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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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Napping Cockatiel a concern to Senior Citizen Owner

Dear Marie,
I adopted an adult cockatiel from the Irvine Animal Care Center in the summer of 2006.  I am a senior citizen (80 years old) and live alone, so he is my constant companion.  Recently, he started taking more naps than usual and I am concerned.  I cover him up with a sheet at night from the time I go to bed until I wake up in the morning, so I think he is getting plenty of rest. He has always been very energetic so his napping worries me.  How long do cockatiels live?  Is this a bad sign?  What should I do?

Dear Claire,
It sounds like you have a wonderful little friend and I can certainly understand your concern.  Cockatiels live anywhere from 15-25 years and you have had him for almost 8 years.  You’ll need to check your original adoption papers to see if the shelter knew his exact age when you adopted him, but don’t fret over any of these numbers.  I’m sure he still has a long life ahead to share with you.

Aside from the napping, is your cockatiel showing any other unusual behavior or symptoms?  For example, is he eating and drinking normally?  Are his feathers puffed out?  Has he stopped vocalizing? Is he cranky? If you see a combination of changes, then you should get your bird to an avian veterinarian as soon as possible.

Birds can mask poor health to such a degree, that most of their caregivers never know they are ill until it is too late.  If your little guy hasn’t been in to see the vet in over a year, you should take him in for a checkup.

I know that a trip to the veterinarian can be very expensive, and if you are on a fixed income, you may feel as though you can’t afford a veterinary bill.  But there are financial assistance programs available that can help you if needed.  For more information on this topic, please visit the following websites:

If napping is the only symptom your bird is exhibiting, then you probably have nothing to worry about.  As the days get longer, cockatiels tend to take afternoon naps.  Perhaps you just never noticed in the past or were out of the house more often.  Most people who live with cockatiels can attest to this seasonal behavior.

Birds need 10-12 hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep time which might be more than what he gets currently if you cover him up when you go to bed and wake him up when you get up.  He needs to be in the dark AND in a place where he feels safe and able to snooze.  If his cage is near a window, even if you cover it with a sheet, the headlights of passing cars will penetrate and wake him up.  The less he sleeps at night, the more he will nap in the day.  Try putting his cage in a corner of the room far from the window and use a denser, darker blanket to cover him.

Another point to consider is that during a molt (period of feather loss and growth), all birds get a little sleepy.  This is completely normal.  If you’ve noticed some feathers dropping in conjunction with napping, that may be the key to this mystery.  To ensure he has all the nutrients he needs during molting season, include plenty of healthy foods in his daily meals.  Fresh fruits and vegetables are essential, along with a high quality pellet mix designed for cockatiels.  Avoid giving him just “seeds” even if they are labeled “cockatiel diet.”  Seeds do not provide the vitamins and minerals that a diet of fresh fruits and vegetables do.  It’s OK to give him a few seeds, but think of them more as “junk food” rather than a true meal.

It’s good to pay attention to changes in a pet’s behavior.  Get that vet check, but try not to be too anxious about the napping.  I suspect everything is A-OK and your little friend will be around for many more years.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Follow-up to my last blog post on cat relinquishment at shelter...

Dear Readers,In my last blogpost, I wrote about the plight of a ten-year-old kitty who was left at an animal shelter by its very apathetic owner and her friend who were more concerned about the latest shopping center fashions than the welfare of the terrified cat.  I received more letters about this story than I have for anything else I have ever written.   I would like to share some of these very intense sentiments sent in by readers. 

“…my blood was boiling just reading about this...the only thing that I would do different is put both of those woman in a cold cage and let them do some thinking instead of shopping” – Sharon

 “As a member of several rescue groups, I realize that as despicable and heartless as it is, leaving a pet at a shelter beats leaving the pet in an abandoned house or dropping it on the side of the freeway.  But I still fervently hope that one day, when this lady becomes old and dependent, her children, having learned from her example, decide to leave her behind because she has become an inconvenience.” – Marlin

 “I volunteered for an animal care center (shelter). The most heartbreaking times were when people abandoned their pet companions and walked away.   My wish for all of these heartless people ... Your children drop you off at an old folks home and never come back to visit.” – Annelle

 “I am frustrated and appalled at people's irresponsibility concerning their pets. Your story about the two well-heeled women sickened me. I'm lucky to be in a group of Bichon Pet owners, who would rather cut off their own arm, than be cruel to their pet.  If you have any ideas on what can be done to change people's attitudes, please let me know. I would like to see legislation requiring mandatory sterilization, among other things. I don't know what's happened to our society, but, I guess it's time to make owning a pet a privilege, not a right.” -  Sarah

 “…Animals ask nothing of us but love, food and shelter.  When you come home from a long day and everything else has gone wrong, the one thing you can count on is coming home to a loving pet.  They greet you as if you are the best thing in the world.  No matter how bad my day has been…when I come home I know all will be forgotten because of the unconditional love. You can be upset and they will cheer you.  You can be mad and one touch of their paw and you are happy.  There is no emotion that a pet cannot make better. The idea of just tossing an animal away when you are through is so inconceivable to me that I cannot even comprehend doing something like that.  Someone that you have spent 10 years of your life with and when you are through just disposing of it and then laughing and spending the day shopping.” - Barbara

“I hope that your comments in the article about responsible treatment of pets will help with public awareness about the care of pets. I'm dismayed to see that some people seem to regard their pets as animate decor, to be given minimal food, water, and attention but not treated as fellow beings with personality and emotions. This is an attitude which needs to change, and perhaps your writing can help. But until people's perception of pets changes, I think some pets will be better off in shelters rather than suffering with their self-centered owners." – anonymous

I wish I had room for more comments and I thank all who have written for sharing their thoughts.  As a follow-up, the kitty who was the subject of my last post has not yet been adopted.  Sadly the stress of being in a shelter has caused her to begin pulling out her own fur and she is not doing well.  She needs to be placed in a home as quickly as possible, but finding a home for a 10-year-old cat is never easy.

It’s time to change how society views pets under the law.  Many of you have great ideas.  Share your thoughts with your elected officials and perhaps we can make a difference by working together.

Monday, July 13, 2015


For people actively involved in the humane world, we always hear a lot of stories about the daily happenings at animal shelters. 
Unfortunately last week, a story one shelter worker recounted made her blood pressure rise as she explained to me the turn of events.  She had been working with the cats at the facility when she received a call on her walkie-talkie. There was a cat in the front office that needed to be taken back to the kennels. 
When she arrived at the customer service desk,
she encountered two women who were laughing and discussing the cutest dresses that were at a particular store in South Coast Plaza.  Beside one of the women was a cat carrier containing a very frightened and distressed kitty.
The shelter employee interrupted the two women and asked if the cat was a stray that they had found.  One of the women replied, “Oh no.  This is my cat. I’m moving so I am bringing it here.” Then, without skipping a  beat, the woman got back to her conversation about the latest sale on women’s apparel. 
Looking at the paperwork that had been left on top of the cat carrier, the shelter employee noticed that this scared little pet had lived with its owner for TEN years.  And now, through no fault of its own, it was being dumped like last season’s fashions, so that its owner could move on with the next phase of her life.  
Pulling together all the self-control she could muster, the shelter employee held her tongue (as is required in her role as public servant) and took the poor kitty back into the kennels where she placed it into a cold and solitary cage.  She heard the cat’s owner say in a cheerful voice as she walked away, “Bye Peewee.”  And then the two women were off to the mall, seemingly without even a second thought for the terrified cat.
Angry cannot even describe how the shelter employee was feeling at that point in time. Yet she recognized that she needed to pull herself together quickly because the animals needed her and if she let these almost daily  occurrences get the best of her, she wouldn’t be able to do much good.  But still, it was clear to her that a ten-year-old cat in a shelter didn’t have the greatest odds of being adopted and she could not understand how someone could care for a pet for so long and then simply wash one’s hands of it. She was disgusted, as am I.
Public animal shelters do charge an owner relinquishment fee to people who give up their pets. However it is nominal, and in reality doesn’t even cover the costs of the initial veterinary exam.  
Even for people who don’t have any particular affection for animals, this should raise some red flags.  What we are essentially doing is allowing irresponsible pet owners to place the financial burden of taking care of their  discarded pets via expenditure of tax dollars.  That should not be OK with anyone. But that’s what we do.
My concern, however, isn’t for the fiscal consequences; but rather for the innocent living beings who don’t understand why they are losing their familiar homes and being put into scary, lonely cages, with unfamiliar scents and sounds all around them.  
Nevertheless, if I can convince Joe Taxpayer that this is a problem – then perhaps we can solve both predicaments.
Here is what needs to be done.  First, all pets including cats should be licensed and microchipped.  
Next, there should be a waiting period and counseling for those individuals who wish to give up their pets.  Alternatives to abandoning a companion animal at a shelter should be discussed, i.e., finding a friend, family    member or co-worker who may be able to take in a pet. 
Finally, if a shelter does ultimately take custody of an animal, its owner should be responsible for all costs relating to its care and maintenance until the pet is adopted.  There is no reason for the rest of society to pay for the cavalier irresponsibility of so many pet owners.  And there is certainly no reason for a pet to pay, with suffering, fear, and potentially its life.