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Archive for June, 2006

Your pets and the Fourth of July

This is from my Sunday, July 2 column, in case you miss it:


More pets get lost on the Fourth of July than at any other time of the year when the sounds of fireworks and the acrid smell of burnt rockets and firecrackers frighten them into running away.

** Make sure your cats and dogs are wearing collars with your phone number and address on them and the magical words, "Reward if found and returned." If you don’t have a collar or tag, you can make a temporary one for a cat or dog out of masking tape. Write the necessary ID information on top of the tape with a ball-point pen.

** Indoor pets will always need identification. They are the most likely pets to get confused and lost if they escape. They’re not used to being outside.

** Keep your nervous pets in a quiet, familiar place where they’ll feel safe and secure. One of your bedrooms is perfect. Be sure and pull the drapes and turn on the animals’ favorite TV show to help cover up outside sounds.

** If you’re really concerned about how your dog, cat, or pet bird is going to react to all the noise and strange smells of the Fourth, STAY HOME so you can keep an eye on things!

Watching a few fireworks isn’t worth it if you end up losing your pet.

** If you do lose your dog or cat, call your local animal shelter. This should be followed up with an actual visit to the shelter as soon as possible. Don’t just call. Descriptions given over the phone can easily be misinterpreted. Visit the shelter daily if you don’t find your pet immediately. Pets can turn up days or weeks after they have been lost.

I hope you and your pets have a safe and sane and fun holiday!

Posted on Friday, June 30th, 2006
Under: Fourth of July, Pets | 1 Comment »


I just received the following e-mail, as did all the other columnists working for the Times newspapers:

Hi everyone:
If you received this e-mail, we need to photograph you for upcoming house ads for our newspapers.

We would like to use the "Where We Live" style of portraiture. This means that you should bring a prop that relates to your area of expertise. For example, Food Editor Nicholas Boer may want to bring a chef’s hat. Pat Craig may want to bring tickets to a show. You get the idea.

Our first portrait session will be Tuesday, June 27, from 2-3 p.m. Please try to stop in at the Walnut Creek photo studio with your prop. It should only take a few minutes. (Alan Greth, Executive Photo Editor, Contra Costa Times)

"It should only take a few minutes." What does he know.

Obviously Alan has never had to spend the morning writing a column for tomorrow’s newspapers, and then putting together the Pet Adoption Calendar for Saturday’s Home & Garden Section, and then jumping into the car and racing home to Benicia to try to convince a monstrous fraidy-cat 18-pound feline named Newman (who runs and hides in his litter box if he hears a mouse in the next room, or sees people he doesn’t know) to jump into a little cardboard Porta-Pet carrier so I can stuff him into my car and drive him back to the Times by 2 p.m., so he can sit on my lap in a room full of people he doesn’t know, while they shine bright floodlights in his face and take his picture with cameras that make noises like the sounds of a mouse in the next room.

Look for my house ad (used to promote columnists) in a future edition of the Times. I’ll be the guy with the rear end of a huge black cat sticking out from under my arm.

Posted on Tuesday, June 27th, 2006
Under: Cats | 1 Comment »

Wild birds missing from your yard?

In my Wednesday column in the Contra Costa Times, B&B of Orinda complained that most of the wild birds that normally live in her yard have disappeared over the last few weeks. I asked: Is anyone else missing their birds this year? Here are six responses:

Dear Gary: B&B from Orinda are on to something. We enjoyed a fantastic sight this time last year: three male and a dozen female pheasant traipsed out of the "wilds" behind our house and took over our backyard for the morning. What a sight to see! Since then we have had a couple of males and few females almost every day, early in the morning or at sunset, feeding on the seed I leave for them. Seeing and hearing (the males) makes for a great day. However, as our friends from Orinda observed, we have only seen one (male) pheasant in the past few weeks. Seed remains for the little tweety birds and few scrub jays that take advantage of the free meal. What gives? Love your column. (Richard & Susie in Benicia)

Dear Gary: I am surprised to read that B&B in Orinda is  suffering from a lack of birds this year. I have just the opposite condition in my yard. The little birds which I feed are actually swarming around my large feeder. They empty it every other day. The Wild Birds feed store tells me that they’re hungry after nesting and feeding their babies. (J. Sutterley, cyberspace)

Dear Gary: I live in Moraga with a view of the Oakland Hills and I still have goldfinches coming to my feeders, but not as many as in the spring or winter so I am not filling my thistle feeder that often. I have lots of house finches so I fill the black oil feeders every day. I also have Nuttall’s woodpeckers, chickadees, and titmice that love the peanut suet. There are also doves and quail as well as the feisty scrub jays and one crow that looks for peanuts every evening. One thing that I haven’t seen is any baby quail although there are two pairs of quail coming to the feeders every day. They like spending time in our garden. Something seems to be killing off some of the doves because I occasionally see a pile of feathers in the yard in the morning, but I have no idea what is killing them. Does anyone have any ideas? (Nancy in Moraga) (A Cooper’s hawk is probably preying on the mourning doves. That’s their favorite food. /Gary)

Dear Gary: Per your request in Wednesday’s paper, I had a large flock of American and lesser goldfinches a couple of weeks ago, going through thistle/Niger seeds quite rapidly. They even flew over to the Premium mix and occasionally on to the suet feeder. As of this past week, the numbers have tremendously decreased. Interesting to note, their nests they always build each year, above my outdoor wall-mounted speakers, have been quiet for a few weeks; hence, the children must have flown the nest. (Carol Weldin, Alamo)

Dear Gary: In response to your Wednesday column. I was starting to think it was something I had done. I had added another feeder to my yard, and had a huge jump in the number of birds. If someone had wanted a pie I could have easily supplied the four and twenty, along with a limit or four of dove. The birds seemed to waste a lot of seed, so I changed the seed I was feeding. All this did was attract a flock of pigeons. It seemed that immediately the small birds disappeared. However after going back to the original feed, nothing has changed. There are not as many pigeons, but the other birds haven’t returned.

The Italian Cypress tree that is between my neighbor and me has always been the house finch condo of the area. This year I have not seen a finch around. Only one or two occasionally at the feeder.

The original feeder in the front of the house gets no birds at all. It was a combination bird and squirrel feeder until the last two months. The only thing that is eaten from the feeder are the sunflower seeds and peanuts if I remember to put them in.

One last thing. I have lived in Hercules for about 25 years. A few weeks ago I saw the first woodpecker. And only the one time. (Grandpaginn, Hercules)

Dear Gary: Birds are missing in the Richmond Heights area, too. No sparrows and very few finches. Blue jays and squirrels have been feasting on the sunflower seeds. The mixed bird seed is left behind. In April a beautiful black phoebe frequented my yard, but they are flycatchers. (Christine Roed, Richmond)

Posted on Friday, June 23rd, 2006
Under: wild birds | 4 Comments »

Frog hunting

Wednesday evening, at 9:45 p.m., it was still about 85 degrees in my backyard in Benicia. Yes, a hot day. Lois and I had just finished dinner and while I was clearing the table I spotted an unusual blob on the outside of one of the family room windows. As I was walking over for a closer look, the blob moved up the glass and gobbled an insect that had been attracted to the inside light. It was a treefrog.

Lois and I stood and watched the tiny amphibian (the size of a quarter) for a while as it wandered all around the outside of the window with its sticky feet, gobbling up leafhoppers, tiny moths, a mosquito and a small crane fly. Smart frog to take advantage of the lights to find its dinner.

I told Lois the frog was probably living in the cool depths of the star jasmine plant that covered one end of our back deck with its thick green leaves and lovely white flowers. One edge of the jasmine was about a foot away from the window and the frog. But when I thought about how hot it still was outside, I decided I’d better do something to contribute to the jasmine’s coolness. So I went outside, getting a mouth full of leafhoppers as I opened the sliding glass door, turned on the hose and gave the jasmine a good spray.

As I went back into the house, the now well-fed frog hopped back into the jasmine with a little splash.

Posted on Thursday, June 22nd, 2006
Under: Amphibians, Insects, Pacific treefrogs | No Comments »

Pets and hot weather

It’s very hot this week, do your know where your pets are?

Are they cool and safe?

Better check to make sure. The life you save may be that of a special family member!

Posted on Wednesday, June 21st, 2006
Under: Cats, dogs, Hot Weather, Pets | 1 Comment »

Pleasanton Police Chief discusses mountain lion shooting

Read my Friday column for more information on the mountain lion that was shot by a game warden in Pleasanton last Tuesday. Pleasanton Police Chief Tim Neal sent me an e-mail with his comments on why they felt they had to shoot the big cat, and I throw in a few observations of my own.
Today’s (Friday) column:

Posted on Friday, June 16th, 2006
Under: Killing, Mountain lion | 1 Comment »

Young mountain lion shot in Pleasanton

A juvenile mountain lion about a year old was shot and killed in Pleasanton, by a California Department of Fish and Game warden at 11:15 a.m. this morning.

I just got off the phone with Troy Swauger, a DFG information officer and he said they got a call from animal control about 9:20 a.m. reporting that the 50-60 pound mountain lion was acting unusual. A DFG warden responded to the scene. When the warden came into the area, she noticed a park with playing children about 200 yards away.

The warden was told the big cat had been pacing back and forth in the parking lot next to a Pleasanton condominium complex. The cat had probably come out of an open space area next to the complex by traveling along a nearby creekbed. Local police officers on the site told our Valley Times staff writer Sophia Kazmi that the lion had "been in at least a couple of back yards in the Birch Creek Townhouses complex."

Troy told me the cat was standing next to a chainlink fence that it could have jumped over and returned to the open space area but it refused to go. He said the mountain lion was moving from the parking lot back toward the townhouses when the warden took one shot and killed it. It had been determined to be a public safety issue with a potential risk to humans.

This is the time of year when mama mountain lions boot yearling cats out on their own after spending a year being trained in the art of hunting. Troy said the 50-60 pound cat was a little smaller than normal for its age, but it appeared healthy. They’ll be doing a standard necropsy on the animal to find out the sex and to see if it had any diseases.

Today’s mountain lion encounter was very similar to other encounters with these big cats in the past (Palo Alto, Livermore in 2004). It’s almost always a yearling cub, freshly on its own and trying to set up its own territory. Unfortunately, mountain lion territories seem to be getting more and more in demand as the lion population grows and habitat space is gobbled up by us greedy humans. Older, bigger lions keep chasing the youngsters off until some of them occasionally wander into town and unfortunately get into trouble.

My friend Jim Swanson, a DFG wildlife biologist who retired a couple of years ago, once told me, "I believe the reason we are having so many lion sightings now is that the lion population is growing and these cats are getting kicked out of the better habitats and are searching for a place to make a living and unfortunately they are ending up adjacent to and in the urban areas where trouble brews for them."

As Jim told me in 2004 when I wrote a lot of columns on dealing with mountain lions, "saving the animal is always the first choice." Capture is the next consideration, and the only safe way to do it is to tranquilize the animal. Back in the 1970s, I took the DFG tranquilizer course, where wardens are trained to tranquilize problem animals. I quickly discovered there are many uncertainties and variables with tranquilizing an animal, especially if you’re in the middle of town. Only on TV shows do the animals go immediately to sleep. In reality, you could end up with a terrified, half-drugged mountain lion running through backyards and maybe encountering and injuring a human, or worse.

All things considered, as much as I love those beautiful animals, I’d probably have made the same decision as the warden, especially after seeing those kids playing in a nearby park.

On another note, as I wrote in a column on May 19, 2004, it would be a good thing if DFG could offer more guidance to help local law enforcement agencies handle these lion problems. Special seminars and special "Mountain Lion Kits" could be created and provided. The object of the program would be simple. Come up with standardized ways to deal with the big cats. And put together a "DFG Lion Committee" of lion experts from California and other states to meet regularly and analyze past events and brainstorm and come up with better and less lethal and more effective ways of dealing with wildlife encounters.

It would make things a lot easier for police and wardens and citizens the next time a mountain lion or a bear decides to go for a walk downtown.

Posted on Tuesday, June 13th, 2006
Under: Fish and Game, Mountain lion, Wildlife | 6 Comments »

Contra Costa Animal Services Cat Spay/Neuter Day

Starting this month (June, 2006), Contra Costa County Animal Services will host a monthly FREE Cat Spay/Neuter Day for the local public.

They will offer a "one day — free cat spay and neuter day" on the third Tuesday of each month at the new county animal shelter’s state-of-the-art Spay/Neuter Clinic, 4800 Imhoff Place, Martinez, CA. Reservations will be on a first-come, first-served basis, beginning the week prior to the surgery dates.

The summer schedule is:
** Tuesday, June 20 Spay/Neuter Day — make reservations during week of June 12-19.
** Tuesday, July 18 Spay/Neuter Day — make reservations during week of July 10-17.
** Tuesday, Aug. 22 Spay/Neuter Day — make reservations during week of Aug. 14-21.

To make free spay/neuter reservations call the spay clinic at 925-335-8320.

All cats that receive surgeries must meet the following criteria:

** Proof of Contra Costa County residency.
** OWNED. No feral cats will be accepted.
** Minimum age of 3 months or 3 pounds.
** Proof of rabies vaccination, or vaccinations will be provided at no charge.
** No nursing cats.

For more details on this program, please call Animal Services at 925-335-8340.

Posted on Monday, June 12th, 2006
Under: Cats, Pets, Spay/Neuter | 1 Comment »

Why older cats YOWL (cry) at night

Dot Wedemeyer’s June 7 letter to my Times’ column about her yowling tabby generated many more letters in response than I have room to print in a daily newspaper column. Fortunately this blog has space for me to print them here. It’s an important subject, affecting a lot more humans and their companion cats than I realized. Has your aging cat suddenly started to "yowl" (cry loudly) in the middle of the night or during the day? Maybe this is why:

** Our 17-year old cat yowls when he "loses" us. It is a strong Y-O-W-L that can be heard throughout the house. He can’t hear well, can’t see well, sleeps a lot. When he feels alone, he lets us know. One time he walked past us, sat down with his back to us and began to yowl. We called to him and he turned, startled, to discover us.

He gave us a soft, happy "Mrrrp" and came over to claim a lap. (Margaret, Cosby’s mom, Alamo, CA)

** We have friends whose elderly cat has taken to yowling like that. In his case we think it is because he is either lost in the house, i.e., can’t remember the basics about his house, or has "discovered" he is now alone and wants to be with people. If they yell loudly, most of the time he comes running and looks very glad to have found them. Other times the yelling must not be loud enough or he has decided, "Enough is enough, let them come to ME for a change." When they find him, he again looks happy to have his people around.

We also think his hearing may be shot because when he is sleeping, he doesn’t react to noises like he used to. Of course this could all be because he has figured out those noises don’t represent a danger, so why expend the energy to be alert?

Cats, go figure. (Dodie, Pleasanton, CA)

** Re: the howling cat, we have had a similar experience. Our 19 year old Himalayan, Beezie was diagnosed with lymphoma on 8/16/04. She has been on prednisone ever since, and is still alive and well with a good quality of life. However, several months ago she began to howl at night, normally either in the kitchen or in the hall on the way to our bedroom. I would get up, pick her up, (she would immediately start purring), and bring her into our bedroom and put her on the bed.

In the winter, our cats usually sleep with us, in warm weather they make other arrangements. The howling increased, and started happening during the day as well. When I would go to pick her up, she appeared disoriented but immediately started purring. Our vet could find nothing to cause this, her hearing seems OK, though her eyesight may be getting poor. Anyway, it started happening numerous times at night and was seriously disturbing our sleep, so finally in desperation, I began to close two doors that locked off the hall and our bedroom, but left her access to her food, litter boxes, and an upstairs family room.

She began going upstairs at night, sleeping in her favorite chair. And after a couple nights of this, I no longer had to close the doors. Now every night after we give her the prednisone pill, she goes upstairs and gets comfortable in "her" chair, and no longer howls at all, day or night.

I don’t pretend to know why going upstairs has stopped her howling, but my feeling is that she got "lost" and disoriented on her way to our bedroom, and now she just goes directly to where she feels safe and knows where she is. Maybe the kitty needs to be placed in a safe sleeping spot where he (or she) would be content to stay during the night. (Sandy Rollins, Livermore, CA)

** In response to Dot Wedemeyer’s letter about her yowling cat, we too had a cat that would yowl at different times of the day, but mostly in the middle of the night all by herself. And, it sounds really pitiful, like she’s lost. Turned out our cat, who was 14 at the time, had an overactive thyroid, which is really quite common in older cats. Our vet said she has seen other cats with overactive thyroid do the same yowling, and she doesn’t quite know why except that they feel so hyper, that sometimes they have to let it out, and sometimes get kind of disoriented. If she has not had her cat checked for that, I would suggest it. It took some time, but after medication, she stopped the yowling entirely. (Sharon, cyberspace)

Posted on Thursday, June 8th, 2006
Under: Cats, Pets | 166 Comments »

Most pet owners will spend anything to save a pet’s life

Veterinary Pet Insurance periodically sends out fascinating little surveys to try and tweak the interest of us columnists so we’ll give them a plug in our columns or blogs. The latest survey that arrived in my morning mail has to do with how much a pet owner will spend to save his/her pet’s life. Here’s an edited down version of what the VPI press release had to say:

Most Pet Owners Will Spend Anything to Save Pet’s Life, Survey Says

According to a recent survey of VPI policyholders and other pet owners who visited the VPI Web site, 70 percent of those who responded said they would pay any amount to save their pet’s life. Of the more than 5,200 responses, just 3 percent of respondents said they would pay up to $500 to save their pet’s life. Ten percent of pet owners would pay up to $1,000, and 17 percent would pay up to $5,000.

The findings are in line with national surveys on the topic. According to the American Animal Hospital Association 2002 Pet Owner Survey, about half of the pet owners surveyed said they would spend any amount to save their pet’s life.

While costs of veterinary services vary by region, pet owners are spending more annually on such services than they have in the past. Between 1994 and 2003, aggregate U.S. household expenditures on veterinary services rose 76 percent, from $4.8 billion to $8.5 billion, according to "Pet Insurance in North America" (a November 2005 Packaged Facts study).

"This latest survey of our policy holders and pet owners everywhere underscores what we have known for a long time, that the human-animal bond is stronger than ever," said Dr. Carol McConnell, director of veterinary education and services for VPI. "It is increasingly more common for pet owners to view their pet as a family member. As such, pet owners are willing to do whatever it takes to keep them happy and healthy for as long as possible … "

I don’t need to get a press release to let me know how strong the human-animal bond is. I read about it every day of the year in the e-mail and letters I receive from my caring and pet-loving readers.

The fact that spending for veterinary services in this country has nearly doubled, from $4.8 billion to $8.5 billion in one decade, is kind of scary.

Posted on Tuesday, June 6th, 2006
Under: Pet Owners, Pets | No Comments »