Universal Press Syndicate
Each morning, our golden retriever accompanies us on our walk to the horse barn. Shakira is one of many dogs my wife and I have had over our long and happy marriage, and our walk always makes me think of the dogs we had before her, like our much-missed black Labrador, Sirloin.
While we would carry our cups of coffee, Sirloin usually carried a toy, a piece of a tree or something dead in his mouth.
Once we got up to the barn, Sirloin would be ready to top off his tummy tank with some canine haute cuisine, diving head first into a fresh pile of horse dung. After cleansing his palate, he would then flop on his back rolling fervently as if he had a really bad itch and the horse apples were a bed of nails.
Yes, we loved this dog.
The menu at our Cafe McMutts then, as now, featured dead mice, dead birds, assorted dung and the skeletal remains of various forest animals. These dietary indiscretions might freak out some people, but I've lived on a ranch my whole life, as has Teresa, and we think of them as kind of cute.
Or we did, until the day Sirloin went too far in his journey to smell hell.
Early one morning, I glanced out the kitchen window and noticed Sirloin gnawing on something black and furry. At first I thought it was just one of his toys, but then I walked out to investigate. As I approached, Sirloin abandoned his snack and raced over to greet me, wiggling with delight. He jumped up and gave me a wet kiss like a hormonally supercharged teenager. While this type of greeting was routine, this time his breath was -- shall we say? -- revolting. I knew the smell: skunk.
Sirloin retrieved his newest chew toy. It was a rotten skunk carcass teeming with maggots. Let me tell you, it was enough to turn even the cast-iron stomach of this veteran veterinarian.
As I retreated in disgust, Sirloin followed me, with a thought bubble above his head that seemed to read: "Aren't ya proud of me, Dad? Isn't this just the neatest thing I've ever brought home?" Sirloin, of course, didn't think the dead skunk stunk; to him it was just another sample of Ken-nelle No. 5.
While the experts aren't sure why dogs like to roll in stinky stuff and eat rotten things, others believe that pets are marking themselves with their most prized possessions, guaranteed to impress all of their two-legged and four-legged friends. It's like being a furry Fabio with a big gold chain around his neck and the shirt unbuttoned to below the rib cage. Wearing stinky stuff is designer labels for pets.
Dogs not only have millions more scent receptors than we do, they are also polar opposites from us when it comes to choosing scents that attract rather than repel. While we humans like aromas that are fresh, floral and fragrant, our dogs prefer the dirty, dead and disgusting -- the rank, rancid and revolting. And just as my wife enjoys dabbing herself with a favorite perfume, Sirloin enjoyed dousing himself with his favorite fur-pume, skunk in this case. Teresa puts on perfume to impress her friends. Sirloin loved his barnyard bouquet, applying it to impress his friends, too.
To us it's disgusting -- to them, divine. With thousands of years of practice, dogs will continue to go boldly where no man, or woman, has gone before on their journey to find the scent-sational. Ol' Sirloin never could understand why I didn't appreciate his prize that long-ago day -- and he certainly never understood why the next thing I did was scrub him until only the memory of that stench remained.
And it does. Oh, yes, it does!
Pet insurer notes the strangest claims
A cat with a needle in her tongue, a dog who ate gel bra inserts -- if you thought your pet has a nose for getting into trouble, you'd better check out the winners of a pet-insurance company's contest for the craziest claims.
Veterinary Pet Insurance (www.petinsurance.com) calls the contest the "Hambone Awards" in honor of a dog who helped himself to an entire Thanksgiving ham, cleaning it done to the bone -- while trapped inside the refrigerator. (The dog escaped with a mild case of hypothermia. The family, one presumes, ate dinner out that holiday.)
The options available to pet owners in treating their pets nearly rival those for humans. Although the costs for pet care are a fraction of what the same procedures cost in human medicine, the high-tech choices and well-schooled specialists can be beyond the means of many. Veterinarians have a term for the intersection of a sick pet and a tight budget: "economic euthanasia."
No one likes to put down a pet who could be helped, which is why pet insurance is prospering, with more than a dozen companies offering coverage plans. (PetInsuranceReview.com has overviews of all U.S. and Canadian plans, plus consumer reviews.)
The Hambone Awards are, of course, a lighthearted way to bring attention to all the ways pets can end up at the veterinarian's while reminding people that prevention is always better than treatment -- whether you're insured or not.
Check out the stories of the Hambone Awards nominees at vpihamboneaward.com. Based on the number of dogs who get themselves into trouble compared to cats, one can certainly argue that cats have an edge in the self-preservation department, and perhaps the intelligence department, too. -- Gina Spadafori
(Note: VPI is one of the sponsors on the Pet Connection Web site.)
Study suggests reason that dogs chase their tails
-- Dogs may be able to blame their tail-chasing habit on high cholesterol levels, according to a study published in the Journal of Small Animal Practice and reported in Veterinary Economics. Turkish researchers found that dogs who didn't chase their tails had lower levels of cholesterol than the tail-chasers did. Dogs may chase their tails because the high cholesterol levels have blocked the flow of brain hormones controlling mood and behavior. The study suggests that an increase in exercise could help lower the tail-chasing.
-- Therapy animals are on the rise in the United States, according to USA Today. Therapy pets are different from service animals, the latter going through rigorous specialized training to assist people with disabilities. Therapy pets are those who have a fondness for people, are trained in obedience, and have a calm and solid personality. The impact of therapy animals on cheering up, motivating and calming people has been so profound that doctors, school administrators, counselors and others across the country are sending in requests for pet therapy team visits. More than 10,000 pet therapy teams are registered by the Delta Society, and the number grows 6 to 8 percent every year. Thousands of teams are registered with other groups, or are just doing the therapy on their own. Not only are dogs used, but other registered animals include miniature horses, llamas, cats, rabbits and birds. Many are from shelters.
-- When searching for a landing spot on flowers, bees search for flower petals with traction. Flower petals differ in texture, as some are smooth and slippery, but others have cone-shaped cells that act like Velcro for the bees when they land. The Smithsonian magazine reports that successful landings equal nectar guzzling access for bees, while steady landings and footing mean longer visits by the bees, which increase a flower's chance of being pollinated.
-- Pets are the key to happiness -- if you're a woman. In a survey of 12,000 women in 21 countries, the Boston Consulting Group found that "pets" was the most common answer given to a question asking what makes people extremely happy. For women, 42 percent chose "pets," followed by "sex" (27 percent), "food" (19 percent) and "shopping" (5 percent). "Men" didn't even make the list. -- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Good groomer a necessity for many dogs
For dogs such as poodles, bichons and many terriers, finding a good groomer is almost a necessity, because the maintenance involved with the coats of these breeds and their mixes is beyond the ability or interest of most pet lovers.
For many other dogs, such as collies, spaniels and the like, regular attention from a professional groomer can make at-home coat maintenance such as combing and brushing more manageable, and can keep dogs looking and smelling better.
Start your groomer search by asking friends, neighbors and co-workers for recommendations. Your dog's veterinarian or trainer may also be able to refer you to one.
A groomer should need only two to four hours for a routine wash and clip, unless your dog is matted and tangled. There's no reason for your dog to hang out all day when he's not being worked on.
Don't wait so long between appointments that your dog is full of mats and then expect the groomer to be able to work them out. Listen to your groomer: If she says clipping the coat away is the best way to go, you're better off following her advice than subjecting your dog to hours of fur-pulling.
Make sure, too, that the groomer is clear on what you expect your dog to look like when she's done if clipping is involved. And if you don't want bows, nail polish and perfume, don't forget to speak up beforehand. -- Gina Spadafori
BY THE NUMBERS
Online shopping jumps for pets
Pet lovers are no different from others when it comes to shopping, increasingly getting the goods they want for their pets with a few clicks of a mouse. The percentage of pet lovers shopping online has doubled since 2002.
2002 14 percent
2004 17 percent
2006 24 percent
2008 29 percent
Source: American Pet Products Association
What birds know is their secret
Although you can guarantee that birds can tell the difference, we humans can't easily tell the boys from the girls in a great many bird species. Not knowing may have no bearing on how good a pet a bird becomes, but some people can't stand not knowing. Even if they have no interest in breeding a pet, some people just want to know whether to choose a masculine or feminine name for their pet.
The answer is easy to come by with a blood sample drawn by the veterinarian, which is used to check a bird's DNA.
The eclectus parrot is one bird even we humans can't confuse when it comes to figuring out which birds are males and which are females. The male is bright green with red patches under his wings, while the female is a shimmery purple with a red head and tail.
Male and female eclectus are so different that the two genders were once thought to be different species. -- 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.