Bonney Brown seems oddly upbeat for woman who has seen some pretty awful things since Hurricane Katrina slammed into the states along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
Working in the devastated New Orleans area, the spokeswoman for the Bethesda, Md.-based Alley Cat Allies is one of countless people -- many of them volunteers -- who have struggled to save stranded animals and to get them reunited with their owners, if at all possible.
"You plop your sleeping bag on the floor next to five other people," she says of working in the disaster zone. "No electricity. Cold water. But at least no one complained about the cold water because the weather was so hot."
Brown isn't complaining, either, because like many of the people down there, she knew the animals were counting on her.
"We were responding to the need," she says. "This situation was really outside of our mission, which is advocating for trap-neuter-release for feral cats. This disaster really caught everyone -- not just the humane movement, but also the government -- off-guard."
That sort of cope-as-you-go attitude is one that all animal rescue volunteers need, says Brown, whose group put up a "help wanted" post on their Web site (www.alleycat.org) to let prospective volunteers know what they'd be in for if they came to help.
The recent disasters got a lot of people who'd never helped before heading down to pitch in, and a lot of others wondering if they have what it takes to help. Brown is happy to offer some tips, based on her group's experience, because she knows the time will come again when animals will need saving.
Animal-rescue volunteers need to be willing and able to work long hours in difficult conditions and commit to several days in the field, says Brown. "We would start at 7 a.m. and give out assignments for the day. We had teams coming back at 9 or 10 at night. That's especially important when you're looking for cats, because they tend to be nocturnal."
Emotional stamina is likewise needed by those working in disaster areas. "Our people were in the place where the animals had been shot," says Brown. "Other animals were found dead in their carriers after people had to leave them behind. The animals were found three weeks after the hurricane. You can imagine what that's like. You're happy to find a live cat."
Brown says groups realize that everyone can't handle the search-and-rescue aspect of disaster relief. "Clearly some people aren't cut out for going in and seeing animals who didn't survive," she says. "But we discovered we needed other people who could do data-entry on the animals as they came in, or handle the less glamorous tasks of caring for animals until they could be reunited or re-homed."
It's all about being able to pitch in without complaining, get dirty and do what it takes to get the job done, says Brown, and although people with rescue or medical experience are especially needed during a crisis, someone who can work the phones can be invaluable, too, even if they're in the home office hundreds of miles away. Some will work to organize the donation and flow of supplies, while others will talk directly to pet-lovers who need help.
"The person who can charge into a building and find the animal isn't the same one who talks to the owner on the phone," says Brown. "The phone person needs to be empathetic, especially since you might not be able to help the person who's calling and looking for a pet."
But when you are able to help, says Brown, it makes all the hardships worthwhile. For the animal rescuers, seeing an animal go home is the biggest reward of all.
Preparing for the next time
Although many animal-rescue volunteers have jumped in to help without any training, it's advisable to prepare for a disaster in advance.
The animal-rescue organization Noah's Wish (www.noahswish.org) offers training to prospective disaster-response volunteers at regularly scheduled events throughout the United States and Canada. Information on the 2006 training seminars is at the organization's Web site. The cost for the three-day seminar is $150, which includes a manual.
Viggo the cat needs a friend
Q: Viggo is our cat, and he's a young adult, according to the vet's best guess. We have opted to keep him indoors, but I think he's lonely and bored. I want to adopt another cat, but I'm not sure if it's better to go girl or boy. Is there an advantage to one or the other? -- G.D., via e-mail
A: In general, it's good to mix the genders: Since you have a male already, a female may be the better choice. That said, I know many people happily caring for same-sex pairs of cats who get along splendidly.
Male and female cats make equally good pets, under one very important condition: altering. No matter the gender, a cat who is what the experts call "whole" or "intact" (in other words, fully equipped to reproduce) can be a royal pain to live with.
When females are in season, which happens pretty much whenever they're not pregnant, they're yowly escape artists who attract noisy suitors from miles around. Some people think males are even worse. By the time they're sexually mature, males begin spraying, marking territory with a special pheromone-spiked urine that has a smell that's not only foul but also nearly impossible to eradicate. Intact males are also roamers and fighters.
After cats are altered, is one gender a better pet than the other? The answer depends on whom you ask. Some people believe males are a little more outgoing; others suggest that females are smarter. Perhaps the biggest reason some people prefer one gender over another can be summed up by using the word "always" -- they have always had males (or females), have always been happy with their choices, and see no reason to change.
Tell the adoption counselors at your local shelter that you're trying to find a companion for your cat, and they should be able to narrow down the choices and help you find Viggo the friend he needs.
Wings need clipping
Q: I ran across an article of yours on the Internet, where you advised people on keeping parrots' wings clipped. I think it's cruel to do that. Our Hahn's macaw is never outside, so escape is not an option. In the house, she is allowed to fly. It's only natural, and I don't see what it hurts. Will you spread the word? -- F.H., via the Internet
A: I'm afraid I can't. Even inside the house, the dangers are too many for a flighted parrot. You've been lucky so far, but that luck could change.
Any avian veterinarian can tell you about birds who have slammed into windows or landed in sizzling frying pans or boiling pots of water. Overhead fans are another hazard. Some birds have even flown into an open toilet and drowned.
You may be careful about keeping your bird inside, but slip-ups do happen. It takes only one door or window open just a little too long, and your bird could be gone forever.
Your bird can indeed have a happy, healthy life without ever taking to the air, as long as you provide social interaction and lots of fun toys. Your bird's veterinarian or a reputable bird shop will be happy to show you how to trim wings, or do it for you if you'd rather not try it on your own.
Not all pet birds should have their flight feathers kept short, by the way. Finches and canaries are happier if not handled or allowed out of their cages, and their feathers should be left alone so they can fly for exercise inside their enclosures.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
'Pug-nosed' dogs can't take the heat
Dogs with pushed-in "pug-nosed" faces -- boxers, bulldogs, shih tzus and, of course, pugs -- are formally known as "brachycephalic" and come with some special health risks.
Perhaps primary among these is an intolerance to heat because these dogs don't pant as well as other dogs. A dog with a more conventional face and throat is able to pass air quickly over the tongue through panting. Saliva evaporates from the tongue as air is passed across, and the blood circulating through the tongue is cooled and circulated back to the rest of the body.
In a brachycephalic dog, the extra work required to move the same amount of air causes the airways to become inflamed and swollen. This can lead to a more severe obstruction, distress and further overheating. As a result, these dogs are at high risk for heat stroke and should never be put in a position of being stressed by heat.
These dogs may also present a higher risk during anesthesia, which is why it's important to discuss pre-anesthetic screening and risk-management with your veterinarian before any procedure requiring that your dog be anesthetized.
Make reservations for boarding now
If you're making holiday travel plans that don't include your pet, the time to call pet-sitters and boarding kennels is right now. Holiday reservations get snapped up early, and even now you might find many boarding kennels and pet-sitters fully booked for the Christmas-New Year's period.
Don't have a regular boarding kennel or pet-sitter? Ask your veterinarian or other pet-care professional for recommendations, or check with pet-loving friends, relatives, neighbors or co-workers for referrals.
Two trade organization can also help: The American Boarding Kennel Association (www.abka.com) for boarding, or Pet Sitters International (www.petsit.com) for pet-sitters. Ask for local references from any business you're considering, and check them out!
Tips for easing an allergy to cats
Allergies to cats are so prevalent and so severe that they've been suggested as one of the factors in the increase in asthma, especially since more cats than ever before spend their lives inside.
It's not cat fur that causes the problem, but an ingredient in cat saliva that gets deposited on fur when the animal grooms and that spreads with flakes of skin and secretions commonly called "dander."
Some people survive well enough with animals and allergies, but it does require some effort. Some things that help include:
-- Keeping animals clean. A weekly water bath (no soap needed) for cats has been shown to reduce levels of dander and may make living with a cat workable. It's best if a non-allergic member of the family handles the pet-grooming chores.
-- Keeping animals out of sleeping areas at all times. While it's hard to give up the hot-water-bottle pleasures of sleeping with a pet on the bed, your body needs a break from the stress of fighting off allergens.
-- Limiting exposure to other allergens. Keeping all your allergies under control can help your body handle the exposure to a pet.
Most important is to work with an allergist who's willing to work with you. The one whose advice starts and ends with "your cat needs a new home" probably isn't the one to choose.
That attitude used to be more prevalent, but nowadays more allergists are aware of (even if they disagree with) the strong bond people have with their pets. One of these specialists can put together a treatment plan that -- along with a commitment to environmental management -- may make living with a cat possible for all but the worst of allergy sufferers.
BY THE NUMBERS
Just call it 'Howl-oween'
Image: dog costume (no credit)
Optional cutline: The majority of all dog-lovers think putting costumes on pets is OK.
According to a survey by the American Kennel Club, dog-lovers generally like the idea of dressing up their pets just for fun. Answers to the question: How do you feel about people who dress their dog up for Halloween?
-- Doesn't everyone? 10 percent
-- The little costumes are so adorable, but it's too much work for me 15
-- I think it's cute, but my dog hates wearing any clothing 34
-- I can't imagine why you'd want to humiliate your dog like that 37
-- Don't know 4
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
ON THE WEB
Advancing idea of 'no kill'
The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in southern Utah is an impressive operation, caring for hundreds of animals -- many them unadoptable -- on a beautiful property near some of the nation's most stunning national parks. (More than 20,000 people visit Best Friends every year, many of them spending their vacation volunteering at the sanctuary.)
The influence of Best Friends extends well beyond the boundaries of the sanctuary, however, as the group seeks to advance its "no kill" policy for unwanted pets. The Best Friends Web site (www.bestfriends.org) reflects the organization's larger mission.
The site offers articles on animal-related news, useful information for rescuers and potential adopters, updates on residents of the sanctuary and much more. Beautifully designed, well-organized and quick to load, the Best Friends Web site will keep any animal-lover happily browsing and deserves a bookmark for frequent returns.
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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