Category: “Community Voice Column”

Puppy Envy!

Puppy Envy!

OK, I admit it. I’m consumed with puppy envy! My sister just adopted the cutest little puppy and since she doesn’t live close by, I get to follow him via Facebook.  I want to snuggle his furry little body and smell puppy breath! I guess it’s hitting me harder than when she adopted a puppy a couple years ago since then I was set with my two dogs and could only think back to the one time I did adopt an 8-week-old pup and how difficult that was! Since then I have always said “been there, done that – never again!” Having a puppy is a lot of work, especially if you are serious about trying to do it right.

First you have to be aware of the two fear imprint stages (8-12 weeks and about 8-10 months).  This is a time when a scary event, sudden noise, a too rough dog, friend, etc. could have lasting effects on your dog.  Enough to make you want to put the pup into a safety bubble!  But on the other hand according to Dr. Ian Dunbar, puppies have a critical socializing period between eight weeks and four months where they need to be exposed to other animals, surfaces, sounds and at least 100 new people each week in order to be a well adjusted, social, friendly, fearless dog as an adult. Uh huh – you read that right!  Just like some people go into parenting assuming they will instinctively know what to do, too many people assume that if you provide food and water and a bit of exercise that puppies will grow up to be good dogs automatically.

I guess the down side is I know enough to be frightened of the responsibility! My one and only puppy was a real learning experience for me. It was back when I was just starting in the animal welfare field and, of course, I thought I knew everything! She was allowed to come to work with me so she had a very stimulating environment. It’s amazing how quickly a puppy can do damage though. I left her loose in my bedroom (in a rental house) for less than two minutes while I ran to the bathroom and when I returned she had chewed a hole through the plaster of the wall.  Right in the center of the room. I have no idea why. But that cost a pretty penny to have it patched and painted.

The biggest mistake I made raising Shana, was that I wanted a dog as a friend and treated her that way instead of being the parent and setting rules and making sure she followed them. As she matured it became apparent that I was not her leader and that made her both insecure and confused. I didn’t realize that raising a youngster meant saying “no” sometimes and having consistent repercussions for disobedience. That was back in the day when training was a bit more coercive and we used choke chains to get dogs to do our bidding. Training meant putting on the chain and doing 10 minutes of sit, stay, down and come.  I didn’t realize that training was really what happened the other 23 hours and 50 minutes of the day! I would do things so differently now.

I guess the reason that this time I am envious, rather than pitying my sister for all the work she has before her, is that I’m down to just one dog at the moment and have begun the search for a second. My current dog can be selective about his dog friends so I have to be careful in my selection. My husband has also requested that since we’ve taken on a few dogs with behavioral issues it would be nice to just have a friendly easy dog (is there really such a thing?).  Which makes me think maybe I should just raise one! But my husband is against a puppy and he also has to agree to our next canine. So I just wait for the next cute video of my new pup-nephew and give my two cents of advice when asked. Can’t wait to meet him!

One-month countdown

One-month countdown

Only one month left before our fees go up – including animal licenses! Licenses for altered dogs and cats will go from $12 to $18 and if your pet isn’t fixed yet, (what are you waiting for?) it will go from $30 to $36. If your license is due soon I suggest you renew it now and get one more year at the lower fee. If you’ve never licensed your pet before, now is a very good time to do so since the late fee is also increasing from $15 to $25, which is a bigger slap on the hand, and will hopefully motivate more people to license their pets, (if being legally required wasn’t enough motivation for you).

Why should you license, you ask? Besides feeding government pockets what’s the point of a license? Well there are several reasons to license your animals besides being required by law (although being a law abiding citizen is a good thing in and of itself – and sets you up as a role model to your children and neighbors).

It’s been shown that people are more apt to help a lone dog or cat if it’s wearing a collar and tag showing clearly that s/he is a lost pet vs. a feral animal. A collar and tag shows the world that this is a loved family member and a license is traceable and can help reunite a lost pet with his worried parents. A microchip is a good back-up for that just in case the tag falls off – or is removed – but a visible tag is the first layer of protection that all pets should have.

A current license also indicates that the animal is up-to-date on his rabies vaccine. That’s actually how licensing got started – as visible proof of rabies protection. Through a diligent program of vaccination we are able to control the spread of rabies in our pet population. It is still out there though in wildlife such as bats, raccoons and foxes so we can’t become complacent. Rabies is zoonotic, which means humans can get it and there still is no known cure once infection has taken hold. If you are bit by an unvaccinated animal, or one with an unknown vaccine history, you might have to go through a series of anti-rabies shots – which is no fun at all! If all animals had on their license tags you could tell at a glance that the dog or cat that bit you at least had a rabies vaccine once (can’t tell without looking up the license number if the vaccine is still current). That is helpful information if you weren’t able to catch the animal to quarantine.

License fees are also used to pay for animal services in the community. The City run’s a (very nice, I might say) animal shelter so that the lost pets in Rohnert Park and Cotati have someplace safe to go while waiting to be reclaimed. Running animal services costs a lot and license fees offset some of that expense. It would be nice, and more fair, if all pet owners paid their share instead of the burden falling on those who comply willingly (or have been caught and made to comply). It is estimated that there are approximately 22,500 dogs and cats living in Rohnert Park. If everyone licensed their pets it would cover the costs of all the services, we provide!

So here’s your chance to step up and make your pet legal while the fees are still at their lower amount. The higher rates will take effect on July 1 so take advantage of this last month and get your dogs and cats caught up on their rabies shots and come in for a license (no late fee if you do this voluntarily!).

War heroes with four legs

War heroes with four legs

Ever read the book “Yorkie Doodle Dandy”? Ever hear of it? Me neither until I did a google search on animal war heroes. There are more of them than you would think but actually that shouldn’t be a surprise given that animals have accompanied us into battle since we first started domesticating them.
Smoky, a little Yorkie served in the Pacific during WWII. She warned the troops of incoming artillery shells (dogs can hear them coming much sooner than we can) thus saving many lives. She also was useful in pulling telegraph wire through tunnels (advantages of being a small dog). Her cute tricks entertained the troops and just her presence was a soothing influence during hard times. Her handler wrote a book about Smokey’s adventures called “Yorkie Doodle Dandy” to honor his little brave companion.


Smoky isn’t the only animal that has been honored for their service. Chips, a Shepherd Mix, was the most decorated animal in WWII having been awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Purple Heart, and Silver Star for his actions. Stubby, a pit-bull, is the most well-known service dog from WWI and has the Stubby Award for Animal Heroism named after him. He is also preserved and on display with his medals at the Smithsonian Institute.


There have been statues, books and movies made about animals that served during wars. The most recent is “War Horse” a movie about a single horse used during WWI and his unique bond with the boy who raised him – but it’s really a salute to all the equines used during war. “The Invincible Sgt. Bill” is a true story that was made into a short movie about a goat that served during WWI and saved many soldiers’ lives. He was stuffed and is still preserved in Saskatchewan, where the real Bill came from.


We usually think about dogs and horses when we think of military animals but, in fact, every kind of animal has been used at some point. Dolphins, elephants, camels, pigs, pigeons, cats and even slugs! Who knew (except the scientist studying them) that they could detect mustard gas in the air at much lower particles than we could and therefore warn soldiers when they needed to put their masks on? How do you pin a medal on a slug?!


This Memorial Day, when we pause to remember all those who have served and died for our freedoms, let’s remember those with four legs (or no legs, like slugs) that have also served. They didn’t have a choice and often died doing what we bid them to do. They are heroes too and deserve to be honored as such.

Join our Life Saving Team!

Join our Life Saving Team!

What are you doing this summer?  Actually for the next six months?  Looking for a way to put your love of animals to good use?  Have a couple hours free each week?  We need you!  Come join our team of life-saving animal lovers by volunteering at the shelter.  Whatever your skill level we have a job for you.

Love dogs but aren’t very physically strong?  Come read to them!  Having positive experiences in their kennels help make their stay here more pleasant. It also teaches them to relax and present well when the adopting public comes through; who would want to bring home the dog flinging himself at the kennel door and acting out of control?  We’re working on a lot of new kennel enrichment practices to help the dogs stay sane while waiting for their new homes.  Of course they do enjoy their time outside and going for walks too.

Did you know that cats should have two 10-15 minute sessions of interactive play each day?  It helps to relieve stress and boredom and mimics their natural life cycle to some small degree.  We certainly don’t have enough staff to spend that kind of time with each of our feline guests.  Thank goodness for our awesome cat cuddlers.  Sure it’s hard work – but someone has to play with these cats!

Have any computer skills?  We need help with data entry – there’s always paperwork in a business, right?  Assist our volunteer coordinator with tracking volunteers’ hours and scheduling.  Assist our vet tech with our busy foster program – tracking who’s next for follow-up appointments, inputting treatments in the computer and more.

Are you a creative writer?  Help showcase our adoptable animals with fun, upbeat and creative descriptions – something that would make people want to come meet them!  Help with press releases and other publicity for upcoming events.  In fact, we need people to help at these events too!  Are you a people person?  Work the shelter’s adoption desk or assist at outreach events and feel the joy when you help a family find their new BFF.  There’s nothing more satisfying than convincing someone to take the time to get to know a shy cat that would be perfect in their home.  We love match-making – do you?

Don’t forget our bunnies!  They crave daily attention and playtime.  Our monthly Bunny Days, where we set up the rabbits outside and invite the public to come interact with them, are very popular.  Our Bunny Boutique does a brisk business and so does the Bunny Nail Salon!  We could definitely use an extra pair of hands to help out.

As you can see there are a lot of different ways that you could get involved.  The only requirement is that you are at least 18 years- old and can make a regular weekly commitment.  Come find out more at a one-hour orientation Saturday, April 29 at 10 a.m. in the shelter lobby.  We are located at 301 J. Rogers Lane, off Redwood Drive (by the Costco).  No harm in at least learning more…. right?  After all, what else are you doing this summer?

Little Ones are Coming!

Little Ones are Coming!

Do you see strange rustling in your bushes?  Hear funny noises coming from under your porch?  It’s Springtime and with the change in season come kittens (among other young).  About this time, they are getting old enough to venture from the nest and you may soon see little fluff balls.  If we are to tame them down and find them homes, it’s critical that they be caught before they are eight weeks old.  That means as soon as you see them, catch them!

Kittens have a shorter, and earlier, socializing period than dogs.  It starts at two-weeks-old (if you are raising kittens it’s important for them to be handled daily at this early age) and pretty much is over by ten weeks.  If kittens are not socialized by then it becomes increasingly more difficult and less successful.  It’s a shame to sentence these young animals to the rough life of a feral when they could be caught early and tamed down.  The important point is not to wait.  Too many people think, I’ll catch them on the weekend, or I’ll try to get them used to coming for food and then I’ll work on getting them to trust me and then I’ll catch them.  NO!  They need to be caught today!  Immediately!

Although it’s true that for super young kittens, with their eyes still closed, staying with the mom is the best thing for them, as soon as they are old enough to walk around and venture a bit on their own they are old enough to be caught and brought in for taming.  Of course if your tame cat had kittens you wouldn’t want to separate them until the kittens are at least seven weeks old (eight is even better), but that assumes that you are handling, playing and socializing the kittens the whole time.  It’s also not in their best interest to be adopted out singly too young – they learn a lot about bite inhibition and appropriate play by remaining with their littermates until they are at least a couple months old.

Along with catching the babies, you definitely want to catch the mom to get her spayed.  Otherwise you will be repeating this scenario again in another three months (gestation is about 63 days and the kittens start moving around at about 4 weeks of age).  Forgotten Felines runs weekly spay/neuter clinics for trapped ferals in our County – call 576-7999 for an appointment and helpful tips and information about how to trap mom-cats.  They can also give you great advice on how to socialize the young, if you are willing to do it yourself – otherwise they will point you in the direction of the animal shelter that services your area.

We have foster parents who have signed up to help raise these orphan kittens – a very satisfying (and fun) job indeed!  It’s considered the politically correct way to have kittens – all the fun without the lifetime of responsibility!  If you are interested there is more information on our website (rpanimalshelter.org) or at the shelter.  Meantime, don’t just watch these cuties grow up wild out there; all too quickly it will be too late.  Thanks for getting involved and helping them out.  Maybe there is a reason they picked your bush or patio!

Losing an Older Pet

Losing an Older Pet

How do they always know when you are planning to go on vacation? And why do older pets often go downhill right before you leave?

Is it because they know they won’t make it and want you near when they go? Is it because they don’t want you worrying about them while you are away? Are they sensing the tensions in the home and it makes them sicker? Whatever the reason it happened to us just a couple weeks ago.

We had a trip planned to Hawaii for more than a year. Our oldest dog, Poppy, was a 12-year-old Sheltie with multiple health issues. She had Cushing’s (for several years), which had caused high blood pressure and was throwing her liver values off.

Not to mention that she had lost her hearing and was thin as a rail. In addition, she was getting some supplements for joint support and incontinence. A total of nine medications and supplements daily along with prescription foods, our house looked like a pharmacy.

It was clear Poppy was one sick puppy but her energy level was high and she eagerly jumped into the car each morning to go to work with me. She joined us on walks and though she slept more and ate less, she just seemed like an aging dog…getting closer to the end but not teetering on the brink. So we were caught by surprise when she just suddenly started to vomit one day that last week. She vomited all afternoon and when I took her temperature it was 103.9, which is quite high.

So we made a quick trip to the emergency hospital for some anti-nausea medication and antibiotics. The next morning, we went to our regular vet to have a blood panel done (advice: if diagnostics can wait until the next day, i.e., it wouldn’t dramatically change the outcome or treatment plan, it’s best to wait as the emergency center is much more expensive). It showed that her liver values were all over the place but couldn’t explain why.

This is the point at which decisions have to be made and guilt comes into play. How far do you go with testing and to what end? Did I really need to know if she had a tumor in her liver, knowing she wasn’t a surgical candidate? With so many health issues going on I knew this was the end coming and it really wasn’t fair to our pet sitter to leave such a sick animal in her care. Also, selfishly, I knew I wanted to be with Poppy when she transitioned. So instead of spending money on more tests and diagnostics, I hired an animal communicator.

Don’t laugh. I truly believe that being able to make the decision to euthanize a pet is one of the most loving gifts we can give. I personally am not afraid of dying – I’m more afraid of suffering and relief from pain is something that we can offer.

There is something very healing in being able to express your love and to say goodbye and hear back that your pet is ready to go. Now that might sound “convenient” to you but it didn’t feel that way at all. So we said our goodbyes and helped our girl over that rainbow bridge. I know she’ll be there waiting for me.

Cold weather plus cats in heat equals kittens

Cold weather plus cats in heat equals kittens

Baby, it may be cold outside but this is when babies are made. I’m talking about kittens for those of you shocked at the first sentence.

January is typically the start of the feline breeding cycle (in this area), with females coming into heat. How do you know if that’s happening to your sweet kitty? She becomes a yowling, affectionate machine. Pet her on her lower back and she will throw her tail up and sashay around. You might find that she tries to dash out the door, too. You might also notice a new male, or two, hanging around your house and hear them fighting during the night. They are jousting for the rights to breed.

Only one thing to do in a situation like this, and no, throwing the female outside so you can finally get some sleep is not the answer. Spaying the females and neutering the males is not only the right thing to do, it is quick, permanent and free! The nice thing about the kitty arias is that hearing them gives you the opportunity to catch and spay them before they are pregnant and have accidental litters. Even if it’s not your cat singing and fighting outside your window, please don’t ignore it. What they are actually singing is, “Spay me! Spay me!”  Ok, maybe not, but that’s what I hear it as. And it won’t cost you a cent to get involved – just a bit of time.

We offer free cat spays and neuters (yes, please catch the boys, too!) to community cats (the “un-owned” stray that you’ve been kind enough to feed for weeks or months) and for pets of low-income residents of Rohnert Park and Cotati. The saying we live by is “if you feed a stray, then neuter and spay.”

The real problem is when someone (or a group of people) is feeding an outdoor cat but no one claims ownership, someone who cares enough needs to take the initiative to trap the cat so she can be altered. It’s amazing how many kind people will feed a cat and then watch as they go through a heat, mating sessions, two months of pregnancy, and two plus months of nursing kittens and then call to complain that there are too many cats in their area and they want us to magically make them go away. It doesn’t work that way. If you are hearing the yowling, then chances are the kittens will be born on or close to your property – and then it’s a bigger problem you are dealing with.

We really need to stop the proliferation of these feral, or community (free-roaming) cats, which is where the bulk of the kittens come from. We’re willing to cover the costs for getting them spayed and neutered, but the problem is reaching the people caring for these animals because they aren’t our typical audience.

If you work with low-income clients, with the Hispanic community, with seniors, or with anyone that might have an unaltered pet, please help spread the word about our program (there are similar low-cost spay-neuter programs in all other parts of our county; you can have them call us for referrals). We have a flyer available at the shelter (in English and Spanish) that you can post around your neighborhood or at work. Just stop by and pick up a few.

We’re doing what we can to stop the problem by offering free and low-cost spay/neuter surgeries to our community. Won’t you help by spreading the word? Especially if you are tired from being awakened at night to the sounds of the kitty chorus.

Gifts that count for our four-legged friends

Gifts that count for our four-legged friends

Do you include your pets (or the pets of your friends) on your gift buying list? Many people do and companies know this, catering to those who might want (need) another outfit for their purse Chihuahua or bling for the collar of their Rottweiler. Let’s look at some useful suggestions of things for your pets.

Show that you really love your dog and cat by getting them ID tags and microchips. This permanent form of identification can truly be a life-saver if your pet ever slips out the door or fails to return home. The collar and tag is like the seatbelt – your first line of defense in an accident and the microchip is the airbag – extra insurance “just in case.” Both are free at our shelter for Rohnert Park and Cotati residents, so you can seem generous and have all your pets done.

Have you stopped walking your pup because he’s dog reactive or a strong puller? You might consider enrolling in an obedience class, but that could be difficult if he’s reactive to other dogs. A transitional leash is a great tool to help you control your dog and enjoy walks again. Get one at www.k9lifeline.net/product/k9-lifeline-training-leash. Having the right collar is important for cats, too. Be sure yours is a safety collar – with either elastic in it or a breakaway clip.

Even better for keeping cats safe is a cat enclosure, which allows your cat to enjoy the outdoors safely. Build one yourself or check out the easy to assemble ones at www.cdpets.com. That is the ultimate gift for cat lover and a way to ease the guilt at keeping cats indoors but wanting to keep them safe.

For small pets like rabbits or guinea pigs, check out the chewable toys at www.busybunny.com.. There are safe wicker baskets, wooden chew toys, treats, tunnels, books and more. Everything to make a house bunny binkie (that’s an expression of joy – when a rabbit jumps straight into the air). Most of these items would be fun for a bird, or other small pets, too. I’m trying not to forget anyone.

If you have friends who are animal lovers, here’s a gift idea that’s a win-win. Go to www.theanimalrescuesite.greatergood.com and find something that they will like. There are t-shirts, jewelry, accessories, pet supplies, socks, purses – you name it and it’s there. So not only does your friend get something cute that’s pet related, every time you shop at this site a donation is given to animal shelters.

You can help us directly by doing all of your amazon shopping at www.smile.amazon.com and selecting the Animal Shelter League of Rohnert Park as your charity to support. I love doing that – trying to buy things that support the local economy or are fair trade friendly and buying them through sources that support charities that I can select.

Keep in mind not only what you are buying but also who you are supporting when you buy that item and make everyone a winner.

Halloween Safety Tips

Halloween Safety Tips

It’s official, my dogs are more popular than me. They got invited to a Halloween Party and I haven’t been (well, technically, I guess I was invited, too, because they do need a ride to the event but no invitations to a just people party).

Dog costume parties seem to be getting more and more popular. People, it seems, will take any excuse to make their little furry darling even cuter than she/he already is. And dressing your dog as a fairy or witch can be pretty darn cute (or funny).

Just don’t expect your pet to enjoy being turned into a dragon or cowboy unless you already have him used to wearing clothes. Many animals panic when they have something wrapped around them – it feels like they are trapped. And you might think it’s hysterical when your cat is running through the house chased by a dragging cape but believe me, she’s not having any fun.

Get your pet used to wearing a costume a little at a time and have plenty of treats handy to use as rewards. Which means if you’re just starting today, you may be lucky enough to get just one photo snapped before she wiggles out of the outfit. Next year start earlier.

Besides costumes, Halloween has other tricks in store for unsuspecting pets – and pet owners. Be sure all your furry family members are safely inside before the witches and goblins (and superheroes and princesses, etc.) hit the street trick or treating. It’s amazing how reactive even the best dog can be when confronted by a zombie and you don’t want to risk someone being hurt or your pet being scared away.

For that same reason it’s a good idea to lock your pets in a bedroom while the door is being opened frequently. Better to not set off your dog’s guard instincts if he thinks the goblins are too threatening! And you certainly don’t want your cat slipping out the door between the ballerinas and action heroes (of course all your pets are microchipped and wearing ID tags, just in case, right? We do it for free so bring them in this week if they’re not). Don’t trust that your dog will recognize the werewolf as the child next door – he might not. Children don’t always realize how scary even a pretty costume (with capes, twirly skirts, swords and hats) can be to an animal not accustomed to seeing people dressed that way. And masks that prevent good eye contact are especially frightening to dogs. Protect everyone by keeping them separated and not taking chances.

Remember, too, that chocolate has an ingredient that is poisonous for our pets in addition to the sugar and caffeine that’s in other candies. Make sure your stash of goodies – both the bowl that is by your front door to hand out to trick or treaters, and the bags that your children bring home after going door to door – are safely out of reach of furry mouths. Even if your pet doesn’t eat enough to be life threatening, it’s never fun dealing with the vomiting and diarrhea that ingesting candy causes. Just a little precaution and planning can help make this a safe holiday for everyone – full of treats and fun.

Dog park etiquette important to pets’ safety

Dog park etiquette important to pets’ safety

There’s been a rash of incidents in our city’s dog parks, so perhaps it’s time to review some rules of etiquette for using them. Use of the parks are on the honor system because they are not monitored (except by users, who can be a fairly close and vocal clique). Incidents have included everything from dogs being abandoned in the parks to a small Chihuahua being killed by another dog – and everything in between.

There is always a risk when you let your dog interact with other animals, especially new unknown ones. And there is an assumption of liability when you enter a dog park. So unless there is a history of known aggression, there is less animal control can do about incidents when they occur there. Even dogs that have played well in the past can have fights – like when children play together – someone almost always ends up crying. Why does this happen? There are a million reasons.

Possibly, one of the dogs is not feeling 100 percent, so their tolerance is lower. Perhaps two dogs are playing well when a third enters and changes the dynamic. Maybe one pup is feeling pushed around or threatened by a bigger dog and, in turn, takes it out on a smaller one who innocently walks by.  Animals pick up on their owner’s fears and emotions, too, and if you are acting nervous around certain dogs then your dog may react to defending you. Some guard toys and treats, so it’s best not to bring them along – although what’s a romp at a park without a tennis ball (bring two so you can share if someone starts hogging it).

Tensions can often be diffused by attentive parents who separate and distract dogs before a tussle can break out – that is your job at the park – to be constantly monitoring how, and what, your dog is doing. Too often pet parents don’t pay enough attention to their dogs and instead are buried on their cell phones or a book. And then they are caught by surprise when a fight breaks out and no one clearly knows what happened or who started it (helpful to prevent it from repeating).

Would you know how to safely break up a fight? The No. 1 reason people get bit is they stick their hands in between two fighting dogs (hint: that’s the wrong thing to do). Fights can be scary – it usually sounds like they are completely shredding each other but know that the vocalizing is in place of actual damage, each dog is just trying to intimidate the other. Often when the dogs separate there is only slobber on the other and no real marks at all. That’s the best case scenario. In that situation, usually just a loud, firm “knock it off” will get the dogs apart. Or try to use a chair or some other physical object that you can put between the dogs.

If the dogs are actually biting each other, pulling on them can just cause more damage by tearing the skin they have hold of. Instead of reaching for their collars (and getting your hands close to their faces) grab their back legs by the inner thighs and lift the back end off the ground. This will both startle the dog and throw his balance off, usually resulting in his opening his mouth and releasing the other dog. At that point, depending on the size and weight of the dog you have hold of, you can swing him away from the one just released. Because reaching for the back end is not instinctual, you might want to practice on your dog (do it lightly as if you are playing) so you can feel what it’s like.

Obviously only dogs that are completely comfortable around all types of dogs should be brought to a dog park, but there’s always a first time for any behavior. By being observant and really watching to see if your dog is enjoying the park, you can prevent incidents from happening. Sometimes, though, I think going to the dog park is more about the social interaction of the people rather than the dogs!