Go to any animal shelter that takes in strays, and you'll find plenty of friendly cats.
It doesn't take an expert to see that these animals may be strays, but they're not wild by any measure. Like millions of other pets, they've likely slept on beds, rubbed ankles lovingly and run to the sound of a can opener at dinnertime.
People are surely missing these cats, looking for them and hoping for their return. Without collars and tags, though, the chances of any of these pets being reunited are very low. Some may get adopted, but most will never get another chance to show what wonderful pets they are. All because they weren't wearing collars and tags.
Why are cat lovers so resistant to collaring their cats? I decided to count the collars on the dozens of cats I see on my morning walks. After a week, the total number of collared cats came to two, both enjoying the morning sunshine in front of the same house.
I know that some people tire of replacing collars their cats keep slipping off, while others are convinced their cats will get caught by collars while roaming. Neither argument holds much credence, though: Cat collars are relatively inexpensive and very safe.
Cat collars are made of lightweight material and designed to "give" enough to let your cat wriggle free should the collar ever catch on something. Don't get a puppy collar by mistake: Dog collars are meant to prevent escapes, while cat collars are made to allow them. The fit should be snug, but not uncomfortably so.
Once you've got the right collar, order a tag. ID tags come in high-impact plastic in a variety of colors and shapes, or in metal, also in many varieties, such as circles, cat's heads, reflectors and so on. Since cat tags are small, don't bother with putting your cat's name on it, or your address. Instead, fill all the space you're allowed with phone numbers -- not only yours, but also those of a friend or relative who can be reached if you're unavailable. I also like to put the word "reward" on the pet tags I order.
You could alternatively consider a tag from a 24-hour assistance service, such as 1-800-HELP-4-PETS. In addition to reuniting lost pets with their owners, the service will authorize emergency veterinary care or boarding if a pet is found and the owner can't be reached immediately. (More information can be found on the service's Web site, www.help4pets.com.)
Microchips are a form of ID that has come on strong in recent years, but they work best as a complement to tags, not as a replacement for them. The microchip is permanent identification that's about the size of a grain of rice, which your veterinarian can insert beneath the skin over your pet's shoulder blades using a large needle.
The chip, encased in a nonreactive glass casing, contains a unique identifying number that can be read by a scanner, kind of like those in the grocery store. The American Kennel Club's Companion Animal Recovery Service offers a microchip registry for all pets, with operators on call night and day to help when a microchipped pet is found. (For more information on CAR, call (800) 252-7894, or visit www.akc.org/love/car.)
Remember, though, that most lost pets are found not by shelter staffers but by neighbors, and neighbors don't have microchip scanners in their collection of home appliances. Which is why even though a microchip can't be topped for permanent identification, you'll still need a collar and tag for your pet.
If more people thought to buy collars and tags, more of those shelter cats would find their way home. Happy endings often start with pet lovers who care enough to prepare for the worst. Doesn't your cat deserve a ticket home?
PETS ON THE WEB
Anyone with an interest in aquariums should visit the Bluebin Web site (www.bluebin.com). The site offers plenty of information on setting up both freshwater and saltwater tanks, as well as on keeping the fish and their surroundings healthy. The section on reef tanks is especially thorough, with information on dozens of species of coral, along with links to message boards for discussing problems with more experienced hobbyists.
The site also includes a helpful glossary and information on various fish diseases. Be sure to check out the Tank of the Month for an eye-popping exhibition of the marvelous ecosystems some people enjoy in their own homes.
When it comes to the litter box, the only opinion that matters is your cat's. When a cat doesn't like the box, the placement, the filler, the level of cleanliness or the accessories, he'll be tempted to take his business elsewhere. And nobody wants that.
Two items that are marketed to human sensibilities may be especially annoying to some cats. Litter-box liners make it easier to change out the contents of the box, but some cats don't like the feel of plastic under their paws as they scratch to bury their waste. Likewise, deodorant products intended to make the box smell better to people may be disgustingly strong to the sensitive nose of a cat.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Thank you for coming down on people for letting their cats roam. I think you should know that there's another good reason for keeping cats inside: They kill songbirds!
My husband and I just built a new home in the foothills, and we have put in feeders and birdbaths to attract the birds. We love to watch the birds, but we have found that our bird-feeding efforts also attract the neighbor's cats. They have already killed several birds. We talked to the neighbors and have gotten nowhere.
We don't hate cats, but we like birds better. Would you keep up your crusade to keep cats inside? Songbird populations are dropping because of irresponsible pet owners. -- D.O., via e-mail
A: Yes, it's true that some cats kill birds, but putting the blame on cats for reductions in songbird populations misses the bigger picture. We who live in glass houses (or new wood ones) really shouldn't be throwing stones at cats. Our widespread destruction of habitat has a far greater impact on bird populations than cats ever could.
Still, your neighbors are being less than considerate of you, and less than concerned about their cats. Some people think when they move to "the country" that it's safe for their pets to run free, but rural areas have their own risks every bit as deadly as those in more urban settings.
Outdoor cats in rural areas face one of the most successful predators in the world -- coyotes. An acquaintance of mine who lives on rural property has lost more barn cats than she can count to coyotes. She doesn't like losing them, but rationalizes the loss by arguing that they're feral animals with a job to do -- keeping the barn free of rodents. (She also has two purely pet cats who stay inside.)
Try again with your neighbors, perhaps by explaining the risk their cats take every time they set a paw outside. If nothing else, ask them to put bells on their cats' collars. The strategy isn't foolproof -- some cats get quite adept at silent stalking, even when belled -- but it might give the birds a fighting chance.
Q: Is it true that an iguana will grow a new tail if it loses the one it has? -- A.H., via e-mail
A: The ability to lose a tail can be a lifesaver for iguanas. If caught by a predator, an iguana can escape by dropping the tail, leaving it still wriggling in the mouth of the creature who thought lunch was in the bag. The trick isn't used just with predators: More than a few people who are new to having an iguana as a pet have ended up screaming the first time they find themselves holding a thrashing tail instead of an iguana.
Smaller iguanas are more likely than larger ones to regrow their tails, usually in a few weeks. If the tail is in place but injured, or is only partially broken off, a visit to a veterinarian with experience in reptiles is in order to determine the best course of treatment.
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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