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, October 9, 2014

A Good First Pet for a Child

Dear Marie,
My daughter has been begging for a kitten for at least two years. She is ten years old and in the fourth grade. I don’t think that she is ready for the responsibility and I don’t want to end up being the primary caretaker of this pet, which I think will be what ultimately happens. I don’t have the time for a pet and I really don’t want one. But, she is really emphatic that she will take care of her own pet and that she is ready. I’m thinking that maybe I should just get her a fish or a frog. That way, if something happens to it because she didn't take care of it, it won’t be too big of a deal. What do you think?

Dear Craig,
I think it is an excellent idea to start children out with pets that don’t require the same level of care that a kitten or puppy would need. Nevertheless, fish and hamsters DO require care or they will become sick and/or die. Frankly, I don’t think any valuable lesson is learned by letting children fail in the care-giving department. Coming home to a dead pet—of any kind—is never pleasant (and it certainly won't be very enjoyable for the animal either!).

This will be your daughter’s first experience in nurturing another life. You will need to guide and supervise her until you are certain she can assume the responsibility on her own. It would be unwise and inhumane to present her with a pet and then wash your hands of it. Taking that attitude will only lead to a tragic end. Your daughter should learn that all life, whether a fish or a hamster or a kitten is valuable; and if entrusted to her care, she must respect that value. But only you can teach her that important lesson.

If she adopts your attitude that the death of a fish or hamster is really no big deal, she will probably not develop the skills she will need to care for a kitten or a puppy. Ultimately she must be made to understand that if she demonstrates that she can properly care for a pet, that she will be able to
adopt a kitten.

However, even at that point, you will need to be involved. No matter how responsible your daughter becomes with regards to pet care, there will be occasions where she forgets, or is just unable to tend to her pet’s basic needs. You will need to pick up the slack in those cases no matter how busy you are. Later, you can talk to your daughter about the problem and prescribe the appropriate consequences if they are warranted. Nevertheless, the consequences do NOT belong to the pet and it should not be ignored if your daughter overlooks its care.

Of course, before you get any pet, take a trip to your local library and check out books on fish or hamsters, or peruse the Internet. Find out together what they need and how to handle them. Fish are not as easy to care for as most people think. Water temperature needs to be maintained, as well as pH levels. Special food is sometimes required as are supplements that keep fish healthy. Hamsters need to have cages cleaned on a daily basis. They need to be handled regularly or they can get a little “testy.” There is so much to learn. But this will be a wonderful FAMILY project.

I know, you said you don’t really have the time. If this is absolutely the case, then perhaps you should wait until YOU are ready. Your daughter and your potential pet will need your involvement. In the end, the answer to your question is probably already known by you. Good luck.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Halloween Safety for Pets

Dear Marie: 
Last year, I met you in person at a pet-expo in Orange County. It was shortly before Halloween and you were discussing safety tips for pet owners to follow during the “trick-or-treat” season. You even had a pamphlet that outlined some general precautions. If at all possible, can you review these tips? I would certainly appreciate it as I am sure other pet owners will too. 

Dear Pamela, 
Thanks for a very seasonally appropriate question. Halloween is still a few of weeks away; but it is definitely time to start preparing and developing a game plan!

First of all, check to make sure that all your pets are wearing identification tags. If you've changed your phone number or address recently, immediately purchase new tags from your local pet supply store (they are made in a few  minutes while you wait) notify your county or city’s pet licensing department so that databases can be updated, and update your microchip company.  If your pet does not have a microchip - now is the time to get one.  Remember, when trick-or-treaters come knocking, there is a good chance that your pet may escape when the door is opened.

It is also a good time to bring your pet’s vaccinations up to date if they are overdue. A rabies vaccination is particularly important in case your pet is involved in a bite situation. Animals are usually frightened by the barrage of children in costumes paying visits to your home. It is usually best to put your pet in a closed, quiet bedroom with classical music playing, or at least in the garage until the last of the trick-or-treaters has called it a night.

If you are hosting a party yourself and you want your pet to be included (I don’t recommend this) give your pet a quick refresher course in “good manners.” For example, don’t let your dogs jump up on guests; teach your cats to stay off tables where food is being served, etc. You know what 
difficulties your own pet has in the etiquette department! Now is the time to correct those bad behaviors.

Don’t let your cats (and dogs) run loose. Small friendly pets are easy prey to people inclined to play cruel, Halloween pranks. Furthermore, during seasonal celebrations (which can begin several days before the actual holiday, there tends to be more vehicle traffic on otherwise quiet, residential streets. A pet who is not accustomed to cars and traffic can be injured or killed in the street. Again, I stress...keep your pets safely confined.

If you have children who are trick-or-treating, let them know that they must not give any of their goodies to dogs. Chocolate contains a substance which is absolutely toxic to dogs. Keep all candy bags well out of reach of your pets. You’ll be surprised how smart animals are when it comes to seeking out food they’re not supposed to have, so make sure your hiding place is completely pet-proof. I usually buy some special pet treats for my own dogs so that they won’t feel left out when everyone else has tasty goodies to eat.

If you plan on dressing your pet up, make sure the costume you choose is safe and comfortable. Additionally, if your pet is clearly unhappy wearing a costume, don't force him or her to tolerate this. Halloween is for people.  Pets really don't care if they dress up or not!  (Well, actually some pets prefer NOT to dress up!)

Sometimes, even the most responsible and prepared pet owners leave a loose end somewhere. Bearing this in mind, keep your veterinarian’s phone number, as well as the closest emergency pet clinic and animal shelter phone numbers on your refrigerator in case of emergency. Hopefully, you won’t need them, but you should still be prepared for anything.

I hope these tips will be useful to you, and other pet owners in making 
Halloween a safe and enjoyable holiday for everyone. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Cats Run Loose in my Neighborhood

Dear Marie,
Before I state my problem, I want to let you know I love cats. I have two neutered, indoor cats that have collars, tags, microchips, all of their shots, an abundance of cat toys, and a bed in almost every room of the house. They are pampered and spoiled and that’s putting it mildly.

Now, here’s my problem. I live in a nice neighborhood where there are many other pet cats that don’t have it so good. They are outside all hours of the day and night. They come to my house and fight outside my bedroom window. They use my garden as a litter box and spray urine on my car’s tires and front door.

Unlike my cats, most of these don’t appear to be spayed or neutered, as it is pretty obvious they are in the process of making new kittens. UGH! Some of the cats look sick. Some of the cats sit in the street. Some of the cats look malnourished. Some of the cats look fat, healthy, and purebred. No matter what their appearance, I am almost certain that all of them have “homes”.

The situation seems to be getting progressively worse. When I come home from work at night, I literally see dozens of loose cats just in my own neighborhood. What can I do to help curtail this growing problem?

Dear Angela,
Many cat owners are under the mistaken belief that it is unfair to keep a cat indoors. Some people may have tried to keep their pets inside but later gave up because their cats complained too much. Ultimately, they are allowed to go out again. Still other cat owners believe the cats that they provide food and water for aren't really their cats. (Even if they have fed and cared for them for years.) It’s always frustrating to hear these excuses.

The bottom line is that it is unlawful to let cats roam on anyone else’s property. Furthermore, if one chooses not to have a pet spayed, he or she should know that it is against the law for any cat (or dog) “in season” to be unconfined. One could also argue that cats allowed to roam freely into and across streets are being neglected and placed in danger. This would be a violation of a California Penal Code requiring reasonable care of pets.

Unfortunately, most laws pertaining to cats are rarely enforced. Even animal control would probably just advise that you trap the cats and bring them to the shelter. However, if the cat does not have any form of identification, the shelter’s staff would not be able to contact the owner and statistically, the majority of non-identified cats are never redeemed and ultimately euthanized.

There are alternatives to taking cats to the shelter. First, find out who is in charge of publishing your local neighborhood watch, homeowner’s association, or other community newsletter and ask if you could write a small article about the problem. Be sure to include concerns about the health and safety of cats allowed to roam free. Add to that the staggering pet-overpopulation numbers revolving around cats. Emphasize the statistics regarding cats euthanized in shelters for lack of homes. Finally, reference the laws that I previously described.

If there is no improvement - and there is likely not to be as most pet owners never think their animals are the ones causing a problem - then you need to take a more hands on approach.

First, invest in a humane cat trap. Also, purchase a number of cat collars. Make copies of your community bulletin and cut out the article about cats. Fold up the article and staple it to the collar. Set the trap each night. If you find a cat in the trap in the morning, and if it is safe to do so, put a collar (complete with the folded article) on the cat. Then, set the cat free. When it goes home, it will personally deliver to its owners the desired message.

You will find that after receiving such an unusual note, some pet owners will modify their behavior. Some however, will remain irresponsible. They will continue doing so until they find their cat dead in the street. And sadly, they will replace that cat with another who is treated identically. Some people never change. All you can do is keep trying to make a difference.

Good luck.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Adopting a Llama - What you need to know...

Dear Marie,
We have just moved into a large home that is zoned for horses and livestock. We are particularly
excited about this because my husband and I have always wanted to have a pet llama. Every
time we see these animals at fairs and petting zoos, they always seem so friendly and funny. But
to be honest, we don’t know the first thing about them and how to care for them. We've both
had horses while we were growing up – and know that llamas will be just as much work – so
we’re prepared for that. But everything else is uncharted territory. Can you give us some starter
information and point us in the right direction.
Jeanne and Ben

Dear Jeanne and Ben,
You two definitely want to start your life in your new home off with a big change. I am glad you are looking into everything first before diving into it.

Llamas are indeed very fun animals and make great companions. They have lots of personality; they love to play and they live for affection. Once you bring llamas into your home, you’ll wonder why you didn't do it sooner.

But, you are right. They are a lot of work and you really need to know what you are getting into from the start. There are a lot of good informational websites on the Internet, which also provide support group contact info and llama club locations and telephone numbers. I strongly encourage you to read everything you can and to join various llama enthusiast clubs before making a llama purchase.

Through networking with other llama lovers, you’ll be able to find reputable breeders in your area. Believe it or not, there are actually some “puppy-mill” type llama breeders around who are taking advantage of the surge in popularity of these exotic pets.

Don’t let the price of a llama deceive you either. You may think that an expensive animal is well-bred, healthy, and properly trained. This is not necessarily true. Llama prices have come down significantly over the past 10 years and generally don’t indicate whether or not an animal is high quality. On the other hand, if you find a llama that is questionably inexpensive, there probably is a good reason for that. Be very careful.

Your best bet is to visit various llama breeders. Check out their facilities. Are they clean? Are the animals well-adjusted? Are their coats maintained? Are their teeth and feet in good condition?

Llamas should be comfortable being harnessed so that they can be led easily. They should also be relaxed for grooming and shearing. Llamas should be calm when their feet are handled, and their teeth examined. This is basic training that should be done by a breeder before you purchase a llama. If a breeder makes excuses as to why his llamas do not have this basic training, then you can assume that his animals have not been receiving the type of general handling and care that they need.

Also, you should know that Llamas acclimate much faster to a new environment if they have a llama buddy, so you should plan on getting two llamas when you finally take the plunge. Your new llamas should be the same gender. There are a lot of reasons for this, but the main rationale is that they can begin breeding before they are even one year old! As with all pets, the quality of care you can provide is directly related to how many you have. Unless you plan on being home all the time, I wouldn't recommend having more than two, especially if you want their personalities to develop into human-loving animals.

Feeding and sheltering llamas is fairly simple, especially if you are set up for livestock already. Again, all of this information can be found in books, on the Internet, and from breeders. Best of luck to you as you start a new chapter in a new home.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Biking to Work and Saving a Dog...

Dear Readers,
During the warmer months of the year, I ride my bike to work most days. It’s a completely different experience from taking the car. Let me expand on that. In the car, I notice that no other driver has any interest in my existence unless they think I am going too slowly, at which point they may choose to tailgate, or gun their engine while passing, or offer me half a peace sign. (And based on their facial expressions as they deliver the message, I don’t think they are proposing I have a semi-peaceful day!) Keep in mind I do not drive like a little old lady. But these folks, like many on the road, aren't happy unless they can go at least twenty miles an hour faster than the posted speed limit. I’m sure you've seen these people too. They seem to be reproducing faster than cats these days!

Honestly, I am pretty tired of all the angry drivers on the road. Sharing my mornings with these clowns makes my day start on a sour note. So that’s why I ride my bike instead—and what a difference! I can actually hear songbirds everywhere, and it’s an amazing symphony. I can see the beautiful gardens that my neighbors have worked long and hard planting and maintaining, and smell the roses that are in bloom. When one whizzes by in a car, it’s impossible to appreciate or sense any of these things.

On a typical bike-ride to work, I see a few dozen people out and about. Each and every person I encounter, almost without fail, will smile, wave, wish me a good morning, or provide some other pleasant greeting. Outside of my neighborhood, I don’t know these people which makes this interaction that much more extraordinary and delightful. By the time I get to work, I've smiled more times than I can even tally and that is a great way to start a day!

One other noteworthy aspect of biking to work is that you notice all the pets that live on your selected route. I see them in their yards. I see them on walks with their owners. I talk to people about their animals if I have time, and make new friends. It’s a lot of fun. But it also leads to situations where I can help.

Most people who own dogs, no matter how careful they are, have experienced their pets accidentally getting loose. Sometimes visitors or workmen leave gates and doors open allowing dogs to escape unnoticed. Kids forget on occasion to make sure pets are secure before they head off to school. There are so many potential triggers that may lead to a pet getting out. In the past 6 months alone, I have come across eight dogs on my route to or from work that were minus their humans. I was familiar with seven of them (specifically because of my bike riding) and got them all back home—I always carry a leash in my purse. The eighth dog I did not know and could not get close to him. He was not wearing a collar so even if I could catch him, there would be no way I could call his owner.

Of course, I have Orange County Animal Control’s phone number in my cell phone and called them for assistance. In order not to frighten the dog, I followed him from a safe distance and made sure he did not get out onto a main street. I continued to call Animal Control to give them updates on the dog’s location. When the animal control officer arrived, he was able to quickly impound the dog and get him to the safety of the shelter where he was reclaimed by his owner the next day. I was about an hour late getting home that night, but I had called my family to let them know what I was doing. They know how I am so this is nothing new to them! The point is, had I been driving my car every day, I would have never seen these wayward pets who could have been injured or killed. I would not have met the majority of their owners. I would have never made my many “bike-route-friends.” And instead of starting my day with a lot of warm and friendly greetings, I would have only the experience of being in a metal box, surrounded by hundreds of angry or frustrated drivers.

Though I don’t expect all of the readers to start biking to work from this point forward, I do encourage all of you to give it a try if you are physically able and don’t have an excessively long distance to travel. It’s also important to map out a safe route for biking (which isn't always possible). But if you are in a position to give it a try, I hope you do. I think you’ll enjoy it as much as I do. And you never know, you might rescue a few new animal friends too.