Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Should your dog sleep in your bed?

pug in bed

Recently, one of my friends started a Facebook poll to ask how many dog owners let their pets sleep with them at night. I was one of the very rare few who didn't respond with enthusiastic stories of dog co-sleeping. Apparently, I am one of the few people who banishes the dog to the floor when bedtime comes around.

I'll admit that I once allowed both the dog and all of my cats to sleep on the bed with me, and I liked having them nearby. There's something deeply comforting about waking up and being surrounded by little furry creatures who seem to love you. But, I didn't like finding cat hair on my pillows or being kicked in the kidneys by a dreaming dog. My allergist also didn't relish the idea of pet dander entering my nose all night long.

So, the cats are no longer allowed in the bedroom at all, and the dog is confined to a bed on the floor. The results have been part good and part bad.

In the bad category, I've seen no behavior benefits. Many trainers state that allowing a dog to sleep on the floor sets up a clear pack signal, and that the dog will know that you are in charge when you no longer share your bed. In theory, the dog will listen better as a result. I'm no longer sure this is true. Liam is just as rowdy and willful now as he was when he slept with me.

On the good side, my breathing has improved and this may benefit both the dog and me. Being able to breathe makes me a more cheerful, patient dog owner, and this probably makes Liam's life a little easier to bear.

So, I will likely never go back to co-sleeping with the dog. It's yet another way I differentiate myself from my dog-loving peers, and I'm sure my husband is glad to see this transformation take place. Having to share a bed with a wife, a dog and three cats was simply too much for the man to bear for reasons of his own.

To read some really hysterical thoughts on this topic, click here. And if you'd like to provide a human sleeping partner with another reason to kick the dog out of the bed, click here.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Reminder: Come to the House of Dreams Auction and help cats in need!

Towels up for auction for the House of Dreams
Remember these beauties? They're up for auction this weekend!
Earlier this year, I wrote a post encouraging my readers to make items to donate to the House of Dreams auction. As a show of support, I made these little tea towels myself, and I donated them to the cause. On Saturday, from 10a to 4p at Tabor Space, my lowly tea towels and a variety of other crafts will be up for auction. All of the proceed will benefit the House of Dreams.

For those of you unfamiliar with the House of Dreams, a bit of background. This shelter is tucked away in a residential Portland neighborhood and houses a rather large number of cats. These cats have ample access to clean and cozy beds, and they are often gathered together on the sun-soaked windowsills.

Volunteers keep the place spotless, and the cats are given many socialization opportunities. In fact, they all live together as one large clan.

When I visited, I was amazed to see so many cats living together quite peacefully. The older cats seem to provide a calming vibe the younger cats emulate. House of Dreams is a no-kill shelter, and some cats have been residents for 10 years or more. These old dudes know how the place works, and they quickly whip newbies into shape.

For people who love cats and who are looking for innovative solutions to the pet overpopulation problem, it's hard to beat House of Dreams. Some cats are placed in loving homes, but if no suitable homes are found, the cats live out their lives in a beautiful, clean and calm environment. I think House of Dreams is doing amazing work, and it's a cause worth supporting.

So plan to attend the auction on Saturday! The address for Tabor Space is 5441 SE Belmont in Portland. You might walk away with some pretty awesome tea towels (or something else that's equally wonderful) and you'll help the cats in the process.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Does acupuncture really help cats?

Eamon the cat finds the flash on the camera a little distracting.

As I look for new ways to deal with Eamon's pain that don't involve large amounts of prednisone, one option keeps coming up again and again: acupuncture. Experts suggest that acupuncture can truly help cats overcome pain, and people who perform the treatments on cats claim that the cats tolerate the procedure without complaint.

In traditional acupuncture, practitioners use very tiny needles in a series of pressure points to release tension and balance the flow of energy. In veterinary medicine, the same needles are used, but those needles are usually only inserted in the area that's causing the animal pain.

In Eamon's case, he'd have needles in his back and his hips, while he'd probably have no needles in his feet or head. In about six sessions, he'd probably be done with the treatments.

In the Portland area, these treatments can cost quite a pretty penny, and I'm not ready to jump on the bandwagon without a few conversations with actual cat owners. Cats are masters at disguising their pain, so I am skeptical of idea that the cats actually improved from the sessions. Did their clinical signs get better, or did they just bury their pain so the sessions would stop?

It's hard to say, but there are some effective ways to do your homework.

Some veterinary acupuncturists allow you to attend sessions with client pets. You can come into the exam room and watch the procedure performed on another pet, and you might see the changes for yourself. I've heard reports of people watching pets fall asleep during their sessions, and that's bound to be convincing.

Others allow you to call people who have used the service. You can ask these former patients about their experiences and the benefits they've seen, and you won't have the acupuncturist monitoring the talk. Those clients could help you to make a good decision.

Or, you could simply pay for just one session and see what happens. Most allow you to go just once as a trial, with no obligation to take on more sessions. If you head to just one, you could get all the answers you might need.

What will I do? I'm not yet sure. But I'll keep you posted!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Why your dog must learn the "come here" command

Liam the pug looking worried in a pile of leaves

One of the first lessons you learn in any basic puppy class is the "Come" command. Many dog owners wonder why trainers don't start with something useful like "Sit" or "Stay." Yesterday, I got a good reminder of why recall is so important.

At the end of a long walk, Liam and I ran into our neighbor's very small puppy. This little guy ran right across the street for a little play session. Apparently, he'd slipped out the door between the owner's feet, and he wasn't quite ready to come back inside again. Treats weren't working, and the dog just didn't respond to any commands.

Dogs who won't respond to commands can get in big trouble. They can run in traffic, get in fights or simply disappear. That's why it's so important to teach your dog to come to you, each and every time you call.

How can you do it? Most trainers recommend that you use very good treats to encourage the dog to come, and keep a leash on the dog 100 percent of the time until they always respond to your command.

But what can you do when your dog is loose and won't return?

Knowing your dog is key. Finding something the dog finds irresistible and keeping it nearby could help you prevent a tragedy. For some dogs, food will do the trick. For other dogs, a favorite toy can be an effective lure. And for other dogs like this little pup, playmates are the ultimate enticement. To reunite the pup with his owner, I kept Liam on his leash and we walked closer to the house. 

This story had a fairly happy ending. Liam was a little traumatized by the tension in the air, and he got nipped in the face a few times by a puppy who doesn't know his own strength, but he emerged in good spirits after the encounter.

The pup missed a crucial training moment, however. The owners simply caught the dog and forced him back into the house. This is the ideal way to keep him safe, of course, but it might have been slightly better to lure him into the house with the promise of play and then simply shut the door. I remain slightly worried that he'll break out again, and next time he might be harder to catch.

Let's hope the owners are working on the "Come here" command right now.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Do your cats groom you? What does it mean?

Lucy the cat is sleeping in her bed
Lucy is tuckered out after a long grooming session.
While I don't make a habit of crawling around on the floor, there are times when I need to stretch, do exercises, pick up a sock or otherwise get a bit low to the ground. Lately, I've had to do a few shoulder stretches on the floor, so I am lying there for a few minutes at a time, several times per day. Lucy has decided that I need grooming when I am doing these exercises, so she'll run up to my head and start cleaning away at my hair.

Turns out, many cats will groom the heads of their owners. It apparently doesn't have much significance, except the cat is demonstrating an overwhelming amount of affection through the process. Cats who groom you take you as part of the pack, so you get the same treatment they'd give another cat.

I can't say that I like it much, however. Cat spit doesn't make a great styling product, and the idea of a cat standing on my hair while I'm trying to stretch doesn't increase my comfort level. So for now, I have to shoo away this affection. Perhaps she'll find a different way to show her love in the future.

If your cat tries to groom you and you dislike it, you can try redirecting the affection. Break up the love fest with a quick game of play with a feather toy or a laser. If that doesn't work, try giving kitty a treat to snack on. Even a nibble of catnip would work. That way, your cat has something to do with her mouth, and you have a chance to escape.

But if kitty is persistent, there is a nuclear option. Lucy will redirect love from me to anything else that's alive. If she licks me like crazy, I can put her in a bed with the pug or with her cat siblings. They don't mind the love as I do.

Good luck!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Want to stop animal abuse? Start by reporting it

Katie the tiny kitten in her bed
Katie, one of my many rescue projects.
Like many animal lovers, I become wild with anger when I hear about animal abuse cases. Yesterday, for example, I was incredibly discouraged to hear that a woman in Damascus was living in a home with 97 animals. Yep, I said 97. When I thought of the conditions those animals must have lived in, I started to feel that familiar wave of anger and grief begin to rise.

But, there is one ray of hope in that story. As mentioned on the Oregon Humane Society website, the animals were rescued, in part, because a friend of the woman reported the abuse to the authorities. One person chose to speak up for those animals, and that person was able to help turn the tide and get the animals they help they need.

It might sound like a simple thing to do, to simply speak up and report something that looks like abuse. But in reality, it's really easy to look away and keep our mouths closed. We may want to avoid upsetting our neighbors or alienating our friends. We may think that abuse isn't our business. We may wonder what good one voice can do in the face of so much indifference.

I wonder what would happen if we all banded together and made an effort to protect these helpless animals? What if you spoke up the next time you saw someone beating their dog? What if you reported the neighbor with 10 dogs chained in the backyard? What if you agreed to help spay and neuter the feral cats in your neighborhood? What if we all took off the blinders and started talking? How many animals could we save?

Direct action, such as taking in an animal and helping it prepare for adoption, isn't right for everyone. As I mentioned before, doing direct rescue work takes money and for many families, money is just too tight right now. I've done direct rescue several times, so I'm speaking from experience here. But speaking up is free and it's easy. It's something all of us can do, right now, to help.

If you see animal abuse, contact the non-emergency police line in the city or county in which you live. Report what you've seen, and take pictures, if you can. If the issue doesn't resolve, kick it up a notch by calling your local humane society or animal shelter. Show those pictures and file a report.

Yes, it can take time for those reports to work through the system. And yes, doing these things means talking about something that makes many of us uncomfortable.

But the animals need us. Together, we can change things. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

How to help when your cat tears her toenail

Maggie the cat in her cat bed
Maggie in happier days (she's not feeling like a photo today).
As long as I've had cats, I've given them all a once-over each week and checked for any lumps, bumps or spots of pain. It's just become part of the weekly routine, and it's something I've stuck to with absolute devotion. This all stopped about a month ago when I had shoulder surgery. It is very hard to wrangle a squirming cat with only one arm. So, I've done what I can and given them the basics on the weekends, instead of the full treatment.

I suppose it's not surprising, then, that at least one cat would end up with a medical problem. They're not accustomed to being on their own.

On Saturday, I decided to trim the cats' nails, and I discovered that Maggie's back foot had been somehow injured. Two toes on her back feet were stuck together with matted, caked blood and I have no idea when or how that happened.

Toe injuries in cats aren't uncommon, and most of the time, you need to take a cat in for medical help with a significantly torn toe. But there are things you can do at home for mild problems.

First, you have to see what you're dealing with. And that means moving slowly and gently. I soaked Maggie's feet and slowly pried her toes apart. A fast move would have hurt her, but a slow soak helps to break up blood clots, so it hurts a little less.

Once I could see things clearly, I could act. And often, that means cutting off the jagged edges, so the nail can't get caught on anything else. Maggie's toenail seems to be torn only at the tip, so I was able to cut most of the tear away on my own.

Then, it's time to monitor for pain. Limping, licking or digging are signs that extra help might be needed. Maggie is not painful, which may be because this injury is very old and she has adjusted. But I am keeping an eye on her toe, and I'm prepared to take her in if it gets worse.

This is time-consuming work, and you'd think cats would thank you. That's not my experience. Maggie is not at all pleased with the extra attention, and I'm greeted with slaps when I reach for her toes. I think she'd prefer to be left alone. Sadly, this isn't going to happen. Even if her toe does heal perfectly, I'm restarting weekly once-overs this weekend.