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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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Baby Bird Found at Preschool

Dear Marie,
My daughter and I arrived at her preschool before anyone else this morning and found a little sparrow hiding in a corner by the front door. My little girl immediately started running towards it, but instead of flying away, it tried to run and would occasionally try to fly a little. It barely got off the ground and only managed a few feet at a time. I was worried that it had been attacked by cats or was sick so I tried to catch it as well. Well this bird was amazingly fast for being injured or sick and somehow he got away from us and disappeared on the playground. In the meantime, there were two other birds that kept attacking us – not that they really did any damage – they would just fly by our faces. It seemed like they were watching over their friend. I didn’t
know sparrows did this. My question is this – should I try and find that injured bird and take it to a veterinarian? I’m really worried about it.

Dear Corrin,
Thank you for having so much compassion for this little bird. However, you should know that he is most likely not injured at all and he will be fine.The scene you described is currently playing out everywhere this time of year. The bird in this situation is a fledgling. He looks like an adult, completely feathered and nearly adult size; but he runs and hops rather than flies. To ensure his safety, mom and dad birds distract anyone or
anything that tries to hurt their baby. After a few days strengthening his flying muscles and working on his coordination, he’ll master flight and start life on his own. Next spring, he’ll be watching over his own fledgling offspring.

Many caring animal folk such as yourself will routinely capture fledgling birds believing them to be injured or sick. This is the worst thing they can do. Wild baby birds in captivity become very stressed and more often than not, do not survive. This is compounded by the fact that people don’t really know what to feed various wild bird babies. Every species has a specific diet and if they don’t get it, they are doomed.

Many important developmental changes occur during a baby bird’s fledgling period. Most significant is learning how to be self-sufficient. Though his parents are indeed watching over him and will also bring him some food, they are encouraging him to take care of himself by letting him find some of his own food and more important still, letting him figure out how to escape from predators. If he doesn't learn how to master these skills, he will not survive.

A fledgling who is brought into the human world is deprived of this essential developmental period. If he does stay alive under human care, he may become attached and/or dependent on people. Then at some point, if he is returned to the wild, he will not be ready to care for himself and will most likely not survive.

You should also know that it is a violation of state and federal law to capture and keep wild birds unless you have a special permit for rehabilitation. There are a few birds who are not protected, such as pigeons and starlings; but the rule of thumb is to leave wild birds alone. Wildlife rehabilitation centers are overwhelmed with fledgling birds every summer and they usually request that these babies be returned to the spot where they were found. I understand that it is hard to leave a little guy out in the open where he appears to be so vulnerable – but this system has worked quite successfully for Mother Nature as evidenced by the millions of birds that grace our planet.

As a final related note, I strongly encourage all cat owners keep their cats indoors. Cats are remarkable hunters and have a significant impact on wild bird populations. They are NOT part of Mother Nature’s system and we as pet owners need to keep that in mind at all times.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Feral Kitten won't tame down...

Dear Marie,
Help! My daughter and I rescued a kitten when she was only 3-weeks-old. She could not even walk. We bottle-fed her until she was able to drink Kitty milk on her own, and then solid food. We have done nothing but love her, but she is mean. She always bites, sometimes pretty hard. The Veterinarian tells me she is wild. She is awful when I take her to the vet, hisses and snaps at the Vet and his assistants. They could not even cut her claws. When I took her to get fixed, they could not even get close to the cage she was in (I had to put in her the cage) when they tried to sedate her. They told me they had to use metal mesh gloves. At home she is not that awful, but still hisses at other people, and even at me when I try to cut her claws. The funny thing is that she does let me bathe her with no problem. She hates to be picked up or petted, and when we do try to love her, she bites. Sometimes very softly, but most of the time it's hard and she gets crazy! Now her new thing is to poop behind the front door if we are away from home too long. Please tell me what we can do to make this better. It's just my daughter and I and we adore that little stinker, but we are beginning to get frustrated with her.
Thank you,
Mary and Jeanne

Dear Mary and Jeanne,
Your kitten is what we is the humane world describe as a feral cat. This simply means, as your veterinarian suggested, that she is wild. But don’t be discouraged. Feral cats do mellow out given time, love and patience. I adopted my cat Squishy (pictured with me) when she was a young wild kitten. Now, at 15 years old, she is sweet and loving and you would never even suspect that she was permanently banned from her first veterinary hospital!

There are a number of things you can do to tame your little lioness. However, your first order of business is to make her feel safe and secure. This can be accomplished by limiting her free space in your home to one room. As I have mentioned in previous columns, a room for a cat should include a little box, food and water, a window, toys, a cat tree, and most important – a comfy place to sleep.

Do not push yourself on the kitten. Let her come to you. Spend a lot of time in the room, but do other things. You can read while your daughter does homework, or any other activity that you enjoy. If your kitten does come close, or hop on your lap, talk to her in a quiet, soothing voice, but avoid petting her more than once or twice. In some cats, petting elicits a bite response. Until she has mellowed, let her become content just being close to you. You may feel more secure using a terrycloth towel to stroke the top of her head. If she enjoys this, you may continue petting her with the towel. This will protect your hands from being bitten or scratched, while still giving you and the kitten the opportunity to bond.

When you feed her, sit down next to her so that she is always aware that you are responsible for providing the food she enjoys. Do not use an automatic feeder. Bring her fresh food in the morning and the evening. Canned food will fetch a more positive reaction. Yes, I am talking bribery in feline terms! You’ll need to keep her confined to one room until she begins to appear more relaxed. In the meantime, I strongly advise using an enzymatic cleaner specifically developed to eliminate the odor of cat feces and urine on all the areas where your cat inappropriately urinated or defecated.

Try and spend as much time as you can with your kitten – but pay attention to her sleep schedule. Young cats do need at least 18 hours of sleep a day. Anything less will result in a cranky cat, and that’s the last thing you want. Give her plenty of time to snooze. When you feel she is more secure, go ahead and open the door, but don’t force her out. She will venture out on her own. If you have any setbacks, you may need to confine her to her room just a little longer.

Some feral kittens become sweet young cats within a few months, while others take much longer. My own cat still reverts to her feral ways without warning every now and again and still doesn't do very well in a veterinary hospital. But it only takes her about 3.1 seconds to spot and occupy an empty lap; and her purring is an obvious sign that she is a happy and content kitty. I think you will have this to look forward to soon. Best wishes.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Feline Leukemia

Dear Marie,
My beautiful Siamese cat of 12 years was just diagnosed with Feline Leukemia. I have to admit that this is my fault. Though Felix is generally an indoor cat, I do let him outside when he asks. He stays in our yard, or either one of my next-door neighbors who don’t mind him visiting at all, but he never travels further than that. I guess he must have been exposed to a stray cat who was infected, and now he is very sick. At first, I just thought he had a cold. He had runny eyes and a runny nose. But our vet did some blood tests and told me it was much worse. He explained to me how we can treat Felix for symptoms, but there is no cure. Initial treatment is going to cost over $1,000 of which I've already paid more than $600 this past week on tests and drugs, etc. I need to make a decision on whether or not I should proceed, or if things are hopeless, to have Felix euthanized. I don’t think I can afford the ongoing costs of care, but if Felix still has a few
good years left, I hate to take those away. You've always given good advice and I am hoping
you can help me here.

Dear Georgia,
When to have a beloved pet euthanized is always a very complicated decision. Without knowing the extent of Felix’s symptoms or the type of treatment he will be getting, it is hard for me to judge the quality of life he may have in the coming months or years; and therefore that is something you should discuss in depth with your veterinarian.

Unfortunately, Felix probably did contract the virus while he was outdoors. Feline Leukemia is frequently transmitted via bites from other cats. What's more, if food dishes are left outside and infected neighborhood cats take advantage of the free meals, the virus can be passed along this way as well. If cats are allowed outside, they should be vaccinated against Feline Leukemia. But the vaccine is not 100 percent effective so the best protection against this terrible virus is to keep cats inside always. Perhaps your sad story will encourage other cat owners to keep their pets indoors.

Your cat is capable of spreading the disease further and now more than ever, it is vitally important to keep him inside. This will also protect your cat from being exposed to other germs that may make him ill. Now that he is infected with feline leukemia, his immune system is weakened and no longer able to function properly. That is most likely why he is at the present suffering from a secondary infection.

If your cat is currently in fairly good shape other than the noticeable symptoms of his upper respiratory infection, he may have several quality years left. Since your veterinarian believes that he can provide a successful treatment regimen for the secondary infection and the cost is your major hurdle, I would strongly recommend contacting one of the many organizations that offers financial assistance for veterinary care to pet owners such as yourself. Here in Orange County, The Pet Fund has a web page with many links that may be of assistance. You can view this page at:

If your veterinarian’s hospital belongs to the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) you can ask him to submit a request for financial assistance through the “Helping Pets Fund.” He may also be willing to work with you on creating a manageable payment plan for treatment, or may even give you a reduced price if he knows you need help. It never hurts to ask.

I should advise you that the majority of cats infected with Feline Leukemia do indeed succumb to the disease, or complications from other infections within 2-3 years. There will be a point in the future where Felix will lose all quality of life and further treatment will do nothing but extend his suffering. Sometimes pet owners cling to hope rather than letting their pets go. Again, this is the hardest decision any pet owner faces, but you should understand that when this time comes, your decision to euthanize will be made with as much love as your previous decisions to treat his illness.

You have time to look into financial assistance. Don’t let the cost of treatment be the determining factor in how to proceed. Talk frankly with your vet. Get solid answers regarding Felix’s life expectancy and quality of life. Then decide which path to take. Every pet owner finds himself in this same situation eventually and it is never easy. I wish you and Felix well in this very difficult time.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Bridal Shower went to the Dogs!

Bridal showers aren’t what they used to be.  With so many women already well-established in their own homes before tying the knot, they really don’t need three new blenders and multiple shiny toasters from family and friends!  Now days, many brides are opting for creative new ways to celebrate their impending weddings.  Recently, I received a letter from Hilda Godges, the proud mother of a bride-to-be, who told me about her daughter Jenelle’s bridal shower that quite literally went to the dogs!

Let me backtrack just a bit.  About eight years ago, Jenell adopted a handsome Pit Bull Terrier from the Irvine Animal Care Center.  “Quade” became the love of Jenelle’s life—no offense to her fiancĂ©, Jeff Bader!  Because of the bad reputation that Pit Bulls have, Jenelle initially hesitated to bring Quade home.  But his big terrier-smile and winning personality made her realize that dogs should never be judged by their breed; a dog that is loved will always be a loving dog.  In fact, Mom-Hilda was so impressed by Quade, that she too adopted a Pit Bull mix that she adores.

Quade has been Jenelle’s constant companion, running buddy, and fellow people-watcher.  But with the passing of time, Quade—now suffering from arthritis—has begun to slow down, and settle for a couple walks a day, sunbathing, and handouts from Jeff as he barbecues dinners in the back yard.   His loving temperament continues to win people over and he is an outstanding ambassador for Pit Bulls everywhere and homeless pets in shelters.

Jenelle remembers the moment she first saw Quade at the shelter; and when she thought of all the other homeless pets that are still waiting for their forever families—sad, lonely, confused, and there only because humans from their “past lives” have let them down—she realized she wanted to do something to make their waiting a little easier. 

So she and her bridesmaids brainstormed and decided that Jenelle would have a wedding shower fit for a dog! Invitations went out and guests were asked to bring donations for the homeless pets of the Irvine Animal Care Center.  Jenelle could not believe the response!

On the day of the shower, family and friends arrived with cash donations totaling $315.00, over five-hundred cans of pet food, fifty pounds of dry dog food, one-hundred individually decorated gourmet dog treats, twenty bags of regular treats, sixty-five collars, seventy-nine dog toys, forty-six dog accessories, more than sixty towels and blankets, nineteen dog beds, twelve doggie outfits, three large laundry detergent jugs, and of course, every dog’s favorite snack—peanut butter—seventeen jars!  Even cats were remembered as some guests brought assorted cat toys and scratching posts!

While Quade looked on approvingly as friends and family paraded through the door with donation after donation, Jenelle’s heart was filled with happiness and amazement!  She couldn’t stop smiling.  All Hilda could say in response to the sheer amount of donations was, “Happy, Happy, Happy!”

Jenelle mentioned to me that the summer is generally considered to be “wedding season.”  She hopes that other brides-to-be would see this as a unique twist on the “traditional” bridal shower and choose to support a shelter or rescue for their own pre-wedding extravaganza.  She added that the guests in attendance at her party all talked about how good it felt to donate a gift to a homeless pet in a shelter.

I want to thank Jenelle and her mother Hilda for sharing this brilliant and compassionate idea.  I know the homeless pets who receive these items will feel the love and comfort that come from having a “special something” while enduring the stressful circumstances of being in a shelter; and that might be all they need to gain enough confidence to give an extraordinary dog smile or kitty purr to someone looking to adopt a furry companion.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Fat Cat

Dear Marie,
We have a lovely, 12-year-old tabby cat named Sadie who is as sweet as can be, but she keeps putting on weight. This morning, she weighed in at 19 pounds. She always seems hungry and is constantly begging for food. I've told everyone in the family not to feed her because I put food out for her each morning and each evening, but the kids especially tell me that they can’t ignore her because she seems so hungry and acts so cute when she wants food. They give her snacks, treats, and table scraps all the time. I've also recently discovered that she eats our dog’s leftover food right out of his bowl. I had no idea that cats would eat dry dog food. When she was younger, she was a slim and trim 9-pound cat. It’s only been in the last five years or so that she’s been putting on such weight. What can we do to help her get her figure back?

Dear Janice,
From all that you describe, it sounds as though Sadie has you and your family very well trained. (And isn't this what all cats aspire to?) But seriously, an obese cat suffers just as many problems and is susceptible to all the same health risks as an obese human being – so as much as your kitty is happy for the constant buffet of delicacies, her eating habits and your family’s facilitating activities need to be changed immediately.

But first, make an appointment with your veterinarian. A significant weight gain and insatiable appetite may be indicative of an underlying health problem that can be detected with a general exam and blood work-up. Animals do need annual check-ups, especially in their more advanced years; so please do not delay in getting this set up.

Now let’s get back to the issue of Sadie’s overeating. First, your cat needs to be on a senior diet specifically designed for overweight cats. You can obtain this type of food from your veterinarian, or you local pet supply store can advise you as to an appropriate nutritional product. Either way, you want to be sure to purchase a high quality food. Generally, supermarkets will not carry the type of cat food that your feline family member will need, so if you are currently using a grocery store product, you should switch over.

There are very specific feeding schedules and amounts to be given printed on cat food packaging labels. It is extremely important that you follow those instructions. This means that there will no longer be any between meal snacks, treats, table scraps or eating out of the dog’s bowl! You will need to feed your dog in an area that your cat is not allowed, or remove the bowl as soon as your dog is finished eating. It will require vigilance on your part, but extra food can no longer be accessible to your kitty.

I understand it is difficult to resist a cat with its pleading eyes and leg rubbing routine. But, you have to be the administrator of tough love in this situation if you want your special pet to be around for many more, enjoyable years. You must tell all of your family members that their tidbits of food and extra treats are shaving time off your cat’s lifespan and also reducing her quality of life for every day activities.

An obese cat will suffer from joint pain stemming from the extra weight that her petite feline frame was not designed to carry. Her heart will have to work much harder. She will not want to play as much as she used to and she will become more and more sedentary. This is a path that needs to be redirected now. Instead of treats, offer affection and playtime. Have your children use a long piece of string to entice her to chase and pounce. Increase exercise time a little each day and observe Sadie for signs of fatigue. You don’t want her to become overly tired.

Your cat has come to expect food from you any time she wants it. She may be confusing food offerings with affection. Don’t let her mix up these two, very different caregiver activities any longer. Have everyone in the household make some extra time for Sadie where they will sit with her and pet her and let her know that she is still the queen. Her overeating habit will take a little time to overcome, but with the love and attention of her human family, she will be able to reacquire a healthier physique and a new attitude.

Good Luck!

Friday, July 11, 2014

We All Bark for Ice Cream!

Hey Marie,
There are times when I share my ice cream with Peaches, my dog. Sometimes she does not lick the small scoop I place on a paper plate; instead she swallows the entire piece. I now give her very little ice cream at a time. My question is, do dogs get what we humans call "brain freeze"? She never seems to be in pain, nor do I ever want her to be. I appreciate your time.
Keep up the good work.

Dear Sergio,
What a great topic for July – which by coincidence happens to be National Ice Cream Month. More ice cream is sold in July than in any other month, which is not surprising, considering it is usually the hottest month of the year.

You may also be interested in knowing that according to surveys, at least five percent of people share their ice cream with their dogs or cats, so you are definitely not alone in this treat-giving category of pet owners.

Dogs indeed get what most of us people refer to as brain freeze, if they consume frozen treats too quickly – but usually dogs learn that if they take their time, it won’t happen. No dog will eat anything that makes him or her feel too uncomfortable, though. So if your dog doesn't seem to mind and happily continues accepting your offerings, than I wouldn't worry about it.

Some dogs seem to have a higher tolerance for frozen treats than others, but no dog will ever turn down ice cream, no matter how much brain freeze he or she experiences. The same is true for people when you think about it!

You should keep in mind, however, that dairy products are really not the best treats for companion animals. Dogs and cats tend to get upset stomachs from eating anything with milk; though I do know that it is virtually impossible to resist giving a few licks to face with big, sad, begging eyes that can see you enjoying a cool, sweet, frosty cone, and I suppose a few licks never hurt anyone!

Be especially careful though with chocolate ice cream, or any ice cream that contains chocolate chips. Chocolate can be toxic to dogs and in high enough doses, can be deadly. As a general rule, never give chocolate in any form to your pet.

An alternative to ice cream intended for people are frozen treats formulated especially for pets. These pet foods contain no dairy products. One such item - Frosty Paws – which is available in most grocery stores, has annual sales of more than ten million dollars. Clearly, there are many pet owners like you who truly enjoy sharing their ice-cream experience with their dogs and cats.

Though I've never personally tasted doggie frozen treats, I understand from other pet owners that they are quite good. But the proof is in the pudding – or perhaps the delectable peanut butter and cheese flavored frozen treats that my dog can’t get enough of.

In addition to traditional flavors like vanilla, there are some fairly unusual flavored pet treats that you won’t be seeing any time soon at the corner ice cream store. But that is an added benefit in disguise. Most of the faux ice creams for companion animals are nutritionally sound and vitamin fortified, so you don’t need to feel too bad about giving your little girl too many empty calories.

Nevertheless as with any treat, you should never overdo. Make sure your dog gets a good diet and lots of exercise. All too often in these hot summer months, daily walks get shortened or eliminated. I recommend taking walks early in the morning and/or late in the evening when it is cool outside. And then in the middle of the day when everyone is screaming for ice cream, go ahead and enjoy a little.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Dog Barks while Leashed

Dear Marie,
We adopted a lab mix female dog from a rescue group back in July and just adore her. She is definitely a submissive dog and is perfect in every way except one. She loves other dogs off leash, but when walking with her she gets very aggressive (barks meanly, hair on her neck raises up) towards other dogs when they are also on leash. When we take her to the dog park she is perfect and never shows any signs of aggression with other dogs. It is only in walking her on a leash. She is the sweetest dog - very affectionate, but this is a behavior I would like to know if it can be stopped and how to stop it. I would like to walk her without that stress of running into another dog and her going nuts.

Thank you for your time and I look forward to your insight.

Dear Sonja,
Dogs barking and acting aggressively towards other dogs while on leash are probably the two most common and frustrating problems that dog owners must deal with. Fortunately, your dog is a sweet and submissive individual, so in her case, this behavior can be fairly easily addressed.

First, purchase a Gentle Leader, or another similar product, to use while walking. These are enhanced collars that fit around your dog’s neck and head. When your dog is walking well, the product really acts as nothing more than a collar. However, if your dog begins to bark and act ferociously, a simple pull on the leash will cause the nylon straps to close your dog’s mouth and bring your dog’s head around to you.

This is important, because as a pack animal, she already knows that you are the leader. In nature, dominant canines will grab the muzzle of a subordinate to demonstrate that whatever the canine of lower standing is doing is unacceptable. A Gentle Leader allows you to communicate with your dog at its most basic, and instinctual level.

In addition to using the head collar, be sure and tell your dog a word or two, such as “Quiet” or “No barking.” Be consistent with your use of words so that when your dog hears this command, she will know, even if she is not wearing her special collar, that barking is not appropriate.

You may also want to try some additional commands as other dogs approach, to keep her focused on you. If you have attended obedience classes, your dog should already be familiar with the basics. Try giving her a “sit” command followed by a “down” command. If she remains focused on you, rather than the passing dog, be sure and praise her thoroughly.

If you haven’t already taken group obedience classes, I would strongly recommend enrolling in one. Most city parks and recreation departments offer group dog obedience sessions that last 6-8 weeks. They are usually a bargain, and a lot of fun.

 In a group setting, your dog will be exposed to many dogs. Because everyone knows that canines in these classes are still learning good behavior, a dog that barks will not upset most people. Use this guaranteed exposure to practice with the Gentle Leader and obedience commands to get your dog on track. Your instructor will also be able to provide a number of other tips and tricks to help both you and your dog.

By the end of your class, your dog’s aggressive barking should be a thing of the past; but don’t forget, the key to success is consistency. Good Luck!