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

KINDNESS, CONTINUED

Universal Press Syndicate

The first week in May has been celebrated as "Be Kind to Animals Week" since the American Humane Association started it in 1915, back when most animals had jobs to do -- and, as their "bosses," we weren't always very compassionate.

Our attitudes toward animals, especially dogs and cats, have changed dramatically since then, and today more people than not consider pets as family members.

But the "have-nots" of the pet world are still many, and there is still much to be done. Here are a few suggestions, not only for "being kind to animals" this week, but all year around:

-- Take better care of your own animals. Keeping your pets fit and at a proper weight will help them feel better and stay healthier. Food isn't love, and exercise is good for you both! And don't neglect other aspects of preventive health care. Use your pet's regular well-pet checks to go over those areas that need improving. Your veterinarian should evaluate your pet's vaccination schedule, nutrition, dental health and parasite-control strategies. Preventive health care saves money, makes your pet more comfortable and helps extend life span. Keeping your pet healthy is the ultimate kindness!

-- Be a good neighbor when it comes to your pets. Don't let your cats roam or your dogs bark constantly. People who allow their animals to be a nuisance give ammunition to communities looking to pass laws against pets -- and it puts their own pets at risk of being hit or even poisoned. Keeping your pets from bothering others will help your neighbors be kinder.

-- Make calls for animals. Animal cruelty should not be tolerated, not only for the animals but also because of the proven link between animal cruelty and crimes against people. Call, write and send faxes (e-mails are routinely ignored) to prosecutors and judges in animal cruelty cases, and ask that offenders be dealt with severely. Contact your elected representatives and get sensible, enforceable anti-cruelty legislation on the books.

-- Don't let pets litter. If you're finding a home for a pet, have the animal neutered first. You may think you're doing a good deed in finding a home for a pet you cannot keep or for a litter of kittens born in your garage to a semiwild mother cat. But if you pass along a population-growth time bomb, you really aren't helping much at all. Instead of placing a pet for free, spay or neuter the animal, and then charge an adoption fee to cover the cost of the procedure. You'll save the adopter time and will ensure that the pet you place won't be producing unwanted animals.

-- Help a shelter or rescue group. Writing a check is always appreciated, but your time and expertise can be even more valuable to these nonprofits. Volunteers are always needed to help with the animals in the shelter, to foster pets who need a home environment, and to run fundraisers or community outreach programs. If you have a service to offer -- such as construction, legal aid or computer services -- consider donating those.

-- Be a friend to another animal lover. Companion animals are extremely important to those who are more socially isolated, such as a housebound elderly person. If you have a relative, friend or neighbor who struggles to care for a pet, ask how you can help. It may be as simple as picking up supplies or taking the animal to the veterinarian when needed.

Little things really can add up to a lot. Keep looking for ways to help animals -- and those who love animals -- in your community, and you'll be helping to create a better world for us all.

Q&A

Moving day rough on the cat, too

Q: We're having to give up our house and move in with my in-laws for a while. Fortunately, they're not insisting that we get rid of our cat, even though they don't really much like cats.

Our cat is 2 years old and has lived inside all her life. My mother-in-law would prefer to have the cat live outside, but she is willing to work with me as long as the cat settles into a litter-box routine without a problem. My cat's life depends on this, in my opinion. Can you help? -- T.W., via e-mail

A: The key to moving cats with the least amount of stress and stress-related misbehavior is to keep them secure before and during the move, and to settle them safely and quickly into a routine afterward.

Confinement is essential when moving cats: It keeps them safe while they become used to their new territory. Set up your cat up in a "safe room" -- a quiet spare bathroom or bedroom is ideal -- and leave her be while you pack up the house. Provide her with food and water, her bed, a scratching post, a litter box and a couple of favorite toys, but otherwise leave her pretty much alone.

During the move, your pet is at a high risk for becoming lost. That's why it's essential to get new ID tags on your pets before you disconnect that old phone number or to get new tags with your cell phone number. If you use a pet-tracking service or microchip ID, be sure the company knows where to reach you by updating your records with the registry.

When you have settled in at the new home, work the "leaving home" procedure in reverse with your cat. Put the cat into a quiet "safe room" for a few days, or even a couple of weeks, until the movers are gone, the furniture arranged and most of the dust settled. Allow her to explore inside the house on her own terms, even if she chooses to stay under the bed for days.

Quickly re-establish a routine. Pick a time and a place for feedings, and a quiet, protected place she can get to easily for her litter box. (If there's more than one floor in your new home, put a box on each.) Keep the boxes scrupulously clean and filled with your cat's favorite litter, and she should settle into her new situation with less stress for everyone.

You all deserve credit, by the way, for working to keep your pet during this difficult period in your life. Many pets have been given up or even left behind when owners have been forced to leave their homes during the recent housing-market problems. -- 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

Ticked off? You're not alone

-- Tick populations are on the rise across the United States, with many veterinarians worried about the spread of tick-borne diseases, according to a study by IDEXX Laboratories. At least three tick-borne diseases were found in every state: Lyme disease (Borrelia burgdorferi), anaplasmosis (Anaplasma phagocytophilum) and ehrlichiosis (E. canis). Details about tick migration and images of tick species can be found at dogsandticks.com.

-- Ever wondered why gulls congregate in vacant parking lots? Many people assume it's because parking lots resemble bodies of water. But Kevin McGowan of the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology says gulls like parking lots because they're big, flat, open areas to preen, sleep or gather, reports Esquire magazine. If there's an occasional french fry from a fast-food joint, well, all the better.

-- Pet owners in the Twin Cities will soon be able to take advantage of a boarding facility adjacent to the Minneapolis-St. Paul International airport. USA Today reports the Animal Humane Society has won a contract to operate a 24-hour pet boarding and day-care facility, with parking and shuttle service to and from the airport terminals.

-- An increasing number of animal lovers are buying wheels for their dogs to give them mobility when they have problems with their legs, hips or backs. There are several dog cart manufacturers, with prices starting at $250 for small dogs and $500 for larger dogs. -- Dr. Marty Becker

THE SCOOP

Cats need help with grooming, too

Cats spend a lot of time grooming themselves, but that doesn't let you off the hook for helping them.

Keeping your cat well-groomed helps you spot health problems before they become serious. Is your cat's coat thinning? Is his weight where it should be? Are there wounds, lumps or bumps? The amount of time you'll spend grooming your cat depends on the kind of coat your cat has. With their long, silky coats, Persians and other longhaired cats need daily brushing, combing, detangling, frequent baths and even occasional professional grooming.

Cats with medium or short coats are fine with weekly brushing and a bath now and then -- more frequently if you have allergy sufferers in the home or if you're especially sensitive to finding hair everywhere.

Although it's easier to teach a cat to tolerate grooming when you start with a kitten, even an adult cat can learn to appreciate -- or at least tolerate -- the attention. Here are some tips to get you started:

-- Give yourself a fresh start. If you have a longhaired cat or kitten who's badly matted, arrange to have him shaved down by a groomer so you don't torture the poor thing by trying to comb out the clumps.

-- Introduce new routines a little bit at a time to build your cat's tolerance.

-- Reward your cat. Use treats, praise and gentle petting to let your pet know you approve of his behavior.

-- Know when to call it a day. Stop before your cat becomes impatient, annoyed or afraid -- or you do! Always end the session on notes of praise and petting.

If you look on grooming your cat as a special time for you both to share, your pet will pick up on your attitude and will come to share it. The payoff in terms of a happy, healthier and, yes, prettier cat is well worth the time you'll invest. -- Gina Spadafori

PETS BY THE NUMBERS

Veterinarians think small (animals)

The 2007 graduates of U.S. veterinary schools will be mostly (59.4 percent) heading into private practice, as opposed to government, academic or industry jobs, or continuing with their studies. Here are the kinds of practices they'll be joining:

Large animal (exclusive): 2.8 percent

Large animal (predominant): 2.2

Mixed animal: 8.9

Small animal (predominant): 9.3

Small animal (exclusive): 32.1

Equine: 4.1

Source: American Veterinary Medical Association

ON GOOD BEHAVIOR

Dogs need to play

Puppies learn from play to be friendly and relaxed about the world around them. And playtime is a wonderful way to help develop a rich and rewarding relationship with your dog.

Initiate play with your dog by imitating a canine "play bow," front down, rear up and slapping the floor with your hands. Feel the day's tension melt away as you wiggle and giggle, and watch your dog light up in response.

Lead gentle play by example. Make sure canine teeth grab toys -- not flesh -- during play. Use treats and a new vocabulary to create new games, and keep all play lighthearted, fun and interesting. Vary play, and stop play sessions before your pet shows signs of losing interest.

(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.

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