Chastity Belts for Dogs?

Wayward NM Cat Has
Free Flight Home from Chicago

CHICAGO – No one knows how a tabby cat named Charles traveled the 1,300 miles from his New Mexico home to Chicago, but he's set for a complimentary flight home on American Airlines in a carrier donated by an Albuquerque business.

Charles disappeared about eight months ago while his owner was out of town and a friend was caring for him.

"Oh, I was crushed, and I found out while I was away volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, and I was so upset because I was in New Orleans so there was nothing I could do," said Robin Alex, of Albuquerque.

Then earlier this week, Alex received a call telling her Chicago Animal Care and Control had picked up her wandering cat as a stray.

Staffers reached out to Alex after finding that Charles had a tracking microchip embedded between his shoulder blades, said the agency's executive director, Cherie Travis.

But Alex said she could not afford the round-trip ticket to Chicago to bring Charles home, so she was afraid he might be euthanized.

Enter fellow Albuquerque resident Lucien Sims. Sims said he has a tabby cat who strongly resembles Charles, and was moved when his mother sent him an online story about Alex and her pet.

Most importantly, Sims was on his way to Chicago on Thursday for a wedding, so he said he would go to the shelter, pick up Charles and bring him back to New Mexico.

Sims has made all the arrangements for Charles' return, including getting a company to donate a cat carrier and American Airlines to waive the cat's travel fee.

Travis said Charles is definitely ready for his next adventure.

"He's in good condition," she said. "He needs a good brushing. He's got a little bit of a cold — a little bit of an upper respiratory infection — but otherwise he's in great condition."

A Park with One Tree? NEVER AGAIN!

Comfort a Canine:
10 Ways to Help Dogs in Need

Author Wendy Diamond shares her savvy guide for you and your furry friend

At the end of the day, everyone wants someone to come home to, even dogs. But unfortunately, not every canine has that option. Wendy Diamond, a pet lifestyle expert and author of “It's a Dog's World: The Savvy Guide to Four-Legged Living,” shares tips on how pet owners can help local animals in need. Here's an excerpt.

Every Dog Has Its Day
At the end of the day, a dog is a dog! And as much as we want to indulge our canine counterparts with the finer treats life has to offer, pure joy to a dog is socializing and playing at the local park or dog run, drinking plenty of water, consuming healthy meals, joining parents on a daily walk, and a cozy home where a sleeping dog can lie.

My hope and dream is that this book will help motivate every pet-friendly reader and animal enthusiast to get involved with animal rescue, find needy animals homes, and work to make every shelter a no-kill shelter. There are many ways to help in your own neighborhoods. Many communities have local SPCA’s (the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a generic term for any group that wants to help animals), local Humane societies (Humane Society of America is a national group doing amazing things, but your local humane society does not have the budget or PR, and needs your support), and small shelters that are in desperate need of volunteers and donations. The easiest way to find your local animal aid organizations is to search for them on the Internet or ask your local veterinarian. Many of the shelters have lists of important items they need but can’t afford. Any donations of time, supplies, or money are greatly appreciated.

The most important action on the donor’s part is to do research before making a gift! Make sure you know where you are donating before pledging. Call the organization and ask as many questions as you need. It is your money and you have the right to know where it is going. Look for organizations that pledge to help the animals in your own community! By targeting each community one at a time, eventually the rescue outreach will create a huge wave from coast to coast. You can do your part by making informed decisions to save lives of innocent animals.

Here are some ways you can help local animals in need:

Consider being a foster parent to pet in transition. There are many local organizations that specialize in placing animals in loving, temporary homes.

Do you know how to sew, knit, or crochet? You could make and donate sweaters, blankets or even toys to help keep the animals cozy and entertained while awaiting adoption.

Throw a party! You can introduce your friends to your local Humane Society or SPCA and then ask for donations. You’d be surprised how generous people can be after a few glasses of wine ...

Use the power of your vote! Let your local and state representatives know that caring for animals is a priority for you. Write an email that clearly states your views and forward it to your friends and acquaintances to pass on.

Volunteer to use your special skills to support your local shelter. Can you design a flyer, write an article, or analyze a legal brief? These (and many other) skills can be invaluable to an underfunded and understaffed non-profit.

Be vigilant! Pay attention when you see signs of animal abuse and report suspicions to an animal protection agency.

Be generous! Monetary donations to the general operating funds of local organizations keep the shelters alive. The holidays are a great time to make a gift.

Consider adoption and check out your local shelter. Many of these animals have suffered terribly and desperately need your love.

Join up! Become a member of an SPCA, Humane Society or another local shelter in your community. Many offer newsletters and invitations to events where you can meet other animal lovers in your area.

Persuade your friends and co-workers to join you!
Lucky has truly entertained me this past decade and has definitely rescued me in many more ways than I’ve rescued her. With your help and the help of others, every dog in America can be lucky enough to find a safe and loving home. Dog Bless!

Excerpted from “It's a Dog's World: The Savvy Guide to Four-Legged Living” by Wendy Diamond (Ballantine Books, 2010).

Human Pacemakers Offer Hope to Ailing Dogs
By Maryann Mott -

The surgically implanted devices can add years to a hound's life

(HealthDay News) -- Pacemakers made for humans are giving older dogs a new leash on life.

The medical devices -- about the size of a quarter -- are often implanted to speed up a slow heart rate in dogs brought on by disorders such as heart block and sick sinus syndrome that, if left untreated, drastically shortens their lives.

Guiedo, a 12-year-old hound mix, recently received a pacemaker after getting diagnosed with heart block, a condition in which the electrical signal that makes the organ contract and pump blood is disrupted.

"It didn't even enter my mind not to do the surgery," said Maxine Mager, founder of Creative Acres Animal Sanctuary in Brighton, Colo., where Guiedo and 400 other companion, farm and exotic animals reside.

Guiedo's condition put him at risk of sudden death. So the day after the diagnosis, Mager drove the elderly canine nearly an hour to a veterinary cardiologist, one of only 230 in the United States and Canada, trained to do the intricate surgery.

The procedure is similar to the one done in humans. Under anesthesia, pacemaker wires are threaded through a dog's jugular vein to the correct place in the heart. A small incision, made in the back of the neck, then allows for insertion of the pacemaker under the skin and connection to the wires.

The hour-long procedure requires an overnight hospital stay.

Implanting the lifesaving devices in dogs isn't new. The first surgery took place in 1967 and has since become fairly common in veterinary medicine, with hundreds of pets receiving pacemakers each year.

Still, many owners are surprised to learn of it, said Dr. Henry Green, a board-certified veterinary cardiologist and an associate professor of cardiology at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.

About 20 pets are outfitted yearly with pacemakers at the university's veterinary teaching hospital. A few cats undergo the procedure, but most patients are older dogs, around 6 to 10 years of age, says Green.

A pacemaker extends an otherwise healthy dog's life about three to five years, although Green has had patients live almost twice that long.

Dog owners often detect a noticeable change in their pet's demeanor after the procedure.

"Sometimes owners don't think their dogs are showing clinical signs [such as lethargy] and then once the pacemaker is in, the dog is running around like a puppy again," said Green.

At Purdue, the surgery costs about $2,000. In private practice, the price is much higher, with clients paying $3,000 to $4,000.

Veterinarians rely on manufacturers to donate pacemakers past their shelf life and no longer appropriate for human use.

"They don't actually develop pacemakers specifically for dogs and cats so we have to use human equipment," said veterinary cardiologist Kate Meurs of the Companion Animal Pacemaker Repository at Washington State University, which distributes donated devices to animal hospitals nationwide.

New equipment isn't purchased from manufacturers, partially because it's so expensive, said Meurs, who is also professor of small animal medicine and research at Washington State. A new pacemaker can cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000, an industry spokeswoman said.

The pacemakers used at Purdue come from various sources, including a local funeral home that removes them from corpses. About 10 percent of the pacemakers the clinic uses were previously implanted in humans, said Green. The battery life must have at least three years left in order for the hospital to use them, he said.

Eventually, when the power runs low, a simple half-hour surgery is all that's needed to replace the old battery with a new one.

After undergoing surgery in December, Guiedo, the sweet-natured mutt at Creative Acres, quickly bounced back and is now full of energy.

As director of a no-kill sanctuary, Mager said she doesn't believe in euthanizing animals for treatable health conditions. In fact, a few months before receiving the pacemaker, Guiedo underwent knee replacement surgery.

She said the nearly $5,000 spent on the hound's medical fees was worth every penny.

"What an amazing thing to do with the money -- to give life," said Mager.

Dog Credited With Saving 3 From House Fire

Golden Retriever's Repeated Barking Wakes Owner

LAKE WORTH, Fla. -- A dog is being credited with saving the lives of three people inside a burning Lake Worth home.

The fire started shortly before midnight at a house in the 200 block of North J Street.

Bubba, this 7-year-old golden retriever, saved Charles and Lori McCauley from a house fire in Lake Worth.

According to the Red Cross, that's when Bubba -- a 7-year-old golden retriever -- alerted the residents to the flames.

Charles and Lori McCauley said they were sleeping in the back bedroom when Bubba began barking repeatedly. By the time they realized the house was on fire, they said they only had enough time to wake their roommate.

The residents and their canine savior all made it out safely.

"We don't have nothing," Lori McCauley said. "We have our lives. Thank God, you know, for Bubba."

The Red Cross provided them with a room at the Comfort Inn in West Palm Beach.

Firefighters were investigating the cause.

My Pet Speaker Lets Fido Listen to Your iPod
by Leslie Katz -

"Seriously, if you play 'The Cat Came Back' one more time, I'm finding a new home."
(Credit: Pet Acoustics, Matt Hickey/CNET)

Given that many cats and dogs can hear their owners coming from a block away, it stands to reason that they have sensitive ears. But sensitive enough to require their very own pet speakers? Apparently so.

On Wednesday, Pet Acoustics announced My Pet Speaker, which it calls the world's first sound system designed to support the hearing sensitivities of dogs, cats, and horses.

The 11-pound omni-directional speaker has a 4-inch drive unit and a cone reflector that apparently disburses music in 360 degrees to recreate how animals hear in nature. "By producing limited frequencies and featuring a soft bass design for listening comfort, your pets will not be startled or disturbed by jarring volumes and piercing sounds that put them on alert," the company says.

The speaker--on preorder now for $249.95--measures 12.5 inches by 9.84 inches by 12.6 inches and stands on a supposedly stable base so it won't get knocked down when your music-loving puppy starts pirouetting to your playlist. Backside buttons prevent pets from messing with the operation panel, though if you're going spring for a pricey speaker for Fido, the least you can do is let him turn up the volume when "You ain't nothing but a hound dog" comes on.

The My Pet Speaker works with any device that has a 3.5mm audio output, including MP3 players, CD players, iPhones, iPods, iPod Touches, and scratching posts. It comes on the heels of another Pet Acoustics product, an iPhone app that plays music specifically aimed at reducing sound-related aggression and anxiety in pets and may or may not include "Stray Cut Strut" and "Who Let the Dogs Out?"

. Leslie Katz, senior editor of CNET's Crave, covers gadgets, games, and myriad other digital distractions. As a co-host of the recently retired CNET News Daily Podcast, she was sometimes known to channel Terry Gross and still uses her trained "podcast voice" to bully the speech recognition software on automated customer service lines. E-mail Leslie.

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Dating Services for Cat Owners
By Elizabeth Wasserman -

A variety of cat-themed dating Web sites and social networks have launched in the last few years on the premise that pet owners share a special something that they seek in a spouse. © Perez Veiga

"SINGLE FEMALE CAT OWNER: Seeks male companion who likes cuddling, playing ball and doesn't mind hearing the occasional "meow" in the middle of the night."

It used to be that lonely-hearted, pet-owning singles would take out personal ads, hoping a potential match wouldn't end up being allergic or averse to their cat. Now there's a way to cut to the chase: A variety of cat-themed dating Web sites and social networks have launched in the last few years on the premise that pet owners share a special something that they seek in a spouse -- or even in a good friend. That special something can be summed up by the feel of soft fur rubbing against one's leg, the purr after a satisfying neck scratch, and friendship of the feline sort.

"There are a lot of people out there who want to meet others who share a common interest like pets," says Robert Yau, who founded five years ago and more recently started the social networking site

Cat-themed Social Networking Sites

Joining a pet-centered Web site can help ease tensions on the dreaded first date. "Nobody can tell whether or not you're going to have chemistry based on something like a common interest in pets, but if you have a dog or cat, it's a great way to break the ice," explains Michael Carter, president of, a pet-themed dating and social networking site.

These pet lover Web sites also allow your sense of humor to show through -- in your profile and postings. asks members to describe their pet's perspective on the ideal date. "It brings out the tongue-in-cheek," says Yau. People sometimes write quips such as, "If I was a cat, I'd just want to stay in my bed" or "If a member of the opposite sex comes to the house, I would hope they would have a big lap so I could sit on it."

But, as with meeting any strangers, it's important to be cautious. Experts advise that you guard personal information and go to a public place for initial get-togethers. Here is a rundown on a few pet-themed dating and/or networking Web sites:

The Right Breed This Web site features instant messaging, chat rooms, topic forums, streaming video from webcams, and an online magazine about pets and dating. Singles can search for prospective partners by region, age, animals and even by cat breed. The service is free for the first 60 days. After that, it's $14.99 per month.
Pet Passions This free online dating and social networking site was started in 2004. It features photo personals, blogging, email, text chat, audio chat and webcam chat. Inside, the site is segmented so that cat lovers can stick with their own kind while fish and horse lovers mingle among themselves.

Must Love Pets Members use personals, chat, matchmaking services, forums and photo galleries to get to know other cat lovers. You can meet feline fans from around the country or those in your neighborhood. Basic membership, during which you can create a profile and post pictures of you and your pet, is free. If you want to contact other members, you can sign up for a premium membership, which costs a one-time fee of $44.95.

Date My Pet Members fill out two profiles -- one for themselves and one for their cat(s). The site can be used for romance or friendship. The basic membership is free and allows you to post a profile. The next level of membership costs $15 per month and allows you to initiate contact or a chat with another member.
Remember Your Cat

While searching for a new friend or date, keep in mind that your cat still needs companionship too. Consider adopting another cat, but if that's not for you or your kitty, make sure to set aside time each day to play games with your pet, enhancing the fun with soothing and comforting banter. Remember, cats can't directly post personal ads.

Elizabeth Wasserman is a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer who has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.

Hiding a Cat Litter Box in the Bathroom
By Jeanne Huber - Special to The Washington Post

Q: I plan to update my small bathroom and am trying to figure out how to hide the cat litter box. I thought of storing it under the sink. However, I am having problems finding a sink and base that would enable a litter box to be stored underneath. Any suggestions?


A: There are several ways to hide a cat box under a sink. Search "cat box" on the Ikea Hacker blog ( to see how a few people adapted stock sink cabinets to accommodate litter boxes. (These adaptations work whether or not you install a sink in the countertop.) The solutions show Ikea cabinets, but others should work, too. Basically, the owners installed a cat door on the side or front. Inside one sink cabinet, mounted drawer slides support a false bottom. When it's time to clean the cat box, the clever owner just slides it out. If you want to skip the base cabinet, search "Snalis cat" on the blog to see how one cat owner adapted a bin under an open-bottom sink.

The Refined Feline ( makes a ready-made cabinet that doubles as a stealth cat box, but it is not for sinks. Same goes for a Merry Pet model sold by numerous retailers (search online for "cat washroom").

Homeless Man Reunited with His Cat
Carl Nolte, SF Chronicle Staff Writer

Daniel Harlan was tearful upon being reunited with Samantha, his companion of nearly four years. Mike Kepka / The Chronicle

SAN FRANCISCO -- Samantha, the pug-nosed cat, and Daniel Harlan, a homeless man who owned her, were reunited Tuesday.

Harlan wept when Tom Neville, who had the missing cat for weeks, gave Samantha back.

"I thought I'd lost her for good," Harlan said.

The cat and Harlan got together again after The Chronicle ran a story Tuesday, along with a picture, about the cat's disappearance. Neville saw it and recognized Samantha as the animal he rescued from life on the streets.

Harlan was convinced his Himalayan cat had been stolen and maybe sold for money. He searched all over for the cat and tried to file a missing cat report with the police and the SPCA, but had no luck.

As it turned out, the cat hadn't been stolen at all, only rescued. As Neville tells it, he was driving to work one rainy morning and spotted a wet and bedraggled cat tied on a leash under the freeway at a homeless encampment near Eighth and Brannan streets. Dogs were nearby and, to a stranger, the cat's situation looked desperate.

Neville said he asked around, but nobody knew anything. So he picked up the cat, put it in his car and took her to work.

Harlan said he put the cat on a leash while he went to get food at a nearby store. When he returned, Samantha - his companion for nearly four years - was gone.

Meanwhile, Neville had taken the cat under his wing. She was a mess, he said. Her hair was matted, and she had fleas and sores. He gave her a bath, fed her and gave her a warm place to sleep in his waterfront office, where he is a management assistant for a hotel chain.

The cat thrived, he said. "You should see her now," he said.

Neville was working on finding a permanent home for her, when a friend called and told him that the cat he'd rescued had its picture in the paper. Sure enough, the cat in the picture looked very much like Samantha, the homeless man's missing cat.

Neville was torn; he believed he'd given the cat a new lease on life. He didn't want to see the animal go back to the homeless life. "I wanted to do the right thing," he said.

He thought about it for hours, but then got Harlan's phone number from The Chronicle story and called. Harlan told him about his life with Samantha.

"He does love her," Neville said. "No question about it."

He invited Harlan to his office to see the cat to be sure it was Samantha.

"He cried when he saw her," Neville said.

Neville offered to buy the cat, but Harlan said he couldn't sell her. So Neville gave the cat back, along with some cat food and $40 to help out.

He also gave the cat a standing invitation to stay in his office, any night.

Harlan used the money to buy a new collar and leash for Samantha along with a cart with wheels for the cat, a sleeping bag and a few necessities.

He said he hoped he could find a place to live. Maybe a shelter would take them both in. He wasn't sure. He planned to spend Tuesday sleeping in the Transbay Terminal.

"They don't bother you too much there," he said.

Meanwhile, Harlan and the cat have become minor celebrities - their story got out on the Internet, on radio and television. He got hundreds of phone calls on his cell phone, some from faraway places like Kuwait, Germany, Korea, and Mississippi, he said. Some offered money.

"I appreciate all the help people are offering," he said. "But I can't take money. I've always tried to do stuff on my own, but it don't work most of the time."

Samantha, the cat, took a walk on her new leash, allowed herself to be petted, looked at Harlan with her startling orange-colored eyes and had no comment.

E-mail Carl Nolte at

Tips to Nix Pet Worms
Stephanie Myers -

Q: My new kitten has worms…I’ve seen them. I have an appointment later this week with my veterinarian; is there anything I need to do now? Rachel, Farragut

A: Rachel, if you have seen adult worms, please remember to take a sample of the parasite (‘worm’) with you to your appointment. It will help your veterinarian identify the parasite so the proper medication can be given. Your veterinarian will likely also test your kitten for other internal parasites, as some types of parasites are much smaller and will require microscopic identification.

Internal parasites can be transmitted several different ways. It is not uncommon for puppies and kittens to have worms, as some types can be transmitted through the placenta and through the milk when nursing. Parasites and their eggs can be ingested through the soil, water, and wildlife in the area. Cats (and some dogs) often hunt and ingest portions of rodents, birds, etc, and can be infected that way. Some fleas carry tapeworms, and thus a pet swallowing an infected flea will result in a tapeworm infection for that pet.

Once your kitten has been diagnosed, make sure you administer all the medication as directed by your veterinarian. Some pets with a high parasite burden may require multiple treatments.

As your kitten gets older, he or she may be placed on a monthly medication to control fleas that also provides a monthly dewormer for the common internal parasites. This is a great option not only because it’s simple and easy, but because some of these parasites are contagious to people.
And so, Rachel, until your kitten is examined and treated for the worms you are seeing, you and your family should be diligent with your hand washing.

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Chastity Belt Developed for Dogs
By Mike Morris - The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Harking back to medieval times, a Louisiana man is marketing an alternative solution for preventing unwanted pregnancies in man's best friend – a chastity belt for dogs.

While spaying and neutering is the most widely used method of preventing litters among dogs, for someone planning to breed their female, those aren't viable options.

Enter Dexter Blanch and his "Pet Anti-Breeding System," or PABS.

"Most experts urge pet owners to spay or neuter their dog," Blanch says on his blog,

"While this definitely has its advantages, there are several disadvantages as well," he says. "As a breeder, you cannot fix every animal and expect to have a successful operation. You need breeding stock."

Previously, the only other way to prevent unwanted litters was to confine the female to a pen or kennel when she was in heat, a method that Blanch says "may cause your dog to feel depressed or neglected."

"She may also suffer from lack of exercise and socialization," he said.

The PABS belt slips between the dog's hindquarters and is held in place by a six-point buckle system and waist strap.

Blanch's company, Highly Favored Creations, sells the PABS unit in several sizes, ranging in price from $65 to $95.

But not everyone is buying into the device.

In a San Francisco Chronicle story on PABS earlier this month, veterinarian Dr. Kathy Gervais pointed out a couple of potential problems with using a chastity belt as the sole means of preventing an unwanted litter of puppies.

One of her concerns was user error in putting the belt on the dog. "It's only as good as it is easy to put on properly," she told the newspaper.

The other concern: "Male dogs aren't easily deterred," she said. "I've known dogs to chew through garage doors and leap over fences to get to a female dog in heat," Gervais said.

Dog Owner Fends Off Raccoon with Samurai Sword
Bay City News Service

A Fairfield man used a Samurai sword Wednesday afternoon to defend his dog from an attack by what appears to have been a large raccoon.

Marquel Dawson, 19, was walking with Stunna, a 2-year-old pit bull-German shepherd mix, near his home on Fairview Place when the dog, which was unleashed, noticed something, darted into the bushes and started tussling with another animal, Dawson said.

Dawson said he ran back to his home and grabbed a 3-foot, two-handed samurai sword that he had recently received as a gift. He ran back and hit what he described as "a large, brown animal" with the dull edge of the sword.

The animal ran away, and Dawson tended to Stunna, who suffered cuts to his face and legs, he said. Stunna was taken to a local veterinarian to be treated.

Dawson originally told authorities that the animal that fought with Stunna was a mountain lion, but officials with the California Department of Fish and Game notified him Thursday that the offending animal appears to have been a large raccoon.

Fish and Game warden Patrick Foy said that determination was based on "the absence of mountain lion tracks, the presence of very large raccoon tracks, and after we took a look at the wounds the dog sustained."

After being notified of the findings, Dawson said he was "relieved that the dog's OK and that it wasn't actually a mountain lion, because that would've been way worse than just a raccoon."

Foy said, however, that raccoons can often be "very, very vicious" and that the dog "easily could've been killed or suffered more injuries."

Fish and Game officials encourage pet owners to keep their animals on leashes and close by when walking outside, and to try to keep trash cans inside, since raccoons and other wild animals are drawn to discarded food.

Foy said a large raccoon in the wild usually weighs about 15 pounds, but that raccoons living near homes can be as heavy as 25 pounds because they have "a human source of food."

Hints From Heloise

Packing for Pets

Dear Readers: Through the years, I've learned a few hints when TRAVELING with our miniature schnauzers. We now have our third, Cabbie -- or should I say she has us as her people.

Being prepared can make road trips enjoyable for all! Read on for some helpful travel pet hints.

You will want to pack for your dog, too! Here are a few suggestions of items a dog will probably need: food and water dishes, collar (with tags and your cell-phone number so you can be reached), a leash, grooming items, vaccination records (if traveling far from home or to another state) and medications. We always bring Cabbie's pillow and blanket, and keep her bright-pink Cabbie bag ready to go.

Do some research before leaving, because there are many pet-friendly hotels out there. We always stay in one or two chains that welcome pets. When calling to make reservations, check on the hotel's pet policy.

Dogs should be in travel carriers during a trip, and be sure the carrier is the right size for your dog. Let your pet stay in the crate or carrier at home to prepare for the upcoming trip. Pet carriers need to be tied down so they can't shift around. Pets should not be allowed to roam loose or stick their heads out of the windows.

DO NOT leave your pet in a parked car, no matter the time of year. Hot or cold weather can kill! -- Heloise


Dear Readers: Phyllis Jeanne Caron-Valeriano of Willimantic, Conn., sent a photo of her goddaughter, Suzanne, with her son's service dog, Goldey, helping her read the paper, and her other dog, Little Buddy, curled up and sleeping.

To see Goldey and Little Buddy, visit -- Heloise


Dear Heloise: When I read the headline for your column in the Erie (Pa.) Times-News, I thought I should share my hint for old, lidded containers.

I have a couple of long-haired dogs that need brushing frequently. When the weather is good, I do it outside, and even then I don't like to let the hair just blow around. I discovered that if I keep one of those containers handy, I can just shove the hair into the container, and it does not get away. -- Marie, via e-mail


Dear Heloise: I had the scare of my life when my kitten cried strangely. I called him and got no answer. When I investigated, I found that he had gotten caught under the bed in the gauze lining attached to the bottom of the box spring. He and his buddy had ripped part of the gauze lining, and a piece of the fiber somehow got caught around his neck. I found him literally strangling from a thin, but very strong, piece of gauze fiber.

Please, please share this important caution with your other pet lovers. I would hate to think of this happening to another precious pet. -- Sharon, Alberton, Prince Edward Island, Canada

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The Age of Aquariums

Aquariums are soothing, says Joe Schinn of Joe's Aquariums, a company that sets up and cares for aquariums in the tri-state area. That's why you sometimes see them in dentists' or doctors' waiting rooms. In fact, Joe once met a psychiatrist who believed so strongly that pet fish lower anxiety, he insisted that all his patients have home aquariums.

Servicing hundreds of tropical and marine aquariums, as well as koi ponds, many in the Montclair vicinity, is not a low anxiety profession, though. In addition to scheduled maintenance of tanks and ponds, Joe has to be available for emergencies 24 hours a day. Fish are delicate, and a broken piece of equipment, or the sudden appearance of disease, may require immediate attention.

A graduate of Montclair State, with a degree in marine biology, Joe has been in business for five years, and employs two assistants. His interest in aquatic life began with a middle school science fair project involving goldfish. By the time he was a college student, he had a living reef tank. While a student he worked at the Clifton fish emporium, Absolutely Fish.

A portion of Joe's clientele are businesses, the closest being the Teaneck Marriott, but most customers have fish tanks in private homes. The cost for setup of a basic 55-gallon tank, freshwater or marine, runs from $600-$1200, with monthly service calls starting at $70, plus tax. Of course, if Joe has to remove one of the fish to apply an antibiotic, the price goes up. Yes, he acts as a fish vet, too.

Joe says that marine tanks are only slightly more difficult to maintain than freshwater tanks. Freshwater tropical fish are bred for sale. Many originate in South America and are bred in Florida. Saltwater fish are difficult to breed in captivity and must be collected. When questioned about the ethics of removing a fish from its natural habitat, Joe said that to his knowledge, none of the fish captured are endangered, He said that he doesn't see them as a commodity, but respects them as living beings, and has a very high standard for their care and quality of life.

Why do people keep fish tanks? Some parents buy the fish for their children. Sometimes fish are the only pets apartment dwellers are allowed to keep. Fish are also great pets for neatniks - no paw prints, fur, or mess. And, Joe insists that people become emotionally attached to their fish, and apparently some fish can recognize their owners. A client in Tenafly would come home and say to her Emperor Angel fish, who lived to be more than 20, "How's my baby?" and the fish would rush to the top of the tank, making a grunting sound.

Joe takes care of a number of koi ponds in Montclair, where he works in association with landscape architects. Koi definitely recognize their owners, he said, although he doesn't know if it's by their voice, footsteps, or something else. Apparently koi can live to 350 years, so they may get to know several generations of a family.

When Vets Make Mistakes, Pets Pay the Price
By JoNel Aleccia -

Owners outraged over botched surgeries, medication errors, misdiagnoses

Bad diagnosis nearly costs dog’s life
A pathologist’s report of aggressive bone cancer turned out to be wrong for Finnegan, an 8-year-old Greyhound. Three years later, he’s happy and healthy and his owners are glad they got a second opinion, though they worry about medical errors in other people's pets.

Jared Genser was a day away from euthanizing his family dog, Finnegan, when the Washington, D.C. lawyer discovered that the lab’s diagnosis of a painful and deadly bone cancer was wrong.

Jenn Diederich of Riverton, Utah, sent her dog, Ted, for surgery to repair a torn ligament in a right rear leg, only to find that the veterinarian had operated on the left leg instead.

And Stefani Olsen of Silver Spring, Md., returned from a weekend business trip to discover that the clinic where she’d boarded her elderly diabetic cat, Toonces, had overdosed him with 10 times the amount of insulin he needed, leaving the animal blind, wracked with seizures and suffering from severe brain damage that lasted until his death.

“It goes beyond heartbreak,” said Olsen, a 45-year-old health information technician who’d had the 15-year-old cat since he was a kitten.

If any of these mistakes had occurred in human patients, they’d be classified as medical errors worthy of investigation, public reporting and professional discipline, including dismissal.

Wrong-site surgery and medication overdoses, for instance, are among the so-called “never events” regarded as inexcusable in a human health care setting.

But because the errors occurred in animals, owners and advocates say they were ignored, minimized or outright denied by a system that devalues the bond between pets and their owners and fails to hold veterinarians sufficiently accountable when they make mistakes.

‘Woefully inadequate’
“When someone’s companion animal is injured by a veterinarian, their choices are between slim and none,” said Joyce Tischler, founder and general counselor for the Animal Legal Defense Fund, a Cotati, Calif., group that fields several calls a month about pet medical errors.

“Action against veterinarians is woefully inadequate,” she added.

Owners of injured animals say they’re stunned to discover state veterinary boards that dismiss up to 80 percent of the complaints filed against their members, and a legal system that regards pets as mere property, with no way to recover damages for emotional loss.

Laws vary, but in most state courts animals are worth their market value, plus perhaps any economic value they generate for their owners, Tischler said. That could be a considerable amount of money for a high-value show dog or a racehorse, for instance, but for most household pets, it's not.

“If you have a 10-year-old mixed-breed dog, the value of that dog is generally considered to be under $100,” Tischler said. “It's a sad situation, it's an unfair situation for people who care about their animals and are quite shocked to find when their animal is killed or injured they cannot sue.”

But industry advocates and vets themselves say that such rhetoric overstates the problem. They contend that mistakes occur only in a tiny fraction of the nearly 190 million for veterinary visits for dogs, cats, birds and horses each year, and that there is adequate monitoring and discipline when they do happen.

“I guess I don’t agree that there is a lot of malpractice out there,” said Adrian Hochstadt, assistant director of state legislative and regulatory affairs for the American Veterinary Medical Association, which represents about 80,000 vets.

“If there are negligent doctors — and there are probably a few in every system — if it’s a big problem, it would have been addressed by legislation," he added.

No tracking of vet errors
It’s difficult to know how often medical errors occur in pets. The AVMA collects no statistics on veterinary malpractice suits, Hochstadt said, and the group’s associated Professional Liability Insurance Trust, or PLIT, which offers malpractice insurance for vets, refused to release numbers or outcomes of such cases.

One small study of veterinary errors, a 2004 paper published in the journal Veterinary Record, found that 78 percent of recent veterinary graduates surveyed in Scotland and England admitted making a mistake that could have endangered an animal. It’s not clear whether those results can be extrapolated to the larger profession, however.

In the absence of better data, most industry experts look to human medicine, where medical errors kill as many as 98,000 people a year, and likely more, according to a decade-old Institute of Medicine report widely regarded as a baseline.

“There’s no reason to think that it’s so different than what occurs in humans,” said Kathleen Bonvicini, chief executive of the Institute for Healthcare Communication Inc., a New Haven, Conn., nonprofit that had to add sessions on veterinary errors several years ago to address a growing demand.

Complaints on the rise
Still, the number of complaints against veterinarians seems to be going up, rising by about 14 percent between 2005 and 2007 according to a survey by DVM Newsmagazine, which monitors the industry.

A check of several states showed that many dismiss a large proportion of their complaints. In Texas, there were 469 new complaints in 2008, with 172 carried from previous years. Records show that more than 40 percent, 263 complaints, were dismissed without action.

In Alabama, 30 of 50 new complaints filed in 2008 were dismissed, or about 60 percent. And in Nevada, 65 of 79 new complaints that year were dismissed, or 82 percent.

But using numbers of complaints to gauge the quality of veterinary care can be misleading, noted Thomas Mickey, the executive director of the North Carolina Veterinary Medical Board. Some customers use complaints as a way to get out of paying what they regard as high vet bills.

“They have to justify a reason for not paying that bill,” he said.

The AVMA stands by the state discipline system, Hochstadt said. At the same time, the group has staunchly opposed efforts to allow courts to impose non-economic damages for animals, arguing that the move would drive up costs, push vets out of the profession and create many of the problems found in the medical malpractice realm for humans.

“Our position is that the current legal structure is working well,” Hochstadt said.

That sentiment outrages some pet owners, prompting them to take their plight to the Internet. Greg Munson, 44, a Mesquite, Texas, businessman created the Web site after the 2005 death of his beloved 8-year-old Shih Tzu, Stempy, from an alleged veterinary error after surgery for a bladder stone.

Munson's site, which features flaming letters and "story after story of EVIL Vets from HELL,” was designed to gain attention — and prompt action, Munson said.

“Vets in this country literally get away with murder,” Munson said. “Even when a vet board does hold a vet accountable, it’s nothing more than a slap on the wrist.”

Devastating mistakes
When mistakes occur, they’ve devastating to the animals — and to their owners.

Jared Genser, the 37-year-old Washington, D.C., lawyer, said he and his wife, Lisa, 32, a social worker, suffered “extreme distress” when a pathologist’s report from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine said their 5-year-old Greyhound, Finnegan, had osteosarcoma, an aggressive and deadly bone cancer.

“We cried for 24 hours,” he said. “They said we should probably consider putting him down to spare him the pain.”

Reluctantly, the pair scheduled the euthanasia. The day before the appointment, however, they got a second opinion from a Greyhound expert at Ohio State University, who ruled out cancer and said the dog was recovering from an injury. Three years later, Finnegan remains happy and healthy.

“It was either a spontaneous recovery or the pathologists at U Penn were wrong,” Genser said.

Jenn Diederich’s dog, Ted, a 7-year-old female Corgi-Blue Heeler mix, required four surgeries to repair the damage caused when Utah veterinarian Eric Bonder mistakenly operated on the wrong leg — and then botched that operation as well when a bone plate fractured during surgery.

“Her left leg, the one that had nothing wrong with it, had to have three surgeries because he did such a bad job on it,” said Diederich, 35, who works in law enforcement. “No dog should have to go through that.”

Stenfani Olsen said Toonces, her diabetic cat, spent the last two years of his life grappling with severe brain damage, while she spent $16,000 caring for him. It turned out that the vet who cared for Toonces, Marc S. Katz, of Silver Spring, Md., had allowed his adult son, who was not licensed as a veterinary technician, to administer insulin to the animal without supervision, records show.

The penalty levied by the Maryland State Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners against Katz was a $250 fine and 30-day suspension of his license, which was stayed. He was placed on six months probation, records showed. Katz did not return calls and e-mails from

“What would happen to a human medical doctor if that happened?” Olsen said. “What I’m saying is a $250 fine and a stayed suspension is completely inadequate as a deterrent.”

‘How do you sleep at night?’For many owners, that’s the worst part: They’re upset that the mistake occurred, but they’re outraged when no one seems to take it seriously.

When Diederich, who was upset, confronted the vet, Bonder, about the mistaken surgery, she said he told her: “By law, your dog is worth only $100 anyway.”

“You take your animal to a vet clinic and you just assume that they care about your animal,” she said. "I asked him, ‘How do you sleep at night?’”

Bonder, 45, of Salt Lake City, acknowledged that he did operate on the wrong leg, and that that operation went bad, too.

“I feel awful about it,” said Bonder, who explained that the original mistake occurred when a technician shaved the wrong leg. “Admittedly, I should have caught the error.”

But he said he never told Diederich that her dog was worth just $100: “I did not say it and I would not say it.”

He added that every vet who makes a mistake feels nearly as bad as the owners do.

“It’s more gut-wrenching than it is anything else,” Bonder said. “Once I realized it occurred, it’s ‘Oh my gosh, what happened?’ and then you go to ‘What do you do about this?’”

Diederich filed a complaint about Bonder with the Utah Division of Occupational and Professional Licensing last summer, but a spokeswoman said no action had been taken. Records show Bonder's veterinary license had been placed on probation for two years in 2002 after he "acted unprofessionally" while treating an injured cat. The move included stipulations that he submit to a psychological exam and retake the ethics portion of the state veterinary exam.

Bonder said he couldn't comment on the details of the case, except to say it didn't involve a medical issue.

In Genser’s case, the head pathologist at the U Penn vet school wouldn’t answer calls from the Greyhound's owner about the dog's incorrect cancer diagnosis. A letter to the dean of the school, Joan C. Hendricks, elicited a polite, but vague response, despite Genser’s demands for clear action to rectify the problem. Hendricks did not respond to calls and e-mails from

“I don’t expect perfection in my vets,” said Genser, adding that he did expect medical professionals to communicate with owners and to learn from their mistakes.

A culture change
Bonvicini, the health communications expert, said veterinary attention to medical mistakes probably lags human medicine by several years. In human care, a “mistakes happen” attitude has been replaced with concerted efforts to reduce errors. From Medicare penalties for hospital-acquired conditions to surgical checklists aimed at reminding doctors to follow protocols, the entire system has veered toward a new accountability.

“We’re talking about a culture change,” said Bonvicini, who teaches seminars on human medical errors as well. The PLIT, the liability insurance agency, has recently begun sponsoring the sessions.

Veterinarians are starting to feel the same pressures, said Mickey, the North Carolina vet board director.

“I think there’s a greater understanding in the profession that a mistake could happen to anybody,” he said. “We’ve got to be more careful. We’ve got to do a better job. I think the whole profession is on a gradual uphill.”

The change can’t come soon enough for pet owners, said Tischler, of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. In a nation where 63 percent of people own pets and many regard them as members of the family, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, more animal lovers are paying attention to medical errors — and hoping to stop them.

It’ll take more aggressive enforcement by vet boards and, perhaps, a change in the way animals are regarded under the law, she said. Until then, pet owners are on their own.

“I never met a person who wanted money,” Tischler said. “Every single one of them has said, ‘I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else’s animal.’”

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