Friday, March 29, 2013

Birds in the chimney: Shoo, cat, shoo!

Cats clustered around a chimney
Looks like Maggie and Lucy have a long spring ahead of them.
Over the last 2 days, cats Maggie and Lucy have been spending an inordinate amount of time in the living room, clustered around the fireplace. Sometimes, they even stand on their hind legs and reach up into the chimney itself, making little chittering noises with each move they make. I can't hear anything at all, but I'm deeply suspicious that we have a little flock of birds nesting in our chimney.

The Salem neighborhood I live in plays host to several flocks of birds. We have traditional Oregon birds like chickadees, jays and crows, but we also have some starlings, which are new birds for me. These birds have amazing vocabularies, including a pretty convincing wolf-whistle, and I've seen a couple creating a pretty big nest in my neighbor's garage. I've also seen a few starlings making a nest in the covered gutters other neighbors have neglected to clean. When I saw the cats hovering by the chimney, I just assumed that we had our own starling infestation, since I've seen these guys building all sorts of nests around here.

Turns out, we could have a protected bird living in our home. Chimney swifts are not uncommon in Oregon, and these guys love to build nests inside warm, unused brick towers like mine. Unlike starlings, which are loud, these guys are pretty much silent, which would explain why I can't hear them at all at this point. Birds like this are migratory, and according to federal law, they can't be removed. Destroying the nests could bring me a big fine, and even tapping on the nest or molesting the birds could get me in trouble. (Read more about that here.) I'm not sure how this law applies to starlings, because I don't think they migrate, but I'm still not taking any chances.

I've scheduled a chimney expert to come out, and when he arrives, he'll scope out the tunnel and take a peek at the birds that might be living in there. If these are chimney swifts, we'll have to leave them in peace until the fall, when we can clean out their nests and cap the chimney off. If they're starlings, well, I don't know what happens.

In the interim, I need to convince my little hunters that they can relax and leave the little birds alone. I'm worried about what will happen if these birds have chicks and these little guys call out for food, but I am thinking loud classical music might drown out the cheeps and give the birds a little pleasure at the same time. At least I hope so.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Pugs provide insomnia cure

Liam the pug is asleep
Feeling tired?
I've been doing a lot of medical writing lately, and much of it has concerned pharmaceutical treatments for insomnia. As I'm writing these stories and wading through research reports about drugs that can sedate and calm an overactive mind, my little dog is snoring away in the background. If I try to wake him up so I won't feel so tired myself, he gives me the look in the photo above, complete with the head bob of death, until he lies back down again and goes to sleep.

It happens a lot here.

Dogs need a lot of sleep, and they're not too picky about when they get it. But pugs are also really social animals and they hate the idea that something great is happening that they're not a part of. Liam will desperately try to stay awake when my husband and I are watching television or eating or having a conversation, but sometimes sleep just gets the better of him. He starts to blink slowly, then bobble on his feet, then slowly let his head drop until he snaps to attention again.

Watching someone else struggle to stay awake is incredibly tiring, and I can't help but wonder if there was some way I could videotape this whole incident and make insomniacs watch Liam bobble around when he's tired. Maybe these people wouldn't need to take drugs.

If I did that, however, I'd probably be out of a job, because I'd have no medical articles to write. Hmm. I might need to rethink this strategy.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Cruelty-free cosmetic products are truly beautiful

Eamon the cat in his cat bed
Cats, dogs and rabbits should all have soft beds in their future,
not needles and wire cages.
It's about 3pm, and by my count, I've used something like 10 beauty products today, including lotion, hand soap, cuticle cream, toothpaste, face lotion, lip balm, dental floss and deodorant. Some of these products help me stay healthy, but many of them just smell good and they make me feel a little better about myself. In other words, most of these products aren't worth dying for.

If I hadn't checked the labels before I made my purchases, however, it's likely that a little creature would have died due to my need to smell nice and stay soft.

This week, the European Union passed legislation that bans the sale of cosmetic products that were tested on animals. No such legislation is even being considered within the United States. This means that our store shelves are lined with products that were developed and then tested on tiny creatures like mice, rabbits, monkeys, dogs and cats.

Even though animal cells don't always respond in similar ways when compared to human cells, many manufacturers torture little animals with products just to prove that these products are "safe."

In reality, these tests prove nothing at all.

There are thousands of really horrible pictures floating around the web of animals that have been tortured during product testing. I could be cruel and post them here, but I'll leave that to you to do for yourself. If you haven't seen these images, I promise you won't forget them once you do see them, and the photos are likely to make you want to spring into action.

That's just what happened to me 10 years ago, when I opened up a mailer from PETA and was confronted with a photo of a blind rabbit, used in testing for shampoo. I've been careful to avoid products tested on animals ever since then.

There's very little homogenization regarding animal testing, so different manufacturers use different symbols and words to outline the steps they take to protect animals from abuse. A typical symbol looks a little like a rabbit jumping through a hoop, although some products I buy use the words "cruelty free" or "not tested on animals" under the ingredient list. For me, either method is enough proof. Shoppers who want to do more can use this tool to research manufacturers before they buy.

Want to do even more? Consider signing this petition from the Humane Society of the United States. It's cruelty-free week, so this is an apt step to take.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Congratulations to MCAS!

Liam the pug and two cats in the sunshine
Liam and pals, lounging in the sun.
In a perfect world, everyone who took in a dog or a cat would keep that animal for the rest of its natural life. Unfortunately, job losses, family changes, cross-country moves and more can all shear pets away from their caregivers, and sometimes, those pets end up in shelters.

In Multnomah County, they often end up in either the Oregon Humane Society or the Multnomah County Animal Shelter. While most people know that OHS has a great placement record, most don't know that MCAS also works hard to keep pets alive and placed with new owners. In fact, most people wrongly assume that MCAS puts unwanted pets down regularly.

New statistics released by MCAS should put an end to that wrong assumption. According to these stats, about 75 percent of the animals that enter this shelter leave again under the guidance of an owner. This is a pretty remarkable statistic, considering that MCAS takes in each and every animal its brought. There is no screening for temperament and there are no breed bans. Everything that comes in is housed, and a great many of these guys leave again.

Why does this matter? I see a lot of people giving their pets away on for free because they assume that the shelter will kill their pets on sight. I also have heard that many people are dumping their pets on dark country roads, thinking that their pets have a better chance of staying alive when they're abandoned than they would if they were placed inside cages at MCAS. That's just plain wrong.

I hope that people will keep their pets and keep the promises they make when they look into the eyes of their little ones when they take them home for the first time. But if circumstances change and it's just not possible to keep those pets, I hope people will consider reaching out to MCAS. They're doing very good work.

Friday, March 8, 2013

How important is the leptospirosis vaccine in dogs?

Liam the pug lying on his pile of dog toys
Sleeping on toys in the sunshine; it's pure bliss.
A few months ago, I went through an intensive "new pet" question-and-answer session with a vet tech. I was visiting a new veterinarian's office, since I'd just moved to the area a few months ago, and when I mentioned that Liam went to the Oregon coast with me on occasion, this tech told me Liam would need to be vaccinated for leptospirosis.

This was news to me.

While I'm no veterinary professional, I have worked in the industry for many years, and I've had dogs for almost all of my life. I've never even heard of this vaccine, nor have I ever seen a dog infected with leptospirosis.

This particular veterinary office has a pro-vaccine stance, and the technician explained this to me in detail. The thinking here is that vaccines can provide needed protection against a variety of medical ailments, and most owners would prefer to obtain vaccines for their pets, rather than seeing them fall sick and potentially die from something that's preventable through vaccination. This office believes in vaccines so strongly, in fact, that they'll include the cost of two vaccines with all veterinary checkup visits.

I, on the other hand, take a more cautious approach to vaccination. Liam has an allergic history, meaning that his immune system is already on red alert, so I don't like to tax his body with challenges it doesn't need. I also lost a dog in the past due to an immune deficiency, manifesting as cancer, which makes me leery of providing any kind of medication or treatment the animal doesn't need. In my mind, if a vaccine causes more harm than potential benefit, I don't want to provide it.

I've done a little digging on this vaccine, and apparently leptospirosis has been found in sea lions dead on the Oregon coast (see this link). It's reasonable for people who live on the coast and who allow their dogs to run around loose on the coast to obtain vaccination. Their off-leash dogs at the beach all day long may stumble across contaminated urine, and they may get sick.

However, Liam goes to the beach very rarely, perhaps once per year, and this vaccine lasts for only six months. I'd have to vaccinate him over and over again, possibly exposing him to challenges his immune system doesn't need, for a risk that's pretty remote. When he does go to the beach, he's rarely off the leash and he's not allowed to drink standing water he finds. Most of the time, he's either running at top speed off leash or walking nicely on leash. I feel it's more likely he'd damage his immune system through vaccination, rather than obtaining protection from the shot.

On the day in question, Liam was also scheduled to receive a "core" vaccine for a common upper respiratory illness. According to many veterinary experts (including this one), vaccines like this shouldn't be given in a mix-and-match fashion with other vaccines, as mixing can up the risk of a reaction. Mixing may also make both vaccines less effective. I was a little surprised that this wasn't mentioned, but the bossy tech I was working with seemed hell-bent on vaccination, so she might not have thought to discuss the opposing view. She didn't seem interested in explaining as much as commanding.

I can be a little plucky when pushed, and in the end, I rejected the vaccine, and I wasn't really nice about it. I also haven't been back to this specific office. I know that the staff there was trying to protect Liam, but I just dislike the idea that they were trying to pressure me into taking something Liam didn't need, and that might have hurt him in the long run. I think he deserves better, and I'd like to think that I know my dog's risk for disease a little better than does a stranger. Practicality should trump ideology, in my humble opinion.

For more information on this vaccine, check out this article and this one. They present somewhat opposing views, and might make for good fodder for conversation with a veterinarian.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Animal photobombs: When good pets are photo hogs

Liam the pug photobombing Maggie the cat
"No, it's time for MY closeup!"
I've heard of other pet owners who have little cats and dogs who hate to pose for the camera. These guys run away when their owners break out the cameras, and they always have their eyes closed when the shutter clicks. I feel for people like this, as it's unlikely they're ever going to get any good photos of their pets, but I seem to have the opposite problem over here.

I like to think I run an equal-opportunity blog in which all of the animals I have are allowed their moments to shine. However, I also have a pug who loves to be the center of attention and he will storm into the middle of almost any photo as a result. Very often, I just give up and then crop him out of the photo later, but he seems to have caught on to my tricks and now he's butting his giant head in front of the other pets, so he can't be cropped out.

Good thing he's so cute!

I've heard that this is a pretty common phenomenon. It's so common, in fact, that it has its own specific word: Photobombing. The Huffington Post has created a pretty impressive slideshow of close to 130 of these things (and counting), and most of them are of animals. It seems that I am not alone.

So on future blog entries, if you see a blurred hand in the corner, I'm probably trying to wave Liam out of the picture. Or I might just leave him in there from now on. We'll see.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Pug coworkers: Why working from home is worth fighting for

Liam the pug in my office with his toys
Coworkers like this make work easier to bear.
Pug coworkers are the best coworkers. Ask anyone, especially someone who works at Yahoo. After this week, I'll bet any Yahooer has a lot to say about working from home with pets. Why? Because earlier this week, the CEO of Yahoo issued a memo stating that employees of the company should come into the office to do their work. The motivations for this move are a little unclear. The New York Times, for example, suggests that the ban is designed to pull creative types back into close proximity so they can share information and otherwise toss around great ideas and pull this flagging company back into robust health. I've seen a little web chit-chat, however, that speculates that the move was a publicity stunt, executed solely to get people talking about the company and how wonderful it will be in the future.

It's hard to know what the truth is, as many other news articles have dug and dug, only to be told that Yahoo doesn't discuss such memos with outsiders. The thing I find interesting, however, is that many articles about this issue draw a direct line between working from home and slacking off. Even the Daily Beast jumped on this bandwagon, suggesting that slackers would flock to a work-at-home situation so they could sit around all day and cash their checks at night.

I've worked in both offices and at home, and I have to say that I don't work less productively when I'm outside of the office environment. In fact, I get a lot more done. In an office, I am often interrupted by colleagues who need something or who just want to shoot the breeze for a few moments. Yahoo executives might call this "collaboration," but I call it "distraction." Creative work requires a bit of solitude, and that's almost impossible to find in a standard office. The only time I've seen it, in fact, is in offices full of people who are plugged into headphones. They're not collaborating, either.

Working from home also allows me to have a deeper connection with my animals, and that might sound like a silly perk to some people, but it's not something I sneer at. If I get stressed out at words that won't come, I can just take a break and throw the ball for the dog. I can put catnip on the scratching posts and watch the cats dance. I can stare out the window and listen to the dog snore. It's a nice connection to something peaceful, and that's something I could never find in an office.

I also work longer hours at home than I would work in an office. When I am at home, I can let the dog out to pee and I can get the animals their food on time, and then I can get right back to work. When I was in an office, I had to dash home to do these things, and I sometimes felt like a bit of a stickler about start times and end times, else I'd be neglecting my responsibilities as a pet owner. It's something parents might feel even more acutely. 

Modern workers can connect via so many methods, including IM, Skype, email, conference calls, Twitter, Google Plus, Facebook, Linked In and many more programs that I don't even know anything about. People who work from home could use any of these tools in order to stay in touch and share ideas, and having a butt in the chair in the office isn't required.

So let's stop equating working at home with a lack of creativity and laziness. Given my experience, it's just not an equation that can be supported.