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

CLOSED-DOOR POLICY

Universal Press Syndicate

Ilario -- aka Larry -- joined my family last month, the orange tabby fluff ball bringing the feline head count up to two. His arrival put older cat Clara's nose so out of joint that she darted out when I opened the back door for the dogs and took up residence on the neighbor's porch for the better part of a week.

She had slipped out a time or two before, but I have been trying to keep her contained to the house and a fresh-air enclosure off the kitchen.

She had accepted indoor life happily. But with an invader in her home, there was no bribing her back inside. She refused to come home until she finally decided the kitten wasn't leaving, so she might as well learn to get along. One night she slipped back in, warily, and hasn't left since.

They're getting along, mostly. But my working to keep Clara (and now Ilario) content and contained is no doubt part of the reason why she decided that rejoining the family inside wasn't such a bad idea after all. And her escape gave me reason to re-evaluate the life I was offering her inside.

Keeping a cat inside reduces the risk of an early death from accident or disease, and it's also more considerate of your neighbors. Indoor cats also can't prey on native birds and small animals.

But when we keep cats from roaming, we take away a large part of what makes them happy, which means we need to put in "environmental enrichments" to make up for the loss. And we need to spend time with our pets -- playing with them, petting them and even grooming them -- to strengthen the bond we have with them.

Giving an indoor cat safe access to the outdoors is always appreciated, such as with a cat door into a screened-in porch. You can also buy kits for portable outdoor pens, complete with tunnels to connect them to the house. I know of several people who have put together some grand outdoor spaces, including a two-story enclosure clinging to the side of the house with areas for climbing, sunbathing and hiding. These needn't be expensive, especially if you're a capable do-it-yourselfer.

Indoors, cats need places to perch and scratch (such as cat trees), greens to nibble on and toys to play with. Food can be made more of a challenge, too, by using toys that make a cat work out a puzzle to find and eat his daily rations.

After she came in from her snit-driven escapade, Clara fussed to go outside again for the better part of a week. But I was more stubborn than she was, and now she has settled back happily into her indoor routine (with visits to her outdoor enclosure).

Ilario hasn't figured out that he, too, can visit the outdoor enclosure, but in time he'll be big enough to enjoy it.

I'm counting on them both being content and contained for many years to come. But that will happen only if I keep the inside almost as interesting as the outside, and work to keep them engaged as part of my family.

For more information and ideas, visit the Indoor Cat Initiative Web site (http://vet.osu.edu/indoorcat.htm), created by the College of Veterinary Medicine at The Ohio State University.

Q&A

A word to dog walkers

Q: Why are dog people still not getting the idea that you have to pick up after your pooch? My neighbor walks his dog every day, and I think it's so she won't go to the bathroom in his own yard. He lets her go in mine! I guess he figures since she's so small, it "doesn't count." Hey, it's still offensive, and it's still my yard! What can I do with this rude idiot? -- C.Z., via e-mail

A: Every time I write about this, I get hate mail. Why, I don't know, since I've agreed for years -- and so has Dr. Becker and everyone on the Pet Connection team -- that people who do not have pets should not be bothered by the socially annoying pets of others.

That certainly includes having pet waste to clean up on your property from someone else's pet. Not cool. Picking up after a dog is fast and easy. Dog lovers can recycle supermarket plastic bags for free or choose from dozens of bags, scoops and contraptions all designed to make cleanup neat and easy. A dog lover never, ever has to actually touch waste with a hand securely inside a plastic cleanup baggie.

Cleaning up after a pet should be done everywhere -- including areas where you know you won't get busted for not doing so. It's just the right thing to do.

My impression over 20-odd years of writing about pets is that more people than ever before do clean up after their dogs, but plenty still look the other way when a pet poops. Recently, I took my dogs on a trip some 1,300 miles long, and at one stop, I found a litter-strewn vacant lot for them to use. Despite the litter, I didn't add to the mess, and immediately thereafter I got a thumbs-up from a trucker at the adjacent truck stop. I didn't even know anyone was watching, and without even trying, I managed some good PR for pet lovers.

So why do I get hate mail when I address this subject? Because I also think that it's important to shrug off the occasional -- note, I do mean "occasional" -- annoyance so we can all get along, whether it's a barking dog, loud music from the next-door neighbor's stereo or the eager beaver who fires up the lawn mower just a tad too early on a Sunday morning.

Chronic abusers of good will should be talked to. I'd definitely recommend saying a word to your neighbor about the messes if you haven't already, and even offering him some cleanup bags. But the occasional transgression should not cause an end to neighborhood harmony. Just because he's a "rude idiot" doesn't mean you have to be, too. -- Gina Spadafori

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

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.

On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or visiting PetConnection.com.

PET BUZZ

Shelters for people and pets

-- Shelters for victims of domestic violence have long recognized that abused families, kept so isolated that pets are their only friends, often won't leave their abuser because they know the animals they leave behind may be harmed as a power play or retaliation. USA Today reports that domestic violence organizations are working with animal-welfare groups to provide temporary pet care, ensuring that everyone gets out of the situation safely. The American Humane Association has just compiled a 40-page guide to help, available online at www.americanhumane.org.

-- How long can your dog paddle? The longest doggy swim was 9.5 miles by two Labrador retrievers -- Kai and Gypsy -- with their owner in Hawaii. The waterlogged trio set the mark in 1995.

-- Disney's Animal Kingdom has turned 10. The 500-acre park (which is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums) has grown in the past decade to include 1,500 birds, 2,500 mammals, and about 600 reptiles and amphibians. It also houses 15,000 fish and 1,500 insects and other invertebrates.

-- Ever been to a busy veterinary hospital or shelter and heard the cacophony of barking? Music therapy is putting a damper on the racket. Veterinary Practice News reports that a recording called "Through a Dog's Ear" (www.throughadogsear.com) is based on psychoacoustic research through the combined efforts of a sound researcher, board-certified veterinary neurologist and a Juilliard-trained chamber ensemble. Hush, puppy! -- Dr. Marty Becker

DOG CARS

Pontiac's Vibe hits right note for dog lovers

Last month I bumped into a veterinarian who is also renowned for her show dogs. She is an enthusiastic champion for her new dog car, a vehicle economical to purchase and to drive, blessed with lots of usable cargo space and surefooted on the icy winter roadways of her home in the upper Midwest.

Her wonder car? The Pontiac Vibe.

Not two weeks later, I got to see it for myself, with a weeklong test drive of the small wagon recently named one of best in the under-$18,000 category by the industry watchers at Kelley Blue Book.

The veterinarian was right: The sharp-looking little Vibe wagon is a super dog car, with a thrifty starting price around $17,000. The Vibe is comfortable to drive and pleasant to handle, with seats that fold perfectly and easily flat, exposing a cargo bay of nearly 50 cubic feet, with hard plastic surfaces that are easy to keep clean.

If your dog car adventures lead you down some dicey roads, you can choose an all-wheel drive model and still stay a tick under $20,000 -- with a 100,000-mile warranty, to boot.

With gas prices likely to keep climbing and dogs who still want to go along for the ride, we're going to want great little cars like the Vibe -- even the all-wheel drive gets a decent 20 mpg city/26 highway, with the basic model in manual rated 32 mpg at best -- to get us there in style, comfort and savings.

(Gina Spadafori reviews dog-friendly vehicles for the Pet Connection's DogCars.com.)

PETS BY THE NUMBERS

Dogs have allergies, too

Many people suffer from allergies -- including ones to dogs. But dogs, too, have health problems related to allergic reactions. According to claims made to the Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. in 2007, the top allergy-related problems for dogs were:

1. Ear infections

2. Skin allergies, general

3. Skin allergies, limited ("hot spots")

4. Eye allergies/conjunctivitis

5. Bronchitis/asthma

ON GOOD BEHAVIOR

Keep pets from attacking shoelaces

Puppies and kittens love shoelaces, especially when they're attached to moving shoes on human feet. These pets have chase instincts, although some have more than others, with variations due to breed types and genetics.

If you want to stop your puppy or kitten from ambushing your laces, here are a few tips:

-- Be prepared with a toy or ball that you can show, shake around and throw to distract your youngster from you and your shoelaces.

-- Set up your pet for shoelace surprises. Cover your laces with nontoxic Vicks or Listerine for a taste that's repellent for the pet who grabs hold.

-- Add more toy-related play to your pet's routine. Lots of play satisfies natural instincts and helps keep pets healthy, both mentally and physically.

(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Roland Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)

Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to petconnection@gmail.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.

4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600