Cat With 26 Toes Could Save Rescue Shelter

A cat with 26 toes is inspiring $26 donations to keep a Milwaukee animal shelter from closing.

The Milwaukee Animal Rescue Center was not offered a new lease from the Southridge Mall, and now finds itself in need of some new digs, the Huffington Post reported.

The shelter, which takes in animals from other humane societies and animal control agencies that might otherwise be put down, doesn't get any funding and relies on the community for support.

Shelter officials are getting some much-needed fundraising help in the form of Daniel, a 26-toed feline who calls the shelter home and is inspiring $26 donations to help cover the $40,000 down payment on an alternative building. The money is needed by Nov. 15.

"We knew from the beginning he was a special kitty. Now, he's an inspiring kitty," the shelter's Amy Rowell said.

The polydactyl cat was saved from being put down at another animal shelter.

Snellville Couple Denies Sharing LSD with Dog
By Angel K. Brooks -

A Snellville couple accused of giving their dog LSD denies the allegation, Channel 2 Action News reported.

Nicholas Modrich and Jamie Hughes, both 25, admitted taking the drug and running naked through their neighborhood along Pinehurst Road on Sunday night. But they said they did not give the drug to their dog, which was hit by a car.

"When (Modrich) went outside naked, I went chasing after him and I think that's when the dog got out," Hughes told Channel 2.

The couple adopted Oscar from an animal shelter last week, the report said. He was run over during Sunday's incident, and police told the AJC Tuesday that the dog had been euthanized.

Police said that during questioning, the couple admitted giving LSD to Oscar.

"They were tripping pretty hard," Snellville police Capt. Harold Thomas previously told the AJC.

Modrich and Hughes told Channel 2 that the acid was sprinkled on two Gummi worms that they ate.

"I guess the story got twisted because somebody said we fed him LSD. We never did that," Hughes said.

The couple faces charges of misdemeanor possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, possession of a drug-related object and public indecency, police said. Modrich also was charged with simple battery for allegedly pulling Hughes' hair.

Test results are pending for Oscar, and no charges related to the dog have been filed, police said.

Man Says Cat Saved Him from Fire
by: Emily Lenihan -

GRAND ISLAND, N.Y. (WIVB) - A loyal friend alerted his owner to a dangerous situation, early Friday morning. They say a dog is a man's best friend, but a cat came through in a big way for a Grand Island man.

A Grand Island man says he might not be here today, if his cat Buddy didn’t jump into action.

“The cat is my savior,” said Carl Kryszak.

Kryszak’s cat Buddy knew something was wrong early Friday morning, but Carl had no idea. He was fast asleep when a fire broke out in his Grand Island apartment, but thaks to his furry friend, Carl walked away alive and well.

Kryszak said, “My cat woke me up and the place was filled with smoke. I opened the windows right away and I put the cat outside.”

Almost immediately after that, Kryszak says he started throwing buckets of water on his apartment’s burning walls.

Neighbor Bill Grunzweig said, “Our neighbor actually did most of the work getting the fire out before the fire department got here.”

Fortunately the fire didn’t spread to any other apartments.

Officials believe an electrical problem sparked the fire at the Country Glenn apartments, and they also think they’ve figured out why Carl didn’t wake up.

Grand Island Fire Chief Kevin Kock said, “There were smoke detectors in the apartment but they were not alarming on our arrival. The ones in the common hall areas were, but nothing in the apartment.”

All of the residents walked away uninjured and for now Kryszak and Buddy are staying with other family, while the apartment is repaired.

Kryszak said, “I’m very thankful the cat woke me up and nobody is hurt.”

They say cats have nine lives, and Friday morning, you could say Buddy gave one of his to owner.

Fire officials say Carl’s apartment has about $6,000 in damages. They are repairing the walls Friday afternoon and he should be able to move back in with Buddy, or should we say his best friend, once all the work is done.

Pet Rentals Great for Commitment Phobic
Sharna Johnson -

Commitment-phobe? Just not ready to take the plunge?

Or maybe just looking for a temporary good time...

Well, there’s a solution.

Rental pets is a new rage sweeping through metropolitan communities and apparently it’s an idea that is really taking off and gaining popularity, particularly in the concrete jungles.

I stumbled onto the concept while reading a story on weird things one can rent and was fascinated by the concept.

After going through an application and screening process, a potential renter can select a pet and take it home, to the park, on vacation or where ever their fancy directs.

Not an entirely new idea, in a 2008 New York Times article, one woman said she liked renting a cockapoo named Oliver because she was lonely after relocating and found the dog to be a great ice-breaker, attracting attention and conversation when she was out and about.

Other reasons people give for renting pets range from not being ready to make the commitment to a full-time pet, to making the kiddos happy by giving them a chance to throw Fido a ball for a while.

The potential is intriguing... Your kid wouldn’t have to stare at their feet during pet day at school, you could use the critter to pick up a date, get that impulsive desire to get a dog out of your system, or maybe even confirm that you are indeed ready to share your life with a dog from the chewing start to the incontinence end of its life, with all the shedding and vet bills in-between.

One of the most interesting aspects of the pet rental trade is the fact that many of the companies offer rental animals from shelters that are looking for homes.

The concept of getting people to pay money to foster and love homeless animals by playing on their love of convenience is absolutely brilliant!

It turns out in addition to dogs and cats, you can also rent exotic animals, horses, ponies, reptiles, birds, fish (complete with tank and maintenance if you’re keep-fish-alive-impaired like me) and — making childhood dreams come true — monkeys (I’m sure an hour is more than enough).

You can even rent a goat to mow your lawn then send it back — now there’s an eco-conscious approach to chores without long-term risk to your trees and clothesline of dungarees, and the owner gets their animal fed and your money, again, brilliant.

There are certainly valid reasons for renting, after all, why purchase a backhoe for one job, a car for a week-long vacation, or tables and chairs for one party?

The most profound part of the whole rent-a-life thing is that it is completely fueled by and based upon people accepting the price tag for embracing their limitations and owning up to the fact they don’t want the responsibility — a novel concept indeed.

And it’s arguably a little cloudy as to whether that’s a good, or a bad thing. After all, I’d be the last one to look down on anyone for loving a critter.

The position could be made that rental animals will get shuffled from one environment to the next and of course there’s always the possibility of a bad renter getting their hands on one. Then again, a trip through a shelter will show you rows of snouts already in varying stages of that very cycle, considering there is no screening process for pet ownership.

I wonder what they’ll think of next. Maybe for the sake of humanity, one day you’ll be able to rent an abandoned baby, or a toddler, or even a neglected elderly person, and then send them back before the obligations and work kick in.

I suppose until they do and until the pet rental option reaches less metropolitan areas like ours, our choices are a little limited. But I guess if we were so inclined, while we wait for it to come to our area we could always mentor local kids, visit a nursing home, volunteer or donate the money we might use for pet rent … We could call it renting happiness and gratitude.

Sharna Johnson is a writer who is always searching for ponies. You can reach her at: or on the web at:

Over Half of Owners
Will Buy Pet Holiday Gifts

Poll shows they plan to spend average of $46 with toys, treats topping list

Just over half of American pet owners will buy gifts for their pets this holiday season, and they'll spend an average of $46 on their animals, with toys and treats topping the list, according to a new poll.

Sixty-eight percent of pets getting gifts can look forward to a toy, 45 percent to food or another treat, 8 percent new bedding, 6 percent clothing, 3 percent a leash, collar or harness and 3 percent new grooming products, the poll showed. (Some pets will get more than one gift.)

"Christmas is about the pets," said Gayla McCarthy, 58, of Kekaha, Hawaii, whose Australian shepherd, Echo, will find a toy under the tree. McCarthy even got a shirt for her husband as a gift to him from the dog, and she'll be giving collapsible bowls that she ordered online to all their friends' dogs.

Although the average budget for pet gifts among those surveyed was $46, 72 percent of those polled said they'd spend $30 or less. Those who bought gifts for their pets last year said they spent $41 on average.

Overall, 51 percent of those polled this year said they would buy holiday gifts for their pets, a figure that's been relatively stable in the last few polls. It was 53 percent last year, 52 percent in 2009 and 43 percent in 2008.

Income does matter. Those making $50,000 or more say they plan to spend an average $57 on their pets. Those making under $50,000 say it will be $29.

Major pet retailers have been taking part in the Black Friday and Cyber Monday frenzy for a few years. Petco Animal Supplies Inc. plans a 72-hour "Black Friday Weekend Blowout," said Greg Seremetis, vice president of marketing.

Products for both pets and pet owners will be available, he said. "Including pets in holiday gift-giving has been a growing trend in the last few years. More and more pets are being treated as family members and being included in holiday traditions, including having a gift waiting for them under the tree," he said.

PetSmart Inc. plans to open stores at 7 a.m. on Black Friday, followed by a "Countdown to Christmas" sale beginning on Dec. 16, said spokeswoman Stephanie Foster.

Online retailer Foster & Smith Inc. plans a live, streaming, four-hour (11 a.m. - 3 p.m. EST) webcast full of sales and giveaways on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, spokesman Gordon Magee said. "As far as we know, with the exception of QVC ..., no other retailer has done a live broadcast like this on Black Friday and Cyber Monday," Magee said. "We are going to give it a go."

Younger pet owners are more apt to say they'll buy their pet a holiday gift, including 56 percent of pet owners under age 50. Among those ages 50-64, it's 47 percent, and among seniors, 39 percent, the poll showed.

Lauren Beard, 22, of Felton, Pa., and her family lavished their dog Groovy with gifts last year — including treats and bones — because it was the chocolate lab's first Christmas. "We still love her but it's a little less exciting this year," Beard said. So she reduced her budget of $70 last year to $50, and hopes to get some things on sale. She'll also buy a gift for Groovy's best friend and neighbor, a golden retriever named Tessie, Beard said.

Ronda Singleton and her husband live in Elk, Wash., and raise and show standard poodles. But they don't plan to get gifts for their dogs or for each other. "If we need something, we go get it," she explained, adding that the dogs get treats all the time. She and her husband like to celebrate holidays with traditional dinners and church services.

Thomas Koch, 69, in Raleigh, N.C., has something special to celebrate this year — adoption of his adult son should be finalized, he said.

The two will spend the holidays with their dog, Jessie, a Sheltie-chow mix, and two cats, Tanz and Callie.

Last year, Jessie got toys and the cats got play mice and a large bag of catnip. "They liked it so much we just threw it on the carpet and let them roll in it," Koch said.

He covered the goodies last year for a mere $8, but is setting aside $10 this year just in case prices have gone up.

George Smith, 43, a father of three in Adams County, Colo., says pets are "part of the family, just like our kids." But they keep the holiday gifts for Miley, a golden retriever, and Zippity, a cat, low-key: no fancy wrapping or stockings, just $10 worth of toys and treats.

Steve Gottula's budget was $100 last year and he figures it will run about the same this year for his two dogs and seven cats. Odie, a dachshund, and Sky, a Dalmatian, will get special bones, and the cats will get catnip and mouse balls.

Gottula, 48, his wife Leigh (she's the one who brings home the strays) and five kids (ages 6 to 16) live with the nine pets in Spring, Texas.

His daughters have made stockings for the pets — with their initials — and they are always part of holiday celebrations, Gottula said.

"The cats like to play with the paper and ribbon and get lost in the boxes and wrappings," he said.

What do his pets mean to him? "They are entertaining, they are companions. They have little senses of humor. They all have personalities. If you give love to them they give it back — it's unconditional," he said.

The Poll was conducted Oct. 13-17 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,118 pet owners. Results among all pet owners have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

Pet Talk: Touching and Intriguing Tales
By Anne Divine - GateHouse News Service

Leavenworth — I am always reading animal-related newsletters and articles to keep in touch with the wealth of information available and would like to share some stories that captured my attention in some way.

Have you heard about the elephant-dog friendship that lasted eight years? In an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee the pachyderm Tarra recently lost her long-time canine companion Bella. Bella was a stray who showed up and never left.

For years she and Tarra were completely devoted to each other and usually could be found side by side exploring the acreage. They shared a barn home at night.

Bella went missing one day and the staff searched everywhere for the dog.
Her body was found in the barn. It was apparent that she had been attacked and killed by a coyote.

There was no evidence that the attack had taken place in the barn. There was a bit of Bella’s blood on the underside of Tarra’s trunk.

The sanctuary staff have pieced together what they believe to have happened to Bella. Most likely, Tara witnessed the attack or discovered it soon after and then carried the body of her friend back to their barn home.
Rob Atkinson of the Sanctuary said "I am convinced Tarra experienced the death of her friend that fateful night, brought her home and said her goodbyes. Tarra was a true friend to the end, and Tarra’s sisters and caregivers will continue to take care of her, as she and Bella did each other."

Tarra will be mourning the loss of her dear friend probably for the rest of her life.

“The incredible Dr. Pol” is going to be featured on a National Geographic series of that name. It premiered Oct 29 and will be on at 9 pm Saturdays. Dr. Pol is a country veterinarian in rural Michigan who still makes house calls. In his practice he cares for every pet and farm animal you can imagine. He has cared for more than 18,000 patients in his many years of practice and is still going strong and working long hours. His old-school, no-nonsense approach to veterinary medicine should result in some interesting shows, perhaps somewhat like the James Herriot stories.

A black lab named Tucker is helping scientists understand why the orca population is diminishing in Puget Sound. Tucker, described as a “Conservation Canine” has been trained to recognize the scent of whale “poo.”

He can detect it from a nautical mile away. Tucker is taken out in the Sound in a boat with the scientists.

When he “hits” on the scent by becoming highly animated, the researchers collect the poop for testing. DNA testing and nutritional analysis provide valuable information about the status of the marine creatures.

The scientists have concluded that three reasons for the population decline are: 1) disturbance from private and commercial whale-watching boats, 2) a decline in their primary prey…Chinook salmon, and 3) exposure to chemicals like PCB, PBDE and DDT which are stored in the whale’s fat.

I am not sure how much of their conclusions are the result of the “poo” testing but it sure is intriguing to learn another way that dogs can help man, who then helps animals.

Anne Divine is a long time member of LAWS and has volunteered at Animal Control for 18 years. She can be reached at:

Travel Picks:
Top 10 Tips for Flying with Pets

Cats wait to be loaded into trucks after arriving from Lebanon by cargo jet at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas. Credit: Reuters/Steve Marcus

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Traveling with pets can be a nerve-racking adventure for first-time fliers - and even more so for their owners. But preparing ahead, from organized feeding schedules to vet visits, is a strategic way to guarantee you and your furry friend will be fine 35,000 feet in the air.

Online travel adviser ( offers its top 10 tips for flying with pets. Reuters has not endorsed this list:

1. Calculate the costs

The charges associated with carrying pets onboard - whether checked or in the cabin - add up quickly. Research airlines' different rates ahead of time and factor the canine and feline fees into the total cost of airfare - both yours and your pet's - before pressing book. Delta Air Lines for instance, attaches a hefty $200 fee per kennel to check a pet for one-way flights; cabin riders do less financial damage at $125 per kennel. And a good rule of thumb: like general airfare, discount airlines like Southwest ($75) and JetBlue ($100) often charge less for pets.

2. Call the airline

Start by checking your airline's website for regulations, but also get a verbal confirmation that you and your pet are set to fly. Many airlines limit the total number of animals allowed within the cabin on each flight, so it's important that a reservation be made sooner rather than later -and confirmed 24-48 hours before departure. American Airlines, for instance, caps the number of four-legged fliers at seven per flight: two in First Class and five in Business and Coach.

3. Rehearse nearby

First-time fliers are sometimes overwhelmed - justifiably - by a 35,000-foot ascent, so it's important to schedule trial runs before the big day of flight. If you live in a city, take your pet for a ride on the subway or other modes of public transportation to familiarize it with both the movement and the crowds. Since the American Veterinary Medical Association frowns upon sedation - the combination of tranquilizers and high altitudes can prove fatal - it's best to travel with calm, drug-free pets.

4. Visit the vet

Some airlines, like JetBlue and US Airways, don't require vaccination or health and veterinarian documents for animals on domestic flights. It's still recommended, though, that pet owners visit their vet before trips and carry up-to-date medical records and a first aid kit (gauze, tape, eye dropper, etc.) on flights. Many airlines, like United, require you to carry a health certificate issued less than 30 days before departure. To play it extremely safe, get acquainted with local veterinarians at your destination in case your cat or dog gets sick or injured while away.

5. Prepare the kennel

Squeezing your dog or cat into the claustrophobic kennel you purchased when they were just wee ones won't do on a flight, whether short- or long-haul. Invest in a container that leaves your pet room to turn and stand up without hitting its head on the top of the carrier. Different airlines have different dimension requirements, though the USDA has laid out universal must-haves: food and water dishes, "Live Animal" stickers, upright arrows, bedding and other necessities. Remember to include objects that the animal is familiar with, whether it's a favorite toy or blanket from home.

6. Attach ID tags

In case of separation, it's important to mark your pet - as well as carrier - with proper ID tags. Attach to the kennel a note with your flight number, contact information and pet's name. Do the same on your pet's collar; remember that a reachable phone number is the most important detail. Many animals nowadays have microchips implanted that shelters can scan to identify the dog or cat within a national database. Tattooed IDs are also an option for pets, and handy when registered with the National Dog Registry.

7. Exercise the day before

Spoil your dog or cat the day before traveling with extra exercise, the goal being to wear them out. For dogs, that means longer walks and high-energy activities; for cats, a few extra games of Claw the Rope could do. Exhaust your travel companion so the next day's flight is met with relaxation.

8. Pack food and water

Just like us, dogs and cats get dehydrated on flights. A handy tip: Freeze water before you leave home to ensure your furry friend has water in his dish by the time you both pass through security. United reminds passengers that, according to the USDA, pets must be offered food and water within four hours of checking in for a flight. On United flights, a signature is required to show when your pet was last offered nourishment.

9. Withhold food

A silly suggestion, considering the aforementioned tip. Of course you can pack food and snacks for your animal's voyage, but it's also important to avoid giving any edibles to your pet for a matter of hours before departure. Nerves are a guarantee, and not just for finicky felines. Queasiness, on the other hand, doesn't need to be.

10. Prepare for the unexpected

Flexibility and patience are virtues that every traveler should possess. The same holds especially true when flying with pets. Whether your flight is delayed, your dog gets sick mid-flight, or your cat decides he can't wait for the kitty litter - taking pets up in the air can be tough. Bottom line: Plan for the worst and expect the best. Bon voyage!

Best Breeds of Dog to Train

Choosing a particular breed of dog can make training them easier. So which are the best to go for? Top dog trainer Pam Mackinnon has some tips.

The most sociable dogs are the easiest to train, according to Pam Mackinnon. These tend to be the gundogs such as labradors and spaniels, and the companion dogs like poodles and papillons.

“Certain dogs with broad streaks of independence, such as terriers and hounds, can be the most challenging as their motivation to work with us can be low,” said Pam.

“Ultimately the more you can enhance the process of working with you the better the dog will perform whatever his breed.”

Check out these recommended breeds:

Labradors are a lively, carefree and attentive dog breed. They are very alert and playful and enjoy lavishing affection on their owner. Being highly intelligent creatures makes them easy to train, and the breed excels as show dogs and at dog sporting events. They were bred for hunting both on land and in water.

Spaniels: Tail-wagging enthusiasm marks the spaniels as a family of dogs that live for two things – the hunt and human companionship. The spaniel family is a delightful group of small to medium-sized dogs, mostly easy to train and keep, wonderful to own. The most popular kinds are cocker and springer spaniels.

Papillons: Bred to be a companion, this toy dog fills that role to perfection, for it thrives on human company and delights in pleasing its owners. Developed from the Continental Toy Spaniel, the Papillon takes its name from the French word for ‘butterfly’ for the distinctive head markings that resemble that magnificent creature. A lovely dog.

Poodles: The standard poodle is regarded as the second most intelligent breed of dog after the border collie. The poodle breed is found officially in toy, miniature, and standard sizes, with many coat colours. Originally bred as a type of water dog, the poodle is skilful in many dog sports, including agility and obedience.

The Dog Maxed Out My Credit Card

For one New York family, it has been a pricey few years at the doctor's office: Jake was treated for a malignant tumor on his eyelid—for $7,000—and Daisy recently swallowed a rock that cost $3,100 to remove.

"It's hard, the money, but they are part of the family," says Agnieszka Onichimiuk, whose family lives in Staten Island with their two Bernese mountain dogs.

Pet owners are feeling sticker shock at the vet. The average household in the U.S. spent $655 on routine doctor and surgical visits for dogs last year, up 47% from a decade ago, according to the American Pet Products Association. Expenditures for cats soared 73% over the same time frame—on pace with human health-care cost increases. Expenditures for people in the U.S. were up 76.7% between 1999 and 2009, according to the U. S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

More advanced-care options in areas such as ophthalmology as well as treatment of conditions such as cancer are driving up costs for owners, as well as higher standards for routine care.

"All of the innovations on the human side [of medicine] have come on over to the vet side, from MRIs and CAT scans to chemo and radiation," says Dennis Drent, president and CEO of Veterinary Pet Insurance Co.

The cost of medical care for pets is skyrocketing. The proliferation of advanced medical tests and long-term treatments have made pet ownership a significant financial commitment. Wendy Bounds has details on The News Hub.

Last year, VPI policyholders submitted 51,927 claims costing more than $1,000, up 64% from four years earlier. The average annual payout per pet for cancer therapy rose 14% to $2,821.16 last year, according to insurance provider Petplan.

"Prices have gone up much quicker in the last 10 years than in the past 30 years, and it's hitting consumers in the face," says René Carlson, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. "Liability-wise, we now get in much more trouble if we've cut corners" on routine matters, she adds. That often translates into more X-rays, more blood work and other tests.

There are about 165 million pet dogs and cats in the U.S. When asked how much they'd spend to save their pet's life, 70% of owners said "any amount," according to a 2006 survey of 5,200 VPI policyholders.

Ms. Onichimiuk, a 33-year-old physician's assistant, and her husband doled out thousands of dollars on oncology treatments, X-rays, medications and lab work trying to keep Jake, their 5½-year-old dog, alive. After he died, she says, "I couldn't imagine losing another dog," so the couple spent whatever it took to save 2½-year-old Daisy after her rock-eating episode.

Price hikes are also part of an active push by the veterinary industry to improve the bottom line of its practices. Addressing the disparity between rising tuitions and stagnant salaries has been a top priority of the veterinary association, which represents 81,500 vets.

High student loans and lower salaries than other advanced-degree professions, such as dentistry and law, are putting pressure on vets to raise fees. The average 2010 graduate of a U.S. veterinary college earned a starting salary of $67,359 in private practice but carried roughly double that in debt, according to a study this year by Bayer AG's Animal Health Division.

Higher fees create a separate issue: People tend to take their pets to the vet less, according to the Bayer report, which can lead to costlier long-term health problems if ailments are left untreated.

To discourage such behavior, more vets offer or participate in third-party discount plans that for a monthly fee give pet owners price cuts on treatments or perks, such as unlimited office visits.

One is Pet Assure Corp., a Lakewood, N.J., company that sells discount plans to consumers who then receive savings at participating vets. The plans offer an average 25% discount on most procedures for $7.95 to $13.95 a month, depending on the type and number of animals covered. Pet Assure has signed up 1,700 clinics and 300,000 pets since its 1995 launch, according to Charles Nebenzahl, chief executive.

Rick Katz in Overland Park, Kan., saved almost $200 on an $800 bill through Pet Assure when Max the Wonder Dog, his 14-year-old black Labrador-golden retriever mix, suffered a seizure eight months ago. "We brought him to the vet and had that all-important question you have with pets, which is, 'How far do you go?' " Mr. Katz says. "The vet said he still had life in him, so we went and had him treated." Of the savings, he says, "It's a big deal. It adds up."

Other plans are designed to encourage owners not to skimp on preventive care. Enrollment in the "Optimum Wellness Plans" has jumped 15% over the past five years at Banfield Pet Hospital, a chain with 780 offices that is a unit of Mars Inc., the candy manufacturer that makes Pedigree and Whiskas pet foods. Pet owners pay on average between $17.95 and $49.95 a month for adult animals. They receive unlimited free office visits, vaccinations, heartworm tests, two comprehensive exams, annual blood work and in some cases dental cleaning, X-rays and more.

"We're trying to avoid the long-term illnesses," says Harry Smith, a South Carolina veterinarian and a medical director for Banfield. For clients not on the company's plan, dogs averaged 1.4 visits last year, versus almost three visits for those on the plan.

Sandra Fain of Kingwood, Texas, keeps her three pets on Banfield's Wellness plan, including six-year-old JoJo, a Maltese. Without the plan, she says she couldn't give her pets "the kind of care they've been getting." That included a $1,500 surgery discounted from $2,500 to repair JoJo's torn ligament and dislocated kneecap earlier this fall. Amputation was the other, cheaper, alternative, she says.

"But that's my baby, and I wouldn't just cut off his leg, the same way I wouldn't with a child," Ms. Fain. "Pets need just as much as humans do."

Write to Gwendolyn Bounds at

10 Things Every Cockatiel Owner Should Know
By Nikki Moustaki -

These days, there’s plenty of great parrot advice floating around, and though much of it applies to the cockatiel, any cockatiel owner will tell you that her bird is special. That attitude might seem biased, but it’s true. The cockatiel requires some special considerations that new owners should know in order to best care for these unique birds.

1) Cockatiel Dust
The cockatiel is one of three commonly kept parrots that create an abundance of bird dust. The other dust culprits are the cockatiel’s close cousin, the cockatoo, and the African grey parrot. You might notice a layer of fine, white dust covering pretty much everything near your cockatiel’s cage, especially objects that draw dust with static, like the television. This dust comes from white powder-down feathers that grow close to the bird’s skin. These feathers emerge among the down feathers, and both are used to help insulate the bird. What’s unique about the powder down feathers is that the tips crumble into a fine dust as the bird preens, spreading the powder throughout the feathers and helping to waterproof the bird.

The dust isn’t a problem for most people, but it can create respiratory issues and even aggravate asthma for others. Cockatiels can cause allergic reactions in other pet birds kept in close proximity; macaws seem to be especially affected by dustier bird species.

Bathing your cockatiel frequently helps reduce feather dust, and placing a HEPA filter near the cage will polish the air and cut down the possibility of respiratory issues. I have had many cockatiels over the years, and I never so much as sneezed from the dust. And I’m not a compulsive duster.

2) Egg-Laying Cockatiels
Most hens have the singular mindset to make more cockatiels, even if there’s no male around. Frequent egg laying is a problem in cockatiels, and though egg laying is biologically innate, many female cockatiels will lay way too many eggs in short succession, causing potential health issues, including egg binding, paralysis, and weakening of the bones.

Just because she’s laying eggs does not mean that your cockatiel needs or wants a mate or to have babies. It means that her body has been sent external signals that it’s time to nest, and she can’t help her instincts. Usually, a cockatiel will come into mating condition when the light gets longer in the spring. An abundance of food and water also prompts a cockatiel to want to set up house. Since you’re not going to restrict your bird’s food and water, restrict the light your hen receives if she persists in laying eggs. Use sun lamps and/or a cage cover to allow no more than 10 hours of sunlight a day until her hormones calm down and she stops nesting.

If your bird is laying and sitting on eggs, allow her to have them for a few days, and then remove them. It’s not necessary to replace the eggs with plastic eggs, as many canary breeders do. This will only prolong her sitting on them. Nesting is very stressful for a female cockatiel without a male. Most pairs take turns sitting on the eggs, so if she’s alone, she might forgo the food and water dish in order to protect her eggs, even if they’ll never hatch.

If you have a pair of cockatiels and your hen is laying an abundance of eggs, remove any perceived nesting areas and you may have to move the male to another room temporarily if egg laying becomes a real problem. Consult your avian veterinarian for more advice on this issue.

3) Cockatiels Can Be Seed Junkies
An all-seed diet greatly increases disease in most parrots and decreases lifespan significantly. But what do we feed a bird whose natural diet is mainly seeds? The cockatiel uses the same natural habitat as the Australian grass parakeets, and its diet is similar, although the cockatiel has also been seen feeding on vegetation and insects. Also, the wild cockatiel’s diet consists of both young and mature seeds of all varieties, even seed crops, much to the chagrin of farmers.

There’s no way to mimic the cockatiel’s wild habitat in the average household. The wild cockatiel eats far more than a pet cockatiel, but it also exercises far more as well. It also doesn’t have a shot at living as long as your cockatiel. So, it’s best to feed your cockatiel according to the research and advice that we use for all parrots; variety is key. Some seed is fine, but supplement it with pellets, cooked diets, nutritious vegetables and fruit. Even though your cockatiel might love seeds, don’t make it the only item in your bird’s dish.

4) Night Frights & Cockatiels
It’s the middle of the night and suddenly you’re woken from a deep sleep by the sound of thrashing and clanging — scary! You know it’s probably not an intruder; it’s your cockatiel having “night frights,” also called “night thrashing.” Cockatiels are notorious for this behavior. Something in the darkness frightens the bird; perhaps a noise, lights or shadows; and the bird tries to take off to protect itself and thrashes around its cage in a panic. It’s not unusual for a bird to harm itself this way, usually an injuring an eye, leg or breaking feathers.

To prevent or reduce the frequency of night frights, use a night light in the bird’s room, though some birds do better covered in complete darkness. You’ll have to evaluate your bird’s individual preferences after the night frights occur. Try to eliminate the trigger for the night frights. Perhaps your house cat is stalking the birds at night, or headlights shine randomly into the window as cars pass, scaring the bird. If your bird still thrashes at night, consider using a night-time cage without a perch or toys, and line it with towels.

5) Respiratory System
All parrots have a sensitive respiratory system, but the athletic cockatiel is even more sensitive than most. This bird has a very light body for its size, and succumbs to fumes easily. Keep the bird well away from fumes from non-stick coating, candles, air fresheners and aerosol sprays.

6) Special Trims For Cockatiels
The cockatiel is a light bird, so it needs a less-conservative wing trim than heavier parrots. The typical wing feather trim involves trimming the ends of the first five or seven flight feathers. The cockatiel, however, needs all of the flight feathers trimmed and even a few of the lift feathers. A cockatiel with just a few flight feathers trimmed can fly like the wind!

7) Good HousematesFor Cockatiels
The cockatiel is well suited for aviary life. This bird is an agile flyer and appreciates being allowed to take advantage of this natural attribute. It also will appreciate being outdoors in good weather, soaking up the sunshine. Since it is a fairly docile bird, it does well in a large aviary with other docile birds, such as budgies, some species of grass ’keets and some varieties finches. Do not house cockatiels with lovebirds or larger hookbills; the cockatiel is unable to defend itself against these more aggressive birds.

8) Cockatiel: Long Tail, Big Cage
The cockatiel, with its long tail, needs a larger home than a similar-sized bird with a shorter tail; otherwise its tail will rake against the bars and dip into the water cup, making it perpetually ratty.

Cockatiels also need to exercise, or they risk becoming “perch potatoes.” An overweight ‘tiel can develop fatty tumors, gout, heart disease and general illness. Better to allow your cockatiel daily exercise than to spend a ton of cash at the vet’s office.

9) Expressive Crests On Cockatiels
The cockatiel is the only small parrot with a head crest. The crest raises and lowers according to the bird’s mood. As you get to know your bird, you’ll come to understand what each crest position means. When the crest is raised to full height, it usually means that the bird is excited, fearful or curious. A lowered crest, with just the tip of it sticking up, indicated that the bird is content. Subtle differences in crest positions can signal an entirely different mood. For instance, an angry ’tiel might hold its crest tightly against its head, which is often accompanied with a hunched back.

The cockatiel is also one of the only small parrots that hisses and “spits” when afraid or behaving aggressively. Your ‘tiel is saying “Back off.”

10) Define Noisy With Cockatiels
Many people get cockatiels because they aren’t “loud.” Well, volume is subjective, and there are plenty of cockatiel owners with neighbors who would argue otherwise. Though the cockatiel isn’t particularly loud, it’s definitely persistent in its vocalizations. I once had an African grey that learned the cockatiel call in his previous home and performed it constantly at 10 times the volume; the worst of both worlds! Don’t get a cockatiel because you think it will be a quieter parrot. Get one because you like what the bird offers; a fun personality and a docile and quirky nature.

Boarding a Pet Isn't Limited
 to Kennels Anymore

Mary Kay Benson gives German shepherd Heidi a surfing lesson at the training pool, complete with colorful beachfront murals on the walls, at the Barkley Pet Hotel & Day Spa in Westlake Village, Calif.

LOS ANGELES – You are spending Thanksgiving with Aunt Nellie in Kansas.

Your dog will be staying in a hotel suite called Neiman Barcus with a flat-screen TV. There might be surf lessons, catered meals, a massage, pawdicure, spa bath and photo shoot.

Boarding your pet has changed a lot over the past decade.

Kennels still exist, but many locales also now offer pet-only resorts, hotels or in-home care. Whichever option you choose, there are some basic steps you should take so that arrangements go smoothly, including visiting or getting references for the facility, reserving well in advance of busy holiday times, and making sure your pet meets vaccination and other requirements.

If money is no object, there is no end to the extravagances you can order for your pet. The Barkley Pet Hotel & Day Spa — which really does have a Neiman Barcus suite — is a one-of-a-kind animal funhouse in Westlake Village, about 40 miles northwest of Los Angeles. You can rent a Serenity Suite for $44 a night or reserve a storefront suite on Rodeo Drive or Hollywoof Boulevard (they start at $72.50 a night). Add-ons include day camp sessions, limousine pickup and delivery, surf lessons, charm school, a mud mask, obedience training, holiday fur-dyeing and filet mignon from the Four Seasons.

You also get webcams, 24-hour staffing, a veterinarian under the same roof and lots of attention for your pet, said Malia A. Rivera, director of marketing for the hotel.

Daniel Smith and wife Kimberly Mellon-Smith of Thousand Oaks wouldn't leave their West Highlander white terrier Charlie alone for more than three hours before the Barkley opened. Now he's a regular there.

"Our dog means everything to us. He's like a child to us, our little buddy. He's part of our family," Smith said.

For special needs animals — a senior or ailing dog, a puppy that isn't fully vaccinated, a large collection of pets, a pet that doesn't like to leave home or a new rescue dog that isn't socialized yet — home care might be the best choice. A professional pet sitter can come as many times a day as needed, walk and feed the animals, give medicines, even stay overnight, said Gretchen Rexach, who owns Home Buddies Caregivers in Burbank, a franchise of the national Home Buddies in-home pet care service.

Rexach caters to workers in the entertainment industry with seasonal work and odd hours. In addition to caring for animals, her employees will also water plants and bring in mail, she said.

Her staff specializes in special needs pets — those that need medicine or careful handling — and can also do overnight shifts for pets that are "just not used to being left alone. They are used to sleeping with somebody," she said. Clients pay $17 for 15 minutes, up to $32 for an hour, $100 for a 12-hour overnight.

If you're hiring someone for the first time, "don't go with the cheapest or most convenient" option, Rexach said. "Ask for references." After all, you are not only entrusting your pet to a stranger, but your home as well.

Home Buddies also rents webcams for temporary home use.

Do research before booking boarding facilities, too, advised Deborah Ropes, general manager of Lucky Dog Resorts in Colorado Springs, Colo. Tour the place, talk to the staff, take a sniff, talk to other customers, she said. And tailor arrangements to your pet's style.

"If your pet is laid back and loves to play, a daycare playgroup will help him burn off energy and sleep better at night," said Ropes. "Is your pet shy and anxious? A low-volume, low-activity kennel might be best, or call an in-home pet sitter."

Some facilities, like the Barkley, will let pets drop in for a visit to see how they like it. Others — like Home Buddies' Camp BowWow, a daycare and overnight program — require that animals be brought in for an "interview" to see how they interact with other pets. Most facilities will refuse aggressive dogs.

Once you've decided on a facility, make reservations well ahead of time. "Our rule of thumb at Lucky Dog is book before Halloween for Thanksgiving, and book before Thanksgiving for Christmas," Ropes said.

Most facilities close on major holidays and many close Sundays. If you arrive home from vacation late on Saturday, you may not be able to pick your dog up until Monday, so be prepared to do without your dog and pay for the extra day. Find out what happens if you're late picking up; holiday plane schedules and traffic can be unpredictable.

Most facilities want proof of vaccinations for rabies, distemper and sometimes bordetella (kennel cough). Most vets can easily print out and if necessary fax a record of shots. Some places require that your animal be spayed or neutered, and some even want your pet microchipped.

Some facilities require collars and leashes, some use their own. The Barkley does not allow any personal clothing, blankets or toys, but some places suggest bringing a piece of owner's clothing. "We encourage clients to bring a T-shirt or other large piece of clothing with the owner's scent well-embedded," Ropes said.

If your pet has special needs, bring the food, medicine or supplements to the resort or kennel, along with instructions and contact information for your vet.

Finally, if available, consider scheduling a bath and other grooming just before pickup. It will save you a smelly trip home.

Mila's New PJ's
Thanks to John and Ginger in Houston, TX

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