Patience, timing key to great pet shots
Digital photography has changed my life. Instead of wasting roll after roll of film -- or not bothering to take pictures at all because of the trouble and expense -- I now take hundreds of pictures, happy in the knowledge that if I get just one or two good ones out of every few dozen taken, I haven't wasted anything except my time.
With a few clicks of the mouse, the out-of-frame, out-of-focus or "just not right" images are jettisoned forever. A few clicks more, and those images with potential are fixed up and made suitable for framing -- a crop here, a red eye changed to brown, the elimination of items cluttering up the background.
The result: the best pictures of my pets I've ever taken.
Years ago a pet photographer told me the best suggestion he could offer when it comes to getting good pictures is to constantly be taking them. That's advice I'm finally following, but I've also had good luck paying attention to these other tried-and-true tips:
-- Head outdoors if you can. Taking pictures outside gives your pet a more natural, healthy look. If your pet is a solid, dark color, use your flash to bring out the detail in your pet's face. If you do end up with red eye, use photo-editing software (basic programs come free with many new computers) to fix the problem.
-- Get close. If you want a good picture, you need to go where your pet is. Shoot at just below your pet's eye level and zoom in as closely as you can for good detail.
-- Watch your backgrounds. Think neutral -- a plain wall, not a cluttered cabinet. Think contrast -- light for a dark pet, dark for a light one. If your cat loves to sleep on the busy fabric of your sofa, for example, consider throwing a solid-colored blanket down first. You might be able to edit the distraction out with photo-editing software, but it's easier to avoid it in the first place.
-- Get kids to help. I love pictures of kids and pets, and have always found that kids make the best photographer's assistants as well. Children can help by getting a pet's attention with a toy or treat, or by holding the pet for a picture of child and pet together. One of my favorite things to do is give the children in my life throwaway cameras and let them take their own pictures. I get the images put on a photo CD, use photo-editing software to make them look better, and then give the best as prints in inexpensive frames to the young photographers.
-- Be creative. If you want your pet to kiss your children, do as the pros do: Put a little butter on your children and let the pet kiss it off. This is a tip I got years ago when I interviewed a woman who trained animals for commercials. I've smiled every time I've seen a dog smooch a kid on TV since, knowing that more than affection was at play.
-- Take some "record-keeping" shots. You never know when a pet will get loose, and having good pictures can help with a swift recovery. Take a picture from the side and one from the front, as well as close-ups of any distinctive markings. Get prints made and put them in a place you'll remember, just in case you need to make up "lost pet" posters.
-- Final advice: Enjoy and share your pictures! You'll find several sites on the Web that welcome images of pets, or you can use a free Web site to post images on your own. And photo-developing companies offer more than prints of digital images these days: Think note cards, calendars or even posters.
I've put up a few of my own pets on my Web site, (www.spadafori.com -- click on "My Animals") and plan to keep adding as I take more great photos.
Cat thinks roof a perfect potty
Q: My cat resides outside and has any number of places to use as a toilet, including a litter box. But for some odd reason she likes to use the roof as her toilet, where it comes together into a "V." Besides cleaning every few weeks by using a hose and spreading crushed mothballs, what would you suggest to prevent this? -- C.L., via e-mail
A: I'm guessing your cat uses the roof because she feels safe up there and because leaves collect and decompose into that part of the roof, turning it into a natural litter box. The trick to changing this habit is to make the roof less attractive while increasing the desirability of that litter box.
Make sure her litter box is in an area that's protected from the elements as well as from the chance of her being scared or ambushed while in a vulnerable state — nobody likes to be startled on the potty! Check, too, that the contents are scooped frequently, since a dirty box will send most cats elsewhere.
To discourage the use of the roof spot, I'd clean it of debris every day for a while, spraying not only with water but also with a scent most cats hate, such as lemon. If you can get up on the roof, secure some physical deterrents in the spot, such as crumpled wads of foil or plastic carpet runners with the pointy side out.
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Yearly shots for your pets? Think again
In recent years the trend in veterinary medicine has been away from annual combination vaccines for cats and dogs. In place of the traditional ritual: Individualized vaccine regimens are now given at multiyear intervals after the initial series of puppy/kitten vaccinations is complete. (How frequently rabies vaccines are given is a matter of law: While many states require rabies boosters at three-year intervals, others mandate a rabies shot on an annual basis for dogs and, increasingly, cats.)
Skipping annual shots should not mean avoiding your veterinarian. Your pet needs a yearly physical to spot and stop potential health problems before they become serious.
The University of California, Davis, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital offers suggested guidelines for dog and cat vaccinations on its Web site, at www.vmth.ucdavis.edu/vmth/clientinfo/info/genmed/vaccinproto.html.
Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.
Classroom rat had gift for math
I am a teacher. A few years back, we had a rat named Charlotte in our second-grade classroom. During her pregnancy, she remained as sweet as ever, allowing the kids to hold her all day.
One day, right in the middle of class, she began giving birth. My 20 students and I watched in delight as she birthed 18 babies! They all appeared healthy, but I wondered how she would feed them all. I remember thinking that she would probably pick out the weak ones and eat them! This is something that my son's hamster had done. I decided to cover up the aquarium to give her some privacy and shield my students from the carnage that I was sure would occur.
The next morning, before the kids arrived, I held my breath and uncovered the tank. To my surprise, I saw two nests. Upon closer examination, it appeared that Charlotte had divided her litter into two little pink piles. I carefully took off the top of the tank, put my hand in, and counted. There were nine babies in each pile! Wow, a rat that can divide!
We watched as she would nurse one pile, eat and rest, and then nurse the others. She went back and forth like this for days. She even allowed the kids to hold the babies, but she would always put them back exactly where they had been -- in their own pile!
I managed to give all of the babies away -- and not to snake owners. -- Paulette Mercer, Santa Rosa, Calif.
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Birdbaths aren't just for wild birds. Most pet birds enjoy getting wet on a regular basis too -- and it's good for them. Some birds enjoy being misted with a spray bottle, while others will happily share your shower, with the help of any number of perches designed to affix to the wall of the stall. Some birds would rather bathe and enjoy access to a shallow dish of water. Experiment until you find out what suits your bird best, then allow your pet a drenching as frequently as every day. -- G.S.
Feline author offers advice to other cats
A while back I mentioned a new online magazine for dog lovers, The Daily Dog (www.thedogdaily.com), put out by the same talented woman, Beth Adelman, who also edits The Daily Cat (www.thedailycat.com). Adelman has now come out with an entertaining book that looks at feline care from a cat's point of view. The spin on "Every Cat's Survival Guide to Living With a Neurotic Owner" (Barnes & Noble Books, $7) is that the author is Adelman's cat, Yin Yin, who answers questions from other cats about what their owners are doing wrong. The concept could get old in fast order, but Adelman pulls it off in fine style, with witty, well-written answers packed with up-to-date information on nutrition, behavior and much, much more. A real find, and a great bargain! -- G.S.
Prevention key to keeping pet mess to a minimum
Love your pet, hate pet mess? Consider these tried-and-true tips for preventing some messes and cleaning up others more easily:
-- Search and destroy past messes. Sometimes you can see them and not smell them; other times you can smell them and not see them. Chances are your pet knows where they are -- and will want to update the odor. Pet-supply outlets offer black lights that reveal old messes you might not be able to see. Veterinarians and trainers sometimes have these available for renting. Surface cleaning isn't enough: If the mess has soaked through, you must pull up the carpet and clean or replace the padding below.
-- Prevent future messes, when you can. Put mats everywhere: Inside and outside of doors, under dishes and anywhere else messes happen. If you want to experiment with color, look for car mats. They're easy to clean and come in a few colors besides basic black.
-- Be prepared to clean. Keep a "pet mess kit" with paper towels, hand-held vacuum, old bath towels and cleaning solutions in a bucket where you can get to them quickly. The faster you get on a pet mess, the easier it is to clean and the less likely it will be to leave a permanent stain.
-- Don't use ammonia-based cleaners on pet messes. They smell like urine to a pet -- ammonia being one of the byproducts of decomposing pet waste. Instead of making the area smell clean, ammonia products make a mess site seem even more attractive to your pet and more likely to invite repeat business. Instead, use products designed for pet messes, which have enzymes that break down organic wastes and neutralize odors.
-- Keep your pet clean. Regular bathing and daily brushing or combing will minimize the amount of pet hair you'll be dealing with. Another plus: A clean pet is less likely to trigger allergies, and more pleasant to have around. -- G.S.
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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