Late last year, in the midst of a relationship that was starting to feel like something permanent, I made a rather bold decision: I bought a new bed.
Not just any bed, mind you, but the biggest bed I could find. When I was informed by the saleswoman that it would take three months to be manufactured and delivered, I chidingly asked the man in my life if he would be there when the bed arrived.
"Oh sure," he said. "And if I'm not, you have plenty of pets to take up all that space. They'll love it."
Which is, of course, exactly what came to pass. The bed came, the man left, and the animals are still here, same as always.
I'm not sure what that says about the relative constancy of romantic relationships and pets, but I have to give the man credit for being right. The animals do indeed love the big new bed. And I'm glad to share it with them.
Every now and then I hear from someone who wants me to write about how awful it is to have dogs or cats on the bed. I've had grandparents who want to convince their sons or daughters that a pet on the bed is unhealthy for children, and new sweethearts who disagree about where a pet should sleep.
"To have pets in the house is bad enough," wrote one frustrated women, who clearly had much larger issues with her daughter than the younger woman's pets. "But to have them on the bed? That's dirty and disgusting!"
Such folks won't find much agreement from me. I like having pets on the bed. In the wintertime, they're like heating pads that you don't have to plug in or recharge -- and they'll readjust automatically every time you move. This surely won't mollify anyone who believes pets are disgusting, but I've always kept things clean by putting a washable cover on top of the bedding to catch all the dirt and stray hair.
Still, there are good reasons to keep your pets off the bed and maybe even out of the bedroom, among them behavioral problems and allergies.
For dogs who have dominance issues, allowing access to the bed isn't recommended, since it gives the animal the idea that he or she has status equal to or better than the human family members. For these dogs, sleeping elsewhere will likely be part of a retraining program to modify the animal's exalted opinion of his own value. (As with all dominance issues, please work with a veterinary behaviorist or trainer with experience in aggression to modify the dangerous behavior of such a pet.)
For people with allergies, turning the bedroom into a pet-free zone is common medical advice that ought to be followed. Maintaining a pet-free bedroom is part of an overall strategy to minimize the impact of pet dander. It will allow them to sleep without sneezing or wheezing, and awake rested without allergy symptoms or headaches. For those with allergies, keeping pets out of the bedroom gives them enough "breathing room" to make it possible to keep both their pets and their overall good health.
And what about those couples who don't have pet-behavior problems or allergies, but still argue over letting their pets on the bed? That's the sort of thing you have to work out for yourself, since I have enough work giving pet advice without venturing into relationship counseling.
If you're lucky, though, you'll be able to find a bed big enough for everyone to be happy in.
Every year many shelters temporarily halt the adoption of black cats in the days leading up to Halloween. In theory, it's to keep those who practice "satanic rituals" -- or kids who pretend to -- from getting animals to torture.
But at least one expert says taking such cautions is pointless. It's an imagined problem, part of a handful of myths in the sheltering community that have been passed around as common knowledge for years. Writing in the ASPCA's Animal Watch magazine, Stephen L. Zawistowski, senior vice president of animal science for the New York-based group, argues that perpetuating such myths keeps shelters from understanding the true nature of cruelty and overpopulation. And that, he says, keeps them from focusing on what works and what doesn't when it comes to helping animals.
PETS ON THE WEB
Rural Area Veterinary Services (www.vet.utk.edu/ravs/) is a little-known program affiliated with the Humane Society of the United States that functions as a sort of "Doctors Without Borders" for the animals of the world. The RAVS volunteers travel to poverty-stricken parts of the world (including many in the United States) and help people by caring for their animals. The volunteer veterinarians, technicians and students provide a real service, bringing the basic care so many of us take for granted to people who often don't know about it and probably couldn't afford it if they did. RAVS is always in need of donations, by the way.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Would you please offer a different point of view on cats leaving paw prints on cars and your advice to buy car covers? I've used a cover on my car for years and, yes, it does keep the cat paw prints off, but I go through approximately one car cover a year (and these are better-quality custom covers, not cheap ones) thanks to the cat across the street.
He spends his time alternately spraying my cover or shredding it with his claws. When he walks on my car he doesn't leave paw prints but does scratch the paint, digging his claws through the cover. -- K.J., via e-mail
A: I said I'd get mail on the subject, and I certainly did, not only from people who wanted to keep feline paw prints off their cars, but also from those who wanted to keep the cat spray off their porches and cat mess out of their flowerbeds. Most of these people aren't cat haters -- although a minority are -- but instead folks who don't want to clean up after pets belonging to the neighbors.
On the other hand, I heard from people who believe that dealing with roaming cats is just another part of life. "The next thing you know," wrote one person, "these people will be complaining that about the rain on their car."
I'm just smart enough to realize I can't resolve this dispute. I've long been in favor of people keeping their cats from roaming -- it's much safer for the cats -- but I cannot advocate killing free-roaming cats, which is more than likely what happens when a cat is trapped and dropped off at the pound.
Has there been progress on this issue? I think so. When I started writing this column, almost no one besides show breeders kept their cats inside, and few animal groups advocated it. Now, many cats stay happily inside, and groups such as the Humane Society of the United States have launched campaigns to educate pet lovers on the benefits.
According to the HSUS:
-- The average lifespan of free-roaming cat is 3 years, compared to 15-18 years for an indoor cat
-- Fewer than 5 percent of "found" cats who are turned in to shelters are ever reclaimed by their families. (Since adult cats have the lowest rate of adoption of all animals, this means that many of these pets are killed when not claimed or adopted.)
You can find out more about the HSUS "Safe Cats Campaign" on its Web site, at www.hsus.org/ace/13960.
Q: Please solve an argument I'm having with my mother. How often should a dog be bathed? She says it's bad for them to be bathed more than once every six years. -- T.V., via e-mail
A: The simple answer: Dogs should be bathed as often as they need it. The old idea of bathing once or twice a year probably traced back to the time when most dogs were kept outside. You wouldn't want to live with a house pet who saw the bathtub that infrequently.
Most healthy dogs can be bathed as often as once a week, especially if you use a conditioning shampoo. Regular bathing with daily brushing will make your dog a pleasure to have in your home.
For dogs with skin problems, please consult your veterinarian about bathing frequency and which products 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. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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