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Trainer: You can teach an old cat new tricks

Cats can learn and perform tricks as well as dogsThough many pet owners think of cats as independent and stubborn compared to dogs, one animal expert says he’s developed methods to train cats to do just about anything.

Gregory Popovich, a trainer who leads the Comedy Pet Theater in Las Vegas, will release a book later this month explaining his techniques for affecting the behavior of household felines, USA Today reports. The book, You Can Train Your Cat, is set to be for sale on October 13.

Though Popovich’s cats are well known for performing skits, jumping through hoops and dancing on their hind legs, the trainer advises that his methods work for preventing clawed furniture as well.

The cat connoisseur explains that his pets respond best to praise. He claims that changes in pitch and volume of his voice motivate the cats to achieve the goal the trainer sets out. He warns, however, "I never shower the cat with effusive praise except during training."

Popovich, a fourth-generation circus performer from Russia told the news source that that Las Vegas’ animal shelters allow him to keep his performances fresh, and provide a home for his favorite animals.

The U.S. Humane Society advises that when training cats, punishment is only effective when it does not come directly from the owner. For example, double-sided tape on couch cushions may prevent the pet from scratching furniture more effectively than a squirt with a spray bottle.

New Product: Nintendo Wii for pets

Donkey Kong won't be the only animal playing gamesThe popular interactive video game system, Nintendo Wii, now allows pet owners to let their favorite animals get in on the fun.

The game Wii Fit Plus, and update of Wii Fit, lets users involve their pets by creating avatars of their dogs and cats and entering profile information such as the pet’s name, birthday and weight, the Associated Press reports. Through use of the game’s balance board controller, the owners may weigh themselves with their pets; the game then continues to monitor the pet’s weight.

While the updated game does not provide any training exercises for pets, it includes three strength training exercises, three yoga activities and 15 balance games for humans.

Katie Cray, manager of trend marketing at Nintendo, told the news source, "It’s so fun to have a motivator when you’re working out."

She added, "Obviously, if you have a dog, you’re probably out there walking it, and that’s exercise in and of itself, so it’s nice to have the ability to track the progress of both your dog and yourself." The game provides owners who have taken out veterinary pet insurance to monitor their animal’s health.

An article published by the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine claimed that daily exercise for dogs reduces hyperactivity, prevents depression, builds confidence and controls weight.

Catholic churches honor animals with pet blessing

Saint Bernards and all sorts of pets will be invited to churchThis Sunday, Catholic churches around the country are inviting community members to bring their pets to church in an annual Blessing of the Pets mass.

Guided by tradition, churches this week will celebrate St. Francis of Assisi, who is best known as the patron saint of animals. Though the saint left few writings he is accredited with the popular hymn, "All creatures of our God and King."

A representative of the Church of Our Savior in Massachusetts told the Middleboro Gazette, "What we know of St. Francis and his connections to animals only comes from legends. However, the celebration and remembrance of his life and work reminds us how we as creatures of this earth are all connected to God and are present because of God’s joy and mercy in creation."

The La Quinta church in Palm Springs, California, has been offering the pet blessing ceremony for the last 10 years. In 2008, more than 200 pet owners brought their animals to be sanctified in the church’s courtyard and then received a personal certificate acknowledging the blessing.

Some churches advise that owners of aggressive animals bring a photograph or stuffed animal as a stand-in for their pet.

Study: Pets are looking out for our health

Study: Pets are looking out for our healthA Missouri veterinary research center is preparing to study the ways in which animals provide mental and physical health benefits to older people.

The University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction (ReCHAI) has conducted preliminary studies which suggest that pets help to lower blood pressure, encourage exercise and improve psychological health, the USA Today reports.

A 2008 study by the researchers paired older adults with shelter dogs and encouraged them to walk outdoors for one hour, five times a week. Another group of adults were partnered with a human "walk-buddy."

After 12 weeks, the study found that the individuals who walked dogs exercised 24 percent more than those paired with another person.

While the human walking partners often discouraged each other and made excuses for staying indoors, the participants with pets consistently hit their favorite trails. ReCHAI director Rebecca Johnson told the news source, "Pets provide unconditional love and acceptance and may be part of answers to societal problems, such as inactivity and obesity."

While pets work wonders to miraculously improve our health, the North American Pet Health Insurance Association says that veterinary pet insurance can be used to protect pet health and ensure the financial stability of the pet’s family.

House Bill proposes tax breaks for pet owners

House Bill proposes tax breaks for pet ownersU.S. legislators are considering the extension of tax deductions to pet owners for their animal’s healthcare expenses.

Last month, Republican representative Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan introduced H.R. 3501 before the House of Representatives, dubbing the bill the Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years (HAPPY) Act. The proposal would amend the IRS code to allow taxpayers deductions of up to $3,500 for certain pet care expenses.

To justify the change in IRS code, the bill mentioned that the 2007-2008 National Pet Owners Survey determined 63 percent of U.S. households own a pet and that the "Human-Animal Bond has been shown to have positive effects upon people’s emotion and physical well-being."

The legislation defined "qualified pets" as legally owned domesticated live animals, exempting animals used for research or owned in association with a trade or business. Qualified expenses are "amounts paid in connection with providing care (including veterinary care) for a qualified pet other than any expense in connection with the acquisition of the qualified pet."

The bill was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means, where it remains under consideration.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, annual costs of caring for cats and dogs can range from $670 to $1,580, depending on the commodities and services purchased.

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