Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

KNOTTY, BUT NICE

Lyn Sherwood has shared her life with bloodhounds for more than 40 years, but it was a mere handful of minutes at this time last year that will stand out forever.

The scene was the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship dog show, and professional handler Ken Griffith had just positioned Sherwood's bloodhound Knotty for the judge's consideration during best in show competition.

At that moment, the microphone that judge Michele Billings was wearing for the live telecast slipped deep into her evening gown. She stepped away from Griffith and the dog to get the situation fixed.

"Three minutes and 42 seconds," said Sherwood. "Knotty was just standing there, with the spotlights so strong. You could feel everybody holding their breath, all 30,000 people. A bloodhound isn't made to stand like a pointer, but he just stood there, waiting. I was in a state of shock."

Griffith, of Shingle Springs, Calif., says he was too busy showing the dog to think about the fix he was in. "I had no idea how long the break was going to be," he said. "I focused on Knotty, on keeping him interested and happy."

What Knotty was thinking about during the unscheduled break at the worst possible time, no one will ever know, of course. But when the judge turned around, Griffith had the dog set up perfectly, and Knotty himself looked straight at the judge, tail tip wagging slowly as if he knew he was by many accounts the most perfect example of his breed ever born.

A few minutes later, the easygoing bloodhound was the national champion.

"A bloodhound has never won any large show like that before," said Sherwood, of Topanga, Calif. "We were just hoping to win the hound group. It never occurred to me that he would win best in show."

A bit of an overstatement, perhaps. After all, Knotty (Champion Heathers Knock on Wood, as he's officially known) was the nation's top hound going into the event, with more than 30 best in show wins to his credit -- a number that's now close to 50. In the more than 150 shows he and Griffith had gone to in the year leading up to the 2005 national championship, the dog had been named the top hound in most of them.

Knotty won't be competing at the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship when it returns to Tampa, Fla., Jan. 14 and 15. But he will be there in a booth set up for him to meet his fans. Handler Griffith has been surprised how many people recognize the dog and love him, wrinkles and all. Knotty routinely gets accosted in airports on the way to dog shows, and he even had his own float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. He's happy to see most everyone, says Griffith, and is relaxed in most any situation.

"He's a real ambassador for his breed," says owner Sherwood.

At age 5, the bloodhound has done almost everything a show dog can, which is why he'll be heading to England in March to compete at Cruft's, the world's biggest show, with more than 20,000 canine competitors over the course of the four-day event. The end of England's traditional six-month rabies quarantine a few years back has now made the trip appealing for owners of the world's top dogs.

After Crufts, Knotty will retire to the life any hound dreams of -- lots of naps, and the occasional visit by a female bloodhound.

"Once in a while you see a dog that grabs you," says Griffith, who won't see Knotty much after his retirement. "It's visual at first. And if you're lucky, you get to spend some time with them, and they grab your heart. Knotty will have a special place in my heart, forever."

SIDEBAR

AKC show gains in prestige

For decades, the Westminster Kennel Club dog show served as the de facto national championship. There just wasn't any American show like it. To equal its Big Apple prestige, you'd have to go to England, to the far larger Crufts show. (The 130th Westminster dog show will be held on Feb. 13 and 14, and will be televised on the USA Network.)

The addition five years ago of the AKC/Eukanuba National Championship hasn't cost Westminster any of its luster. But it has added another big prize for the owners and handlers of the world's top show dogs to drool over. (The AKC/Eukanuba show will be held on Jan. 14 and 15, in Tampa, Fla., and will be televised on Animal Planet.)

Q&A

The problem with puggles

Q: I just read about breeders creating designer mixes such as the puggle (pug and beagle mix). The mini dog looks cute. What do you think of this trend? -- M.W., via e-mail

A: I have the same reaction as I do with any "hot" dog, purebred or mixed. When a kind of dog becomes popular, it attracts opportunists who breed as many dogs as they can as quickly as they can without regard to health or temperament. These can be casual, so-called "backyard" breeders, or massive commercial breeding operations, including cruel puppy mills.

We've seen these bursts of popularity with Dalmatians (after the "101" movies), with Chihuahuas (after the Taco Bell dog) and more. Many of these poorly bred and often undersocialized puppies have health and temperament issues that cause problems for their owners. Other pups seem fine, except that they're not the right dog for the people who buy them. The end result is a lot of unhappiness and misery all around, and a lot of formerly trendy pets ending up in the shelters.

Whatever kind of dog you get, purebred or mixed, you must be sure you make the right choice for your family and your living situation. Don't simply pick the flavor-of-the-month pup. Perhaps even more important than choosing the right kind of dog is making sure the source is legitimate, such as a reputable breeder who ensures that all dogs have certified good health and have good temperaments for families.

Socialization is important: Puppies should be raised underfoot in a family situation, not in a cage or kennel run. They should be given lots of gentle and safe opportunities to hear, see and smell new things. And they must be given time to learn important lessons from mother and littermates. (A person who's selling a puppy less than 7 weeks of age is someone who doesn't understand enough about puppy socialization to be given your consideration.)

I guess my problem with puggles, Labradoodles and such isn't so much with the mixes themselves -- although, gee, aren't these prices ridiculous? -- but rather with the breeding practices that often produce them.

But then, I've always said that 90 percent of the people who are selling purebred dogs aren't responsible enough to be breeding those either. I believe there is a place for the responsible breeding of dogs. But those people who don't follow the practices of reputable breeders are just adding to the problems of health and temperament rampant in our pets -- and adding to the flow of unwanted animals to the shelters.

And that's true of purebreds and mixes alike.

No pal for Max

Q: I have a 10-year-old longhaired cat. Although Max is a sweet cat, he will not associate with other animals. Also, he is not a lap cat. He must be sedated when grooming time comes around. It takes three handlers with thick gloves to contain him.

We want to get another cat, hoping the company will change his disposition. The veterinarian advises us against this, stating that Max will not tolerate it. What is your opinion on getting another cat? -- J.A., via e-mail.

I think your veterinarian is right: Max would probably prefer not to share his space with another cat.

Although you did not ask, I think given how difficult it is on Max to go out for grooming, it would be a good idea if you worked to minimize his stress by eliminating as many trips out of the house for him as possible. Keeping Max groomed at home would be best, but if that's not possible, consider having a mobile groomer come to your home.

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to petconnection@gmail.com.)

ON THE WEB

Good, free advice just a click away

If you spend any time searching the Web for pet advice, you're sure to come across sites that try to frighten you by mentioning "secrets" about your pet -- problems that can be cured if you buy the book or CD the Web site's pushing. (One of these pay-to-learn sites charges $5 to get the recipe for a pet-odor eliminator I've written about several times.)

But you don't need to pay for good advice on the Web. One tried-and-true source of information, available in convenient printable format, is the Denver Dumb Friends League (www.ddfl.org). The DDFL's advice section offers information on 29 canine behavior topics and 17 feline ones, plus plenty more on ferrets, rabbits and small pets such as mice, rats and hamsters. There's even a section with information in Spanish.

If you've ended up with a Christmas puppy, you'll be delighted to find out that the DDFL offers a handful of information sheets on such must-know topics as house-training and nipping. There's even advice offered by e-mail or phone through the DDFL's behavior hot line. Information on how to reach the behavior staff is available on the Web site.

THE SCOOP

Cheerful canary a good first pet

The canary is well-known for his vocal talents and vibrant color. Canaries hail originally from the Canary Islands, which were not named for their most famous residents but for the dogs the Romans found there ("canis" is Latin for "dog").

Canaries are actually finches, but few people think of them that way. Wild canaries are green and yellow. Yet the word "canary" usually brings to mind a brilliantly colored yellow bird, thanks, mostly, to the Sylvester-outsmarting cartoon character Tweety Bird.

In fact, canaries come in many colors and varieties, thanks to centuries of selective breeding. Canaries can be sleek or plump in body type, and smooth or puffy when it comes to feathers, with colors from yellow to bright orange to greens and browns. If you want a singer, though, make sure your new bird is a male, because female canaries don't sing.

The canary isn't talked about as much for its pet potential as it used to be. And that's a shame, because the bird is perfect for beginners who aren't sure they want as much interaction as some other pet birds require. The canary is happy to hang out in a cage and entertain you with beauty and song -- no handling desired or required. -- G.S.

PET Rx

Experience, rapport key to good veterinarian

If you're going to have a healthy pet, you need the help of a veterinarian. And although some people believe that these health-care professionals are virtually interchangeable, distinguished only by convenience and price, you may be doing your pet a disservice if you don't put a little effort into choosing the right veterinarian.

Your veterinarian should be technically proficient, current on the latest treatments, and willing to seek out more information on your pet's behalf. A veterinarian should be articulate, able to explain what's going on with your pet in a way you can understand, and willing to answer your questions so you can make a responsible decision on your pet's behalf.

These other factors may help you narrow down your list of possibilities:

-- Is the clinic or hospital conveniently located, with hours you can live with? If you have a 9-to-5 job, a veterinarian with a 9-to-5 clinic doesn't do your pet much good. Many veterinarians are open late on at least one weeknight and for at least a half-day on Saturday, or they're willing to make other arrangements.

-- Does the veterinarian willingly consult with a veterinary college staff or independent or in-house specialists? A willingness to discuss tough cases with colleagues is the sign of a veterinarian who's putting in an effort on your pet's behalf.

-- What kind of emergency care is available, if any? Although emergency veterinary clinics are prepared for any catastrophe, they're not familiar with your pet. If your veterinarian's practice does not offer 24-hour care, does it have a good relationship with one that does?

-- Do you feel a rapport with this person? Are you comfortable asking questions? Do you trust him or her? The final call on whether a particular veterinarian is right for you comes down to intangibles. If you don't feel comfortable, you're less likely to deal with your veterinarian, and the lack of productive communication can hurt your pet in the long run.

(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)

BY THE NUMBERS

Rabbits grow in numbers

Always a popular outdoor pet for children, the rabbit has gained interest among those who see the pet as ideal for apartment-dwelling adults. The percentage of small-animal households that have rabbits, by year reported:

1992 24 percent

1994 27 percent

1996 32 percent

1998 40 percent

2000 40 percent

2002 43 percent

2004 43 percent

Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association

PET TIP

Pain medications can kill you cat

Never give your cat any medication without clearing it with your veterinarian first.

That's a good rule to remember in general, but in particular, it applies to painkillers. Although you can safely give aspirin to arthritic dogs, the smaller size and different metabolism of cats make aspirin a dangerous proposition for them. And acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol, can kill your cat, as can other pain medications, over-the-counter and prescription alike.

If your cat is in pain, call your veterinarian immediately. Cats are very stoic, and if you're noticing your pet's discomfort, he's really suffering and needs immediate care.

The best source of information on what's dangerous for your cat can be found on the Web site of the Animal Poison Control Center (www.aspca.org/apcc). There you'll find lists of unsafe plants, common household products and other potential hazards to your cat's health.

Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.

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