For those who work to educate people on the cruelty and danger of keeping dogs on chains, the tragic news in April of two children killed by chained dogs within days of each other came as a sad shock but no real surprise.
After all, incidents of this kind are anything but rare. More than 30 times in the last 18 months, a child has been killed by a dog kept on a chain, according to the group Dogs Deserve Better.
"We know that if you isolate a social species, bad things happen," says Stephanie Shain of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). "You chain a dog and their whole world becomes this pathetic little circle. Little by little, they go crazy.
"One day, a child comes into that circle. You've removed the ability for a dog's fight-or-flight reaction. For the dog, it's either, 'I have to protect this pathetic little circle' or 'I'm tethered and I can't get away.'"
Despite the spate of tragic deaths, in most cases a child is lucky enough to escape with a scare or a minor bite. For dogs, there is no such luck: Either the misery and loneliness continues, or they are put down for the aggression caused by the practice of chaining.
"It has been going on for a long time," said Tammy Sneath Grimes, founder of Dogs Deserve Better. "Even my mother remembers being bitten by a chained dog. The difference is socialization. Once I started fostering these dogs, they became so easily adjusted. They become part of the family."
A lifelong animal lover, Grimes started her fight against chaining when she moved next to a family who kept a chained dog in their yard. The dog was named "Worthless," and that's just how they treated him.
"I watched him on a chain every day for six years," said Grimes. "No one was ever with him, and he got no love or attention. I used to sneak over to pet and feed him. Finally they told me I couldn't do that anymore."
She ended up with the dog, renamed him Bo, and started her group. As a mother of small children, she is driven to educate others on chaining, not only for the dogs but also for the children who may be endangered by a neglected family pet.
"It's a cultural thing," she says. "People grew up with a chained outdoor dog, and so they chain their dogs outside. They're often hostile when I talk to them about it. Sometimes they lie and say the dog comes in at night when the neighbors know better. The fact that they feel they have to lie about it tells me they know on some level it's wrong."
Some animal advocates feel the answer is to pass ordinances against chaining, or at least to limit the number of hours per day a dog can be on a chain. The HSUS is developing model legislation, and some communities have already passed anti-chaining ordinances.
"The shocking part is anyone ever thought it could work, putting a social creature on chain," said Shain of the HSUS.
Activists are hoping that something good will come out of the recent tragedies. Perhaps people who never cared about how miserable their chained dog is will do something about it now that they know the practice can put their children at risk, too.
Alternatives to chaining
Making a dog a full member of the family with access to a fenced yard, along with training and socializing, is the best way to have a safe, happy pet.
When a fence isn't possible, frequent walks for house dogs to relieve themselves are the next best thing. Short periods of time in a large dog run is another possibility. If fencing is available but a dog is chained because he's an escape artist, bury fencing underground to prevent digging out, or angle fencing in to prevent jumping. Lidded runs are also available.
For more information on the problems with chaining dogs and alternatives, visit the following Web sites:
-- Dogs Deserve Better (dogsdeservebetter.org). The organization has two major campaigns a year. The first, for Valentine's Day, provides valentines and a treat to chained dogs, and an informational brochure for the owners. This Fourth of July, Dogs Deserve Better activists will chain themselves outside for 33 hours to bring attention to the suffering of neglected dogs.
-- The Humane Society of the United States (hsus.org) also has information on alternatives to chaining and on how to help a dog whose owners have chosen to leave the animal on a chain for life.
Rabbit plans need work
Q: The daughter of one of our best friends is heading to college in August, and we have agreed to take her rabbit when she leaves. My main concern is how to integrate the rabbit into our family.
We have a 7-year-old heeler mix. Sofie is great with our cat (although she will chase her when excited). She is also great about the wild ducks, geese and occasional turkey that drops into the yard. But when a squirrel checks out my bird feeders, Sofie goes nuts.
Would it be beneficial to have the rabbit in the house at first to introduce her to the dog? The rabbit has four golden retrievers she lives with now and is familiar with dogs.
My plan is to keep her under our grapevines in the summer, where it will be cool. Our neighbor has done this successfully with three rescue rabbits: They have a large pen and have dug out tunnels. They come back in every night but roam the property during the day. -- C.D., via e-mail
A: You're very kind to offer to take in this rabbit, but I do see some problems with your plans. I see the potential for a disaster both in introducing the rabbit to Sofie and in how you intend to house your new pet.
Sofie first. Although some dogs are fine with rabbits, many others are too prey-driven to ever be safe around them. The fact that Sofie acts in predatory way around squirrels makes me think she wouldn't be safe around the rabbit, no matter how much care you take in the introductions. My recommendation would be to keep the animals separate if you take in the rabbit.
Your plans to let the rabbit tunnel out and roam the property as she wishes is likewise a bad idea. She may choose to come back on her own or she might not. But no matter her preference, she is at high risk as a free-roaming rabbit. Sofie might consider her prey, as might other neighborhood dogs or coyotes. The rabbit might also get far enough away to be run over on a nearby road. If you must house the rabbit outside, you need to do so in a way that will protect her from predators. Better still: Convert her into a house pet if you can set her up in a way that's safe from Sofie.
Rabbits are relatively easy to keep, and since this rabbit is already in a safe and happy situation, I'd recommend that your friends take over the care of the animal while their daughter is away. With four dogs to care for already, I can't imagine a rabbit would present that much more of a challenge to them.
Getting the gunk out
Q: Do you have any suggestions for getting gum out of our cat's fur? We'd rather not cut a hole in her long coat if we don't have to. -- R.P., via e-mail
A: Try working in a little peanut butter. The oil may lubricate the gum enough to let you work it out of your cat's coat. It's easier on both you and the cat just to clip it out with scissors, however.
Your question reminds me of another solution for something that commonly gets into the coats of our pets at this time of year. When a pet picks up burrs, use a little non-stick cooking spray on the area and then gently work the burr out with your fingers.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Agile cats get their own sport
Cats are athletic and agile, when they want to be. The question is: Can they be trained to be athletic and agile when their owners want them to be?
The answer is now a solid "yes," with the creation of International Cat Agility Tournaments, an organization developed to host and promote the new sport of feline agility. It's no joke: Using positive-reinforcement methods and a lot of patience and good humor, cat lovers are training their cats to compete over a cat-sized obstacle course.
The ICAT Web site (www.catagility.com) includes articles and videos on how to get your cat started. Active cats such as the Bengal seem more inclined to compete than do the more laid-back breeds such as Persians. Non-pedigreed cats are also welcome to compete.
Events are not all that common yet, but the Web site's schedule shows scattered events in many parts of the country and even overseas.
Ferret skin masses need prompt attention
Bumps and lumps are common on ferrets, but that doesn't mean they should be ignored. While some skins masses may be relatively benign, others are deadly serious. Prompt diagnosis and treatment offer your pet the best chance for survival.
The first step is a thorough examination by your veterinarian. This may include a procedure in which a slender needle is inserted into the lump and a portion of its contents are removed and examined.
For lumps that cannot be diagnosed this way, a more thorough workup may be needed to determine if any malignancy has spread elsewhere to the body and if your pet is a good candidate for surgery.
(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.)
Secure pets for safer driving
Image: seatbelt (no credit)
Caption: The PetBuckle travel harness comes in four sizes and secures a dog to a regular seat belt.
For the safety of both pets and people, no driver should so much as turn the key in a car until the animals are as safely secured as the people. A loose pet can be a distraction to the driver, or can become a dangerous projectile in case of an accident.
In practical terms, that means pets are either going to be harnessed to a seat belt or put inside a carrier that's itself secured.
For all pets except dogs, a carrier is the only real option. Few cats enjoy riding in cars, especially since most trips end at the veterinary hospital, a place they'd rather not visit. Travel can stress even the most laid-back of cats, and a stressed-out cat is hard to handle. That's why a carrier, secured with a seat belt through the handle and covered with a towel to dim the light and muffle sound, is the way to go not only for cats, but also for birds, reptiles, rabbits and other pets.
For many dogs, however, a trip in the car is a treat. Your dog may want to sit in the front seat and hang his head out the window, but you shouldn't let him. A properly secured airline-grade carrier is the best option, but if that's not possible, a seat belt designed for dogs is another good choice. Since front air bags aren't designed for pets, animals should ride in the back seat.
Several manufacturers make seat-belt harnesses for dogs now, but my favorite so far is the PetBuckle. The sturdy, well-made harness took all of five seconds to figure out and put on my dog. The PetBuckle comes in four sizes, with a suggested retail of $36 from pet-supply retail outlets or petbuckle.com. -- G.S.
Great gear for bunnies
As more rabbits move from small outdoor hutches into our homes and lives, a few companies are working to provide products specifically for what are now being called "house rabbits."
Two such online merchants are Bunny Bytes: Outfitters of the Urban Rabbit (www.bunnybytes.com) and Leith Petwerks (www.leithpetwerks.com). Both companies offer a wide array of food, treats and toys, along with information on how to care for a pet who can be engaging and entertaining. (Most can also be trained to use a litter box.)
Leith Petwerks also manufactures some of the best cages for confining rabbits when they cannot be supervised. The two- and three-story cages with connecting ramps allow for rabbits to have room to roam without taking up too much floor space. The cages are not cheap -- prices start at $90 for one-story models, before shipping -- but they are well-made and durable.
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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