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A Special Pet Section

Pet Primer

May 03, 1999

All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

--George Orwell, "Animal Farm"


In the animal lover kingdom, there's a pecking order. Cat fanciers believe they're superior to dog enthusiasts, who don't seem to know that other pets exist. Bird lovers boast of birds' brains, of all things, while fish lovers swear their fish have more emotion than that of a Nora Ephron movie.

Friendly rivalry aside, every pet has its virtues and foibles. To know whether you're a parrot person, the turtle type or one who should stick strictly to humans requires both introspection and animal insight. Most important, you need to know what you're getting into before you get a critter you could end up wishing you hadn't.

Pet selection is like marriage, a lasting relationship that needs chemistry, forethought and commitment. Too many people give up when the novelty wears off, say those in the animal rescue business. One look at our overpopulated rescue groups (people who foster in their own homes or in other's homes or kennels animals until they are adopted) and shelters assures you this is sadly true.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday May 7, 1999 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 3 View Desk 1 inches; 15 words Type of Material: Correction
Pets--The "Pet Primer" in Monday's Southern California Living section was compiled by Marnell Jameson.

But if you are in the market for the perfect nonhuman companion, one that greets with affection, consoles and entertains, gives body language a whole new meaning, grounds you and makes you feel just plain necessary, then here's a heads-up. The following chart--while far from comprehensive--outlines the basic care requirements for some of the most popular pet choices.


General Considerations

1. Always spay and neuter (fish and birds aside).

2. If you have an animal other than a dog or cat, find a vet who really does (not just claims to) specialize in that animal.

3. Remember, kids aren't caretakers. Parents are. It's OK to tell children that the pet they begged you for is their responsibility, as long as you know you're lying.

4. Don't buy when you can adopt. Los Angeles County shelters put down 1,000 dogs and cats each week. Many would be great pets. To find a rescue specializing in the type of animal or even dog breed you want, ask a vet or pet supply stores such as Petco and Petsmart, which host regular adoptions. If you must have a pedigree dog or cat, go to a responsible breeder.

5. Never buy someone a pet as a surprise gift (unless you buy one for your child and that you really want too).

6. Work with children so they'll know how to behave with animals.


Food: Give moist canned food, not the "cheap stuff," twice a day, says Bobbi Heller, vice president of Felines and Friends; make dry food available all day for snacking.

Environment: Indoor environments with access to a fresh litter box are best, and safer.

Special Care: Although dogs need more attention than cats, cats need love too. "Show me an aloof cat and I'll show you a cat that's been neglected," Heller says.

Child Safety*: A safety ranking of 7-9 depending on the cat. Some cats bite and scratch when cornered. Kids are more a threat to a cat than vice versa.

Where to Get: Animal shelters or rescues.

Warning: If you are pregnant, have others clean the litter box or wear a rubber mask and gloves when cleaning.

Must Have: Full-size scratching post; otherwise, they'll use the back of the sofa.

Source: Bobbi Heller, vice president of Felines and Friends, a Los Angeles cat rescue.


Food: High-quality dog food geared for the dog's size and age.

Environment: Depends on the breed, but most like to be indoors with access to a yard. Some small companion dogs, like Pomeranians, do well in apartments, while more active breeds, like border collies, must have wide open spaces.

Special Care: Caring for a puppy and caring for an adult dog are quite different. Puppies are high maintenance. Because they need lots of socialization, young puppies are not a good choice for families who are gone all day. Busy families who still want a young dog should consider a 6-month-old to 2-year-old dog.

Child Safety: A safety ranking of 1 to 10, depending on the dog.

Where to Get: Not from a pet shop; see No. 4 under "general considerations" above.

Must Have: A rug shampooer. A good pet sitter.

Warning: Don't assume that small dogs can go without obedience training; all dogs should have it.

Source: Jamie Pinn, executive director of H.A.R.T. (Humane Animal Rescue Team), publisher of Muttmatchers Messenger, a photo-ad newspaper of adoptable dogs and other animals.


Food: First, know your turtles from your tortoises. In general, tortoises live and must feed on land. Turtles must live and eat in water. The tortoise diet should contain 45% leafy greens, 45% carrots and corn and 10% fruit. Wood and box turtles need one-third fruit, one-third lettuce and vegetables, and one-third live meat (snails, slugs, worms, chopped raw fish--yum). All need supplements.

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