Can a dozen years have possibly passed since the day when I first held Andy, an hours-old pup with beautiful markings and the beginnings, even then, of an attitude?
I remember him now as the prankster, a strong, handsome youngster who stalked the rainbirds in our yard and chewed holes in hampers to gain access to dirty socks and underwear. Toni and Lance, the dogs he drove crazy with his puppy pestering, have been gone for years. And now, Andy himself has little patience for the bounciness of the two young retrievers. He'd rather be left alone.
I console myself with the knowledge that he is in good health and make sure he gets the little extras his status demands -- extra car rides, special one-on-one couch time and games played with the retrievers put away, so Andy will win and not get jostled. He is still handsome: His eyes may be a little milky, but his coat is as lush and shiny as ever.
Those eyes scan my face more frequently than ever now, for Andy is hard-of-hearing and appears to be teaching himself to lip-read. I tested him the other day, mouthing the word "cookies." He ran to the place where they are kept. Clearly, his mind is as sharp as ever. I found myself saddened when he stopped greeting me at the door -- he doesn't hear me pull up these days -- but I've gotten used to it. I find him where he's sleeping and wake him, gently. He seems annoyed at being surprised, but his face soon changes to joy at seeing me. He smiles, and I smile back. I rumple his silken ears, and he yawns.
I am careful to see that he gets the care he needs: good veterinary care, good nutrition and light exercise. He sees his veterinarian regularly for a thorough exam, blood and urine tests, and dental cleaning.
The trick, I know, is to prevent the problems you can and catch early the ones you can't. He has had a lump removed here and there, but that's about it. I try to keep him lean and exercised to help his arthritis, and that, along with some vitamins and other medications, keeps him fairly limber.
I sometimes find myself preparing for the day he will leave me, imagining what my life would be like without his thoughtful presence. Other times, I refuse to consider the possibility he will not be with me forever. I don't care if I know better. I don't want to lose him, ever.
It leads you to look for answers where none exist�.
My co-author and friend, Dr. Paul Pion, is as good a veterinarian as you could possibly find, a cardiologist by specialty. I talk to him when I want information about high-tech and cutting-edge veterinary medicine, but he is just as capable of sharing good stuff on a more basic level. He would tell you that warm fuzzies are not his strong suit, but I, for one, would disagree.
"Paul," I said to him the other day, "you're so good, tell me how to keep Andy from getting old."
"Kisses," he said. "Lots of kisses."
If he's right, my little sheepdog will be with me for a long time yet. I doubt, though, it could ever be long enough to get used to the idea of being without him.
PETS ON THE WEB
Holy moly, you've hit the canine mother lode when you point your browser to the rec.pet.dogs FAQ Homepage (www.k9web.com/dog-faqs). Internet pioneer Cindy Tittle Moore has spent the last six years gathering and maintaining a top-notch collection of materials, including articles on breeds, activities, behavior and training, allergies and pup gear.
The site also includes the definitive list of canine-related list-serves, e-mail "clubs" devoted to a specific breed or topic. Moore's site is a serious labor of love and a true service to dogs and those who love them. Completely noncommercial, well-organized and easy to search, this site is simply the best out there. If you can't find the information you're looking for here, you may not be able to find it at all.
Any pirate will tell you the proper place for a parrot is on the shoulder, but that view is challenged by behaviorists. The problem, they say, is that such a lofty perch gives parrots both the wrong idea about their status and the ability to inflict real damage should they decide to bite.
In the parrot's point of view, being higher equals being better, and a bird with such a superior attitude is more likely to try to stay on top -- both figuratively and literally -- by biting. Some biting problems can be solved simply by lowering the perch to give family members a height advantage and by never letting the bird higher than midchest when out of the cage. And that means no shoulder perching. Behaviorists point out the shoulder is an extremely risky place to park a parrot because a bite here could lay open a cheek or damage an eye.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We live where it stays hot most of the year. When we bag up the litter lumps to put in the trash, it smells up the garage and the cans. We have two cats and change the box daily.
We are thinking about spreading the used litter in the vacant lot next to our house. There are no houses closer to us than about a block away. I don't want to do it if it isn't safe, but I would like to give our garbage man a break. -- D.V., Miami
A: Spreading soiled litter on the lot next door isn't a good idea, from either a health or smell perspective. The feces of cats may contain diseases and parasites that can be transmitted to humans and other pets who come in contact with it. You don't have to get up close to be bothered, either: If you've ever walked past a flower bed favored by the neighborhood cats, you'll know it by the stench. I'm afraid your lot will be just as pungent in short order if you go through with your plan.
You didn't mention what kind of litter you're using. If you're changing out a box of nonclumping litter every day, you can really cut down the bulk by switching to the clumping variety -- a few soiled lumps is all you'll be dealing with then. Invest in some Ziploc bags to put the cat waste in. Sealed up, they should make your garbage a lot more pleasant to deal with.
Q: I have recently gotten a puppy, and I am having problems with the way she deals with the cat. She loves to chase the cat and often will jump on the cat and sometimes pin her to the ground.
The cat doesn't seem to mind all that much and is usually able to get away all by herself. Sometimes, however, no matter how much I scold the puppy for attacking the cat, she (the puppy) will not stop. They seem to be friends at times (i.e., often they will exchange kisses), but this aggressive behavior worries me.
Does the dog want to harm the cat or just play with her? I really want them to get along, but I don't know what to do. -- T.P., via the Internet
A: I wouldn't call your puppy "aggressive." Seems to me the behavior is more playful than predatory. However, you have to understand that dogs have a natural instinct to chase anything that runs. Your cat, no matter how good-natured, shouldn't have to put up with being the object of a chase. She could get hurt.
I'd make two recommendations. First, I'd attach a leash to the puppy's collar so you can catch her when she's chasing. Instead of punishing her, call her to you, ask for a positive behavior like "sit" and praise her for doing it right. Second, I'd set up a room where your cat can get away from the puppy. Put a baby gate across the door of a bedroom. Your cat will be able to clear it easily, but your puppy won't be able to follow.
Your two pets seem to be on the road to being pals. I'd get your puppy into a class soon, though, so you can learn how to raise her into a dog who will get along with everyone.
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 Write2Gina(at)aol.com.
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