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Listen to what your pets have to say

We need to pay close attention to our pets. They communicate with us in a lot of obvious ways with their body posture, tail movements, special sounds (purrs, whines, growls, meows) and in the ways they look at us. But it’s the subtle and unusual things they do that we need to be particularly alert for. They usually indicate something’s wrong.

My Abyssinian cat, Tut, has been following me around and meowing at me for the last couple of days. Not a lot, and nothing really obvious. A soft mew here, a gentle bump against my leg there. I really didn’t give it much thought until the other morning when I got up in the predawn darkness to go to work. Tut was waiting for me outside our bedroom door to give me a bump against my leg with his head. Hum. OK, now I’ve noticed.

Last night I brought it up with my wife, Lois. "Maybe he’s cold," she said. "I nearly froze last night."

So we got the wool comforter out of the closet and fixed up a nice warm nest for Tut in the area of the couch where he usually sleeps at night. He climbed in it right after dinner. Later, just before we went upstairs to bed, I carefully tucked the comforter over and around Tut until we could only see his eyes peering back at us out of his woolen cave.

This morning Tut was still in his warm cave as I left for work. And Lois said he was still there when she got up an hour so so later. Obviously nice and warm and happy.

Keep that in mind the next time you feel a little bump against your leg.

Posted on Tuesday, January 24th, 2006
Under: animal communication, Animals, Cats, Pets | 4 Comments »

Are you THE John Madden?

Gary: Please provide me with a copy of your Raccoon Fact Sheet. Your column in the Times was interesting and fun. /John Madden

John: Are you THE John Madden? /Gary

Gary: Sorry, I’m only THE to members of the family (and sometimes I wonder about that!). Since I’m older than the coach, I consider myself THE.

Thanks for the raccoon material. I live in Altadena, CA, an unincorporated area between Pasadena and the mountains. Our last house had a family of the critters (raccoons) living under a large deck. There must have been five in the family. It seems there was enough food around (probably set out for dogs) so that we had no lawn damage in 25 years. Eight years ago we moved to an area that abuts the National Forest and the bandits have been doing all of the things described in your fact sheet.

We also have deer, skunks, opossums, coyotes (the largest male I have ever seen came through the backyard last week), an occasional mountain lion, and, a small black bear (brown phase) who has been sighted along a 10-mile stretch of the forest. Love it. We are at the 1,780-ft. elevation and can see Catalina and Santa Monica Bay on a good day. I’ll put up with minimal danger and an occasional lawn-feeding beasty anytime. Live and let live.

I logged onto and found it to be quite good. So I have it delivered to my computer every day and keep up with the Northern California news. /John

Posted on Thursday, January 19th, 2006
Under: Animals, Raccoons, Wildlife | 1 Comment »

Turn on the tea water and the warm nectar

It was really cold this morning. I glanced out the back window and saw that the frost on the neighbors’ rooftops was shimmering in the moonlight. After turning on the tea water for my wife, I carefully slid across the icy back deck and hopped across the lawn to recover the hummingbird feeder from where it was hanging from a limb on the apple tree.

One look when I got back into the kitchen showed that the nectar in the feeder was frozen. I thawed the frozen nectar and replaced it with a new batch made from warm water and then returned it to the apple tree. Out little male Anna’s hummer would get a warm drink of morning nectar and a pleasant surprise in a half-hour or so when the sun came up.

That’s my job every morning when I get up before the sun to go to work. Turn on the tea water so my wife can make herself a cup of hot tea when she gets up in another hour to head for her job. And then replace the frozen liquid in the hummingbird feeder with a fresh warm batch of nectar so that little winged tiger can get energized and start guarding the backyard.

Then when I get to work I can get a hot cup of coffee out of the machine and start writing about it.

Posted on Monday, January 16th, 2006
Under: Animals, hummingbirds, wild birds, Wildlife | 2 Comments »

It’s cold. Do you know where your pets are?

During the winter months, we sometimes forget that our dogs and cats can feel the effects of the cold just as much as we can. Sometimes worse.

I’m curious. What do you do to make sure your pets stay warm and comfortable?

Posted on Friday, January 13th, 2006
Under: Animals, Cats, dogs, Pets | 2 Comments »

I could use a little help from my friends

I could use a hand if you’ve got a moment. I’m researching information to help me answer a couple of reader questions. If anyone reading this has encountered one or both of these problems and has a successful solution for dealing with them, I’d appreciate you sharing what you did with me so I can add it to my own ideas and pass it along. I’m actually looking for as many different solutions as possible. The more, the merrier as they say. I’ll also list your name with your idea if I use it.

Cat problem: A 4-year-old cat is very affectionate with a mother and her son, but every time the dad gets near him, he hisses. When the dad tries to pet the cat, it bites his hand. Any ideas on fixing this problem?

Poisonous plants and puppies: Lady is getting a boxer puppy and has been reading about plants that are poisonous to dogs. She’s been checking the Internet for lists of these plants (there are many) and figures just about every plant in her house and garden is on some list of poisonous plants. Does she need to dig them all up and toss them out? She says she will if she has to. She wants to know how other people deal with this.

Thanks for any responses. I’ve answered both of these questions many times over the years I’ve been writing my newspaper column and am ready to answer them again. I’m just always looking for new ideas on these things from the actual people who’ve dealt with them. Thanks for your help!

Posted on Wednesday, January 11th, 2006
Under: Animals, Cats, dogs, Pets, Poisonous plants | 4 Comments »

Super Hero Scrub Jay

Last evening I was standing in front of the sliding glass door to my back deck, watching the raindrops as they poured down out of the darkening skies and whipped and sprayed and splattered around the yard in the wind. Suddenly, our neighborhood scrub jay, Mr. Blue, swooped out of the wetness to make a splash landing in front of the door.

He stood there in the rain, a sopping wet, bedraggled, pitiful example of the species, as water dripped off the tip of his beak and joined the falling raindrops.

I turned to my son, Karl, who was heating himself a pan of soup on the stove. "Mr. Blue is willing to sell his soul for a peanut," I said.

"Wow, what happened to him?" Karl answered. "He looks like a wet sponge!"

At that point the cats, Tut and Newman, came trotting up to stare out the door at the drowning bird. The cats hate the jays. Being indoor cats, there’s no way they can ever get out and try to catch them and the jays know it. Mr. Blue and his cohorts do everything in their power to drive the cats crazy (and they do!). They peck on the windows, tap, tap, tapping at the cats’ chamber door, and they scream their harsh, rasping cries at the cats whenever they see them through the windows. Tut usually hides in the corner beside the door so he can’t see the jays, figuring out of sight, out of mind, but it doesn’t work because I can always hear him whining. This time, however, both cats clearly wanted to see what was going on. And enjoy it.

A soggy scrub jay standing out in the cold rain while the cats were sitting in a nice, warm kitchen was just too good to let pass. You ever see a cat grin? It’s not a pretty sight. You ever see a cat rolling around on the floor in hysterics? Scary.

While the cats were still rolling around in their little fit of hysteria and feline revenge, I quietly slid open the door and dropped a small handful of roasted, unsalted peanuts on the deck in front of Mr. Blue.

With a flick of his wings and a sudden violent shudder that shook every single drop of water off of his body, there was a great bright flash of blue light as Mr. Blue, The Blue Flash Super Hero Jay, appeared out of nowhere to stand tall and defiant … and dry … mere inches away from the suddenly attentive cats on the other side of the glass door.

The now incredibly beautiful jay picked up one of the peanuts (the biggest) in his beak and disappeared noisily into the depths of the redwood tree.

"NO!" screamed the cats as they both slunk away from the door. "NO! NO! NO!"

Karl shook his head a couple of times and turned back to finish fixing his soup.

"You know, nobody back at college would ever believe me if I told them about this place," he said.

Posted on Wednesday, December 28th, 2005
Under: Animals, Cats, Pets, scrub jay, wild birds, Wildlife | 2 Comments »

This is why people keep pets

Dear Gary: Attached (below) is the e-mail my daughter just sent me. She had just lost Finnegan, her first pet dog, unexpectedly. I’d like to share with you and your readers her heartbroken, yet warm all over experience. Merry Christmas. (George Hsieh, Walnut Creek, CA)

"Our beloved Finnegan was laid to rest December 21, 2005, at 2:35 p.m.

"He suffered for five days from symptoms of cancer of his liver and lungs. There was no treatment for his cancer. He wasn’t alone for a minute in his last days, and I don’t think he wanted to be.

"He changed us as people. I never knew before my capacity for patience or pure love. When we went to the Oakland, CA, SPCA in February, 2001, Brian was interested in a very strong-willed female mix and I was interested in a boisterous female collie-type dog. But for some reason, we kept looking at the frightened one with the black patch over his eye. We took him out of the kennel and tried to take him for a walk. If anyone knew Finnegan, they knew that he would not walk with strangers, but he came with us. He leaned into us. Before we left with him, he sat on my feet.

"Not until years later did we realize the significance of what he did. He chose us. Brian thinks because Finnegan knew we’d love and protect him from what had been a very, very scary world for him.

"That first day was followed by four years and ten months of joy, frustration, laughing and smiling and lots and lots of love. His true love was the beach, and I hope he is running in heaven’s sand and chasing the waves. No more pain, no more suffering, and most of all, no more being afraid.

"He was between 5-1/2 and 6 years old and our hearts are breaking. But to answer the age-old question, is it better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all? The love was for Finnegan. He deserved every ounce of love that he was shown. I could never consider taking that love away from him so that these tears wouldn’t be running down my face.  My heart is not breaking from having loved him, it is breaking from the loss. So, it is irrelevant if it is better to have loved and lost. The love was his. The loss is ours.

"If you knew him and loved him — thank you. We will carry him with us always." (Anne-Marie, Brian & Lily, in cyberspace)

Posted on Tuesday, December 27th, 2005
Under: Animals, dogs, Pets | No Comments »

Happy Holidays!

Have a very Merry Christmas everyone! May you awaken Christmas Day to find everything brisk and beautiful, with the sound of jingling sleigh bells fading softly away in the distance.

Be of good cheer.

— Gary, Lois, Karl, Tut, Newman, & Nikki

Posted on Friday, December 23rd, 2005
Under: Animal Activists, Animals, Pets, Wildlife | No Comments »

Is There Wildlife in Your Backyard Ecosystem?

Do you have wild creatures (birds, opossums, skunks, raccoons, wild turkeys, etc.) prowling around or living in your backyard? Sure you do. That’s why I’m writing this.

Please grab your cameras, take pictures of your wild visitors and send them to me. I’m writing a front page story about your wild neighbors for a Sunday early next year (not far away) and would like to use your photographs to illustrate it. Wouldn’t that be fun? It will also be more natural.

I know a lot of you are already taking these kinds of pictures because you often send them to me. So now we need to get serious about it. I’ll explain more about my plans, including deadlines and the publication date, as I figure them out.

Start shooting away now and post your photos in our Contra Costa Times Pets & Wildlife reader photoblog at You may post your photos anonymously. However, if you’d like us to consider using your shots in my story, please either register and login before submitting your photos or, if you do post anonymously, send me a separate e-mail ( to let me know which image you’ve submitted. If you don’t do e-mail, mail your photos to: Gary Bogue, c/o The Times, 2640 Shadelands Drive, Walnut Creek, CA 94598.

Be sure and hold onto an original digital or film copy of any photos you submit. Thanks!

Posted on Tuesday, December 20th, 2005
Under: Animals, Ecosystem, Raccoons, wild birds, wild turkeys, Wildlife, Yard | 6 Comments »

A Fox Squirrel Moves Into the Neighborhood

After living in our formerly squirrel-free neighborhood for the last 10 years, a fox squirrel finally moved into our backyard about three months ago. He spent the first two months poking his nose into all the different backyards on our block, checking them out for nice trees to sleep in, non-aggressive dogs and cats, and good things to eat. Checking out the neighborhood, you might say. Since we all have wooden fences around our yards, the 2×4 fence tops provided easy pathways for those nimble feet to hop from yard, to yard, to yard, to yard, and back again.

At the end of the first two months, Squirrel finally picked out a yard to call his home. Our yard.

My wife, Lois, thinks it has something to do with the fact that she had grown a row of 14-foot tall sunflowers down the middle of her garden box. (A little bit taller and we could climb up and look for the giant!) I guess I couldn’t argue with that. Not after I looked out the window one morning, just in time to see Squirrel making a suicidal leap from the fence (a distance of about 5-feet) to the nearest giant sunflower blossom (16-inches in diameter!), so he could hang upside down from his back feet and munch fat, juicy sunflower seeds for an hour.

Now it’s winter. I cut down all the sunflowers since they were pretty much ravaged by Squirrel and the scrub jays. Squirrel now spies on the scrub jays to find out where they bury the peanuts my neighbor feeds them from a big blue bowl on her back deck. Then he digs them back up and buries "his" peanuts in a new spot. His spot. The scrub jays, of course, have also been spying on Squirrel, and dig their peanuts right back up and bury them again in another new spot. Their spot.

I going to have to wait and see how this all plays out. These peanuts may turn out to be the most-buried peanuts of all time. I’ll have to check and see if the Guinness Book of World Records has a "Most Buried Peanuts" category.

In the meantime, the scrub jays are sitting on top of the giant black metal ant on the picnic table on our back deck and glaring at me through the window. My cats, Tut and Newman, turn around and glare at me every time they look out the back window and see the squirrel hopping around the lawn. Nikki, our little green parrot, had an hysterical fit when she spotted Squirrel on the back deck railing the other day and then picked herself up off her cage bottom and glared at me when she finished.

The coming of Squirrel is obviously my fault. Go figure. Maybe I’ll get a can of peanuts and go sit out on the back deck in the rain and we can turn the finger pointing up another notch. On second thought, maybe I won’t. With my luck, Tut would probably run over and lock the back door so I can’t get back in and then sit in the window laughing and lashing his tail as he watches the water dripping off my beard.

You know, that gives me an idea.

Posted on Monday, December 19th, 2005
Under: Animals, fox squirrel, Wildlife, Yard | 1 Comment »