Why get a pet if you don't want a pet in your life? I have often wondered this as I walk my dogs down streets lined with fences behind which lonely outdoor dogs bark as we go by.
I don't know what they look like and can only guess their size by the deepness of their voices. But I know what the lives of these dogs are too often like. They are animals born to be part of a social structure, a pack or a family, yet this is denied them. They spend their lives on the outside, looking in.
The experts say many of these dogs will never really bond with owners who interact with them so little. When the puppy is no longer cute and the children grow tired of the care they promised to provide, when the destructiveness escalates or the neighbors complain about the noise, it's often just easier to dump the dog than solve the problem.
I have always had difficulty understanding why people want to keep dogs outside. If keeping a beautiful house and yard are of the utmost importance to you, then don't get a dog. If you know someone in your family can't abide a dog in the house, for whatever reason, then don't get a dog. If you can't let a dog be part of your family, then don't get a dog.
You don't get the benefits of companionship from a dog you see so little. You don't even get much in the way of protection from the pet who has no access to the house. And don't count on outdoor dogs as an early warning system. These animals often become such indiscriminate barkers that you couldn't tell from their sound whether the dogs are barking at a prowler or at a toddler riding a tricycle down the street. Besides, people who keep outdoor dogs seem to become quite good at ignoring the noise they make, as any angry neighbor can vouch.
Outdoor dogs often become a problem to their owners. Bored and lonely, these animals develop any number of bad habits. They dig craters in the yard. They bark endlessly day and night. They become chewers of outdoor furniture, sprinkler heads and siding. And sometimes, without the socialization all dogs need, they become aggressive, ready to bite anyone who comes into their territory.
If you're considering getting a puppy or dog with the intent of keeping him exclusively outside, please reconsider -- for the animal's sake as well as your own and your neighbors'. For those who love pets, a pristine home is nothing compared to the pleasures of living with an animal who's really bonded to you.
If you have a dog who has been banished because of behavior problems, find someone to help you turn the situation around. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a behaviorist or trainer who can show you how to overcome the things that are driving you crazy, whether it's house-soiling, uncontrolled chewing or just the ill-mannered exuberance of a dog who doesn't know any better.
Allergies are a tad trickier, but an allergist may be able to help, along with attention to keeping the house and pets cleaner, using air cleaners and turning bedrooms into no-pet zones for allergy-free sleep.
It's worth the effort. Once you have a dog you can welcome into your home and your heart, you'll start to reap the benefits of a relationship that's finally being realized to its fullest potential. And that's good news for you both.
Too much of a good thing lands pet in ER
Q: You always hear about "no table scraps for pets," but I guess following that rule really is important. We have always given our dog treats from the holiday table, but last month we ended up at the emergency veterinarian after our dog got sick. It was pancreatitis, and touch-and-go, but he'll be fine. The vet said fatty table scraps triggered it. With Christmas at hand, will you spread the word? -- I.R., via e-mail
A: It seems I write about this every year. I know I'm dating myself, but I remember when leftovers from restaurant meals were packed into foil bags with a picture of a dog on them, not Styrofoam containers. Doggie bags they really were, since many of the goodies went straight home to the pets.
Veterinarians have always been aware that the leftovers of a fine meal out -- or treats from a delicious holiday feast -- often represented a genuine danger to pets rather than a tasty treat. Far from being a special gift to our beloved pets, fat-laden leftovers and sharp bones pose a threat to their health, causing illnesses such as pancreatitis, accidents such as a perforated intestine and even death.
The containers may have changed, but the attitude hasn't. While lean meats and raw vegetables (such as baby carrots) are healthy treats for any dog, the old doggie bag staples such as bones and the fat trimmed off a steak need to be strictly off-limits to pets.
If you do give meat or poultry to your dog or cat as an occasional treat, trim it carefully to remove the fat as well as the skin, which is a hiding place for more fat. Even if you're lucky enough that your pet doesn't end up with acute pancreatitis (a life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas), a perforated intestine, severe gastroenteritis (aka a big bellyache), or relatively mild cases of vomiting or diarrhea, the fat certainly adds calories most dogs today don't need.
Many breeds are especially prone to obesity, including the Labrador retriever, Cairn terrier, cocker spaniel, dachshund, Shetland sheepdog, basset hound, pug or beagle, and mixes of these breeds (hello, puggles!).
So dump the scraps and watch the weight. Ask your veterinarian for guidance when it comes to what your pet should and should not be eating, at any time of year. You don't have to deny your pet a little holiday yummy, but you do need to be careful with the kind and amount of treats you provide. -- 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" and "The Dr. Oz Show" 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 more. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Voters share their love for dogs
-- With 9,000 votes in, dogs won the informal pet preference poll over cats by a margin of 65 percent to 35 percent -- even though cat owners outnumber dog owners by close to 13 million nationally. The poll was associated with a "Meet the Breeds" event in New York, sponsored by the American Kennel Club and the Cat Fanciers Association.
-- The relocation of thousands of wild mustangs and burros may spur the rate of adoption for the 37,000 free-roaming wild horses and burros in 10 Western states and 32,000 more in long-term holding facilities. The proposal to move the wild animals was spurred by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, who hopes to move the wild horses to the Midwest and Eastern states, creating two new federally owned preserves. The move is hoped to reach a new audience of Americans on the opposite side of the country who might be interested in adopting the wild horses. The cost of the horse preserves is estimated at $93 million, with an additional $3 million for capital improvements. The proposal also includes suggestions for the aggressive use of fertility control to slow population growth of the herds.
-- The most endangered mammal in the world, the Javan Rhinoceros, is still declining in numbers, with only 60 left in the wild. Only one rhino calf is born each year, while a birth rate of four per year is needed to keep a healthy population increase. Researchers say the decrease in birth rate can be blamed on the shortage of sustainable habitat in the rhinos' native Indonesia and on the competition with wild cattle over scarce food resources.
-- Half of dogs and cats in the U.S. are overweight or obese, equating to 33 million dogs and 51 million cats, according to an estimate by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon.
Use reel-type leashes properly, cautiously
Every now and then you'll run across a product so useful, you don't know how you ever lived without it. The retractable reel-type leash (the Flexi is probably the best-known brand) is one such product.
But every product has its limits and its rules for safety, which need to be understood. These leashes are no exception.
The Flexi is not designed for use with an untrained dog. A dog who pulls at the leash or refuses to come when called back from the end of the leash is at risk of injuring himself, his owner or an innocent bystander. This is not the fault of either the leash or the dog. It's an error on the part of the dog's owner in choosing the wrong piece of equipment.
Some dogs have hurt themselves hitting the end of the long leash at full speed and not having it give way (which is also pretty tough on the human holding the handle). Other dogs have bitten people or other pets, or have hurt themselves, after getting too far away on the leash before the handler has had time to reel them in. And some dogs have pulled the leash out of their owners' hands when they reach the end of the line.
Users should always be aware of where the line is. Don't grab it with your bare hands. And be careful that it doesn't wrap around fingers or legs -- it can cut or burn, if moving quickly.
The company that makes the Flexi is aware of the potential problems, and highlights cautionary information in its packages and on its Web site (www.flexiusa.com). Read the instructions, and don't risk injury to yourself or your dog by using this product in a way for which it wasn't designed. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Keeping up appearances
Keeping a dog well-groomed is as much about health as appearance. Fortunately, most dog lovers do purchase at least the basic equipment for the grooming needs of their pets. What they own (multiple answers allowed):
Brush 92 percent
Nail clipper 69 percent
Comb 44 percent
Toothbrush 28 percent
Electric clippers 19 percent
Source: American Pet Products Association
Adopting one cat? Consider bonded pair
Many adopt a pair of kittens when looking for pets, and the two kittens grow up with a tight bond that's a pleasure to observe. But when two bonded adult cats end up at homeless shelters, their chances for being adopted together are very small indeed.
That's a real shame, because adopting two adults who already know and like each other is a great idea. No stressful introductions, no kitten training. Plus, you'll definitely be giving two deserving pets a second chance at a happy life together.
When you visit a shelter or contact a rescue group, tell them you're interested in adopting a bonded pair of adult cats, if at all possible. It just feels good to take such loving pets home, knowing you've helped to keep a family together. -- 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.