Valentine’s Day

Happy Valentine’s Day all! I hope you enjoy today’s love-themed holiday and extend such affection to your fur people. Here are some tips to remember so that your furry companions have a safe holiday as well:

  1. Chocolate. This is very yummy for humans but HIGHLY TOXIC to pets. A typical treatment for chocolate poisoning at the vet’s office can run anywhere from $250-$3,000 or more.
  2. Candy. Around Valentine’s Day, candy dishes are everywhere. But again, many types of candy contains xylitol, a sugarless sweetener. Xylitol is highly toxic to pets. (It also can show up in peanut butter, FYI.)
  3. Flowers. Although beautiful bouquets are lovely, many types of flowers can make pets very sick. Roses, for example, may not be toxic to pets but they do have thorns, and these can scratch or puncture your pet’s paws and cause a nasty infection. Ingesting roses may cause an upset stomach too. Keep flowers away from a pet’s reach. (This includes surfaces where counter-surfing dogs or areas where cats may climb.)
  4. Decorations. The paper and ribbons discarded from a beautifully wrapped gift can cause all kinds of trouble for pets if they ingest these materials. Tape, ribbons, bows, cellophane, wrapping paper, and balloons are not for eating!
  5. Candles. A candlelit dinner can be most romantic. A curious pet knocking over a lit candle and starting a fire or becoming injured by the flame is definitely not. Don’t leave pets unattended near open flames. Watch your pets closely if you choose to light candles.
  6. Alcohol. Booze is a definite no-no for pets, so keep any cocktails, champagne, wine, or other adult beverages well away from the reach of curious paws. A pet ingesting even a small amount of alcohol can do a considerable amount of harm. A large amount can lead to potentially fatal respiratory failure.
  7. Pets as gifts. While an adorable puppy adorned with a big red bow sounds like a memorable Valentine’s Day gift, remember that bringing home a pet is a lifelong commitment. Not everyone is prepared, interested in, or able to make that kind of commitment. Having to return a pet is the opposite of romantic and unfair to the animal. Don’t get a pet as an impulse buy. Doesn’t it sound better to bring your loved one to your local animal shelter so that they can choose the pet they want and make an informed, deliberate decision about making a pet a part of their life?

Dog Spotlight: Seeing Eye Anniversary

On January 29, 1929, Morris Frank founded The Seeing Eye, the oldest guide dog school in the United States. This school is the founding member of the US Council of Guide Dog School as well as a fully accredited member of the International Guide Dog Federation. Today we celebrate the anniversary of the school’s founding and the importance of guide dogs everywhere (and by extension, service dogs in general).

What is a guide dog, or more generally a service animal? The Americans with Disabilities Act defines it as: any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Service animals are not the same as therapy animals or emotional support animals. Only service animals are protected by the ADA.

You may see service animals (dogs are the most common) working with their handlers. Remember that these dogs are working and must concentrate on what they need to do on behalf of their handlers. Don’t distract them. I know it’s tempting to want to pet such a well-behaved dog but be considerate. Some handlers are OK with people petting their dogs if their permission is asked for first; other handlers will decline and that’s fine too. Here are some additional etiquette guidelines as well as a few things that handlers want you to know.

If you’d like to learn more about service dogs, especially those assisting the blind, check out Growing Up Guide Pup and Zoe the Seeing Eye Dog.

One more thing to note: FAKE service dogs. Sometimes people try to pass off their pets, including emotional support animals, as service dogs so they can take their pet anywhere with them, enable their pet to fly for free, and avoid having to pay a pet deposit. This is a serious issue for service dogs and their handlers. Untrained pets in public areas, like planes and restaurants, can pose a big risk to those around them. Being able to spot a fake service dog and differentiate such from legitimate service animals is important. Most importantly, DO NOT misrepresent pets as service dogs. Don’t be that person. It’s not cool. Moreover, your actions can have significant consequences for those around you, especially working service dogs and their handlers.

Change a Pet’s Life Day

Egads! I missed Change a Pet’s Life Day! (Things have been a little hectic because Boudicca was sick on Tuesday. Thankfully, she is getting better now.)

Change a Pet’s Life Day (belated) is a pet holiday celebrated on January 24 and intended to encourage adopting pets from shelters and consequently, raising awareness for animal shelters. As a shelter volunteer, I can testify that there are so many wonderful animals that need loving homes. There are pets that would do well with new pet owners and others that would thrive with experienced pet owners. There are young, old, middle-aged, everywhere in between. If you are not a cat or dog person, shelters often have other pets that might strike your fancy such as guinea pigs, hamsters, birds, rabbits, and even pigs and chickens. Here is how you can change a pet’s life:

  1. Adopt. Head to your local shelter and adopt a pet! Many shelters offer special discounts on January 24th while others will hold adoption events throughout the week or on the weekend. Rescue groups will probably have similar events so be sure to look for these. (NB: Adoption is a commitment. One should not adopt a pet without really being sure that this is what you want and that you will be able to care for this pet.)
  2. Foster. Unsure if you want to commit to having a pet? Does your shelter need temporary homes due to space or other needs, such as a pregnant cat or dog? Giving a shelter animal a foster home is a demonstration of compassion and generosity. Whether you foster one time or do it regularly, it does make a difference in pets’ lives!
  3. Donate. Find out what your shelter needs. Does the shelter have a wish list or a Friends of the Animal Shelter organization that could provide this information? Food, toys, collars, leashes, scratch pads or poles, and carriers are commonly asked for items. Money, of course, is always immensely appreciated because it can be used for whatever the shelter needs at the time or for future use.
  4. Volunteer. Do you like to be involved in your community? Do you love animals? Volunteering is a fantastic way to change pets lives on a continuing basis. I enjoy having the opportunity to love on and socialize cats and help out at adoption events so that these lovely kitties get matched to the right homes.
  5. Transform your pet’s life. Would your pet benefit from more exercise or attention? Would a play date with another cat or dog or a new toy make your pet’s day? I’m fairly certain that one of the highlights of Boudicca’s day is when she gets her lap time session in the evening. The boys are equally thrilled by visits and play time.

Rescued Pets in My Life

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This is Chiya! She is one of my parents’ two rescue dogs. She is a sassy and independent Tibetan Spaniel. Originally her name was Holly but my mom changed it to Chiya, which is Spanish slang for “crier,” in honor of her distinctive shrill alarm bark. (Tibetan Spaniels were bred to be watchdogs as well as canine companions.) She excels at being a foot warmer too.

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Here is dog #2, Chiquita! (We call her Chica for short.) She is a Kooikerhondje, which I promise is a dog breed that I did not make up. My parents took her in after her previous owner became very ill with cancer and shortly thereafter passed away. Look at those marvelous ears and that tail! She is such a well-behaved dog and an excellent snuggler as well.

Last year, I volunteered at the Clear the Shelters event on August 19 at my local animal shelter. I intended to show cats and match them to new owners. I did not intend to take home a new cat, let alone two, but I am SO GLAD that we decided to foster and later adopt Charlie and Garrus. They have made a lot of progress since then and both are happier, healthier cats.

In this photo you can see hints of how skinny and scraggly Garrus (then known as Aristotle) was. When he stood up, swaths of fur along his sides were missing (licked it off due to stress in the shelter) and in general his coat looked haggard. He was so skinny that his ribs and knobbly spine were clearly visible. Both he and Charlie looked SO pitiful at the shelter. We quickly learned that Garrus was not eating much and in a lot of pain due to dental issues, which we promptly fixed.

This was the first time Charlie (then known as Tink) emerged from behind or underneath furniture for a significant length of time. A huge scaredy cat when we brought him home, he was highly reactive to people (us), sudden movements, many noises, new objects, and any change. Both boys bolted whenever we stood up; they would only timidly approach if we sat down on the floor and remained very quiet.

Fast forward four months: here are the boys sprawled in the sun. (I took this photo in late December 2017.) Rather than fleeing when I approached, they stretched, slow blinked, trilled and squeaked (Charlie), welcomed scritches, and purred.

Lastly, look at Queen B! In November 2000, a lovey five-month old tuxedo kitten chose ME as her person at the ASPCA. Seventeen years later she is still my girl!

How can YOU change a pet’s life today?

Human, Your Attention Please

Today is National Answer Your Cat’s Question Day! Do you have inquisitive cats? Are your purry companions talkative and have lots of things to say? At times does your cat seem puzzled by something you are doing and ask a question about it? Today’s your opportunity to answer the questions burning in your cat’s mind.

  1. Be consciously aware of your cat. Notice when your fur person is attempting to ask you something.
  2. Try to figure out what your cat is asking. Then try to answer that question.
  3. It may sound silly but doing this helps foster positive interactions between cat and owner. It might behoove you to learn something about cat behavior, such as body language. Pay attention to your cat’s personality too. Your cat may surprise you.

Here are some of the questions I think my cats ask me on a regular basis:

Boudicca: “Mama, I’m hungry. Why aren’t you giving me some of your ice cream?
Me: “You have food in your bowl, Queen B. Ice cream isn’t for kitties.”

Boudicca: “But what you have is mine, right?AND I WANT SOME.”

Me: Sigh.

Garrus: “Pardon me, madam, but why are you smooching my head?”

Me: “It’s one of the ways I show that I love you.”

Garrus: “I see. I assume this is some human ritual but it does not appear to hurt me. Carry on.” [He continues to give me side-eye as I pet him but he starts purring too.]

Note that Garrus sometimes has the snootiest expressions in photos. I think they’re hilarious.

Charlie: “Mama! Mama! Help! Where have all my toys gone?”

Me: “I’m sure they’re in the house somewhere…”

Charlie: “I haven’t seen them since this morning…I was batting them all over the living room. But the furniture kept eating them. Can you help me get them back?”

Me: “Sure. Let me get the broom so I can dig them out.”

Charlie: “Aaah! Not the broom!” [runs away]

Garrus: “I say, dear boy, do chill out. A broom is not a valid reason to lose one’s fur.”

Charlie: “Squeak! Squeak! Cheep! Chirp!” [Translation:” Where is everyone? Hello?”]

Me: “We’re in the living room, Charlie. You should come out here if you want any rubs.”

Boudicca: “Why do you encourage him? He’ll ruin a perfectly good snuggle session if he comes out here.”

Charlie: “Squeak! Chirp! Trill! Squeak, squeak, cheep!” [Translation: “Salutations! The Spotted One has arrived! Look how adorable I am!”]

Garrus: “You sir, may indeed be cute, but some would consider it rude to interrupt everyone’s quiet evening by squeaking up such a storm.”

Charlie: “Play?”

Garrus and Charlie: “What’s this? A new toy? We must explore!”

What questions does your cat ask you?

Hugs All Around!

Today is National Hugging Day! It is officially recognized by the United States Copyright Office but is not considered a public holiday. Here’s how you can celebrate:

  1. Give hugs freely. Hug your designated person. Hug your family members. Hug your friends. Offer to give out free hugs to strangers if that’s your thing. (National Hugging Day and the Free Hugs Campaign are not associated with one another.) NB: If someone is not interested in receiving a hug from you, respect that person’s wish. It’s not cool to hug people against their will.
  2. Hug your pets! Boudicca is always down for a hug, especially if lap time is involved. While Charlie is affectionate, a hug is a totally new concept to him. Garrus doesn’t like in-your-face demonstrations of affection, and I respect that. NB: If your pet isn’t keen on receiving hugs, don’t force it. Not all cats and dogs enjoy being hugged. Respect this and instead give your pet another form of affection, like scritches behind the ears or play time.
  3. Give hugs to other pets. Don’t have a pet of your own? Perhaps a family member or friend’s pet is available for assorted displays of affection. You can also head to your nearest animal shelter and become a volunteer. One of the great things I get to do in the cat room at my shelter is make sure all the cats there get enough love and socialization. A number of them are fond of hugs and being held but others prefer an opportunity to explore and play!

Time to Get Fabulous!

It’s National Dress Up Your Pet Day! It was created in 2009 by Colleen Paige, a celebrity pet lifestyle expert and animal behaviorist. I have a few friends who dress up their dogs but know only a very few people who can put clothes on their cats without major hissy fights breaking out. I know that here in the Austin area many dog owners dress up their canine companions in all kinds of outfits for the costume contest and parade at the annual Dogtoberfest. Granted, the proceeds of the event go to local animal rescue groups and it is all in fun as well.

As with a number of pet-themed holidays, you, as the pet owner, should take into account your pet’s safety, health, and comfort. Here are a few things to keep in mind for National Dress Up Your Pet Day:

  1. Perfect fit. Don’t put your pet into an outfit that is too small just because it’s cute. The costume should not impede your pet’s movement in anyway. This can injure your pet as well be dangerous. (Example: A Great Dane in an ill-fitting costume can easily trip trying to get out of it, and by doing so hurting itself and others in the process.) Also it’s mean.
  2. Breathe in, breathe out. No costume should impair your pet’s ability to breathe in any way. Ensure their nose and mouth is never covered. Note that brachycephalic pets (i.e. short-headed pets like bulldogs, pugs, Himalayans, Persians, to name a few) are more likely to have breathing difficulties such as brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome.
  3. Hats…optional. Be discerning with accessories. Don’t impair your pet’s ability to see and hear with hats, for example. The same goes for booties. While many find it funny to watch dogs or cats walk funny in booties, the pet does not likely find it so amusing. (It feels extremely odd for them not to feel the ground directly beneath their paws.) If you want your pet to wear booties on a regular basis, you need to desensitize your pet to them first.
  4. Loose bits. All those frills, ruffles, buttons, sequins, and extra ornamentation to the costume may look snazzy but may look like something to chew on to your pet. These small parts can be easily swallowed. Anything loose or dangling that can be chewed or torn off can cause a choking hazard.
  5. Less is more. You don’t have to only buy whole costumes. I know several owners who keep an array of bandannas and sweaters on hand for their dogs. A dog can look just as smart and jaunty with a well-chosen bandanna as he can with a full costume. A friend of mine can put a tie on her cat and he looks absolutely dashing.
  6. Keep watch. Don’t leave your pet unattended in a costume. They could get hurt, stuck, or chew on something they should not.
  7. Special considerations. Trying to put a full costume on a senior pet that has arthritis, for example, may experience pain and will definitely not enjoy the experience. Young pets frequently lack motor coordination skills and could easily get tangled up in a costume. Both senior and young animals may have trouble regulating their body temperatures and thus could overheat.
  8. Quitting time. If your pet becomes unhappy and uneasy while wearing a costume, it’s time to stop. Playing dress up is not worth making your pet stress out.
  9. No coercion. If your pet does not like to wear clothing, as many do not (including cats), do not force your pet to wear costumes. That’s mean and not cool.
  10. Have fun. If your pet does like dressing up and is not at all stressed out by it, by all means, go all out. Have a photo shoot. Set up a fashion show with a catwalk, even if dogs are the only contestants. Take photos with your pet and your friends. Enjoy yourselves!

Traveling Safely with Pets

Egads! It appears that I missed National Pet Travel Safety Day (January 2) so I hope you will be gracious enough to permit a belated post on the subject. There are many aspects on traveling with pets that I could cover, and as cats and dogs travel VERY differently, it would entail a rather lengthy post. Here are some links for general car travel, practical pointers, traveling cross-country, assorted tips, and considerations when taking a road trip or traveling by plane.

I am most familiar with traveling by car. In these cases, I was transporting cats to the vet (the most common reason for travel), moving residences (twice), and from the shelter (once for each cat). Here are a few things that I have learned from traveling with my cats:

  1. Freaked out. Traveling is immensely stressful to most cats. It is very rare for a cat to not think the apocalypse is upon them when they are in the car. Boudicca will frantically meow nonstop whether she is in the car for three minutes or three hours. Some pets will have accidents due to stress. Other pets get motion sickness.
  2. No loose cats. DO NOT travel with a cat loose in a car, even if you are not going far or your cat is not obviously having a nervous breakdown. I’ve placed cats in cardboard boxes and plastic bins in lieu of carriers but never let a cat just hang out on the backseat. In these rare circumstances, I always sit in the backseat with the alternate container ensuring that the cat remains confined while a friend drives us to the vet.
  3. Beware the quiet ones. You may have the most docile cat under the sun at home but when the carrier comes out, your chill fur ball turns into a bristling Hulk of angry, panicked cattitude. Cats are amazingly strong, fierce, fast, and have LOTS OF POINTY ENDS. Oh, they can be loud too. There’s a reason why it’s called a caterwaul.
  4. Request backup. Do not be ashamed if you need to enlist help getting your slim 6 lb cat into a carrier. It is a collaborative effort getting any one of my trio into a carrier. For this reason (and many others) it is advantageous to befriend cat whisperers. Wearing a motorcycle jacket or other tough protective gear wards off claw marks and reduces the chance of at least one of you bleeding.
  5. Hidden in plain sight. Rather than taking the carrier out of storage only when you take your cat to the vet for their annual exam, leave the carrier out if possible. Our vet suggested that the carrier be treated like a piece of furniture if at all possible. We have ours stored under the end tables in the living room. The carrier door is unlatched so the cats can explore at will. We periodically use the laser pointer and treats to entice the cats inside so they can associate the carrier with a positive, no-stress experience. Some cats will sleep on top of them or use them as ledges. Others will use them as retreats to safety, as it feels like a cave (this is why cats also like boxes). Charlie hid in a carrier occasionally during the first few weeks after we brought him into our home. Now the boys regularly hide behind the carrier and ambush one another as they would with any other piece of furniture.
  6. Don’t forget your towel. Charlie has a total meltdown when he realizes he is going to the vet. (He has been sedated at the vet’s office before. Poor guy.) In order to calm him, we put a towel over him. This might seem silly but, for him, it works. He stops struggling so much when we put a towel over his eyes and he relaxes a bit. (His grumbling commentary keeps going, mind you.) Using the towel, we make a purrito and put him into the carrier. It’s a win if in the process he hasn’t cussed us out, drawn blood, or peed on anyone, and we aren’t late to the vet appointment.
  7. You’re gonna need a bigger carrier. I use a carrier that was originally designed to hold a small to medium-sized dog. (It was actually a carrier that my parents had used to transport our Miniature Schnauzers.) Many carriers designed for cats are smaller than this. I found trying to get Boudicca, a fairly tall cat, through a typical small cat carrier was just not going to happen. Her haunches were too big and it was too stressful for her being squished through the door. So we obtained one that more comfortably contained our house panther. We are able to stand the carrier on its end and slide her backwards (tail-first) inside. A larger carrier also gives her sufficient room to move around and stand. (NB: In a pinch, such as an emergency, a larger carrier would be handy as you could hold, in theory, two cats.)

Of course, there are many types of carriers available. There are duffels, slings, collapsibles, scrunched bags, and many others. I have friends who use different types of carriers to accommodate the needs of their individual cats and their own preferences. I’ve only used hard plastic carriers so I can only speak to my own experience there.

The most important thing to remember when traveling with your pet is that you, as the owner, must be the responsible one. You are acting on behalf of your pet. You have to think about safety. You have to be cautious. You have to check things out and do your research. Ask questions. Be prepared.

The links I included at the top of the post are useful and many of the suggestions apply to dogs as well. For additional information about pet travel safety, check out at this guide, this article for Pet Travel Safety Day, and this report, which gives a handy rundown about safety in cars with your pet.

Safe travels!