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

Thursday, December 4, 2014


Dear Marie:
Recently, a local news program aired a segment featuring “Pocket Pets.” These are tiny pets that fit in the palm of your hands. What I am interested in is the Munchkin Dog, or they called it “Toy Munchkin.” They said it costs about $5,000.00 (Not that I can afford it); but they didn’t tell anything else about the dog. If you can tell me more information about it, I’d appreciate it.

Dear Vivian:
Breeders of the Toy Munchkin, and there are very few, state that this tiny dog was originally bred by Vikings. During the Middle Ages, Munchkins were traded in Europe for goods and services. They were much larger at that time and have been bred down over several hundred years to their current three to five pound weight. They literally are not much bigger than a rootbeer float.

Munchkins are affectionate, happy-go-lucky, mellow dogs who are loyal and good with kids. They are not at all like typical small breed dogs who usually tend to be nervous and prone to biting strangers and children. Rather, they are sociable and playful; but snuggling in their master’s lap is their favorite activity. They are described as intelligent and are easily trained to do just about anything...including how to use a litter box!

Breeders claim that these little dogs do very well in apartments and even enjoy long walks. They are quite capable of keeping up with their masters and walking in the “heel” position. Apparently, Munchkins accompanied Royal Families of the past on strolls through palace courtyards.

Toy Munchkins are not “barky” dogs, though they will alert their families to any danger that may be close. They do not seem to realize how truly tiny they are and assume the duties of “watchdog.” They form strong bonds with everyone in the family and are not considered a “one-person-dog.” Nevertheless, they do usually have a “favorite” human who has the perfect lap for snuggling!

These dogs resemble Chow Chows that have been shrunk to a fraction of their size. Originally, this breed of dog came in one color...white. However today, Toy Munchkins are bred in almost every color. They have a thick fluffy coat which is usually groomed and cut to give a lion-like appearance.

Toy Munchkins also possess a sweet face that always seems to be smiling. Because they remain small, they retain a puppy look that makes them especially endearing. They are extremely hard to come by; thus their high price-tag.

Now that you know this basic information, consider this: the “1978 Guinness Book of World Records” lists the Sharpei as the rarest dog breed with only 60 individuals gracing the planet during that year. Today, animal shelters and humane societies regularly house abandoned, discarded, and unwanted Sharpeis and Sharpei mixes.

Why did this happen? There are many reasons. Having the most unique dog on the block is always fun. The opportunity to make a lot of money by breeding is also very enticing. There may even be a sincere love of the breed.

None of these reasons seem very important when you examine the tragic consequences of indiscriminate and irresponsible breeding. The 1978 Sharpei price was at least that of the Toy Munchkin. Today, it’s hard to give away a Sharpei. I sincerely hope we humans don’t repeat this disastrous breeding cycle with Toy Munchkins; however, I imagine we will. I hope I’m wrong.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Safe Pet Toys

Dear Marie,
I've been receiving some mass-circulated e-mails about pet toys that have caused injuries and I am very concerned. Does anyone regulate pet toys to make sure they are safe? I had planned on getting my pets little holiday presents – and now, after reading some of these horror stories, I’m not so sure this is a good idea. I know this sounds like a knee-jerk reaction – but my pets are just too important to me.

Dear Michelle,
I've received many of the same type of e-mails so I appreciate your concern. Some of the emails are chain-letters – however, when I check the subject matter out, the content is confirmed. But I have also received some very heart-wrenching personal letters from pet owners detailing some very tragic accidents involving toys.

In one letter, a woman recounted how after leaving her young cat unattended with a cat toy on a bungee that was affixed to a cat tree, she returned home from work to find her beloved pet strangled by the cord. Needless to say, she was horrified. The toy seemed so harmless and fun and she thought it would provide her cat with some interactive play while she was away.

Another letter detailed the tragedy of a dog choking to death on a piece of a rawhide toy. His owners tried desperately to dislodge the piece of rawhide that was obstructing the dog’s breathing, to no avail. And in moments, their dog was dead.

A recent “chain-email” I received described in great detail the trauma one dog suffered as a result of his tongue being suctioned into a hard rubber ball that he had been chewing on. His owner couldn't get the ball off and the poor dog’s tongue had swollen to a great degree. He had to be taken to a veterinarian to have the ball removed; but in the end, his tongue has suffered too much damage and had to be amputated.

There are no safety protocols in effect for pet toys. Some even contain lead which has long been banned from children’s toys. Pet’s can become sickened due to lead poisoning. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, difficulty walking, abdominal pain, tremors, blindness and even coma.

Some toys have small parts, rope or strings that can be swallowed by pets, but not passed in the stool. This can lead to intestinal blockages. Some of these pieces can actually perforate the intestines or the stomach, or leech toxic chemicals.

If you have a bird, you need to be especially careful. There are a lot of plastic bird toys in stores.These are easily broken up by any sized bird and the sharp pieces can be swallowed. Avoid bird toys with bells as some of these are coated with zinc and can cause zinc poisoning.

So, you are not overreacting to this issue. There just aren't the same safety measures taken for pets that there are for people. A good rule of thumb is this: Supervise your pet when you give him a toy. Make sure the toy is size and species appropriate. Avoid rawhide toys. Purchase products that come from trusted manufacturers and appear to be high quality. Balls should have a number of air holes so that suction will not be created when a dog chews on them. If there are not multiple holes in a ball, make a few yourself. Cat toys on strings/springs/elastic bungees should only be used when a cat is being supervised.

When in doubt, talk with your veterinarian. Most veterinarians have seen accidents that are toy-related and can give you some good tips on what to avoid and what might make a safe plaything.

The holiday season is just getting into full swing – if you don't yet have a little something for your pet
under the Christmas tree this year, hit the “After Christmas Sales.” Your pets don’t care when they get a toy. And, if you do your research online, you’ll be able to find quite a few fun and safe toys to give to your special little buddies. Combine that with good, common sense, and you should have a very Happy and Safe Post Holiday Season.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thanksgiving Turkey has reason to be THANKFUL!

Dear Marie
My son’s school is having a raffle to raise money for a class trip to science camp. Most of the parents have donated prizes for the raffle. However, one family will be giving away a live turkey that they will butcher, and dress for Thanksgiving as their donation. My son, as well as the majority of the other students are appalled at this, especially since the Turkey in question has been brought to school on a number of occasions and allowed to mingle with all the kids. It’s actually very cute and very friendly. It is like a pet...not dinner!

Well, to make a long story short, it has been decided that whoever wins the turkey is going to give it to my son who has promised to take care of it for the remainder of its natural life. I’ve agreed to this but I don’t have a clue about how to care for turkeys. What can you tell me?

Dear Eleanor:
What a wonderful mom you are to have stepped up to the plate (no pun intended) on this issue. Even if children are not vegetarians, it is hard for them, if not impossible, to look at live animals and picture them killed for food. I think there would be many more vegetarians if people had to meet
and fraternize with cows, turkeys, and other barnyard animals prior to the slaughter of these highly social animals.

You should understand, however, that turkeys are indeed livestock and you must live on a parcel of property zoned for such animals if you plan on maintaining it on your property. Check with your city hall for more information about their rules and possible exemptions.

Turkeys are fairly easy to care for. They enjoy grassy areas, but should also have access to dirt for daily dust bathing. This helps them stay parasite free. They also need a waterproof and well ventilated shelter. Line the shelter with straw four to six inches high and change it daily.

Turkeys love to perch. You can make a suitable perch within the shelter by using a two by four board secured to the walls. You can purchase all the supplies for making the shelter at your local hardware store. Go to the library and check out a book that has plans and diagrams for building sheds or coops.

Once your turkey arrives, be sure to put him inside his shelter every night to protect him from predators and cold weather. You can purchase special turkey food at most feed stores. Check your yellow pages to find the closest location. You can also feed your pet a mixture of corn, oats and sunflower seeds in equal parts. Add a spoonful of grit and oyster shells to help with digestion and satisfy calcium requirements. Place the food into a feeder. Avoid feeding him from the ground. This will keep him healthy. Turkeys also need greens and enjoy fruits; however, keep the fruits to a minimum.

With good care and attention, turkeys live six to eight years or longer! Females weigh between 25 and 35 pounds, while males are usually 35-45 pounds by maturity. With daily interaction, they become affectionate and playful. They actually enjoy companionship with people. You will enjoy your unusual pet.

For more information about pet turkeys, contact the Farm Sanctuary at

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Big Bear Alpine Zoo

Dear Readers,
Frequently, I receive letters with questions and concerns about urban wildlife. Here in Orange County, many residents don’t expect to see coyotes, opossums, skunks, raccoons, bobcats, deer, rattlesnakes, mountain lions, etc. But the fact is, they are all here, along with many other amazing species and unfortunately, the first reaction most people experience is fear; and that usually leads to problems.

Nevertheless, the most basic rule of thumb for safe and harmonious co-existence regarding the wildlife we share our cities with is to learn about them. Alas, there are very few places one can go to get up close and personal, from an educational perspective, with indigenous animals.

Most zoos are not interested in local wildlife. Their enclosures and habitats are filled with exotic animals such as tigers, giraffes, polar bears and penguins. Though learning about all the animals of the earth is enjoyable and interesting, I believe it is equally important to learn about feathery, scaly, and furry next-door neighbors as well.

My favorite local zoo is the Big Bear Alpine Zoo. The facility, which is located at Big Bear Lake, serves as a type of foster home for wild animals that have been injured, or kept illegally as pets. When possible, the zoo personnel rehabilitate and release the critters that luckily end up on their doorstep. Sadly, however, many of these animals have been seriously maimed by human beings and can never be returned to the wild. In these cases, a permanent home with wonderful care will be theirs, and by living at the zoo, these creatures provide humans the chance to learn about how special and integral to the balance of nature all living things are.

The zoo is a relatively short drive out to the San Bernardino Forest, and makes a great day trip or mini-vacation. It is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM, with general admission being only $12. Children 3-10 years old, active and retired military (with ID), and senior citizens are only $9.00, and kids under 3 years old are free. It is located right across the street from Bear Mountain Ski Resort at 43285 Goldmine Drive, Big Bear Lake, CA.

Taking a trip up to the local mountains and spending an afternoon at the zoo is always fun, but if you can, plan on being there any Saturday in December between 11 AM and 2PM. You will be in for a treat. The animal park is having a special holiday festival, complete with "Santa Claws."

For more information about this upcoming event, call the Friends of the Big Bear Alpine Zoo at
909-878-4200 or visit

Many of you may recall that I have written about the Big Bear Alpine Zoo (formerly the Moonridge Animal Park) before. This amazing facility has lost its lease on the land where they have been located since 1959. They are working hard to raise enough money to build a new facility on the North side of Big Bear Lake and transfer all of their orphans. Few organizations have taken on the huge responsibility of helping to educate the public about indigenous wildlife, and fewer still offer a refuge to those animals who have suffered the consequences of venturing too close to human beings. If you are interested in volunteering or helping the zoo in any way, please write to the Friends of the Big Bear Alpine Zoo at or call the number mentioned above.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Military Pet

Dear Marie,
My best friend was just called to active duty in the military and will be gone for quite some time. He had asked me to take care of his dog while he is overseas and I agreed. Most likely, he’s not going to be able to take the dog back when he returns because he suspects he’ll be shipping out pretty regularly over the next few years and won’t really be able to provide a stable home. I told
him that’s OK with me. It’s been a long time since I had a dog of my own – not since I lived at
home with my parents. And to be completely honest, my mom was the person who really took care of “my” dog. Now that I have my friend’s dog, I realize how much work is involved.

Frankly, I haven’t been the best dog owner because I just don’t have the time and I feel really badly about it. My wife and kids are way too busy too. Between work, school, soccer, homework, and everything else, there’s no time left for the dog. This is where my question comes in…my mom, who will be 80 in a few months, has offered to take care of the dog. When she comes over to visit, it seems to sense that she is an animal lover and spends every second of the visit right by her side. And my mom loves this dog. She lights up around him. She seems like she’s 20 years younger when she’s playing with him. Last week she asked if she could keep him at her house. My wife thinks it’s a bad idea because the dog is really big - almost 90 pounds - and my mom, who is a widow now and lives alone, is fairly small and frail. It’s not a bad mannered dog at all. As far as I can tell, he’s completely obedience trained and never jumps up on anyone. I think the dog would be much better off with my mom but I don’t want to put her in any kind of danger. What would you suggest?

Dear Tony,
First let me commend both you and your friend for making arrangements for this dog. Too frequently, pets belonging to military personnel who are called to active duty are relinquished to shelters. I am very pleased to hear that the two of you worked together to ensure this dog would always have a home.

Now to the matter at hand – though your mother is nearly 80, she sounds as though she is quite capable of handling a dog, no matter what his size. By you own admission, she is the expert dog owner in the family, and by virtue of being a senior citizen, she has plenty of time to dote over a companion animal.

I understand your wife’s concerns. I would suggest having a test run with your mom and your friend’s dog. Ask her to come over during the days - preferably on a weekend when you can be there to observe – and have her be in charge of the dog. Make some mental notes of what goes on.

For example, can she easily put on and take off a leash? Can she take him for walks? Does the dog get too excited when she is holding a bowl of food for him? Does the dog respond to her commands?

If everything seems OK at your house, there should be no difference at her house. Furthermore, it has been well documented that senior citizens who care for pets live longer, healthier lives and remain physically active. You noticed that your mom seemed years younger and very happy when she was visiting with this dog. That type of joy is invaluable. It fosters a sense of well being that in turn triggers many positive physiological responses. Your mom would love a buddy around her home. I’m sure that her visits with you are nice – but eventually, she has to go back to her own home, alone.

Having a companion animal in the house will be a wonderful change of pace for her. She’ll have someone to talk to, who will always listen without interruption, and never think her ideas are irrelevant. He will give her as much—if not more love—than she gives to him. And best of all, your mom will feel needed on a daily basis.

Believe it or not, that’s really important and that’s what’s going to make you mom feel happiest. You did say that most likely your friend would not take back his dog when he returns. That may be something you should discuss with him further to confirm. If your mom opens her heart up to this dog and then has to give him up 6 months or so down the road, it may be very traumatic. Perhaps
your friend will give you the go-ahead to permanently place the dog with your mom. That’s what I would try to arrange before taking any other steps.

Good Luck.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Good First Pet for a Child

Dear Marie,
My daughter has been begging for a kitten for at least two years. She is ten years old and in the fourth grade. I don’t think that she is ready for the responsibility and I don’t want to end up being the primary caretaker of this pet, which I think will be what ultimately happens. I don’t have the time for a pet and I really don’t want one. But, she is really emphatic that she will take care of her own pet and that she is ready. I’m thinking that maybe I should just get her a fish or a frog. That way, if something happens to it because she didn't take care of it, it won’t be too big of a deal. What do you think?

Dear Craig,
I think it is an excellent idea to start children out with pets that don’t require the same level of care that a kitten or puppy would need. Nevertheless, fish and hamsters DO require care or they will become sick and/or die. Frankly, I don’t think any valuable lesson is learned by letting children fail in the care-giving department. Coming home to a dead pet—of any kind—is never pleasant (and it certainly won't be very enjoyable for the animal either!).

This will be your daughter’s first experience in nurturing another life. You will need to guide and supervise her until you are certain she can assume the responsibility on her own. It would be unwise and inhumane to present her with a pet and then wash your hands of it. Taking that attitude will only lead to a tragic end. Your daughter should learn that all life, whether a fish or a hamster or a kitten is valuable; and if entrusted to her care, she must respect that value. But only you can teach her that important lesson.

If she adopts your attitude that the death of a fish or hamster is really no big deal, she will probably not develop the skills she will need to care for a kitten or a puppy. Ultimately she must be made to understand that if she demonstrates that she can properly care for a pet, that she will be able to
adopt a kitten.

However, even at that point, you will need to be involved. No matter how responsible your daughter becomes with regards to pet care, there will be occasions where she forgets, or is just unable to tend to her pet’s basic needs. You will need to pick up the slack in those cases no matter how busy you are. Later, you can talk to your daughter about the problem and prescribe the appropriate consequences if they are warranted. Nevertheless, the consequences do NOT belong to the pet and it should not be ignored if your daughter overlooks its care.

Of course, before you get any pet, take a trip to your local library and check out books on fish or hamsters, or peruse the Internet. Find out together what they need and how to handle them. Fish are not as easy to care for as most people think. Water temperature needs to be maintained, as well as pH levels. Special food is sometimes required as are supplements that keep fish healthy. Hamsters need to have cages cleaned on a daily basis. They need to be handled regularly or they can get a little “testy.” There is so much to learn. But this will be a wonderful FAMILY project.

I know, you said you don’t really have the time. If this is absolutely the case, then perhaps you should wait until YOU are ready. Your daughter and your potential pet will need your involvement. In the end, the answer to your question is probably already known by you. Good luck.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Halloween Safety for Pets

Dear Marie: 
Last year, I met you in person at a pet-expo in Orange County. It was shortly before Halloween and you were discussing safety tips for pet owners to follow during the “trick-or-treat” season. You even had a pamphlet that outlined some general precautions. If at all possible, can you review these tips? I would certainly appreciate it as I am sure other pet owners will too. 

Dear Pamela, 
Thanks for a very seasonally appropriate question. Halloween is still a few of weeks away; but it is definitely time to start preparing and developing a game plan!

First of all, check to make sure that all your pets are wearing identification tags. If you've changed your phone number or address recently, immediately purchase new tags from your local pet supply store (they are made in a few  minutes while you wait) notify your county or city’s pet licensing department so that databases can be updated, and update your microchip company.  If your pet does not have a microchip - now is the time to get one.  Remember, when trick-or-treaters come knocking, there is a good chance that your pet may escape when the door is opened.

It is also a good time to bring your pet’s vaccinations up to date if they are overdue. A rabies vaccination is particularly important in case your pet is involved in a bite situation. Animals are usually frightened by the barrage of children in costumes paying visits to your home. It is usually best to put your pet in a closed, quiet bedroom with classical music playing, or at least in the garage until the last of the trick-or-treaters has called it a night.

If you are hosting a party yourself and you want your pet to be included (I don’t recommend this) give your pet a quick refresher course in “good manners.” For example, don’t let your dogs jump up on guests; teach your cats to stay off tables where food is being served, etc. You know what 
difficulties your own pet has in the etiquette department! Now is the time to correct those bad behaviors.

Don’t let your cats (and dogs) run loose. Small friendly pets are easy prey to people inclined to play cruel, Halloween pranks. Furthermore, during seasonal celebrations (which can begin several days before the actual holiday, there tends to be more vehicle traffic on otherwise quiet, residential streets. A pet who is not accustomed to cars and traffic can be injured or killed in the street. Again, I stress...keep your pets safely confined.

If you have children who are trick-or-treating, let them know that they must not give any of their goodies to dogs. Chocolate contains a substance which is absolutely toxic to dogs. Keep all candy bags well out of reach of your pets. You’ll be surprised how smart animals are when it comes to seeking out food they’re not supposed to have, so make sure your hiding place is completely pet-proof. I usually buy some special pet treats for my own dogs so that they won’t feel left out when everyone else has tasty goodies to eat.

If you plan on dressing your pet up, make sure the costume you choose is safe and comfortable. Additionally, if your pet is clearly unhappy wearing a costume, don't force him or her to tolerate this. Halloween is for people.  Pets really don't care if they dress up or not!  (Well, actually some pets prefer NOT to dress up!)

Sometimes, even the most responsible and prepared pet owners leave a loose end somewhere. Bearing this in mind, keep your veterinarian’s phone number, as well as the closest emergency pet clinic and animal shelter phone numbers on your refrigerator in case of emergency. Hopefully, you won’t need them, but you should still be prepared for anything.

I hope these tips will be useful to you, and other pet owners in making 
Halloween a safe and enjoyable holiday for everyone. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cats Run Loose in my Neighborhood

Dear Marie,
Before I state my problem, I want to let you know I love cats. I have two neutered, indoor cats that have collars, tags, microchips, all of their shots, an abundance of cat toys, and a bed in almost every room of the house. They are pampered and spoiled and that’s putting it mildly.

Now, here’s my problem. I live in a nice neighborhood where there are many other pet cats that don’t have it so good. They are outside all hours of the day and night. They come to my house and fight outside my bedroom window. They use my garden as a litter box and spray urine on my car’s tires and front door.

Unlike my cats, most of these don’t appear to be spayed or neutered, as it is pretty obvious they are in the process of making new kittens. UGH! Some of the cats look sick. Some of the cats sit in the street. Some of the cats look malnourished. Some of the cats look fat, healthy, and purebred. No matter what their appearance, I am almost certain that all of them have “homes”.

The situation seems to be getting progressively worse. When I come home from work at night, I literally see dozens of loose cats just in my own neighborhood. What can I do to help curtail this growing problem?

Dear Angela,
Many cat owners are under the mistaken belief that it is unfair to keep a cat indoors. Some people may have tried to keep their pets inside but later gave up because their cats complained too much. Ultimately, they are allowed to go out again. Still other cat owners believe the cats that they provide food and water for aren't really their cats. (Even if they have fed and cared for them for years.) It’s always frustrating to hear these excuses.

The bottom line is that it is unlawful to let cats roam on anyone else’s property. Furthermore, if one chooses not to have a pet spayed, he or she should know that it is against the law for any cat (or dog) “in season” to be unconfined. One could also argue that cats allowed to roam freely into and across streets are being neglected and placed in danger. This would be a violation of a California Penal Code requiring reasonable care of pets.

Unfortunately, most laws pertaining to cats are rarely enforced. Even animal control would probably just advise that you trap the cats and bring them to the shelter. However, if the cat does not have any form of identification, the shelter’s staff would not be able to contact the owner and statistically, the majority of non-identified cats are never redeemed and ultimately euthanized.

There are alternatives to taking cats to the shelter. First, find out who is in charge of publishing your local neighborhood watch, homeowner’s association, or other community newsletter and ask if you could write a small article about the problem. Be sure to include concerns about the health and safety of cats allowed to roam free. Add to that the staggering pet-overpopulation numbers revolving around cats. Emphasize the statistics regarding cats euthanized in shelters for lack of homes. Finally, reference the laws that I previously described.

If there is no improvement - and there is likely not to be as most pet owners never think their animals are the ones causing a problem - then you need to take a more hands on approach.

First, invest in a humane cat trap. Also, purchase a number of cat collars. Make copies of your community bulletin and cut out the article about cats. Fold up the article and staple it to the collar. Set the trap each night. If you find a cat in the trap in the morning, and if it is safe to do so, put a collar (complete with the folded article) on the cat. Then, set the cat free. When it goes home, it will personally deliver to its owners the desired message.

You will find that after receiving such an unusual note, some pet owners will modify their behavior. Some however, will remain irresponsible. They will continue doing so until they find their cat dead in the street. And sadly, they will replace that cat with another who is treated identically. Some people never change. All you can do is keep trying to make a difference.

Good luck.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Adopting a Llama - What you need to know...

Dear Marie,
We have just moved into a large home that is zoned for horses and livestock. We are particularly
excited about this because my husband and I have always wanted to have a pet llama. Every
time we see these animals at fairs and petting zoos, they always seem so friendly and funny. But
to be honest, we don’t know the first thing about them and how to care for them. We've both
had horses while we were growing up – and know that llamas will be just as much work – so
we’re prepared for that. But everything else is uncharted territory. Can you give us some starter
information and point us in the right direction.
Jeanne and Ben

Dear Jeanne and Ben,
You two definitely want to start your life in your new home off with a big change. I am glad you are looking into everything first before diving into it.

Llamas are indeed very fun animals and make great companions. They have lots of personality; they love to play and they live for affection. Once you bring llamas into your home, you’ll wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

But, you are right. They are a lot of work and you really need to know what you are getting into from the start. There are a lot of good informational websites on the Internet, which also provide support group contact info and llama club locations and telephone numbers. I strongly encourage you to read everything you can and to join various llama enthusiast clubs before making a llama purchase.

Through networking with other llama lovers, you’ll be able to find reputable breeders in your area. Believe it or not, there are actually some “puppy-mill” type llama breeders around who are taking advantage of the surge in popularity of these exotic pets.

Don’t let the price of a llama deceive you either. You may think that an expensive animal is well-bred, healthy, and properly trained. This is not necessarily true. Llama prices have come down significantly over the past 10 years and generally don’t indicate whether or not an animal is high quality. On the other hand, if you find a llama that is questionably inexpensive, there probably is a good reason for that. Be very careful.

Your best bet is to visit various llama breeders. Check out their facilities. Are they clean? Are the animals well-adjusted? Are their coats maintained? Are their teeth and feet in good condition?

Llamas should be comfortable being harnessed so that they can be led easily. They should also be relaxed for grooming and shearing. Llamas should be calm when their feet are handled, and their teeth examined. This is basic training that should be done by a breeder before you purchase a llama. If a breeder makes excuses as to why his llamas do not have this basic training, then you can assume that his animals have not been receiving the type of general handling and care that they need.

Also, you should know that Llamas acclimate much faster to a new environment if they have a llama buddy, so you should plan on getting two llamas when you finally take the plunge. Your new llamas should be the same gender. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the main rationale is that they can begin breeding before they are even one year old! As with all pets, the quality of care you can provide is directly related to how many you have. Unless you plan on being home all the time, I wouldn't recommend having more than two, especially if you want their personalities to develop into human-loving animals.

Feeding and sheltering llamas is fairly simple, especially if you are set up for livestock already. Again, all of this information can be found in books, on the Internet, and from breeders. Best of luck to you as you start a new chapter in a new home.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Biking to Work and Saving a Dog...

Dear Readers,
During the warmer months of the year, I ride my bike to work most days. It’s a completely different experience from taking the car. Let me expand on that. In the car, I notice that no other driver has any interest in my existence unless they think I am going too slowly, at which point they may choose to tailgate, or gun their engine while passing, or offer me half a peace sign. (And based on their facial expressions as they deliver the message, I don’t think they are proposing I have a semi-peaceful day!) Keep in mind I do not drive like a little old lady. But these folks, like many on the road, aren't happy unless they can go at least twenty miles an hour faster than the posted speed limit. I’m sure you've seen these people too. They seem to be reproducing faster than cats these days!

Honestly, I am pretty tired of all the angry drivers on the road. Sharing my mornings with these clowns makes my day start on a sour note. So that’s why I ride my bike instead—and what a difference! I can actually hear songbirds everywhere, and it’s an amazing symphony. I can see the beautiful gardens that my neighbors have worked long and hard planting and maintaining, and smell the roses that are in bloom. When one whizzes by in a car, it’s impossible to appreciate or sense any of these things.

On a typical bike-ride to work, I see a few dozen people out and about. Each and every person I encounter, almost without fail, will smile, wave, wish me a good morning, or provide some other pleasant greeting. Outside of my neighborhood, I don’t know these people which makes this interaction that much more extraordinary and delightful. By the time I get to work, I've smiled more times than I can even tally and that is a great way to start a day!

One other noteworthy aspect of biking to work is that you notice all the pets that live on your selected route. I see them in their yards. I see them on walks with their owners. I talk to people about their animals if I have time, and make new friends. It’s a lot of fun. But it also leads to situations where I can help.

Most people who own dogs, no matter how careful they are, have experienced their pets accidentally getting loose. Sometimes visitors or workmen leave gates and doors open allowing dogs to escape unnoticed. Kids forget on occasion to make sure pets are secure before they head off to school. There are so many potential triggers that may lead to a pet getting out. In the past 6 months alone, I have come across eight dogs on my route to or from work that were minus their humans. I was familiar with seven of them (specifically because of my bike riding) and got them all back home—I always carry a leash in my purse. The eighth dog I did not know and could not get close to him. He was not wearing a collar so even if I could catch him, there would be no way I could call his owner.

Of course, I have Orange County Animal Control’s phone number in my cell phone and called them for assistance. In order not to frighten the dog, I followed him from a safe distance and made sure he did not get out onto a main street. I continued to call Animal Control to give them updates on the dog’s location. When the animal control officer arrived, he was able to quickly impound the dog and get him to the safety of the shelter where he was reclaimed by his owner the next day. I was about an hour late getting home that night, but I had called my family to let them know what I was doing. They know how I am so this is nothing new to them! The point is, had I been driving my car every day, I would have never seen these wayward pets who could have been injured or killed. I would not have met the majority of their owners. I would have never made my many “bike-route-friends.” And instead of starting my day with a lot of warm and friendly greetings, I would have only the experience of being in a metal box, surrounded by hundreds of angry or frustrated drivers.

Though I don’t expect all of the readers to start biking to work from this point forward, I do encourage all of you to give it a try if you are physically able and don’t have an excessively long distance to travel. It’s also important to map out a safe route for biking (which isn't always possible). But if you are in a position to give it a try, I hope you do. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I do. And you never know, you might rescue a few new animal friends too.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Importance of Dental Care

Hi Marie,
Last week my dog went to the veterinary hospital to have a fatty tumor removed. It was considered minor surgery. The veterinarian noticed that a couple of my dog’s molars were in very bad shape and suggested extracting them. My dog’s front teeth always looked so good, so I never considered that the back teeth had any problems. Since he was under anesthesia, this was the first time we were really able to get a good look at his back teeth. I agreed to the dental work since it seemed like a good time to take care of everything. A short time later, my veterinarian called and told me that my dog’s heart had stopped during the procedure and he had died.

Apparently, this had been due to the dental infection affecting his heart. I had not known that
dental problems could lead to this outcome. I thought this might be a good topic for your
column so that people can understand how important it is to keep on top of their pets’ dental

Dear Judy. First, I am so sorry for your loss and I know how sad you must be; but thank you for sharing your experience to help other people and animals. Yes, maintaining dental health in pets is very important. Usually, most people do not consider this unless their pets have serious bad breath, or exhibit other obvious symptoms associated with gum disease and tooth decay, such as constant drooling, difficulty eating, loss of appetite, etc. In fact, eight out of ten pets have minor to serious dental problems because their people don’t realize anything is wrong.

Just like humans, pets should have regular dental check-ups. Their teeth should be cleaned as recommended by their veterinarians. But people can take active steps at home to maintain their pets’ dental health via daily teeth brushing.

Of course, it is easiest to start this process with a very young pet, but any pet can be trained to cooperate, and even enjoy daily teeth brushing. And as I always say whenever teaching a new behavior is needed, it will take time, patience and a lot of practice to achieve a good comfort level – for all parties involved!

There are many different brushes and finger tools that are available at most pet supply stores. Meat-flavored toothpaste can usually be found nearby the toothbrushes. Purchase a few different flavors of paste and at least a couple different brushes and/or finger tools. You’ll find one combination that your pet will tolerate. NEVER use human toothpaste on a pet. Pets cannot spit out the extra nor rinse their mouths and if they swallow it, they can suffer serious intestinal and stomach problems. They need their own, special formula.

It is not easy to get your pet used to having his teeth brushed. In the beginning, only try and
brush a small section. If you are successful, be sure to heap praise on him. Each day, increase
the area that you are able to clean until you are able to brush every surface of every tooth. You should also provide your pet with chew toys that have bumps. Many of these toys’ labels will indicate that they promote good dental health. Additionally, crunchy dog treats and dry kibble help scrape away plaque.

If you have an adult dog (or cat) who appears to have tartar buildup on his molars, he will need
to have a professional cleaning and that must be done under anesthesia, especially if he requires
a tooth to be extracted. However, it is very important to have various blood tests performed prior
to this procedure. These tests can determine if your pet has a bacterial infection, liver, kidney or heart problems, or other issues that must be considered before anesthesia. Your veterinarian may need to put your pet on a course of antibiotics, or another medication prior to completing the dental procedure.

Poor dental health can cause bleeding gums, loss of appetite and energy, heart, kidney and intestinal problems, joint pain, and more. Keep your pets healthy and happy by setting aside a few minutes each day to clean their teeth.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Licking Dog

Hi Marie,

I have a dog named Molly. She is doing well but we have a new baby in the family—my 2nd granddaughter—and my son (and especially my daughter-in-law) does not want to bring the baby to my house because of Molly. Molly is a licker. She licks everything. The floor, clothes, blankets, pillows, and especially people. I have done everything to discourage this behavior but nothing seems to help. She also jumps on people from being so excited to have company, but that seems easier to stop with a sharp “NO.” Well, sometimes it helps. My questions are: How do I break her of jumping up on people, licking them, obeying my commands to stop. I need to let you know that she grew up with another dog and every time she sees a dog, she absolutely flips out and wants to get to it to play. This excitement carries over to when people come to visit. She is uncontrollable when she is excited. I can’t afford dog training classes otherwise I would be there with her. If you can give me some suggestions it would be so much appreciated.

Dear Jo,
A dog’s licking is completely, socially accepted in the dog-world. When one dog licks another,
it is a demonstration of affection and symbolic of being a close family member. You just need to
be able to communicate to Molly that you understand she loves you and you love her too without
getting drenched with slobber.

First, go ahead and let her lick you for a few seconds. Then pet her a bit yourself (this is the equivalent of you licking her) and position yourself in a manner that makes it impossible, or at least very difficult for her to continue licking you. If she tries to lick you more after that, tell her, “enough licking” and walk away, engaging yourself in other activities.

This is also a good time to get HER engaged in other activities. I would suggest giving her a toy that can be stuffed with food goodies that she has to work on for an extended period to be able to get the treats out. While she’s having fun with her treat toy, you can sit on a chair next to her and read, or watch TV, or whatever you want to do. Mostly, just go about your business being happy together so that she experiences fun-family-time that doesn't involve licking activities. She has probably learned that when she licks you, she gets attention, even if it isn't necessarily good attention. So you want to replace this idea with a brand new model. Take her on more walks, play with her more often, teach her basic obedience (you can do this on your own without taking classes), and develop a routine that she can depend on.

By teaching her basic commands (sit, stay, come, down, heel) and then rewarding her for completing them, you will find that you can easily control her when she gets overly excited. But you must spend at least an hour a day working on basic commands and you must be consistent. It is also essential that you provide your dog with the knowledge she needs to make good decisions.

If you tell your dog “no” but then don’t offer her an alternative, acceptable behavior to perform, she won’t understand what you want from her. So here is what you need to practice. Invite several friends (preferably those who like your dog) to help you with this. Have them come to your house to visit (one at a time, and later in groups), over several days. On every occasion where Molly gets overly excited and begins jumping, tell her to sit. If she does, have your friends give her a little treat and/or tell her, “Good sit!” Then go about having a visit with your friends. At any point if Molly gets too rambunctious, she should be reminded to sit, or given a new behavior to carry out. This is also another great time to give her a treat-filled toy that she can work on.

Eventually, have your son come over and practice these strategies with him. If his wife is a willing participant, she can work with Molly as well. Licking and jumping behaviors don’t go away over night, so please be patient and consistent, and praise Molly when she does well. Dogs really just want to please their people, but they need to know how—and with your love and leadership, Molly will become a perfectly well-behaved dog that can be trusted not to slobber on, or jump up on your new grandchild.

Best wishes to you.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Klepto Kitten

Dear Marie,
I adopted a kitten about six months ago.  She is absolutely adorable and the whole family loves her.  Needless to say, she can do no wrong and we are really bad about correcting inappropriate behavior.  She is just so cute when she is naughty, that we usually just pick her up and kiss her.  I know – we are terrible pet parents!  We’re reinforcing bad behavior.  But most of it is really no big deal and it just makes us laugh.  But she has one habit that is really getting out of control.  She steals ANYTHING she can carry.  If my daughter sets a pen down while she is doing homework and leaves to get a drink of water or something, the kitten steals the pen.  And she is faster than greased lightning!  Now that she is big, she is stealing big things!  She nabs stuffed animals off of beds.  She’s taken heavy key chains with important keys.  She’s taken cell phones.  And today, when I laid out my clothes while getting ready to go to work, she nabbed my bra while I was in the bathroom showering!  The worst part of it is I don’t know where she is putting half of these items!  She doesn't go outside so they are in the house somewhere!  I’d really like to stop her cat-burglar ways but I have no idea what to do.  Please help!


Dear Rachel,
It sounds like you have your hands full with a delinquent kitten!  I think a lot of cat owners can relate to your problem as kleptomaniac kitties are not unusual.  There are some pretty cute online videos and news stories about some of the more infamous cat burglars who were caught in the act.   Obviously, you have plenty of real-life experiences with your own little four-legged thief, so let’s get down to the business of solving your situation. 

Cats are hunters by nature.  For many cats, the instinct to hunt, catch, and hide prey is reduced to merely playing with a toy for a few minutes between cat naps.  Domestication over thousands of years has truly changed innate behaviors and most cats prefer to be pampered royalty who are fed, pet, brushed, fed again, and given appropriate attention by their “indentured servants” (cat owners)!  But there are still plenty of cats who have retained the large part of their predatory instincts and your kitten seems to be one of those felines.

If you have been kissing her and laughing at her thieving ways, I know that YOU know that this needs to stop right away.  Cats LOVE this kind of attention and your kitten believes she has your permission and approval when she commits these acts of thievery.  Please get everyone in the house on the same page or you won’t be able to address this problem at all.

You’ll need to set some “traps” for her.  If you know that she will steal certain items if they are left unattended, like your daughter’s pens for example, spray them with Bitter Apple (a product available from most pet supply stores).  As soon as she picks up an item that is laced with this foul-tasting coating, she’s going to drop it.  You’ll need to be spying on her when this is happening.  As soon as she drops it, take her into a room designated for play.  Give her a catnip-laced toy and interact with her there.  Repeat this training measure as often as possible, spraying other “inappropriate” items, and then redirecting her to toys. 

Swap out her toys often.  Cats get bored playing with the same thing over and over.  Be sure to praise her with pats, affection, and happy sounding words when she “hunts” her toys.  And any time you catch her taking something that does not belong to her, take it away and immediately redirect her to her own things.

Be sure to engage in active play-time with your kitten throughout the day.  As a youngster, she has a lot of energy to burn.  If no one ever channels that energy into acceptable activities, she’s going to figure out what to do on her own, which is probably not a good thing in her case.  As she gets older, she’ll mellow out and not need as much playtime, but for the time being, make sure everyone in the family gets involved in keeping her busy.

You will probably notice that she hides some of her toys.  Do your best to spy on her as she carries them away.  Cats tend to hide their stash in one or two locations.  If you are not overly obvious, you should be able to locate where she has hidden your previously stolen items. 

It sounds like you have a fun little companion.  Enjoy her but remember, you are the pet-parent and you (and your whole family) need to set the rules and consistently enforce them in a positive and loving way.  Good luck!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hiking with your Dog

Dear Marie,
I've just adopted a two-year-old shepherd mix from the animal shelter.  We've named her Bonnie.  She is lively and lots of fun and has already settled nicely into my home (and was already house-broken before we got her).  I can’t say enough good things about her, and to anyone who thinks that pound-pets are rejects, you've just not given these guys the chance they deserve.   My husband and I are avid hikers.  We’d like to take Bonnie with us but this will be a brand new experience.  We've never hiked with a dog before.  Do you have any tips that you can give us?
Jeanne, Jerry, and Bonnie

Congratulation on adopting Bonnie!  I completely agree that shelter pets make great companions and I wish there were more people like you giving dogs like her a second chance.  More and more often, animals at shelters have been given up due to economic reasons rather than for anything else.  So just like Bonnie, a pretty significant number of shelter dogs are already trained and essentially turn-key pets. 

As far as hiking goes, always check to see if dogs are welcome on the trails you plan to visit.  Generally, dogs are allowed on leash in most areas, but there are some environmentally sensitive locations that prohibit dogs.  I’d hate to see you make a long trip for nothing.

You’ll want to make sure Bonnie is physically ready for hiking.  To do this, walk with her in your neighborhood two to three times a day, gradually increasing the distance.  Even though she won’t protest, if you take her out on a five or ten mile nature hike without working up to this distance, she’s going to suffer physically.  Dogs mask muscle aches and pains, so you won’t know she’s in any discomfort; but that doesn't mean she’s feeling fine. 

This time of year there are a lot of fox tails and burrs in wooded areas.  These nasty little plant parts can end up in ear canals, nostrils, between toes, or wound up tightly in fur.  They can cause ear infections, ruptured eardrums, and skin injuries.  Be sure to thoroughly check Bonnie’s ears, nose, toes, and coat after every hike and remove all burrs and fox tails before they create problems.  This is also a good time to check for ticks which tend to latch on under tails, behind ears, and in the warm parts of the abdomen, especially around the inside tops of legs.  If you haven’t already started using a product like Frontline, I would definitely recommend it, especially since you will probably be hiking through tick-infested areas.  

The warm weather creates some other safety issues.  This is the time of year that snakes are most active.  It is not at all uncommon to spot rattlesnakes sunning themselves on trails.  Keep your eyes peeled at all times and make sure Bonnie is always under your control.  If you spot a snake, give it plenty of space and do not let Bonnie pull or tug you.  This is where voice training your dog really becomes important.  You should be able to tell her to sit and stay and know that she will do it immediately.  I understand there is a great temptation to let dogs off leash when one is out in nature, but doing so will put Bonnie at risk so please don’t give in.

You’ll also want to make sure Bonnie has plenty of water.  Carry a collapsible bowl with you and bring along extra water.  Remember, dogs cannot cool themselves the way humans do so watch for signs of over-heating and get Bonnie into the shade whenever possible.  I recommend hiking with dogs in the early morning or early evening when it is still relatively cool.

Of course it should go without saying that you must clean up after your dog.  Carry bags with you and be responsible.  Sometimes there are only trashcans at trail-heads which means you might end up having to carry a full bag during your hike (and I know that is not something to look forward to); but no one likes seeing these bags on the sides of trails, or hanging on tree branches (obviously left by people who intended to get them on their way back), and it is this type of behavior that leads to trails getting closed to our canine companions.  

That said, hiking with dogs is a lot of fun and I suspect the three of you will have marvelous adventures.  Enjoy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hi Energy Dog

Dear Marie.
Our 1 ½ year old Aussie Mix (Dusty) is a regular power-pack of energy. I walk him in the morning before I leave to work. I walk him during my lunch break (I go home for lunch). When I get home from work, I walk him again. And finally, before I go to bed, I walk him one more time. You’d’ think that would be plenty of exercise…I’m certainly wiped out from all the walking. But he’s still rearing to go. In fact, five minutes after getting home, if I pick up his leash to move it to a drawer, he goes nuts thinking we’re going out again. I feel as though I’m not offering him enough activities. He doesn't get into trouble while I’m away. In fact, he’s a beautifully mannered dog. I got him from a rescue about 4 months ago and he has settled right in. He’s affectionate, perfectly house-trained, and good with strangers and other animals. I couldn't ask for a better dog. But I think he could ask for a better human because I know I’m not giving him what he needs. He seems restless…always looking at the door, wanting to go and do.

Any ideas about what he needs?

Dear Katie,
Australian Shepherds are highly intelligent working dogs that not only need physical activities, but intellectual activities as well. It seems like you are taking him on plenty of walks, so don’t be so hard on yourself. I would recommend, however, replacing one or two of those walks each week with some time at a dog park, throwing him a ball there, or just letting him run around with some new canine buddies. Since he’s good with other animals this would be great fun for him. And he can run a lot faster and harder with four-legged companions than he can with you!

Though doggy-day-care facilities are a little pricey, many have a treasure trove of wonderful activities for their furry charges. If you have the budget for it, this type of facility may be perfect for your high-energy critter. Make sure you tour several facilities to be certain they have a safe and healthful environment and that dogs aren't just put in kennels all day, or at all. An ideal facility will have several play areas with different activities to stimulate a dog’s mind. Some even offer canine-massage and grooming services, to name a few of the frilly benefits.

Keep in mind that your dog is a herding dog. Dusty would probably love the opportunity to have herding training. Believe it or not, right here in Southern California, you can enroll your dog in actual herding classes. This would be a great activity for a dog like Dusty. If you prefer doing things together—keep in mind you’ll be even more wiped out from these activities than you are from your walks—then I would encourage you to get involved with a dog agility or flyball club. Do a quick Internet search to find one of these organizations close to where you live.

The great thing about joining a club is that in addition to Dusty having plenty of challenging activities, you’ll meet lots of other folks who have dogs that are just as energetic as yours and have no doubt come up with some great solutions for working out some of that extra oomph. It’s a wonderful way to network and become a better dog-person. If you really get into agility or flyball, you can start entering competitions and make a hobby out of it. Dusty will have a great time and you’ll never feel like you aren't doing enough to give your dog an active and happy life.

Eventually, all dogs start slowing down—some sooner than others—and will not require quite as much high-intensity play. So, if you opt just to do the dog park a few times a week because you do not have time for the clubs or training classes, or the budget for doggy-day-care, that will no doubt be fine. Get your dog a few, high-quality, interactive toys and change them up every few days to keep his mind stimulated…and keep up the good walks. You’re doing a great job.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Friendly Dog Growls

Dear Marie,
I have a basset hound. He is extremely friendly, with a few exceptions. My question is, when he is approached (when in his bed), even if he sees you coming and wags his tail, as soon as you reach him
and pet him he does a grumble/growl (he doesn't show any teeth) and he does that sometimes when
petting him goodbye when leaving. Is this anything I should be concerned about? Also, sometimes
when getting ready to leave he goes in the back and watches me leave through the doggie door, why
is that?
Any help would be appreciated, thanks.

Dear Kari,
Has your basset hound always behaved in this manner or is this new conduct? If the growling started recently, red health flags are certainly waving. With the tail wagging going on until you reach him, he may be worried that you will touch a painful area. It is essential that you take him to the vet to rule out an injury or another health problem.

However, if he has always acted in this way, than you might consider that the growling isn't really a growl. Some dogs vocalize in strange ways. I used to have a German Shepherd who got so excited when she saw me, she made a growling sound that changed to an almost human voice. Sometimes the tones that came ringing out of her great big, tooth-filled mouth sounded like a baby saying, “mama…mama…mama.” It was very funny.

When a dog is truly growling in a fearful or warning fashion, there is usually other body language going on. For example, his lips may roll back over his teeth. He will tuck his tail between his legs or tightly up next to his body. He will appear to shrink away from whoever is approaching. The hair on his back may rise. His muscles will tense up. If none of these other signals are being presented and you can easily approach your dog and pet him, then the growling is most likely just some unusual vocalization.

When he runs to the doggie door and peers back at you at the times you are leaving for work, he is again communicating with you. Dogs are not stupid. He knows when you pick up your keys and head for the door, that the most important part of his life will be gone for a very long time. By running to HIS door, he is simply expressing to you in the best way he can, “Wouldn't you rather come out here and play with me instead?” Next time he does this, look into his eyes and I’m sure you’ll see that imploring message.

Perhaps you can build some playtime into your morning routine. It may require getting up a little earlier and going out into the cold (ugh!), but I think it will really make your little guy’s day. For a dog, the sun rises and sets with his human. He has the innocent love and loyalty of a child, and those feelings nevermature or change. He craves acceptance and assurance, and in return for these small things he will adore you for the rest of his life. The few years that we are lucky enough to spend with each pet that graces our lives go by so quickly. Therefore, we should not let a day go by without making sure our pets feel secure and loved.

This is something all pet parents should consider – that no matter how busy we are, we must be certain to spend quality time with all of our pets each day—not just a pat on the head in passing, but actually getting out and throwing a ball, brushing a coat, and doing all the fun things that animals love.  This action will make you feel good too.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Geriatric Dog Developing Behavioral Problems

Dear readers:
Before I answer this week's question, I would like to pass on some very important information sent to me by a reader. She cautions all bird owners to check the leg bands of their pets. If you acquire a bird as a juvenile, chances are its banded leg will outgrow its identification band which can lead to serious injury. Further, if this is the case, veterinarians have a difficult time removing bands that have become too tight and there is
a risk that the banded leg can be lost in the removal procedure. It is recommended that leg bands be removed upon acquisition of a bird by a new owner. Microchip implants are a far more reliable and safe method for identifying birds. Now to this week's question...

Dear Marie:
My thirteen year old dog has recently begun urinating and defecating in the house. This is a complete surprise to me because he has been house broken from the day we first adopted him. At first, I thought the problem was just going to be a one time accident. But everyday for the last two weeks, he relieves himself at least one time indoors. It is very frustrating. What can I do?

Dear Anita:
As pets advance in age, they often experience the problems you are describing. The first thing you should do is take your dog to the veterinarian to make sure this behavior is not health related. If everything checks out OK, then you'll need to work on some new behavior training with your pet.

First, re-teach and re-enforce basic house breaking principles. As soon as he has finished a meal, take him outside or for a walk until he does his business. Praise him and let him know that this is what you want. (Just like people, dogs tend to forget things as they age.)

As much as possible, take him outside every couple of hours to repeat this process. If you must leave him unattended for lengthy periods, confine him to a part of the house that is easy to clean, just on the outside chance he can't hold out until you return. You might also consider investing in a roomy dog crate and line it with his favorite blanket or dog pillow. Place him in the crate when you go to bed and let him outside as soon as you wake up. Dogs will not mess their sleeping area; but don't press his limits. If you keep his crate in your bedroom, listen for his restless sounds during the night. If he can't be still, that's a sure sign he needs to go out.

If you work away from the house, try to arrange to come home during your lunch break to let him outside. Perhaps even a neighbor can check in during the day to take care of this for you. The average working person is gone from home about ten hours (with driving time and lunch breaks included). This is probably too long for your aging dog to control his bodily functions.

Some pet owners actually put specially designed canine diapers on their incontinent pets. Unless you are able to change the diapers as they become soiled, I don't recommend this alternative as it can lead to skin irritations in you pet. Further, this is usually an option reserved for pets who are incontinent due to serious veterinary problems. It seems that your pet is just going through changes associated with the normal aging process.

Having a geriatric dog is like having a new puppy. You'll need to make some allowances for his physical and mental failings. It will certainly take some extra patience on your part and some extra cleaning and deodorizing products! But, he has been your loyal companion for many years and he is now depending on you to stick with him and love him as unconditionally as he has always loved you, especially as he enters a new phase in his life.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bad Grooming Experience

Dear Marie:
We've just returned from a very frustrating day at the groomer’s. My Springer Spaniel, who is normally an affectionate and loving dog, growls and bares his teeth at the groomer. He really hasn't had any “bad” experiences at the groomer’s and was an angel last visit. (This was his second time with this groomer.) We've switched groomer’s as this has happened before but we chalked it up to youth and inexperience. This present groomer is older, more experienced and has Springers of her own. We are otherwise crazy about this dog. Any suggestions?

Dear Kay,
Since I wasn't at the groomer’s, and I don’t have all the information, I’m going to have to piece this mystery together. One thing is certain. Your Springer Spaniel is trying to communicate a very important message. He is frightened of groomers or the grooming process. That is the reason why he is baring his teeth and growling. Obviously, he has experienced something bad.

During his first trip to the new groomer, as you stated, he was an angel. Whatever is frightening to him did not occur at that time. Compare all the visits. What was different? Were there dominant dogs growling or barking at him? Were electric clippers used? Did shampoo get into his eyes? Perhaps you should consider a mobile pet groomer. Away from the sights, sounds and smells of a busy grooming parlor, he will probably be much more relaxed. If this is not possible, ask if you can stay with your pet while he is groomed.

You soothing voice and presence will help him remain calm and understand that he has not been abandoned.
If your groomer objects to this request and suggests that you are babying your dog, or that your presence will only make things worse, you might need to find another groomer. You’re trying to solve a problem that will carry over to veterinary visits, or any other circumstance that reminds him of the grooming experience.

No one knows your dog better than you....even if he or she is familiar with the breed. All dogs are individuals. You will be able to determine if your dog is having a bad reaction to a particular stimuli far better
than a stranger.

There may also be physical reasons for his reaction. Perhaps the manner that he is restrained causes pain. He may have an injury that you are not aware of that is aggravated during grooming. Further, Springer Spaniels sometimes have chronic ear problems. If grooming involves ear cleaning, this may be very unpleasant. This may be a good time to take your dog to the veterinarian for a complete physical examination.

If everything checks out OK at the vet’s office, consider at least as a temporary option, grooming your dog yourself. Loving, familiar hands, a safe environment, and a calm voice may be all he needs. If due to time
constraints, this is not possible, check with other dog owners in your area and ask for their grooming parlor recommendations. I’m confident that you will find what works best for you and your pet.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Aggressive Geese

Dear Marie:
Recently, our grandchildren came to visit. We live adjacent to a park that has a pretty good-sized lake at the center. For as long as I have lived here, the lake has always attracted a sizable number of waterfowl,
including some very irritable geese. We usually ignore the geese when they start honking at us or walking in our direction. They used to be "all bluff." But this holiday weekend, two of the geese attacked my granddaughter as she was playing by the lake. She got a number of black and blue bruises from this
altercation. I think the geese have crossed the line on what acceptable behavior is. What can be done?

Dear Betsy:
Believe it or not, I have received about a half dozen phone calls and letters this week about similar incidents. Geese generally have the reputation of being quite nasty. In fact, when I was a kid, I was attacked by a pair of geese myself. Some people I know have geese instead of dogs to watch over their property. As you and I both know, they are definitely ready, willing, and able to fill such a position.

Nevertheless, aggressive geese at a park present some serious problems. Some general safety precautions are in order. First and foremost...never feed the geese or the other water fowl. The constant feeding of these birds has created an environment where instinctual fear of humans is lost. Furthermore, the massive quantities of food thrown to the birds by park-goers causes unnatural population surges in an area that realistically cannot support so many animals. The combination of abnormally large water fowl numbers and the loss of fear of man lead to aggressive avian territorial behavior.

When geese interact with each other, they use a variety of postures and vocalizations to express their desires. According to veterinary experts specializing in avian wildlife, geese will extend their necks to indicate they are challenging another individual to a fight. When park-going children invariably reach out their arms to point, they appear (to a goose) very much like other geese taking an aggressive stance. The response from the nearby lake inhabitants, therefore, is usually to attack. Consequently, it is important that children, as well as adults, do not extend their arms towards any geese. Especially those that have already established themselves as belligerent birds.

One thing to realize is that most animals are, as you have noticed, all bluff. If you are confronted by geese that seem to be on the offensive, start running right towards them. Make a lot of noise and chase them back into the water. If your local trouble makers are met with this response on a daily basis, you can be sure they will be less likely to challenge human visitors in the future.

Never injure the animals; but re-introduce them to the fact that they are supposed to be afraid of you. They’ll get the message. Finally, you might check with the maintenance crew that serves this park to see if signs can be posted alerting visitors to the potential danger, as well as warning all not to feed the water fowl. Wild animals can take care of themselves. It is only when humans try and interfere that problems occur.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Free Bird...Not a good idea!

Dear Marie,
Our next-door-neighbors have a beautiful, large, exotic pet bird that is frequently allowed to roam about unattended in their front yard, which is enclosed with a block wall. Their bird is an absolute sweetheart. He loves to be scratched on the side of his head, and will eagerly jump onto anyone’s extended arm. Though his wings are clipped, he has no trouble at all jumping to the top of the fence, and then out of his yard. We often find him at our front door begging to come in and our kids always take him back to his owners. I don’t have any complaints about his visits because we all find this bird completely delightful, but we just can’t understand why his owners allow this. He is a very valuable animal and I am certain that if the wrong person saw him out and about, he would be stolen in an instant. I've spoken with his owners about this on several
occasions, keeping the tone light and just expressing my qualms; but nothing I've said seems to be soaking in. I would hate to see anything happen to this sweet bird. What can we do?

Dear Lorene,
If the circumstances you have described have been going on for an extended period, your neighbor has been extremely lucky. A friendly, large, exotic bird that is allowed to roam about freely will certainly become a victim of theft sooner or later. Theft may actually be a harsh description, though accurate - an individual who sees this bird, may believe it to be lost and take it home. Commonly in our society, people who find lost pets believe it is OK to keep those animals. Almost everyone knows someone who has “adopted” an animal that he or she has found.

Even with your neighbors’ amazing amount of luck with respect to not losing their bird, there are many other risks associated with their lack of attention to its roaming, curious nature. Theft is actually one of the lesser perils.

Although your feathered friend is capable of limited flight, he is still at risk of being attacked by predators. Cats, dogs, and even wild animals may consider your neighbor’s bird an easy target. Even if he escapes, he may sustain serious injuries that he will likely not survive. In addition to the constant threat of assault by other animals, motorists who expect birds to fly away as their vehicles draw near may ultimately strike your neighbor’s pet if it wanders into the street. Being unfamiliar with cars, and unable to fly well, he lacks the ability to be safe crossing the road.

If this isn't enough information for your neighbor’s to re-evaluate how they maintain their bird, then add to this laundry list of dangers the fact that their beloved pet could become infected with a number of different diseases that are carried by wild birds or insects. I’m sure the last thing your neighbors want is for this sweet bird to contract a deadly disease.

Finally, remind them that poisons are used liberally in gardens, lawns, and other areas that are attractive to birds. Snail pellets look like food. Water that accumulates at curbside can contain pesticides and antifreeze. A thirsty bird has no way of knowing that drinking this water may be deadly. I am sure your neighbors love their pet and have no idea that allowing him such a broad range of freedom can ultimately end his life. Nevertheless, sometimes it is best not to beat around the bush when trying to make a point. I would recommend telling your neighbors that you are worried about the well being of their bird. Outline all of the dangers their pet faces each and every time it is left outside unattended. Offer to “baby sit” the bird if they are unable to remain outside with it. There is no reason that a conversation like this be un-neighborly. You are simply showing concern and offering assistance. You may be able to approach the conversation by taking the visiting bird back to its home yourself instead of assigning the task to your children.

I know it is hard to enter into conversations that may be interpreted as confrontational. But you seem like a compassionate person who will have no trouble pulling this off and that is what is needed to save this bird’s life.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Dangers of "Free to Good Home"

Dear Marie:
I don’t know if you've ever addressed this issue in one of your past columns; but could you possibly mention all the bad things that can happen to animals given away via “free to god home” ads. I see so much of this and I think people just don’t know. Please help get the word out.

Dear Kathy,
Thank you for the suggestion. You are absolutely right. There are numerous, serious problems associated with giving pets away “free” to strangers. The key word here is “free.”

When pets are given away, there goes along an implied statement that the animals have no worth. Often, recipients of free pets retain the notion that their pets have no value and therefore give them up easily or abandon them at a later date. It is no secret that a disgracefully high number of animals are abandoned or given up every year. Because the lives of dogs and cats are increasingly devalued, companion animals have become disposable items.

One of the saddest statistics I've heard is that the average pet has two to three owners in its life. But this problem is the least of my worries when I see animals being given away. A much more loathsome fate awaits many “free to good home” pets.

Unscrupulous people who round up and sell family pets to research facilities pose as model pet owners who offer to adopt free puppies, kittens and adult animals. They scan news paper ads and frequently offer to take whole litters. The term “bunchers” has been applied to these heartless con-artists.

Another growing problem relates to dog fighting. Pitbull trainers collect docile family pets that cannot possibly defend themselves against the fighters. The pitbulls make short order of these helpless creatures. Trainers use “free to good home” pets in this manner to boost the confidence of their fighting dogs. The fighters are encouraged to attack and kill kittens, puppies and even adult dogs. Dog fighting is illegal; but unfortunately is broadening in its popularity in Southern California and Nationwide.

What can be done to stop the exploitation and abuse of “free to good home” pets? First and foremost...spay and neuter! Most of the companion animals offered up as “free to good home” are puppies and kittens. If their parents were spayed or neutered in the first place, a major portion of the supply of animals that end up with these horrible fates would be significantly reduced.

Second...if you must give away your family pet, collect a monetary price. Give your companion animal some value so that it will be cherished. Don’t be shy about checking up on the person or persons who want to adopt. Ask for identification. Conduct a home check to make sure they live where they say they live. Ask for references and talk to their neighbors. If you have any doubt that they are not suitable owners, wait for someone else. Your pet is depending on you to ensure its well being.

Finally, reconsider your decision to give up your pet. Adoption of companion animals is supposed to be a lifetime commitment. It should not be entered into lightly. Animals are NOT disposable items. Once taken into a home, they are family members and should be treated accordingly. Remember, they form attachments and have strong feelings.  Being separated from the family and home they love is nothing short of a nightmare.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Fly Strikes, Dogs

Dear Marie,
When the weather warms up, flies start to hang around my yard. They just swarm and hover around one of my dogs but bite the ears of my other dog.  I have tried the creams from the vets and keeping the yard clean, but to no avail. My dog's ears start looking bloody in no time. Would you please help me? I'm at a loss.  I can't bring my dogs into the house. My mother is allergic to the dogs and I have a cat who doesn't get along with them.

Dear Al,
Sometimes, no matter how clean one keeps a yard or how often one applies creams to the ears of pets, dogs are still victimized by flies.  It only takes a few minutes for a group of flies to severely injure a confined animal and cause permanent tissue damage.  Needless to say, fly bites are quite painful and your dog should be protected as much as possible.

Dogs in poor health or those with upright ears tend to be targeted more than healthy, floppy-eared dogs. I have seen many German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers who lost a significant portion of healthy ear tissue due to fly bites.  It’s very disturbing, especially when one considers how easy these injuries are to avoid.  Simply, bring the dogs indoors.

I understand that you are facing two prominent hurdles: your cat and your mom.  Let’s address your cat issue first. 

Keep your dogs confined to a section of the house.  Make sure that none of your cat’s favorite things are where the dogs will be.  Put her food, water, litter box, bed and any special toys in her favorite room(s).  Keep the dogs away from those areas by using baby gates.  Your cat will be able to easily scale the barriers as well as venture into the dog areas when she feels secure enough to do so.  You will find that the three animals will establish fairly peaceful co-existence in a very short amount of time.

Dealing with your mother’s allergies will be a little more challenging.  You must bathe both dogs at least once a week using a shampoo specifically formulated for animals.  Human shampoos have an improper pH balance that will actually cause your dogs to become itchy and scaly.  This could aggravate your mother’s symptoms. 

Be sure to completely rinse off your dogs.  It’s important not to leave a shampoo residue.  The best way to be certain that there is no leftover shampoo is to rinse each dog two to three times with clean, running water.  If you are using a filled bathtub, drain the wash water and each separate tubful of rinse water.

Towel dry your pets.  Do not use a blow dryer.  Then, allow them to air dry completely.  Once they feel dry to the touch, dampen a washcloth with a product such as Allerpet and apply according to labeling directions.  These topical solutions will significantly reduce or even eliminate the antigens that trigger human allergies.

Your mother will be able to enjoy your dogs and your dogs will be able to live a happy, fly-free life.  You will probably notice many other wonderful “side-effects” from these new, better animal/human living arrangements as well.  The personalities of dogs blossom when they are allowed to be indoors with their families and people tend to be more relaxed and content in the company of pets.  It’s a win-win situation.

I realize that I have outlined a plan that will take a lot of effort and time.  Sometimes I get letters from readers saying that I expect too much from pet owners.  That may be true.  However, when one makes the commitment to bring a pet into his or her home, there are real responsibilities that go along with that.  Anything short of providing a companion animal with a safe, healthy and happy life is irresponsible pet ownership.  Animals deserve our love, not neglect.