Universal Press Syndicate
The very reason our ancestors first decided they wanted cats around is used today in arguing against allowing any cats to roam freely: They hunt, efficiently.
The predatory skill cats brought to eliminating rodents in grain storage is now argued to be a danger to endangered species and prized songbirds. That's another good reason for keeping pet cats inside, but what to do with the ferals -- pets gone wild and their unsocialized offspring?
Advocates of TNR -- trap, neuter and release -- say maintaining healthy, neutered feral cat colonies is the best way to reduce feline numbers and problems. And, they argue, it's both a kinder and more effective way than trapping and killing untamable cats.
There have always been kind-hearted people who feed homeless cats, even if it's just sharing a tuna sandwich from a park bench. There have also always been people who find colonies of feral cats to be annoying: The cats make noise, they mess and spray, and they multiply like, well ... cats.
Cities, colleges and military bases -- and others with large pieces of land to manage -- used to routinely handle feral cat colonies by trapping all the cats and killing those who could not be tamed for adoption.
TNR advocates argue that just feeding feral cats makes the problem worse (because the animals keep breeding), but that trapping and killing the cats doesn't solve the problem in the long run, either.
Instead, TNR volunteers trap the cats, place the ones they can in caring homes, and return the truly untamable to their original territory after they've been neutered and vaccinated. These colonies can then be fed and cared for in a hands-off but humane way, while their numbers dwindle naturally because the reproductive taps have been turned off for good.
Trap, neuter and release programs for feral cats seem counterintuitive to many people. If you don't want cats around, wouldn't it make sense just to remove them permanently?
But when you remove cats, TNR advocates say, other animals take their place. That's because the food source that attracted to the cats will still be there, which means more cats (or rats, coyotes or raccoons) will eventually show up. They point to studies showing that TNR policies really do reduce feral cat populations.
Neutering reduces the fighting, yowling and spraying behaviors, many of which are associated with fighting over mates. The neutered cats defend their territory, too, and prevent other animals from moving in -- including unneutered cats who could breed. The colony caretakers are quick to remove and find homes for any abandoned pets who turn up, as well as any kittens.
While such programs aren't perfect -- and aren't considered appropriate for ecologically sensitive locations or areas where the protection of small-prey species is necessary -- trap, neuter and release is an option that must be considered where feral cats are a problem.
TNR is a strategy that's both humane and sensible, and it should be allowed to become the new "common knowledge" when it comes to feral cats.
Alley Cat Allies: A cat's best friend
Feral cats have no better friends than the folks at Alley Cat Allies.
The Maryland-based group has spent years challenging and changing the widely held belief that the only way to deal with feral cats is with extermination.
The group's Web site (www.alleycat.org)is a well-organized tribute to the idea that information is power. There's something for everyone, from a kindhearted person looking to help a single feral to local authorities trying to weigh the options for local feral-cat colonies.
The group is more than a Web site, though. Their volunteers were out in force to rescue cats in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and they are active in feral cat management throughout the nation. -- Gina Spadafori
Why can't our pugs fly?
Q: We are the proud owners of two pugs. We're thinking ahead to vacation plans to visit my husband's family on the other side of the country. Of course, we want to take our dogs. In doing a little research, though, we discovered that air travel isn't recommended for dogs like ours. Why not? -- T.W., via e-mail
A: Dogs with extremely short muzzles and rounded heads are called "brachycephalic." And despite their adorable, almost human expressions, they have a host of related health challenges related to the non-standard-issue canine anatomy.
The dogs are notoriously heat-intolerant, and they have such difficulty breathing that air travel is generally not recommended, as you've read.
But that's not all the health challenges for these dogs.
The malformation of the skull often results in crowding of teeth that can cause dental issues. And because there isn't a lot of room for eye sockets, the relatively large, round eyes that give these breeds their endearing appearance have a tendency to pop out in response to rough play or other head trauma. Finally, the folds of facial skin on these dogs can be difficult to maintain.
Veterinarians can correct some of these issues with surgery that may seem cosmetic but can actually improve the quality of life for these pets.
Even with a veterinarian's help, though, air travel may be too high a risk for short-nosed dogs. If you can travel with both of yours in the cabin with you -- check with your airline -- the risk will be reduced. But putting them in cargo generally isn't recommended.
Talk to your veterinarian about what's best for your pugs, including any factors that may increase the degree of danger, such as obesity. In the end, you may well decide that if you cannot drive and cargo is the only option for your pugs, it may be best to leave them home. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting PetConnection.com.
Implant an alternative to canine neutering
-- A new contraceptive implant that halts testosterone and sperm production for months at a time may be used as an alternative to neutering in dogs. This product in already licensed in Australia, European approval is imminent, and steps are being taken to offer the implant in North America.
-- The oldest archaeological site with a cat burial is about 9,500 years old and was found in Cyprus.
-- A survey of 450 veterinarians revealed their belief that the most important factors causing obesity in dogs are: too much food, 37 percent; not enough exercise, 27 percent; too many treats, 26 percent; and genetics, 10 percent.
The same survey given to 1,000 dog owners found that only 17 percent classified their dogs as overweight or obese, with veterinarians saying that 47 percent of their canine patients were overweight or obese. Guess it's true: Love is blind.
-- The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that $9.8 billion will be spent by pet owners on veterinary care in 2007.
-- Fleas bite more than 400 times per day -- that's more than 4,000 bites a day if a pet has just 10 fleas. No wonder fleas make pets so miserable.
-- Medicines such as Prozac are given to cats who spray urine, parrots who pull their feathers out when bored, dogs who are destructive when left alone and zoo animals missing their natural habitats. -- Dr. Marty Becker
PETS ON THE WEB
Pet emergency advice for free
Are you ready to evacuate with your family -- pets included -- in case of a disaster? If you're not sure, take some time to visit the Ready.gov Web site's special section on pets (www.ready.gov/america/getakit/pets.html).
The federal government site offers a video overview of what's needed, plus a downloadable brochure that can be printed out at home. Guidance on what to think of and have on hand in advance is laid out in simple, concise terms.
In recent years -- most notably in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina -- we've learned to respect how strong the bond is that people share with their pets. Providing for these animals keeps everyone safer, since many people won't look after themselves until they know their pets are OK, too. -- Gina Spadafori
Click with your cat for more fun
Some people point to the dog's ability to learn obedience commands and tricks as proof that dogs are smarter than cats. Others point to the same thing as proof that cats are smarter than dogs -- cats don't have to work for a living.
Cats and dogs are different in how they relate to us. Dogs have an ingrained need to be part of a family structure and to have a job to do within that family. Dogs are that way in large part because wolves are that way -- survival depends on the family, or pack.
The cat came from a different place, descended from solitary hunters who didn't need teamwork to survive.
If you want to put a good spin on it as a cat lover, you could say that dogs need to be with us, while cats choose to.
Because of this distinction, you absolutely cannot get a cat to do something he doesn't want to. Something must be in it for him. When training a cat, that something is usually food.
For example, you can start teaching the "sit" command to a hungry cat using a table, a quiet room and some treats. Get your cat to stand up by touching her on her back in front of her tail.
Then hold the treat a little over her head, saying her name and the command "sit." Slowly move the treat between your cat's ears, but not high enough for her to pick her front paws off the ground and grab the tidbit. Instead, she'll sit. After she does, praise her and give her the treat. Work in short sessions and be patient. Your cat will eventually get the idea!
Build on your successes. From "sit" can come "sit up." Many cats also love active tricks, such as jumping through hoops.
"Clicker" training -- marking a correct behavior with a noise and following with a treat -- works great when training cats.
Clicker-training guru Karen Pryor offers a collection of instructions, streaming video, books, and other tools and tips for clicker-training cats on her Web site at www.clickertraining.com. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Parents rush to get pets
Even though many experts caution that very young children aren't always a good match for pets, many parents can't wait. According to a 2006 study, the age of the oldest or only child when a pet was brought into the home:
Child under 5 61% 57%
Child 6-9 18% 18%
10 and older 21% 25%
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Cats aren't good at sharing
Cats are territorial, which means they are not crazy about sharing.
They don't like sharing anything a cat uses or enjoys, including food and water bowls, litter boxes, scratching posts, resting and climbing areas, toys, and the attention of the people in the home.
To prevent problems, go overboard in adding feline favorites when you add a new cat to your family.
Don't put everything in one location. Instead, spread resources throughout the house. If needed, give one cat a "sacred" room that is off-limits to the others.
Cats are individuals. The more you can pay attention to body language and daily behaviors, the better you will be at making any helpful adjustments. Ears back, tails tucked or tense muscles mean a cat who's not happy sharing.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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