My mother called me a while back, her voice in that tone she gets when she's telling me something I should pay particular attention to, like a good sale on underwear or a low price on a brand of dog food I'd never buy in a place I'd never shop.
"That pet guy was on Martha again," she said. "You really should call her."
My mother has a hard time believing that Martha Stewart wouldn't rather have me on her show as the pet expert. She's convinced the oversight is my fault because I haven't called Martha yet to introduce myself. I told her, again, that Martha's pet guy does a good job, and even if he didn't, I couldn't take his place.
Martha, you see, frightens me.
That wasn't always the case. I used to believe she was a particularly gifted performance artist, an inside joke few people got, and that I was one of the lucky few who knew enough not to take her seriously. As she gold-leafed and glue-gunned her way to a media empire, I watched gleefully from a home furnished in thrift-store casual, laughing every time she pronounced something "a good thing." What a hoot!
But then I noticed something: Martha's pets were perfect.
As the pet expert my mother knows me to be, I can tell you that perfect pets do not exist any more than perfect people do. Martha's longhaired dogs (chow chows) and longhaired cats (Himalayans) were born to shed, and the fact that neither she nor anything she owns is ever seen covered in fur is flat-out unbelievable. You cannot have pets and not have pet hair. Real pet lovers know this. Martha pretends otherwise.
Real pet lovers are folks who, I've heard it said, would send back a salad in a restaurant because of a human hair but who casually flick cat hair off the butter at home or ignore it altogether. And yet here's Martha, the always perfect Martha, with dogs and cats considerate enough to keep their hair to themselves, or at least give up every hair that's even thinking of shedding at the time they're being brushed and combed -- at perfectly regular intervals, I'm sure. Either that, or she's using that glue gun in ways I don't care to think about.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for more Martha news, my mother called again recently, with the same helpful tone of voice, to tell me how well Martha's business endeavors have gone. I was befuddled. Did my mom expect me to go public as well? Or was she pointing out again how beneficial it would be to hitch my wagon to Martha's ever-rising star? But then I realized what she was trying to tell me: Martha's way is the only way. Even Wall Street pretty much agrees.
I am not convinced, nor am I converted. I accept pet fur -- embrace it, even -- and I encourage all pet lovers to do the same. What choice is there, after all? We have more pets and less time to clean after them than ever before. Pet hair will triumph! The day will come when no outfit is complete without a few stray strands of fur. And when that day arrives I won't have to call Martha. She'll call me.
Sorry, Mom, but that's the way it has to be.
PETS ON THE WEB
Rutgers University was the first to offer courses in its law school regarding the legalities surrounding the treatment of animals. The Animal Rights Law Project Web site (www.animal-law.org) contains thought-provoking essays and commentaries, as well as information on such subjects as hunting, the right of people to keep companion animals in rental housing, the rights of students to avoid dissecting animals, and much more.
The essays and commentaries are especially interesting, with topics that range from "Sexism and Animal Rights" to "Animal Rights: The Future." And while it's certainly true that many of the views expressed on this Web site do not find widespread public acceptance, it's still interesting to see what the thinking is on the cutting edge of such topics.
The Westminster Kennel Club dog show comes to New York City's Madison Square Garden on Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 12 and 13, with coverage of the event again carried starting at 8 p.m. each night on the USA Network.
The days surrounding Westminster offer a swirl of dog-show related activities, from award luncheons to tours of the American Kennel Club to gallery exhibitions of dog paintings. This year, the Doyle New York auction house will put more than 250 pieces of dog-themed artwork on the block, with prices for some pieces predicted to go well into the tens of thousands of dollars. (Most, though, are expected to stay in the $1,000 to $3,000 range.) The items can be seen on the firm's Web site (www.doylenewyork.com, click on "catalogues"), and the auction house will also host viewings Feb. 10 though 12. The auction will be held on the 13th.
Those who are interested in buying (or those who are just interested in looking at what they cannot afford) may buy a catalog of the event for $25 from the auction house by calling (212) 427-2730, which is also the number for more information.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Can two kitties from the same litter breed? Do cats know who their siblings are? -- G.F., via e-mail
A: Not only can they breed, but they most certainly will breed, given the slightest opportunity.
Your letter reminds me of a phone call I received a few years back from a couple who couldn't understand how their dog kept getting pregnant. They swore to me that she was never outside unattended and never walked without a leash. No dog could have gotten to her anyway, they said, since the dog's own son was always with her, and he didn't like other dogs.
I asked them if the male had been neutered, and as I guessed, the answer was no. I told them it was highly likely that the father of the puppies was also their brother. They were shocked at the idea, and didn't want to believe me. "Don't they know they're mother and son?" one of them asked.
They neither know nor do they care, I told them. If the equipment is in place and the time is right, the two dogs will do what dogs do in such situations. And yes, cats will happily do the same, given the opportunity.
If you raise two siblings together, they will often remain close, but so will any two animals raised together in most cases. The bonds animals form don't seem to have much to do with family trees as much as with proximity: If animal family members live in the same home, they'll remain like family. But if you tried to introduce an adult cat into a home with a single cat, you'd have just as much trouble with an unrelated cat as with a sibling who'd been separated since kittenhood. The cat whose territory it was would feel it was an intrusion in either case.
Don't count on an imaginary feline prohibition against incest to keep littermates from mating. If you take in a pair of kitties, get them spayed or neutered at the earliest opportunity. The couple who had the always pregnant dog swore they were going to do the same, and I certainly hope they did.
Q: My husband has had it with cleaning out litter boxes! He insists that my 10-year-old, indoor calico kitty become an indoor/outdoor kitty. I've brought her up-to-date on her shots, but I'm worried about putting her outside alone all day. My husband has built a heated "cat house" so she'll stay warm. How do I introduce her to the outdoors without just booting her out? -- C.H., via e-mail
A: Not so fast! Perhaps I'm missing something, but is there any reason you and your husband couldn't readjust your chores so he takes one of your responsibilities and you keep the litter box clean? That would be my first suggestion.
If it's more of a matter about getting the litter box out of the house, I'd suggest putting in a cat door to give your cat access to a part of the outdoors that has been made safe for her, such as a screened-in patio.
I don't think it's reasonable, safe or fair to ask a 10-year-old cat who has been indoors all of her life to make the outdoors part of her territory. She is not street-smart, for one thing, and she would be highly vulnerable to cars, dogs or coyotes, poisons and other threats to her life.
Work with your husband in trying to find a compromise that will allow your pet to spend her senior years in the safety of the home she has always known.
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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