Are You a Cat Lady?

When Young Dog Goes Astray,
Revisit Training
By Yvette Van Veen -

Q: We would like to start giving our 1-year-old lab some freedom. He still goes in the crate during the day. When someone is at home, he is supervised diligently. However, occasionally, he jumps up on our bed and relieves himself. What is he trying to tell us by doing this and how do we make it stop?

A: Owners often seek meaning in a pet's actions but that is not the most effective way to approach a behaviour problem. Apply the principle of Occam's razor – that all things being equal, the simplest solution is most likely.

If the dog is emptying its bladder, chances are this is a house-training matter, not a complex communication strategy. Dogs urinate in unusual locations more often than one would assume. This is a common problem that goes unrecognized – perhaps because owners are too embarrassed to discuss the matter.

The first course of action is to see a veterinarian. Health issues always take priority. Sick animals cannot obey rules about where to go and when. Bladder infections, for example, can easily explain this situation. The animal's behaviour is nothing more than a means of seeking relief.

Once the question of a health problem is eliminated, owners should always look for errors in the training process.

Communication problems should top this list.

For starters, pet training involves two species, one of which has poor language skills. Even two members of the same species have been known to misunderstand each other. Let's say that I ask my husband to take the trash out in the morning. In the evening, the garbage is still in the shed. In his defence, my husband states he did not know I wanted it taken to the curb. He took the kitchen trash out to the shed instead.

Unlike humans, dogs do not have the luxury of explaining their actions. Owners can give pets the benefit of the doubt by searching for patterns of behaviour that indicate misunderstanding.

When it comes to soiling furniture, there is one very common mistake. Instead of learning "go outside," the dog understands the lesson to be "Don't go on the floor." This is particularly problematic when dogs are forbidden to get on furniture. These dogs learn nothing – good or bad – about locations that are up high.

When faced with a full bladder, they look for a spot that works. The bed makes an unusual – but logical – choice. The dog followed the rules set out by the owner. It did not pee on the floor. Striving to keep its own space clean, the dog avoided its eating and resting areas while simultaneously obtaining physical relief.

There is only one way to undo this type of error. Go back to puppy basics and start house training again. The dog did not understand.

It is not necessary for the dog to gain access to furniture. But do feed the pet its meals next to beds, sofas and similar areas. Appeal to the dog's natural desire to keep eating areas clean.

Most important, give rewards for good behaviour. Just as the dog finishes going outside, give it a special treat. This provides motivation, but it also offers clarity.

Dogs need to learn what to do, not just what not to do.

Yvette Van Veen is a certified animal behaviour consultant. Write her at pet

A baby Kirk's Dik Dik antelope stands on a desk in the office of Chester Zoo's curator of mammals, Tim Rowlands, in northern England, on January 22, 2010. The antelope is being hand reared at the zoo after being rejected by its mother during the recent cold weather. Photo/Phil Noble

Pet Owners Seek Psychic Link
Through Animal Communicators
By Heather Grimshaw - Special to The Denver Post

Known to be a picky eater, Moby, a 70-pound Rottweiler/Labrador mix, had all but stopped eating.

His owner, Vicki Fragasso, was eager to find a solution when a friend suggested she consult an animal communicator.

Sometimes called pet psychics or intuitives, depending on personal preference, animal communicators can help pet owners address behavioral problems or determine how to care for sick animals.

"It's a growing profession," says Mary Ann Simonds, an applied behavior ethologist and ecologist who teaches veterinarians about "animal awareness."

Simonds has seen an explosion in the number of pet psychics in the past decade. She attributes the growth of the profession to the strength of the human/animal bond and the interest in interspecies communication. "It's really become more mainstream," she says.

Fragasso needed some convincing. "I was more curious than anything" at first, says the Denver resident. Within minutes of their hour- long, $65 session, Moby had put his head in the psychic's lap. "He just doesn't do that with anyone," Fragasso says.

Pam Baca, a Conifer-based animal communicator, says Moby was showing her mental images of green beans and asking for more variety in his diet. Now all his meals include legumes, and Moby cleans his bowl.

"He'll be sleeping until the very moment I pull out the green beans," Fragasso says, "and then he'll eat."

"Now I'm a believer," she adds.

Although there are no available studies about the popularity of pet psychics, an increasing number of scientists and pet owners say using them works.

Kim Murdock of Denver has sought advice from a psychic for her own pets and referred several friends to them. After her own dog, Basta, died of cancer three years ago, an animal communicator helped Murdock find closure.

Basta was diagnosed with the disease and died two and a half weeks later.

"I was desperate to talk with him after he died," Murdock says. "I wasn't ready to say goodbye. I felt the need to apologize to him, to tell him that we tried everything we could."

With the help of animal communicator Terri O'Hara, Basta told Murdock that he had loved his life and knew she was not in control of what happened to him. "For some reason that was very helpful for me to hear," Murdock says.

Skeptics abound. Murdock's boyfriend is one of them.

"He's a very scientific kind of guy," she says. "We agree to disagree."

Nancy Tharp, a veterinarian and owner of Veterinary Acupuncture Services in Littleton, also has doubts.

"There is simply no data to support it," she says. "One of my big concerns is how do you verify if it's real?"

Another concern, she says, is if pet owners were to defer treatment recommended by a veterinarian because of something an animal communicator says. "That could pose a real risk to the animal."

Holistic veterinarian Pete Rogers, on the other hand, has recommended the service. He says animal communicators provide support for people facing a difficult decision about their pet's care.

"I've become very open-minded," says Rogers, who has practiced veterinary medicine for about three decades. "Is it for real? I don't know. People tell me it's really, really helped, and I trust their judgment."

Rogers often works with elderly pet owners who are facing their own mortality.

"It's always (hard) for folks to think about (pet) euthanasia," he says. "It helps for some clients to work with an animal communicator to get a sense of, 'Does this animal want to be here, or it is time to help them go?' "

That was true for Mireya VanAmee, a Louisville resident who sought guidance for her aging cat, Spike Lee, who had been sick.

Her veterinarian suggested she call pet psychic Rhianna Gray, who confirmed that Spike Lee was sick of being sick and ready for the next of his proverbial nine lives.

"It helped to know that it was time," VanAmee says. "When they don't feel well, it's nice to be in alignment with what their wishes are."

Gray says that after working with an animal, she often finds herself reaffirming what the owner already knew.

"Some people need help trusting themselves or (they) need a second opinion," says Gray, who has worked with cats, dogs and birds since becoming an animal communicator in 2001.

Training for these psychics varies. Some communicators complete classes — either online or in classrooms — or enroll in seminary programs with companies like Boulder-based Psychic Horizons to obtain licenses in spiritual counseling.

The psychic process — reading energies that surround people, animals and even buildings — is the same regardless of the subject, says Naomi Horii, a Lafayette healer and clairvoyant who teaches classes for pet communicators.

"Once you can read," she says, "you can read anything."

The service can be quite helpful when trying to assess a pet's complaints, says Diane Stewart. The Denver resident sought guidance from Pam Baca in January, when her 7-year-old cat, Sundance, became aggressive. "I was desperate to find out why he was so mad at me," she says.

Stewart fosters cats for the Max Fund until they find permanent homes. After she adopted Tiki, a cat she had fostered, the ordinarily calm-tempered Sundance started lunging, scratching and biting her.

"(Sundance) told Pam that he felt betrayed, like I had lied to him," Stewart says. "I'm still apologizing."

After several sessions, the situation is improving.

"Every time I've consulted with her," Stewart says, "I've felt more enlightened."

Pet Tales:
Resolve to Do the Best
for Your Animal
By Linda Wilson Fuoco, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Residents of Riverside Care Center in McKeesport watch as Peaches, an 11-year-old Collie Shepherd Mix, walks down the aisle during her wedding to Toby, a 4-year-old Shelty performed by the Keystone Canine Club from Bethel Park. Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette

Happy New Year to all the readers of Pet Tales and to all the animals that you love. Have you made New Year's resolutions for your pets? We should all do that, according to the many news releases sent out by just about every company and organization that has anything to do with pets and pet care.

"Exercise and play with them more often, each day if possible," is No. 6 on the Top Ten resolution list sent by Purdue University's School of Veterinary Medicine.

There's a resolution that doesn't cost money, but it's not always easy. If your pet's playtime and exercise schedule suffered during the busy holiday season, there's time now to make amends.

Trainers and behaviorists say that "bad" and destructive behaviors often occur because pets are bored and don't get enough exercise. A 30-minute daily walk can work wonders for dogs and their owners. A daily 15-minute indoor play session can make a world of difference for all pets, including birds and rabbits.

So play fetch or tug-of-war with your dog. Cats are a little tougher when it comes to organized play. Type "fun games to play with cats" into an Internet search engine and you'll see many Web sites with lots of suggestions, including games played with flashlights, yarn and other common household items.

Regular grooming is a proposed dog resolution on many lists.

We should brush every day because it's "very important to your dog's health and happiness," says American Humane Association. Brushing stimulates the skin by removing dead skin flakes and "uncovers skin and coat troubles such as dandruff, parasites, or dry or brittle fur, which may indicate an illness.

"While brushing, look for any changes or abnormalities, such as bites, parasites, injuries, lumps, or changes in the skin's color or texture."

American Humane recommends professional grooming for all dogs. Poodles, Shih Tzus and other breeds with abundant coats should see a professional groomer every four to six weeks, they say. Even dogs with "uniform length coats" like Labs and beagles will benefit from professional grooming every 12 to 16 weeks.

Advice lists often contain conflicting information. The Purdue vets, for instance, recommend that we "groom them at home, especially the minor grooming procedures, because it causes less stress."

Purdue's resolution No. 10 suggests "if your pet is especially social, patient and people-oriented, consider certifying it as a therapy animal."

Go to for information from Therapy Dogs International. Call local shelters and training clubs to find out about training classes and certification tests.

Stories about therapy dogs are always popular in Pet Tales. One of the biggest hits of the year was the July 27 column about a dog wedding at the Riverside Care Center in McKeesport. The video on our Web site was widely viewed, and the column was a top e-mailed story for more than a day.

The minister and all nine members of the wedding party are certified therapy dogs and members of the Keystone Canine Training Club in Bethel Park ( All were dressed in elaborate costumes.

The groom, a Shetland sheepdog named Toby, wore a black top hat and tails. The bride, a collie mix named Peaches, wore a flowing white gown and veil.

The nursing home residents were enthralled. There was laughter and cheers and even a few tears as the dogs marched down the aisle.

A special thanks should go out to all of the owners who take time to train their pets as therapy dogs. Owners like Phil and Caroline Chapman of Peters "share" their dogs with visits to hospitals, nursing homes, libraries and schools.

Peaches was a 7-week-old puppy when the Chapmans adopted her from the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society. They took her to training classes at the Keystone club, and she earned her Therapy Dogs International certification when she was 1-year-old. In 10 years, Peaches made 484 therapy dog visits, including many doggy weddings and visits to schools for handicapped children.

Peaches, 11, died Nov. 13 after a four-year battle with cancer and arthritis.

Diagnosed with cancer in her jaw when she was 7, chemotherapy, radiation and surgery put the disease in remission for four years. Cancer symptoms returned last July, right after the McKeesport wedding, Mrs. Chapman said, and pain medications were prescribed to keep Peaches comfortable right up to the end.

"Her role as the bride in our doggie weddings brought smiles from hundreds if not thousands of people, "Mrs. Chapman said. "We miss her so much."

To everyone who read Pet Tales in 2009, and to everyone who telephoned or e-mailed me with story tips, comments, compliments and criticisms: Thanks for reading, thanks for e-mailing, thanks for calling and thanks for caring.

Pet Tales appears weekly in the Saturday Home & Garden section. Linda Wilson Fuoco can be reached at or 412-263-3064.

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Guide to a Good Life: Own a Dog
Graeme Hamilton, National Post

Emotionally, it is reassuring to know there is another creature in the house who will always be delighted to see you. Tyler Anderson/National Post

With kids, the jury is out. There is a school of thought that says they keep you young, and it's true that you do meet a lot of middle-aged men speaking nonsense to their toddlers. However, the grey hairs teenage children give a parent arguably counter any rejuvenating qualities.

Dogs are another matter. Owning a dog is the next best thing to discovering the fountain of youth, and that's not just me talking. It's the scientists. Lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol, physical fitness, mental well-being ... the list of benefits keeps growing. There are even dogs that sense when their owners are going to have epileptic seizures. And the only grey hairs they bestow are the ones you vacuum off the carpet.

True, not everyone is convinced of the merits of dog ownership. Last year, a couple of New Zealand university professors published a study that argued that owning a dog was more damaging to the planet than driving a Hummer. Robert and Brenda Vale, "architects who specialize in sustainable living," according to New Scientist magazine, calculated that dogs leave sizable carbon pawprints because of the meat and cereal they consume. The land used to raise a year's worth of food for one medium-sized dog represents twice the energy consumed by an SUV, they concluded. Others piled on, noting that dogs sometimes kill birds, and that their feces makes a mess.

The title of their book, Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living, hints that the authors might be struggling with some deeper issues, but the real clincher came in a line in New Zealand's Dominion Post. The couple "do not have a cat or dog," the newspaper noted. No wonder they're so miserable.

Maybe I would seriously contemplate the Vales' advice to buy an "edible pet" such as a chicken or rabbit if Jack had not arrived in our home five years ago. At the time, the decision to get a dog was all about our two children. Our son was starting high school, he and his sister were beyond the age of needing a babysitter, and with both my wife and I working, they would be returning to an empty home for the first time. What better way to ease the transition and make them feel secure than the dog they had been gently lobbying for? We started our search when they were away at camp, and contacted a rescue group that had posted flyers of a handsome mutt looking for a home.

The first sign that a dog was not just going to affect the children came the night we rushed home from work to be on time for our weekend trial run with the dog. At the last minute, the rescue group called to say they had decided the dog was not suited for a family with kids. We were devastated, as if a cherished friend had cancelled a long-anticipated visit. But there was another dog we might be interested in, they said. He had been abandoned on the streets of Lachine.

So Jack, a wild-eyed, wolf-like dervish of matted fur stormed into the house the next morning, tracking mud as he charged up the stairs and emerging from our daughter's room with a doll clenched between his teeth. What was there not to like?

Over the years, he has certainly been a comfort to the children, although their enthusiasm for walking him is uneven. But there is no question that the people benefiting most from his presence are my wife and me.

For one thing, Jack and I take long walks, usually twice a day, and I credit him with helping keep me fit. Findings published in 2007 in the British Journal of Health Psychology surely came as no surprise to any dog walker. Deborah Wells of Queen's University in Belfast reported that dogs were found to reduce their owners' incidence of everything from minor ailments like headaches to coronary disease and high cholesterol.

In some cases, they also help recovery. For example, dog owners were nearly nine times more likely to be alive a year after a heart attack than the dogless.

Then there are dogs being trained to detect odours associated with cancer, to sense oncoming epileptic seizures and to detect hypoglycemia in diabetics.

Ms. Wells acknowledged that dogs also pose risks, but these dangers can be minimized through proper training, control and veterinary care. The dog, she concluded, "can contribute to a significant degree to our well-being and quality of lives."

Emotionally, it is reassuring to know there is another creature in the house who will always be delighted to see you. Perhaps my teenage children are an exception, but when I come home from work they barely look up from their computer screens, let alone rush to the door to greet me. Naysayers will point out that Jack's affection stems not from his assessment of my character but from his understanding that I keep him fed. To that I say, kibble is a bargain.

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“Canine Sports and Games”
by Kristin Mehus-Roe
By Lee and J.J. MacFadden - Special to the Herald Courier

“Canine Sports and Games” by Kristin Mehus-Roe, 2009, Storey Publishing, $16.95, softbound, 255 pages

According to Mehus-Roe, there are plenty of reasons to take up sports with your dog: it’s a great way to bond with your furry loved one, it supplies exercise for both you and the dog and it can even settle some behavioral issues.

Chapter one deals with finding the right sport for your dog. There are tables matching sports to personality traits; sports to breeds, although there are only 41 breeds listed; and another table matching sports to physical characteristics, such as the size of the dog and whether he or she is agile, powerful or a good runner, for example.

Nineteen sports are covered in this book – everything from agility to obedience to skijoring (in which the handler wears cross-country skis and follows behind one to three dogs). Mehus-Roe reminds the reader that it’s important to find a sport that both you and your dog will enjoy.

Other activities besides competitive sports are listed, too, along with pointers on how to get the most out of these activities. The author discusses playing with the older or disabled dog, swimming with your dog, walking or running with your dog and even training a therapy dog. There are tips on buying a puppy, socialization and training, including some specific tricks to teach your dog beyond “sit” and “stay,” such as “shake,” “take a bow,” “play dead,” “crawl” and more.

Chapter four deals with maintaining the health and fitness of your dog. Mehus-Roe suggests developing a fitness program with warm-ups and cool-downs. Mehus-Roe explains about dealing with injuries, keeping cool and knowing when your dog is hurt. There is a also chapter devoted to keeping perspective and knowing when to give your dog a break.

The rest of the book is an overview of dog sports. First are the high-energy games, such as flyball (for quick dogs who love balls and get along with other dogs), and disc dog (Frisbee); these are for enthusiastic, athletic dogs such as border collies and Labs. Next are obedience: rally (a variation on obedience training) and canine freestyle (a sort of human-dog dance). Then there are the instinctive sports, which are based on tasks dogs were originally bred to do, such as herding or tracking. Lastly are the power sports, such as sledding and weight pulling.

An appendix of canine sports organizations follows, and Mehus-Roe also offers advice on traveling with your dog.

Lee’s take: Great ideas.

J.J.’s take: Eye-opening.

LEE AND J.J. MACFADDEN are twins and voracious readers living in Bristol, Tenn. E-mail them at

"No matter how much cats fight, there always seems to be plenty of kittens."
- Abraham Lincoln

Outing the Cat Lady

"Having been an Outed Cat Lady for a lifetime,
I am delighted to meet the Outest. Regarding the feminine gender, my only reservation is that the many male cat lovers I know make us look conservative by comparison."
-- Betty White - Emmy®Award-winning actress - and lifelong animal advocate

Outing the Cat Lady is a joyful affirmation of being a woman who loves cats too much--or perhaps loves too many cats. The reader is encouraged by a narrator calling herself "The World's Outest Cat Lady"--who sounds like Miss Manners on catnip--to admit that she, too, is a Cat Lady, and to "come Out" with courage, with attitude, and with style.

You need to admit you are a Cat Lady if:

Chapter 1: You have ever actually exchanged money for a cat.
The acquisition of a cat, either by purchasing, adopting from a shelter or rescue, or, more likely, by minding your own business and being adopted
by a cat.

Chapter 2: Your several cats are all named "Kitty."
Names a Cat Lady might select for her own cats, if she could remember them at any given moment.

Chapter 3: Most of your wardrobe consists of cat-themed fleece.
The fashionable Cat Lady outlook on the "Out look." Or, what a Cat Lady wishes she could wear, and the compromises that look best with cat hair.

Chapter 4: You have ever selected flooring or furniture to match your cat.
Home furnishings and decorating, Cat Lady style.

Chapter 5: Even though you live alone, you require a king-size bed just for you and your cats.
Commentary on some of the more confounding issues that Cat Ladies face in sharing their lives with Feline-Americans: opposable thumbs and litterbox archaeology, to name but two.

Chapter 6: A cat has ever contracted ringworm from you.
A troubleshooting guide to common feline ailments and how a Cat Lady confidently copes.

Chapter 7: You know which cat is the father of the new kittens, because it happened under your bed.
The life cycle of cats, from kitten to geezer in the blink of an eye, as observed by the Cat Lady, and the case for spaying/neutering.

Chapter 8: You have ever had a dead cat in the refrigerator.
Q & A with the Cat Lady on a variety of topics, from the ridiculous to the slightly less ridiculous.
(A: Yes, I have.)

Chapter 9: You have learned to have sex in spite of the cat watching--or trying to participate.
When the Cat Lady needs a little human companionship, there's no reason why the cat can't join the fun. Like you have any choice in the matter.

Chapter 10: Bonus: You have selected any of the above, and you are a man.
In praise of the Cat Daddy, and how some of them can be even more lovably eccentric than their Cat Lady counterparts.

Colony of Cats Coughs Up Pet

Consider this the opposite of a shaggy-dog story.

It's a skinny-cat tale.

The saga began July 18, when a family moving from New York to Florida stopped for a break in Cherry Hill. At a turnpike service area, Laura Lopez and her two young daughters watched in horror as their pet cat, Sprinkles, slipped a leash and ran away.

Next came hours of futile searching, followed by months of dismay.
But then, along came Pamela Ott, a Voorhees woman who runs a cat-rescue organization.

OK, so you can see where this story's going. But you probably can't imagine the chain of events that will bring us to its climax -- a reunion last week for Sprinkles and his family.

For starters, you'd need to know that Ott, a 37-year-old office manager, routinely visits 15 to 20 colonies of wild cats throughout the South Jersey-Philadelphia region.

She brings water and food, going through about 25 bags of cat chow each week. She provides dog houses and plastic containers for shelter. And she traps the animals -- humanely -- so they can be spayed or neutered.

"If I think a cat's adoptable, I'll put it in foster care. The others I return to the colony," says Ott, who runs Saved Whiskers Rescue Organization in her free time -- often before dawn and after nightfall.

This puts a lot of wear on her aging car, which has some 250,000 miles on the odometer.

And when the car broke down last fall on Kresson Road near Howard Johnson Road in Cherry Hill, Ott spotted several cats running free behind a convenience store.

A few days later, Ott was setting traps for the Kresson Road brood when she learned of another colony -- this one roaming along the nearby New Jersey Turnpike, right behind the Walt Whitman Service Area.

On Nov. 22, Ott found that group -- and quickly realized that one scrawny member had been somebody's pet.

"Every time I'd put the food bowl down for him, the other cats would push him away," she says of the seven-pounder, who'd already been neutered. And when Ott scooped up the cat to bring him home, he responded with relative calm.

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Tips That Will Help You To Feed
Your Aquarium Fish Correctly
Posted by: Pet Blogger -

As well as any other pet, aquarium fish require much attention and care. So, if you are going to start up an aquarium in order to save your time and reduce costs on keeping a pet in your house, think twice before you buy a fish tank.

In practice, it is even easier to care for a cat or cavy than to care for an aquarium installed in your house. Note, that you have change water, feed your fish as well as other pets and at the same time daily (which is very important to keep your fish in a good health), to spend money on filtration and lighting systems and so on and so force. Purchase of a proper fish tank and the species for your aquarium is only a half of the deal. The most difficult part is to maintain your fish and to feed them properly. In this article we are going to tell you how to do it right.

The major rule about feeding your fish is not to overfeed them. Use the following tips on feeding especially if you have a saltwater aquarium with exotic fish in it.

1. Some specialists are convinced that you have to feed your fish once a day. On the one hand, this point of view is right and many aquarists stick to this rule, but on the other hand try changing it. Feed your species several times a day, but give small amounts of food. It will prevent the water in your fish tank from greening and clouding. The thing is your fish is usually incapable of eating all food you give them at one scoop. The particles of uneaten food spread all over your fish tank and cover the bottom. The accumulation of these particles causes the dirtying of the water and ammonia and nitrites level increase. If not to deal with this problem timely, you can subject your species to a great danger and even death.

2. Note down the time your fish need to eat the food you give them. Define the quantity they eat in five minutes and never give them more than that. In general, fish need from three to five minutes to satiate themselves. The rest of the food remaining in your aquarium is excess, polluting the water.

3. If your fish prefer meaty food, combine it with a dry food and give meat only two or three times a week. It will diversify your fish’s diet and decrease the ammonia level, increased by meat particles mostly.

4. It is strongly recommended that you have one powerful or even two powerful filters. They can be expensive, but they are capable of solving the problem of greening and clouding of the water in your aquarium.

5. Get a catfish for your aquarium. It will it the most part of food particles in the bottom of your fish tank.

Turn Tiles into a 3D Fish Tank Background

If you're bored with the plain background of your fish tank, you can add a 3D background inexpensively with this simple guide.

You can find rolls of fish tank backgrounds at nearly any fish store, but they lack sorely for realism and look like what they are—flat and static photographs. You can make a 3D background that will add a significant amount of realism and texture to your fish tank with little expense and only about an hour of work. My total cost for the project was $10 for a box of slate tile from the clearance bin and $3 for some silicone.

You'll need some basic supplies and tools including a hammer, a screw driver or chisel, and a caulk gun. On the supplies side of things you'll need a tube of silicone caulk and a box of slate floor tiles. Make sure you buy silicone caulk without any additives. If you want to be extra cautious you can buy only from a fish store, but I've been buying silicone caulk from the hardware store for years without any problem—just make sure you read the label carefully and buy silicone that doesn't have any fungicide or other additives, GE Silicone 1 for Doors and Windows is the brand I've always used.

The first step is the fun one. Take your box of floor tiles and bust them up with a hammer—wear safety goggles! How you break them will be determined by your tank size and the look you're going for. If you want a big chunky background then break them into large pieces and leave them that way. If you want a background with smaller pieces, then smash them accordingly.

Once you've broken the tiles, look through the pile of pieces for corner and edge pieces. You'll want four good corners and a fair number of pieces that have a straight edge on them. These pieces will be the corner and edges of your background respectively. The rest of the edge pieces will need to be chipped with the hammer to break up the straight lines for a more natural look. Slate "naps" pretty easily, so you can hit just the very edge and it will chip away in an irregular pattern.

After you've finished breaking up and sorting the slate tile it's time to start building the background. Lay the fish tank on its side. I put my tank on a piece of styrofoam but you could put it on a carpet scrap, old comforter, or any other soft surface. Lay out the first layer of the background on the glass. Place the corners and edge pieces, then place pieces in the middle trying to leave as little space in between them as possible. Don't stress about a jig-saw-perfect fit because the second layer is going to cover up all the gaps.

When you've laid out all the pieces to your satisfaction, start applying a liberal amount of caulk to the back of each piece and pressing it firmly into place. You'll want to put the heaviest amount of caulk in the center of the piece so that it'll spread out under the slate without spilling out over the edges. You can opt to leave the first layer to set for a few hours or if you're careful and you can move right onto the second layer. You're going to repeat the process of laying out the tile pieces and securing them with silicone, this time with a focus on covering up the seams or gaps in the first layer.

After the second layer is down and you've pressed everything firmly into place, leave it alone for at least 24-48 hours to cure. The silicone will release acetic acid as it cures, so when the background stops smelling strongly of vinegar you know it has cured enough. You can't go wrong waiting an extra day or two at this step; many aquarium enthusiasts will let silicone cure for upwards of a week before doing anything else with a tank.

It's worth noting that although I started with an empty and dry fish tank it is possible do to this project with an already established fish tank. Instead of adhering the tile directly to the back of the fish tank you'll simply adhere the tile to a piece of acrylic sheeting cut to fit inside the tank and then slowly and carefully lower the background into the established tank and lean it against the back.

The 20 gallon long went in my office and now houses four Neolamprologus Brevis, a shell-dwelling Cichlid from Lake Tanganyika in Africa. The male fish seen in the photo above has taken a particular interest in my computer and will swim to the corner of the tank and stare at the monitors every time I sit down to work.

Send an email to Jason Fitzpatrick, the author of this post, at

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