Anniversaries

This week we've been celebrating a couple of important anniversaries around out house. First, the six month anniversary of Gandalf's adoption. As you may know, Gandalf's adoption was a bittersweet experience. While we were already in love by the time we had hoisted him into the car (no jumping for that boy if he can get someone to lift him up or give him what he wants), we had always envisioned bringing a greyhound home to be a companion to Sirius Black. Bringing our first one home after Sirius was gone was a reminder not only of that loss, but also of the various factors that had prevented us from adopting a greyhound earlier. Despite this less than optimal beginning, Gandalf has brought us so much happiness. His goofy behavior and affectionate personality are beyond endearing. Watching him discover, sometimes excitedly and sometimes skeptically, life beyond the track, has been extremely rewarding. Second, or perhaps it should have been first, on October...
Read More

Fourth of July Is Almost Here!

Now time for an annual reminder—it's almost the fourth of July! Why does that matter? Because it's the day our Founding Father's signed the Declaration of Independence? Well, sure, although the exact date of the signing is disputed (it may have been later), but more importantly because of this quote from a letter independence advocate and declaration signer John Adams sent to his wife Abigail after the Declaration had been approved: "It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires, and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other." It seems people have taken Adams's advice to heart. Independence Day is now celebrated from coast to coast with fireworks shows and other loud celebrations. In many neighborhoods, people also set off personal fireworks and firecrackers of varying legality. In many areas, fireworks will start tonight, if they have not already, and will continue through next weekend. During this time, it's important to keep...
Read More

Day 26: Interspecies Relationships

Dogs are social creatures. They can form friendships with humans and other dogs, but also with cats, birds, and small animals. Of course, the potential for such friendships varies based on the temperament and socialization of the animals involved. It also varies based on management. Good relationships depend on strong management by the human members of the household who keep everyone safe and reduce stress levels. ...
Read More

Costumes, Treats, and Tricks

If the pumpkins, witches, and candy corn appearing everywhere didn't tip you off, let me be the first to tell you that Halloween is coming up this Monday. The time has come to prepare. I am not talking about the costume you have been laboring over for months or the mega bag of candy you bought at the superstore last month. I am talking about preparing your pets for a safe Halloween. Let's review three common Halloween dangers and how to prepare for them. Costumes Issue: Costumes may pose a risk to animals that ingest pieces of them, of course, but the bigger risk is animals being frightened by costume pieces which can alter your appearance, profile, way of moving and possibly even sound and smell. This applies to family members as well as friends, neighbors, and trick or treaters. Solution: Don't take your pets trick or treating with you or keep them with you when you answer your own door. Instead, confine them...
Read More
Recognizing Our Limitations

Recognizing Our Limitations

This article came to my attention today via a couple of animal professionals I really admire. One of them asked for other professionals’ opinions. I thought about responding via Twitter, but I decided this topic deserves a more extended and thoughtful response. First, let me say that despite my background in both psychology and animal behavior, I am far from an expert in emotional support animals. I am a believer in the ability of animals to help us feel better, including by providing comfort during emotional upheaval and on-going mental crises. In fact my own professional career with animals had its modest beginnings when I sought out volunteer opportunities with animal rescues while in college because I felt sad. All that is to establish that while I don't know a lot about emotional support animals, I am open to the belief that in some circumstances, they may be just what the doctor—or therapist—ordered. What concern me about the article cited above, and...
Read More

Happy Independence Day!

Happy Independence Day! I hope this long weekend is spectacular—for you and your pets. Of course it will be, I can almost hear you thinking, friends, families, barbecues, fireworks... What else could we want? Of course, I agree that all these things are fantastic, but do your pets? As I have mentioned before, Fourth of July can be one of the most dangerous holidays for pets. Many pets get spooked by the sound of fireworks and end up getting lost. Any home firecrackers or sparklers can also pose a threat to any pets that are around while they are being used. And, of course, having guests in your home that are not used to being around your pet may result in things such as poisonous foods left at pet-level, open doors, and so on. So, make sure your Independence Day stays wonderful by following a few simple guidelines: If you're having people over, consider preparing a quiet, safe area for your pet out of...
Read More

Back to Basics: Me and You

With the recent hubbub over Beverly Cleary's 100th birthday, I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about Ramona Quimby. Does anyone else remember the scene (in Ramona the Pest, if you're wondering) where she arrives for the first day of school and is told to "Sit here for the present"? She thinks she is getting a gift, and she stays sitting in her chair for hours, waiting. All right, I may not tell that story as well as Cleary does, but my point is that instructions are only valuable if the recipient understands what is intended. Unfortunately, we often ask our dogs (cats and other pets too!) to follow instructions that they have not been prepared to understand. With that in mind, this seems like a good moment to review some basics. We'll start this week with two games I usually teach to my students as "Attention" and the "Name Game." These are not only great exercises for starting training, but...
Read More

Preparing for a Post-Surgery Routine

Note: I wish this were going to be a post full of answers, but it is mostly full of questions. The answers are something I am still looking for. There are three things you should know about me to understand this post: I have lived almost my whole life with either cats or dogs or (most frequently) both. I travel fairly frequently, and have practiced routines in place to care for my animals when I travel (if they don't come with me). I had the first surgery of my life that required anesthesia and a significant recovery on March 17, 2016. I knew that I this surgery was coming for several months before it actually happened. I thought I had had time to prepare. My husband and I tried to be prepared and ask my doctors every question we thought would be relevant to my recovery. We missed a few, of course, but overall, I thought we did a pretty good job. I thought I did...
Read More

Where I Came From

People often ask me how I came to be interested in animal welfare. The answer is simple, even if I think of it more as s state of being than a process. When I was born, my parents had three dogs and a cat*. All were rescues or otherwise unwanted animals that they had taken in from various places: the runty kitten, the dog found in the supermarket parking lot. So, you see, I was born to a legacy of animal rescue. This trend continued throughout my childhood, as we adopted various animals from hard-luck backgrounds. I think, however, that the background of the animals mattered less to me than their presence in my life. We almost always had at least one dog and one cat in the family, sometimes more, and their presence has always been warm and comforting to me: the presence of animals makes the house feel like home. At the same time, rescuing animals from different backgrounds convinced me early...
Read More

Cats Can Can Learn Too

How is your 2016? We are several days into 2016, and, crowded gyms notwithstanding, it's likely that many of us have already broken our well-intentioned new year’s resolutions. Last week, I said that my goals for 2016 were to work with Nefertiti on her polite behavior around food, especially wet food. I started working on this goal in late December. I think I have already made some progress but you can judge for yourself (sorry for the poor video quality): When working with cats, it is always important to keep in mind that they are not just agile, undersized dogs. I don't mean that to sound facetious. It is very common for pet owners to expect their cats to respond to stimuli, including cues, the same way that a dog would. However, cats are driven by a set of instincts that have developed to fit a very different social structure and environmental niche. Training cats is more effective when that training can tie into...
Read More