When my first parrot died a few years ago, I was grief-stricken. Patrick's loss wasn't a total surprise: He came to me as a homeless, feather-picked disaster, and he'd had health problems throughout his short life. But just because a loss isn't a shock doesn't mean it isn't difficult to bear, and I very much missed having him around.
But then, I guiltily noticed I was enjoying all the time I didn’t have to clean up after all the poop dumped, feathers dropped and food flung far and wide. Parrots are like that, for all their charms, which is why I went a half-dozen years before adopting another.
Eventually I decided the mess was worth it, so about a year ago another parrot, Eddie the clownish caique, joined my household. I still don't care for the mess, but I adore my parrot, so I'm once again cleaning all the time.
Cleaning isn't just about neatness -- it's also about health. Clean, fresh food and water are essential to pet birds, and so, too, is keeping their environment as free as possible of bacteria, fungus and molds, all of which can lead to disease.
Eddie's cage gets taken outside and scrubbed every week, but in between times I've learned to keep things relatively neat with a few supplies kept close to the cage and used on a constant basis. Among them:
-- Newspapers. Bird lovers go through a lot of newspapers, so it's a good thing I like to read enough to subscribe to three of them. I put all the glossy inserts in the recycling bin and stack the rest for use in the cage tray and under Eddie's play area.
-- Cloth towels. In addition to cleaning, old towels are great for protecting clothing from bird poop -- just drape a towel over your shoulders. In addition to a few worn-out or faded bathroom towels, I also have some shop towels I bought at an auto-supply place.
-- Paper towels. I keep a roll by the bird cage at all times, and I'm thinking of putting a dispenser on the wall nearby. With a multi-pet household, I buy paper towels in bulk when I see good prices.
-- Spray bottle with cleaning solution. Kept next to the paper towels. Since birds are sensitive to fumes, I know to skip the ammonia, bleach, pine solutions or any other strong cleaners. Simple soap and water are fine for everyday touch-ups, although I also like Poop-Off, a product developed just for bird cleanups.
-- Handheld vacuum. I have one just for the bird room, for snarfing up food pellets and feathers.
-- Mats for under the cage. The heavy, clear plastic mats intended for under desk chairs and sold at office-supply stores keep most of the gunk off the floor. Newspapers catch the rest.
-- Hamper. I keep the bird towels separate from the others in the household by using a hamper placed next to the cage. I wash all the birds towels together when I have a full hamper.
-- Trash bin. Again, right by the cage. Every time I change the cage liner, I just lean over and put the old newspapers in the trash.
I find a few minutes spent cleaning a couple times a day keeps things in good order and makes the weekly cage scrubbing easier to accomplish. I change cage papers daily, at a minimum, and clean everything else as soon as I see the mess hit.
Eddie is the smallest pet in the house, but he's by far the biggest mess-maker. By cleaning constantly, a few minutes here and there, I find I don't mind at all.
PETS ON THE WEB
I admit to being addicted to digital photography, taking pictures every day and foisting them on friends, co-workers, readers and even total strangers. My pictures are, not surprisingly, mostly of pets. In this picture-taking obsession, I'm not alone. On Fotolog (www.fotolog.net), thousands of images are posted every minute, on all kinds of topics. A lot of them are of drunken young people partying with their friends, but many others are very good indeed.
For those who like to share images of pets, Fotolog has several "group" areas, including Fotodogs (www.fotolog.net/fotodogs), Fotocats
(www.fotolog.net/fotocats) and Fotopets (www.fotolog.net/fotopets). My favorite animal-related Fotolog belongs to a dog in Holland by the name of Joop (www.fotolog.net/joop), whose pictures are so wonderful they ought to be sold in book form.
Although many dogs enjoy swimming in pools as much as people do, no dog should be given unsupervised access to a pool. Just as with toddlers, dogs should be kept from the pool with a fence when they cannot be watched.
The risk of drowning is very high for small breeds who often can't navigate the exit stairs, and for top-heavy dogs like the bulldog, many of whom just flat-out can't swim. Even the most amphibious retriever could get in trouble if the animal can't figure out where the stairs are and how to use them.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Could I add some suggestions to your recent writing on pet-safe snail control?
Although I occasionally use snail bait, I mostly go on a "snail safari," as you called it, very early in the morning, just as it's getting light. That way, I don't have to use a flashlight, leaving both hands free for my "tools-of-the-trade."
I carry either a half-gallon milk carton or a large cottage-cheese container in my left hand, and I use a set of cheap ice tongs in my right hand to gather my quarry and put them in the container for later disposal. The tongs work great. Not only do they extend my reach by about 6 inches, but if I happen to step on a snail inadvertently, I can pick it up without getting my hand all "gunk-i-fied" (a technical snail-hunter term).
I don't remember where I got the tongs (probably at a Dollar Store, Big Lots, etc.), but now I'm spoiled, and I'd hate to think of going hunting without them. -- G.P. via e-mail
A: Your suggestion is truly an improvement on my snail-hunting techniques, and far better than picking up snails by hand. I'm going to look for some ice tongs, too!
Q: My neighbors' 5-year-old cat just died from antifreeze poisoning. The poor little girl drank antifreeze that was left uncovered in their garage. Because I have known of the dangers of antifreeze to pets for years, I assumed, in error, that everyone else knew this as well. But, as a matter of fact, my own mother who owns two cats didn't know this!
Looking at a container of antifreeze, I noted that it states under "warnings," at the very end and in very small type, "... solution is poisonous to animals." Now, I think it's safe to say that virtually all people know to keep chemicals, including antifreeze, out of the reach of children. Given this assumption, along with the sad knowledge that not everyone is aware of the danger of antifreeze to animals, is there a reason that the makers of antifreeze (and all other chemicals that may be attractive to animals) don't state this danger more clearly and obviously on their containers? Better still, is there any way that there can be something added to antifreeze that would repulse rather than attract pets?
Can you help here? Pets dying from antifreeze poisoning is preventable, which makes it so much more tragic when it occurs. -- K.S., via e-mail
A: Don't make the assumption that people know better when it comes to children: Kids have been killed by antifreeze too, along with countless pets. I wholly support efforts to mandate that bittering agents be added to these products, which are not only deadly but apparently sweet-tasting enough to encourage ingestion. California already requires that antifreeze contain a bittering agent, and I hope this will become law everywhere.
In the meantime, pet lovers have two ways to protect their animal companions, one relatively foolproof, the other not.
Not foolproof: Use a safer antifreeze made from a different formulation than the more popular variety, store chemicals properly, and wipe up spills promptly. While this should eliminate most of the risk for dogs, these strategies are not foolproof for free-roaming cats because they cannot control what your neighbors will do when it comes to using or storing deadly chemicals.
Foolproof: Keep cats inside. Free-roaming cats have relatively short lifespans because the outside world is full of deadly hazards. To antifreeze, add cars, coyotes (even in cities!) and even cat-hating neighbors to the list of things that can kill a free-roaming cat.
If you even suspect a pet has taken into antifreeze, get your pet to the veterinary clinic immediately. There's no "wait-and-see" period with this stuff.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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