Recently I spent the weekend in the company of some of the most beautiful cats in the world at the Cat Fanciers' Association annual international show in Houston.
These show cats -- beefy British shorthairs, slender Siamese, kinky-haired rexes and silky Persians, and many more marvelous breeds –- have never known hunger or cold. And I doubt that any have ever felt much fear. Barring a disaster in the lives of their owners, it's hard to imagine that cats at this level of competition will live out their days in anything other than loving, high-quality care.
The CFA knows that such experiences aren't the norm for many cats and has always been good about supporting feline charities. The association is closely tied to the Winn Feline Foundation (www.winnfelinehealth.org), which sponsors important research into feline health. And among the booths at the prestigious international show, the CFA always welcomes volunteers and displays from shelters and rescue groups.
I was feeling pretty good about pretty cats and healthy charities until I bumped into a person who works for a nonprofit animal shelter in a large city, a group with an international reputation for innovation. I asked him how things were at work, expecting to hear of another exciting program in a long string of successes.
He did not offer good news. "We're having layoffs," he said. It wasn't the first time I'd heard such a thing in the last couple of years. Times are tough for charities, even the relatively healthy and wealthy ones. The reasons are many. Some large donations in the '90s came in the form of stocks that are now worth a fraction of their original value. Then, the flood of giving in the wake of the terrorist attacks was concentrated on relief efforts, and money was diverted from thousands of other groups at local, regional and national levels. And now the sluggish economy hasn't exactly spurred charitable giving.
I always suggest that in this season of giving, animal lovers remember to include those groups that care for pets who are not as lucky as our own. That's especially true this year, when so many of these nonprofits are struggling.
Money is always welcome when it comes time to give, of course. You can make a simple donation, or you can buy a membership as a gift for an animal-loving friend or family member. But you don't have to write a check to help.
Groups can often use items you might be throwing away, such as old newspapers or frayed towels. You might also consider buying large bags of pet food or cat litter on sale and donating those. Some groups have thrift stores or occasional tag sales, so you can donate almost any used and still usable -- item for them to sell to raise money. Also appreciated are office supplies such as paper, notebooks and pens.
Some organizations need relatively new computers, scanners, copiers and other office equipment; call to see what their needs are. And while you're at it, ask if they have a "wish list" of big-ticket items they're hoping to get donated, such as building materials or vehicles. Tracking down such items is a wonderful way of volunteering for those who are too tender-hearted to work at the shelter. Depending on your powers of persuasion, you might be able to get needed items donated just by making a phone call or two to area businesses.
It doesn't take much from any one of us to make a big difference. It just takes enough of us to take the time to give, just a bit.
PETS ON THE WEB
Small local charities, with their low overheads and more hands-on programs, usually do more with your donation than large national organizations. With the big boys, you're too often giving to support high salaries and fund-raising programs -- luxuries smaller charities can't afford. (Some national charities pay executive management salaries in excess of a quarter-million dollars, and six-figure salaries are common in some well-known national groups.)
One of the best resources for researching charities large and small is Guidestar (www.guidestar.org), a Web site that puts the financials at your fingertips for free, so you can make an informed decision before writing that check. Hundreds of animal charities are in the Guidestar database, from one-person rescue groups to some of the largest national advocacy groups around. Don't give a dime until you know that you agree with the policies of any group, and are comfortable with how the money is being spent!
Recently I got an e-mail from a reader whose dog died a couple of days after being hit by a car. She was grieving for the dog but was also feeling guilty because a veterinarian said her pet probably wouldn't have died if she'd brought him in right after the accident.
The dog had seemed fine just after the accident. He'd taken a hit to his abdomen off the side of a front bumper. He was rolled by the impact but came up wagging his tail. He continued to seem OK for a day or so -- a few cuts and scrapes but nothing that appeared urgent enough to require veterinary attention. What she didn't know: The dog had internal injuries that needed medical attention. By the time she realized there was a problem and got her pet to the emergency clinic, it was too late to save him.
It's surely of little comfort to her to know that such stories are common. But maybe it will help some to save the life of another pet by spreading the word. So remember: If your pet is hit by a car, it's essential to have him checked out by a veterinarian right away.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I have a 10-year-old female yellow Labrador/golden retriever mix. I am strongly considering adopting a male cat at the animal hospital where I work. He is timid, and my dog can be rambunctious. I hope the sex difference won't be a problem. What do you think? -- K.D., via e-mail
A. I don't think gender is an issue at all, but personality types might be. The pairing of a shy cat with a rambunctious dog could work out fine, but it might be a bit of a rough road at the start.
With so many adult cats needing adoption, you might instead consider finding one with a more gregarious personality who is comfortable living with a large dog. Shelters and rescue groups often have the background on those animals they are trying to place, and in lieu of background, may perform personality tests to get an idea on what kind of family will be a good match for any given animal.
If you do go ahead with the timid cat, make sure you take lots of time to help ease him in. Do not force the animals together. Start the cat off in a room of his own, door closed, with food, water, scratching post, litter box and toys. Visit him frequently, but leave the dog out. The cat will be more than aware of the dog's presence through the door.
Eventually, you can replace the closed door with a baby gate. Let the cat choose the speed of exploration: If he wants to stay in the room (or even under the bed) for a month, so be it. Work on keeping your dog in control, with sits, downs and stays, and keep her on leash in the cat's presence during the introduction phase. No chasing allowed, not even in play!
I'd leave the baby gate up for a long time even after the cat ventures out of the room, so he always has a safe place to go where the dog can't follow. You might be able to remove it down the road, when cat and dog settle in and seem comfortable in each other's presence.
Q: My 1-year-old beagle has had all her shots. We just picked her up from a one-week kennel stay. Now she is sneezing all the time. Is this something I should be concerned with? The sneezing has been going on for about five days. It usually happens when she starts to sniff with her nose. -- S.B., via e-mail
A: I'd surely have a veterinarian check things out. Among the possibilities: A foxtail may have gotten up her nose. If you catch a foxtail early, it's a snap for your veterinarian to treat. Let it go, and it can be a daunting proposition for vet, pet and pocketbook alike.
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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