Q: I read last week's column about the Loews hotels who trapped feral cats on their properties and seemed determined to kill them. What's the latest with that? -- G. A., Bloomfield Hills, MI
Q: Thank you for reporting on what Loews is doing to those cats in Florida. I will never stay at a Loews hotel again. Last I heard, the cats were still being trapped there. Is that true? -- S.V., Highland Park, IL
A: The most common and effective response to feral cat problems anywhere is to initiate trap, neuter and return (TNR) programs.
Feral cats typically aren't considered adoptable, so shelters usually euthanize them. It's most humane, less expensive and more efficient, however, to trap the animals. Under a TNR plan, kittens are adopted, as are any friendly formerly-owned cats from a feral group. Truly feral cats are spay/neutered, vaccinated for rabies, ear-notched for identification and then reintroduced to the areas from which they were removed. They live out their lives, perhaps supplemented with food.
Astoundingly, the three Loews properties at Universal Studios in Florida already had a TNR program in place (organized and operated by volunteer employees). Instead of enhancing that program, there's been an ongoing effort to exterminate the cats.
Loews apparently had little interest in whether the cats lived or not. Luckily, a non-profit organization called CARE Feline TNR took an interest, and is providing foster care until people come forward who are willing to allow the cats on their land - perhaps in exchange for free rodent control.
What's more, the exterminating service hired by Loews to trap the cats appears to have little experience with feral cats. Some trapped cats have reportedly languished in cages in the sun for hours, and others have injured themselves.
Over 34,000 people have signed an online petition on the website of Alley Cat Allies (www.alleycat.org), a national cat advocacy organization, to protest Loews' actions. On April 14, about 75 demonstrators protested at the entrance to Universal.
Loews' defense is a document written about rabies prevention and control in Florida, which expresses concerns about people interacting with feral cats. However, feral cats are rarely vectors for rabies since TNR programs vaccinate for rabies.
Loews also maintains that feral cats living on their properties constitute a danger to guests. I suspect Loews will soon be closing down its workout rooms and swimming pools, and no longer allowing guests to use the beds in their rooms. This may sound sarcastic, but truly, a hotel bed is more likely to cause injury than a feral cat.
Despite the protests and offers of assistance from Alley Cat Allies and others, Loews clearly appears intent on continuing its efforts. I don't want to be the one to tell them, but once all the cats are trapped, sooner or later, still other feral cats will establish residence. I suppose the hotel chain known for its pet friendly motto, Loews Loves Pets, will aggressively trap and kill again.
Phone calls to Loews corporate offices have not been returned. Direct responses to questions from a Loews' representative at Universal are available here: http://www.catchannel.com/catalyst/catalyst-loews-feral-cat-response.aspx
Q: We've always loved dogs and have three rescues. These dogs were on death row and we saved their lives. I believe they have a good life, but we're retired and can only afford so much. Heartworm pills too expensive. Besides, I don't know anyone whose dog has had heartworm where we live. Convince me and I might change my mind and buy the pills. -- C.T., Minneapolis, MN
A: People don't think of Minneapolis as a mosquito haven, but it is; I suspect this has something to do with all those lakes. And wherever there are mosquitoes, there's heartworm disease. While it's true that the odds are greater of heartworm in some regions than others, your area has a high prevalence. If you don't believe me, check out this heartworm prevalence maps from the American Heartworm Society (under Veterinary Resources): http://www.heartwormsociety.org/veterinary-resources/incidence-maps.html
Dr. Sheldon Rubin, a Chicago-based board member of the American Heartworm Society, notes that most heartworm meds also prevent intestinal parasites and some even prevent fleas (isn't that good bang for your buck?).
"One reason people don't dose their pets with a heartworm medication is that they believe it won't happen to them," says Rubin. "But it happens to someone, maybe it will be you or not. For the price of a Starbucks, you can protect your pet."
If a dog is diagnosed with heartworm, the choice is to treat or the dog may die, or at least suffer. Treatment is expensive and arduous for the dog. What's more, the only drug used to treat heartworm may or may not be so easy to obtain (due to manufacturing issues).
Had you written me last year, I would have offered the same response. This season, due to a mild winter and (so far) reasonably wet spring, mosquito numbers are expected to soar - and it's mosquitoes that spread heartworm.
I do appreciate what you're saying, and the fact that you saved your dogs' lives is extraordinary. To save money, consider using food coupons (your food and dog food), offering mini-carrots as snacks (and fewer manufactured treats) and using homemade dog toys. Not offering a heartworm medicine is downright risky.
For more facts on heartworm, go to www.heartwormsociety.org. Hear Rubin explain in further detail on my Petcast at: http://www.chicagonow.com/steve-dales-pet-world/2012/04/wgn-radio-petcast-parasitepalooza-fleasticks-heartworm/
Q: When I travel for business, my 12-year-old niece visits twice a day to feed and play with my three cats. I'll bet the cats receive as much, or more attention, when I'm gone, yet they 'lecture' me for hours on my first day back. All I hear is "Meow, meow, meow...." Are they saying they miss me, or that they prefer my niece and are sorry I came home? -- S.B., Montreal, Canada
A: Cats do respond to changes in their routine. Just as some people are particularly vocal, so are some cats (especially the Oriental breeds, though many individual cats like to "talk"). As for what your cats are saying, I'm not sure. Maybe they're not even "discussing" what you think they are. It could be they're offering their views on the Stanley Cup playoffs or nuclear events in North Korea.
(Steve Dale's NEW EBOOKS, "Good Dog!" and "Good Cat!", are available on all major eReader devices and platforms. The basic version of each book is $2.99. An enhanced version of "Good Dog!" with embedded videos is available at iTunes for $4.99. For details, check the "Good Dog!"Facebook page. Write to Steve at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is www.stevedalepetworld.com)