All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

Listen To The Pet Place Radio Show with Marie Hulett

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Needy (Demanding) Pet

Dear Marie,
I have a five-year-old dog who loves me very much and I love her too. I spend a lot of time with her every day. We walk together and play together. But, every time I try to do my own thing, she constantly jumps up on me and tries to get all my attention again. I don’t mind spending time with her, but I need time for myself too. Do you think she needs another dog around to be her companion?

Dear Joanne,
I am not sure getting another dog will solve your problem. It may compound it. Your dog may teach the newcomer that this behavior is completely acceptable. Then, instead of having one dog mug you when you need quiet moments, you’ll have two! Further, two dogs mean a whole lot more of your time. It seems that time is the one thing you need…not a new dog.

I think what you really must do is set down some ground rules for your pet. Don’t cut down on the playtime and affection you want to give her. However, when you need your own space, you need to let her know what you want in no uncertain terms.

I suspect you may be sending her mixed signals. If you tell her “no” and then allow her to continue pestering, she will assume you don’t really mean it. She has come to expect that she can have her way because you won’t be consistent and firm.

There are a number of things you can do. First, re-establish yourself as the “alpha” or head of the family by taking a refresher dog obedience course together. Especially practice “down, sit, and stay.” Remember, dogs love to please their people but need their guidance to get on the right track. Don’t ever let her get the upper hand or you will lose your credibility.

When you decide it’s time to be on your own, firmly call out these commands. Be sure and praise her when she follows through with the correct behavior. You can also give her a little toy or treat to keep her busy while she is in her “stay.”

You should also temporarily introduce her to kennel time. Kennels are useful in many areas of dog training. It seems as though a kennel would be especially useful in your situation.

After a long walk or play, send her to a large, comfy dog crate or kennel. Make sure she has a toy and a blanket to snuggle with.  You might also give her a treat when she goes in. Turn on a radio and tune it in to soft music or talk radio. After she has settled in, go about your business. Dogs generally don’t mind being in kennels. They are like little dens, which for dogs are actually quite comforting.

When you are ready to spend time with your pet again, let her out, but don’t fuss over her too much. Wait ten or fifteen minutes before handling her. This will reduce the frantic, “so happy to see you” energy dogs sometimes get when their owners return.

If you have friends who are willing, send her out with them for walks and playtime. This way, she will not depend solely on you for fun and affection. In fact, if there is a regular time each day that you need for yourself, you might enlist the help of a dog walker (a responsible teenage neighbor who wants to earn a little money, perhaps) to take your pet for a nice long jaunt through the neighborhood.

In a nutshell, with regular, consistent obedience training and a little more variety of human interaction, your pet will probably become very well-mannered. You don’t need to introduce another dog because I don’t think your girl is bored or lonely. She just needs to know what is expected of her and what she can expect in return.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dogs suddenly turn on one of their "Pack"

Dear Marie,
My three dogs, two Maltese (8 years and 6 years old) and a Jack Russell mix (3 years old), have been staying at my mom’s house with her two dogs (10 years and 5 years old) for the last 9 months. When my nephew travels, he drops off his two Pomeranians ( 4 years and 5 years old) at my mom’s. All of the dogs are spayed and all weigh between 8 and 12 pounds. They have all gotten along well until recently. One of the Poms was playing with the Jack Russell and suddenly the Jack Russell attacked her and punctured her skin. After the dogs were separated, my two Maltese dogs went after this same Pom in an aggressive manner. I was there when it happened and I immediately kenneled my dogs. There is nothing that I can determine that set the dogs off. Just recently, my Jack Russell went after one of my mom’s younger dog which again caused my two Maltese to attack. The dogs are all house-dogs with a pet door to the back yard. None of my dogs will attack the older of my mom’s dogs and they also do not attack my nephew’s second Pom. Do you have any ideas on why this is happening, how to prevent it, and how to break up the fight?

Andrea A.

Dear Andrea, Dynamics within a family or a circle of friends are always in motion. This is true for every species. Think of a workplace where everyone seems to be getting along. It doesn’t take much to rattle the environment. If someone feels possessive of a certain project, he or she may make hasty decisions or comments based on the need to control, and that usually results in the hurt feelings of co-workers, which then leads to more trouble. Of course, no one keeps these things to themselves, and soon everyone at the office knows about the problem and people take sides. In about 0.5 seconds, things get ugly and people who previously got along great, all jump in the dog pile. Sadly, most humans can never work things out, and things stay sour. But the good news is that dogs are not people. When something like this happens, they forgive. They forget. And they move on. But first, you have to help them forget and you also need to teach them that only you, your mother, and your nephew are in charge. Your Jack Russell, though she wants to move up the corporate ladder, needs to know that her position is and will always be at the very bottom.

Now being stuck in last place in the dog world does not sit well. Dogs instinctively have the urge to eek out a higher position in the chain of command. Somehow, your mom’s senior dog has earned top dog position in your little dog pack. Since she is an elderly dog, I don’t see a problem in letting her keep that spot – so let’s put everyone else in declining order behind her.

Here’s how to accomplish this task. First, assemble your mom, your nephew and yourself for a group meeting. Let them know that the three of you need to participate in group training. Since your mom is the primary caregiver of the dogs at her home, I would suggest that she handle the two dogs that have been singled out in the attacks, as well as her old senior girl, during the training exercises.

You need to leash the three of your dogs. Your nephew needs to leash his Pomeranian which has not been attacked. Your mother needs to leash both of the “victim” dogs and her little old lady. Once everyone is leashed and ready, it’s time to go for a walk. Your mother should leave first, followed by your nephew, and lastly you. Remain in this formation as you walk. Your Jack Russell Mix needs to be in the very back of the walking party which means as you hold her leash, do it in a manner that makes her walk behind you. She’s not going to like this but no matter how much she complains, do not let her walk level with you and the other two dogs.

When you return, let the dogs off leash in the house in the same order you walked in. Your mother releases her dogs first, followed by your nephew, followed by you. Repeat these walks - and they should be good, long walks - each day for a two-week period. Your little pack will notice that the two victim dogs are always allowed to lead which sends the message to all involved that they are indeed leaders. Dogs are very simple-minded in this regard.

During this same period, you must also never let the dogs out to play at the same time. Put a barrier in the doggie door and let the dogs have free run time in the same mini packs that you've defined with your walks. Again, two weeks should be a sufficient amount of time to establish the new hierarchy, but in case there are any setbacks, it may take a little longer.

As a warning – never physically break up dogs involved in a fight. Have a hose ready to use and spray a strong stream of water directly in the face of a dog who initiates an attack. Then when they break apart, grab the dogs and put them in separate places. Hopefully though, you won’t have this happen if you follow through with consistent training.

Good luck.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Lost Pet Snake

Dear Marie,
Our 13-year-old son has a pet snake that disappeared over the holidays. We think one of the relatives didn't close the top of his tank properly and out he (the snake) went when no one was looking. We've had this snake for three years now and all of us are just heartbroken. The snake is a ball python and is about two feet long. Do you have any suggestions for finding a lost snake???? The snake’s tank is in my son’s room and we have searched in every nook and cranny there trying to find him.

Dear Emily,
Unless your doors were left open for extended periods of time, and I doubt that was the case considering the cold weather we've been having, I would bet that your snake is still somewhere in the house. Still, it wouldn't hurt to start posting signs and going door to door passing out flyers in your neighborhood. Unfortunately, most people are not as enthusiastic about snakes as you are.

If your snake shows up at the home of someone who has not been informed of its pet status, it may be in for trouble. Shovels and other household tools are frequently used as a defense against harmless snakes because the general public lacks understanding and knowledge about these animals. There is a baseless fear of snakes that permeates the minds of most people and leads them to overreact to the presence of one of these spectacular reptiles.

You should also check with your local animal care and control authority as well as nearby veterinarians just in case your snake was found by a good citizen and turned in. It wouldn't hurt to fax flyers regarding your lost snake to these offices as well. Many animal shelters have lost and found boards where you flyer may be posted.

Of course as I stated, your snake is probably hiding somewhere in your house. Since this is winter and he will likely be very cold, he will want to find as warm a spot as possible to coil up and sleep. There are endless possibilities for beginning your search, but I would use this opportunity as a chance to get your spring-cleaning done early.

Begin in your son’s room. Take everything out of the closet and check all bundles of clothes for your snoozing snake. If your son is anything like the average 13-year-old, I suspect his closet is a major disaster area. You may not need to go any further after tidying up this spot.

But, if your pet isn’t there, carefully move your son’s bedroom furniture, especially if there is any open space at the bottom. For example, is his chest of drawers is not flush with the ground or if it does not fit tightly against the wall, have two people pick it up and move it, being careful not to drag the heavy item at any time.

Another favorite spot for snakes is under beds or in mattresses, particularly box springs with a lot of accessible filling material for warmth and insulation. To examine the bed, begin by taking the top mattress off and then remove the box spring, turning it upside down for careful examination. You will probably need to cut off the cloth covering the bottom if there are any torn or open areas or you will not be able to adequately search the spring region.

Once you are certain he is not in the bed, check boxes and clothes that may have been stored under the bed.

Sorry to say that you will need to repeat this regimen in each room of the house. Check couches, cabinets, stereos, under and behind refrigerators and other appliances, heater vents, and any other accessible location. I am hoping your search will be successful in your son’s room, but if not, don’t give up. Your snake will resurface.

If careful searching yields no results, place bowls of water in as many rooms of the house as possible, and purchase a few extra hot rocks, plugging them in at strategic locations. Eventually, your snake will seek out the water and the comfort of the heat.
Good luck.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Introducing a New Kitten to an Old Cat...

Dear Marie,
We have a wonderful 7-year-old tabby. She is very mellow and tolerant. Several months ago we baby-sat a kitten and our cat hissed and scratched the kitten. This was extremely unusual for our cat. We will be taking in a kitten permanently in a few weeks. Do you have any suggestions for helping her adjust to a new cat? Thank you,

Dear Arielle,
Introducing a new cat or kitten to a cat who has been queen of the house for many years will most likely be an exercise in patience. That’s not to say it can’t be done because every cat will eventually accept a newcomer. But I must warn you that there will be some very trying moments in the process as the two cats adjust to each other; and you should be prepared for some pretty nasty snarling, growling and chasing.

The key to making the introduction as smooth as possible is time. Do not dump the kitten right in front of your cat or you are asking for trouble. Instead, designate one room of your house as the kitten’s temporary quarters. Prepare it before the kitten arrives. Make sure you have a food dish, water bowl, litter box, a bed, and various toys, including a scratching post inside the room. Keep this room off-limits to your adult cat for several days prior to bringing home the kitten.

There are two important reasons for doing this. First, it will remove the “territory” factor from the equation. Your adult cat will realize that this room is not part of her domain. In fact, when you choose a room for your kitten, pick one that your cat rarely spends time in, rather than one she enjoys. Second, by having a room with a litter box, food, and playthings, your new kitten will learn good habits because she will not have to search for a place to go to the bathroom, nor will she have to look far for appropriate things to scratch and play with. Having food, water, and a bed available will also make her feel secure and comfortable.

A few days before your kitten arrives, visit with her. Most animal shelters have visiting rooms or get acquainted areas where you can do this. Make sure that the kitten has had a vet check and has been cleared for adoption because you don’t want to bring home any germs to your healthy cat. Take a dry, terry-cloth hand towel with you and rub it on your kitten’s face. The kitten will enjoy this because it will feel good. Keep this up for several minutes to ensure the towel absorbs the scent of the kitty.

After visiting, go back home and spend time with your adult cat. She will immediately notice the smell of the “stranger” and begin sniffing you suspiciously. Ignore this behavior and begin petting her. In fact, pet her with the same towel that you used on the kitten. Repeat this process several times a day during the time leading up to adoption. This will allow your cat to associate love and attention with the scent of the kitten and that is a very good thing.

When you do finally bring your new charge into the household, have her in a cat carrier and take her directly to her room. Put her in and spend only enough time with her to get her acquainted with her new surroundings. As soon as she is comfortable, leave the room and spend time with your adult cat who will no doubt be standing right at the door, sniffing.

Do not let the new kitten have free run of the house at any time during the first week. Visit her often, but never to the point of creating jealousy in your adult cat. After a day, open the door of the room just a crack. Use a brick on both sides of the door to ensure it cannot be closed or opened further. This will allow both cats to sniff each other. Expect some hissing.

Monitor the cats’ behavior—as the hissing begins to diminish, but no sooner than one week, you may attempt to open the door completely. It is imperative that you never give the new kitten attention while your adult cat is watching. Instead, lavish attention on her. There will be plenty of time later for spoiling the new kitten.

Continue feeding both cats separately. Food is something that cats will fight over. Don’t give them any reason to wage war. In the future, you will be able to feed them together, but wait to do that until the cats are comfortable with each other.

Some cats adjust to newcomers within a few weeks, while others take months. Some cats become very bonded to each other, while others decide to just tolerate the existence of the “intruder.” The important thing is that they do eventually work out their differences and learn to get along.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Kids Write In

Dear Readers,
Recently, I had the wonderful privilege of speaking to the second graders at a local Elementary School. We talked about responsible pet guardianship, living with urban wildlife, and many other animal related subjects. Because there is never enough time to address everyone’s questions during such a presentation, I invited the children to write letters to The Animal Files. I've
included in today’s column a few of my favorites, along with my replies.

Dear Ms. Hulett,
Why do dogs bark? Is that their way of talking (because my dog barks a lot at people)? How do you make them stop?

Dear Nathan,
Dogs bark for attention. Sometimes, they are bored. Sometimes they are trying to warn you that a stranger or another animal is near. In any case, they are indeed trying to “talk” to you. Sometimes, they are just excited and want to let you know. The best way to keep your dog from barking, is to make sure he gets lots of attention and is never left alone outside for long periods of time. Indoor dogs tend to be much quieter and happier than outdoor dogs.

Dear Ms. Hulett,
What do you do with a cat that acts like a dog? He chases his tail and drinks out of the toilet. I hope my cat is all right.

Dear Kathryn,
I wouldn't worry too much about a little tail chasing. Kitties love to play and they make “toys” out of anything that catches their fancies – including their own tails. If you and you family laugh or make a big deal out of his tail chasing – he is likely to chase it even more because he senses the positive reaction he is getting from everyone. If you don’t want him to chase his tail and notice he is in a playful mood, find a long piece of string to drag along the floor in front of him. He’ll forget his tail and go for the string. As far as drinking out of the toilet is concerned, I would recommend always keeping the lid closed and making sure your kitty has plenty of clean, fresh water in his own bowl.

Dear Ms. Hulett,
If I get a dog, I’ll train him. I’ll play with him. I’ll take him outside. I’ll help my dad build a doghouse. I’ll take him for walks. I’ll make him food and wash him too. That is my question.

Dear Alonzo – hmmmm – I think I know what you question is – and I bet your parents know too! Keep up the good attitude and show your parents how responsible you are with other things—like school work—keeping your room clean, and helping around the house. Then, I suspect it won’t be long before your parents say, “yes” to your “question.”

Dear Ms. Hulett,
I have a question about my rabbits. They all run away. They all dig their way out. I have a lot of holes in my back yard. But I don’t know why they always run away from me. What should I do to make my yard safe so my rabbits won’t run away anymore?

Dear Tiffany,
The best thing you can do to keep your rabbits safe is to keep them indoors. There are many good books about house rabbits and I suggest visiting your local library or animal shelter to find out how to keep a pet rabbit inside your home. Did you know rabbits can be litter-box trained?

They also become far more affectionate and playful if kept indoors. If you cannot keep your rabbits inside, it is not wise to get any others, as they will all continue to dig out and run away.

Dear Ms. Hulett,
What pet should I start out with? Should I start with a rabbit? I don’t have any pets. If I get a pet, how much should I feed it? What kind of pet do you have? How do you train pets? Are dogs and cats good animals?

Dear Anhvu,
The first thing you should do is talk with you parents to find out what type of pet would be best for you and your family. The most important thing you can do to ensure you’ll be a good pet owner is to make a few trips to the library and check out books about animals. Then you can learn about all animals and decide which one you are ready to care for and train. I think every animal is good. I have a bird, two dogs, three cats and a fish.
Good Luck!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Doctor says "Dog has to Go!"...No Way!

Dear Marie,
We've just had our 2-year-old son diagnosed with multiple allergies by an allergy specialist. The doctor said that he is not yet allergic to our family Labrador, but if the dog is not moved outside, he is at high risk of becoming allergic to dogs. We feel it necessary to move the dog outdoors. We live in Southern California, and it's not that cold. We do go outside all times of the year, and take the dog on walks and with us to many places. We feel that it is better in the long run for the boy not to chance becoming allergic, and that the dog should be able to be comfortable outside.

We plan to provide a nice doghouse for him. We also have a large covered patio out back. The back yard is completely enclosed. But we were wondering if you had any advice for moving a nearly 100% indoor dog to the outside with the least amount of stress on the dog. He likes it outside when we are there, but otherwise likes to be inside.
Thank you!

Dear Ed,
First, I am happy to hear that you do not plan on getting rid of your dog as so many parents of children with allergies usually opt to do. What is surprising, most of these decisions are made at the recommendation of a doctor. It’s a quick and easy “fix” that old-school allergists pass along as if the allergy-sufferer’s pet is an old rug, rather than a member of the family.

What they fail to take into consideration is the fact that your dog is most likely quite special to your son. Strong bonds between pets and people are formed from a very early age. So in addition to creating a very stressful separation from family for your pet, you will be doing the same to your son who has always known a furry, friendly, four-legged brother. Being only two years old, this will be very hard for him to understand.

The irony in this is the fact that since he has grown up with the dog, he is probably not a candidate for developing allergies to your Labrador. Not too long ago, it was thought that allergy-prone children living with pets would develop allergies to pets later in life. However, recent studies following allergy susceptible children from birth to 6 or 7 years old have shown that those individuals who lived with pets throughout that time were significantly less likely to develop allergies to pets and furthermore, having pets in the home may actually decrease the likelihood of developing pet allergies later in life.

Before relegating your trusting dog to a life alone in the back yard, you may want to seek a second opinion from a more pet-friendly allergist. All too often, dogs that are evicted to the outdoors ultimately become neglected – out of sight, out of mind. You may provide him with all the food, water and protection from the elements that he needs, but the bottom line is that dogs not only want regular interaction from their family – they NEED it - to be emotionally healthy.

Another option that you should consider is the use of anti-allergy products which are applied directly to your pet’s fur. There are a number of good products on the market and they are very easy to use. Owners of dogs and cats who suffer from full-blown allergies to pets, report that these products are nearly one hundred percent effective in eliminating pet-related allergens in the home.  Use of whole house air filters and regular vacuuming are also great methods for reducing environmental allergens.

You can choose lotions that are applied to your dog’s fur via washcloth on a weekly schedule, or as needed, or you may decide that specially formulated shampoos are more appropriate for your situation. In either case, using this type of product is a much better solution than eliminating your son’s best friend from his daily environment.

I understand that your son’s well being is your top-most priority. But children who share their homes and have close relationships with pets, grow up to be caring, compassionate adults. With recent studies demonstrating that living with pets from birth reduces the chances of developing allergies in later life, and with modern science providing products that control pet allergens, it seems that keeping your son and dog together in your home is a far better choice than separating them forever.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Lovebirds - care and feeding

Dear Marie:
I am interested in lovebirds. I need to know how to take care of them. What do they eat? What do you do if they start pulling out their feathers? Basically, I need to know about basic maintenance, etc.
Ms. Clark

Dear. Ms. Clark,
The Lovebird, when full grown, is about six inches in body length and is classified as a small parrot. They tend to be very sociable. In the wild, they feed on various seeds and greens. They form small nesting-colonies and build homes in the knots of trees. They lay three to six eggs and incubate these for twenty-three days.

In captivity, you can feed them a variety of packaged grains, foxtail-millet, seeds, and pieces of leafy vegetables and fruits. You can also give lovebirds dry dog food intended for small dogs. A good diet is essential to maintaining a bird’s health. Malnutrition is one of the major causes of illness in birds and may lead to reduced immune responses to infections or infestations.

Don’t be fooled by packaged grains that say they are "vitamin enriched." The vitamins have been sprayed on the outside of the seed hulls which are ultimately not eaten. Plan on making the majority of your bird’s diet from fresh food. Choose from the four food groups; however, limit the amount of fruit offered because it is largely water and therefore not a good source of calories. Be sure to wash all fresh fruit and vegetables thoroughly before feeding and remove any leftovers within 2-3 hours. Avoid giving avocado to your pet. They are toxic to birds.

Vegetables are a great source of vitamins and minerals. For vitamin A, offer carrots. For calcium, offer broccoli. Refrain from feeding you pet Iceberg lettuce. It has no nutritional value. In a pinch, you can thaw and serve frozen mixed vegetables.

Dairy products, such as yogurt and cottage cheese, are good sources of calcium and protein. Believe it or not, birds do have a sense of taste and love a variety of foods. Further, if you continually offer different foods, your bird is not likely to become finicky.

Give your bird fresh water daily. Also, place a mineral block or oyster shell in your bird’s cage for extra calcium. Do NOT use cuttle bones as these come from amazing, sentient LIVING fish who are killed simply to provide calcium to birds.  (Learn more about the cuttle fish here:

Keep your bird’s cage in the hub of your home. They need a lot of attention and social stimulation. However, make sure the cage is not in a drafty area. Do not let the temperature of his room drop below 65 degrees or rise above 95 degrees.

Allow your bird 10-12 hours of sleep each night. If necessary cover his cage to allow for this sleeping schedule.

Give your bird the chance to exercise outside of his cage but check first for hazards such as cats, open doors and windows with frayed screens, ceiling fans and other dangers. Also keep in mind that birds love to chew on things they find around the house. Keep him away from plants that may be toxic or electrical wires.

Feather Picking is a behavior in birds that is a both troubling and baffling. Frequently, no one can ever determine what is causing a bird to do this. In some birds internal or external parasites are the cause. In other cases, psychological problems such as stress or boredom lead to feather picking. Regardless of the cause, if your bird begins this behavior, a tip to the vet is warranted.