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, March 28, 2014

Dining with Dogs...

From our friends at Social Compassion in Legislation (

Assemblymember Mariko Yamada (D-Davis) has introduced legislation that could allow dog owners to dine out with their furry friends. AB 1965 would permit restaurants to voluntarily allow pet dogs in outdoor seating areas under specified conditions unless a local ordinance determines otherwise.

“This bill allows willing businesses to serve customers and accommodate their dogs,” Yamada said. “Allowing restaurants the flexibility to serve patrons with their canine companions without fear from health authorities saves precious resources for more serious public health concerns.”

In 2012, many dog and restaurant owners in Los Angeles advocated for a change to the outright policy of barring dogs—except service dogs--in restaurants. In response, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health gave Los Angeles restaurants with outdoor dining areas the authority under certain conditions to allow dogs in those outside areas. However, state law still prohibits the presence of all animals other than service animals wherever food is served.

"Social Compassion in Legislation is thrilled to sponsor this business and pet friendly legislation,” said Judie Mancuso, President of the statewide animal welfare group. “We have received complaints about this outdated state law for years from dog lovers and restaurant owners alike, and greatly appreciate Assemblywoman Yamada addressing the issue. Many restaurants choose to take their chances and allow dogs on their patios, but it remains illegal. We want to support these businesses and encourage more to open up to our canine family members."

While the outdoor areas of some restaurants are well-suited for accommodating dog owners, the law makes no distinction as to where dogs are banned. AB 1965 would allow business owners to voluntarily make the decision that is best for their business without the threat of a citation or other penalty. The bill does not mandate restaurants to provide this option, but simply makes the potential practice allowable unless prohibited by local ordinance.

AB 1965 will be referred to a policy committee in March. Yamada represents the 4th Assembly District which includes all or parts of Colusa, Lake, Napa, Solano, Sonoma and Yolo Counties.

AB 1965 Dining with Dogs made it out if Assembly Health Committee 17 Ayes to 1 no vote on March 25, 2014.  Be sure to phone, email, or write a letter to your representative to let him or her know you support this bill!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Awful Affenpinscher Can Learn Good Behavior

Dear Marie:
I have an Affenpinscher that is crossed with a Pekingese. He's really sweet and cute normally with me, but he can get really aggressive and mean with other people. I got him from a neighbor who was moving and could not keep him anymore when he was one year old. He's six now, and I've been giving him a lot of affection all these years, but it doesn't seem to calm him down.

Another strange behavior problem that he is wetting the sofas. He's been doing this ever since I moved three months ago to a new apartment. I really don't know what to do anymore. I use sprays, I scold him, I hold him down to show him that I'm dominant like I've seen TV trainers do, and put his nose in the pee spot. I never hit him; I punish him by putting him either on the balcony or in another room for about half an hour. But he still marks all the sofas—especially the ones that absorb ! Please give me some advice.
Thank you,

Dear Helen:
First of all, you need to know that Affenpinschers NEVER settle down. They tend to bond with one person strongly and are very possessive and defensive. He loves you and it is fabulous that he adjusted so well after losing his first family. However, this can be a problem if you want visitors during his lifetime! So, you need to use the fact that he will do anything to please you to your advantage.

First, have you had him in basic obedience classes with other dogs??? If not, this is a good initial step. It will help him socialize better with both other dogs and with people. While attending these classes, have other dog owners trade dogs with you during training. This will help teach your dog that ALL people need to be respected.

Take your dog many places and have him meet as many people as possible. Initially, don't have anyone pet him. Instead, just sit near other people and read a book or play some games on your phone while you watch him out of the corner of your eye.  Be very nonchalant about the whole situation.  It needs to b no big deal to you so that it is no big deal to him. If he makes any negative motion towards other people or animals, give him a job to do.  Tell him to site.  Or lay down.  Make him look at you.  And give him a treat when he does. As time goes on and he ignores people and animals that approach near to you, move closer to the others. Use the same corrections if necessary if you have any problems. With a little more time, ask friends to talk to your dog. Again, use corrections as needed.

Finally, while on your excursions, and ONLY if your dog has made significant progress wih his behavior, have your friends pet him while talking to him (with their understanding about what you are doing and with their permission.) Eventually you should have them take him from you (on the leash) and go for a walk.

While they are gone, you should return home. They should walk the dog back to your home and come inside with him. (While on the walk home, your friends must use the same corrective measures if necessary.) Anytime progress is made, praise your dog thoroughly.

After a couple of weeks of this, have your friends come to the house and let them take him for a walk without you. Dogs love going for walks. By this point in time, your little guy will look forward to and love to see people come to the house and then go out with them.  Once he arrives at this point, he will love any kind of visitor,

To be completely successful, have as many different people as possible come to the house and take him for a walks...that way, he will believe that everyone is coming to give him a special treat.

As for the sofa wetting all stems from him adjusting to a new territory. He wants to make sure that everyone knows that this new home is his. Have him neutered if he is not already. Also, invest in a dog crate and use the crate training techniques I have outlined in my previous Orange County Register columns.(www,

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Can pet birds live with working adults who are not home during the day?

Are there any bird species that will be contented if their keeper isn't home most of the time? I live alone and have a full-time job, but otherwise I am at home a fair amount of time, which includes being home on most weekday evenings. What would be enough? Many years ago, I took in a parakeet that I found and I thought it was too lonely so I got a second parakeet. After I got two, I couldn't take the noise (I don't remember the sexes) so I had to give both of them away.

Dear Gary,
Most birds are very social and don’t do well if left alone all day. They are true companion animals and not only desire, but NEED daily interaction with their people in order to thrive. The uninformed public considers birds to be nothing more than pretty little things to look at. But in reality, many birds are as intelligent as young children and crave activities and attention – and lots of both! Without this type of mental stimulation, birds will become destructive, noisy, may even begin to pluck out their own feathers, or worse.

There are a couple of bird species that don’t seem to be bothered by not having a lot of human contact. The first is the canary. Canaries can even be happy without having other canaries around. I would recommend getting a male because they have a beautiful little song that isn’t too noisy. Females will sometimes sing, but not as well.

Finches are very fun little birds too. However, finches do need to have a little buddy around. I recommend getting finches in pairs. They are perfectly happy to live without a lot of human contact. What chirping they do participate in is hardly noticeable. This makes them great pets if you have neighbors that are just a wall away.

Both species need large flight cages and natural perches. Steer clear of the machined, perfectly straight, sanded wood, or plastic perches. Most pet supply stores sell perches that look more like branches; they are uneven and rough in some spots. This type of perch is good for a bird’s feet.

Be sure to purchase a cage with bars that are spaced no more than half an inch apart. For exceptionally small finches, quarter inch spacing may be necessary.

Canaries and finches should have a natural diet with fresh fruit, sprouted seeds and veggies offered every day. High quality pellets are a good addition too. You can also include seeds in the daily diet, but try not to let this become their main source of food. Encourage them, as much as possible, to eat their fruits and vegetables. Seeds are generally the “junk food” of the bird diet. Of course, fresh water must be provided daily.

All pet birds need plenty of rest. Once it gets dark and you are done enjoying them for the evening, be sure to cover them up and keep them in a quiet place. Without a good sleep cycle, they may become stressed.

When you get up in the morning, assuming that is after the sun rises, uncover them and let them begin to enjoy their day.

Canaries live to be about 10 years, though my nieces had one that lived to be 17! Finches live anywhere from 5-15 years. For someone in your position, either species will be perfect for you.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Can I keep a Raccoon as a Pet?

Dear Marie,
There are a lot of raccoons in the condo complex where I live. A lot of people put food out for them and they seem pretty healthy and playful. Some of them are even pretty tame, to the point of letting people pet them. Last night I found a baby raccoon in the common area. I didn’t see his family around so I worried he got separated from them somehow and would be in danger. I brought him home and have been feeding him canned cat food. He seems to really like it but I need to know what else to give him so that he has a balanced, healthy diet. Also, do raccoons need vaccinations like dogs and cats? And how long do they live? Can they be litter box trained? Are they good with kids? I can use all the advice I can get.

Dear Sandra,
I've had to rewrite my response to you about 15 times because each time I reread what I've written, I realize I am sounding pretty harsh, and you are obviously a very compassionate person who doesn't deserve that kind of reaction.

First, let me say that it was very sweet, but very inappropriate to bring this kit into your home. Chances were that his mom and family were close by; but living in the type of environment that you describe, mom was probably a little more lax in her watchfulness than she should have been.Tonight, take him back to the spot where you found him; it’s probably not too late. His family will be out and about after dark and will most likely find him again.

It is completely illegal to keep a raccoon as a pet and for very good reasons. I won’t go into the potential health risks you may encounter because that would take up my entire column space. Instead, let me explain what you would be in for if you choose to keep this kit.

As tiny babies, like most wild animal babies, raccoons are absolutely adorable. In fact, the little guy you found will love you like his own mom. He’ll curl up and sleep with you. He’ll play with you and act as if you were the very sunshine of his life. You’ll think he is the most wonderful pet you've ever had…until he reaches about 3-4 months of age.

At this point, he will begin to discover the joy of making holes in drywall, finding and eating all of your stored food, stealing and hiding keys, remotes, makeup, money, credit cards, jewelry, and anything else that’s precious to you. (They don’t wear robber’s masks full-time for nothing!)

What he doesn't hide, he’ll decide to wash, and generally, the toilet is a good place for that. Closing the lid won’t solve this problem. Raccoons are strong and coordinated and can pop a toilet lid open in about two seconds. Of course, once he starts washing his treasures, he’ll discover that he’s not interested in some of them and they will quickly accumulate—unbeknownst to you—and clog up your pipes, resulting in some hefty repair bills.

If you think your things are safe behind baby-proofed cabinets and drawers, think again. Human babies don’t have chainsaw teeth that can make body-sized holes in your cabinet doors. You’ll soon notice that anything with electrical wires in your home becomes nonfunctional. For an adolescent raccoon, wires are a lot of fun to chew or collect. Refrigerators, computers, TVs, stereos…you don’t really need these things anyway. Right?

Some people decide that this is the age when a pet raccoon gets to live the remainder of its life in a cage. Aside from being cruel and inhumane, this really makes raccoons mad. When it comes time to clean the cage and feed and water your pet, be prepared to be slashed and bitten on a regular basis. And once your little kit reaches sexual maturity and senses there are beautiful female raccoons around that he can’t get to, all bets are off. He won’t love you anymore. He won’t even like you. He’ll despise you with a passion—and given the first opportunity, he will inflict some pretty serious injuries.

I completely understand how you feel. You want to protect this innocent creature. But he’s a wild animal, in spite of living a relatively tame existence in your condo complex. Let him stay wild. Enjoy him from a distance.

It sounds like there is plenty of food available to him courtesy of your wildlife-friendly neighborhood, and if he was old enough to be out exploring, even if he doesn't find his mom and family, he’ll be fine on his own. So please do the right thing and put him back tonight.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Harmony Lost Due To Owner's Ignorance

Dear Marie,
When I was growing up, we had 2 dogs. Candy was the mom and Snoopy had been her offspring. We kept them in an enclosure that ran alongside our house, and they had a very spacious doghouse with plenty of room for the both of them to live comfortably. They were doing just fine, and both got along really well. They each had their own separate feeding bowls so that they received the same amount of food, and the entire family treated both equally. As Candy advanced in years, Snoopy started to exhibit a real aggressive, and nasty behavior towards Candy. She would, to put it bluntly, start attacking Candy for no reason. It started first, with the doghouse...Snoopy would attack Candy to the point where she wouldn't allow Candy to sleep in the doghouse anymore. Then, Snoopy would attack her while she tried to eat, thus leaving Candy with no food; Snoopy would eat her food, then Candy's. With Candy being old, and unable to defend herself, we would have to "stagger" their meal times. First, we'd feed Snoopy, and then we would feed Candy. We would have to stand sentry while she ate, to ensure Snoopy didn't attack her. We'd thought about getting another doghouse but we could have a million doghouses, and it wouldn't matter. Snoopy would just go into the other one and run Candy out of it too. There were times when I felt so sorry for Candy; I would actually go out and forcibly run Snoopy out of the doghouse just so Candy was afforded the opportunity to go in. On
cold and rainy days, I'd see Candy bunched up in one corner of the enclosure, shivering from the cold or afraid of being attacked, or both. Why, after all the years they spent together, would Snoopy suddenly turn against Candy?

Unlike people, dogs have no concept of sharing. Instead, they organize themselves in a hierarchical fashion, with a dominant dog and subordinates. This is a very strong instinct that comes directly from the domesticated dog’s wolf heritage. A dominant individual has control over food and territory, the two most important things for ensuring individual survival. In the wild, an Alpha wolf eats first and as much as he
wants. When he is finished, the next in line is allowed to consume his share, and so on. Dominant canines also sleep in more comfortable areas than the rest of the pack.

Unfortunately, Candy and Snoopy were a pack of just two and consequently, only one could be top dog.  I use the word "unfortunately," because they should have been a pack with your entire family.  As such, neither would have been forced into the role of alpha dog.  Instead, they would have looked to their people for leadership, and as people, you would never deprive either dog of anything they needed.  But since your letter was written in the past tense, I fear it's to late to help Candy.

While Candy, being the mother, was most likely the alpha dog during the first four or five years of Snoopy’s life, she probably felt no real desire to claim territory or food with respect to her puppy. As a result, you saw a parent-offspring relationship that seemed to be fairly harmonious.

However, as Snoopy became a strong, young adult dog, her mother began to show signs of aging. This triggered a very natural response in Snoopy, who behaved the way her genetic code mandated. It was time for her to replace her mother as the dominant dog.

You and your family further aggravated the problem by chasing Snoopy out of the doghouse, or reprimanding her for her seemingly selfish ways. Each time you undid what Snoopy was trying to establish, she had to double or triple her efforts to guarantee that Candy understood her new place in the pack during the (no doubt) significant amount of time she was unsupervised.  People who leave their dogs in runs 24-7 are generally "absentee guardians" for the most part, living their own lives in comfort and freedom.

Based on your letter, it appears that Candy spent the rest of her life dealing with Snoopy’s estimation (and frustrations) that her role as Alpha was not truly established. Compounding the problem was the fact that Candy could not leave the outdoor enclosure. Outside “dog-runs” in most urban communities never provide adequate social room. Consequently, Candy could never give Snoopy enough distance to demonstrate she
accepted her secondary position. This only led to more conflicts, as Snoopy perceived Candy’s proximity as a challenge rather than what it truly was—a lack of space.

For the most part, dogs that are allowed to live indoors do not exhibit as much (or any) dominant/subordinate behaviors, since they regard their humans as the pack Alphas, while their own canine social positions are very low. Further, with many rooms to retreat to, dogs can easily locate a resting place that is out of sight and out of mind of a dominant dog living under the same roof.

It breaks my heart to read that Candy shivered in the cold, sleeping on a hard, wet, concrete dog run during her sunset years.  This is no life for any dog.  They are companion animals, and as such, they should live the life of a companion, not a jail inmate.  I firmly believe that if you bring a highly intelligent, social, dependent being into your family, then you need to treat that living being with the same kindness and compassion that everyone else in the household is afforded.  If that's not something you want to do, then don't bring a companion animal into your home and sentence it to a life in prison.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Bird Watching

Dear Marie,
A while back, you wrote an article about Modjeska Canyon and the bird sanctuary up there. I paid a visit and got very interested in birds after that. Now that it's spring, I’ve been noticing wild birds everywhere that I’ve never seen before. It may just be that I’m more observant, but I think it’s very cool. I went out and bought myself a bird identification book and now I am hooked. Aside from Modjeska Canyon, where are some good places in the O.C. where a newby bird-watcher can find some interesting birds.
Huntington Beach

Dear Sharon,
I am so glad you had a chance to visit the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary in Modjeska Canyon. It’s a wonderful place to go bird-watching, as you discovered. And I am happy to report that there are many other locations here in Orange County that also provide homes for a wide variety of birds.First, in Huntington Beach, one of my favorite bird-watching spots is the Wetlands at Bolsa Chica. Believe it or not, over the past ten years, about 300 different species have been spotted in and around the preserve – and there are only 420 species known to pass through Orange County! So this is definitely a place to frequent with your binoculars, bird book, and camera.

If you need a little help spotting some of the wildlife, you should plan on taking a free tour. On the first Saturday of each month from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m., docents from Amigos de Bolsa Chica gather at the south lot of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, on Pacific Coast Highway, just southeast of Warner. Tours (first come first served) begin on the footbridge and begin every 15 minutes. Be sure to wear good walking shoes.

After you’ve visited Bolsa Chica, your next stop should be Upper Newport Bay. Here, where salt water and fresh water meet, you’ll find thousands of birds and lots of fellow bird watchers too! Keep an eye out for their big Earth Day celebration; but if you miss it, there are always many great, educational activities at the Interpretive Center, which is located at 2301 University Drive, Newport Beach, CA 92660 and open Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00 AM-4PM.

If you have a chance, I would recommend signing up for one of the tours offered at the Starr Ranch. This is a wonderful Audubon Sanctuary that has many different educational programs. If you enjoy seeing hawks and other birds of prey, this is the place for you. For more information about the sanctuary, visit

Huntington Central Park, Mile Square Park, and all of the County Regional parks have an abundance of wildlife and are great places to spend the day picnicking and watching nature.There are lots of other wonderful locations for bird-watching in Orange County. I’ve found unusual birds in places that you wouldn't normally think of, for example flood control channels. I have seen a variety of herons, white-faced ibises, egrets, ducks, and even cormorants in these little concrete waterways between neighborhoods. It’s remarkable to say the least. Bird-watching is a wonderful hobby. I hope you have the opportunity to spend a lot of time developing your new skills at locations you've never visited before. And the best part is you
don’t have to go far to enjoy nature – it’s practically in your backyard!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Can Cats and Dogs Get Along?

Dear Marie,
Can you train a cat to get along with a dog? About 2 months ago we adopted a 2-year-old Dalmatian/Whippet mix. We already had a neutered cat, male about 17 years old. The cat definitely does not want any part of the dog - he arches his back, hisses, and will extend his paw and claws in an attempt to strike at the dog when she approaches the cat. The dog (Dottie) is just curious and I think wants to befriend the cat but the cat is not willing.

We have tried to hold the cat, letting the two approach gently but without success. We let them look at one another behind glass doors (cat inside, dog outside) but even then, the cat does not seem at ease. So now we keep the two separated - allowing the cat his space in the downstairs room, forbidding the dog to enter that room. It would just be nice to see the two get along rather than worry about their paths crossing and the cat becoming agitated. Any suggestions would be grateful.

Dear Birgit,
Dogs adjust to cats much more rapidly than vice versa. I expect that your dog is fairly playful and moves suddenly. Perhaps he even dances around the kitty. From your cat’s perspective, this is very terrifying. Nevertheless, it's important not to keep your dog outside or separated from the cat. Instead, bring Dottie in and put her into a cage-type kennel in the middle of the room that is your family’s main “hang-out”. Each time she is kenneled, make sure she has treats and toys and give her a lot of praise. As long as you are in the same room as the kennel, she won't object.

Let the cat come around at his own pace. He'll observe from a distance. You'll begin to notice that over time, he will get more comfortable. When he gets to the point that he can actually lie down and close his eyes in the same room, that's when you want to let your dog out. However, there is a trick to this...don't just open the door...she'll run right up to the cat and scare him and you'll lose all the progress you've made. Instead, prepare Dottie's food in another room...but within earshot.

Dottie will hear the food getting prepared and will know it is there. When she comes out of her kennel, she will go straight to the food. Of course, her abrupt movement will get your cat's attention, but he will see that Dottie has no interest in him. When Dottie is done eating, take her outside on a leash and go for a walk or play, then put her back into her kennel. Keep this going until the two animals ignore each other on a regular basis.

Sometimes it takes months - especially with older cats - but eventually, the two won't care about each other's presence any more. After that, it's anyone's guess if they will ever be buddies.

I had a German Shepherd (in the picture) from a rescue a number of years ago. He was six when he came to us and his general tendency was to attack small animals. This was worrisome since I had a 13-year-old cat. In the beginning, she was not at all happy about him moving in. But, we were able to get him to ignore her within a month of using this method. She, on the other hand, took a year to finally achieve a harmonious relationship with him.

At one point, our German Shepherd got seriously ill and almost died. He spent several days in the hospital, and then came home where I continued his treatment. He could not get out of his bed and we all thought he was going to die. Our little cat, who seemed like she never really cared about him, never left his side!

Somehow, he got better, and our kitty started showing affection for him from that point forward. They touched noses and she rubbed against him. It was very cute. I never thought I'd see the day that they would be buddies.

I can’t promise that your pets will show affection for each other like mine did, but they
will learn how to live peacefully. It just takes time.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Child Allergic to Cats

Dear Marie,
My son was recently diagnosed with allergies to cats. He’s 10 years old and we've had cats all of his life. For the past couple of years, he’s had chronic mild congestion and itchy eyes. It’s been nothing that has really bothered him. We just decided that we wanted to try and figure out what was going on once and for all. We were very surprised when the test results came out slightly positive for allergies to cats. I guess this is something that can develop over time. Long story short – my son’s doctor basically told us to get rid of our cats! In fact, he went on to imply that if we didn't, we weren't very good parents because we weren't putting our son’s health at the top of our priorities! I am furious with him – but at the same time, he really got to me. I am feeling guilty.

The thing is, our cats our part of our family and I don’t think he understands that, or he thinks it’s just silly. My son would be devastated if we got rid of our cats. I remember you wrote something about allergies in the past. I am hoping you can talk about that again. There has to be a way that our son and our cats can be together. Any help you can provide will be greatly appreciated.
Alana, Irvine

Dear Alana,
It always amazes me that in this day and age, where the human-animal bond is recognized by most experts as being important to health and well-being, that many doctors will tell newly diagnosed allergy patients to dump their pets! A child who has developed a bond with a pet would indeed be devastated if that advice is followed. Not only will he suffer grief as a result of the loss of his beloved companions, he will feel to blame (and guilty) for this drastic measure. That is a tremendous consequence and one that will cause far more harm than the allergy symptoms that you've described.

There are so many things that pet owners can do to reduce allergens in the environment – and none of these actions involve getting rid of any four-legged family members.

First, have your house steam cleaned. This is a safe, chemical-free way of eliminating allergens that are already in your home. Then, be diligent with vacuuming. This means carpet, furniture, all the corners of every room, walls, etc. You’ll need to use the hand tools to get all the nooks and crannies. This is a big job if you haven’t vacuumed this way before, but once you get past the first time, it will be much easier and quicker after that, especially if you vacuum on a daily basis.

Invest in a couple of high quality HEPA air purifiers. These devices work great and really do clean the air. You’ll notice allergy relief in your son almost immediately once these are up and running. Be sure to change the filters according to the directions.

Teach your son to wash his hands frequently, especially after playing with or petting your cats. It’s also important that he pays attention to what his hands are doing. A lot of kids will rub their eyes without thinking about it. Your son will want to keep his hands away from his face and eyes. This will take some practice and frequent reminders.

If your son sleeps with the kitties, this should probably stop. In fact, his bedroom should be a cat-free zone. I am not saying that he should not be around the cats or that he should stop handling them; but having at least one room in the house that remains mostly allergen-free is a very good thing – especially the room where your son spends all his sleeping hours.

Finally, the most important step involves the use of a product that I highly recommend. It’s called Allerpet/C. It’s a fairly inexpensive product and so easy to use. A lot of people think you need to bathe cats regularly if you are an allergy sufferer. But actually, all you need to do is regularly comb your cat and then apply the Allerpet/C with a microfiber cloth directly to your cat's coat. The application process is fairly enjoyable for the cat. It’s like a massage. You’ll want to use strokes that go both with and against the direction of the fur growth. You only need to apply the Allerpet/C weekly. But you should comb your cat daily with a fine-toothed comb and clean the comb after each use.

This seems like a lot of work, I’m sure. But allergy sufferers who love their pets have developed systems that work for them and become fairly simple routines. Anything new takes patience. But once you get your own system working, it will be worth it for everyone.
Best of luck to you and your family.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

My Cat is afraid of the TV

Dear Marie,
Hi. We read your articles in the Orange County Register, and we love them. We have a question for you.
We have a cat named Angel, and she hates the TV. Always has. If we bring her into the family room while we're watching TV, she will run out of the room, while keeping her eyes on the TV with the kind of look that could kill. If you ever saw it, you'd say the same thing: She hates the TV. Every once in a while she will come in while we're watching TV and sit with us for a minute or two. But she always ends up running out of
the room, glaring at the TV. It can't be the noise, because she doesn't mind the TV in the kitchen. She can't really see the TV in the kitchen, but she certainly can hear it, and it doesn't bother her. In the family room, we currently have a projector for a TV, and project the image on the wall. But even when we had a "regular" TV, she hated it.

We've had lots of other cats, and they would always spend time with us when we watch TV. We'd really like Angel to do this also, but it isn't happening. Any ideas on why she hates the TV, and what we can do about it? Thanks. Dan and Gina

Dear Dan and Gina,
I love this question because to be perfectly honest – I’m somewhat baffled. My first reaction was that the noise was the culprit. But you stated she doesn't respond to the noise of the TV in the kitchen so that can’t be it. My second idea was that the projected shadows and movements on the wall were startling. But then you went on to say that even when you have a regular TV she was still bothered.

Now – if the kitchen TV is up high, and she cannot see it – then I do believe it is the moving lights, shadows and images on the TV screen, or projected on the wall in your family room that were/are the problem.
Most animals ignore TV images. Some are curious about them and some like to play with them. I used to have a cat who tried to swat at the moving pictures. She would never get tired of playing with her favorite TV characters! Over the years, some of my dogs would bark at the TV if there was a doorbell in the sound track, or a barking dog. But I’ve never heard of a pet who was afraid of television images. This is indeed quite odd.

Is your cat overly nervous in general? If that’s the case, that may explain her sensitivity to the moving pictures. But, we’ll probably never know for sure what is at the root of this behavior. So instead, let’s focus on what to do about it.

First, give her a little of her favorite canned cat food in the family room while the television set is turned on. Be sure to sit with her and pet her and talk to her in a soothing voice while she is enjoying her meal. If she likes little bite-sized cat treats, use those to entice her up on the couch with you while you watch a show.

If she likes to be brushed, follow up the special dinner with a relaxing grooming session. Again, keep talking to her and praise her. Tell her she’s a good kitty. If she likes to play, bring a toy into the family room – one that she can pounce on and chase. Give her the opportunity to feel like a successful predator, rather than prey – which is probably what’s going on in her head when she sees the scary movements coming from the TV screen.

Don’t expect instant success. Reward any small increment of improvement and repeat these activities each day. If she is social under other circumstances, she’ll eventually decide that she is safe and secure, even when the television set is turned on. It will just take a little time to get her past her anxiety.

Good luck.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Classroom Pet Rabbit Teaches All The Wong Lessons

Dear Marie,
My son’s kindergarten class has a bunny. It’s kept in a cage in the back of the classroom. Every day, the kids drop all kinds of things into the cage, from toys to candy. They stick their fingers in between the bars and poke at him. They crowd around and make the type of noise that only a group of 5-year-olds can make. Then, the teacher brings the rabbit out for the kids to hold. The rabbit has been squeezed and dropped more times than I care to remember. I volunteer in the classroom regularly so I know that this goes on pretty much all of the time. This seems like a terrible life for the bunny but the teacher feels that having an animal in the classroom is a good "learning experience." What do you think?
Costa Mesa

Dear Sandy,
Keeping an animal in a classroom is almost always a bad idea. There is never enough adult supervision to ensure its safety and well-being. Furthermore, if a child learns anything about pet care, it will most certainly be imperfect information.

For example, maintaining a rabbit in a cage does not provide that animal with a quality life. Caged animals are emotionally stunted. They have opportunities to run, play, explore, or bond with people or other pets. Furthermore, if foreign objects are dropped into a cage, a rabbit is in danger of suffering serious health problems. Rabbits chew everything. They don’t discriminate between food and crayons.

If stress is added to this equation, i.e., children poking, prodding, mishandling, etc., the fragile life of a rabbit is reduced to a constant nightmare. Yet, when an adult who holds a position of authority demonstrates to a group of children that this is "acceptable pet care," the lesson learned is that this mistreatment is not only OK,
but correct. Consequently, the cycle continues with each successive group of children learning the same flawed lessons. They grow into adulthood holding on to the beliefs that rabbits are good pets for kids, can be indefinitely kept in cages, and require little care.

Though I have observed a variety of animals in schools, rabbits tend to be favored by most teachers—especially in classrooms with young children. This is especially ironic when one considers that rabbits are the least able to handle the rigors and stress of being a classroom pet. Rabbits need a quiet atmosphere. It is recommended that they be spayed or neutered and paired with a rabbit of the opposite sex. Most pet care experts agree that domesticated bunnies need large, indoor play areas with interactive toys, boxes to chew, and shelters to hide in—NOT kept in a cage.

Just like cats, pet rabbits can be litter box trained. Therefore, they may be given run of the house, as long as it is bunny-proofed. Usually, rabbit owners set up one or two rooms for their long-eared companions and restrict access to the rest of the house via toddler gates.

Small children and rabbits are generally not a good combination unless they are supervised. Children should never be allowed to pick up rabbits because a squirming rabbit is easily injured if it is not held properly. Furthermore, it WILL use its claws when it struggles and children can be badly hurt.  It is best that only older children and adults with experience handle pet rabbits.  Young children should be taught to be quiet, gentle, and respectful when the bunny is near. This CAN be accomplished in a home but it is impossible in a kindergarten classroom.

If you have already spoken with your son’s teacher and have not been able to achieve a positive outcome, you may decide to bring the matter up with the school’s principle. The purpose of the class rabbit is to teach proper pet care; clearly, this is not what is occurring.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Family Dog is Biting Us! Help!

Dear Marie,
I hoping you can direct us so that we can save our family pet from being given away or worse. We have a year-and-a-half-old Jack Russell Terrier. She has always been aggressive on walks towards other dogs, or when uninvited people just reach down to pet her. Those things we can handle. Lately however she is turning into a beast against us, her family.

She will jump up into your lap and want to be petted. Then while petting her all of a sudden she growls, bares her teeth and tries to attack you by biting you. And she is NOT playing. She's done this on five separate occasions over the past week. Each situation has been different, but one second she is fine, the next she is going off on you, trying to attack you, and she is biting hard enough to draw blood! Then she will even turn to walk away then charge back and attempt to bite you again. She knows she is being bad, because almost immediately she will come up and try to snuggle to make up for her behavior. You can totally tell she knows what she did is wrong, it's almost like she can't help herself. Can you possibly suggest anything we can do, or where to go that will help us that isn't going to cost a fortune. This problem is beyond regular dog obedience and most behaviorists will cost a fortune we don't have. She's my 12-year-old's best friend but I worry she is going to cause serious harm to her or one of her friends if this behavior isn't stopped.
Thank you
Carol R.

Dear Carol,
It sounds like you have a very serious problem and one that you can waste no time in correcting. Before doing anything else, take your dog to your veterinarian to make sure that the problem biting isn't associated with an injury or another painful physical condition. You should also have her spayed if you have not done so already. Spaying and neutering dogs is one of the best and easiest methods for eliminating many aggressive
behaviors in pets.

Once you are able to rule out a veterinary diagnosis, then you will know that her acting our is behavioral. In the wild, dogs in packs frequently bite one and other. This helps establish a dominance order within the group. Obviously, this is unacceptable for family dogs and your pet must learn that her place is at the bottom of the household hierarchy.

Jack Russell Terriers are known to be high-energy dogs that tend to be snippy with other animals. They enjoy playing dominance-type games and unsuspecting owners who indulge their pets in such play head down a very dangerous path that leads to serious biting behavior. Avoid roughhousing, tug of war, trying to get balls away from your dog, and any other game that involves a combination of your dog’s mouth, face, and you. If your dog “wins” or perceives she has won any of these competitions, she will feel that she has
moved up a rung in your family’s chain of command and will assert her position whenever the urge strikes.

Children tend to enjoy playing with dogs in this manner because their pets seem to enjoy it so much. But it is especially important for children to retain their higher-level position over the dog and therefore they should interact with your dog only as its superior.

Jack Russells have a lot of energy and that is putting it mildly. Your dog needs to be worn out with exercise each and every day. This means that everyone in your family, and even your daughter’s friends (with their parents’ understanding of the situation and their permission) should take your dog out for vigorous walks and runs.

If your dog shows any inappropriate behavior, she needs a short time-out. Jack Russells love attention and if they are placed in a room alone each and every time they misbehave, their high level of intelligence will draw a parallel between the behavior and the consequence. You must also use a firm tone of voice and the word “NO” at any time she begins to get mouthy.  Redirect her to a chew toy or some other activity and when she exhibits good behavior, immediately praise her.  She needs to understand what you want from her before she can do it.

Consistency is a very important factor. You cannot let her get away with even the smallest amount of soft play biting. All biting must be eliminated. That means everyone in the family needs to understand the seriousness of the situation and follow through with their end of the training regimen.

It may take a few weeks to a few months to completely rid your dog of this problem behavior, but it can be done.

Best wishes.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Tell Your Pet Adoption Story for Video Documentary!

The Pet Place will be at Pet Expo from April 25-27, 2014 at the Orange County Fair and Event Center. We will be video recording (at our booth) anyone who has adopted their pet and wants to tell their "tail" with a happy ending on camera! Please write to us at to make a reservation and send us video/clips and photos of your pet ahead of time. We will take walk-ins as time permits so make an appointment early and you may be featured in our documentary about pet adoption!

Cat Bites Owner

Dear Marie,
I read your article in the Orange County Register paper about socializing a cat. My problem concerns my kitty that I rescued. He is absolutely gorgeous (seal point and snowshoe mix) and very smart. The problem is he attacks my wrists and ankles and bites me! I feed him, play with him, clean his blankets and litter boxes, give him treats, and train him. He is perfect except for the biting. Any idea why he does it? He just turned eleven months old. I would appreciate any advice you can give me. (He does come up on my chest for pets occasionally, and then bites me as he jumps off.) Thank you in advance for your correspondence.
Sonya, Fullerton

Dear Sonya,
You have described a situation that I think most cat owners have experienced at one time or another with their own pets. Cat behavior can definitely be perplexing, especially when it involves biting for no apparent reason. But you might be surprised to know that this is really quite normal in the world of felines!

Unfortunately, most cats are taken away from their mothers at far too young of an age. It is not uncommon to see kittens as young as six to eight weeks old placed into new homes. But ideally, a cat should stay with its mother for twelve to sixteen weeks in order to learn all the behaviors it needs to learn to be well-adjusted and social. This is especially true when it comes to inappropriate biting.

Kittens will often bite their moms and their siblings to get attention or assert their position. Mama cats generally make it perfectly clear that biting is not tolerated, and by the time a little cat is truly ready to be placed into a home, that lesson has been learned well. A new owner usually has very little trouble with inappropriate biting when kittens have been allowed to have a proper kitty education courtesy of Mama-Cat! But most cats don't have that luxury which is why this problem is so ubiquitous.

Your cat is still very young and trainable so you are going to have to make up for lost “classroom” time! First, only play with your cat using toys that dangle on strings, or that can be rolled or tossed down a hall for chasing. Just remember that if you use the latter variety, employ caution when you pick the toy up and don’t try and take it away if your cat is actively playing with it. Never use your hands to play with your cat! Even though they are connected to you, a little kitty will imagine that your hands are prey animals, ready for him to use his awesome predatory skills on! And since you mentioned your cat goes after your feet, he’s looking at them from the same predatory perspective.

It’s important not to pull away if he bites because his instinctual reaction will be to bite harder. Instead move toward him AND either clap your hands or make another loud sound to distract him momentarily. When he releases, walk away from him and don’t engage him in any way until he calms down. In time he will learn that playtime does not involve biting you.

Many cats will also bite when they become overstimulated by petting. Since each kitty is an individual, the threshold for when over-stimulation occurs varies quite a bit. Some cats may only wish to be pet one or two times. You can determine your cat’s limit by observing his body language. For the most part, kitties will begin to flick their tails or their ears, their skin will seem to crawl at your touch, they may stop purring, or their ears may begin to twitch or flatten. If you notice anything like this, stop petting your cat immediately. He may not speak a human language, but he is telling you, in his very clear way, that he’s had enough. If you continue petting him, he will take his communication attempts to the next level, which is biting and scratching, followed by running away from you.

Though it does not sound like the biting you describe is related to a health issue of any kind, I should still mention that it is a possible factor. If you notice that there is a specific spot on your cat’s body that when touched triggers biting, he may have a physical problem. Your veterinarian can address this situation as needed. And of course, if you haven’t had him neutered already, you’ll definitely want to take care if this right away. Aggressive behavior in cats is significantly reduced after neutering.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A good Parrot Diet

Dear Marie:
I recently became the “guardian” of my daughter’s parrot. He’s about 7 years old and my daughter has owned him since he was three. My daughter was just accepted into an out of state college and will be living in a dorm that doesn't allow pets. I don’t mind this responsibility. In fact, I am quite fond of this bird. He is intelligent and affectionate and really seems to like my company. But, he has never seemed entirely healthy. I am wondering if maybe his diet is lacking. My daughter just feeds him seeds. It seems to me that if he were a wild bird, he’d probably be eating other things as well. What do you think?
Reyna, Mission Viejo

Dear Reyna,
I’m troubled by your statement that “he has never seemed entirely healthy.” You did not elaborate on what your bird’s condition is or what you have noticed appears to be a problem. First and foremost, you should have your parrot to a veterinarian who is an avian specialist. All pets should have regular physical exams; but if your pet is showing signs of poor health, especially chronic poor health, you should not delay.

You are right about wild birds. They have a diet that consists of fruits, vegetables, seeds, soft bodied bugs and insects. Unfortunately, captive bred birds are often raised on a seed-only diet. Once they have developed the habit of eating this type of food to the exclusion of all other food types, it is difficult to persuade them to take anything else.

Frequently, birds on a seed-only diet compound problems for themselves by picking out one or two of their favorite seeds from a mix and leaving all the rest. A favorite seed for many parrots is the Sunflower seed. However, this is basically junk food, in people terms. Sunflower seeds have little nutritional value and are considered high in fat. Consumption of too many Sunflower seeds can lead to obesity and the lack of any
other nutrient rich food can lead to disease.

Try adding some vegetables and fruits to your parrot’s diet. Fresh peas and and bananas are
a good start. If he accepts these, add some more fruit. Apples are usually a tasty and nutritional treat. Be sure to wash all fruits and vegetables thoroughly before feeding to your pet.

Most veterinarians advise against giving citrus fruits to parrots especially avocados which can be deadly to parrots. Other foods to steer clear of are chocolate and table scraps. Many processed “people foods” can cause serious problems for birds. It’s best to give him a natural avian diet.

If you feel that your bird’s nutritional needs require some immediate attention, you might consider sprinkling some powdered vitamins over his fruits and vegetables. You can also purchase some avian pellets or cakes that have been fortified with extra vitamins and minerals.

A balanced and nutritional diet is as important for animals as it is for humans. Deficits in vitamins and minerals, or a high fat diet can strip away the health of any living creature. I am sure you will notice a huge difference in your bird’s general fitness and appearance once you get him used to eating a varied mix of healthy foods.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Caring for Bettas

Dear Marie,
A dear friend of ours was recently married and used live Bettas in bowls on each reception table as a centerpiece. They were all quite lovely. When the reception ended, one family from each table “won” the bowl and the fish. My husband and I were the lucky winners. Our beautiful Betta now lives in a little aquarium in our living room and seems to be doing quite well. Our daughter thinks he is lonely and wants to get him a friend. But from what I understand, you can’t put Bettas with other fish or they will attack. Also, we really don’t know too much about how to take care of the little guy, so
any pointers you have would be greatly appreciated.
Sunset Beach

Dear Sandy,
I assume that when you purchased your aquarium, that the salespeople suggested a few basic rules for setting everything up. For example, if you filled the tank with water from your tap, you should have added a few drops of dechlorinator, per the instructions on the product’s label. It’s not the end of the world if you didn’t – most Bettas seem to be able to survive tap water fairly well, but in the future, when you clean your tank, or do a partial water replacement (which you should do once a week) I strongly recommend using it. It is a good idea to change your tank’s water completely whenever you begin to see signs of algae growth.

Bettas do in fact fight with other Bettas. However, they live quite peacefully with many other species. BUT, the other fish might attack Bettas! I suggest that you do not get any other fish buddies for your new pet because there is always a risk that new fish may carry diseases or parasites. Furthermore, without knowing the “personality” of a new fish, i.e., whether or not it is aggressive, you are taking a chance that it will hurt
your Betta.

There seems to be no indication that Bettas prefer living with other fish. Still, some Betta owners affix mirrors to their pet’s aquariums to give the illusion that there is another fish close by. When a male Betta (and I am assuming yours is a male since they are the more beautiful of the two genders) sees another male, it will flare its fins in an attempt to intimidate the intruder. It’s an awesome sight and truly shows how gorgeous these fish

Believe it or not, these fish do seem to enjoy the company of people. So please keep your tank in a location —out of direct sunlight—that you and your family frequent. Spend a little time each day near the bowl. Some Betta owners report that when they place their fingers in their pets’ bowls, that the Bettas will swim right up and actually enjoy being pet!

Bettas seem like they constantly hungry and will eat almost everything you offer them. Nevertheless, since they have no self-control, you need to feed them only what they can eat in about a three to five minute period. Generally, feeding once a day is plenty, however if your Betta looks at you pleadingly from his tank, a second feeding later on will be OK. Just don’t over-do the sympathy feeding. Aside from making your fish sick from overeating, the extra food will settle in your aquarium rocks and become a breeding ground for bacteria. These microorganisms will ultimately harm your pet.

A proper Betta diet is essential for good health. These fish are meat eaters and need to have food that is specifically labeled for Bettas. Some experts suggest skipping one feeding day each week to give the digestive system a rest.

If you ever plan on leaving for an extended period, Bettas seem to do fine for three or four days without food. I would suggest having a neighbor stop in to feed your fish if you plan on being away longer than that.

Your fish will live to be two to three years old, though some Bettas have been documented to live to four
or five years of age. The better care your provide, the longer its life will be. They are wonderful little pets and you will enjoy yours very much, I am sure. Best of luck.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Irresponsible Owners Cause Dangerous Situation

Dear Marie:
Recently, my neighbor's son, his wife, and his daughters moved back to his parents' home. They brought two
dogs and two cats with them. I have been able to keep their cats out of my garden and lawn using a repellent. But I am having a serious problem with one of their dogs.

The problem dog is an adult Boxer mix. She is totally out of control. When she gets out of the yard, she runs all over the neighborhood like a maniac, ignoring her owners, and she only goes home only when she wants to. Twice, she has tried to charge at me, with the hair up on her spine and baring her teeth. Luckily, both times I was watering with the hose so I was able to spray her in the face and get into my house.

Every morning, I sweep my patio and walk next to my fence which is closest to their house. Their dog jumps on the fence and tries to bite me, blowing saliva on my face while barking and growling. I am sure her owners hear her, but they ignore this bad behavior. Knowing them, I am sure they will not spend any money on her to have her trained. I am considering carrying mace and perhaps buying an ultrasonic dog chaser. This device is supposed to chase aggressive dogs away. I am wondering what you suggest and what you feel I should do?
Rita, Placentia

Dear Rita:
Many people have lived near dogs that behave in this manner. It is always important to remember that none of these problems are the fault of the dog you have described. Her behavior is the result of little or no socialization and complete irresponsibility on the part of her people. Her aggression is compounded by their lack of attention to her behavior issues. Think of this poor pet, rather than yourself, as a victim. From this perspective, you will be able to deal with the matter much more effectively.

The first action you must take is to speak with the dog's owners (and the parents who own the house because they may face financial liability should this dog bite anyone.). Be open, honest, and neighborly while expressing  your concerns.  Nothing will get accomplished if you bring a confrontational attitude.

Ask to meet their dog but make sure that she is restrained by a leash and held by someone in the household who is capable of controlling her. Speak to the dog in a friendly but firm voice.  She needs to know that you are a friend of the family, but also someone to be respected. If, AND ONLY IF, you feel that the dog has accepted your presence and the owners confirm that this is the case, give the dog a treat and a few pats. (Don't do this UNLESS you are comfortable doing this!)

After your initial introduction, make a point of visiting the dog each day with its owners present and making sure their dog is under control. Continue to bring her treats so that she associates you with something good.  It will also generate good will between you and the owners.

Money might be the reason this family is not taking their dog to obedience class.  If they had to move in with parents at this point in their lives, it seems that this might be the reason. Offer to pay for, and/or take the dog to obedience classes yourself. Most community parks and recreation services offer low cost basic training.that cost much less than mace (which has legal issues that you should educate yourself about), ultrasonic devices, and other chemical repellents. Furthermore, dog obedience classes will take care of the actual problem rather than just dealing with symptoms.

Frequently, neighbors are reluctant to work with each other in this manner. I am hoping that relations between your two households are still cordial so that you can implement this plan. If not, you must consider your safety. Whenever the dog is running loose in the neighborhood, there is a general risk both for the dog and for the area residents. Consequently, a call to your local animal control authority is in order.

If the owners of the straying Boxer are faced with a possible court appearance and/or impoundment of their pet, chances are good that they will take measures to correct the problem. Still, it is doubtful that this solution will benefit the dog other than keeping it off the street.

No matter what you decide to do, you must take action immediately. The situation you have described is potentially unsafe for you, the dog, or another neighbor. Good luck.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Grieving Dog

Dear Marie, I just lost one of my sweet dogs. She died last week. I have three remaining dogs. The two younger ones have paired off. However, the older one is grieving. She and the one that died were buddies. I am wondering what I can do for her to make it easier for her. Should I adopt another dog that is close to her age?

Dear Debbie,
As you have seen, pets grieve just as deeply as humans, especially where there has been a close bond. What your little dog needs more than anything is your love and support. If there is any way you can spend more time with her, it will help considerably. Take her on extra walks if she is up for it. Offer her some special treats too. Keep her busy and involved in life. Let her know that there are many things to look forward to with you and other family members.

When you can’t be with her, leave the radio on. Get her a dog-safe plush toy to snuggle with. Adopting a dog in her age range might help, however there is no guarantee that the two of them will hit it off.  Sometimes a new addition only serves to aggravate the situation. She already knows and loves you and looks to you for comfort. Your touch and voice are probably all she needs.

I have heard it suggested that you should just let a grieving dog alone. I couldn't disagree more. Dogs that have had a close relationship with another dog that has died may fall into deep depression. Without intervention and support, it is not uncommon to hear how the remaining dog dies within a short time of its partner due to a broken heart, or more scientifically, the physical shutdown that occurs as a result of depression. This scenario can be avoided. It will take some time, but with your added attention, her heart will mend.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Dog Has BAD Breath!

Dear Marie: I read somewhere that you used to have a Greyhound and I thought you would be the perfect person to ask....I have recently adopted a retired racing Greyhound and I am absolutely crazy about him. He is gentle and friendly and has the most perfect manners I’ve ever seen in a dog. The problem is, when he sticks his long nose up by my face, I could almost die from his breath. It is horrible, to say the least. I’ve tried doggie breath tablets, but they don’t seem to have any effect. What can I do to solve this problem? Claudia, Costa Mesa

 Dear Claudia,
Retired racing Greyhounds frequently have the breath problem that your new pet is experiencing. Usually, the foul odor can be attributed to poor dental health. Unfortunately, track dogs get less than an ideal diet and rarely if ever receive dental care. This leads to serious tooth decay and gum disease and hence, bad breath. I strongly recommend a trip to your veterinarian for a good teeth cleaning along with treatment of possible gum disease. While there, your vet can also check for any other condition that may be the culprit for the bad breath. Once this is taken care of, you
should be able to get nose to nose quite comfortably!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Adoptable Pets from the Irvine Animal Care Center

One of my favorite activities is producing the pet adoption TV show for the Irvine Animal Care Center.  Enjoy this month's episode.  There are so many adorable homeless animals that need families:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Landlord Thinks Feral Cats Are Mine

Dear Marie,
I just have to share this. I've had a bad, sad 3 weeks and all because I made the mistake of trying to be kind to animals. A mommy cat brought her 6 beautiful kittens into my yard at 6 weeks old. I called all the pet rescue organizations and spent hours researching on-line.  The only help I received was a lecture that it was up to me to socialize the kittens and make a difference in their lives. (As well as a graphic picture of garbage cans full of dead cats on their website.) I live in a strict "no pets" apartment complex and was taking a big
chance just letting them stay in my yard. After two weeks of limited success in "socializing" the kittens, I realized it was getting too late. I had to battle the flies and ants and be responsible for all the clean up. In addition, they were starting to venture into my neighbors' yards. I realized there was no other option but to call the county pet shelter ... but the only problem was they didn't rent cages and the phone numbers of businesses they gave me to rent cages didn't even bother to call back.

Finally, out of desperation - when the landlord suddenly appeared at my gate, I explained the situation to him and asked for some help. His only concern was getting the cats "off the premises." He did buy a cage for me to use - gotta give him credit for that. I caught the mother cat first and took her down to the county shelter on Thursday night. On Friday morning I put out some food for the kittens, as my husband and I had to be away
for a few hours. While we were gone, the landlord came and peeked over the fence.When he saw that I was feeding the kittens, he became incensed. I received a warning from the manager to "just get rid of them." I had to make four more sad trips to the pet shelter. The kittens were terrorized and I'm sure they will all be put to sleep. One escaped during the cage transfer at the shelter and will probably die a horrible death; another had his hind leg seriously mangled when it go stuck in the cage wire. I know I did the right thing by taking responsibility and trying to help but I will never do it again. From now on I'll just turn a blind eye to animal suffering, like everyone else does.
Garden Grove, CA

Dear Delores,
I appreciate your sharing of this story but I hope you will never turn a blind eye to animal suffering. You are a kind person and this experience must not change you. You did the best you could, given the circumstances, and you have actually prevented a lot more animal suffering than you might think. Had those six beautiful kittens remained loose in the area they would have become completely feral, disease ridden, regularly injured in cat fights, and more important – they would have become able to reproduce in just a few more months – leading to more kittens, and more kittens, and more kittens. I think you get the idea. You definitely did
the right thing.

In addition, many shelters have volunteers that will work with young, feral kittens and socialize them so that they can be adopted in a few weeks.  (After being spayed or neutered and vaccinated.) So they will have a chance at a good life.

You have also brought up a very significant point. We as a society of laws do not give cats the same protection we give to dogs. Animal Control agencies cannot pick up stray cats unless a private property owner has already physically captured the animals and has placed them into a container that he or she does not want back. Or, an individual, such as you, can make the effort to capture stray cats and transport the trapped animals to the shelter, and wait for the device to be emptied and returned. This is not something that
most people are willing to do for a variety of reasons, many of which have to do with the safety of all parties involved. I was sorry to learn that one of the kittens from your experience was injured and another escaped.

Your landlord, not you, should have taken on the responsibility of trapping the cats and taking them to the shelter, especially after he was advised that you were not their owner. If anything like this happens in the future, be sure to let him know. It sounds as though he was happy to pass off his duty by making you feel as though you had done something wrong. You did not.

Technically, the only animal sheltering/rescue facility that can legally take in cats such as these is the animal control authority that serves your city. That is why the other humane organizations appeared to give you the run-around. They can only accept animals that are relinquished by owners and can never legally accept strays.

I know it must be hard to think of getting involved after such a dreadful experience; but  what has happened should motivate you more than ever to try and make a change. Write to your County Supervisor serving your district and ask this person to consider authoring an ordinance that requires cats to be confined and licensed in the same manner as dogs. Yes - I said it....license cats!  I know a lot of people don't like that idea, but the bottom line is this...98% of cats that enter animal shelters have no ID whatsoever and their owners are never located.  On the flip side of the coin, about half of all dogs (who are required to be licensed) that are impounded are reunited with their families.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that licensing is a tool to get animals back home.

If such rules were in place, cats could be better protected as animal control would pick up ALL abandoned or stray animals in an effort to end suffering on the streets.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Build a Better Bird House

Dear Marie:
When I was growing up, we always used to have birdhouses in the back yard. Sometimes
we were very successful in attracting birds, but some years we were lucky if a bird even
landed on the roof. Now, I have a bird feeder in our yard that brings a lot of birds around.
But, as soon as they are done feeding, they are off again. We sure would like it if they
stayed. Do you have any suggestions for building attractive (for the birds) birdhouses?
Gary, Modjeska Canyon

Dear Gary:
You live in a great area for bird watching and you are also very close to the wonderful bird sanctuary called the Tucker Wildlife Sanctuary that I wrote about not too long ago. It is located at 29322 Modjeska Canyon Road in Modjeska Canyon.. You’ll find many other enthusiastic bird watchers there who can give you advice and tips .There is a small gift shop on the premises, and if my memory serves, there may be ready-built birdhouses for sale.

However, if you want to build a birdhouse yourself, you should first find out about the birds that are visiting your feeder. Not all birds are going to use nesting boxes. Many prefer making their homes in trees and shrubs. You can actually landscape your yard to be a safe haven for many bird species, but it will take a little research on your local birds to  figure out which plants and trees are best.

If most of your visitors don’t use nesting boxes, it might be just as enjoyable for you to hang out a wire cage full of nesting materials like fiber scraps, twigs, wool, or feathers and watch them collect and build on their own. This year, it is probably a little too late for that since most have already built their nests, but next spring, you might keep this in mind.

There are about 24 species of North American birds that use nesting boxes. Some species will uses boxes attached directly to your own home, while others require more privacy. A  tree mounted nesting box is better for the more secretive birds. Again, knowledge about the specific birds that visit your home will help you determine the most successful location for placing your birdhouse.

Nesting boxes do not need to be elaborate. That’s not to say that you can’t build a house with several “rooms”. In fact, some birds prefer to nest in groups. Nevertheless, fancy architecture may be more of a deterrent than an attractant. To keep things simple, you can even fashion a birdhouse out of a hollow gourd that has been dried and cleaned. If you use wood to construct a nesting box, do not use stains or preservatives, as these may be harmful to birds.

If you select woods of cypress or cedar, you will not need to paint the completed house. But if pine or plywood are used, apply a coat of water based exterior latex paint. White, tan, gray, or dull green work best for reflecting heat. They are also less obvious to predators. Don't paint the inside of the box or the entrance hole.

When you begin assembling your box, your should pre-glue all the joints before you nail them. This will add greater longevity to your birdhouse. Galvanized or brass shank nails, hinges, and screws tend not to rust and keep walls together as the structure ages. Be sure to drill 1/4" ventilation holes in the walls just below the roof and allow for water drainage in your design. You can accomplish the latter by attaching the roof at a slant, AND cutting away the corners of the box floor or drilling 1/4 inch holes in the box floor.

The ideal dimensions of your birdhouse will vary according to the species you have in your area. However, if you construct a house that is about six to eight inches square, you will have an attractive structure for many of the local songbirds. The entrance/exit hole should be drilled on the front panel near the roof. A rough surface around the entry hole on both the inside and out facilitates the entry and exit of birds. If your birdhouse will be made of finished wood, place grooves on the outside below the hole. The inside of the front wall should also have grooves or wire mesh. Perches by the entry hole are not recommended because it offers predatory birds a place to wait for their next meal!

If you need more in depth advice on actual design planning and step by step instructions for building a bird house, surf the internet for an hour or so. There are many sites that cover the subject in great depth, which I am sure you will find very helpful.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Can I Keep a Baby Opossum as a Pet?

Dear Marie,
For the past four nights, a baby opossum has been showing up by our sliding glass door to the back yard. We first noticed him when our cat was staring intently outside and flicking his tail. We wondered what had caught his attention and we were very surprised to see the baby wild animal just on the other side. The first night, we assumed it was just an isolated incident. But when it happened again the second night, we were a little amused and put out some cat food. He munched that down with gusto. Well, long story short, we put food out for him every night and we are looking forward to him coming back tonight. Here’s my question. He seems very tame and we wanted to know how difficult it is to keep an opossum as a pet. Is cat food a good diet for him? Do they adjust well to living inside a house?
Gwen and Robert
Garden Grove

Dear Gwen and Robert,
I am glad to hear that you reacted positively to your nightly visitor. Some people have the opposite response to urban wildlife and immediately insist on extermination. Frequently baby opossums are mistaken for roof rats, which elicits an even more drastic knee-jerk reaction.

Opossums frequent most neighborhoods. They are a wild species that has learned how to live quite successfully alongside human beings. As marsupials, the females have pouches like kangaroos, and carry their young inside these special “nurseries” until they are ready to come out and face the world. Even after opossum young leave the pouch, they still remain close to their mothers until they are capable of taking care of themselves. And this is the point I need to emphasize–baby opossums are capable of taking care of themselves and it would be wrong on many levels for you to confine it to your home - not to mention it is unlawful.

Wild animals can never be domesticated; they can only be tamed. There is a difference. A domesticated pet has thousands of years of cohabitation with humans encoded into his genes. This allows us to live with dogs, cats and other pet animals relatively safely. A wild animal, even if tame, retains all of his normal, wild animal reactions to stressful or scary situations, and this could mean that you or any visitor to your home may be injured. This would be very bad for a wild pet because should a bite occur, your illegally maintained pet would be immediately confiscated by local health officials and euthanized to determine if it has rabies, even though the likelihood of that is almost nonexistent.

I am aware that many people do keep opossums as pets and are as fond of them as they would be of any pet. However, a wild animal deserves to be free. It is their birthright. Sadly, many pet opossums spend their entire lives in small pens or cages as their owners’ busy schedules keep them from spending much quality time with their captive critters. This is no life for the inquisitive little being who has been stopping by to check out you and your cat each night.

Opossums are very intelligent. Some research has shown that they rank above dogs and cats. The baby who is visiting you has figured out that you will be providing him some yummy food. Unless you plan on doing this forever, I would suggest stopping now or he will forget how to forage for his own food and become dependent on you.

If you do plan to continue giving him a little something each night, try putting out bits of fruits and vegetables along with the cat food. But keep in mind that if your opossum friend tries to get the same treatment from your neighbors, he is NOT likely to get the welcome that you have given him and you may be putting him in danger.

Again, it’s best to watch wild animals do their own thing from a distance. They can take care of themselves best if you don’t interfere.