Thursday, April 30, 2015

Take home an older cat (like this one!) for Adopt a Shelter Pet Day!

This senior cat needs a home

Today is Adopt a Shelter Pet Day (or if you're feeling social, it's #AdoptaShelterPetDay). Today is all about rescuing sweeties from the shelters they're living in now, and giving them homes in which they can grow and thrive.

I imagine that there will be tons of little kittens that head home today. We're at the start of kitten season, so there are plenty of them around. And, people seem to love living with very small kittens. Their teeny faces are just made to break hearts.

But I'm hoping some families will use this day to take home cats that are just a little older. Cats like DeeCee.

This girl is a little younger than 3 years old, so she has a lot of kitten spunk and verve. She loves to play and romp and chase, just like a little kitten does. And she's healthy as all get out, as years of neglect and illness just haven't touched her quite yet.

And as this photo makes clear, this is a cat with a ton of love to share. In fact, she's a little hard to photograph, because she spends a lot of time trying to get the photographer to put down the camera and pet her properly. She may not be a kitten, but she is a very frisky girl that's full of love.

So, if you're planning to head out to check out cats at your animal shelter, I'm hoping you'll take a peek at the older creatures available. They may not be as small and cuddly as their kitten counterparts, but they're still young enough to give you just what you want.

And each cat you bring home is a life you're saving. That's something worth celebrating.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: A shelter cat feels safe enough to play

Troy the shelter cat hiding
For today's Wordless Wednesday post, I give you a photographic demonstration of Troy's new after-dinner game. Rest assured that he actually in this picture. Look closely: Can you see him?
Troy's face and feet peep out from behind this curtain
Here's a hint.
Troy the cat peeking out from behind a rug
How about now?
Troy's face is visible behind the rug
There he is!
Troy the cat playing a game
This hanging rug makes a superb hiding spot!
It's so great to see shelter cats like Troy come out of their shells. When these guys feel relaxed enough to sleep rather than seeking out food and love around the clock (which I've written about before), that's a great start. But playing? That means Troy really feels at home. And that makes me feel absolutely wonderful.

Thanks for stopping by! And do leave me a note, so I'll know you were here.

Oh, and don't forget to visit the other awesome blogs in here, too. This IS a blog hop after all!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Springtime dog safety alert: Watch out for weed/feed lawn products!

Sinead the Boston terrier with her pineapple toy

Sinead the Boston terrier's little paws get quite a workout on a daily basis. She uses them to gnaw on her little toys (right now, she's pretty obsessed with this pineapple from her BarkBox), but she also trots along on those little paws during our two daily walks around the neighborhood.

And in the springtime, I must be extra careful in order to keep her little paws safe.

The temperatures here are climbing into the 70s, and many of my neighbors are sprinkling their front lawns and parking strips with pellets that contain grass seed and weed killers. These weed-and-feed products can be incredibly hard on a dog's body.

While weed-and-feed product manufacturers often use reassuring text (like this) to suggest that their products are safe around people and pets, there's quite a bit of fine print that gives me pause. For example, most products come with warnings about watering. People should put the stuff down and water it in thoroughly. Only then is it considered safe for pets.

But, I've seen plenty of people pop this stuff down in the spring and then just wait for the rains to come. It rains a lot here in Oregon, so that's a fairly reasonable thing to do. If I didn't have pets and I wasn't worried about contamination, I'd probably just put the stuff down and hope the weather guy was right about rain coming later in the day.

But if it doesn't rain, or it doesn't rain enough to break these pellets down, that means dogs walking on parking strips could be walking through toxins. And they could bring those toxins on home.

When we're out on a stroll in the springtime, I'm on alert for little white residue on the sidewalk. If I see it, we keep walking and don't make any stops for sniffing, peeing or pooping. And, if the grass seems somehow too lush and too green to be natural, we keep walking, too. That's the best way to ensure that these guys don't walk in things they shouldn't touch.

And, when we get home, everybody has a good wipedown with a damp paper towel, just in case I missed any residue.

Now, all of this may seem a little paranoid. But doubters out there should read through this blog post.  Note that this woman had labs performed on her dogs, and note that they had liver damage. While it's possible that the liver damage took hold due to something else altogether, I find it a little nerve-wracking that my dogs could have even any risk of organ failure due to weed and feed on a walk. I'm not willing to chance it.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Choosing the right cat carrier for a blind cat: 3 key things to look for

Lucy the blind cat resting in her cat bed

I'll admit it: I hate taking Lucy to the veterinarian's office. All of the smells and sounds in the office are really terrifying to her, and since she can't see, she can't get reassurance by looking at my face. To her, the carrier is a stand-in for the home in which she feels safe, so it's vital that I get a cat carrier she likes. And many of the carriers out there just aren't right for blind cats.

Here are a few of the things I look for when I'm choosing carriers for Lucy.

1. Big, wide doors. 

It's very difficult to pop a blind cat into a carrier. They can't see where you're pushing them, and often, when Lucy feels the edges of the door with her whiskers, she panics. A panicking cat is almost impossible to get into the carrier, mainly because a cat like that becomes a whirl of claws and teeth. It's not fun for her or for me.

Carriers with big doors are easier, because I can slide her into that carrier before she notices that she's confined. She doesn't feel the doors when she moves past them, so she feels a lot less upset and concerned.

2. Plenty of ventilation. 

When Lucy realizes that she's inside of a carrier, she can grow so upset that she gasps for air. When I touch her, she feels really warm. It's all due to nerves, and if she grows warmer by the minute, it could be hard on her long-term health.

Some carriers come with vents on almost every single side, and some even have extra panels on the top that I can open and close. For Lucy, the more opportunities for air, the better. I look for carriers that can give her the breeze she needs to stay cool and calm.

3. Secure closures. 

Loud noises are often a part of the travel experience. Car doors open and close, horns honk and nearby radios blare. When Lucy is at home, she'll run for cover with every single noise. And sometimes, she tries that same approach in the carrier. When there's a loud crack of sound, she runs. And typically, she runs into the door or the sides of the carrier.

Mesh-sided carriers are out, as she could blow right through the zippers when she's really stressed. And carriers with buckle clasps are also a no-go, as she could pop them open with enough momentum. Instead, I look for crates with pinch clasps, so they only open up when humans push on them. And, in the car, I use the seat belt around the carrier, just for extra protection.

Thankfully, Lucy is a healthy girl (aside from her teeth), so I don't need to take her in for appointments more than once or twice per year. But, by shopping for the right carrier, I can ensure that her trip is as safe and as comfortable as it can possibly be. And that makes us both a little happier.

Friday, April 24, 2015

It's National Pet ID Week! Is your critter tagged with your deets?

Liam the pug with his identification on

The third full week in April is National Pet Identification week, per the AVMA. Yes, it might seem like a silly thing to celebrate on a national level, but proper pet identification is absolutely vital. Awareness events like this might help more people to understand why they should protect their pets with tags. And if so, that's a great thing.

Let's start with collars and tags. A secure collar with a tag is one of the easiest ways to mark your pet with the deets that can bring it home to you, should that pet go astray.

In this photo, Liam wears a collar with his name, my address, and my phone number. And, he wears a tiny metal disk from the county, proving that he's been licensed as a companion pet. This is his uniform for our outings.

The identification tag is vital, because it contains all sorts of information about me. Anyone who glances at that thing will know just who to call, should Liam go missing. But that county tag is important, too.

In my county, dogs can't get licensed unless they're up-to-date on rabies vaccines. Liam's collar proves that I'm in compliance with the law, and it could keep him out of quarantine, if he gets loose and happens to nip someone out of fear. Everyone will know that he has his rabies protection, so the consequences he might face are a little less dire.

Troy the cat with his identification tag

Troy here is wearing a nifty little tag he got from the Willamette Humane Society when I adopted him. But he has more protection beneath the skin. As part of his adoption package, Troy got a microchip that's linked to a database that has my name and phone number.

I'm a big believer in microchips like this. Collars and tags can slip and slide away, and they're not always appropriate for pets to wear around the clock. When my dogs go into crates, for example, I don't want them to wear anything that could catch on the bars. A mistake like that could cause them to strangle. So it's not at all unusual for the pets to run around naked in the house, as Sinead is doing here. If she runs out the door, her microchip will bring her back to me. 

Sinead the Boston terrier on the floor

Microchips work best when they're kept up-to-date, and that's something I've mentioned in another blog post. But even with that limitation, they're still amazing little bits of pet protection. I think all pets should have them.

So, how will you celebrate National Pet ID Week? You only have 3 days left! Better run out and get a collar now!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

5 facts about older cats everyone should know

Eamon the cat sleeps with Maggie the cat

Eamon and Maggie are both senior cats. Eamon might be considered a "super senior," in fact, because he's celebrating his 14th birthday this month.

I love living with older cats. But I'm well aware of the fact that I'm in the minority. Cats that enter shelters when they're older than 10 have a much harder time getting back out again, mainly because they just can't find people willing to take a chance on them.

So in honor of Eamon's birthday, I thought I'd write up a few observations on older cats. Maybe I can convince a few readers out there to pick up a senior sweetie, rather than a wee kitten, when it's time to add to the animal fold.

Fact 1: A cat you consider "old" might simply be middle aged.

Most people consider a cat that's hit the double digits to be a senor cat. But, the ASPCA says that the average cat with average care can live somewhere between 13 and 17 years.

So let's think about that.

A cat that's in the double digits has probably received at least decent care up to this point. Otherwise, it wouldn't have made it out of the dangerous juvenile years (more on that later). So if an "average" cat can live to be 17, a cat that's already older should probably reach the higher end of that spectrum or surpass it altogether.

If that's true, a cat you adopt at 9 could be with you for 8 or more years. That's a heck of a long time, right? So that senior might simply be middle aged.

Fact 2: Older cats don't sleep all the time. 

Older cats aren't couch potatoes. Maggie and Eamon have at least two very robust play sessions each and every day, and when I walk by them throughout the day, they often look up or get up and ask for attention. They're not ornamental creatures that just lie around. They are both very active parts of the Dion household, with very robust personalities and intense demands.

Fact 3: Older cats don't always come with bigger vet bills. 

Adolescent kittens can be insane. This is the time of Eamon's life when he was tearing through the house at all hours and breaking almost anything that came into his path. He got caught in my blinds, he slipped a toe underneath a moving rocking chair, and he ate more dangerous plant particles than I can name.

So we went to the vet. A lot.

As a senior, Eamon needs quite a bit of medical care, especially because he has arthritis. But, the amount of money I spend on his medications pales in comparison to the amount I spent fixing him up when he did stupid stuff as a teenage cat.

To me, adopting an older cat can be a cost-saving measure. There's just less patch-up to do.

Troy the cat and Sinead the Boston terrier sleeping together

Fact 4: Old cats can adjust to new situations. 

It's a common belief that older pets are somehow set in their ways, unable to adjust to new people and new places.

That's just not true.

Troy is a great example. As far as I know, he's never lived with dogs in his prior 14-ish years. But within a month of heading home with me from the shelter, he's made friends with my dogs. I snapped this photo of him sharing a sunny spot with sweet Sinead yesterday. Clearly, he has adjusted. Most older cats can do the same.

Fact 5: Older cats are just as lovable, and deserving of love, as younger cats. 

We shouldn't live in a throwaway society in which cats become less and less valuable with each passing year. We should live in a society in which the contributions of older cats are respected, and one in which every cat has a chance for love and protection.

So in honor of Eamon, head out and take a senior home. Or if that's not possible, donate some food to your local shelter, or hop on over and pet the older cuties waiting for a home. You'll be glad you did.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: A dog and her new toy for Earth Day

Sinead the Boston terrier playing with a pineapple toy

Yesterday, I wrote a review of our April BarkBox shipment. Technically, these photos should have appeared in that post. But Sinead was so precious with this big pineapple that I thought her photos deserved their own solo placement. Wordless Wednesday gives me the perfect opportunity for that!

So enjoy Sinead munching on her pineapple on this Earth Day, and be sure to visit some of the other blogs listed down below. This is a blog hop!

Sinead the Boston terrier loves this pineapple toy
Sinead opens her mouth wide for this dog toy
Sinead the Boston terrier with her toy

Thanks for stopping by, and do leave a comment, so I'll know you were here.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

April 2015 BarkBox review: Welcome to an island paradise!

Liam the pug with his BarkBox toys

Don't let Liam's sleepy face fool you: He's thrilled about this month's BarkBox. He's so thrilled, in fact, that he's a little worn out from all of the playing he's done. Here's what he's excited about.

The treats

Most BarkBox shipments come loaded with treats, and this month is no exception. We had three different selections to choose from inside our box.

The only one we've tried thus far is from Nature's Bits. These treats are about the size of a silver dollar, and they're soft and flexible. They are very easy for Liam to gobble right down (unfortunately), but Sinead thinks they're treats that should be savored. She ate hers under the couch. She only does that when the food is really good, so I'll give these treats high marks.

A complete K9 meal bar from TurboPup also came packed in our box, and I'm excited about this particular option. Sinead and I are planning a trip to Nashville in May, and I've been a little worried about food and treats while we travel. I can see using this treat as a mid-flight snack. And she should have room in her crate for a snack, right?

Sinead sleeping in her travel carrier

The last treat is a bully stick from Superior Farms. I'm never excited about giving these treats in the house, as both Liam and Sinead seem to love to drag them all over the furniture rather than eating them. But, now that the weather is warmer, they can eat their snacks outside. Perfect!

The Toys 

Liam the pug posing with toys

The little bird on the right in this photo is made by Swag Co, and it's made of a material that looks an awful lot like denim. I'm happy to see it, as this toy looks pretty much indestructible. Given how hard these two play, it's nice to get toys that can stand up to the pressure.

That big pineapple from Safemade has been a particular hit, however, so the little bird is getting ignored. In fact, that pineapple is so popular that I got an entire set of adorable photos of Sinead with it this afternoon. Those will go in my Wordless Wednesday post tomorrow, so come back and check!

Meanwhile, I did snap this video of the two playing with the pineapple last night. Check it out, and notice how unimpressed Maggie is as she sleeps on the couch. The antics of these dogs seem to bore her.

So that's it for this month!

Disclaimer: I was not compensated in any way for this review. I just like these products, so I write about them! But if you're interested in getting your very own BarkBox, share the love and use this link. I'll get a free box. Thanks!

Monday, April 20, 2015

5 ways to help cats in the wake of an (alleged) Texas vet killing

Troy the cat sleeping on his bed

Last week, a veterinarian in Texas allegedly wrote a social media post in which she suggested that the only good stray cat was a dead stray cat. And she illustrated that text with an (again, allegedly) image of her holding a cat by the end of an arrow she'd shot through his head.

As I read through the news coverage, I kept thinking about Troy, sound asleep on my desk. At one point in his life, he'd been a stray. What if he'd wandered into a hunter's yard? Would his body be dangling by the end of an arrow?

Those of us with cats have visceral reactions when we read about cruelty cases, but on Friday, I saw a few responses that just didn't seem helpful. Some people out there wanted to find this vet and harm her, even though she hasn't yet been proven guilty in a court of law. Others wanted to hurt the facility in which she worked, thinking that her colleagues must have condoned her behavior. Still others wanted to go after this woman's family, since they raised her to behave this way.

I'd like to point out that none of these responses will help the creatures we really care about. None of these reactions help cats.

So I get that people want to help. And I can think of 5 great ways to do just that.

1. Buy your local cat shelter a case of canned cat food. 

Animal shelters that accept cats are on the front lines of the cruelty protection fight. They take in cats no one wants, and they house them and feed them and care for them. That care can transform a "tom" into a beloved pet that can keep a family happy for years. You can help make that care easier by donating cat food. Even a case helps. Even a can helps.

2. Visit the cats in your shelter, and talk about them on social media. 

There are so many misconceptions out there about older cats, particularly cats that come with the "stray" label. People think these cats will be wild or sickly or somehow defective. In reality, these cats are indistinguishable from common house cats. They got separated from their people, and now they need new people. That's all. Visit just one or two in your shelter, and tell their stories. You just might convince someone to treat the stray in your neighborhood with a little more compassion.

3. Participate in a TNR program. 

Many people who don't like free-roaming cats dislike the rampant breeding that comes with a kitty colony. The spraying, the fighting and the yelling are too much for some to bear, and they respond by taking actions we cat lovers abhor. By participating in a trap-neuter-release (TNR) program, you can help. These programs allow communities to sterilize an entire colony of cats, so that group doesn't grow in size. That stable group is less fractious, and it's easier to care for the kitties that remain. Check out this website to find out more about TNRs in your area.

4. Spay and neuter your own cats. 

Just as participating in TNR programs reduces the size of cat communities close to your home, so does keeping your own pets sterile. Plus, cats that have been altered don't tend to roam, so if you do choose to let them outside, you won't lose them to the urge to wander. Cats that stay on your property are much less likely to become a nuisance to others, so altering really helps you to keep them safe.

5. Take in a cat in need. 

Strays are everywhere, and some are easy to care for (I do it myself). Create a safe place for kitty to rest (which can be as simple as a doghouse or as elaborate as an outbuilding), and provide fresh water and good food on a daily basis. If possible, trap that cat and have it altered and vaccinated. If not, keep working with the cat until it trusts you enough to hop into a carrier for a routine checkup.

I think it's important to speak out in these cat cruelty cases, so the global community knows that cats aren't considered expendable. But those of us who love cats are responsible for more than just cat-love talk. We also need to do our part to make the world a safer place for cats.

So go ahead: Get mad.

Then do something to help the cats in your community.

Your work might not change the world for all cats. But it'll change the world for some cats. And that's a worthwhile work.

Friday, April 17, 2015

5 quirky ways to help when your dog chases your cats

Sinead the Boston terrier and Eamon the cat

Sure, Sinead the Boston terrier and Eamon the cat look cozy as anything right here. But don't be fooled. Should Eamon hop up and start moving quickly, Sinead would give chase in a heartbeat. Yup, this girl is a dyed-in-the-wool cat chaser.

Over the years, I've come up with a few ideas about how to make her stop, and I'll warn you in advance, some of these ideas won't work on every dog. Most of them are designed for very small dogs like Sinead that aren't really interested in hurting the cats they chase. These are tips for the chasing-is-fun variety of dog. And they might work for you, if your dog is the same. So here goes.

1. Provide more toys.

Dogs like Sinead chase cats because they're bored. If I won't play with her, she'll come up with her own cat-based games. So, I keep a basket simply stuffed with all sorts of little balls right by the living room entry, and I make sure she has at least two throwing-type toys accessible at all times. When she seems to be bursting with energy, I throw a ball. She can happily chase that, rather than chasing the cats.

2. Invest in better cat beds. 

Eamon the cat in his bed

When cats don't have great sleeping spots, they tend to sprawl out on the floor, and that makes them easy prey for chasers. A sleeping cat that's startled is typically a cat that runs, and once a cat runs, it's all over. I work around that by ensuring that the cats have their own soft, warm beds to sleep in. And I put those beds in high places, like in windowsills and on chairs. It's harder for Sinead to chase them when the cats are up high like that.

3. Learn to read the signs. 

Sinead the Boston terrier on her couch
"Yes, I was thinking about a chasing game."
Dogs aren't subtle. Before Sinead chases the cats, she throws down all sorts of signals. Her ears come up, she walks closely to the cat she'll chase and she does a quick play bow. Only then will she chase that cat. All of those signals give me chances to intervene. If I see her doing anything like this (and I mean anything), I can toss her a ball or call her to me or put her outside. I know her language that well.

And, I know that she typically chases cats around mealtimes. That's when she's feeling the most energetic, and that's when the cats are usually hanging around and asking for trouble.

I know all of this about her because I've made it a point to notice her behaviors. Studying your dog is a great way to understand the patterns, so you can intervene at the right time.

4. Get or borrow a nasty cat. 

Troy the cat in his window

So I've been doing all of this work with Sinead for quite some time, and yet she's learned her best lessons from someone else in the household: Troy.

This guy lived on the streets for awhile, and he developed some intense survival skills during that time. Namely, he's not afraid of anything, especially tiny little dogs. When Sinead tries to chase him, he will not run. And if she pesters him to make the game start, he slaps her.

Dogs that think chasing is fun typically don't like to be hit during playtime. Sinead certainly doesn't, and after Troy hit her just once, she stopped chasing him. And now, she doesn't chase other cats nearly as often. Troy has taken the fun out of the whole thing, it seems, and the other cats are benefiting from those lessons.

5. Use a leash. 

Okay, so this idea isn't so much quirky as common. But I think it's important to point out that cat-chasing dogs need limits, and sometimes, that means they need to be leashed. If I'd made no progress with Sinead, I was fully prepared to leash her to me during her chasing danger times. She'd wear a leash in the evenings, while waiting for her dinner. And she'd wear a leash in the mornings, during breakfast prep. Even though I know she'd never harm my cats, and even though I know my cats would not harm her (they seem to treat this chasing thing with bemusement or resignation, not anger or fear), I still don't think it's acceptable. And I'm willing to use a leash to prove it.

This is a one-sided discussion, at this point, all about wee dogs with playful chasing habits. But I'd love to hear from anyone out there with a big dog and a big cat-chasing problem. How did you handle it? Shoot me a comment, and I'll do a followup post all about that.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"My friendly shelter cat isn't so very friendly anymore."

Troy the cat sitting on the couch

If you run a search for the phrase "My friendly shelter cat isn't so friendly anymore," you'll come up with dozens of complaints from people who brought home rescue cats that had serious personality changes when they came home. Months ago, I would have put the blame squarely on the new owners, assuming that these people had made some sort of mistake in introductions that made the cat mistrust the new home. But now, a lot has changed.

Troy changed all of that.

As long-time readers of the blog know, I volunteer at my local humane society. I do a little kennel cleaning, and I keep up a cat-related blog. (You can check it out here. Anything I've done has my name attached to it.) I first met Troy at the shelter, several months ago, and here's what I had to say about him.

You'll notice that I spent a lot of time talking about how very, very affectionate Troy was in the shelter. At at the time, that was totally true. This guy had a reputation at the shelter for being a complete love-bug. He was always hugging people he met, swarming all over them for affection. I thought he should go into a home in which he'd be doted upon.

But at home, Troy is totally different.

At first, he did leap up and into the arms of anyone who came to visit. But slowly, he seemed to grow distant. Instead of leaping into my arms, he'd just butt up against my hands. Instead of chirping a greeting every single time he saw me, he would chirp only in the mornings, when he hadn't seen me all night. Rather than rubbing his face all over me while I was trying to work, he'd sit quietly on my desk and just watch. 

Troy the cat sitting with his people on the couch

I'll admit it: I was a little hurt. What did I do wrong? Why didn't he love me as much as he once did?

But here's the thing: These personality changes are actually great healing signs.

Shelter cats can become so stressed and so isolated that they look for ways to binge on affection. Just as they'll eat every single scrap of food you put down, because they don't know when they'll get more, they'll hog up your affection like crazy when you're willing to give it, because they know you'll be leaving them soon.

At some point after coming home, they realize that you'll always be there to love them. They don't need to binge on that affection, because they're secure in the fact that you'll always give them just what they need.

So now, Troy is a mellow guy. He sits on the back of the couch like this in the evenings, hopping up for pets when he feels lonely, and he spends most of the day just supervising me as I work without interrupting me for attention.

And that means I'm doing everything right. This guy knows that he is in a forever home.

Anyone else have a rescue story to share? I'd love to hear it in the comments section.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: Check out the Boston terrier ears!

Sinead the Boston terrier in her bed

Big, dish like ears are a defining feature of the Boston terrier. Sinead's are especially spectacular, don't you think?

Thanks for stopping by, and do leave a comment for me so I'll know you were here!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Hummingbirds are my #ClimateThing

Pug sitting with his binoculars and birding books

This week, The New Yorker really hacked me off. Big time. This piece, written by (the normally wonderful) Johnathan Franzen suggested that there's nothing we can do about climate change. The planet is doomed, and the best thing for all of us to do involves acceptance and love.

And there's more.

Franzen suggested that the biggest challenge facing birds came due to building practices. By his logic, glass windows and wind turbines kill more birds than rising global temperatures. So there's no reason to amend our climate ways (there's no reason to use wind power and passive solar), since it really doesn't matter anyway, and birds die due to our attempts to make things better.

There was some magazine throwing at my house.

I've worked with engineers in the green industry, and I emerged from that experience feeling confident that we can all work together on climate change. Technologies, including thin-film PV and energy-capture asphalt, can transform the way we collect energy. And building practices can reduce the amount of energy we need to consume. The future is far from hopeless. There's a lot we can do. Right now. But we all need to actually do something.

If everyone does something, things can get better. But if everyone does nothing, because it's all inevitable anyway, things will most assuredly get worse.

And that's why the Franzen piece is so disturbing. By advertising complacency, The New Yorker pushes us from action toward inaction. It's the wrong move.

So I was thrilled to hear about the #ClimateThing discussion going on at the Audubon Society. In this campaign we're all asked to discuss the one thing we really care about when it comes to climate change--The thing that would get us all up and moving in the right direction, and the thing that would actually push every person on the planet to make even one small change.

This is a grass-roots, knowledge-based, positive movement. It's a perfect antidote to the Franzen piece. And I'm on board.

My thing is a hummingbird. Like this guy that came to my feeder this morning.

An Ana's hummingbird in my Oregon yard

These little birds are facing some serious challenges due to climate change. The flowers they feast upon are blooming at unpredictable times, so they can't get the nourishment they require. The bugs they snatch out of the air aren't hatching at the right time (or at all), so there's less food out there for the birds to eat. And when the temps rise into the 100s, there's no water out there for these beaks to sip.

Do they get stunned on windows? Probably. But are more of them at risk of death due to climate shifts? You betcha.

And this is just one bird example. There are many more.

Liam the pug looking sad
"No birds? You're kidding, right?"
So I'm willing to fight for the birds, even if it means going toe-to-toe with a writer I once liked. (And I'm not alone: Check out this screed from Think Progress. Writers there don't like the piece, either.)

And it means doing what I can to create a hummingbird paradise, with feeders they love, flowers they can feast upon and a lack of cats to kill them. And it means committing to green practices in my own life, like riding my bike for errands, buying carbon offsets for the trips I take and ensuring that my house is properly insulated from both heat and cold.

Will my actions save all of these little birds? Of course not.

Is it still worth doing?

Of course.

Monday, April 13, 2015

How often should you clean cat ears?

Black cat sleeping on the stereo

For the most part, cats are self-cleaning creatures. They can handle basic grooming, and if they live in colonies, they can call on their feline counterparts to clean the spots they can't quite reach with their own barbed tongues. That means the average cat needs very little human grooming.

But ears are really hard for cats to keep clean. And some shelter rescues (including Troy) come into their new homes with all sorts of deep ear problems.

I chalk Troy's ear problems up to stress. When Troy lived in the shelter, he had visitors coming and going, and he tried to impress every single person he met. He didn't eat very much, and he certainly didn't do a lot of grooming. His coat was downright greasy when I got him home.

And his ears? They were a total mess. He shook and shook and shook that little head of his, and on an examination, my veterinarian mentioned that Troy's ears were just packed with old wax. It needed to come out, and since Troy can't reach his ears with his tongue, he would need my help.

Troy was trying to tell me his ears were bad. When cats shake their heads or dig at their ears, it's a clear sign that something unusual is happening in the canal. Any cat doing that needs a cleaning.

But how often should cats get ear cleanings on a routine basis, so they don't get clumps?

As it turns out, there are no easy answers to that question.

Cats living in a low-stress environment have more time to handle grooming tasks, so they might be less likely to let the little things slide. They're less likely to fight with roomies, too, so they might get help with ear cleanings. Maggie and Lucy, for example, only need ear cleanings twice a year or so. They can handle keeping things clean.

But there are some cats that just seem to produce a lot of ear wax. Sometimes, that's due to an underlying healing process. Cats with a history of an ear infection, for example, can experience a rapid buildup of ear wax, my vet tells me, and that increased production can persist for months after the infection has been cleared.

And, cats eating a low-quality diet can also have an increase in wax buildup, especially if the cats are somehow allergic to the ingredients inside the foods they eat. That localized irritation can make the ear wax rise like magic.

The ASPCA recommends checking a cat's ears periodically, looking deep down in the canal for wax or irritation. Big or new issues might send you scurrying to the vet's office, but simple wax is easy to remove with a standard pet ear cleaner. I pop a few drops of fluid inside the ears, and then stand back as the kitties shake their ears free. Any dirt in there comes flying out with the shakes. (I wrote about that technique in detail here.)

I clean on demand, applying the drops when my cats are having difficulties. There's no real schedule I follow, as each cat is different. But everybody gets a weekly ear check. And that's not always easy to do, as some cats are sensitive to an ear check. Troy certainly is. Thankfully, there are ways to help a skittish cat.

Troy the cat sleeping on the floor

When Troy is asleep like this (isn't he a flat sleeper?!?!?), his ears are wide open. I use a penlight to look inside his ears without waking him up. I don't have to touch him to do a check; I can see pretty clearly without poking and prodding.

Sniff tests also work well. When I pick Troy up, I give those ears a little sniff. Any yeast smell could be a sign of infection that I'll need a vet's help with. No scent is a good thing.

How often do you clean your cat's ears? I'd love to know. Shoot me a note in the comments section.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Why Boston terrier owners should #GetTough on dog fighting

Sinead the Boston terrier

What do you think of, when you see Sinead's thick jaw and spiked ears? Does looking at her 8-pound body make you wonder about her fighting ability, and whether or not she'd be able to make you a lot of money in the ring? Do you wonder if she could kill other dogs?

Of course not.

Chances are, you don't think about anything like that, because she's a very tiny Boston terrier. We think of these dogs as lap dogs. But they have a very different history. And their histories should inform the way we treat an entirely different type of dog.

On Wednesday, the ASPCA held a national Dog Fighting Awareness Day. The idea was to push dog lovers to petition for stricter rules against pit fighting. The big dogs we call "pit bull terriers" would be the largest beneficiaries of these sorts of rule changes. These are the sorts of dogs that are bred for size, for strength and for valor. They fight to the death in hidden rings all across the country.

I've heard countless people tell me that, while they're against pit fighting, they're also against pit bulls as a whole. They claim these dogs are just destined to be killers. That they're made for it. That their bodies are designed to be killing machines. Way back when, I believed them (I even wrote a misguided blog entry to that effect).

As Boston terrier owners, we should know better.

Sinead the Boston terrier in profile

Back in the day, our little dogs were also made for life in the pit. If you'd seen a Boston zipping around 100 years ago, you'd probably think of violence and death. You'd probably be just a touch afraid.

But we aren't afraid now, and Bostons haven't changed much.

Some Bostons (like mine) are smaller. But there are some that cross the 30-pound threshold. When I chit-chat with people who have these bigger dudes, they tell me their dogs are gentle and kind. They also tell me their dogs are kid magnets, and they sometimes have to keep wee ones from grabbing at their pets so they can finish walks, get to the vet on time, etc.

The dogs haven't changed.

We have.

As Boston terrier owners, we should  be at the forefront of the #GetTough movement. We know that human perception determines how dogs are valued and treated. And we know that human perception can change.

The official awareness day may be over, but you can still get involved. Click here for ideas. Let's make sure we get our voices heard.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Mid-air collisions: A common problem for blind cats

Lucy the blind cat in her bed

On a typical day, Lucy spends 15+ hours resting in a cat bed. She might shift from one bed to another, and she might accept a new kitty visitor from time to time, but she doesn't do a significant amount of playing these days. She'd much rather snooze.

But when dinnertime draws near, Lucy gets pretty excited. And that means she does a high-speed version of pacing. She runs from one room to another and back again, stopping only when I put the food down for her to nosh.

Lucy is a silent runner, as her supreme furriness cushions the sound of her moving footpads. And she doesn't make a lot of yelps and purrs when she runs. So often, she's a lot like a silent missile, running straight ahead as fast as she can.

And often, the other cats are right in her path.

If Lucy was moving a touch slower, she'd be able to feel them with her whiskers before impact, or she'd hear them breathing and change direction. But when she's running fast, she misses all of those signals.

I'll admit: This is a problem that's nearly impossible to solve. Lucy likes to run before meals. If I serve the food earlier, she runs earlier. If I try to make her stop running by using a verbal correction like "Slow" or "Wait," she simply ignores me. She wants to do this, and I can't make her stop.

Thankfully, the other cats she lives with seem to know that she can't help but run into them. When there is an impact, the other cats typically make a meowing pain-like noise, and then walk away. There's no slapping, no hitting and no retaliation. They know, somehow, that this isn't something she's doing on purpose.

Lucy the blind cat looks embarassed
"I'm so embarrassed!"
Even newbie cat Troy seems to know that Lucy isn't at fault. She ran right into the old guy yesterday, and he reacted by simply walking away.

But still, it makes me wonder about putting blind, high-speed cats into homes with grouchy residents. Getting knocked over right before you planned to do some heavy snacking is hard on a kitty's ego, and I wouldn't be surprised if cats crabbier than mine decided to fight back. And since it can't really be prevented, it could mean daily fighting. That's no good for anyone.

So my advice? Keep grouchy cats away from blind cats. These collisions could come with some pretty nasty consequences. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Wordless Wednesday: A pug nap interrupted

Liam the pug and Troy the cat
"What? Did I hear something?"
Troy the cat sniffing Liam pug ears
"He's right behind me, isn't he?"
Liam the pug looking tired
"It's so hard to get a good nap in. Darn cats."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sinead shows off her new dog chew toy

Sinead the Boston terrier and her toy

I'm a big fan of dog chew toys. Dogs that nibble on toys tend to leave furniture, shoes and other valuables alone. And, all of that chewing helps these little guys to remove plaque from their teeth, which could result in fewer vet bills for me. (One of my earliest blog entries was about chew toys. Check it out.)

Finding the right chew toy isn't always easy, though, as many toys come with flaws that are downright dangerous. Some break into little pieces that these dogs can swallow, while others are so hard that they pose a danger to a canine's canines.

So I'm thrilled to find this chewer from Pet Qwerks. It seems to have everything I'm looking for.

Sinead playing with her dog toy
Action shot!
This toy is ridged and stippled, and that bumpy covering does wonders for dog teeth. Sinead has spent a good portion of every evening just gnawing on this toy, and while she didn't have tartar to begin with (since I brush her teeth), her choppers do look pretty clean at the moment. I think the chewing helps.
Sinead the Boston terrier and her toy
Yet more action!
But as these photos make clear, this is more than a mere chew toy. Sinead enjoys playing tug with this toy. She cheats (see how close her tiny teeth are to hubby's fingers), but when she's playing fair, she has one end of the ring while we have the other. The give of the plastic makes for a great game of tug that I can play without growing tired.

Sinead the Boston terrier and her toy
And, we're still playing!
Plus, the toy is pretty light. I can throw it for games of fetch without worrying that I'll dent the floor or otherwise ruin my house. And Sinead can pick this up and run with it, which she loves.

So, I'm declaring this a winner! Here's hoping your dogs love this toy as much as mine do.

Monday, April 6, 2015

How to reinforce a cat's turf (and have a peaceful multi-cat home)

black cat blue heated cat bed
Cats may be known for their cuddly cuteness, but they're also extremely territorial predators. A cat in the wild has no compunction about chasing off and/or wounding a stranger cat. That's the best way for a cat to ensure that his/her food and safe spaces aren't stolen by another creature.

Managing a multi-cat household means understanding that cats can be kinda nasty, and looking for ways to help each cat feel as though his/her turf is respected. Sometimes, that's not so easy to do.

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.”

Maggie and Troy, for example, seem to like spending time in the same spaces. They're both huge fans of window seats, and they both like to perch in high places. During Troy's household introduction (which started with site swapping), that's been a problem. The places he likes to go are the places Maggie considers her turf. Unless I step in, I could have a vendetta on my hands.

My solution involves absolutely-impossible-to-resist beds.

The little bed (the Thermo Kitty Fashion Splash Heated Cat Mat, Mocha) Maggie has chosen (you see her grabbing it possessively up top) is round, soft and heated. All of those things ring her little bells, and she'll give up a window seat to spend time in a spot like this. Her new bed is on top of the wicker couch, which is another favorite space, and that makes this bed nearly impossible for her to resist.

Troy's new bed is plush and soft, and it's stuffed with egg crate. (It's a lot like this one: FurHaven Pet Nap Ultra Plush Deluxe 35-Inch by 44-Inch Orthopedic Pet Bed, Jumbo, Gray.) That construction makes this bed a great resting space for his old bones, and since it's black, it tends to heat up when it's exposed to bright sunshine. By putting that bed near a window, I'm ensuring that he has a favorite bed he just won't be able to resist.
black cat on a black cat bed
Now, these guys are curious, and they do tend to check out the competition. That means Maggie has tried to settle in Troy's bed, and he's sniffed at her bed at least once. For now, I'm not allowing for swapping. Troy is new, and he needs to carve out a spot that's all his own. I don't want him to feel as though he has to fight to get it. And, his bed is new, so it's not as though he's stealing something from Maggie. If I keep her away from his bed, he can feel safe and secure. I just put her back in her own bed. And I do the same for him, so she won't feel miffed.

These guys are both old, so they really don't do a lot of bed swapping. Put them in a good enough spot, and they'll stay there all day. But by ensuring some kind of turf, I can help them have neutral interactions like this on common ground.
two cats red couch
He is below and she is above, and nobody is even thinking about fighting. They both feel secure, and they can both run back to the preferred bed if they'd like to do so. And that means they can interact with a little less worry.

Any other multi-cat people want to share their tips? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.