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Community cats: A truly humane idea spreads

March 10, 2015

ccIt wasn’t long ago that even the most well-meaning animal lovers believed the kindest thing that could be done with feral cats was kill them.  When I started writing about pets and their care in the early ’80s, I thought so, too. After all, a dead cat never feels hunger, or fear. The elements present no problem, nor do cars or cat-haters.

And most of all, dead cats never reproduce, delivering kittens into their own lives of misery.

Skip forward  to now, and I can truly say I was wrong, wrong, wrong about these cats.  They can be managed, they can be neutered, and they should be allowed to live as community cats.

That’s why I was thrilled to learn about Operation Catnip, a Florida program founded by a pioneering shelter medicine veterinarian to manage cat colonies so kittens can be prevented and the cats can be cared in place. And kudos to PetSmart Charities for providing an education grant to kick it off.  From the news release:

An innovative Florida program that has been spaying, neutering, and vaccinating unowned cats since 1998 is about to share its successful model with the nation.

Founded by Dr. Julie Levy, director of the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, the trap-neuter-return (TNR) program known as Operation Catnip has been running free high-quality, high-volume spay/neuter clinics for community cats in Gainesville for more than 16 years.

Since its founding, the organization has cared for more than 45,000 cats. In 2014 alone, they helped 2,693 cats and prevented the births of a projected 6,142 kittens who might have been born to the now-sterilized cats in the first year following surgery.


“Our vision is to train an army of veterinarians to spay and neuter America’s community cats,” said Levy. “This approach, along with vaccination, will allow us to reduce cat population, control infectious diseases, and improve the lives of the cats.”

While there are still plenty of organizations — sadly, some of them well-known animal “advocacy” groups — who still believe in killing cats, the tide has turned. As more veterinarians are trained and more people understand how these cats can be kept alive in good health without causing problems, the better lives will be for them.

Extermination has never been an acceptable solution, and now, we have a way forward that will truly give these cats the lives they deserve.

Operation Catnip is something every animal-lover can get behind — and should.

Filed under: non-profits and charities,veterinary medicine — Gina Spadafori @ 10:57 am

It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood

June 13, 2014

To quote Mr. Rogers, “It’s a wonderful day in the neighborhood,” and on this Friday the 13th, it certainly is. Perfect day for a walk at Oceanside harbor. So four Kindred Spirits dog trainers and seven dogs walked around the harbor, smelled the Pacific Ocean, listened to waves crashing and sea gulls squawking, and watched the boats. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky and just a touch of a breeze. Ahhh…….this is why I live here.

I’m pretty immune to the appeal of palm trees, but even the palm trees were graceful this morning.

See that low retaining wall bordering the beach in front of the palm trees?  That’s a great agility obstacle for the dogs to walk on. I think Riker started that tradition when he was younger. Bashir, of course, had to do it if Riker did it. And now Sisko and Bones are learning to do it. When we reach that part of the walk, the dog must hop up and walk the length of the wall.  If you fall, another dog will hop up and take your place. So don’t fall!


20140613_104701There are always adventures for the dogs, too. t least from the dogs’ point of view. Today, several sea lions were up on one dock and a big male barked at the dogs as we walked past him. Bones watched him closely; after all, this was a big guy who needed herding dog supervision. River, Melissa Duffy’s youngest English Shepherd, also thought this sea lion looked sketchy and growled under her breath at him while standing shoulder to shoulder with several of the older dogs. “Uh huh, River, I see how brave you are.”

20140613_104816Sisko, originally from the mountain deserts of Arizona, still thinks sea creatures are really strange. And sea lions are noisy. Sisko watched closely. If that sea lion had made one move towards us, we would be gone – with Sisko pushing us from behnd, “Go! Go! Go!” No, on the other hand, he would be leading us.

There is one spot on our walk where the dogs can get in the water and splash and all did except Bones. He was intent on watching everyone while being a responsible herding dog, “Wait! Don’t go out too deep! Come back! What are you doing?” Meanwhile Sisko lost his focus on the sea lion while jumping from the dock into the water and back up again, over and over.

20140613_111808Later we did some training around the lobster traps. Did you know lobster traps sitting on the dock in the sun stink? Oh yeah. They stink. And the dogs thought that the traps smelled bad enough perhaps they were for catching dogs, too. So from the trainers there was a bit of, “Hey, look! These traps have dog treats! Woo hoo!”  Sniffing the traps resulted in praise and a treat. Touching the trap with a nose earned even more rewards.

All in all, a wonderful day, a lovely harbor, good friends and awesome dogs. Nothing better than that.


All four photos by Liz Palika. Top left: Bones watching the sea lion. Top right: Palm trees in the sun. Middle: Sisko watching the sea lion. Bottom: Kate Abbott showing a group of dogs that lobster traps aren’t scary.

Filed under: behavior and training,pets, connected — Liz Palika @ 4:25 pm

What’ll they think of next? The new reason to bring your pet to the vet annually.

May 2, 2014

Phone conversation with the receptionist at my vet’s office today:

Me: Could you please fax Harper’s vaccination records to this boarding kennel?
Receptionist: Did you know Harper is overdue for her titer?
Me: No, she’s had one in the past couple of years.
Receptionist: Well, she’s supposed to have one every year.
Me: If vaccinations are good for a minimum of three years, why would she need a titer every year?
Receptionist: We need to make sure her titer levels aren’t too low.
Me: [in my head: I’m not even going to argue with you.] Anyway, I need you to fax those.
Receptionist: So you don’t want to do another titer?
Me: Right.

Harper sitting pretty-1Sigh. I thought they were trained at my veterinarian’s clinic not to argue with me about this stuff. Maybe she’s new. It was my understanding that it pops up right by my name–don’t bother arguing with Kim about vaccinations. So I guess they’re going to argue with me about how often titers should be done.

But seriously? It’s not rocket science. If the AVMA and AAHA and all the veterinary schools have data showing that core vaccinations confer immunity for several years, isn’t it obvious that titers would only be done every three years?

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s immunology expert Jean Dodds, DVM, from her blog, in response to a question about a dog’s distemper titer being low:

I suggest titer testing your dog every three years for both distemper and parvovirus. Any measurable titer to a vaccine, including distemper and parvovirus, means that the dog has specific committed immune memory cells to respond and afford protection upon exposure. It really doesn’t matter how high the titer result is as long as it measures something.

I get that vets want to see pets on a regular basis. I think that’s important. I go to my doctor every year for a physical, and veterinarians need to adopt that model as well instead of making up stupid reasons that aren’t scientifically valid. I expect better.

Filed under: pets, connected — Kim Campbell Thornton @ 5:22 pm

Legal Beagle: weekly news roundup

April 21, 2014

Sleepy beagle dog in funny glasses near laptopBad news for pets in Oregon. Aimee Green in The Oregonian reports that the Oregon Court of Appeals threw out the conviction of a 28-year-old woman who starved her dog, saying that pets are property. The judges based their decision on evidence from a veterinarian who tested and treated the dog without a warrant.

In reversing the 2011 misdemeanor conviction of Amanda L. Newcomb, a three-judge panel of the Court of Appeals ruled that animals are living beings but they are also property under the eyes of the law. And that doesn’t trump their owners’ constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The dog was seized after the Oregon Humane Society received information that Newcomb was mistreating the dog. An animal-cruelty investigator found the dog to be in “a near-emaciated condition” and took the dog to an OHS veterinarian–without first getting a warrant.

Newcomb was charged with second-degree animal neglect. Her defense was that her Fourth Amendment rights protecting her from unreasonable search and seizure had been violated.

A lower court had sentenced Newcomb to one year of probation and had forbidden her to own animals for five years. That sentence is now vacated and Newcomb is not expected to be retried since the evidence against her is not admissible.

On the other side of the country, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled Friday for the first time that police can legally enter private property without a search warrant to rescue endangered animals, reports John R. Ellement for the Boston Globe. The decision extends the same authority long used by police to save the lives of people.

“The question is one of first impression for this court,’’ Supreme Judicial Court Justice Barbara Lenk wrote for the unanimous court. “In agreement with a number of courts in other jurisdictions that have considered the issue, we conclude that, in appropriate circumstances, animals, like humans, should be afforded the protection of the emergency aid exception.”

The SJC ruling was hailed as a reason for celebration by animal advocacy groups, but generated a warning from the defendant’s attorney that the ruling was so vaguely worded that police can claim concern about an ant farm or a goldfish to bypass privacy rights.

Filed under: pets, connected — Kim Campbell Thornton @ 8:41 am

Bark about it: weekly news roundup

April 14, 2014

I only have time for a quick post today, but I ran across a few interesting stories that I thought would make for good discussion. First up, this Wall Street Journal piece by David Grimm, online news editor at Science, on the legal status of pets. He writes:

Until the early 1900s, both animals were deemed so legally worthless that they didn’t even qualify as property—and could be stolen or killed without repercussion. But as Americans began to spend millions, then billions, on food, toys and veterinary care for their pets, the law changed. Today, cats and dogs aren’t just property; they are the most legally protected animals in the country.

Felony anticruelty laws in all 50 states impose up to $125,000 in fines and 10 years in prison for anyone who abuses animals. The federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, passed after Hurricane Katrina, requires rescue agencies to save pets as well as people during natural disasters. Judges have been increasingly willing to treat cats and dogs like people in the courtroom, allowing custody disputes over pets and granting large awards in cases like Ms. Lohre’s—including so-called noneconomic damages typically reserved for the death of a spouse or a child. In a few recent court cases, judges even gave dogs their own lawyers.

I know I would want recourse if my pet were harmed by a careless veterinarian or groomer, but I can see the qualms on the other side, too. I think I can safely say we all agree that pets have value, and more and more, courts are agreeing as well. What’s your position in this debate? What limitations would you set, if any?

On the lighter side, the New York Times has an essay by David Hochman, a new member of the barkoisie (a word I coined myself a few years ago) on the latest in helicopter parenting–of dogs.

The last time I had a puppy, I was 9 years old. This might as well have been in the Mesozoic era, since life with a dog was so primitive then. If Buck was good, he got Gaines-Burgers and maybe a Milk-Bone. Bad, we’d deliver stern admonitions over the half-eaten sneaker. But within hours of adopting our fuzzy, adorable Pi, I sensed that being a pet parent today — nobody uses the word “owner” anymore, apparently — means cultivating intelligence, manners and communication skills the way the parent of, say, a small human might.

You’ll either laugh or snarl when you read it.

Under the heading “gratuitous mention of one’s own dog” is this week’s PetConnection newspaper feature, withKimKeeper1 hints on tricking dogs (in which Keeper, pictured here, plays a starring role), the dangers of lilies for cats, cool new pet products and what to know when your pet goes under anesthesia.

Filed under: behavior and training,gratuitous blogging,media,pets, connected,worth a click — Kim Campbell Thornton @ 10:38 am
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