DEAR DR. FOX: I read your article on feral cats, and I thought you might like to hear the story of mine.
About 26 years ago, I saw a small stray cat going across the street and down the sewer. I started feeding him. About 8 months later, on a cold, bitter, snowy day, I was able to catch him. My wife and I put him in our basement and didn't see him for a week. Then one day, he came out and became the talk of Old Orchard in Webster Groves, Mo. He was about a year old, and we named him T.C. -- short for The Cat.
He lived in my barbershop until I retired in 2007. He would sit on the step outside with the door wide open and greet anyone who came along. He was so popular, one of my customers, John Marecek, wrote a poem about him, and it was published!
He lived a good, long life in the comfort of the barbershop for 25 years. He passed away in January 2011. -- G.B., St. Louis
DEAR G.B.: Thanks for your heartwarming story many readers will enjoy. It is noteworthy that T.C. had no interest in leaving your shop even though the door was wide open. Similarly, Mr. Mark Twain, our old, formerly feral cat has never shown any interest in going back outside once he decided to come out of hiding in our home. He felt it was safe, trusted us and knew we were his food, water and clean litter box providers.
As you discovered, having a cat can be good for business, putting clients at ease and providing a catalyst (pun intended) for conversation. Dogs can be great, too. Unfortunately, there are many city ordinances that prohibit having an animal in a business, though this is not true in more animal-civilized countries like England and Holland.
I'm including my two favorite lines from the poem about T.C. by your customer John Marecek:
Men enter the shop and seek out his bed
To just say, "How are you?" and then pet his head.
DEAR DR. FOX: We have two dogs, a 6-year-old un-neutered English bulldog and a 4-year-old female Chihuahua. They are indoor dogs, but they do go outside for exercise and bathroom duties.
When the Chihuahua urinates, the bulldog will come by and lick it, causing his tongue to freeze in place for a few minutes, then he drools. Why does he keep doing this? We have tried everything to stop him.
Is there anything you can think of that would help put an end to this disgusting habit? They both get along famously and are the best of friends -- they even sleep together. -- E.W., West Falls, N.Y.
DEAR E.W.: What may seem disgusting to you is perfectly normal canine behavior. Some people are even put off when dogs sniff each other's rear ends.
I can understand anyone protesting when his dog rolls in some stinky, organic goop, but that is, in some ways, akin to humans putting on perfume.
Your English bulldog is showing the Flehmen reaction, which is most often seen in bulls and stallions sniffing the females of their species. In a Flehmen reaction, the tongue curling and freezing is done to place the scent or pheromone of whatever has been licked on a spot just behind the upper front teeth. This is where two ducts leading to the vomeronasal organ are located -- a second scent organ present in other mammals, including cats, who often show the Flehmen reaction when sniffing and tasting various substances. This organ may play an important role in pheromone influences on the animals' brains and behavior.
So please accept your bulldog's bond-affirming behavior, and let him be.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
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