At some point in the fight to get people to spay and neuter their pets -- a worthy cause for which I've fought all of my adult life -- it became highly suspect to admit that one finds pleasure in the company of puppies.
One cannot admit to, say, a fondness for the round, plump belly of a healthy puppy (so perfect for kissing) or the sweetness of the breath that comes from puppy muzzles (so perfect for kissing) or the inherent clumsiness of oversize puppy paws (so perfect for ... oh, you get the picture). To do so seems to contradict a belief that most puppies should have never been born.
Is it possible to care about the welfare of dogs and adore being with puppies? For ardent animal activists, a litter of puppies seems a tragedy, a sign of past failures and future calamity.
Puppies mock them, because they make those who fight for pet overpopulation realize that despite all of their efforts, there are still dog owners who should have known to send Mom Dog and Dad Dog in for the surgical snip long before puppies happened -- but didn't. As for the puppies themselves, each has the potential to steal a home from an unwanted dog in a shelter, or to become unwanted himself. All of which makes it hard sometimes to appreciate the pleasure of spending time with puppies.
I am 95 percent in agreement with the belief that all dogs and cats should be spayed or neutered. It's certainly true that the overwhelming majority of pets who are born shouldn't be. They're the result of carelessness, cluelessness or just plain greed. It's not just a problem with mixed breeds, either. Purebreds are born every day who shouldn't be, and in some places the numbers of unwanted purebreds in shelters runs as high as one in four. Yesterday's fad breed becomes today's shelter headache faster than you can say "102 Dalmatians."
And let's not forget that altered animals are healthier and make calmer, safer pets with fewer behavior problems.
But as firmly as I believe that spaying and neutering is the way to go for almost all pets, I also believe there's a place for responsible breeders, for those who cherish the dozens of canine types we have developed over time. These people are not in it for any reason except a love of their breed and a desire to improve and preserve a distinct canine heritage. They breed healthy, emotionally sound dogs who exemplify the best traits of a breed.
I don't want to see a time when all we have is a generic dog, a medium-size, medium-coated dog similar to the wild type you can still find roaming in undeveloped countries. I cherish the differences: the large and the small, the curly-coated and the hairless, the brilliant and the not-so. Reputable breeders produce a small number of animals, and they remain responsible for them forever. These breeders are not the problem.
Not too long ago I spent a week in the company of a friend's five extremely well-bred puppies. I could tell you that I thought of all this then, but I would be lying. I was just glad to see the puppies.
Yes, my friend is the kind of person who should be a breeder: Her dogs are healthy, temperamentally sound, and exquisite examples of their breed. But the truth is, I thought of little of that as I watched and played with the puppies, held them, kissed them, and thought of slipping at least one of them into my backpack when at last I had to head for home. (I didn't.)
Political arguments over animal issues escape me in the company of puppies, although they are always with me otherwise. If there is any better way to spend a few days than with puppies, I do not know it. And the fact that the treat is an extremely rare one seems as it should be.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Siamese is probably the most recognizable of all breeds of cat, a popular animal known for high energy and a gregarious, chatty personality. The Siamese Internet Cat Club Web site (www.meezer.com) celebrates this historic breed. The site is well-designed (love the dancing paws!) and easy to navigate, with plenty of information for anyone looking to find out more about these handsome cats. Electronic postcards, cat stories and pictures round out the offering.
Looking for a special treat for your parrot? It's easy to adjust everyday recipes to make them more bird-friendly. French toast, for example, can be sprinkled with hulled seeds just after you drench the bread in egg, and then cooked as usual and offered to your bird without the butter and syrup. You can also make a rice-and-veggie treat by cooking brown rice, and then adding fresh vegetables and chopped hard-boiled eggs. Healthy people food is good for birds, too.
Pasta, cottage cheese, fruits and vegetables will all help to keep your bird healthy, but remember that avian veterinarians now recommend that the basis of a sound diet be one of the pelleted diets now available for your bird. If you have any questions regarding proper nutrition for your pet, talk to your veterinarian.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Thanks for your wonderful article on poodles. Can you explain why standard poodles are classified as nonworking by the American Kennel Club? There isn't anything they can't learn, and nothing they won't do for the ones they love.
My Ivy was the best upland bird retriever I ever had and was also a good stock dog. One time at a gathering, the cowboys snickered when they saw me coming with a poodle. But after they saw her work, it sure changed their minds.
After all was done, all the little hyperactive stock dogs were sent back to the barn or to the pickups, but Ivy was invited to the campfire where she entertained all with real standard poodle class. -- B.G., via e-mail
A: The American Kennel Club puts miniature and standard poodles into the nonsporting (not nonworking) group, with toy poodles going into the toy group. The nonsporting group is sort of a catch-all, and dates back to the time when there were only two groups -- sporting and nonsporting. Over the years the classifications have changed, and now the AKC puts dogs into one of seven groups -- sporting, hound, terrier, toy, working, nonsporting and herding. The herding group was the last to be created and was broken out of the working group a few years back.
Some poodles do hunt, but probably not enough to convince anyone that the breed belongs in the sporting group. Herding poodles like your Ivy are even more rare. I guess it really doesn't matter what group they're in, as long as people appreciate them for the fine dogs they are.
You're right that poodles are extremely versatile, easy to train and they love to work. I did get one letter from someone in Minnesota, though, who pointed out that the breed is not well-suited to work as a sled dog. Their curly coats just don't offer them the protection they need in frigid conditions.
Q: I recently adopted an 8-year-old cat by the name of Molly. She has joined my two dogs and my three-legged cat named Lilly, and they are adjusting very well.
Molly is a hearty eater, and since I occasionally give Lilly a few tablespoons of milk (nonfat), I did the same with Molly. The problem is: She seems addicted. Every time I go into the kitchen, she comes in and starts demanding some milk (she is a big talker). She'll even turn up her nose at the cat food when she wants milk.
I am reluctant to give Molly more than more than two servings a day of milk (four to five tablespoons total), since I am not sure if it might hurt her health. I'd really appreciate any advice you might have on this. -- G.H., via e-mail
A: No adult cat needs milk to survive, and some cats, like some humans, cannot handle milk without ending up with diarrhea. For those cats who can handle milk and like it, it's a fine treat and good source of protein.
If Molly isn't experiencing any stomach distress, then it's perfectly safe to give her milk as a treat. Feel free to indulge her just as you have been.
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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