Pet Advice: Pet Trainers Train Pet Owners

New Type of ID Tags for Dogs and Cats
By JUSTIN GILLETT, San Francisco Chronicle

A new type of pet identification tag uses an online database to store information for registered animals, making it easier for owners to locate lost pets.

The Together Tag allows pet owners to go online and register their pets on a Web site that tracks the information about their pets. The data, including the pet's diet, veterinary record and contact info, is available to anyone who enters the animal's tag ID number on the site. The tag features an alert that owners can activate when their pets go missing that will notify nearby shelters with a picture of the missing cat or dog.

The Together Tag was developed by networking site Dogster of San Francisco and is getting promotional help from the American Red Cross.

The idea for the tag came about after it became clear that there was a need for an animal safety net after Hurricane Katrina displaced more than 600,000 pets, said Dogster co-founder Ted Rheingold.

"People don't really think about their pets when they evacuate for a disaster," said Melanie Finke, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross Bay Area. "Having something like a Dogster collar would be crucial for reconnection."

"We're working with the Red Cross so people can keep their pets as safe as possible," Rheingold said.

The Together Tag has advantages over other types of pet tracking products, such as microchips.

There are four microchip companies that all use different technology, so even if a dog has a microchip, a veterinarian or an animal shelter may not even have the right machine to read it, said Bruce Burtch, a spokesman for Dogster.

While only veterinarians and animal shelters can read microchips, anyone can look up the information on a Together Tag.

Dogster and its sister company, Catster, are pet-friendly networking Web sites, similar to Facebook and MySpace.

Together Tags

$5 of the purchase price is donated to Red Cross Pet Safety Programs. For more information, go to

Feathers Aren’t Just for Flying
By GARY CLARK - Houston Chronicle

A 10-year-old girl asked me an elemental but incisive question: “Why do birds have feathers?”

The answer is not as simple as saying, “because birds fly.” Birds such as penguins, emus and kiwis don’t fly at all despite having complex feathers. But most birds do fly, and their entire bodies, including the bones, muscles, cardiovascular system and feathers, are designed for flight.

Bird feathers actually serve a variety of purposes. For example, penguins have three layers of short, waterproof, insulating feathers that protect the birds in subzero Antarctic temperatures and propel them through frigid waters.

Owls have velvety, soft-edged flight feathers that enable them to fly silently and stealthily in the night. Additionally, owl feathers have muted colors that reflect scant light to make the owl even stealthier as a nighttime hunter.

A bird feather is typically made up of a central shaft supporting vanes on either side. The vanes consist of parallel barbs, each containing little barbules with tiny hooks locking together along the entire feather vane in a netlike fashion to appear as a solid feather.

Contour feathers generally serve as the surface layer of feathers, and they give a bird its shape as in the rounded back and sides of a duck. The feathers overlap one another, allowing water to run off the feathers without soaking through. Hence the saying “like water off a duck’s back.”

Contour feathers emerge from follicles on the skin and are arranged in rows or tracts separated by bare skin. In between feather tracts are fluffy down feathers that keep the bird warm.

Remiges are the long flight feathers on the wings that enable a bird to fly. Birds have two types of wing feathers: primaries extending from the midwing outward and secondaries extending from the midwing inward. Tertial feathers on the wing next to the bird’s body may be called flight feathers but actually help cover the folded wing.

Flight feathers are among the strongest of bird feathers and are usually attached to the wing bone by ligaments. Primaries are narrower than secondaries and provide thrust for flight while the broader shaped secondaries provide lift for flight.

Tail feathers, called rectrices, are used like a rudder to steer, brake and stabilize flight. But woodpeckers also have stiff, spikelike rectrices that allow the bird to brace itself against a tree trunk.

Flight feathers have a layer of covert feathers that help furnish an aerodynamic form to the wings and tail while also providing an added layer of insulation to the bird’s body.

Feathers occur only on birds and provide bodily shape and insulation as well as enabling flight.

Feather origins

Probably evolved from reptilian scales, still present on bird legs and feet.

Feather color

Comes from feather structure or pigment.

The iridescent and often rouge gorget on a hummingbird comes from structural feather characteristics that refract light waves like a prism.

Blacks, browns and pale yellows come from melanin pigments in the feathers. Melanin-pigmented feathers are strong, which is why the powerful primary flight feathers on a goose are black.

The pigmented red of a cardinal or bright yellow of a goldfinch come from carotenoids in plant seeds.

Melanin and carotenoid pigments combine to produce orange and green feathers.

Sexual dimorphic color

Some male birds like cardinals have brighter colors than females.

The brighter colored the male, the more attractive he is as a mate. The duller colored the female, the more inconspicuous she is to predators when she’s brooding eggs.

Edina Makeup Artist Has Best-Dressed Cat in the 'Hood
By C.J., Star Tribune

Add "kitty kouturist" to the endless hobbies keeping Carroll Britton busy.

The owner of Carroll Britton Cosmetics started dressing her cat Lilly, a Humane Society grad, to protect feline from the canines in her house and Edina neighborhood.

Is Britton too old to be dressing her cat like a 10-year-old? I think so, but she does not care what I think. "It's protective body armor, to keep the dogs from biting her. It's been a long winter and when you don't go on vacation you have to find ways to amuse yourself," she said. "She loves being dressed up." supports that assertion, as does neighbor Krista Doyle. Lilly reportedly treats the lawn outside the windows at Doyle's home like a catwalk.

"Wherever we are in the house she will walk [by the window] to make herself seen. She did have her light blue sweater on and she looked gorgeous," said Doyle.

The aformentioned blue sweater has not been seen, however, since last week when Lilly returned home without it.

Britton nearly scratched my eyes out when I suggested that maybe one of her Standard Poodles, the obnoxiously loud barky Remé or gentleman Merci, disrobed the cat. "Dogs don't have that much dexterity! Some human did this. Who took the damn outfit off my cat? I don't take clothes off their kids," said Britton.

"I put her in onesies [and other garments, one a handmade number that includes what I'd describe as ear hats] for protective reasons. Your little friend, baby Merci, likes to nip at her. And not just nip, he takes out big chunks her fur -- looks like he's got a Robert Goulet mustache -- and he looks at me like, Huh? I didn't bite her."

She's slandering my favorite pet in their house because I can't stand Remé. As you'll see on the video, Merci does exactly what he's told, even when the words are "Step away from the cat."

Lilly goes through several wardrobe changes on video and in the end can been seen surveying the land while wearing a baby T-shirt that reads: C.J. GETS THE POOP FROM ME!

It's all fun and games and something to take your mind off the economy until Britton creates a Facebook page for Lilly.

C.J. is at 612.332.TIPS or E-mailers, please state a subject -- "Hello" doesn't count. Attachments are not opened, so don't even try. More of her attitude can be seen on FOX 9 Thursday mornings.

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EarthTalk: Can My Cat Be a Vegetarian, Too?
By The Editors of E Magazine

Q: I don’t eat meat, for a variety of ethical and environmental reasons, and I’d rather not feed it to my cat, either. Do cats have to be carnivores?
– John McManus, Needham, Mass.

A: Unlike dogs and other omnivores, cats are true (so-called “obligate”) carnivores: They meet their nutritional needs by consuming other animals and have a higher protein requirement than many other mammals. Researchers state that cats get certain key nutrients from meat that can’t be sufficiently obtained from plant-based foods. Without a steady supply of these nutrients, they say, cats’ health can suffer.

A cat’s ideal diet is made up mainly of protein and fats derived from small prey such as rodents, birds, small reptiles, and amphibians. Some cats munch on grass or other plants, but most biologists agree that such roughage serves only as a digestive aid and provides little – if any – nutritional value.

Providing your domestic cat with a steady stream of its preferred prey is hardly convenient or humane – and cats can and do wreak havoc on local wildlife populations if left to forage on their own. So we fill them up on dry “kibble,” which combines animal products with vegetable-based starches, and meat-based canned “wet” foods, many containing parts of animals that cats would probably never encounter, much less hunt, in a purely natural situation. Most cats adapt to such diets, but it is far from ideal nutritionally.

Veterinarian Marla McGeorge, a cat specialist at Best Friends Veterinary Medical Center in Portland, Ore., says that the problem with forcing your cat to be vegetarian or vegan is that such diets fail to provide for proper feline health and are too high in carbohydrates that felines have not evolved to be able to process. As for powder-based supplements intended to bridge the nutritional gap, Dr. McGeorge says that such formulations may not be as easily absorbed by cats.

Some vehemently disagree. Evolution Diet, makers of all-vegetarian foods for cats, dogs, and ferrets, says that its meatless offerings, on the market for 15 years, are healthy and nutritious. If anything, their products have extended the lives of many felines and canines, they say.

Claiming that most mainstream pet foods contain unhealthy animal fat, diseased tissue, steroid-based growth hormones, and antibiotics no less harmful to pets than to humans, the company’s website posts testimonials from customers who claim to have happy and long-lived pets who look forward to their meals.

Harbingers of a New Age, which makes “Vegecat” dry food and supplements aimed to provide cats with nutrients otherwise only found in meat, says that its products allow you to “prepare food in your own kitchen, choosing recipes that fit your lifestyle.”

The vegetarian pet debate is contentious. The best approach may be to give some nonmeat supplements or foods or both a try. If your cat won’t eat them, or does not do well on them, and a veterinarian agrees, you can always go back to what you were feeding your pet before.

Got an environmental question? Write: EarthTalk, c/o E – The Environmental Magazine, Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881. Or e-mail:

Species Profile: the Piranha
Karen Mittelman - Cleveland Fish and Aquariums Examiner

The Hollywood mythos that surrounds the piranha identifies it as a man-eating, bovine-skeletonizing monster. While they do have wickedly sharp teeth, the reality does not live up to the “fish tales” you’ve probably heard. Today, I will explain how to keep piranha, with both your safety and the fish’s well-being in mind.

Please Note:

There are many species of closely related fish that are referred to as “piranha.” The information I am sharing today focuses on the variety most commonly found in our local pet stores: the red belly piranha (Pygocentrus nattereri). If you are interested in a different species, please be sure to do your research, as they can vary greatly in adult size, diet, and temperament.

Also, be aware that Ohio is one of the few states in which piranha can be legally purchased and kept. Out-of-state readers should check their state’s restrictions before bringing a piranha home.


Contrary to popular belief, piranhas are very shy and skittish fish with a strong “fight or flight” instinct. Their response can go either way, depending on the circumstances, and that is part of the challenge in dealing with them. They are best kept either as a single specimen or in a group of four or more of the same species so that aggression can be evenly distributed throughout the group.

If you keep only a pair, one will become dominant and eventually kill the other. Mixing species of piranha or adding other types of fish (whether large cichlids or the ubiquitous pleco) will almost always end in tragedy and I do not recommend it. While other fish may be more “aggressive,” piranhas have razor-sharp teeth that can do more damage in a single bite than a cichlid could do in a month of bullying.

Also, many species of piranha feed by taking a bite from a fish’s fins, tail, or scales. In the wild, this damage is minimal and heals over time. In the confines of an aquarium, however, the same fish gets bitten again and again until it is killed. In light of that, who is the “mean” one? The piranha, which is only following its instincts and feeding in a natural manner… or the human, who has trapped two incompatible animals together in a glass box and is surprised to discover that they behave, well... like animals?

The only exception I know of is that very small fish can sometimes be kept with very large piranha. This is because tiny fish are too hard for a large one to catch and are simply not worth the effort. There are no guarantees, however.

Housing Piranha

Be sure that your tank is sufficiently large for the number and type of piranha you plan to keep. Because a red-belly piranha can reach nearly a foot in length, a 48-inch, 55-gallon tank is the absolute minimum for a single adult (and 75 would be much better because of the additional width). A quartet would require a minimum of 180 gallons, though a larger tank is always better.

A dimly lit environment is preferred because it makes these skittish fish feel more secure and subtle lighting brings out their beautiful, sparkling scales. A simple way to establish this is to apply strips of black electrical tape across the glass beneath the aquarium’s light. The effect resembles shafts of light shining through foliage, which is both natural and stunning.

Large pieces of driftwood and boulders make the best décor. Smaller piranha will appreciate the addition of plastic plants (they will shred live ones), but in my experience, larger piranha will destroy all plants (live or plastic) with their sharp teeth. I’d leave them out if your fish are more than about five or six inches long.

Maintaining a Piranha Tank

Though hardy, piranhas are a very messy fish, so regular partial water changes and filter maintenance are a must. That said, there are some precautions you should take to reduce the risk of a nasty bite.

The number one rule: respect your piranha. Respect the fact that it is a nervous animal with primitive instincts and that it has extremely sharp teeth. A bite could easily require stitches (or worse, if the fish is very large). Be sure to feed your fish an hour or so before doing tank maintenance so that you will not have your hands in a tank with a hungry piranha. The hungrier they are, the more dangerous they are apt to be. Small piranha will only cause a bit of pain, but a big one can do some real damage, so be careful!

In fact, only put your hands in the tank when you absolutely must. Use a long siphon for cleaning and aquarium tongs for moving décor. Piranhas are extremely fast swimmers, so you must watch them at all times. This is yet another reason why I suggest the largest possible tank. If at all possible, I would recommend purchasing or building a divider to make maintenance safer and easier. Simply corral the fish to one side of the tank with the divider and work on the other, then switch. There is no sense in taking unnecessary risks.


Please, please, please do not make feeder goldfish the staple food for your piranha! Feeders are low in nutrients, high in fat, and often disease-ridden. Feed a variety of high protein foods, such as brine shrimp, bloodworms, and flake (for small fish) or frozen silversides, fish fillets, and pellets (for large piranha). Supplemental feeding with zucchini slices, peas, or romaine lettuce are also recommended. If your piranha will not take prepared food (or, if you want to give him a treat), you may offer feeder guppies (which you have quarantined to ensure health), ghost shrimp, or crayfish.


I hope that I have dispelled myths for at least a few people out there. Piranha truly are not the vicious man-eaters Hollywood portrays. Most injuries inflicted by "pet" piranha are due to the keeper's carelessness rather than to innate aggression on the fish's part. If you keep your piranha well-fed and avoid startling it when your hands are in the tank, there's no reason why you can't safely keep this fascinating animal.

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4 Tips on Picking a Nutritional Pet Food
By Nicole Paitsel - Daily Press (Newport News, Va)

A veterinary nutritionist shares how to select food for your dog or cat.

Stand in any pet food store or the pet food aisle of a supermarket and it's easy to become overwhelmed by all the choices.

To help sort through the choices, here are some tips for finding a nutritional food at the best price from Iveta Becvarova, a veterinary nutritionist with the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech.

• Stick to the correct life stage. Both dog and cat foods will be labeled for life stage. Puppies and pregnant animals need extra calories and fat for growth. Becvarova warns pet owners to stay away from food labeled "for all life stages," because those blends often include too many calories for a healthy adult dog or cat.

"Obesity is such a problem for animals now. Normal adult dogs really don't need the same nutrient and calorie intake as puppies," she says.

• Look for wording about feeding trials. Every pet food package will have an American Association of Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) statement. This regulatory group tells consumers how the food is formulated. The statement on preferred foods will include wording about feeding trials, which means that the food has been tested on animals for digestibility and nutritional balance.

• The order of ingredients matters. Labels are required to list the ingredients in weight order. The first ingredient is the one that constitutes the most weight in the formula. Becvarova says the first or second ingredient should be a protein source — water will always be first for canned foods. Quality protein sources include whole meats and chicken byproduct meal. Organ meats, such as liver, are also good. Pet owners should stay away from foods that list meat and bone meal and meat meal tankage as main ingredients.

• Be careful when making your own pet food. Homemade pet food is a growing trend, but Consumer Reports experts and Becvarova warn that it's difficult to plan a balanced diet.

"There are 40 specific nutrients that your dog needs in order to have a balanced diet. Making your own food is very elaborate. It takes time, and the food is harder to store because there are no preservatives," Becvarova says.

If you would like to make your own dog or cat food, you should work with your veterinarian and a veterinary nutritionist to set up a balanced plan. Becvarova warns that simply consulting Internet and magazine sources can be dangerous because the recipes may not contain all of the nutrients the animal needs.

Trainers Don't Teach Your Dog; They Teach You to Teach Your Dog
By Eve Mitchell - Bay Area News Group

Man's best friend is loyal, loving and fun to hang out with. Man's best friend also can shred shoes, yank on a leash and snap at other dogs if not properly trained.

Dog training can indeed be a do-it-yourself project. But working with a professional dog trainer, either in a class or private one-on-one session, provides expertise and assistance not available to pet owners who train dogs on their own.

When looking for a dog trainer, it's important to seek out those who use positive training methods that reward rather than punish, experts say. Get recommendations from dog owners, veterinarians, dog clubs and local animal shelters.

Once you find a trainer, ask to attend a class session to see how the trainer works with people and dogs.

"In looking for a trainer, you want somebody who touts positive training," says Joan McClure, president of the Walnut Creek Dog Owners Group.

A dog trainer should also be able to deal with different behavioral situations such as aggression, excessive barking or fear issues.

"Look for someone who has worked in different situations "... someone who is not just working with walking a dog on a leash so he can heel," McClure says.

"If you go to the dog park and see someone's dog that is really well trained, ask that person who helped them," says Eliza Fried, director of development and marketing at the Oakland-based East Bay SPCA.

People don't have to be licensed to be a dog trainer, says Mychelle Blake, spokeswoman for the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, a professional organization of dog trainers.

While the association does not certify dog trainers, it recognizes 10 certification designations issued through seven professional groups that include the International Association of Canine Professionals and the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. To be certified, a dog trainer has to meet certain educational standards established by the groups.

Dog owners can indeed train a dog on their own, but a trainer can point out if they are making any mistakes, Blake says.

"You can certainly do it on your own if you are good at following written instructions or taking direction from a DVD," she says. "Trainers are not training the dog. They are teaching you how to train the dog."

The association provides referrals to both certified and noncertified member trainers on its Web site at For a list of recommended dog training DVDs and books, check out

Expect to pay from $145 to $200 for a six-week basic obedience class.

Generally, dog training classes offered through local animal shelters tend to be the most affordable option, Blake says.

Look for trainers who explain the lesson before class starts and provide handouts to take home.

"If they say no or are hesitant, that would be a big red flag to me," Blake says.

People should look for a dog trainer before they get a dog, if possible, says Martin Deeley, executive director of the International Association of Canine Professionals. "If you go and watch a training session and are not happy with the way the trainer is working or watching the way the dogs and owners are reacting, then maybe that trainer is not for you," Deeley says.

Opting for a public dog training class or private session depends on the dog.

The advantage of a class is that the learning happens in an environment with other dogs and people around, Blake says. The optimal size for a class is six to eight dogs to one instructor, although a larger class can work if there is an assistant, she adds.

One-on-one training means individual attention, which could be helpful for dogs with behavioral issues, she says.

And Blake advises staying away from any dog trainer who guarantees that the instruction will change the dog's behavior. "I would really question that. "... You cannot guarantee the behavior of an animal," she says.

--Provide a clear explanation of each lesson.

--Demonstrate the behavior(s) that students will be teaching to their dogs.

--Provide clear instructions and written handouts on how to teach the behavior(s).

--Give students ample time in class to begin practicing the day"s lesson.

--Assist students individually with proper implementation of techniques.

--Encourage dialogue and be courteous to both canine and human clients alike.

--Employ humane training methods which are not harmful to the dog and/or handler, and avoids the practices of hanging, beating, kicking, shocking and similar procedures or training devices that could cause the dog great pain, distress, or that have imminent potential for physical harm.

You have the absolute right to stop any trainer or other animal care professional who, in your opinion, is causing your dog undue harm or distress.

Source: Association of Pet Dog Trainers

Dog Trainer Shares Tips on Avoiding Snake Bites

This is the time of year when everyone who walks their dog in the backcountry or hikes local trails around the neighborhood needs to be on the lookout for rattlesnakes.

Seldom does a year pass when I don't hear or read about a hunting dog or family pet getting bit by a rattlesnake. Dogs are curious critters and unless they've had a bad experience with a snake and lived to bark about it, their first encounter with a venomous snake might be their last.

“Every year I hear horror stories from dog owners who either lose their dogs because of a snake bite or have to pay a huge veterinarian bill to save them,” said Tracy Presson of High On Kennels in Mesa Grande, between Santa Ysabel and Lake Henshaw.
Vet bills to save a dog from a venomous snake bite can run into thousands of dollars. But Presson has a cheaper way to go. Her individual snake-avoidance class costs $60 per dog. She's offering them now.

Presson has trained and turned out quality hunting dogs over the years for former San Diego Padres pitcher Randy Jones, a star on the Outdoor Channel these days, and for hunting operations like the Cibola Sportsmen's Club in Arizona. Presson specializes in gun-dog training, but she also has a gift for working with gun dogs and pet dogs who have obedience issues. She also has spacious kennels on her ranch for boarding dogs.

For her snake-avoidance classes, Presson employs an electronic collar on the dog that simulates a snake bite when a dog gets too close to a rattlesnake. She uses live rattlesnakes that have been neutralized and can't bite. In over 13 years of teaching snake-avoidance she has never had a dog bitten by a rattler during training, nor has a snake been injured or killed.

“We teach the dog that the sound, sight and scent of the rattlesnake will hurt,” she said.

Here's Presson's top five snake tips for dog owners:

No. 1: “Enroll in our snake-avoidance class each spring,” she said. “If your dog has gone through the class, a refresher training class reinforces what the dog has learned.”

No. 2: “Take your dog to the vet for a snake vaccine shot. That doesn't guarantee your dog will survive a rattlesnake bite, but it gives the dog a better chance to survive.”

No. 3: “Always take your dog to the veterinarian immediately if you suspect your dog has been bitten by a rattlesnake.”

No. 4: “Take preventive measures by clearing your yard of brush and wood piles. Always be with your dog at night in your yard because that's when snakes come out looking for critters.

No. 5: “Once your dog is trained to avoid snakes, learn to read your dog. You may save yourself or your dog from a snake bite if you stay in tune with your dog's signals.”

For more information about Presson's snake-avoidance classes or her various training sessions for hunting dogs and obedience classes for pet dogs and boarding quarters, call (760) 782-0728, e-mail or check her Web site:

Experts Offer Advice on New Pet Selection

Last month a family purchased a sick puppy from Dogwoods Doodles Kennel in Nottingham.

In last week's column we began an investigation of why this happened and detailed how you can avoid a similar experience.

The pup was a "cocker-doodle" a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle. Some people believe these crossbreds are genetically healthier than any pure-bred dog. I disagree.

The belief is based on a misunderstanding of what "hybrid vigor" is and on the mistaken belief this vigor will ensure a very healthy dog. Sadly, it ain't so.

Nothing about genetics is this simple. People seeking a crossbred dog or a mongrel would be well-advised to seek one at any shelter.

Those who purposely breed crossbreds could be accused of playing on the ignorance of consumers. Certainly they are not providing education, or generally, not very healthy dogs either.

When one decides to seek a canine pet, there are basic steps that should be followed, regardless of what sort of dog is sought. Dr. Steve Crawford is New Hampshire's state veterinarian. He offers words of wisdom for new pet buyers.

"This [seeking a pet] is a lifetime commitment — do your homework," he says. "If it is from a pet shop, animal shelter, or other licensed facility, contact this office to review inspection reports and history. If from a private breeder, ask for and personally call multiple referrals. Always be very cautions about committing to any purchase, adoption, etc. without seeing the animal first.

"Internet-based transactions have become very common in the past several years, and it is very easy to get caught up in the excitement of photos and stories on a website," he continues. "This office receives many complaints about Internet-based transactions that could have been avoided by investing a few hours of homework beforehand. Regardless of the source, ALWAYS get a current health certificate; statute requires it.

"Take your new pet to your veterinarian within the first week of ownership for a baseline healthy check," he adds. "If there are any health problems, RSA 437:13 requires any licensed facility to take a return in exchange for your choice of a refund or a replacement animal within 14 days of the date of purchase."

Joyce Arivella is the president of the Dog Owners of the Granite State. She is also a breeder and trainer of Newfoundland dogs.

She volunteers suggestions about selecting a puppy or dog you can reasonably expect to spend many happy years with.

"I would advise them to research the pet they are interested in so that they can be sure they get a pet that will suit them in size, energy level, temperament, etc. Your local library, the Internet (check out the American Kennel Club's puppy buyer information at WWW-AKC-ORG) and breeders of the breed can be good resources for this information, as can the purebred rescue groups," she said. "If you plan to purchase from a shelter or rescue group, sit down and plan out a type of personality, coat care, energy, difficulty of training and temperament you want in a dog. Then see if a rescue can match you with a dog that will suit you.

"Even if your pet is from a shelter," she adds, "do the same research for the prominent breeds in the animal you're considering. i.e. A German shepherd /Labrador retriever mix; research both Shepherds and Labs. You will not have the benefit of a breeder's advice, but you can learn more about both breeds to decide if that dog will be a good fit with your lifestyle. Once you decide on your new pet, make sure you get a health certificate and take your new pet to your veterinarian as soon as possible for an exam."

The steps Crawford and Arivella suggest could have saved the family referred to above a great deal of heartache plus a whole lot of money spent treating a dog they perhaps should not have bought in the first place.

To review:

1. Do your homework. Find books to read about whatever animal you are seeking. Discuss your choice with your veterinarian. Find people who have similar dogs and ask them about all the pros and cons of this choice. Contact an Obedience Trainer (such as the Piscataqua Obedience Club here) and ask about the probable temperament and trainability of the sort of animals you seek.

2. Once you find a possible source for your new pet, if they're licensed by the state veterinarian's office, contact the office and seek information about the licensee.

3. Never commit to an animal sight-unseen. I would never commit to an animal without spending some time with the animal's mother; you will be able to judge the future size and appearance, plus likely temperament and behavior, based on the mother.

4. Avoid seeking a pet over the Internet. Once you have decided what sort of animal you desire, seek reputable sources. Most states have a dog breeder's referral service (both Maine and New Hampshire have such). Area veterinarians maintain a list of reputable breeders in their area. Show kennels are not a guarantee of quality dogs, but they certainly must be above average.

Springtime Scoop: Tips for Disposing of Pet Pellets
by Rosemary Parker -

The long, snowy winter has left many pet owners with a disagreeable spring chore -- cleaning up after their dogs and cats now that the snow has melted.

Picking up what pets have left behind in the yard is chore enough. Figuring out the responsible way to dispose of it may be worse.

While both the Environmental Protection Agency and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality recommend flushing, that's not a good idea when it comes to sewer maintenance, especially in areas served by on-site septic systems, local health officials say.

Bill Hinz, director of environmental health of the Allegan County Health Department, cautioned against flushing cat or dog feces because they have a higher content of solids than human waste and are likely to block drains and ruin septic systems.

"Most shelters and kennels that have septic tanks and tile fields we increase the (required) size by quite a bit, and we encourage them not to put it down there at all," Hinz said.

Hosing down the grass and washing the dissolved feces down the driveway is not a good solution either because of the potential for contamination of streams and lakes as runoff enters storm sewers.

"We certainly don't want pet wastes getting into a beach environment, where it can elevate bacteria concentrations," said Jeff Reicherts, surface water specialist with Kalamazoo County Health and Community Services.

Yet there are no state regulations governing residential pet waste disposal, said Robin Box, operator with the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's Environmental Assistance Center hotline.

So what is the solution?

Homeowners are allowed to bury pet waste, although that's not always a practical solution with the accumulation of a winter's worth of feces and wet spring soils.

Since pet waste can be disposed of legally in a landfill, scooping and bagging it and throwing it out with the household garbage is an option, as long as it is allowed by the homeowner's garbage hauler. In southwestern Michigan, both Republic and Best Way Disposal accept dog and cat droppings.

"It's acceptable. We just like people to put it into a grocery bag, tie it and throw it into a garbage bag so it is double-bagged," said Chip Shaw, of the Watervliet office of Best Way. "We will not pick it up loose."

And if picking up poop is too odious to consider, homeowners can opt for spring cleanup services that will take care of the whole chore.

Kevin Wheeler, owner of Dog-Logs & Lawns, started cleaning up after pets three years ago as part of his lawn service. He has added a spring cleanup service that costs $25 for one dog, $35 for two and $45 for three.

A final option: Do nothing at all and allow the piles of waste to degrade with spring rains.

Feces -- although disagreeable and smelly -- won't harm the grass, said Ben Yost, owner of Farm N Garden in Kalamazoo. "It's just decomposing organic matter," he said.

But urine salts pose more of a threat to lawns, he said, especially if pets have repeatedly visited the same part of the yard. He recommended thoroughly watering the area to wash away accumulated salts. If the grass doesn't grow, turn over the soil and reseed it with rye grass or another quick-growing seed, Yost recommended.

Rosemary Parker can be contacted at or 388-2734.

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