DEAR DR. FOX: I have an indoor-outdoor cat, and I have noticed that he is overeating somewhere else while he is outside.
I put a tag on him that reads “Please don’t feed me” and includes my phone number. And, sure enough, a woman was soon calling me, saying that my cat is eating the food that she sets out for feral cats. This woman lives a half-mile away from me. I went to her house to pick up my cat, and learned that she puts out food for cats in the morning and at night -- about 5-6 pounds of the cheapest cat food. I now have to go there occasionally to pick up my cat.
I’ve seen some wild animals like squirrels there, and who knows what kind of animals come there at night? Definitely some raccoons and coyotes. We live by the lake in Washington state. I have treated my cat for many bite wounds, about four times now. Now I know where he is getting them from.
I have asked that woman not to put food out anymore. She got very upset with me, and said that I better keep my cat on the property or locked inside, because she is not going to stop what she is doing. I think she is not the owner of the house, but that she’s renting it.
Can you please help me with advice on what to do? I think she got so upset with me that she might hurt my cat. Are there any regulations about this? -- E.S., Lynwood, Washington
DEAR E.S.: Your cat has my sympathy, but I must say you have taken the wrong, albeit probably loving and best-intended, step in allowing your feline companion to become an indoor-outdoor animal.
Do read the article on my website about releasing cats to live outdoors and all the hazards this practice poses to the cats and to wildlife. I also address the issue of people feeding feral cats with the best intentions, which should only be done when these cats will be trapped, neutered and placed into good homes or in a safe and secure sanctuary/refuge.
In addition, I give some information about helping an indoor-outdoor cat adapt to living permanently indoors. Having windowsills with shelves, and cat condos by windows so cats can look out -- especially at bird feeders -- can help, as can building an indoor-outdoor deck. And try training your cat to enjoy outdoor walks in a harness on a leash, which can work wonders.
DEAR DR. FOX: At 64 years of age, I was a “cat lady” for several decades until my last kitty passed. Then I spent a few months deciding on my next pet. I knew I wanted a rescue, and decided on an older dog.
After visiting the Humane Society and looking at several, I decided on a 6-year-old, 60-pound female German shepherd mix. She is almost perfect for me, except for one thing: I believe the “mix” is a hunting hound (she looks like a black-and-tan coonhound) with a very strong prey drive. She is perfectly behaved indoors, but when I take her outside on her leash, she goes on high alert, scanning the neighborhood for other animals. If she sees one, she pulls like a freight train. In the three months I’ve had her, she has overpowered me six times, injuring me three times -- once quite badly.
The shelter I got her from had picked her up as a stray and only had her for a week, so I doubt they were aware of this behavior. I really don’t want to return her to the shelter, but I don’t want to be seriously injured, or to have her injured, either.
I have no fenced-in yard and live in a suburban neighborhood near a four-lane road. It is so scary to have a dog who can overpower you.
Is there any hope for me to get this problem under control so we can enjoy our walks? I love this dog, and at her age, I’m worried she won’t get another good home. She would be the perfect companion for a man who likes to hunt. -- S.S., St. Louis, Missouri
DEAR S.S.: I sympathize with your situation and determination not to give up this dog in spite of being pulled down and injured. In instances like this, it is essential that you contact your veterinarian for an immediate referral to a dog trainer/canine behavior therapist. Hire an experienced dog-walker in the interim. There are collars designed to go around the dog’s muzzle to give better control, but I would leave that decision to the behavioral therapist.
AVMA TIPS HELP KEEP PETS SAFE IN COLD WEATHER
You’re probably already aware of the risks posed by warm weather and leaving pets in hot cars, but did you know that cold weather also poses serious threats to your pets’ health?
The American Veterinary Medical Association has gathered tips to help you keep your pets safe during cold weather, and has developed a handout on the subject that veterinarians can share with their clients. To read their tips, visit AVMA.org and search for “Cold Weather Pet Safety.”
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 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.