No matter how much you may enjoy company, there's something wonderful about having your house for your own family again. That's true even when the guests are animals. Much as I enjoy having a "guest dog" (or two, or three), I really enjoy seeing their owners take them home.
Of course, sometimes you can't predict when the homecoming will happen, such as when you find a stray. I'm always finding strays, and the recent holiday weekend was no exception. The dog was standing in the center of a busy intersection with little concern for the cars honking at him. I stopped and whistled. He came right over. I opened the door. He jumped right in. This is the story of my life.
No tag, no collar, no microchip. And no way to place an ad until the weekend was over. The dog was sweet and good-natured, with perfect manners. Surely someone was missing him horribly.
She was. The call came early on the day my ad appeared, from a loving owner clearly relieved to have her dog back. But why should the dog have had to be separated from his family for three days? If he'd just had ID, he could have been home in an hour.
"No ID" is one of my pet peeves -- and one of the most senseless ways to put your dog at risk. Here are some others to consider and to avoid:
-- Letting him off the leash. The sight of joggers with unleashed dogs along busy byways fills me with a sense of dread, for I've heard from too many people who've lost dogs this way. It only takes a second for your dog to be hit by a car. And you can never, ever get that second or your dog back. Leash 'em up!
-- Giving him inappropriate toys and chews. Most everyone knows that some chews, like cooked poultry bones, must be off-limits to every dog, but one of the potentially most dangerous chews is something few people ever recognize as a threat: a tennis ball.
There's no harm in throwing a tennis ball to your dog. The problem is in LEAVING a tennis ball with your dog, especially if he's a strong chewer. That's because many dogs like to hold the ball in their mouth and compress them. Occasionally such a ball will pop into the dog's throat, where it can be almost impossible to dislodge. With no way to breathe, a dog can die this way in short order.
Instead of letting your pet chew on tennis balls, choose toys made for heavy-duty gnawing, such as Kongs and Nylabones.
-- Leaving him in a car on a warm day. Even balmy weather can be deadly to a dog in a car. On an 80-degree day, the temperature in a car, even if the windows are open a crack, can easily reach 120 degrees within minutes. That can kill a dog in minutes.
It's never a good idea to leave a dog in a car. If the heat doesn't get him, there's always a chance a thief might.
-- Using poisons carelessly. Slug and snail bait kill a lot of pets every year, and each death was preventable. Do NOT put out such poisons in areas where your pet or other animals can get to them. Use all household chemicals properly and carefully, and clean up any spills promptly.
-- Leaving on a "choke collar." The moving ring on a choke collar can catch on many things, such as a gap in a chain-link fence or even the tooth of another dog. Once the collar is caught, the dog will pull away, a move that only makes the situation worse. Should you be lucky enough to be there to help, you may end up badly scratched and bitten -- and still have a dead dog. Never leave a choke collar on a dog as his regular collar; use buckle or quick-connects only, please.
If you put an ID on your pet and avoid the rest of these mistakes, you've cut the risk of losing your dog by a considerable degree.
PETS ON THE WEB
More people than ever before are dedicated to keeping others informed about animals, judging from the rapid growth of two trade groups: the decades-old Dog Writers Association of America and its upstart counterpart, the Cat Writers' Association.
Both groups offer support to hundreds of people engaged in some form of communication regarding animals, from writing to photography to Web-page design, and both offer an annual competition to reward the best efforts in dozens of categories.
For the first time, however, the two groups, which share a high percentage of common members, are joining forces to offer a writers' conference, Nov. 20-22 in Kansas City, Mo. Details are available on the CWA's spiffy new Web site (www.catwriters.org), and should be on the DWAA's site soon (www.dwaa.org).
Information on the contests and membership are also available on the sites, along with some links to Web sites of the groups' respective members. (Information on the conference is also available by "snail mail." Send a self-addressed, business-sized envelope to CWA President Amy D. Shojai, P.O. Box 1904, Sherman, Texas 75091-1904.)
While most people nowadays have more sense and compassion than to say "it's just a pet" to someone who has just lost one, the time after an animal's death is still a difficult time for many people.
Fortunately, in recent years services have been established to help, and the majority of them are free except for the cost of a phone call. Many veterinary schools offer pet-loss support hot lines staffed by student volunteers. The programs are good for the people on both ends of the phone line. They give people who need it another animal-lover to talk to, and they offer veterinarians-to-be the chance to learn how best to deal with distraught clients.
Contact your closest school or college of veterinary medicine, or ask your veterinarian about these marvelous programs.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Our dog Molly is always eating. She eats her food and then the cat's food. We put the cat's food up high on a desk outside, hoping to keep Molly from eating it. No luck; she gets up on the desk. Can dogs have an eating disorder? She's not skinny, nor is she active. What can I do to help her? -- F.H., via the Internet.
A: She does have an eating disorder. It's called obesity. Fortunately, you can help her with it. Have your veterinarian check her out to make sure she's otherwise healthy, and to suggest changes in diet and exercise that will help her. "Light" foods offer more bulk with fewer calories and can help animals feel "full," and may be a better option than cutting back rations.
Cat food isn't good for dogs, and you're on the right track in your efforts to keep her out of it. Try feeding the cat on the other side of a baby gate, or a cat door if Molly is too big to fit through one. The baby-gate/cat-door strategy is also a good one to use for dogs who like to cruise litter boxes for "snacks," by the way, a common and thoroughly disgusting habit many dogs enjoy wholeheartedly.
Q: We haven't had a cat for years, but we were recently adopted by a one we think belonged to someone in the neighborhood, but she likes us better. We had her spayed and vaccinated, and the vet pushed a rabies shot. Is that necessary? -- H.M., via the Internet
A: Congratulations on being adopted. Cats seem to know where they're needed most, and it's obvious your heart was ready for feline companionship again. Kudos, too, for seeing to your pet's health needs, and ensuring you won't have more pets than you can handle by getting her spayed.
As for your question: Yes, it's necessary. Your veterinarian isn't trying to push anything except proper preventive care for you and your new pet. Vaccination is so important for your cat that in many areas it's required by law.
The risk of contracting rabies from your cat, or any pet, is small, but it does exist. Because outdoor cats constantly cross paths with wild animals, the most common carriers of rabies, they're at higher risk for being bitten and subsequently passing along the disease to you.
And that's why vaccination is so important. Although it can be treated if caught early, rabies is a fatal disease once established in the body, and a handful of people die of it every year. Rabies is one disease where animals are vaccinated as much for the protection of humans as for the animal itself.
The risk to you and your new pet is too great to take on just to save the cost of a simple vaccine.
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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