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Responsible owners make life better for pets and neighbors


Being a responsible pet-owner requires both common sense and common courtesy. Are you doing all you can to be considerate? There's room for improvement if:

* You keep a cat, but don't own a litter box. If you don't know where your cat is relieving himself, how can you be sure he's staying in your yard?

"I don't see what the problem is," said a friend, who loves her cats but refuses to clean out litter boxes. "Cats bury their waste, so it's out of sight, and anyway, its biodegradable. One of my neighbors has a garden, and he's always digging manure into the ground. What's the difference?"

The difference is that steer or chicken manure, screened and sterilized, comes already decomposed and ready to use. And because of health reasons, the fecal remains of carnivores such as dogs and cats cannot be composted and used in gardens.

If you don't like cleaning a litter box, what makes you think your gardening neighbor likes cleaning his litter box of a garden? Get a box.

* You allow your dog to bark day and night. You may kid yourself that she's being "protective," but the truth is, she's bored. She's an outdoor dog, left alone all day, left outside all night. There's nothing to do but bark.

Keep her entertained by setting up a program of training, walks and play. If you're leaving her outside because she's not trustworthy inside, a training regimen can turn her into the dog you want. Besides, how much protection can she be when she's kept away from the valuables inside the house? Welcome her into your family -- both you and your neighbors will sleep better.

* You look the other way when your dog does his thing in the park. Children play in the park, people picnic in the park -- and both activities would be more pleasant if dogs didn't relieve themselves in the park. It's not that hard to pick up after your pet: Carry a couple of plastic bags. Wrap the bag around your hand, pick up the poop and flip the flaps in. Drop it in the nearest trash bin, and that's it. Sure it's distasteful, but you get used to it.

* You let your pets roam the neighborhood. City or country, there are hazards aplenty for loose animals -- cars, people with livestock to protect or rotting garbage can all be deadly. Do you like cleaning up after your dog has knocked over your garbage can? Do you think your neighbor likes it any better? Loose cats yowl and fight and do their share of garbage pilfering, too. Loose dogs may terrorize the neighborhood, killing animals, threatening children and chasing joggers. Do you know where your pet is right now? You should.

Animal haters are more vocal than ever -- and who can blame them? It's possible for all kinds of people and pets to get along, but only if animal lovers do their best to minimize problems.

Q: My cockateel had a run-in with my dog. He got out of it OK -- no scratches or bites -- but lost his tail feathers. Will he ever get new ones?

A: Your bird was lucky to escape with just the loss of a few tail feathers; if he stays out of danger, he should suffer no permanent damage. New feathers have already started to sprout, and you should see signs of a new tail in just a few weeks.

Your story should serve as a reminder that it's important to protect our smaller pets from our larger ones. Dogs and cats are carnivores, and the birds, rodents and reptiles we keep as pets are their natural prey.

It is unfair and unrealistic to expect cats and dogs to completely subjugate their hunters' instincts. Even the most docile and well-mannered carnivore may pounce if temptation skitters across the living-room carpet. For the first few weeks I had my guinea pig, Jeepers, middle dog Andy kept a watch on the cage, just in case that furry tidbit should get out. I imagine the guinea pig found the sight unnerving: The dog would stare for minutes at a time, licking his chops until I'd tell him to knock it off.

The best way to prevent accidents is to keep smaller pets protected in their cages when dogs and cats are in the vicinity.

Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278.

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