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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Cat Hoarder

Dear Marie,
There is an older woman who lives on our street who I believe may have more cats than she can handle. When I walk past her home, I can smell a strong cat box smell that seems to be coming from within the house. The windows and doors are always closed, but I can see numerous cats and kittens on every windowsill and I can’t even count how many different individuals I’ve seen. I have knocked on her door on several occasions to check and see if she is OK. But she only cracks the door open a bit and insists that she is fine. On each occasion when the door opens, I am almost unable to breathe without getting ill due to the stench. I have seen recent news stories about people like her and I can only imagine what conditions lie within her home. I am worried about the cats, but I am also worried about her. Who should I call that would have the authority to check up on her?
I prefer to remain anonymous.

Dear Reader,
You seem to be describing a classic case of animal hoarding. I have been saddened recently, to see similar individuals treated like criminals on TV news broadcasts because what they are doing, though clearly neglectful to the animals in their care, originates from serious mental illness and not an intent to do harm. Animal collecting is a known mental disorder and not criminal behavior. Those who are afflicted should be treated with compassion, as they have no idea that they are neglecting their animals – they are simply out of control.

Nevertheless the health of your neighbor, as well as the health of the animals in her home, is in jeopardy. The strong smell you encountered upon the opening of her door is a likely indicator that she is no longer able to keep up with feces and urine produced by her cats. I have been involved in cases with collectors where home interior conditions had become so unmanageable that feces and urine covered every surface of flooring, counters, furniture, sinks, tubs, beds, and everything else. Yet, somehow, the collectors were able to overlook the horrifying environments.

Your neighbor is unwilling to accept your help and I doubt that you would be able to assist her on your own. She will not want to part with any of her “children” - and I use that word specifically because that is usually how strongly collectors feel about each and every one of their pets, even though they cannot maintain adequate levels of care.

On the outside chance that she did accept your offer to find homes for most of her pets, she would only start her collection again within a very short amount of time. For those affected by this disorder, it is impossible to ignore the hoarding compulsion. She needs professional assistance.

I would strongly recommend calling the County’s office for adult mental health and advise the health officer on duty about what you have observed and what you suspect. He or she can look into your concerns about your neighbor’s home and condition and make an evaluation. Animal control could be called as needed.

It is important to call adult mental health services first, because its staff is properly trained in this sort of situation, whereas animal control officers and/or police may or may not have a full understanding of the disease and could possibly treat your neighbor as a criminal, as we have seen so often on TV. By having adult mental health services personnel on the scene, animal control/police can be advised how to proceed with appropriate sensitivity to both the animals and the human being.

Without a special permit, most cities allow three cats per household. Even homes that are granted a special permit to have more than three cats, must demonstrate the ability to provide adequate care for their charges. Clearly, you neighbor has surpassed the legal limit. But the most important issue here is not the violation of law, but rather the health and welfare of her cats and her. Thanks for caring.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Allergic to Pets

I read your article faithfully in the Orange County Register. I am looking for some info on allergies and pets and hope that you might be able to help me. I am very allergic to cats & dogs but was told by family members that there are 4 breeds of dogs that I could have as they don't shed or have large amount of dander. The 4 breeds are: Maltese, bishon, lhapso apso and shitzu. Forgive my spelling on any of these! Have you heard of this before? Are there other breeds that I might be able to get? Are any of these breeds
better with small children than others? Do you have information on any of these breeds and any rescue organization. I'd like to adopt if I can.

Dear Christine,
The amount of fur a pet sheds is usually irrelevant to the occurrence of an allergic reaction. Even hairless breeds of dogs may cause allergies in sensitive folks. People with allergies to pets are responding to allergens from a pet’s urine, saliva or dander.

The American Kennel Club, though not promising allergy free conditions, recommends a number of dogs for allergy sufferers. They are: Basenji , Bedlington Terrier, Bichon Frise, Irish Water Spaniel, Italian Greyhound, Kerry Blue Terrier, Maltese, Poodle, Portuguese Water Dog, Schnauzers, Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier, Chinese Crested, and the Xoloitzcuintli (aka, Mexican Hairless).

If you surf on over to their web site, you can get specific information about each of these dogs. Their web address is and there you will find explanations and descriptions about temperament, strengths, size, and everything you’d ever want to know about each breed.

If you are interested in adopting from a rescue organization, visit or From there you can navigate to a search for a specific breed.

You should probably consider fostering dogs before you adopt. By fostering, you are providing temporary homes for pets until a permanent home can be found. Fostering will allow you to find a dog that you are not allergic to and also one that makes a good family pet. When that special one comes along, you can switch your status from foster home to permanent family.

Most pet supply stores now stock special rinses for pets that control dander and other allergens. You may find that any breed will work for you and your situation if you use these products. They do require frequent use and grooming, but if you are willing to make the commitment to an animal, it is well worth it.

Finally, you may discover through fostering, that there are no breeds and no products that ease your symptoms around pets. If that is the case, it is better to discover this through a fostering situation rather than a permanent adoption. Too many pets owned by allergy sufferers are given up at shelters, only to be euthanized for lack of another home elsewhere.

Being allergic to animals when you love them is tough. My best advice to you is to really think things through before you adopt. A small dog can live 15 to 20 years. He deserves to have a permanent home for his whole life. Hopefully, it can be yours.

Best wishes.

Sunday, February 23, 2014


Dear Marie,
Every morning, my cat wakes me around six o’clock in the morning. He’s like an alarm clock! This is great on weekdays when I need to go to work.  But even on the weekends when I can (and want) to sleep in, he jumps on my bed, climbs on my chest, and meows in my face. You might think that he is doing this for food, so let me be clear right now—that is not the case. He only eats dry food and it is in a self-feeder, so he can get food any time he wants. He seriously just wants me to get up and pet him and start our day. Sometimes I'll pick him up and put him out of the bedroom and close the door—but then he stays right by the outside of my door meowing and scratching. He won’t give up until I can’t take it anymore and let him back in. But then if I try and get back to sleep, he’ll start meowing in my face again so ultimately I give up and get up. Is there any way I can get him to let me sleep? This has been going on for three years!
Sleepless in San Clemente

Dear Sleepless,
I’ll bet a lot of cat owners are reading this and laughing because they are very familiar with what you are talking about. I use the word “cat owner” loosely because in reality, anyone who lives with a feline family member knows that cats are ultimately in charge of everything, and would no doubt be highly offended at the mere idea of being “owned” by humans.

Clearly, your cat has trained YOU very well. For three years, he has commanded your attention at the crack of dawn simply with a meow. That’s quite impressive. Well, it’s time for some tough love and it’s going to require some willpower and consistency on your part.

Your first tool is knowledge. Cats need to sleep a minimum of 16 hours a day. With that in mind, plan on waking up your kitty when you see him snoozing in the middle of the day—especially on weekends. Don’t be mean about it. Just demand his attention in the same way he demands your attention! Pet him. Talk to him. Brush his coat. Trim his nails. Get some cat toys and encourage him to play. Interrupt his naps whenever you see him dozing. By doing this on a regular basis, you will be able to change his sleep cycle so that he sleeps at night and well into the morning, or at least until you want to wake up.

This isn’t as easy to do on weekdays when you must go to work. But you can keep him active when you return home—just make sure he doesn't steal any shuteye before you decide it’s bedtime.

Your next tool is willpower. If your cat wakes you up and you shut him out of your room, you have to let him meow and rattle your door until he gives up. By giving in, you are sending the message that meowing and banging on your door will result in you getting out of bed. Your kitty needs to experience no success in this endeavor. It may take a number of days to accomplish this goal; but remember, you have given him three years worth of positive reinforcement for this undesirable behavior. So be patient and consistent and whatever you do, don’t give in. You may want to purchase some soft, comfy earplugs to help you through this period of training.

Eventually, your cat will learn that if he meows and wakes you up in the morning, he is going to get evicted; but if he remains curled up with you in bed, he’ll get to stay with you. Really, this all boils down to the fact that he loves you. He doesn't understand your sleeping habits and just wants to start his day with you. So let him know that you love him too, but he needs to learn that you DON'T love his current behavior.  If you follow this plan, you’ll be able to synchronize your sleeping patterns, he’ll be a happy kitty, and you’ll be a rested human. Good luck!

Friday, February 21, 2014

Animal Abuse in Neighborhood - What to Do

 Dear Marie,
I was made aware of a situation involving a family on our own block and I am not sure who to contact. A neighbor came to me in tears Monday and told me how a small dog was thrown into her yard to die after it was beaten by a woman with a baseball bat. After taking it to a vet, they were told the dog’s back and hind legs were broken in the attack and there were no guarantees a $3,000 surgical procedure would be successful. The animal was euthanized.

Members of the same family, including young children, have been seen stomping newborn and weeks old kittens to death and the tiny bodies are tossed in this other woman’s yard. They also place cats into a plastic playhouse and seal it up in the hot sun until the animals die from the heat. Some of my kitties have come up missing as well as my next-door neighbor’s new puppy. I pray they have not met the same fate! Is this a police or animal control issue? The whole thing makes me sick and it turns out it has been going on for at least three months.

Dear Amy,
You are telling me about a very serious and criminal problem that needs to be addressed by both law enforcement and child services. There are several things you need to do immediately.

First, talk with your neighbor who lives next door to this house-of-horrors and let her know that you will accompany her to the police to report this matter. She may feel hesitant and possibly even afraid to say anything about her neighbors for fear of retaliation, and who can blame her? Your support will help tremendously in this area. Because she is a possible witness, she is instrumental in helping the police create a solid case.

Once your neighbor and you contact the local police department and report the suspected animal abuse and possible child abuse, (and exposing children to this kind of behavior, combined with allowing them to commit the same behavior IS child abuse), state you case factually, calmly and without adding personal opinion regarding what you think of this family.

Remember, children who grow up in an atmosphere such as the one you describe, tend to become abusers - or worse – themselves. So please do not hesitate to get this information to the proper authorities. The children need as much help as the animals.

Unfortunately, most police departments will probably refer you to animal control. If you live in an area where animal control officers are not part of the police department, they cannot enforce state humane laws. They can only take action on county and local ordinances. So, if you live in a city that contracts with Orange County, for example, you must get your police department involved. This may require that you insist on speaking with a Watch Commander who understands these fine details.

If you continue to get brushed off, go ahead and contact animal control as well as child services and explain everything you are aware of. They can begin an investigation at that point. If you are certain that an action will not be taken, write a letter to your mayor and city council and let them know that your police department would not respond to the alleged criminal activity. City Hall will assist you and your neighbor in obtaining the
police help that you need.

Do not attempt to approach the family that is abusing these animals. They are very clearly unbalanced and you may be putting yourself in harm’s way. Keep all of your cats indoors and let other pet owners in the neighborhood know that they should do the same.

In the meantime, please document any further abuse. Take photographs as necessary. If any other animals are found beaten or abused, immediately contact the police and animal control. And if there are any signs of the children being exposed to this type of violence again, re-contact child services.

Hopefully, with your involvement, this situation will be resolved.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pet Therapy & Peanut Butter Treats

Dear  Marie:
I have adopted a five year old Papillon mix named “Mikey.”  He’s only 13 pounds; but I see a lot of potential in him and I plan to socialize and train him and use him as a therapy dog.  I think that there is a therapy dog association in Orange County.  Do you know how I can get in touch with them?  Also, I can’t find a recipe for healthy peanut butter dog treats.  The recipes that I have seen call for lard and bacon grease and awful stuff like that.  Do you know of a good recipe?

Shauna, Brea

Dear Shauna:
Orange County Paws 4 Healing is an organization that provides “pet therapy” for patients in care facilities in this area.  Their website is  PAWS, Orange County SPCA is another great group to look into and they are always looking for volunteers.  Visit their site at

The Delta Society’s Pet Partner is more national in scope, but they can still provide a lot of resources to get you pointed in the right direction. They can be found here:

It is wonderful that you plan to do this.  Individuals confined to convalescent hospitals and other long-term care facilities greatly enjoy and benefit from visiting pets.  Animals provide a special “therapy” that doctors and drugs can never give.

As far as healthy peanut butter treats...try this one out:

(Preheat over to 400 degrees)

1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup soy flour
1 tbs. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup peanut butter (sugar free; smooth or chunky)
3/4 cup milk.

Combine wheat and soy flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together peanut butter and milk until well combined and smooth.  Fold peanut butter/milk mixture into dry ingredients.  Mix well to form a soft dough.  Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface.  Knead easily.  Roll dough out to 3/8”-1/4”.  Cut with a bone shaped cookie cutter or make small squares with a knife.  Place biscuits 1/2” apart on an ungreased baking sheet.  Bake fifteen minutes or until lightly browned.  Store cooled biscuits in refrigerator.  Share with your canine friends, ....mmmmm! (And healthy too!)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Raccoons in Attic

Dear  Marie:

For the last three weeks, I’ve been hearing thumps and thuds in my attic.  I’ve also discovered a fairly large hole in my wood shake roof with tell tale shingles being thrown down on my patio each day by who knows what!  This animal is also making himself quite comfortable eating my dog’s food.  From what I can tell,  I think I’m feeding this intruder more than I'm feeding my dog!  To make matters worse,  I believe it’s also been using my swimming pool.  I've been finding all kinds of  “left-overs” by the pool’s edge!  I’m not sure what I've got living in the attic, but I’d like to know how to persuade it to live elsewhere!   Any tips will surely be appreciated!

Howard, Anaheim Hills

Dear Howard,

You've described  city-raccoon behavior to a tee and you are definitely not alone with your problem.  When urban sprawl began consuming Orange County, several decades ago, most of the original four legged and winged residents moved away to undeveloped areas.  But soon, growth began encircling and closing in on those last open spaces, leaving animals with two choices: adapt or die. 

Many could not adapt because their instinctual fear of mankind kept them from the abundant food, water, and shelter sources available in the city.  But some did overcome that hurdle, slowly but surely.  Each succeeding generation of surviving urban wildlife became less and less afraid of close encounters with human beings.

Today, Orange County residents routinely describe the activities of their wild neighbors as unnatural, or bold and brazen, as if there is something inherently dangerous with this behavioral shift.  The fact is, these animals are doing whatever it takes to survive given the tools and abilities granted to them by nature.  The bottom line is, we can all co-exist safely in the same area if we use common sense, a skill granted to US by nature!

Obviously, a raccoon ripping up your roof and keeping you up at night is not an ideal co-existence.  There are several things you need to do to encourage your guest to leave.  First of all, feed your dog indoors only.  Leaving a big bowl of food in your backyard is an open invitation to all wild animals that dinner is on you!  You’re lucky a family of skunks hasn't moved in too!  Secondly, use a pool cover.  Raccoons are fastidiously clean animals and love having a water source around to wash food and other treasures.  Eliminate their access to water; even your dog’s water bowl should be moved indoors.

Finally, watch for the raccoon to leave the attic.  This will most likely be late at night, so plan to go without sleep, or work in “shifts” with other family members.  Once the raccoon is out, cut away tree branches that lead up to your roof, and remove any other item that may serve as a ladder.  (If possible, look around the attic to see if there are any babies...this time of year is definitely family time.  If there are babies, you may need to wait on the eviction process until they are old enough to leave with their mom.) You’ll also need to make sure there are no other critters (aside from the raccoon) up in the attic.  So each morning, sprinkle cooking flour around the damaged shingles.  If after several consecutive days you find no footprints in the flour, and hear no more thuds and thumps, the hole can be repaired and you will have successfully evicted your uninvited tenant!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Declawing Cats is Inhumane!

Dear Marie:
My cat is constantly scratching her claws on my living room couch. I have a beautiful (and expensive) scratching post for her in the den; but she never seems to use it. My husband wants me to have her declawed before she destroys the couch. However, I've heard that declawing is inhumane. What do you think? Are there other alternatives?.

Dear Theresa:
I am adamantly opposed to the declawing of cats. The procedure is equivalent to amputating the ends of a human being’s fingers. (I apologize for the graphic image...but it's the best way to demonstrate how inhumane this procedure is!)

Veterinarians in Great Britain refuse to perform such a “surgery of convenience” for this and other valid reasons. For example, complications including circulatory problems, infection, abnormal re-growth of nail tissue, and behavior shifts may occur.

The declaw surgery involves placing the patient under general anesthesia. A veterinarian will detach the first joint of each toe using sterile surgical cutting equipment. Ligaments, tendons, and nerves are severed. The wounds are stitched and wrapped in gauze and bandaging tape. Sometimes, it takes weeks to heal, leaving the cat in constant pain. When the bandages are finally removed, the kitty does not realize it is missing its claws. It may try to climb as it did prior to the surgery. Often, cats will slip, slide, fall, and injure themselves as they try to engage in activities that used to be easy. Without their claws, they are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to doing normal “cat things.” They cannot even defend themselves.

The Cat Fanciers Association will not allow owners to show declawed cats in competitions. Furthermore, many American humane societies have proclaimed that declawing is damaging to the physical and psychological well being of cats, and is simply cruel and inhumane. Some serious psychological side effects of the procedure are depression, listlessness, and hostility. Frequently, cats who have been declawed use their teeth to compensate for their lack of claws. This leads to constant biting in response to irritation or perceived threats.

I understand the motivation to declaw cats. However, there are other alternatives. First, place your cat’s scratching post in the living room. This is obviously the location where she feels the urge to scratch. When she uses her post, praise her. If she uses the couch, spray her with a squirt bottle (set to "mist" to prevent accidental injuries from hard spray to the eyes) and tell her “NO.” Carry her over to her scratching post and gently pull her paws over the surface to give her the idea of what you want her to do.  Praise her when she does.  Invest in a second scratching post (it doesn’t need to be fancy and expensive) and place it in the room where she sleeps most often. Cats love to stretch and scratch when they first wake up.

Play with your cat on and around the scratching posts. If your cat associates praise and fun with her posts, she is going to want to use them.

Another alternative, which can be found online or in many pet supply stores, is the vinyl claw cover. This product fits snugly over each claw to prevent damage to furniture and draperies. You can also use nail clippers to take the sharp edge off each claw. (Use caution not to cut too short. Just snip off the tips.)

Cats are intelligent animals...but they depend on us to teach them what we expect from them. It does take time. It does take patience. But, as pet owners, these things just come with the territory. Animals should not be made to suffer because we want a quick and lazy shortcut to problem solving.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Dog Barks While Its People Are Away

Dear  Marie:
Our four year old German Shepherd has always been a barker and I’ve never really worried too much about it; however, we recently moved from a relatively rural area to a very high density condo complex and now her barking is a problem.  I’ve been receiving very unfriendly, anonymous notes from neighbors who are apparently quite upset about the noise.   They are threatening legal action against us and want us to get rid of her.  I don’t want to be a bad neighbor; but I certainly don’t want to get rid of my dog either.  What should I do?

Rachel, Mission Viejo

Dear Rachel:
It is unfortunate that your neighbors are being so “un-neighborly.”  The least they can do is talk to you, in person, and try to work things out together.  They can advise you when the barking is occurring and also if it is coincident with any other activities going on in the neighborhood, i.e., when the gardeners are working, or perhaps when loose cats are close by.  Any bit of information can help you in training your dog not to bark.  But since your neighbors lack these interpersonal skills, it is up to you to try to resolve the problem because if your dog disturbs the peace of the neighborhood, you may find yourself in court for violations of state and local laws. 

To understand why your dog barks, you must first understand the nature of dogs in general.  When man domesticated the wolf, some 12,000 years ago, he trapped this amazing canine in a permanent juvenile state—mentally.  Generally, only wolf puppies bark. (Adult wolves do make different sounds, like howling, but these are very complex in comparison to the "pay-attention-to-me" type barking of pups.)   Barking  behavior in wolf pups is indeed necessary to get the attention of the busy adults in the pack and allows for nurturing and interaction from and with mature members and caregivers.  As the pups become adults themselves, they move away from this tendency.  Since domestic dogs are essentially perennial puppies, at least on an emotional level, they bark for the same reasons wolf puppies bark.

Many dog owners choose to keep their pets outside.  For a dog, this is very difficult to deal with.  They do not understand why they must be separated from their pack, which is you and your family.  It is somewhat like a permanent state of punishment.  The emotional tie between a dog and her family is incredibly strong, so you can imagine why a dog will cry if left out of doors for extended periods of time.  Frequently, the easiest way to deal with a barking dog problem is to just allow your dog inside with you! 

Going to work, or out to dinner and a show may also give your dog a feeling of intense loss and may bring about barking.  One way of countering this problem is to teach your pet that you always come back home and  that coming and going is really no big deal.

To conquer this problem, you will need a good block of time, preferably a weekend, to practice leaving and returning.  When you begin this exercise, leave from the same door you use when you go to work or other destination associated with long away periods. (You will need to take your car so that your dog knows this is the “real thing.”)  Do not make a big production about leaving.  Do not give your dog any treats or lots of extra pats and “good-byes.”  (You can fill up an interactive toy with kibble and peanut butter and hide it somewhere so that you dog has something to do while you are away.) When you are ready to go, just leave without fanfare, and come back in about five minutes.  When you return, you must not make a big deal about that either.  After some time has passed, lea
ve again.  This time, stay out for ten minutes.  Continue this pattern of coming and going throughout the weekend, proceeding by increasing your time away from home.  By the end of the weekend, your dog will understand that leaving is just a routine thing and long away periods are not so bad.  He will know that you will eventually come back!

With some dogs, it may be necessary to repeat this exercise from time to time.  However, with proper follow-through, your dog will become a model canine citizen and your neighbors’ next correspondence may be a thank you note and an invitation to a back yard barbecue!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pregnant Cat Abandoned

Dear  Marie:
Several months ago, my neighbors, who were in the process of moving, asked me if I wanted their cat.  They said they could not take it with them.  I told them I really couldn’t and suggested they try other avenues.  A week later, they were gone and the cat was still there.   I had no idea where they had moved, and I didn’t even know their last name to try and look them up.  They had never been very friendly during the short time they lived in my complex.  But I was shocked that they had abandoned their pet.  I felt sorry for it and began feeding it.  I had no intention of keeping her; but I couldn’t let her starve.  Well, now it seems as though the cat is pregnant.  I guess now, I’ve "decided" to keep her; but I can’t keep all the kittens.  I do want to find them good homes though.  Got any suggestions on how to make the job easier?
Tammy, Fullerton
Dear Tammy:
What a sad story; but unfortunately, not uncommon.  We live in a society where our pets are considered disposable items.  The fact that animals are thinking, feeling beings completely escapes so many people.  This leads to cruelty, neglect, and abandonment, as in the case of this poor kitty.  I know you would have preferred to adopt a pet when you were ready, but I commend you for opening up your home to this little girl.  By asking for advice, you have demonstrated that you truly care and I am sure you will be a wonderful owner.

Now, to the matter at hand—the imminent arrival of  kittens.  First of all, keep the expectant mother indoors at all times.  I can’t advocate enough, the importance of making all cats strictly house pets.  There are too many dangers lurking outside, ranging from contagious viral diseases, to coyotes, to cars.  Not to mention, it is strictly unlawful to allow your cat to roam onto the private property of others; this is a citable offense. (I have mentioned this in previous columns.)  As the mama kitty approaches her due-date, she will want to find a safe place to give birth.  If she is an outdoor pet, chances are, she will roam far from home to find that safe place.  Many mother cats are lost during this critical time period.

When the special event finally occurs, make sure you provide nutritious food for mama-kitty.  She’ll need an extra good diet in order to produce nutritious milk for her kittens.  Begin handling the babies as soon  as possible.  Studies have demonstrated that kittens who are handled and stroked several times a day from birth,  grow up to be affectionate and highly bonded to human beings. 

At about eight weeks of age, the kittens can be placed in homes.  Check with family and friends for potential adoptive families.  If you have no luck here, place an add in a local paper, advertising the kittens.  Under no circumstances should you state the kittens are “Free to good homes.”  There are too many unscrupulous individuals who you may have heard described as “bunchers.”  These are people who collect domestic pets and sell them to research facilities.  Often, they pose as "charming pet lovers" who just want a new kitten or puppy.  You have the right to check up on anyone who wants to adopt one of your kittens.  Ask for identification.  Check and see where the individual lives.  Ask for references.  Beware of anyone who wants to take the whole litter. 

Finally, collect money for the kittens.  This gives the cats some perceived “worth” to the individuals who adopt them.  (You might even collect a spay and neuter deposit for each kitten to make sure the new owners have their  pets sterilized.  We absolutely do not want the new generation to further add to the already overwhelming pet overpopulation problem!)  When you are satisfied that all the kittens have been placed in good homes, take your mama kitty directly to the veterinarian to have her spayed!  Then, relax and enjoy a wonderful life with your new friend.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Changing a Life for the Better Through Volunteer Work

Dear Marie,

I’ve enjoyed reading your articles and I thought I would write to thank you, plus I have plenty time to write.  I am currently in County Jail for drug possession.  This has been a wakeup call for me and I am really working to turn my life around.  I’m getting out next month and I would really like to adopt a dog.  More than that, I would really like to volunteer my time in some way to help dogs.  My motivation is – one, I love dogs, and two I think it would be beneficial to my recovery.  I was just wondering if you could point me in the right direction of where to adopt, where to volunteer, and ballpark price.  Thank you for your time to read my letter.


Dear Garett,

Thank you for the nice letter.  It sounds like you are on the right track to getting your life back in order and I wish you the best of luck in recovery once you are released.

Volunteering at an animal shelter would be fabulous.  There are many shelters and rescue groups throughout Orange County that can always use a hand.  Check out and type "animals" in the search box.  You'll get quite a few results from this search and one is sure to be perfect for you. This is a great resource for anyone interested in volunteering for almost any cause.

My advice to you would be to also check out as many shelters and rescues as possible to see which one feels right to you.  Some shelters or rescues may have policies that make volunteering less than fulfilling by greatly limiting what you can and cannot do.  Others would love to have all the help they can get and will have you (and need you) working all the time which may be more than what you are ready for.  Too many volunteers get burned out or overwhelmed quickly, and then quit within a short amount of time.  Don’t put yourself in this position.

I truly believe that working with animals helps people heal.  There are many jails across the country that pair inmates with shelter dogs in very specialized volunteer programs.  The inmates train “problem dogs” and give those animals a chance at having a new life in a new home.  In most cases, the people who have participated in this program leave their respective institutions as individuals who are truly ready to turn over a new leaf and continue volunteering within their communities.  Everyone involved benefits.  There is something beyond words that happens when a human being is able to connect with an animal and care for it, and you obviously recognize this. You are on the right path.

As far as adopting a pet, I would recommend waiting until you are back on your feet.  Also, by taking your time, you can get to know a lot of dogs at the shelter or rescue where you decide to volunteer.  You’ll no doubt fall in love with one of them – that’s one of the hazards of working with animals—you end up wanting to take a bunch home!  But one of them will definitely get to you and that’s the one you should adopt.

Adoption fees vary from organization to organization.  County and City facilities usually have the lowest adoption fees and even offer special adoption days during the year where the fees are greatly reduced or completely eliminated.  Rescue organizations tend to be more expensive since they do not have public money to help support their cause.  So you can expect to pay anywhere from $50-500 for a dog, depending on its age.  That price generally includes spaying or neutering, vaccinations, microchipping, and a vet visit with a participating veterinarian after you bring your new pet home.  Sometimes adoption fees are reduced or waived for volunteers.  That may be one thing you should look into when making your decision about where you want to donate your time.  Thanks for writing and I wish you the very best.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Put Your Pets In Your Disaster Preparedness Plan!

Dear  Marie:

I've been thinking a lot lately about earthquake preparedness and realized that I haven’t really planned anything for my dog.  If “the big one” happens while I am at work, I might not be able to get back home to take care of him.  Do you have any suggestions?

Dori, Fullerton

Dear Dori:

What a great question!  Planning for a disaster, such as an earthquake, is such an important issue.  Many people have taken the time to create earthquake kits and design  special disaster plans; but what is surprising is that people often forget to include the family pet in those plans.

If a major earthquake (or fire, or any other emergency) occurs in our area, there is a high likelihood that you will not be able to travel on roads and freeways leading back to your house.  If you work far from home, your beloved pet will be helpless unless you have planned ahead.  There are a number of steps you must take now to ensure the safety of your four-legged family members in the event of a disaster. 

First, talk to your neighbors and agree to care for each other’s pets if anyone gets stranded far from home.  If you have retired neighbors or “stay at home” moms /dads nearby, talk to them.  Chances are, they will be home when you are not and can provide care for your furry friend.   (Make sure you socialize your pet so that it will feel comfortable around your neighbors.  No one will want to care for your dog if it tries to attack them!)

Keep a t  least a three day supply of food and water on hand for your pet.  I recommend that you store a couple of non-spillable dishes in the same location with the food and water.  Also, assemble a pet first aid kit that should include the phone number of your veterinarian, antiseptic cream, bandages, and any prescription medication, complete with instructions for use.   It’s a good idea to store blankets, towels, and newspapers for your pet’s warmth and hygiene.  These items can be placed in back pack next to a pet crate (which may need to double as your pet’s housing if your home sustains structural damage).  The best portable pet crates are the strong plastic variety used for transporting pets by plane.  They can withstand the impact of falling rubble and are quite durable.  They also come in a number of different sizes.

Make sure your pet is always wearing an ID tag that has both your cell phone number AND the phone number of an out of the area friend or relative in case local phone service goes down.  If he gets loose after a disaster, animal control officers will be able to contact you or your designated out of town person and arrange to re-unite your pet with your family or neighbors as soon as possible.  In addition to a tag, get a microchip for your pet.  You can link all kinds of information to your pet's microchip so it is a HUGE resource.

Other items to consider are leashes, harnesses, and muzzles.  Any injured or frightened animal will bite.  Store a muzzle with your emergency supplies in case your neighbors need to use it.  A leash and harness will also come in very handy for safely moving your pet to another location. 

Finally, keep  a copy of your pet’s vaccination record with all your other supplies.  Officials may need  to verify that he is up to date.  If you discover that your pet  has missed getting some important shots, get him to the vet immediately.  During an emergency, your pet may come into contact with animals that carry diseases.  If he is current on all his vaccinations, he will be protected.

These simple precautions may someday save the life of your pet.  Take the time now to put your non-human emergency plan in play.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Cats are NOT allowed to's the LAW!

Dear  Marie:
Help!  My problem is neighborhood cats.  One has broken my bird feeder.  Is there nothing to keep them away?  Repellent sprays are very expensive and no guarantee.  It’s not fair that dogs must be kept in their yards, indoors, or on a leash and cats get free run of the neighborhood.  I don’t dislike cats...but I like my wild bird friends better!  Too, I’m the only one in the neighborhood with soft dirt in my garden - so guess what happens?

Thank you for any suggestions,
Leona, Orange

Dear Leona:
First, let me say that cats are my favorite animals.  I have three little guys myself and I love them dearly.  But because they mean so much to me, I certainly do not let them roam the neighborhood where they could be exposed to great dangers and create bad feelings with my neighbors.  I do not understand cat owners who insist on making excuses about why their cats “need” to be “indoor/outdoor” pets...or worse yet - strictly outdoor animals.

What most people do not realize is that it is actually against the law to let cats roam onto the property of another...just as it is with dogs.  You, as a property owner or renter have the right NOT to have cats at your home or in your yard.  Therefore, I recommend that you speak to the owners of the problem cats and let them know about the nuisances and damage their pets are creating.   Try and do this in as friendly a way as possible, letting them know that you are genuinely concerned for their cats’ safety when they (the cats) are roaming freely. I know this is difficult to do, and it may create hard feelings. But THEIR actions are creating hard feelings (that they are blissfully unaware of) you need to open the door to communication.

If this does not work, or if you do not know who the owners are, contact your local animal control authority.  Each agency is different, so you will need to find out what its policy is on stray cats.  Most agencies will pick up stray cats from your property, provided they are in a box or other suitable container that can be used to transport the animals safely to the animal shelter.  Furnish the agency representative who impounds the cat with all owner information if you know it.  The shelter staff will contact the owners and  have them pick up their pet.  The owners will have to pay impound fees which usually is enough incentive to ensure the animal is not allowed to run loose again.   If no owner is located, the cat may be placed up for adoption in a new home with new owners who will take proper care of their pet. 

I am completely inflexible about what proper care is when it comes to cats.  There is NO excuse to let them run loose.  Cats that roam neighborhoods are routinely killed by cars, even on secluded residential streets.  They are taken as prey by coyotes and other predators.  They are exposed to viral diseases that are often lethal.  They are attacked by other loose cats and dogs.  They can fall into the hands of abusers or people involved with the illegal roundup of straying pets for use in laboratory experimentation.  If they are unaltered, they contribute to the staggering number of unwanted pets that are killed in shelters. The list of dangers goes on and on.  If a pet owner can’t protect his or her pets and give them adequate care, then perhaps he or she should just stick to keeping stuffed animals!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Skunks, Raccoons, and Opossums...oh my!

Dear Marie:

Lately, I have been finding small holes dug out in my front yard, combined with what appears to be animal droppings in the damaged area.  I have not seen any animals in the yard, but I am reasonably certain that some small animal is responsible for the holes.  I live in a part of the city that is surrounded by busy streets and buildings.  Therefore, I cannot imagine a wild animal being in this area, other than a gopher or a rat; but I did not think they created this type of damage.  Can you advise me about what this animal might be and what I can do to discourage its “activities”
in my yard?

Puzzled in Orange

Dear Puzzled:

The “yard problem” you are experiencing is not at all uncommon.   In fact, many Orange County residents, especially those with lush lawns, have described similar difficulties with local wildlife. 

You are also not alone in mistakenly believing that wild animals, other than the small mammals you mentioned, live far away from the hustle and bustle of urban communities.  But in actuality, our cities are teaming with wildlife, from coyotes, to snakes, to skunks.  The latter is a potential suspect for the holes in your lawn.

Skunks, along with opossums and raccoons, will scout out neighborhoods in search of thick lawns and the moist soil underneath.  These very intelligent and adaptable animals are searching for the small grub worms and other insects that live at or under the root level of the grass or other ground cover you may have.  Normally, they make coin sized holes about an inch or two deep.  The holes can be spaced relatively close together, or far apart, depending on what the animals find. 

The solution is relatively simple.  Eliminate the food source.  Natural, non-toxic pesticides may be used throughout your yard to kill the insects in the soil.  Talk to nursery staff to find out what product would meet your needs. 

After using the pesticide, it might take a few days to notice the effects.  Since the animals realize there is no more food available at your home, they will move on.  Remember, you must continue lawn and garden pest control from this point forward, otherwise a new family of “diggers” will begin the cycle again. 

Unfortunately, many homeowners in your predicament will resort to trapping the opportunistic animals.  I have heard stories from some disheartened residents who have paid private trappers upwards of $100.00 for each animal trapped on their property, and they still have nuisance animals roaming about after the final bill has been paid.

The reason for this is simple.  Animals seek out homes with ample food, water, and shelter.  If the animal is removed but the environment remains the same, an attractive niche is available to any other animal that discovers it.  In most cases, other animals are aware of the occupied niche and are more than ready to move in if the current resident animal suddenly “disappears.”

It is important to note that insects may not be the only food source an animal might be interested in.  Pet food left outside, accessible trash, fallen fruit, and homegrown vegetables also provide skunks and other animals with the sustenance they require.  If all unnatural food sources contained in residential areas are eliminated, wildlife “problems” are greatly reduced.   Sometimes, this takes a neighborhood effort.  Be creative...invite your neighbors over to discuss skunks!  You’ll be surprised at the terrific brainstorming that can take place by working together.   Good Luck!

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Swallows are a little early this year....

Dear Marie,

I don’t live anywhere close to San Juan Capistrano, but for some reason, swallows have invaded my neighborhood.  I have at least a dozen nests under my eaves and so do most of my neighbors.  The birds are noisy, aggressive, very messy and I just don’t want them around.  I can’t even park my car in my own driveway because of the bird droppings.  I don’t want to hurt the swallows;  I just think they belong in a more wild setting.  What can I do?

Steven, Lake Forest

Dear Steven:

Usually, from March to June, many California  residents experience the same problems you have described. So your little guys are "early-birds!" During the late winter, Cliff Swallows, migrate northward from South America—where they pass the cold-weather-months—and some actually travel all the way up to Northern California.  San Juan Capistrano is famous for the swallows, that is true, but every city on their migratory path is subject to nesting colonies. 

Cliff swallows provide us with a wonderful, non-toxic pest control service.  They keep mosquitoes and other flying insect populations  in check.  If it wasn’t for the swallows, and other migratory birds, we would have far more serious problems to complain about.

Cliff swallows build gourd-shaped nests out of mud.  Any vertical surface that meets an overhang is ideal for nest building activities.  Before there were  man-made structures in the swallows’ migratory path, nest sites consisted of cliffs and canyon walls.  However, in the present day, homes and office buildings introduce ideal surfaces for the durable mud nests and are irresistible to site seeking swallows. 

It takes up to two weeks for a pair of swallows to complete their nest.  They each travel up to a half mile in search of mud to complete their home.  The pair will make more than a thousand trips to the mud source to gather enough building material.  It is no easy task.  If you have children, this is a wonderful opportunity for them to observe some of the magic of nature.  Nest-building activities are truly awesome.

When the nest is nearly completed, the female will begin to lay her eggs.  On average, a female swallow will lay one egg a day for three to four days, usually in late April or May. (Obviously, in your situation, this whole time frame has moved up dramatically!)  Both male and female will sit on the eggs until they hatch in just over two weeks.  

Let me assure you, the nuisances you are experiencing are strictly temporary.  A month after the babies hatch, the whole family will disappear.  May I suggest parking your car in a different spot for the time being.  Hose down any messy areas on the ground each evening, when the birds are less likely to “dive bomb.”  Determine what the comfort zone is for the parents and give them their space.  If you choose not to, (at your own "risk!") defensive behaviors on the part of the birds are normal and should be expected. 

Swallows—as well as all migratory birds—are protected under Federal Law.  It is strictly prohibited to remove their nests once they have been constructed.  Fines of several hundred dollars PER NEST REMOVED can be imposed by U.S. Fish and Wildlife authorities on any individual who violates this code.  However, once the nest is abandoned, they may be hosed down.

Swallows and their offspring return to the same nesting location year after year.  If you do not want swallows returning next year, I suggest using an exclusionary control method to discourage nest building under your eaves.  The simplest method is to attach nylon netting around the perimeter of your house from the eaves to the wall during nesting season.  This eliminates a suitable surface for the swallows to attach their nests.

Be patient...enjoy your guests.  You’ll miss them when they’re gone!

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Traveling with a Pet in the Hot Summer - Not a Good Idea!

Dear  Marie:
I’m planning a family summer vacation that includes our dog.  We’re going to be driving to the Grand Canyon and sight seeing along the way.  We will be tent camping and the total length of the trip will be two weeks.  Can you suggest some tips that will make this trip enjoyable for our pet? 

Huntington Beach

Dear Jolene:
First of all, I’d like to try and talk you out of taking your dog.  Your summer vacation to the Grand Canyon will be both uncomfortable, and potentially dangerous for your pet.  Summer-time temperatures out in your destination area are well over 100 degrees.  I am sure you are aware that heat, dogs, and cars don’t mix.  For example, if you leave your pet in your vehicle while you get a “quick” bite to eat at a highway diner, the temperature inside your car will sore to an unbearable high in just a matter of minutes; even with the windows partially rolled down, your pet will succumb to heat stroke before you finish your ice-cold drink and a burger in the air-conditioned building.   All too often, pets are killed in situations just like this. 

Secondly, your pet may become confused if taken away from his home environment.  His only security will be his family.  But, you’ll be out walking the “no dogs allowed” trails of the Grand Canyon, and he will have to stay behind in camp.  Often, pets escape and run away in an attempt to find home.  The chances of him being located again are not incredibly good.  Even if he is wearing an I.D. tag or has a microchip, there are miles and miles of open space and he would be—almost certain—un-findable. 

Open space brings up another important issue...wild animals.  Coyotes, mountain lions, and other predators are indigenous to the Grand Canyon area.  A domestic dog would certainly be looked on as prey by these animals.  Furthermore, rattlesnakes are prevalent.  A curious dog could easily fall victim to a poisonous viper and veterinary help would be hard to come by, especially the immediate, emergency form of veterinary care required for this type of injury.

Hopefully, I’ve discouraged you.  Generally, I support travelling with a pet during cooler times of the year, and to more temperate locations that are pet-friendly.  The Grand Canyon is NOT one of those locations. 

So now you need to know what to do with your pet while you’re gone.  Ask a neighbor or a family member to care for him.  If you can’t think of anyone offhand, there are a number of pet-sitting services that will provide wonderful care for your little guy while you are vacationing.  Furthermore, pet-sitters will take care of your house, and plants, and a number of other chores that need to be tended to.

Another option—though not the most desirable—is boarding your pet.  Your veterinarian may have facilities, or you may choose a licensed boarding kennel.  However, if you choose this option, your pet will suffer both the separation anxiety of losing his family AND his familiar home surroundings.  I’d go with the home care!

Your pet WILL miss you while you are away.  But unlike you, he doesn’t really have a sense of time. Chances are, the hours you spend away while you are at work elicit the same emotional response he will experience while you are away on your trip.  Nevertheless, if he is allowed to remain at home, he will know that you are coming back and will be faithfully waiting to smother you with doggie kisses when you return.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Adopting a Pet Bunny

Dear  Marie:

My thirteen year old daughter has been begging me since her last birthday to have a pet rabbit.  I've been trying to encourage her to consider a dog or a cat.  I don’t know anything about rabbits, and I've heard so many stories about people who have adopted one or two, only to have them die within the first year or two.  My daughter assures me that she will take care of it, but I’m sure she doesn't know the first thing about rabbit care either.  Should I go ahead and get a rabbit for her anyway?

Elizabeth, Los Alamitos

Dear Elizabeth:

Before you adopt any pet, it is always necessary to research and prepare.  All pets, no matter what kind, are huge responsibilities.  Make sure your daughter understands that animals are living, breathing, feeling beings - not toys - that must be fed, cleaned up after, loved and cared for...each and every day, for years!  Is she ready to take on that responsibility?  As her mother, you know best. 

Spend a day at the library.  Check out books on rabbits and their care.   Find out what veterinarians in your area provide bunny-care.  When you’ve found one you like, find out the costs associated with preventative veterinary care.  Your pet rabbit should be spayed or neutered to help it live a long healthy life and to prevent some bad habits such as marking territory.  Will you be paying for these procedures or will your daughter have to earn her own money to pay.  Again, this is something you should discuss before adopting. 

After you've made the big step and brought a bunny home, please make it a house pet.  So many people adopt rabbits and send them to a life in a lonely hutch out in the back yard or along the side of a house.  Rabbits love affection and to be with their family.  They make excellent indoor pets.  Most people don’t realize this because all they have ever seen are rabbits in cages.  A caged animal never has the opportunity to grow, emotionally, and develop its full personality. 

There are some precautions to take with a house rabbit.  First, make sure that all electrical cords are out of reach or covered.  Rabbits like to chew.  If they gnaw on a power cord, it can be deadly.  Provide your rabbit with chew toys and other distractions to keep him from chewing furniture, rugs and other items.  You may want to make a special bunny room that you isolate with the same special gates used to keep toddlers in safe areas of the house.  The bunny room should be checked for all possible hazards and bunny-proofed.

You will also want to house-train your new pet.  Believe it or not, rabbits can be taught to use a litter box.  There are a number of different methods for accomplishing this task.  You might consider checking out the House Rabbit Society website at for detailed information on this topic and many other indoor bunny issues.