Universal Press Syndicate
I live on a horse ranch in Northern Idaho, in a part of the country where losing an arm in a logging accident is considered the cityfolk equivalent of a scratch. My poker buddies are men who eat nails for breakfast.
The men up here like to project a Rambo-like image to the outside world, but inside there's sometimes a secret love that they won't freely admit, even to their own wives and especially to their veterinarians.
You see, real men don't own cats. That's their story, and they're sticking to it.
Now, let me explain.
One of the things I've always gotten a kick out of as a veterinarian is watching somebody bring a cat in, holding the animal lovingly, and then hurriedly passing it off to the receptionist like a furry hot potato, mumbling: "This is ma's cat. I'm just dropping it off for her."
Or, "This is my girlfriend's cat, and she asked me to bring it in for her."
As veterinarians, we're more than happy to oblige any request for care, but we know a dirty little secret that's not very well hidden. That little pussycat is their beloved pet, too. It's just that they can't admit it. Or worse yet, show their affection.
Because real men don't own cats.
Case in point: A few years back I was working at a cat-only veterinary hospital and a watched guy who looked like a shoo-in for the Biker Hall of Fame walk through the door with a cute little kitten.
"Here," he said, setting the kitten on the counter. "My woman asked me to drop this hairball off for you to spay and give her her shots. I'll come back tonight and pick her up."
The veterinarian, with a wink and a nod to me, took the cat into the back and started the procedures.
Later that day, the tough guy came in, paid the bill and received his "fixed kitty" -- minus a few things but now adorned with a cute little pink bow, thanks to a tech with an offbeat sense of humor.
Thoroughly disgusted, the man hurriedly paid the bill and walked off, holding the kitten at arm's length like the little creature had a contagious disease.
A few minutes later I was sitting outside in my car, ready to go home, when I witnessed the most amazing transformation in the man. Once safely outside in his truck and thinking himself unobserved -- people in love are usually so oblivious -- the he-man started sweet-talking the kitten.
"Did they hurt you, little girl?" he asked the kitten. "Well, don't you worry, 'cause daddy's going to go by the store and pick you up a special treat for tonight because you've been soooo brave!"
Could this be the same guy who treated the kitty that morning with the same fondness he'd have for helmet laws and gun control?
Oh yes, it was.
As we veterinarians know, men like these aren't too willing to let the world in on their little secret: that they love their little kitties and can't wait for their purring pets to curl up next to them at night.
So the next time you're in the veterinarian's waiting room and see a tough guy come in with a cat he seems to loathe, you'll know what we veterinarians know:
That cat's not ma's pet after all.
Can fighting dogs ever reach a truce?
Q: We've had two female chow chows since they were 6 weeks old, and they're both middle-aged now. They got along marvelously until about a year and a half ago.
One day they got into a fight. We were able to break it up before real harm was done, and we've kept them separated since. Our veterinarian suggested that since they've drawn blood, they shouldn't be allowed to be alone together, because the next time we may not be able to break it up.
Luckily for us, our yard is such that we can separate it with one dog on each side. My husband had a custom wrought iron gate built so they can see and interact with each other without being able to hurt each other. When we bring them indoors, we have to deal with each one separately.
It breaks our hearts that we can't be with both at the same time. Is there anything we can do to bring them together again? -- P.S., via e-mail
A: Just as with people who go through a nasty divorce and can never share the same room without a fight, some dogs cannot go back to sharing space in peace after bloodshed. And sometimes, that's the fault of their owners.
It helps to understand the differences between the social interactions of dogs and the interactions of people. Dogs by nature establish a pecking order within social groups to avoid conflict. Once that hierarchy is established, dogs stay where they land within the social order unless circumstances change the overall situation. People handle things differently, usually attempting to avoid social conflict by treating others as equals. For example, parents try not to show favorites when raising children.
But when people treat family dogs as equals -- as if they were human children -- they sometimes actually create the canine conflicts.
Of course, humans aren't the only reason why dogs within a family will stop getting along. Dogs fight when it's unclear who is calling the shots. Some say that dogs of the same breed, sex and size are more likely to fight because nature intended a natural order based on who is the larger, stronger canine. But we also see the physically larger, stronger dog deferring to the more tenacious dog. For example, the dog who cares the most about food may end up being the one who controls it.
It's hard to tell if your dogs have irreconcilable differences. Getting them back together may be possible if there has been only one fight and if it could be explained by circumstances that you are careful not to duplicate. To give you a reliable answer, though, we would need insight into the social history of the dogs, including descriptions of any tensions you have observed over the years.
Your best bet is to seek a thorough analysis of the dogs' behavioral history from a veterinary behaviorist or trainer with experience in canine aggression. Such an analysis can shed light on the source of tensions between the dogs and give you options on how to proceed. You may not get the answers you want, but at least you'll know your chances of getting them back together.
If the problem turns out to be simple, you may be able to make a few small changes that will help the dogs get along, such as avoiding those situations that press their hot buttons. But in other cases, getting two warring parties to get along may require a massive commitment of time and money, with no real guarantee of success. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp, AnimalBehavior.net
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Trained dogs locate hidden cell phones
-- A Belgian Malinois named Alba has been catching rule breakers in Maryland's North Branch Correctional Institution, where inmates have been smuggling in cell phones. The phones often are hidden in pieces and in difficult-to-detect places such as shoe heels, book bindings and toilet pipes. But Alba and other specially trained dogs are able to detect the specific scent that cell phones carry. The state's five cell phone-sniffing dogs in Maryland's prison system found 59 phones last year, according to Wired magazine.
-- If your greyhound takes off on you, you'll never catch him. The National Greyhound Association reports that it takes an elite greyhound three steps to hit a cruising speed of 45 mph.
-- Bear-proof canisters may be more bear-friendly than previously thought, according to The New York Times. The BearVault 500 had been tested successfully in Yellowstone National Park and at the Folsom (Calif.) Zoo to withstand all bear break-ins, including those by grizzlies. But the BearVault didn't figure on the bear known as Yellow Yellow. The black bear in the High Peaks region of the northeastern Adirondacks has managed to master a canister-opening technique that often confuses campers. Yellow Yellow was fingered for the break-ins by her radio collar, which put her at the scene of the crimes. She opens canisters by pushing in the first tab with her teeth, turning the lid with her head, and then pushing in the second tab. Other bears are following her lead, campers report.
-- Snakes are able to move forward by using their belly scales, which are oriented to snag on irregularities. They then push their bellies into the ground to produce friction and move ahead. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
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.
Cure for dog's begging? Stop giving in
The easiest way to stop a dog from begging is never to let the habit start.
When we like the dog's behavior, we say we're "sharing" our food. When we don't like the behavior, we call it "begging." And we foolishly expect our dogs to see the difference.
But we are the ones who control and shape a dog's behavior. If you never want your dog to stick her nose in your plate, put her head on your knee or paw at your arm, then don't ever reward her with food when she does.
What if it's too late for that? With patience and consistency, you can change your dog's behavior by never rewarding the begging again. When your dog finally becomes convinced that she will never again see another piece of food delivered from off your plate, she'll stop asking. You can also have her practice a behavior that's incompatible with having her nose on your knee -- a down-stay on the other side of the room while you're eating.
But be warned: If you're inconsistent, you'll actually make the problem worse. Rewarding a behavior occasionally is called random reinforcement, and it's a powerful motivator. In fact, it's what keeps the gambling industry so profitable: You never know when a slot machine will pay off big, but a little payoff now and then keeps you playing. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
More pets, more pets!
No culture in the world seems to love pets more than ours does. Pet ownership of all kinds continues to climb, with nearly three-quarters of all homes finding room for a pet:
Year Percent of homes with a pet
Source: American Pet Products Association
Higher hidey-holes mean happier cats
Cats are highly territorial, which sometimes causes problems in multi-cat households. Every cat needs some space of his own to be happy, and one of the best ways to provide each of your pets with room to roam is to think "up."
Cats naturally adore looking down at others, and by giving your pets plenty of room up above to move about, you're giving each cat some room of his own. Tall furniture with flat tops -- such as bookcases or entertainment centers -- are ideal, as long as you leave room enough for your cats to play among the decorations.
Even better: Add tall cat trees to your home, especially those with platforms at the top and cubbyholes for hiding. Cat trees are a great do-it-yourself project, or check garage sales for secondhand ones. -- 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.