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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Friday, March 25, 2016

Puppy and Poison

Dear Marie:
My puppy is turning me into a nervous wreck!!  He is constantly getting into things that are potentially dangerous and eating them.  I keep thinking I’ve puppy proofed enough; but almost as soon as I start feeling comfortable about it, I find him into something else.  So far, we've been lucky and he hasn’t eaten anything toxic.  But what should we do if he does?  He is incredibly sneaky about getting things that I thought were out of his reach.  I  can’t be with him every waking moment and I’m afraid that his behavior is a disaster waiting to happen.  I really need help here!


Dear Patty:
I think you should immediately invest in a dog crate for the times when you can’t be with your dog.  If you are absolutely sure you’ve locked up cleansers and other dangerous chemicals (i.e. with baby proof cabinet locks, baby gates, etc.) and he is still, somehow getting to them, you really don’t have many other alternatives.  Besides, as I have mentioned in previous posts, dogs rather like crates because they give them the feeling of being in a den.  It’s a comfortable, safe feeling for them.

Even after taking these extra steps, your pet may still ingest poison when you least expect it. Consequently, you should always be prepared for this possibility.

Ask your veterinarian about his procedures for handling emergency situations, especially those that occur after normal business hours. You may find that you will need to take your pet to a special emergency veterinary hospital. If this is the case, keep the telephone numbers for your veterinarian as well as the emergency veterinary service in an obvious location.  (I keep mine posted on the refrigerator with magnets.) Check out the ASPCA webpage on poison control and emergencies:

If your pet has been exposed to a toxic chemical, stay calm. Though you will need to get immediate veterinary care, panicking will prohibit you from taking the right steps to save your pet’s life.

Take a minute to collect the poison (and the container, if there is one) that your pet has ingested. Your veterinarian will need to know exactly what toxins are  involved.   You should also collect and bring in a zip-lock plastic bag any material your pet may have vomited or chewed.

If your animal is seizuring, losing consciousness, unconscious or having difficulty breathing,  call your veterinarian and be prepared to transport your pet immediately. 

Remember, toxins are not just found in cleansers and insecticides.  Most antifreeze products, unless labeled otherwise, are extremely dangerous.  Furthermore, this fluid actually tastes good to animals.  Frequently, unthinking individuals will drain their radiators out into the street gutters (which you're not supposed to do), and your pet may try and take a drink from these puddles while you are out walking together.  Keep on your guard for this potential hazard.  Also, many houseplants are extremely toxic if they are ingested.  Dogs will mouth just about anything, especially young dogs, because that is how they explore and experience their world.   For a great list of poisonous houseplants, click on this link provided by the Humane Society of the United States:

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Update Your Pets' Michrchips!!!

Not too long ago, a big, handsome, “senior” Labrador Retriever was found roaming the streets of Orange County.  A Good Samaritan rescued the dog from the dangerous situation, and temporarily brought him to his house.  During this time, he noticed that the Lab barked in what he considered an aggressive manner when other dogs were near, so when he took the dog to the animal shelter, he indicated to the staff that he had observed this behavior.  As a consequence, the dog was labeled “aggressive” and would not be placed up for adoption if the owner was not located.

But there was good news!  The big, yellow, smiling Labrador had a microchip!  The shelter’s office staff was thrilled and attempted to get contact information, but found that there were three different “owners” connected to the chip—one was the puppy mill where the dog was bred, the other two “owners” did not respond to calls or letters. 

For ten days the dog sat, confined only to his kennel because he had been labeled “aggressive.”  He watched, cold and alone, as other dogs were taken out for walks, pet by volunteers and potential adopters, or retrieved by owners.  No one came for him.

The shelter staff slated him for euthanasia on the eleventh day. 

Enter Labs & More Rescue.  A volunteer from this organization (a self-described pushover for big, goofy, yellow Labs) had originally seen the dog—who she named “Barney”—a few days earlier.  Even though the shelter staff had advised her that the dog was too aggressive to be placed, something told her that Barney needed her help; so she went back to the shelter. He was rescued just in the nick of time.

Volunteers from Labs & More assessed Barney’s behavior and found nothing of major concern.  They also had him vet-checked and discovered he had a number of age-related conditions, but not anything serious.  They began promoting him on their website,, and took him to an adoption event; as a senior dog, it was going to be a difficult project to find him a new family.

But then Labs & More got a call from someone who had seen “Barney” on the website.  The person identified himself as the dog’s owner!  He explained that there had been a family emergency which required travel away from home.  The dog, whose real name is “Pepe,” was left in the care of a neighbor.  During the family’s time away, strong winds blew open their gate and the caretaker failed to search for the lost dog nor inform the family of the incident. 

Needless to say, they were horrified when they returned home and began checking shelters, with no luck.  Fortunately, someone suggested they check rescue websites, and that’s when they saw a picture of a dog that looked like Pepe on the Labs and More website!

They met with the volunteers who were fostering the dog, presented documentation to prove ownership, including the matching microchip number and photos, but the most obvious proof came when Pepe saw his people.  He was one excited dog and was happily reunited with his family which included a young boy who was clearly his best friend! 

Though this story has a happy ending, it could have ended terribly.  There are several lessons here.  First, if your pet is microchipped, make sure you have updated emergency contact information in the microchip company’s database.  That way, if you are out of town, an alternate person(s) can be contacted to help.  Second, always keep a collar and I.D. tag on your pet that is engraved with your cell phone, or other emergency number.  Had Pepe been wearing a tag with a phone number, he would never have been taken to the shelter in the first place.  Finally, NEVER leave your pet in the care of someone that isn’t completely trustworthy and responsible. 

To conclude this tale, I leave you with this thought—Labs & More, and rescue volunteers everywhere are the heroes of this tale.  They tirelessly work to save pets in shelters and they deserve huge thanks from all of us who care about animals.   

Friday, March 4, 2016

Food Aggression in Dogs

Dear Marie:
I have adopted a Tibetan Spaniel who is, for the most part, a very sweet dog.  Unfortunately, he gets very possessive around his food dish and shoves my other two dogs, a Shih Tzu and a Pomeranian, away from the food.  He’ll even steal their treats and is always ready to fight.  I would like for them to get along and not have to separate them at feeding or treat time.  What can I do?


Dear Rita:
There are a number of things you can try; but if there is a possibility that your other dogs can be injured during the time it takes to train him, it may be best to feed him in another room with the door closed or outside.  You can even feed your two mild-mannered dogs in a different room with the door closed.  As long as they have a separate location, it's all good.  Use your discretion in that regard.

In the wild, dogs have a definite hierarchy which determines who eats first and who gets the best of the meal.  The alpha dogs always eat first and will definitely bear teeth and bite any other dog that attempts to “dine” at the same time.  Your Tibetan Spaniel seems to think he is the “alpha” of your pack.  If you have not had him neutered, do so immediately.  That should make a big difference in his “top dog” attitude.

When you offer dog treats, put a leash on your aggressor.  If he tries to act out towards your other two, immediately walk him away from the other two dogs and give him a command to sit our lay down.  When he does, praise him and give him a treat.  You can also use the leash method when feeding the three of them together.  By redirecting his focus to the fact that you are the one in charge and that you only approve of good behavior, he will slowly begin to be more tolerant of the other dogs.

Additionally, you should take his food away each and every time he acts.  As soon as he settles down, you may give him back his food.  Of course, he does need to be on a leash or he will just go into the bowls of his housemates, so be sure to keep him away from their dishes. 

Some dogs need space to feel comfortable while eating. It's a good idea to have each dog's food bowl a reasonable distance away from the other bowls.  Furthermore, if he tries to steal treats from the other dogs, don’t reward him by giving him his own treat. 

Experiment with training.  Fill up his food bowl and have him sit and wait until you give him the command to have his meal.  To do this, put him in "down-stay" or "Sit-stay."  (If you haven't mastered these yet, please begin basic training as soon as possible.) Place the food bowl about three feet in front of him.  He will immediately go for it.  You will need to pick up the food bowl and put him back into his down-stay position.  Once he realizes he has to wait, and follows your voice command, then you can allow him to come eat.  By completing this type of training, you are taking away his food dominance and that is really important with food aggression.

The moment he shows improved behavior, lavish him with praise.  Give him the chance to be successful.  Any progress should be rewarded in one way or another.  It will take some time; but with consistency and repetition his behavior will turn around.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Whining Cat

Dear Marie,
Help!  I have a sweet, elderly cat with a thyroid problem.  She is probably 17 or 18 as I don't know her background since she came from a shelter.  I cannot go near the kitchen or she is right there meowing for food.  Not only that, she has become very selective in her food, and I find myself throwing a lot of food away.  I guess my question is—is it possible to correct this whining?  Is she really hungry or is she wanting attention?  She also prefers to drink her water from a faucet which is creating problems during the water shortage as sometimes the running faucet is overlooked.  I love her dearly and want her remaining time with me to be happy but this whining (along with the other problems) is driving me crazy.


Dear Shirley,
As cats get older, they tend to become more vocal.  Part of this is due to the fact that their hearing has deteriorated so they don’t realize how loud, and perhaps obnoxious, they are being.  But the crying may be health related. 

I am assuming that since you know your cat has a thyroid problem, that she is under veterinary care and she takes medication, or has the appropriate treatment to keep her condition under control.  If not, please schedule a vet visit as soon as possible.  Your veterinarian will be able to determine exactly what she needs based on a blood test.  Once your kitty’s thyroid problem is properly managed, she will not feel chronically hungry.

Most cats do get a little more finicky with advancing years.  For senior citizen pets, some foods are very difficult to digest and cause stomach upset.  It’s probably time to look into foods specifically designed for the more sensitive stomach of your aging feline. 

Kitties do seem to want more attention as they enter their sunset years.  Their bodies are noticeably failing.  They feel a little less secure.  You are the individual who has been a source of comfort throughout your cat’s life in your home.  You are her rock.  Try to be patient and not let her vocalizations annoy you.  Instead, spend a little extra time with her, especially knowing that whatever time she has remaining is limited.  You will miss her, and her extra loud meowing once it is silenced.

Many cats enjoy drinking fresh, running water.  Some are captivated by the motion and the sound.  I think it may spark an ancient, instinctual memory and makes them feel like a creature of the wild who has discovered a hidden stream.  (That might just be my own imagination running wild!)  In any case, just being next to a stream of fresh water encourages a cat to drink more and this is especially important for older cats.

Like all her other body systems that are wearing out, your cat’s kidney function is most likely beginning to wane.  Drinking extra water during this phase of life helps keep an old set of kidneys functioning well.  But instead of leaving a tap turned on, check out some of the special drinking fountains that are created just for cats who love running water.  You can probably find a few at your local pet supply store, or try an Internet search using the search criteria, “drinking fountains for cats.”  You can find quite a few different models online at very reasonable prices.  There are also reviews of many of the fountains posted by consumers who have purchased these items for their own cats.

I have no doubt that your kitty’s remaining time with you will be happy.  Do your best to muster up a little extra patience.  The final months to years of a pet’s life are sometimes difficult to handle for a lot of reasons.  But if loud meowing, finicky palate, and asking for more attention are the worst of your cat’s symptoms of aging, you are doing pretty well.  

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Salt Water Aquariums

Dear Marie,
We recently visited the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach and were inspired to start a salt-water aquarium for our home.  Our friends think we’re crazy and have told us that there is way too much work and effort involved and the fish will probably all die.  They also said everything is quite expensive.  Are salt-water aquariums really that hard to manage? 
Sally and Ed

Dear Sally and Ed,
Salt-water aquariums can be a bit of a challenge and I won’t tell you that this endeavor is going to be cheap.  But, if you are committed to the project and are willing to put some time and effort into research before you get started, you will be very pleased with your results once your tank is established.

First, you will need to decide what type of fish you would like to have.  There are many different species of salt-water dwelling fish and you will need to learn which ones can live together peacefully, and whether or not they are cold water or tropical fish.  You can either hit the books at your local library, or talk to one of the experts at the store where you plan to purchase your little critters.

It takes about a month to get a salt-water tank ready for living creatures.  Start by getting a tank that holds at least thirty gallons of water.  For salt-water aquariums, the bigger, the better.  Clean the interior surfaces thoroughly using plain water with clean paper towels. 

Find a secure location to place your tank.  Keep in mind that California is earthquake country and look for a spot that will be protected from falling objects.  You should also position your aquarium away from windows.  Generally, it’s a good idea to brace tanks against good, strong walls on stands made specifically to support the heavy weight of all the water.

You’ll need to purchase aquarium gravel.  The bottom of your tank should be covered with about a two-inch thick carpet of these small pebbles of crushed coral or dolomite.  You will probably also enjoy adding decorative aquarium rocks and corals so that your fish will have places to hide and explore.

Once you have your tank decorated to your liking, and you can get very creative if you want, it’s time to add water and a filter.  There are many different types of filters available and their costs vary.  Again, talk to the people at the store where you will be purchasing fish to find out what type of filter would be best for the species you plan on having. 

Obviously, saltwater won’t come out of the kitchen sink, and you definitely do not want to add table salt to solve this problem or you will have a deadly outcome.  Instead, you must purchase a special salt mixture from your pet supply store and add it according to labeling instructions.   The mixture should contain a little calcium or you can purchase this separately.  Once you have the aquarium filled, water and salt mixed and the filter running, you will need to monitor the tank’s pH, water temperature, alkalinity, and nitrate content.   In about 4 weeks, you should notice that everything has stabilized within the acceptable levels for your fish.  If it has not, please do not rush the process.  Wait until your tank is ready before placing any fish inside.

Salt-water fish are very pricey.  You should probably begin with the least expensive fish you can find because as careful as you may have been in setting up everything, there may still be a few problems and you will most likely lose a few individuals in your first few weeks.  However, once your tank seems to be thriving, you may begin adding some of the more spectacular salt-water fish.

Different species of fish require different diets.  Again, it is important to find out what your selected fish will require to be healthy and happy.

You will need to clean your aquarium from time to time.  Most experts agree that you should only replace some of the water at regular time intervals and use various cleaning tools to eliminate algae growth. 

Salt-water aquariums are indeed a lot of work.  Nevertheless, if you truly enjoy the beautiful creatures they house, the time and expense definitely pay off.