Sometimes you can see these things coming a mile away.
Last year a woman with whom I share a mutual friend called for advice on getting a puppy "for the kids." Involved parents, nice kids -- these are the sort of folks whose family picture seemingly wouldn't be complete without a dog. But after talking with her for a while, I pointed out that her concept of how much time it takes to raise a puppy was not based in reality. With work, school and all the sports and other activities in which the children were involved, the family was never home, and I warned her that if she went forward, her puppy plan would likely not turn out well.
I suggested that they put off getting a dog until their lives were more suited for it, if ever. But both parents had grown up with dogs and had remembered how wonderful those childhood pets were. Their children deserved the same wonderful memories, and they were resolved to provide them.
So the family went to the shelter, where the kids happily picked out a darling Lab-mix puppy.
When the woman called for advice on house-training, I suggested using a crate to house-train the puppy. They abandoned that effort as unkind and impractical when the puppy cried to be let out and the kids gave in. Later, when the long-debunked "put the puppy's nose in it and spank" method didn't produce reliable results, the puppy went outside for good.
Lonely and bored, the puppy started destroying the landscaping, digging holes and chewing shrubs. When the woman called again, I suggested more interaction, more exercise and some training. The father tried to walk the dog a few times, but she pulled so hard on the leash it wasn't fun for either of them, so he gave it up. In their frustration over seeing their beautiful yard ruined, the parents took to dragging her to the damaged areas and spanking her, even though she had no idea why they were angry.
Sadly, the kids who had begged for a puppy were becoming afraid of the half-grown dog she'd become. Not because she was vicious, but because she was so glad to see anyone she'd jump up and claw -- and sometimes knock down -- those who came into the back yard. When the woman called again, I made more suggestions, but I could hear in her voice that they weren't going to take any of them. It was just too much work, too much time.
When the parents first talked about finding a "new home" a few months after the puppy arrived, the children begged to keep her. Tears flowed, and the plan was shelved -- for a while. But clearly, the situation could not go on as it had.
I guess the woman was too embarrassed to call when they put in a run for the dog, a small chain-link enclosure in a shady corner of the property that kept the adolescent pup away from the landscaping and the family. About the only time anyone interacted with the dog now was when one of the kids was nagged to refill her food and water dishes, or to pick up after her.
Out in her corner of the back yard, the dog had started to become a problem barker. Frustrated, they would open the window and scream for her to shut up, and she would, for a while. But when they were gone, which was most of the time, she never stopped barking, and the neighbors were complaining.
When the received a citation for the barking, they decided the dog had to go. That weekend, they took her back to the shelter. The parents reassured the children that she would find a home, and I know they wanted to believe it themselves. The woman didn't call me to find out what happens to many unruly and unwanted dogs, because I know she didn't really want to know.
Because they are good people, they didn't blame the dog for what had happened, although a lot of people do, in similar circumstances. But they didn't much blame themselves, either. After all, getting a puppy was done with the best of intentions, in the interests of providing something good for their children.
Problem was, the interests of the dog were never really considered.
PETS ON THE WEB
Spring is especially sweet for those who share their lives with turtles and tortoises -- it's the time when these gentle pets come out of their cold-weather sleep. If you're just waking up to the appeal of turtles and tortoises, a couple of Web sites will give you what you need to know to care for them properly.
Probably the most comprehensive site of its kind is the California Turtle & Tortoise Club's (www.tortoise.org). This well-organized site offers lots of care information, photographs and a calendar of events from around the world. Good links, libraries of pictures and sound files round out this very nice site. On the other side of the country, the New York Turtle and Tortoise Society also has a good Web site (http://nytts.org/). Their emphasis is not only on captive pets, but also the protection and conservation of turtles and tortoises in their native habitats.
Thinking of adding another bird to your flock? For the safety of the pet birds you already have, skip any introductions until your new bird has been examined by a veterinarian who's experienced in avian medicine. Even a seemingly healthy bird needs to be quarantined for about six weeks before meeting any other feathered family members. As heartbreaking as it would be to lose your new pet to an infectious disease you didn't know he was carrying, imagine how you would feel if you lost any or all of the birds you already have because you introduced them to a sick bird. You just can't be too careful.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I met some greyhounds at an adoption event at a local pet supermarket. I'd never really seen them up close, unless you count that time in the '70s when my husband and I went to a dog track in Florida.
I was taken with their calmness and was told they are easygoing pets, although large. Is this true? I'm thinking of contacting the group again and adopting one of their dogs. Our last dog died of old age last year, and we miss having a pet. –- B.B. via e-mail
A: Some of the most incredible dogs I have met in recent years have been retired racers. The eyes on these guys are so deep you could drown in them, and I've never seen animals who seem to be more grateful for a chance to be loved.
Greyhounds are generally easygoing, relative to many breeds and mixes of dogs. An adult greyhound will happily sleep most of the day -- they don't call them "the 45 mph couch potato" for nothing! A good daily walk, on leash for safety, will be more than enough to keep your dog fit and happy.
Q: How old must a kitten be before being spayed? We went to look at kittens at the shelter, and they insist the babies be fixed before adoption, which seems a little young to us. I thought these procedures needed to wait until the animals are 6 months old? -- L.E., via e-mail
A: Puppies and kittens can be safely neutered as young as 8 weeks, and studies have consistently shown no long-term problems with health or behavior for surgeries that are done earlier than the 4- to 6-month ideal previously considered standard procedure.
Your shelter is to be commended for taking a proactive stand on reducing the number of unwanted animals. Such policies show that the organization is actively fighting pet overpopulation by trying to stop the kittens-out/kittens-in cycle that happens when the first babies of spring become the last parents of fall.
I wouldn't hesitate to adopt from your shelter, but if you end up with a kitten from another source, follow your veterinarian's advice on when to alter your pet. Although early spay-neuter is safe, not all veterinarians are comfortable with performing the operation that early.
If your veterinarian prefers that you wait until your kitten is older, be sure your pet is kept inside to keep her from getting pregnant. A lot of "oops" litters result when well-meaning people don't keep an eye on their pets and don't get around to making that appointment until it's too late.
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. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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