and Keith Turner
Universal Press Syndicate
With car companies struggling for sales in a tough economy, it's no surprise that two of them are chasing buyers that have so far proven willing to keep spending when they can: pet lovers.
Toyota rolled out the pet-friendly Venza in February at the massive pet industry trade show, Global Pet Expo. Not content to be the underdog, Honda showed up at the New York International Auto Show with a special edition of its already dog-friendly Element, with a built-in pet ramp, better ventilation and a showy badge with a dog on it.
The Honda development is especially interesting. Our DogCars.com Web site picked the Element as the first-ever "Best in Show" after reviewing dozens of SUVs, wagons and hatchbacks. Honda, which had been marketing the boxy vehicle to young, outdoorsy men, responded with an ad campaign touting the award. And now, a special Element will be for sale in the fall.
Saab and Volvo were first to cater to pet lovers, offering optional restraint systems in a couple of their models. But the new models from Toyota and Honda show just how anxious companies are these days to track down sales like a bloodhound.
The 2010 Element's options for dog lovers include:
-- cushioned pet bed in the cargo area with elevated platform
-- extendable pet ramp that stores underneath the bed
-- pet restraints in the second row and cargo area
-- second-row seat covers
-- electric rear ventilation fan
-- spill-resistant water bowl
-- dog-friendly exterior badge
All of these are in addition to the Element's already dog-friendly attributes, such as an easy-to-clean urethane floor, wide and flat cargo area, and wide-opening side doors.
For Toyota's part, it is offering the Venza with more than a dozen pet-friendly options, available through its dealers, from ramps to barriers to seat covers. Toyota is also promoting the vehicle everywhere it thinks it will find dog lovers, sponsoring both the recent telecast of the Westminster Kennel Club dog show and the new season of trainer Cesar Millan's popular show "The Dog Whisperer." The vehicle will also be on display at pet fairs for animal lovers to get a firsthand look.
Will the Soccer Mom be replaced by the Dog-Park Dad? In the eyes of the car companies, it doesn't matter which market turns out to be the biggest dog of all: Where there are sales to be made, they'll tailor a car to appeal to those buyers.
Teeth-cleaning offers many health benefits
Q: My veterinarian has recommended getting my dog's teeth cleaned, and I would appreciate your opinion on this procedure. Is it really necessary? He claims it is preventive health, but it involves putting my dog under anesthesia, and that always worries me. Do you do this with your dogs? -- J.M., via e-mail
A: Yes, my own dogs are subject to periodic dental cleanings, and I am a believer in them as important preventive medicine for three reasons.
First, your pet needs to eat. Broken teeth and rotting gums make eating very difficult and painful, and anything to prevent such an outcome is desirable in my book. When I was doing animal-rescue work, I can't tell you how many pets came in with mouths that caused them a great deal of pain, the result of years of dental neglect.
Second, when gums get infected, your pet is constantly showering internal organs with some nasty bacteria. Over time, this is a grave challenge to your pet's immune system and may lead to some serious health problems.
Finally, there's the cleanliness issue. I live with my pets inside the house. They are family who share beds, furniture and lots of affection. Bad teeth and gums smell awful and make close interactions less than pleasant.
Anesthesia is indeed a concern, but it's a lot safer than it used to be. You can make it even safer by following your veterinarian's instructions exactly, especially when it comes to withholding food and water before anesthesia. Older pets may require some tests beforehand, such as a blood workup and possibly a chest X-ray.
Once your dog has had her teeth cleaned, you can keep them that way -- and extend the period of time between cleanings -- by brushing her teeth regularly. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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 monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Obama's dog not first to fame
-- When the Obamas welcomed a 6-month-old Portuguese water dog into the White House, that dog -- whom the Obama daughters named Bo -- became arguably the most famous of his breed ever. But the dogs, long used as helpers by Portguese fisherman, have had other spins in the spotlight. In addition to the Porties owned by Sen. Edward Kennedy, a team of the dogs delighted fans of the San Francisco Giants by retrieving baseballs from McCovey Cove, the body of water behind the right-field wall.
-- Airplanes are increasingly hitting birds, alarming regulators because collisions can cause fatal crashes and damage jets. The number of bird strikes reported to the Federal Aviation Administration has grown every year since 1990, when there were 2,051 strikes. There were 9,361 strikes in 2007, FAA figures show. A total of 95,000 bird strikes have been reported to the agency since 1990, and the culprits, in decreasing order, are Canada geese, mourning doves and sparrows.
-- Biologists fear a mysterious illness that has been killing bats since at least 2007 is spreading rapidly and has likely wiped out hundreds of thousands of them over the winter in caves throughout the Northeast. Called white nose syndrome, after the white fungus the dead bats have on their faces, affected bats emerge early from hibernation, resulting in starvation. The cause of the syndrome is unknown, reports USA Today. Bats play an important role in nature's balance, eating insects and other pests that can damage crops, along with assisting in plant pollinations. Their decline has the potential for a long-term impact on the ecosystem. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
'Learning by earning' gets a dog to mind
If your dog doesn't seem to be paying attention, you need to lay the foundation for good behavior by showing your dog with every interaction that he has to earn what he wants.
This "learning by earning" starts with the basics of dog obedience -- sit and stay. Chances are your dog already knows these commands. If not, check out a class, book or video to help you teach him. Once your dog understands and performs these behaviors more or less on command, you're going to use them to reinforce your authority, gently but persistently.
Ask your dog: To sit before you put his leash on for a walk. To sit before you pet him (which will also keep him from jumping up) or throw a toy for him to fetch. To sit and stay when his bowl is placed before him, and hold that position until released. To sit and stay before the door is opened, to sit and stay before being let out of the car into the park and so on.
Be patient. Your dog will soon catch on as long as you're consistent in insisting on his good behavior before good things come his way.
No sit, no reward, no discussion.
The real beauty is what's happening deep down. Without raising your voice, jerking a leash, spanking or otherwise roughly handling your dog, you've made it clear to him that there are household rules that must be followed. And that's going to make everything else about living with and training your dog easier -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Pet spending still strong
According to the American Pet Products Association, spending on pets and their care continues to grow, despite the difficult economy. Recent annual spending on pets:
2009 $45.4 (est.)
Fences, patios keep cats out of trouble
Keeping cats indoors is safer for the cats, life-saving for birds and less irritating to the neighbors.
You can keep your cat happier by providing safe access to the outdoors, such as with a cat door into a screened-in porch. You can also buy kits for portable outdoor pens, complete with tunnels for connecting the pens to the house.
Many cat lovers have put together some grand outdoor spaces, such as a two-story enclosure clinging to the side of the house with areas for climbing, sunbathing and hiding. These needn't be expensive, especially if you're a capable do-it-yourselfer.
Also consider cat-fencing, which runs along the top of a traditional fence and keeps your cats on your property. It won't protect the birds, but it will keep your cat out of your neighbors' yards. -- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.