One of the first things I did when I arrived at the house that will be my home for the next few months was find a pet-supply store. I had dog tags to order.
The ones the dogs were wearing were for a house that was 3,000 miles away, and I knew that wouldn't do them much good if they became lost now.
While any dog can become lost at any time, a new home is one place that presents a higher degree of risk. After all, sticking around home isn't easy for a dog who is unsure where home is yet.
The best time to protect your dog is before he gets out. ID tags are just one part of the plan. Here are some others.
-- Check your fences and gates. Are there loose or missing boards or enticing gaps at the baseline that could be opened up with a little digging? Are latches secure, with locks in place? Fix them all. If you have children going in and out all the time, invest in a device that pulls the gate closed automatically.
-- Check your dog. Don't waste time before getting him an ID tag. Instead of putting your pet's name and your address on the ID tag, use the word "REWARD" and as many phone numbers as you can fit on it. While some people are motivated by altruism, others are moved by the prospect of cold, hard cash. You want your pet back no matter who finds him.
Microchip implants, which carry ID numbers, are also a great idea. Make sure that your pet's permanent ID is registered so if someone discovers it, a fast reunion is possible. The American Kennel Club's Companion Animal Recovery Service can help with microchip matchups in the United States and Canada. And they don't just deal with purebred dogs; any kind of animal can be registered. Call 1-800-252-7894 for more information.
My pets also carry a tag from a 24-hour tracking service, 1-800-HELP4PETS. In addition to trying to locate me or my backup contacts, the company will authorize emergency veterinary care or boarding if I cannot be immediately found. I've had this service for three years, and although I've never had to call on them, it's great to know they're out there.
-- Keep current, clear pictures of your pets on hand. You may need them to throw together a flier in an emergency.
If you lose your pet, don't waste any time waiting for him to come home. Put up fliers in the area where your pet went missing and get friends to help you blanket the neighborhood, going door to door. Check the shelters every other day in person. A call won't do, because shelter staff may not recognize your pet or may overlook him. Place a "lost" ad in the newspaper, and check in with every veterinarian in the area, especially those open 24 hours for emergencies.
Finally, don't give up too soon. Pets have been located weeks after their disappearance. Keep running your ad and checking the shelters for at least a month.
PETS ON THE WEB
The University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center's incredible OncoLink Web site (http://oncolink.upenn.edu/upcc/) offers information on cancer for people. Now the university has a site offering information on animal cancers, too. With the help of the veterinary hospital at the university (which has a world-class veterinary college), OncoLinkVet (http://oncolink.upenn.edu/specialty/vet(underscore)onc) is treasure trove of a Web site designed to answer all the questions that come up when a pet is diagnosed with cancer.
Basic information on the kinds of cancers that pets contract is included, plus information on treatments. Every document (there are dozens) is thorough yet easy for the layperson to understand. In addition to the high-tech approach to cancer, the site also links to more information on alternative treatments.
If you have a pet who has just been diagnosed with any kind of cancer, you're facing some difficult decisions. OncoLinkVet is one place you must visit to help you navigate the choppy seas ahead.
Hay! Hay! If you're a rabbit, chances are good you're not getting enough hay in your diet. That's because a lot of people with pet rabbits get the idea that a formulated pellet diet is all their pet needs -- and that's just not true. Rabbits need fiber, which means hay, to keep their digestive system in top order and to keep hairballs working their way through and out of their systems. (Unlike cats, rabbits are not capable of vomiting, so a hairball problem can become a life-threatening intestinal blockage.) The act of chewing on hay also helps to stem the boredom of a life spent in confinement.
You should also add to your rabbit's diet with vegetables and fruits, making sure that they're well-washed first. The outer leaves of broccoli and cauliflower heads are a special treat that you might be able to get for free if you ask in the produce section of your grocery store. Carrots, especially the tops with greens intact, are another favorite, as are any kind of greens, mustard, collard, even dandelions. Fruit treats include apples, bananas and papayas (the last helps break down hairballs).
Always keep fresh hay available, offer fresh vegetables and fruit on a daily basis, and your rabbit will be happier and healthier.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I thought the general gist of your recent column on breed rescue was very good; however, I think you missed the biggest advantage of dealing with a rescue group. It's one place (often the only one) where a potential adopter is likely to get accurate information about the drawbacks of a particular breed.
One of the problems we see more and more with the advent of the Internet: It's easy to find out about all the wonderful things on a given breed. It can be very hard to find information about the not-so-wonderful things. Even some of the official AKC breed clubs do a very poor job of talking about the negatives of their chosen breed. And shelters often say that every dog will "make a wonderful family pet."
When you deal with a breed-rescue group, you stand a much better chance of finding out about the breed's typical behaviors, warts and all. –- Jack Russell, via e-mail
A: You're absolutely right. Breed-rescue volunteers know all too well what happens when people get a breed without knowing about potentially problem traits.
When I was doing Shetland sheepdog rescue for my local breed club, we were very careful to make sure that prospective adopters knew that all Shelties shed, and that many of them bark constantly, are shy, and engage in neurotic spinning when excited.
Those of us who love Shelties -– and I'm certainly among them -– overlook or work with the problem behaviors because we enjoy the company of these clever, affectionate and beautiful little dogs. But prospective adopters need to know what they're getting into, or any dog placed is more likely to boomerang into homelessness again.
Whenever you're thinking of adding a pet to your family -- no matter the kind of animal, the age or the source -- you need to educate yourself about the characteristics of the pet, both good and bad. If you get right down to it, a lack of education on the part of pet owners lands more animals in shelters and rescue groups than any other factor. Know what you're getting into with any pet, and be sure you're up to the challenge.
Note: The letter-writer knows his subject well. He's involved with the rescue of Australian cattle dogs in northern California, and works with other ACD rescue volunteers throughout the country. For more information on Australian cattle dog rescue, visit www.cattledog.com. For referrals on others breeds, go to the American Kennel Club's list of national breed-rescue coordinators (www.akc.org/breeds/rescue.cfm), or call the AKC at (919) 233-9767.
Q: Our shepherd mix puppy has her adult teeth in, but one of the baby teeth remains in front. Will it fall out on its own? Do we need to worry? -- R.E., via e-mail
A: Retained baby teeth are fairly common and nothing much to worry about, really. They do need to be dealt with, however. When your puppy goes in for his last round of vaccinations, mention the problem to your veterinarian. Chances are he or she will yank the tooth for you.
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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