and intriguing smells they come across whether it's on us or somewhere else. Dogs may lick us because they smell our face, hand or body lotion. They may like the smell of the soap we use or maybe we just have a food smell that settled on our skin.

If a dog is nervous or stressed out for any reason, they may lick their lips and bite on their feet or legs while they groom themselves. Pay attention to compulsive licking because it could be signaling the dog has something that's upsetting them or there could be an underlying medical condition that is causing them to be obsessed with licking. A dog who licks furniture, rugs, concrete, walls, floors, etc. could be bored, but there could be something else going on. A trip to the vet can help you understand why your dog may be licking everything in sight.

In the long run, it doesn't really matter why dogs lick us. I take it as something they find warm and sociable. It's their way of showing us how much they care about us, and I'll certainly reward their affection anytime they want to share it.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

Monday, March 15, 2010

Surf Dog Ricochet: Changing Lives, One Wave at a Time

By Julia Williams

Some of you have undoubtedly heard about Surf Dog Ricochet, and you may have watched the incredibly moving YouTube video about her, “From Service Dog to SURFice dog: Turning disappointment into a joyful new direction.” If you have, then you know what an amazing canine Ricochet is. If you haven’t seen the Surf Dog Ricochet video, then I hope this article inspires you to do so— because the story of how this beautiful young golden retriever found her true calling and is changing countless lives as a result, is one that every pet lover should see.

Two-year-old Ricochet’s original path in life was to be part of the Puppy Prodigies Neo-Natal & Early Learning Program, as a service dog for a disabled person as well as a service dog breeder. Ricochet’s training began when she was just a few days old, before her eyes were even open. She learned quickly and showed great promise for becoming a service dog. But as she grew, so did her interest in chasing birds. Because this could be unsafe for a person with a disability, Ricochet had to be released from the service dog program.

Her people were terribly disappointed, but rather than dwell on what she couldn’t do, they chose to focus on what she could do, which was surf. You see, at 8 weeks of age, in addition to her service dog training, Ricochet had begun learning to surf on a boogie board in a kiddie pool. Although her surf dog training was begun just for fun, Ricochet displayed a remarkable natural talent for it. Moreover, she really seemed to love it.

Ricochet’s surf training progressed and before long she was “hanging 20” in the ocean, competing in (and eventually winning) Surf Dog Competitions. So Puppy Prodigies created a brand new job for Ricochet, as a ‘Surfin’ for Paws-abilities’ SURFice dog who would raise awareness and funds for charitable causes. And the rest is history, as the saying goes. In just seven short months, Ricochet has raised more than $20,000 for charitable causes!

Her first fundraising endeavor was last August, for 15 year old quadriplegic surfer Patrick Ivison. Surf Dog Ricochet raised $10,000 to help pay his medical bills, and one of her sponsors awarded Patrick a grant to fund three more years of physical therapy. Then in December, Ricochet began a new fundraiser: a Surfin' Santa Paws toy drive. About the same time, the inspirational SURFice Dog video went viral, which spurred an influx of donations from all over the world. As a result, Ricochet was able to provide toys for 650 children in hospitals and domestic violence shelters.

Continued donations from the video have allowed Ricochet to fund therapies for six year old Ian McFarland, who suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident that claimed the lives of his parents. Additionally, most of the surfing competitions Ricochet enters are fundraisers for animal charities. So besides having fun and competing, the “Little SurFUR Girl” (as she is sometimes called) is also making a difference in the lives of her four-legged cousins. When she’s not surfing or fundraising, Ricochet is involved in goal assisted therapy work with children through Pawsitive Teams.

I’m a firm believer in the old adages, “Everything happens for a reason,” and “When one door closes, another one opens.” I’ve seen enough examples firsthand that I don’t doubt this is exactly how the universe works. And now, the story of Surf Dog Ricochet is yet another fine illustration of these principles. Instead of greatly changing one disabled individual’s life by becoming their assistance dog, Surf Dog Ricochet is changing the lives of thousands... and potentially millions.

If you’d like to know more about Surf Dog Ricochet, you can visit her website, become her fan on Facebook, and even follow her on Twitter. And if you want to try teaching your own canine companion to hang 20, Ricochet offers some great beginner doggie surf training tips here.

There are two lines in the inspirational YouTube video on Surf Dog Ricochet that I just love: “When I let go of who I wanted her to be and just let her ‘be’ she completely flourished. And I reveled in knowing she is perfect, just the way she is.” She sure is. The video features the Taylor Hicks song, Do I Make You Proud. I just want to end this by saying “Yes Ricochet, you do!”

Photo courtesy of Diane Edmonds

Read more articles by Julia Williams

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Night Calling: Why Do Cats Meow at Night?

By Ruthie Bently

The daytime noises have faded away, you’ve finished watching the news or the late show and finally gotten to sleep, and then your cat begins to howl. Because cats are nocturnal by nature, this is when they are most active. Have you ever been woken up in the middle of the night by your cat meowing? This is known as night vocalization, nighttime calling or night calling, and there are different reasons that our cats do it.

All cats use vocalization from time to time. They vocalize to connect to each other and to us as well. A mother cat will use it to call her kittens. A cat vocalizes to tell their owner they want food, water, to go out or that their litter box needs to be cleaned. Cats will even use it to let each other know where they are during a game of hide and seek. If a female is in season or there is a territory dispute, two males will use vocalization to warn each other before they square off for a fight, though this is known as caterwauling. Your cat may be disturbed by something they can hear or see outside. It may be as simple as your cat wanting your companionship and they meow to get you to pay attention to them.

There are many other reasons cats may call during the night, though. It could be due to insecurity, CDS (cognitive dysfunction syndrome) or they may be in physical distress. A newly adopted kitten, alone at night for the first time, may use night calling. It isn’t used to being away from its mother or litter mates, and might be a bit insecure being in your household. Night calling can also happen if you’ve adopted an older cat from a shelter that is used to being with other cats. A cat may go looking for a housemate that is no longer there and call them, trying to locate them. Senior cats will vocalize if they are hard of hearing or going deaf; if they can’t hear themselves they will meow loudly (like a person who has trouble hearing) to make sure you hear them. Sometimes it can be a bit more serious than this. Your cat may have wandered into a closet, a bedroom or an appliance, gotten shut inside and need your assistance to be released.

If you have a night calling cat, there are several things you can do to make life easier for all concerned. If they have a favorite toy, play a rousing game of fetch before you go to bed to help tire them out. A radio tuned to a station that plays easy listening or classical music can help soothe a lonely kitten or an older cat in the middle of the night. If this doesn’t work, getting a baby monitor might. Put one receiver near the cat’s bed and the other in your bedroom. When the cat wakes up you can reassure them through the monitor and help them settle back in.

A cat suffering from CDS may awaken and be disoriented; a night light or two around the house will help them reorient themselves in their surroundings and help them maneuver through the house easier. Moving your cat’s bed into your bedroom can help too. If they wake up and are disoriented you can reach down and reassure them with a quick pet. Putting a small blanket or towel in your cat’s bed that they can nestle into will make them more comfortable. If your house is a little chilly, a heated sleeping pad made for pets might also help.

My cats meow to me all the time and I answer them. Usually it is something as simple as a water dish that isn’t full enough for them or that they want to eat, and sometimes they just want to play. Thankfully, most of these conversations take place during the day. For those rare times when they do engage in night calling, I try to distract them with a catnip toy. While catnip does help to make my cats sleepy after they play with it, it can have the opposite effect on some cats.

The reason for your cat’s night calling may not be apparent at first, so you might want to schedule a checkup with their vet. If there is no medical reason for the night calling, try not to give in every time they do it. If they find out that you will come running every time they call out, they will keep doing it. By assessing the situation and dealing with it early, you can all get a good night’s sleep.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Do They Still Use Sled Dogs in Alaska?

By Linda Cole

Alaska is a land that has not changed a lot over the years. Since joining the union in 1959, it is still one of the states with the lowest population. It's a land of beauty with mystery hidden in the landscape and behind every snowy hill. It’s a place where having survival skills and knowledge about the animals who share their home with the people make all the difference in the world. The heyday of the sled dogs is gone. They are no longer needed to move supplies and mail from village to village. So why do they still use sled dogs in Alaska?

For centuries, sled dogs were the best form of transportation available in Alaska. For many people living in the wild territory, the sled dog was their lifeline between villages or when out on the trail hunting. In the 1960s, the sled dog was largely retired from service and replaced with snowmobiles and airplanes to transport heavy loads and provide faster travel times between villages. However, just like someone who loves to saddle up a horse and ride the rich history of the old west, there are still those in Alaska who hitch their team up for a day of quiet and solitude with only their dogs for company.

Today, sled dogs are mainly used in Alaska to provide tours for recreational purposes. Visitors to Alaska have a chance to experience firsthand what it was like to travel by a sled pulled by a team of dogs. Gone are the days of requiring dogs to travel 80 miles a day hauling heavy shipments of gold or supplies. The mail route is silent as teams no longer need to deliver the day's mail. The Inuit Indian tribes have replaced their dogs for the most part with the snowmobile, although sled dogs are still used to a lesser degree to transport them to their hunting grounds.

There's no question that teams of sled dogs can be more valuable to those who have to travel large distances as compared to the snowmobile which requires gas to move. Dogs are quieter and can detect wild animals that may be lurking in the area. If any are around, the dogs can provide needed protection. A dog's instinct cannot be overlooked when it comes to being able to stay on a trail and knowing how to avoid dangerous cracks on frozen lakes as well as knowing when it's best to stay off the ice.

Sled dog racing has been around for centuries. Just as thoroughbred horse racing captivates people in the lower 48, dog racing draws spectators from around the world who come to watch and take part in the races. However, not everyone agrees with horse racing or dog racing. I know dogs used in sled dog races are bred to run and thoroughly enjoy it. I had the joy and honor of owning two Siberian Huskies and can attest that they loved to run any chance they got. Bred as working dogs, sled dogs are happy doing what they do best – just as herding dogs love to herd and search and rescue dogs love to use their exceptional nose to find someone who is in need.

My concern for any animal is how they are treated and cared for. Dogs can become injured while racing. Traditionally, northern dogs were the only breeds used in Alaska because they were able to withstand the harsh temperatures and climate of this arctic state, but today, a variety of breeds can be found among dog teams competing in sled dog racing and marathons.

The northern breeds and others that are trained as sled dogs love to run. Balancing safety and risk to the dogs cannot take a back seat to man's desire to race. I believe the dogs are monitored to insure their health and well being, and are being attended to by the people who own the dogs.

Today's role for the sled dogs in Alaska has changed from being a vital mode of transportation to recreational and sporting activities. Sled dogs will probably always be a part of the Alaskan landscape because it's their extraordinary history that made life possible in Alaska.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

Friday, March 12, 2010

Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix

By Julia Williams

What would you do if you adore dogs, are a natural born comedian and love to clown around? If you’re like Johnny Peers, you’d train a menagerie of lovable mutts to perform a comical canine routine with you, and proceed to tickle the funny bone of animal lovers nationwide. And that’s just what Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix have done, for the last 30 years!

This clever collaboration between man and dog(s) is a delightful show. Featuring amazing canine feats, flawless comedic timing and fun choreography, Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix gets audiences howling with laughter, and begging for more. Peers performs as a Chaplin-like clown who leads his 15 four-legged sidekicks through a series of challenging tricks and amusing antics. The personable pack of mutts jump rope, climb ladders, walk the tightrope, skateboard, knock Johnny down, and walk all over him. If I could only use three words to describe this unique slapstick act, I’d choose: hilarious, frenetic and entertaining.

I chatted with Johnny recently by phone, and the one word I’d choose to describe the man behind the Muttville Comix act is: joker. He claimed he could “dance like Michael Jackson,” and when I acted impressed he said, “no, not really.” When he found out I wasn’t married and liked cats, he asked “What’s wrong with you?” So it seems that Johnny, ever the comedian even without his dogs, props and stage makeup, has not only created a successful career out of doing something he loves, but what he does best – which is make people laugh.

Johnny’s comedic training began at an early age when, after discovering Charlie Chaplin movies, he proceeded to watch them nonstop. Then again, I suppose it didn’t hurt that Johnny grew up around the circus. His dad ran a concession stand for the Ringling Circus, and when Johnny wasn’t helping out there he’d sneak away to hang out with the clowns. He learned a few tricks and later, studied at the Ringling Clown College and graduated from there in 1970.

Johnny got his first pup from a shelter in 1972. She was a sweet little Beagle mix named Freckles, and when Johnny realized that she learned tricks easily, he decided to incorporate her into his comedy routine. “At the time, I didn't know anything about training dogs, but she and I worked out a great little act,” Johnny said. In 1980, after Johnny had adopted several more dogs –and better training methods –the Muttville Comix was born.

These days, Johnny and his canine comics travel from pet expos to state fairs to school assemblies in a fully equipped motor coach. His current roster of talented dog stars includes Daphne, reportedly the world’s only skateboarding Bassett Hound; a ladder-climbing Fox Terrier named Her Royal Squeaky; Sir Winston, a riotous Pointer mix who will only answer to “Sir”; and Mr. Pepe, who responds only to commands in Spanish.

Based on experience, Peers advises people who are interested in training their own dogs to: keep it short, happy and sweet. He says that dogs are great observers, and showing them what you want them to do is the best way to train them. And don’t forget to give them lots of treats and praise.

Based on his impressive resume, it would seem that Johnny does indeed know his stuff. Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix have appeared in the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus, on Primetime Live, Circus of the Stars, and David Letterman, at Disneyland, Busch Gardens and the Big Apple Circus. They won 1st place on Animal Planet's Pet Star for the 2003 season, and have even performed at the White House!

If you have a chance to see Johnny Peers and the Muttville Comix in person, I highly recommend that you go. Their next big appearance is at the West Michigan Pet Expo on April 24th and 25th in Grand Rapids, MI. You can also see a photo gallery and videos of Johnny Peers and his comedic canines in action here.

Read more articles by Julia Williams

Thursday, March 11, 2010

How to Introduce a New Baby to Your Pet

By Suzanne Alicie

New babies and all the excitement they bring into your life also bring upheaval to your household. There are months of preparation, many new items brought in, and more than likely a lack of attention for your pet. In order to keep the peace when your new baby comes home, it is important to properly introduce the baby to your pet and include the pet as often as possible.

Pets are often considered and treated as the babies of the family. When a new baby arrives your pet could see it as a competitor for your attention. To get your pets used to a baby before the little one arrives, you can do some integration of the baby’s stuff within the house.

• Set up a swing and playpen, and work with your pet to train him not to make himself at home in these places. Allow the pet to sniff and explore the new items, and then promptly remove him. It may take several weeks to train your pet about these areas, so starting a few months before the baby arrives is a good idea.

• Let your pet visit the nursery and smell all the new things in his home. This will allow him to become accustomed to the smells and presence of the new items.

• Purchase a baby doll, and if you can find one that cries or moves that is even better. Practice around the house with this baby doll, letting your dog or cat see the movement and hear the cries. This will get your pet used to seeing you carrying a noisy moving item around so that when the baby arrives, the noise and movements won’t frighten them or make them nervous. Also consider a cat’s tendency to swat things that move, and train your cat not to play with the doll.

Even with all of this preparation you will still have to let your pet examine the baby when you bring it home. Hold the baby and have another family member hold your pet to allow it to gently nudge and smell the baby. Avoid letting your pet get in the baby’s face but don’t be forceful or nervous about it. Pets pick up on your emotions and if your animal feels that you are on edge, he will associate that with the baby and could become protective.

Don’t leave your pet with your baby unattended, but continue to allow the pet to be near you while caring for the baby. This will reassure your pet that he is still part of the family.

I had a cat when my oldest son was born, and family members threw a fit about me having a cat in the house with a newborn. But my cat fell in love with the baby; the worst thing I had to deal with was fighting to keep the cat from curling up with him when he napped in the playpen. She had no interest in the playpen until he went to sleep, then she wanted to sleep on his feet, just like she did on mine. She had adopted him as her pet. Every pet is different and each has their own personality.

If you have a pet that does not adjust to the baby or is in any way aggressive toward the baby you must remove it from the area. This does not mean you have to find another home for your pet, just that until your baby is older you may have to use a crate or gates to keep the two separated.

No matter how you handle the integration of a baby into your pet’s home, your pet will need some one-on-one attention and praise for being such a good friend. While that may seem to be asking a lot from new parents, simply consider your pet to be an older sibling and treat him the same way you would another child dealing with a new attention grabber in the house.

Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How to Deal With Canine Cabin Fever

By Ruthie Bently

Almost every dog owner has had to deal with “canine cabin fever” at one time or another. When dogs suffer from cabin fever, they begin acting out like naughty children. They may leap up and go racing through the house for no apparent reason. They will chew inappropriate things in the house, like the sofa or a rug instead of their sterilized natural bone or rawhide. The most laid-back dog may begin showing signs of aggression or bark at guests that come to the house. They may even begin marking territory or eliminating in the house. This is normal behavior for a dog suffering from canine cabin fever.

Dogs can get cabin fever in any season, not just wintertime. My friend Wendy had to entertain three very energetic dogs during the recent rain storms in California. Here in Minnesota the snow is still so deep that Skye and I are not able to go for our regular walks or even play in her dog yard. There are several ways to help release all that pent up energy. If your house has a flight of stairs you can play fetch with your dog using the stairs. Take their favorite ball or chase toy and toss it down the stairs while you stand at the top. Have them bring it back to you and toss it for them about ten times or until they begin to get tired. If your house doesn’t have stairs you can toss the ball down the length of a long hallway or room.

You can also play hide and seek with a toy you can put treats into. Fill the cavity of the toy, and put your dog on a sit-stay in their crate or another room while you hide the toy. Then release them from their command and let them go find the toy. Doing this several times will help tire them out, and a tired dog is usually a contented dog. There are also many interactive toys that will test your dog’s brain power and make them think while letting them have fun.

If your house is not large enough, check with your local park district or dog trainers in the area to see if there is an indoor area you can take your dog to for exercise. Some trainers will even let you rent time at their training facility to exercise your dog. Take your dog for an extended walk around your local pet shop if they are allowed in the store. Consider taking an advanced obedience training course or agility class with your dog.

You might want to look into the Canine Good Citizenship class, which is the beginning leg for therapy dogs. After finishing a therapy dog course you can take your dog to visit schools, nursing homes and senior citizen centers. Besides getting some exercise and bonding with you, they will be working their brain as well as their body. If you have a treadmill, consider letting your dog use it to get some extra exercise. By setting it on a lower speed, your dog can get much needed exercise and you won’t have them bouncing off the walls or behaving inappropriately.

Another way to combat canine cabin fever is to get a dog training book and teach them some new tricks. Teach your dog to bring in the mail or the paper too. If the snow is not deep where you are and you’re able to get into your yard, consider a brightly colored flying disk or toy for your dog to fetch; this will make it easier for both of you to see. By recognizing the signs and symptoms of canine cabin fever, you and your dog can have a more peaceful time indoors and a more joyful relationship.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently
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