December 2014 Newsletter

December 2014

Rescued by Rudolph

Shooter was a four-year-old elk living in the Potacello Zoo. At ten feel tall, with large antlers and a thick brown coat, he was as dashing as Dancer. Most animals would give Shooter a wide berth - his massive size makes him very intimidating.  With his power and strength no one would be surprised to see him take off into the sky with a blinking red nose.

Staff at the zoo were surprised to see him acting strangely one morning as they came to check on him. He seemed very interested in something that was in his water trough. As they came closer, they realized Shooter was trying to dip his hooves into the water, creating quite a spectacle. For fifteen minutes, he examined and prodded and finally dunked his whole head into the trough. He emerged clutching a tiny marmot (a relative of the groundhog) in his gentle jaws. Shooter placed the distressed rodent lightly on the ground and gave it a little nudge as if to check for signs of life. After catching its breath, the marmot scampered off into the bushes.

Rudolph rescue

The marmot would surely have drowned if not for the altruism of Shooter, rescuing it after being trapped in the water trough. Altruism is rare among animals and is almost unheard of between different species.  But in this rare, heartwarming encounter Shooter saw another animal in distress and saved his life. It did not require a huge feat of brawn, just a willingness to act. Perhaps Shooter will make it onto Santa’s team one day. See a video of the rescue at:


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Giving Pets as Gifts

SantaIt’s a rare little girl who hasn’t at one point gotten on Santa’s lap, looked him in the eye and innocently requested a pony for Christmas. Although Santa assures her he will see what he can do, it is an even more rare little girl who actually receives a pony on Christmas morning. Why couldn’t his elves whip up a cute little Pegasus? Because most small girls do not have the space, money, time, energy or resources to take care of a pony. So of course Santa can’t push a pony on them without the resources to take care of one. In fact, many families do not have the resources to take care of any pet whether it is a pony, a dog or a bunny. This holiday season, some of us may need to think twice about giving pets as gifts to our loved ones. While a pet may seem like a joyous, loving holiday present, it doesn’t necessarily come with a happy ending.

Families that love their pets are prepared, or have prepared their children, for this huge responsibility. Even though the pet itself may be a gift, the ongoing care is the true cost to the new owners. A pet presents a long-term commitment, a decade or more in many cases, and a significant dedication of time, money and energy. This can be overwhelming to a family that is not ready or expecting a pet. Consider just the monetary costs for a moment - food, bedding, toys, veterinary care, grooming, and perhaps pet sitting or related costs. And is the family really willing to dedicate time to exercise, play and training?

dogIf a family is not ready to take care of an animal that is thrust upon them, they may send it to a shelter or another home – often with disastrous consequences. If a family does keep a pet they don’t want, the pet may well experience neglect once the novelty has worn off. Inappropriate instances of pet giving often lead to an unfortunate and difficult situation for both the pet and the owner.

Of course, there is also data indicating that a pet can be a wonderful gift in the right circumstances. Assuming the family is prepared and willing to take care of a pet, it can be a wonderful addition to their home. According to a recent survey, 96% of people who received pets as gifts felt that it added to feelings of warmth or love in the home. Eighty six percent of these pets were still in the home a year later.

To end up in that 86% of successful gifts, the first step is not to make it a surprise. It is important to ask the family if they want a pet. It is not enough to ask friends or relatives if the family would like a pet. Sacrifice the element of surprise for the sake of both the animal and for the receiver of the gift. The ASPCA recommends that pets be given only to people who have specifically expressed a sustained interest in owning one. They also recommend that pets be obtained from animal shelters, rescue organizations, friends, family or responsible breeders. If the recipient is under 12 years old, the child’s parents should be ready and eager to assume care for the animal. If the gift has to be a surprise, the gift-giver should be aware of the recipient’s lifestyle and schedule.

It’s an even safer bet to give pets only to immediate family vs. friends that may not know how to say no. Having a pet is a family decision, much like having a baby. It brings a lot of emotional, financial and time concerns. It comes with messes, walks, medications, vet bills and lots of work. It is suggested to talk this through with your immediate family and only decide on a pet for your own household. In making the decision, choose wisely in terms of size, activity level and temperament. Avoid the temptation to make the decision on impulse. If it is for someone outside your family, let them pick the pet. Many variables can affect the animal adoption experience and the likelihood of success.  

A great alternative to giving a pet as a gift is to buy a gift certificate to use at a shelter when the time is right. The gift certificate can even be part of a gift basket filled with all the things a new pet will need. Some items could include toys, a collar, a leash, treats, food and bedding. You can also include books on training, breeds or living with a companion animal. There are plenty of ways to create a lovely pet-related holiday gift that won't risk an unfortunate outcome for the pet and the owner.

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Keeping Pets Safe Over the Holidays
Part I: The Environment


catYou may not dress your dog up as a reindeer or force your cat to wear a Santa hat, but your pet will probably be involved with your holiday festivities one way or another at this time of year. It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of the holiday season, running around buying presents, cleaning and decorating the house, packing for vacation and preparing to see your relatives. However, it is easy to overlook your pet’s best interest during this hectic time. Including your pet in the holiday cheer can sometimes cause more harm than good. How do we ensure that the holidays are fun for them as well?

For starters, keep your pet on his or her normal eating and exercise habits - maintain their normal routine as much as possible. If you are having guests over, practice obedience  training with your pet so they will be well behaved. When the guests do come over, you may want to give your pet a space of their own. It is important that animals have a place where they can retreat from an uncomfortable situation. Provide a space where she can lie down and have access to fresh water. Some pets may want a room to themselves while others will be okay with retreating to their carrier or under a favorite piece of furniture. Even well-intentioned guests can be very stressful if they try to force themselves on an animal. Prepare a “safe” area ahead of time so Fido or Fluffy can decide for themselves when they’ve had enough.

When guests are over, ask them to respect your rules and your animal. They must keep their medications away, as animals can often get into them and be poisoned. Tobacco products are fatal to pets if ingested and an ashtray contains about 25% of total nicotine in a cigarette, making them just as dangerous. It is important not to leave either one lying around. Perfumes and after-shaves your guests might bring contain ethanol and essential oils, which can be incredibly toxic to dogs. In addition, loud noises can terrify animals, especially if they are in a strange situation with unfamiliar people. Keep this in mind when celebrating New Years; your pet is not as excited as you are about making loud (scary) sounds.

Christmas trees are a key part of the tradition in many homes, but they can pose hazards to cats, dogs and other pets. Christmas trees can fall and injure pets or small children; keep your tree tied against the wall for additional support. If you have a live tree be aware that the water in the base can contain fertilizers that are toxic to pets. In addition, the still water can grow bacteria – never let your animals drink from the tree. Pine needles can puncture the digestive system if ingested. To prevent these problems, consider putting a small gate around their tree to prevent access. Alternatively, bells or a water bottle filled with knick-knacks can make considerable noise if disturbed by pets. Place these near the base of the tree, they may scare the animal back if they are moved or they can warn you that your pet is at the tree.


Another common holiday hazard is candles. Never leave a candle where pets can burn themselves or knock it over and cause a fire; this seems obvious yet these accidents occur every year. Always put candles out when leaving the room. If you use a real fireplace, put up a screen to prevent burns. Wires and batteries can electrocute animals and should be kept out of their reach. Christmas lights can burn pets in addition to tangling them up. By biting through the wire, pets can also get shocked. It is important to remember to tape down wires or cords that could potentially cause damage. Batteries can be toxic as well if a pet tries to ingest them, so it is recommended that batteries be kept away until ready to be inserted in the gift. Glass or plastic ornaments can cut a pet’s mouth or paws. Scissors can as well, and should be kept out of reach. Dogs have also been known to play tug of war with tablecloths while the table is covered in expensive china and food. As hilarious as this situation might seem, it can be as dangerous and costly as it sounds.

catHolly, mistletoe and poinsettia plants are also poisonous to dogs and cats. They can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Many varieties of lilies can cause kidney failure in cats. Consider using artificial plants for the holidays instead, they can look just as attractive but without the risks. Keep in mind, too, that your pet may try to eat any edible decorations on the tree or elsewhere in the house, so place them thoughtfully. In addition, dogs have been known to chew their own toys apart and swallow smaller pieces, which can get lodged in the stomach, esophagus or intestines. Thus, you may want to watch them with their new holiday toys or buy them an indestructible one, such as a Kong.

There are many safe alternatives to risky holiday practices. It is important to be aware and keep your pet’s best interest in mind. While it may sound as though your home is fraught with risks, a few simple precautions ahead of time can make it relatively easy to keep your animals from harm. This holiday season, as your kids are looking for Santa’s reindeer, make sure you are looking out for your special pet at home. 

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Holiday Safety, Part II: Food


Whether you’re serving a meal for Thanksgiving, New Years or any holiday in between, your pet is going to want in on the action. One common suggestion is to feed your pet before the event so they will be less tempted to steal food. However, the safeguards that might normally work can be insufficient when those new, delicious odors hit the air. It is important to keep your pets away from the table and to secure garbage can lids so they don’t get into anything dangerous or toxic. Put food away immediately, as anything that is left out may be hunted down. Even a piece of plastic wrap with juice or any kind of smell can tempt animals to eat it – with disastrous consequences.

Chocolate is a treat for humans but not our animal friends. Chocolate is poisonous to cats and dogs and should never be given to them. In fact, many human foods are dangerous to animals. For example, xylitol is a sweetener present in some gums, breath mints, candy, and other human food, tasty to us yet very toxic to dogs. Fatty and spicy foods should never be fed to animals. Bones from most food animals, such as a turkey or chicken, can pierce a dog’s throat or digestive tract. Note that the bones bought from a pet or feed store are not the same ones you find at home after a heavy meal.

rabbit with coffeeCoffee and tea contain dangerous components called xanthines; these also contribute to the problems stemming from chocolate. Uncooked meat can contain disease-causing bacteria – just because your dog is anxious to try something doesn’t mean he should! Finally, be sure to keep alcohol away from pets. They are often attracted to the smell, but alcohol can have life-threatening effects on animals. If you want to give your pet a holiday treat, try a commercial product or one of the many recipes we’ve posted in our previous newsletters.

Unfortunately, there are holiday hazards beyond food. Holiday decorations and gift-wrapping materials can be potential dangers to animals. While these clearly aren't foods, your animals may feel otherwise! If cats eat tinsel, it can lead to an obstructed digestive tract and ultimately severe vomiting, dehydration and possible surgery. Any of the many types of New Year’s confetti can also produce these problems, as can ribbon or yarn. When wrapping presents, make sure pets do not try to eat wrapping paper, string, plastic or cloth. Animals are often attracted to adhesives or glues that can be toxic to them - so make sure the ribbons end up on the outside of the surprise!

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