The Northridge earthquake that shook Southern California a few years back proved to be the catalyst for at least one positive event: It got Blake Donovan to thinking.
She then lived five miles from the quake's epicenter. Afterward, she realized how vulnerable pets were in a disaster, and how completely reliant they were on humans for survival.
"Pets are helpless to prepare for disasters or emergencies," she said. "They cannot store supplies or care for themselves if injured. That's the job of each responsible pet owner."
But even the most responsible pet owners, she knew, would have a hard time knowing how to prepare for the worst, even if they realized how important it was. So she drew on her broad training as an EMT, a police officer and a
veterinary technician and came up with her dream business, ResQPet. The company makes high-quality disaster preparedness kits designed to help dog and cat owners get through the critical early days of any emergency, when veterinarian help may be unobtainable.
"A friend's Rottweiler died in that earthquake," she said, "cut by the shards of a broken sliding-glass door. He bled to death. She freaked, didn't know what to do." If her friend would've had first-aid supplies and instructions, Donovan reasoned, the dog might have survived.
Donovan's own three pets had to be dug out of the rubble of her home. They all survived, and two of them are still with her: Maggie, an Old English sheepdog who just turned 18, and Buddy, an Amazon parrot. (Ever the soft touch for an animal in need, she has recently adopted a starving stray shepherd, whom she named Kirby because the dog reminds her of a vacuum cleaner when she eats.)
After the earthquake, Donovan started putting together disaster kits for friends. She then expanded, marketing mostly through her Web site (www.ResQPet.com), and an aggressive self-driven marketing campaign that has already netted her a mention in Dog Fancy magazine. She hopes to make the company do well enough to support a shelter someday, but in the meantime, she'd be happy to save a few lives here and there.
The kits are impressive, with top-quality supplies and two easy-to-follow first-aid manuals (one for dogs, one for cats) written by Donovan herself, who teaches pet first aid classes. First-aid supplies make up the bulk of the package, along with such gear as emergency water packets and purification drops, a muzzle, a space blanket and light-sticks. Organized into either a backpack or a duffel bag, the kits are bright orange and emblazoned with the company name. Kits for other animals are in the works.
The contents were approved by a veterinarian, and one chain, the Veterinary Centers of America, went so far as to endorse the kits and sell them in their hospitals. ResQPet has gotten a couple of bigger nibbles, too, from a huge pet-supply chain and a major pet-food company.
For all that, business has been depressingly slow. The kits are expensive, ranging from $45 to $95 -- quite reasonable when you consider the contents, but still a big hit to many wallets. It may not be the price that dampens interest so much as the desire we all have to pretend we'll never need to cope with the sorts of things in the news all the time -- hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, floods and fires.
Donovan remains optimistic. "Most people realize emergency preparedness is a good idea," she says. "Few people have the time to do anything about it."
She's hoping many in that latter group will take the step toward preparedness and call ResQPet. (If you're among them, the toll-free number is (888) 738-7377.)
PETS ON THE WEB
Sure, that cage you got from the pet-supply store is fine, but have you ever thought your guinea pig or small rabbit might be happier in something bigger? The folks at the British Columbia SPCA do, and they've put some plans on their Web site to help. Building a Better Habitat (spca.bc.ca/habitat.htm) gives step-by-step instructions for assembling a large, inexpensive enclosure from commonly found materials: plastic sign board, wire mesh and masking tape. The pictures are clear and easy to follow for even the most fumble-fingered do-it-yourselfer. In a short time, your pet will have digs with room to roam.
If your veterinarian says your pet's too pudgy, don't forget to include treats when you're deciding what to cut down on. If you give treats to your dog several times a day, for example, you're adding practically another meal. Switch to smaller treats given less frequently; just because the box says "for small dogs" doesn't mean your overweight Labrador won't eat what's inside. Better still, substitute carrot sticks and pieces of rice cakes. Dogs snap them up every bit as eagerly as ready-made biscuits. As with people, eating right is only part of the puzzle when it comes to slimming down your pup. Start walking. It's good for you both!
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We've heard recently that shots cause cancer in cats, and yet our veterinarian still sends us reminders to bring our cat in for boosters. We're thinking we're better off skipping it. We don't want to lose our cat to this. -- S.C., Sacramento, Calif.
A: You shouldn't skip your pet's vaccinations, but you're right to be concerned. "Vaccine-associated feline sarcoma" or "feline vaccine-site sarcoma" is the name given to tumors that pop up at vaccination sites, and they have indeed claimed the lives of many cats. No one is quite sure why this problem occurs, but the risk is low compared to the dangers of not vaccinating your cat -- risks not only to your cat's health, but also, in the case of rabies, to your own.
Feline specialists now recommend changes in the way vaccinations are handled. At your pet's annual examination, discuss which vaccines your cat really needs with your veterinarian. Your cat may not need to be vaccinated against feline leukemia, for example, if he's kept indoors and doesn't interact with other cats.
Ask your veterinarian to use single-dose vaccines and to follow recent recommendations on where to inject your cat (different locations for different vaccines). Make sure your veterinarian notes the sites in your pet's records, as well as information on the vaccines, such as the name of the manufacturer and the serial number.
Once your cat is home, remember to watch carefully for any lumps that may develop. A small lump immediately after vaccination is normal, but call your veterinarian if the lump grows, or if it persists beyond three months.
Vaccinations still prevent many times more deaths than they cause. Keep the risks in perspective, and continue to press your veterinarian for the most recent information available on keeping your cat in good health.
Q: I am seeking advice about cats who chew or eat woolen items. My beautiful 3-year-old female sealpoint Siamese is now relegated to a life of semiconfinement due to this habit. I previously found one article regarding this issue; however, I misplaced it, so know I'm not alone with this problem. She destroys clothing and fabrics, and she can find them anywhere. Help! -- L.M., Sarver, Pa.
A: Wool-chewing is a problem once thought to be a result of early weaning, but now believed to be genetic in origin. The so-called "Oriental" breeds, including the Siamese, seem to be affected most. Increasing fiber in your pet's diet by adding a teaspoon of canned pumpkin daily may help, as may offering substitute items to chew on, such as a dog's sheepskin toy. Behaviorists also suggest active play sessions to burn off excess energy.
You might also ask your veterinarian about the use of medications to help with your pet's behavior problems. Aside from these suggestions, keeping everything picked up and put away is your best bet.
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.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600