Dear Miss Behavior: How Can I Get My Dog to Control His Tail?

Dear Miss Behavior, Our 90 lb. black lab is a gentle soul who loves children. Unfortunately his tail is wicked and can
knock them off their feet. It’s also very good at clearing off the coffee table. How can we get him to control his tail?

missbehavior

Oh my, that’s a tough one! That’s one of the reasons most of my friends are Aussies! Since I doubt you want to dock his tail, here’s some information about why dogs wag their tail and what we can do about it.

Dogs wag their tails when they’re happy, undecided, or angry. The position of the tail and the way the dog wags it tells a lot about their mood. I’m sure that Ebony’s tail is held in a natural position and wags freely, a case of the tail wagging the dog even. I’m also guessing that when he clears the coffee table it’s because he’s greeting people sitting on the couch?

Unfortunately we can’t control Ebony’s tail, and we don’t want to discourage his friendliness, but we can control his butt. Teach him to do a sit-stay when greeting people!

Use family members and friends to train your dog at first, then move on to strangers on the street, etc. Just ask Ebony to sit and stay while the helper pets them. If he breaks, the helper will back off and you will put him back into a sit-stay. This is a behavior to work on with all people who meet him. Be sure to let the helper (and any new person) know they can’t pet Ebony until he’s in a sit-stay.

marcygraybillAfter Marcy adopted her first dog in 1988, she began to research about dog care. Research took the form of checking out books and videos to learn how to train Lady. Eventually, Marcy and her sister began taking their dogs to the dog run and taking formal dog classes. For about six years, Marcy volunteered for the Capital Humane Society, where she performed a variety of jobs, and took time to watch the dogs and learn about their behaviors. Currently, she’s an obedience instructor at GLOC. “I think the most important is to keep up to date on what’s going on in the field.  I try to read articles, blogs and  new books that come out, and watch any DVDs that are available.”

Keeping Your Pets Safe Over the Holiday Season

The holiday season is a wonderful time for family and friends to gather together, but it can also present risks to pets. Below are tips to keep them safe.

Keep pets on their regular diets. New foods can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, or diarrhea. If you want to treat your pets to turkey, peel the skin off and cut the meat into bite-sized pieces. Cranberries, carrots, green beans, peas, pumpkin, and cooked sweet potato are options too.  Give treats in moderation.

Avoid turkey skin and bones, gravy, alcohol, Allium Species (onions, garlic, chives, and leeks), grapes and raisins, nuts, and chocolate. Turkey skin contains too many oils and spices. Bones can break into pieces, which can irritate the stomach or intestines or lodge in the esophagus. Gravy is fatty and can cause pancreatitis. A small amount of alcohol can cause disorientation or even death. Nuts are a choking hazard and can contain toxins. Allium Species can destroy red blood cells. Raisins and grapes can damage the liver. Chocolate can cause vomiting, diarrhea, or even heart failure. Be sure not to give your pets dishes that contain any of the above ingredients or that contain any unknown ingredients.

Keep your pets out of the kitchen, which is often the busiest room in the house during the holiday season. Hot stoves pose a burn hazard year-round, but they’re especially dangerous when you’re preparing a holiday feast. With hot dishes being whisked from one counter to the next, underfoot pets can easily be burnt. Use aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and food packaging can smell as tasty as the foods they once protected, and swallowing any of these can give your pet a dangerous intestinal obstruction.

While decorations might be pretty, they present a dangerous temptation. Stagnant tree water can cause nausea or diarrhea if drunk, while confetti, tinsel, and wrapping paper can become lodged in the digestive tract if consumed. Fairy lights, if chewed, can lead to burns and electrocution. Candles flames can burn curious noses and playful paws. There’s also the risk of candles falling when brushed against. Snow globes often contain anti-freeze; a small sip can be fatal. Salt dough ornaments, with their large amounts of salt, can be equally fatal. Holly, ivy, mistletoe, and poinsettias might cause an upset stomach; lilies are lethal.

Some pets adapt well to the hustle-and-bustle of guests. For those that don’t, distract them with toys, puzzle feeders, or by inviting guests to play with them. In addition, maintain a regular schedule for food and exercise, ensure fresh water is available, and provide a quiet space to retreat from commotions.Lincoln Animal Ambassadors wishes you a happy and safe holiday season. Thank you for your support over the past year. LAA looks forward to serving you again in the new year.

How to Build a Cat Castle

One of our foster kittens crept into the castle’s gatehouse. Another peeked through one of many lancet windows. A third jumped onto the wall-walk between the two towers. The fourth kitten rested her front paws against one of the towers and surveyed our living room. Andy and I had just introduced our foster kittens to our homemade cardboard castle.

Cats love boxes. No one knows exactly why, but there are several theories. Security is probably the number one reason. A study done by the University of Utrecht discovered that the shelter cats who were given hiding boxes showed less stress and adapted more quickly to their new environment than those who weren’t given boxes. Similarly, boxes can serve as a “safe zone” that allow cats recover from a spat. Boxes also provide cats a concealed location from which to survey prey. Speaking of instincts, cats are notorious scratchers and boxes make for great scratching. Thanks to their paws having scent pads, cats leave their scent on whatever they scratch, and therefore boxes are easily claimed as part of a cat’s territory. Warmth is another reason that cats love boxes. Cats are most comfortable between 86 – 97 degrees, which is warmer than the average home, and boxes provide the necessary insulation for cats to achieve their preferred temperature. Finally, cats just find boxes fun!

A cardboard castle has all these benefits and more. A cardboard castle is essentially a large box with many rooms, levels, and windows, providing cats with many places to explore, hide, and play.

Are you interested in creating a cardboard castle for your feline friends? All the tools and materials needed are cheap and easy to come by. You probably have most of the items already in your house, and the rest can be found at a hardware or craft store.

Materials Needed

  • Cardboard boxes
  • Decorative paper

Tools Needed

  • Yardstick or tape measure
  • Pencil, pen, or marker
  • Utility knife
  • Scissors
  • Duct Tape
  • Optional: Nontoxic glue and hot glue gun

We had no trouble finding boxes, having recently moved. To hold everything together, we used duct tape. You might use nontoxic glue and a glue gun instead, if your cat(s) make a habit of chewing boxes, as swallowed tape can get stuck in a cat’s intestines, perhaps resulting in death. Covering the cardboard boxes in decorative paper can be skipped for the same reason. Andy and I used pencils to mark cuts. Andy traced around templates, so the doors and windows would be consistent. A ruler and measuring tape came in handy for obtaining accurate measurements. We used a combination of a utility knife and scissors to cut the doors and windows; a utility knife was easier to use but posed more risk due to its sharp blade.

Instructions

  • Decide on a basic layout for your cat castle. Andy and I designed a castle with a gatehouse with a tower on either side. We used a large packaging box for the gatehouse, medium moving boxes for the bases of the two towers, and small moving boxes for the top level of the towers.
  • Tape all the boxes closed. Because I wanted children to be able to follow our instructions, we used duct tape instead of a glue gun. The latter should not be used without adult supervision.
  • Make a template for your doors. Andy traced a bowl for the curved top of the door, then used a ruler to make the sides. Then trace the template to make the door of the gatehouse. Make sure the door is large enough for your cats, but also don’t make the doors too big. Cats are agile and can squeeze through tight spaces. Our doors should have been smaller. When cutting the gatehouse door, leave it attached at the bottom, so it can be lowered and raised.
  • Trace the door template to make a door at either end of the gatehouse, then cut out the doors completely.
  • Trace the door template on one side of each tower base, then cut out these doors completely. These doors will match up with the doors at either end of the gatehouse.
  • Trace the door template on one side of each box that will become the top level of a tower. These doors will exit onto the wall-walk (aka, the roof of the gatehouse).
  • Make a template for your windows. It can be any shape you wish. We made our windows tall and narrow, tapering to a point at the top. Trace the template wherever you want a window, then cut out the windows. Tip: Keep your windows small, just wide enough for a cat to reach its paw through. We made ours too big.
  • Cut an opening in the top of each box that will become the base of a tower. Then cut openings in the bottom of each box that will become the top level of a tower. This will give your cats a second way into and out of the tower bases. It’s good for cats to have an escape route.
  • To make battlements, cut cardboard scraps into even strips, and then cut out square notches. Adhere these around the top of each section of each box that will become the top level of a tower.
  • Arrange the boxes and adhere them with tape or glue. Make sure all connecting doors line up.


  • For a finishing touch embellish the castle with decorative paper. You’ll notice from our photos that Andy and I have yet to complete this step.

Andy and I used the book Cat Castles by Carin Oliver as our guide. The book tips for ensuring your cat castle is usable, safe, cozy, and beautiful. Regards to keeping your castle safe, ensure it is sturdy by using double-thick cardboard or otherwise reinforcing your structure. Also, don’t use decorative items that cats might swallow.

Regards to making your castle beautiful, Cuteness offers nifty ideas such as synthetic grass and flower pots in the courtyard and hammocks in the towers. Cats can’t see fine detail or rich color, and so they won’t care about how their castle is decorated. The decorating is for you; have fun with it!

If you and your cats enjoy this project, please post photos in the comments. Also, check out the other 19 cardboard habitats described in Cat Castles. All the projects are quick to assemble and require materials that are cheap and easy to find. You can also, just like Andy and I did, customize them to suit your home.

Interview with an American Cat Researcher

Photo from Kristyn Vitale
Photo from Kristyn Vitale

Kristyn Vitale has always owned cats. As a child, she used to watch them and wonder what was going on in my cats’ heads. Kristyn feels that her curiosity about how cats see the world led her to a career path where she could explore how cats think directly by measuring their behavior.

Although Kristyn’s dream was to work with cats, there were so few opportunities for this line of work that she decided to instead study Zoology, which she felt would allow her to work with animals in some capacity. During her undergraduate studies, she met the late Dr. Penny Bernstein, a professor who studied cat behavior. “When I saw that someone had made a career out of studying cat behavior I decided this was the route I wanted to take,” Kristyn said.

With cats being the number one companion animal in several countries, but very few people studying them, she believed research in this area could also have a large potential impact on cat welfare. “A career in research allowed me to ask questions about cat behavior and find ways of applying our knowledge to strengthen the human-cat bond,” Krisytn explained. Kristyn now works for the Human-Animal Interaction Lab at Oregon State University.

Cat Food Task, Photo from Kristyn Vitale
Cat Food Task, Photo from Kristyn Vitale

ALLISON: What has been your favorite way to work with/help cats?

KRISTYN: Although I have worked with cats in several different capacities my favorite has been to conduct research with cats. I like being able to examine cat behavior through the cat’s eyes. It is also exciting to take cognitive tests designed for other species, such as tests designed for primates or dogs, and problem solve how to make the test more cat appropriate. Research is a creative process that allows me to seek answers about cats by “asking” cats directly through observation of their behavior.

ALLISON: Tell me about your work in cat research.

KRISTYN: My main focus has been examining what factors shape cat social cognition. Social cognition involves how cats perceive social partners in their environment and behave with them. For example, one of our projects examined if kittens that participated in a six-week kitten training and socialization class differed from control kittens on a number of cognitive measures including social behavior toward humans, the ability to pick up on human emotion, and the cat’s underlying affective state–or how “optimistic” or “pessimistic” kittens were in each group. This type of research can not only strengthen our understanding of cat behavior, but it can also be applied to cat welfare more directly in order to find ways of interacting with cats that build healthy cat-human bonds, thereby potentially reducing behavioral problems and cat stress.

Kittens Meet by Kristyn Vitale
Kittens Meet by Kristyn Vitale

ALLISON: How are these studies conducted?

KRISTYN: We conduct research in a variety of settings. This includes our laboratory space at Oregon State University, humane societies, cat owner homes, and public spaces such as cat cafes. Cognitive tests involve placing the cat in a certain environment (such as in a new space with familiar and unfamiliar people) and seeing how they behave. Some tests also require us to train the cats. For example, the cognitive bias test allows us to measure how optimistic or pessimistic a cat. It involves the cat learning to approach and distinguish between two conditions–a person who rewards them and a person who ignores them. There are a lot of different research methods but most of them are centered around keeping tests short and tapping in to skills cats naturally have.

ALLISON: Summarize what you learned from your research:

KRISTYN:

Social behaviors between free-roaming colony cats: In this project we were examining what factors influenced social behavior between farm colony cats. We found that the cats’ social behavior was not significantly influenced by how related cats were to one another or the distribution of food in their environment. However, we did find that cats engaged in social behavior with particular cats in their group. Other studies have called these “preferred associates” meaning cats prefer to interact with certain cats over others. It is still unknown why cats form bonds with certain cats over others, but we did find that the three most commonly engaged in behaviors include sniffing one another, being near to each other and in body contact, and rubbing each other (also known as allorubbing). I am hoping in the future to further look at colony cat social behavior and see how human interaction influences social behavior between colony members.

Influence of kitten training and socialization classes on the human-cat bond: As I mentioned above, the purpose of this project was to examine how providing a six-week kitten training and socialization class influences kitten cognition and the kitten-human bond. One big thing that might surprise people about this project is that kittens were able to  learn several behaviors and tricks including sit, stand, come when called, go to mat and stay, and tricks such as high jump or high five. Kittens also socialized with one another and unfamiliar humans. The results of this project are still being analyzed, but preliminary results indicate that kittens form stable attachment bonds with their owner and that kittens that participated in the training and socialization class do appear to adjust their social behavior to their owner as compared to control kittens that did not participate in the class.

Cross-cultural research into the cat-human bond: In this project, we’re comparing aspects of the cat-human bond in two countries, the US and Japan. One aspect we are examining is how human attachment to cats and cat social behavior toward owners may be similar or different between the two countries. We collected social behavior of cats living in Cat Cafes in Japan and will compare this to cats living in cafes in the US. This project is still being conducted so we do not yet have results to share. However, we have noted that there do seem to be differences in the social behavior of cats in these two countries.

ALLISON: Why have you focused on their social behavior and on the human-cat bond?

KRISTYN: More cats live in homes in the United States than dogs, but we don’t really know much about cat social behavior and what factors influence the human-cat bond. Many people believe cats are a solitary species. However, millions of cats live in homes with humans, dogs, and other cats, and so pet cats do live in social states. We also see free-roaming cats which may live alone or in cat colonies that may contain over a hundred individuals. Domestic cats are facultatively social, meaning they display flexibility in their social behavior. Cats can live both solitarily or socially, depending on their environment and upbringing. Because of this they’re an interesting study species to examine the impact of life experience on social behavior.

For example, many people comment that cats are notoriously hard to train or do not like to leave the house. Often the only time a cat may leave the home is to go to the veterinarian or for boarding and the cat may therefore make a negative association with leaving the home. With training and socialization, opportunities for cats being relatively rare in comparison to opportunities for dogs, the two species are not given equivalent life experience. Therefore, some of the differences in social behavior noted between the two species may be due to differences in experience and human interaction, and not due to innate differences between the species.

This was one of the reasons our lab wanted to examine how providing this experience for cats may alter their social relationship with people. In all, social behavior in cats is an often-overlooked aspect of cat behavior. It’s the goal of our research group to better understand cat social behavior, so we can make better recommendations for cat owners.

Training A Cat, Photo from Kristyn Vitale
Training A Cat, Photo from Kristyn Vitale

ALLISON: Why study a cat’s social behavior towards humans?

KRISTYN: Millions of cats live in human homes, and so cat social behavior toward humans is a huge component of cat owners’ daily lives. If the cat’s social behavior is positive, the bond between cat and owner may be strong. If the cat’s social behavior is aggressive or even misunderstood by the owner, the bond between cat and owner may be weak or non-existent.

From talking to owners, I noticed sometimes cat social behavior can be misunderstood or negative intent applied to the cat’s behavior. For example, allorubbing is a common behavior cats engage in with one another and with humans in which a cat rubs their head or body against another individual. Owners will sometimes say this allorub behavior is due to a cat establishing their dominance over their owner and shows the cat thinks they are “in charge.” However, there is little evidence to support that cats have dominance hierarchies or that allorubbing functions as a dominance or territorial behavior. Instead, research indicates that allorubbing occurs between individuals with a social relationship and may be more related to a security or calming behavior.

Because how owners perceive cat social behavior is a big part of choosing cats for adoption and keeping cats in their homes, having a disconnect between how owners interpret cat social behavior and what research indicates about cat social behavior can be an issue. Therefore, it is really important to study this area so we educate the public about cat behavior, keep cats in their homes, and build stronger human-cat relationships.

Kittens Play, Photo by Kristyn Vitale_
Kittens Play, Photo by Kristyn Vitale_

ALLISON: How are results of cat studies being reported to the public?

KRISTYN: In addition to publishing our research, we often report information about our research and findings to the public via community lectures and workshops. I also teach youth cat training camps which aim at providing children with a scientific understanding of cat behavior, how to read cat body language, and how to foster healthy cat-human interactions. It is very important for us to disseminate our research to the public, so cat owners can learn more about their cat’s behavior and maybe even find ways of addressing behavioral issues that are weakening the cat-human bond.

ALLISON: Share memorable moments from your kitten-training classes.

KRISTYN: Some of the best moments have been to see our kitten alumni return. We had several kittens who went through our classes come back to future classes as adults for additional socialization and training. It is really great to see how much the kittens have grown and how they have turned into true adult cats! It is also fun to see the adults and kittens playing together.

The most rewarding part is to hear from owners about how well their cat is doing. We have several kitten alumni who have gone on to become “adventure cats” and for example will even go out on kayaks with their owner! It is also great to hear about how the shyer cats in our class seem to have become more comfortable in their home and when travelling. I love getting updates on the cats and owners. It makes me happy that so many of them continue to train and work with their cats after the class ended. In fact, many of our kitten class alumni have joined our Cat Club, a club we formed for cats of all ages to receive socialization and training.

ALLISON: Why train cats?

KRISTYN: All owners train their cats, whether they do it consciously or not. For example, does your cat come running when they hear the food bag crinkle or the can opener? This may not be something the owner trained the cat to do, but the cat has made the association that when it hears that particular noise it means they will get food. Similarly, if your cat jumps up onto your lap and you pet them, this rewards the “lap jumping” behavior, making it more likely they will jump up on your lap in the future. If you shoo the cat away, this punishes the “lap jumping” behavior, making it less likely they will do it again in the future. Therefore, every interaction you have with your cat teaches them something. Having a training relationship with your cat can lead to more conscious, positive interactions.

Not only this, but training can be a lot of fun for the owner and it can be an enriching experience for the cat, allowing them to use their brain and problem solve. Training can also be used to redirect problem behaviors or give the cat more freedom of choice. For example, going to the veterinarian can be a stressful experience. Instead of the owner grabbing the cat and placing the cat in the carrier the cat can be trained to go in and out of the carrier on their own, thereby potentially reducing cat stress.

ALLISON: What advice would you give to cat owners wanting to take classes?

Kitten Class, Photo from Kristyn Vitale
Kitten Class, Photo from Kristyn Vitale

ALLISON: Go for it! I think it is very important to give cats the opportunities to socialize and receive training. However, it is also important to consider that not all cats will like this. As I mentioned, cats are individuals with distinct personalities. We had some cats in our training classes that never got super comfortable socializing with other cats or walking around the room. I think it is important that owners accept the level of security their individual cat may have and not force them to be out in the mix with the other cats if the cat is not comfortable with this.

ALLISON: You’ve worked with cats for over a decade in a variety of contexts. How have those experiences shaped what you know about cats?

KRISTYN: Working with cats in several different settings has allowed me to see just how much individual variation there is in cat personality. Each cat really is an individual and the more I work with cats the more I see that most cats do not fit the stereotypes that are so prevalent in our society.

ALLISON: Why do you think there are so few researchers studying cats?

KRISTYN: There are people who study cats, especially cat biology. However, most of the research that has been conducted was using cats to study perceptual systems as models of human vision, olfaction, and hearing. On the other hand, the field of cat social behavior and cat-human interactions is much less studied. Part of this stagnation in the field may stem from the idea that cats are not social animals. If cats are solitary why study their social behavior? However, as I mentioned domestic cats do have social behavior that is relatively unstudied.

Another factor may be the idea that cats are difficult to work with or untrainable. Why spend time trying to test a cat’s cognition when they are unwilling to participate in the research? However, I believe that part of the issue is not the difficulty or stubbornness of cats but of adapting the cognitive tests for felines. For example, in our cat preference study we initially began to collect data using the same methods as used with human and dog preference research. We found cats were not engaging in the task using these methods. After we adapted our methodology to a test that was shorter in duration and more cat friendly, we had a much higher success rate of cats engaging in the test. Sometimes researchers just need to be creative and find ways to adapt testing for the species you are working with. I already see cat cognition research becoming more popular in recent years and I hope we see that trend continue in the future.

Interview with a Cat Graduate Student Researcher

Photo provided by Jennifer White

Jennifer White is a cat graduate student researcher in Canada. Her interest arises from experiences with her own, but also an over all concern for cat welfare. Jennifer believes that, “Cats are often misunderstood, discarded, and viewed as replaceable.”

The focus for her current research is to determine the effects of human social enrichment on emotion and affiliative (bonding) behaviors in anxious shelter cats. “Local shelters need support to help manage cats that often come in with health or behavior issues,” Jennifer explained. “The more we learn about how to improve animal welfare in shelters, the healthier and happier shelter cats will be, thereby improving their chances of adoption.”

Jennifer’s long-term goals are to become certified as an Applied Animal Behaviorist with the Animal Behaviour Society and to help improve animal welfare through a greater understanding and application of animal behavior research.

ALLISON: Tell me about your cats.

JENNIFER: I currently have three cats: “Toby”, “Finnigan” and “Echo”. They were all homeless when I took them in. Toby and Finn are brothers that I fostered as kittens and decided to keep (foster fail!). Echo showed up at my back door repeatedly but was quite elusive. With winter approaching I eventually got him into the house and he never left.

Toby is my baby but very shy around other people. Finn is braver but is also a bit anxious at times. He is a daddy’s boy. Echo is shy as well, but he and Toby are best buddies and stick together a lot.

Wicket, Photo provided by Jennifer White
Wicket, Photo provided by Jennifer White

ALLISON: What interests you about cats?

JENNIFER: My interest in cats all started with my first cat “Wicket,” whom I started fostering along with his brother as one-week old kittens. Bottle feeding and caring for young kittens, with the help of my dog “Jake” was quite a rewarding experience. As they grew older, I found a home for one and decided to keep the little black and white tuxedo. Wicky was very intelligent with loads of personality. I could take him anywhere. Whether walking on leash in the woods behind our house or strutting down the corridor among dogs at our local Pet Expo or accompanying me at presentations for large groups of children, he was very confident and had attitude to boot.

Although his antics would sometimes get him into trouble, he really just had us all trained to do what he wanted. Sadly, he passed away from cancer way too soon at only eight years old. He was a one of a kind scamp that turned into the most wonderful family cat we could have ever asked for. Even among the craziness with the kids, he was always right there. His amazing cleverness, boldness, softness, and silly antics made us laugh often. We loved him dearly and still miss him every day.

ALLISON: Tell me about your interest and work in stewardship.

JENNIFER: In my full-time work with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, I focus on stewardship of protected lands and working with volunteers and communities to help care for ecologically sensitive land and species. My interest in caring for ecologically sensitive land stems from a connection to animals and an understanding that you can’t have a healthy wildlife population without healthy and adequate habitat to support the species. Just as each individual person needs a safe home, nutritious food, and water, and the opportunity to foster social relationships with others, so does each individual animal.

Wicket, Photo provided by Jennifer White
Wicket, Photo provided by Jennifer White

ALLISON: Share highlights from working as a presentation program coordinator with the Kindness Club.

JENNIFER: My time working for the Kindness Club Inc. was very special in many ways. First, I got to bring my dog to work, which I loved! Second, I had the opportunity to visit thousands of people (mostly children) over the years and, with the help of my wonderful dog Jake and occasionally my gregarious, but cool cat Wicky to teach the importance of Kindness to Animals and Pet Safety. While multiple presentations each week can at times be tiring, meeting children (some of which had never had a positive encounter with a dog or cat) and giving them the tools to help them understand and be safe around animals was very rewarding.

ALLISON: How has researching cats helped you understand your own?

JENNIFER: Although my research project isn’t complete, I’ve learned a lot about emotion. I’ve learned about recognizing, understanding, and helping to alleviate anxiety in cats. In addition, I have a better understanding into looking beyond obvious signs of anxiety to indicators that an animal is thriving. Thriving is different from merely surviving–it is being healthy and expressing natural behaviors. It is living a life that is full. That is why my project will focus in large part on observing bonding behaviors between people and cats such as rubbing, rolling and purring, which may be indicators that a cat is thriving in their environment with people. The experience of working with my extremely knowledgeable committee members and shelter staff has also helped me to navigate difficult behavior cases at the shelter where I’m conducting my research.

I would flip your question, and say that it is the cats (my own and shelter cats) who have helped to guide my research. Since I was a child, I’ve always had an interest in animal behavior and often wondered why they do what they do. Watching cats and trying to understand how they feel has helped form questions about specific behaviors. I won’t be able to answer all my questions with this one study but I’m hoping to get a little closer to understanding them.

Photo provided by Jennifer White

ALLISON: Why do you think there are so few researchers studying cats?

JENNIFER: I’ve noticed that research questions get studied often times not because of student interest but rather because of funds that become available from a certain industry sector such as human health, food or environment.

In the domestic animal welfare and behavior fields, research needs seem to be primarily driven by the pet food industry and not as strongly from other sectors. Funds are few and far between. Those that do exist are very competitive.

Partnerships with universities and business can support shelters in conducting ethical, non-invasive health and behavior research in a real-world setting. It’s only by learning and understanding how to better support cats in and out of shelter that we will be able to provide and teach improved welfare methods that include addressing physical and mental health as well as proper handling.

The human health sector has a lot to benefit from supporting this type of research as well. Understanding and applying proper care and handling of shelter animals may help to reduce stress, injury, and illness in shelter staff, as well as support the transition of animals into family homes.

The good news is, over the past few years, there does appear to be an increase in studying domestic dog behavior. Hopefully, cats won’t be far behind.

 

 

Arden Moore: Pet Writer, Health Expert, and Advocate

Arden Moore grew up loving animals and words. These passions led to her becoming a national pet health expert.

By her first year in high school, Moore knew that her future was in words, and set about gaining experience. She worked on the high school newspaper staff and credited the editor as teaching her a lot about writing and interviewing. She also landed a position with the town’s weekly newspaper. She’d always been athletic and so she walked into the office of the local weekly newspaper and convinced the editor to hire her as a high school sportswriter. “It was a gutsy move that worked,” said Moore.

After high school, while attending Purdue University, Moore landed a full-time writing position at the Post-Tribune. As a graduate, Moore’s “insatiable curiosity” drove her to spend the next 20 years “chasing stories as a reporter and editor for daily newspapers in Indiana and Florida.”

Along with way, Moore discovered that she could combine her love of writing and interviewing to help people become healthier and to tout the power of pets. “Pets and people—that’s what I am all about,” Moore said. “In fact, I can’t remember a time when there wasn’t at least one tail-wagger in my life.”

When Moore eventually became interested in book publishing and magazine writing, she accepted a position at the Rodale publishing company as a health writer for its book division. She added another position when Rodale started a pet magazine and invited staffers to write for that publication. “I grew up with pets and have always had pets as an adult,” Moore said.“This was a great opportunity to hone two of my loves: writing and pets.”

As a pet magazine writer, Moore had the opportunity to interview some of the top veterinarians and certified applied-animal behaviorists in the country. Moore also elected to complete pet health and behavior courses and attend health and behavior sessions at veterinary conferences. “Knowledge is power,” Moore believes. One opportunity led to another. Soon Moore was being hired by leading pet publications to write articles and signing pet book contracts with Storey Book Publishing.

For a while Moore focused on pet health and behavior, but in 2011 Moore realized she was missing an important component: pet first aid. She addressed this need by taking a course in pet first aid and a course in pet CPR. This led to her becoming an instructor, and then to her receiving certification as a master instructor in pet first aid/CPR. In 2013, Moore launched Pet First Aid 4U, a veterinarian-approved and supported pet first aid program that emphasizes hands-on skill building of students on real pets.

Moore insists on staying current with her pet first aid education. She shadows Dr. Mike LoSasso, a board-certified emergency/critical care veterinarian who runs a clinic in Texas. In addition, she consults top veterinarians who serve on Moore’s Pet First Aid 4U advisory board, and who have certification and training in feline medicine, internal medicine, emergency medicine. She also continues to take classes taught by leading pet first aid experts. “I feel it is important to always be both a student and a teacher,” explained Moore. “It’s important to stay current on the latest pet first aid/safety protocols and share them with my students.”

Moore uses her cat Casey and her dog Kona to demonstrate first aid techniques in her classes. She adopted Kona in 2016 at about 15 months from the Rancho Coastal Humane Society in California. According to Moore, Kona was shy but flattened herself against the kennel cage to get as close as possible to Moore during their introduction. When she tested Kona’s temperament, Kona came when called, accepted having her paws touched, and showed respect for the shelter’s cat. After adopting Kona, Moore helped her adapt to family life by house-training her and teaching her to walk on a leash. “Once these were accomplished,” Moore said, “she was receptive to learning. We enrolled in three levels of obedience training, where she excelled. We then completed the AKC Canine Good Citizen training and certified therapy dog training.”

Moore’s now four-year-old orange tabby, Casey, was adopted as a kitten at a mobile pet adoption event in California. At the event, Moore tested her temperament. “I spent time observing his interactions with other cats, people, and even a couple cat-accepting dogs. I was looking for an outgoing cat who wanted to learn. Casey was and still is a natural,” Moore said. Since adopting Casey, she’s spent a lot of time teaching him tricks using clicker training and targeting sticks. She also repeatedly handled him from head to toe to get him used to being touched by others. Like Kona, Casey also proved a natural as a therapy pet. According to Moore, Casey affectionately greets the residents and staff at Brookdale Memory Care center on their weekly visits. Moore is also proud of Casey’s rapport with kids. “We volunteer to give cat-dog talks at the SPCA of Texas Critter Camps,” Moore shared, “He loves to strut his stuff and pose for photos with the kid campers.

To prepare Kona and Casey for road trips as a pet first aid team, Moore introduced both to short and then long car rides and crate-trained them. “Kona and Casey have logged thousands of miles with me all across the country and have stayed at dozens of pet-welcoming hotels,” Moore said. “They make terrific travel mates and never seem to mind when I sing off-key to the radio.”

In 2018, Moore visited Lincoln to help Sadie Dog Fund celebrate its tenth anniversary in a unique way. Pam Hoffman of the Sadie Dog Fund discovered Moore when she was a guest on the Cathy Blythe’s Problems and Solutions show on KFOR-Radio. Hoffman contacted Moore, and the two worked on pinning down a date and location for classes. Moore taught two four-and-a-half-hour Pet First Aid classes over the April 21 and 22 weekend. Twenty-one students took the classes, each receiving a two-year certification. The students learned the items that should be included in a pet first aid kit, three different CPR techniques, handling tips in the event of bites, burns, bleeding, choking, broken bones, poison, and severe weather, and how to give a nose-to-tail wellness check. “It was wonderful to be able to donate all admissions to my pet behavior talk to Pam Hoffman’s Sadie Dog Fund,” Moore shared. “We estimate we raised about $500.”

In addition to Moore’s pet first aid classes, Moore also hosts a podcast in which she draws on her background in pet behavior and health to help pet families achieve harmony in the home. In 2017, her Oh Behave podcast was listed by Oprah as a top three favorite pet podcast. Moore also continues to write, and has more than 24 pet books to her name. After the publication of her book Dog Parties: How to Party Like a Pup, she partnered with Pet Sitters International to stage dog parties with the dual purpose of raising money for local pet groups and engaging pet owners and their dogs in a meaningful way. “Seeing people build better connections with their pets through my teaching or writing does give me a lot of enjoyment,” said Moore.

How does Moore juggle so many commitments? One way is time management. “Often, a guest on my podcast can be spotlighted in a feature article for one of the pet magazines,” Moore explained. Another way is networking. Moore brainstorms and collaborates on projects with other pet leaders.

Moore advises anyone wishing to follow her lead to “never stop learning about and ‘listening’ to our companion animals. Understand that as pet advocates, you have an important mission to give them a voice and to convey accurate information about pet behavior, health, and nutrition. The best pet advocates I know are always striving to learn more ways to make this planet a better place for pets and their people.”

Today Moore shares her home in Dallas with her partner, three dogs, and two cats. She has a following on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. In addition, people can tune into her Oh Behave podcast through Pet Life Radio. Moore is proof that words can be a mighty power for pets.

SOCIAL MEDIA

www.ardenmoore.com

www.petfirstaid4u.com

Dear Miss Behavior: How Can I Become the Pack Leader?

Dear Miss Behavior, I have read that in our relationship with our dogs we are to be the Pack Leader. Can you suggest some things I can do to establish a leadership role with my dog?

missbehavior

For some trainers the concept of Pack Leadership is in question. There are people studying this
paradigm and some are starting to report that this may not be reality.* Others feel that it’s one of the most important tenets of dog training. Either way, we can use some simple steps to ensure that a dog respects his owner and is well behaved.

Be sure Timber has plenty of exercise and give him training sessions everyday. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time; you can practice heeling and recalls on walks. Sit and down stays can be practiced throughout the day.

Tell Timber to do a simple command to earn what he wants. If your dog wants to go outside, ask him to
sit and stay until the door is open. Be sure to enforce the command, and his reward will be being released to go outside.

When it’s time to feed Timber don’t free feed; instead divide his daily food in half, give one half in the morning and the other half in the evening. When you feed him ask him to down and stay while the food is being prepped and placed on the floor. Again enforce the command and release him to eat.

In the evening when Timber nudges your knee asking to play fetch or a game of tug, tell him to do a down or a sit stay before releasing him to a rousing tug session. In each case you’re reinforcing the idea that Timber must work for what he wants. He won’t be allowed to train you or be given things for free. And whether he understands pack hierarchies or not, he understands that you are very important to him.

For more information, read: “Dominance in Domestic Dogs—Useful Construct or Bad Habit?” Journal
of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research (May/June 2009), 135-14. or try Dog Sense: How the new science of dog behavior can make you a better friend to your pet by John Bradshaw.

marcygraybillAfter Marcy adopted her first dog in 1988, she began to research about dog care. Research took the form of checking out books and videos to learn how to train Lady. Eventually, Marcy and her sister began taking their dogs to the dog run and taking formal dog classes. For about six years, Marcy volunteered for the Capital Humane Society, where she performed a variety of jobs, and took time to watch the dogs and learn about their behaviors. Currently, she’s an obedience instructor at GLOC. “I think the most important is to keep up to date on what’s going on in the field.  I try to read articles, blogs and  new books that come out, and watch any DVDs that are available.”

What Are You Doing With Your Seconds?

For the past five years, Stuart Stofferahn and his therapy dog Buckley have visited hospice patients, an experience that has changed his life.

Community service has always been part of Stuart’s life. His mom taught in the public-school system for 35 years. Stuart considers her a model of patience and an inspiration. His dad advocated for farmers, and was a school board member, state legislator, and state elected official. Stuart calls his dad a hero. As for Stuart, he’s worked in schools, the church, and the United States military for most of his life. In addition, he’s taught classes through Junior Achievement, volunteered at hospices, and currently teaches for the Community Action Partnership of Lancaster and Saunders counties. On his website, Stuart writes, “I guess you can say [service] is in my blood.”

Stuart & Buckley, Photo from website
Stuart & Buckley, Photo from website

Animals have also always been part of Stuart’s life. Stuart grew up on a farm with animals all around. The barn cats kept the mouse population in check. He doesn’t remember his family ever specifically looking for a puppy, but dogs seemed to just show up on the farm. Stuart still remembers how sad he felt when the family moved to the city and left their Golden Retriever behind with the new owners. For several years, the family made trips back to the farm and would check on Sandy, but then one day she was gone. With animals being such a constant force in his life, it was natural that as an adult Stuart became active with animal rescue and in particular the Golden Retriever Rescue.

After his divorce, Stuart found himself soul-searching and needing to fill a void. He already owned a seven-year-old dog named Comet, but decided to add a puppy to his household. When Stuart met Buckley in 2009, the two instantly clicked. Even though, according to Stuart, Comet helped raise Buckley, a bond was also developing between Stuart and Buckley. The two spend their days and nights together. Buckley slept with Stuart, and also hung close while Stuart did yard work.

Stuart’s most memorable moments with Buckley came during this time. “One day some kids came up to the yard,” Stuart said. “Buckley ran up to them, but they ran off. The next time the kids came, Buckley crawled up to them. This time they stayed.” And that’s when Stuart knew that Buckley possessed “a deep understanding of how to connect with people.”

Stuart immediately acted on his discovery. He read about Domesti-PUPS online and contacted them. After that, Stuart and Buckley attended classes to learn how Buckley could become a therapy dog. By the time Buckley turned four, he had passed the Canine Good Citizen test. Not long after, the two began visiting nursing and assisted-living facilities as part of the Domesti-PUPS team. Half of the people in assisted-living are never visited, Stewart said, and ‘Buckley and I wanted to change all that.

But the two had only just begun. Due to his being a self-described introvert, Stuart soon found himself wanting to extend visits past the few allotted minutes, so that he could build deeper relationships with patients. Stuart also began to feel that Buckley’s talents were being underutilized, and that he would be happier spending more time with patients. Stuart contacted Tabitha Health Care and asked if they were offering therapy pet services to hospice patients. The volunteer coordinator invited him in for a visit to chat about reinitializing their program with the help of Domesti-PUPS.

Fast forward to the fall of 2018, the two have logged over 500 hours and visited over 60 hospice patients. When I asked Stuart to share some memorable moments, he said there was no one moment, but did tell me that Buckley enjoyed cuddling up to patients and sometimes would even choose specific toys to present when the two visited.

Stuart also recalled a visit with one of his first patients, where the two talked about a book called Final Gifts by Mary Callahan. In her book, Callahan shares a story from a visit with a client, who says the first time she noticed the second hand on a clock is when she was diagnosed with a terminal illness. “I was talking to my client about that,” said Stuart, “and it rang very true for her. Before I left, she looked at me, and she asked, ‘Now what you are doing with your seconds?’ In that moment, everything changed for me.”

Finally, Stuart expressed how privileged he had felt to receive invitations to memorial services. He would usually go ahead of time to see the family. They were not always aware that their past loved one had received visits from a therapy dog team and would express their gratitude to him. According to Stuart, family members can’t always be around for their loved one as often as they would like and “tears of comfort would flow to know someone had been there in their absence.”

This past October, Stewart and Buckley retired from therapy work. Buckley began to struggle with some health issues, and so the visits had stopped being a joy to him. Now he enjoys walks around the neighborhood and lazy days in the sun.

As for Stuart, he recently wrote a book about Buckley called The Love of  a Cold Wet Nose. At first, Stuart ignored his friends who would tell him to write down his hospice stories, but then he decided to take their advice. Thanks to the encouragement of some of his patients, who told him “your gifts need to be out there,” Stuart’s book even includes some poems.

Stuart’s second project draws on his education roots. Although he already had a bachelor’s degree in music education and a master’s degree in educational administration, in 2017 he completed his doctorate in educational administration. As part of the latter, which Stuart calls “the last leg of his education journey,” Stuart wrote a dissertation that focused on improving employment opportunities for people on the Autism Spectrum Disorder. Stuart was inspired by the challenges he observed in a cousin whose autistic son is learning how to live on his own by attending the Minnesota Life College. The latter is a vocational and life skills training program for young adults with learning differences and autism spectrum disorders. Not content to simply write a paper about an issue, Stuart put his words into action by co-founding the Nebraska Transition College.

Although he’s been a motivational speaker for years, Stuart says that his message is more focused thanks to hospice. He’s learned that life goes by quickly, and eagerly shares that message with others. One of this favorite analogies compares the use of time to credit cards. “If I give you a debit card and on that card are all the seconds that you have to live, and wherever you are, wherever you go, you have to swipe that card, and you don’t know how many seconds on your card, does that change how your present?”

When I asked what advice he’d give to others, he suggested that people should listen to what the world says and then act on it. “I became aware that Buckley had a special connection with people,” said Stuart, “and so I chose the path of pet therapy.”

 

Helping Our Cat Bootsie Lose Weight

The amount on the scale at the veterinarian’s office crept upward until it stopped at 10.5 pounds. I sighed. This is the amount that our cat, Bootsie, had weighed at her first exam after my husband and I adopted her. At the time, the veterinarian had advised Andy and me that Bootsie was overweight, and had recommended that we reduce her weight to nine pounds. After a year of cutting back on serving sizes, we’d come close to our goal, but this past spring we had an overweight cat on our hands again. What went wrong?

About the same time that Bootsie had dropped to 9.5 pounds, she began having periodic bouts of vomiting up her food. Our veterinarian suggested that Bootsie might have a food allergy or that she might have Irritable Bowel Syndrome. In either case, the most economical and least invasive treatment was prescription food. We switched Bootsie to her new food without checking to see whether it contained the same number of calories per can as her previous food. It didn’t.

The obvious thing to do was to do what we should have done in the first place: check the calories and reduce Bootsie’s meal sizes accordingly But I didn’t stop there. I also sought the advice of cat professionals and other cat owners. “What are other ways I can help my cat lose weight?” I posted in several online cat groups: I’m looking for outside-the-box ideas. She has access to cat towers and I do play with her, but she’s a former feral and so some ideas such as taking her for walks won’t work. Our house has stairs to the basement and to the upper floor, and she’ll occasionally use these. Any other ideas?”

Health Risks for Overweight Cats

One natural question that people asked me was: “Why do you want to get her weight down?” After all, there are cat breeds—the most notable being the Maine Coon—that can weigh up to 20 or 25 pounds. But the ideal weight depends on the particular cat. Cats should have a certain shape. Bootsie was too round. She had too much fat between her skin and her bones. We knew this when we adopted her, and the vet confirmed it. This needs to be emphasized: cat owners should not put their cats on diets without first consulting their veterinarian. Mine had already kindly but firmly told me that if Bootsie’s weight reached 11 pounds, she’d be at risk for developing a serious disease.

According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, heavier cats generally interact less with their human families, and show less energy and playfulness. They also live shorter lives on average. Hand in hand with these reasons is the fact that even a few extra pounds can lead to serious illnesses and diseases such as chronic inflammation, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, and many types of cancer.

How Much Food to Give

I next revisited what type of food to feed Bootsie, how much, how often, and how long. Several cat owners provided personal anecdotes about their success with grain-free diets but, due to Bootsie having been diagnosed with a possible food allergy or Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Andy and I decided to stick with her prescription food.

Deciding how much food to serve can be a challenge. Cats come in different sizes, just like people, and just as there is no single ideal weight for people, there’s no single ideal weight for cats. Our veterinarian advised us on how much we should feed Bootsie to maintain her weight but also how much to reduce her servings if we wanted her to lose weight.

Some studies suggest that feeding cats frequent, smaller meals throughout the day might increase their level of physical activity and thereby help with weight loss. The theory is that such a regiment mimics the way cats would eat in the wild, and so it’ll make cats happier and healthier. We decided to give Bootsie four meals a day. Although we’re proponents of wet food, because her wet food was only available in one flavor, she started to tire of it. We began alternating her meals between the wet and dry version of the same food. This proved enough variation that Bootsie hasn’t gotten tired of either.

As with the first time that we tried to help Bootsie lose weight, it was a slow process. I felt encouraged by an 18-week study reported on by Tufts University Cummings Veterinarian School of Medicine, wherein eight cats successfully lost weight due to the gradually reduction of food servings. “The intent of the diet was a healthy weight loss: getting rid of fat while maintaining lean mass,” said study author Kelly Swanson. The study targeted a 1.5 percent body weight loss per week, which falls in line with the range suggested by the American Animal Hospital Association.

Activities to Try

Another obvious question from cat professionals and owners was: “Is there a reason you don’t simply feed her less?” Yes. The vet wanted her weight down, and we’d wasted a year reducing her weight and then increasing it again. I wanted to get her weight down more quickly this time, but I didn’t want to risk cutting her diet any further. I added exercise, which has the benefit of increasing metabolism and muscle mass.

Here are some suggestions for helping a cat to be more active. Ideas range from relatively inactive ones to extremely physical ones.

Catnip

For the cats that like catnip, besides making them feel good, catnip can encourage cats to play. The excitement will usually last just a few minutes. After that, cats get used to the chemical in the herb that triggers the reaction and lose interest. Even so, any amount of play is exercise.

In the Frederick household, catnip does indeed cause a great deal of excitement among our cats. They love to roll in it! Unfortunately, the effects do wear off quickly, with the result that our cats often then ignore it for days or weeks.

Puzzle Feeders

The beauty of puzzle feeders is that they make animals work for their food. Puzzle feeders have a couple of side benefits. First, the act of hunting down and digging out food slows down how fast cats can eat and therefore results in their feeling full on less food. In addition, because puzzle feeders work the brain, they can result in cats feeling more energized and playful afterwards.

In the Frederick household, only one of our cats has taken to the puzzle feeders. Rainy loves to scarf her food and would always finish before our other cats had even started. Thanks to puzzle feeders, Rainy now sometimes is still eating when the others are done. For our other two cats, puzzle feeders were a source of frustration, and backfired as a way to provide fun and activity.

Toss-the-Kibble

Another way to encourage cats to work for their food is to turn mealtimes into a game of chase. One person said that her cat dropped from 19 pounds to 13, largely due to short bursts of activity that included chasing dry food. Another owner combined the game with the practice of recalls: fetch one treat, recall, and get two.

In the Frederick household, toss-the-kibble has been a huge success. Bootsie loves to chase after her food, so much that she’ll even dive under furniture to find it. She also enjoys trying to block pieces from shooting pass her, as if we’re playing hockey. A side benefit is that our two other cats also like the game. Cinder normally guards her food, but she’ll leave it to join Bootsie in chasing kibble. All three of our cats will fetch a treat, recall, and receive a treat.

Laser Pointers

According to Petful, the moving red dots of a laser pointer satisfy the hunting instincts of cats. Because the laser’s red dot can be made to move quickly and erratically, it seems like real prey.

Laser pointers aren’t without controversy. Petful recommends taking these two precautions:

  • Avoid shining the light of a laser directly into a cat’s eyes, which could cause serious damage to a cat’s eyes.
  • Once in a while, let the red dot of the laser land on a toy to give a cat a tangible prey to “capture.”

In the Frederick household, our cats love to chase and pounce at the red dots, whether on the main floor or running up and down stairs. Because of the negatives associated with laser pointers, we use them sparingly just as we limit our catnip use. Also, we occasionally reward them with treats for capturing their prey.

Wand Toys

Wand toys are another option for encouraging cats to chase “prey.” Cat Behavior Associates suggests making the dangling toy hide, quiver, and dart to imitate the way that prey would act in the wild. Be aware that wand toys should never be left unattended, due to the risk of the string wrapping around your cat’s throat, resulting in injury or death.

In the Frederick household, wand toys are a favorite of all our cats. One of the most highly recommended wand toy by cat owners, and also Bootsie’s favorite, is Da Bird. Several different types of lures are available, and can be easily changed to keep cats from getting bored.

Walks

Walks are a good source of exercise for people and their pets. It’s also a way to enjoy the outdoors together, something that many owners of adventure cats love to do.

In the Frederick household, both Cinder and Rainy are as comfortable with a leash and harness as any dog. Unfortunately, Bootsie is not.

Exercise Wheel

According to Veterinary Hub, an exercise wheel is “the best solution for health, fitness and stimulation-related issues faced by your indoor adult cats.” Veterinary Hub offers a long list of benefits from exercise wheels including: boosted mental stimulation, improved joint flexibility and motility, better blood circulation and increased bone strength, regulation of digestion, better immune system, and lower risk of heart and respiratory disease.

More than one cat owner I talked with recommended exercise wheels and even talked at length about the best kind to purchase and how to best introduce it to cats. Why then haven’t we bought one? First, there are different brands out there, and they vary in quality. As you might imagine, the cheaper ones seem less stable. Second, there’s the cost. Cat exercise wheels range in price from a few hundred to over a thousand dollars. Third, from what I’ve read, cat exercise wheels are best for those cats with an outgoing and bold personality. That’s not our Bootsie!

Rechecks and Weigh-Ins

Once a month, I use a baby scale to weigh Bootsie, which is a feat in itself. Bootsie always approaches the scale with extreme caution, as if she thinks I’m trying to trap her. I throw treats near the scale and on it, then wait for her to walk on the scale. Despite the challenge involved, rechecks and weigh-ins are important. The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention says that if there is no significant weight loss in one month, a new approach should be tried.

For Bootsie, a successful diet and exercise program includes prescription cat food, reduced meal sizes, more frequent feedings, and increased exercise. Although we have yet to figure out how to tighten her tummy, which sags from her weight loss, Bootsie just this month finally returned to 9.5 pounds. And just today she weighed in at 9.1 pounds!

Guest Post: Escaping Hurricane Florence

Written by Nikki Harbeston, Creative Stuff, for LAA Pet Talk. 

Our family has been through many hurricanes and tropical storms from an inland standpoint. Then this past fall, for the first time, we faced an evacuation from a hurricane.

Living in Central North Carolina all of our lives, my husband and I were used to the wind and rain that hurricanes on our coast would bring inland, but we normally don’t have to run from winds or flooding. We rarely have to make choices about what we can take and then being left with just those possessions after a storm. Neither of us realized, until Hurricane Florence, how serious and deadly the whole ordeal could be. The thought that if we made a mistake, this hurricane could have killed us or our dog is awful. It gave us a new appreciation of those who’ve lived thru hurricanes and evacuations.

It’s still clicking in my head that storm surge evacuations can threaten our family! We live in Myrtle Beach, SC, in Zone C. The area of Myrtle Beach is divided into three zones: A, B, and C. The zones are associated with storm surge evacuations. We’re probably about 15 minutes from the ocean, but only a mile or so from the Intracoastal Waterway. We live in a third-floor apartment and so with a hurricane like Florence we could’ve been flooded.

My husband and I both had been keeping up with Florence, before she really became a threat to the Southeast coastline. Originally, the track had Florence curving to the sea, but we still watched. Florence was on a track that most storms took, in that it would likely brush the Outerbanks of North Carolina, but not actually make a direct hit on the Carolina Coast. Florence was the first storm to negate the track and become hellbent on hitting North or South Carolina.

When you hear for a week or more that a hurricane is “coming” your way, you grow fatigued with the news, and almost become complacent. The track changes so constantly that one minute you’re going to get hit, then the next it’s not. Forecast tracks more than 5 days out are full of flaws and the “cone” of where it could hit shifts, shifts, and shifts. It’s impossible to get accurate forecasts for hurricanes many days out. You know it’s out there, but you’re tired of hearing about, yet you can’t forget it.

The week before Florence made up her mind, our weather guy became more serious. There was now a chance for a direct hit from a CAT 4 or 5 hurricane. You’ve seen pictures from Katrina, Harvey, Maria, Hugo; that damage in our area was a real possibility. My husband and I began talking about our possible evacuation plan, going over our list of things to take, and then playing the waiting game again.

The waiting game ended on Monday, September 10th, when our governor ordered a mandatory evacuation off ALL THREE zones beginning on September 11th. We knew then that we’d be running for our lives. This hurricane was powerful and had the option to kill lots of people; we did not want to be in the body count.

When a mandatory evacuation is handed down, you’re supposed to immediately leave, but the question is where do you go? My husband and I were lucky that we could flee to a relative’s place, but not everyone has that option. Travel is expensive; so are hotels. Shelters are opened up in the area for people who want to stay or can’t leave, but being in a shelter could’ve still been disastrous given the power of Florence. Every person in all three zones had difficult decisions to make. You have to think of yourself, your family, animals, etc. Your life is hanging in the balance.

The day before the evacuation was to start, we spent time packing, going thru our list, double checking, and trying to breathe. We made decisions on what we would take and what would possibly get washed away into the ocean. Our possessions can be replaced, but not our lives, but it was still hard to make the decision to not take things.

From the beginning of this storm, our dog was priority number one! The first thing we packed were all of our dog’s toys, food, bedding, medicine, etc. If we had to go to a hotel or shelter, we’d find one that’s animal-friendly. In the past, a lot of people refused to go to shelters in the past because they weren’t pet friendly. Accommodations have become more pet-friendly, thankfully! In addition, some counties now have a hotline you can call to find a safe place to take your animals if you aren’t able to take them. It’s easier these days for all animals to be safe during a hurricane, instead of being left at home to possibly die as used to happen often in the past.

9/11/2018, 3:30 a.m.: We hit the road early to beat the evacuation traffic. We got up, walked the dog, showered, packed, turned off power to our place except for the fridge, locked the door, and left. We did NOT look back; We just wanted to get out of there. We arrived at my sister’s house later that morning and endured another waiting game. It was a long week! Florence finally made landfall in Wrightsville Beach, NC that Friday morning, dumping a ton of rain to all of Eastern NC.

Taking our dog, Eclipse, with us was fairly easy. She loves to ride! We have a pet bed and some blankets that she uses every day, and so those went into the back of our car. We made sure to stop for her to potty and exercise. The only challenge was on the way home. It was a much longer drive and became fussier, but otherwise she was fine.

On Sunday, September 16th, the evacuation order was lifted for our area, and so we headed home. It was an arduous experience! Keep in mind, Florence was still in SC as a depression, dumping copious amounts of rain. The usual route was flooded, and so we had to often had to turn around and find another route. We also drove in conditions that were not normal, including two rain-wrapped tornadoes. So many people on the road with us had to do the same. We became scared that we wouldn’t make it home. We worried that one wrong decision and we could lose our lives or Eclipse. My husband and I both wish we would’ve turned around in Charlotte and said screw it.

The night we finally arrived home, we had more severe weather and tons of rain. The governor received criticism for the evacuation order being lifted, but he wanted people to get home before the flooding hit from the rivers upstream in North Carolina. Most of the roads into the area became flooded and washed out; leaving many people unable to return home.

We saw entire towns flooded, homes destroyed, and people’s lives uprooted from Hurricane Florence. It was so heartbreaking being unable to stop the damage. There’s nothing you can say to make it better. Saying “I’m sorry” only goes so far.

You go through life thinking disaster will never hit you but it can. Everyone here is fatigued. We just want the aftermath of Hurricane Florence to be over with and for the recovery to begin. We’ve decided that we’ll be moving next year; we don’t want to do this again.

Before I end the article, Eclipse wanted me to let you know she kept us going during the hurricane. Eclipse provided lots of opportunities for love and helped us stay calm. Woof power!

If you can, donate to charities to help hurricane victims. Thanks to those who rooted for the Carolinas! #CapeFearStrong #CarolinaStrong

To learn how to prepare for a hurricane, check out: Plan Ahead for Disasters from the Department of Homeland Security.

Written by Nikki Harbeston, Creative Stuff, for LAA Pet Talk. She resides in South Carolina with her husband and dog. Her blog features Diary of a Chubby Piggie and Into the Journey of Dog. Copyright August 2013-March 2014.

If you are a pet owner with writing skills, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors would love to hear from you! We’re especially looking for content about birds, exotic animals, and horses. Content may take the form of an advice column or how-to articles. You may even simply wish to act as an expert consultant. If you are interested, please post in the comments and we’ll be in touch.