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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Thursday, August 28, 2014

Geriatric Dog Developing Behavioral Problems

Dear readers:
Before I answer this week's question, I would like to pass on some very important information sent to me by a reader. She cautions all bird owners to check the leg bands of their pets. If you acquire a bird as a juvenile, chances are its banded leg will outgrow its identification band which can lead to serious injury. Further, if this is the case, veterinarians have a difficult time removing bands that have become too tight and there is
a risk that the banded leg can be lost in the removal procedure. It is recommended that leg bands be removed upon acquisition of a bird by a new owner. Microchip implants are a far more reliable and safe method for identifying birds. Now to this week's question...

Dear Marie:
My thirteen year old dog has recently begun urinating and defecating in the house. This is a complete surprise to me because he has been house broken from the day we first adopted him. At first, I thought the problem was just going to be a one time accident. But everyday for the last two weeks, he relieves himself at least one time indoors. It is very frustrating. What can I do?

Dear Anita:
As pets advance in age, they often experience the problems you are describing. The first thing you should do is take your dog to the veterinarian to make sure this behavior is not health related. If everything checks out OK, then you'll need to work on some new behavior training with your pet.

First, re-teach and re-enforce basic house breaking principles. As soon as he has finished a meal, take him outside or for a walk until he does his business. Praise him and let him know that this is what you want. (Just like people, dogs tend to forget things as they age.)

As much as possible, take him outside every couple of hours to repeat this process. If you must leave him unattended for lengthy periods, confine him to a part of the house that is easy to clean, just on the outside chance he can't hold out until you return. You might also consider investing in a roomy dog crate and line it with his favorite blanket or dog pillow. Place him in the crate when you go to bed and let him outside as soon as you wake up. Dogs will not mess their sleeping area; but don't press his limits. If you keep his crate in your bedroom, listen for his restless sounds during the night. If he can't be still, that's a sure sign he needs to go out.

If you work away from the house, try to arrange to come home during your lunch break to let him outside. Perhaps even a neighbor can check in during the day to take care of this for you. The average working person is gone from home about ten hours (with driving time and lunch breaks included). This is probably too long for your aging dog to control his bodily functions.

Some pet owners actually put specially designed canine diapers on their incontinent pets. Unless you are able to change the diapers as they become soiled, I don't recommend this alternative as it can lead to skin irritations in you pet. Further, this is usually an option reserved for pets who are incontinent due to serious veterinary problems. It seems that your pet is just going through changes associated with the normal aging process.

Having a geriatric dog is like having a new puppy. You'll need to make some allowances for his physical and mental failings. It will certainly take some extra patience on your part and some extra cleaning and deodorizing products! But, he has been your loyal companion for many years and he is now depending on you to stick with him and love him as unconditionally as he has always loved you, especially as he enters a new phase in his life.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Bad Grooming Experience

Dear Marie:
We've just returned from a very frustrating day at the groomer’s. My Springer Spaniel, who is normally an affectionate and loving dog, growls and bares his teeth at the groomer. He really hasn't had any “bad” experiences at the groomer’s and was an angel last visit. (This was his second time with this groomer.) We've switched groomer’s as this has happened before but we chalked it up to youth and inexperience. This present groomer is older, more experienced and has Springers of her own. We are otherwise crazy about this dog. Any suggestions?

Dear Kay,
Since I wasn't at the groomer’s, and I don’t have all the information, I’m going to have to piece this mystery together. One thing is certain. Your Springer Spaniel is trying to communicate a very important message. He is frightened of groomers or the grooming process. That is the reason why he is baring his teeth and growling. Obviously, he has experienced something bad.

During his first trip to the new groomer, as you stated, he was an angel. Whatever is frightening to him did not occur at that time. Compare all the visits. What was different? Were there dominant dogs growling or barking at him? Were electric clippers used? Did shampoo get into his eyes? Perhaps you should consider a mobile pet groomer. Away from the sights, sounds and smells of a busy grooming parlor, he will probably be much more relaxed. If this is not possible, ask if you can stay with your pet while he is groomed.

You soothing voice and presence will help him remain calm and understand that he has not been abandoned.
If your groomer objects to this request and suggests that you are babying your dog, or that your presence will only make things worse, you might need to find another groomer. You’re trying to solve a problem that will carry over to veterinary visits, or any other circumstance that reminds him of the grooming experience.

No one knows your dog better than you....even if he or she is familiar with the breed. All dogs are individuals. You will be able to determine if your dog is having a bad reaction to a particular stimuli far better
than a stranger.

There may also be physical reasons for his reaction. Perhaps the manner that he is restrained causes pain. He may have an injury that you are not aware of that is aggravated during grooming. Further, Springer Spaniels sometimes have chronic ear problems. If grooming involves ear cleaning, this may be very unpleasant. This may be a good time to take your dog to the veterinarian for a complete physical examination.

If everything checks out OK at the vet’s office, consider at least as a temporary option, grooming your dog yourself. Loving, familiar hands, a safe environment, and a calm voice may be all he needs. If due to time
constraints, this is not possible, check with other dog owners in your area and ask for their grooming parlor recommendations. I’m confident that you will find what works best for you and your pet.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Aggressive Geese

Dear Marie:
Recently, our grandchildren came to visit. We live adjacent to a park that has a pretty good-sized lake at the center. For as long as I have lived here, the lake has always attracted a sizable number of waterfowl,
including some very irritable geese. We usually ignore the geese when they start honking at us or walking in our direction. They used to be "all bluff." But this holiday weekend, two of the geese attacked my granddaughter as she was playing by the lake. She got a number of black and blue bruises from this
altercation. I think the geese have crossed the line on what acceptable behavior is. What can be done?

Dear Betsy:
Believe it or not, I have received about a half dozen phone calls and letters this week about similar incidents. Geese generally have the reputation of being quite nasty. In fact, when I was a kid, I was attacked by a pair of geese myself. Some people I know have geese instead of dogs to watch over their property. As you and I both know, they are definitely ready, willing, and able to fill such a position.

Nevertheless, aggressive geese at a park present some serious problems. Some general safety precautions are in order. First and foremost...never feed the geese or the other water fowl. The constant feeding of these birds has created an environment where instinctual fear of humans is lost. Furthermore, the massive quantities of food thrown to the birds by park-goers causes unnatural population surges in an area that realistically cannot support so many animals. The combination of abnormally large water fowl numbers and the loss of fear of man lead to aggressive avian territorial behavior.

When geese interact with each other, they use a variety of postures and vocalizations to express their desires. According to veterinary experts specializing in avian wildlife, geese will extend their necks to indicate they are challenging another individual to a fight. When park-going children invariably reach out their arms to point, they appear (to a goose) very much like other geese taking an aggressive stance. The response from the nearby lake inhabitants, therefore, is usually to attack. Consequently, it is important that children, as well as adults, do not extend their arms towards any geese. Especially those that have already established themselves as belligerent birds.

One thing to realize is that most animals are, as you have noticed, all bluff. If you are confronted by geese that seem to be on the offensive, start running right towards them. Make a lot of noise and chase them back into the water. If your local trouble makers are met with this response on a daily basis, you can be sure they will be less likely to challenge human visitors in the future.

Never injure the animals; but re-introduce them to the fact that they are supposed to be afraid of you. They’ll get the message. Finally, you might check with the maintenance crew that serves this park to see if signs can be posted alerting visitors to the potential danger, as well as warning all not to feed the water fowl. Wild animals can take care of themselves. It is only when humans try and interfere that problems occur.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Free Bird...Not a good idea!

Dear Marie,
Our next-door-neighbors have a beautiful, large, exotic pet bird that is frequently allowed to roam about unattended in their front yard, which is enclosed with a block wall. Their bird is an absolute sweetheart. He loves to be scratched on the side of his head, and will eagerly jump onto anyone’s extended arm. Though his wings are clipped, he has no trouble at all jumping to the top of the fence, and then out of his yard. We often find him at our front door begging to come in and our kids always take him back to his owners. I don’t have any complaints about his visits because we all find this bird completely delightful, but we just can’t understand why his owners allow this. He is a very valuable animal and I am certain that if the wrong person saw him out and about, he would be stolen in an instant. I've spoken with his owners about this on several
occasions, keeping the tone light and just expressing my qualms; but nothing I've said seems to be soaking in. I would hate to see anything happen to this sweet bird. What can we do?

Dear Lorene,
If the circumstances you have described have been going on for an extended period, your neighbor has been extremely lucky. A friendly, large, exotic bird that is allowed to roam about freely will certainly become a victim of theft sooner or later. Theft may actually be a harsh description, though accurate - an individual who sees this bird, may believe it to be lost and take it home. Commonly in our society, people who find lost pets believe it is OK to keep those animals. Almost everyone knows someone who has “adopted” an animal that he or she has found.

Even with your neighbors’ amazing amount of luck with respect to not losing their bird, there are many other risks associated with their lack of attention to its roaming, curious nature. Theft is actually one of the lesser perils.

Although your feathered friend is capable of limited flight, he is still at risk of being attacked by predators. Cats, dogs, and even wild animals may consider your neighbor’s bird an easy target. Even if he escapes, he may sustain serious injuries that he will likely not survive. In addition to the constant threat of assault by other animals, motorists who expect birds to fly away as their vehicles draw near may ultimately strike your neighbor’s pet if it wanders into the street. Being unfamiliar with cars, and unable to fly well, he lacks the ability to be safe crossing the road.

If this isn't enough information for your neighbor’s to re-evaluate how they maintain their bird, then add to this laundry list of dangers the fact that their beloved pet could become infected with a number of different diseases that are carried by wild birds or insects. I’m sure the last thing your neighbors want is for this sweet bird to contract a deadly disease.

Finally, remind them that poisons are used liberally in gardens, lawns, and other areas that are attractive to birds. Snail pellets look like food. Water that accumulates at curbside can contain pesticides and antifreeze. A thirsty bird has no way of knowing that drinking this water may be deadly. I am sure your neighbors love their pet and have no idea that allowing him such a broad range of freedom can ultimately end his life. Nevertheless, sometimes it is best not to beat around the bush when trying to make a point. I would recommend telling your neighbors that you are worried about the well being of their bird. Outline all of the dangers their pet faces each and every time it is left outside unattended. Offer to “baby sit” the bird if they are unable to remain outside with it. There is no reason that a conversation like this be un-neighborly. You are simply showing concern and offering assistance. You may be able to approach the conversation by taking the visiting bird back to its home yourself instead of assigning the task to your children.

I know it is hard to enter into conversations that may be interpreted as confrontational. But you seem like a compassionate person who will have no trouble pulling this off and that is what is needed to save this bird’s life.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Dangers of "Free to Good Home"

Dear Marie:
I don’t know if you've ever addressed this issue in one of your past columns; but could you possibly mention all the bad things that can happen to animals given away via “free to god home” ads. I see so much of this and I think people just don’t know. Please help get the word out.

Dear Kathy,
Thank you for the suggestion. You are absolutely right. There are numerous, serious problems associated with giving pets away “free” to strangers. The key word here is “free.”

When pets are given away, there goes along an implied statement that the animals have no worth. Often, recipients of free pets retain the notion that their pets have no value and therefore give them up easily or abandon them at a later date. It is no secret that a disgracefully high number of animals are abandoned or given up every year. Because the lives of dogs and cats are increasingly devalued, companion animals have become disposable items.

One of the saddest statistics I've heard is that the average pet has two to three owners in its life. But this problem is the least of my worries when I see animals being given away. A much more loathsome fate awaits many “free to good home” pets.

Unscrupulous people who round up and sell family pets to research facilities pose as model pet owners who offer to adopt free puppies, kittens and adult animals. They scan news paper ads and frequently offer to take whole litters. The term “bunchers” has been applied to these heartless con-artists.

Another growing problem relates to dog fighting. Pitbull trainers collect docile family pets that cannot possibly defend themselves against the fighters. The pitbulls make short order of these helpless creatures. Trainers use “free to good home” pets in this manner to boost the confidence of their fighting dogs. The fighters are encouraged to attack and kill kittens, puppies and even adult dogs. Dog fighting is illegal; but unfortunately is broadening in its popularity in Southern California and Nationwide.

What can be done to stop the exploitation and abuse of “free to good home” pets? First and foremost...spay and neuter! Most of the companion animals offered up as “free to good home” are puppies and kittens. If their parents were spayed or neutered in the first place, a major portion of the supply of animals that end up with these horrible fates would be significantly reduced.

Second...if you must give away your family pet, collect a monetary price. Give your companion animal some value so that it will be cherished. Don’t be shy about checking up on the person or persons who want to adopt. Ask for identification. Conduct a home check to make sure they live where they say they live. Ask for references and talk to their neighbors. If you have any doubt that they are not suitable owners, wait for someone else. Your pet is depending on you to ensure its well being.

Finally, reconsider your decision to give up your pet. Adoption of companion animals is supposed to be a lifetime commitment. It should not be entered into lightly. Animals are NOT disposable items. Once taken into a home, they are family members and should be treated accordingly. Remember, they form attachments and have strong feelings.  Being separated from the family and home they love is nothing short of a nightmare.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Fly Strikes, Dogs

Dear Marie,
When the weather warms up, flies start to hang around my yard. They just swarm and hover around one of my dogs but bite the ears of my other dog.  I have tried the creams from the vets and keeping the yard clean, but to no avail. My dog's ears start looking bloody in no time. Would you please help me? I'm at a loss.  I can't bring my dogs into the house. My mother is allergic to the dogs and I have a cat who doesn't get along with them.

Dear Al,
Sometimes, no matter how clean one keeps a yard or how often one applies creams to the ears of pets, dogs are still victimized by flies.  It only takes a few minutes for a group of flies to severely injure a confined animal and cause permanent tissue damage.  Needless to say, fly bites are quite painful and your dog should be protected as much as possible.

Dogs in poor health or those with upright ears tend to be targeted more than healthy, floppy-eared dogs. I have seen many German Shepherds and Doberman Pinschers who lost a significant portion of healthy ear tissue due to fly bites.  It’s very disturbing, especially when one considers how easy these injuries are to avoid.  Simply, bring the dogs indoors.

I understand that you are facing two prominent hurdles: your cat and your mom.  Let’s address your cat issue first. 

Keep your dogs confined to a section of the house.  Make sure that none of your cat’s favorite things are where the dogs will be.  Put her food, water, litter box, bed and any special toys in her favorite room(s).  Keep the dogs away from those areas by using baby gates.  Your cat will be able to easily scale the barriers as well as venture into the dog areas when she feels secure enough to do so.  You will find that the three animals will establish fairly peaceful co-existence in a very short amount of time.

Dealing with your mother’s allergies will be a little more challenging.  You must bathe both dogs at least once a week using a shampoo specifically formulated for animals.  Human shampoos have an improper pH balance that will actually cause your dogs to become itchy and scaly.  This could aggravate your mother’s symptoms. 

Be sure to completely rinse off your dogs.  It’s important not to leave a shampoo residue.  The best way to be certain that there is no leftover shampoo is to rinse each dog two to three times with clean, running water.  If you are using a filled bathtub, drain the wash water and each separate tubful of rinse water.

Towel dry your pets.  Do not use a blow dryer.  Then, allow them to air dry completely.  Once they feel dry to the touch, dampen a washcloth with a product such as Allerpet and apply according to labeling directions.  These topical solutions will significantly reduce or even eliminate the antigens that trigger human allergies.

Your mother will be able to enjoy your dogs and your dogs will be able to live a happy, fly-free life.  You will probably notice many other wonderful “side-effects” from these new, better animal/human living arrangements as well.  The personalities of dogs blossom when they are allowed to be indoors with their families and people tend to be more relaxed and content in the company of pets.  It’s a win-win situation.

I realize that I have outlined a plan that will take a lot of effort and time.  Sometimes I get letters from readers saying that I expect too much from pet owners.  That may be true.  However, when one makes the commitment to bring a pet into his or her home, there are real responsibilities that go along with that.  Anything short of providing a companion animal with a safe, healthy and happy life is irresponsible pet ownership.  Animals deserve our love, not neglect. 

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Good Pet for a Flight Attendant

Dear Marie,
I LOVE dogs and really, really want a pet. BUT, I am a flight attendant. The most I would be gone at one time is three days, but I'm mostly gone only two days, or the greater part of one day. My dad says I would be committing pet abuse if I got a dog and left it alone for that long. Can any dogs be left alone for two days? What pet would be fine on its own inside a studio? Can cats be left alone for two days, maybe three? They would not have access to the outdoors. I do live alone, so there would not be anybody to stop by and play or feed him. I hope there is a pet out there, besides a fish or bird or something scaly, that I could have.
Thank you,

Dear Tricia,
I can certainly understand wanting to have a pet, other than a fish. There is nothing like a happy dog or cat coming to greet you at the door after a long day. But quite honestly, I have to agree somewhat with your dad. Leaving a dog or a cat alone for up to three days at a time (And are we talking every week?) is just not a good scenario. Let me explain.

You as an adult human being can fully comprehend separation periods and the fact that you will be coming home eventually. A pet on the other hand, is emotionally equivalent to a small child. He doesn't understand time. He doesn't understand long periods of separation. He most certainly won’t understand YOU when you explain in English that you’ll be back in a few days.

He does, however, experience loneliness, loss, fear, anxiety, boredom, and a multitude of other emotions that will leave your pet with serious psychological scarring. This often leads to the derivation of behavioral problems, which in turn leads a frustrated owner to giving up a pet. Separation anxiety is the leading cause for barking in dogs. In an apartment complex, the last thing your neighbors want is a lonely, barking dog in the building. You can almost be guaranteed a stern talking to by the apartment manager. In addition to barking, many dogs become destructive when they are left alone. They chew anything and everything to deal with their unhappy feelings. Some dogs have been reported to cause thousands of dollars in damage when left alone and are also in danger of hurting themselves if they chew on electrical wires or get into cabinets with medicine or cleaning solutions.

You may now be wondering about cats. It is true that cats are more independent than dogs and tend to handle separation much better. But, this is only true with regards to an owner being gone during normal work hours. The reason for this is that while the average person is toiling in an office for 8-10 hours a day, the average cat is napping or enjoying a number of relaxing hours on a bed or in a sunny spot by a window. Eventually however, a pet cat is going to wonder what happened and will begin to experience stress. Having self-feeding and self-watering dishes are not enough for a sentient being. Pets crave and need companionship and will suffer if they are left on their own. There is a right time and a wrong time to adopt a pet. At this stage of your life, with your job that requires extended travel, I would have to say that this is probably the wrong time for you.

Perhaps though, your father could pet sit while you are away. This may be a workable alternative that would allow you to have a pet. Why don’t you talk it over with him? He seems to care about animals based on what you have written, so he may be up for this.

One final suggestion – there are many pets in animal shelters who can use some love and attention. Have you considered volunteering with one of these facilities? You’d be able to spend your at-home-time with a whole variety of animals, and yet not have the responsibility for them when you are away. It’s something to consider.

Best wishes.