"Taz," I said to the visiting boxer. "C'mere, you."
He didn't move. I tried again with the same result, then raised a quizzical eyebrow at my brother. "What's up with your dog?" I said.
Joe smiled. "Hey, Doofus Dope-Boy," he crooned. The dog lifted his head at last and clicked across the hardwood floor for a pat. "See? You just need to call him by the name he knows best."
I should have known the dog had a goofy nickname. My brother, the nickname maniac, never calls anyone by his given name.
It's not just my brother, though. What pet doesn't have a nickname? Animals are great when it comes to such silliness. They don't care what you call them, just as long as you're talking to them. Not like the son who suddenly doesn't want to be kissed in front of his friends and be called "my baby," or the daughter who now insists on having her full name used -- no more of this "princess" stuff.
Not that parents give up so easily. I have a friend whose father still calls her "Poo," not as in Winnie-the-Pooh, but as in the stuff she used to have in her diapers. She's 34 years old, and she'd like to kill him every time he says it, which is, of course, exactly why he'll never stop.
When she gets home from spending time with her father, her cat is there to listen to her complaints. The cat's name is Pfeiffer, but she calls him "Litter-Butt." He doesn't mind at all.
Animals may not resent nicknames, but be careful what you say around their human relations. Back home, my neighbor Robin has a lovely miniature poodle named Whitney, who is certainly a candidate for the most spoiled dog in America. (And yes, I know the competition would be keen.)
Robin calls her dog "Baby Sweetness" or "Poodle Perfection." When I want to annoy Robin, I call the dog "Witless," "Nitwit" or "Half-Wit." It's always a guarantee of keeping some interesting strain in neighborhood relations, even though Robin knows I'm just teasing.
She retaliates by calling my two flat-coated retrievers "Flat-Heads," which, if you've ever been around the older one, is more truth in advertising than insult. The dog is sweet as he can be, but he's not all that bright.
Benjamin doesn't mind the insult, and I don't either. I've called all my pets nicknames far more insulting, some not repeatable in polite company. Usually, though, their nicknames are terms of endearment. Benjamin knows he's in my good graces when I call him "Jam-Jam," and Heather knows being called "Heathen" is the sure sign my lap is hers for the taking. Even the dignified senior dog Andy has nicknames, although he's too deaf to pay them much mind these days. In keeping with our current surroundings in the Deep South, I've taken to calling him "Bubba." It works much better from his point of view if I offer pets or cookies when I say it, so I do.
I wonder, though, if all that purring and wagging of tails isn't just a cover for a little joke on our behalf? Imagine what kind of nicknames our pets could come up with for us. Would Heather make fun of the time I spend on the phone and computer? Would Andy tease me over my lack of cooking skills? Would Benjamin call me a name meant to rib me about my pathetic sense of smell? (When compared to his, that is.) It's another reason why one of the best things about pets is that they know, but they do not tell.
PETS ON THE WEB
Wondering where you can find supplies for your dog through the mail or on the Internet? Check out the catalog page (http://home.att.net/(tilde)hattrick-dals/Catalogs.html) assembled by the folks at the Hat Trick Dalmatian kennels. You'll find a listing of more than three-dozen catalog companies selling everything from general pet products to specialized dog-sports gear and alternative-medicine products. Be sure to check out the Puttin' on the Dog link, which goes to a catalog (www.puttinonthedog.com) of hundreds of nonessential but just plain fun items, from T-shirts to hand-painted wastebaskets, celebrating dozens of different dog breeds.
The average weight for a healthy adult cat is between 8 and 10 pounds, although among purebreds, what's normal can vary dramatically by breed. The Singapura, a rare breed whose lines trace to the feral cats of Singapore, is perhaps the smallest breed of cat, with some animals weighing in at less than half the weight of an average cat. The Siberian, another very rare breed, is said to be the biggest cat, with some animals topping the 20-pound mark. Other breeds that aren't quite as large but still qualify for big-cat status include the Ragdoll, Turkish Van, Maine Coon, Norwegian Forest and British Shorthair.
Weigh your cat by holding him as you get on a scale, then weigh yourself and subtract that weight from the first reading. The difference between the two figures is the weight of your cat. It's a good idea to weigh your cat on a monthly basis. Half a pound up or down is no reason for concern, but anything more than that should be investigated by your veterinarian, especially if the change is sudden.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: My boyfriend has an Eclectus parrot. I keep telling him he needs to clean the cage more often. He does a minimal cleaning once a month and a major cleaning once every several months.
When free to roam, the bird makes his way beneath the cage and scavenges the waste tray. My boyfriend says that birds are scavengers, so the bird will be fine. My boyfriend is a veterinary technician, so when it comes to animals he usually has more knowledge than I do.
Please advise if I'm worrying too much. or how I can convince my boyfriend to clean the cage better. -- M.S., via e-mail
A: You're absolutely right. The bird isn't getting proper care. Minimal cleaning once a month? I wonder how your boyfriend would like to be cooped up with his own waste for that long a period!
Cleaning isn't just about neatness -- it's about health. Clean, fresh food and water are essential to a bird's health, and so are clean surroundings. Filth such as you describe is an open invitation to bacteria, fungus and molds, all of which can lead to disease.
Cages need attention on a daily basis. Cage liners (newspaper is fine for this) should be replaced as they become soiled. Food and water dishes should start every day clean, and be cleaned again when pooped in throughout the day.
Spot-cleaning should also include taking a hand-held vacuum to any debris around the cage, and pulling out soiled perches and toys for cleaning as necessary.
Every week or so, the whole setup needs a thorough cleaning -- walls, floor, cage and all its contents. Take the cage outside, scrub with soap and water, and then rinse with clear water and let air-dry. Dishes, and some perches and toys, will fit in the dishwasher for cleaning and sterilization. Everything that doesn't fit in there should be soaked in a solution of a half-cup of bleach to a gallon of water, then rinsed and allowed to air-dry.
Parrots are not scavengers in the sense of eating old or rotting food. In the wild, they eat everything fresh, drop what they don't want, poop prodigiously and then move on to a clean environment. They do not scavenge in their own waste for food.
Your boyfriend is lucky his parrot hasn't gotten sick yet. Hand him this column and tell him to clean up his act, for the health of his pet.
Q: Would you mind another suggestion for your list of how to get a cat to use a cat door? You can replace the stiff rubber or plastic flaps with fabric. I favor heavy terry cloth, canvas or denim. Cats much prefer the softer "curtain" effect, and these heavy fabrics are almost as effective as rubber or plastic at blocking out the elements. They can be taken off and cleaned or replaced when dirty or worn. You can use them as an interim step before replacing the rubber or plastic, or just make the change permanent. -- Christie Keith, Director, Pet Care Forum (www.vin.com/PetCare)
A: Thanks, Christie. And for those of you who are keeping your cats as indoor-only pets, remember that cat doors aren't just a gateway to the outdoors. They can be used to give a cat access to a screened-in porch. They can also help keep dogs from litter-munching by allowing cats into the room where the box is through a hole that's too small for the dog to squeeze through.
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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