My neighbors have kittens, a handful of playful, adorable and oh-so beautiful little kittens. They didn't mean to have these kittens, even though they're enjoying them immensely, and even though they really love cats.
Because my neighbors love cats, they got a couple of kittens last year, a sweet-natured calico girl and a rambunctious fluffy boy tuxedo cat. Time slipped away, the two kittens grew up, and now there are more of the same, four sweet-natured baby calicoes and one rambunctious young tuxedo male they've named Gino, after the neighbor -- that would be me -- who's trying to help them out of a jam.
We're spaying. We're neutering. Homes are being sought; arms are being twisted on people who really need one more cat. But it's a hard sell, these kittens, at this time of year. The "free to a good home" signs and ads are everywhere, and there just aren't enough good homes to go around. So far, no takers.
Love just isn't enough when it comes to this problem, something my neighbors now know all too well. All the spaying and neutering won't change the fact that five kittens were born who shouldn't have been, and who face the most uncertain of futures.
What's that old saying? "A stitch in time saves nine." Never so true as with spaying and neutering. Surgical intervention a few months ago -- a few stitches, well-timed -- wouldn't have saved nine, but five. Four calicos and a tuxedo who never should have been born. And who, in just a couple of months' time, will be able to add to the problem. Left alone, the babies will have more babies before winter comes again.
There are many good reasons to spay and neuter, and no good reasons not to. According to a 1995 survey by the American Animal Hospital Association, nearly 80 percent of the cats and dogs in the United States and Canada are spayed or neutered. What do these people know that the others don't? How about this:
-- A neutered male is less likely to roam, less likely to fight (and thus less likely to cost money to patch him up), and less likely to spray urine everywhere to mark his territory. He's more likely to live longer because the cat who's looking for a mate is really looking for trouble. If a car doesn't get him, infectious disease (spread by fighting or mating) or cancer may.
-- A spayed female is a more attentive and loving pet, because her energy isn't constantly directed toward finding a mate. (Cats are in heat nearly all the time until they become pregnant.) If you spay your cat, you protect her from some cancers and infections and from sexually transmitted infectious diseases.
-- A cat of either sex who isn't altered can be obnoxious to live with. Reproduction is their reason for living, and if you don't let them follow their instincts, they drive you crazy trying to get out and crying endlessly.
Why would anyone choose not to spay or neuter? It just happens, of course. Many of the kittens born are just like those my neighbors are coping with: an "oops" litter, a one-time occurrence before a young cat gets spayed. But even one litter is too many, as any shelter worker will tell you.
My neighbors made a mistake in letting too much time pass before getting their kittens spayed and neutered. Don't make the same mistake. If you have a kitten or a cat who hasn't been to the veterinarian for this all-too-important surgery, pick up the phone today and make an appointment. Do it for little Gino and his calico sisters.
PETS ON THE WEB
VetMedCenter.com is the latest big player in the battle for the eyeballs of pet lovers, a kind of Web MD for animals. And a fine debut it is, with a well-organized site for consumers (and one for vets, which is inaccessible to consumers) that launched with an impressive amount of articles. There's plenty to chew on here in the areas of breed selection, preventive care and behavior.
Despite popular belief, it's usually better not to shave down longhaired dogs for the summer. Instead, increase air circulation with a good combing and brushing, making sure to remove the soft and fluffy undercoat. Left untouched, the undercoat can mat into a solid feltlike layer that can make a dog very uncomfortable. Thorough grooming on a regular basis will go far in keeping your pet healthy and comfortable. If your pet's coat is one big mat, however, you may need to get her clipped because de-matting may be too painful for her. Talk to a groomer about what's best for your pet.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I have a 5-month-old golden retriever. He's such a darling except when he goes on a rampage, destroying plants and pulling clothes off the clothesline. I've given him toys to chew on, but he prefers "off limit" items. I have tried the soft approach, and I've tried yelling at him. Nothing helps. -- A.B., via e-mail
A: Welcome to puppyhood! As you've discovered, it doesn't help to yell at your pup. Instead, try these strategies:
-- Make sure your pup gets lots of exercise. A tired pup is not only a happy pup, but also one who'd rather sleep than chew.
-- Limit your pup's options. You wouldn't let a toddler wander anywhere he wants, so don't let your pup. Close doors and use baby gates to keep him in a pup-proof area of the house, and supervise him outside.
-- Distract, redirect and praise. Having toys available isn't enough: A pup cannot instinctively tell the difference between what's OK to chew on and what's not. When you're supervising your pup, you'll be able to see quickly what trouble he's into. Distract him with a handclap, and then play with him with one of his toys. Don't forget to praise him when he plays with those things he's allowed to.
Remember that he's just a baby, and he needs you to teach him the rules of living in your home. Be patient, persistent, positive and consistent. You'll both get through this trying stage.
Q: You made a mistake in one of your answers (the question about the woman's dog barking all the time). You said that poodles, along with terriers and shelties, were bad dogs to have because of barking.
I currently own a toy poodle, and she never barks. I know what you're thinking, a rare case, but I had a toy poodle before her when I was younger, and she didn't bark either. I think that it just goes back to how you train your dog.
What makes me upset is that there are people like you who are giving the breed a bad name. When I tell people that I have two poodles, they think the same thing. But when they meet them, they quickly change their minds. They even consider getting themselves one.
So in light of your mistake, I would like to have you do a retraction on including poodles in your bad rap. Maybe you should own the breed before you judge them. -- P.J., via e-mail
A: I grew up with a poodle, and he was the most serious nonstop barker I have ever known. He was also one of the brightest, funniest dogs ever, my absolute best pal. I adored him!
Breed attributes are neither "good" nor "bad," but they need to be acknowledged and considered when choosing a dog. Chances are that someone who is exceptionally sensitive to noise isn't going to enjoy living with a breed with a higher-than-average tendency to bark, like the poodle. That's not a "bad rap" -- it's a fact.
People need to know that German shepherds shed constantly, that Dalmatians have enough energy for at least two dogs, that Newfoundlands drool and French bulldogs snore. And that poodles, shelties and many terriers bark. Lots. The fact that all these breeds have their fanciers shows that people are willing to put up with a lot because of what they get in return. And in the case of the poodle, you're right: They've got a lot to offer.
Dogs often end up homeless because people didn't do their homework. They fell in love with the "look" of a breed or the "adorability quotient" of a puppy, and didn't consider what it would be like to live with a dog for years. The more information -- good and bad -- before you adopt, the better it will be for both you and your dog.
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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