Pet Connection

Pet Matchmakers?

Looking for Mr. or Ms. Right? Your dog or cat can help

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Remember the meet-cute scene in "101 Dalmatians," where the couple's dogs bring them together? It happens in real life, too.

Molly McNamara of Lyons, Colorado, met her husband-to-be, Jeff McGlynn, at the obedience class she was attending with her dog. It was love at first sight -- for her dog.

"My dog was so bananas for him that he wouldn't pay attention after Jeff arrived," she says. "At first I used to just get mad when he and his dog showed up because my well-behaved 1-year-old bearded collie, Max, would lose his mind and drag me across the room to see them. So, clearly, the dog knew first."

It took six months before the pair started dating, with many of the dates involving taking their dogs hiking or to the beach. McNamara discovered later that McGlynn was staying in the class only to see her. His Saint Bernard was already well-behaved and didn't really need the practice.

"Introduction by dog" is a time-honored method of finding true love, and now science has confirmed its efficacy. In their study "The Roles of Pet Dogs and Cats in Human Courtship and Dating," published in the quarterly journal Anthrozoos, researchers -- who surveyed more than 1,200 Match.com users -- found that 35 percent of women and 26 percent of men said they had been more attracted to someone because he or she owned a pet.

Men are more likely to use a pet -- generally a dog -- as "date bait," with 22 percent admitting to the tactic. Only 6 percent of women said they had used a pet to attract potential dates.

Women, on the other hand, are more likely to rely on their dogs and cats as barometers of a date's trustworthiness. Nearly half of the women responding said they judged dates based on how the person responded to their pet, and 76 percent evaluated dates based on whether their pets liked the person.

"My dogs have helped me see who is and isn't a good match based on how the guys responded to the dogs, and vice versa," says Elizabeth Barden Ackerman of Los Angeles. "The ones who are scared of my giant black Lab are quickly let go. The one who naturally pats and plays with him, refills his water bowl without being asked and who watches the dog and hilariously narrates his thoughts? He's special."

Allia Zobel Nolan of New York City knew the man she met was her true love because of the way he treated her cats, even though at heart he was a dog person.

"He loved me, so he loved my cats," she says.

Gail Parker of Philadelphia stopped seeing one man after her dog, a German shepherd, growled at him. She gave another the heave-ho when he called her Irish setter stupid.

The study's lead author, University of Nevada Las Vegas anthropology professor Peter Gray, suggests that pets' status as family members could explain the significant influence they wield in the choices people make about who they date. He and fellow researchers, UNLV graduate student Shelly Volsche; Justin Garcia of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University; and Helen Fisher of Rutgers University say dog ownership may signal "a potential mate's caregiving capacity." How a person treats a pet could indicate how he or she would treat a mate and children.

McNamara and McGlynn? At their eventual wedding, more dogs than people were in attendance.

"Max is turning 14 in a month, and Jeff is still his most favorite human ever," McNamara says.

Q&A

Bird's bald spots

can have multiple causes

Q: My African grey parrot is losing his feathers, and my veterinarian wants to run lab tests. I thought feather-plucking was a behavioral problem. What can lab tests tell us? -- via email

A: Feather-destructive disorder is a common and complex problem in birds. Among the species in which we typically see it are cockatoos, African greys, macaws, conures, cockatiels and lovebirds.

It's normal for birds to preen, or groom, their feathers to remove dirt or parasites, but when they start chewing the feathers, pulling them out altogether or even mutilating their bodies, the cause can be medical, behavioral or a combination of the two.

Underlying medical causes of feather-plucking can include inflammatory skin disease, low levels of thyroid hormones, liver or kidney disorders or tumors, to name just a few. Among the possible environmental causes are low humidity, poor lighting or changes in the bird's routine. Behavioral causes include boredom, anxiety and frustration. Sometimes the condition can have multiple causes. Because of this, diagnosing it can be a challenge.

A thorough medical history and, ideally, an environmental and behavioral evaluation are the foundation of a diagnosis, but a complete blood count, chemistry profile, screening for infectious disease, bacterial and fungal cultures, fecal exam and skin and feather follicle biopsies can all provide valuable information.

Treatment takes time and patience, and it may not lead to a complete cure. Depending on the cause, medication can help to reduce inflammation, itchiness and anxiety. Even if the cause is medical, enriching the bird's environment with interesting toys, opportunities to climb or fly and foods that require the bird to work to get at them is a valuable component of treatment. -- Dr. Marty Becker

Do you have a pet question? Send it to askpetconnection@gmail.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.

THE BUZZ

Breeds to watch

at Westminster

-- Seven breeds will make their bow-wow at the 2016 Westminster Kennel Club dog show next week. They are the Bergamasco, a dreadlocked herding breed from the Italian Alps; the berger picard, a French herding breed known for a starring role in the 2005 film "Because of Winn-Dixie"; the boerboel, a giant-size South African guard dog; the cirneco dell Etna, a small Sicilian sighthound; the lagotto Romagnolo, an Italian truffle-hunting breed; the miniature American shepherd, a small, but highly active, herding dog; and the Spanish water dog, a versatile, curly coated farm dog.

-- Curious about what's most likely to poison your pet in your state? The ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center has released a map showing the most common reason for toxin calls in each state. Rodenticides top the list in 14 states, many in the West and Southwest. Chocolate takes second place, leading the list in eight states, including California, New York and Pennsylvania. Ant baits generate the most calls in five states. South Carolina is the only state where the sago palm is the leading cause of toxicity, but it is a popular houseplant and landscaping plant nationwide. Idaho pet owners call about sugar-free gum, and Nebraskans are concerned about herbal supplements. Check the ASPCA's website for information about your state.

-- Three huskies and a cat? No, it's not the latest feel-good movie. Lilo, Infinity and Miko, Siberian huskies in San Jose, California, have become best friends with a rescued kitten and taught her to be, well, a dog. Lilo mothered Rosie, who was found near death when she was about 3 weeks old, and the kitten began mimicking everything the dog did, including walking on-leash. Now the four go hiking, kayaking and paddle boarding with their people, cuddle and even eat together. -- Kim Campbell Thornton

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

CAPTIONS AND CREDITS

Caption 01: In a recent survey of singles with pets, 75 percent of women and 54 percent of men said they would not date someone who did not like pets. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: The shaggy and sassy berger picard is a medium-size dog who is highly active, brainy and comical. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 1

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