The owners of a sparkling white American bichon frise might want to send Elizabeth Hurley a thank-you note after their dog fared so well at the 101st staging of the world's biggest dog show, Crufts, held the first week of March in Birmingham, England.
If it weren't for Hurley's passionate advocacy for the end of the United Kingdom's draconian six-month rabies quarantine laws after her own dog died, the American bichon frise, Champion Paray's I Told You So, likely would have stayed home. And that means he wouldn't have been named the best of the toy breeds at Crufts, giving the British dog-show establishment a bit of a scare that the show's top honor would go to an American dog for the first time ever.
In the end, an English whippet was named Best in Show, and the empire was safe from Colonial invaders -- for another year, at least.
Still, it was difficult not to notice Americans and their dogs at the show, the first one held since the U.K.'s new no-quarantine import laws were expanded to include U.S. and Canadian dogs.
While the bichon, informally known to his admirers as Buster, came over months ago to launch a successful U.K. show career with his new British handler and co-owner, other Americans left just a few days before showing. One of these, Christina Wistrom of Perris, Calif., saw her top-winning Rhodesian Ridgeback sealed into a container at the Los Angeles airport four days before she was to compete. She was reunited with the dog in London a day later. It was a long journey, to be sure, but much easier than a six-month stay in a quarantine kennel.
"They drilled a lot of holes in her carrier, and then sealed her up inside," said Wistrom, looking pretty relaxed for someone who'd just taken her dog halfway around the world. The dog, Champion Deer Ridge Blixen of Afrika, simply looked bored. "I'm Swedish," said Wistrom, "so the travel isn't a big deal for me. And Blixen's traveled before, too."
Blixen, whose grandfather was a best-of-breed winner at the prestigious Westminster show in the United States, didn't do quite as well against the Brits as did Buster the bichon. "We're here for the experience," shrugged Wistrom, when asked about her chances before she and Blixen went into the ring.
And what an experience it was. The four-day show draws almost 22,000 dogs, including more than 600 from 22 different countries. In the massive halls of the National Exhibition Centre -- a complex so large it surely can be seen from space -- hundreds of vendors hawk everything from dog toys to human raincoats to the 130,000 visitors.
In the end, though, all these numbers came down to just seven dogs -- the group winners -- and then one Best in Show. Caught before the finale, one of Buster's co-owners, Lori Kornfeld of Ridgefield, Conn., there with her husband Tracy, seemed more exhausted than excited.
"We're numb," she admitted, before lighting up when prompted to talk about Buster, who loves his toys, sleeps on the bed paws-up and never fails to come alive when it's time to show. The dog was bred in Orangevale, Calif., by Paul Flores and Tray Pittman, who were also on hand to root for Buster.
"We knew early on he'd be special," said Lori Kornfeld. "He knows when it's time to show."
But it wasn't enough on that night. Tracy Kornfeld, who'd put in a call to his sister the minister for a little extra help, nonetheless was able to keep things in perspective. Even without a Crufts Best in Show, the dog had done splendidly, he pointed out, not only as one of the top show dogs in two countries but also as a dad, siring 13 American champions already.
"We win, great," he said. "But at the end of the day, it's just dogs."
PETS ON THE WEB
The Cats' House is back! Artists Bob Walker and Frances Mooney turned their home into a colorful paradise for their cats, complete with floor-to-ceiling scratching posts and overhead catwalks that take the cats from room to room through special passages cut through the walls.
The couple produced some entertaining books documenting their home and their cats. The first, "The Cats' House" ($17, Andrews McMeel), is my favorite. They have been featured on countless TV shows and magazines. While there's nothing quite like a visit to the home, the artists' new Web site (www.pix.tv) comes pretty close, offering a tour of every room as well as pages showing how the house came together.
With gardening season at hand, it's important to come up with a safe strategy for eliminating snails. Many brands of snail bait are not just deadly to snails and slugs but also to dogs, cats and birds. Instead of laying out bait, look for snails at night with a flashlight, picking up pests and putting them in a bag that then goes in the garbage bin.
If you suspect your pet has gotten into snail bait -- symptoms include frothing at the mouth, vomiting and convulsions -- see your veterinarian immediately. Your pet's life depends on your prompt action.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We have a cat with a urination problem. After two different vets, a behaviorist and dozens of tests, it was determined pretty darn conclusively to be a behavior issue. During the course of this year-long battle we've tried adding litter boxes, offering different litter choices, different diets (to address urinary pH as a possible culprit), and just about every prescription drug known to treat this behavior in cats.
We have admitted defeat and have decided to put her outside with inside visitation rights. We would like to keep her confined to the back yard but are unsure the best method to do so. I've seen special cat fences that keep cats in, but that would permit and potentially trap other neighborhood cats in our yard. I've also seen electric collar containment systems similar to the dog shock collars that are made for a cat and can be placed along your fence line. Are there any better options? -- K.T., via e-mail
A: Although I know lots of people who like them, I'm not fond of electronic containment systems. I don't like the idea of shocking a pet -- even though I know the shock is relatively mild. And I don't like the fact that people or other animals can come into the secured area and attack the collared pet.
When it comes to keeping pets secure, I believe in real fences.
Cat fencing would be a good option for your pet. Applied to the inside of a traditional fence, cat fencing consists of inward-facing panels that serve to keep a cat from getting over the top of the fence and out of the yard. While this sort of fencing is no deterrent to keeping other cats (or such predators as coyotes) away from your cat, it should accomplish the goal of keeping your cat in your yard and out of trouble.
You can buy ready-made kits from Cat Fence-In (www.catfencein.com; 888-738-9099) or Affordable Cat Fence (www.catfence.com; 888-840-2287), or put together the materials on your own. One set of directions can be found on the Humane Society Silicon Valley's Web site, at www.hssv.org/behavior/cat/cat_fence.htm.
A better option for your cat would be to build an enclosure that's something like a screened patio, or modify an existing patio to suit. Your cat would then be protected from roaming and from animals who might come in to your yard.
Q: I'm finding contradictory information on the Web on the subject of grit for birds. We have two cockatiels. Do they need grit, or not? I notice the pet store still sells it. -- T.E., via e-mail
A: Grit, or finely ground rock, was for years thought to help birds grind their food, but it's no longer recommended for most birds by avian experts such as my "Birds for Dummies" co-author, Dr. Brian L. Speer, a board-certified avian specialist and past president of the Association of Avian Veterinarians.
Indeed, grit is now thought to have a negative impact on bird health, removing vitamins A, B and K from the digestive system. And grit occasionally leads to a potentially life-threatening problem, when the amount of the stuff in the bird blocks the digestive system.
Still, some birds can make use of a small amount of grit. Canaries and other finches should be allowed a couple of grains every couple of months. Other birds, from budgies, cockatiels and lovebirds on up, don't need grit at all and shouldn't be offered it.
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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