Make a List

The large, sad brown eyes of our golden retriever turned to look at me. In that moment, I had my answer.

In early November 2003, we received news that our 11-year old golden retriever Jake had an aggressive form of cancer. We had noticed a lump on the side of his nose that had grown large in a short amount of time. In addition, he had begun to experience nosebleeds. In all other ways Jake appeared and acted normal. This past January 20th was the ten-year anniversary of Jake’s death. The memory of that day is as clear to me as if it were yesterday.

Jake, Baxter and author

Jake, Baxter and author

It was a frigidly cold day, very windy, but beautifully sunny. The cold air helped Jake breathe more easily because the tumors had broken into his nasal cavity. Though I did not want him outside, I let him go when he asked. After about thirty minutes, I went looking for him from within the house by peering through the windows. I discovered him lying next to a Rhododendron bush in front of the large dining room windows. The bush was protecting him from much of the wind and so I let him remain as I stood watching him.

The maple tree in our front yard was always full of birds, and on that particular day it was especially crowded. I watched Jake for a long time as he watched the birds coming and going from the tree branches. His head would turn slightly to allow him to continue gazing at them as they disappeared into the sky. I had never before seen him lay in that spot nor had I ever seen him watch the birds so intently.

I was transfixed watching him, looking so peaceful, lost in my thoughts of what we were about to have to do. Then quite slowly, he turned and stared at me through the window. In all likelihood I had moved, but it was so strange because at that same moment, I was asking myself if we were really doing the right thing. His turn to stare back at me was in a way his answer – yes. It was as if he knew what was happening and what I was thinking.

As pet owners, we are often faced with life and death decisions of our animal family members. I am very grateful that early in Jake’s life we had found a veterinarian in whom we had great confidence. More importantly, we had found a man in whose compassionate company we were comfortable sharing those most painful of moments.

I am also grateful for a pet sitter Melissa Bensen who had quietly suggested after learning the news that my husband and I come up with an objective and very specific list of ways in which we would know it was Jake’s time to go. Though it was painful when we discussed the issue – for Jake was then happy following his usual pattern of begging for food, chasing popcorn tossed on the floor, and wanting to go for rides in the truck — we did create a list. Melissa’s reasoning was that towards the end we would be too emotional to be objective. She was right.

When Jake no longer stuck his nose in our lap at the sound of a fork scratching on an empty plate, or wagged his tail in anticipation of a ride in the truck, we knew his quality of life was gone. He died quickly in our arms, in less than 25 seconds.

As a pet owner, look objectively at your beloved dog, cat, bird, hamster, etc. Understand what it is in their lives that make them happy and comfortable – how do they define quality. Make sure you the owner are comfortable with your veterinarian. He or she will be there at one of the most painful times of your life. Most of all cherish that pet each and every day. Make time in your often overly busy schedule to be with them, to enjoy them. Sadly one of nature’s greatest gifts to us, is taken from us much too quickly.


Cats Just Must Scratch!

Why do cats scratch?

Many people assume it is to sharpen their claws, but it is actually vital to the health and well being of the animal. When very young, it aids in the development of his skeletal and muscular structure. Throughout their lives, cats continue to scratch in order to stretch the muscles and ligaments in the toes and feet, as well as to stretch their bodies and to strengthen and tone their muscles.

Cats also do it to mark their territory. There are scent glands on their paws and when they scratch, they leave their own special scent. Territory marking is also visual. What you see as torn and tattered is your cat’s way of visually marking her area. And, a cat’s claws are covered with an outer sheathing that needs to be rubbed or pulled away from the claw, which scratching will do. In addition to these healthy and logical reasons, it just feels good!

The first step to dealing with the problem is to accept the fact that your cat just must scratch. The trick is to stop her scratching the newly upholstered furniture. Enticing your cat to use a scratching post is the ideal solution.

A good scratching post must be tall enough for your cat to fully extend her body. Some experts suggest at least 28 inches. It must also be heavy enough or secured to prevent it from toppling over. Your cat won’t use it if it wobbles. There are a variety of items on the market and you may need to experiment to find one that your cat likes. A log from the woodpile might be the perfect solution.
Cat with scratching post
Initially, you may not be able to hide the scratching post in an unobtrusive spot of the room. It needs to be where your cat likes to be and if that’s in the formal dining room, then that is where it has to be – at least at the start of your training.

You may also need several scratching posts. The money you invest on multiple, well-constructed posts will be far less than the price of new carpeting. Place the posts in the spots your cat already considers his territory – at the corner of the sofa and/or the lounge chair, near the living room drapes, wherever. You can move them later, once the posts have become her territory. But then move it only a short distance. Some suggest move it by only 3 inches at a time. Eventually, you will get it into that inconspicuous corner.

Cats like to scratch when they wake up. Keep one near your cat’s bed, or your bed, if that happens to be one and the same.

You will need to persuade your cat to use the posts. Try rubbing catnip on them or giving your cat her favorite treat whenever she uses one of the posts — but only when she uses the post. You could also leave some of her toys near the post and when you see her using it, reward her –and yourself — by spending a little play time with her.

Cats don’t like citrus odors and you might want to try putting a bowl of citrus potpourri near the pieces of furniture that you are trying to discourage your feline from scratching. You can also dissuade her from scratching the furniture or carpeting by covering them with double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, or sheets of sandpaper.

It is going to take time to retrain your cat, especially if you are dealing with an older feline with well-established habits. Physical punishment will not work and it will make your cat fearful of you. You may use a water spray bottle to discourage your cat when you catch him scratching inappropriate items.

Trimming a cat’s nails will not discourage your cat from scratching. But you should clip off the sharp tips of the claws on her front feet every two weeks or so. This helps prevent them from becoming snagged in carpets and fabrics, or being painful when she takes a playful swat at you.

Declawing a cat is NOT the solution. “Declawing is a procedure whereby a veterinarian amputates the end digit and claw of a cat’s paws—similar in scope to cutting off a person’s finger at the last joint. The Humane Society of the United States opposes declawing when done solely for the convenience of the owner. Scratching is a natural behavior for cats and can be directed to appropriate items. “ (

In addition, declawing a cat causes other problems: personality changes (extreme shyness or aggression) and refusal to use a litter box. After declawing, pain in the toes can cause changes to a cat’s normal gait, which eventually can cause stiffness and pain in their legs, hips, and spine.

When you decide to share your life with a cat, be aware that cat scratching is both natural and healthy for your feline companion. Be prepared to work with your pet to channel her scratching appropriately. Remember – cats just must scratch!


Never Enough!

When people see the pile of stuffed animals, ropes and balls in the corner of the bedroom they often ask, “Do the dogs have enough toys?” My answer is always the same. “No.”

The pile has grown over the last twenty years of dog ownership. Many in the mound have been ripped apart and sewn together, de-stuffed and re-stuffed numerous times, have taken spins in the washing machine and have gone missing for months only to reappear, as if by magic.


I cannot come home at the end of the day without our black Lab, Cole, running to the pile, grabbing a toy and racing back to me with it in his mouth––often squeaking it the whole way.

Friends visit us with their mastiff, Dixie. She knows where the toy basket is kept, grabs one of the stuffed critters and settles down on the floor for a ripping and de-squeaking fest. Cole often joins her and the carpet is soon covered in piles of white cotton and mangled, plastic squeakers. Fortunately they don’t swallow these innards and the only adverse effect is the need to drag out the vacuum.

Our first dog, Jake, also loved to tear apart stuffed toys. As a new dog owner and having always been taught to take care of my own toys growing up, I was always distraught to see Jake tear apart one of his. At the time I didn’t appreciate the joy and soothing effect that tearing gives to a dog. Sadly, I would put a toy away so that it wasn’t destroyed. I will forever regret doing that.

Toys can bring great joy to a dog and to us as we watch them play. So, go help boost the economy and buy your dog a new toy. The pile is never big enough!

Note: This first appeared as the “Editor’s Notes” in the April/May’13 issue of Pet Tails Magazine.