Guest Post: A Guinea Pig Thanksgiving!

Just as I’m preparing the watermelon appetizers, Aunt Martha bursts in the door yelling, “You’re doing that all wrong!” Welcome to a guinea pig Thanksgiving–complete with drama, food, and all around family time.

Mom has prepared all the food. She is serving an extra special dish, a hay casserole in a hollow pumpkin. It took time to hollow out the pumpkin to get it just right. Mom spent three days on the hay casserole due to the order the ingredients were placed; some are a secret.

Just as she pulls the casserole out of the oven to cool, my brother flips the pigloo in a burst of boredom. It lands in the casserole, which splatters everywhere. Meanwhile, Grandma Petunia’s dentures fall out as she demands a squash martini with a kale twist.

Ding dong goes the doorbell! It’s Uncle Buddy. He’s brought his famous pumpkin pie in a pellet crust, but has forgotten to bring the whipped cream. As he turns around to head out to the store, Bobby Kitten, Eclipse, and Max zoom past. The pie becomes airborne. Dad happens to walk into the kitchen and catches it…… square in the face.

Pixabay, Stock Photo
Pixabay, Stock Photo

Luckily, the veggie platter was purchased at Piggly Wobbly Bottoms! I go to open the fridge to fetch it but the platter is gone! If we don’t have a veggie platter, Thanksgiving is ruined! The veggie platter is the “turkey” of a guinea pig’s Thanksgiving. Frantically, I run around the house trying to find the platter while Grandma Petunia continues to play with her dentures. I hear “munch, crunch, munch, crunch” coming from under the stairs, it’s Max and he’s eaten the entire veggie platter! His cute, furry cheeks are full of carrots, parsley, and cucumbers!

I look around in dismay. There’s pie, veggies, casserole, and dentures in various areas around the house. There’s also a house full of hungry family members ready to eat whatever they can find. Eclipse has figured out a way to climb up to the ceiling to lick the remnants of the hay casserole, while Aunt Martha criticizes Eclipse for standing on the cabinetry to reach the casserole. Grandma Petunia continues to use her dentures as entertainment, and Uncle Buddy is passed out in front of the TV while the football game continues on.

Ding, dong! It’s the doorbell again! Grandpa Rocco is here and he has the complete Thanksgiving guinea pig meal! Knowing our family well, he had a feeling that we’d need some help. We all sit down around the table and share what we are thankful for. Most of all, we’re thankful for another year of shenanigans and family. Happy Thanksgiving!

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.

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Guest Post: How to Introduce Two Rats

Rats are smart and social small animals that make great pets. If you want your rat to be happy, you should have more of them. They’ll be the happiest with a few ratty friends running around the cage with them.

Pixabay, Stock Photo
Pixabay, Stock Photo

But even though they love to be in the company of other rats, introducing a new pet rat should be done right. You can’t just throw in a new rat in the cage, but must follow a few steps that will ensure your rats accept each other and start their friendship on the right foot.

Below are the steps to follow. Make sure you do them properly, especially if you’re dealing with adult males who can get quite territorial. Also, keep in mind that you shouldn’t introduce rats of the opposite sex until they are neutered.

STEP 1: Quarantine cage

Put your new rat in the quarantine cage completely isolated from the other rats. Make sure you give him your time and love because rats do not like to be alone. You can take a walk around the house with your new rat and play with him often to make their quarantine time easier. You should keep your rat in a quarantine cage for about two weeks.

Before you start to introduce your rats make sure your new rat is healthy and not showing any signs of illness. You would be wise to have a vet check it. If after two weeks, your new rat looks just fine, with no signs of illness, you can proceed to the next step.

STEP 2: Put the new rat cage close to the other cage

When you put your new rat cage close to the other cage, make sure you leave a space between them so that rats wouldn’t fight or injure each other. About four inches should be fine. They will become very interested in each other and sniff each other often.

Optionally, you can clean the cage where your ‘old’ rats are and leave the cage with the new rat uncleaned for a few days so the odor stays. That way they can easily see and smell the new rat which will prevent the old rats to become too territorial and aggressive towards the new rat. Keep an eye on any signs of aggression.

STEP 3: Introduce the rats on the neutral ground

You can introduce rats in a lot of places in your house. On your bed, on the floor or in the bathtub would work fine. If you have multiple rats, I would suggest you introduce them one by one because it can be too shocking for your new rat to see multiple ones and fights could occur. By introducing them one at a time you can see also how each rat is going to react.

Normal rat behavior would be a lot of sniffing of their genitalia to get to know each other better. If any of the rat poops, it’s also not atypical.

Repeat the process for any other rats. Then put the whole group in the neutral ground and observe them. They will probably just explore. You’ll have to be cautious of any teeth chattering or similar because it could be a sign of aggression.

STEP 4: Swap the rat cages when they are a bit dirty

When the cages get a bit dirty, you can put the new rat in the cage where the other rats are and vice versa. Let them smell each other’s odor to completely familiarize with each other.

STEP 5: Put the rats together

I would recommend to keep the cages open, so you can get rats out quickly if a fight happens. Watch carefully for any signs of aggression; this can be stressful for some rats.

If there are any problems between the rats you can try putting vanilla extract near their genitalia to disguise their natural smell. Also, you can give them treats after some time to distract them a little bit and to release the stress.

I hope these step by step instructions were useful in learning how to properly introduce two or more rats. When this is done, enjoy the presence of your beautiful pets getting along great!

Written by Monika Kucic for LAA Pet Talk. Monika is a huge animal lover, currently having two cats in her life. She is the owner of the pet blog called Animallama, where she posts pet care, pet tips, and advice.

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.

A Dream Job: Brynn’s Critters

When one grows up with pets–ranging from rats to horses–one’s entire life, chances are one will  remain an animal lover. Moreover, you’ll probably seek out a career working with animals. For Kim Kempkes, both are absolutely true. She currently has eight cats and three dogs of her own, as well as two foster dogs. A few years ago, with the goal of running an animal rescue, Kim graduated from Southeast Community College with an Associate’s Degree in business administration and from Animal Behavior College with a certificate in dog training.

On the way to starting a rescue, to raise funds, Kim decided to operate a business which focuses on animal care. She and Sarah Thompson founded Brynn’s Critters in October 2013 “as a pet-centered pet services company that offers pet walking, pet sitting, and basic obedience training”. Thank to Kim, who took time to answer questions through email and to meet with me in-person.

ALLISON: How did you feel when you started your business?

KIM: There were so many emotions! I was both excited and petrified. On some level, I knew that I could do it, but starting a business means that you’re the person doing everything for every department, and that means constantly being outside your comfort zone. But I’ve always wanted to work with animals as a profession and so this is my dream job!

I was also confused about what to do first. From my schooling, I knew the steps it would take to start a business. But all of the instructors said one of two things when I asked for a concrete list: 1) You do them all at the same time or 2) It depends on the business. Not helpful!

ALLISON: What lessons have you learned?

KIM: Starting a business can be hard! I don’t want to quit, but when I get completely overwhelmed, I sometimes run away. I’m now anchored. I tend to feel that I should do everything myself. I have phenomenal resources around me at Southeast Community College’s Focus Suites, but that only matters if I actually use them. I have gotten better over the last year at utilizing those resources.

ALLISON: What are some mistakes you’ve made?

KIM: Initially with training, I tried to have people pay as you go with training. I would say that I think this will take 4 lessons, but you can pay for each lesson at the time of the lesson. People would take one or two and then quit. Now, payment for all lessons is due at the time of the first lesson. The problem was that the dog can’t get what he/she needs from 1 or 2 lessons. People think they can do it themselves after that. I worry about whether the dog could get what it needs out of that.

ALLISON: What is a memorable moment?

KIM: I was hired to help a woman with Alzheimer’s care for her cat. The family had recently adopted the cat from the Capital Humane Society. The cat was having some health issues and so I helped with that. In spite of my best efforts, the cat and the woman became more and more miserable. The cat was yowling at night and started having accidents out of the litter box. The woman didn’t think the cat liked her. The woman asked me to take the cat back to the Capital Humane Society. Because of the cat’s health issues and litter box issues, I worried that the Capital Humane Society would decide this cat was not adoptable, so I got permission from the owner to take the cat home instead.

After bringing her home, I realized that she never came to me when I went downstairs and that she’d meow loudly as if startled when I touched her. One day I noticed that she didn’t even twitch when we popped some large air-filled packaging tubes. We had to be within five feet of her when we popped them or she didn’t respond. I realized that she was hard of hearing! Every time someone approached her from behind and touched her, they were scaring her! I now flicker lights or go around so that she can see me before I touch her. She’s become very affectionate.

ALLISON: What is a funny memory?

KIM: There are so many, especially when animals are involved. Oh, I have one! I foster for Heartland German Shepherd Rescue (HUGS) of Omaha. One of the first fosters that I cared for was a male Shepherd who was about five years old. His owner left him in the back yard alone all the time. The dog started jumping the fence to go explore which was upsetting neighbors. The owners were afraid that the dog would get hurt, so they surrendered him to HUGS. I became the foster because I was the only volunteer with a six-foot fence around my entire yard.

When I took him for walks, he’d try to walk me. My shoulder started getting super sore and I finally had had enough. I was using a martingale collar on him. I moved it up behind his ears and shortened the leash to give me more leverage. About a block later, I felt warmth on my left ankle. The dog had peed on me! He then settled in next to me and was a perfect gentleman for the remainder of the walk. This happened THREE times before he stopped!

ALLISON: What is an embarrassing moment?

KIM: I love to work with high energy, independent dogs that are just difficult to train. They have minds of their own. I absolutely love them, but am also often embarrassed by their rowdy behavior. My almost two-year-old mixed-breed loves to jump! He jumps as high as he can to try to lick your face. He did that to the instructor in a class one day. I felt mortified! I know that many people think that trainers should have perfectly trained dogs, but you really can’t rush the dog. You have to train them at the behavior they’re at and sometimes that has little to do with the trainer’s skill and more to do with the maturity and/or the excitability of the dog.

ALLISON: What have you learned about animals by running a pet business?

KIM: Animals are so very in the moment. They’re open to doing things differently and just moving on.

Most so-called “bad” behaviors that we don’t like such as jumping, mouthing, clawing, climbing, and  counter-surfing are natural and fun behaviors for the animals. They aren’t doing it to make anyone angry.

* Corollary: What have I learned about people since I started this pet business?

A lot of pet training is really people training. My job is to explain to people how to communicate with their pets. Pets don’t know English. They also don’t frequently use verbalization to communicate with other animals; they use body language. Once you understand how that particular pet communicates, you can emulate it. When pet and person understand each other, magic happens.

Also, many people don’t follow through on training. I know they’re busy but, if they don’t follow through, nothing will change. To that end, I try to make it simple. I suggest train during commercials about two to five minutes at a time, multiple times a day. I also give homework sheets and written explanations of everything that I teach.

ALLISON: Sell my readers on why they should use your business.

KIM: Training!

There are so many philosophies out there. Mine consists of rewarding good behavior and ignoring undesirable behavior. I’m greatly saddened when I hear trainers wanting to use choker, prong, or electronic collars as a first choice. If you train with positive methods, your dog will want to work with you. They will enthusiastically offer behaviors (sometimes hilarious ones) that have gotten them rewards in the past. When correction-only techniques are used, dogs tend to shut down. They don’t offer any behaviors, because they focus on avoiding the correction.

The other issue with using mostly corrections is aggression. I have two dogs who tend to fight back if they’re hurt or scared. Constant corrections or over-use of corrections on these types of dogs can result in aggressive behavior toward the owner or trainer. With positive methods, I get a happy dog that loves to work with me and loves to interact with dogs and other people. I get their trust so that, instead of being reactive and fighting back, they look to me when they don’t know what to do .

Sitting!

I love animals and will only hire people who love pets. When I extra time to spend with pets in my care, I often do, and they’ ll get as much attention as they want for the time that I’m there.

ALLISON: Where do you hope to see your business in five years?

KIM: I have immediate goals and long-term goals right now. I’m hoping to get a facility to work from next year and to add grooming and boarding to the services that I already offer. I also want to grow the facility to have a pool and add agility training.

My even longer-term goal is to have 25 to 50 acres with a training facility, veterinarian, and rescue operation. The rescue would take in any domestic animals that I can legally hold there. Starting this fall, a percent of all of our sales will go toward starting that rescue!

The Faces of Feral Cats

Trap-Neuter-Return is the most effective program for reducing the cat overpopulation. My first four articles on the topic presented the facts that support that claim. Personally, it wasn’t the facts alone that won me over. Even after wading through all the pros and cons of TNR, the cats themselves are why TNR is dear to my heart. What follows then are the stories behind three unique faces; ones which, if you’re unfamiliar with feral cat colonies, may surprise you.

THE KITTENS

Frankie and Annie are two cats who were born to a small, young, black cat in a feral cat colony. Caretakers affectionately dubbed that cat “Gravel Road Mama”. Those grown-up kittens now belong to Randy and Jill Flagel.

Back when Jill was a student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she would notice feral cats around campus. From day one, she worried about them, wanted to help them, and even desired to own one. She was understandably excited, therefore, when she learned about a volunteer group of students, faculty, staff, and friends of the university that formed in 2008 to ensure a high quality life for the campus cats. That group is called Husker Cats, which since its formation has stabilized and even reduced the feral cat population due to TNR.

Jill both donated to the group and kept up with news of the group’s activities. In the summer of 2014, through friends, Jill heard about the trapping of a feral kitten. According to the vet who checked the black cat, Frankie didn’t want to be feral. In fact, everyone who met Frankie was crazy about him. The Flagels requested a visit with Frankie, thinking they’d decide at the time whether to foster.

After returning from the Apple Jack Festival in Nebraska City, they jumped back in their car the next day and went to see Frankie. “We thought we were just going to visit,” Jill told me, “but they had Frankie ready to go.”

The Flagels took Frankie home. Because Frankie would need time to adjust before being introduced to the rest of the house and to their other cats, the Flagels isolated him in a bedroom with a litter box and food. In the morning, Randy would check on Frankie, and in the evening both Jill and Randy would spend time with Frankie in him room. As the days passed, it was evident from the number of paws being poked under the door that the Flagels’ cats were eager to get to know Frankie. It was also evident that Frankie wanted out of the room. One day the Flagels opened the door, retreated to the living room, and let Frankie venture out on his own when he was ready. He did this slowly, and none of the other cats bothered him. There were no disagreements, nor any hissing or fights. Frankie stayed out and became part of the family.


In the meantime, Frankie’s mom still lived in the colony and had eluded the traps. Not surprisingly then, several months later Jill heard that Gravel Road Mama had given birth to a kitten, this time a female. The Flagels now had three cats, with no plans for a fourth. But the kitten’s birthday fell on the same day Jill’s. In addition, the Flagels were tempted by the prospect of uniting Frankie with his sister. After some talk, they decided to ask to adopt Annie. Incidentally, this wasn’t their chosen name for her, but they decided to keep the name after learning it’d been chosen to honor a woman who had drowned during the floods that month.

Without early human contact, feral kittens will grow up wild. They’ll routinely face the threat of disease, starvation, flooded drainpipes, frostbite, and predators such as eagle and fox. They’ll also never know the safety, comfort, and love of a human family. In contrast, if captured at the right age, feral kittens can often be tamed within weeks. Such has proved to be the case with Frankie and Annie.

Today all four of the Flagels’ cats follow Randy around whenever he’s home. Frankie loves to have his head rubbed. At night, Frankie sleeps by Jill’s stomach and Annie sleeps next to Jill’s face. Jill notes that the cats have also connected her and her husband “into this family of cat lovers and special cats”. Pretty good for two cats who were born to feral parents and spent their first three months outside! And here’s a bonus: Gravel Road Mama herself was adopted this fall!

THE STRAYS

The dirty and skinny black cat looked like any other feral when he first showed up on campus. The shy and fearful cat was trapped, taken to the veterinarian for neutering and vaccinations, given a name, and then released where he’d been found. Day after day, caretakers of the feral colony brought food and water to JoJo and the other colony cats.

JoJo gradually began to warm up to one of the caretakers, even asking for attention from her before settling to eat. Then one summer day, this caretaker found JoJo soaking wet. She wrapped him in a warm blanket and picked him up. JoJo accepted this human contact and purred in response.

Adult cats that show up in feral colonies may be lost or abandoned, having long ago left behind memories of home and family. The longer these cats are separated from people, the more timid and defensive they can become. With time and patience, however, many of them can learn to reconnect with human companions.

JoJo is a testament to what can be achieved. When Ellen and Rob Shutt heard about JoJo, they wanted to get him off the streets and into a warmer environment before winter. Although JoJo was initially terrified, preferring to hide, he eventually learned to trust the Shutts. As Rob sat with JoJo and talked to him, JoJo became more relaxed. One day, JoJo even ventured onto Rob’s lap.

Only a month after that significant breakthrough, JoJo progressed from wanting to be held for only a few seconds to enjoying regular snuggle time with Rob. JoJo also began to rub up against Ellen’s leg and accept her gentle caresses. Ellen says that one of the highs of being a pet foster parent is seeing the transformation of a once feral cat into a loving companion.

In the spring of 2014, JoJo was placed in The Cat House with the hopes that he would find a forever home. Only a few months later, the feral colony caretakers received the news of his adoption. When his new guardian met JoJo for the first time, JoJo walked right up to her as if he had been expecting her. As one volunteer for Husker Cats said, “Obviously, he recognized LOVE when it walked in the door.”

THE FERALS

As far as anyone knows, Bootsie was born outside. She has been seen on campus as a kitten, so her age is known to be about three years old. I first met Bootsie while volunteering with Husker Cats. Immediately, she shattered my stereotype of feral cats being wild. Instead she became for me the poster cat for the potential of feral cats. You see, Bootsie would come up to her caretakers for back scratches and even would occasionally even show a playful side. Therein lay a dilemma.

Feral, stray, and pet cats are all members of the same species. The three groups, however, differ from one another in their relationship to and interactions with people. Feral cats are those which were born in the wild or have experienced minimal contact with humans. As such, they have socialized to their colony members and bonded to each other, rather than to people. These cats, who have learned by necessity to survive outside, typically do not allow humans to touch them.

In contrast, Bootsie seemed to have the potential to become someone’s pet cat and so, this past spring, my husband and I began the adventure of fostering Bootsie. At first, because we weren’t sure how she would adapt to indoor life, Bootsie stayed in a crate in our library. Within only a few days, Bootsie made it clear by her growing agitation that she wanted more freedom. In response, we opened the door of her crate and gave her the run of the library. By her interest in eating outside of the crate, playing with toys, and interacting with my husband and me, Bootsie showed us that we had made the right choice.

The next challenge would be our feisty and standoffish Tortoiseshell, Cinder. To acclimate the two cats to one another, we followed all the guidelines about initially keeping cats separated and then slowly introducing them. Initially, this involved exchanging scents through swapping beds, toys, litter, and even rooms. When the day of introductions arrived, we put a partition between the library and the hall to limit their exposure to each other. In addition, at first, the library door was only opened about a foot. We increased that amount daily and within a week, the cats were able to eat and play within sight of one another. When Bootsie tried to climb the partition, we realized it was time to fully integrate her into our household.

Doing such required introducing her to our toy poodle. The two quickly realized that neither proved a threat or even a competition to one another. Integrating her fully into our household also meant allowing Bootsie to explore the rest of our house. My husband and I had to learn to respect Bootsie’s timidity and to allow her time to realize that our home truly would be a safe haven for her. We also had to figure out that the first sound of rain will send Bootsie running for cover under our bed. Oh, and apparently, Miss Bootsie doesn’t care for robes or coats.

Bootsie_LapCatAt the same time, we’ve also been given the privilege of getting to know one of the most polite and loving cats you could imagine. Without our ever training her, Bootsie knows how to wait patiently for treats. She also responds well to: “No!” Every morning while I write these articles, Bootsie curls up on my lap. In the evening, wherever I am, Bootsie seeks me out.

Even now as I scroll through the hundreds of photos I’ve taken of Bootsie, I feel amazed that three years ago I didn’t even know she existed. In addition, when I finally did meet Bootsie, I simply thought of her as a cat who would safely live her life outdoors thanks to TNR. Now this gray-haired cat has not only been living inside with our family since 2015, but she’s become a lap cat.

AND ALL THE REST

From the stories I hear from other TNR caretakers, I have no doubt that for every feral cat that has overcome its wild nature and learned to be a house cat, there are many others that can’t make that adjustment. Some are just too wild. Others do not get enough regular exposure to loving caretakers. For those feral cats to have a chance at a long and healthy life, the best place for them is in a TNR community.

No matter whether the feral cats remain outside or eventually find a forever home inside, my goal in introducing you to a few of them is to help you see past the debate. When thinking of how best to solve the problem of 40 million cats, we need to remember that each cat is an individual and each individual is important. Take a step today to help just one. For that one you do help, the difference might be their life.

Many thanks to Dick and Olga Paulick, who provided daily attention and affection to Bootsie’s feral colony and no doubt were instrumental in teaching Bootsie to be comfortable and even loving with people. Also, thanks to Husker Cats, the group that first introduced me to TNR and to Bootsie. I’m so blessed to have Bootsie in my life.

If you wish to support Trap-Neuter-Return right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, check out organizations that provide it. The Cat HouseHusker Cats, and Joining Forces Saving Lives always needs volunteers, donations, and those willing to foster and/or adopt. Help them out today! To get involved on a more national level, check out the Community Cats Movement.

This article first appeared February 2016 at LAA Pet Talk.

How Universities Help Community Cats

Amid the students, professors, and college administrators, there are other residents on campus—feral cats. You may not even notice them at first. They typically hide during the day and come out at night, and they are generally leery of humans.—Alley Cats Allies

Due to Husker Cats’ aggressive and proven Trap-Neuter/Spay-Return activities, the feral cat population has stabilized and in fact, has reduced to a manageable number.—Husker Cats

Why are feral cat colonies found at universities and why should universities care about feral cats? One university student’s research paper entitled TNR and Campus Cat Organizations described campuses as “hotspots for feral cats”. An explanation often given by campus Trap-Neuter-Return programs is that students and campus neighbors don’t have their cats fixed, which then results in litters of kittens. Another reason commonly offered is that campuses are viewed as an ideal dumping ground for an unwanted cat. Finally, a third reason is that wild cats will congregate where food and shelter are available. TNR and Campus Cat Organizations notes that, “Dumpsters and crawl space under buildings alone attract cats.”

Stanford University is regularly cited as being a model for all other universities who embrace TNR. In January of 1989, in a news release from the Stanford University Service, Stanford initially announced that it planned to trap and ship its unmanageably large feral cat population to humane societies, where they would likely be euthanized. But then a group of volunteers convinced university officials to let them trap, spay/neuter, vaccinate, tag, and release the cats back to the campus. And so, in 1989, Stanford became the first American university to use TNR to manage its feral cat colony.

The group that pioneered Stanford’s TNR program were called The Cat Network. On the fifth anniversary of The Cat Network, the number of feral cats had dropped 1,500 to 300; on the tenth anniversary, the numbers had declined to 150. In 1999, one of the network’s founders was quoted by the Stanford University Press as saying, “Litters are a thing of the past at Stanford since the current cat population is spayed and neutered. We really don’t have kittens born at the university anymore.” In 2012Stanford’s Daily Post reported that another of the network’s founders estimated the cat population to be as low as two dozen. One volunteer observed, “One thing people comment on when they look at the Stanford Cat Network webpage is that all the cats look really healthy. People expect feral cats to be all skinny, scrawny and unhealthy-looking but that’s exactly what we try to avoid.”

According to TNR and Campus Cat Organizations, other universities who followed Stanford’s lead have also seen successful. To name a few:

  • Southern Methodist University’s feral cat population went from 62 cats to 50 in four years.
  • California Polytechnic State University’s feral cat population went from over 400 cats to 60 cats in nine years, and its adoption program has found homes for 450 cats and kittens.
  • University of Texas’s feral cat population went from over 200 cats to 15 cats in fifteen years, and no new litters of kittens have been born in ten years.

Another university with a successful TNR program is Saint Mary’s University . Their feral cat population went from 120 to 60 in five years.

Nebraska has its own examples of successful campus TNR programs. Inspired by Stanford University, Husker Cats formed in 2008 to stabilize the feral cat population on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. Phyllis Larsen and Kim Hachiya shared that Husker Cats operates under an agreement with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and that the group partners with The Cat House. Husker Cats manages the campus TNR program, while The Cat House takes in any campus cats that are deemed adoptable. There have been no new kittens born at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus since 2016.

Inspired by Husker Cats, in 2011 a group at the University of Nebraska-Kearney put in motion efforts to stabilize its population of feral colonies. The organization was officially recognized in 2016 and is called Lopercats. Sherry Morrow and Deb Schroeder shared that the group’s members are primarily UNK employees. They maintain eight feeding stations, which were built by a UNK Construction Management Club. Volunteers feed and water the cats in seven campus locations every other day. Facilities staff notify the group when new cats and kittens appear. Lopercats is registered with the Kearney Area Community Foundation and raises funds annually for the care of the feral cats. Generous donors allow the group to pay vet and boarding bills. Food is donated by a local business.

The benefits of TNR are magnified by the poor results achieved by other methods to control feral cat populations. The City of Berkeley Animal Shelter cites the failure of trapping and removing cats at Georgetown. Officials took the feral cats to the local animal control agency where the cats were killed. In under six months, 10 new unaltered cats and 20 kittens appeared on the campus, leaving Georgetown with an ongoing feral cat population.

Are you interested in helping community cats? Husker Cats encourages first care for your own cat(s) by having them altered, by keeping them inside where they’ll be safer, and by not abandoning or dumping them. Use shelter or rescue resources if you cannot maintain ownership of your cat. In addition, Husker Cats asks the public not to approach or feed campus cats. They’re undomesticated cats that fear people and that receive controlled diets by assigned caretakers.

Besides following the above practices, other ways exist too. For example, there’s the simple fact of educating yourself, which incidentally you’re doing simply by reading articles published at LAA Pet Talk. What’s clear to me is there isn’t just one single way to help feral cats; instead, we need passionate people and creative people working together to help our feline friends have the best lives possible.

If you wish to support Trap-Neuter-Return right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, check out organizations that provide it: The Cat House, Husker Cats, Husker Cats, and Joining Forces Saving Lives always needs volunteers and donations. To get involved on a more national level, check out the Community Cats Movement.

ONLINE SOURCES

Cat Network Celebrates Five Years, Stanford University Press

Cat Network Marks Ten Years, Stanford University Press

Cat Tales, Stanford Daily

Stanford Cat Network

TNR and Campus Cats

The Blair Community Cats, A Successful Trap-Neuter-Return Model

A stray cat outside a local restaurant in Blair inspired that community’s Trap-Neuter-Return program, one that has been recognized across the nation as a model of how such programs should work. Since the  program started in 2012, over two thousand community cats have been altered. Each year, the numbers of cats needing to be altered continue to decline, with the latest being just over three hundred. The end goal is a stable population, with no more kittens being born, and over all improved lives for the remaining community cats. Recently, I interviewed Taryn about the Blair Community Cats program, which is supported by the Jeanette Hunt Blair Animal Shelter.

ALLISON: Why did you involved with TNR?

TARYN: A friend of mine saw a stray cat outside on of our local eateries and it snowballed from there. She reached out to a TNR group in Kansas and they proved to be most helpful! She asked if I knew an organization who may help fund and support further TNR efforts and, as fate would have it, I was already a member of the Friends of the Jeanette Hunt Animal Shelter. This group was most interested in getting a program going and we were off and trying to run. We borrowed traps initially, but purchased our own as soon as we were able and felt that this effort was going to be on-going. I was agreeable to co-chairing but, as my friend’s life took a new turn, I became the chair in a very short time.

ALLISON: How did you get TNR put in place?

TARYN: We began TNR on our own, but found that our city council was unsure and, at that point just unaware of the benefits of TNR. We have received permission to continue our efforts as long as we do not require city funding. We appreciate that the city council has allowed us to continue to work through the many challenges of TNR. We have presented updates a couple of times to the council, trying to keep communication moving in a positive direction.

ALLISON: Did you face any opposition?

TARYN: The education component of the TNR process has been a most important facet for us. This idea was new to our community. Many in the farming communities in our county grew up without realizing or supporting spaying and neutering. Most of those people are now staunch supporters and help us spread the word about TNR and it’s benefits.

ALLISON: Who most supported you?

TARYN: The Friends organization as a whole provide the most support, monetary, and emotional. We were blessed to receive a start-up grant from a local group that allowed us to purchase our first equipment. We have since been able to secure a couple more grants that have helped tremendously! Pet Smart Charities and Alley Cat Allies are both wonderful organizations who provide support. We were also fortunate enough to have a Omaha group, Feline Friendz who allowed us to pair with them until we were able to establish our own relationship with the Nebraska Humane Society Spay/Neuter Center. Our local vets have been wonderful as well. It has been a group effort!

ALLISON: To what do you attribute the decrease in community cat populations?

TARYN: Our overall decrease in numbers can be contributed directly to our consistent TNR efforts. A most important aspect of our efforts has been education, teaching people about the benefits of TNR for themselves and the felines.

ALLISON: What are some memorable moments?

TARYN: One of the most enlightening aspects to the TNR process for me was just how smart cats are! We have had to park our van two blocks from our intended trap site, because the cats began to recognize our vehicles.

A highlight has been receiving a call from a client whose colony has become friendlier and tamer once the hormone factor has been removed through spay/neuter

The saddest moments are when a cat needs to be euthanized because of the severity of the injuries they have sustained from fighting, being hit by a car or other traumatic event.

Personally, I am thrilled when we are able to get young kittens altered, as we know they have been saved from a life of constant battling and breeding.

ALLISON: What would you most like people to know about community cats?

TARYN: People tend to project their idea of what a “home” for a cat should be like, but the community cats do not feel the need for an inside home. They are not sad because they are outside, although I know they appreciate the food and water that caregivers provide. These cats are happy in their environment and should not be forced to become inside pets.

There can be the misconception that outside, free-roaming cats are unhealthy and carry disease. While they like any cat contract a disease on occasion, these cats are generally healthy due to their populations being managed by caretakers.

Sometimes we are contacted by well-meaning folks that wish to have all the cats removed from a certain area. We then TNR those cats, while also teaching people then about the “vacuum effect”. This effect is that if all the cats are removed from an area where there is a constant food source, more cats will move in. The best course of action is to TNR all the cats in an area are returned so that they can “hold” their territory. This prevent unaltered felines from entering this territory.

How to rehome properly is a large concern as people fail to realize that cats are territorial and do not automatically know that the new location is now home.  This is one reason we take time and money to provide re-homing enclosures when needed. 

ALLISON: How can the public help community cats?

TARYN: Each community may have their own laws governing if or how this may be done, so be sure to check this out before starting to feed or care for the cats. Feeding the cats at the same location at the same time of day is key in enhancing the odds of a community cat being successfully trapped.

People also just need to accept the fact that community cats are a part of every community.  We just need to let them be cats (which includes rodent control), provide food and water for them, and let them live out their natural lives.  Spaying and neutering is a kindness that helps them live in harmony and to control their numbers! Hopefully, a more sympathetic approach to the community cats and the care that helps their survival will continue to move across this country as education continues.

 

 

 

My “Fishing Trip” with Nebraska’s TNR Groups

In a Trap-Neuter-Return program, community cats are humanely trapped, brought to a veterinarian to be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, eartipped, and then returned to their outdoor home. —Alley Cat Allies

A managed Trap-Neuter-Return colony has a caregiver who monitors the cats, captures any that need veterinary care, and traps any newcomers to be sterilized and vaccinated. A properly managed colony is a health, stable colony in which no kittens are born. —Husker Cats

I believe Trap-Neuter-Return is the current best solution to cat homelessness. For that reason, I consider TNR groups an integral member of the animal welfare village, and so I recently posed a few questions to a few in Nebraska about the state of animal welfare. Just like my other “fishing” articles that I posted earlier this summer, this one won’t have a great deal of focus, but rather will provide some raw information that lays the groundwork for future articles to come.

My utmost thanks to three Trap-Neuter-Return groups that took the time to respond to my somewhat random questions. They are:

  • Blair Community Cats was created in 2012 to manage the community cat populations using a Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR) methodology. The group is run by Taryn Breuer.
  • Community Cats of Omaha is dedicated to protecting and improving the lives of feral cats. The group is run by Sheryl Spain.
  • Joining Forces Saving Lives, Lincoln, was created in 2012 with the goal of bringing animal organizations and the public together to find new ways to save more pets in Lincoln and surrounding communities. In 2017, it received a grant to TNR feral cats in Lincoln. The group is run by Melissa Money-Beecher.

Why did you get involved with Trap-Neuter-Return?

The reason that anyone gets involved in rescue can be summarized in one word: NEED. For Taryn, the need was a stray cat outside a local restaurant, which snowballed until she had established her own a Trap-Neuter-Return group. For Sheryl, the need was some cats that a local bar owner wanted to shoot, which moved Sheryl to fight for another solution. For Melissa, the need was the vast number of homeless cats, which led her to start her own TNR program, with her goal being to lower shelter intake and make Lincoln a no-kill city.

How did you get a TNR program started?

City councils had already approved Trap-Neuter-Return programs where Sheryl and Melissa lived, and so the ladies were able to receive help from the humane shelters in their respective cities. Blair Community Cats had a harder time getting started because it was the first TNR program in their town.” The Blair town council was unaware of the benefits of TNR and so, although the shelter was more than willing to help, the Blair Community Cats found themselves both having to raise their own funds and to educate the town council through regular updates.

Who most supported you?

Animal welfare volunteers often put a lot of time and money into their passion to help animals. For that reason, support from others is important. All three ladies whom I corresponded with credited local shelters for supporting them in their goal to start a Trap-Neuter-Return program, but Melissa also thanked her husband. He allowed her to resign her day job to commit herself full-time to saving cats. Taryn also pointed to other backers such as veterinarians, spay/neuter groups, and other animal welfare groups throughout the state and country; Blair Community Cats is a shining example of how animal welfare takes a village!

What are some memorable moments?

Statistics prove the effectiveness of Trap-Neuter-Return, but it’s the emotional stories from those on the front lines of TNR that wins the most converts. Consider that one of Taryn’s highlights has been hearing calls back from caretakers whose colonies have become friendlier and tamer once the hormone factor has been removed through spay/neuter. Or consider Melissa’s uplifting experience with a 10-year-old cat whose kitten had a urinary infection, but received treatment and was adopted within the week.

One of the most enlightening aspects to the TNR process for me was just how smart they are!  We have had to park our van two blocks from our intended trap site as otherwise the cats had begun to recognize the vehicle.—Taryn

The women also shared sad stories that show why more support is needed for TNR and community cats. Taryn and Melissa both shared heart-breaking accounts of cats that needed to be euthanized. Older cats suffer from diseases or from injuries sustained from fighting, being hit by a car, or other traumatic events. Younger cats are often afflicted with ringworm. The most unusual story came from Taryn who told about a vet who discovered nearly fully-formed mummified kitten fetuses while performing a spay. The mother cat had to be euthanized as her uterus had been destroyed.

Educating the neighbors has been the biggest challenge. Some were trapping my cats and dumping them in the country to survive alone, which is horrible! My cats have never had to fend for themselves. They were always fed out of a bowl.—Sheryl

To what do you attribute the decrease in community cat populations?

Trap-Neuter-Return programs work best when entire colonies are stabilized. Frequent monitor is necessary to ensure that colonies remain stable, by discovering and processing any new members. TNR programs also benefit from an ongoing dialog and careful planning within a community or in other words from the recognition that animal welfare takes a village.

Taryn would concur. She stressed that the overall decrease in numbers of the Blair Community Cats was due to consistent Trap-Neuter-Return efforts. She also noted that an important aspect of the group’s efforts has been educating people about the benefits of TNR to them as well as the cats.

Any adoptions?

Although one of the sad realities of cat overpopulation is that many cats will die alone outside, Trap-Neuter-Return also holds the possibility of adoption. All three ladies reported having adopted out a lot of kittens. When these adoptions are privately handled, Taryn noted it can be a slow process. “It’s much easier now that we can place the TNR kittens at our shelter; they’re usually adopted quickly.”

How can the public help?

One obvious way to support the Trap-Neuter-Return effort is to become a volunteer. Otherwise, the task falls heavily on the shoulders of one person or one group. Melissa has trapped one hundred cats, essentially on her own. Sheryl expressed appreciation for cat lovers who offer help, but again the burden largely falls on her group. As for Taryn, she said that trapping, transporting, and record keeping is mostly done by her husband and her husband. Sometimes people in the community prefer to learn and do their own trapping, and then Taryn loans out equipment.

Anyone in Lincoln who wants to help community cats can volunteer with Husker Cats, Joining Forces Saving Lives, or The Cat House. In addition, anyone can borrow traps from The Cat House and become caretakers of a cat colony. Should you attempt to this, Taryn has this advice: “Feeding the cats at the same location at the same time of day is key to increasing the odds of them being successfully trapped.” Sheryl noted: “If you feed a cat, you must trap and fix it and provide shelter. My cats are still alive and doing well after 15 years. I have not had any kittens for over eight years now.”

What would you most like people to know about community cats?

When I asked the three ladies what they most wanted people to know about community cats, their answers all came down to that one word I repeatedly mentioned earlier in this article: NEED. Community cats are part of every community. People need to allow them to be cats, which includes rodent control, and let them live out their natural lives. And the volunteers who care for them must be allowed to spay and neuter, provide food and water as much as possible, and ultimately control their numbers. Taryn stressed that “people tend to project their idea of what a ‘home’ for a cat should be like, but the outside community cats do not feel the need for an inside home. These cats are happy in their environment so please let them do what they know.”

Every life matters. The only thing that works to decrease feral populations is Trap-Neuter-Return.—Melissa

If you wish to know more about community cats, check out the articles listed below and stay tuned for upcoming articles on this topic. Then, whether you get involved with a shelter, a rescue, or another welfare group, please find a way to help. Animal welfare takes a village and we all have our part to play: Find yours and then let us know about it.

They are just lost, abandoned, or homeless. I wish everyone would have the compassion to care for all animals. —Sheryl

America’s Overlooked 40 Million Community Cats

According to The Humane Society of the United States, cats are divided into three distinct populations: The first two populations are the obvious ones: those owned as pets, and those in shelters and rescues. The third group is the one most people don’t think about: community cats, which consists of abandoned, stray, and feral (unsocialized) cats. The community cat population isn’t small: there are an estimated 30 to 40 million in the United States. Can anything be done about so many homeless cats? Many animal welfare groups advocate for a Trap-Neuter-Return approach to their management, which is the topic of my five posts this week.

What is TNR?

To understand Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR), you need to know two terms. First, you need to understand that “feral” is a term used to describe an undomesticated and homeless cat. Feral cats are considered undomesticated because they have experienced minimal if any human contact. However, the term “feral” is not a straightforward one, because any cat that lives outdoors and does not have an owner can end up in a feral colony. Thus, The Feral Cat Project stresses that it is equally important to understand that it can be difficult, if not impossible, “to differentiate whether a frightened cat was born without human contact, formerly had human contact and became un-socialized from living on its own or if it is simply frightened.” Although feral cats have reverted somewhat to a wild condition, they still generally depend on people for food. According to Neighborhood Cats, very few feral cats subsist solely by hunting prey.

Second, you need to understand that Trap Neuter Return refers to a program whereby cats are humanely trapped, vaccinated, and spayed/neutered. Those considered unadoptable will also have one of their ears “tipped” (the ear tip is removed to identify the cat as having already been TNR’d), and then will be returned to their colony, which is cared for by volunteers who provide food, water, and shelter. Ideally, any adoptable cats (tame strays or kittens) are placed into foster homes, but the resources for this aren’t always available. Animal welfare groups advocate TNR for the management of feral colonies because they consider it the most humane and effective strategy for reducing feral cat populations.

Why Doesn’t Catch and Kill Work?

The traditional method of controlling feral animal populations is catch and kill. Many animal welfare groups argue that after decades of using this method, the feral population has continued to climb, thereby proving that the method is ineffective. In addition, it is inhumane.

One of the leaders in the TNR movement, Alley Cat Allies, explains that attempts to permanently remove cats from an area will always fail because of what is known as the vacuum effect. In a vacuum effect, whenever animals are removed from a location, new animals move in, and these animals breed to capacity. Alley Cat Allies has an entire PDF dedicated to the discussion of the vacuum effect. According to it, scientists have well-documented the vacuum effect in badgers, lions, possums, and raccoons.

One of the leaders in the no-kill movement, Best Friends, elaborates by stating that, “Every habitat has a carrying capacity, the maximum population size of a given species that can be sustained in a particular area. This carrying capacity is determined by the availability of food sources, water, shelter and other environmental necessities. When a portion of the sustainable population is removed and the availability of resources is unaltered, the remaining animals respond through increased birthing and higher survivability rates.”

A documented effort to remove a population of cats on the uninhabited, sub-Antarctic Marion Island substantiates that the efforts to trap and kill are ineffective and inhumane. According to the article entitled “Control of feral cats on sub-Antarctic Marion Island, Indian Ocean”, and published in Biological Conservation, in 1949, five cats were introduced to sub-Antarctic Marion Island (brought there as pets by scientists) and by 1977 their number had grown to about 3,400. Because the cats were reducing populations of native wildlife, the decision was made to eradicate the cats through various methods that included the introduction of disease and shooting. And yet, after each attempt, the preferred habitats were quickly recolonized. At the time of the report in 1990, all efforts to eradicate the island’s cats had failed.

Perhaps due to its controversial nature, animal welfare groups seem to less often bring up the issue of environmental balance, but I think it’s worth considered because some studies show that feral cats actually can be of benefit to their environment. A study in the March issue of the 1979 New Zealand Journal reported on the food intake of feral cats in the forest of Orongorongo Valley, Wellington. After 677 scats of feral cats were examined, the scientists concluded that feral cats “were important in holding rat and rabbit populations in low densities and reducing seasonal fluctuations”. Moreover, it was thought that, at least in the region being studied, the cats’ reduction of the rat population “might reduce the mortality of some birds”. Alan Beck, professor of veterinary medicine and director of the Center for the Human-Animal Bond at Purdue University told Live Science, “All species have an impact.” The point is that if you remove all feral cats from an environment, something is going to change, and it might not be for the better.

What Are Alternatives?

We’ve applied the same techniques for dogs and cats in shelters, and what we’re learning is that not only do we need to treat them very differently once they enter a shelter, but we also need to look at different methods for keeping healthy cats out of the shelter in the first place.

Jennifer Scarlett, veterinarian and co-president of the San Francisco SPCA

But why keep feral cats out of shelters? The problem is that the top documented cause of death for cats in America is euthanasia in shelters. Alley Cats Allies provides the additional statistic that nearly 100% of feral cats are euthanized when brought shelters, because they are not easily adoptable and they don’t adjust well to shelter life.

According to various animal welfare groups, some partially-successful efforts to help the abandoned or stray cats have included adoption and cat sanctuaries. However, Alley Cats Allies notes that the problem with these programs for feral cats is that, while some cats who have lived their entire lives outside may befriend their caregivers and make slow and steady transition to living inside, these cats are not representative of the millions of cats who can’t adapt to domestic life. The effort to domesticate feral cats is time-consuming and has an extremely low success rate. Simply put, it is generally not possible to uproot a wild cat and put it into someone’s home and expect it to turn into a loving house cat.

As for cat sanctuaries, while certainly a commendable goal, Alley Cats Allies notes that the problem with these is that they do nothing to stabilize the cat population. Even so, if there were enough sanctuaries to house every feral cat in the country, it might be considered a viable option. Unfortunately, statistics make it clear that this is an unrealistic goal: there isn’t enough room or money to build and maintain sanctuaries for the millions of homeless cats in this country.

Relocation, a method specific to feral cats, has also been used by animal welfare groups. Unfortunately, just like the methods described above, while there have been some successes, it too is generally ineffective. For one thing, it puts the vacuum effect into motion. For another, it causes undue stress to the truly feral cat, because they’re being uprooted from the only home that they know.

Now that we realize that shelters have only been impacting a tiny fraction of the total population through euthanasia … shelters can set euthanasia aside as a tool to control cat populations and focus on other alternatives.

Dr. Kate Hurley, a veterinarian and the director of the Koret Shelter Medicine Program

(For an insightful and poignant article from the viewpoint of an animal shelter worker, please check out: For Community Cats, A Change is Gonna Come)

Why Should We Try TNR?

Alley Cats Allies, one of the leaders in the TNR movement, provides a comprehensive list of reasons to try TNR, which I’ve summarized below:

TNR stabilizes feral cat populations.
TNR relieves feral cats of the constant stresses of mating and pregnancy.
“The obvious benefit of Trap-Neuter-Return to the cats is that the females don’t go through cycles of producing more and more kittens. Their health is actually improved,” says Rich Avanzino, longtime director of the San Francisco SPCA and current president of Maddie’s Fund.

For other health benefits of spaying/neutering, check out my article: Spay/Neuter Awareness.

TNR stabilizes feral cat populations.
TNR reduces and/or eliminates undesirable mating behaviors such as roaming, yowling, spraying, and fighting.
As proof, Alley Cat Allies refers to a 2002 study conducted by researcher Julie Levy, DVM, wherein caregivers reported that cats tended to roam less and display fewer mating behaviors after being spayed/neutered.

Alley Cat Allies also refers to a study of conducted by biologists Dr. Jenny Remfry and Peter Neville, wherein feral cats
were found to be more affectionate towards each other and spend more cooperative time in groups after being spayed/neutered.

TNR stabilizes feral cat populations.
TNR gives the opportunity to feral cats to live longer, healthier lives.
TNR provides feral cats with protection against rabies.
As proof, Alley Cat Allies refers to an 11-year study of the impact of TNR on feral cat colonies at the University of Florida, wherein 83% of the cats in managed TNR colonies had been residing in those colonies for more than six years.
TNR stops wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars.
Americans want humane solutions—they want TNR.
Over time, through TNR, fewer cats will be breeding and contributing to population growth. Fewer cats means a decrease in the demand on taxpayer dollars. As an example, Alley Cat Allies refers to San Francisco, who in 1993 became one of the first American cities to embrace TNR. Instead of city funds being spent on killing, money “is now being used to protect the animals, to basically support the colony caregivers and to provide the surgeries so that we don’t see the wasted dollars and the waste of life.”

This said, Forgotten Cats cautions that TNR works only if entire colonies are stabilized. Trapping 95% of the cats in a colony will not stabilize the colony. In addition, Best Friends notes frequent monitoring is an invaluable component of successful TNR programs to ensure new cats who join the colony are identified, so that they too can be sterilized, vaccinated, and ear-tipped. In other words, TNR works best when there is an ongoing dialog and careful planning within a community. This is one reason for my TNR series.

The cats live in the neighborhood—they will be there whether they are cared for or not. Trap-Neuter-Return establishes a point of contact for concerns about the cats and for resolving any community concerns.

Alley Cats Allies

If you wish to support Trap-Neuter-Return right here in Lincoln, Nebraska, check out organizations that provide it. The Cat HouseHusker Cats, and Joining Forces Saving Lives always needs volunteers, donations, and those willing to foster and/or adopt. Help them out today! To get involved on a more national level, check out the Community Cats Movement.

This article first appeared February 2016 at LAA Pet Talk.

ONLINE SOURCES

TNR Defined

Best Friends: TNR is the Key

Cat House: TNR Explained

Feral Cat Project: TNR Defined

Forgotten Cats: TNR

Husker Cats: Feral Cats

Neighborhood Cats: What is TNR?

Old & New Methods

Alley Cats Allies: Case for TNR

Best Friends: TNR for Cats

Cat Overpopulation Spawning New & Innovative Ways

Community Cats Change is Gonna Come

Reasons for TNR

Alley Cats Allies: Case for TNR

Best Friends: TNR for Cats

Forgotten Cats: TNR

What if all the Cats in the World Suddenly Died?

Studies

Culling Cats Increases the Feral Population

Effect of High Impact Target TNR

Evaluation of the Effect of Long-Term TNR

Food Intake of feral cats

Island’s Feral Cats Kill Surprisingly Few Birds

A Glimpse into a Groomer’s Life

Many animal lovers would love to have a career working with animals, but often have to settle for volunteering with them instead. Tina Lassley has the privilege of doing both. She’s a groomer with Driftwood Boarding and Wellness and a foster for Dolly’s Legacy Animal Rescue.

ALLISON: Why did you become a groomer?

TINA: Grooming had never been on my radar. After many life changes, I was kind of thrown in to bathing at Petco. Even then, I never planned on that really going anywhere but it fit.

ALLISON: What qualifies you to offer this service?

TINA: I took Petco’s “grooming school” apprenticeship and worked there several years as a full-time dog groomer. I’ve been grooming now for nine years. Along the way, I’ve joined many groups to get tips and critiques from some of the best groomers. Grooming allows me to give back while getting to do what I love.

ALLISON: What mistakes did you make when you first started?

TINA: I made many mistakes as a groomer. I used to leave faces too long or not cut nails short enough because it scared me. Learning to communicate with dog owners proved tough too. I often struggled with how to decipher their descriptions of how they wanted their dog groomed.

ALLISON: Tell me about a funny memory.

TINA: So many fun memories! Grooming is really a comedy of errors. One time a fellow groomer was grooming this giant beast of a dog on the grooming table. The groomer had the dog in a grooming loop and in a belly harness. She was grooming and we were all just talking and carrying on, not noticing that all this while the dog was chewing through her loop. Out of nowhere, the dog jumped off the table–still connected by her belly harness. The dog pulled the table over, knocked everything off the grooming cart, and took off. At some point, the dog turned and looked at us as if to say, “Are we done?”

ALLISON: Tell me about an embarrassing moment.

TINA: I was doing a nail trim on a wiener dog. This dog hated having his nails trimmed! The owner came to assist me and the dog pooped and released its glands everywhere. Not only did he just poop while I was trimming his nails, but pooped on my hand, down my pants, and even on the wall. It was horrifying! The owner apologized profusely, but what can you do? I finished making the ticket and then  washed off. Getting bodily fluids on me is pretty common and now it doesn’t phase me much.

There’s also this regular that I groom. He humps my hand ever time! Not just a little but a lot! Add to this the fact that we groom in front of big windows visible to everyone. That’s super embarrassing!

ALLISON: Why do you think you’ve done well as a groomer?

TINA: At my first grooming job, I’d say my service expanded because of the rapport I built with the dogs and clients. I’ve taken supposed difficult or mean dogs and not struggled with them. I have a gentle touch and I think that shows. At my current grooming job, I’m in the process of building up my business. I believe the connection I develop with dogs is starting to show and people are realizing this is special…. I’d like to think so anyway!

ALLISON: What lessons have you learned about being a groomer?

TINA: Be patient with clients. Sometimes they can’t easily explain what it is they want. Be patient with the dogs too, because they can’t tell you when something hurts and so you have to be intuitive. They can tell when you’re stressed. Be firm when you know what the dog needs as opposed to what may be wanted. Humanity before vanity!

ALLISON: What advice would you give to potential groomers?

TINA: Be patient, always. Also, relax, don’t be too critical of yourself, and have fun. How many people get to play with dogs all day?

ALLISON: Sell my readers on why they should use your grooming services.

TINA: At Driftwood Boarding and Wellness, we treat everyone like family and put the health and safety of the dog first. We do our best to make sure you are 100% satisfied.

As a groomer, I pride myself on the care of dogs by handling them carefully or talking to them in a soothing voice. Doing whatever they need so they are the most comfortable, while allowing me to get the job done, is priority to me.

Other perks include: Geriatric dogs get a mat to stand on or they can lay down for their groom. Puppies get extra time for attention and playtime so they know they can trust me.

I want long-term clients whose dogs run in the door and jump in my lap and give me kisses. That’s what I strive for.

During certain holidays, I do special things for my regular clients. I made them home-made treats or little gifts. Last Christmas, I took pictures and made frames for them to hang on the tree.

From owning animals, to researching them and signing petitions for them, and now to being a groomer and foster, Tina Lassley is living her dream of caring for animals. You can read about Tina’s volunteer work for Dolly’s Legacy Animal Rescue at: Fostering to Save LivesIf you work with animals in the Lancaster area, whether as an employee or a volunteer, LAA Pet Talk would love to share your story.

 

Dear Miss Behavior: My Dog Eats Poop!

Dear Miss Behavior: My little Shih-Tzu ‘Mitzy’ was a gift from my son. She is the sweetest little girl, and I love her to death. But she has one most disgusting habit–she eats her own poo. I take her to the back yard to do her job and I clean up after her but sometimes not quickly enough. Why does she do this? What can I do to change this behavior? Scolding her has not helped.

missbehaviorDon’t be embarrassed! Some dogs eat feces. First, take Mitzy to the vet to make sure there’s not a medical reason. Then look at the food you’re feeding her; sometimes dogs eat their feces because they aren’t getting a needed nutrient. It may just be that Mitzy’s trying to help you keep the yard clean. She see’s you picking up and wants to do her part.

If she gets a clean bill of health and is eating a quality dog food, then it’s time to work on training Mitzy. Start by putting her on leash when you take her out for her ‘walkies’. As soon as she’s done her business, call her to you, tugging gently on the lead if necessary and reward her. Put her in a sit, and then clean up after her. Once she’s moved away from her feces, you can gently restrain her from going back to it. I might say “Ah-ah” or “Yuck” to let her know you don’t approve.

Teaching her a “Leave it!” command would be really useful. Check out the Good Dog Classes at GLOC to learn how!

marcygraybillThanks to this feature goes to Greater Lincoln Obedience Club, who ran the Miss Behavior Dog Advice Column in their newsletter. Appreciation also is extended to Marcy Graybill, a trainer at GLOC and the expert behind this column. She also hosts her own blog, Dog Log, where she talks about training adventures with her dogs.