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Archive for September, 2007


Fat Charlie, weighing in at 168 pounds, makes Yours Truly feel better about his own weight.  Thank you, Fat Charlie.

Are you ‘loving’ your pet into an early grave?

  • Story Highlights
  • Veterinarian: Too many pets suffer from being overweight
  • Fat pets can have respiratory, cardiac and orthopedic ailments
  • Owners think treats are way to love their animals
  • Solutions can be portion control, more exercise
By Joan Shim

(LifeWire) — The growing obesity problem doesn’t exclude pets.

“We are seeing so many overweight dogs and cats, and it’s sad because their weight levels are completely manageable with diet changes,” says Dr. Kristine Yee, a veterinarian at California Animal Hospital in Los Angeles.

But pet owners are often slow to admit that their animals need to shed pounds.

A 2005 study from pet-food maker Purina found that 60 percent of pets in the U.S. were overweight.

But almost half of the owners of overweight pets rated their cats and dogs as having the “ideal” body condition.

Pet obesity can be a sensitive issue, says Susan Davis, a pet nutritionist based in Lake Forest, California, who has helped many pets trim down. Because some owners treat their pets like their children, people can take it personally when you tell them they have an overweight animal.

But pet obesity isn’t just about looks. Extra weight can lead to myriad health problems and even shorten an animal’s life span.

“Some of the pets I’ve seen have severe respiratory, cardiac, metabolic and orthopedic dysfunction that is drastically worsened by just being obese,” Yee says. One beagle she treated tore a cruciate (knee) ligament three times and had to have multiple surgeries, all because he was carrying too many pounds.

Why so fat?

It’s common for people to show their pets love by giving them a lot of food and snacks. They pour on the treats, not realizing that one dog biscuit can be 100 calories. They let cats and dogs feast on the fat of their rib-eye steaks and other scraps from the dinner table.

“A lot of owners think their pets are suffering if they aren’t getting table scraps and treats,” Yee says. “But dogs don’t need people food; they’re perfectly happy with their own food.”

As with humans, excessive portions are a main cause of the weight problem.

“People don’t use measuring tools most of the time,” says Davis, a certified clinical nutritionist. “They wing it or free-feed their pet, and end up giving them three cups instead of the recommended one-cup serving.”

Like people, pets need to stay active, too. This means walking your dog or cat regularly and playing with them, indoors and out.

The obesity test

You can find out if your pet is overweight by determining its body condition score. This test is available on several Web sites, including Ohio State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. It’s the same test that many vets use to determine a pet’s ideal weight.

Yee offers two simple tests that show obesity:

• Run your hands across the chest of the dog or cat. You should always be able to feel their ribs but not see them. There should never be a layer of fat over the ribs.

• Look at the standing dog or cat from a bird’s eye view. They should have what looks like a waist that tucks in right in front of the hips.

Steps to slimming down

Davis gives these tips to get pets back into shape:

• Control portions. Look at everything you are feeding your pet — pet food, treats and human food — and reduce the amount. Use proper measuring tools.

Also, food packages will recommend portions by weight ranges. Use the weight range of the overweight pet’s ideal weight, not its current weight. And use the lowest suggested amount for that range. For example, if the manufacturer recommends two to three cups for dogs over 30 pounds, give the dog two cups.

• Control quality. Don’t feed your pet human junk food like pizza or sweets such as baked goods, ice cream or cookies. Home-prepared meals using fresh ingredients are acceptable, Davis says. Wholesome items such as brown rice, fresh lean meats and carrots are recommended. Be sure to avoid the human foods that can be toxic to cats and dogs: grapes/raisins, mushrooms, chocolate and coffee. Tomatoes and garlic can also be toxic for cats.

• Increase exercise. Get into the habit of walking your dog every day. Getting outdoors is good for a pet’s emotional health, too, giving it a chance to make social contact and find out what is going on in the neighborhood.

With dogs, you can also play fetch, play hide and seek, set up obstacle courses for them or take them swimming. Cats can stay active indoors or out by playing with toys, “hunting” for food, or being walked outside on a leash.

Diet pet foods are also available. Ask your vet if he or she recommends feeding your pet reduced-calorie foods. Homemade meals tend to be lower in calories and healthier than prepared pet foods, because they don’t contain fillers. In either case, vets say, portion control is the main issue in reducing or managing an animal’s weight.

LifeWire provides original and syndicated lifestyle content to Web publishers. Joan Shim is a freelance writer and former editor at Pet Product News.

September 26th, 2007
11:34 am

Chocolate Labrador Resting on a Bed


Readers have noted how fond I am from posting from The New York Times (perhaps too fond, they say). With this in mind, I offer the following piece from Ms. Kim Campbell Thornton, an MSNBC contributor. It regards the seasonal phenomenon in which the family pet undergoes psychic trials as the little ones head off to school. I would suggest another possible explanation (the denial of canine education) but this might only be an individual complaint.

Dog’s got the back-to-school blues

Pets can get down when their favorite people spend time away
By Kim Campbell Thornton
MSNBC contributor
Updated: 10:00 a.m. ET Sept 17, 2007


Daniel and Luke were inseparable. The best friends spent the summer outdoors, playing ball and tag, and going inside for a snack from Daniel’s mom when they got hot and hungry. But when Daniel, now 11, started back to school a couple years ago, Luke had to stay behind.

“That puppy was depressed!” says Daniel’s mother, Ginny Guidry, of Spring Valley, Calif. “He was only 4 months old when Daniel first went back to school. At first he just laid around, but after he figured out the program — Daniel’s leave time and return time — he seemed to perk up.”

It’s not unusual for dogs — and sometimes cats — to go into a funk when the kids go back to school in the fall or off to college for the first time. They may even mope around when your work schedule changes.

When we got Darcy as a puppy, my husband, Jerry, and I were working at home all the time, so she was used to plenty of attention from both of us. A few months later, Jerry began traveling extensively for work and Darcy’s life was turned upside down. Jerry would leave in the morning and she’d lie at the top of the stairs for hours, waiting for him to come back.

She followed her to school one day…
Some dogs take their unhappiness with separation to extremes. Our Old English Sheepdog, Sugar, used to jump our stucco wall and follow me to school when I was in the sixth grade. She’d show up at the classroom door and refuse to leave until my mother came to get her. That’s not an unusual problem with protective dogs such as the herding breeds, who view kids as part of their “flock.”

Cats can be quite emotionally attached to caregivers, too, and become distressed when their normal routine is interrupted.

“Part of that emotional attachment is a behavioral expectation that the two are going to do something predictable,” says John C. Wright, an animal behaviorist and professor of psychology at Mercer University in Macon, Ga. “It’s important to the cat on a daily basis. So you have a disruption in daily routine when someone leaves for school, a disruption in the emotional security the cat has, and that can result in both emotional and behavioral depression.”

With emotional depression, the cat appears to be distraught and may vocalize more than usual, Wright says. Signs of behavioral depression range from lethargy — the cat tends to sleep longer, especially during those times when it’s used to interacting with the person who’s gone — to hyperactivity.

Beating the blues
What’s the cure for depressed dogs and cats?

Lots of exercise can help dogs, says animal behaviorist Mary Lee Nitschke, a professor of psychology at Linfield College in Portland, Ore.

“The more physical exercise, the more endorphin release you can provide, and that’s all good,” she says, referring to feel-good chemicals in the brain.

It’s also important to remember that your dog feeds on your own emotional state. If you’re depressed about your child going off to college, your dog will sense that.

“For many people, when a kid goes off to college, the whole household is kind of depressed,” Nitschke says. “It’s a change in status in people’s lives, and everybody reacts to that at some level.”

Getting out and walking your lonesome dog is good therapy for both of you. If you face the prospect of a child going off to college or camp or basic training, start preparing your dog sooner rather than later, especially if your child and dog share a particularly close bond.

“If the kid going off to school was the major source of the dog’s playtime, then when you take that out of the environment, there’s going to be what seems like a deficit to the dog,” Nitschke says. “I would increase the physically active interactions with the dog. It’s not a bad idea to get the dog used to being walked or played with by other members of the household before the child goes off to college or back to school.”

Soothing scents
You also can provide comfort by having the child or adult who’s going away leave behind a worn piece of clothing such as a T-shirt. Having the scent of his favorite person around will help your dog relax.

Similar techniques work with cats. Have another member of the family try to approximate their routine, Wright says, including feeding the cat at the same time, playing with the cat at the same time and in the same ways, and letting the cat sleep with someone else if it was used to sleeping in the bed of its favorite person.


Ultimately, the best remedy is time.

Luke moped around for a while, then got used to Daniel’s schedule. What he likes best of all, Guidry says, is going with her in the afternoon when she picks Daniel up at school.

Kim Campbell Thornton is an award-winning author who has written many articles and more than a dozen books about dogs and cats. She belongs to the Dog Writers Association of America and is past president of the Cat Writers Association. She shares her home in California with two Cavalier King Charles spaniels and one African ringneck parakeet.

September 17th, 2007
8:08 pm


Brainy Parrot Dies, Emotive to the End

He knew his colors and shapes, he learned more than 100 English words, and with his own brand of one-liners he established himself in television shows, scientific reports and news articles as perhaps the world’s most famous talking bird.

But last week Alex, an African gray parrot, died, apparently of natural causes, said Dr. Irene Pepperberg, a comparative psychologist at Brandeis University and Harvard who studied and worked with the parrot for most of his life and published reports of his progress in scientific journals. The parrot was 31.

Scientists have long debated whether any other species can develop the ability to learn human language. Alex’s language facility was, in some ways, more surprising than the feats of primates that have been taught American Sign Language, like Koko the gorilla, trained by Penny Patterson at the Gorilla Foundation/ in Woodside, Calif., or Washoe the chimpanzee, studied by R. Allen and Beatrice Gardner at the University of Nevada in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1977, when Dr. Pepperberg, then a doctoral student in chemistry at Harvard, bought Alex from a pet store, scientists had little expectation that any bird could learn to communicate with humans, as opposed to just mimicking words and sounds. Research in other birds had been not promising.

But by using novel methods of teaching, Dr. Pepperberg prompted Alex to learn scores of words, which he could put into categories, and to count small numbers of items, as well as recognize colors and shapes.

“The work revolutionized the way we think of bird brains,” said Diana Reiss, a psychologist at Hunter College who works with dolphins and elephants. “That used to be a pejorative, but now we look at those brains — at least Alex’s — with some awe.”

Other scientists, while praising the research, cautioned against characterizing Alex’s abilities as human. The parrot learned to communicate in basic expressions — but he did not show the sort of logic and ability to generalize that children acquire at an early age, they said.

“There’s no evidence of recursive logic, and without that you can’t work with digital numbers or more complex human grammar,” said David Premack, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Pepperberg used an innovative approach to teach Alex. African grays are social birds, and quickly pick up some group dynamics. In experiments, Dr. Pepperberg would employ one trainer to, in effect, compete with Alex for a small reward, like a grape. Alex learned to ask for the grape by observing what the trainer was doing to get it; the researchers then worked with the bird to help shape the pronunciation of the words.

Alex showed surprising facility. For example, when shown a blue paper triangle, he could tell an experimenter what color the paper was, what shape it was, and — after touching it — what it was made of. He demonstrated some of his skills on nature shows, including programs on PBS and the BBC. He shared scenes with the actor Alan Alda on the PBS series “Look Who’s Talking.”

As parrots can, he also picked up one-liners from hanging around the lab, like “calm down” and “good morning.” He could express frustration, or apparent boredom, and his cognitive and language skills appeared to be about as competent as those in trained primates. His accomplishments have also inspired further work with African gray parrots; two others, named Griffin and Arthur, are a part of Dr. Pepperberg’s continuing research program.

Even up through last week, Alex was working with Dr. Pepperberg on compound words and hard-to-pronounce words. As she put him into his cage for the night last Thursday, she recalled, Alex looked at her and said: “You be good, see you tomorrow. I love you.”

He was found dead in his cage the next morning, Dr. Pepperberg said.

September 12th, 2007
12:05 am


The  picture of this exploited pair says “we demand an inheritance.” 


Trouble’s $12M trust fund

part of new legal trend

NEW YORK (AP) — Leona Helmsley’s decision to leave $12 million to her dog so it could live out its life in luxury proved once and for all that she was not one of the little people.

But legal experts say that, size aside, Helmsley’s gift to her beloved pet — a Maltese named Trouble — wasn’t unique.

A growing number of people, not all wealthy, have been setting up trust funds or adjusting their wills to ensure that their pets are well cared for if they die, according to attorneys and animal welfare groups.

States have rushed to make such gifts easier. At the close of the 1990s, only a handful recognized so-called “pet trusts.” Now, 39 states plus Washington, D.C., have enacted laws dealing with such gifts.

The types of bequests vary. Some well-off Americans go as far as to set aside tens of thousands of dollars to allow their pets to continue to live comfortably in their past homes with a professional caretaker, rather than be shipped off to a relative. VideoWatch how Trouble can go on a spending spree »

Others leave money for future veterinary bills, or just to compensate a new owner for taking on the responsibility of a new dog or cat.

Rachel Hirschfeld, an estate lawyer in New York who specializes in pet trusts, said the idea isn’t so crazy.

“People really think of their pets as their babies,” she said.

Yes, she said, gifts like Helmsley’s are extraordinary. Her clients more commonly leave $5,000 to $10,000, although she had one who set aside $5 million.

Tales about eccentric millionaires leaving chunks of their fortune to a pet go back decades, but the creation of trusts for that purpose became easier in 1990 because of an update of the Uniform Probate Code, a model upon which many states base their laws regarding wills.

Animal welfare groups have also lobbied for a federal bill that would create tax benefits for a pet owner who creates such a trust, then leaves the remaining money to charity when the animal dies.

Sara Amundson, a director of legislative affairs for the Humane Society of the United States, said even a small gift can keep a pet from winding up in dire straits.

“As a nation, we still euthanize 4 to 6 million cats and dogs every year, and a good number of those are pets left without care when their owners die,” she said.

Pet owners of moderate means can ensure some stability for their animals by including a few lines in their will spelling out who gets the family dog, said Kim Bressant-Kibwe, associate counsel of trusts and estates for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

“Maybe it’s a situation where a person only has $500 or $1,000 to leave for a pet’s care, and that’s fine,” Bressant-Kibwe said. “What we want people to think about is making arrangements.”

The specifics of Helmsley’s gift to Trouble are spelled out in private trust documents and aren’t publicly known. Her will says only that the dog will be cared for by her brother, and that when it dies, its remains will be buried next to her own in a lavish family mausoleum.

Hirschfeld, who was also a longtime acquaintance of Helmsley’s, said that even given the hotelier’s famous penchant for fine living, the trust’s size is startling.

“Twelve million is outrageous. Come on! Let’s get real!” she said. “If someone had come to me and said, ‘I want to leave 12 million bucks, I’d say, ‘why?”‘

One possible reason, she speculated, is that money left over after the dog’s demise might ultimately be destined for animal-welfare charities.

A strongly written trust, she said, could likely protect the dog’s gift from becoming the subject of a court fight.

New York state law allows a court to reduce bequests to pets if a judge finds they are more than needed for the animal’s care, and there is always the possibility that disappointed relatives might be waiting in the wings to argue that the dog got too much.

Helmsley, a hotel and real estate magnate who died Aug. 20 at age 87, decreed that the vast bulk of her multibillion-dollar estate would go to charity, not to her family, although she made individual gifts of $5 million to $10 million to several relatives.

She also expressly stiffed two grandchildren with whom she had feuded, saying in her will that they would get nothing, “for reasons that are known to them.”

September 1st, 2007
11:35 am