Exchanging Pleasantries

Although Mau remains in our foster suite (read: Aaron’s office) because he’s on the skittish side, we propped two baby gates in the doorway so that he could see more of the house and passively meet our cats through a barrier.

Charlie is utterly fascinated by the presence of another cat and really wants to be friends.

Charlie and Garrus hang out in the hallway sometimes when they see Mau.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to snap a photo of Garrus sitting politely, like the gentleman he is, on one side of the gate while Mau chatted to him on the other side. It sounded like Mau just repeated his name over and over again. I was pleased with their initial meeting. Charlie has done the same thing, sometimes punctuated with squeaks and rubbing himself against the gate.

For his part, Mau has done well. At times he seems quite curious about our cats while at other times he would prefer the company of people only. Mau has occasionally hissed at Charlie, although I think that’s because he’s not a fan of Charlie’s habit of staring at him. (Charlie is enthusiastically friendly but not always adept at reading other cats’ body language and vocal cues. Imagine a feline version of Spongebob Squarepants.)

Sometimes Mau initiates staring contests.

Animal Rights Awareness Week

In 1999, In Defense of Animals, an animal rights group, designated the third full week of June as Animal Rights Awareness Week. The goal is twofold:

  1. Help raise awareness of animal rights by educating the public about the basic needs of animals around the world
  2. Advocate for the humane and compassionate treatment of all animals.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

The focus of Purry Home Companion is mostly on pets, especially cats. However, Animal Rights Awareness Week includes animals beyond pets: wildlife (highlighting the need for conservation), farm animals, puppy mills, zoos, circuses, animals used for medical research, and any other place where animals can be found. The point of Animal Rights Awareness Week (and hopefully this post) is to get you thinking and acting. Yes, it might be uncomfortable but ultimately worthwhile. Here are some “big picture” questions to consider:

  • What rights do animals have, legally speaking?
  • How can animals, including those slaughtered for meat, be treated ethically?
  • Does animal rights extend to only certain types of animals? Why or why not?
  • How do you feel about animals used for entertainment purposes, such as in circuses and Sea World?
  • What is mankind’s effect on the environment, including the effect on animals?

Photo courtesy of Pexels

There has been a lot of discussion about the treatment of animals in circuses and amusement parks. Ringling Bros. retired its elephant and big cat acts shortly before the circus itself closed after 150 years of show business. The documentary Blackfish dressed down SeaWorld for its treatment of captive orcas. We are learning that animals have emotional, social, and psychological lives much more than we thought.

Here are a few more questions to think about:

  • Do you use pesticides that harm beneficial insects like honeybees?
  • Do the plants and animals in your garden negatively impact other wildlife? For example, if you have an outdoor cat, how does your cat’s hunting ability affect local bird populations?
  • How do you feel about testing cosmetics on animals? Do you wear cosmetics that have been tested on animals? Do you know what companies practice animal testing? Would you instead prefer to wear cruelty-free products?

Photo courtesy of Pexels

There are countless ways to raise awareness on behalf of animals. Remember to use your powers for good!

Lyme Disease Awareness Month

As summer kicks off, many of us will be spending more time outside doing activities like hiking, camping, swimming, and traveling. (In Texas, I plan to stay out of the heat and NOT bake as much as possible.) One consequence of outdoor activity is exposure to insects and wildlife. One of these critters are ticks, which can transmit via biting a really nasty illness called Lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis). This can affect both humans and animals and is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Other tick-borne diseases can include anaplasmosis, ehrlichiosis, or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Yuck!

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Naturally, since May kicks off the summer season, it has been designated as Lyme Disease Awareness Month. The best way to combat Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases is to take preventive measures. Here’s how you can protect your pets:

  1. Tick-preventive products. Ask your veterinarian which would be the best solution for your pet.
  2. Vaccination. Again, speak with your veterinarian whether your dog should be vaccinated against Lyme disease. This may depend on where you live, your pet’s lifestyle, overall health, and other factors.
  3. Signs. Know the common symptoms of Lyme disease such as fever, appetite loss, lack of energy, lameness, stiffness, discomfort, pain, and joint swelling. These symptoms can progress to kidney failure as well as cardiac and neurological issues. Check here for more information.
  4. Avoid. If possible, don’t go into areas where ticks are likely to be found such as tall grasses, leaf litter, marshes, and wooded areas. (Side note: velociraptors might be hiding in tall grass too!)
  5. Check. Once indoors, make sure that a tick has not hitched a ride on you or any of your animals.
  6. Fortification. Place a barrier of wood chips or gravel between your lawn, patio, play equipment, and wooded areas. By doing so, you will restrict tick migration into recreational areas.
  7. Sprays. Have a green industry professional inspect your property and spray the perimeter to reduce tick populations.
  8. Maintenance. Clear shrubbery and brush close to the house. Prune trees. Remove litter. Mow grass short. Let the lawn dry thoroughly between waterings.
  9. Removal. If you find a tick, use gloves and specialized tweezers, not your bare hands.

The American Veterinary Medical Association provides excellent information about Lyme disease and its effects on pets. You can also find information on flea and tick preventive products, disease precautions for outdoor enthusiasts and their animal buddies, and the CDC’s boatload of data pertaining to Lyme disease. To learn how to prevent Lyme disease in people, especially children, check out information from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Chip Your Pet Month

Like many months throughout the year, May is a bonanza of pet-related awareness campaigns. Among others, May is Chip Your Pet Month!

Having current information on your pet’s ID tag is vitally important should ever your pet get loose or lost. However, collars can easily slip off, especially if your pet is clever enough to take it off by themselves. With a microchip implanted beneath your pet’s skin, you don’t have to worry about that occurring. If your lost pet is found and taken to a veterinary clinic or animal shelter, the microchip can be scanned, revealing a registration and contact number. Through this registry the pet owner will be contacted and be able to recover their pet.

Photo courtesy of Pexels

Check out Positively Woof for a video, Merck Animal Health, and One Fur All to learn more information about the benefits of microchipping, where to get them, and frequently asked questions.
When we adopted Garrus and Charlie, the shelter provided and implanted microchips along with their shots. The cost of these procedures is covered by the adoption fee. In our case, the adoption fee was waived because we fostered them during the Clear the Shelter event, wherein adoptable pets were free! The shelter had the microchips already registered; we simply provided our contact information and updated the cats’ names when we changed them from Aristotle and Tink to Garrus and Charlie. It was a super easy and worthwhile process. While my cats are strictly indoors, if they ever were to get out, I’d have peace of mind knowing that they had more than one method of identification and would be returned to us via that information.

Animal Care and Control Appreciation

Animal Care and Control Appreciation Week occurs every year during the second full week in April. This effort was created by the National Animal Care and Control Association to recognize and promote professionalism in the field of animal care and control. Agencies and individuals that provide these valuable community services should be commended for all their hard work.

When I see shelter employees out and about, whether I see them at the vet’s office, shelter, adoption event, library, or somewhere in town, I usually try to say hi and express my gratitude for all that they do.

What can you do today on behalf of your animal care and control agencies? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Express your thanks.
  2. Recognize and celebrate their accomplishments and, if warranted, nominate individuals and shelters for awards.
  3. Become involved in a Friends of the Animal Shelter or rescue organization.
  4. Donate.
  5. Volunteer.
  6. Foster.
  7. Adopt.
  8. Spread the word about the wonderful services your shelter and animal control agencies provide to your community.
  9. Raise awareness about the importance of and educate others how to be responsible pet owners.

Photo credits courtesy of Pexels

Cold Weather Safety

Whether you have indoor, outdoor, or indoor/outdoor pets, you must take seasonal precautions, especially during temperature extremes. Even Texas and South Florida had cold weather snaps that cannot be simply brushed off. If it’s cold for humans, it’s definitely cold for animals! (There have even been reports of iguanas and sharks freezing in Florida and Massachusetts. There have also been heartbreaking stories of dogs being rescued from the elements. Not all of them make it.)

Excuse me while I get onto my soapbox: Do I need to reiterate that it is inhumane to leave pets out in the cold? Two words: animal cruelty. Some states are changing their laws about it. It’s a big deal. Take it seriously. OK. End of rant.

What should responsible pet owners do to keep their pets happy, safe, and healthy over the long winter months? There are a number of things (head’s up–this is a long post). I have compiled several of them…

Things to Consider: Outside with Your Pet

  1. Be observant, and if need be, advocate.
    1. Let’s say you notice a dog left in your neighbor’s backyard for several hours. It’s cold and snowing. You’re worried but aren’t sure what to do.
    2. Politely let them know you are concerned about their dog’s welfare. Perhaps your neighbor did not think about the risks the cold weather posed, assuming that the dog will be fine because it has fur.
    3. If your neighbor responds to your suggestions (e.g. brings the dog inside, limits the dog’s outdoor exposure afterward, etc.), the problem is solved.
    4. If your neighbor ignores you, or you suspect neglect or abuse, follow the Humane Society’s detailed advice.
    5. If you have concerns about a stray or loose animal’s welfare, also consult the aforementioned link.
  2. Strays. If you are concerned about feral or stray cats in your neighborhood, here is out you can make a DIY winter shelter for them. Getting them off the streets in very cold weather, though, is preferable.
  3. Bang on your car hood. Cats are hidey creatures and excellent at finding the best warm spots (often stealing yours). Small wildlife will also be desperate for warmth too.
    1. When it’s cold out, they may sneak under the hood, seeking the engine’s warmth, and you may never see them do it.
    2. If you bang on the hood, it may scare the cat out so it won’t get trapped in the fan or engine when you start the car.
    3. Another good place to check is the tire well.
    4. You can also honk the horn to rouse the feline squatters.
    5. Alternative: park your car in the garage (if possible) so (A) you won’t have this issue and (B) you won’t have to dig your car out of ice and snow.
  4. Use pet-friendly ice melts. Since dogs are more likely to pick up rock salt when out on a walk, they can be at a risk for salt poisoning if they lick it from their paws. Even if you don’t have pets, use these products on your sidewalks and driveways. Store de-icing salt in a safe place afterward. Think of it paying it forward for the environment at large. The pet owners in your neighborhood will be grateful to you!
  5. Coolant and antifreeze. These products taste sweet and both are deadly to pets. If you are performing vehicular maintenance, thoroughly clean up any leaks or spills and store these products in a secured place where animals cannot access them. Brownie points: consider using products that contain propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol.
  6. Poisons. If you suspect that a pet ingested coolant, antifreeze, rock salt, a de-icing agent, or any other noxious chemical, contact a veterinarian immediately. You can also contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center Phone Number: 888-426-4435.
  7. Bring pets inside. If left outside in the elements, pets can become disoriented, lost, stolen, injured, or killed. NB: Don’t leave pets unattended in a cold car. In cold weather, a car can act like a refrigerator and hold in all that frosty air. In any case, freezing to death is a horrible way to die.
  8. Outdoor shelters. If pets must stay outside for some periods of the day, ensure that their shelter is warm enough and sufficiently insulated. Their shelter should be dry and free of drafts. It should be small enough to retain body heat but roomy enough to allow the animal to move comfortably. The floor should be a couple inches above the ground and covered with straw, cedar shaving, or other appropriate bedding. Cover the doorway with heavy plastic or waterproof burlap.
  9. More food. If your pet spends more time outdoors, they’ll need more calories because trying to keep warm depletes energy source reserves. Check with your vet to ensure your pet is getting enough fat and protein and their diet to complement their outdoor lifestyle. Ensure that your pet’s water if fresh and unfrozen. Use plastic food and water bowls instead of metal, as when the temperature dips below freezing, your pet’s tongue can stick and freeze to metal.
  10. Ice. Watch out for frozen ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water. Heavy loads of ice can shift without warning and slide off roofs, making pancakes out of cars (I’m serious). Also, ice is slippery! If out walking your pet, stay away from these areas and use utmost caution after freezing rain on sidewalks. Another thing about frozen ponds and lakes: You won’t be able to know if these will be able to hold your dog’s weight, let alone yours, and if the ice breaks, you have a disaster on your hands. Avoid it entirely.

Things to Consider: Inside with Your Pet

  1. ID. Ensure that your pet is outfitted with proper identification (e.g. well-fitting collar, ID tags, and microchip with current information and registration). Pets can easily become lost in the winter because snow, ice, and wind may mask recognizable scents that may usually guide your pet back home.
  2. Too cold. Sometimes, it can be so cold that it can be unsafe to take your pet outside for a walk or exercise for very long. This page has a handy chart for guidance.
  3. Windchill. Just like humans, pets have exposed skin, and those parts lose heat the fastest. In cases of pets, these areas are primarily are on their noses, ears, paw pads, underbellies, and genitals.
    1. When exposed to cold temperatures for long periods, pets can be at risk for frostbite and hypothermia. For example, some hypothermia signs to look out for in dogs include constant shivering, weakness, slow and shallow breathing, muscle stiffness, blank stare, and torpor.
    2. For more information, go here and here for dogs and here and here for cats. Very scary but good information to know in case of an emergency.
  4. Emergency plans. In case of the likes of city-paralyzing blizzards and power outages, prepare an emergency kit and include your pet in your preparations. Have sufficient food, water, and medications (which should include prescriptions, heartworm and flea/tick/mosquito preventives) on hand to get at least through 5 days. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to add a crate, as your pet would presumably go inside it. If your pet is very large and/or a crate is not feasible, have leads of different lengths on hand. In an emergency, you may need to move your pet fast and you do not want to lose them.
  5. Diet. Don’t overfeed your pet during the winter. Instead keep your pet at a healthy weight year-round. Only outdoor pets require extra calories to generate sufficient body heat and energy stores.
  6. Grooming. If you have an issue with clinging ice, snowballs, salt, mud, or other detritus, consider giving your pet a thorough grooming before getting out the trimmer. A light trim may be necessary, yes, but remember that your pet needs the long coat for warmth and insulation. Long-haired pets often have tufts of fur in between their paws, and these provide traction as well as insulation; don’t forget these when grooming. If you don’t feel confident or comfortable taming your pet’s wind-tossed coiffeur, seek the assistance of a professional groomer.
  7. Practical apparel. If your pet is short-haired, consider a completely durable sweater that provides full coverage to the base of the tail. A high collar or turtleneck will help provide more insulation (think of it as the pet equivalent of a scarf) and ensure the belly is covered. This last part is important: the belly and genitals are an especially vulnerable area as they have much finer hair there. Have more than one sweater available so you can use a dry sweater each time your pet goes outside. Wet sweaters can actually make your pet colder and therefore at risk for getting sick.
  8. Bedding and sleep. Pets take sleeping very seriously, so naturally they are invested in their beds too.
    1. Give your pet comfy sleeping options that allow them to vary their sleeping spots based on their needs for more or less warmth.
    2. You may notice that your pet’s favorite sleeping spot changes in the winter or that you now have a Velcro-kitty because he wants the warmth of your lap. (There are worse problems to have.)
    3. Example 1: Garrus lolls next to our master bathroom window in order to sunbathe; that’s the only spot he does that. Otherwise he likes snoozing on our bed or the ottoman.
    4. Example 2: Boudicca normally camps out in my office but in the winter she switches to the living room couch but insists that a crocheted blanket be laid out first.
    5. Example 3: I have friends in the Midwest who use heated pet beds, and they have very happy cats and dogs.
    6. Although this varies, pets may sleep more in the winter due to the decreased amount of light during the day. They might also might feel less energetic or bored. It is possible for pets to feel depressed.
  9. Pet-proofing. See #4, #5, and #6.
    1. Prevent access to medication bottles, household chemicals, potentially toxic foods (grapes, onions, xylitol, chocolate, alcohol, etc.), and poisonous plants such as lilies and poinsettias.
    2. Make sure that doors, windows, and gates latch properly so prevent pets from inadvertently getting loose and lost.
    3. Install and regularly check the batteries for the carbon monoxide and fire alarm detectors in your home.
    4. Space heaters and heat lamps can burn pets, and they can be knocked over, possibly starting a fire.
    5. Inspect your furnace to ensure that it is working properly.
    6. Use heated pet beds with caution as they are still capable of causing burns.
    7. Do not leave pets unattended near open flames.
    8. If you have a pet bird, double check to ensure that its cage is away from drafts.
  10. Medical issues. This is a many-faceted topic. Disclaimer: I’m not a vet and I’m only conditionally omniscient.
    1. A pet’s coat, overall health, body fat, activity level, age, and breed will influence how it tolerates the cold (and heat).
    2. Larger breeds, especially those with longer, thicker coats, will generally tolerate cold better than smaller breeds. Some pets do not seem bothered much by the winter. Others look pitiful all season long and need TLC until spring returns.
    3. If your pet is elderly or unwell, you may need to shorten your walks and keep an eye on your pet, as these pets may be prone to falling or slipping on ice.
    4. Arthritis, for example, may flare up in winter and make your pet very uncomfortable. This will require additional veterinary attention.
    5. Pets with certain medical conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease, may have a more difficult time regulating their body temperature.
    6. Senior pets, puppies, kittens, and ill pets will also be sensitive to extreme temperatures or have trouble regulating their body temperature.

 Things to Consider: Skin and Paw Care

Just like humans’ skin can dry out in the winter, pets can have itchy, flaky skin and chapped paws! Skin and paw issues can flare up by repeatedly leaving the frigid temperatures outside and entering the dry heat of your home. (A humidifier inside the house may help.) Dogs are likely to get all kinds of gunk in their paws from going outside or on walks, and this outdoor exposure can aggravate dermatological troubles.

  1. Fresh water. In the winter months there tends to be a drop in humidity, and this accounts for the dryness. Ensuring your pet stays sufficiently hydrated will help lessen skin problems as well as improve overall health.
  2. Bathing. Too much time in the tub can remove essential oils and increase the likelihood of your pet developing the chance of dry, flaky, irritated skin. If your pet stinks to high heaven, ask your vet for a recommendation for a quality moisturizing shampoo or rinse. (Also, keep your pet away from skunks!)
  3. Remove ice, salt, and chemicals.Depending on how messy your pet gets outside, it may be a multi-step process. (Be prepared for resistance. Zoomies may occur.)
    1. Using a damp towel, thoroughly wipe the crud off your pet’s feet, legs, belly, and, if necessary, face and tail as soon as they come inside. Do this so they don’t lick off any of the aforementioned noxious stuff and get sick.
    2. Be meticulous about drying off the feet and in between the toes, as this is where moisture can build up. Remove any snow and ice from the paw pads. Cleaning the paws will also prevent them from stinging or getting irritated, especially if you took your pet on a long walk. Proceed to #26 if paws are clean.
    3. If need be, use warm water to thoroughly clean your pet’s feet. When paws are clean, proceed to #26.
    4. Thoroughly towel dry afterward.
    5. Feel free to give praise, kisses, scritches and other displays of affection to your pet during at time of this process.
    6. NB:If you towel off your pet, said pet won’t leave clumps of snow and wet spots all over the place. Bonus: your home will be cleaner and less slippery! Win!
  4. Protectants. Massaging petroleum jelly into the paws prior to a jaunt outside may prevent further irritations from salt, sand, and other substances.
    1. Petroleum jelly also may also prevent cracking by providing some moisture.
    2. Clean your pet’s paws once your pet is back inside.
    3. This trick is also useful in the summer time to help prevent paw pads from becoming burned by hot asphalt.
    4. If your pet has persistent paw troubles, consult with your vet.
  5. Paw wellness. Check your pet’s paws for any cracks, redness, swelling, bleeding, evidence of pain or discomfort, sudden lameness, or if your pet doesn’t want to stand. If you notice anything amiss, contact your vet.
  6. Booties. Seriously.
    1. When taking your pet out for a walk, put these on your pet just like you put on your shoes before going outside.
    2. You may have to train your pet to get used to them and not all pets will tolerate them.
    3. Booties keep your pets’ paws warm and also protect them from becoming irritated by salt and from all kinds of toxic chemicals on the ground (i.e. antifreeze and deicing agents).
    4. Make sure they fit properly.
    5. Service dogs, for example, wear booties and other kinds of gear regularly to protect themselves and therefore be able to perform their best work. And service dogs are awesome.

Writer’s Note: I must admit that I found researching and writing this post enlightening. I hope others find it useful as well.

National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week

The Human Society of the United States annually observes National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week during the first full week of November. This is a means of honoring and celebrating the immense importance and service that animal shelters–and their dedicated staff and volunteers–provide on behalf of the animal population in their communities.

Animal shelters are crucial resources for the communities (human and animal) they serve. In addition to providing a haven for animals (lost pets, strays, abandoned, and surrendered animals as well as sick or wounded wildlife), shelters also provide services such as reuniting lost pets with their families, investigating animal cruelty and neglect, teaching people to care about and for animals, and promoting spaying/neutering pets to reduce overpopulation. 

Have you been to your municipal or county animal shelter? Now is a great opportunity to do so! Here is a short list of how else you can help your local animal shelter:

  1. Adopt your next pet from a shelter. Adopt, don’t shop! Interested in a particular breed or type of pet (personality, short-haired vs. long-haired, energy level, etc.)? All kinds of animals wind up in shelters and that includes both purebreds and mixed breeds. Shelter animals deserve loving homes. Even cats that wouldn’t be able to go into a typical home environment may be best suited in a barn cat colony; those animals need to be adopted too!
  2. Foster a shelter animal. By fostering, you can free up much needed space in a shelter, especially if it is prone to overcrowding. Being in a shelter is incredibly stressful and even traumatizing for many animals, and having the opportunity to go to someone’s loving home, even temporarily, is a welcome respite. Fostered animals get much needed socialization and love, which in turn makes them more highly adoptable. 
  3. Become a fan of your local shelter on social media. Share their posts. Seriously! Use social media for the benefit of others. Shelter animals need all the help they can get to find their furever homes. 
  4. Promote your shelter’s efforts on social media and by word of mouth. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know that their community has an animal shelter nearby. 
  5. Volunteer. You can lend your services in a number of ways, such as (but not limited to) helping out adoption events, socializing and loving on animals, walking dogs, playing with cats, bottle feeding kittens or puppies, and photographing shelter animals. Volunteering is an immensely rewarding experience, an exceptional act of kindness, and a commendable way to give back to your community. 
  6. Be a responsible pet owner. Spay/neuter your pets and make sure they are wearing proper ID. Ask your vet and your local animal shelter what else you can do to be a great pet owner (or pet parent, if you prefer)! 
  7. Donate supplies. Do you have pet toys that your pet doesn’t use? Do you have old towels and blankets that you don’t need anymore? Consider giving these items to the animal shelter. Check with your local shelter to see specifically what they need. 
  8. Join your local Animal Shelter Friends chapter. Friends chapters raise critical funding for shelters, including valuable resources to ensure the animals in their care are healthy and get the veterinary care they need. This medical care also includes foster animals. For example, when I fostered Garrus, the Friends paid for his much-needed dental surgery so he could eat without pain and become healthy again.
  9. Get the word out in your community. Do you have friends, family members, and/or colleagues who would be interested in becoming involved in or donating to a shelter? You can also team up with a school, camp, library, church, organization, or nonprofit to organize an animal shelter drive. 
  10. Personally thank the incredible people who work at animal shelters. They work exceptionally hard. Appreciating what they do is one small way you can recognize that and give back to your community.