Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Baldness from flea products: What to do when meds make your cats sick

Eamon the cat has a bald spot the size of a quarter due to a flea product
Eamon displays his bald spot (with a quarter for size reference).
Last week, in an effort to fight back against the fleas I was sure were eating poor Eamon alive, I put Revolution drops on his back. This product is designed to kill all sorts of nasty critters, including fleas, mites and all sorts of worms, and I'd used it on our outdoor cats in the past with no problems at all. I read the directions about this drug, and while it mentioned a few side effects that had been reported in cats, I felt comfortable providing it for a healthy cat like Eamon.

I've discovered that there's a big difference between reading about side effects and dealing with possible side effects in your own cat. One of these situations is academic, and the other can be quite expensive.

A few days after the application, Eamon started avoiding his food. It's not unusual for him to be a touch picky, but when his symptoms escalated into full-blown anorexia, I started to get worried. When he stopped coming to the kitchen at all during meal times, I was terrified. Around this time, I also noticed that he had a little heart-shaped bald spot, right where I had placed the flea meds.

Off to the veterinarian we went, and Eamon had some intensive bloodwork and fluid therapies. He spent a day in the clinic, and he seemed to brighten and wake up a little when he had some fluids under his skin and some anti-nausea medications in his system. I opted to take him home, just to nurse him there and see how well he did.

I do a lot of medical writing for my "day job," so when I got home, I immediately logged onto the computer to see how often these types of reactions happen in cats on Revolution. I must say, I was pretty impressed. It looks like Pfizer did a significant amount of clinical testing before this product was released, and only one kitten died in that testing (and that kitten had an unclear medical history). The product's website, as well as the information included with the medication itself, states that less than 1 percent of animals had digestive upset when they were given Revolution. That's a pretty low number.

However, when I did a random search of "Revolution" combined with either "vomiting" or "nausea," I got multiple questions written by frantic cat owners. This seems to suggest that nausea might be a little more common in the random cat population than it was in the testing population. I should say that this isn't a scientific study and I am in NO WAY SUGGESTING that there is some coverup here. But I do think there are some things pet owners can do to help.

Most, if not all, pet medication boxes include phone numbers consumers can use to report adverse reactions their pets experience when they take these medications. It's important to actually follow through and call when these things happen.

I called Pfizer this morning, for example, and they asked me many questions about Eamon's age, weight, health, test results and diet. All of this information is logged into a central database, and I would assume, it helps the company ensure that the products they provide are truly safe. If pet owners provide feedback, perhaps formulas can be tweaked or information can be revised or veterinarians can be educated on warnings and treatments. The feedback we provide is vital.

In the interim, Eamon is doing much better. He's on a bland diet and antinausea medications, and I'm hoping his hair will grow back in time. When a month passes and he needs new flea medication, however, I think we'll use a different product.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Does acupuncture really help cats?

Beorn the cat in a carrier
Beorn on his way to therapy.
An acupuncture session at my veterinary clinic costs about $50, and the staff usually asks clients to commit to three sessions, if not more. That's pretty far from chump change, and I'll admit that I was more than a little skeptical. I've read studies that suggest that acupuncture works in cats, and I know more than one human who's had the treatment with great results, but that little voice of doubt remains. I can't just ask Beorn if he feels better when the therapy is done, after all, and there are no blood tests or chemical profiles I can run at home to make sure he benefits from the expense. All I have are my eyes, and sometimes, looks can be a little deceiving.

A few weeks after his run-in with the car, Beorn is eating well, running at top speed, hopping on top of the hot tub with ease, and scaling a 3-foot fence with two short hops. His tail remains pretty limp, however, and I've seen him pee on that tail on more than one occasion. I'm not sure why he can't move that tail, and he doesn't seem painful, but he can't lift it. I had hoped acupuncture would help, but after one session, I saw no improvement at all.

Today, he went in for his second session and when my husband brought him back home, Beorn marched over to the fence at the back of the property, lifted that tail high up in the air, and peed more than I think I've ever seen him pee in his entire life. I have no idea what's going on here, as he's still holding that tail down when he walks, but it was pretty amazing to see him lift on up with ease as he used to do in order to pee. It's also a bit disturbing to think that perhaps he isn't peeing as much as he should, because he can't lift that tail as often as he'd like.

Session No. 3 is scheduled for next week. In each session, the doctor targets a slightly different place for the needles, and I think she focused on the bladder this week. Given what happened with this session, perhaps this session really did make a difference. I'll definitely have to share this little story, and see what our doctor has to say. Perhaps this is the evidence I can use to silence that voice of doubt once and for all.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Cat ear infections and muti-pet households

Eamon in a much too small cat bed
Eamon in a bed that's MUCH too small.
Since Beorn was hit by a car a few weeks ago, I've been spending most of my pet-related energy on helping him to heal and recover. He's made some great strides in the past few days (more on that soon!), but some of my other animals are now starting to demand a bit of my attention. Eamon, in particular, seems to be having a little trouble.

Eamon is an old and demanding cat who isn't afraid to express how he feels. Unfortunately, I'm not so great at understanding what in the hell he's talking about much of the time, and often it takes me a few days to really figure out what's going on with him. Over the weekend, he starting crying and yelling for no reason at all, for example, and on Monday I finally figured out that he was yelling about his left ear.

A cat ear is shaped a bit like the letter "L," and most cats really can't clean in there with any accuracy. They can scrape the tip of the ear with their paws, but they can't really dig in there and clean out the goo. Most of the time, this doesn't matter too much. Other times, however, this can be a problem. In Eamon's case, that ear was full of a black, waxy substance and his balance seemed a little off as a result. He couldn't begin to clean this out on his own.

I cleaned out that ear with a solution (I use Epi-Otic, which they SAY smells like apples and I think smells like nail polish), and I swabbed out the goo I could see with a cotton ball. Today, I did another treatment with the same stuff, and I followed that up with a treatment of Revolution. This stuff kills fleas, which could cause an allergic reaction and ear debris, but it also kills ear mites. If that black goo is caused by little critters in Eamon's ears, they should go away with this treatment.

The moral of this story? Living in a multiple-pet household is really hard. Living in a household with multiple senior pets is really hard. All of these creatures have delicate systems, and they all need quite a bit of help to keep on going, day in and day out. Being the human to this pack means budgeting both time and money to their well-being, and one little slip of focus could mean a health problem for the pet that is neglected.

I've been reading Cragislist and other animal forums lately, and I've seen quite a few messages from people who want to pull together households like mine, with multiple animals who all get along and who all help one another to stay healthy. It all sounds so idyllic, until one falls ill and the vet visits are needed. In general, it's best to keep pet numbers as small as possible. Really. Keeping up with all of their needs really can be too much to bear at times, and it's certainly not a situation I'll ever put myself in again in the future.

For now, I have to go heat up beds for the outdoor cats, walk the dog, make an acupuncture appointment for Beorn and clean Eamon's ears again.

Oh, and sleep. I need to do that, too.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Limp tails in cats

cat sprained tail
This is about as high as poor Beorn's tail goes these days.
It's been about a week since Beorn turned up with mysterious injuries, and I'm still trying to figure out exactly what happened to him. This limp, strange tail may be providing me with some clues.

Originally, my husband and I believed that Beorn had been tapped by the car, but we were still a little unsure about where he had been hit, or whether he had really been hit at all, as we could never find any dirt or gravel in his fur and my husband never felt the sickening bump-bump a driver notices when taking down a 10-pound cat.

But, now I am wondering if Beorn had his tail held high and was walking away from the car as it approached. If this had happened, he could have bent or broken that tail, and this could be responsible for all of the symptoms I've seen in the last week.

Tails are an extension of the spinal cord, and they contain a significant number of nerve bundles that supply the legs, the bladder and the bowels. Right after the accident, Beorn had some incontinence issues and he tended to stumble and stagger on his back legs. We didn't notice the tail issue, as we were focused on his legs, but I also never saw him lift that tail up. Now, much of the staggering is gone and he does have full bladder control, but he still can't lift the tail up. He can swing it, he can curl it around his feet, he can sort of shift it to the side, but he can't lift that tail. He also can't jump, which makes sense as he can't get his tail out of the way in order to propel himself up off the ground.

From the articles I've read (including this one and this one), tail fractures are usually quite serious and they require a significant amount of medical intervention. Tail sprains, on the other hand, seem to be a bit more mild in nature, and those do tend to heal up with time and rest.

We head back to the vet tomorrow morning for another checkup, and I'm hoping we'll hear good news.

In the interim, I've been giving Beorn plenty of attention and he has access to his beloved Snuggle Safe Pet Bed Microwave Heating Pad all day long (and I've been heating that thing up multiple times per day). Each day, he seems a little more jolly and a little more like himself. Yesterday, he even felt comfortable enough to stretch out on his back in the warm sunshine. If he continues to improve like this, we might have a fully healed cat when the summertime rolls around.

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Cats on buprenorphine

Broken cat door from a cat on buprenorphine
Proof of the damage a pissed-off cat can do.
Cats in pain are notoriously hard to medicate. They tend to metabolize drugs really slowly, and as a result, even small doses of drugs can build up to toxic levels in cats in just a few hours. As a result, there are very few options when it comes to treating cat pain, and when I took Beorn to the hospital last week for his hit-by-car incident, I learned that one go-to pain med for cats was recently taken off the list of approved cat pain meds. As a result, we had only one pain med we could give broken Beorn, and he didn't take to it very well.

This medication, buprenorphine, is an opiate drug that's supposed to kill the pain sensation in cats. There are dozens and dozens of websites that describe how wonderfully well cats do on this pain drug.

I think I will be writing one of the only accounts of a cat that did not like his buprenorphine experience.

When Beorn was on this drug, he became incredibly nauseated. He'd smack his lips, over and over again, and when I felt beneath his chin, I could feel drool just pooling there. Trying to get him to eat was impossible, as he would gag and retch at the mere sight of food. My husband and I ended up force-feeding him with spoons and a significant amount of willpower, and while Beorn kept that food down, he adamantly refused to eat on his own.

Additionally, Beorn seemed a little out of his head. He would sway on his feet, like he was listening to far-away music, and he would let out these weird, strangled cries. He'd smash himself into tight spaces and then seem unable to get out. He couldn't walk. He also didn't seem to know who we were. The one time we let him out of his house to stretch his legs, he headed for the space beneath the deck, as though he were looking for a quiet place to die.

Watching a cat go through this is pretty terrible, as it's really hard to tell if the cat is experiencing some sort of horrible reaction to the medication or some horrible reaction to the initial injury. I couldn't tell if he had pain or a brain lesion or internal bleeding or a bad trip. In the end, I decided to cut off the meds and see how he did.

The next day, this was a completely different cat. He can eat on his own (and he's really hungry), he craves attention, he can walk and he wants to be with his cat friends. He even broke down the cat door (see the missing orange arm in the photo above?) so he could get out of his house and back to his real life. He's not out of the woods, but the drugs were certainly 75 percent of the problem I saw last week.

Experts usually label the reaction Beorn had as "dysphoria," which is typically defined as restlessness, anxiety or dissatisfaction. Anyone who sees these symptoms in a cat on pain meds should call their veterinarians to discuss the matter. It's easy to think, as I did, that the cat is on the short road to death. It could be that the cat is just on a bad trip.

Friday, November 30, 2012

When your cat is hit by a car

Cat sleeping beneath a parked car
Beorn in happier days.
Cars are loud, smelly and unpredictable. Cats of sound mind would know this, and as a result, they'd run like hell when they even saw a car coming. Out of the three cats who live outside on this property, there's only one who is smart enough to follow this rule: Franklin. Just start the car and he runs off at top speed. It's something I like.

Beorn and Jasper, on the other hand, seem to think of the car as the delivery device for the people they love, and as a result, they tend to run *at* the car when it's heading into the driveway. I've been terrified about this for years, and this week, many of my fears came true.

It gets dark in Salem quite early these days, so it's hard to see Beorn in the evenings. I didn't see the incident go down, even though I was walking back toward the house when it happened. From what I can piece together, Beorn ran at the car when my husband was backing into the driveway, and in the process, he got clipped.

Cats that are hurt tend to hide. They seem to think that they'll be killed on the spot if they show weakness, so they'd rather head for the hills instead of asking for help. We only realized that Beorn had been hit when he didn't arrive for dinner on schedule. After a few moments of hollering, he came staggering out from underneath the deck, and I whipped him over to the emergency vet.

Most altercations between a cat and a car result in nasty cat injuries involving gravel and scraping. Wounds are pretty easy to spot because they're typically wide open and bleeding. But, cats can also develop internal injuries that are harder to spot, especially if they're just nudged or bumped by a car. Cats like this may only show up with pain-related symptoms like growling or limping or hiding. This is the scenario we're dealing with right now.

At the emergency vet, Beorn was able to stand upright and hobble about, but he had a pretty bad limp on his right rear leg and he was none too pleased about having that leg messed with. The vet didn't feel any broken bones or dysfunction and Beorn seemed just shaken but okay, so I took him home with some pain meds.

Since that time, I think he's gotten a little worse. He's not eating, so I'm force-feeding him canned food mixed with water. He's hiding and pacing, instead of lying comfortably. And sometimes, I would swear he's hallucinating as he mewls at things that I can't see. He's also smacking his lips quite a bit, which might be nausea or more hallucinating. It's hard to tell.

Tomorrow, we go back to the vet for a followup check and it's likely we'll have a series of x-rays done. At this point, things aren't looking good for Beorn. Cats who won't eat and who seem to be searching for a safe place to hide seem a lot like cats who are just trying to die. I'm hoping we can get some answers, and provide him with some sort of will to keep fighting.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Yes, we feed the squirrels!

A squirrel feeder in a tall tree at sunrise
This front-yard feeder isn't getting much use quite yet.
Almost 2 years ago, I went to a community meeting held by the Portland Audubon Society, hoping to find out more about how to react to the coyotes I'd seen in the neighborhood. While that meeting was informative and I learned a lot, there was one little side comment that stuck with me, and it's hounded me a bit since then.

The speaker at this meeting mentioned possible legislation that would make feeding coyotes illegal, and in the next breath, he mentioned that he'd like to see similar legislation passed for squirrels. Yup, he suggested that squirrels shouldn't be getting a free handout in Portland-area homes.

I was a little scandalized. I have always loved feeding squirrels, as they reward your little investment of corn with huge leaps through the air and amazing chattering noises. When I lived in Walla Walla, I had two separate feeders, and I'd watch the little critters stuff their cheeks with food as I sipped my morning coffee. With squirrel feeders in place, I didn't have to worry about these guys stealing my bird food, and I liked the idea of helping outdoor animals enjoy a bit more free time. I never even considered that I might be doing something that would, perhaps, be considered illegal.

The idea behind NOT feeding squirrels, from what I can tell, comes from native-species protectionists. Apparently, most of the squirrels we have in Oregon are actually invasive species that came here from other parts of the country, and they don't really need our encouragement in order to stay here.

I can see why we might not want to protect non-native species, but on the other hand, I don't see why reducing available food would help native species to do better. I can't find a native/non-native squirrel feeder on the market. If you feed one, you feed them all. Perhaps my food is helping the natives to survive.

The Society also mentions, in this article, that squirrels that take food from feeders become acclimated to human interactions, and this can make the animals more prone to becoming pests and/or doling out injuries. This is the same thinking behind the coyote interventions. If the coyotes are fed, they learn to trust us, and this is when a coyote/human fight is more likely to result in an injury or a death.

I get it, but honestly, I've never seen a tame squirrel. I've seen coyotes in the Beaumont neighborhood in Portland that will just stand there as you walk by, not concerned at all, but every squirrel I've seen breaks into a run or starts chattering when I'm visible. I don't see how a few bits of food could change squirrel behavior so dramatically.

So, good or bad, I'm feeding the damn squirrels. I have a feeder in the big tree in front, right next to a branch that's perfect for sitting, and I have another in the back yard, next to the roof of the shed. The back-yard feeder is pretty popular at the moment, but the front yard set isn't getting any action. It's been raining like crazy, however, so perhaps my furry friends are all holed up waiting for better weather. When they come out, I'll be ready with more treats. Just try to stop me!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Diagnosing dog vision loss: How do you know when your dog can't see?

Liam the pug in the sun
Liam basking in the sun.
My new workroom features two glass doors that point right down the driveway to the street. Liam's favorite new spot (not surprisingly) is right in front of those doors. Here, he can rest in the sun almost all day long, and he can keep an eye out for intruders who might be tempted to walk up the driveway unannounced. I keep telling him that pug barks are far from menacing, but he doesn't seem to get the message.

He's been delivering more and more of those pug barks, and unfortunately, I think his vision might be to blame. When our outdoor cats are about 10 to 15 feet away, sauntering down the driveway, Liam will bark and bark and bark, stopping only when the cats are about 2 feet away and he can recognize them. He also barks at my husband at the 8-foot mark, stopping only when the distance between dog and man closes to about 1 foot. Liam has also become more apt to shy away from garbage bags, lawn ornaments and people as we're on our walks, and he only seems to get comfortable when he's nearly standing on top of the things that once caused him fear.

Liam still motors around the house just fine, and he has no difficulty finding his toys, his food or his water dish. Since I live with a blind cat, I'm also not worried about living with a blind dog. Should he totally lose his vision, we would all figure out a way to adjust. But I am a little worried about what's going on here, and what can be done about it.

Liam's eyes are completely clear, free of any blurring or hazing, so I'm not sure cataracts are the issue. His eyes are also not full of tears or unusually dry or red. They look just as they always do, and the pupils are completely responsive to light. I would think a standard exam wouldn't show anything at all, since his eyes do seem to be so remarkably normal.

Canine ophthalmologists often set up elaborate mazes for dogs, asking them to walk through an unfamiliar collection of obstacles to measure vision. These are apparently pretty effective tests, but I would think a dog could use other senses, including smell and hearing, to manipulate those results. But if this vision loss continues, I may have to sign up Liam for something like this. I may try a test at home, in fact, just to see how well he can actually see. If he's just being protective, I won't worry. But if he really can't see, we might need to make some plans for the future.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cat decorating: Ideal number and placement of litter boxes

Two cats playing side and seek
Maggie and Lucy playing a quick game of hide-and-seek.
Managing a multi-cat household can be trying, at times. While cats do tend to entertain one another, devising little games to burn off energy and then sleeping together in a pile when nap time rolls around, each cat seems to have personalized preferences and specialized needs that have to be addressed. Many of these demands have to do with litter boxes.

When I moved into this house, I had hoped we could keep all of the litter boxes in the basement. I set up two boxes down there, one with clay litter for Lucy and one with sawdust litter for Eamon and Maggie, and I placed both boxes in semi-private spaces. My cats avoid litter boxes in high-traffic areas, and they'll bolt out of the box with their work half-done if they're surprised. Placing the boxes in faraway corners would make them happy, I reasoned, and it would make me happy as they wouldn't be anywhere in which I planned to spend time.

Unfortunately, I forgot the ultimate rule regarding boxes: There should be a box on each floor.

Leaving the boxes in the basement led to an unhappy Lucy. This makes sense, as she's blind and getting all the way downstairs and then back up again is a lot of work for her. When mealtime is near, she sometimes doesn't want to make the trip, and she'd just let fly wherever she happened to be standing.

My solution should make the both of us happy. I have a litter box on the main floor, but it's right by the front door. She has a box she can use, but should she need (ahem) an extra amount of time in order to do something monumental, it's likely she'll head downstairs to do so, as she's likely to get spooked upstairs. At least, that's the hope.

I should also mention that some experts claim that households should have one more box that could be used as a spare. Technically, with three boxes and three cats, I'm one short. For me, having four boxes is overkill. When I had three boxes and two cats, one box was consistently ignored. Some cats might be pickier than mine, but I've never needed a spare.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Dealing with cat bullies: Managing a colony of outdoor cats

Franklin the feral cat resting on top of the hot tub
Franklin rests on top of the hot tub.
The new neighborhood is home to several outdoor cats, and it seems as though this house was once primo turf. The first few weeks I was here, I noticed many different cats wandering through the yard, and most of them took off at a fast clip when they realized new neighbors had moved in and claimed the land. Most of these pet cats aren't too eager to fight.

There is one cat, however, who seems to be an exception.

This brown-and-black tabby (which I call "Marble," because he has a whirled pattern on his sides) has decided that my yard is his yard, and all of my cats need to clear out to give him room. He stomps into the yard from the alley behind, and the fighting begins.

The first fight took place about 2 weeks ago, when Jasper took on this cat right at the fence line. The punches were pretty fast and furious, but Marble was a little afraid of me and took off a few short moments after he saw me.

Round 1 goes to the Dion household.

The second fight happened on or around the same day, and this time, Marble came into the yard in the thick of the night and went after poor Franklin right by the back door. I've never seen Franklin fight, and I'm not sure he knows how to fight, so he just screamed for help. Marble took off again, as soon as I opened the door.

Round 2 goes to Marble.

The third round took place over a period of about 48 hours, when Marble and Beorn got into a series of three separate fights. These were nasty, silent fights in which both cats had their claws dug in and their teeth bared, and they weren't spending any energy on making noise. These are absolutely terrifying. I broke up all three of these fights with a water gun, and Beorn had a bloody ear after the last round.

I'm calling this one a draw.

Dealing with a neighborhood bully like this is hard. I can't ask his owners to keep him inside, as I'm clearly not keeping my cats inside. I can't train him not to fight, because I want him to keep out of my yard and think of me as frightening. In order to train him, I'd have to be his friend, and this runs counter to my goals. I can't even train my own cats not to fight, as Marble is the aggressor in most of these cases. I don't want them to be attacked and feel unable to fight back.

Over the weekend, I blocked the hole in the fence to the alley with some dead plants, and I've been training the dog to pee on that spot both in the morning and at night. The one time I saw Marble, I squirted him with water as he ran away. So far, he's not been back. If he does come back, however, I'm filling that squirt bottle with lemon juice and cayenne pepper.

Cat fights can be loud and unpleasant, but they can also be deadly. Tiny puncture marks from claws and teeth can harbor bacteria that can lead to infections. If those aren't caught and treated, cats can die. I don't want my cats dealing with this, of course, but I also don't want Marble to deal with an infection, either. I'm prepared to get a little nasty just to ensure that it doesn't happen.

Monday, November 5, 2012

A rant about cat sales

A truck used for selling cats
Yup, they're really selling cats out of a mobile home.

It all started with a pretty innocent trip for groceries. Turns out, I could have picked up more than basic meat and veggies. Smack in the middle of the Fred Meyer parking lot on Sunday, this man set up shop, selling Persian kittens for $1,000 and up.

"You want to come inside and see some pretty kitties?"

That's what the man inside this mobile home shouted at me when I got a little closer with my camera. I didn't have the heart to tell him that I was snapping a photo only because I had planned to post a rant and rave about him on the web.

This thing really hacks me off.

This morning, when I ran a quick search on Petfinder for cats close to the 97301 zip code, I came back with 1,971 hits. That's worth repeating: There are close to 2,000 cats in the Salem area that I know need new homes. Many more are hiding in vacant houses, in private homes or in private shelters that don't use Petfinder, all hoping someone will choose them and take them home. No listing I saw asked for $1,000 in exchange. Even the few Persians I found through this site weren't associated with such high adoption fees.

I know. I know. Purebred cats may "cost" more because they come with extensive paperwork, and they can be used in breeding programs. I am well acquainted with this, as I have a purebred dog myself. However, reputable breeders do not sell their cats out of mobile homes in the middle of a parking lot. They breed only to better the breed, and they do so rather rarely. Kittens are a rarity, and there are long waiting lists for these kittens. People must sign contracts and endure home visits before they can take the kittens. These little guys are also health tested before they're sent to their homes.

Reputable dog and cat breeders follow all of these steps. Guys who sell cats out of mobile homes are unlikely to do anything like this. I'm pretty sure I could have walked out with an armload of semi-healthy cats, no home visits or contracts required, as long as my check didn't bounce.

In addition, reputable breeders rarely ask for adoption fees that are much higher than those charged by a rescue organization. Buy a pug from a reputable breeder, you pay about $800. Adopt a pug from the Humane Society, you pay about $600. The purebred is more expensive, but not by much. This guy's price of a grand is, from what I can tell, about double or even triple what the rescue organizations charge. That seems like greed to me.

I'm thankful that this man didn't seem to have any customers. Perhaps people didn't have an extra $1,000 in their wallets after buying food for their families. But he must have had at least one sale in the past, as he seems to think he has a winning business model. Otherwise, he'd be selling somewhere else.

All I can ask you is this: Please don't support breeding programs like this.

Just don't do it.

Every kitten sold deprives another of a home, and every kitten sold means another win for a guy selling cats out of a mobile home. We can all do better.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Dealing with outdoor-only cats

Jasper and Beorn looking through the back door
"Why can't we come inside?"
Beorn, Jasper and Franklin are semi-feral, outdoor-only cats. They have heated beds, warm and enclosed spaces, litter boxes and fresh water. Every night, they're escorted to an enclosure and shut in for the night, to ensure that they don't get into fights with the neighborhood cats. In essence, they have basically everything a little cat might need in order to be happy and healthy in the world. However, I find that they spend a lot of time looking inside the windows.

This house has windows in many of the doors, and often, those windows are quite close to the floor. Beorn and Jasper have become excellent guilt-trippers, sitting by these windows all day long and meowing at me as I walk past. It breaks my heart, even thought I know I'm doing the right thing by keeping them outside.

Franklin is feral, so he doesn't want to come inside at all, but Beorn and Jasper are inveterate peeing machines. Give them the option to pee on something, and they'll do it. I have no idea where they picked up this behavior, but I do know that it's something they can't be trained out of. I spent many, many, MANY months trying to do just that and I had absolutely no success.

These guys are also really territorial, apt to fight with any cats they view as interlopers. Within about two weeks of moving to a new community they had asserted their dominance and now I see few, if any, neighborhood cats strolling through the yard. Before these guys arrived, it was common to see five or six strange cats in the yard every day. Since these cats are territorial, I don't know what they'd do to the indoor crew. Lucy, in particular, would be at risk since she is blind and pretty much unable to defend herself against attackers. If I let Beorn and Jasper inside, the indoor cats are likely to be seriously injured in the process.

So while it's best for the health of the cat community, and the health of my husband and I, for these cats to stay outside, and I can remind myself that they have it pretty good outside, these cats still seem to get me with their pleading eyes. I wish I could make them stop.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Pugs and water safety: Pugs can't swim!

Liam the pug stretched out on the carpet
Every day I find a new safety issue concerning Liam the pug. This week, it involves a cool feature that came with our new house. And that feature has a LOT of water. 

That feature is an outdoor hot tub. And it's a problem due to pug anatomy.

Pugs have really big heads and really short necks, so they're often top-heavy. When Liam was a puppy, he would run and fall flat on his face, simply because his head was much too heavy for the rest of his poor body to support. When this happens on land, it's pretty amusing. When it happens in the water, it can become a tragedy. 

Top-heavy breeds often can't support their heads above the water, and the short snouts they have don't allow them to pick their nostrils up above the water line. This can mean drowning, and it can happen in the blink of an eye. The dogs might not even make any noise during the episode, as they'll be trying too hard to pick up their heads. 

Drowning is of particular concern with man-made receptacles for water, like hot tubs and pools, because they usually come with heavy covers. These covers can trap heat inside the water, and keep bugs out, but little dogs can sometimes slip beneath the cover, and then drift to a secure spot beneath that cover where they can't get out, and then they drown. It's really sad, but it happens. Even thin covers on pools and hot tubs can be of concern, as dogs can walk across the cover, fall in and then be unable to find a way out again.

Thankfully, this hot tub sits well off the ground, and it also sits well off of the deck. There's no way that a short little guy like Liam could ever get in there. I don't think he could even jump in there, even if he wanted to. That means I don't need to do any prep here to keep Liam from drowning, simply because he'll never be able to reach the water line.

But I am still careful to keep him inside when the cover is off of the hot tub. He can watch me through the windows, but I don't want him coming near the water. If the tub wasn't so high, however, I think I would take the darn thing out. Fences and such would never keep out a determined pug, and I don't know how I'd live with myself if something happened to my dog in my hot tub. 

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Switching to a new raw dog food

Liam the pug is ready to eat his food
Liam praying I'll say, "Okay."
I've been feeding Liam a raw diet for well over a year now. On this diet, many of his skin problems have simply disappeared, and we're no longer dealing with horrid gas or endless vomiting episodes in the middle of the night. Since it took me so long to find just the right kind of food to give to this dog, you can imagine my distress when I found that Liam's food isn't for sale ANYWHERE in Salem. I was a little shocked, to be honest, as the food I'd been providing was sold almost everywhere in Portland. I even bought it at Whole Foods.

Anyway, shock and anger only gets you so far when you have a hungry dog on your hands that needs to eat some kind of dinner, so I took the plunge and switched to a new raw food, Nature's Valley Instinct Raw. Of the choices that were available at the Salem pet food store of my choice, it seemed to have the lowest fat content and the largest number of ingredients I could immediately recognize. It's an inexpert way to choose food, of course, but I honestly thought Liam wouldn't be able to eat this food. He's been so difficult to feed that I never dreamed I'd be able to simply pick a food, put it down and experience no ill side effects. I was just sure I'd only buy one bag of the stuff, and then bring half of the bag back when it didn't work. I just hoped I'd have time to investigate a new option in the interim.

Turns out, I was wrong and Liam has done wonderfully well on this food. I transitioned him slowly over a period of many days, and now that he's eating this food exclusively, I am still not seeing any digestive or skin problems. He also seems to really like the taste of this food, and it's easy to portion it out for his meals.

I also just got really lucky. According to online reviews I've read of this product, experts agree that the ingredient list is pretty close to ideal, and the company has a good reputation for providing a quality product at a reasonable price. So far, it's a product I would recommend for almost any pug. Liam certainly seems to like it.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Moving with a blind cat: Is packing or moving worse?

Lucy the blind cat in our old house
Lucy in our old house, wondering what in the world is going on.
It's not too surprising that blind cats don't like to move to new houses. The packing process is distressing, as every day brings a new box to walk around, and all of those boxes have new smells that are disorienting and strange. Predictably, as the Portland house became more and more maze-like, with tiny tunnels leading the way from one room to another, the more upset Lucy became. She began to move in slow circles, trying to find the edges of things she might run into, and she sometimes vocalized late at night, calling out for another cat to help her find her way.

When she first moved into the Portland house, she remained quite confident throughout the entire process, and I began to wonder if this move would be harder because Lucy is simply older. Where little kittens are flexible creatures that easily transition from one environment to the next, older cats tend to become fixed and set in their ways, and they can be quite upset at the mere idea of change. I was worried we'd have a bad move on our hands.

Turns out, Lucy was intimidated by the packing, but once we got here, all of her fears seemed to resolve. Within 24 hours, she had the entire house mapped out in her mind, and she could quickly fly from one room to another. If she ran into an unpacked box along the way, she simply shook off the bump and kept moving. No circling and no mewling took place, and she ate like a horse.

I'm no expert, but I wonder if she's just sensitive to the emotions her humans were exuding. I find packing to be incredibly stressful, and I hate putting precious items away and thinking they might not make the trip in one piece. I hate cleaning up after packing. I hate having boxes stacked to the ceiling. This move was particularly distressing due to the sheer amount of stuff we had to pack. Just thinking about it makes me want to cry and walk in circles, too. However, I love to unpack, and this house is a particularly fun project to work on. I like to find new homes for things, and I like to uncover all of those objects and find that they made it in one piece. Once we got here, I was instantly happier. Perhaps Lucy was just providing me with a mirror for my own emotions, and I wasn't aware enough to see it.

I'm happy to report that we're both quite settled in Salem now, and we both seem to be doing well in our new environment. Here's hoping we have no more moves in our futures!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Our feral cat returns

Franklin the feral cat in his new home
Franklin peers out of his new house
In a previous blog post, I discussed the preparations I'd gone through to help our outdoor cats move to a completely new community. At the time, I was convinced that feral Franklin was gone, as I hadn't seen him for several days prior and had no evidence that he was anywhere in the vicinity. It seems I had given up on him a little too early. Over the past week, he's reemerged and now he seems to be settling into his new home.

Since Franklin is feral, he can't be touched and he certainly doesn't come when he's called. He might not even know that we call him Franklin. Taking care of a cat like this is really hard, especially when you're moving from one neighborhood to another. There's no way to convince cats like this that you mean them no harm and that staying with you will be best for their long-term health. Most of the time, they just run off as soon as they see you. Franklin is no different, and the move seems to have broken what little trust he once held for me. Before we moved, he'd get close enough to sniff my fingers. Now, he likes to maintain a 3-foot distance at all times.

The other boys are spending their nights in an enclosed space with heated beds. Often, they must be picked up and carried into this home, and Franklin would rather die than let me pick him up. For now, I've rigged up a little enclosure for him. It's a bit on the ghetto side of things, but he seems to like it.

In essence, this is a litterbox with a closing flap that I've filled with rugs, blankets and a heating disk. I have the door propped open with a stick for now, so he can get in and out, but eventually, I'll remove that stick so he can retain heat in there a little bit better. In this little makeshift bed, he stays warm and dry, and for an outdoor cat, that's a pretty good life. I'm hoping he'll learn to use the cat door in the outdoor enclosure the other cats use, and in time, he'll spend nights in there with his buddies. If he never chooses to do that, however, at least he'll be clean, dry and warm. Here's hoping he chooses to stay this time, and that he forgives me for moving him.

In the interim, I've learned something about feral cats. For the week that Franklin was missing, he was squatting about 6 feet from the door, right underneath the deck. He never made a sound, never ate a bite and never emerged for anything at all. He must have been simply paralyzed with fear and unable to do anything about it at all. If I had all of this to do over again, I think I would have been a bit more respectful of his fear, and I would have introduced him to Salem much more slowly. It seems like he needed weeks, not days, to adjust. That's something all feral cat keepers would be wise to remember.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Dogs + asparagus ferns = Bad morning

Liam the pug looking queasy
Liam looking suitably miserable.
It's no secret that pugs are loud little dogs. They snuffle, groan, snort, wheeze and make other unmentionable sounds in the middle of the night. When Liam was a puppy, every little noise he made would send me into a panic, and I'd look in his mouth to ensure he wasn't eating something he shouldn't eat or chewing something I thought didn't need chewing.

Now that he's 5, I've started to ignore some of these noises.

It's a mistake I need to correct.

Before the move, I had an asparagus fern locked away in a room that was rarely used. The pets didn't have access to it unless I was there, and the plant pretty much grew unmolested, and it's pretty awesome now, as a result. After the move, I decided to showcase my green thumb by placing the fern in the living room, which is a highly trafficked area.

This morning, the smack-smack from the living room was Liam eating a part of this plant. He didn't manage to eat very much, but he did choke down a tiny bit of a stem before I made it into the room. Turns out, according to ASPCA, that this fern is considered toxic. Dogs who eat these ferns can develop vomiting, stomach pain or diarrhea.

Liam got two out of three, and I spent the morning listening to him cough and heave, while gigantic amounts of drool came pouring out of his little mouth. Fun times. I gave him Pepto Bismol (following dosage guidelines found here) and figured I'd give him 30 minutes to improve before I called a cab and took him to the emergency vet. Thankfully, his symptoms resolved before that time came.

Tonight, I am spraying that plant down with Grannick's Bitter Apple Spray. This stuff has a sickly sweet smell, but apparently, the taste is really foul. Whenever I use it on the plants, all of the pets won't go near them. For less than $10, it's a good investment. If that doesn't work, looks like my beloved fern will go up on the free side of Craigslist. I'm just hoping it doesn't come to that.

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Keeping outdoor cats warm in the winter

Beorn the cat stretching as he emerges from the dog house
Beorn emerging from a mid-day nap.
In the new Salem house, our neighbors have many, many cats that seem to roam freely. This house was also vacant for a period of time, meaning that these cats seem to think that this house is also their house, and it should be defended at all costs. Since most cat fights happen at night, when the lights are low and the hormones are high, we've decided to confine our cats to an outbuilding when the sun sets. They have comfy beds, a litter box and a locking door that keeps intruders at bay.

What they didn't have was a source of heat.

We could have hired an electrician and put in some sort of heater or electrical outlet, but that had me a little nervous. Outdoor cats could pee on those outlets, shorting out the system or causing injury. They could also chew on the cords with similar ill effects. I didn't like the idea of confining them someplace where they could get hurt.

Instead, we invested in a Snuggle Safe disk and plenty of blankets.

I love Snuggle Safe disks. You pop them in the microwave for a few minutes and they stay warm for 9 hours or more. They can be washed with soapy water and there are no cords or things to chew on. I think they're the perfect solution for outdoor cats, and Beorn seems to agree with me.

Now, I heat up the disks at night, so they have comfy beds for sleeping, and I warm up another disk in the day, so he can sleep in a warm doghouse outside the writing studio all day long. He seems to think that this is absolutely wonderful. I think so, too.

Want to try your own? Click the link.

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”  

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Preparing dogs for roofing projects

"What are they DOING up there?!?"
It's a sad fact that most real estate transactions involve roofers. New buyers want to ensure that the homes they're purchasing will last for multiple years without major investments, and most banks won't produce loans on homes with big, gaping holes in the roof. As a result, when August rolled around, I had to prepare Liam for the advent of a major roofing project that was likely to take several days to complete. I knew he wouldn't like anything about this.

Boot camp for roofing involves exposing the dog to loud, random sounds throughout the day. I looked for roofing videos like this one and this one, and I played them on the speakers of the computer at random times per day (at pretty loud volumes). I also tried dropping books and shoes in the upstairs bedrooms when Liam was downstairs, hoping to show him that loud noises from above don't always spell disaster. And finally, I kept all of the windows open all of the time, so he could become accustomed to people talking outside. I think his nerves were a little shot, but it seemed like this was about the best I could do.

When roofing day arrived and the workers started setting up shop, I took Liam around for introductions. He was allowed to sniff all of the workers, and get little scratches on the head, and then we went right back inside for a good day of work. I had hoped that he'd accept these people crawling around the house, as he'd had the opportunity to meet all of them at least once.

I'm happy to report that he did quite well throughout the roofing project. There were a few scary moments (for both of us) when the roofers made noises that could only be associated with earthquakes or the impending failure of the crossbeams, but Liam quickly went right back to sleep when the dust had settled. In just a few days, it was over. Whew!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Moving with outdoor cats: What's the best way to move a cat colony?

Beorn the outdoor cat in his new yard
Beorn relaxing in his new yard.
We recently moved about 60 miles down I-5, from a very industrial part of Portland to a smaller, quieter neighborhood in Salem. For my husband and I, one of the major hurdles to a successful move involved his outdoor cats. We couldn't exactly convince them that the move was necessary, and we weren't sure they would even want to come along. The logistics of the thing seemed a little daunting.

As we were planning, I looked at sites like this one. They all gave me basically the same set of options: I could move them all, or I could convince a neighbor to keep them and allow the cats to live in the neighborhood they'd called home for 10+ years. Honestly, it was a tough call. While I knew that catching these cats and moving them would be difficult, I didn't know if our neighbors (and the new homeowners in the house the cats lurked around) would be willing to care for the cats in the manner to which they had become accustomed. Since they were a bonded group, we couldn't just take along a few cats and leave the others behind, and abandoning them to fend for themselves was simply not an option.

In the end, we decided to risk it and move all of the cats with us.

About 2 weeks before our move, I pulled out the cat traps we owned, and I started baiting those traps with tasty food, two times per day. Beorn and Jasper can be picked up, of course, but feral Franklin cannot and I needed to have him get into that trap when it was time to go. Over time, everyone became accustomed to eating in the traps, and we felt ready to go. Franklin wandered into the set trap on the second attempt, and I had a moment of glee, thinking all would be well.

When we arrived at our new home, all three cats went into their new, cushy outbuilding (photos to come later) with water, food and a cat box. We went in multiple times per day, but we left the cats in there for three days. I wanted the cats to have time to adjust to the new sounds and smells of their environment, and I knew they could look out the window to map out their new turf. On the morning of the third day, they seemed ready to come out.

All three stayed in the yard that first day, sniffing and smelling and coming by for reassuring scratches and slow blinks. Unfortunately, we've not seen Franklin since. Jasper and Beorn have adjusted, and they're doing beautifully in their new surroundings, but our feral boy has just disappeared. It's been several days now, and I fear he's gone for good.

I try to comfort myself that we did the best we could by trying to move him and giving him a comfortable place to live when we had moved. But unfortunately, he didn't see the wisdom in our move and there was no way to make him stay where we'd like him to stay. I hope he changes his mind and comes back to us.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Grumpy old dogs and crazy puppies

Liam the pug lying in his bed and looking guilty
"Was my reaction a bit too much?"
Over the weekend, we took a long trip to visit the in-laws in a neighboring state. We spent six very long hours in the car, and when we arrived, we were all a little bedraggled and worn out. I had high hopes that Liam would be glad when we did arrive, however, as I knew he'd have an opportunity to play with a brand-new puppy. I think I had visions of them running, jumping and being the best of friends.

Unfortunately, this is not what happened.

This puppy is an amazing dog who is smart, well socialized and well loved by his parents. In short, he is a great pup that is going to grow up into a great adult dog. Unfortunately, he is also a big guy at 40+ pounds, and he has a lot of energy. When we arrived, he was intent on making Liam play with him, and Liam suddenly became a grumpy old man, growling and snarling and resorting to snapping when the behavior didn't stop. In the end, I had to carry him from place to place, and he continued to growl. The pup continued to muzzle nudge Liam, and he would lick his little feet as Liam sat in my arms.

Throughout the entire weekend, this behavior continued. Liam and the pup would be on good terms for about 5 minutes, and then Liam would become upset at the puppy's constant invitations to play and he would become a snarling mess.

I have a feeling he learned this behavior from the foster pug we had for a few hours (see that post here). This old gal used the same tactics on Liam to keep him from bothering her, and he seems to have internalized those lessons quite quickly. While I appreciate his capacity for learning, however, I do find the episode distressing.

Most dog training sites tell you to allow the dogs to "work it out" and establish a hierarchy among them. Once again, I think this is easy advice for owners of large dogs to hand out, and difficult advice for owners of small dogs to follow. It's easy to say that dogs should fight it out when the large dog is destined to win. It's hard to let them fight when your dog could die in the process.

By the end of the weekend, I was encouraging both dogs to lie down near one another, without touching one another or moving to play. They could do that without growling, or without the behavior escalating. That's the best I could do on this trip, but I am hoping to make more progress in March, when we may make a visit to this pup once more.

Monday, July 30, 2012

On cats and moving: Your cats are going to love home staging!

Maggie the cat sitting on boxes I have packed
Maggie finds a bed among the boxes.
Let's make one thing clear: When you're moving, your cats will love your realtor. Why? Because the things your realtor wants you to do will be the things your cat has wanted you to do all along.

Here's why. 

When you're preparing to sell your house in a tough market like this one, your realtors often encourage you to do something called "staging." In essence, you walk through your house and box up almost everything that has personal meaning to you.

That vase your grandmother gave you? Too personal.

That Asian lamp you bought at an antique store? Holds too much visual appeal.

If you do staging properly, your home looks a lot like a vast, vacant showroom that someone is camping in, not a home that anyone would actually choose to live in. And the corners of your home contain boxes of things you'll move months later, when you transfer ownership of your house. I hate packing, and leaving packed boxes around, but I also hate the idea of having the house on the market for months and months and months, so staging has been the name of the game here.

This seems to make Maggie the cat especially thrilled.

Maggie is a curious sort, and she's the first to investigate anything new. When we take items off the shelves in order to pack them, she's the first to give those items a sniff. When boxes are packed, she tries them out with her teeth, just to make sure they're solid. And Sunday, I found her sleeping on this pile of packed stuff in the sunporch. I guess she just can't help herself.

Packing with a curious cat like this holds some special dangers. In previous moves, Maggie has been packed inside of boxes for a few moments, when she crawled in and I hadn't noticed she was missing. She's also tipped over boxes of packing peanuts, and she's had her paw stuck to packing tape. It's entertaining, but it's also a gigantic hassle to keep moving her, scolding her and reassuring her when her antics make her frightened. However, I let her participate in the packing process as it seems to help her acclimate to the concept of moving. She can see that something is happening, and she is a part of this process, so the move might be less likely to frighten her.

At least this is what I tell myself as I remove her from the box I am packing, for the tenth time.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How to prepare your pug when it's time to move

Liam the pug posing with a chair I was selling
Liam (not helpfully) posing with a chair I was selling.
My husband has made the decision to sell this big house and move to something that's smaller and more sustainable. This means we have months and months of chaos and disarray ahead of us, and poor Liam the pug already seems to be in a shambles about the whole thing.

Dogs like routine: They like to know where you are, what time you get up, what time they eat, where the water bowl is located. Realtors like you to be flexible with just about all of this stuff, packing away most of the things that you own and keeping the house in a pristine and clear condition so the new owners can come in and visualize the space with all of their own stuff in it. Oh, and they'd like these visits to happen almost anytime of the day or night, thank you very much.

So, we've been dutifully packing and planning, selling off furniture we don't want and putting away things we don't want broken. Liam has become increasingly anxious with each change we make. He won't get out of pictures of furniture (see above), he paces when we're working, and yesterday, he even made an attempt to pee on our coffee table before we stopped him and whisked him away.

So what in the world can be done to keep drama-queen dogs under control when you're going through a long real-estate process? Crate training seems to come to mind. Liam may not be able to control what happens in the house at large, but he can certainly control what happens within the metal frame of his crate. By allowing your dog access to a crate during times of stress, you're giving your dog a safe place to go when he or she begins to feel like it's all too much.

Exercise also seems to play a key role, as it allows the dogs to burn off some spare energy and sleep a little more soundly. This isn't working so great with Liam, as it's much too warm outside for long walks, given his short snout, but we're working on indoor ball-throwing exercises. Now that the house is only half-full of furniture, there's lots of room to run.

Right now, we're hoping this house sells quickly, so he can go back to feeling safe and secure in our new home (wherever that might be). But in the interim, I hope he'll at least start to think of chaos as the new normal, and perhaps he'll then mellow out just a bit.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pugs, construction noise and barking

Liam the pug is playing with his toys
Liam is better at playing than guarding.
Yesterday, we had the roof of this old house cleaned. In order to do the job, the workman had to climb all around the house, and he was wearing a huge parka as well as eye and ear protection. I felt sure the pug would be a barking, snarling mess when he looked out the window and saw some masked person peering through our windows. Much to my surprise, Liam didn't let out a peep. In fact, he didn't even seem to notice that anyone was here, even when the man was directly outside our workroom windows.

In addition, this man used a compressor on our roof, which meant a lot of slapping and swishing and dragging noises, and large clicks when the machine turned on and off. Again, I expected barking noises, and instead Liam responded with snores.

At first, this whole thing had me perplexed. Liam will wake up out of a dead sleep if he hears the merest jingle from a dog's identification tags, and he will bark relentlessly at any animal he sees on the television. He'll also sometimes growl at people he thinks seem threatening in some way, and that are coming toward our property. Put all of this together, and you have a recipe for a bark-a-thon when the roofers come.

On the other hand, the lot adjacent to our house is going through some extensive renovations, which means there has been a significant amount of construction noise day in and day out. At first, the noise was troubling to us all, and I found that both Liam and I would jump at each new sound. Now, since the work has been ongoing (and seems to be ending), we don't notice any construction noise at all.

Perhaps in Liam's little dog brain, the roof cleaning was another example of construction noise, and he chose to tune the whole thing out. This bodes well if the husband and I have to do yet more work on the house this summer, as we seem to have created the perfect construction-impervious dog!

It's probably difficult to recreate this situation for people who do not live next to construction. A recording of construction can't recreate the rattling of the earth that so often comes along with these big machines, and those sonic movements tend to drive dogs wild. I suppose you could hire a kid to drop something heavy from a 2nd story window or something, but it's probably not practical. I do think, however, that I will probably continue to encourage Liam to endure, and then become accustomed to, strange noises whenever I can. Instead of trying to shield him from the loud motorcycles, the leaf blowers or the screaming children, I'll let him acclimate to each noise in his own time. If it results in less barking, it's worth the effort.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Found a lost pet? Here's what to do!

Sleepy senior pug in her bed
This poor old girl had a rough day!
On the morning walk, I saw a very old pug limping along the sidewalk. At first, I was quite sure that she was just investigating the area on the end of a very long leash, but when the minutes began to tick by and I noticed that no owners were in sight, I started to get worried. When the old girl moved into the street, directly in the path of oncoming cars, I took action. She became a guest lodger of the Dion household until I could find her owner.

Normally, reuniting a pet with its owner is as simple as reading a phone number of the tags the pet wears, but this gal had no collar on. This made reuniting her difficult, but definitely not impossible. While she went with my husband to our neighborhood veterinarian for a microchip scan, I posted her description on these local sites:
  • Multnomah County Dog Control. This is the most important site, as you must register a found pet if you intend to keep it in your home. 
  • Craigslist. Equally important, as this is where most dog owners look for their pets. 
  • Dove Lewis. A long shot, but I know some people look here for their lost pets. 
Our guest had no microchip, so we plastered the neighborhood with "Found Pug!" signs, and we waited for her people to call.

This gal is quite old, and while she appeared to be in good health, she is also a bit of a grumpy gus. She didn't like Liam to get too excited, and she also didn't like to be sniffed or played with. In other words, she wanted to be left the hell alone. As soon as she was settled in her bed, and Liam was settled in his, all seemed well.

Helping a stray like this means providing food, water and shelter, but it also means taking some risks. I had no idea if she was cat friendly, and I also had no idea if she had medications to take or serious health concerns I should be monitoring. I also didn't know how long I could reasonably keep her, without disrupting my own cat and dog family. I think I had decided I'd keep her for 24 hours, but then she would have to go to the shelter.

Thankfully, I didn't have to make any tough choices as her owner called our veterinarian to report her missing. Since we'd taken her to the vet for a microchip scan, it was easy to link our found pug with her lost pug and she went home with her mother just a few hours after we found her. However, this story could have easily had a more sinister ending. This old girl could have been hit by a car on her wanderings, or she could have been lost for good as she had no identification on her. The owner promised me that she would get a chip this week, but I hope she also convinces the wanderer to stay home.

Monday, July 9, 2012

I wish we could save Lennox from BSL

Pretty pink flowers on a summer day
I previously wrote about Lennox, an Irish dog that has been held in captivity for years because of breed-specific legislation. At the time, I was fairly hopeful that activism could save this dog, and perhaps his story could spur other people to act against breed-specific legislation in their own countries. I envisioned him functioning as a sort of mascot, and I felt sure that all who saw him would be inspired by his story and by the fight his family put up to save him.

I am far from hopeful today.

The saga of poor Lennox has just gone on and on, and recently, the family came to the difficult decision that they couldn't fight the legislation any longer. They faced roadblock after roadblock, and Lennox also developed skin disorders as well as some sort of neck injury, and it was thought that these issues were causing him pain and would make his rehabilitation from captivity all the more difficult.

So the family chose to let him go.

Celebrity dog trainers, and several dignitaries from other countries, offered to rehome the dog at no expense at all to the government (see more information here), and yet, the authorities refused to even meet with these people or listen to any of their offers. Their pat response, which you can see here, is pretty disgusting, if you ask me.

So I feel sure that when I wake up in the morning tomorrow, this dog will be dead. I can only hope that this story demonstrates why breed-specific legislation is so truly horrible. When a dog can be condemned due to the measurement of his head (as he is not even of the breed that's been banned in Ireland), something has really gone wrong with the laws. And when a city council refuses to listen to the thousands of people who have protested all around the world, and they instead hide behind these misguided laws, it's shameful, to say the least.

At one point, I had considered visiting Belfast. I had heard it was a beautiful city, and I have a friend who visited the city for work and who showed me some enticing photos of the views he had from his hotel room. I had even been pricing plane tickets. But now? You couldn't pay me to go to Belfast. In fact, I signed this petition (link is now broken), vowing never to set foot in the city limits.

I feel for Lennox, and I feel for his family. Let us all remember him, and all of those innocents like him, who lose their lives due to unfeeling policies. Let us stop supporting breed-specific legislation.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Protect your pets from theft

Liam the pug napping on the couch
Who wouldn't want to steal a pup this cute?
I'm an avid New Yorker reader, and a few years ago, I remember reading this story about dog theft in New York. The author used a tongue-in-cheek tone, mocking these owners for their concerns, and the author pointed out that no dog thefts had been reported to police. The article ends with a quote from a poly-sci prof who suggested that people fixated on dog theft because they had larger concerns about the economy. In a word, the article implied that dog theft was all hysteria.

Times have changed.

According to a recent article, there has been a 49 percent increase in the number of stolen dogs reported between 2010 and 2011. While I've done no major research on my own, I can see several entries almost every day on the Portland craigslist.com from people who are asking about their own stolen pets. It seems that the threat of dog theft is real, and it's on the rise.

Pets could get stolen for a variety of reasons. Some people might steal them to sell them again, especially if the dogs are small, cute and from a recognizable breed. Some people might steal them in order to breed them and make more money on the pups they could produce. And finally, some people might just steal them in order to keep them as pets. It happens.

There's no real way to make sure your pet is completely theft-proof, but there are some commonsense things that people can do to make theft a bit less likely:
  • Don't tie your pet out in public places. People who leave their pets unattended outside of stores, coffee shops or restaurants might be inviting trouble.
  • Don't put your pet in the yard unattended. Some local thieves seem to be nabbing pets from their yards when owners put them out for the last bathroom break. It's best to go with them. 
  • Don't leave your pet in the car. That's what happened in this story, but thankfully, the man got his dog back. 
  • Don't use expensive, shiny bling on your dog. Rhinestone collars, Burberry coats, etc., all scream money and they could make nabbers target your dog.
  • Microchip, microchip, microchip. If your dog is stolen, this is (almost) the only way to legally prove that the dog is yours. 
  • Spay and neuter. If your dog can't be shipped off to a breeding organization, it might be less valuable to thieves.
If your dog is stolen, by all means, report it! Highlighting the case on craigslist.com is all well and good, but asking the police to join in the search is always prudent. Your dog may be found when the cops bust these people for other offenses. While the investigation is ongoing, follow these excellent tips for making a great lost dog sign.

Stay safe in these rough economic times, everyone, and if your pet has been stolen, please shoot me an email. I'm happy to highlight your case on this blog.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Protect your Portland pets from fireworks

Liam the pug is hoping there will be no fireworks this year
"Oh, no. You're going to light things on fire AGAIN?"
Every year, it seems, I end up writing some sort of piece about the 4th of July. Last year, I even toyed with the idea of spending the holiday in Canada, since our neighborhood sounded so much like a war zone when the holiday arrived (see that rant here). I have no idea why people love to shoot things off on the 4th, and I have no idea why they start celebrating on the 2nd and take it through the 6th. But, I do know there are some things that Portland pet owners can do to fight back this year.

According to news reports (including this one), Portland Fire & Rescue has teamed up with the police department to crack down on illegal fireworks in the city. These are the things that fly up in the air, raining down sparks and crackles. They're also the things that cause big booms to rattle the windows and send pets scrambling. They've been illegal here for a long time, which means people could always be prosecuted for owning them, but this year is shaping up to be a banner year for fines. The fire and police departments claim that they're staffing up for the holiday and are preparing to hand out some pretty hefty tickets. A bottle rocket, for example, can cause a "patriot" to pick up a $1,000 fine.

So what can we pet owners do on the 4th, aside from keeping our pets in and their identification collars on? We can call in reports when people in our neighborhood are setting off these illegal things. If you're not sure what is legal and what is not, call the non-emergency hotline and report what you're hearing. I know I plan to be on the phone if I hear these things.

Now, I know fireworks like this have always been illegal, and I know the authorities often suggest that people should follow the law or live in fear of fines. We've heard it all before. However, this year does seem a little different to me. The authorities seem to be taking the issue just as seriously as we pet owners do. Why not help them do their jobs, and hand out those promised fines?

Perhaps if we do, I can avoid writing this article next year. It's worth a try, at least.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Abandoned cats, feral cats and bad owners

Maggie the cat sleeping on a fleece blanket
All cats deserve warm fleece bits to sleep on. Just ask Maggie.
My workday got off to a bang when I stumbled across this local news article (Update 20160324: This link is no longer active.). The gist of the story is that a neighborhood is beset by a group of cats who have no home to call their own. The neighbors are fed up, and the authorities have little power to help, and there are few resources with which to help these cats.

There's a lot to be upset about here.

Firstly, there seems (to me) to be a lot of confusion about where these cats came from. The report suggests that the cats once lived with a homeowner who has moved away, but the report also refers to these cats as "feral."

As we all know, feral cats cannot be approached by humans and they have never lived with humans. If these cats are truly feral, they never lived inside to begin with. And the homeowner is never identified, and isn't given a chance to explain what really happened. Were these cats left behind years ago? Were there only two then, and now there are hundreds? It's really unclear.

Secondly, the local humane society allegedly told the reporter that they cannot trap the cats on private property, but it would have been easier for them to help if the homeowners had abandoned the cats inside the home. Then they could break in and rescue them.

I'm unclear about the laws, and maybe this is true, but I think that representative should think hard about what this suggestion really means. Cats are not loud creatures, as a rule. Cats confined to a house with no food and no water (abandoned, in other words) might simply die in large numbers before anyone even knew they were in the home. Is this really what the representative wants? The problem would be hidden, but it would result in death. A better statement would have involved the legalities of abandoning pets, whether inside the home or out. Even providing no comment at all would have been better.

And finally, there is no real solution for these pets. The neighbors are just overwhelmed with the number of cats running loose in the community, and they don't know what they should do with the cats if they trap them, as they're told to do. I fear that these cats will be condemned to death in large numbers, simply because they are sick and there are too many of them. The idea makes me physically ill.

I tried to think of solutions, but honestly, mine are really basic and someone who would read this column would already be following my advice. But, for my own peace of mind, I deliver it anyway.
  1. Spay or neuter your cats. These animals are prolific breeders, and one cat can quickly become many, many cats. See this post for more information. 
  2. Don't abandon your pets. If you're moving, take them with you. 
It's pretty simple, really.

If you live in the Portland area and you have room, and a willingness, to help deal with this problem in Hazel Dell, scroll to the bottom of the news story I linked at the top of this post. There is a woman attempting to trap and rehome these cats, and I'm sure she could use your help.