Question: I once lived in Highland Park, Ill., with a cat named Poco. We were inseparable. When he was diagnosed with kidney stones, I had to give him up. I just couldn't afford treatment in 1987.
I still miss Poco very much. How do I ask for forgiveness when he depended on me for everything? I feel like I let him down big time.
— C.H., Bloomington, Ind.
Answer: How I wish we had the power to change the past, but so far, that can't be done. And I don't have the power to exonerate you. Besides, who am I? I've made mistakes too. Like you, I suffer from the human condition of being imperfect.
Perhaps you did let your cat down all those years ago. Then again, since 1987, we've learned a great deal about treating kidney stones in cats. It's possible that when Poco was ill, little could be done.
You could atone by saving a life. If you don't currently have a pet, you could adopt from a shelter. A cat with the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) might be a great choice, or a middle-aged cat who otherwise might never find a home.
Q: My female cat has become a bird-killing machine. She's been an indoor/outdoor kitty for several years now. Safety collars (with bells to warn wildlife) come off. Is there a better idea? — E.C., Rutledge, Tenn.
A: Ideally, the best solution is to keep your cat indoors.
For one thing, she'll be safer. While your cat is a predator, cats can also become prey for birds of prey, coyotes and, worst of all, cars. Outdoors, cats may nibble toxic plants or lap up deadly antifreeze. In the winter, they may seek warmth under car hoods, then become mangled when unsuspecting drivers start their engines.
Also, people who allow their cats outside aren't being very neighborly. A roaming cat may use a neighbor's garden as toilet, or drive the neighbor's indoor cat batty just walking past the window. Cats also kill songbirds and other wildlife.
If your cat was formerly feral, or has been living outdoors her entire life, I know it might be challenging to convert her to an indoor existence. The secret is to make life more interesting inside by enriching your cat's environment.
Instead of leaving out food all the time, feed your pet at specific times, except for around 10 percent of her food. Offer that 10 percent in puzzle toys, which the cat has to maneuver to reach the goodies. Place the puzzle toys in random spots around the house and encourage your kitty to "hunt" for them. Provide lots of climbing space, and activities when you're not home. Some cats even enjoy watching DVDs of fish or birds.
Rotate the cat's toys and create some simple new ones; toss a ping pong ball in the bathtub or a wine cork in an empty box. If you have a back yard, build or order some cat fencing (one company is at http://www.catfencein.com). Catios are increasingly trendy — patios or balconies enclosed within cat fencing, so cats can't jump or fall off and predators can't get in.
Because the bell to warn wildlife isn't working, try a cat bib (available at http://www.catgoods.com). For many cats, the bib effectively throws off their balance, so catching birds and lizards becomes much more challenging, even impossible. Arguably, a bib might make an outdoor cat more vulnerable to predators.
Q: There's rumbling where I live about a mandatory law requiring microchip for all pets. In some cases, microchipping may not make sense. How do you feel about this? — C.D., via Cyberspace
A: Personally, I don't feel government mandates are helpful, and a mandate to microchip all pets would be difficult to enforce. Also, with veterinary visits on the decline, I worry that pet owners who don't want to microchip might never visit a veterinarian for fear of being turned in.
However, I don't see any occasion when microchipping would "not make sense." One way to enforce such a law, which has worked in many communities, is to require that all animal shelters and rescue groups microchip pets before adoption. Cook County in Illinois offers periodic low cost microchipping (and vaccine) clinics for pet owners who can't afford the fee.
The lives of millions of pets have been saved as a result of microchipping (when owners have also registered contact information with the chip provider). One provider, HomeAgain lost pet recovery service, just announced their millionth pet recovery since the company launched in 1996.
Sadly, one in three pets will get lost during their lifetimes. Without a microchip, chances of reunification aren't good, particularly for cats. Yet, people are less likely to microchip cats than dogs. There's simply no downside to microchipping.
Q: Stanley, our 9-year-old pug, has started snoring. What can we do? — B.A., Downers Grove, Ill.
A: Be thankful! Typically, pugs start to snore long before age 9. However, any time you spot a new behavior in a pet, it's wise to visit your veterinarian to rule out a physical explanation.
An overweight dog is more likely to snore, so a weight loss regimen might be helpful. However, the reality is that most pugs sooner or later, snore. Of course, maybe Stanley has always snored, and you've just become a light sleeper.
STEVE DALE welcomes questions/comments from readers. Send email to email@example.com.