Thursday, September 29, 2011

Malcom Strikes Again

Yes, Malcom.  That irrepressible, indecipherable Tortoise.  Just because we've lived together for over thirty years, doesn't mean I understand him.  So naturally,  I continue to speculate wildly about his motivations.

Malcom's enclosure is located in my office.  Malcom himself is all of four feet away from me as I sit at my desk.  Indeed, at this very moment, were he not asleep, he would be staring fireballs into the back of my head.

Critters like Malcom need exercise.  It's easy to forget that because Tortoises have a phlegmatic quality.  Unlike say, a ferret.  The lanky animated ferret simply looks ready for action.  Still, Tortoises are made to move, albeit, slowly.  It is therefore true that Malcom regularly moves about inside his enclosure.  He doesn't do laps around and around or back and forth.  He moves until he hits the wall, quite literally.  Then he hits the wall again and again.  Bumph, thunk.  His feet make a sort of grinding sound in the pea pebbles that cover the enclosure's floor.  Malcom's workouts are noisy. 

Picture it, you are at your desk reading or writing or doing something that requires concentration and right in the next cubicle, so to speak, there is a persistent thump scrape thumpking.  This goes on and on until you want to scream or run out of the room.  You sigh and return to your task.  But the beating of Malcom's shell against the glass persists.  Now all you want to do is grab Malcom and throw him out the window.

It is with great shame that I admit these thoughts.  Even greater is the shame at the number of times I have had these bad violent urges.  Happily, I am neither insane nor evil.  Malcom remains unharmed- even while he continues his efforts to drive me mad by thummmkk, scraaak, scrape, bummnk. 

For years, Malcom has been working to drive me out of my mind.  He alternates between silently staring at me with something that is either bland or malevolent, and hurling his shell against the wall causing a sharp yet dull sound with the beat of a slightly off  kilter metronome.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Wisdom of the Litter Box

We don't really want to talk about the litter box, but we're going to anyway.  Let us indulge in a bit of cat scatology, for the greater good.

Yes, the litter box is to a cat what a toilet is to a human being.  At least that is the hoped for situation.  Cats are fastidious about their personal habits.  Once they learn to "go" in the box they don't forget.  When a cat suddenly stops using the box or misses the target, something is going on that must be addressed.

Why is Kitty failing to observe proper elimination protocol?

There are a number of reasons.  Here are the most likely culprits:


While not an illness, there may be age related issues such as arthritis, at play.  Stiff joints make for less dexterity.  A different style box with lower sides may help the older cat maintain accuracy.

Other physical reasons for missing the target are illnesses such as bladder stones, urinary tract infection or diabetes.  Your veterinarian can help you sort that out.

Negative Association

Perhaps the litter box is in the laundry room.  One day, Socks is minding his own business taking care of business, when the spin cycle starts.  The rugs inside the washer gravitate to one side of the cylinder; thump thump thump.  Suddenly, the litter box is a scary place to be.

Maybe the weekend guests caused Tabby angst.  Remember that strange youngster in the group?  The one who seemed to vanish at intervals, you'd see him only in the periphery, lurking, furtively poking around?  Let's not speculate too deeply into what the little weirdo may have done in and around the litter box.

Stressful Changes

A new cat joined the household and suddenly Fluffy must share the litter box.  Your best bet is to offer enough litter boxes for everyone.

That different brand of litter that you tried because it was on sale?  It could be that Tigger doesn't like the smell or the texture or your audacity in making a change without consulting him.  New litter is best introduced slowly, little by little, beginning with adding about ten percent to the total mass of the old familar litter.

Other problems in litter box routine may be due to negligent clean up.  If there are too many clumps in the box, Mr. Boots may decide there isn't room for his latest effort.  Scoop frequently.  (You flush every time you go, right?)


A cat looking for love may use marking (squirting urine around) to spread the word, so to speak, of his or her availability.  This is something in the hormones and arguably not bad cat behavior, just natural desire.  Spaying or neutering usually puts the kibosh on lust and with it the urge to mark.

Other reasons for marking involve territory.  An indoor cat may see a cat outside the window and want to establish his domain.  A dash of urine on the living room drapes is one way of expressing ownership.

Sometimes when a new cat or dog or person has joined the household, a cat may pee on the carpet to relieve the unpleasant feelings of insecurity.  You might say, he snaps.  In time, he will, most likely, grow accustomed to these new resident critters and return to correct potty habits.

Adding a scratching post or two can help Puss Puss blow off a little steam while engaging in a more appropriate style of marking.

And, just because, buy him a new toy.  Play with him.  Pass the Cat Nip.

PetSitters World, September/October 2011
Warren Animal Clinic, Warren, MI

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vulture Culture

Scavenging is their specialty and vultures are extraordinary scavengers.  The vulture has keen eyesight and excellant sense of smell.  This aids in finding dead critters to dine on. Vultures are fairly heavy birds, which is useful in chasing other scavengers such as coyotes or jackals away from a carrion feast. Various species of vulture possess different characteristics designed for the food they eat.  For example, some vultures have super strong bills, the better to rip tendons and sinew off a carcass.  Other vultures have long necks that make it convenient to reach deep inside of a dead animal and pluck out some tasty innards.  Still other vultures eat the bones of an animal.  Large bones are dropped from great heights to break them up for easier swallowing.  These birds have amazingly strong stomach acids to do the digesting.

Most Vultures eat dead things.  However, some eat insects and the inside material of eggs.  To crack a small egg, the bird will pick it up and drop it.  If it is a larger egg, the vulture will repeatedly drop a stone on the egg to crack the shell.

Vultures rarely flap their wings and are able stay aloft on wind currents for hours.  Many vultures gather in groups to rest, as well as while soaring.  Some vultures work together with other (vulture) species to find dead stuff to eat.  They then share the find.

Some Vulture Facts
-they are found in North and South America, Africa, Europe and Asia
-22 different species
-male and female look similar
-they lack a syrinx (the body part most birds use to sing with)
-mostly quiet, but occasionally hiss and wheeze
-vulture fossils have been found along side of mastodons
-they lay their eggs on the bare ground or in a hollow log
-largest vulture has a wingspan of 12 feet and weighs 26 pounds
-many vultures squirt urine onto their legs to keep cool
-can eat as much as 20% of their body weight
-feet designed for walking, no talons

What is the difference between a Vulture and a Condor?  And where does the Buzzard fit in?

Most vultures from Europe, Africa and Asia are decended from birds of prey such as eagles.  Those found in the Americas are from the same line of ancestry as storks.  These similar birds coming from separate roots are considered examples of divergant evolution. The difference between a vulture and a condor appears to be a secret known only to experts. 

As for buzzards: that is a charming colloquial term for condors and vultures originating from the USA.

Condors and Vultures by David Houston
Encyclodedia of North American Birds by Michael Vanner


Monday, September 5, 2011

The Perils of Positive Training

The philosophy of positive training for dogs has been around for long enough, that most people have heard of it.  Never say no!  Reward, never punish!  Maintain a positive attitude at all times!  Commands are stated briefly and cheerfully (or with a merry click of a clicker)!   Keep lessons short and fun!  

Before long it begins to sound like one of those syrupy slogans that have infiltrated our Consciousness.  The Power of Positive Thinking!  Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative!  If it Feels Good Do It- oh wait, maybe not that one.  Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out!  (Definitely not that one).

Please don't think I'm advocating the Put the Dog's Nose in It school of training.  I am not.  I also am, most assuredly, not a strict adherent to the Positive school.  The reason is very simple.  I live here in real life.  And the truth about reality is that sometimes you must say no.  In the real world you cannot always set things up so that your dog is good.  Naturally, you avoid trouble when you can.  That's why, when he was a puppy, you put him in his crate while you took a shower.  You didn't leave him in the kitchen hoping he would take a nap rather than chew on the baseboards.  Or you put up the baby gate to keep him out of the room before you fill the table with forbidden food.  Alas, in the real world sometimes you forget to put up the baby gate.  You are rushed because the guests are due and you aren't dressed yet. 

Your dog tries to take a taste off the buffet table.  Is this really the time to redirect him to a toy?  Real life rules!  A firm loud NO will get his attention faster than, "here my darling, have a nice pull toy".  You want the dog to stop before he dismantles hours of labor and ruins the dinner party before the guests have a chance to.  Besides, who really believes that gentle words detailing the wonder of the Nylabone are going to be more attractive to your dog than Pigs in a Blanket arranged in a circle?  Startle him!  Break his concentration from the thing he may not have!  Stop him before he does the bad thing.  Say NO.

When he removes himself from the platter of good things meant for others, then you praise him and give him the Kong filled with peanut butter.  He'll notice it is a lesser treat.  More importantly, he'll notice that you, his Master, forbid him the people platter.  That's real life for you. And for your dog.

Believe me, your dog won't stop loving you just because you used a non positive word and stern tone to enforce good manners.  He will not suffer damage to his self esteem because he was exposed to the negative forces of NO.

To me, positive training means reward him when he does what you taught him to do.  It also means don't be so stuck on positive that you fail to be adamant about correcting behavior that is not in keeping with the rules.  And accept that sometimes the only way a dog learns a rule is by breaking it.  And when a rule gets broke, it is you who must act.  Remember Dale Carnegie's First Principle:  Don't criticize, condemn or complain.  (Just kidding).   Seriously, train your dog with kindness.  But don't sugar coat it.