Universal Press Syndicate
The day Ellen DeGeneres was weeping on her talk show over pet-rescue volunteers who took back a dog she'd given away, I was in the midst of adopting a dog from a different rescue group. And I was reminded, again, of two things:
-- All rescue groups are different, in terms of philosophies and policies.
-- Good contracts make good adoptions, but good people make better ones.
The day after the Ellen DeGeneres weepfest, I was finalizing the adoption, including initialing a contract with a paragraph now jokingly called "The Ellen Clause." And no, I won't be giving this dog away without contacting the rescue group first. Because they explained the contract to me, and because I agreed to its terms. And because I know they're only trying to help.
An interview, contract-signing, donation and home-check later, the dog is now in his forever home -- mine. But I know my easy adoption experience isn't universal, and I've heard many times from many people about how shelters and rescue groups make it too difficult for well-meaning families to adopt a pet.
How difficult? I've heard from people who've been turned down by a shelter or rescue group because they have an unneutered pet in the home (even though the pet they're adopting is neutered and they aren't planning to breed any pets at all). People who've been turned down because they won't rule out declawing or won't swear to keep a cat inside. People who don't have fenced yards or those who live in apartments. And people, most notably in the case of the DeGeneres incident, who have children in the home.
Sometimes it does seem that some shelters and rescue groups try harder to rule out prospective homes for pets than to work with people to make an adoption possible, through education, say, or by working to find a pet better suited to a home with children.
Having run a breed rescue, I know that when placing a hard-luck pet there's a real desire to make the next placement a final one, and that means a by-the-book, perfect one. But it's also true that when I was doing rescue work, I broke my own rules all the time, and over the years some of the people who proved to be the best homes were those who didn't look at all appropriate on paper.
Why did I place pets with them? Because I listened to them, I heard what was in their hearts and took a chance. And because I know that life is full of chances, changes and risks, and even a perfect home may change down the line.
But there's change on the way. The growing "no-kill" movement is changing the idea that a pet is better dead than placed in what appears to be a less-than-perfect home. And changing, too, is the idea that people are "bad" potential pet owners before being proven "good" by shelter or rescue group standards.
Next week, we'll introduce you to two pioneers who are changing the way we think about homeless pets, in a way that's good for both the animals and for the people who hope to adopt them.
The latest addition to my family, by the way, is Pippin, and I wasn't looking for another dog when he grabbed me by the heart and wouldn't let go. He was found wandering in Central California with a broken belt around his neck, pulled from a county pound by German Shepherd Rescue of Northern California, and then spent a few months in foster care until something in his eyes told me he needed to be part of my family.
He's not all shepherd, though, and maybe it was that classic border collie eye of his that got my attention. No matter: I now have a young dog that I'm calling a German Shedder-Brainy Collie mix, and he just couldn't be sweeter.
As for me, I couldn't be happier.
Do you have a shelter or rescue group experience, good or bad, that you'd like to share? Join the conversation on our PetConnection.com Web site.
The Internet has made it easier for shelters and rescue groups to find good homes for pets who need them, thanks to Web sites like www.petfinder.com.
Petfinder started up as a great idea by some tech-savvy pet lovers and soon became the dominant site for getting the news out about pets who needed good homes. The site also served as a clearinghouse for information following Hurricane Katrina, working to reunite pets with their owners and find homes for animals who needed them. Petfinder maintains its simple appeal and powerful database-driven search abilities, even though the site is now owned by the Animal Planet network.
Most shelters and rescue groups place their available pets on Petfinder, although each group maintains its own standards, of course, when it comes to what constitutes a suitable adoption. -- Gina Spadafori
Staph infection a worry in pets
Q: I was wondering about the spread of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and pets. I have a 6-month-old male cat with swollen glands under his jaw. His ears and skin near his chin and mouth seemed to be really red, and he seemed to be itchy. He had a slight fever and a red sore under his armpit. I was told to give him an antibiotic, Clavamox. The bloodwork showed a high white blood cell count. He seems to be OK -- he's eating and running around -- but the sore concerns me. His temperature is now normal, but his glands are still swollen. Is there a definitive test for MRSA in pets? -- K.K., via e-mail
A: MRSA is an up-and-coming issue in veterinary medicine, according to Dr. David White, director of the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Center for Veterinary Medicine. MRSA was first reported in 1961, soon after the antimicrobial methicillin was introduced into human medicine to treat penicillin-resistant staphylococci, White explains via e-mail.
"MRSA has since emerged as an important human pathogen worldwide, and more recently, there is concern in the veterinary medicine and food safety arenas with regards to MRSA as a possible disease transmitted between animals and people," he writes.
White reports that MRSA infections in domestic animals have been reported among horses, pigs, cattle, sheep, cats, dogs and rabbits, as well as being reported as an emerging problem in veterinary teaching facilities.
Both human-to-animal and animal-to-human transmission of MRSA are known to be possible. However, it has not yet been adequately determined whether animals are an important primary source of MRSA infections for humans, or if most animals are infected after contact with human carriers.
Now about your cat with swollen glands and the sore under his armpit. "We routinely culture patients we suspect have underlying bacterial infections, and microbiologists will identify MRSA," writes Dr. Marc Elie via e-mail, a board-certified specialist in veterinary internal medicine at Michigan Veterinary Specialists.
Dr. Elie suspects your cat had some sort of allergic reaction rather than an underlying infection, since you are describing extreme redness of the skin rather than sores (with the exception of a single armpit sore). The glandular enlargement and high white blood cell counts may merely be a systemic extension of the allergic inflammatory response. Alternatively, the cat may have prominent salivary glands that are being misidentified as swollen glands.
Dr. Elie suspects your cat improved not because he received Clavamox, but rather because his allergic reaction coincidentally waned with time.
"To answer the question simply, it may be appropriate to biopsy the lesion under the armpit and submit it for both histopathologic analysis and bacterial culture," writes Dr. Elie. -- Dr. Marty Becker
(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.
Doggy see, doggy do
-- New research in the online journal Current Biology shows that dogs may selectively imitate the actions of other dogs, not just take the easiest, most instinctive path every time. In the study, dogs were given the task of opening a box of food by pulling a rod. Dogs instinctively prefer to use their mouths to open the box, but one female dog was taught to open the box with her paw. The others imitated her method. If she had a ball in her mouth when she opened the box with her paw, the other dogs used their mouths. Researchers say this behavior is parallel to that of human infants, who also selectively imitate actions to reach a goal.
-- New figures from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service show that the number of hunters 16 and older declined by 10 percent between 1996 and 2006 -- from 14 million to about 12.5 million. The number of people who fish dropped 15 percent.
-- H2O no! It might seem crazy to bring water to the lake or river to give your dog, but ponds, lakes and rivers may be contaminated with bacteria and parasites such as Giardia that can make your pet sick. More serious is blue-green algae, which can be fatal if ingested. Other water risks include swallowing too much chlorinated water from a pool or too much saltwater.
-- Americans now spend $41 billion a year on their pets, according to an August cover story in BusinessWeek. That puts the yearly cost of buying, feeding and caring for pets in excess of what Americans spend on the movies ($10.8 billion), playing video games ($11.6 billion) and listening to recorded music ($10.6 billion) combined. -- Dr. Marty Becker
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Time outs for bad puppies
Dogs are eager to please those who feed and protect them, and most puppies learn quickly to please to earn what they need for survival.
Praising your puppy for bringing you a toy or for sitting typically increases the frequency of those behaviors.
Conversely, if your puppy is biting at people during play, the best consequence might be a time out -- removing the social interaction he craves. Stopping play and ignoring the puppy or putting the puppy in a bathroom or laundry room for a few minutes allows your pet to calm down and learn an important lesson: When puppy teeth touch human flesh, the good times stop rolling.
(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.)
Don't play doctor when it comes to antibiotics
Antibiotics are everywhere and can be purchased with very little trouble, either at some pet stores (where they're labeled for fish) or through Internet sources. Is it a good idea to keep some on hand in case your pet gets sick? In a word, "no."
Antibiotics are one of the outstanding contributions of modern medicine and have saved countless lives of both the human and animal variety. But we have become so comfortable with these medicines and their frequent usage that we sometimes forget they are powerful drugs that should be used with care.
And yet, some pet lovers respond to any sign of illness by dosing -- and often overdosing -- their animals with antibiotics. But this course of action is a bad idea for several reasons.
First, not all antibiotics are the same. They each have their target bacteria, and they may little affect any bacteria they're not designed to combat as well as bacteria that are resistant to them. And if your pet has a viral or fungal infection, an antibiotic will not help and may make matters worse.
Second, the regular use of antibiotics may hurt your pet's immune system and may lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that will be hard to stamp out even with the "right" medication. And finally, the improper use or overuse of antibiotics presents an environmental hazard.
When your pet is sick, your time and money would be better spent getting an accurate diagnosis and targeted treatment from an experienced veterinarian. -- Dr. Marty Becker
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Reptile owners: Smarter, richer?
A 2006 survey on pets, pet lovers and the pet-supply industry suggests that people who choose reptiles and amphibians as pets tend to be urban, affluent and better-educated, compared to the general population. The most popular pets among reptile owners in 2006 (multiple answers allowed):
Turtle/tortoise 50 percent
Frog/toad 23 percent
Lizard 19 percent
Snake 18 percent
Iguana 12 percent
Other reptile 5 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
'People food' great for parrots
Almost any healthy food you fix for yourself can also be shared with your parrot, such as pasta, rice, casseroles, meats, cereal and, of course, lots of fresh vegetables and fruits. Try to keep fatty and sugary foods out of the mix, along with dairy products. (Because they're not mammals, birds don't have the ability to digest regular or large amounts of dairy products.) Also avoid chocolate, alcohol and caffeine.
Another cross-species surprise: You can occasionally add dog kibble or monkey food (the latter is often available at bird-supply shops) to your pet bird's meals.
Sharing your meal with your pet bird helps your relationship, too. So knock yourself out fixing fabulous meals you both can enjoy. Just keep your portions separate: Your bird shouldn't eat food that has been in your mouth and vice versa. -- Gina Spadafori
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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