Are pets on your list of New Year's resolutions? They should be, along with plans for making the world a little bit better not only for your own animals, but also for others in need. With this in mind, we're again sharing some of the best ideas of our readers.
Although problems can seem overwhelming, especially when it comes to animal cruelty or homeless pets, the fact is that every little bit helps. After all, if every one of us animal lovers did one small thing a couple of times a year, the total effort would be grand indeed.
Here are a few suggestions for helping animals in the months to come:
-- Take better care of your own animals. Studies show that, just like many of us, a lot of animals desperately need to lose weight and exercise more. Remember: Food is not love, and lay off the treats. You and your pet will both do better with a walk or some otherwise active playtime together.
Don't neglect other aspects of preventive health care. Use your pet's regular exams to go over those areas that need improving. In addition to weight loss and exercise, your veterinarian should evaluate your pet's vaccination schedule, dental health and parasite-control strategies. Preventive health care saves money, makes your pet more comfortable and helps extend life span. Make that veterinary appointment today!
Part of taking better care of your own pet is making sure your animals are "good citizens" to your neighbors. Don't let your cats roam or your dogs bark constantly. In addition to being inconsiderate, people who allow their animals to be a nuisance give ammunition to communities looking to pass laws against pets.
-- Help others take better care of their pets. If you have a friend, neighbor or relative who is having difficulty caring for a pet because of advanced age or illness, offer to help out. Pets are extremely important to those who are cut off from social activities. Helping people keep their pets is a kindness to both pet and pet owner.
What can you do? Pick up food or litter, or offer to take the pet to the veterinarian when needed. Many times, people who rely on others for assistance are reluctant to ask for more help on account of a pet. So ask if you can help. After all, if you're already going to the pet-supply store or veterinarian, is it really that much trouble to pick up some extra supplies or to stay for an additional appointment?
-- Make a call for animals. Animal cruelty should not be tolerated, not only for the animals but also because of the proven link between animal cruelty and crimes against people. Too often, though, animal cruelty is shrugged off by the judicial system as a lesser crime.
Don't accept the attitude that animal cruelty is a normal part of adolescence. Call, e-mail and write to prosecutors and judges in animal cruelty cases. Demand that young adults get the help they need to break the cycle of cruelty and that adult offenders are punished to the fullest extent of the law. Public opinion counts in these cases!
-- Pay to spay. Don't place an animal in a new home unless you've made sure the pet won't reproduce. You may think you're doing a good deed in finding a home for a pet you cannot keep, or for a litter of kittens born in your garage to a semi-wild mother cat. But if you don't pay to spay, you really aren't helping.
Instead of placing a pet for free, spay or neuter the animal and then charge an adoption fee to cover the cost of the procedure. You'll save the adopter time and will ensure that the pet you place won't add to the overpopulation problem.
-- Help a shelter or rescue group. Volunteers are always needed to help with the animals in the shelter or to foster pets who need a home environment. But if you don't want to contribute on a regular basis, then see if you can help on a short-term project. Many groups have fundraisers throughout the year. They need volunteers to help with ticket sales, setup, concessions and cleanup. You can also help by finding out what your local shelter or rescue groups need in the way of services or supplies, and then make calls to ask for donations.
Shelters are in constant need of pet food, litter, old newspapers and towels, as well as office and janitorial supplies and building materials. Get a wish list from your shelter and get to work!
Happy New Year from all of us at PetConnection, and keep those good ideas coming.
All pets deserve owner's attention
Q: I wholeheartedly agree with your stand against "outside dogs" and hope that people take your advice not to get a dog if it is not going to be part of the family. How sad it is to think of all the lonely dogs outside alone year after year, especially in the coldest parts of the country. What's the matter with people, anyway?
Could you mention one more reason not to abandon a dog to the outdoors? In addition to all the points you made, these dogs are probably denied prompt and proper medical care because their owners do not notice their ailments. -- K.H., via e-mail
A: Happily for the dogs of the world, there are lots of pet owners who agree that dogs are not happy living their lives completely alone outside. Their numbers are bolstered by people who agree for a different reason -- they live near outdoor dogs and have to listen to the barking of these neglected pets day and night.
Humane societies, behaviorists and other experts have long agreed that making a dog part of the family makes them not only happier, but also less likely to be a nuisance or a danger. This is especially true if the dog is maintained outside on a chain.
And yes, I've neglected in the past to mention your point that dogs who live completely outdoor lives may not get the attention they need when it comes to medical care. That's because it can be difficult to spot the sometimes subtle early signs of serious illness in an animal who isn't living underfoot.
Out of sight, out of mind applies to other pets, too: For example, cats who roam freely and just "check in" for meals may not get the attention they need to spot health problems early. Inside or out, cats can be difficult to read, which is one reason why their medical problems are so often overlooked.
All pets deserve good care from loving owners. Make sure yours get what they need to thrive, in thanks for the love and companionship they provide us. -- 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" 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 email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Owners can prevent canine aggression
-- An owner's influence rather than a dog's breeding largely determines whether or not a pet will be aggressive. A study published in the Journal of Animal and Veterinary Advances found that external, modifiable and owner-dependent factors influence a dog's aggression to a greater degree than a dog's breed, contradicting widespread beliefs that dogs such as pit bulls or Rottweilers are hard-wired for aggression. The researchers found that factors leading to aggression include first-time ownership; failure to provide obedience training; spoiling or pampering the dog; buying a dog as a present, a guard dog or on an impulse; spaying female dogs; leaving the dog with a constant supply of food; or spending little time with the dog in general or on its walks. More than a third of dominance aggression in dogs stems from a lack of obedience training or for doing only the minimum amount of training. The study also found that male dogs are more likely to be aggressive; however, dog-related factors are minimal compared to the factors that owners can control.
-- The closest living relative to the human is the chimpanzee, which is followed closely by the gorilla. Humans and chimpanzees divided from their common ancestor 7 million years ago, and gorillas and humans split 3 million years before that, according to National Geographic.
-- Asthmatic cats are allergic to humans, according to a study by feline clinicians at the University of Edinburgh's Hospital for Small Animals. Human lifestyles may contribute to asthma attacks in felines with cigarette smoke, dusty houses, human dandruff, pollen and certain types of cat litter triggering attacks by creating inflammation in cats' airways. One in 200 cats suffers from asthma, which causes coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Household irritants worsen the disease with so-called Oriental breeds, like the Siamese, being more prone to having asthma. Simple changes such as changing litter box material to a paper-based product can improve asthma in cats.
-- Arlington National Cemetery has many has a few non-human inhabitants, including Black Jack, the horse who took part in the funeral procession following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Horses are still part of daily routine at the memorial: Horses pull caissons bearing flag-draped caskets, with as many as 27 burials occurring five days each week, according to USA Today. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
Time for the New Year's 'neck check'
Checking your pet's collar and tags annually will ensure that an important safety measure is in place should you and your pet ever need it.
Start your "neck check" with a look at your pet's collar. A properly fitted collar is important, but so too is the right type. For dogs, a buckled or snap-together collar made of leather or nylon webbing is the best choice, and the proper fit is comfortably close but not too snug. Make sure your dog's not wearing a "choke" collar. These are for training and walking only, and they pose a life-threatening hazard if left on an unsupervised dog. Cats should wear a collar with an elastic section that will allow your pet to wriggle free if he gets caught on something.
If you do have the right kind of collar on your pet, take a minute to look at the holes and the fasteners. The collar is weakest at these spots, so if you see signs of excessive wear or strain, you'll need to replace the collar soon.
If the collar passes muster, it's time to look at the tags. A license is great, but since many lost pets are picked up by people in the neighborhood, it's a good idea to supplement the license with an ID tag that has a couple of phone numbers -- yours and the number of a friend or relative. Check to make sure the information is current and legible, and if not, make a note to order a new tag right away. -- Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Rabbits remain popular
Some call them "exotic" pets, but they're pretty common. This category of companion animals includes every furry creature that's not a dog or a cat. Among people who own these pets, here are the percentages who reported owning each particular kind of animal (multiple answers allowed, 2008 survey):
Rabbit: 42 percent
Hamster: 30 percent
Guinea pig: 15 percent
Mouse/rat: 8 percent
Ferret: 8 percent
Gerbil: 8 percent
Chinchilla: 5 percent
Source: American Pet Products Association
You'll never find lobe on a bird's ear
The avian ear, like all of a bird's anatomy, is streamlined for flight, so you won't find an earlobe on a bird. Instead, look for a swirl of soft, protective feathers in the place where you think the ear should be. Many pet birds love to have the area around their ear canal scratched.
Birds don't hear high- and low-pitched noises as well as we do, but within the range they do hear, they are able to discern more details. The song of a finch would have to be recorded and played at about one-tenth speed for us to be able to hear the richness and detail of sound that a bird can. -- Dr. Marty Becker
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.