My friend Jan has a soft spot for weird kitties. Her cats are so skittish, I'm not sure she has as many as she says she does. For years I haven't seen anything more than the flash of a tail heading down the hallway.
The exception is Noodles, who is odd in a wholly different and mostly gregarious way. At the advanced age of 15-plus, he remains one of my all-time favorite cats. This, despite the fact that I wince remembering the numerous times he has sunk teeth or claws into my hand while I was petting him. But maybe I have a soft spot for weird kitties, too.
As if the permanent residents weren't crazy enough, Jan once had temporary custody of two cats -- both of which came to her after exhibiting a distaste for even the most clean and well-placed of litter boxes. After a few months at Jan's house, the cats were cured of their various mental and physical problems and then returned to their original owner.
I don't think Jan herself is crazy, by the way, but I'm willing to admit I may not be the best judge of such things. After all, the number of animals who have come through my own little foster-care system over the years has probably numbered more than 50, and not a few of those pets were what you might generously call "challenged" in one way or another.
Now, though, I wonder a little if she's in over her head. She has wild kitties in her back bedroom. She trapped them outside her workplace and had them neutered and vaccinated. Now she's enduring all-out kitty warfare between the resident cats and the fosters, as she works to tame the latter. And she's struggling to find permanent homes for these formerly ferals, cats who will require the most patient and understanding of owners at a time of year when cozy kittens are starting to become plentiful.
Jan's foster cats don't stand up too well against kittenish competition. Still, she has placed two of them so far, and knows -- just KNOWS -- that she'll find the right people for the rest of her foster cats.
I hope she's right, and I think she will be. Those of us who love animals know we couldn't get by without hope, and Jan is as true an animal lover as I've ever met.
Although their situation seems precarious now, Jan's foster cats are on the right road at last. Their luck changed for the better when someone with a soft spot for weird kitties decided to take them home.
PETS ON THE WEB
If you like to look at cats, you'll love the Cat Delight Web site (www.dell.homestead.com/cat/home.html). Every month, several dozen photos are selected by a panel of judges to be featured as the best. Judging from the pictures for January and February, this will be a great year to keep an eye on this site. And who knows -- maybe your cat can be one of those featured!
Springtime is when we all think of gardening. If you're putting in some new plants, don't forget to include a few your pets will enjoy. Carrots are favored by many dogs, and make a great substitute for commercial treats for overweight pups. Catnip is a natural for cats, but also consider valerian, another herb that makes kitties dance with joy. Rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and other rodents will enjoy any leafy vegetable you plant. And as for parrots, what's good for you is great for your bird. The fresher the better!
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I have changed my four golden retrievers over to the BARF diet. They love it, and I make sure it is balanced. Their coats and teeth look wonderful. I will never buy dog food again! Just interested in what you think of this. -- T.B., via e-mail
A: A great many dog lovers have embraced the raw-food diet known as BARF with a near-religious fervor, while a great many veterinarians shake their heads in disbelief and even horror at what they see as a dangerous fad. (BARF stands for Bones and Raw Food, or Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.)
Australian veterinarian Dr. Ian Billinghurst is the creator of the BARF diet, but raw-food diets have been around for years, primarily promoted by American holistic veterinarian Dr. Richard Pitcairn. Earlier raw diets included carbohydrates from grains, while later incarnations are made up almost exclusively of raw, meaty bones and vegetables. The idea is that the diet is most like what a dog would eat in the wild: raw flesh and bones, along with vegetable matter from the bellies of their prey.
A BARF diet requires a leap of faith for many pet lovers: The first time you hand a whole chicken wing or turkey neck to your dog, you're certain that you're killing him. After all, how many times have we heard that poultry bones can kill? (Which is very true, by the way, of cooked ones, which shatter easily and take on the properties of an ice pick once inside a pet.)
Worries or not, an ever-growing number of dogs are getting raw provisions every day. Advocates argue that a diet of cooked meats and grains, which is what goes into commercial foods, is both unnatural and responsible for many health problems. And they also question the quality of the meat, which generally ends up as pet food because it's deemed not fit for human consumption.
On the other side of the issue, many veterinarians aren't satisfied with the data to support the claims of the BARFers, and point to feeding trials conducted by commercial pet-food manufacturers that show generations of healthy pets. They also worry that most pet lovers aren't capable of preparing a proper pet diet on their own. (The convenience of a commercial diet, after all, is a pretty strong selling point, considering how busy our lives are.) Finally, veterinarians worry about food contamination such as salmonella.
Raw-food advocates, not surprisingly, have answers for every one of these concerns. One thing is certain: The debate will rage for years.
As for what I think: I'm sitting on the fence on this one. I respect my veterinarian friends who want to see the results of feed trials and other controlled studies, but I also respect my intelligent dog-loving friends whose pets are indeed doing well on a raw diet.
Anyone who is considering a raw-food diet absolutely must do his or her homework first. Required reading: "Give Your Dog a Bone," by Dr. Ian Billinghurst (self-published, $27.95), and "Dr. Pitcairn's Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs & Cats" (Rodale, $16.95). "Give Your Dog a Bone" is available from DogWise at www.dogwise.com, or by calling 1-800-776-2665.
Also, my friend Christie Keith has been raising what she jokingly calls "organically grown Scottish deerhounds" since 1986, and her Web site (www.caberfeidh.com) has a great collection of articles and links on raw-food diets.
Q: A few weeks ago we got a female cockapoo. She was 10 weeks old when we got her, and she is really a sweetheart.
I just lost a beloved Westie in November and another one two years before that. They were wonderful dogs and were very affectionate. They would snuggle with us on the sofa in the evening and loved to be held and cuddled.
Our cockapoo, Addi, is good if you hold her when you are standing or on a chair in the kitchen. However, when you want to hold her on the chair in the family room or on the sofa, she constantly needs to be chewing a toy. When she does not have a chew toy, she will not stay near you or relax. I am in a panic because we want a dog that will snuggle, and she does not seem to want to. My husband and son are upset with her.
Will she ever be calm and a snuggler? I realize she is just a puppy and that her teeth must be bothering her; however, I don't think my Westies were like that at this age. -- H.D., via e-mail
A: I think you're probably forgetting what balls of fire your Westies were as pups. And that's what this girl is -- never forget -- a puppy.
Will she settle down? Certainly! How much, though, is anyone's guess. The fact that you describe her as a "sweetheart" and say she likes to snuggle sometimes leads me to believe she's on the right track. No one can say for sure, but chances are if you give her love, guidance and training, she'll turn out to be wonderfully snuggly companion.
Until then, be patient and try to enjoy her puppyhood. It doesn't last forever.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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