If you're looking for suggestions on silly holiday gifts for your pet, you're barking up the wrong tree. Every year I get dozens of calls and e-mails from retailers and manufacturers who want me to write about gifts for pets -- Christmas-red nail polish for a dog, a Hanukkah shirt for an iguana, mock reindeer antlers for a cat. To them all I say: "Bah humbug. And no thanks."
I don't write about gifts for pets because, unlike children, pets won't be brokenhearted if they're not given a present over the holidays. And because the money and time people spend finding pointless gifts their pets don't care about could be used to help animals in need. It's easy to help: Give a holiday gift to your local shelter.
Cash is the gift that's one-size-fits-all, and that's true even when you're giving to a charity. When you make a donation -- an outright gift, a gift membership or donation in memory of a person or pet -- you're letting the organization decide where best to use your money, giving it to programs or services that most need funding.
But writing a check isn't the only way to help. Shelters need any number of items, from office equipment to pet supplies, that help with their work caring for homeless pets, investigating cruelty and educating on the humane treatment of animals. You can always call your shelter to ask what's needed, but chances are you'll find these items on any shelter's list:
-- Old towels and newspapers. This is as easy a donation as you can possibly make, since these items are things you throw out -- or put in the recycling bin -- anyway. Newspapers are used to line cages, while old towels are put to any number of uses, including drying off pets who've been freshly groomed to make them feel better and be more adoptable.
In addition to towels, the Denver Dumb Friends League asks for donations of old toilet seat covers: The size is just perfect, making a cuddly cat bed for felines waiting for new homes. Your shelter might use these, too.
-- Food and litter. Shelters go through a great deal of basic pet-care supplies, including bags and bags of cat-box filler and kibble, along with cans of pet food. While some shelters are happy to take whatever brand you can give them, others are a bit more particular. Call ahead to see what brands are especially welcome, if any, and then buy as much as you can for donation. A related item you'd never think of that's always in need: can openers, both manual and electric.
-- Office supplies: Paper, toner, printer cartridges, pens, staples and more. If you're using it in your office, chances are your local shelter folks can use it in theirs. One reader I know made a donation of a gift card from an office-supply superstore, so the shelter could buy the supplies that worked for the office equipment they had.
As for your own pets, you'll do them a far better service by investing your time and money in better care for your pet, providing your pet with medical care that emphasizes prevention, and seeing that your pet is properly fed and well-exercised. And remember that time spent with your pet is the greatest gift of all.
"Dogs in the Hood: A Holiday Extravaganza" is a CD that reworks holiday songs to add a canine theme, including selections such as "Walkin' in a Whippet Wonderland" and "Dance of the Latina Sugarplum Yorkies." Great music it's not, but the songs are sure to lighten up any dull holiday gathering, especially if dog lovers are around. The CD is $13.98 plus $4 shipping and handling. For purchase information (and to listen to some of the songs before you buy) click on the "Start Shopping" button on the Dogs in the Hood Web site (www.dogsinthehoodinc.com).
PETS ON THE WEB
Nothing fancy about the Rat Guide (www.ratguide.com), just oodles of good information about keeping pet rats healthy and spotting signs of illness. Like many small pets, rats are rarely offered the benefits of veterinary care, since many people consider it easier to replace them when they die rather than spend money when they're sick. The Rat Guide's wonderful and fully searchable collection of articles, developed with the assistance of veterinarians, recognizes this reality and offers a way to improve the care of these clever and affectionate pets through preventative-illness education.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Our two-story house has a loft that overlooks the living room. The ledge for the loft opening is more than 20 feet off the ground. Our recently adopted 6-month-old kitten jumps on the ledge every time she's in the room. We are afraid she may attempt to jump off the ledge, or fall and injure herself.
We've tried watching her closely and squirting her with a spray bottle when she attempts to jump up on the ledge, but that doesn't seem to deter her. She is so quick that sometimes she's on the ledge before we can squirt. Once she's up there, we don't do any of the things you'd normally do to let a cat know her behavior was wrong (such as clapping hands loudly) for fear of startling her into falling or jumping off the ledge.
We now keep the door shut to keep her out, but since this is a heavily used room, it's not something we would prefer to do forever. Do you think she would actually jump? If so, is there another way to deter her from getting up there? -- B.K., Tallahassee, Fla.
A: You're right to be concerned: Studies of cats falling from buildings (for example, off an apartment balcony), show that the animals are often injured more in falls from relatively low heights than from those a couple of floors higher, presumably because they haven't time to rotate themselves into "landing position" to minimize potential injury. (The benefit of being higher only goes so far, since cats falling from more than a handful of stories up are usually seriously injured or killed.)
Kittens don't have the common sense an older cat does, so I think it is entirely possible she might jump or be startled into falling. Try covering the ledge and, especially, the approach to it with something sticky, such as upside-down contact paper secured with double-sided tape. Cats loathe having their paws stick to anything, which is why sticky substances are great for discouraging furniture scratching as well. (For chair or couch corners, just apply double-sided tape or Stick Paws strips -- available in pet-supply stores, catalogs or online merchants -- to stop the clawing, while providing your pet with a scratching post or cat tree for an acceptable place for healthy scratching.)
I'm guessing your above-it-all kitten will decide that her perch isn't a place that's worth visiting if she has to step on sticky paper to get there.
Q: Our 4-month-old puppy Zoe is a jumper. I want to know the right way to train her to stop this bad behavior. This is my first puppy, so I'm lost on this matter. -- D.L., via e-mail
A: My best suggestion would be to get Zoe into a puppy-training class for her socialization and your education. Puppy classes take a lighthearted, positive approach to teaching puppies good manners and teaching puppy owners how to develop a friendly, well-socialized dog. These classes are important for all puppies, but would be especially good for you and Zoe since she is your first puppy. When it comes to her jumping up, you'll first want to teach your puppy a behavior that's incompatible, such as sit. Don't punish the puppy for jumping, but rather ask Zoe to sit and praise her for minding. Be absolutely certain that she gets no attention for jumping up, ever. Turn your back on her if you must, and then ask her to sit when she settles down. Praise her when she does right!
If you're consistent, she'll soon realize that she'll get the attention she craves only when she sits.
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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