Love of rabbits evident in shelter dedicated to these often-neglected animals
The brown-patched rabbit hasn't a clue what this is all about. He sits nibbling hay in a stainless-steel cage, in a room like the one in the shelter he came from, where most rabbits are killed because there aren't enough homes.
But this place is different. Housed in a former medical office building in Richmond, Calif., the House Rabbit Society runs the world's only shelter dedicated solely to finding homes for unwanted rabbits while educating people about proper pet rabbit care.
"With the rising popularity of rabbits as pets has come a rise in the number of rabbits euthanized," says Erin Williams, the shelter director. Young, enthusiastic and very rabbit-savvy, Williams started as a volunteer and ended up as one of the shelter's three part-time paid staff members, taking over the top spot a little more than a year ago.
Coming to the rabbit shelter is a stroke of luck for the brown-patched rabbit, whose story up to now has been sadly similar to that of thousands like him. Purchased as a fuzzy baby by someone who didn't understand or care about his needs, he was ignored, neglected, and finally dumped on a humane society that already had more rabbits than homes.
His life took a decidedly promising turn when he was brought to the rabbit shelter, where he will now be staying for as long as it takes to find him the right home.
"We have rabbits who have been here more than a year and others adopted two days after their arrival," says Williams. "Since we opened in 1999, we've adopted out 350 rabbits."
Williams acknowledges the numbers are small compared to the need. That's why the building's other use -- for education and outreach -- is probably more important in the long run to the goal of preventing people from taking on pets they aren't prepared to care for properly. The building has meeting rooms for classes, and the shelter is open for tours.
The international headquarters of the House Rabbit Society is also housed in the same facility, as are retail areas for the boarding, grooming and the sale of rabbit supplies that add funds to the donations and adoption fees keeping the shelter running. In addition to its Richmond headquarters and shelter, the HRS has 32 chapters and more than 10,000 members worldwide. The group's message is a simple one: Rabbits make great companions when kept indoors as a member of the family, just like a cat or a dog.
The rabbit shelter does not accept pets given up directly by their owners, but rather takes in those animals whose time has run out at traditional shelters in the area. In all, there's room for about 30 to 35 rabbits, with another 40 or so cared for in foster homes. Small rabbits with attractive markings tend to be adopted quickly, says Williams. The most difficult to place, she says, are large white rabbits with pink eyes -- people just don't like the looks of them.
While the isolation room where incoming bunnies first stay looks typically shelter-like, with its stacked cages, the rest of the place does not. Rabbits up for adoption are housed in spacious pens with plenty of toys and are given play time every day in the carpeted hallways of the building.
The playful and friendly nature of free-roaming rabbits may come as a surprise to many visitors, but it's just that change of mind the shelter staff and volunteers work for every day.
"We've had people come back and say, 'I never realized how incredibly rewarding it could be to have a rabbit as a pet,'" says Williams. "When you give them a chance, rabbits exceed the expectations of your childhood memories, when it was all about a forgotten rabbit in a backyard hutch."
(For more information on the House Rabbit Society, visit www.rabbit.org.)
Stress a factor in grooming cat
Q: We recently saw a longhaired cat whose owner (a friend of a friend) had him shaved short by a professional groomer. We were thinking it would be a good idea for our two Persians, who shed a lot and also mat very easily. What's your opinion of this? -- H.B., via e-mail
A: My only real concern would be about the stress of a trip to the groomer on cats who haven't been subjected to it before. Are your cats comfortable with outings, or do they get upset at the mere site of their carriers? If you intend to keep them close-cropped, they need to be comfortable with going to the groomer, or you need to learn how to groom them at home with a minimum of stress for you and for them.
Aside from the stress factor, there's no reason why longhaired cats kept indoors can't be kept clipped short. (I don't recommend it, however, for cats who'll be outdoors in a cold climate.) Clipping will make maintaining your cats' coats easier, but it won't eliminate shedding, since even short hairs do fall out.
There is one situation in which I'm always in favor of a buzz cut: When animals have been allowed to become extremely matted. Teasing apart the tangles on a badly matted pet is hard on both animal and human, and it's easier to shave off the entire coat and start fresh.
Q: Why does my dog, a 9-year-old poodle, eat grass? This grass-eating occurs without a detectable pattern. -- D.M., via e-mail
A: Although commonly believed to be the activity of a pet with an upset stomach, grass-eating is routine in perfectly healthy dogs of all ages, sizes and on all sorts of diets. Eating grass doesn't suggest something's missing in the diet, nor does it necessarily prompt vomiting. The best explanation is that some dogs like the taste and texture of grass.
Among my four dogs, the division seems pretty typical. One is a voracious grass-eater; two others will occasionally eat grass but usually only young, green shoots. The fourth has absolutely no interest in eating grass. They're all different ages, breed types and genders, and they've eaten different diets over the years with no change in their grass-eating habits.
If your dog is otherwise healthy, grass-eating is no need for concern. I would avoid using pesticides or herbicides in the areas where your dog grazes, however.
Q: Could I add a suggestion to your column on keeping cats from scratching? My cat was a major furniture-scratcher who wasn't interested in scratching posts or any other product designed for felines.
I found a wonderful solution quite by accident. I brought home a new doormat, one of those rough fiber ones. She loves it! Scratching on it is the first thing she does when she goes out the door and the last thing she does before coming in. I also bought one and put it in the spare room for her to use. It solved my problem and also blends in a little better than a traditional cat tree or scratching post. These mats are very affordable and can be purchased at any hardware or discount retailer. -- J.J., via e-mail
A: Thanks for your suggestion. Other folks wrote in to suggest using clear plastic wrap on the corners of furniture, and offering corrugated cardboard for scratching instead of (or in addition to) sisal -- or carpet-covered scratching posts.
Each pet is an individual, and sometimes you just have to keep experimenting to find out what works.
Vaccines changing along with the times
The cornerstone of proper preventive medical care for dogs used to be yearly shots. That's no longer true.
Newer recommendations instead suggest an approach to vaccines tailored to the individual needs of each dog, with some boosters to be given at three-year intervals, some as needed and some not at all.
The driving force behind the changes is an understanding that many vaccines protect well beyond one year, and that vaccines themselves were not without the potential to cause harm. Last year, an American Animal Hospital Association task force presented a 28-page report that divided available vaccines into "core" and "non-core" categories and offered guidelines for their use in adult dogs.
According to the AAHA's task force, "core" vaccines recommended at three-year intervals include those for rabies, canine parvovirus, canine adenovirus-2 (hepatitis) and distemper. These diseases are considered to be extremely dangerous to animals (or to humans, in the case of rabies), and the vaccines have been shown to be effective.
The use of non-core vaccines depends on such factors as the lifestyle of the dog and the prevalence of a certain disease in the area. A dog who is going to spend time around other dogs may need to have protection against bordetella, contagious disease more commonly known as kennel cough.
Other vaccinations are not recommended by the task force, either because they have not been shown to be effective, or because the disease they protect against is either uncommon or easily treatable.
The recommendations are for adult dogs. Puppies must still go through a series of vaccinations to develop sufficient immunity to disease.
The bottom line: Talk to your veterinarian about what combination of vaccines is right for your dog. And don't skip your dog's annual examination just because you'll be skipping those yearly "shots."
(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.)
ON THE WEB
Get the facts on the Jack
What most people call a Jack Russell, the American Kennel Club now calls a Parson Russell. But things haven't changed on the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America's Web site (www.terrier.com). As feisty and independent as the dogs they adore, the club's members note that the "JRTCA is not affiliated in any way with the American Kennel Club (AKC)," with the word "not" in capital, bold-faced letters. You can almost hear them yell, "And we mean it!"
The site is one of the best devoted to any breed: well-organized, easy-to-navigate, quick to load and utterly jam-packed with great information on the breed. Best areas on the site are those seeking to discourage ownership of this intelligent and energetic breed. The "Jack Russell Profiler" rates people on their suitability for the breed, and "The Bad Dog Talk: I Am Not 'Wishbone'" lists every undesirable trait TV dogs never have -- but Jack Russells usually do.
The Jack Russell is one of those adorable, smart breeds that most people admire but few are capable of handling. If you're thinking of adding one of these scrappy darlings to your family, the JRTCA's Web site will give you plenty to read and even more to think about.
Vest offers protection for dogs
The crisp fall evenings may seem perfect for walking with your dog, but it may not be the safest time to be on the street. When drivers can't see you in the dark, you and your dog are at risk. Reflective leashes and collars help increase canine visibility, as do reflective runner's vests for the human half of the team.
To make outdoor activity safer, K9 Top Coat has come out with a stylish dog vest in bright safety orange Lycra with reflective strips. I tried one on my jet-black retriever Heather, who disappears in the dark, and found the product easy to put on and remove and highly visible even from a couple of hundred feet away. The stretch fabric fit well and moved comfortably with her no matter how active she became.
The vest is $36.50 in all sizes not including shipping from K9 Top Coat (www.K9topcoat.com; 888-833-5959.)
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Where pet birds stay when you fly
Professional pet-care has long been an option for dogs and cats, but few bird-lovers use boarding or pet-sitting services when they travel.
TRAVEL CARE FOR BIRDS ... PERCENTAGE
Family/friend/neighbor comes to home ... 53
Leave bird with family/friend/neighbor ... 17
Leave bird home alone with food/water... 13
Take birds along ... 4
Board bird ... 1
Professional pet sitter ... 1
Other/no answer ... 10
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association Inc.
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.
4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111; (816) 932-6600