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

Friday, January 31, 2014

Dog Won't Eat

Dear  Marie:
I just inherited my mother’s 9 year old poodle, “Misty”.  My mother moved into a senior citizens’ apartment facility and they have a strict no-pets rule.  “Misty” was very pampered by my mother and is having a difficult time adjusting to her new surroundings.  My biggest concern is that she refuses to eat.  I have tried just about everything to get her to take in food.  I kneel down next to her and pet her by her bowl.  I try to hand feed her.  I even pretend to eat the food myself to show her how good it is.  Nothing is working.  What should I do?

Angela, Fullerton

Dear Angela,
Misty is a lucky dog to have been taken in by an individual as caring as you.  She had a loving home with your mother, and is obviously going through serious separation anxiety at this point in time.  Her new surroundings are also a very nerve wracking change in her life and this combination of stress has understandably led to her loss of appetite.  However, with your love and encouragement, this will pass.

There are a few things that you should do to make this transition easier.  First, give Misty a quiet, private area in your home with her own bed.  She will need an area that is not subject to frequent disrupting activities; so make sure this is not a child’s bedroom or the corner of a busy family room.  Misty will use this area frequently at first, but as time goes on, she will feel more and more comfortable participating in family activities throughout the house. 

Next, pick out a secluded feeding area.  Dogs have a natural fear of competition for food.  They need to eat where they know they can finish a meal safely.  You should also know that your presence, no matter how benign you feel your presence is, creates a certain amount of fear or discomfort when it is associated with feeding time.  Go into another room while Misty is eating.  Let her know that she is alone so that she can dine comfortably. 

Establish a feeding schedule and stick to it.  Dogs need routines in their lives.  It makes them feel more secure, and at this point, security is the main issue for Misty.  Usually, a twice a day feeding schedule is best.  Furthermore, until Misty becomes a good eater, refrain from tasty in-between meal snacks.  As with children, this will spoil her appetite!

To re-enforce the feeding schedule, remove Misty’s food dish twenty minutes after putting it down.  Your pet will quickly learn that she is fed once in the morning and once in the evening and that if she doesn’t eat, there will be no more opportunities until the next scheduled feeding time.  If she misses one or two meals before she figures out the routine, she will be fine.  However, if she still refuses to eat, try mixing her food with 1/4 cup chicken broth.   Reduce the amount of broth each day until you no longer need it. 

If after taking these steps Misty is still not eating well, she should be seen by a veterinarian.  She may have a medical problem that is completely unrelated to the stress of coming into a new home.   Your veterinarian will be able to determine if this is the case.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Iguanas and Babies

Dear Marie,

My son recently purchased two large iguanas.  He lives in Yorba Linda with his wife and their two-year-old son.  I am very worried about my grandson because these things are awfully big and seem very dangerous.  Isn’t there a law against owning animals like this?  I may be over-reacting, but I am very concerned for my grandson’s safety.

Anna, Brea

Dear Anna:

I understand your concern for your grandson.  Reptilian pets are often misunderstood and considered hazardous.  However, if they were hand raised and are used to regular human interaction, they are most likely very docile and pretty fun pets.  Conversely, if they have had little human contact, they can inflict serious injuries with their claws, teeth, and tail, which is used like a whip. 

There are no laws regulating ownership of iguanas.  These reptiles, in fact, are very popular.  Unfortunately, many prospective owners do not do their homework prior to adopting these amazing animals.  As with any pet, it is extremely important to find out basic information regarding maintenance, behavior, health, and other important factors.  Without acquiring this familiarity prior to adoption, disaster is sure to follow, if not for the owner, than certainly for the pet.  

I was very concerned to read that your son introduced iguanas into a home with a two-year-old.  My worry is not for your grandchild being clawed or whipped by a frightened iguana, but rather for him being infected by a bacteria called Salmonella.  This bacteria is frequently present in the intestines of many reptiles.  It is shed in their stools and therefore is present in their living quarters and on their bodies.  In many cases, Salmonella does not adversely affect the infected reptiles.  However, sometimes the animals do get sick.  Signs of illness would include weight loss, lethargy, diarrhea, and unwillingness to eat.  Animals showing these or any other symptoms of poor health should be taken to a veterinarian immediately.

If humans are infected, similar symptoms may be expected.  In children under two years of age, the infection may be very serious...sometimes, death from salmonella infection can occur.  And with toddlers, as you know, everything goes in their mouths and they have no concept of hand washing or hygiene.  Therefore, this potential problem cannot be taken lightly.

There are a number of safety steps your son must follow without fail.  First, anyone who handles the iguanas, maintains/cleans their cage, or feeds them, must immediately wash his or her hands when finished.  The iguanas must never run loose in the house.  They can shed the bacteria on the floor (where baby will be crawling) which allows for the spread of salmonella.  Iguanas must be excluded from the kitchen and all other areas where food may be prepared or served.  Avoid the temptation of letting them swim in the bathroom sink or tub.  Give them their own tub in their own designated space.  Finally, have your son take the iguanas to a veterinarian for a health exam and advise him to keep up with regular vet checks. 

If your son follows these safety guidelines, he probably will not have any trouble.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Dog Barks at Opossum on Fence

Dear  Marie:
At about the same time every night, my dog starts barking wildly at something that crawls across my fence.  I’m not exactly sure what it is and I am worried about diseases it may carry and pass along to my dog.  This thing is about the size of a cat; but looks like a giant rat.  At the very least, it is creating a huge nuisance when it makes my dog bark and I am concerned that the neighbors will complain.  How can I get rid of this animal?

Garden Grove

Dear Mai:
Your nightly visitor is an opossum, not a rat.  Opossums are marsupials, (like kangaroos) and they live in every city of Orange County.  They are harmless little creatures and are actually quite beneficial to have as neighbors.  They keep our gardens free of snails, slugs, and other soft-bodied pests that do damage to vegetation.  Here in Orange County, opossums are rather healthy and have a very low likelihood of carrying or spreading diseases to pets or people.  Opossums have also been known to kill mice and rats—animals that DO carry diseases and create problems for human populations. 

Opossums serve as nature’s clean-up crew and go about their business during the wee hours of the morning when most of us are sound asleep.  Complaints regarding opossums arise from situations exactly like yours.  Your dog is outside at night and therefore is easily awakened by other animals.   He does what comes naturally when he sees a small animal in his yard...he barks!

There are a number of very simple remedies to this problem.  The first, and the easiest, is to let your dog sleep in the house with you.  That’s what dogs prefer and it is really the best thing for your owner/pet relationship.  After all, pets are supposed to be our companions.  You wouldn’t make your best human friend sleep out in the back yard!   If you’ve never allowed your dog this special treatment before and you have reservations about his behavior, try it anyway.  It will take a little patience, adjustment, and getting used to; but in time, everything will work out.

If you absolutely insist that your dog can’t be in the house, at least put him in the garage at night.  He’ll need a soft, warm bed in a corner of the garage farthest away from your back yard.  Chances are, he’ll be so comfy and insulated in that location, that he won’t notice when the opossum makes his nightly pass across the fence.

In addition to bringing your dog in at night, there are some environmental modifications that you can try on your yard.  First, cut back any tree or shrub branches that extend to the top of your fence.  Opossums use these as ladders to navigate up and down.  You can also place “road blocks” at various points along your fence line.  Try fastening (with brackets) fence bricks, wood blocks, or metal strips (depending on the depth of your fence) perpendicular to the top of the fence, at ten to twenty foot intervals.  This creates a difficult walking path that an opossum will not like.  He’ll find another “road” to take elsewhere.

Finally, make sure you do not have any food sources in your yard that may be serving as an attractant, such as ripened or fallen fruit, pet food left in bowls outside, trash stored in plastic bags or open containers, etc. 

If you follow this advice, the nuisance you are currently experiencing will be eliminated.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Ducks in Swimming Pool

Dear Marie:
Each year, for the last four years, we have been very fortunate to have had our pool selected by a pair of mallard ducks that thought it was the ideal place to raise a family.  We’ve taken video tapes and pictures and have had a lot of laughs watching them.  But this year, we are hoping they don’t come back.  We have new neighbors that keep three outdoor cats that are very proficient hunters.  If the ducks return, I am certain all the babies will be killed.  What can we do to discourage the ducks this year?

Jessica, Fountain Valley

Dear Jessica:
You have brought up a very timely issue.  It will not be long before many homeowners with pools  begin noticing unexpected guests!  Mallard ducks, in particular, seem to be the critters that consider city pools too good to resist.  However, most residents just “plain don’t like ‘em” and want them removed.  They feel that the water fowl contaminate the pool and are a nuisance. 

Yet, most pool filters have no trouble keeping duck inhabited pool water clean.  Furthermore, patios can be hosed down daily to keep up their appearances.  For many, this is just an inconvenience and too much work that they can do without.  Nevertheless, it is important to note that once a pair of ducks has prepared a nest, neither it, nor they, can be removed or disturbed.  The Federal Migratory Bird Act prohibits this and huge fines may be imposed for violations. 

However, there is nothing that prohibits a homeowner from taking measures before nest-building occurs, which is what you are interested in and also what all pool owners should do if they don’t want these wild guests. 

First, begin covering your pool with a solar cover at all times when not in use.  If you are already too late for this, i.e., the ducks have already landed, invest in a dozen or so giant beach balls.  Inflate them and let them roll around in the pool.  This will make the ducks very uncomfortable and they will think twice about building a nest in your back yard.  Under no circumstances should you offer the ducks any food.  Remove any pet food dishes that may be outside.  Thin out dense landscaping so that the ducks have no hiding places to build their nest. 

If you still have no luck and it is apparent that the ducks are staying, talk to your neighbors about keeping their cats indoors after the babies have hatched.  It will only be for a few weeks and then the whole duck family will suddenly disappear to begin a new phase in their life cycles.  (And who knows, maybe your neighbors will continue keeping their cats indoors to boot!)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Are Ferrets Illegal?

Dear  Marie:
I have always been interested in ferrets and have been considering adopting one; however, I have been told that they are illegal to own in California.  Is this true?  If so, why?
Paula, Huntington Beach

Dear Paula,
As a Native Californian, I feel almost embarrassed that my state is so misinformed and misguided when it comes to ferrets...yes, it is true; ferrets are illegal in California.  There are a number of reasons for this...all of them unfounded.   But fear, lack of knowledge, and old wives’ tales keep our elected officials from legalizing an animal that has been domesticated longer than the house cat.  (Please note:  Hawaii is the only other state that prohibits ferrets.)

Way back in California’s history, there were a number of poultry farms.  It was commonly believed that if domesticated ferrets escaped, they would form wild colonies and devastate the poultry industry.  The prevailing wisdom regarding the animal was that it had an insatiable appetite for eggs and chicks and that it would have no problem searching for and discovering poultry ranches.

When the chicken farms were replaced by housing tracts and shopping malls, the laws regarding pet ferrets were not changed.  What did change was the  new “potential victim” of the vilified ferret: endangered and threatened indigenous birds.   Again, it was believed that wild ferret populations would seek out nests and devour eggs on a quest to satisfy their rumored insatiable appetite. 

In depth research has demonstrated that pet ferrets, being domesticated animals, cannot survive more than a short time in the wild.  Several recent U.S. surveys have shown conclusively that there are no feral colonies in any state.  This information has been supplied to lawmakers time and time again in the hopes of legalizing ferrets.  Unfortunately, another unfounded charge enters the picture...aggression. 

According to public myth, ferrets will attack babies and small children.  The fact of the matter is that ferrets make safer pets than dogs.  Statistically, dogs are over 200 times more likely to bite than ferrets.   But the bottom line when it comes to children and pets...any that parental supervision is an absolute requirement. 

You might think that the argument against maintaining ferrets would end there.  It doesn’t.  Another unsupported claim is that ferrets will spread rabies.  To date, there have been no human rabies cases resulting from contact with an infected ferret.  Additionally, an approved rabies vaccine for pet ferrets has been available since 1990.  The vaccine meets all the licensing requirements of the U.S.D.A.

So, why are ferrets illegal?  Well, despite all the evidence presented to lawmakers, old fears are hard to lose.   As a result, many otherwise law-abiding, ferret-loving Californians are “law breakers.”   If you are interested in helping to change current California Law regarding ferrets, may I suggest contacting the Ferrets Anonymous at  They can advise you about how to begin a letter writing campaign and how to contact you state representatives.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Dealing with the Death of a Beloved Pet

Dear Marie:

Last month, after making a very painful decision, I had my wonderful friend, “Annie”, a miniature poodle,  put to sleep.  She was fifteen years old and had been losing a long, difficult fight to cancer.  I could not allow her to continue suffering, nor could I watch her lose her remaining dignity.  I was with her in the veterinarian’s office as she was  put down and I cried like a baby when  I saw her breathe her last breath.  Now, almost one month later, I feel as though I still not have been able to deal the loss.  Every time I think of her, I cry.  My friends and my family don’t really understand.  They say things like, “She’s just a dog.  Get another one!”  Well, to me, she wasn't just a dog.  She was part of my family and had been my best friend since I was nine years old.  Am I over reacting?  How am I supposed to forget her?


Dear Janice,

You are NOT over reacting.  For many people, myself included, pets are definitely part of the family and the loss of a pet is as difficult as the loss of any loved one.  Unfortunately, the reactions you’re getting from family and friends are typical.  They think they are trying to help you by downplaying the significance of Annie in your life, when in fact, they should be offering you support and acknowledging her importance.

Annie played a vital role in your life.  She was with you since you were in grade school. Her loss may symbolize the loss of your childhood and bring to the foreground all the changes occurring in your life.  Take time to think about all the changes, how Annie fit in, and how she may have helped you  get through those changes.

Perhaps, you are feeling some guilt too.  Maybe, as you grew older, you think did not spend as much time with Annie as you feel you should have.   You're probably just being too hard on yourself.  Annie loved her life with you.  Pets never judge their people harshly.  They live in the moment and her moments with you were no doubt wonderful.

Take some time to make your peace with Annie.  Even though she is gone, say “Good-bye”  in your own way.  The Animal Health Foundation of Southern California suggests that pet owners who are suffering from pet loss should hold one of their pet’s favorite toys or look at photos to make this important “farewell.” 

Your choice to euthanize Annie was a difficult one.   Annie did not want to suffer.  You relieved her of her pain and suffering.  You had the courage to make the responsible and loving decision. 

It is important, now, to remember Annie in a special way.  Have your family or friends join you an informal memorial service.  Talk about your favorite memories - make a donation or volunteer time to an animal welfare organization in Annie’s name - you can even create a permanent place to remember Annie in a virtual pet cemetery (  But most important, know that in time, you will be able to resolve your feelings and remember Annie with a smile.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Hummingbird Feeders

Dear Marie:

Hummingbirds have always fascinated and intrigued last week I bought a hummingbird feeder which I have hung outside my window.  Already, three hummingbirds are visiting the feeder on a regular basis and I am thrilled.  So far, I have been feeding them sugar water.  But I have some old honey that is slightly discolored, and I was wondering if I can dilute this with water and use it in the feeder.  I don’t believe it has gone bad.  It smells okay; but I will wait for your reply before I fill the feeder,...just in case!

Villa Park

Dear Anne:

Thank you for asking before you put out any of the honey you described!   Chances are, the honey is completely contaminated with a number of “bugs” that could kill your little hummingbird friends in very short order.  In fact, your sugar solution can be equally deadly if you are not careful.  In warm weather, hummingbird feeders should be emptied and thoroughly cleansed every four hours.  If this is not done, the contents of the feeder can become a veritable biology lab experiment of rapidly breeding bacteria.  In cooler weather, you can get away with cleaning your feeder every two days.  To make sure you keep to your cleaning schedule, maintain a log on your refrigerator door so that you don’t forget.

Furthermore, regular old sugar water is the best thing for your little friends.  Back when I worked for O.C. Animal Control, one of the foremost experts in Hummingbird rehabilitation and rescue—Helen Bishop—told me that you should mix one part sugar to four parts BOILING water.  Fill your CLEAN feeder with this solution and allow it to cool before placing outside.  Also, do not use red food color in your mixture.  The feeder itself is colored and there is no need to add any hue to the liquid food...artificial dyes may be hazardous to the health of the feeding birds!

Finally, if you want to take the most natural approach to attracting hummingbirds, there are a number of flowering plants that you can grow in your garden that will draw hungry hummers to your home.  Often, natural flowers attract far more birds than any feeder.  I have a quite a few flowering shrubs at my house that get a steady stream of hummers, butterflies, and other interesting flying wildlife that are fascinating to watch and enjoy.  

For more information on hummingbirds, check out “The Hummingbird Book” by Donald and Lillian Stokes.  It is available in most book stores and libraries.

Friday, January 24, 2014

10 Cats Homeless after Owner Dies

Hello, Marie.
I always enjoy your column in the Orange County Register.  I wonder if you can help me with a situation. My mother passed away recently. She left around ten cats that she fed.  All of them have been fixed, but only three are friendly with people. One of them we've adopted, and we'll probably take another. But that leaves about eight kitties who are shy but could be rehabilitated to be pets, I think.  I don't want to take them to the local shelter since it's overloaded with cats, and these shy kitties would not get the opportunity to get used enough to people to be adopted.  I checked with one animal rescue group, but it couldn't help since its spots for cats, too, are filled.I'd appreciate any suggestions. 
P.S. We're continuing to feed the cats at my mother's home, but will need to resolve this as we're planning to rent it out.
(Not the cats or person from post; example only)

Dear Kathy,Please accept my sincere condolences on the loss of your mother.  It sounds as though she was a very compassionate woman to have cared for all of these neighborhood cats. It is very difficult to find homes for kitties who aren’t exactly social, but there ARE homes out there.  

Alas, the lack of time you have may make this a near impossible task.  Further, the rough economic climate has made daily operation and just staying afloat really difficult for most rescue facilities, so I wouldn’t hold out hope for finding space available.  Perhaps if you were willing to donate a certain amount of money for each cat, you’ll have better luck.
Did your mother plan – financially - for the care of these animals after her death?  Sometimes people will leave a certain amount of money in their estate that is earmarked for the care of pets.  If there are such funds available, you might want to look into an organization like the Bluebell Foundation for Cats in Laguna Beach.  They provide a home for cats whose owners have passed away, however there is a fee involved and it is on a per cat basis.  You can find out more about the Bluebell Foundation for Cats by visiting
The most effective way to find a home for pets is by posting information on your social networks and asking all your friends to "share" the info on their "walls", etc, and by circulating emails to your family, friends, and coworkers.  Electronic sharing is an amazing tool because your animal-loving friends will circulate the information to their animal-loving friends, and so on.  Be sure to include photos and bios for each cat.  Before you know it, the news regarding these little guys will be everywhere and people will write to you and offer to take a kitty or two.
Just be sure to screen potential adopters.  I don’t want to worry you too much, but there are individuals out there who pose as perfect people, when in reality, they are doing nothing more than rounding up domestic pets for sale to research labs.  Technically, this is a violation of current law; however, it still happens on a regular basis.  When you have a chance, do a quick Internet search for “bunchers” and “Class B” licenses for brokers and dealers in the animal research business.  Once you are armed with knowledge, you will be able to make sure these cats are going to good homes instead of laboratories. In the meantime, spend as much time as possible with all of these cats.  If you can, try and pet them or brush them daily.  Give them treats.  Do your best to help make them more social.  The more “adoptable” they are, the faster they will get into good homes. This unfortunate situation should remind all pet owners that planning for your pets in the event of your death is extremely important.  Don’t assume that your family members will take your animals.  Often, relatives just aren’t in a position to do so; and bringing a pet into a family is a personal decision and should not be imposed on someone else if they are unable or unwilling.
Talk to your family members and/or friends ahead of time.  Find out if they would willingly and happily accept your pets into their home, if the need arises.  And be sure to set aside some money that would cover vet care and daily food, etc. for your animals.  It is not going too far to set up a pet trust.  If you do this, then you know your furry, feathered, or scaly friends will be loved and cared for after you are gone.  There are many attorneys who will gladly add animal related items to wills and living trusts and it is never too early to get these documents put together.   

Thursday, January 23, 2014

How to Care for Orphan Kittens

Dear Marie,Last night when I was taking trash out to my can, I heard some little “mews” coming from the bushes.  I went and got a flashlight and looked where the sound was coming from, and sure enough, there were two little newborn kittens in there with no mom.  They were shivering and when I touched them, they were cold.  I didn’t want to move them because I was hoping their mom would come back and she would take care of them.  But I kept checking and as far as I can tell, mom’s not coming back.  I’ve brought them inside now and I have them wrapped up in a blanket.  But I don’t know the first thing about caring for newborns.  Their eyes aren’t even open and they are only about as long as my index finger.  Any advice would be appreciated.Max, Dear Max,Sometimes, for any number of reasons, mother cats will abandon their newborns.  Lucky for these two, they had loud enough voices to get your attention and you happened to be taking out the trash at just the right time! 

 I’m going to let you know right now that raising orphan kittens is a full-time job for the next eight weeks and not all orphan kittens will survive, even with the best of care.  If you are not up for the task or the potential heartache, you may want to turn them over to a rescue organization; but quite honestly, most rescues and shelters that do fostering are overflowing with kittens, so if you are able to be “Mr. Mom” for these two little orphans, that would be great.

You need to acquire some basic supplies if you don’t have them already.  First, get a nice cardboard box that’s big enough to hold an electric heating pad.  If you don’t have a heating pad, you can get one from a drugstore; they are relatively inexpensive.  It is important that you set the pad to its lowest setting and test it to make sure it doesn’t get overly hot.  Put a towel over the pad and lay the kittens on the towel.  You’ll need several towels because they will need to be changed and laundered as necessary. While the kittens are getting warm, make a quick trip to your local pet supply store.  Purchase a couple of kitten-sized feeding bottles and powdered kitten formula.  In this same store section, you should find a special newborn kitten supplement that should be given at Day 1, Day 3, Day 5 and Day 7.  This supplement should come with a small medicine dropper that you will use to deliver the liquid directly into the kittens’ mouths.
Your kitten formula’s label should give you instructions on the ratio of powder to warm water.  Follow those instructions exactly.  Here’s the tricky part – a lot of newborns don’t want to take milk from a rubber nipple.  You really have to work hard to get the little guys to take to it.  But once they figure it out, it will be relatively smooth sailing.  If you have a lot of trouble though, try using a medicine dropper in the beginning.  Once the kittens begin tasting the milk, they will probably transition over to the bottle with a little more time and practice. Let each kitten have as much milk as it will take.  When they are finished, take a few sheets of toilet paper and rub each kitten gently under its tail to stimulate a bowel movement and/or urination.  Mother cats generally do this until kittens are about 3-4 weeks old, at which time kittens will begin using litter boxes. You will need to feed the kittens every two to three hours ‘round the clock.  As each day passes, they should drink more milk than what they consumed previously.  If their appetite does not grow, it may be a sign that something is wrong and that may warrant a trip to the veterinarian.

By the end of the first week, your kittens’ eyes should be open and you will notice that they are getting more active.  Be sure to handle them frequently as lots of tender loving care will help ensure their survival.  Pet them from head to tail and let them curl up on you while you are watching TV. Somewhere between 4 and 5 weeks old, you can start mixing canned kitten food with formula and offering it either with their feeding bottles (you’ll need to make bigger holes in the rubber nipples) or with a medicine dropper.  The mixture should have a thick, liquid consistency.   By this time, you should also have introduced a litter box into their room, close to their nesting box.  To encourage litter box use, put them in it immediately after each meal and rub their paws in the litter to give them the general idea.  It is amazing to watch instinct kick in and see kittens begin using their litter boxes like old pros within just a few days.
Over the next couple of weeks, reduce the amount of formula you mix with the kitten food until you completely eliminate the formula.  You may also start introducing dry kitten food at this point.  By eight weeks of age, the kittens can probably be placed in homes – but most likely you will have bonded to them and I suspect they’ll be yours forever.  Don’t forget to have them spayed or neutered and have their vaccinations administered.  

Good luck! 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary is Jewel of Orange County

Dear Marie,When I was in middle school, my science class took a field trip to some kind of bird refuge near Orange – at least that’s where I think it was.  I really liked it and now that I have kids myself, I’d like to take a daytrip there.  The problem is, I can’t remember exactly where it is or what it was called.  My old science teacher retired so I can’t ask him and no one at my old school seems to have any knowledge of this place.  In fact, I don’t even know if it still exists.  It’s not the Orange County Zoo.  I know where that is and I’ve been there with my family.  It was something else, something really rustic.  And it seemed to be way out in the middle of nowhere, even though we were definitely still in Orange County.  Does this ring any bells for you?
Santa Ana 

Dear Jasmine,I am pretty sure your class probably visited the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary which is located in the canyons just beyond the city of Orange.  Navigate over to Chapman Avenue and go east.  Chapman changes name to Santiago Canyon Road once you start heading into the canyons.  Turn left on Modjeska Canyon Road and take it as far as it will go.  At the end of the road, you will literally run into the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary.  

The facility is a beautiful place to spend a day.  If you can, pick up a field guide to western bird species prior to your trip.  It’s lots of fun figuring out what all the different birds are as you are walking around and you can also bring along a check list to see how many you can mark off in a day.  You’ll be surprised!  I would recommend bringing a good pair of binoculars so that you can see the fine points in colors and patterns in feathers because some bird species differ from others by the smallest of details.   

The Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary is open from 9AM to 4PM Tuesday through Sunday, but is closed on holidays and also during periods of rain.  Before you make the trip, be sure to call just in case the sanctuary is unexpectedly closed - being out in the canyons, anything can happen.  Their number is 714-649-2760.  You can also visit them online at

Believe it or not, admission is free.  However, donations are happily accepted.  Staff and volunteers are also engaged in site improvements and maintenance, and offer a wide range of educational activities so donations are very important.  In addition to cash donations, gift cards to home improvement stores are also encouraged.

Of course, there are not just birds and butterflies.  Tucker has a few resident animal guests who delight visitors year-round, and there are also local indigenous animals that are occasionally spotted.  But I won’t spoil any surprises.  So even if your children are not up for long hikes, there is plenty to see and do for little ones. 

Tucker is owned by the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics of California State University, Fullerton.  It sits on twelve acres adjacent to the Cleveland National Forest.  In addition to a museum, there are also picnic areas, hiking trails, bird observation areas, a gift shop and restrooms.  And your kids will especially enjoy the Children’s Garden where there are native plants that they will be allowed to touch and smell.  During certain months, the Children’s Garden is filled with butterflies and it is quite an amazing site. 

The sanctuary is a special place with a marvelous history.  It was the dream-retirement home in 1926 to Ben and Dorothy May Tucker who loved the local wildlife and placed home-made, never-before-seen hummingbird feeders around their cabin.  Their feeder design became the standard for modern hummingbird stations.  The Tuckers willed their property to the California Audubon Society who took over the care of the sanctuary and opened it to the public in 1939.  During World War II, when sugar was rationed, the sanctuary had special permission to continue obtaining and using sugar in the Hummingbird feeders.   In 1968, the Society gave the property to California State University, Fullerton on the condition that it is maintained as a wildlife sanctuary for the benefit of the public and the animals – the arrangement has allowed many students from the department of natural sciences to have the opportunity to conduct field research and observe wildlife in a natural setting.  And just like you, students past and present from K-12 programs all over Southern California have taken or will take very memorable field trips to the sanctuary. 
I hope you and your children spend a wonderful day exploring and discovering nature.  Have fun. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Shy Dog Adopted From Shelter

Dear Marie,
Last month I adopted an extremely shy dog from my city’s shelter.  The shelter people told me she was found as a stray by animal control and no one came to claim her.  They don’t know much about her other than she’s a little mixed breed dog and about two years old.I knew she was timid when I adopted her, but now that I've had her home for a while, I realize this isn't a case of being shy.  I think she is very fearful.  Her tail is always curled tight between her legs, she jumps at any sound and seems always to be looking over her shoulder.  I had some friends come to meet her and she ran into my bedroom and would not be coaxed out even with yummy treats.  She seems to like and trust me.  In fact, when I am alone, she sticks to me like glue.  I've almost tripped over her a couple of times.  What do you think is going on with her and will she ever come out of her shell?


Dear Meghan,
It is hard to say exactly what is going on with your little dog, but knowing she was out on the streets all by herself is a good indicator that she went through some harrowing experiences.  It is lucky that an animal control officer was able to rescue her and take her to a shelter before she was injured or killed. Try and imagine life as she has experienced it—she had a home and a family.  Most likely, she had a warm bed, regular meals, water, and attention.  She was safe and secure.  Somehow, she was separated from all of this.  Perhaps a meter reader left a gate open, or worse, her family abandoned her.  Regardless, her world was instantly turned upside down.  She may have had close calls with moving traffic, or she may have been chased by another loose dog, or even a wild predator.  It all must have been very terrifying. Then she was rescued—but from her perspective, that experience was in all probability, just as frightening as her initial ordeal.  A stranger picked her up, put her in a strange vehicle that almost certainly contained the sights and sounds of other animals, and drove her to a facility with dozens of loud, barking dogs.  She was poked and prodded by a veterinarian, was spayed, and then given a number of shots.  Kennel doors opened and closed continually with food bowls being put in and taken out by any number of people. It was all very overwhelming for your poor little girl.  But then you came into her life and became her rock of security.  It’s good to know that she was able to trust you like this.  Now it’s your job to make her know that she is undeniably safe and sound. Based on what you've indicated, you’ll need to take things slowly with her.  Don’t bring a lot of people into your home.  Instead, play some classical music.  Talk to your dog in a happy, confident voice.  This will let her know that you are not afraid of anything so she can feel more secure.  Spend as much quality time with her as possible.  Giver her lots of affection and treats.  If she is interested in playing, get some playtime in.  If she doesn't know how to play, try to teach her a few games.  Believe it or not, playtime is great therapy. As you see her become more confident, begin a few short activities outside of your home and yard.  If she enjoys being out of the home, increase the duration of these outings.  Long walks help relieve stress so when you get to this phase of training, you should see improvement by leaps and bounds. It is at this point that you can begin to introduce her to your friends.  Ideally, you’ll want just one person a day to stop by and they should always come with doggie treats in hand (or pocket)!  Don’t force your dog to visit, let her come to each person when she is ready. Sometimes it takes several months for a dog to fully comprehend that it is safe in a new home, but many dogs adjust in just a few weeks.  Just remember that it’s up to you to show her that she will never be alone again.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Cat Pees Outside of Litter Box

Dear Marie,
I am planning on having family over for an extended visit and I am terrified.  My four-year-old neutered cat has recently taken to peeing outside the litter box and the house smells horrible.  I would be extremely embarrassed to have stay-over guests under these conditions.  I’ve tried cleaning some areas that I’ve been able to locate with dish detergent, but now those spots just smell like dish detergent mixed with urine.  To make matters worse, I can’t find most of the spots where my cat is peeing.  I can smell it, but my nose just can’t pinpoint where it is coming from.  I have to do something about this before they arrive.  I can’t afford to rip the carpet out, but if I have to, I’ll get a loan and do it rather than having people over with this awful stench in the house.  Please, please help me.

Thank you.

Dear Jackie,
I understand completely where you are coming from and this is certainly a stressful situation.  But take a deep breath (through your mouth, not your nose!) and let me outline what you need to do.

First, please take your kitty to the veterinarian.  In many cases when cats begin to urinate outside of their litter boxes, it means there is an underlying heath issue.  If you can rule out a health problem, then it’s time to examine the behavioral side of the predicament and then we’ll focus on clean-up.

Many cat owners find that if they trace back the timeline to the point where their pets began to exhibit inappropriate urination, that there was a coincidental event that prevented their cat from having access to its litter box, or there was a significant or traumatic event that occurred in the household.

If it was a significant or traumatic event of some kind (introduction of a new pet, family member, new furniture delivered, etc.), then you just need to provide your cat with a little extra stability for a short while.  Sometimes keeping your cat in a safe and familiar room for a week or two is all it takes to press the feline reset button.  Provide a litter box, food and water, and hang out in the room with your kitty as much as possible.  There should be plenty of sunshine, and even soft, classical music playing on a radio. 

If for some reason your cat’s access to the litter box was restricted, for example, if your litter box is in the bathroom and somebody closed the bathroom door, or your cat was closed off in a room without a litter box, then your cat may have had no other choice than to find another spot to relieve itself.  Once that happens, then your cat will believe it is OK to use that spot because his sense of smell will tell him that it is OK.

You need to have more than one litter box available to your cat.  The general rule of thumb is to have one more litter box than the total number of cats in your home.  Each box should contain his whole body with spare room.  If it is too small and he hangs over the edge, he'll miss the target and take notice of the fact that your flooring is where he is "going" which would then translate to flooring in general is a good place to do his business.

Unfortunately, our highly inadequate human noses can never pinpoint where the smell of urine originates from.  This is where you need to pretend that you are a CSI.  Purchase a small black-light and use it after dark in every room of your house.  Voila, cat urine stains will glow!

As you’ve discovered, you should not use household cleaners to get rid of odors.  If anything, they amplify the smell and make it that much more attractive to your cat.  Instead, use an enzymatic cleaner designed specifically for the task.  Every pet supply store has gallons of this stuff, in a variety of brand names, stocked and ready on their shelves.  You are definitely not the first person who has had this trouble.

Finally, make sure you clean your cat’s litter box regularly.  Cats are very sanitary animals.  They don’t want to step in soiled litter, would you?  So if you are thinking you just don’t have time, and it can last another day or two, just remember how much more effort is involved in cleaning up accidents on the carpet.  If you have a fastidious cat, it’s much better just to keep the box as pristine as possible.  Good luck.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Dog Spills Her Water Intentionally

Dear Marie,
We have an 8-month-old female Labrador Retriever.  In the last two weeks she is emptying her water no matter what we put it in.  We were using a large bucket from Home Depot with no problems.  She tore it up into pieces so my husband purchased a medium size aluminum tub.  She jumped in, played, spilled all the water and carried it around in her mouth by the handle.  I purchased an aluminum bucket.  She did the same thing.  I thought I had a great idea—I took one of the plastic buckets, put a brick in the bottom, filled it about 1/3 full of water, put the aluminum bucket inside of the plastic bucket and filled the aluminum bucket.  She managed to spill all of the water out and carry it around.  Then we tried the aluminum bucket inside of the tub with same results.  We don't have a water faucet in the part of the yard she is in that works so can't use whatever it is that attaches to the faucet.  Holly is large, weighs about 75 lbs.  Any ideas? Right now we just take water out every hour or so and offer it but soon we will be back to work and gone 3 or more hours at a time.

One other problem we are having is she, at time,s will wrap her legs around either my husband's, my daughter's or my leg and "hump" us and will bite when she does this.  We were told this is way she is trying to show her dominance.  What can we do to stop this behavior?  In every other way she is a great dog.  We take her for walks daily or to dog park daily.  We give her a lot of attention and love and she sleeps in her kennel in our bedroom at night.  She also took a 6-week obedience class.

Thank you.
PS I am 63 and my husband is 69 so we don't have as much energy as younger people.

Dear Jan,
At eight months old, your dog is just a big puppy.  She needs a lot of safe toys to chew and keep her mentally engaged.  There are some wonderful balls that can be stuffed with healthy, yummy treats, and this is just the type of toy to keep her from getting bored, while also allowing her to chew on something more appropriate than her water bucket.  KONG makes some great, interactive chew toys.  But there are many others that are available at pet supply stores.  Just make sure you get a high quality product that won’t break apart easily or cause injuries.

As a Lab, your girl is a water dog and with the recent unseasonable heat we’ve been having, it’s understandable that she is incorporating her water bucket into her playtime.  Stores are just beginning to bring out their Spring and Summer items. I would definitely purchase the biggest, plastic kiddy pool you can find so that she can splash and sit in it.  She will absolutely love the pool and will spend less time thinking her bucket is a fun distraction.  Even a big, strong dog can’t drag around a large pool filled with water, unless she is from Krypton.

I know your dog is sectioned off away from your faucet.  Still, if it is possible, allow her access, or extend your plumbing into the part of the yard where she stays and install a lick-spigot.  This is a product that is activated when a dog licks it, and thus, she will always have fresh water and you won’t even need to use a bucket or bowl.

To address the humping behavior very quickly—indeed this is a demonstration of dominance and must be corrected immediately, especially since she is also biting.  One of the quickest methods for correcting this behavior is to use an air horn.  I would suggest keeping one on your belt or in your pocket – and use it the moment she starts to grab your legs.  Follow it up with a loud, “No!”  And then put her in a crate for five minutes, without any attention whatsoever.  Labs are smart dogs so she will get the message very quickly.  If you have friends who are willing to come over and help with this training, that would be great because demonstrating that non-family members are also off-limits for this type of behavior is very important.

Remember, dogs just need to know the rules and with consistency, love, and patience, your puppy will grow up to be a well-mannered and trustworthy member of the family.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

It's been a while...

Hey Animal Files People...
It's been a while since I've posted.  Too long, and I apologize for that.  I plan on getting active with posting again, and am happy to answer questions about animal behavior, urban wildlife, humane laws, and any other animal related question you may have.  Bring it on!

To begin, I want to thank all my readers who have adopted pets from shelters and rescues.  I get dozens of inquiries from readers every day asking me where they can adopt specific pets and I am always happy to refer folks to all the great rescues and rescuers and shelters that are looking for families for their homeless pets.  But to make things easier, I'm going to make a generic post here.  If you want to adopt a pet, there are two really good resources to use.  Just plug in all your parameters (your area and distance you are willing to travel, type of pet you want, gender, if that matters, etc.).  Here they are: or
These two sites will get you squared away with the pet of your dreams.  Of course, always check your local shelters too, because they get new pets in daily and there is bound to be a little furry kid there who will tug at your heart strings.

Happy New Year Everyone!
:) Marie