As pet lovers, we always need to keep in mind one of the basic facts of life: Not everyone loves animals the way we do. And even those who do love animals can find the antics of other people's pets a little hard to bear at times.
If I didn't know this already, I was reminded recently by a trio of letters from people complaining about other people's pets: screaming parrots in an outdoor aviary, a tomcat who terrorizes the neighborhood's other felines, and a dog let out every morning to leave "gifts" on other people's lawns.
These pets have two things in common. First, they're doing what is only natural to them. Second, they have owners who aren't thinking about their neighbors. Pet owners who allow their pets to be nuisances are more than rude: They're also a threat to those of us who always want to have animals in our lives. Irresponsible pet owners provide plenty of ammunition to those who would be happy to see animals banned -- or at least highly restricted.
Responsible pet ownership is the best antidote for anti-pet sentiments. The good news is that it doesn't take a lot of effort to keep reasonable people happy. Here are the rules we pet lovers need to live by to keep things neighborly.
-- Keep 'em quiet. Barking dog or screaming parrots, the answer is the same: Keep your pets inside, especially at night and on weekend mornings. Pet lovers have a tendency to become selectively deaf, tuning out the racket of their own pets. Some people seem able to sleep through the barking of their own dogs. Although you may be able to manage such a trick, your neighbors shouldn't have to.
-- Keep 'em under control. The only way to accomplish this with cats is to keep them inside. The bonus for you: Your cat will live a longer, healthier life. Outdoor cats fight noisily for mates and territory (neutering helps, but not completely), pick up and spread deadly feline diseases, and are exposed to hazards such as cars, coyotes and cat-hating neighbors with traps.
As for dogs, keep them fenced or on a leash and off other people's property -- always. In public areas where it's OK for a game of fetch, train your dog to be under your voice control, or put him on a long lead instead. Never let him bother other people or pets.
-- Keep 'em clean. Pick up after your dog, whether or not it's required by local ordinance. I never understand why people who wouldn't think of tossing an empty cup on a neighbor's lawn think nothing of leaving something much more vile.
Don't step out of your house with your dog unless you have plastic bags in your pocket for cleanups. Pickup is easy. Put the bag over your hand like a mitten, pick up the poop and turn the bag inside-out with the mess inside. Pop the sealed packet in the nearest garbage can, and you're done.
The only way to keep your cat's mess out of your neighbor's flowerbeds is to keep him inside.
Sure, there are people won't be happy whatever you do. I have one fellow in my neighborhood who screams at me to keep my leashed dog off his lawn, even though we've never once set foot on it. Maybe he's a crank, or maybe he's sick of picking up after other people's pets. It doesn't matter. I just nod politely and show by example that I'm the kind of pet lover he should like having in the neighborhood. In time, maybe he'll lighten up.
Make the effort to be a responsible pet owner. Keeping your neighbors happy is the right thing to do, and it's the best way to protect your own interest in being able to spend your life with the animals you love.
PETS ON THE WEB
People who share their lives with turtles and tortoises know that cold weather means hibernation for these pets. This is a good time of year to check in on Felice's World of Turtles Web site (http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/felicerood) to make sure cold-weather care is proper for the pet's species and health status.
Felice Rood is a self-taught expert on these pets, and she keeps more than 100 of them at her Sacramento, Calif., home. Her Web site is full of care advice and entertaining stories of her own turtles and tortoises.
Keeping cats indoors keeps them out of harm's way, but it doesn't do much to keep their bodies exercised. If you have an indoor cat, set time aside for active games that will keep your kitty moving. Perfect for this purpose is getting your pet to chase a toy on a string, or using one of those commercial "fishing pole" cat toys.
Be sure you put string toys away when you're not there to supervise, though. Cats and kittens who end up eating string (or ribbon, dental floss or other similar material) can end up with an intestinal problem that may become life-threatening and may need to be surgically corrected.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We have a comfortable home, decorated very nicely. We have a small poodle, and one reason my girlfriend chose this breed was because poodles don't shed much hair.
My girlfriend's best friend, Deborah, has a well-groomed male golden retriever named Dakota. Deborah takes Dakota everywhere, including our home. Dakota is a nice dog, but he is big and hairy and likes to jump on furniture.
We really like Deborah (and, quite frankly, Dakota is nice, too). We don't want to hurt Deborah's feelings, but we don't want Dakota coming over -- he always leaves a mess!
How do we tell Deborah, without hurting her feelings, that she is welcome but the dog must stay out of the house? -- K.K., via e-mail
A: You have two options: Tell Deborah politely but firmly that you don't want her dog in your house, or invest in a case of lint brushes.
It's presumptuous of your friend to bring the dog without asking permission, especially since she must know how much you enjoy a clean and well-ordered home. If you go the "no Dakota" route, you might suggest an occasional meeting for all of you at a local dog park, especially since you like the dog when he's not on your furniture.
If you do decide to allow Dakota in your house, set down some ground rules. Suggest that instead of his jumping on the furniture, he stay on something washable, like an old bath mat. (Even I, crazed pet nut that I am, would never allow a dog of mine on the furniture in someone else's home, even though they sleep on the couches in my own.)
Assuming Dakota is bathed frequently enough so that smell isn't a problem, you should be able to throw the bath mat in the wash and whisk any stray golden hair up pretty quickly with a lint brush after a visit.
Do talk to Deborah right away. Problems like these can turn into petty resentments that eat away at the underpinnings of a friendship. Better you should have an open discussion of the problem and come to some sort of agreement right away than risk a friendship-ending blow-up down the line. If Dakota is like most golden retrievers, he'd hate to have any ill feelings on his account.
Q: Do dogs need sweaters in cold weather? -- S.P., via e-mail
A: Some dogs really are helped by sweaters. While those designed for cold weather, including such arctic breeds as malamutes and all-weather sheepdogs like collies, are just fine with the long, thick coats that come as standard equipment, other dogs can use a little help in wintertime.
Older shorthaired dogs fall into that category. Poor circulation and a lack of activity mean these guys are often cold, and a sweater would sure feel nice to ease the inevitable creakiness that comes from old age.
Dogs who are kept clipped, such as poodles, can also use some help in keeping warm. Left to its own devices, the poodle's curly coat would grow more than a foot long and provide ample insulation. But most people have their poodles clipped in a short, tidy style, leaving an insufficient coat to keep the animals toasty.
A final group of sweater-ready dogs: greyhounds. These lean, deep-chested dogs have minimal hair and a lot of exposed skin. They're always cold and appreciate the help a sweater offers in keeping warm. The same goes for their smaller relations, the whippet and Italian greyhound.
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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