The e-mail was one of those funny things that arrive unexpected, the joke that you and millions of other people get at roughly the same time, usually in multiple copies.
This one, "for baby boomers," made light of how safety-oriented we are today, how our kids play practically bubble wrapped with protective gear, as opposed to the boomer kids about whom no one worried as long as they were home before dark. I smiled in recognition, remembering the days before children had schedules more complicated than a doctor's, and parents had worries more pressing than the president's.
Until I got to the final line of this celebration of "the good old days": "Our dogs ran loose, and never went to the vet."
Sorry, but there the nostalgia stops being so fun. I remember those days with less fondness. I remember roaming family dogs who died of distemper, being hit by cars or getting lost. I remember fleas running rampant, and the way dogs smelled from untreated skin conditions and rotting teeth. I remember how training a pet used to mean punishing the animal, instead of teaching and rewarding good behavior.
Sorry, but I like leash laws for dogs. I prefer to see animals trained cooperatively, instead of through force and fear. And I much appreciated having a dog who recently lived to be almost 16, happy and healthy until the day before he died, and for that I thank our veterinarians and all the improvements in care that have become common in the last couple of decades.
The good old days? For our pets, they're now. With that in mind, I offer some "bubble-wrap" advice for Halloween, one of those holidays that seems tailor-made for getting unprotected pets in trouble.
The two biggest problems with this ghoulish holiday are frightened pets and poisoned pets -- and animal emergency clinics traditionally see plenty of both. With the increase in activity, cats and dogs get nervous, and some will take off if they can. That means an increase in animals hit by cars.
Animals may also be a cause of injury: All those costumed young visitors can trigger territorial instincts or fear-responses in some dogs, who may then become a bite risk. The best solution for most pets is to confine them for the evening in a crate or a quiet room far from the front door or any holiday festivities.
Many animal-welfare groups warn that black cats are at special risk around Halloween, claiming that cultists pick up the animals for ritual torture. Such concerns have led many shelters to halt the adoption of black cats in the days before Halloween. These cruelties are poorly documented, so it's difficult to say how often they actually occur, if at all. Your black cat is more likely to be killed by a car than a cultist, but the threat of either is more than reason enough to keep him inside.
If you keep your pets confined safely inside the house, you will eliminate one source of risk. Keeping them away from the goodies will take care of the other.
Candy is a problem more for dogs than for cats, because cats are generally picky about what they eat. Not so for most dogs, who'll wolf down candy wrappers and all if given the opportunity, giving many a serious case of what veterinarians call "garbage gut."
Any candy can trigger a bout of potentially serious intestinal upset, but chocolate can do much worse. The small dog who gets a large amount of chocolate could end up dead without prompt veterinary intervention.
Some people put costumes on their dogs – and I'm often among them –- and that's safe if you use common sense. You can find ready-made costumes in most pet stores, in almost as much variety as you'll find for children.
Homemade costumes can be fun, too, and you'll find a surprising number of pet-costume events where you and your dog can show off your handiwork. The standby costume for my black retrievers has always been to put round white stickers on them, creating "reverse Dalmatians." Such a costume meets the common-sense standard: It's comfortable and nonrestrictive, and it doesn't involve anything that could be hazardous.
Any celebration can be made pet-safe with just a few basic precautions. Be sure to take them, because veterinarians would rather hand out candy to children than medicine to pets on Halloween.
PETS ON THE WEB
I recently wrote a couple of columns about keeping the house neat if you have pets, complete with lots of great suggestions from readers. But what about keeping your car free of animal-related dirt (and worse)? National Public Radio's "Car Talk" hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi have collected some listener suggestions on this very subject and have put them on their Web site (http://cartalk.cars.com/info/fido/car-safe.html). There's information on getting fur off car seats as well as eliminating odors. At the bottom of the page are links to other canine car topics, such as avoiding motion sickness.
Some cats have a real problem staying hydrated, especially as they age. You can encourage the consumption of more fluids by offering canned food, which has a higher water content than does kibble. Keeping the water bowl clean and the contents fresh is also important because cats, more than dogs, are very finicky about what they eat and drink. You might also consider the purchase of a pet water fountain, such as the Fresh Flow version made by the pet-products company Petmate. The fountain keeps water fresh by circulating it constantly through a filter, providing cats with an appealing drinking source that might encourage them to lap up more of what they need.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We recently noticed to our dismay that some of the plastic ID tags on our pets were very worn after three or four years, and half the information on them would not have been legible in case of emergency. These need to be checked regularly, and reordered when necessary. Also, we have noticed that the rabies tags from our vet have very sharp edges. Some of our dogs have had had small wounds in their necks from those tags. Perhaps you know someone who would have enough influence to make a change in the design? -- R.L. & C.L., via e-mail
A: It's easier just to leave those rabies tags off. If you have an ID and a municipal license on your pet, you've covered both lost-pet retrieval and rabies awareness needs (since a rabies vaccine is required to get the license).
Pet-recovery expert Liz Blackman, president of the lost-pet tracking service 1-800-Help4Pets, says the key to choosing a tag is how easy it is to read the information it holds. "I discourage the cute tags in favor of visibility and durability," she said. "You want people to be able to read it without taking off the collar or handling the pet much." She added that in her experience, plastic tags are more durable than metal ones when it comes to staying legible longer.
Blackman's service went through several prototypes before choosing a flexible plastic tag that can be easily read day or night, with bright, bold lettering that you don't need to squint to read. 1-800-Help4Pets is a service I have used for years and wholeheartedly endorse. For $20 a year, you get round-the-clock help for your pet if he's found, including the authorization of veterinary care if he's injured. For more information, call 1-800-HELP4PETS for a brochure, or visit www.help4pets.com.
But whatever you do, make sure you keep legible ID tags on your pets' collars. I find the plastic tags need to be replaced every other year, and I keep extras on hand so I don't have to wait to replace a lost, worn or broken one.
"If you need something cute, get a cute collar -- but make sure you get a good tag," says Blackman. "A $100 collar won't save your pet's life, but a $3 tag will."
Q: Someone told me she made a sweater out of her dog's hair, and that just grosses me out. Was she pulling my leg or what? -- S.G., via e-mail
A. Yes, you can make sweaters out of dog fur. If you do a Web search, you'll easily find spinners who'll take the combings from your dog and turn them into beautiful yarn you can use for knitting. It works better with the undercoat of longhaired dogs, but spinners can mix almost any dog fur with the fur of other animals to make yarn.
As for the "gross" factor: What would make dog-hair yarn any more distasteful than yarn from a sheep or goat? It's all nice and clean when it's ready to use.
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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