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In praise of pets.



Superior senses of smell and hearing help pets serve as sentinels to danger--and the animals often become heroes by saving the lives of those they love.

Ruth and her husband, Robert, of Amarillo, Texas, were home asleep when Uggy, their six-year-old mixed-breed cat, jumped on top of Ruth and began meowing and tugging at the bed sheets. This was unusual behavior for Uggy, an antisocial creature. Ruth reluctantly followed Uggy to the other room, where she discovered a paper sack smoldering on top of the radiator heater. Ruth immediately removed the sack. She credits Uggy with preventing a fire.

"Uggy has always been a real proud cat, and if something does not go to suit her, she lets you know about it," Ruth told me. That trait may have saved Ruth's and Robert's lives. It has also left me, Uggy's vet, with scars to prove that Uggy doesn't like what I do.

Scratch One Burglar

Six months ago, Renee, of Fort Wayne, Indiana, was awakened from a deep sleep by loud, vicious howling from her four-year-old Siamese cat, Simon. "The first thing that crossed my mind was that another cat had somehow gotten in the house and Simon was involved in a cat fight," Renee said. "I could now hear a lot of scuffling, along with all the noise from Simon." Renee started down the stairs toward the racket and discovered the TV and VCR missing from the living room. She entered the kitchen in time to see a figure run out the kitchen doorway with Simon on his heels. "The intruder had kicked in the kitchen door. I was sleeping so soundly that I didn't hear any of this, but Simon must have gotten up to investigate," Renee said. "Simon probably attacked when the burglar started up the stairs."

The police found the intruder's blood on the dishwasher, located near the kitchen door, and human blood on Simon when he returned home after chasing the burglar for ten minutes. Simon is normally an affectionate lap cat; however, he has also been known to attack visitors as they climb the stairs. Apparently, Simon considers the upstairs floor his territory. Even without front claws, he persuaded one "cat burglar" to avoid houses with "attack cats."

Pig Makes Waves

Victoria, a teenager who lives in Houston, Texas, is the proud owner of a pet pig named Priscilla. Victoria had a lot of fun teaching Priscilla to walk on a leash and to swim. Then, during the summer of 1984, Priscilla made national news when she rescued a young boy in danger of drowning.

Priscilla was swimming with Victoria and a group of Victoria's friends when Anthony, an 11-year-old nonswimmer, wandered into deep water. He went under and began screaming for help. Priscilla, three months old and 25 pounds, reached the boy first. Anthony managed to grab Priscilla's harness, and the pig dragged him to safety.

I met Priscilla when she was named the first member of the Texas Pet Hall of Fame in February 1985. She was a beautiful snow-white juvenile, dressed in a large blue bow. She just snorted when presented with her plaque, but she seemed to love the attention. Today, I understand that Priscilla is a mother; I'm sure she will teach all her offspring to swim.

Unterrified Terrier

Mike believes that Mr. Ed, a pit bull terrier, saved his life. Mike was asleep when gas began leaking from a propane gas heater. Mr. Ed tried to alert Mike that something was amiss, but Mike was already heavily drugged from the fumes. Ed grabbed Mike by the arm and pulled him off the bed. Mike finally managed to crawl out the back door. Mr. Ed licked Mike's face and arms and kept him warm in the freezing weather until Mike recovered enough to get help.

A Good Shepherd

King, a mixed puppy of German shepherd heritage, adopted Howard and Fern of Granite Falls, Washington, one Christmas Eve. King repaid Howard and Fern's kindness a year later by saving the family when an electrical fire consumed the house. King awakened Pearl, the couple's daughter, and together King and Pearl alerted Fern. The two women thought Howard had escaped. However, King refused to jump out the window to safety. He repeatedly barked and ran back toward the smoke-filled hall. Fern finally realized that Howard was still inside; she grabbed King's collar and followed him to Howard. Together, she and King dragged the unconscious Howard from the burning house. The pads of King's paws were burned and his hair was singed. In 1981, King was presented with the Ken-L Ration Dog Hero title.

Animals serve as sentinels to danger because of their superior senses of smell and hearing. Pets also perform heroic deeds while protecting their territories or trying to save their own lives. Yet altruism, an unselfish concern for others, may be an attribute of animals as well as people. It is inspiring to read about animals that save other animals or people from danger. They deserve the special awards. Millions of pets save us daily from the dangers of loneliness, and they too deserve to be recognized.

Questions for the Vet

Dear Dr. Whiteley,

I have a Chinese Shar-Pei dog with a very short horse coat. (His hair covering is so thin you can see his skin through his hair on his tail and on his tummy and legs and feet.) We live in southern Minnesota, where our winters can be quite severe. Our Shar-Pei is two years old and likes to play outside with our blue heeler and likes to roam our grove following interesting scents. We have a nice coat for him to protect him from his neck to his tail, but we know of no way to keep his feet warm and dry when he is out in snow up to his neck. He goes out at about 10 [degrees] to 20 [degrees] above zero or colder and plays for half-hour or so and comes back with his feet all red and frostbitten and possibly freezing.

But what really happens to his pads and feet in these circumstances? Do his pads and feet have so little circulation that they really freeze? If my toes froze they would fall off--what happens to my Shar-Pei's pads and toes?

Will his feet get tougher and tougher with time--like a callus--so they can take more and more cold without causing damage?

I hope you can find room in your column. I'm sure a lot of other people would like to know about this.

Ruth A. Shore

Washington, Minnesota

Dear Ruth,

Frostbite causes inflammation and, in extreme cases, destruction of body tissues (human or animal). Minor cases of frostbite result in redness, heat, pain, and swelling. After these signs subside, irritation and itching may occur; the body part is usually sensitive to cold. In severe cases, circulation to the body part is destroyed, and the affected part may shrivel or drop off. A dog acclimated to your cold Minnesota winters survives better in ice and snow than a dog from the South or one kept indoors at all times. Your dog might appreciate a pair of booties to go with his winter coat. You may have to experiment to come up with the best water-repellent material. The Eskimos often use seal-skin, but I doubt it's available in Minnesota. Perhap heavy denim or leather would suffice. The booties can be fastened to the dog's legs above the dewclaws with Velcro or tape. The booties must fit tight enough to prevent their coming off but not tight enough to constrict circulation. Remove the booties when they get wet.


Dear Dr. Whiteley,

At the laundromat yesterday I came across your article in the November '87 issue, which had your comments on safety in the home for pets. As I had lost a dearly loved cat to pleurisy, I thought pet lovers ought to be warned about people with respiratory infections handling cats.

Florence Smyth

Tucson, Arizona

Dear Florence,

Cats with any severe illness must be handled very carefully. A struggle during handling may be the last straw for a cat with a breathing difficulty. I have found that much of what you can do for a very sick animal depends upon the personality of the animal involved. My experience has convinced me that many of my severely ill patients instinctively sense that I am trying to help them and cooperate accordingly. Others seem to feel that they would rather die than submit to human intervention. And they usually do.


Dear Dr. Whiteley,

I am the owner of two wonderful cats. One is only one year old--a Siamese that was put in the pound because the coloring of its eyes was not blue enough. He is fine. We love him dearly. However, our other cat--an older and wonderful sweet Burmese mix, all brown-black and gold eyes--is overweight. But she has a cough that sounds congested, and it seems to come about when she is upset by the younger cat, or she wakes up with it. She was born with rhinitis of the nose too. Our vet has done X-rays of her lungs--they're clear--and cannot pinpoint her difficulty. I feel so bad for her, as she is very healthy otherwise. The vet also said her heart is fine. I give her vitamins too. She is four years old.

Any other suggestions you can give me would be very valued. I am sure my vet is open for any suggestions too. I'm trying to cut her food now too that the younger one is full-grown and he doesn't eat so often. They do get along fairly well--she seems to know he's still a baby. They are both declawed and neutered and spayed. And they're only house cats--never outside. She has had this cough about a year. It is not a constant cough--she may only cough once a week or three times a week. Sporadic!

Joan Durning

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Dear Joan,

I am convinced from your letter that your Burmese's chronic cough is not serious and that she is being closely monitored by her veterinarian. Rhinotraceitis is a herpes virus that causes upper-respiratory signs in cats and kittens. Even though your cat has had the disease and is probably vaccinated against it yearly, she can show signs of the virus during the periods of stress. Other possibilities are hair balls, feline asthma, old injuries to the trachea, parasites, and heart disease. Perhaps there is also a psychogenic factor if coughing occurs when the cat is upset.

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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Vets on pets; use of animal sense of smell, hearing
Author:Whiteley, H. Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Nov 1, 1988
Previous Article:Taking the plunge.
Next Article:Houseplants: clearing the air.

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