In the last couple of years I've lost rather a lot of weight in a dramatically permanent way -- through surgery -- and gained a significantly more dog-friendly life.
No more driving to the edge of a park -- when I wasn't too exhausted to do even that -- and throwing a ball for the two big dogs. Now we walk for miles together. Once I thought wistfully how good the smart and athletic younger retriever Heather would be at the sport of dog agility, and wouldn't it be nice if I were capable of even walking around the training area with her? Now I can run an agility course, and we'll be starting classes this spring.
I'm happier and healthier now, and so are the dogs. But there is a small cloud over this sunny situation: Pets, I'm finding, surely complicate dating.
The fact that I'm in a position now to find this out is very good news, and I realize that. I weigh less and feel better than I did in high school some 25 years ago, and look better than I have in my entire life. But for the life of me I cannot understand why men who know that I write columns and books about pets would be surprised to find out that I have them, and are even more taken aback by the fact that they're a non-negotiable part of my life.
My pets love me unconditionally, no more or no less now than before my physical transformation. Setting aside the fact that I truly care about animals, what sort of person would I be to reward my pets for their loyalty by dumping them in favor of someone who wouldn't have asked me out on a bet before?
Still, just by the odds alone, I ought to be meeting some animal lovers. But even when I seem to have done so, things have a way of proving otherwise. For example, there was the man who said he loved dogs when we met, but the first words out of his mouth when the dogs and I greeted him at the front door were: "Oh! I didn't realize you let them in the house. Ugh."
I sighed and mentally crossed him off the list. Can you imagine what he'd say if he knew the dogs slept on the bed?
Then there was the man who found -- and carefully removed -- the single stray strand of dog hair that remained on my jacket after I'd lint-rollered myself from head to toe before meeting him. I shuddered to think what he'd think about the dog hair in my house, which is far more pervasive despite my best efforts there, too.
The world is full of pet lovers; I know this is true because I get hundreds of letters from them every month. So where are the pet-loving men when a pet-loving woman is thinking about dating? Instead, I seem to be a magnet for every man who sneezes at the very mention of a cat, cannot fathom the charm of parrots, or professes dogs to be dirty, smelly and not fit for human companionship.
Sure, I know that loving -- or at least tolerating -- pets is only one piece of the puzzle that is a successful relationship. Common values, shared interests, politics and more all factor in, as well. But I also know that I would rather spend the rest of my life dateless than give up my pets, even as I secretly hope I won't remain single forever. Surely, things will work out as they're meant to, with human and animal companionship both in my life.
For now, though, I'm just going to stop worrying about it. Unless ... say, you wouldn't happen to know a nice single veterinarian, would you?
PETS ON THE WEB
I take a lot of pet-related publications, everything from The Bark (a literary journal for dog lovers) to Cat Fancy, Dog World, Bird Talk and more. But month in and month out, the one publication I can't wait to open is the Whole Dog Journal, an advertising-free newsletter that covers the best in so-called "alternative" health care and nutrition, reward-based training, and great gear for dogs and the people who love them.
The WDJ has a wonderful Web site (www.whole-dog-journal.com), which offers to subscribers all current content for free and archived articles at a small charge, and also provides non-subscribers with a way to order content article by article, albeit at a rate that's high enough to encourage subscribing. Great links, too! Regular mail subscriptions are $24 for 12 issues by writing: P.O. Box 420235, Palm Coast, FL 32142-02345. Or by phone: (800) 829-9165. They can also be ordered through the Web site.
No matter how thoroughly your pet licks clean the food dish, it's not clean enough to use again without washing. That goes for water dishes, too, that often get added to but never emptied for days at a time. I've seen water dishes with the beginnings of algae colonies forming on the sides and the bottom -- who'd want to drink from that?!
Pick up your pet's food dish after every meal, scrub and wash in hot water and soap. The water dish should get the same treatment, on a daily basis. Better still, run them through the hottest cycle of the dishwasher to get them really clean and sterilized. Stainless steel or heavy plastic "crock-style" dishes are best for frequent cleaning: They last forever and stand up well to the abuse a pet can dish out.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We have an affectionate and playful miniature lop rabbit who lives in the house and is a full member of the family -- no outside hutch for her! One of my daughter's classmates has a rabbit the family no longer wants, and my daughter is asking us to adopt him. I've said yes, but the new rabbit is a male, and we certainly don't want the pair of them to do what comes naturally (if you get my drift). Can rabbits be spayed and neutered? -- B.W., via e-mail
A: Yes, rabbits certainly can be altered. And just as with dogs and cats, neutering and spaying eliminates many health and behavior problems. Female rabbits, for example, are at a high risk for uterine cancer, a leading killer of these pets over the age of 2. Spaying also removes the potential for common and potentially lethal reproductive-system infections. Besides extending your pet's lifespan, altering eliminates sex-related behavior problems. Sexually mature rabbits can be territorial or even aggressive, and may spray urine. Put simply: Spayed and neutered rabbits make better pets.
Despite all the benefits, however, anesthesia is a little trickier with rabbits than with dogs and cats. Be sure you're dealing with a veterinarian who is experienced with rabbits, and ask about anesthesia, listening for the magic word: isoflurane, which is preferred for use with rabbits. The final safety precaution is yours. Follow your veterinarian's pre- and post-operative directions precisely.
Bless your kind heart in giving an unwanted rabbit a second chance. Too many parents dump pets when the child for whom they were purchased loses interest. The message this sends to children -- living things are disposable -- is perfectly dreadful.
Q: I disagree with your enthusiasm for collars. I've owned cats for years, and I never keep collars on them. It's too dangerous! Collars can get caught on things and kill a pet. Will you share that information? -- D.W., Santa Rosa, Calif.
A: Some people resist cat collars because they're afraid their roaming pet will get the collar caught and become trapped. That's why cat collars are equipped with elastic, so the cat can slip out of them when necessary. The reason why collars are so very important is because of ID. If your pet doesn't have an ID tag, the chances of him getting home if he's lost drop dramatically. If your cat is indoors full time and you're absolutely sure he'll never get out to wander, you don't need to put a collar on him. Otherwise, you do.
Years ago, a shelter director told me that she had never, ever pulled a cat skeleton out of a tree after the animal had been caught there by a collar, but every day she saw animals put down because their owners couldn't be found. It's all a matter of comparing risk.
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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