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Archive for March, 2006

It’s raining snails and slugs

Hi Gary: So I know the Chinese have different animals that represent different years, could Californians make 2006 the year of the snail and slug? My method of snail and slug control is to first keep damp hiding places to a minimum and then hand pick. A little gross and slimy but it works, well I have picked each morning for a week, and I was feeling like there were no less each day (usually hand picking can work real well). So today I counted in the back yard (standard city lot in Dublin — no open space!) in 5 minutes, 42 snails and slugs. I am beginning to think that it is not raining water but raining snails and slugs … (Kim, Dublin, CA)

Posted on Friday, March 31st, 2006
Under: Snails & Slugs, Yard | 1 Comment »

Bike racers, food and cats

It can sometimes get a little "wild" around my house.

Last weekend, our bike racer son, Karl, pulled up in front of the house in a huge van filled with 8 members of the UC Santa Barbara bike racing team, and towing a 10-foot long trailer full of racing bikes. UC Santa Barbara had a series of races scheduled with UC Berkeley on Saturday and Sunday and they needed a place to sleep on Friday and Saturday nights, and most important … they needed a place to eat.

(Translation: My wife Lois and I spent the weekend cooking for 8 ravenous college students who were fully prepared to gobble up everything in sight, including the kitchen sink. Bike racers burn up enormous amounts of calories and need to eat huge quantities of food to replace them. As an example, for Saturday night’s dinner, Lois and I served a king-size lasagna, 4 roast chickens, 3 loaves of seeded French bread, and a homemade peach pie for our 8 visitors. Later, before they went to bed, they snacked on 16 bananas, a gallon of ice cream, and a whole loaf of banana bread Lois had baked the day before, slathered with cream cheese.)

I’m always interested in observing how our two cats, Tut and Newman, react when these hordes of starving creatures descend on our household (yes, this has happened before).

At the first knock on the door, Newman, who runs through solid walls if somebody whispers "BOO" in his ear, immediately dashes downstairs to the spare bedroom off the garage we use as a home office and hides in his litter box in the bathroom (the Cat Room).

Tut, on the other paw, loves crowds and is always waiting at the front door to let them in.

And dear old Gary, grouch that I am (just ask the cats), always steps in at this point, boots Tut downstairs to the cat room (figuratively speaking, of course, so no e-mails please) and closes the door at the top of the stairs and shoves a chair under the door knob (Tut knows how to open the door). Those college kids leave open too many doors as they come and go and I’m always afraid our indoor kitties will slip outside if I don’t keep them locked up.

All weekend, every morning when I went down to feed the cats, Tut would stalk me at the bottom of the stairs and DEMAND to know why I wouldn’t let him out to play with Karl and his biker friends. Finally, I sat down on the floor beside him and explained about the primitive eating habits of bike racers and said I was afraid they would eat him and Newman if I let them out.

In the background I could hear moaning sounds coming from Newman’s litter box.

"Oh dear," Tut sighed. "That’s different. Can you recommend any good books here in your reference library I can read until they leave?" I reached over and gave him a copy of "How to Live With Humans for Idiots."

It’s been almost four days since Karl and his bike racer friends left to drive back down to school in Santa Barbara, and I’m still tired … 

Posted on Wednesday, March 29th, 2006
Under: Cats, Pets | No Comments »

Lost and found kitty

Many thanks for mentioning our lost kitty, Pandora Jade, in your column on March 17. We were able to recover her! She had explored her way into a cardboard cat carrier being stored in the rafters of the neighbor’s garage and a chair had fallen down over the top so she couldn’t get out!

You can see she is well-named. I was hoping you would have room to print a thank you to Kim Stewart and family of Lafayette in your column. I think their kids would get a big kick out of it, and everybody loves a happy ending. Thanks again! (Virginia Wheaton, Lafayette, CA)

I thought I’d print this letter so all cat owners can take note of how easy it is for their cat companions to get "lost." Cats get locked in garages … driven to another city after they fall asleep in the back seat of a neighbor’s car and then get a free drive to work the next morning … and picked up and taken to a new home by someone who thinks the cat is lost. There’s plenty more, but that’ll do for starters.

Indoor cats live much safer lives.

Posted on Monday, March 27th, 2006
Under: Cats, Lost and found, Pets | No Comments »

Animals and earthquakes

Did you feel the 3.7 earthquake at 1:41 p.m. on Tuesday (March 21, centered 6 miles southeast of Moraga, CA)? I sure did!

There was also a smaller 2.7 magnitude quake at 1:45 p.m., and a whole bunch of little ones at 1:56 p.m.

Even more important, did your pet(s) feel anything?

I’m always curious about how our dogs, cats, birds, snakes, goldfish, tortoises, and other animal companions react to earthquakes. Especially if you notice your pets doing anything unusual BEFORE the earthquake happens.

Does anyone think their animal companion "predicted" that quake?

For example, did anyone notice their cat standing in the living room, rocking back and forth and holding a big cardboard arrow pointed at the floor just before the quake? (Assuming it had never done that before!)

Just kidding (I think). I am serious, though, in wanting to find out how your pets reacted, if indeed they reacted at all. I suspect my dimwitted cat (please don’t take offense to that description, we still love him!), Newman, might have yawned, rolled over, and waited for Mother Nature to massage the other side of his 18-lb. body.

So let’s have a little survey.

I’d appreciate an e-mail to describing what your pets did before, during, and after the quakes. Let me know even if your pet didn’t do anything. I’ll pull it all together and we can take a look at the results here (and in my daily column).

Posted on Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006
Under: Animals, Cats, dogs, Earthquakes, Pet birds, Pets | 3 Comments »

Canada goose nesting on our roof

Last year a Canada goose decided to build her nest on the roof of the Contra Costa Times. There’s a small 25-foot by 25-foot section of rooftop in one corner of the building, just above the guard shack in the parking lot. It’s protected on two sides by walls and windows and on a third side by some redwood trees. Dried needles and tiny twigs fall from the redwoods and litter the roof and the goose scooped them together into a nest. It was a perfect little sheltered nook for the goose, with just one direction to fly in and out.

Surprise, mama goose has returned again this year. On Thursday one of our editors spotted a Canada goose sitting in the parking lot and thought it might be injured. We went out and checked and the goose looked fine. I think it was just resting and the pavement was comfortably warm from the sun. Something made me turn around and look up at the little roof nook and there she was. I could see the goose’s upper body, long neck and head sticking up from the same spot where she had her nest last year.

Somebody put a small stool in the second floor hallway next to the window that looks out over the nest. Maybe we should charge admission?

I’ll probably be writing something in the Times next week about all this. I’ll check with the Photo staff. Maybe we can get a picture of our goose for you to see.

Posted on Friday, March 17th, 2006
Under: Canada Goose, nesting, wild birds | 4 Comments »

Pet First Aid class

Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society is offering a special two-hour Pet First Aid discussion to prepare pet caretakers for pet medical emergencies. It takes place next Wednesday, March 22, 7-9 p.m., in the BEBHS Training Room, 2700 Ninth Street, Berkeley, CA.

Through video and hands-on instruction, this session prepares you to act with confidence in an emergency and apply basic first aid measures until your pet can get veterinary care. One goal of the class is to help remove those feelings of helplessness in dealing with an injured pet, and to teach you preventive measures that will lessen the chance of injury or illness.

More details at or 510-845-7735, ext. 22. The Pet First Aid class is free, although a $10 donation is appreciated to support abandoned animals at BEBHS. (Mim Carlson, executive director, BEBHS)

Posted on Thursday, March 16th, 2006
Under: Education, Pet First Aid, Pets | 2 Comments »

Nikki’s back to normal!

Our little green parrot person is like a shiny new leaf fluttering in the breeze as she hangs from the side of her cage and screams at everyone and thing in sight. After a couple of days of not eating, followed by me stuffing her with an entire refrigerator of sliced apple, pear and peach, Nikki is acting like nothing happened. Teasing the cats (calling Tut a "Rabbit!"). And daring anyone to stick their finger into her cage (ouch!).

Moral: Keep an eye out for any abnormal behavior from your pets. That’s "any" abnormal behavior. Being too quiet, hiding, not greeting you when you get home from work, etc. Even seemingly insignificant things. You can’t be too careful, and it may save their lives.

Posted on Tuesday, March 14th, 2006
Under: Parrots, Pets | 2 Comments »

Pay attention to your pets!

We have a very special little green person in our family who runs our household. Nikki is a 7-inch tall half moon conure, a green parrot that normally lives in jungles south of the border. Nikki entered our lives almost 15 years ago when a friend at work asked me if I could help him find her a home. My friend was getting ready to move and couldn’t take the parrot with him. As is sometimes the case when I try to help people find a home for their pets, Nikki came to live with us.

For her size, Nikki is a powerhouse. Noisy, irritable (stick your finger in her cage and it is gone forever), and bossy pretty much describes her. Our Abby cat, Tut, immediately hated Nikki. He stands on the arm of the couch about a foot from her cage and tries to intimidate her by glaring. She responds by screaming, "Rabbit! Rabbit! Rabbit!" at about the 90 decibel level until Tut’s ears can’t stand it any longer and he jumps down from the couch and runs away.

Early this week, the house was suddenly, oddly, quiet. When I got home from work in the afternoon, I noticed it immediately. I had a little trouble figuring out what was going on until I spotted Nikki sitting silently on her perch. When I walked over and at great risk (I thought) reached into the cage and touched her beak, there was no response. Uh-oh.

There were also no droppings on the bottom of the cage. Nikki apparently hadn’t eaten anything all day. Not a good thing for any bird. In fact it really scared me and reminded me of some of the injured wild birds I had lost during treatment when I used to be in the wildlife rescue and rehabilitation business.

I immediately cut an apple, a peach and part of a pear up into beak-size pieces. and started hand-feeding the pieces to the silent bird. It took a bit of rubbing apple all over her beak before she took a bite, and then another bite, and then another …

I fed her slowly off and on for the next two hours, letting her take or deny the food at her own speed. Not good to rush things on a potentially starving bird. Later she had finished eating a lot of the fruit. Next I carefully picked the bird up on my index finger and lowered her to the bottom of the cage where we kept her seed dish. I placed her on the side of the dish and removed my hand. She immediately began to search through the dish for her favorite seeds and eating them.

I backed off and let her eat on her own. When she finished, I got a large tablespoon, filled it with room temperature water and held it up to Nikki’s beak. She emptied it with slow little sips in about 15 minutes. I figured that was a good start on ending her  dehydration.

It was three hours later and she was back to climbing around her cage, defecating like crazy on the paper towels on the cage bottom and giving me an occasional twitter. Whew. Don’t freak me out that way, little bird.

The next morning my wife, Lois, called (I go to work much earlier than she does) to say Nikki tried to bite her when she went to clean her cage.

"Wonderful!" I replied. "Please don’t take that the wrong way!"

(Moral: Pay attention to your pets ALL the time!)

Posted on Friday, March 10th, 2006
Under: Parrots, Pets, wild birds | 2 Comments »

Purebred vs. mixed-breed dogs

Dear Gary:
The letter from Brianne Wasserfall (March 3), the 10-year-old girl who found her "perfect dog" at the pound will hopefully turn the public’s attention to the pound again.

In recent years Americans have become fixated with purebred animals while dogs, particularly of mixed breed, are being killed at pounds across the nation for lack of homes. And while this tragedy is unabated, (some) breeders of purebred animals are operating puppy mills, a second tragedy, in which female dogs are sentenced to an existence of one litter after another.

I do not think people realize this or they would give second thought to seeking a purebred. Over the years I adopted two mongrel puppies from the Pinole Pound with great success. Both of terrier-mix, one male and one female, they were "perfect dogs" with great reservoirs of common sense and loyalty.

I find such mongrels, with their mixture of traits, to be superior. Yet in my RV travels across the nation I have seen almost nothing but pure breeds at every campground along the way. What a shame. What a crime. What a waste. (Bud Wakeland, El Sobrante, CA)

Posted on Tuesday, March 7th, 2006
Under: dogs, Pets | 2 Comments »

Eating with the (choke) dogs

I’ve received thousands of press releases over the years, many of them a little "strange," but none stranger than this one. Actually, Dick Van Patten kind of looks like a dog, if you think about it.

Press release:

We thought your readers might like a story on how people can now eat delicious dog food with their pets!

Dick Van Patten from "Eight is Enough" is now known as "Woof-gang Van Patten" and The King of Canine Cuisine due to his line of dog food from Natural Balance, one of the biggest pet food companies in the world.

Natural Balance has just introduced a new brand of dog food known as "Eatables for Dogs." That is the first made in a "people food" plant, with 100% USDA ingredients. Meaning, it’s edible for humans — in fact, Dick has been eating it himself with his dogs!

Flavors include Spaghetti & Meatballs, Southern Style Dumplin’s, Hobo Chili, Irish Stew and Chinese Take-Out.

You can find out more about Dick and the company at — His Natural Balance food company is currently doing 60 million a year in sales and supplies food to the Lincoln Park and San Diego Zoos among others.

Dick is available for interviews, as he is truly proud of this product.

Posted on Thursday, March 2nd, 2006
Under: dog food, dogs, Pets | 1 Comment »