One of the biggest mistakes people make when pets go missing is underestimating the seriousness of the situation. When a pet gets out, the response should never be "wait and see."
"Your pet is about as capable of surviving on his own as a toddler is," says Liz Blackman, founder of 1-800-HELP-4-PETS (www.help4pets.com), a company that helps reunite lost pets with their owners. "The first thing people need to know when they lose a pet is that they need to act quickly and aggressively."
First on the "to do" list: a lost-pet sign.
"You don't need to describe your pet from nose to tail," says Blackman. "If you've lost a large black dog, start with that. Make sure the sign can be easily read from a distance. Include your phone number and area code. And put the word 'reward' in big, clear letters. Money can motivate a lot of people who might not care much otherwise."
To motivate others, Blackman suggests a measure of "sappiness."
"You need to get people emotionally involved," she says. "Tell them how you feel, how much you care. Put 'child is heartbroken' or 'my best friend is missing.' I know of total strangers who have taken off from work to help look for a missing pet because they were motivated by a sign."
Blackman says it's important to print enough signs and display them in the most effective way possible. Don't put them on wooden poles -- they increase risk of injury to utility line crews -– but do put them everywhere else they can be easily seen.
"Print a minimum of 100 and put half facing the street where drivers can see them, half facing the sidewalk so pedestrians can," she says. Also, put signs in places where pet people go: veterinary offices, dog parks, pet-supply stores and groomers. You'll also need to place a lost-pet ad in local newspapers and on lost-pet Web sites.
Because you'll be out looking for your pet, Blackman also suggests changing the message on your answering machine or voicemail to encourage people to leave a message.
"You don't want the finder to get frustrated, not knowing how long you'll take to call back," she says. Her suggestion: "If you're calling about my missing pet, I'm out looking for him right now. Please leave a message, and I'll call you as soon as I come in."
Enlist the help of friends, family and neighbors in the search, and go door-to-door in your area. Ask neighbors to check garages, tool sheds and crawl spaces. Cats often slip into such spaces unnoticed and are trapped when doors are shut behind them, says Blackman.
You'll need to visit every shelter in your area and look through the cages and runs yourself. Shelter workers are busy, and they might not remember seeing your pet or recognize him from your verbal description. Ask to see the pets in the infirmary as well as in the general runs, since your pet might have been injured.
While you're at the shelters, ask to check the listings of animals who didn't make it, such as those hit by cars. Hard as it is to know a pet was killed, it's often harder to never know what happened.
Just as you shouldn't delay in trying to find your pet, you shouldn't give up too easily. Keep looking for at least a month.
"People may tell you you're nuts to keep looking," says Blackman. "Make sure your signs stay posted and keep visiting the shelters."
Keep your pet from getting lost
The sad fact is that many lost pets are never reunited with their families, which makes prevention an essential part of protecting your pet.
-- Cats: Free-roaming cats are always at high-risk for disappearing. A collar and tag may help a cat find the way home, but the best advice is to always keep your cat inside.
-- Dogs: Again, collars and tags will help if the animal gets out, but keeping a pet from roaming is even more important. Check fences for loose boards or the beginnings of hole-digging, and keep gates locked.
Dog skunked? Here's the cure
Q: You once wrote about how to get rid of skunk smell. I thought I'd saved it, but I couldn't find it last week when our Lab got hit. We tried tomato juice, which my husband had heard worked well, and we ended up with a reddish-yellow dog who still smelled pretty bad. Would you please share the recipe again? We sure need it! -- S.L., via e-mail
A: Over the years, I have come to believe that spring is finally here when I get my first letter on what to do when a dog gets skunked.
As reported in the Chicago Tribune several years ago, a chemist by the name of Paul Krebaum discovered what turns out to be the hands-down best solution for eliminating odor on dogs who've been skunked. I like to give the man credit when I share his discovery, because there's no way he'll ever make any money for saving the noses of countless grateful pet lovers.
Why not? It's because the ingredients are cheap and can be found in any grocery store, and they cannot be mixed in advance because the container you seal them in will explode from the pressure of the chemical reaction. So you'll never find a bottle of "Dr. Krebaum's Miracle Skunk-B-Gone" on the shelf in your nearest pet-supply store.
Here's the formula: Take 1 quart of 3 percent hydrogen peroxide, 1/4 cup of baking soda and 1 teaspoon of liquid soap, such as Ivory. Mix and immediately apply to the stinky pet. Then rinse thoroughly with tap water. For a big dog like your Labrador, you might double the recipe to improve coverage. Common sense dictates keeping the mix out of sensitive areas like the eyes and ears.
Obviously, you don't want to take the time to run to the store when you have a stinky dog, so buy the ingredients now and keep them on hand. But remember -- don't mix until seconds before application.
Hydrogen peroxide is a good thing to have around anyway, since it induces vomiting in a dog or puppy who might have eaten something toxic. Be sure to replace your bottle at least once a year, though, because the stuff seems to lose its kick over time.
Q: I know this is weird, but my cockatiel loves to share food from my meals, especially Kentucky Fried Chicken. This strikes me as kind of sick, a bird eating a bird. Shouldn't she know better? -- W.I., via e-mail
A: Sharing "people food" is one of the best things you can do for your bird, as long as your diet isn't full of lots of junk. Fresh fruits and veggies are great for you both, along with such foods as pasta and rice, cottage cheese, and lean meats such as chicken. (I'd substitute lower-fat preparations for breaded and deep-fried, though.)
The staple you should always be feeding your parrot -- and yes, a cockatiel is a parrot, as is a budgie or parakeet -- is one of the many pelleted diets that are on the market. These are designed to cover the basics in terms of nutrition. But don't stop with pellets. Bring variety into your bird's diet by offering any healthy food you can think of -- the more choices, the better.
Give special consideration to foods that also fight boredom and provide exercise, such as nuts in the shell and corn on the cob.
Do keep your food and your bird's food separate, though. While I like the idea of sharing, it's better that you give your bird her own plate rather than let her pick off yours.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
New harnesses help with control
It used to be that the only way to walk an unruly dog was with a choke collar, and that didn't work very well. A choke collar is difficult to put on right, hard to use properly, and cruel if constantly tight around a dog's neck.
The first product to offer a good alternative to the choke collar was the head harness, developed by a veterinary behaviorist and sold under the Gentle Leader brand. For some dogs, though, a head halter wasn't a good option: They hated the product and were miserable with it on.
The buzz in dog-training circles these days is about front-clip body harnesses. I wrote about the Sense-sation and Hightower versions earlier this year, and now the folks behind the Gentle Leader have brought out their own: the Easy Walk (suggested retail: $25).
Unlike traditional chest harnesses that actually encourage pulling, the front-clip models use a dog's own forward momentum to change unwanted behavior. They're receiving rave reviews from trainers and owners alike.
What to do about a cat's runny nose
Many cats catch what seem to be "colds" sometime during their lives, and most of these afflictions are caused by viruses. Cats with upper respiratory infections are lethargic, have fevers, runny eyes and noses, and they sneeze and often do not want to eat or drink.
A trip to the veterinarian's is a good idea, but call ahead: These viruses are highly contagious, and your veterinarian will likely not want you and your cat sitting in the waiting room with other pets.
As with a cold in humans, so long as the fever is not too high (normal is 100 degrees to 102.5 degrees) and your cat continues to eat and drink, hospitalization can usually be avoided. Keeping your cat's eyes and nostrils free of "crust" by washing gently with a warm, moist cloth will help keep his appetite up. (Cats like to be able to smell their food.)
If your cat stops eating and, especially, drinking, dehydration is a danger and hospitalization may be needed. Since upper respiratory infections can be complicated by bacteria, antibiotics are often prescribed as well.
With appropriate care, most cats fully recover in a few days to a week; however, some cases can persist for more than two weeks. If your cat has repeated bouts of upper respiratory infections, your veterinarian may want to test for diseases that weaken the immune system.
(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.)
Trick-training builds a bond with your dog
Trick-training isn't like regular canine obedience: The point is to have fun with your dog, spend time together and strengthen the bond between you.
Not to mention, it's also fun to show off what you've both accomplished afterward.
"The Only Dog Tricks Book You'll Ever Need" by Gerilyn Bielakiewicz (Adams, $8) is one of the best entries into the trick-training book category. Not only does it offer how-to instructions on dozens of tricks, but it also explains how dogs learn in a style that's both accurate and interesting.
You can take this neat little book and end up with better dog and a better understanding of how to train any dog. And following the directions won't feel like work to either you or your dog.
I love trick-training, and I especially like encouraging kids to teach their own dogs a thing or two. The obvious pride a child takes in showing off tricks taught to a pet is a wonderful thing to see!
My own favorite dog trick is one that developed as a game with one of my dogs. My older retriever, Ben, loves to bring me his stuffed toys, one by one. I built on that natural behavior, and then taught him to put his paws up on the washer and drop the dirty toys into the machine. A couple of hours later, he's delighted to get a dryer load of "brand-new" toys.
Now, if only I could teach him to load the dishwasher, too.
Most tricks are not so practical, but they all are fun for dog and owner alike. Let your imagination and your dog's enthusiasm guide you and remember: Even old dogs can learn new tricks, despite common wisdom on the subject.
BY THE NUMBERS
Members of the family
Birthday parties for pets? Better care for pets than for people? There's no doubt we're living in the Age of the Pet. Some highlights of a recent survey by the American Animal Hospital Association:
-- 18 percent of pet lovers have attended a pet birthday party
-- 69 percent let their pet break household rules when a spouse isn't around
-- 53 percent spend more time with pets now than three years ago
-- 58 percent say their pet sees a veterinarian more often than the owner sees a doctor
PETS ON THE WEB
Breeding dogs a virtual disaster
What could be easier than breeding dogs? You have a purebred golden retriever, the neighbor has a purebred golden retriever, you put them together, and nature takes care of the rest, right? When the puppies are sold, you pocket a couple of grand in profit. What could be better?
What could be worse is the reality of breeding, which takes considerable time and expense even under the best circumstances.
As any reputable breeder can tell you, dog-breeding can be a heartbreaking experience. You could lose your dog or the puppies, or you could spend so much money dealing with routine medical problems that you'll end up in the red.
Check out Jane Johnson's Virtual Breeding Web site at www.geocities.com/bluegracepwd/vb1.html. It will walk you through any number of real-life what-ifs that should get you thinking that maybe spaying or neutering your dog is the best idea yet.
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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