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If you want registration papers, respect the fine print

Question: My wife and I purchased a cocker spaniel from a breeder. The breeder said she would send (registration) papers for the dog. It has been six months, and the breeder refuses to send the papers because we haven't neutered the dog. My wife tried to discuss this but the breeder hung up on her and won't return calls.

The terms (of the purchase contract) were never discussed. The breeder just handed us some papers and told us to sign if we wanted to get the dog. My wife signed, but she didn't have her reading glasses. Can the breeder do this?

Answer: I'm not a lawyer, but Kathy Kavanagh, who helps to write legislation concerning animal issues, is an attorney, and also an assistant states attorney in Cook County, Ill. As she explains, "Hanging up on people may be rude but it's not illegal. Not having your reading glasses is no defense. Of course, it's prudent to read any contract before signing. It's not unusual for contracts from dog and cat breeders to have a clause that mandates spay/neuter. In fact, this is the sign of a reputable breeder.

"Your breeder realizes pet homes interested in breeding are only interested in either making some quick bucks or breeding just for the sake of breeding, which may contribute to the pet overpopulation problem," says Kavanagh. "The breeder also realizes that the value of any cocker spaniel puppies diminishes without those papers. Love your dog but spay/neuter her, not because the contract says so, but because it's the right thing for you to do."

Kids and puppies mix well

Question: My daughter has a new dog, which she rescued from the pound. That poor puppy is only 4 months old. I love my grandchildren to pieces, but they're wild kids. And they have all their little friends over giving the dog food all the time. And the dog is probably eating candy and cookies off the floor. I think the dog should be isolated for a time so she can begin to grow up. Any thoughts?

Answer: "Isolation is exactly what you don't want," says Dr. Ian Dunbar, a veterinarian, dog trainer and author of Before You Get Your Puppy and After You Get Your Puppy (James & Kenneth Publishers, Berkeley, Calif., 2001; $7.95 and $12.95). Your daughter is doing things perfectly, and so are the kids.

"You want your puppies exposed to many children as young as possible," says Dunbar. "Naturally, that experience should be a good one, and associating food treats with children is very good. Of course, I always suggest adult supervision, mostly to protect the puppy from any rough handling by children."

It was Dunbar who helped to create the brilliant concept of puppy parties _ inviting friends and family of all ages to meet and greet a new puppy with lots of treats.

You're right about one thing, though, letting a puppy scarf up candy or cookies meant for human consumption can cause a seriously upset tummy.

Battle of the bulge

Question: I clean the litter box frequently, but my cat is not using it. Could my chubby pet be too fat to climb in the box?

Answer: Your cat may, indeed, be too hefty to use even the largest of litter boxes. For now, try substituting one of those plastic boxes meant for storing clothing or other items under the bed (available at home improvement and hardware stores). Choose one with the lowest possible sides so your chunky kitty won't have any trouble climbing inside.

However, this is only a temporary fix. For the sake of your cat's health, see your vet about putting your cat on a special diet.

Overweight cats are more likely to develop diabetes and other health problems, including kidney disease, high blood pressure and arthritis. What's more, as cats gain pounds around the middle, they become increasingly sedentary, even clinically depressed.

You might be guilty of suffering from the "grandma syndrome," determined to give your kitty snacks from the table to show your love, and with the mindset that more food is better. If you're guilty, your attitude has to change. Begin a feline exercise program. A free Friends in Fitness Kit tells you how can get your cat off the sofa. Call the IAMS pet food company, toll-free at 1-800-863-4267.

Bringing up the crawfish

Question: I've searched all over the Web and can't find any information on caring for crawfish. My son was given a crawfish and wants to care for it. I'm pretty adept at cooking them, but this is the first time I've needed to take care of one. Can you help?

Answer: George Parsons, director of collections at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, says you need a tank with a filtration system. A small, inexpensive system can be purchased at any pet store.

There are many kinds of crawfish, so your goal will be to duplicate the natural habitat of the variety you have. Parsons says water temperature is particularly relevant. If you have no idea where your crawfish came from, take the little guy on a field trip to an aquarium store and talk with an expert. Call first to make sure there's someone available who knows their crawfish.

"In general, they're scavengers, and a good diet might be a combination of a frozen gel fish food with brine shrimp and/or tubifex worms," says Parsons. If you're lucky, your crawfish may live five years.

Scratching alternatives

Question: Flopsy has decided to use our sofa and several carpets as her new scratching posts. I can't afford reupholstering again or new carpeting. Can you help?

Answer: Protect your furniture and carpet with plastic place mats with double stick tape, or car floor mats, nubby side up. To minimize the need for your cat to madly scratch in the first place, keep her nails trimmed.

Keep in mind that all cats have a hard-wired need to do at least some scratching; it's part of being a cat. Provide various places where your kitty can scratch. Cat trees are great. Aside from serving as scratching posts, these condos often include a dining room, sun room and play area, and they're large enough for several cats to hang out. Many manufacturers make multilevel trees (check out, but these models are expensive.

Far more economical are vertical scratching posts, which stand about 3-feet high. Look for posts with solid bases and those your cat can reach up to (wobbly posts or those that are too short aren't as appealing).

Place a post near where your cat is scratching the sofa. Encourage her to scratch by using an interactive toy near the post; she'll deposit her scent on the post as she plays. Also, gently take her paws and make a scratching motion on the post, literally showing her what you want. Periodically drop treats near the base of the post so it becomes an appealing place to check out.

Once your cat begins to use the post, you can relocate it near a window or in a corner of the room.

By clawing at the carpet, your cats are telling you to buy a horizontal scratcher. This is actually good news because horizontal corrugated cardboard scratchers are readily available and inexpensive. One scratcher, from Cosmic Catnip, is angled like a hill, so cats get a vertical and horizontal fix at the same time.

Place a few of these scratchers in corners near where your cat attacks the carpet most often. Deposit catnip in the slots of the scratchers to encourage use. Also, play with Flopsy near these scratchers.

Put simply, make the places Flopsy is scratching now less appealing than appropriate new choices.

Can dog and toaster coexist?

Question: Our dog is afraid of the toaster. When she hears it, she'll try to climb into my husband's lap, trembling, or she'll run away, ducking as if someone is shooting in her direction. Can we resolve this problem, or should we stop eating toast?

Answer: "Dogs develop all sorts of inappropriate fears," says Dr. Ian Dunbar, legendary dog trainer and author of Doctor Dunbar's Good Little Dog Book (James & Kenneth Publishers, $17.95). "This might have all begun with a family member _ usually a teenage boy, it seems _ who thought it was hilarious when the dog was startled by the toaster. Giving the dog attention for being the slightest bit afraid and by continuing that attention, the fear was intensified. So, never give the dog attention for being afraid."

Dunbar says you should first desensitize your dog to the toaster. Place the toaster in various places around the house that are in closer proximity to your pooch, but not in the dog's face. Move it to the top of a coffee table, then to an end table, then to the top of the TV. After a few days of musical toaster, you're ready to let your dog face the terrible appliance head on. Put it on the dining room floor for a few days. If your dog sleeps with you in bed, sleep with the toaster, too. After a few more days, move the toaster within a few inches of your dog's food dish.

After a week of being located by the dog's bowl, put the toaster back in its normal location. Then use it while your dog is being fed by another member of the family. If the dog pays attention and begins to worry, she's too close to the toaster, so back her up a few feet. If she's fine, bring her closer and closer to the toaster each day until she just doesn't care whether you make toast or not.

Write to Steve Dale at Tribune Media Services, 435 N Michigan Ave., Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611, or send e-mail to Include your name, city and state. Questions of general interest will be answered in the column.