GOOD PLANNING AND GOOD FENCES CAN KEEP EVERYONE SAFE AND HAPPY
Animals and plants are always near me, by choice. But some plants are poisonous, and even those animals who don't eat plants seem just as intent on otherwise destroying them by sleeping on them or digging them up. That means I have spent a great deal of time protecting plants from animals, and vice versa.
This month, I'm giving up a suburban home for a very small farm, with room (and more important, zoning) for my two boarded horses, my chickens and ducks, as well as three dogs and a cat. There will be approved plants for eating -- pasture! -- and plans for a massive veggie garden as well.
Right now, it's all raw dirt and broken-down fences. Both are going to change, and soon.
Fortunately, I've spent years balancing the needs and safety of animals and plants, so I know what to do. Fencing is a big part of the equation, but that's not all of it. And since most people just want their dog to leave the landscaping alone, here are the tips that can help make that happen for everyone, no matter how big your yard:
-- Exercise your dog
Dogs who don't get daily exercise are likely to expend that energy and cure their boredom by doing things people don't like -- digging, chewing and barking. Dogs who are well-exercised are more likely to sleep while you are gone. When you leave, you should also offer your dog alternatives to choosing his own amusements: Provide him with a chew toy, such as a Kong -- stuffed with something delicious, like peanut butter.
-- Work with your dog's habits
Observe how your dog uses your yard, and plan accordingly. For instance, many dogs consider it their duty to run the fence line, leaving a well-worn trail where many people hope to put flowers. Instead of fighting with your dog, go with his natural instincts. Place your beds and plantings away from the fence line, and let him do his guard-dog patrolling behind those plants.
-- Give your dog a yard of his own
A side "relief" yard where messes and digging aren't ever a problem can allow your dog to be a dog, especially when you're not around to supervise.
-- Redirect digging
You can keep many dogs from digging if you keep them exercised, limit their access to dirt, and make the digging experience unpleasant. Sometimes, putting the dog's own stools in the hole and covering them with dirt will deter him. Many dogs won't dig if their own mess is under the surface. Another option is giving your dog a dig zone. While hardly clean fun, it is good fun, especially for dogs who are happiest with their noses in the dirt and their paws flying.
-- Put special plants in safer places
Raised beds and hanging planters are the place to put your most precious plants. In borders, put the plants that can take being stepped on in front. Want a good dog-friendly plant? Mint is perfect. This plant is nearly indestructible and greets each assault with a wave of fresh mint smell.
-- Fences are your friend
While there's a lot you can do with yard layout and plant selection, if you're planning a dedicated veggie garden, pick a pretty fence to go around it. At my current home, a four-foot fence that wouldn't be enough to contain my large dogs safely on the property is plenty high enough to keep them out of the tomatoes.
It'll be a long, long time before my new home has the gardens and plants I dream of. But with some basic guidelines in my head, there will be happier animals and fewer setbacks along the way.
Reptiles not best
for young families
Q: My husband has a bearded dragon he has kept since college. We're expecting our first child, and I think "Iggy" needs to find a new home because of salmonella. What do you think? -- via email
A: Reptile pets can be wonderful, easy-care companions for all ages, but families do need to take extra precautions with them.
Because most, if not all, reptiles carry salmonella in their digestive tracts, these pets are generally not recommended for homes with children under 5 or with family members whose immune systems are compromised. For other homes, the risks can be greatly reduced by properly handling these pets. The Association of Reptilian and Amphibian Veterinarians suggests these basic safety precautions:
-- Wash hands with soap and hot water after handling reptiles or after cleaning reptile enclosures.
-- Limit the part of your home that your reptile is allowed to be in, and wash your hands after being in that area.
-- Never allow reptiles in areas of the home where food is prepared. Don't share food or drink with reptiles, and don't eat, drink or smoke while handling them. Don't kiss these pets, no matter how cute you think they are.
-- Do not put reptiles into bathtubs or sinks. Buy a separate tub for bathing these pets. Pour the water down the toilet, and do not use sinks or bathtubs to clean the reptile bathing tub -- or any reptile housing or gear.
-- Supervise older children to be sure they don't touch the pets and then put their fingers in their mouths. Make sure thorough hand-washing follows each exposure to these pets.
The ARAV stresses that the precautions do not mean reptiles shouldn't be kept as pets, but rather that by following basic common sense in handling them, the potential for human health problems can be kept to a minimum. For more information, visit the ARAV website (arav.org). -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Trendy pets getting
more 'people' names
-- According to Vetstreet.com, the trendiest names for cats are Lola and Dexter; for dogs they're Lola and Bentley. Stella, Cooper, Izzy, Loki, Marley and Nala are also on the upward trend. The least trendy? Brandy and Dakota for dogs, and Katie and Bailey for cats. You also won't get any hipster points for naming your dog Cleo, Scooter, Sheba or Pepper, or your cat Tigger, Whiskers, Snowball or Sebastian. Vetstreet notes that, overall, pet lovers are choosing "people names" over monikers that describe physical characteristics, such as Hershey for a chocolate Labrador or Shadow for a black cat.
-- Gentle, constant pressure has been shown to calm infants (think of "swaddling") and autistic children. A handful of companies have created garments for dogs that apply pressure to keep them calm during thunderstorms and other stressful events, with good results. One such company now has created a similar garment for cats. The Thundershirt comes in three sizes, sells for $40 through many pet-supply retailers and is said to calm cats to make veterinary visits and other stressful events easier on everyone. After you get the shirt on, that is.
-- Hunting behavior in cats is very controversial, especially if the prey are songbirds or endangered rodent species. Some cats hunt, some cats don't, and it has more to do with what a cat learned from his mother than from the rumbling in his belly. Plenty of well-fed cats are very active hunters. Putting a bell on your cat has little effect on his ability to hunt. Turning him into an indoor dweller is the only way to protect wildlife from your cat -- and to protect you from his thoughtful "gifts" of dead mice and birds. Managed colonies of altered feral cats are best relocated when endangered species are at risk. -- Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker
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 affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.