The recent terrorist attacks have tragically changed the lives of many four-legged family members as well as the human ones. In the areas surrounding New York City and Washington, D.C., many pets were left behind on the morning of Sept. 11 by people who'll never come home again.
While the scale of the tragedies has brought home the point with brutal force, the truth is that every day we all face the possibility of disaster. Every day could be the one in which your own pets suddenly lose a loving caretaker.
No one wants to think about such things, but always there exists a chance, however remote, that you could suddenly become unable to care for your pet because of an illness or accident. Depending on the circumstances, the situation may be temporary, or your pets may need a new home for good. Either way, you need to be sure your pets are covered.
The first step is to make sure someone (or a couple of people, better yet) know that you have pets, where they are and how to care for them. Trade information with other pet-keeping friends, family or neighbors, along with the keys to each other's homes.
I like to recommend making a file with all your pet's information. Pictures and a physical description of your pet are a good place to start. Add to the folder an overview of your pet's medical records, including proof of altering and dates of vaccinations. Instructions for any medications should include not only the dosage and where to find the bottle, but also whatever method you use to entice your pet to swallow the pill.
Don't forget a copy of your pet's license, as well as the name, address and phone number of the animal's veterinarian. Write down some information about the tricks and commands your pet knows, as well as any unique personality quirks, such as a favorite spot to be petted.
As part of your preparation, talk to your veterinarian about setting up plans for emergency care or boarding. If you're a long-term client who always pays bills promptly, you should have no problem getting your veterinarian to agree to run a tab if you cannot be reached immediately. I have the arrangement with my veterinarian that if anyone -- absolutely anyone -- comes in with one of my animals, the doctor will take the pet in and do what needs to be done. And he knows that either I or my heirs will settle the bill later. If you are able to make such arrangements, put those details in the folder, too.
The final bit of information for the folder should concern arrangements for your pet if you never come home again. While no one likes to think about this possibility, you have a responsibility to your pets to provide for them after your death. You cannot leave money directly to an animal, but you can leave the animal and money to cover expenses to a trusted friend or relative. In some states, you can establish a trust in your pet's name. Talk to your attorney about what arrangement is best for you and your pets.
You should keep a copy of the file on hand in case you ever need to be evacuated with your pet. And be sure to trade copies with the person you'll be counting on to rescue your pet should you ever not be able to.
Once you have all the arrangements made, make up a card for your wallet. On it, you should note that you have pets, how many and what kind, and the names and numbers of the people you have designated to care for them should you become suddenly unable to.
When I was facing major surgery last year, I put such a folder together for each of my pets, complete with arrangements for the worst-case scenario. I surprised myself in that I didn't find the exercise frightening or depressing. On the contrary, I found great peace in knowing that if something happened to me, my beloved pets would be taken care of.
Ants in the cat dish? Although you can buy any of several dishes designed to keep ants out, you can also get rid of the problem by using supplies you already have around the house. To start with, remove the dishes and wipe down the area with a solution that's three-quarters water and one-quarter white vinegar, with a teaspoon of liquid dish soap added. (If you feed your cat on a porch, spray the whole area with the solution.)
Select a bowl that's just slightly larger than the one in which your cat usually finds his food. Fill the larger bowl halfway with water. Put food in the other dish, and lower it gently into the water-filled dish to create a "moat." And clean both dishes after your cat has eaten.
PETS ON THE WEB
While many dogs are couch potatoes, there are a few who spend their lives happily keeping up with their active owners. If you and your pup are always on the go, you'll want to visit YourActivePet.com. The online store offers gear for the great outdoors, such as backpacks, lifejackets and reflective vests, along with specialized leashes, collars, and containers for water and food.
The site also has the stuff you need to get started in the sport of skijoring, an increasingly popular activity that's simply cross-country skiing assisted by dogs in harness. Don't live in snow country? Don't worry: The skijoring gear works with inline skates, too.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I read your article on pets being a long-term commitment with some interest, since it affects me. I am now 71 and have five dog companions, all rescues of one kind or another.
I do not think the age of the adopter should necessarily be a factor when looking for a companion animal. The important thing is to make sure, as I did, that one of my large family would take in the dogs (and my cat) if this became necessary.
I really do not agree that we oldies should be discouraged from adopting, and thereby not only losing the companionship and love that an animal can give, but also denying a good home to that particular animal.
Perhaps older adopters could be encouraged to consider an older pet, of which there are many in the animal shelters, just waiting for a home and love, and probably more suitable so far as lifestyle is concerned. Perhaps you will adjust your feelings on this? -- M.G., via e-mail
A: There's nothing to adjust; you and I are in complete agreement. Pets are important for older people, and older people are good for pets.
The people I was thinking about when I wrote that column are those who buy pets on an impulse. For many of these people, the tolerance for an animal wears off at the same time the baby cuteness does. The shelters are full of such pets, half-grown, untrained, and hoping for a second chance.
It doesn't matter how old you are, as long as you think about where you'll be for your pet's life. That doesn't mean that if there's a possibility of a pet outliving you that you shouldn't get one. But it does mean that you need to give some thought to what will happen to them if you go.
Your final point is on the money: Pets who are in their middle or senior years are perfect for older people. These animals are past their youthful exuberance and are happy to live a more sedate life.
Q: My new kitten appears to have ear mites. What can I do? -- H.W., via e-mail
A: Ear mites are tiny parasites that look like crabs and feed off the fluids and dead tissue of the ear canal. These pests are highly contagious and consequently very common, especially in kittens and young cats. They are more than an unsightly annoyance: If left untreated, ear mites can contribute to infections, wax buildup and, occasionally, deafness.
Your kitten needs to see a veterinarian to have the ears flushed out and for you to get medication to treat the parasites at home. The follow-up care is essential if you're to eliminate these pests.
Many people make the mistake of stopping the medication as soon as the kitten or cat stops scratching. It's important to apply the medication as directed for as long as your veterinarian recommends -– usually a month, to cover the entire life cycle of the mites and prevent a reinfestation.
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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