Nora the Piano Cat PLUS Tax Breaks for Pet Supplies?

Puppy Love Gives At-Risk Kids
a Boost in Mount Clemens
Maureen Feighan / The Detroit News

Mount Clemens -- It isn't discipline or therapy that's making a big difference in the lives of some troubled kids in Macomb County. It's furry, four-footed critters.

The Macomb County Juvenile Justice Center, which houses kids who have had run-ins with the law, has teamed up with the county's animal shelter and a nonprofit called Teacher's Pet to offer a program that lets at-risk kids teach stray dogs basic obedience skills.

The dogs learn skills that make them more attractive to adoptive families, and the kids get a boost to their self-esteem. Program leaders say they've seen a difference in the kids involved, including better behavior and confidence.

"The kids get so much out of it, it gives me goose bumps just to think about it," said Lisa Rabine, a program facilitator and dog trainer with Teacher's Pet. She visits the justice center twice a week to work with the detainees picked for the program.

"They realize they can learn things, and they can do things."

Lisa Rabine, Teacher's Pet program facilitator and dog trainer, says at-risk kids have responded positively to the program. (Elizabeth Conley / The Detroit News)

Teacher's Pet started roughly five years ago at a school in Waterford Township. Today, it's in four facilities, including Oakland County's Children's Village.

At the Juvenile Justice Center, the program started earlier this year and graduated its second class of six students this week.

Rabine, who works with the trainers on skills such as sitting and staying, said it's "amazing" the difference the program can make in some students. She had one who told her she didn't like dogs and didn't know why she was there when it first started. She didn't smile and didn't really interact with the other students. Rabine asked her to give the program a chance.

Looking at pictures now, "she's smiling and talking to other kids. It's just amazing the difference."

Students, who work with one particular dog throughout the program, often pick strays that have the "same issues they need to work on," said Sue Jeroue, the county's chief animal control officer.

"I love it because the kids are so happy to see the dogs and the dogs will bolt trying to get to the kids," she said.

"It's so nice to see the interaction."

But ultimately, the kids do have to let go. All but one stray has been adopted.

But the program has gotten some kids thinking about their future, Rabine said. She said many have asked her about volunteering with dogs once they get out. One even wants to be a veterinarian one day.

"They just seem like happier kids," Rabine said.

What are you looking at?

Looking for Pet-Friendly Businesses?
Reporter: Mary Rinzel -

If you ever run into problems finding pet friendly places, a local lady is well on the way to a solution. It's an idea that's already getting attention around the world.

Mary Gensen is already featured in a national dog magazine and she's slated for a national radio show on Sunday. It’s all because she wanted pet lovers to feel welcome at her shop.

Up close, it's easy to see Gensen's love of animals. Even from a distance, as you pull up to her antique shop near Cameron, you can see it. But, Gensen is working to make that love visible nation-wide and she's using her brainchild—a trademarked logo to do it. It's called Hiway Dog.

"It's sweet. It's simple. And it works," Gensen says. "I woke up with this idea for a brand new symbol for pet-friendly. People's pets are like their family. And who wants to leave grandma in the car while you go shopping?"

Gensen's Hiway Dog concept is simple: If you own a business and you welcome pets along with people, you can buy the right to hang up her sign.

"If you're already giving it away, you might as well advertise," she says.

One of the first businesses to sign up and put up a Hiway Dog sign is in Weyerhaeuser. The owners say they've gotten nothing but a positive response.

"The amount of people traveling with their animals is outstanding,” says Amy Hajdasz, co-owner of “With us being a dog business, it fits right in line with her."

Gensen gave a three bone rating, meaning they pull out all the stops for pets including a fenced in, free playground. But, she says all it takes to be Hiway Dog certified is a parking spot reserved with some shade. She says her own one bone rating has already led to her busiest summer to date and is quickly making Hiway Dog another full time job.

"It's just kind of snowballed into something unbelievable,” Gensen says. “This little town of Cameron is going to have this national headquarters right here on my farm!”

A two year Hiway Dog membership will run you $250. If you like it, you can sign up for five more years for the same price of $250.

Right now Gensen has three businesses on board. She says she gets hundreds of e-mails everyday from people looking for more pet-friendly places to shop. They're all listed at

Heloise: Betta Fish Will Live
Longer When You Do This
By Heloise -

Dear Heloise: My first pet was a Siamese fighting fish (also known as a betta). I got a turquoise one and named it “Blue.” I took good care of him, always washing and changing the rocks and feeding him. I just wanted to tell you that anyone who gets a betta might think it can just live in a small bowl without oxygen or a bubble machine. If you want your betta to live longer, you should treat it like a regular fish in an aquarium. — Amy M., via e-mail

Amy, how right you are! Taking care of Siamese fighting fish does require some effort. The fish need:

- Special betta food (not just plant roots, or the fish will slowly starve to death).

- Fresh water every few days or a “bubbler” in the tank. (It is true that bettas will swim to the surface to gulp air, but a bubbler puts much more oxygen in the water.)

- Gravel or colored rocks to hide in. Make sure to clean the rocks in running tap water before you put them in the tank. (Don’t use soap.)

- Dechlorination drops (or tablets) for the tank water, which take out the chlorine.

A light is not necessary, but if you get one, use it only a few hours per day so algae don’t grow like crazy.

Betta fish don’t need a large habitat, but they do like to swim around and hide in their plants and rocks — something the size of a large goldfish bowl is best. Remember, don’t ever put two betta males together, since they will fight to the death! — Heloise

Send a money- or time-saving hint to Heloise, PO BOX 795000, San Antonio TX 78279-5000; fax: (210) HELOISE;


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Consumer Spending Goes to the Dogs (and Cats)

In this year of the great belt tightening pet owners continue to give themselves a long leash to keep shelling out for Fido and Fluffy. The American Pet Products Association estimates we’ll spend $45.5 billion on pets this year, a 5% increase since 2008 and a near 60% jump from our 2001 pet outlays. This comes at a time when June retail sales were about 10% lower than a year earlier and a Gallup survey of weekly consumer expenditures in mid-August was nearly 30% lower from a year ago.

Pet expenditures aren’t merely a kibble and kitty litter story. The APPA reports that 19% of pet owners admit to buying a “designer” item. Exhibit A: The $935 price tag for the large version of this cat condo would cover a few months of mortgage payments for plenty of human condos on the market.

But it’s not just about the pet bling. Basic food and care is driving some very big bottom lines. Nestle recently reported a 9% year-over-year pickup in its pet care division; PetSmart recently doubled its dividend payout, and drug maker Sanofi-Aventis SA is paying Merck $4 billion to buy its 50% share of animal health-care manufacturer Merial. Sanofi’s CEO told The Wall Street Journal that Merial sales are up 50% the past five years and the firm’s operating margin is near 30%.

I know all about that trend; the epileptic dog sleeping at my feet as I write this requires twice-daily medication, and will see her vet more this year than I have seen my primary care physician in the past decade.

But I just had to sigh in disbelief at a House Resolution introduced last month that would allow an annual tax deduction of up to $3,500 a year for “qualified pet expenses.” No, I am not making this up. As Howard Gleckman so pithily wrote at the Tax Vox blog, this non-essential tax break seems a bit out of touch for the times given the massive federal deficit. What’s your take on this pet project?

Tips in Managing Cat Allergies
Author: EricStan

In the United States, half the number of households owns either a cat or a dog as pets. However, it is just a little unfortunate that many people are allergic to cats, which discourages them from owning one, despite their fondness for these loving domestic animals. In fact, there are about 10 million Americans who have shown allergic tendencies to cats.

To help manage cat allergies, let us focus on the specific forms of cat allergies. The first one would be dander, which is dust coming from the cat’s body. Dander is a term used to refer to old skin that is shed off from the cat’s body in the forms of minute flakes.

Aside from causing skin irritation, dander also penetrates the immune system, which consequently causes allergic reactions. Once it enters the immune system, it becomes a problem, and although it is not a disease-producing element, it can certainly cause problems with people prone to allergies.

Cats spread allergens in many ways- blood, saliva, and urine. Even after the cat has left the area, his excretions can still bring about problems. You will find these things all around the house as the cat’s daily routine such as licking, scratching, and rubbing, makes it possible to do so.

Allergic Reactions to Cats

Commonly, if a person is allergic to cats, it is shown by the following signs and symptoms:

• Sneezing
• Wheezing
• Coughing
• Itching
• Watery eyes
• Difficulty in breathing

Other times, although rarely, fever and chills are experienced, and this is when you need to get medical help right away because this could be a sign of an underlying condition.

Take note however that people may show varying signs and symptoms of cat allergies, and not all the symptoms above could be present.


The most common treatment of cat allergies is decongestants and antihistamines. When do you take these? You take decongestants if you are coughing or have stuffy nose. You take antihistamines if you have asthma attacks, and breathing becomes difficult.

Additionally, there is also an option to get allergy shots but this will depend on your doctor’s decision so you may want to consult with him about it. Not only do these cat allergy shots treat the problem, they also help prevent its occurrence.

It is best to get hold of your doctor if you think you are suffering from cat allergies. This qualified medical practitioner should be able to advise you on the necessary steps you need to take, and this may include taking of medication or allergy shots. Your doctor may also advise you to get rid of your cat, if he deems it is best for you to do so.

Cats are wonderful creatures- warm and loving. Kids and adults alike love cats. However, there may come a point when we have to give them away, especially if they are already causing problems to our body, and to our health. This can be a difficult thing to do if you have grown so attached to your pet, but if it is the only recommended way to stop cat allergies then you should learn to let go.

For more information on cat worms, causes of cat worms and cures for cat worms visit WormsInCats.Net!

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Nora the Piano Cat, Fresh from CATcerto,
Living Hollywood Life in Philadelphia

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Nora the piano-playing cat is living the Hollywood life in Philadelphia.

Fresh from a Lithuanian concerto written just for her, the YouTube sensation gets fan mail by the bushel, has her own groupies and could be an addict if her owners ever forget to put the catnip away.

The 5-year-old tabby's latest cyber splash was Lithuanian conductor Mindaugas Piecaitis' first composition, featuring Nora's solo video performance in what he called his CATcerto.

The performance with the Klaipeda Chamber Orchestra on June 5 has become a Web sensation at, with hits closing in on 1 million.

In all, nearly 20 million people have watched Nora play. She has made the television talk show circuit and has videos, two books, her own Web site, a blog, three calendars, mugs, greeting cards, T-shirts and posters under her belt.

Nora is owned by piano teacher Betsy Alexander, 53, and her artist-photographer husband Burnell Yow. They live in a house splashed with floor-to-ceiling color with five other cats: Gabby, Max, Rennie, Miro and Clara.

Alexander said Nora, a photogenic green-eyed shelter cat, has been a diva as long as she's known her. In fact, the day they found each other, at a Cherry Hill, N.J., shelter, there was a sign on Nora's cage that said "bossy." She doesn't like other cats.

Nora has an agent, her own photographer and an entourage. But she isn't into bling (make that collars) and she doesn't like riding in a car — even a limo — or a plane.

"She loves visitors. She is a very gracious performer and she feels indebted to her public," Alexander said in a telephone interview from her home.

Nora doesn't play just any piano, she plays a Yamaha C5 Disklavier — a Lamborghini of a piano, Alexander calls it.

Most of her performances come when someone else is playing the turn-of-the-century, ivory-keyed and restored Briggs piano next to the Yamaha.

"She plays in rhythm and on key," said Alexander, who has been teaching piano, guitar, voice and composition since sixth grade. "She plays in the same area of the keyboard as the person on the other piano and when the student stops, she stops. More often than not, she is in the same octave as the student. Sometimes she plays loudly, softly, quickly, slowly."

A music teacher in Japan wrote to say Nora had superb technique and she used Nora as an example to her students on how to strike the keys. Nora releases the key instead of pounding it, Alexander explained.

Nora purrs when she plays. And when she dances, it is in circles on top of the grand piano. When she was young, she chased her reflection so long she would get dizzy and fall off the piano, Alexander said. These days when she gets dizzy, she just changes direction.

Nora does have one little problem.

"She loves to eat. She will eat as much as she possibly can. She's not picky either — fried chicken or filet mignon. She's like a little bowling ball, just roly-poly, like a seal, Alexander said.

Her size hasn't affected her popularity, though.

Alexander is putting the finishing touches on a gift book called "Nora the Piano Cat's Guide to Living the Purr-fect Life," and Nora has also gotten offers from magazines, cat toy manufacturers and fellow musicians. Alexander has been swamped by cat owners who want her to teach their cats how to play.

Nora has gotten thousands of e-mails and thousands of letters from all over the world. She is constantly asked for her autograph or pawtograph, as Alexander calls it. "We tried putting some food coloring on her paw but she didn't like that at all."

A sock monkey sends Nora a love note every Valentine's Day. She's had offers of marriage, notes of encouragement and video messages.

"It's wonderful mail," Alexander said. "One woman who runs a music camp wrote and said her 13-year-old daughter had quit piano lessons but when she saw Nora, she started up again."

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10 Reasons Why You Should Care
about Pet Nutrition
Posted by Zach -

Providing proper nutrition is the single most important thing you can do for your pet’s overall health. Proper nutrition can add years to life, increase overall vitality, and prevent ailments such as allergies, arthritis, skin conditions, stones, and organ failure. The list goes on.

In contrast, feeding an improper diet can cause or exacerbate the aforementioned ailments and will ultimately shorten lifespan. The number of ailments caused by poor nutrition is actually quite mind-boggling, yet many people don’t make the association. If your pet is less than healthy (even itchy, flaky skin counts here), take a look at what you’re feeding it. Nine times out of ten, I’ve been able to ease if not completely eliminate my furry clients’ anguish simply by recommending a better food. Try it. You’d be surprised.

2. The quality difference among products on the market is staggering.“Does the type of food I feed my pet really matter; aren’t all pet foods about the same anyway?” This is one of the most common questions I hear and touches on a subject that, thanks to the marketing efforts of low-grade pet food manufacturers, is often riddled with misinformation. I swear, the next time I see a commercial touting the nutritional merits of Friskies, I’m going to chuck something at the screen. But I digress.

The simple answer is no; not all pet foods are created equal. Ingredient type, source, balance, and a host of other factors determine food quality. We’ll be covering these issues in detail in later posts, but for now you can safely assume that any pet food you’d purchase from the grocery store or Wal-Mart is barely grasping the lowest rung of product quality. While you can fairly debate the minute differences among foods of the same level of quality, there is definitely a hierarchy and the common ingredients among the worst of them simply should not be used.

3. Pet nutrition is not the same as human nutrition.
Many pet food manufacturers, especially dog and cat, market their foods with ingredients that sound appealing to humans. While I may love a bacon cheeseburger, corn on the cob, and BBQ beans in the summer, this certainly does not mean that my dog should eat it.

Dogs are carnivorous omnivores, while cats are simply carnivorous. (Hint: this means you should immediately discredit any dog or cat food that lists some type of grain or corn as the primary ingredient. More on the ill effects of said ingredients in later posts.) Their ideal diets differ much from our own, and should be taken into account when looking at foods.

4. You’ll save money.
Saving money by purchasing a higher quality food may seem counter-intuitive, since we’ve been conditioned to believe that superior products command a premium price. However, while it’s true that the upfront costs of purchasing a bag of food from my store (for example) will be greater than those incurred by selecting a grocery store brand, in the long run, you’ll actually save money by shopping with me. Allow me to explain two factors that will work in your favor.

First, there’s digestibility, the amount of food consumed that’s actually absorbed and used by the body. Generally speaking, the digestibility of high-quality dry dog and cat food tends to hover around 80% or more, while some bottom-tier brands are lucky to meet the 30% mark. If you’re buying a low-grade canned food, you’re paying for a product that’s about 80% water, 20% food (compared to around 8% water in dry foods). And it’s safe to assume that the 20% that is food isn’t 100% digestible. Yikes.

Also, it’s important to note that digestible isn’t synonymous with healthy or useful. The “digestible” components of low-grade foods are often from sources that the body will convert straight into fat, while the digestible sources from higher-grade foods are used by the body to build muscle, provide energy, and complete other tasks useful to sustaining life.

What does this mean?

Aside from the fact that it’s unhealthy (and just plain gross) to feed your pet something primarily comprised of fillers and byproducts that its body can’t use, your pet will be overweight…and you’ll have to feed it more. Ah, the irony. It’s an endless cycle, as the animal simply isn’t getting the nutrients it needs. To put some numbers behind it, I just compared one of the dog foods I carry to a few of the lower-grade brands and you’d be able to feed your dog around 65% less with my formula, which equates to a savings of around $0.80/lb. As an added bonus, higher digestibility means that your furry companion will produce less waste. So if frequent bowel movements are on your list of pet ownership grievances, better nutrition will take care of that, too.

The second factor is foregone vet expenses. We’ve already established that poor nutrition can cause an array of health problems. And what do you do when your pet isn’t feeling up to par? You take it to the vet. While the costs are too varied to estimate here, it’s safe to say you’ll be able to avoid many of these expensive trips by feeding a better food.

So the next time you’re tempted to scoff at a $40 bag of dog food, think again. Assuming price is commensurate with quality, purchasing that bag today could save you a hefty chunk of change in the future. Consider it an investment in your bottom line and your pet’s well-being. What could be better?

5. Your vet may not be a reliable source for nutrition advice.
Contrary to popular belief, vets typically undergo a very limited amount of nutrition training in their formal education. While they may choose to take electives to supplement this deficiency, most programs are set up to focus on surgeries and medicine. While this is certainly useful knowledge, it’s a different area of expertise than the knowledge gained from programs focused specifically on animal nutrition.

Further, during my brief tenure as a vet student (before I made the switch to Animal Science), I learned something a bit unsettling. You know how vet offices almost always push or at least carry Science Diet? There’s a reason for that. The company offers to fund vet students’ educations in exchange for them promoting the food in their practices upon graduation. While I certainly won’t argue that Science Diet is better than the brands you’d find at the grocery store, I’d only rate it as a “C” food on a scale from A-F. So your vet has a vested interest in pushing Science Diet, even though there may be better options out there. A few will stick to their endorsements even when it’s to the detriment of your pet. Luckily, I’ve only encountered one such individual, but they’re out there. Just something to keep in mind.

Moral of the story, if you want pet nutrition advice, you’ve come to the right place.

6. Every animal is an individual & has different needs.
There is no “magic food” that is ideal for every animal, nor is there a “best food on the market.” A Great Dane will require a different diet than a Chihuahua, despite both of them being dogs. Even within a breed, nutrient requirements differ. Each food has its own strengths and weaknesses that make it optimal for perhaps one dog, while not for another. Medical history and special dietary requirements should be taken into consideration when selecting a food for your companion. The more you can learn about your pet’s particular needs, the better off he’ll be.

7. Marketing gimmicks are everywhere.
The only way to avoid falling victim to the plethora of the marketing gimmicks out there is to be well-informed about proper nutrition. For many consumers, this is easier said than done, as they simply don’t know where to turn for accurate information. Of course we’re here to field any questions you may have, but in the meantime, here are a few common gimmicks to look out for:

The food pyramid
We’ve already established that pet dietary needs are different from those of humans, but marketers know that the general populous lacks the awareness to make the distinction. Thus, they present familiar images that we’ve been taught to equate with proper nutrition, such as the food pyramid. The association is so strong in American culture that few stop to question the validity of its application to pet food. This symbol can be used to quickly identify low-grade pet food brands, as the higher-grade brands understand proper nutrition, use a different balance of ingredients, and wouldn’t benefit from duping potential customers into accepting this particular fallacy.

Superpremium foods
Sounds fancy, doesn’t it? Surely foods that bare this moniker must be the best of the best…right? Unfortunately, the term “superpremium” is pretty much a worthless indicator of food quality as there are no government regulations in place to define or control the use of the term—a little-known but very powerful fact. So I could, in theory, throw some potato chips in a bag and call it a super-premium dog food. Obviously this is a gross exaggeration (there are other restrictions that would prevent me from doing so), but I think you get my point. While some honest-to-goodness nutritionally-sound foods use the terms “premium” or “superpremium” to market their foods, so do many less-than-stellar brands. So, buyer beware; don’t rely on these terms to determine product quality.

Appetizing flavors
Say you’re walking down the pet food isle and come across a bag of cat food that claims to be salmon-flavored. “Yum,” you think to yourself, and toss it into the cart. There are a couple problems with this scenario. First, just because salmon sounds good to you doesn’t mean your cat will like it. (She probably will, but you can apply this logic to any ingredient that sounds appetizing to us two-leggers.) More importantly, just because it’s salmon-flavored doesn’t mean it actually contains salmon. Disturbing, huh? Take a look at the ingredients list. Often, companies that rely on “flavors” to sell their products are pushing a low-grade kibble that’s sprayed with a flavored fat. Why? Because it’s the only way the animal will consider eating it. Without the yummy (and unhealthy) coating, you’re left with a kibble of byproducts, corn, and other unappetizing fillers that an animal has the good sense not to touch. So the next time you see a salmon-flavored bag of cat food, don’t automatically assume it contains salmon, and take it as a sign that there may be something…fishy…going on.

8. That whole dependency thing.
In the wild, animals eat according to cravings from their bodies in order to meet their specific needs. In captivity, animals completely depend on us for their nutrient needs, so it is our duty to provide a diet as close to their native diet as possible.

9. Better nutrition is better for the environment.
In addition to the obvious less excrement and litter waste argument, supporting better food companies can significantly benefit the environment. High-end pet food companies tend to be more environmentally conscious. Local farmers supply ingredients to local factories, which often use alternative sources of energy (wind, solar, etc.) to make the food. Often, the food is even wrapped in minimalist, fully recyclable, PCR (post consumer recycled) packaging. Further, at least a few of the brands I carry donate a percentage of their profits to green efforts. Of course green efforts vary from company to company, but high-end pet food manufacturers usually go above and beyond to limit their carbon footprints.

10. Because I said so.
Okay, not really. But there is something to be said for source credibility. In my years of education and experience, I’ve come to appreciate the merits of nutrition–so much so that I altered the course of my formal education to focus on nutrition and preventative medicine. For me, preventing a problem from occurring is far more rewarding than picking up the pieces. It’s truly amazing what a difference a proper diet can make in an animal’s life, and I’m committed to channeling my knowledge for the benefit of your pet. If you have a question, please don’t hesitate to ask. It’s why I’m here.

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