Author Archives: Hadley Rush

Score one for Hemingway’s cats

By: Arden Moore

For nine years, I lived in South Florida and looked forward to the occasional getaway to Key West. From my home in Palm Beach County, it took about five hours to reach the final key – Key West.

Ah, but it was well worth the drive. Instead of a rainbow at the end of the trip, there was a special house, actually a mansion, which housed special cats. These cats are all descendents of polydactyl cats owned – and adored – by the late famous writer, Ernest Hemingway.

Polydactyl cats, by definition, have extra toes – on their front paws and sometimes, back paws, too. Hemingway’s felines – more accurately – their descendants – have freely roamed the grounds of the Hemingway house which is now a major tourist attraction in Key West. Many of them loved to greet visitors and pose for photos.

These cats knew they had it made. Free meals. Free lodging. Adoring fans. What could be better? Unfortunately, big government, namely the U.S. Department of Agriculture, opted to try to force removal of the cats – citing a city law that prohibits more than four domestic animals per household.

For more than a year, the feds engaged in a catfight with the locals running the Hemingway house. I am happy to report that the Key West City Commission recently voted to exempt the Hemingway house from that city law on the number of animals allowed per property.

The famous polydactyl cats will get to roam the grounds as the members of the commission ruled that these felines are indeed animals of historic, social and tourism significance.

If you ever get the opportunity to visit Key West, please do. It is one of the few remaining places in the country where freedom truly exists – without a lot of meddling laws. Just ask the Hemingway cats.

Focusing In On Feline Vision

Posted by Audrey Pavia on 10/10/2007 in Scratching Post Articles

When it comes to their eyes, cats share some similarities with people. After all, both human and feline eyes are located in the front of the face, so both species have good depth of field. A good depth of field allows people to do things like play basketball, drive cars and plant flowers. It enables cats to accurately calculate jumping distances when they are hunting or just leaping from your floor to the couch.

This is where the similarity in vision ends between cats and humans. Cats see better than people when it comes to movement in their peripheral vision. They also have a wider angle of vision. Because cats evolved as predators, their eyes are designed to take in a view of 120 degrees around them. Cats aren’t that good at discerning color and texture, but they have an excellent ability to spot motion in their field of vision.

If a cat feels threatened, its pupils dilate so it can take in an even wider range of peripheral vision, enabling it to see better in the event it has to defend itself. Also, when a cat is preparing to attack prey or even another cat, the pupils become narrow to provide better depth perception.

During daylight hours, however, people possess a much more acute vision than cats. People see details in sharp focus, while cats are believed to have slightly blurred vision. People can also see the full spectrum of colors, while cats are unable to see the color red. The reason? People have many more color sensitive cone photoreceptors in their eyes than cats do.

When the lights go out, though, everything changes. Cats have something called a tapetum in their eyes, which is a reflective layer that increases the amount of light that passes through the retina. This enables cats to see very well in dim light. They can see as well in pitch black as we can see in full moonlight. This is because cats evolved to hunt at dawn and dusk, making them most active in dim light. Cats can see six times better in the dark than people.

What is the anatomy behind all this amazing stuff? The feline eye sits inside a bony structure called the orbit, located in the cat’s skull. The eye itself is made up of the eyeball, and associated nerves, muscles, blood vessels and connective tissue that reside inside the orbit.

Within the eyeball lies the anatomy that allows the cat to see. The eyeball is covered with a white outer layer called the sclera, which rests over the uvea, an area containing blood vessels. Covering the outer part of the eyeball is the cornea, which is clear, and refracts light onto the retina, which transforms light rays into nerve impulses. These impulses are relayed to the brain via the optic nerve. The cat’s brain then makes sense of the rays and converts them into images that the brain can understand.

The next time you look into your cat’s eyes, think about what amazing organs these are. Without them, your cat wouldn’t be the incredibly special creature she is. Seeing is believing.

Look Out for Foxtails

Posted by Audrey Pavia on 10/10/2007 in General Articles

At first glance, they seem innocent enough. After all, they are just seedpods looking for a place to lay down their roots. But beyond that innocent exterior lurks a menace that can easily wreak havoc with your dog’s health.

We aren’t talking about some alien life form here, but rather, a very earthly phenomenon known as the foxtail. Found all over the United States at various times of the year, these plant parts are the bane of dog owners everywhere.

What Are Foxtails?

We’ve all seen foxtails out in nature, whether in a vacant lot, along a roadside or in a mountain meadow. Foxtails are simply fox-tail-like clusters of seeds on the stalks of certain types of grasses. The clusters have sharp points designed by nature to penetrate the soil once the cluster comes loose from the plant, enabling the seeds to take hold in the ground and grow roots.

To help ensure that the seeds will be able to take root, the seed cluster contains barbs that make it hard for the cluster to come loose from the soil once it penetrates. The outside of the cluster also harbors a bacterium that contains an enzyme designed to break down cellular matter. This helps the seed burrow into the ground past other plants.

Grasses with this feature can be found all around the country, but are most common in the Western United States. The greatest foxtail problem occurs in California.

Foxtails are most troublesome to dog owners in the late spring and summer in drier climates because this is when they come loose from the plant and “look for” a place to bury themselves.

The foxtail’s unique design provides grasses with a very successful method of reseeding in the wild. Unfortunately, these same features are what make foxtails a problem for dog owners. When a dog comes in contact with a foxtail, the cluster attaches to the dog’s fur and begins to move inward as the dog moves. The barbs on the cluster keep the foxtail from falling off or “backing out” of the fur, and the enzymes in the foxtail’s bacterium begin to break down the dog’s hair and tissue. The foxtail begins to work its way into the dog’s body, just as it would work its way into the soil had it entered the ground.

Any dog that spends time in an area ripe with foxtails is at risk for picking up one or more of these problematic seed casings.

Health Hazard

Dogs that come into contact with foxtails stand a good chance of having one of these insidious plant pieces work its way into the body. The result can be a very sick dog. The degree of illness depends on the area of the body where the foxtail entered and the amount of damage it has caused. Foxtails can enter the nasal passages, eyes, ears and mouth, and can work their way into the dog’s lungs, along the backbone and into many other locations throughout the body.

It’s up to a veterinarian to locate the foxtail inside the dog’s body and remove it. In cases where the foxtail is beyond the reach of tweezers or forceps, the dog will need to undergo surgery for removal of the foxtail.

Keeping Foxtails Away

Given the potentially destructive action of foxtails that come into contact with dogs, it’s imperative that dog owners in foxtail heavy areas use preventative measures to keep their pets free from this hazardous plant part.

Try to avoid walking your dog in fields or on roadsides where foxtails are prevalent. Since the dry season is the only time foxtails are really a problem, you don’t have to worry about walking your dog in these areas when the grass is green.

When camping or hiking with your dog, keep an eye out for foxtails in areas where your dog is walking or running. Try to keep him out of these areas if you can.

In the event that your dog comes into contact with a foxtail-infested area, be sure to go over him carefully to look for any foxtails that may have lodged in his coat. Dogs with thick hair are at greatest risk of you missing a foxtail, so look closely if your dog has an undercoat that could easily hide one of these problematic seed clusters.

To help guard against foxtails, some owners give their dogs a thorough grooming after the dog has come into contact with these plants. This includes combing through the dog’s coat with a fine-tooth comb. Owners also examine the dog’s entire body, especially the undersides of the paws, the armpits, stomach and inside the ears.

Owners of dogs with very thick hair sometimes clip their dogs down to help prevent foxtails from sticking to the hair and becoming hidden beneath it.

Signs that your dog may have a foxtail in his nose include sudden sneezing, pawing at his nose and possible bleeding from the nostril. As the foxtail works its way deeper into your dog’s sinuses, the dog’s reaction may eventually dissipate, leading you to believe whatever was bothering him has gone away. In reality, the foxtail has become even more dangerously embedded and may cause severe infection.

A foxtail lodged in your dog’s ear will cause him to paw at his ear, tilt his head, shake his head, cry and even possibly move in a stiff manner when he walks. You may not be able to see the foxtail since it may have become embedded deep within the ear.

Foxtails sometimes become lodged in the eyes, and cause tearing, squinting, and mucous discharge. Your dog may paw at his eye, but you may not be able to see the foxtail if it has lodged beneath the dog’s eyelid.

Your dog may even swallow a foxtail, causing him to gag, retch, cough, eat grass, stretch his neck and swallow repeatedly.

If you suspect your dog has encountered a foxtail that has entered his body and shows any of these signs, be sure to take him to a vet immediately if you can’t remove the foxtail yourself. It’s important to act quickly. Foxtails can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections.

Dealing with Nippy Dogs

Posted by Audrey Pavia on 10/8/2007 in Training Tips Articles

If you’ve been around dogs for much of your life, you have, at some point, been touched by a dog’s teeth. While these experiences were probably benign — an overexcited puppy mouthing your arm or a friendly pooch gnawing on your hand — the potential for bodily harm is real whenever canine teeth meet human skin.

Nipping is an annoying and potentially dangerous habit in dogs. While most dogs nip as part of play, some do it to send a loud message. Whether your dog is nipping out of playfulness or aggression, you shouldn’t ignore this unpleasant habit.

Before you can figure out how to stop your dog from nipping, you need to understand why he’s doing it. If your dog is a puppy, it’s likely he’s nipping because he wants to engage you in a game (puppies nip each other for fun), or because he’s teething. Either way, this is the time to teach your pup that his teeth should never make contact with human skin, no matter what the reason.

Start by letting your puppy know that nipping is not appreciated. The minute he starts to bite you, say “No bite!” in a loud voice and end the play session immediately. Do this consistently until your youngster gets the message that when he bites you, you react unpleasantly and then ignore him.

In the meantime, give him objects he can safely gnaw on to satisfy his need to chew. Ask your veterinarian to recommend some toys and treats that are safe for chewing. Be sure to enroll your puppy in obedience classes too so he learns that he must respect humans as he grows up.

If your dog is already grown and still has a tendency to nip when he wants to play, use the same method for teaching him that biting is unacceptable. Tell him “No bite!” and walk away–and do this each and every time. If you are consistent with this method, he’ll get the message soon enough.

If your dog nips because he wants to stop you from doing something, like grooming him or moving him off the bed or couch, your problem may be more difficult to solve.

A dog who nips when he objects to what you want him to do has not accepted the fact that you are the pack leader in your household. In other words, the dog doesn’t accept your authority and is basically telling you to take a hike. This behavior is not okay —unless of course you want your dog to start running your household.

To change your dog’s attitude, you need to change his perception of you. The best way to do this is to enroll in an obedience class. Here, you will learn how to gain your dog’s respect, while at the same time teaching him that he must follow your commands — not the other way around.

Remember that your new role as leader doesn’t end when class is over. Practice obedience at home as well. You want to drive home the point that you are the one in charge, at home as well as in class.

If your dog’s nipping continues despite your efforts at obedience training, consult with a professional dog trainer. If your dog has been allowed to get away with nipping for a long time, his habits may be harder to break without professional help.

If your dog is okay with adults but nips at children, your problem is serious. Even a small dog can easily hurt a child, or at the very least scare him or her to the point that the child becomes terrified of dogs. You should consult a professional trainer for assistance with this issue since this type of nipping can also escalate into more dangerous aggression.

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