My puppy Chase has just turned a year old and is no longer, I suppose, a puppy. He's full grown, and in the last couple of months he has shown a few signs that all those things I've worked so hard to teach him might, after all, take hold.
He forgets to do as he's supposed to when he's happy, or when he's excited, conditions that seem to cover about 90 percent of the time when he's not asleep. And sometimes it's clear he doesn't do as he's asked to because he has something he'd rather do instead. So I work with him, and then I work with him some more. And sometimes I wonder: What on earth possessed me to bring a puppy into my life?
When someone thinks about getting a dog, it's usually a puppy that's wanted, often for reasons that are not really valid. Many people believe that a dog they raise themselves will bond with them more than one adopted as an adult. Or they think that if they raise a puppy, they'll have a dog who's better behaved because they've trained the animal themselves.
My own experience over years of talking to people about their dogs and meeting thousands of pets has led me to believe that the chances of getting a wonderful dog are just as good if you start with an adult dog as with a puppy. And so, I've usually recommended that adopting an adult dog (with the help of a knowledgeable shelter, rescue group or breeder) is the better way to go for most people, because raising a puppy properly takes so much time.
For the longest time, I followed my own advice. I hadn't raised a puppy in 16 years before Chase came, choosing instead to adopt animals who needed a second chance. Like the big retriever Benjamin, who spent his early days as the resident blood donor at a veterinary hospital. (When Ben needs to give a blood sample for his own good these days, he is still ever-so-helpful: When he sees the needle coming, he raises his head to expose the vein.) Or Heather, who was not quite good enough to be a competitive field-trial dog. And more recently Drew, the beautiful and gentlemanly Sheltie who'd had difficulty finding a home because he was "too old" -- at 5!
All these dogs had been schooled in basic manners -- or in the case of the retriever Heather, received a great deal of high-level training. All were house-trained. All slipped more or less effortlessly into my household routines. And all adore me without reserve. (The feeling is, of course, quite mutual.)
But I know why people will keep on getting puppies: They're adorable.
Chase was no exception. From the moment he came into my home at 8 weeks of age, I couldn't keep my hands off him, I wanted to cuddle his adorable body so much.
And sometimes, I couldn't keep from wanting to put those hands around his adorable furry neck.
Over the months, I think Chase has taught me as much as I've taught him, reinforcing my belief that the more I learn about animals the more I realize I need to learn. And that's a pretty big accomplishment for a little dog who even now doesn't top the 20-pound mark.
Happy Birthday, Chase. Your first year was wonderful, but Lord, I'm glad it's over.
Cats can reproduce before they're hardly old enough to grow out of their adorably kittenish behavior. Warmer weather always brings more kittens than there are homes for, with a single cat being able to produce multiple litters.
The old story of too many cats, not enough homes can be prevented with greater use of a simple surgical fix. Don't wait until your kittens are having kittens of their own: Neutering is now routine for kittens (and puppies) as young as 8 weeks.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Roadside America Web site offers a collection of low-key tourist attractions that are often delightfully tacky, located off the beaten path in small towns and side streets from coast to coast. The site has a special collection (www.roadsideamerica.com/pet) of attractions that celebrate the memory of famous animals, from the horses of Civil War heroes and Hollywood stars to the mascots of colleges and towns. I can vouch for at least one of these memorials: I have touched the glass case that houses the stuffed remains of Old Joe, a massive alligator killed by a poacher in the '60s, in what is now Wakulla Springs State Park, near Tallahassee, Fla.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I had to write about the answer you gave to a question about electronic fences. I have two golden retrievers and a cat, and I live in a neighborhood that does not allow fences. Other members of my family had used electronic fences with great success, so I tried one.
It has been great. I can let my animals outside without fear of them being hit by a car. My two dogs can romp and chase each other, and my cat stays in the yard, too.
I do understand the comments you made about other dogs coming in the yard, and that can be an issue. As a responsible pet owner, however, I pay attention to what's going on when my dogs are outside.
Obviously there are some dogs for whom this type of fence doesn't work. And this type of fencing won't work for those people who are irresponsible and don't take the time to train and monitor their dogs properly. But I think this fence is a reasonable choice for informed pet owners, and I feel you did a disservice by dismissing it. Will you please set the record straight? -- A.K., via e-mail
A: As you might imagine, I received a fair amount of mail not only from people who sell electronic fencing systems, but also from pet owners who are satisfied with these devices.
I understand why these systems are popular among people for whom traditional fencing either isn't allowed or isn't an option. But I also believe it's important to recognize the risks inherent with an electronic containment system. These risks have nothing to do with the correct installation or management of a perfectly functioning system.
Key among them: the increased chance of harm to your pets from people or other animals, as well as the increased chance that your pet will cause harm.
Your pets can be stolen. Your pets can be teased, attacked or killed, by people or other animals. Your pets can bite or knock down someone who comes onto your property, leaving you open to insurance claims and lawsuits. Traditional fencing doesn't rule out these possibilities, of course, but it does reduce their likelihood.
This controversy reminds me of the inside vs. outside cats issue. Every time I write that cats in general are healthier and live longer -- not to mention are less of a nuisance to neighbors -- when kept indoors, I get a batch of mail arguing that it's unfair to prevent cats from roaming freely.
What can I say? I recommend that dogs have securely fenced yards and cats do not roam. That's my best suggestion based on my experience and research over the years, but I recognize that others will occasionally disagree and that my "ideal" recommendation will not be right in every situation.
Q: Can I trim my bird's beak, or do I need to take him to a veterinarian? -- S.V., via e-mail
A: Beak trims are not part of a pet bird's maintenance -- the way wing and nail clips are. On the contrary, an overgrown beak may be the symptom of a serious health problem that needs to be addressed by a veterinarian experienced in avian care.
Depending on the species, a bird's beak will grow from 1 to 3 inches a year. Use will keep the beak of a healthy, normal bird at the right length. Liver disease and malnutrition are among the things that can cause a beak to grow too long, as can the misalignment of the upper and lower jaws.
Many problems that cause overgrowth can be successfully addressed if brought promptly to the attention of an avian veterinarian, so don't delay in making that appointment.
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.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600