Pet chronicles

From the October 2010 edition

We don’t need scientific studies or formal polls to know that Central Ohio folks are crazy about pets, whether it’s the debate over building more dog parks, arguing the merits of a leash law or discussing feral cats. Or just watching people get all gooey talking about their favorite pooches or kittens.

But for those of you who enjoy a more grounded view of the pet world, here are a few facts, according to the Franklin County Auditor’s Office. (Actually, make that the dog world, since stats on cats aren’t easy to come by. And just so you know, the approximate number of dogs in Franklin County is 277,159. Of those, 98,244 are licensed.)

The top five most popular dog names (male and female) and most popular breeds

1. Max1. Maggie1. Mixed

2. Buddy2. Bailey2. Lab

3. Brutus3. Sadie3. Lab mix

4. Jake4. Daisy4. Golden retriever

5. Jack5. Molly5. Beagle

But to get an even better understanding of the passion people feel for their pets, we offer the following briefs on a variety of topics, from exercising and pampering to fostering and blogging.

New media and pets

Beastly blogs

Blogging has gone to the dogs . . . and cats, turtles and goldfish. In fact, while strolling through Schiller Park, you may have crossed paths with Bocci, once a member of the Franklin County dog pound who now writes about myriad topics—pet adoption, doggie products, his roomie house cat—on his blog, Bocci’s Beefs.

Actually, it’s his human “parental unit” doing the typing. That would be CCAD creative writing instructor Joan DeMartin. She is one of many people flocking to a fledgling online pet community to create blogs and other social media sites.

In April, the first conference for these writers (and the PR professionals trying to get their attention) was held at the Westin hotel downtown. Around 250 people attended the event, called BlogPaws, says co-founder Caroline Golon, a former Columbusite and the “female staff” of a fluffy Persian named Romeo, who has a popular blog and Twitter account. In addition to folks looking to increase their traffic or start a blog, marketing professionals and organizations seeking to get bloggers to write about their products or companies networked at the conference. Seminars included tips on more efficient search engine optimization and how to go from writing a blog to a book. The event was so successful that BlogPaws is holding a second conference in Denver in September.

“I’ve realized what an engaged community the pet community is,” Golon says. Indeed, through his Internet acumen, Romeo has raised nearly $40,000 via sponsors and donations in the almost two years he’s been online. The money goes to animal rescue programs.

Posting for a purpose was a big focus of the event, Golon says, and that theme inspired DeMartin to donate proceeds of any money earned through the blog to no-kill dog shelters. “I have strong beliefs in how we treat our animals, what we should feed our animals,” says DeMartin, who also worked as an environmental lawyer before quitting 11 years ago to start writing.

Even the pet-phobics should understand why this genre of blogs is taking off, says DeMartin. “Having an animal speak is classic if you think about it,” she says, citing Marmaduke, Garfield, Francis the Talking Mule. . . .

But if you don’t take things straight from the horse’s mouth, there’s this: Small Business Trends online magazine named blogs as one of the top 10 pet industry happenings for the year.

—Jackie Mantey

Dog training

An obstacle course for Max and Maggie

Somehow Kona knows he’s on his way—and getting close, oh, so close—to the industrial park on the west side.

Maybe he can smell it, or perhaps he’s memorized the route. “He gets so excited,” says Ellie Clinesmith of Kona, her Australian shepherd.

Kona is normally well behaved and would never tug on his leash. Except when he and Clinesmith arrive at the Buckeye Region Agility Group (BRAG), and then it’s all she can do to hold on as Kona makes a beeline for the front door and the giant doggy gymnasium inside.

What has Kona and his canine friends so excited, some literally drooling in anticipation, is dog agility, a competitive sport in which owners direct their canines over a series of jumps, chutes, teeters, A-frames and balance beams. Competitions are held on local, regional and national levels by several organizations—and there are even world championships. “It originated in England in the 1970s and came here in the 1980s,” says Pam Williams, one of the seven co-owners of BRAG.

The Columbus group has about 100 members—that’s humans and their wide range of dogs—and conducts a series of agility classes from beginner to advanced. Agility training builds confidence, helps dogs develop a sense of purpose and gives their inner athlete and puppy a chance to emerge, Williams says.

“It’s boring to sit home on the couch all day,” Clinesmith adds. “This is an adventure and they get to have fun with their person.”

Neil Valois says Bear, a Pembroke Welsh corgi, used to lack confidence. “He was a rescue and very timid,” says Valois, adding Bear initially was terrified of the teeter. “He was scared of the movement under his legs.”

Not anymore.

“Are you ready to run?” Valois asks Bear, who barks emphatically and wags his tail. With Valois leading the way, guiding him from obstacle to obstacle, and Bear’s little legs spinning like some sort of canine cartoon character, he leaps over jumps, dashes through chutes and approaches the teeter. Bear heads up the incline, goes to the apex and keeps walking as his weight pushes the other end to the ground.

Both are panting at the end of the run, Valois more than his dog. Bear jumps in excitement, waiting for his treat and begging for another go at the course.

Kona is the second Australian shepherd that Clinesmith has trained. The first, Jolie, now 11, was a rescue who may have been mistreated. “When I first got her, she hid under the bed for three days and wouldn’t come out,” she says. “She weighed 20 pounds and was supposed to weigh 40.”

Jolie was understandably apprehensive on her first visit to the agility center, especially when Clinesmith tried to get her to use the intimidating A-frame, a steep rooflike structure the dogs have to walk up and then down. From a dog’s close-to-the-ground perspective, it’s really high.

“But even after one class she gained confidence and started to get excited about coming here,” Clinesmith says.

—Steve Wartenberg

Divorce dilemma

Who gets custody of the family pet?

Here’s the difference between a dog and a flat-screen plasma TV in a divorce case: nothing.

“Pets are considered property in the eyes of the law,” says Dana Preisse, Franklin County Common Pleas Court administrative judge. “And if the parties can’t agree [on who gets which pet], the judge decides, the same as we would for a Tempur-Pedic bed or the snow globe you got as a child.”

While this sounds harsh, in most cases it never comes down to this for Fluffy. “In the overwhelming majority of cases, the parties amicably agree on how to divide personal property, including pets,” says Ronald Petroff, a partner at the McNair Petroff law firm in Columbus.

There are exceptions—otherwise this wouldn’t be much of an article.

“I had one case where the husband argued that the dog was a gift” from his wife, says Preisse, adding gifts usually remain with the recipient, as does property (including pets) that precedes the marriage. “I decided in his favor.”

In another case, a cute little kid said something along the lines of: “I want Sparky to live with me and mommy.”

“I agreed,” Preisse says.

While judges can, and sometimes do, decide who gets the pet, they can’t establish visitation rights or shared custody as they would with children. However, divorcing couples can set up their own visitation guidelines, which Preisse says the court can’t enforce. “I’ve had a lot of clients who have worked out informal agreements that allow the person who didn’t get the dog to see the dog,” says New Albany attorney Sharon Cason-Adams. “It’s always with dogs, not cats.”

Yeah, cats aren’t big on the pop-in visit.

Pet expenses can be part of the formula to determine spousal support, Preisse says. “If one spouse is left with a couple of dogs, there can be legitimate costs to feed them, and vet bills, on an ongoing basis.”

Some animals are worth big bucks, which, of course, leads to big disagreements. Preisse presided over a divorce case in which the couple had a stable full of valuable show horses. The woman requested the horses—and the husband wanted their value deducted from his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s share of their soon-to-be-divided joint assets. “We had experts who came in and determined their value,” Preisse says. The horses were valued as high as $25,000 apiece.

Petroff had a case in which the tail was wagging the divorce. “They had two large dogs that were tearing up the yard and making a mess,” he says. “One spouse gave the second one an ultimatum: ‘Either the dogs or me.’ ”

That’s right, the first spouse picked the pets, proving once again that while marriages come and go, dogs really are man’s best friend.

—Steve Wartenberg

Pampering

A tour of a boarding house, a bakery and an accessories store

I’ve never had a dog, and I’m still not sure why, but the cats my family had when I was little never came back from “visiting their friends.” Personally, when I see people talking to their pets as if they were real people, I begin to question their sanity. Certainly I can understand the appeal of having a furry companion eagerly waiting for you when you get home from work, but treating them like royalty? It just peed on your leg!

It's no secret pets often get the star treatment. I set out to see what goods are for sale for pet owners and their "kids."

I traveled first to Pet Palace, 2800 Ole Country Ln., the self-described pet boarding resort near the airport. The place is an amusement park of sorts for canines and felines—with more boarding options than you can shake a chew toyat. Pet owners can pay a little extra for grooming, one-on-one or group play times and even a $15 grilled sirloin steak or chicken breast. If owners opt to house their pets in a royal suite, they can keep an eye on them via webcam.

Standard daily accommodations for cats start at $15.75 and include a vertical, multi-level playpen. For dogs, standard villas go from $22.75 and up. About those royal suites: For cats, $21.75 can rent oversized quarters along with a television, and for dogs, $35.75 is good for a TV and a "deluxe" brass bed. What’s on the tube all day? Animal Planet, because what calms dogs more than the site of other creatures?! Another Pet Palace is located at 4252 Lyman Dr. in Hilliard.

Sprawled out on a couch and a beanbag behind the counter at Three Dog Bakery, 611 N. High St., were Sadie and Solomon, two Great Danes I mistook for Buicks. Their demeanor summed up the shop’s purpose, as owner Susan Oilar told me she likes to think of the place as “Starbucks for dogs,” seemingly the perfect reward for a newly trained or housebroken pooch.

Oilar picked up a bucket with a few samples she offers to prospective customers, and immediately the behemoth dogs perked up from their beds. Who knew there was a demand for gourmet pastries in the animal kingdom? Behind the glass case are dozens of delectable dog treats—such as the drool-worthy Hamburger Pupcake or the Collie Cannoli (both $2 each). In place of the hazardous chocolate is something called carob, made from a sweet Mediterranean seed that’s animal-safe. I almost began to salivate at the kaleidoscope of confections. Too bad dogs are colorblind.

If Three Dog Bakery is the Starbucks for dogs, then Posh Pets Boutique, 743 N. High St. a few short blocks away, is their Forever21.

Owner Jo Johnson showed me her wall displaying dozens of photos of her “customers.” She pointed to one of a bulldog sitting next to an infant, and told me it was of one of her regulars with “his baby sister.”

If you’re looking to give your pet some bling or pizzazz, this seems to be a one-stop-shop for designer carrying bags and baskets, flashy collars, toys, bowls and a whole selection of clothes. Though, Johnson says she doesn’t focus too much on the latter—“It’s much more about necessity.”

Trendy bags from companies such as Pet Flys are available anywhere from $42 to $120, and swanky leashes run from $10 to $25. Additionally, customers can order personalized items from Johnson, who works with a local printing company. You know, just in case your pets aren't quite pampered enough.

—Ben Zenitsky

Exotics

New regulations on your gator or bear

If Fido has had to share me-time with your new gator—or, more likely, chicken—the Columbus Public Health department wants to make sure you know the laws. While current regulations protect the public from exotic pets (and exotic pets from the public), CPH believes changes over time in both pet ownership and infectious disease call for an examination and a likely reboot of those requirements.

“We’ve had incidents over the last few years that suggest the public needs more clarity in how to follow the law,” says Jose Rodriguez, CPH’s director of communications. “We’ve heard loud and clear from the public that they expect us to protect them from animals that could pose a risk.”

Rodriguez lists recent instances of a large alligator walking leashed through the Short North, a wolf hybrid killing a neighbor’s pet and lots of complaints about chickens.

“We get a hundred calls or more about chickens,” he says.

Although CPH is not yet ready to release a proposal, assistant health commissioner Roger Cloern is collecting data comparing Columbus exotic pet rules with peer cities.

According to Rodriguez, they’re also reviewing Gov. Ted Strickland’s recently brokered deal between the Humane Society of the United States and the Ohio Farm Bureau that includes an executive order banning the possession and sale of “large and dangerous animals,” including constrictors, venomous snakes, alligators and crocodiles.

“What we’re looking to do is really tell the public in a clear way how animals are classified,” Rodriguez says. “Is this animal permitted? Are you able to have a permit for this animal? If you are required to get a permit, how would you go about it?”

Those questions raise another one: What constitutes an exotic animal? According to Cloern, the three main categories of an exotic are domestic (chickens, for example), nondomestic (an iguana) and prohibited (a bear). The team’s hope is that clearer regulations will create better public compliance.

A vocal opponent of such plans is Terry Wilkins, animal breeder and owner of the pet store Captive Born Reptiles. He says the city “already has what they need on the books to keep people safe” and believes the health department is targeting animals that pose no public safety risk, citing statistics that suggest nonexotic domestic animals spread more disease and cause more injuries and deaths.

Public health veterinarian Aaron Messer claims otherwise, saying the animals posing a threat tend to be “nondomestic animals that are invasive to the environment or represent a risk for serious physical harm either by infectious disease status, viciousness or poisonousness.”

Currently, CPH is taking community input. Whether you agree with Wilkins that existing laws provide enough protection, you have worries about your neighbor’s python or you, too, have something to say about chickens, you can e-mail your comments to healthcommissioner@columbus.gov.

—Hope Madden

Foster care

Filling a need for abandoned animals

Stanley was once a lonely black kitten sitting on a curb in German Village who needed bottle-fed and a good dose of medical attention.

He is one of hundreds of animals that end up at the Capital Area Humane Society (CAHS), from stray litters of kittens to cruelty case pups to owner-surrendered pocket pets such as rabbits and gerbils. The Hilliard shelter would like to provide care for each, but there’s limited space, staff and supplies.

That’s where the CAHS foster care program comes in. Animals that enter the shelter and deemed not yet ready for adoption are sent to live with foster parents until they are returned to await a permanent home. Various circumstances make them inappropriate for adoption—too young to be vaccinated, waiting on owners’ court cases to conclude, sick and being nursed back to health.

Tami Pappas, a volunteer who coordinates the foster care program, says the volunteer families—about 125 as of early July—love fostering because “you can feel that you literally save a life. Every life that you touch in terms of foster animals is one that would not have been otherwise.”

Since 2005, the number of foster placements through CAHS has ranged from 475 to 589 a year. Almost 180 animals have lived in foster care in 2010 as of June. The majority are kittens, Pappas says, but there’s been a surplus of puppies this year as well.

Anyone can sign up to be a foster family, and “the more loving homes, the better,” Pappas says, but the application process is rigorous and there are mandatory training programs. The shelter makes sure potential parents are aware of the drawbacks—some animals might not survive, it’s time-consuming and vet bills have to be paid.

And you can’t keep them all. “Your role is not to be a cat lady,” says Carolyn Hayzlett, a volunteer foster mom of four years to about 100 animals. Yet, “most of us who have fostered have adopted at least one,” Pappas says.

For her, it was Stanley, the kitten found mewing on a German Village corner, and a cat with an infected eye named Randy. For Hayzlett, it was a kitten named Feta. Hayzlett names the litters after themes, such as wines (Cab, Merlot), vacation terms (Sandal, Flip Flop) and, as in Feta’s case, cheese (siblings included Cheddar and Gouda).

Jokes aside, it’s a rewarding experience, Hayzlett says. “I had no idea how great of a need there is. If we didn’t have foster homes, these animals would not be alive.”

—Jackie Mantey

This story appeared in the August 2010 issue of Columbus Monthly.