As pet-lovers, we always need to keep in mind one of the basic facts of life: Not everyone loves animals the way we do. And even those who do can find the antics of other people's pets a little hard to bear at times.
If I didn't know this already, I was reminded recently by a trio of letters from people complaining about neighbors' pets: screaming parrots in an outdoor aviary, a tomcat who terrorizes the neighborhood felines, and a dog let out every morning to leave "gifts" on other people's lawns.
These pets have two things in common. First, they're doing what is only natural to them. Second, they have owners who aren't thinking about their neighbors. Pet owners who don't think of their neighbors are more than rude; they're a threat to those of us who always want to have animals in our lives, since these owners give plenty of ammunition to those who would be happy to see animals banned -- or at least highly restricted.
Responsible pet ownership is the only antidote for anti-pet sentiments. The good news is that doesn't take a lot of effort to keep everyone happy. Here are the rules:
-- Keep 'em quiet. Barking dog or screaming parrots, the answer is the same: Keep your pets inside, especially at night and on weekend mornings. Pet-lovers have a tendency to become selectively deaf, tuning out the noisefest of their own pets and even sleeping through the racket. Although you can manage such a trick, your neighbors shouldn't have to.
-- Keep 'em under control. The only way to accomplish this with cats is to keep them inside. The bonus for you: Your cat will live a longer, healthier life. Outdoor cats fight noisily for mates and territory (neutering helps, but not completely), pick up and spread deadly diseases, and are exposed to hazards such as cars, coyotes and cat-hating neighbors with traps.
As for dogs, keep them fenced or on a leash and off other people's property, always. In public areas where it's OK for a game of fetch, train your dog to be under your voice control, or put him on a long lead instead. Never let him bother other people or pets.
-- Keep it clean. Pick up after your dog, whether or not it's required by local ordinance. I never understand why people who wouldn't think of tossing an empty cup on a neighbor's lawn think nothing of leaving something much more vile. Don't step out of your house with your dog unless you have plastic bags in your pocket for cleanups. Pickup is easy. Put the bag over your hand like a mitten, pick up the poop and turn the bag inside-out with the mess inside. Pop the sealed packet in the nearest garbage can and you're done.
The only way to keep your cat's mess out of your neighbor's flower beds is to keep him inside. If that's not possible, keep a clean litter box for your cat anyway. If you don't offer him a litter box, you're guaranteeing he has to relieve himself outside.
Make the effort to be a responsible pet owner. Keeping your neighbors happy is the right thing to do, and it's the only way to protect your own interest in being able to spend your life with the animals you love.
PETS ON THE WEB: Guinea pigs aren't just for children anymore. Many adults keep these sweet, cuddly critters, and it's no surprise there are plenty of Web pages dedicated to them. My favorite is Smilin' Jay Andrews Oinker Net, at http://www.olywa.net/jandrews/oinkrnet.htm. Andrews is a disc jockey in Olympia, Wash., but it's clear his true love is guinea pigs. His page has links to guinea pig sites all over the world, basic care information and lots of pictures. Check out the pictures of his pigs in their condos, two-stories dwellings with 16 square feet of living space and a running track. One of the nicest things about these pets is the sound they make, and Andrews' site has sound files to brighten the lives of those who have never heard it. Wheek, wheek, wheek (three cheers, guinea pig-style) to this charming page.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is the editorial director of the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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