A friend of mine just took a job in my city and is in the process of moving from his home two counties away. While sorting things out, he stayed with me for a while, along with the dog he jokingly calls a "Macedonian sable-hound" (translation: Labrador-hound mix).
The first week he and his dog stayed with me, I noticed she had no tag on her collar. He shrugged it off. "Chula doesn't like wearing a tag," he said.
I pointed out that Chula was 90 miles from the neighborhood she thought of as home, and had shown herself to be quite capable of jumping a fence my dogs never bother with. He got the message: When he and the dog turned up at my house again a few days later, she was wearing a shiny new ID tag with his cell phone number on it.
While any dog can become lost at any time, a dog who has just been adopted or moved is at a higher risk of going missing. The best time to protect your dog -- old or new, young or not so -- is before he gets out.
Here's a checklist of precautions that will likely keep your dog from getting loose, and will increase your chances of finding him if he does get out:
-- Check your fences and gates. Are there loose or missing boards, or enticing gaps at the baseline that could be opened up with a little digging? Are latches secure, with locks in place? Make sure your fence and gates are as secure as can be. If you have children repeatedly going in and out, invest in a device that pulls the gate closed automatically.
-- Check your dog. Don't waste time before getting your dog a license and an ID tag. If your pet ends up in the shelter, a license buys him extra time. And if someone finds him when the shelter's closed, an ID tag with your phone number speeds up the reunion.
Instead of your pet's name and your address on the ID tag, use the word "reward" and as many phone numbers as you can fit. I like to trust in the generous nature of most people, but count on the interest in a little bit of extra money for the rest.
Microchip implants, which carry ID numbers, are a great idea. Make sure your pet's permanent ID is registered so if someone discovers it, a fast reunion is possible. The American Kennel Club's Companion Animal Recovery service, which is not just for purebreds or dogs, can help in the United States and Canada. Call (800) 252-7894 or visit www.akccar.org for more information. I also like to recommend a 24-hour help service, like 1-800-HELP4PETS (www.help4pets.com), which can authorize veterinary care or boarding if you cannot be found and your pet needs assistance.
-- Plan for the worst. Keep current, clear pictures of your pets on hand -- you'll need them to throw together a flier in an emergency. If you lose your pet, put fliers everywhere you can and place a "lost" ad in the newspaper right away -- don't waste precious time hoping your pet will wander home. And don't forget the magic word: "Reward!"
Scan the neighborhood, watch "found" ads, and check the shelters every other day in person. Don't give up too soon -- pets have been located weeks after their disappearance.
If you've never lost a pet, being vigilant is sometimes tough -- but you must. Make sure that ID tags stay current and readable, and keep an eye on those fences and gates. In this game, you make your own luck.
PETS ON THE WEB
Artist Stephen Huneck has the gift of understanding animals, especially dogs, and presenting them in colorful, whimsical ways that will make any pet lover smile -- and many to reach for their wallets. After an illness almost killed him, the artist decided to build a chapel on his Vermont property open to people of all creeds and dogs of all breeds, celebrating the special bond between people and their canine companions.
For those who can't make it to visit the chapel in person, Huneck's Dog Chapel Web site (www.dogchapel.com) provides a look into this lovely little building, with its dog-themed stained class and furnishings. The site also offers a free screen saver, and a bulletin board for visitors to post pictures of their own pets.
A few years ago it was Febreze; now it's Swiffer. In the last couple of weeks I've received hundreds of e-mail "warnings" forwarded by well-meaning readers who in turn had it forwarded to them. The e-mail tells of a dog and two cats who died after walking across a damp floor that had been cleaned with the product and claims that Swiffer is "one molecule" off the chemical formulation of antifreeze, the latter a deadly risk to pets.
Like the Febreze e-mail scare, the dire warnings about Swiffer are off-base. The Snopes Web site (www.snopes.com) debunks this latest urban myth, and speculates that the rumors might be spread by those with a grudge against manufacturer Procter & Gamble.
The bottom line on Febreze and Swiffer? As with all household cleaning products, read the label carefully and follow directions to the letter. And don't forward e-mail warnings you don't know to be true.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: How can you in all honesty say that "one does tend to meet more small canine miscreants than large ones"? My last dog weighed in at 10 pounds, and during his 17 years he was attacked by a standard poodle, two pit bulls, two that were of unknown origin and a Heinz 57. And in each case, my dog was on a leash; the others weren't.
The statement "an ill-mannered little dog's antics are not only tolerated but also too often encouraged" is a blatant generalization and reeks of unprofessionalism.
Vent your retribution someplace else. I don't believe your column is the place for you to blame the dog world for a bad experience you had in a pet store. I have my doubts that your dogs are perfect. -- K.R., via e-mail
Q: Would you let me share my story of a little dog with bad manners? We had to stop going to one local park because of a woman who would not leash her little bully. When he approached my 126-pound male growling and showing teeth, I told my dog to sit-stay. The small dog proceeded to jump on my dog's back. The little dog would not stop biting even when I pulled my dog away! Thank goodness the small dog was not injured, except for his pride.
The woman who owned the dog said "nothing like this has ever happened before," even though her dog had approached us in this manner in the past. I informed her that it would only take one time with the wrong dog and her dog would be seriously injured or worse.
I drove by the park a few months later and guess what? There was the little dog again running free. I am so glad that someone finally addressed the issue of little dogs with bad manners. -- B.W., via e-mail
A: Quite a few people wrote to complain I either didn't like or was picking on little dogs. Not so in either case. One of my own dogs is little (my toy spaniel, Chase), and small dogs have always been among my favorites, for their oversized personalities.
What I was addressing was the tendency of the owners of small dogs to allow them to misbehave in ways that put them at risk of being chomped by bigger dogs. Dogs will be dogs, after all, and it's up to us to protect them from harm.
The issue of little dogs in off-leash parks is a controversial one, but for their own safety I cannot recommend that small dogs be turned loose with big ones in an off-leash environment. It's just too dangerous! Some large dogs see small ones more as prey than as other dogs, and it's just too easy for a small dog to be hurt or killed before the owners have time to react.
Recognizing this problem, some dog parks have put in separate areas for small dogs to play safely with others of their own size. I think these are an excellent way to give small dogs the exercise and socialization they need without putting them at risk.
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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