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.

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

Dog Dumped At Industrial Complex

Dear Marie,
Last summer, a man in a silver van drove into the back of the industrial complex where I work and dumped a young dog. He quickly drove off leaving the dog standing there helpless. I wasn't sure what I was seeing when it first happened, so I wasn't quick enough to realize that I should have gotten his license plate number and his description. I guess I was just too shocked at what I was looking at. The dog was totally freaked out and when I tried to go out and get him, he ran away. But he continued to hang around the complex. I don’t think he really knew how to get out - it’s a little bit like a maze in here.

Anyway, most everyone who saw him started leaving out food bowls and water bowls because they felt so sorry for him. He still won’t trust anyone enough to get close to him, but he seems to like to stay near to where the people are. I guess he’s just waiting for a little extra food. Anyway, long story short, last week, he showed up limping. He’s not putting any weight on one of his front paws and he needs attention. I’m willing to pay for whatever he needs but I just can’t catch him. Do you have any suggestions?

Dear Pat,
Sometimes human beings can be so inhumane in their treatment of animals. It is unfortunate that you were not able to get descriptive information about the vehicle that was used in this crime and the person who dumped this poor dog. What you witnessed was in fact a real crime under California’s Penal Code, punishable by jail time and a fine. However I certainly understand how something like this momentarily delayed your reaction time in processing what was really happening. I am sure you were indeed shocked.

No one may ever abandon a domestic animal for any reason. If an animal can’t be kept for the duration of its life, an owner is responsible for finding it a new home or relinquishing ownership to an animal shelter.

You should contact the animal control authority that has jurisdiction in the city where you work. Often, if one explains that there is an injured dog that comes and goes regularly in a particular location, they can either set up patrols to try and capture the dog, or they can set a trap.

Once they have successfully confined the animal, they can transport it to a veterinarian and/or the animal shelter for care. If you are interested in adopting it, you should let the officers know so that they can complete paperwork advising animal shelter staff that there is a party interested in providing the dog a permanent home.

There will be adoption fees associated with this action, but they include a license, vaccinations, neutering, and an initial veterinary exam at the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association member veterinarian of your choice. All in all, it is a very good deal and you can leave the capture and initial care of the abandoned dog up to the experts.

This is a much better plan than trying to capture the dog on your own. Injured, frightened dogs will almost always try to  bite. If you don’t know how to handle a situation like this, you can be seriously injured yourself. Even if you rent a trap, weekly fees can get quite expensive and if you don’t set it properly, you’ll lose valuable time in your effort to get the dog its needed veterinary care.

A dog that has experienced emotional trauma associated with abandonment and living alone for an extended period will need a lot of socialization, patience and love. Nevertheless, in time it will learn how to trust and love a human being again. You are a wonderful person for caring about this poor creature and I commend you for your compassion.

Best wishes.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Crows: Nuisance or Neighbors

Dear Marie,
The crow population in our city seems to get bigger and bigger every year. On trash day, our neighborhood looks like a scene from “The Birds”. The crows are completely fearless and get into the trash cans even when people are close by. They make a mess like you wouldn't believe.

Aside from that, they roost in trees and make noise from sun up to sun set. My wife and I have called animal control but they won’t do anything about it. I’d like to use a BB gun on them but I’m not sure if this would be legal. Should I check with the police department about this or can I take care of these nuisance birds once and for all.
Fed Up in Garden Grove

Dear Fed Up,
I understand your frustration, yet it is truly unfortunate that the solution you and most people come up with for animal related inconvenience is extermination of the offending creatures. I am not surprised however, since this seems to be the lesson taught by parents to children generation after generation.

For example, when my youngest daughter was in kindergarten, her teacher approached me to recount a classroom incident. A spider was crawling on the carpet where the children sit for story time and other class activities. One of the boys, who is normally very quiet, shouted to my daughter to watch out for the spider.
Immediately, another student tried to squash the spider while my daughter pleaded not to kill it “because spiders are our friends.”

Fortunately, the teacher took the opportunity to talk to the class about how spiders are beneficial. Still, by the initial reaction of most of the students to the spider, it was apparent that killing a living creature just because it was in the wrong place at the wrong time was, in their eyes, an appropriate measure.

The earth is home to so many amazing life forms of which we humans are just one species. From our perspective, we are the rulers of the planet. Whether this viewpoint comes from a religious or scientific origin, great responsibility is attached. It is negligent and foolish to deal with animal related problems by destroying the animals we perceive as nuisances. Nevertheless, history has shown that time after time, such rash judgments are approved and the lessons from their hideous consequences are rarely learned.

In the case you have outlined, you have described a problem that was created through human error. The crow population in urban communities has grown so substantially because there is enough food available to sustain an unnatural number of crows. Simply, this food comes from trash that is easily accessible and pet food left outside in bowls. Businesses as well as private residences contribute to the abundance of food availability.

In order to reduce the crow population in a humane and natural fashion, the food must be eliminated – not the crows. Even if you were allowed to shoot the crows (and you are not), the situation you describe wouldn't go away. In fact, you would create a more severe problem and here is why. In response to the sudden decrease in population, crows from adjacent areas - where less food is available - will relocate to your neighborhood. Simultaneously, the preexisting colony will begin reproducing at a faster rate with more eggs being laid and hatched. For a short time, until nature equalizes everything, you will have more crows in your neighborhood.

The solution therefore, is not the termination of crows but the removal of unnatural food supplies. Rather than endangering the safety of your neighbors (and their windows), I would suggest having a meeting at your home or creating flyers for distribution that outline tips for reducing available food sources. Be sure to include the ideas of feeding pets indoors only, covering fruit trees with agricultural mesh or nylon netting, and securing trashcan lids. You’ll find through group participation, that most of the crows will move away. As I have always advocated, if you work with nature, you will have a strong ally.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Dog Pees When Excited

Dear Marie,
We have the sweetest Border Collie Mix and we just love her so much – but we are having a serious problem with her. Whenever we come home after being away, she gets so excited, she pees on herself and all over the floor. She does this when strangers come to pet her too. She doesn't seem afraid at all – she is just so happy, she can’t contain herself. She will even do this in the car when people walk by and say hello to her. She is completely house-trained otherwise. It almost seems that she doesn't even know she is doing this. What can we do about this problem? We really can’t have her wetting all over the place and we just don’t know what to do.
Please help.
Sandra and Jack

Dear Sandra and Jack,
The behavior you are describing is, as you have surmised, completely unassociated with house-training. Excitement Urination (or Submissive Urination, as it is also called) is a behavior that has roots in your dog’s genetic past. Non-alpha wolves in packs generally urinate in the presence of their leaders to show their respect and their submissive role in a canine society. Since domestic dogs are all descendant from wolves, occasionally these pack behaviors show up in a household setting.

The good news is this – you have a submissive dog which means with positive training and feedback, your dog will always be friendly, and eager to please you. A submissive dog is easy to train and will want to learn everything you have to teach. Needless to say, at the top of the lesson plan, you will be instructing your pet not to urinate when excited.

The most important thing you should know is that your dog should never be scolded or punished for this behavior. If she feels as though she is doing something wrong - and she will if she is scolded or punished - she will urinate even more to show her submissiveness and respect. That’s how it’s done in the dog world. She will never correlate your angry tone with her urination behavior, and she will be completely baffled as to what the problem is and why you are so upset with her.

You will need to address this behavior in small steps. First, when you arrive home, you and your family members should completely ignore your dog for ten to fifteen minutes. Go about your business without talking to her or making any kind of eye contact. Happy voices and lots of petting encourage the excitement response in a dog. By entering your house in an “I’m too busy now” fashion, your pet will gradually attain an equilibrium and go about her business while you go about yours. You will notice almost immediately that she will not urinate.

After you have given her this time to adjust to your return, you may take a seat. Do not call her over, but if she does come to you, gently give her one or two pats on the head, but do not speak or make contact. If she begins to get excited, walk away.  When you have achieved success to this point, you can add more time to the petting, and even a few soft-spoken words. Continue to avoid eye contact until your dog can handle both petting and being spoken too without getting overly excited.

When friends come to visit, be sure and tell them ahead of time that you are in the process of training your dog and to please follow these same interaction guidelines. It is also important to tell people who approach your dog that she is in the middle of important behavioral training and to please not pet or engage her in any way as they walk by. Most people are understanding about these things and will abide by your wishes.

This behavior will not disappear overnight, so please be patient. You have a very sweet dog who loves you unconditionally. Please give her that same gift, along with your patience and guidance. In the long run, you will be very happy that you did. It’s only a matter of time before she becomes the type of dog that everyone wished they had.

Best wishes to you.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Dog Urine Kills Grass

Dear Readers,
A while back, I was looking at the grass in my back yard and decided it was in really bad shape. (I am pretty sure that it was the same lawn that was planted in 1967 when the house was built!) I had been trying desperately to keep crab grass, devil grass, oxalis, and other weeds from invading, but it was a never-ending battle. I finally decided we needed to start over with a new lawn. My husband called various landscapers for quotes and to my shock, we were looking at several thousand dollars to put in sod!

With two kids in college, I don’t have a few extra thousand dollars to throw into a lawn. And frankly, it just seems absurd to spend that kind of money on grass. When I was growing up, no one paid to have an instant lawn. Instead, moms, dads, and kids spent a weekend digging up the old grass, raking everything up, planting seed, and getting the satisfaction of watching a lush, green yard appear; and by golly, that’s what we were going to do too.

So one fine, extra hot weekend, my family rototilled and raked, rototilled and raked some more, and finally rototilled and raked again. No personal trainer could have given us a harder, more exhausting workout. I think my biceps grew an inch by the time we were done! We then carefully spread the seed of a fine, perennial grass and watered thoroughly.

To the dismay of Willa and Kody, our dogs, everyone had to keep off the dirt. Each day we inspected the ground for signs of sprouts—by the seventh day, we were getting a little discouraged when there seemed to be no visible growth. But just like magic, when we awoke on the eighth day, the entire yard was green with delicate little seedlings that erupted everywhere. It was amazing and we all rejoiced!

After six weeks of steady growth, we decided it was time to mow our beautiful back yard for the very first time and after that, we allowed Willa and Kody outside to play. Willa was extra thrilled and bounded
around like a puppy.

But after a few days, I started noticing plate-sized circles of dead grass in our beautiful lawn. Then it hit me; The dog's urine was burning and killing the grass! Argh! I never noticed anything like this in our old lawn, but it was so thick and dense, nothing really affected it.

Lawn burn, as the garden center expert at our local home improvement store told us, is a very common lawn issue for dog owners. And fortunately, there is a remedy! During the 20 years that I have been writing this column, no one has ever asked me about lawn burn, though I suspect that many of my readers may have experienced this very problem. So I will share with you what I have learned.

Contrary to public opinion, lawn burn is caused by the urine of both female AND male dogs and that’s because of the nitrogen content. Though nitrogen is usually good for a lawn, it is too concentrated in urine. Of course, you can always just follow your dog around with a hose and spray down any spot he or she chooses to urinate on, though that may get a little tedious. But if you do have the time, and your dog isn't one of those pooches who has to pee in multiple places in rapid succession, this is the best and most effective way to handle it.

However, you can also provide your dog with a food supplement (talk to your local pet supply shopkeeper or veterinarian to find a safe and healthy product) that neutralizes nitrogen so that it doesn't end up in such concentrated amounts in its urine. Also, make sure your dog has plenty of water available (and drinks plenty of it too). If you have a dirt garden area in your yard, train your dog to use that spot as his/her potty area rather than your grass. And finally, check out your local lawn and garden shop. There are a number of products available that can be used to protect grass from lawn burn caused by pet urine.

I will need to reseed the damaged spots in my yard, but ultimately, I must say that we are all
really proud of our new lawn and Willa looks like a princess when she lays on it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Drooling Cat

Dear Marie,
Let me begin by telling you that I have the sweetest cat on earth. Now some people may try and argue with me about it – but I've lived with lots of cats over the years, volunteered at shelters, and met lots of cats that belonged to my friends. No one, bar none, has a cat as sweet as mine. That said, I have one minor complaint. From day one, my cat has been a drooler. He sits on my lap purring, and by the time he leaves, I’m soaked. When he sleeps, a puddle develops around his head. When he’s interested in anything - toys, food, and paper bags - he drools. He’s like one of those St. Bernard dogs as far as drool goes. I can live with this – and have been for three years. But is there anything that can be done?

Dear Kathy,
It is always fun for me to read letters from pet owners who love their pets so much. I can picture exactly what you are talking about as I also had a “drooler” way back when. I am going to assume you have already ruled out any dental or veterinary problems and have taken your kitty to be checked out. If you haven’t, you should. Even if his drooling is not at all related to any health or dental conditions, it is vital to have regular vet exams for your pet.

Drooling in cats is not as uncommon as you may think and certainly is not just for dogs. In our culture, kittens are generally taken from their mothers far too soon. Because people quickly tire of having kittens in the house, most of these little babies are placed into new homes between the ages of five and ten weeks. That is just too young.

It is actually much better for cats to remain with their moms until they are four to five months old. They learn good hygiene; develop self-confidence, and become well-adjusted pets. Conversely, cats that lose their mom’s influence & comfort while still very young tend to have “issues” of one kind or another. The most common is the drooling behavior that your kitty exhibits.

When he is sitting on your lap feeling loved and mothered by you, he is instantly transported to that place deep in his memory where he was nursing and snuggling with his feline mom. That’s what triggers the drooling. He’s not drinking any milk; but all the other physiological and psychological factors are there to open up the floodgates. Drooling while he is comfy and dreaming happy dreams is all tied up with this same behavior phenomenon.

His salivation reaction to toys, bags, and food is all related too, but based on a more mature, physiological response. He is hunting when he engages in play; and that triggers some very ancient and primal “dinner-time” responses, including drooling. And of course if food is within his nose’s range, just like with Pavlov’s dogs (and people) his mouth is going to water.

There really is nothing you can do to stop his leaky faucet impression. But you can take a few steps to make life with “Slobber-face” a little easier.

First, keep a few towels handy and put them on your lap during kitty-cuddle-time. It will save having to change your clothes over and over and towels are easily washed. You can also dab your pet’s mouth periodically if you notice he’s getting excited about toys, petting, or playtime.

Encourage your cat to sleep on a folded towel on your bed instead of your bedspread – or worse, your pillow! The best way to get cats interested in towels instead of fine linens is to take one towel fresh from the dryer and place it on your bed. Cats love warm clean towels. It reminds them of snuggling with their moms and it is very comforting.

I understand that you will end up having to do a lot of extra laundry with a cat like yours. But there is something rather special about living with a cat that loves you so much and is so comfortable with you that he can’t help drooling. Consider it a grand compliment.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Dog Growls at Daughter

Dear Marie, 
I have 2 dogs - a husky mix (female) and a yellow lab (male, unfixed). The female is 10 years old and the male 2 years old. The female has been with us since she was a puppy. The male lab came to us when he was about a year old when my son had to move to an apartment. My family also consists of my husband, our 21-year-old son and 22-year-old daughter. My problem is with the lab and my daughter. She loves both dogs and is constantly giving them attention. But sometimes when she approaches the lab he will give her a low grown and the hair on his back will go up. It is not all the time. My daughter does have another dog with her boyfriend at his house but this doesn't necessarily happen when she comes home from there. It could be when she first gets up in the morning. I don't think he would hurt her, but I would like to know why he does that. Do you have a clue? 

Dear Susan, 
You have described a behavioral situation that you may be surprised to learn is actually quite common and fairly simple to address. 

First and foremost, you must contact your veterinarian and schedule an appointment for your dog to be neutered. At two years old, he has reached his sexual maturity and a number of aggressive and inappropriate behaviors may begin to surface. Most of his poor conduct will be reduced or eliminated by having this simple procedure performed. Please don’t wait. 

In addition to putting an end to his bad attitude towards your daughter, you will also be doing your part as a responsible pet owner to ensure that he will not father any unwanted puppies. Furthermore, dogs that are neutered live longer, healthier lives than dogs that are not. There is no good reason to delay taking care of this very important matter. 

There may be other issues that are causing your Lab to growl at your daughter. If she is frequently away from your home, she may be considered a “visitor” in the mind of your younger dog. Canines sometimes look at visitors with a certain amount of apprehension. Your dog most likely believes that he has a higher standing in his “pack” than your daughter if she is away more often than present. If this is the case, he is trying to communicate his point through growling. 

I strongly suggest that your daughter enroll in a basic dog obedience class with your Lab. Even if your dog is already trained, the class will give your daughter the chance to demonstrate to him that she is in fact the boss, which is very important. Many cities offer inexpensive dog training through their departments of parks and recreation or community services. 

Between each class session, your daughter and your Lab must practice together everything that they have learned. She should also take your dog out for walks on a leash and give him a number of commands during the stroll. 

The reason for taking these steps is to instill in your dog the fact that he needs to respect your daughter as much as anyone else in the household. The best way to make this clear to him is through obedience training and practice. Within six to eight weeks, the problem behavior should completely disappear.  

If your dog continues to growl after being neutered and going through additional obedience training, then you may need to talk to your veterinarian and seek additional help from a private behavioral trainer. However, based on what you have described, I doubt that will be necessary. 
Good luck. 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Chew Toys Don't Last Long

Dear Marie,
Last month we took in a cute little Terrier Mix puppy who was about 4 months old. We've been
having so much fun with him and he is spoiled rotten. Our adult children bring him new toys
every time they come over because he goes through most so fast. His toys don’t last more than a
day or two and I’m not exaggerating. I am a little concerned about this and wanted to get your
opinion because when I say he goes through toys, I mean he chews them to pieces and swallows
parts of them too. I assume that dog-toy-makers take that into consideration when they design
toys – but at this point I am worried. It can’t be good for him to be eating chunks of plastic and
cloth. Am I being too overprotective or should I tell my kids to stop bringing toys?

Dear Dale,
Puppies need playthings or they will find their own “toys” in and around the house, i.e., shoes,
clothes, pillows, and expensive computer cables – the latter was my dog’s favorite during his
formative years! When a young dog is given toys, he learns what he is allowed to chew and
play with, as well as what is off limits. There is definitely a learning curve involved with this, as
your puppy will most likely try a few “off-limits” items before he gets the idea. Still, by
providing toys, you are setting him on the right path and giving him something positive in which
to channel all his puppy energy.

Nevertheless, not all toys available in pet stores are suitable for all pets. Many toys are now
graded in several ways. You may notice that some are intended for large breeds, some for
medium dogs, and some for small dogs. However, certain small and medium pooches have quite
strong jaws, and being that your puppy is a terrier mix, you should probably look for toys that are
graded by durability rather than by size. What I mean by this is that toys appropriate for Pit
Bulls are probably about right for your dog too.

Still, even the strongest toys are vulnerable to the amazingly strong bite of a dog and you should
examine all playthings on a regular basis for wear and tear. Once any of your dog’s toys start
showing signs of tearing or cracking, it’s time to get a replacement.

I don’t suggest giving puppies snuggle toys that are soft and plush. Though some dogs love little
stuffed animals, most pups tear through them in no time, swallowing the fiber fill used to give
the animal shape, along with the material holding it all together. This can be especially
dangerous if buttons or small plastic pieces are used for eyes and noses, etc. Though uncommon,
some dogs have been known to suffer from intestinal blockages as a result of eating dog toys.
And of course, there is a choking hazard associated with swallowing button eyes and noses and
even the squeaking devices that are hidden in the middles of many canine playthings.

The choking hazard can also be applied to small rubber balls if they are swallowed whole. It is
very important that any ball given to your dog be large enough that it cannot be swallowed.
Even when this rule is followed, I strongly recommend observing your puppy at all times when
he is playing with a ball. Be careful using tennis balls, as an avid chewer will quickly rip off the
outer cloth covering. If this happens, take the cloth part away from your puppy before he has a
chance to swallow it.
Your dog should have a lot of different types of toys; however, give him just one at a time and
put it away before giving him another. The different physical properties involved with how each
toy bounces or responds to his chewing will keep his mind stimulated and prevent boredom. A
bored canine is a dog who will find trouble. For him, trouble means fun. For you, it will mean
finding your expensive athletic shoes sporting new ventilation holes!

A final note – I am not so certain that all dog-toy makers have the right idea when it comes to
designing safe canine playthings. When you consider that these toys are supposed to help define
for a dog what can be chewed and what cannot, you can only say to yourself, “What were they
thinking?” as you observe bins of toys shaped like human feet or shoes.

Good Luck with your puppy.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Choosing a Pet Sitter

Dear Marie:
I am leaving home for six weeks and need a good and reliable in-home pet sitter. Can you help?

Dear Lucie:
Conduct some online research for “dog and cat pet-sitting services” in your area. You will find a number of listings. You want to make sure that the company you sign with is bonded and can supply you with references (and CALL those references!). Also, take the time to interview the actual employee who will be tending to your pets. Ask what the company policy is with respect to emergencies (for example, medical issues, or a pet that runs away). Watch how your pets interact with this person and more important, how this person interacts with your pets. If you have any negative your instincts. There are plenty of pet sitters to choose from. Most are wonderful, animal loving people; but take care to watch for the few who have gotten into the business for all the wrong reasons.