Thursday, March 29, 2012

Who Says Your Pet Can't Rock Out to Music?

Silence can be terrifying to humans-and their animals, alike. Not only does it allow us as humans to take the time and think about the stresses of our days, but it can also be very lonely. While us humans are working and socializing all day, our pets may be dreading the moment we turn the door knob to leave because of the continual silence.

Cady falls asleep listening to my music. 
It's easy to assume that cats enjoy silence. Why wouldn't they? They love to take naps and why would they want to sleep in a noisy house? To some extent, this holds true. However, while we are out all day, even cats prefer some background noise. Just as we like music in the car while we drive alone, background noise in the house allows a cat or dog to relax and believe another presence is around-even if we are at work.

Through recent studies, it has been suggested that house pets appreciate music in their own way. Not only does it create the illusion that they are not alone, but specific rhythms are soothing when they simulate animal heartbeats. Within Natalie Wolchover's article, "Pets Do Like Music, But Prefer Their Own Picks," she explores what types of music house pets enjoy. Unfortunately, our pets may not enjoy Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Kenny Chesney, Nirvana or Nine Inch Nails. They may not even enjoy the soothing rhythms that come along with classical ballads, according to Wolchover. She claims that it is proven that cats and dogs enjoy music that contains specific pitches and rhythm that mock their species' heart beat, calls and other nature sounds.

If you have cats and are gone during the work day, check out the Music for Cats website here. Listen to the samples with your feline friend. If you want to introduce your canine buddy to a new genre of music, check out this website. Not only will it be entertaining to see your pet's reaction, but it will also mask the silence during the work day.

Monday, March 19, 2012

My Cat is Houdini: When You Think You've Tried It All...

As I've mentioned before, my cat, Cady, is not your average feline. During the day, he lives a pretty typical life. He enjoys sleeping as the sun shines through the windows and warms his fur. He sleeps soundly on my bed and when I walk by, he may lift his head to acknowledge me if he feels ambitious. Obviously, I can only monitor part of his days when I'm working full-time.

What I do know is that his relaxing schedule changes once I walk through the door at night. I am instantly greeted by a friendly chirp from the top of the stairs. As I put my bags down, that friendly chirp evolves into a loud screech and then soon after, an ear-piercing yowl. It's not long before I know what he wants: to go outside. I don't know a great deal about what happened to Cady in his past. What I do know is that he's just about 10 years old and has a great yearning for the outside.

video

I've tried to teach Cady that I will not respond to him until he stops yowling. To a certain extent, this does work and he understands after awhile. According to many cat behavior websites, I have learned that a cat's excessive meowing will be reinforced by anything-even if you yell at him or her to stop. To a needy cat, negative attention is still attention. So, I try my best to ignore him when he gets loud, even when my ears almost start to bleed.

Once Cady has calmed down a bit, he slips into his harness and drags me out the front door. He cannot wait even one second to get outside; I have all to do to lock the door before he takes off. As we approach the lawn,  he starts to sprint (and I try to keep up,) and gets enough leverage to jump half way up a tree while attached to the harness. This is an art that I have adapted to more than he has. He's a natural at climbing trees and I'm a natural at being dragged across the lawn.

What is funny about Cady is that he is at his calmest when he is walking outside. He literally walks about a mile per day. I take him out for 25 to 45 minutes daily and he enjoys every moment of it...that is, until we make the trek home. He tries to chase birds, he smells the air and trees and even bonds with the neighbors. The only con to these journeys is that he never wants to turn around. I have to carry him most of the way home. Cady's innate longing to go outside just compacts his ever-present anxiety.

Once I bring Cady back inside, he may or may not continue to yowl for awhile to go back out. Tonight, I tied a long leash to one of my balcony chairs and he laid on the deck looking around contently. The leash was long enough for him to wander around comfortably, without him getting close to the railings. The last thing I need is for him to jump off the second story deck (and it wouldn't surprise me in the least if he tried to do that!). I left my back door open and checked on him every few minutes. Just as I poured myself a glass of juice, I heard a clanging outside. I looked out the door and saw Cady sitting on top of the table, without his harness on! The rascal escaped from a buckled harness. It was as if it were a magic trick. It also hit a nerve in my head.

Cady being a goofball. 
I've tried to help Cady's anxiety for almost a year now through pheromone diffusers, collars, toys, games, outdoor walks, etc. But now, I have reached a point where his anxiety truly worries me. Beyond wanting to go outside often, if I'm gone for longer than usual, (which is never very long,) Cady throws up on the carpet out of worry. If I break his routine even slightly, he is all out of sorts. And recently, his meowing has gotten worse during the night time, because of his strong desire to go outside when he pleases. I brought Cady back to the vet, who recommended that Cady go on a low-dose Prozac to help calm his nerves, especially at night time. It is unhealthy for both Cady and I to be up all night long. And I cannot be the pet owner he needs me to be if I am tired all the time. I ordered the Prozac in liquid, chicken-flavored form. I will continue his walks and routine and see if the medication helps.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by being unable to help your pet, try Googling some pet behavior websites or visit your vet for some help. It is OK to need help from others; for certain situations, you cannot help your pet alone and it is very easy to become frustrated when it impacts your daily life. With the help of a vet, a behavior specialist, books, websites, family and friends, I believe it is possible to trick even my Houdini of a cat into enjoying his life a little more. No pet owner is perfect, but it is possible to keep the magic alive for an animal who loves the outdoors, while providing a stable life in the home.

Click here for some helpful pet behavior tips.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Beauty of Aging: Consider Adopting an Older Pet

It goes without saying that families prefer puppies and kittens to older dogs and cats who have already grown out of the adorable fluff-ball stage. But it is very important to remember that all puppies and kittens mature quickly and grow to be the adult animals you see waiting to be adopted at the shelter.

My 15 year old family cat, Spunky. 
It might be nerve-wracking to adopt an older animal because they may already have emotional, physical, medical, psychological or behavioral problems. However, when given a chance and patience, most adult or senior shelter animals usually adapt quite well and adjust to life in a new home. In fact, they greatly appreciate the attention. Despite doing a good thing by saving an adult or senior shelter animal, when they are often looked over and displaced, you might be pleasantly surprised by the companionship of an older animal.

For one, older animals are often calmer and less destructive. With a younger dog or cat, a pet owner may worry that the animal will rip up the carpet or chew on things during the day when no one is home. Older animals will be more mellow in the home during the work day if toys and stimulation is provided. Also, house training takes patience and consistency so it is important to be home often for puppies. For kittens, they may have accidents outside of the litter box at first. With older animals, they may take some training to get used to the schedule in a new home, but more than likely will have house training down. Shelters try to house break all animals in order to place them in homes quickly.

Also, for families with young children, it is not always recommended to adopt puppies and kittens because just as kids are rambunctious, so are baby animals. The two mixed together can create a dangerous cocktail resulting in scratches, bruises and bites-not because the animal or the child are bad, but because they don't know how to properly interact with each other yet. A child may be better suited with an animal that has matured a bit and won't be so hyper. Overall, an older animal may fit your lifestyle better when you don't have the time to worry about the behavior of a puppy or kitten when you leave them alone or if you already have young children at home full of energy.

Beyond all of this, there is a true beauty and compassion that comes with adopting an older animal. They are eternally grateful and show us what they have already been through in life with their actions, likes and dislikes. Older animals who have been abused, abandoned and neglected have the incredible ability to bounce back and live enriched lives with people who show them love and trust. To see a truly beautiful portrait of aged animals, check out the photography of Isa Leshko here.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Don't Play Favorites.

Ryan Klaeysen's Beagle, Miles.
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC,) the beagle may be the new star of the show this year as far as being ranked among Americans' favorite breeds of dogs. Naturally, the cuddly lab is ranked as number one, being known as a suitable family dog for decades. The German Shepherd ranks a close second by the AKC for its regal demeanor. The rottweiler has also raised in popularity within American homes, ranking number ten on the AKC scale. The rise in popularity of larger dogs among AKC members and Americans in general seems promising and is very exciting due to the unfair stereotypes that are usually associated with these breeds. Check out other rankings here.

Alex Romano and her Akita, Misa.
Although this is wonderful that larger dogs are finally being recognized as great family dogs, it is always important to remember not to play favorites, no matter how big or small the dog may be. From the beefy, muscular, elegant rottweiler to the spunky, shrimpy, adorable Chihuahua, it is crucial not to make assumptions about what dog breed is better than the next. All dogs who are not trained properly or who are put in a stressful situation may bite. By choosing and listing "favorites," it reinforces behavioral stereotypes about all dog breeds and it gives certain dogs an advantage over others. It is important that all dogs, regardless of breed, get adopted from shelters across the country and are given a fair chance.

Kristen Schindler's Pitbull Mix, Kira, with Red Heeler Mix, Emma.


So, when you are deciding to add a dog to your family structure, do the research and consider what dog breed would be most suitable for your life. Do not base these decisions on misleading breed discrimination. And please, do not forget to consider those dogs who really need our help, like Pitbulls, who are on their way to euthanasia, just because their breed is stereotyped as the "dangerous dog" in the media. In reality, with proper training and care, these dogs are just as family oriented as any other breed.




Monday, March 5, 2012

Why A Tiger Should Not Live In The Living Room

We hear about it all the time in the news: Lion Trainer Mauled by Own Lion, Killer Whale Violently Attacks its Trainer, Man in Critical Condition After Chimpanzee Attack...Then, we hear a media frenzy about it for a week detailing how a docile animal went "crazy" and "violently attacked" the loving people around them. These are unfortunate events that occur when animal trainers and us average joes forget that wild animals are wild.

When wild animals are kept in small zoo or aquarium enclosures, in random backyards or in someone's living room, this may provoke an animal to attack due to the lack of space, resources and necessities to live a normal life. Wild animals will become agitated and may act violently due to stress and mania. When we have gone to the zoo as children, it is a "normal" sight to see the big cats pacing back and forth in their enclosures. This is in fact, not normal animal behavior. This is a sign of major stress and is common among animals that are caged in an unnatural environment.

It may seem horrendous and out of line when a wild animal attacks the people who have provided food and a place to live. But, when we as people are not allowed to exhibit our natural behaviors and feel trapped, it is normal for us to lash out. So why wouldn't animals do the same? At least we can voice our complaints; the animals cannot tell us that they feel anxious and quite often, their warning signs are ignored.

So when I hear that a chimpanzee attacked its owner, it comes down to the notion that maybe exotic animals do not belong anywhere but the wild. For those people who decide to own an exotic pet in their homes or own backyards, they are liable for animal attacks just as zoos and aquariums are. It is important to be aware of state laws that dictate whether or not owning exotic animals is prohibited. (For more information on state laws, check out the following link: http://www.bornfreeusa.org/b4a2_exotic_animals.php).

 It is a huge decision to care for an exotic animal, even when it is legal state-wide. Not only is this situation unfair for the exotic animal, it places a danger on the person's family, friends and neighbors if this animal were to act out. Check out the following article that features just that:

http://middletownpress.com/articles/2012/03/04/news/doc4f53b50a7fd7a482776450.txt

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Where Did You Go? Make A Life Plan For Your Pets


While working at pet adoption centers, many animals come in without homes due to divorce, financial issues and death of family members. Quite often, the animals are distraught and are unable to cope with their new surroundings right away. I've worked with some cats who have been surrendered due to the family's life change and have not been able to adjust well without the use of calming collars, spray, diffusers, a lot of patience and understanding. After their elderly owner passes away or their family of many years decides to split up and move without them, the animals do not understand why they are left alone in a strange environment. 

Just like Aunt Sally and Uncle Joe, pets are also our family members. We need to make a life plan for our pets, just as we do ourselves. We spend so much time worrying about protecting our assets for children and other family members in case of an emergency. It should also be priority to protect our pets. I recommend planning ahead for emergencies by asking trustworthy family members or friends to adopt your pets if you are unable to care for them anymore. Write all of this information down so that if a problem were to arise, your pets wouldn't be surrendered to a shelter. For more information about this, check out The Humane Society of the United States' recommendations: http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/pets/pets_in_wills_factsheet.pdf . 

In the case of a divorce, animal custody can get sticky. Some families may work it out and designate which household should keep the animals, while others may decide to surrender the animals to the shelter during the chaotic time. But, some divorcees are really battling it out for their pooches and feline companions. In the link below, it is apparent that it becomes just as important to plan ahead for life changes of this nature as well, because who wants to see their pets at a shelter thinking Where Did You Go? 

For more information about animal custody battles, check out this link:



Saturday, March 3, 2012

Hello! Get Off The Couch!

Today, it is highly recommended by vets and shelter management that all cats be kept indoors. Many cats enjoy the stimulation of the outdoors and may find living inside all the time stifling. Other cats may be so curious of the outdoors that they try to run outside. So, what happens when we are put in the position when we have to keep our cats indoors?  This has been a huge challenge for me living in a two-bedroom apartment with Cady, who was originally an indoor/outdoor cat for the 9 years prior to his adoption.

Right after Cady jumped up the tree! 
If you happen to find yourself in a similar situation, it is crucial to create an environment in which your feline friend feels like he or she can hunt, chase, watch, run and in some instances, climb. When you come home from work, it is easy to sit down with your cat and watch some TV. But, I understand why Cady glares at me from the floor as if to say, "Get off the couch and entertain me! You've been gone all day!" If you've run out of ideas (like many of us do when we are already running on fumes,) here are some suggestions that I've attempted:

1.) If your indoor cat is properly vaccinated (including  the vaccine for Feline Leukemia,) then consider taking him or her for a walk daily. I walk Cady for 20 to 30 minutes after work on a harness, and this may be his favorite time of day. He gets to socialize with my neighbors, run up trees, smell the grass, watch the birds, and run around. If you decide to do this, understand that it is a slow process. For the first 2 weeks, Cady only walked 4 feet off of my front porch and then jumped back to the door. Quite often for felines, a slow introduction is the best way to ease them into something new. Now Cady can't wait to go outside.

2.) Buy a window perch. This is one of the easiest things you can do to improve quality of life for a bored cat. Pick a window in your house or apartment that faces a tree or an active area outside and give your cat the best seat in the whole place. Some people even install bird feeders outside the window so their cats can watch the birds.

3.) Consider installing a climbing perch on the walls. I just ordered "The Cat Cloud," which is a 2 step climber that you can place high on your walls to give your feline friend a challenging climb. Check out the website: http://www.therefinedfeline.com/catcloudscatshelf.htm . For a cheaper alternative, you can build your own shelving and walkways.

4.) Make sure that you always have cat scratching posts. No matter how small, they allow your cat to scratch their nails without getting yelled at. And hey-better that than your leather couch! :)

5.)  Provide your cat with a variety of toys and set aside time each day to play. Some cats enjoy toy mice while other cats enjoy feathers and bouncy balls.
Cady enjoying the sun. 

6.) If you have a screened in porch of some kind, allow your cat to walk around out there to take in the sights and sounds.

For more ideas, check out the link below:

http://www.aspcabehavior.org/articles/23/Enriching-Your-Cats-Life.aspx



Friday, March 2, 2012

We All Have Instincts-Not Just Your Pet

When I was 5 years old, I remember my mother screaming at me: "Don't let Bootsey get too close to your face!" Bootsey, my gentle tabby cat and first pet, would really never hurt a fly. But as a rambunctious child, I had scratches all over me from aggravating the cat. Luckily, I did listen to my mother for the most part and didn't let him get his claws too close to my face.

Although I was only 5 years old, this story still holds true for a person of any age. We trust our pets, we love our pets, and we certainly do not think our pets would ever do us intentional harm. And most animals won't. But it is always a good idea to remember that animals do not have the ability to say to you: "Hey! Get out of my face. I'm in a bad mood today. I'm feeling threatened." Sometimes, animals may bark, growl, yowl, hiss, etc. to let you know they are not content. It is important to watch for these warning signs. But, accidents can happen in a split second.

Because I've worked with rescue organizations for awhile now, I've been around animals who have had good homes all of their lives, and animals who have been rescued from neglect, abandonment and abuse. Regardless of the situation, it is crucial that as humans, we know our boundaries. Just like animals, we need to use our instincts. I recommend to all current and future pet owners that you research animal behavior in order to truly understand the warning signs. Unfortunate events occur when people let their guard down around their own animals and around animals they do not know well. Not only do people end up badly hurt, but in many cases, the animals are euthanized. Then, there is usually a media frenzy centered around big, "vicious" dogs that attack when the incident was merely an accident on both ends. In order to avoid these situations, it is important to treat your pets with the same respect that we do people-give them space, watch for warning signs and understand your boundaries.

Check out the link below regarding a news anchor who was unfortunately attacked by an Argentine Mastiff. Clearly an accident, the anchor is in the hospital and the dog may be on his way to euthanasia. Keep in mind that the dog was on the live interview because he was just rescued out of an icy lake the day before. In my opinion, the stress from that situation alone and being surrounded by people close to his face probably prompted the attack. The following account of the situation, labeling it as a "vicious" attack, is unfair:

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/46317722/ns/today-today_pets_and_animals/

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Rescue Pets Rescue People

For those of you who already know me, forgive me. I've said this time and time again: ADOPT A SHELTER PET. Don't spend $2,000 or more at a "local" breeder or pet store. Isn't there something odd about a business making a profit from breeding dogs? Sounds unnatural to me-and it certainly is. Not to mention inhumane. It also just doesn't make sense-EVERY 8 SECONDS, ONE SHELTER ANIMAL IS EUTHANIZED IN THE UNITED STATES (http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/pet_overpopulation/). That is a devastating number of animals and that doesn't even account for those animals who die living on the streets without homes.

With that said, adopting a shelter animal is not only giving a furry friend a second chance at life (or maybe even a first chance,) it also allows you to create a bond with an animal who has often been next in the euthanasia line, neglected, abandoned and displaced by society. And believe me, rescue pets are so grateful. You can see the love and compassion in their eyes and through their actions. And just as you help them, they want to help you too.

The saying, "Who Saved Who?" is catchy and something that I support. The animals who have been rescued literally minutes away from euthanasia seem to recognize this second chance at a new life with someone who loves and cares for them. And they give back. Rescue dogs and cats are often certified as Therapy Pets who visit nursing homes, hospitals and rehabilitation centers. Other animals do this as well, such as minature horses. They are able to interact with people who need extra TLC and comfort. Animals who work with the disabled, the elderly, U.S. Veterans, the terminally ill and others in need often create deep bonds that have a lasting impact. If you think your pet could help others in need, search the internet for some local training classes. For dogs, the K-9 Good Citizen training is a great way to get started.

Check out the story below about a dog that provides comfort, moral support and friendship to a young, terminally-ill boy:

http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/46168614/ns/today-today_pets_and_animals/