Pet Heroes

Cat Inherits 10mil Empire
After Owner Dies at 94...
and Becomes Third Richest Pet in the World
By Nick Pisa -

From rags to riches: Millionaire Maria Assunta left her fortune to a stray cat she rescued.

An Italian cat has become the third richest animal in the world after inheriting almost £10 million after his wealthy owner died and left him the entire family fortune.

Maria Assunta died last month aged 94 years old and according to lawyers entrusted with her estate left the fortune in property to Tommasino, a stray cat she had found and looked after because of her love for animals.

Ms Assunta had a large property portfolio with homes and villas across the country, as well as several bulging bank accounts and share portfolios but no living relatives.

Lawyers Anna Orecchioni and Giacinto Canzona who are representing her say that she left the fortune to Tommasino in a will she wrote and deposited with them in their office in Rome in October 2009.

Mrs Orecchioni explained that under Italian law Tommassino is not entitled to inherit the money directly and the will also asked for the money to be given to a 'worthy animal association, if one could be found.'

A website dedicated to this most pampered of mutts shows him living in true Playboy mansion style: there are pictures of Gunther surrounded by bronzed girls in gold dresses and gorgeous men in glaring white jeans, as well as splashing about in a blue swimming pool while girls in string bikinis look on adoringly.

She added:'We had requests from several organisations but in the end we did not find any that we thought were suitable.

'Then earlier this year Maria told us about her nurse called Stefania who looked after her and who like her had a love of animals and in particular cats. We also could find no living relatives of her at all anywhere.

'In the end we decided that Stefania was the most suitable person to administer the money that Maria had left in her will.

'To be honest he doesn't need all that money he is happy with a saucer of milk and some biscuits.'

Stefania herself said:'I had no idea that she was worth so much money.'

The world's richest animal is thought to be Gunter, a German shepherd who received more than £90 million after his wealthy and slightly barking heiress owner Karlotta Liebenstien died and left him her fortune.

In 1988 British recluse Ben Rea left his fortune of £9 million to his cat Blackie.

Top 25 Pet Names of 2011

Is your Dog’s name on the list?

Banfield Pet Hospital has compiled the top 50 pet names of 2011, similar to the BabyCenter list of baby names that was released a few days ago. As the world’s largest veterinary practice, Banfield has a patient database with over 780 hospitals across the country.

Due to space, I am posting the top 25 dog names of the 50 sent to me.

1. Bella
2. Max
3. Buddy
4. Daisy
5. Bailey
6. Lucy
7. Molly
8. Coco
9. Charlie
10. Rocky
11. Chloe
12. Maggie
13. Sadie
14. Princess
15. Sophie
16. Lucky
17. Roxy
18. Jack
19. Lola
20. Harley
21. Toby
22. Bear
23. Sasha
24. Jake
25. Ginger

Woof by any other name is still a woof!

Diane Rich Dog Training, LLC

With Blagojevich Heading to Prison,
Convicted Ill. Governor’s Family
Welcomes New Dog

CHICAGO — The family of ousted Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich is getting a new dog.

The Chicago Tribune reports ( that the Blagojevich family adopted a Maltese-poodle mix from a Chicago shelter Friday. The dog is a former stray taken in by the shelter, PAWS Chicago.

The family got its first dog, Skittles, to help his two daughters cope with the stress after Blagojevich was arrested three years ago.

Blagojevich would later joke in an Associated Press interview that he told his daughters if he ever went to prison, “You can get another dog and call him, ‘Daddy.’”

The shelter’s director says the family is considering another candy-themed name for their new dog: Twix.

The 54-year-old Blagojevich was sentenced Wednesday to 14 years in prison for his conviction on corruption charges.

Mummified Cat Walled Up
in 17th Century 'Witch's Cottage'
By Bryony Jones, CNN

Hundreds of people were accused of witchcraft during witch hunts in the 17th century, most famously in Salem, Massachusetts.

London -- Engineers have uncovered the haunting remains of a mummified cat bricked up inside the wall of a cottage near the site of one of Britain's most infamous witch trials.

Workers made the startling discovery during routine maintenance on a reservoir in the shadow of Pendle Hill in Lancashire, England's "witching country."

They called in archaeologists, who unearthed a cottage believed to date from the 17th century buried beneath a grassy mound. Inside, they found a sealed room where the cat had been walled up.

The area is famous for the Pendle witch trials, which saw 10 women and two men accused of using witchcraft to murder people in the 1600s.

It is thought the unfortunate feline may have been buried alive by the cottage's superstitious inhabitants, in an attempt to protect them from evil spirits.

"It's not often you come across a fairytale cottage complete with witch's cat," said Carl Sanders, project manager for water company United Utilities. "The building is in remarkable condition. You can walk through it and get a real sense that you're peering into the past.

Whoever consigned this cat to such a horrible fate was clearly seeking protection from evil spirits

Simon Entwhistle"Pendle Hill has a real aura about it -- it's hard not to be affected by the place. Even before we discovered the building, there were lots of jokes from the lads about broomsticks and black cats. The find has really stunned us all."

Simon Entwhistle, an expert on the Pendle witches, likened the find -- which he said could be the Malkin Tower, site of a notorious meeting of the "coven" on Good Friday, 1612 -- to "discovering Tutankhamun's tomb."

"We are just a few months away from the 400th anniversary of the Pendle witch trials, and here we have an incredibly rare find, right in the heart of witching country.

"Cats feature prominently in folklore about witches," said Entwhistle. "Whoever consigned this cat to such a horrible fate was clearly seeking protection from evil spirits. It's an absolutely spellbinding discovery."

"It's like discovering your own little Pompei," said Frank Giecco of NP Archaeology, who led the team which excavated the building. "We rarely get the opportunity to work with something so well preserved.

"As soon as we started digging we found the tops of doors and knew we were onto something special.

"The building is a microcosm for the rise and fall of this area, from the time of the Pendle witches to the industrial age -- there are layers of local history right before your eyes."

Archaeologists also uncovered a host of other artifacts in and around the cottage -- including a 19th century kitchen range, tin bath, bedstead and items of crockery.

10 Pet Heroes to the Rescue Part 1
By Donna Banks, Ann Carrns, Michael Morella -

Everybody loves a good-news story of friend helping friend, neighbor assisting neighbor, stranger saving stranger—of people who step forward in a moment of crisis to offer a selfless hand. Sometimes, that hand is a paw or a hoof. Here are the stories of 10 heroic animals that stepped up to protect their favorite humans, often at risk to themselves:

Freckles, smoke detector

Velma Leger remembers clearly the morning in October 1987 when she discovered her youngest child could barely see. When Leger held up a rattle for Sarah, then 6 months old, the baby reached for it and missed. Many doctors and tests later, it was confirmed that Sarah had bilateral retinoblastoma, a hereditary form of cancer that had caused tumors in both eyes. She received radiation treatment and was cured of the cancer, but developed into a shy young girl and teenager, utterly dependent on her mother and sister. “I used my cane,” she says, “but I was always running into things, and I couldn’t get where I needed to go without help.” (Wearing corrective lenses, she can make out shapes and very large print, but she is legally blind.)

Sarah’s world began to open up dramatically last year when she was partnered with Freckles, a small goldador guide dog—a cross between a golden retriever and a Labrador. “I could do so much more because of Freckles,” says Sarah, now a sophomore at Louisiana State University–Eunice. “It was easier to make friends, because I could get around by myself, and I wasn’t afraid.”

In January, while she was home in Leonville, La., on winter break, Sarah found out that Freckles is a lifesaver in other ways, too. One night, after Sarah had said goodnight to her family and headed to bed, Freckles stopped abruptly at the threshold to the computer room connected to her bedroom, blocked her entry, and wouldn’t budge. Sarah was forced to call out for help. The mystery was solved when an odd smell alerted her dad, a firefighter, that the computer monitor was smoldering. Though he grabbed it and took it outside, Freckles refused to settle down until she couldn’t pick up even a whiff, which meant the family was up until 3 a.m. airing out the house.

“She definitely was not trained to do what she did,” says Jennifer Gerrity, who worked with Freckles at Southeastern Guide Dogs in Palmetto, Fla. “Guide dogs are trained to navigate obstacles, not fires. And they do not perform body blocks.”

Falstaff, the next best thing to 911

Richard Schulenberg, 70, was gardening one beautiful Saturday morning last October when he began to sweat profusely, his arms went numb, and he felt like he had a constrictive band across his chest. Fearing a heart attack, the entertainment lawyer and producer started down a hillside toward his Beverly Hills home, stopping to rest every few feet. Certain that his partner, Arlene Winnick, had left the house to run errands, he knew he’d have to figure out another way to get help. While he assessed his options, one of his English setters, the elegant Lady Rosalind, wandered by, licked his hand, and continued her stroll through the grounds.

It wasn’t long, though, before rescue came. Falstaff, also an English setter, seemed to have sensed that something wasn’t quite right. When he found Schulenberg sitting on the hillside, the usually mellow dog began to bark fiercely and wouldn’t calm down. Nor would he leave Schulenberg’s side.

As luck would have it, Winnick was climbing into her car and heard the commotion. Why hasn’t Richard stopped the dog from barking? she wondered, going to investigate. She helped Schulenberg down to the house, where, in denial, he decided he wanted a shower. Once Winnick heard about the symptoms and realized he hadn’t simply fallen down, however, they went to the ER pronto. Within 90 minutes of discovering that Schulenberg’s left artery was 100 percent blocked, he had a stent snaked through his wrist and up his arm.

“My doctor told me I was very lucky,” says Schulenberg. “Another 30 minutes, he said, and I would have died.” Since October, Schulenberg has dropped 35 pounds, and Falstaff now carefully patrols the yard.

Pet Q&A: Housing a Wary Outdoor Cat

Q: One of our neighbors has departed, leaving her outdoor cats to fend for themselves. One has started to hang out at our house. We have been feeding him, but he does not allow any close contact. We are interested in getting him an outdoor cat house for the winter. We would place it on our ground-level deck. We see many on the Internet at many prices and wanted your opinion on the best type to use.

A: This is always a bit of a quandary for me. It seems that every time I put a cat house outside for any feral cats, I find the cats end up sleeping under my car, and there is always a bleary-eyed raccoon or possum in the cat house.

Any cat house needs to be dry and protected from the wind. I use large Styrofoam boxes that I fill with straw. I cover them with black plastic garbage bags sealed with duct tape to make them more waterproof. The issue is in the placement. Many cats see them as traps and do not want to be in them if they are not in a safe place, so you may have to move the cat house around your yard a bit until you get it in a spot where the cat feels secure.

Q: We have a busy bird feeder in our back yard that gets frequented by our neighbor's cat every day. I spoke to her about how her cat is harming the birds, and she put a bell on the cat's collar that makes lots of noise, but the cat is still killing birds. Why do the birds not associate the jingling with the obvious danger?

A: The world is full of bells and other noises and the wild birds in our area have learned to ignore them. Your neighbor's cat is perfectly still right before it pounces on the birds and thus there is no noise immediately before the danger. When the cat does grab a bird, there is too much panic for the others to realize what is happening. So the only fix here is to keep the cat indoors, where all pet cats should be kept.

Contact Marc Morrone:

Pet Safety Tips for the Holidays
By Ron Richter -

Keeping your pets safe during the holidays can form quite a formidable task at times, especially considering the abundance of decorations and food that are common this time of year. Couple that with the traffic of friends and family and you could end up with a sick or stressed out pet. Veterinarian Dr. Laura Wold says that keeping decorative holiday plants such as poinsettias and mistletoe out of reach of from your pets is a good start. Keeping an eye on the food is also a good way to keep your pets healthy, as much of the rich fattening foods we consume during the holidays can be extremely bad for your pets digestive system.

Many of us with pets like to spoil them during the holidays with toys and what not, but Dr. Wold says that there are some toys that can do more harm than good.

Dr. Wold said that soft toys are better for cats than they are for dogs, as dogs tend to shred the small soft toys which could present a choking hazard for the animal or small children.

Getting a Snake as a Pet?
Get Ready for a Whole New Ball Game
Dr. Dara Johns -

Dear Readers: Snakes are pets too. Sometimes I forget to mention snakes because they are not as common as dogs and cats, but quite a few people have snakes for pets.

I think the first piece of advice I would give someone thinking about getting a snake would be to make sure they know what they are getting into.

We are not inherently knowledgeable about caring for snakes because they are cold-blooded. This makes their whole system completely foreign to us. It becomes easy to miscue on how they should be raised. For instance, they do not maintain their own body temperature so they are dependent on their surroundings. When a snake is not warm enough, its metabolism is slowed and it is more prone to infections.

Boa constrictors and pythons require a cage temperature of 77 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. Indigenous snakes such as garters require temperatures of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature can be monitored with a terrarium thermometer.

Humidity in the cage must stay around 50 percent to 70 percent. If it is not moist enough, the snake’s skin will dry out and it will not be able to shed its skin properly. Keeping a wide mouth bowl that is not easily tipped over full of water in the cage will help maintain humidity. The heat in the cage will cause constant water evaporation.

Bedding substrates vary, but what works best is newspaper or indoor outdoor carpet. If you use corncob or wood shavings you run the risk of ingestion and subsequent blockage. Bedding should be changed and cleaned frequently. If you use indoor outdoor carpet, having several pieces cut to the size of the cage allows you to change them out and wash them.

Having large limbs in the cage create a three dimensional area for the snake to move in. It gets him up off the floor and effectively multiplies the available moving space in the cage.

Most snakes eat small mammals. The choice and frequency is based on the size and type of snake you have. You may start with pinkies, which are baby mice, and go up to rats and even rabbits. Some snakes prefer frogs and small reptiles. Most snakes eat every two to four weeks when they are adults. They eat more frequently when they are babies. The food selection and frequency are best determined by discussing this with knowledgeable snake owners.

As you can see, a snake is a whole different ball game from dogs and cats. Be very sure you want to embark on this undertaking. Do a lot of research and consulting before you take the plunge.

Dear readers: If you have any comments or questions, I can be contacted at or you can write me at Dr. Dara Johns, P.O. Box 224, Valparaiso, FL 32580.

Pets Stolen For Quick Cash

BALTIMORE -- Some people looking to make quick cash in the tough economy are stealing pets in what has become a booming and disturbing industry in Maryland.

In early November, Joe Thompson had his 3-year-old Toy Shih-Tzu, Diva, in his hands during a routine midnight stroll in the 2800 block of Erdman Avenue in northeast Baltimore.

"I cry every time I see these fliers. I want my dog. I don't want to press no charges or nothing. Just give me my dog back. That's all I want is my dog."
- Joe Thompson

"Me and my dog (are) just strolling. The next thing I know, he had put his hand on me and pulled me toward him and I'm talking to him, 'Man, back up I don't know you,'" Thompson explained.

Thompson told the WBAL-TV 11 News I-Team and Baltimore City police detectives that the assailant grabbed Diva and fled on foot. Thompson said he gave chase until he became too winded.

"He said, 'Diva's been stolen.' And, I'm like, 'Are you joking?'" said Thompson's wife, Michelle Rayner-Thompson.

The couple plastered fliers all over the neighborhood and contacted veterinarians and dog groomers. They also spread the word via social media. To the Thompsons, Diva is worth much more than the $1,300 toy Shih-Tzus can fetch.

"I cry every time I see these fliers. I want my dog," Thompson said. "I don't want to press no charges or nothing. Just give me my dog back. That's all I want is my dog."

"I just broke down and started sobbing and I said, 'They've stolen my baby,'" Rayner-Thompson said.

Kennel Club: Pet Thefts On Rise

Police do not track the incidences of stolen pets, but there's good indication pet theft is on the rise, WBAL-TV 11 News I-Team reporter David Collins reported. Baltimore police said they aren't able to specify how many pets are stolen because the animals are considered property, so the crime is recorded as a robbery or larceny, which is not broken down by what was taken.

For the first seven months of last year, the American Kennel Club received 150 reports of stolen pets. For the same time period this year, the club received 224 reports -- a 67 percent increase. Reports indicate pets are stolen during home invasions, from parked cars and from owners like Thompson who may be out for a walk.

For the first time this year, the club said it has seen a new trend of dogs stolen from shelters and adoption events.

Ines de Pablo, co-founder of pet safety company Wag'N Enterprises, said stolen pets are often resold on the Internet for an easy buck.

"It's quick money," de Pablo said.

Perhaps more disturbing is how they are often used in the Baltimore area -- as bait for dogfighting rings.

"Unfortunately, it's a really sick thing to say, but they always need prey dogs for the fighting dogs to learn their killing skills on or the attack skills. So, they need bait, and they will pay for some of those bait dogs," de Pablo said.

Last November, Baltimore City police broke up a pit bull ring on Payson Street, where city animal control officials said they believe some of the rescued puppies were being used as bait.

Some Pets Held For Ransom

Experts have warned that pets are also stolen and held for ransom. A puppy named Scrappy, along with his older brother, Scooby, escaped from their back yard, after which Jajie Shabay Walker, 21, called the dogs' owner, Gloria Chicas, saying he found the dogs but wanted money for their return, according to officials.

Chicas said Walker told her, "You have to give me $200."

The ransom was only for one animal, and during the time the dogs were held, Scooby was accidentally struck by a car and killed. Walker has since pleaded guilty to extortion, but he was not prosecuted for theft. He was sentenced to 18 months in jail and paid $65 in restitution for the loss of Scooby.

As for the Thompsons, they believe Diva has been sold.

"(We're) not giving up. Even through we are getting another dog, we want Diva to come home. We'll just have two," Rayner-Thompson said.

In response to the pet theft trend, dog advocates have advised against buying a pet through the online classified website Craigslist. They also warn against telling people how much you paid for a specific breed. Finally, they recommend inserting a microchip or getting a tattoo on your pet's inside thigh.

Advocates also advise against leaving pets unattended in a vehicle or yard.

Cat with 26 Toes Saves Animal Shelter
by Tim Wening -

In an odd twist of fate, a once unwanted cat has come to the rescue of an animal shelter in need of a new home.

But this is no typical cat, this orange and white tabby named Daniel is a very special kitty. He has a near-record 26 toes, a phenomenon that is helping the nonprofit Milwaukee Animal Rescue Center raise money to relocate to a new building.

Normal cats have 18 toes, but Daniel has two extra on each foot due to a genetic mutation called polydactylism.

Officials at the center found out their rent at a Milwaukee area mall was being doubled on Jan. 1. So, the shelter is buying a new building and is seeking small donations of $26 or $1 per toe. They've collected enough so far to secure the financing with about $80,000 raised since Oct. 24, but they hope to raise $120,000 by Dec. 23 so they can become even more financially stable. About $50,000 of the money raised has come from $26 donations.

"I've always been a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and this is definitely the case," said Amy Rowell, owner of Milwaukee Animal Rescue Center in Greendale. She found Daniel in October at animal control when she went to pick up another cat. As she bent down to that cat's cage, Daniel stuck his paw out and poked her head. "He was very clearly saying, 'I need to be rescued, I'd like to be your friend, please pay attention to me,'" she said. "And when a sign is that obvious, we tend to not ignore it."

Daniel was originally going to be adopted out, but Rowell has decided to keep him as a shelter mascot. Daniel's 26 toes--two shy of the Guinness World Records number--don't seem to affect his cat activities. "He runs and he plays and he climbs, he uses a scratching post. He seems to be not bothered by it at all," Rowell said.

Pet Advice: Dog Likely Will Outgrow Ills

Q. My whippet puppy, Spanky, is 11 months old. At 8 months, he came down with an eye infection. He was on antibiotic drops which helped, but the eye began looking bad as soon as the drops stopped. We went through two rounds of this eye drop unsuccessfully.

We went to an ophthalmologist who said my dog had follicular conjunctivitis. He prescribed more drops this time with a steroid. It did help but after three weeks on the drops his eye started getting gooey again.

In the meantime, Spanky broke out with pimples (which looked just like acne) on his chin, nose, and the sides of his head. He was put on an oral antibiotic and his eye cleared up.

A few weeks after finishing the antibiotic, Spanky broke out with a new pimple the exact same day the eye started up again.

I am told the two problems are not related, but I'm not so sure. Any suggestions as to what may be causing these problems?

A: The type of conjunctivitis your whippet puppy has is very common in younger dogs. Follicular conjunctivitis is a type of eye inflammation that occurs most commonly in the fall and spring but some animals experience eye discharge throughout the year.

Most young dogs "outgrow" this condition. The small follicles which form on the inside the eyelid allows extra mucus to form, thus the red eyes and increased eye discharge is present. This condition is not contagious to other pets or people and in most dogs; the clinical signs will decrease as the puppy matures. In some dogs, the clinical signs persist for months to several years.

Symptomatic therapy with a topical steroid/antibiotic drop or ointment allows sufficient medical control for most patients. In severe cases, additional topical or oral anti-inflammatory medication is necessary. Keep your dog's eyes clean with moist cotton and apply the medication as directed.

Yes, it sometimes reoccurs days to weeks after you complete the therapy. I often try to taper the therapy from twice daily to once daily and then every other day, whatever regimen will keep it under control. The condition should be rechecked by your veterinarian or the veterinary ophthalmologist while using the therapy as it allows the doctor to assess the degree of improvement and help design the appropriate therapy taper regimen.

The coincidence with the small skin "bumps/pimples" also is common as those are often related to an immature or juvenile immune system. Most dogs often also outgrow the skin problem.

— Michael H. Brown, DVM, MS

Blind Horses, Dogs Find Sweet Life on Farm
By MIKE DI PAOLA - Bloomberg News

The Great North Woods were ablaze with color when I visited the Rolling Dog Farm in Lancaster, N.H. Too bad most of its horses and dogs are blind.

Alayne Marker, co-founder of Rolling Dog Farm, holds blind and deaf dogs, Spencer and Katie, at the Lancaster, N.H., animal sanctuary. Dogs with two disabilities are the most misunderstood animals at the farm, and can be difficult to adopt out.

When I first heard of a sanctuary for disabled animals, I wondered whether it crossed a line, going beyond compassion. The animals, many rescued from shelters across the United States, are blind or deaf or have orthopedic and neurological problems.

"Many times, the day an animal arrives here is the same day it was supposed to be euthanized," said Alayne Marker, who co-founded Rolling Dog with her husband, Steve Smith.

Part of me was thinking that ending an animal's suffering might be more humane. Such thoughts are erased within a minute of meeting the animals. For one thing, there is no discernible suffering.

In the paddock, six horses are munching on apples fallen from trees outside the fence. When we enter, the braver ones amble over with an odd gait, heads turned slightly sideways, as they tend to lead with their ears.

"People think of a 1,000-pound animal that can't see as a train wreck waiting to happen," Smith says. "With most horses, if you give them enough time in a safe environment, they can adapt to blindness and have a wonderful quality of life, as you can see."

The horses may not fully appreciate their idyllic setting, but they seem happy and healthy.

Lena is a pure-bred quarter-horse who went blind from what sounds like abuse. Her trainer had tried to correct her propensity to rear by making her tip over, conditioning her to associate rearing with falling. Repeated blows to her head during this "training" destroyed her optic nerve.

Lena is now a mentor to younger newcomers, teaching them social skills essential for members of a herd. "The blind leading the blind" is a standard joke here.

Marker and Smith founded the Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary in Montana in 2000, and moved the operation to New Hampshire last year, changing "ranch" to "farm" to reflect regional nomenclature. Compared with Montana's vast spaces, the New England site is much closer to essential services, such as vets and grocery stores, saving time and fuel.

They have seven horses and about 30 dogs on their 132-acre farm, plus one full-time staffer to help with the endless chores. Last year their operating costs ran about $500,000, all raised through donations. Many of the animals are up for adoption via, and the farmers spread the word through their website,, Facebook and a quarterly newsletter.

Other residents include some barn cats, a brood of laying hens and 20 Holsteins that graze placidly on the verdant hillside behind the house. The cattle aren't pampered pets, however, but future food for the dogs.

The Holsteins were purchased from a local dairy farmer who had no use for bull calves. Smith and Marker rescued the animals, which would have otherwise had a short and cramped existence before being processed as veal. Instead, they are raised with tender care in an open paddock overlooking the White Mountains. They are even given names.

"Our view is, what's the alternative?" Smith says. "What's better than raising them yourself and knowing exactly how they were treated, that you did everything possible to give them as humane a life as possible?"

Smith and Marker say the most misunderstood animals here are the ones that are both blind and deaf. Most people can't imagine that a life in darkness and silence can be worth living, so they are difficult to get adopted.

I meet Spencer and Katie, an inseparable pair of lively deaf and blind dachshunds, but I don't think I would have been aware of either disability if I hadn't been told. They seem happy, and why not? With a diet of grass-fed beef and fresh eggs, they're eating better than most Americans.

"We always tell people, just give them a chance, all they want to be is a dog or a horse and just get on with life, and love and be loved," says Marker. "That's really what it's all about, and we give them that chance here."

How Can You Stop Dogs
from Growling over Food, Toys?
By Patrick Tate -

Each week, Dr. Patrick Tate, chief of the veterinary staff and a general practitioner at Webster Groves Animal Hospital, answers reader questions about pets. This week's question comes from reader Mary Anne McCarthy.

Question: How do I stop my 3-year-old cocker spaniel from growling over her food and toys?

Answer: Unfortunately, growling over food, toys, rawhides, bedding and other “resources” is a common problem among family dogs. This type of behavior is known as “resource guarding” and usually becomes worse if not addressed. It is important for the owner to develop a plan of action before growling turns into biting (especially if there are young children in the home).

There are two methods that a pet owner can use to help alleviate the problem.

The first is to isolate the dog during feeding times, and remove ALL objects (toys, chews, bedding, etc.) that have been “guarded.” This method does not change the negative behavior, but it does prevent a biting incident and may keep the problem from getting worse.

The second method is to utilize behavior modification techniques (desensitization, counter-conditioning, etc.) to help the dog understand that the approach of a human to the canine’s food, toys and space, etc. is a positive thing. It is best to start these techniques when the dog is a puppy, but they can be successful with an older pet. A helpful source of information is Jean Donaldson's book called "Mine! A Practical Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs" (available at

If the problem is mild, a pet owner may be able to improve or correct the behavior without professional help. However, for more serious resource guarding issues (or if young children are present), it is wise to consult an animal behavior specialist.

To find qualified specialists, talk with a veterinarian and/or see recommendations by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists at and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) at

Do you have a question for Dr. Tate? Email your questions to Webster Groves Patch Editor Sheri Gassaway. Be sure to attach a photo of your pet, and we'll feature it along with your question!

About this column: Dr. Patrick Tate, chief of the veterinary staff and a general practitioner at Webster Groves Animal Hospital, answers reader questions about pets.

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