All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

Listen To The Pet Place Radio Show with Marie Hulett

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Is catnip bad for cats?

Dear Marie,

Believe it or not, after having cats all my life, I just bought plain catnip (not in a toy) and gave it to my cat. He went nuts over it. He rolled in it. He ate it and got it all over his face and then he passed out in it. He seemed totally drunk. It was really funny – but as I think about it, this can’t be good for him. I know people have given catnip to cats since the beginning of time, but is this bad for cats? I feel like I’m a drug pusher! Thank you for your thoughts on this.

Judy, Anaheim

Dear Judy,Don’t worry. You’re not giving your cat anything harmful. The active ingredient in catnip (part of the mint family) is nepetalactone and even though it does seem to bring on a fairly intense “cat buzz,” it is completely harmless. No one knows when people first discovered that cats love catnip. In fact, human beings have been using catnip for themselves for centuries. Some claim it cures migraine headaches. Some use it in teas for relaxation purposes. In the late fifteen-hundreds, it was first described in a medical book as an essential herb that cures everything from stomach ailments to insomnia. It was brought to North America in the seventeenth century by European colonists who valued its medicinal qualities. The list of herbal uses, even today, goes on and on. But in spite of that, catnip is most famous for what it does to cats. And who can argue about how much fun it is to watch a couple of kitties playing together after munching on this special treat.

Interestingly, not all cats have a reaction to catnip. About one in three felines completely ignore it and kittens under 6 months of age aren’t interested either. Some scientists believe that the response that susceptible cats exhibit may be sexually linked because the active ingredient in catnip may mimic a certain pheromone. Cats seem to exhibit many of the same playful behaviors that are observed in courtship after being exposed to the herb. However, other experts seem to believe that the response is more equivalent to what humans experience after using marijuana. The main point here is that no one really knows for sure why cats react as they do to catnip; but all experts agree that it is in no way dangerous. In very rare cases, some cats may experience vomiting or diarrhea after ingesting fresh catnip. If this is the case with your cat, then I would recommend not giving it to him anymore.

You may be interested in knowing that housecats aren’t the only felines to go nuts for catnip. Lions and tigers also enjoy it. I’ve never personally seen a lion or tiger “under the influence,” but I bet it is quite something!

Catnip is non-addictive. In fact, it’s just the opposite. If you give your cat too much, over time he will eventually stop having any reaction and interest to it. It’s best to keep a little around in a zip lock pouch and bring it out for special occasions every now and then. However, don’t buy a huge supply and store it. Catnip loses its potency if stored for long periods so it is best to buy it in small quantities. It’s relatively cheap and if you want, you can even grow it.

You can buy catnip seeds and young plants in many nurseries. Catnip prefers being in full sun, however if you don’t have that in your yard, partial shade is probably going to work. The plant prefers a sandy soil and will actually be more aromatic and thus more stimulating for your kitty if you prepare a soil bed of this nature. Your plant should grow between one and four feet tall depending on which variety it is. However, don’t be surprised if a collection of neighborhood cats end up hanging around your back yard once your garden starts growing! It’s a powerful attractant.

To keep your plants growing longer, you should cut the buds off as they grow. Harvest whole stems with leaves and hang them to dry in a dark closet for about a week. Then they are ready to serve. Eventually, as your plants begin to look a little worn, you can allow them to go to seed. Catnip reseeds itself very well and you will be able to get crop after crop of fresh catnip for years to come. Enjoy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Runaway Dog Trouble...

Dear Marie,
I have a 3 year old, female, Jack Russell Terrier and Chihuahua mix that I found on the streets about 2 years ago. She continually sneaks out of the house and runs away. I cannot catch her and she is running around the neighborhood loose and has almost been run over several times, as she will just go right in front of any car. When she is tired of running around loose she will come home or let me pick her up and bring her home, if I can find her. I am so afraid she is going to get killed. Please advise. Also, she is pooping and peeing in the house. I have tried and tried to house train her and she will go outside for me but continues to leave me surprises in the house. Please let me know what to do. Thank you so much for your help!


Dear Barbara,
It sounds like you need to go back to square one with your little dog. This will involve routine, consistent training on a daily basis. You’ll want to devote a lot of time to this too. Dogs learn through repetition, positive consequences, and stability. If anything is missing, you won’t get the desired results. I am assuming your dog has been spayed; if not, you’ll want to take care of that immediately because this may be at the heart of your dog’s wanderlust problems.
Begin the training in the backyard. Make sure all the gates are closed, and perhaps even locked, so that no one unexpectedly opens up an exit path in the middle of your training session!

Start with your dog on a long or extendable leash and try some basic heel-walking, sit, and down commands. Make some circles, figure-eights, and any other odd path you can come up with in the space you have. Each and every time your dog does well, praise her. You can also give her an occasional treat; but make most of her rewards be in the non-food category – a scratch behind the ears and a heart-felt, “good girl!”

If she wanders too far away, tell her to come. If she doesn’t, bring her on in with the leash and tell her “come” while you are reeling her in. Once she is by your side, tell her, “good come” and give her praise. If she comes on her own, without any stimulus other than your command, give her lots of extra praise. This is definitely a time to dole out a treat too. You want your dog to associate coming to you as something really great. Unfortunately, most people have taught their escape artist dogs that if they come, they are in big trouble. It is very easy to become frustrated if you’ve been chasing your dog for a half hour through traffic. If your little girl has received any negative consequences from that frustration, she will have no interest in coming to you unless she knows for a fact that it will lead to love, attention, and maybe even goodies!

After a couple of weeks of this basic training, and only when it has been routinely successful, take her to a park. Again, she should be on a leash. In the park, there will be a lot of distractions that will interest her. She will likely want to run off and explore. Again, you will need to give her the command to come. Hopefully, she’ll remember what she learned in your yard. If not, go through the whole process that the two of you have been working on previously and bring her on in while using the command, “Come.” Your park training should continue until she consistently comes when called.

Once you are at this point in the process, you can take her to an off leash dog park. Let her run around and have a good time. But every now and then, give her the command to come. If she does, your rewards should be huge. If she does not, take her outside of the fenced area on her long leash, and work on the previous weeks’ training for a few minutes. Then try again off leash inside the dog park. Eventually, she will get the hang of it and will always come when called.

Your house-training problems can be solved using basic crate training (and this will also help with her “sneaking out problems”). I’ve discussed crate-training in some of my recent Orange County Register columns however I’ll recap some of the key points now. Keep your dog in a crate at night. As soon as she comes out in the morning, take her outdoors and give her the command to “go potty.” Praise her when she does. After she does her business, she can stay out of her crate. But be sure to let her outdoors after she eats, as well as periodically throughout the day - and always use your preferred command for her to do her business. For times when she cannot be supervised, she should be in her crate. But don’t keep her in for too long of a time. The crate should not be a punishment. It should be like a comfortable “den” and she should enjoy resting there. For more information about crate training, do a search through my old columns as well as Maryanne Dell’s columns on Good luck.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Siamese cat grooms constantly...

One of the things I have been doing for the past 25 years is giving advice to folks about pets, wildlife, and laws pertaining to animals. I get lots and lots of questions each and every day and I reply to every one. I've covered everything from urban legends about mythical animals to debates over what humane laws are needed (or not needed). Every time I think I've answered every possible question about animals, someone comes up with something new. So fee free to challenge me! Ask me something (relating to animals!) in the comments box and I will reply with a new post that addresses your question. Here's a good one that I've been asked by a lot of cat owners over the years...especially those who own Siamese cats...

My 12-year-old Siamese cat will not stop licking her fur. Whenever she is awake she is licking. She has lost at least 30 percent of her fur and is making her skin raw. She has no fleas and is an indoor cat that gets regularly monthly does of flea medication. If I try to stop her from this obsessive grooming, she gets mad at me and tries to bite. I don't know what to do. She's given herself open wounds from this behavior, and it's only getting worse. At this rate, she's going to be bald and covered with sores by the end of the year. This has been going on for about four months – right around the time we moved to a new apartment. Please help.

Obsessive grooming in Siamese kitties is not at all uncommon, although any cat (or dog) can suffer from this disorder. Often, this behavior is triggered by an emotionally traumatic event.
At 12 years of age, your cat was probably ill-suited for a move. But, staying in your old home to satisfy the emotional needs of your kitty was doubtless impractical. Though this is a dollar short and a day late, it is always important to take steps to make your pets feel safe and secure whenever you move. The best way to do this is to keep your pet exclusively in one room of the new place for a few weeks – preferably a room that will contain a lot of your old, familiar furniture.
Bedrooms are perfect for this since most people bring their old beds to new homes and mattresses are filled with pleasant, familiar smells that help keep cats, in particular, calm.
Even though the relocation probably triggered your cat's obsessive-compulsive licking behavior, she was genetically prone to having this problem. Unfortunately, purebred animals tend to have more than their share of specific health troubles – and for Siamese cats, researchers have found that overzealous grooming (to the point of self-mutilation) is the breed's special difficulty.

Under stressful conditions, any cat may begin grooming itself. It's a way of calming down and relieving stress. It's when the stress is not relieved that the grooming becomes compulsive.
If you take corrective actions fairly early on, you can redirect your cat's attention elsewhere and break the grooming cycle. This requires a lot of time on your part. Get some feather toys and try and get your cat to play. Brush your cat. Your grooming will help comfort her. Teach your cat some tricks and give her some treats when she does well. Another fun activity that will take your cat's mind off grooming is to place tasty, aromatic food treats inside special toys that she will have to play with and work on to get the treat out. Anything you can think of to keep her busy will serve to correct the problem.

In general, spend as much time with your cat as possible. I know that's easier said than done for working adults, but if you can take some time off work now, it might save you some money in vet bills later.

You should know that once the behavior becomes all-consuming, even if you take the steps I've outlined above, your chances for success with behavior modification become minimal. This is truly a mental illness and worsens logarithmically over time.
The good news is that this disorder can usually be treated very successfully with prescription drugs – yes, add pets to the ever-growing list of living beings that need drugs to cope with life's left hooks.

Of course, to get your cat a prescription, you will need to visit your vet. Do not try to medicate your cat with drugs that treat human depression. Your kitty needs a complete physical to rule out any other health conditions that may be contributing to the excessive grooming. If she gets a clean bill of health, then you and your veterinarian can talk about the options for caring for her and getting her back on the road to good mental health. Best of luck to you and your kitty.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Governator seeks to Terminate Pets

For quite some time, I have been urged by colleagues, family, friends, and fans to start a blog. Like most people, I don't have a whole heck of a lot of free time; as a result, I kept putting off the launch date of my Animal Files blog. But the governor of my state...former actor-turned-politician - Arnold Schwarzenegger - actually convinced me to get this going! No...he didn't give me a personal phone call—I don't actually know him...although I did meet his wife Maria a couple of years and she is delightful...ah, but I digress. Actually, it was his actions that finally put me over the edge.

Now I realize that California is in serious crisis mode and we need to figure out how to save money. But our governator, in his infinite wisdom, has decided that decreasing the number of days that lost animals are legally mandated to be held in public shelters is a good way to save money!


Well clearly, someone has gravely misinformed the governor about this. Let's look at this situation closely...

Fido escapes from Mr. and Mrs. Smith's back yard at 9AM on Monday after the meter reader leaves a gate open. Animal Control impounds Fido, who unfortunately is not wearing his collar and I.D. tag. (He just got a bath Sunday evening and the family forgot to put his collar back on.) Furthermore, he has no microchip—a miniature I.D. that is injected just under the skin between the shoulder blades—and no other identifying markers like tattoos, etc. Consequently, Animal Control has no way of knowing where Fido lives. Mr. and Mrs. Smith return home from work at 6PM and discover, to their horror, that Fido is missing. They knock on all their neighbors' doors. No one has a clue about Fido's whereabouts.

The Smith's have their 10-year-old daughter make posters of their lost pet. They put the posters up on telephone poles and walls throughout their neighborhood. (Code enforcement promptly removes all the signs, unbeknownst to the Smiths!)

The family is devastated. They call the animal shelter and inquire if a dog matching their pet's description has been picked up. The shelter worker informs them that there is no way to know for sure if Fido has been impounded since the dog is a shepherd mix and there could be any number of dogs at the shelter that match that description. They are instructed to come look for themselves.

The Smiths, who cannot take time off of work or they will lose their jobs, tell their heartbroken daughter that they will go to the animal shelter first thing Saturday morning.

True to their promise, the Smiths head on over to the shelter. They look in each and every kennel...but Fido is nowhere to be found! They show his picture to a kennel attendant who immediately recognizes the dog.

"Oh yes," he says. "He came in on Monday. He was held for three days and when no one showed up, he was euthanized."

The Smith's little daughter breaks down in tears, and her parents are simultaneously shocked and furious. The kennel attendant explains that the governor shortened the hold periods for pets at shelters and that there was nothing they could do about it because there is no money anymore to hold animals!

BUT...the Smith's would have paid the impound fees had their pet still been at the shelter. Therefore, by killing Fido, the money for its impound, shelter care, and euthanasia were ultimately charged to the taxpayer!

I wrote to the governor and told him there are many other ways to save money with regards to public animal sheltering. First...he needs to support SB250 and sign the bill when it comes to his desk. This will require the spaying and neutering of unaltered pets who are found roaming essence, the pets who belong to irresponsible pet owners who are contributing to pet overpopulation. We kill a half a million animals each and every year in this state at a taxpayer cost of a quarter of a billion dollars! That is where we need to save money...not on shelter retention periods!

Next, we need to implement a law that requires all pets to have microchips. That way, when they get lost and end up in a shelter, the owners can be contacted immediately and all sheltering and impound costs can be recovered...And innocent pets can be returned to their homes rather than be killed!

It's really a no-brainer.

Well, I spelled this all out to the governor...he sent me a canned response...twice! Hmmmm!

Here's what "he" said...I do wonder if he even wrote this!

"Thank you for sharing your concerns with me about the proposal to lift restrictions on hold times at animal shelters. I value your input during these challenging economic times. As you know, we are in the midst of the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. We now face a budget shortfall that has grown to $24.3 billion. I have proposed cuts that I would have never proposed except in a worst-case scenario, including eliminating General Fund support for programs like Healthy Families, CalWORKs, Cal Grants and State Parks. This was not an easy decision for me. As a dog owner myself, I have always supported animal welfare and have worked to ensure the humane treatment of animals. Currently, the state requires all shelters to hold stray animals for four or six days and reimburses them for the associated costs. To address our budget crisis, I have proposed to suspend some Non-Proposition 98 mandates, including the reimbursement funds for these shelters. To help local shelters deal with the challenges of this difficult budget situation, I have also proposed that the state no longer require the four or six day hold time. Shelters still have the flexibility to keep the animals for more days, but my proposal avoids placing an unnecessary burden on local communities. As I work with my partners in the Legislature to find solutions to these problems, know that I will keep your thoughts in mind. Working together, I believe we can weather this storm and start the slow but steady march back toward prosperity. Sincerely, Arnold Schwarzenegger"

If you want to tell the governor how you feel about this, you can call the governor’s office at 916-445-2841 or leave him an e-mail him at