The human-animal bond is very real

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I love reader feedback. Sometime you purr, other times you bark, but keep those emails and letters coming (petworld@stevedale.tv). Here are some recent comments:

COMMENT: "I was moved by a recent column in which you responded to a reader who'd recently euthanized her pet and felt guilty. Your response was heartfelt and compassionate. Your statement, 'I'm here to argue with anyone who says losing a pet isn't like losing a loved one,' was so eloquent. I'm a licensed therapist and have a number of clients who, even though they may come to therapy seeking help after the death of a pet, often still have this unresolved grief in their lives. The human/animal bond is so strong and so special. You're in a unique and special position to reach so many in their time of grief and, as any pet owner will attest, your statement is so right! You're doing wonderful work; your empathic words in helping this reader were so touching." -- T.L., Redmond, WA

SD: Thanks for your kind words. You're right that the human/animal bond could be defined as absolute unconditional love, something that -- in truth -- is rarely seen among people. Also, the amount of time we spend with the family pet might exceed the time we spend with a brother or sister, for example, and grief following the pet's death can be intense. I'm in no way equating animal death with human loss. I am, however, saying the loss of a pet can be devastating, and those who haven't lived with pets may not understand this.

COMMENT: "I read the question in a recent column about Levi the cat, who was defecating outside his litter box. It sounds like the environment in this pet's home is questionable when it comes to the health of all the owners' pets. Isolating six cats in one room sounds like something you'd see in a shelter, but at least most shelters are designed for multiple cats and provide for play and exercise. Also, keeping nine dogs in one household sounds like a violation of most city/county ordinances regarding the number of pets permitted in a single home, and the remaining nine cats being housed in a room with the birds is hideous.

First of all, parrots require clean air to breathe; most are prone to respiratory illnesses and I'm sure that ammonia from cat urine is not good for them. Second, the writer said the room was gated to prevent the dogs from entering, but what about the bird/cat relationships?

I personally have three parrots, who live with two cats, but my cats love the birds. I suppose it's possible all nine of the cats mentioned in your column also "love" the owner's birds, but I think the opposite is more likely true. The whole arrangement sounds like nothing but a stressor for all involved. The dogs stress the cats; the cats stress the birds; the dogs stress the birds; and the whole situation stresses the humans, who probably love all these animals, but need to ask for help.

In all, 29 animals is too many and the owners very likely have a hoarding problem. I think you should have recommended that these people reduce the number of pets they have, not just relocate Levi. I was very disappointed in your reply. -- J.J, Cyberspace

SD: Among all the cats in this household, I was astounded (and still find it difficult to believe) that only Levi was inappropriately eliminating. Based on the description of day-to-day life for Levi, he was evidently stressed to the max and would likely be better off being re-homed.

However, how do you know how many pets is too many? Certainly, when their medical treatment and general care is compromised. I agree that it may be time for the owners to seek professional help. Animal hoarders sometimes see themselves as rescuers. Still, though their hearts may be in the right place, that doesn't mean all these animals are in the right place.

COMMENT: "I always enjoy reading your column. I was even more excited as I read the question about the 82-year-old lady not being able to get her cat in her carrier. I thought for sure you'd suggest she call a veterinarian who makes house calls rather than stressing out the cat more by trying to train it to go to the vet. As the husband of a successful house call vet, most of the time, cats would rather stay home. Besides, what's the point of a wellness check when the patient arrives completely stressed out? -- A.B., Orlando, FL

SD: You're totally correct. One option for routine wellness care is working with a veterinarian who makes house calls. However, my point is that sometime in the lives of most cats, care is required which may be beyond what a veterinarian can provide on a house call. Besides, you can lower a cat's anxiety about using a carrier and riding in the car. Kittens are especially easy to train to a carrier, but adult cats can readjust their attitudes with patience, practice, and a little help from a Feliway (a copy of a natural calming pheromone.

QUICKIES

Q: "In your recent column on pet insurance, you mentioned a company offering 90 percent the cost of claims back to the pet owners. I threw away the column, so could you repeat the name of the company?" -- P.L., Buffalo, NY

A: Trupanion Pet Insurance

A: "Are all dogs born knowing how to doggy paddle?" -- F.J., Fort Myers, FL

SD: No. Bulldogs, French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers and Pekingese are among breeds which tend to sink like a rock. Other dogs seem to instantly transform into Michael Phelps, while still others take several tries to learn. Also, some dogs sniff water and nothing can get in their way, while others, even if they're accomplished swimmers, prefer to stay dry.

Q: "My neighbor has fleas in her house. Could they hop to our home?" -- T.J., Hollywood, FL

SD: Well, not in one leap, but they probably exist at this moment in your lawn or your neighbor's yard. Prevention works. Talk with your veterinarian about protection for your pets, including any indoor cats. We tend to protect our dogs, but forget that fleas can still be transported into our homes by people or other dogs, and then party on unprotected cats.

(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)

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