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

FELINE PARADISE

You don't need an address to pick the home of Bob Walker and Frances Mooney from the modest ranches that surround it. Deep purple in color, with a driveway drizzled in multicolored paint, the San Diego house is clearly the residence of artists.

Once inside, you know it's also the home of two of the world's most committed and creative cat lovers.

The Cats' House, as it's known, has been 15 years in the development, outliving several of the cats who inspired the renovations. It's a work in progress still, say its owners, but no matter what else, the home is a true feline paradise.

Catwalks hang from most of the ceilings, cutting through walls so the feline residents can continue their room-to-room travels without descending. Floor-to-ceiling climbing posts and clever cat-sized staircases provide access to the overheads. For the shy cat, nooks and crannies abound. And everywhere there isn't a real cat, there's cat kitsch of all imaginable varieties, covering walls and counters painted in dozens of different hues.

"Cats love to look down on us," says Walker, half of the warm and friendly married couple who created this one-of-a-kind home. "To often we think of square footage, when we need to think of cubic footage. Do that, and you can have more cats!"

Eight cats share the home now. The dog died recently, her memory kept alive by a smaller collection of canine-related gewgaws. Up to 12 cats have been in residence at one time, generating enough cat hair -- it floats down from the ceilings as the cats go overhead -- to give an allergist a heart attack.

Artists, master framers and former gallery owners, the couple are well aware their home wouldn't suit even most cat lovers. But to say they don't care would be understating it. They're happy, and so are their cats.

So are a lot of other cats, as a result. The colorful, cat-friendly confines the couple created have sparked a revolution in the care of shelter cats. Shelters once housed cats in small, stainless steel cages while the animals waited for adoption. Now, progressive shelters like the Denver Dumb Friends League have built suites for their guest cats, clearly inspired by the work of Walker and Mooney.

Frances Mooney grew up in the home, which went through the hands of a couple of family members before it started its service to feline-kind. The couple started with a single pair of floor-to-ceiling cat trees with a walk suspended between them. Mooney is responsible for the collecting and the colors; Walker worked the construction, including cutting cat-sized holes from room to room as the network of catwalks grew.

Even the colors are chosen with the cats in mind. "The more intense the colors, the more the cats can see the different colors," says Mooney, who notes the interior of the home has more than 42 different colors of paint.

Seeing the house was something I'd looked forward to for years, and I felt privileged to get a private tour. The couple said some people who'd seen the place on TV, in magazines or in the books (see sidebar) seemed disappointed that the place wasn't bigger (it's about 1,500 square feet). For me, the house was everything I expected and so much more. You could spend a month there and not catch all the details.

And it's not done yet. Walker points out that he promised to build a screened enclosure for the cats a decade ago -- a project that's just now getting under way. And for Mooney, the lure of finding cool cat stuff remains strong.

"I've barely covered this wall at all," she says, gesturing to a lavender corner that will one day no doubt serve as further proof of the couple's love of cats, collectibles and color.

SIDEBAR

Bob Walker and Frances Mooney have been generous in sharing their home to cat lovers worldwide. Although the home itself is rarely open to tours, the unique residence has been the subject of books and countless media features.

The books -- "The Cats' House" and "Cats Into Everything" from Andrews McMeel Publishing -- have long been two of my all-time favorites. Walker is a skilled photographer, showing off the cats and the home in a whimsical fashion sure to bring a smile to anyone's face. I don't know how many copies of these books I've purchased as gifts, but it's in the double-digits, I'm sure.

The Cat's House can also be seen online, at www.thecatshouse.com.

Q&A

Washing worries over pet dishes

Q: I'm in a relationship with a dog lover. The dog's OK -- he's a very sweet and well-behaved Labrador -- but my boyfriend and I are in disagreement over the dog dishes, of all things. My boyfriend puts them in the dishwasher, along with our dishes.

This can't be a good idea, can it? It makes me queasy. What do you think? I'm not really a "dog person," in case you couldn't tell. -- B.F., via e-mail

A: I think everything goes in dirty and comes out clean. That's the beauty of a dishwasher. But then, I have to admit I share my appliances with my pets. Their dishes and some of their toys go in the dishwasher, and their bedding and stuffed toys go in the clothes washer. Not to mention that the reason I bought my Dyson vacuum was to suck up the fallen fur and feathers.

Still, there's no doubt this "mixing of the dishes" bothers some people. After I mentioned I put pet dishes in my dishwasher in my book "Dogs For Dummies," I got a few letters of objection. To me, it's a no-brainer. I use stainless-steel dishes and the sanitizing cycle on the appliance. All the dishes for all the critters get the dishwasher sanitizing treatment, as do many of the parrot's hard toys. Rubber dog toys come out wonderfully clean, too.

There's even some history here. Many years ago, when I met my future sister-in-law's parents, I watched the "Labrador pre-wash" they practiced before putting dishes in the dishwasher. Their dog licked the plates clean before they went into the appliance. I knew they were my kind of people after that.

From a health standpoint, you're unlikely to run into any problem from being around with a healthy, well-groomed and parasite-free animal. And one way I keep mine healthy is by making sure their dishes are cleaned daily by going through the same sterilizing blast of super-heated soap and water that my own do.

If you absolutely can't stand the idea of pet dishes mingling with people ones, though, there's no reason for your boyfriend not to compromise. Soap and warm water in the sink will clean the dishes, too. You might have to handle this chore yourself, though. Unless you insist on separate sinks, too?

Heat's not over

Q: Would you remind dog owners that even though fall is almost here, it's still too hot to leave dogs in the car? -- M.B., via e-mail

A: I always know when fall is at hand, because I get reminders asking me to warn people about autumn heat as well as e-mails talking about anti-freeze dangers.

Yes, it's true that many warm fall days are risky for leaving dogs in cars or exercising them in the warmest part of the day. So be careful. Even a comfortable day in the 70s or 80s is too warm for a dog left in a car.

Remember, a car is like a greenhouse, with all that glass. Even on sunny days that aren't sizzling hot, temperatures can quickly rise to life-threatening levels, even if the windows are open a little for ventilation. Older, overweight or short-nosed dogs are at higher risk as well. Don't take a chance!

As for anti-freeze, much of it is deadly. If you're a shade-tree mechanic, change your coolant with caution, making sure to clean up every drop of spill. Or better yet, use products with safer formulations designed to reduce the risk to pets and children.

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

PET Rx

Ear mites common in kittens and cats

Ear mites are tiny parasites that look like crabs and feed off the fluids and dead tissue of the ear canal. These pests are highly contagious and consequently very common, especially in kittens and young cats. They are more than an unsightly annoyance: If left untreated, ear mites can contribute to infections, wax buildup and, occasionally, deafness.

Your kitten needs to see a veterinarian to have the ears flushed out and for you to get medication to treat the parasites at home. The follow-up care is essential if you're to eliminate these pests.

Many people make the mistake of stopping the medication as soon as the kitten or cat stops scratching. It's important to apply the medication as directed for as long as your veterinarian recommends, to cover the entire life cycle of the mites and prevent a reinfestation.

(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.)

PET BUY

Big chewers, smaller Kong

The idea that only big dogs are big chewers isn't at all true. Some small dogs -- especially the tenacious terriers -- can be very tough on the wimpy toys sized for them.

That's why there's now an X-Treme Kong toy that is sized for little dogs who are big chewers. Like all of the popular Kongs, the toy is designed to bounce unpredictably and can be stuffed with treats to keep dogs busier longer. The X-Treme series Kongs are made from stronger black rubber, are more puncture-resistant, and are sure to give the most determined chewers a good jaw workout.

Behaviorists have long loved Kong products, which keep dogs busy and prevent destruction of household items that aren't meant for chewing. Kong toys can be found in all pet-supply outlets.

THE SCOOP

What to do when a bird gets loose

The best thing you can do to keep your bird with you is to make sure his wings are trimmed on a regular basis. But what if your bird does get loose with the power of flight intact? Here are some tips that may help get your pet back:

-- Put fliers around your neighborhood, as well as at all veterinary hospitals, shelters and pet-supply stores in the area. Let local bird clubs know, too. Place ads online and in the local paper, offering a reward.

-- Use knowledge of bird behavior to locate your pet. It's easier to find birds at just before dawn and just after dusk, when they are settled in one place and vocalizing. Enlist friends and neighbors to listen for bird calls at that time.

-- If your bird is lingering nearby, set the cage out in your yard, and put food both on top of it and inside it. A bird may relish the chance to go home, once he realizes how thin the pickings are on the outside. You may also be able to keep him near by putting food on your roof, or putting his cage there. Be sure to check the cage frequently. Once he returns to the habit of eating inside his cage, you may be able to simply close the door on him.

-- If you can get close to your loose bird, don't try to grab him -- you'll likely scare him. Instead, offer him a perch or branch, and calmly give him the "step up" command if he knows it. He might just hop onto the perch out of habit, and then he's yours.

-- If you can't get close to your bird, you might be able to ground him by soaking him with the hose and then be able to capture him with a pillowcase.

PETS BY THE NUMBERS

Dogtown, U.S.A.

Dog Fancy magazine puts out an annual ranking of the top cities for dogs and people who love them. The selections are made on the basis of access to top veterinary care, and on the popularity of dog-friendly business and recreational amenities such as dog parks. This year's rankings:

1. Portland, Ore.

2. Sanford, Fla.

3. Albuquerque, N.M.

4. San Diego

5. Bellingham, Wash.

ON THE WEB

Pet anatomy a click away

The College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University has put together a nifty site that explores the anatomy of dogs and cats.

"Anatomy for the Pet Owner" (www.vetmed.wsu.edu/ClientED/anatomy/), developed in cooperation with Hill's Pet Nutrition, offers fairly detailed drawings that show the skeletal and organ systems, with the ability to click on each separate area to gain access to more information. See the liver in all its detail, right down to the quadrate lobe!

The site is easy to navigate and fun to play with. It's a great resource for anyone who's trying to learn more about caring for a pet, or is facing pet-care decisions and trying to decode "vet-speak." It's also a great reference for teachers, and for any parent with a budding veterinarian in the family, this site is certainly one to share.

Award-winning writer Gina Spadafori has two new books out, which were co-authored with "Good Morning, America" veterinary correspondent Dr. Marty Becker: "Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?" and "Why Do Dogs Drink From the Toilet?" 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.petconnection.com.

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