This is the time of year when many people get new cameras, new pets or both. With the holidays being one of the prime times for getting family pictures, you'll want to include your pets in the images you'll treasure for years.
Digital photography has changed everything for the casual photographer. Instead of wasting roll after roll of film -- or not bothering to take pictures at all because of the trouble and expense -- it's now possible to take hundreds of pictures, happy in the knowledge that if there are just one or two good ones out of every few dozen taken, nothing has been wasted except possibly time.
With a few clicks of the mouse, the out-of-frame, out-of-focus or "just not right" images are jettisoned forever. A few clicks more, and those images with potential are fixed up and made suitable for framing -- a crop here, a red eye changed to brown, the elimination of items cluttering up the background.
The result: great pet pictures you'll want to keep and to share.
Years ago a pet photographer told me the best suggestion he could offer when it comes to getting good pictures is to constantly be taking them. That's advice I'm finally following, but I've also had good luck paying attention to these other tried-and-true tips:
-- Head outdoors if you can. Taking pictures outside gives your pet a more natural, healthy look. If your pet is a solid, dark color, use your flash to bring out the detail in your pet's face. If you do end up with red eye, use photo-editing software (basic programs come free with many new computers) to fix the problem.
-- Get close. If you want a good picture, you need to go where your pet is. Shoot at just below your pet's eye level and zoom in as closely as you can for good detail.
-- Watch your backgrounds. Think neutral -- a plain wall, not a cluttered cabinet. Think contrast -- light for a dark pet, dark for a light one. If your cat loves to sleep on the busy fabric of your sofa, for example, consider throwing down a solid-colored blanket first. You might be able to edit the distraction out with photo-editing software, but it's easier to avoid it in the first place.
-- Be patient. If your pet does something cute and you miss it, don't despair. Chances are if you're patient and keep your camera ready, you'll catch the repeat.
-- Get kids to help. I love pictures of kids and pets, and I've always found that kids make the best photographer's assistants as well. Children can help by getting a pet's attention with a toy or treat, or by holding the pet for a picture of child and pet together.
-- Be creative. If you want your pet to kiss your children, do as the pros do: Put a little butter on your children and let the pet kiss it off. This is a tip I got years ago when I interviewed a woman who trained animals for commercials. I've smiled every time I've seen a dog smooch a kid on TV since, knowing that more than affection was at play.
-- Take some "record keeping" shots. You never know when a pet will get loose, and having good pictures can help with a swift recovery. Take a picture from the side and one from the front, as well as close-ups of any distinctive markings. Get prints made and put them in a place you'll remember, just in case you need to make up "lost pet" posters.
Enjoy and share your pictures! You'll find several sites on the Web (I use Flickr.com) that welcome communities of people sharing their photos. Online photo-processing companies offer more than prints of digital images these days: Think note cards, calendars or even posters.
So get out there with that new camera, whether it's a pint-sized point-and-shoot or a sophisticated digital SLR. You'll never find a subject more patient than your pet, especially if treats are involved for good behavior.
Play keeps cat away from tree
Q: I read your warning on tinsel, but my cat just can't resist it. Should I remove everything dangly from the tree? And is there something I can do to indulge his playfulness safely? -- B.W., via e-mail
A: If you can't keep your cat away from the tree -- by keeping him out of the room when you're not around, for example -- then yes, I'm afraid all the dangly things have to go. Of course, you might not have much decoration left when you're done, since the ornaments and light strings might also be too much temptation for a playful kitty.
The appeal of tinsel is based on hunting instincts. As any cat lover knows, cats love to follow motion, pouncing on toys as if they were prey. When stringy substances are eaten, however, they can bind up in a cat's intestines and often must be surgically removed. Strings that are electrified -- such as power cords and lights -- offer even more hazards.
You can safely play with your string-fixated cat with several different kinds of toys. Any cat who's fascinated by tinsel will surely flip for supervised play either with cat fishing poles or special gloves with dangly items from the fingers, such as the toy offered by the pet-products company Bamboo (www.bamboopet.com). Added bonus: Playing with toys helps to wear your cat out without teaching him that it's OK to nip or claw at your hands.
No teasing, please
Q: May I add another tip about how to behave around dogs? Tell parents to teach their kids that it's not acceptable to tease dogs by barking back at them or by poking at them through fences. Doing so just provokes and incites dogs, and someone else may end up the worse off for it. -- G.S., via e-mail
A: While it may indeed seem safe and fun to tease a dog behind a fence or, worse, on a chain, the game is indeed a dangerous one. Such teasing may teach a dog to become aggressive, to the extent that if the boundary or restraint is removed, the dog may well attack.
Parents need to teach children to leave any dog they don't know alone, and not to approach a dog they do know if the animal is confined or restrained. For more information on safe behavior around dogs, visit the Web site of the Humane Society of the United States (www.hsus.org) and search for "dogs and children." The site also offers information on anti-chaining laws, which help to prevent attacks by removing a form of restraint that behaviorists believe makes dogs neurotic and aggressive.
Clever house for a bunny
Bunnies love to play, love to chew and love to hide. In the Bunny's Magic Dream Cottage ($20), they can do all three. The cottage is the brainchild of Tania Fardella, animal lover and longtime bunny mom. Fardella believes bunnies get the short shrift when it comes to clever and safe toys and other products, so the graphic designer decided to launch her own business.
The Cottage is the first of the 24 Carrot Lane products, available from the company's lovely Web site (www.24carrotlane.com), which also offers resources for people with pet rabbits. Since healthy, happy rabbits will normally chew on their toys, Fardella even had the water-based ink sent for testing to be sure it's rabbit-safe. And the cottage itself is made of recycled cardboard.
The attractive item is perfect for keeping house rabbits busy while satisfying some of their most basic needs.
Older dog may love a puppy
Will your senior dog welcome or loathe the introduction of a new puppy to the household?
In general, older dogs who are still fit and full of life will get the most out of the energy a new puppy brings to a family, while debilitated oldsters enjoy such rambunctious company less. A dog who's unsteady on his feet or seems confused at times is probably better off without being pestered by a puppy. Be kind to your old friend, and let the puppy-picking wait.
If you do choose to add a puppy, be sure to monitor interactions. Don't let the youngster pester or hurt your senior dog, end play sessions before your oldster gets tired, and make sure to continue giving your first pet plenty of one-on-one attention.
Get a finicky canine back on track
Is your dog a finicky eater? You can get her eating regularly with a "tough love" approach.
Because health issues can contribute to a lack of appetite, you must have your pet thoroughly checked out by your veterinarian before you start any retraining. If all checks out, follow these rules:
-- Rule No. 1: No food except for your dog's regular food. Many dogs learn by accident that if they turn up their noses at their regular diet, they'll be offered yummier options. During the retraining, stick to one brand of high-quality food -- your veterinarian can offer a recommendation.
-- Rule No. 2: No free-feeding. Your dog will now eat two meals a day, one in the morning and one at night. Water, of course, should be available at all times.
-- Rule No. 3: One half-hour for meals, no more, no less. Put your dog's dish down in an area with few distractions, such as a laundry room with a baby gate across the opening. Set a timer for 30 minutes. Whatever your dog hasn't eaten at the end of that time gets tossed.
Your dog will not be harmed if she misses a couple of meals or goes a couple of days without eating -- assuming, of course, that she is healthy to begin with. A healthy dog won't miss many meals before hunger will have her eating what you set in front of her, on a regular basis.
Don't try this "tough love" approach on cats. When a cat stops eating, the action can trigger a fatal liver disease. Talk to your veterinarian about any concerns you have regarding your cat's eating habits.
(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.)
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
How many birds?
Birds of a feather don't flock together, at least not in the homes of bird lovers. Trends in pet ownership suggest that most people who want a bird will have just one at a time. Number of birds kept:
One 52 percent
Two 25 percent
Three or more 23 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
PETS ON THE WEB
Site offers guide to pets in wills
Your pet is counting on you to provide for his care if something happens to you. Although I typically hear from older people regarding this issue, it is something that every pet lover needs to consider. And not just in case of death: Would someone know what to do for your pet if you were in an accident?
The Web site of the Association of the Bar of New York City (www.abcny.org) offers information on providing for your pet if you can't. You can access the information by clicking on "Reports, Publications, Forms," then on "Brochures, Books" and finally by clicking on "Providing for Your Pets in the Event of Your Death or Hospitalization."
Although the information specifically applies to New York state law, it's broad enough to outline all the options. Even better: The association provides sample documents to show how to draw up agreements that will protect your pets.
Award-winning writer Gina Spadafori has two new books out, which were co-authored with "Good Morning, America" veterinary correspondent Dr. Marty Becker: "Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?" and "Why Do Dogs Drink From the Toilet?" 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.petconnection.com.
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