How we love our fresh starts and New Year's resolutions!
We're going to lose weight, of course, save more money, and better ourselves in countless other ways. All noble causes, but have you thought about spending some time in 2005 making a difference for animals?
Every animal lover should.
Although the need can seem overwhelming, especially when it comes to animal cruelty or homeless pets, the fact is that every little bit helps. After all, if every one of us animal lovers did one small thing a couple of times a year, the total effort would be grand indeed.
Here are a few suggestions for helping animals in the months to come:
-- Take better care of your own animals. Studies show that, just like many of us, a lot of animals desperately need to lose weight and exercise more. Remember: Food is not love, and lay off the treats. You and your pet will both do better with a walk or some otherwise active playtime together.
Don't neglect other aspects of preventive health care. Use your pet's annual exam to go over those areas that need improving. In addition to weight loss and exercise, your veterinarian should evaluate your pet's vaccination schedule, dental health and parasite-control strategies. In addition to helping your pet live a longer, healthier life, preventive health care can save you money in the long run. Make that veterinary appointment today!
Part of taking care of your own pet better is making sure your animals are "good citizens" to your neighbors. Don't let your cats roam or your dogs bark constantly. In addition to being inconsiderate, people who allow their animals to be a nuisance give ammunition to communities looking to pass laws against pets.
-- Help others take better care of their pets. If you have a friend, neighbor or relative who is having difficulty caring for a pet because of advanced age or illness, offer to help out. Pets are extremely important to those who are cut off from social activities. Helping people keep their pets is a kindness to both pet and pet owner.
What can you do? Pick up food or litter, or offer to take the pet to the veterinarian when needed. Many times people who rely on others for assistance are reluctant to ask for more help on account of a pet. So ask if you can help. After all, if you're already going to the pet-supply store or veterinarian, is it really that much trouble to pick up some extra supplies or stay for an additional appointment?
-- Make a call for animals. Animal cruelty should not be tolerated, not only for the animals but also because of the proven link between animal cruelty and crimes against people. Too often, though, animal cruelty is shrugged off by the judicial system as a lesser crime.
Don't accept a "boys will be boys" attitude when it comes to animal cruelty. Call, e-mail and write to prosecutors and judges in animal cruelty cases. Demand that children get the help they need to break the cycle of cruelty and that adult offenders are punished to the fullest extent of the law. Public opinion counts in these cases!
-- Pay to spay. Don't place an animal in a new home unless you've made sure the pet won't reproduce. You may think you're doing a good deed in a finding home for a pet you cannot keep, or for a litter of kittens born in your garage to a semi-wild mother cat. But if you don't pay to spay, you really aren't helping.
Instead of placing a pet for free, spay or neuter the animal and then charge an adoption fee to cover the cost of the procedure. You'll save the adopter time and will ensure that the pet you place won't add to the overpopulation problem.
-- Help a shelter or rescue group. Volunteers are always needed to help with the animals in the shelter or to foster pets who need a home environment. But if you don't want to contribute on a regular basis, then see if you can help on a short-term project.
Many groups have fund-raisers throughout the year. They need volunteers to help with ticket sales, setup, concessions and cleanup. You can also help by finding out what your local shelter or rescue groups need in the way of services or supplies and then calling to ask for donations.
Shelters are in constant need not only of pet food, litter, old newspapers and towels, but also office and janitorial supplies and building materials. Get a wish list from your shelter and get to work!
It would be nice for us all to be thinner and richer at the end of 2005. But even if that doesn't happen, you can be happy knowing that you've made a difference for animals. These suggestions are just the beginning.
Is a tortie cat the same as a calico?
Q: What is the difference between a calico and a tortie, or are they the same? Do the terms calico and tortie refer to a breed or a color? -- C.F., via e-mail
A: Calico and tortoiseshell (or tortie) refer to a pattern of markings, not to a breed. The link between them is orange fur. The two marking patterns are genetically similar, but they differ in the way the orange color is displayed. On calico cats, the orange, black and white colors are distinct patches; on tortoiseshells, the colors are swirled together.
The overwhelming majority of calico and tortoiseshell cats are female. Male calicos are what's known as "Klinefelter" males, possessed of not only the XY chromosomes of a normal boy cat but also an extra X. Since you need two X chromosomes to get a calico, you need the XXY combination to get a male calico. It doesn't happen very often -- about 1 in 3,000 calicoes is male.
Typically, male orange cats are tabbies (the common striped pattern), while orange in females can be expressed in any of three patterns -- calico, tortoiseshell or tabby.
To make things a little more interesting, there are also "dilute" colors. Instead of the pure orange and jet black of a classic calico, the orange on a "dilute" calico is more of a cream color, and the black is gray.
The Cat Fanciers' Association has a basic explanation of feline color genetics on its Web site at www.fanciers.com/other-faqs/color-genetics.html.
Q: We have a new golden retriever puppy, and I bought her with plans to make her a running partner. How soon can she accompany me on my daily runs? -- D.K., via e-mail
A: According to Dr. Robert Richardson, a Sacramento, Calif., veterinarian who's well-known for his expertise in orthopedics, you need to wait a while before putting the miles on that pup.
Richardson says an 8-month-old dog can safely manage only a one- to two-mile run at a relatively slow pace -- and that's if the animal is perfectly sound.
A puppy who's 8 months old is just past the usual growth spurts, says Richardson, who cautions that before that age a puppy's cartilage is very soft and easily damaged.
If you push your developing pup, or get a dog with joint problems to run at all, you could be risking serious problems down the road. Consult your veterinarian for a more precise assessment of your dog's suitability as a running partner.
Q: I'm moving with my cat from a house in a quiet neighborhood to one that's less than 100 yards from a major commercial roadway with lots of traffic. I saw your column on keeping cats indoors, and I've decided to try to keep Jordan in after we move. What's the best way to accomplish this? -- B.R., via e-mail
A: Moving is the perfect time to start keeping a cat inside. That's because you haven't suddenly cut off your cat from established territory -- which no cat accepts without complaining -- but instead have offered him a whole new indoor area to claim as his own. The territory he never sees he will not miss.
Start Jordan out in a single room with all the essentials and let him recover from the stress of the move. When he seems comfortable, allow him access to the rest of your new home. Be sure to give him plenty of attention, interactive play time and lots of toys. He should settle in just fine.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
ON THE WEB
More help for fans of green iguanas
The Web site of the Green Iguana Society (www.greenigsociety.org) is a helpful resource for anyone who has or is interested in getting one of these reptilian pets. The site pushes education and responsibility, with a strong emphasis on adoption of unwanted iguanas before purchase of baby ones.
Aware that much of the interest in iguanas comes from children, the Green Ig folks have developed an entire section aimed at helping young iguana keepers take better care of their pets. And if a parent is fielding demands from a reptile-crazy youngster but hasn't said "yes" yet, the Web site offers suggestions on reptile pets that are more suitable for children than iguanas.
Iowa Aussie is '1DERDOG'
There's no end to the creativity that pet-loving readers show with their vanity license plates. You keep sending them, we'll keep sharing them:
1DERDOG -- Sealy the Australian shepherd participates in all kinds of dog events. The Honda CR-V gets loaded about once a month to go on some type of cross-country excursion to a conformation, agility, herding or obedience event. During the week, Sealy usually spends one to three hours attending classes offered by one of the three local canine clubs. He has passed his Canine Good Citizen test, has three points toward his championship and is working hard on obedience. He usually assists my wife while she is feeding the ducks, goats and sheep she is raising to practice his herding activities. "1DERDOG" is really an understatement. I simply wonder what she will get him into next. He lives for all the attention, and works for my wife's praise. -- J.L., Lisbon, Iowa
K9UNUT -- When I decided I wanted a special license plate, I originally wanted K9UNIT, but it was already taken. I decided on K9UNUT which is actually more appropriate because I'm nuts about dogs. At that time I had a poodle, Buddy, and a golden retriever, Brandy. Brandy has since gone to doggie heaven. The dogs rode with me every morning and again in the afternoon to the park for their daily exercise. -- K.C., Elk Grove, Calif.
Share your pet plate! Send a jpeg image and the story of how you chose your pet plate to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your city and state.
Make time for a New Year's neck check
Just as we've accepted that the batteries in smoke detectors need to be changed twice a year when the clocks move forward or back, I've suggested in recent years establishing a tradition for pets: the New Year's "neck check."
The neck check is easy and takes less than a minute. What you're checking for is wear and fit on your pet's collar and legibility on ID tags.
A properly fitted collar is important, but so is the right type. For dogs, a buckled or snap-together collar made of leather or nylon webbing is the best choice. The proper fit should be comfortably close but not too snug. Make sure your dog's not wearing a "choke" collar for everyday wear. These pose a potentially deadly hazard if left on an unsupervised dog.
Cat collars aren't widely accepted because some people fear the collars will get caught on branches and trap the cat. Other people argue that their cat stays indoors and so never needs a collar. If you're sure your cat will never, ever get out, then fine: No collar is necessary. But if your pet has ever slipped out (or might), you ought to reconsider a collar and tag. As for cats being caught by their collars, this is resolved by the simple piece of elastic in most cat collars that enables the pet to slip free of the collar in a pinch.
If you have the right kind of collar on your pet, look at the holes and the fasteners. The collar is weakest at these spots, so if you see signs of excessive wear or strain, you'll need to replace the collar soon.
As for those ID tags, they need checking, too. A license is great, but since many lost pets are picked up by people in the neighborhood, it's a good idea to supplement the license with an ID tag that has a couple of phone numbers -- yours and the number of a friend or relative. Check to make sure the information is current and legible.
Don't delay in fixing any problems you find. Proper collars and up-to-date ID tags are the cheapest insurance you can buy against losing your pet for good.
BY THE NUMBERS
The Cat Fanciers' Association recognizes 37 breeds of cat for competing in its championship classes at cat shows. They range from the popular and commonly recognized Persian to such lesser-known lovelies as the American wirehair and Somali. The top breeds of pedigreed cats, according to CFA registration figures for 2003:
2. Maine Coon
8. American shorthair
Source: Cat Fanciers Association (www.cfa.org)
Sharp puppy teeth go at four months
If you have a puppy in your home now, you will be delighted to know that those sharp little baby teeth will be replaced by adult teeth by the age of 4 months -- going from 28 deciduous teeth to 42 permanent ones. But problems can occur with the changeover.
Sometimes baby teeth are retained after the adult ones come in, a situation that can cause many problems, including the misalignment of permanent teeth, incorrect development of the jaw and infections. Check your puppy's mouth daily while adult teeth are erupting to ensure that the baby teeth aren't being retained -- a double row of teeth, especially in the front, tells you that they are.
Have your veterinarian check any suspicious developments. Baby teeth that refuse to fall out on their own may need to be removed by your veterinarian.
(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.)
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 email@example.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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