With neighborhood schools at both ends of my street, the parade of children past my house is constant year-round, but certainly busier now, with the children suddenly wearing shoes and hauling backpacks as they trudge unhappily to the start of a new school year. On their way, they must pass what statistics suggest is a hazard to their well-being: a pair of large dogs who are chained in an open side yard next to their owners' home.
The dogs are of one of those breeds that give parents nightmares, and even though these two seem perfectly good-natured, I worry about walking by them myself. The typical profile of a dog involved in a serious attack fits these guys to a tee: young, unneutered males on chains. Such dogs are always just one broken chain away from disaster.
Many of the children in my neighborhood walk on the other side of the street from the dogs, but I notice there are a few -- there are always a few, aren't there? -- who seem to take pleasure in teasing the dogs. It's just another one of those reasons why I've often thought it incredible that so many children make it through their formative years in one piece.
To be fair (and to return to those statistics), dogs aren't the biggest risk children face growing up. Organized sports, for example, are 10 times more likely to result in a child's trip to the emergency room than are dogs. And you can reduce the chances of injury significantly by making your children aware of the dangers and by drilling into them what to do, and what not to do, when facing a dog who may be vicious.
Here's what every child should know:
-- Never approach a loose dog, even if he seems friendly. Dogs that are confined in yards, and especially those dogs on chains, should also be avoided. Many are very serious about protecting their turf. If the dog is with her owner, children should always ask permission before petting and then begin by offering the back of the hand for a sniff. Pat on the neck or chest. The dog may interpret a pat from above as a gesture of dominance. Teach your children to avoid fast or jerky movements.
-- Be a tree when a dog approaches, standing straight with feet together, fists under the neck and elbows into the chest. Teach them to make no eye contact. Some dogs view eye contact as a challenge. Running is a normal response to danger, but it's the worst possible thing to do around a dog, because it triggers the animal's instinct to chase and bite. Many dogs just sniff and leave. Teach your children to stay still until the animal walks away, and then back away slowly out of the area.
-- "Feed" the dog a jacket or backpack if attacked, or use a bike to block the dog. These strategies may keep an attacking dog's teeth from connecting with flesh.
-- Act like a log if knocked down: face down, legs together, curled into a ball with fists covering the back of the neck and forearms over the ears. This position protects vital areas and can keep an attack from turning fatal. Role-play these lessons with your child until they are ingrained. They may save your child's life.
From the other side of the equation, be aware of your role as a dog owner in preventing attacks. Socialize and train your dog from the day you get him. Neuter him, to help avoid dominance challenges that can be especially dangerous to children. And keep him where children can't get to him. At the end of a chain is no place for a dog.
PETS ON THE WEB
Felice's World of Turtles (http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/felicerood/) is an entertaining and information-packed page about turtles (and tortoises) lovingly put together by a woman who has dedicated her life to their proper care.
Felice Rood is founder and president of the Sacramento Turtle and Tortoise Club. Her writings, online and in the club's newsletter, have made me smile for years. Her stories of the turtles and tortoises living in her suburban house and yard bring out the distinctive personalities of these gentle beings.
On her Web page, she offers the text from those newsletters, plus articles on care. She also sells her two videos. I have both, and can wholeheartedly recommend them.
If your fat cat misses a few meals, shouldn't that be good news? After all, it's not as if he couldn't afford to lose a pound or two. While it's not good for any cat to be overweight, a fat cat who starts starving himself could get into big trouble fast. That's because cats, especially obese ones, are at risk for feline hepatic lipidosis, also known as fatty liver disease.
The condition is triggered when a cat stops eating for any reason and plunges a cat into a downward spiral. She doesn't eat, which makes her feel crummy, so she won't eat and so on, until she's too ill to be saved. The reason fat cats are at greater risk is because their livers are too choked with fat to function properly.
The bottom line: A cat who doesn't eat for more than 48 hours needs prompt veterinary care, especially if the animal is overweight.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We recently got a cockatiel (youngster, we think), and he is great. When feeding him, if the seed cup is filled, how do you know when it needs to be refilled or emptied? I read that the empty seeds can stay on top and there is still good stuff below. I just don't want to be dumping out good seed if it isn't necessary. -- K.D., via e-mail
A: Even "good seed" is bad news for your cockatiel. I get so frustrated when I see seed promoted as a complete diet for birds in grocery stores and some pet stores. It's not.
Seeds are just junk food -- too much fat, not enough other nutrients. Seeds are a treat, at best, not a complete diet. Keep that cup filled with seeds and you could be shortening your pet's life considerably.
Get your cockatiel onto one of the new pelleted diets, which lays a basic foundation for good nutrition. To that, add an array of fresh fruits and vegetables, and healthy "people food" such as pasta, beans, cottage cheese, bread and even lean chicken breast.
Seeds are great for treats and for training. But for a diet? To answer your original question about what to do with the seed cup, here's my answer: Empty it, for good.
Q: I have a border collie/springer spaniel cross, Charlie, who loves to be outside with me. I am thinking of taking him on a bike ride with me one day. But I need to find a way to teach him to stay to one side of the trail when I tell him to, and to turn back to me as soon as he sees another rider. Any suggestions? -- H.R., via e-mail
A: I'm not real keen on the idea of off-leash dogs on busy trails. There's too much possibility for mayhem. Even the most well-mannered dog can cause an accident on a horse or bike trail. All it takes is a biker coming quickly around a blind corner and running into the dog, or the dog spooking a horse, and somebody's going to get hurt.
Your dog is indeed of a background that demands action, and I commend you for trying to give Charlie the exercise he needs. I'd suggest that you spend time with him in off-leash areas intended for dogs, and keep him exercised there by playing fetch or just letting him run with other dogs.
If the weather's cool enough, you can skip the trails and still do road work with your dog on your bike. Pick quiet streets, keep him leashed, and don't push too hard. A good trot is an ideal pace for Charlie.
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.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600