Universal Press Syndicate
When I see a news story about a dog attacking a child, I quickly look for the reason behind the tragedy. It's usually there, if you know what you're looking for -- and no, what I'm looking for isn't a reference to the dog's being one of a current handful of demonized breeds.
What I'm looking for -- and usually find -- are the indicators that the situation was already well on the way to being dangerous when the attack happened. The dog, typically, was young, male and unneutered. He was also unsocialized, usually a backyard dog with little to no interaction with the family. Even more likely, the dog was in effect trained to defend his turf by being kept full-time on a chain or in a small kennel run.
"He never gave us any problem before!" always says the owner of the dog, who really didn't know the animal because he was little more than a lawn ornament or the living equivalent of a burglar alarm sign. Or maybe the owners will grudgingly admit to a bite now and then -- but "nothing serious." Again, more warning signs ignored.
Is there a dog like this in your neighborhood -- or in your own yard? If it's the latter, call your veterinarian and arrange for your pet to be neutered, and then ask for a referral to a behaviorist who can help you with any problems that have driven you to ban your pet from your family (like house-training issues). You can then work on manners and socialization that will turn your pet into a true member of the family -- safe around both family members and visitors alike.
Of course, you can't control what other people do with their animals. That's why you have to make sure your children know how to behave around dogs to protect them from attack.
Here's what every child should know:
-- Never approach a loose dog, even if he seems friendly. Dogs who are confined in yards, and especially those dogs on chains, should also be avoided. Many are very serious about protecting their turf. If the dog is with his owner, children should always ask permission before petting and then begin by offering the back of the hand for a sniff. Further, they should pat the dog on the neck or chest. The dog may interpret a pat from above as a gesture of dominance. Teach your children to avoid fast or jerky movements around dogs, since these may trigger predatory behavior.
-- Be a tree when a dog approaches, standing straight with feet together, fists under the neck and elbows into the chest. Teach your children to make no eye contact, since some dogs view eye contact as a challenge. Running is a normal response to danger, but it's the worst possible thing to do around a dog, because it triggers the animal's instinct to chase and bite. Many dogs will just sniff and leave. Teach your children to stay still until the animal walks away, and then back away slowly out of the area.
-- "Feed" the dog a jacket or backpack if attacked, or use a bike to block the dog. These strategies may keep an attacking dog's teeth from connecting with flesh.
-- Act like a log if knocked down: face down, legs together, curled into a ball with fists covering the back of the neck and forearms over the ears. This position protects vital areas and can keep an attack from turning fatal. Role-play these lessons with your child until they are ingrained. They may save your child's life.
Discuss safe behavior with your children and role-play how to approach dogs, when not to approach, and what to do if confronted or attacked.
To be fair, dogs aren't the biggest risk that children face growing up. Organized sports, for example, are 10 times more likely to result in a child's trip to the emergency room than are dogs.
But why take a chance? You can help protect your child from a dog bite, and it's always worth the time to do so. And sometimes the place to start is in your own family, with a dog who needs your attention now.
Cat's not the son of a rabbit
Q: We were told that our cat was one of five kittens born on a farm near Grand Junction, Colo. Our cat's white fur, with soft tan areas on his body, is beautifully soft, rather short, and his feet remind me of a rabbit's legs and feet. Could our cat be part rabbit?
We don't know whether the farmer had rabbits, but how would we ever be certain that our cat is not part rabbit if he did have rabbits around on his farm? -- H.S., via e-mail
A: What a beautiful pet you've adopted! Your idea that these kittens were somehow the result of a mating with rabbits along the line just isn't possible, however.
While some marking patterns seem to transcend the boundaries of species -- think of the black-and-white markings of border collies, Dutch rabbits and "tuxedo" cats -- it's not because of any breeding between any of these animals. So even if your cat's mom was raised in extremely close proximity to rabbits, I'll guarantee you your cat's dad was no carrot-chomper (absent some top-secret gene-splicing experiments we don't know about!).
You're not the first person to look at a cat's markings and wonder if a little trans-species hanky-panky was involved. The primary example is the Maine coon cat, a native American breed long rumored to have picked up distinctive markings from matings with raccoons.
It's not true, of course, but the markings for which the breed is best known -- a distinctively marked tabby --leaves the cat with a fluffy tail that somewhat resembles the tail of a raccoon. And so the myth continues, along with a companion idea (also incorrect) that the large size of the cat comes from matings with North American bobcats.
Maybe people wouldn't be so quick to believe these myths if they realized that the Maine coon comes in many more colors and patterns than just dark tabby. Markings don't make the cat, and you can find Maine coons in just about every color combination possible in a cat, including calicoes and orange tabbies.
What you won't find, though, is a petite Maine coon -- they're one of the largest breeds of domestic cat (so maybe that bobcat-breeding idea has nine lives). -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
Cats know to stretch well
-- When it comes to stretching before any activity, no personal trainer or coach will ever be as committed to the idea as the average cat. When a cat wakes up, she carefully stretches every muscle to make sure her strong, supple body is ready for action. Typically, the stretching routine starts with a good arching of the back and a very, very big yawn. Next is a full-body stretch, right down to the tip of the tail.
-- If you love your pet, you're in good company. Some 41 percent of pet owners consider their pets family members, 36 percent call them children, 19 percent think of them as friends, and only 2 percent think of them as an acquaintance or property, according to consumer research from the American Veterinary Medical Association.
-- Canine flu has now been confirmed in 22 states. Called "the new Parvo," this airborne virus is much more prevalent than once thought and is extremely contagious. Not just a "dirty shelter disease," canine influenza can be found in veterinary clinics, boarding and grooming facilities, dog parks, dog shows -- anywhere dogs frequent.
-- According to a British study, feline obesity is causing skyrocketing rates of diabetes. Before the explosion of fat cats, hyperthyroidism was the most common hormonal disorder affecting cats.
-- The Animal Radio Network reports that Bob and Betty Matas of New York didn't want to put their pets on an airplane when they moved to Phoenix, so they found a cab driver who agreed to drive with them and their two cats, Cleopatra and Pretty Face. The 2,500-mile drive from New York to Arizona cost $3,000 -- plus gas, meals and lodging.
-- Thirty years ago there were 300,000 white-tail deer in the United States. Today with more forested land and hunting restrictions, there are 30 million, a 100-fold increase according to DVM Newsmagazine. As reproductive hosts for ticks, deer are closing in on the suburbs, putting both pets and people at increased risk for disease.
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.
Prevention best when it comes to feline bite wounds
Nearly every free-roaming cat will one day need to see a veterinarian to have an abscess treated -- surgically opened, flushed clean of debris, and sometimes temporarily held open by drains to let the wound heal with the help of time and some strong antibiotics.
Sound awful? It is. And the cost of treating these injuries can really add up.
The good news is that an abscess is one of those health problems that can usually be prevented by keeping a cat indoors. That's because this common feline health problem is often the result of a puncture wound, specifically a bite from another cat during a fight over territory or mates.
A cat's mouth is a nasty mix of bacteria, and once that bacteria gets punched into another cat's body, the result will probably be an abscess. Think about it -- bacteria being injected with two bacteria-laden hypodermic needles (the cat's fang teeth) into a perfect incubator (another cat's 101 degree-plus body). The only possible outcome is infection.
The best way to prevent your cat from getting a bite-wound abscess is to neuter him to reduce his desire to fight over females. And, again, it would be even better to keep him indoors.
The bacteria in a cat's mouth is also why even relatively minor cat bites can become serious medical issues for humans, leading to hospitalization in some cases. Any time you're bitten or scratched by an animal, you should wash the area immediately with soap and water and have the wound checked out by your doctor. -- Dr. Marty Becker
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Pet popularity keeps growing
Pity the pet haters, holdouts in a country gone absolutely pet-crazy. From dogs and cats to guinea pigs, hamsters and snakes, the number of households with pets just keeps growing. The percentage of U.S. households with a pet, by year:
1990 52.6 percent
1994 52.8 percent
1998 61.2 percent
2002 64.2 percent
2006 71.1 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Get kitten used to collar, tags
Don't risk having your kitten get out of the house and wandering away without proper identification on him. Introduce a breakaway collar with an ID tag from the first day he's home, and your kitten will grow up thinking a collar is perfectly comfortable and normal.
Start when your kitten is already relaxed. Put the collar on, giving praise, treats and physical affection for a minute or so. Then take off the collar and walk away so there is a dramatic drop in attention. Do this a couple times a day for a week, and then in the second week, add the collar when your kitten is being fed. When he wears the collar without issue during meals, start leaving it on for longer periods until your kitten is permanently collared.
(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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