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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Guess Who Else Needs Sunblock?

By now, everyone knows that you MUST slather yourself with sunblock before venturing into the summer sun, especially if you're a naturally pale person. Now, vets are saying that it's a good idea to slather your pale canine as well.

Here's a recent New York Times story about it (by the way: I'm writing from NYC for the next few days). Click here to read it.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Scary Cat

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- (AP) -- A state judge on Tuesday spared the life of Lewis the cat, whose vicious attacks on neighbors landed his owner in court, but the terrorizing tomcat was ordered confined to the house at all times.

“There are no exceptions. None,” Judge Patrick Carroll told Lewis’ owner, Ruth Cisero.

If Lewis gets out, even accidentally, Cisero could face up to 6 months in prison, and Lewis’ fate would be in the hands of animal control officers.

Cisero had faced a charge of reckless endangerment because neighbors complained that the gray and white cat’s long claws and stealth had allowed it to attack at least a half-dozen people. Some who were bitten and scratched ended up seeking treatment at hospitals.

The judge ordered Cisero to complete two years of probation, after which her record will be expunged.

Cisero had fought to keep Lewis, and rejected a previous probation deal because it was contingent on euthanizing the cat.

“I never thought it would come to this,” she said. “It’s been an absolute nightmare.
It’s ruined my life.”

The cat’s case has drawn national attention, with Lewis appearing in People magazine and on his own page on A Utah animal sanctuary offered to take the cat, but Eugene Riccio, Cisero’s attorney, said Lewis enjoys life in southern New England and wants to stay.

Almost Too Gross to Post

But I guess we need to remember that this kind of sicko is wandering around out there, not only a threat to animals but possibly to humans (studies show that abuse of animals is a strong predictor of violence, especially toward children).

I'll just give you the headline: Indiantown Man Accused of Sex With Puppy. Now you can decide if you even want to look. (Thanks, I THINK, to my colleague, Noah, for pointing this out). Click here to read it.

Meet Morgan: Train-riding Therapy Dog

My story in today's Herald advancing tomorrow's Take Your Dog to Work Day features a charming black Lab named Morgan, who can brighten anyone's day with one look from her bittersweet-chocolate eyes. She rides South Florida's Tri-Rail to the Palm Beach County State Attorney's Office several days a week, where she works with child-abuse victims.

My photographer and animal-lover pal Candace West shot some terrific pictures. Click here to see them (and more in the online slide show) and read the story. And don't forget to let us know if your workplace is dog-friendly tomorrow. Call 305-376-3631, or email

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Hot Dogs and Cool Cats

That's the title of the adoption awareness event coming up Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m., at the Miami-Dade County Animal Services shelter, 7401 NW 74 St., in Medley.

The event will give prospective adopters the chance to see scores of possible pets, while munching hot dogs (for a small donation) and getting free advice from a professional dog trainer. There will be face painting for kids, a raffle for prizes, and music. Adoptive pets will go home with free digital safety ID cards.

A few items from the shelter's donation wish list: Adams flea/tick spray and shampoo; Frontline Plus for dogs; rubber/vinyl/disinfectable dog and cat toys (no fabric). And most of all: Loving families to take them home, because shelters - no matter how well run and maintained, no matter how caring the staff - are no place for animals that are used to living with people.

According to Dr. Sara Pizano, Animal Services director, since October 1, 4,880 pets have been adopted out, compared to 3,476 last year during the same period. However, surrenders have increase in the same period, from 16,535 last year to 17,088. The euthanasia rate has been declining, but it's still way to high: 7,140 in 2005-April 2006.

Every day is another chance for good people to save shelter pets. Saturday is your chance to have a little fun doing it.

Call 305-805-1778, for more information, or click on the Animal Services link in the righthand column.

Bravo for the Beagle!

An Orlando beagle named Belle saved her owner's life by chomping down on the '9' on his cell phone, connecting to 911, after Kevin Weaver had a seizure.

To read about it and see a great picture of Belle, click here.

Wizard of Claws in Big Trouble

Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist is suing a notorious puppy vendor for fraud. His office released the following statement this morning. (The place is already being sued by unhappy customers).

TALLAHASSEE - Attorney General Charlie Crist today announced that his
office has sued a Broward County pet store for allegedly defrauding its
customers about the dogs they were purchasing. Wizard of Claws specializes
in the sale of “teacup” dogs, unusually small dogs that are sold for prices
as high as $2,000, but according to consumers the puppies’ pedigrees are
often misrepresented and the dogs end up overgrown and often ill.

Crist’s Economic Crimes Division opened an investigation into the
business after receiving a complaint from a consumer. Investigators
discovered that although Wizard of Claws claimed its dogs were registered
with the American Kennel Club, thus increasing their value, the store owner
was actually purchasing many of the dogs from online auctions without
proper registration or pedigrees. This practice often increases the
likelihood that the dogs are sick when purchased.

"Exploiting a fondness for animals for financial gain is simply
wrong,” said Crist. “It is important to stop this operation and to
compensate those who were victimized.”

Lack of pedigree information also enabled the business owners to
misrepresent the dogs’ full size and weight, leaving many consumers with
dogs larger than they wanted or could accommodate. The misrepresentation
was often not discovered until much later, as many teacup dogs at first
look very similar to larger breeds.

Investigators have received more than 20 sworn statements from consumers who claim they bought puppies from Wizard of Claws but faced serious problems with the dogs, including poor health and the inability to house a dog larger than “teacup” size.

Business owners Jim and Gilda Anderson are named as defendants in the
lawsuit, filed under Florida’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
The law calls for civil penalties of $10,000 per violation, or $15,000 if
the victim is disabled or a senior citizen. The complaint also seeks an
injunction to require that Wizard of Claws stop selling pets immediately.

To read the actual complaint, click here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sad the First Time; Just As Sad the Second

And outrageous that clients of a pet cemetery weren't told that the land where their pets are interred was leased from a developer, who now wants it back. You know a lawsuit is going to come out of this, and if I was one of the bereaved, I'd certainly file it.

Click here for a column about it.

Stolen Dogs Found In Washington State

A vanload of Golden retrievers and puppies - including a Westminster Best of Breed/Best of Working Group champ - was stolen from a hotel parking lot last week, leaving the dogs' owners to fear the worst.

But there's a happy ending: all were found, in good shape. (Not so the van, which the thieves presumably are driving).

To read about it, click here.

More of Your Pet Pix

Time to branch out from cats and dogs (and the ocassional goat). Here's Bebias, a 16-pound igunana belonging to Patty Samios. She labelled the first photo "snacks," but they're actually fridge magnets.

"And no, he doesn't eat them," she assured me. "He's NOT a shark; he's a REPTILE!!!

And this is Mia Bella, a 3-year-old Maltese whose proud mom, Terri Contillo, said: "Please show her off to the world, because I love her."

Nothing against reptiles - I fancy snakes, actually - but I'd rather snuggle up with Mia Bella.

Send your pet pix to

Tragic Disease Bonds Dogs and Kids

I'd never heard of Batten Disease until I flipped on the car radio this morning and heard a story on National Public Radio about how advocates for the two groups mainly affected by it - human children and Tibetan Terriers - are working together to find a cure.

Batten Disease "is a rare inherited genetic disorder leading to a breakdown of the entire nervous system," according to the NPR report.

The story explains how parents of the afflicted kids - who die young, after going blind and losing muscle control - are working with the owners of Tibetan Terrier - the dogs, like the children, have seizures, go blind, and lose control of their bodies - are offering each other support and useful information.

It's a real heartbreaker.

To read or listen to the story, click here.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Pet Detective Has a Busy Summer

Here's a story from the New York Times about a Long Island pet detective kept busy all summer as apartment-dwelling pets bolt for the great outdoors in the Hamptons: seaside playground of the rich.

Click here to read it.

Taking Your Dog to Work?

Pet Sitter's International "Take Your Dog to Work Day" is Friday, June 23 (see various postings below).

I'm looking for workplaces in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Florida, that expect an influx of visiting canines.

If you're in that category or know someone who is, please email me at or call 305-376-3631.


A Day Without Dogs

It's less than 24 hours sans canines. I'm in withdrawal! My critters spent the night at their stepdad's house in Dania Beach, and I spent it alone in an eerie silence. No play-growling. No thumping the hardwood floors during a good scratch. No sloppy chewing-on-myself sounds, which normally drives me nuts, but in its absence, I actually missed it.

And the house seemed so still and empty! No warm, furry body snuggled close to me during the night. No one pawing me awake for breakfast. No one grabbing a squeaky toy and presenting it, tail furiously wagging, as a good-morning offering.


Fortunately, I'll see them all tonight. In the meantime, here's a picture of my Shadow (right), and his stepbrother, Cowboy, engaged in their tug-of-war ritual. Makes me smile just to see it. (The little black spot in the bottom right of the frame is Teddy, a teensy poodle mix we sometimes dogsit; see posting below).

Send your pet pix to, and I'll post them here.

Fighting the Good Fight for Pets in Condos

Maida, from Citizens for Pets in Condos, has this request:

"We could use some representation at the Tampa condo/HOA town hall on Monday, June 26, 7 PM...We passed the 2,000 mark on our online petition to allow pets in privately-owned homes. The actual count, as I write, is 2,081 signatures. We also have several hundred on-paper signatures."

This group is trying to change the pervasive no-pet rules in condominiums. I agree that the rules are unfair and unnecessary. It's not even a question that pets are good for people, especially older people who may be living far from their families and depend on their pets for love and companionship.

The Herald recently ran a story about this group and today ran a couple of letters to the editor about the story.

To find out more about the advocacy group, click here.

I'm reprinting the story here (because it's in Herald archives, which charges a fee).

Published: Sunday, June 11, 2006


In her Aventura high-rise, Joyce Starr is celebrating. She can keep her beloved cat, Little Guy, after a bruising legal fight that cost her Bonavida Condominium Association $19,200 before the board settled in February.

``I feel the bricks were taken off my heart,'' Starr says.

Four flights below her, board member Steven Weisberg remains upset that other board members capitulated and ``grandfathered'' Starr's cat and a few other pets to get rid of a costly case. He says he had sold his previous home to get away from a barking dog,

``It's not fair to people who bought into a community thinking it does not allow pets,'' Weisberg says. ``It's a hot issue.''

Indeed, ``pet wars'' are raging throughout South Floridia's condo canyons. To have a pet - or not - is pitting neighbor vs. neighbor, with the legal battles sometimes costing tens of thousands of dollars.

``We get a lot of vehement complaints - from both sides,'' says Bill Raphan, assistant state condo ombudsman. ``This can be heated.''

Most older condo communities restrict or outlaw pets. New condominiums, however, tend to be more pet-friendly - as a sales tool.

Still, even some newer condominiums restrict pets through weight limits or other rules.

But some residents don't believe rules are enough. They believe pets don't belong in condos where neighbors are so close together.

Dogs bark or make messes. Birds screech. Many people fear animals. Others are allergic to cats.

However, some residents have been faced with choosing between their home and their pet.

That's what Maida Genser faced after she moved from Michigan to a Tamarac condo.

She says a real estate agent had assured her that the Broward complex accepted cats. The condo documents she was given did not mention a no-pets rule, she said. But her new board soon issued her an ultimatum: give up her lakeside condo or her two beloved tabbies. The condo documents had been amended to ban pets years after the complex was built.

Two years and a bruising battle later, Spike and Priya still roam her ground-floor condo after the board gave Genser, 63, a special exemption because of her health problems.

``Petting an animal,'' Genser declares, ``can be better than taking a pill.''

That galvanized her to start a statewide campaign to help other condo pet owners. So far, more than 1,850 people have signed an online petition on Genser's

State Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, says he may propose a bill next year that would allow condo owners to convert to pet-friendly rules with a bare majority instead of the usual two-thirds vote required to change condo documents.

``It looks like a pretty good idea,'' he says. ``I'm a pet lover, too.''

Prospective owners need to carefully read their condo documents because many who fight no-pet rules haven't been as lucky as Genser, cautions Raphan at the ombudsman's office.

Judges and arbitrators have evicted dogs and cats, especially if the original condo documents ban pets, he says.

In Delray Beach, Bernadette Casale, 86, is now shuttling between a friend's house and her two-bedroom condo to keep her 21/2-pound Chihuahua. Last October, an arbitrator of the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation ruled against her keeping 7-year-old Cha Cha in the no-pets Bridgeview Association. The arbitrator rejected a letter from Casale's doctor stating the dog helped with her medical maladies. Casale says she didn't have the money to appeal to circuit court.

``It's rough,'' Casale says. ``I come home every once in a while'' to check the mail at her condo and do other errands. She stays at her friend's house at night so she can be with Cha Cha. She is planning to sell her condo and move.

Calls to the Bridgeview Association were not returned.

One solution is for condos to require owner training to ensure well-behaved pets, recommends Brian Kilcommons, New York's director of training and animal control, who has written books on dog behavior.

``We need to focus on the other end of the leash - the owners.'' They should also sign a pledge to be good neighbors, he says.

Many condo complexes already have security cameras and boards could use them to catch owners who don't pick up after their dogs, he adds.

Developers are finding that having pets - and rules - sell condos.

``The vast majority of new condos are open to pets,'' says Israel Kreps, whose public relations firms represents several developers. ``People want to be able to have a pet.''

Some developers have even built dog parks, complete with dispensers of pickup bags, to entice buyers. Others are allowing dogs larger than 20 or 25 pounds.

Downtown's Metropolitan Miami has found that opening the doors to bigger dogs draws buyers.

``There are so many people who have larger dogs but it's difficult to find a place that takes them. People are so much more skeptical about allowing them in,'' says Sara Alvarez, whose family bought a unit at the Met. They have two dogs, including a 55-pound golden retriever.

Big dogs can be quieter than the teacups, says Mary Burch, the Tallahassee-based director of the AKC Canine Good Citizen program.

``A yapping Chihuahua can be more of a pain than a mastiff who sleeps on the couch all day,'' she says.

Puppy Was Shot; Needs Help

Just when you think you've heard it all, re: animal abuse, comes another outrage. From Miami's NBC6:

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- A Great Dane puppy is fighting for his life after being shot three or four times.

A volunteer for the Allen Babcock Dog and Cat Rescue spotted the dog, who has been named B.J., on the side of the road in Hendry County on Thursday night and rushed him to Hollywood Animal Hospital for lifesaving treatment.

This dog and his rescuers need your help. His treatment is going to be very expensive.

To read the story, which includes an address for donations, click here.