Saturday, September 16, 2006
Sixty million abandoned cats run loose in America. That's the latest estimate of experts a pure guess, of course, but it still makes the point. Susan Fleming says about 10,000 roam the barrier island of Miami Beach. That's a guess, too. Fifty of these cats she calls hers. And even that is a rough calculation.
At this sultry sundown, just as every night, seven days a week, Fleming ventures out and feeds them. She waits for cover of darkness, because there is no guessing about this: Cats are causing big trouble in the land. Nature and the nature of cats are in collision. Cats are killing birds. Cats are killing small wild creatures of all kinds. Animal lovers find themselves disturbed and angry, and a world apart about what to do.
With so many million cats now roaming back yards, open lots, beaches and parks, no less of an organization than the Humane Society of the United States, a group born of pet owners, has now joined in the call: It's time to bring all cats indoors and keep them there. For the good of the cats and wildlife. Conservationists say hurry up, it's about time. Felines don't get a voice in the matter, but those who would speak for them say don't sacrifice cats, it's not their fault. As never before, Americans are being asked to alter their bond with the domestic cat. "OK, kids," Susan Fleming coos down an alleyway, clanging spoon against bowl. Cats bound over fences, drop down from trees, squeeze from underneath buildings, tails erect, eyes aglow, mouths watering. From a car that smells of sodden kibble, Fleming makes 13 dinner stops in just a few square blocks. Elsewhere in the back streets and parks, along the boardwalk and around the dunes, 100 or more people, mostly women, divide up the city. Stand back for a bigger view: Untold multitudes nationwide are out feeding cats. Extrapolating the density of Miami Beach's feeders to the entire nation, there could be 300,000 people like Fleming, digging into their pockets to pay for cat food, answering what she calls the "curse of compassion." Maybe the numbers are unimaginably greater. Estimates come up with as many as 17.5 million cat feeders. Whatever the real count, it is large enough to split America's animal lovers, because stray cats are predators and so are the millions of house cats allowed to roam free. They kill more than 1 billion small mammals and hundreds of millions of birds each year. That's the guess of scientists. After simmering for generations, the whole question of cats in America is boiling over. The humane society, the largest animal welfare organization in the country, anguished about the conflict for years. This fall, it joined with the American Bird Conservancy and assumed leadership in defining the proper place for cats in a crowded nation: The groups declared cats should be subject to municipal animal controls, or protections if you prefer, just the same as dogs. It's not responsible to let your cat roam, they said. After lagging behind dogs for most of the 20th century, cats have become our most popular and numerous pets, with 53 million of them in 34 million households. The humane society estimates 60 million roam the country without owners. Total cats: 113 million and surely increasing. Never before has such an important animal welfare group asked so much of its members: to rein in their house cats and, even more, to rid the nation of free-ranging felines. "It is," said society Vice President Wayne Pacelle, "one of the biggest challenges of the humane movement." It is also, he concedes, the most "radical notion" for pet owners since the campaign for spaying and neutering began in earnest in the 1950s. Even this hardly says enough. The people who own cats, and particularly those who accept responsibility for unowned cats cat people, as they sometimes are called can be righteous crusaders. Cats, after all, are innocent of everything except their nature. They are, like children, blameless. Cat people must protect them. Driving through Miami Beach, Susan Fleming is talking about her friends who help feed the homeless cats. "She's a nut," Fleming says of one. Yes, Fleming acknowledges that her cats kill birds, and this makes her uncomfortable. "I love all animals equally. And there's no doubt that a well-fed cat will continue to hunt. But what's the alternative? Do you want to kill all these animals, too?" Fleming has been feeding strays for 12 years, taking over from "two little old ladies who died." She is now middle-aged, and she hopes that someone "will take over for me when I can't go on." But she does not just feed cats. Fleming and her 100 friends call themselves SoBe Spay-Neuter Inc. In two years, they have sterilized 2,000 of South Beach's estimated 10,000 strays, notching each altered cat's ear to record it. Fleming says the result is a shrinking stray cat population in Miami Beach, an observation shared by city officials. Still, Fleming has no illusion about the colonies dying away even if she controls their reproduction. Others keep coming. People discard cats like rubbish. People share their houses and yards with cats for years and never truly claim them. People move away and leave the cats behind. If not for such people, cats by the long ton would go hungry, get sick, die. Or be killed. Los Angeles took in 25,609 cats last year. For lack of adoptive homes, 80%, or 20,375, were killed. Nationwide, the toll reaches millions.
Walk into one of Petco's 450 stores in the United States, and you're likely to spot merchandising ideas borrowed from retailers worldwide. That's no accident. Larry Asselin, Petco's senior vp of merchandising and distribution, told DSN that he combs the globe for new merchandising ideas, in addition to keeping close tabs on U.S. competitors both big and small.
'When I was in Europe, there was a hardware store where I found a triangular fixture that neatly holds the brochures and doesn't take up very much space,' Asselin said. 'We're using those same fixtures right now in some of our prototype stores.'
The San Diego-based Petco chain has transformed itself into a national player during the past few years, in part through innovative merchandising. Petco has acquired a number of regional chains, including the 81-store PetCare of Chicago, which operated stores in nine Midwestern and Southern states. The acquisitions have created new challenges as Petco tries to assimilate the new stores into its chain, but they also have created new merchandising opportunities.
'We've had an interesting challenge because we've gone through a growth mode that comes from our own [new] store growth, acquisitions and a [store] prototype that went from 3,000 sq. ft. to 15,000sq. ft.,' Asselin said. 'As a result, we have a lot of different formats in our stores, and the challenge is to properly work the assortment so we can focus on the right product mix while covering all the bases for all the different kinds of stores that we're either opening or have acquired.'
Technology plays an important role in Asselin's merchandising vision for the future and in keeping a handle on inventories as the chain grows and becomes more complex.
'To the extent that we can take advantage of systems, handle the assortment review process, cut out the dead wood and emphasize the products that are selling, then there's tremendous opportunity.
'Technology is moving so quickly, and our ability to understand how to take advantage of that is really going to be our strength for the future,' Asselin said. 'We're certainly very involved with data warehousing and working to develop sophisticated systems.'
Asselin said that part of Petco's approach to merchandising technology involves putting an. entirely new POS system in all of the stores, with hand-held merchandising and inventory control devices, to tightly manage inventory levels.
'In our business, and I suppose this is true of many businesses, the real key to in-stock is having an accurate perpetual,' Asselin said. 'If you receive it properly and sell it properly then you have an excellent opportunity to assure that it gets replenished. When the perpetual is off, then the product doesn't flow.'
Working closely with vendors is also part of Petco's future, Asselin said.
'We strongly believe in category management,' he said. 'We are heavily involved with the Pegman space management program to really understand how the profitability of the various categories develop.
'We pay a great deal of attention to profit within the various categories. Look at the gross margin returns on investment and go through an editing process, where typically through the course of the year we'll review the entire store category by category,' Asselin added. 'With the acquisitions, this has been a real challenge.'
Asselin, who graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in marketing, joined Petco in 1991 after four years as vp and gram at Oshman's Sporting Goods.
But Asselin's outlook on merchandising was largely shaped by the 18 years (from 1969 to 1987) that he spent working for the Foley's Department Stores division of Federated Department Stores.
'The department store training and background is ideal,' Asselin said. 'The things that Federated taught in those days really prepares you for retail applications.'
The $20 billion pet products and supplies industry is very broad and fragmented. Grocery stores, superstores and discount stores compete with thousands of local and regional pet stores, as well as with Petco and its main rival PetsMart.
It was Asselin's experience in sporting goods retailing, a market segment that is as fragmented as pet supplies, that helped prepare him for his position at Petco.
'I was involved in the opening of Oshman's first two superstores,' Asselin said. 'From that I learned how strong a dominate assortment presentation could be.
'Our future stores will be around 15,000 sq. ft. [of selling space] and will certainly have a dominate assortment,' Asselin said. 'We have the flexibility with the type of assortment we put in to opportunistically look for real estate and where we can find sites that are conveniently located to the demographics.'
Petco's current prototypical format is in the 15,000-sq.-ft. to 17,000-sq.-ft. range with an assortment that includes approximately 11,000 active skus. The assortment will vary by the size and location of the store.
'This format gives us room to put our full assortment in and gives us room to add new elements as they come on line, but it's not so large that it's intimidating to the customer, and it doesn't have a warehousey kind of feel,' Asselin said. 'One of our strengths is that we've been able to locate our stores conveniently in neighborhoods, shopping centers next to Blockbuster Video, next to Barnes & Noble, next to a grocery store where people are shopping frequently as opposed to a destination where they have to drive a long way.'
Parasites are frequently associated with odd host behaviors such as unusual levels of activity, increased conspicuousness, disorientation, and altered responses to stimuli (Holmes and Bethel 1972). For the many life cycles where transmission depends on predation, it is often suggested that parasites alter host behavior and increase the susceptibility of intermediate hosts to predation by final hosts (e.g., Rothschild 1962, Holmes and Bethel 1972). Three main lines of evidence currently support the hypothesis that behavior modification is a parasite strategy evolved to increase transmission: hosts infected by transmissible stages of parasites often behave differently (Holmes and Bethel 1972, Dobson 1988, Curio 1988, Moore and Gotelli 1990 and Poulin 1994a discuss several examples); are eaten more readily by predators in the laboratory than are unparasitized hosts (Holmes and Bethel 1972, Kennedy et al. 1978, Camp and Huizinga 1979, Brassard et al. 1982, Moore 1983, Helluy 1984, Webber et al. 1987, Poulin et al. 1992); and are taken more frequently by predators than expected in the wild (VanDobben 1952, Feare 1971, Rau and Caron 1979, Moore 1983, Hoogenboom and Dijkstra 1987). As a whole, this evidence is quite convincing and, because the ingestion of larval parasites during predation is a frequent occurrence, helps us to better understand foraging dynamics and food webs.
Several studies have used a combination of approaches, helping to expand the base of evidence used to support the behavior modification hypothesis. For example, Moore (1983) found that terrestrial isopods infected with a larval acanthocephalan were more active and spent more time in dry areas, on contrasting backgrounds, and away from shelter than did unparasitized isopods. In aviary predation trials, 59% of isopods eaten by Starlings were parasitized, compared with an initial 47% prevalence of infection among the isopods available in the cage (Margolis et al.  define "prevalence" as the proportion of hosts in a sample that are parasitized). There was indirect evidence that transmission was not random in nature because the prevalence of adult acanthocephalans in wild Starling nestlings (13%) was higher than expected, given the rates at which parents fed isopods to their young multiplied over the age of nestlings and the very low prevalence of parasitized isopods nearby (0.2%).
Although the link between conspicuous behaviors induced by parasites and increased parasite transmission is logical and well supported, Moore and Gotelli (1990) discuss alternative explanations. Pathology can affect host behavior in ways that do not necessarily increase transmission. For example, hosts may alter their behaviors to help rid themselves of parasites (Hart 1990) or compensate for metabolic drains of parasitism (Milinski 1985). Thus, it is important to also assess how predation risk varies with parasitism. From studies of predator gut contents, it might appear that parasites make prey more susceptible to predation if predators prefer larger, older prey that have had a longer time to accumulate parasites. Also, if the dispersal of hosts and parasites is limited, areas where predators abound will have higher rates of parasite transmission to nearby prey, leading to more parasitized prey in the predator's diet compared with the prevalence of parasitism seen in the prey population on a broader spatial scale. Another potential limitation of gut-content studies is the difficulty of accurately determining the prevalence of the parasite in the prey population. As an example, the relatively high proportion of Sarcocystis-infected voles in the diet of Kestrels could reflect either increased predation or decreased trapping success for parasitized voles (Hoogenboom and Dijkstra 1987).
In combination with evaluations of host behavior, predation experiments can best test the link between behavior and increased transmission (Bethel and Holmes 1977). Unfortunately, results from laboratory predation experiments may only allow limited inference about events in nature. Although field experiments with natural final hosts can effectively determine whether behavior modification increases parasite transmission in the wild, few have been conducted. A notable exception is the work by Aeby (1991, 1992). Aeby found coral polyps (Porites spp.) become distended following infection with metacercariae (Plagioporous sp.), causing colonies to suffer reduced growth. The metacercariae appear as bright pink nodules and hinder the ability of parasitized polyps to retract into the calyx. Using manipulative field and laboratory experiments, Aeby demonstrated that butterfly fish, the appropriate definitive host, forage more frequently on parasitized coral polyps. Ironically, due to the regenerative capabilities of the colony, parasitized corals did better in treatments that allowed butterfly fish to feed on them, suggesting that the parasite-induced alteration of the parasitized polyp is beneficial to the coral, the trematode, and, perhaps, the fish.
Thursday, September 14, 2006
The monkeypox outbreak illustrates a growing problem: Exotic animals give exotic diseases to people who get too close, a trend some medical specialists call a serious public health threat.
Such diseases can become a threat not just to the people who buy and sell exotic pets, but to the general public if they spread to native animals.
"This is a harbinger of things to come," warns Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota, who advises the government on infectious disease.
"There are some of us who feel like lone voices in the night" in calling for better scrutiny, says Peter Jahrling, a scientist at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute.
Monkeypox, a relative of smallpox usually found in tropical African forests, apparently jumped from an imported Gambian giant rat into prairie dogs when both species were being housed together by an exotic pet distributor in Villa Park. The outbreak marks the first time monkeypox has been detected in the Western hemisphere.
SARS, the respiratory epidemic, is similarly thought to have come from civet cats bred as an exotic meat in Chinese markets where bats, snakes, badgers and other animals live in side-by-side cages until they become someone's dinner.
Then, there's salmonella, which iguanas and other reptiles, as well as birds, routinely shed in their feces. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention counts a stunning 90,000 people a year believed to have caught salmonella from some form of contact with a reptile, either touching it or touching a surface where the reptile had tracked the bacteria.
A common scenario, Osterholm says: Parents wash the reptile cage in a bathtub or sink their child uses, and the child gets sick. Salmonella can be life-threatening in children.
There are no good counts of how many exotic animals are sold, but they're immensely popular, says Richard Farinato, director of the Humane Society of America's captive wildlife program. About 800,000 iguanas alone are imported for the pet trade.
There is little federal scrutiny of most imported animals for potential human health risk, and rules on owning and selling exotic animals vary by state and city.
"We have a policy that says don't buy these kinds of animals as pets," Farinato says. The monkeypox outbreak "is one example of why."
Pest prevention is all the more important when you consider the problems caused by fleas, ticks and mosquitoes. Besides the obvious irritation of itching, fleas can cause flea-bite anemia and tapeworm infestations. Ticks can spread Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever to pets and people, and mosquitoes can transmit West Nile Virus to pets and people and heartworm disease to pets.
Fleas, in particular, can lie in wait for extended periods before emerging in warmer weather to feast on your unsuspecting pet. Fortunately, the less habitable you make the environment, the fewer fleas you'll have on your pet and in your home. A successful flea-control program targets all stages of the flea life cycle - from eggs to larvae to pupae and adult fleas.
Dr. Albert Ahn, Vice President of Veterinary Operations at The Hartz Mountain Corporation, has these tips to prevent infestations.
--Vacuum your floors, rugs and furniture surfaces frequently - every other day, if possible.
--After vacuuming, place the vacuum bag in a large plastic garbage bag and discard outdoors.
--Wash pet bedding and furniture coverings every week.
--Consider using powders and sprays, such as Hartz(R) ADVANCED CARE(TM) 3 in 1(TM) Carpet Powder and Hartz(R) ADVANCED CARE(TM) 3 in 1(TM) Home Spray that kill fleas, ticks and flea eggs and other pests that live and breed in carpets, rugs, upholstery and pet bedding.
To fight these pests outdoors:
--Mow your grass frequently.
--Remove weeds, brush and other ground cover from your property.
--Remove piles of leaves, sand or gravel.
--Make sure there are no pools of stagnant water, such as collects in buckets, wheel barrows or other containers.
--Keep your dog out of tick areas as much as possible and check him/her daily for ticks.
--Consider using outdoor flea and tick repellents or residual insecticides.
One of the most effective ways to protect your pet from pests is to use a topical flea and tick product. These products typically are applied to the animal's skin once a month. For the maximum benefit, it is important to begin using them at the beginning of flea and tick season - before your pet shows any signs of infestation.
When choosing a topical product, look for one that provides complete topical protection, such as Hartz(R) ADVANCED CARE(R) 4 in 1(R) Flea & Tick Drops Plus+, which kills fleas, ticks mosquitoes and flea eggs and larvae. Killing flea eggs and larvae is critical to breaking the flea life-cycle.
Before applying any flea and tick medication on your pet, be sure to read all label instructions and follow them exactly. Consult your veterinarian before using the medication on sick, aged or debilitated animals and before using flea and tick treatments in combination with other medications, and never use a product for dogs on a cat and vice versa.
Bird feeders shouldn't be cat snack bars
By RANDY COHEN New York Times Syndicate
Sunday, July 13, 2003
Q. Our backyard bird feeders predate our cat, who has turned into quite a hunter. Is it inhumane to fill a bird feeder when the possibility of attack exists?
A. It is inhumane to use a feeder as a snack bar for cats, luring songbirds to their doom. Indeed, those firebrands at the National Audubon Society assert that if you use a feeder, you must never let your cat outside.
John Bianchi, a spokesman for the group, notes that cats kill millions of birds every year and says that there's nothing natural about it: "Domestic cats are not wild animals," he says. "They were bred to hunt and kill even when they are not hungry, to protect granaries."
The National Audubon Society advocates that cats always be kept indoors, even if you have no feeder -- not just to protect birds but for the cats' own good.
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds in England takes a more moderate line. A spokeswoman, Sarah Niemann, suggests feeders should be positioned so that a cat cannot lie in wait, unseen by the birds, and cats should sometimes be kept indoors -- "when the birds are most vulnerable, at least an hour before sunset and an hour after sunrise."
The society's call for peaceful coexistence is reasonable.
Q. I don't check my supermarket coupons to see which are past the expiration date. The store's "official" policy is to decline expired coupons, but, as I've observed, the checker can manually override the "blip" that sounds when she scans an expired coupon, thus giving me credit for it. This leads me to conclude that the "policy" is left to the discretion of the checker.
Is it unethical for me to knowingly present an expired coupon to the checker, in effect asking that it be honored anyway?
A. A glib bit of rationalizing, and thrifty, too. And I like your notion that this bit of checkout sloppiness represents something as grand as a policy.
It is as unethical to knowingly present an expired coupon as it would be to pass counterfeit money.
Here's how you ask if an expired coupon can be honored: You ask. Out loud.
How diligently you must scrutinize those expiration dates is open to debate, but if your intention here is deceptive, your conduct is unethical.
"Starting to sell them in markets again seems to be looking for trouble," Henry Niman, a Harvard University professor who has tracked SARS since its earliest days, said Friday.
The ban, first imposed at the end of April, prohibited the hunting, transport, sale and purchase of most wild animals. It was one of the many sweeping measures China imposed to curb the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, which first appeared in the southern province of Guangdong in November before hopscotching around the globe and infecting thousands.
This week's decision, issued by China's Forestry Administration, lifted the prohibition on sale and purchase of 54 types of wildlife - - including civet cats, which have been identified as carriers of the SARS virus -- as long as they are farm-raised.
"Wildlife breeding and trading is a healthy industry as long as we follow scientific technologies and strict administration," a forestry spokesman who would give only his surname, Li, said Friday.
More than 800 people around the world died of SARS, most of them in Asia, before it subsided in June. In mainland China, more than 5,300 people were sickened and 349 died of the disease, with more than half of those in the capital, Beijing, the hardest-hit city in the world.
Medical investigators believe the virus jumped from animals to humans and could still be rampant among wildlife populations. Researchers have warned the disease could re-emerge when cold weather returns.
In May, the SARS virus was found in civets, mammals resembling large weasels with long, catlike bodies and a large tail. They are considered a delicacy in China, and their meat is prized.
enough to fetch about $5 a pound -- a princely sum in a country where the average urban worker makes only about $700 a year.
Researchers have said that while fully cooked civet meat is probably safe, people could become infected while handling the animals during breeding, slaughter or preparation.
Many Chinese claim wildlife dishes boost virility and strengthen immunity to disease. Consuming those recipes has become a deep- rooted tradition in the south, a place brimming with live-animal markets and communities where people live in close quarters with animals.
"The ban affected our business in a big way," said Liu Peizheng, manager of Big Buddha Mouth restaurant in Guangzhou, whose bill of fare includes snakes, birds and boar. "We haven't sold wild animals since the ban was lifted. We're waiting for other restaurants to sell them before we follow suit."
Dr. Alan Schnur, a World Health Organization official in Beijing, said he believed the prohibition was lifted because of demand.
"There are economic considerations," Schnur said. "Locals like to eat these animals."
An official at the Guangdong Provincial Forestry Bureau said the lifting of the ban "is huge good news for breeding farms and the whole industry."
"Wildlife breeding and trading is a traditional industry here," said the official, who refused to give his name.
He said the ban had adversely impacted breeding farmers and traders, who were forced to eliminate such exotic wares as civets, bats, badgers and anteater-like pangolins, stocking ducks and rabbits instead.
Harvard's Niman said authorities must establish a monitoring system to ensure the animals go back to the marketplace disease- free.
"I think it's pretty much a wild card," Niman said in a telephone interview. "The virus that causes SARS is capable of living in humans, civet cats and raccoon dogs. That's quite a range of animals."
A team of 14 experts from China's health and science ministries, the World Health Organization and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization are in Guangdong to study links between SARS and animals. In coming days, they will visit markets, restaurants, a pig farm and a wildlife farm.
Schnur said more research is needed to determine the origin and transmission path of the virus to justify a ban.
"So far, the evidence is not there," he said.
"There's a whole range of areas to look into, such as which animal could be a reservoir for the SARS virus, in what way it's harboring the virus and what the potential transmission is," Schnur said. "It's very much work in progress."
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
PEOPLE adopting a dog often ask "Is he good with cats?" Despite the images we see in cartoons, dogs and cats aren't necessarily natural enemies.
Some dogs get along with cats, some don't. The best indicator is history; in other words, whether a dog has successfully lived with a cat in the past. That information isn't always available, however, so the next best option is to "audition" the dog with a cat.
When you conduct the audition, keep the dog on a leash so he won't flat-out chase the cat. Watch how the dog reacts.
Good signs include cautious interest, tail wagging and respect -- backing off if the cat sends defensive signals. Bad signs include instant attempts to chase the cat, extreme pulling on the leash, whining, barking or general agitation.
If a dog exhibits overt aggression -- lunging, snarling and growling -- he's clearly not a good candidate to live with a cat.
If a dog has a strong prey drive, his chances of getting along with a cat are iffy. Predatory types -- dogs who tend to chase squirrels and birds, for example -- are much more stressful for cats. They have to be constantly managed and supervised in the presence of a cat, because their instinct is to chase anything small and furry.
Some dogs can be trained to redirect their predatory drive, but it's a difficult process. Try to give your dog an outlet for his chase behavior by regular exercise with a ball or Frisbee.
A dog who is a gentle, relaxed, friendly, non-predatory type is the best prospect for developing a successful relationship with a cat. The success of the relationship will also depend on the temperament of your cat. Relaxed, laid-back cats and kittens are most likely to accept a dog. They're also less apt to flee and trigger chasing. Shy, skittish and declawed cats are not as likely to live happily with a canine companion.
Here are some pointers to help smooth the introduction of a dog and resident cat:
Have a "safe room" and high places where the cat can get away from the dog. It's important for the cat to have a place where she can retreat from the dog to regroup and relax. Never force the cat to get near the dog by holding her, caging her or otherwise restricting her desire to escape.
Start introductions with the dog on a leash. Use your best judgment to decide when the dog and cat can begin supervised interaction with the dog off leash.
If the dog is being friendly or cautious, don't intervene except to praise and reward the dog for his good behavior.
It's important to be patient and to encourage appropriate interactions. Always praise friendly behavior profusely. And remember, if you're relaxed the dog and cat will be more at ease.
Interrupt intense chasing and try to redirect the dog's attention to another activity. You may have to manage the dog on leash for a while, until you have worked out a routine or divided up the house.
It may take eight to 10 weeks for the dog and cat to adjust to each other. Remember to keep them separated when you're not at home.
Finally, give the cat plenty of extra attention, so she doesn't associate the dog's arrival with less affection for her.
Sir: Some blame crows and magpies (Mike Donovan, letters, 29 August) and others will blame domestic cats, squirrels or birds of prey for the decline in bird populations. But without a place for birds to feed or breed these are distractions.
Careful observation of local Devon hedges and management of our own makes it clear to me that thoughtless hedge cutting is a major factor in bird decline.
Many hedges are cut far too early in July or August before finches have fledged or too late in March when thrushes are already sitting. They are cut too often to allow fruiting plants to provide food or for foliage to provide secluded nesting sites. This forces the use of exposed sites which are open to predation.
The constraints imposed by cropping patterns and the need to keep roadside hedges pared back still leave countless miles which, with sensitive management including cutting in mid or late winter and in alternate years, can provide abundant habitat and food.
Seven years ago, I went to a farmer and brought home two kittens, not only for their companionship, but for their predatory prowess to take care of the rampant rodent population in our backyard. That first year while they were yet only half-grown, they cleaned up our spacious, heavily-planted backyard, not only of rodents, but several birds. I was convinced of their prowess as "killing machines."
After another year, my calico decided to roam the countryside, and I had evidence that she was traveling as much as 3 miles away. I learned that she had narrowly missed death and injury a few times out in the wilds. I love my cats and their companionship, so I made them indoor cats when spring came. Of course, they expressed their displeasure, but they learned the meaning of my "no" and gradually adjusted to the territories of the house, their toys and playtime with me and with each other.
Once they were rid of all the parasitic critters that cats get outside, there was no more expense for that. They are happy, well-adjusted, very healthy indoor cats.
Tuesday, September 12, 2006
In the Aug. 9 Journal Sentinel, the article "Feline Felons" debated the impact outdoor cats have on wildlife. The article mentioned, but failed to stress, that keeping your cat inside is not only the best way to protect neighborhood birds, but is also the best way to keep your cat healthy.
Cats allowed to roam outdoors have a life expectancy of 3 to 5 years compared to 15 year for the average house cat. Numerous risks await outdoor cats. They are exposed to disease and parasites, and are frequently the victims of car accidents, fights with other animals and abuse.
The Wisconsin Humane Society sees firsthand the toll a life on the streets takes on cats. We receive dozens of homeless, abused cats each year.
Just this spring, in the span of one month, we rescued two cats with rubber bands tied around their legs. These acts of cruelty caused serious injury to both cats. Thanks to timely medical attention provided by the Humane Society veterinary staff, we were able to save the life of one cat. Sadly, the other cat's injuries were so severe that putting her to sleep was the only humane alternative. For many years, the Humane Society has stressed through seminars and outreach efforts the dangers outdoor cats face. Keeping your cat indoors isn't just for the birds; it will help ensure your feline friend leads a long, healthy and happy life.
Once it was regarded as a scientific hoax--now it's merely an "honorary mam- mal"
On a windless night with no moon, I wait patiently in a mossy recess of one of the wildest places I have ever known--the primal forest of New Zealand. The silence is deafening, the darkness total. My senses are so acutely sharpened I can hear my own heartbeat.
Suddenly, an electrifying shriek tears apart the stillness: Like a steel blade stabbing the night air, a territorial call rips from the forested ridge just beyond me. Half scream, half whistle, repeated over and over again, the stri- dent notes rise with intense conviction--questioning, asserting, proclaiming. "Cruuuik, cruuuik, cruuuik!"
I hold my breath, feeling the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. Within seconds, an answering volley erupts no more than 15 meters (50 ft.) away from me in the inky darkness. These calls are equally forceful but infinitely har- sher, a combination growl and scream sounding remotely like the creaking of a very old, very rusty, very loud barn door.
Just as abruptly, silence returns to this forest that has remained virtually unchanged for 70 million years, and I am left to marvel at my good luck. I am at last in the company of one of the world's most bizarre, most secretive and most well-loved birds, and I have just witnessed a female respond to her lifelong mate. My quarry is the New Zealand kiwi, arguably the most un-birdlike bird that ever existed.
So strange is the kiwi that it was once regarded as a scientific hoax. More recently, it has been termed an "honorary mammal." For a start, the kiwi is completely tailless and flightless, not even able to flap the stubs of remnant wings for balance. Long, catlike whiskers accompany shaggy, hairlike feathers. Sturdy, muscular legs--a third of the bird's body weight--enable it to lope through the forest. Like some rodents, it is nocturnal. Like a badger, it lives in burrows.
Most amazing of all are the bird's senses. The kiwi has traded the keenness of avian eyesight for acute non-avian senses like hearing and smell. Its ears are so well developed they can be seen easily through furlike head feathers. And its sensitive "nose" can sniff out food as acutely as can any dog.
The kiwi's extraordinary beak--which is incredibly long and thin and, in con- trast to all other birds, has nostrils near the very tip--is a combination scent detector, probe and forceps. A kiwi can thrust this 18-centimeter-long (7 in.) device completely underground to sniff out earthworms, its favorite food. Or it may lift it into the air to detect smells wafting on the wind. This unorthodox tool allows the kiwi to snuffle along the forest floor like a hedgehog and probe the ground for invertebrates like an anteater.
Equally unusual is the way kiwis breed. The female is up to 30 percent heavier than her mate and produces one of the largest eggs in relation to body size of any bird, up to 20 percent of her own weight. A chicken of the same size lays eggs less than one-sixth as large as the kiwi's. This giant kiwi egg consists of nearly two-thirds yolk, an incredible energy investment.
Not surprisingly a wild female kiwi lays only one or two eggs a clutch, which she may leave entirely to her mate for an incredible 70--to 80-day incubation. When a chick finally hatches, it is already fully feathered and resembles a miniature chip off the parental block. At the age of two weeks, it will wander off into the forest alone, a fully autonomous mini-kiwi.
All these thoughts flood my mind as tonight I try to imagine this pair on independent foot patrols of a shared territory, which in some cases may be as large as 40 hectares (100 acres). Where did kiwis come from and how did they come by such a mammalian lifestyle?
The story, I realize, goes back some 70 or 80 million years to the time of the break-up of the super-continent Gondwana, when what was to become New Zealand first split away from the rest of the world's land masses. At that time, mam- mals were still an evolutionary minority, and birds reigned. On an island which to this day has never known native land mammals except bats, it would be only natural that a bird like the kiwi would come to be.
Kiwis appear to be distantly related to the rest of the flightless ratite fam- ily, like ostriches in Africa and emus and cassowaries in Australia and New Guinea, although they are by far the smallest of the tribe. There are actually as many as six different forms of the bird, divided into four main types: the brown kiwi, the tokoeka, the great spotted kiwi and the little spotted kiwi. These range in size from a small bantam hen to a Rhode Island Red, two-and a half times bigger.
First there was Misty, the wandering cat who tormented Briargate. Then Cocoa, the cat who divided neighbors in Vista Mesa.
Now there's Tez, a lovable, big black cat upsetting people in University Park, near Union and Academy boulevards.
This is a cat tale with a twist.
Tez named for an Aztec rain god isn't tormenting neighbors by stalking birds at feeders, using flower beds for a toilet, biting kids or other common problem cat behavior.
Seems Kathleen Taylor, 73, just doesn't approve of the way Nicholas and Kari Lezama are raising Tez.
"They keep him in the garage," Taylor said. "Then they let him out and he shows up at my door, cold and crying."
The Lezamas say Tez is a happy, 10-year-old cat that has enjoyed life out-ofdoors. He simply can't come inside because one of the Lezama's children is allergic to cats.
"He sleeps in our insulated, warm garage," Nicholas Lezama said. "We keep the door cracked so he can come and go during the day. Everything was fine until our neighbor started feeding him."
Taylor said she met Tez on Halloween, a bitterly cold night. "This large, very beautiful black cat was at my door, crying and shivering," she said.
Tez had lost his collar so Taylor let him in her garage and fed him. "I was worried about him in there cold and alone so I went in during the night," she said. "He came over and I petted him and he just purred and purred."
Taylor would have liked to have kept Tez, but she lives with her daughter and her family and they have two cats. She turned Tez over to the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak region and went door-to-door looking for his owner.
She found the Lezamas, who retrieved Tez from the pound.
"I got him a new collar that identifies him as an outdoor cat," Kari Lezama said. She told Taylor to leave Tez outside and he'd be fine.
But Tez kept returning, and Taylor kept opening the door.
The Lezamas say Tez goes back because Taylor keeps a full bowl of cat food outside to feed a wild Persian living nearby.
"Of course he goes back there," Kari Lezama said. "She feeds him. And she sits there and pets him and takes him inside.
"I can't believe this woman takes my cat into her house instead of letting him alone outside."
Taylor said Tez seeks affection, not food. "He wants to be loved," she said. "He wants to be petted. He needs to be indoors."
She rejects the Lezamas' opinion that Tez is content. "I was raised on a farm and a cat is not livestock that lives outdoors," Taylor said. "As a cat gets older, it prefers a different kind of life.
"How would you like to live in a garage?"
She has threatened to keep turning Tez in to animal control as a stray if the Lezamas don't do something.
Tez hasn't always roamed neighborhoods, Nicholas Lezama said. Before the family moved to Colorado Springs a year ago, the cat stayed in a large, fenced back yard.
But University Park rules don't permit privacy fences, Lezama said. So Tez is allowed to roam something Lezama concedes also violates the rules.
The Lezamas are growing more upset each day by the frequent calls from Taylor regarding the cat.
"She is a nice, sweet little old lady who wants to feed every animal in the neighborhood," Nicholas Lezama said. "She has a kind heart.
"But I'm getting really frustrated. She needs to stop feeding the cat."
Others say the Lezamas could keep Tez happy and confined if they simply invest in a cat cage.
Carmen Gaudreau of All Creatures Feed and Pet Supply on South Eighth Street said large cages are growing in popularity for indoor and outdoor cats.
"Cats are a den animal by nature," Gaudreau said. "Cat cages reproduce their natural living conditions in the wild."
The cages also protect furniture and carpet while their owners are away.
They even work outdoors, said Hannah Polmer, owner of three cats in the Broadmoor area.
"I had a cat pen built for my three cats," she said. "It's wood and chicken wire. They can be long and narrow and attached to your garage. Or climb the side of your house so the cat can go in and out a window.
"Most of our cat problems," Polmer said, "could be solved if people just built these pens."
Monday, September 11, 2006
Tied for last place in the Big Sky Conference when Saturday's game with Sacramento State began, the Wildcats were desperate for a win. And thanks to 15 points from John Hamilton and 13 points and 11 rebounds from Lance Allred, the 'Cats knocked off the Hornets 65-54.
At times, WSU's offense was inefficient and stagnant, bringing out the boo birds in Weber's own building. But in the end, it was just enough to give the Wildcats (9-9 overall) their second league win against three losses.
"Obviously we came out with more energy and purpose than we did (in Thursday's loss to Northern Arizona)," said Weber State coach Joe Cravens, who was still visibly irritated with his team's effort against NAU. "That's why we won tonight, because we played hard. For the life of me, I can't understand why, at this point of the season, with as many veterans as we have, why we wouldn't do that every night."
Slobodan Ocokoljic added 13 points and six rebounds for the Wildcats, while center Pat Danley came off the bench to add 10 points and six more boards.
The 'Cats held a three-point advantage at halftime, but Sac State came on strong early in the second half to build a three-point lead of its own.
However, Hamilton became much more aggressive than usual and scored 10 of WSU's next 14 points to give the Wildcats a lead they would never relinquish.
"Yeah, that's what he's supposed to do as a senior and a three- year starter," Cravens growled.
The Wildcats head out on the road next week with games at Portland State and Eastern Washington.
Gus's guide to bird feeding - an illustrated instructive article on choosing a bird feeder, bird seed food, and advice on placement - contains related
Which kind of bird feeder is the best?
There is no such thing as the best feeder. Certain feeders are best for certain types of birds. Use one that's convenient for you--as well as the birds. Here are some types of feeders you can use:
Hanging around: We goldfinches and our relatives the house finches cling to tree branches and flower stems while we eat. So we're right at home grabbing some chow at tube feeders. They're the clear plastic tube-shaped ones with little perches sticking out. Chickadees, grosbeaks, and titmice also like to hang out at these feeders.
Feet on the ground: Sparrows, juncos, doves, and quails aren't crazy about clinging to tiny perches. They prefer to eat with two feet planted on solid soil. So you don't really need a feeder to give these birds a treat--just scatter a handful of seeds on the ground.
If that seems too messy, you can use a tray feeder. It has holes in the bottom so water drains out. Cardinals, jays, and many other birds will come to this kind of feeder too.
Hop to it: A feeder with a roof and sides is called a hopper feeder. It holds a lot of seeds, so you don't have to fill it so often, and the roof keeps the seeds dry.
One for the window: You might want to put up a window feeder that sticks on with suction cups or is attached to a windowsill. Then you'll get a really close-up view!
Is there anything else to look for when choosing a feeder?
Yes, look for a feeder that's sturdy and easy to fill with seeds. Ask the salesperson to help you make sure there are no places where a bird could squeeze inside and get trapped. You should be able to open the feeder easily and reach inside to scrub it clean.
Where's the best place to put a tube feeder?
Some choices: You can hang a tube feeder from a strong tree branch or attach it to a pole stuck in the ground. Another idea is to run a wire between two trees (or your house and a tree) and hang the feeder from the wire. Ask a grownup for help with this one.
Close to plants: You want us to EAT dinner, not BE dinner. So, put your feeder near (but not right next to) a "hideout" such as a bush or evergreen tree. Then we can flit to safety if a bird-eating hawk comes by.
In plain view: Don't miss the action--put your feeder where YOU can see it. Do you have a window near a table where you eat? Maybe you can put a feeder out- side that window. Then you can have breakfast with the birds!
Easy to reach: Put your feeder where you can reach it. You'll be filling it regularly, so make your job easy.
How about food--what's best?
We need seeds! Most of us backyard songbirds eat seeds we find in the wild: grass seeds, weed and flower seeds, and even tree seeds. So seeds are what you should offer us.
Here's an important tip: Don't waste your money on those bags of mixed seeds you see at the supermarket. Yeah, mixes might look like something birds would find tasty. Trouble is, we birds dig through a mix, looking for favorite tid- bits. (Reminds me of kids digging for favorites in a can of mixed nuts.) So lots of the seeds end up spilled on the ground and wasted.
It's best to offer just one kind of seed in each feeder. To attract many dif- ferent birds, hang several feeders, each with a different kind of seed. You can buy the seeds listed here at a garden shop or a feed store.
Start with sunflower seeds: Black-oil sunflower seeds are a good all-around choice. Many stores sell them, and many birds think they're delicious. The seeds are easy to crack open, and they're good for us.
Other favorites: Finches, sparrows, blackbirds, and doves go for millet (a tiny, round, white seed). Cardinals like flat, gray safflower seeds. Cracked corn and peanuts (whole, shelled, or peanut "hearts") are other good foods for backyard birds.
Small, reddish seeds called milo are often the ones tossed away by birds when they find them in mixes. But jays and doves in the southwestern states really go for them.
You want to know what my favorite food is? Thistle seeds. You'll need a spe- cial feeder with extra-small feeding holes if you want to put these tiny seeds out for us goldfinches.
Grow some yourself:
Here's a do-it-yourself idea for next spring. Plant some sunflower seeds in the ground. When the flowers grow and the seeds ripen, the big plants will be natural bird feeders.
What about insect-eaters?
Woodpeckers, nuthatches, and chickadees eat bugs all year round. But insect-eaters like to eat suet too. That's the hard, white fat found on some meat. You can get it at supermarket meat departments. It also comes in pack- ages at garden shops and feed stores.
Don't some birds like to eat fruit?
Yes, and if you live in the South in a place where birds gather in winter, you might have lots of fruit-eaters around. Some fruit-eaters, such as mocking- birds, stick around the northern states too. Here's an easy way to give them a treat:
Soak some raisins in warm water till they're soft. Drain off the water, place the treats in a flat pan, and serve.
Controversial Colville-area dog shelter operator Joyce Tasker plans to open a new $3,000 cat enclosure on Halloween, before moving on to birds and then chimpanzees.
"Next spring we're going to put in a bird enclosure and then, next summer, we're going to put in a chimpanzee enclosure - and then we're done," Tasker said.
Tasker, 60, began taking in cats last year while under a court order to have no dogs in the Dogpatch shelter she runs in her home in a suburban-style, four-unit subdivision a dozen miles southwest of Colville. She remained in the cat business after a judge ruled this year that her newly sound-baffled shelter no longer is a nuisance. A private foundation donated $3,000 to build permanent quarters for 15 to 20 cats, and Tasker said the new berths are already booked by a group of homeless purebred cats. She said an enclosure for injured birds will be relatively cheap and easy to build, but her proposed shelter for two chimpanzees will require more effort. Tasker believes her sociable dogs can help rehabilitate traumatized chimpanzees who are retired from research projects. "I'm hoping, too, that it will bring more people in to see Dogpatch because they want to see the chimpanzees," she said. Tasker and her next-door neighbors have engaged in years of court battles over whether her animal shelter is a public service or a private nuisance. The confrontations erupted this year in physical violence and gunfire, and the parties were featured last month in a national television special called "Neighbors from Hell."
Subscribe to Posts [Atom]