Saturday, July 29, 2006

Water basins for birds or you to enjoy

Water basins for birds or you to enjoy

There's hardly a garden that wouldn'tbenefit from the sight of water. And as these pictures show, it doesn't take much water, effort, or expense to achieve satisfying results. You can enjoy water receptacles simply as decorative additions, or, with a little more thought, use them to attract birds and other wildlife.

Water that gurgles, trickles, or splashes ismost effective in attracting birds. If cats are a problem, elevate the basin or put in at least 6 feet from shrubbery and other hiding places. Drinking and bathing water for birds need to be clean and shallow-- preferably no deeper than an inch. Put it in partial shade so it doesn't get too hot.

It's easy to hollow out bamboo for use aspiping: just ram a metal rod through it to puncture the joints. Then run water to it either through spaghetti tubing connected to a faucet or a drip system, or by choosing a piece of bamboo that will fit over the end of your hose.

To conserve moisture, hook up the systemto a pump on a timer or turn on a hose valve manually at certain times each day--early morning and late afternoon are when birds are most active. Set the water flow at a very slow trickle. Channel the overflow to irrigate nearby plants or run into a larger pond.

To keep water in a bowl or saucer cleanenough for birds or other animals to drink, every day or two you'll need to empty the bowl, brush or hose it clean, and refill it. Avoid glazed surfaces-- they're too slippery. One way to keep water fresh longer is to set the bowl, saucer, or cupped rock where your sprinklers will fill it with about an inch of water every day or two.

The sunken basin below is just ornamental--it's too deep to make a good birdbath. To clean it, skim the top or empty it every few weeks with a siphon.

Photo: Natural stone basin collects a slow trickle of water from bamboo spout fed by a spaghetti tube. Mondo grass, ferns, and leopard plant grow between rocks

Photo: Large, shallow bowl (actually a pot saucer) servesas reflecting pool and birdbath. Steppingstones and low-growing plants keep any prowling cats visible

Photo: An old washbasin sunk into the ground forms a child's wishing well. She chose baby's tears, ferns, and violets to plant around it. Mosquito fish in water keep mosquitoes from breeding.

Tell us about cats who are at least 19

Dear Heloise: I clipped out the article from your column on a dog's age. I have a toy poodle that is nearly 15 years old and going strong. I was wondering if there is a similar chart for cats. I have a cat that is 20 years old and also going strong. -- Iris Miller, Kerrville, Texas

Meow! I was curious, too, since we have printed dogs vs. human ages a few times in this column. Now, for all those cat lovers out there, we have a graph our veterinarian sent with approximate ages of cats vs. humans.

Human Cat (approx)

1 15

3 28

5 36

7 44

10 56

15 76

It seems cats live longer lives than even small breeds of dogs. One of my assistant's cats is almost 20, and the cat still acts like a kitten.

We'd love to hear from readers who have cats older than 18. Send a photo with the age of your cat, and we'll send a pet pamphlet to 10 readers with the oldest cats. Also, if you have a funny, unusual story about your cat, attach that with the photo, and it might appear on my Web site. Send the photo to: Heloise/Cats, P.O. Box 795001, San Antonio, TX 78279. -- Heloise

Dear Readers: Ginny Long of Gastonia, N.C., is the owner of Sugar, who is part-Shih Tzu and part-poodle. The photo she sent shows Sugar at 16 years of age, out for an afternoon ride on her tricycle. -- Heloise

Dear Readers: Do you have a parakeet that loves toys? Before buying any toys, make sure they are nontoxic. Since parakeets chew on all their toys, the toys have to be safe.

Check for any small, loose parts that can accidentally be swallowed. Don't buy toys made for large birds -- they might frighten your little parakeet. Also, keep away from little toys that are not made especially for birds -- they might have parts that can harm birds.

Most parakeets need some type of stimulation, and toys do just that for them. They are very intelligent and get bored easily. -- Heloise

To attract different wild birds to your backyard feeders, try adding sliced fruit to their menu. They'll sing their "thank yous" loud and clear.

A better way to treat cats

Abandoning cats to the scant mercy of a Chicago winter is cruel, no matter who does it. It's cruel when done by a negligent owner who, for whatever reason, no longer wants to care for a pet. And it's cruel when done by a supposedly humane organization -- even more so because it should know better.

In Jim Ritter's alarming report in the Sun-Times Monday, someone from one of the private groups that trap, spay and then release hundreds of feral cats said the cats "have a right to live out their lives." If only it were that simple. What about the smaller, native animals -- such as birds -- hunted by the cats, a non-native species? What about the homeowners inconvenienced by them? What about the cruel death -- by automobile, by cold, by hunger, by abuse -- that awaits many of them? We understand that the groups releasing cats are well-intentioned, but we wish they'd put their energies into helping owners spay and neuter their pets, the most important step in reducing the 25,000 or so animals that are put to death in Chicago every year.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Returning cats to the streets

Throughout the city and suburbs, tens of thousands of cats are facing another cold, hard winter on the streets.

The wild cats suffer hunger and disease, get attacked by dogs and are run over by cars. And they can be a nuisance to humans. So it has long been the policy of animal control departments to trap feral cats and put them to sleep.

But in recent months, local cat lovers have begun practicing a controversial alternative. Volunteers trap feral cats and take them to veterinarians to be sterilized and vaccinated. Then they release the cats back to the streets.

It's called trap-neuter-return, or TNR. It began on the East and West coasts and is spreading inland. The Chicagoland Stray Cat Coalition now counts about 15 local TNR groups, such as Spay and Stay in Lake County and Feral Cat Action Team in Du Page County.

Feral cats "have a right to live out their lives," said coalition co-founder Meg Martino, who has trapped, neutered and returned about 200 feral cats.

But critics say TNR usually condemns cats to slow deaths on the streets.

"It is heartbreaking that sometimes euthanasia is the answer for them," said Daphna Machminovitch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

A pet cat that has been abandoned or has wandered off becomes a stray. If picked up in time, a stray usually can adjust to humans again. But if left outside long enough, a stray reverts to a wild state. Corner a feral cat, and it will hunch its back, hiss, spit, scratch, bite and growl. It fears humans, can't be tamed and generally stays out of sight during daylight hours.

Feral cats seek shelter under decks, porches and car hoods and congregate around trash containers, alleys and trailer parks. While they seldom are dangerous to people, they tend to make noise, defecate in yards, trample flowers and leave paw prints on cars.

Although estimates vary, there may be more than 70 million feral cats, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. Animal control departments generally don't have the manpower to trap them, except when people complain. Because feral cats can't be adopted, animal control departments put them to sleep.

It's illegal to return cats to the streets, said Cook County animal control administrator Dan Parmer. The county's animal control ordinance states that no one shall allow an animal to "run uncontrolled."

Capitol Cat - Maryland adopts calico cat as state cat

Maryland already claims bragging rights to black-eyed Susans, Oriole birds and Chesapeake Bay retrievers so isn't it only fair to add a cat to the mix? Thanks to five Maryland fifth-grade girls, the calico is not the state's official cat. Why did the calico make the cut? Simple--its patches of red, cream and black imitate the colors on the state flag. The girls had been studying state governments in school, prompting them to write Md. Delegate Kevin Kelly a detailed letter explaining why he should introduce a bill to the Maryland General Assembly to adopt a state cat. They signed their letter. "The Cat Club." While working on bills involving the death penalty and prescriptions for the elderly, Del. Kelly read the letter from the girls and thought, "Oh, boy!" Nearly a year later, 10 days into a six-month legislative session, Kelly was going over the bills on his desk. "I got to the cat bill and realized I hadn't heard back from the girls. That day, I received another letter from them explaining they'd been fo llowing the Assembly on the Internet and were very disappointed I hadn't brought up the bill. I took it down right away." Despite snickers from fellow Delegates and Senators, Kelly passed the bill--with the help of the girls, whom he describes as "superb, wonderful and delightful." Impressed by their determination, poise, and organization, they won over the entire Assembly. And since only one in 3,000 calicos is male, we think their choice is purr-fect!

Lucky Dogs... and Cats

Some dogs have all the luck. But this holiday season, PetSmart® is giving dogs, cats -- and their pet parents -- plenty of opportunities to share their good fortune.

The long-standing holiday tradition -- Santa Claws® Holiday Photos -- is coming to town. During the first three weekends in December (3 and 4, 10 and 11, 17 and 18) at PetSmart stores throughout the United States and Canada, pets of all shapes, sizes and species will have a chance to sit on Santa's lap -- and have their pictures taken. Five dollars from each $9.95 photo package (which includes two Polaroids, one snowman frame and a festive holiday paperboard frame) will benefit local PetSmart Charities® Adoption Partners.

PetPerks® savings card members are luckier yet. They'll receive $1 off their Santa Claws Holiday Photos packages, while neighborhood PetSmart Charities Adoption Partners will still earn the full $5 donation.

In PetSmart stores November 1 - December 26, the Wish Tree offers another convenient way to help homeless pets. With $1, $5, $10 gift tags available on the Wish Tree display, pet parents simply select the amount they would like to give to homeless pets and then make their contribution at checkout.

And since charity does begin at home, PetSmart's shelves are well-stocked with holiday toys and fashions for all those lucky dogs (and cats, fish, birds, reptiles... ). For those exceptionally lucky dogs, PetSmart's grooming salon is offering a special Be Jolly Holiday Top Dog(SM) grooming package that includes tooth-brushing, health-enhancing shampoo, sugar-cookie scented re-moisturizer and cologne, a limited edition collar charm, a holiday bow or bandana, and festive nail polish.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Lyme disease: tick terror - includes related article on Lyme disease in dogs and cats

In the 14 years since it was named Lyme disease, this illness caused by tick-borne bacteria has become a national concern sometimes verging on obsession. Public-service announcements run on television and in move theaters. People who have been bitten by ticks spend a few days or weeks worrying about getting sick. And an entire subculture has grown up around chronic Lyme disease.

At first, Lyme disease seemed to occur only in certain prime vacation spots: Cape Cod and eastern Long Island in the Northeast, the North Woods of Minnesota and Wisconsin, and less frequently, the northern California coast and Oregon. Although 97% of cases continue to come from only nine states, 46 states in all have reported occurrences to the Centers for Disease Control during the past decade. In 1989, the last year for which statistics are available, the number of new cases reported was 8,552.

Aiming at the bullseye

Diverse symptoms and a variable course make Lyme disease difficult to recognize. The initial event, a tick bite, may not be noticed, in part because the tick itself is no bigger than the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Most patients don't recall being bitten or even seeing the culprit.

If symptoms appear, the best person to consult is one's personal physician, according to Raymond Dattwyler, an expert on Lyme disease and an associate professor of medicine at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Primary-care physicians are able to diagnose most Lyme infections and give appropriate treatment, and they are in the best position to make referrals, if need be, to reputable specialists in infectious disease or rheumatology.

The most reliable way for a physician to diagnose the illness is to evaluate the patient's physical symptoms andsigns in light of his or her risk of exposure. In 60-80% of cases, the disease announces itself with a so-called bullseye rash, or erythema migrans -- a rim of painless reddened skin expanding around a pale area centered on the site where the tick (by now long gone) originally attached itself. the ring of red must be at least two inches across to meet the standard criterion of erythema migrans. Such a ring can expand to reach 20 inches in diameter, and additional ones may subsequently appear inside it in a targetlike pattern. After a few days similar rashes may show up elsewhere on the body. Fever and flu-like symptoms are often present early in the illness.

Wanted: cats to be guinea pigs for birds

ONE THOUSAND cats are being sought to test a new hi-tech device aimed at saving Britain's birds. The British Trust for Ornithology, which is launching the appeal, believes the gadget can save many of the estimated 55-60 million birds and 300 million small mammals killed by cats each year.

The device, called CatAlert, comes in the form of a collar which emits an electronic bell-like sound. Cat owners are being asked to fill in questionnaires with details of what their cat caught when the collar was switched on - and what it caught when the device was deactivated.

Nigel Clark, of the BTO, said today: "The initial trial showed a significant reduction in bird kills - but we need to know how well the devices work at different times of year. In a way, the cats are acting as guinea pigs." It is estimated that 10 per cent of garden birds which die in Britain each year are killed by domestic cats.

Pine cones in pots deter digging cats

Dear Heloise: I have three furry "children" that meow instead of speak. Occasionally they want to dig in my houseplants.

I have come up with a way to deter this behavior. I collected sweet gum balls (spiky pods from the sweet gum tree -- H.) from my yard and put them on top of the dirt at the base of my plants.

No more digging, no one hurt, and the whole family is happy. -- CKS, via e-mail

That sounds like a winner, but for those who don't have sweet gum trees, use pine cones from the yard, or they can be found in most hobby stores. Cats hate the feeling of pine cones and will avoid them. Just lay them across the soil in the pot -- you can make them a couple of layers deep. They don't hurt the plant and should deter cats from digging. --Heloise

Dear Readers: Brenda Wagner of Boardman, Ohio, has a wonderful 7 1/ 2-year-old "special dog," Precious, who was born without front legs. It's sad to know that some people told Brenda to have the dog "put to sleep" -- it would have been a terrible thing to do. The photo shows Precious walking on her hind legs. Brenda says Precious taught herself to walk that way to get around, and she runs up steps, chases rabbits and is very happy and loving. --Heloise

P.S. Now this is a story with a happy ending!

Dear Heloise: I've always enjoyed watching the antics of squirrels in our yard, but they do chase away the birds. Since I also want to keep all the birds, I decided to get a feeder for the squirrels.

Squirrels love peanuts and seeds, and their favorite treat is corn. I found a terrific feeder in a large discount store that holds one corn cob. It is placed upright on a long nail and can be attached to the trunk of a tree or to a pole. I also hung a large, plastic potted-plant tray from a plant hanger and filled that with nuts and seeds, and put the two feeders away from the bird feeders.

It's a pleasure watching both the birds and our little clowns, the squirrels, enjoying their separate feeders. --Theresa A., Bulverde, Texas

Dear Heloise: My dear daughter had to find a way to keep the dog off of the furniture at night and while she was at work. She bought a clear-plastic carpet protector that has sharp points across it to keep it positioned in the carpeting.

She put the pointed side up on the furniture when she was away. The dog was trained within a few days and would not think of getting on the furniture.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Keeping your bird in fine feather - care of birds

I was once the doctor to aparakeet named Tweety that belonged to a chronically ill child. Tweety was a delightful, very vocal bird. He could repeat his owner's name and say hello, good-by, and many phrases. In fact, he was just the right companion for a little girl who often stayed home from school ill.

Birds have long been popularas pets, and in recent years the demand for exotic species has been rising. Veterinarins are even having to brush up on their bird care to meet the new demand.

Parakeets, or budgies, arestill the most popular and the least expensive of the parrot clan, followed by colorful lovebirds, cockatoos, and cockateels. The Amazon parrot, large and green, with a stout body and a square tail, is a favorite in pet shops, and so is the African grey, an excellent talker. Some people even find room in their homes for macaws, the largest of all parrots. Other commonly kept birds include the half-moon conure, the myna bird, the toucan, singing canaries, and various kinds of finches.

The unique ability of some birds tomimic speech has endeared them to human beings. Cockateels, Amazons, African greys, macaws, and mynas are the most facile talkers. The little parakeet can become an accomplished talker too, but I have known only a few with large vocabularies.

Talking birds do not really understandwhat they say. If their words seem to fit their actions (or yours), it is merely the result of conditioning. A bird is more likely to talk if removed early (at about six weeks) from other birds and raised solely in the presence of humans. In a relaxed environment, the young bird may attempt to imitate your repeated words or phrases. Of course, like the embarrassed parents of a toddler who repeats four-letter words, you may be creating your own monster.

To flourish and become ideal pets,birds must have a pleasant environment. Here, common sense should prevail. You should not set the birdcage directly in front of the air conditioner or in a cold, drafty area. Nor should you place a bird for too long in direct sunlight. (Birds need some sunlight as a source of vitamin D.sub.3., but too much exposure can cause heatstroke.) A moderate temperature and 40 to 50 percent humidity is appropriate for most birds. However, a healthy, well nourished bird can tolerate greater environmental extremes than a distressed or an ill bird.

Looking for lessons from loons: by studying the behavior of these elusive birds, scientists may also learn about the effects of mercury pollution on w

The drama on Lake Aziscohos in western Maine last July began with an eerie midnight duet. From a small boat, biologist David C. Evers played a recording of the cry of a common loon. From the darkness came an answering wail. One of Evers' helpers stabbed the darkness with a searchlight. There! The loon was caught in the beam, head feathers shimmering. Little did it know that it would soon help biologists probe both the mysteries of loon behavior and questions about pollution from a toxic metal, mercury.IP2,0

Jeff Fair, an independent loon biologist, steered towards the curious bird. Dazzled by the spotlight, the loon couldn't see the scientists. With the boat just 2 feet away, the bird dived for safety--right into a net. The athletic Evers lifted his subject onto the boat. Fair wrapped its head in a towel, and Evers attached leg bands, snipped a few feathers and stretched out one short, muscular leg so colleague Erin Harshberger of Tufts University could draw blood. The samples would later be tested for mercury. Then Evers weighed the loon and lowered it back into lake.

Until Evers developed a twist on this capture technique in 1989, for the most part adult loons had eluded biologists trying to capture live birds for up-close study. Sure, their shoreline nests are simple to observe. So too are the birds' courtship dances and water-splashing territorial fights between males. And the birds' helplessness on land has long been well known: Loons need a take-off run of as much as a quarter-mile across open water. Many a loon has mistaken a rain-slicked road for a lake, crash- landed and been unable to get into the air again.

But scientists still can't determine the age of an individual bird; it's even hard to tell two birds apart. "Loons are great 'liars,'" says biologist Fair, who has studied them for 18 years. More than once, he has been convinced that a pair of loons has given up on nesting for the year-- only to spot the birds weeks later with a couple of chicks. Or a chick may seem to disappear. "You put a zero down in your notebook and feel forlorn," says Fair. "Next day, you look across the lake in the morning mist, and there is the chick."

T-Birds earn respect of Cats

The Capital-Journal

Shawnee Heights may have lost last week, dropping a 28-12 home decision to state-ranked Lawrence-Free State.

But the T-Birds did enough right to get the attention of Hayden coach Tom Stringer heading into today's 7p.m. Centennial League contest at Hayden.

"They played them tough," Stringer said of the T-Birds, now 1-2 and 0-1 in the league. "They do some things well on offense and they can be aggressive on defense."

Heights forced seven fumbles, recovering four, and also intercepted a pass and blocked a punt against Free-State, which led just 7-6 at the start of the fourth quarter before scoring three touchdowns down the stretch.

T-Bird coach Frank Crosson would settle for a similar defensive effort tonight, but Crosson knows Heights will need to be better offensively against the Wildcats to have a legitimate chance to win.

Shawnee Heights managed just 149 yards of offense against Free State, including 33 rushing yards on 31 carries.

"We were pleased defensively because they continued to compete," Crosson said. "We gave up some yards and there's some concerns we have over there, but they forced turnovers, they hung in there and they made some plays.

"They gave us a lot of opportunities. We just need to do the same things offensively. We have to be a little more consistent on moving the ball, getting it in the red zone and then punching it in the end zone."

With several new players in the lineup this season, Crosson is not completely surprised by the T-Birds' inconsistency on offense.

"We have some real quality players, but they're spread pretty thin because a lot of them have to play both ways, and we're filling in with some p eople that just haven't had much experience."

Shawnee Heights senior quarterback Ryan Finan has passed for 340 yards, third in the city.

Jim Kilmartin has been a leader defensively, including blocking punts in back-to-back games.

While Heights will be aiming to snap a two-game losing streak tonight, Hayden comes into the contest on a two-game winning streak after losing its season-opener to Marysville.

"You know Hayden's going to be well-coached, No. 1," Crosson said. "They do what they do pretty dang well because the coaches know what they want to get accomplished.

"No. 2 they've got great tradition over there so the young kids coming up realize that they have big shoes to fill and they have to raise their level of play to meet that. "

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