National Squirrel Day is Cat’s Meow!

squirrel

Photo courtesy of DepositPhotos.com

It’s NATIONAL SQUIRREL DAY…and it’s also ANSWER YOUR CAT’S QUESTION DAY. So I thought I’d combine the two, especially since my kitties are both quite enamored of rodents.

Seren asks, “Why did you have to adopt *spit* HIM? Wasn’t I enough for you? If you wanted goof-ball uncontrollable antics, just look out the window at those nut-gathering tree rats.

Amy says, “Karma needed a home and I knew we needed some goof-ball antics to keep life interesting and raise the love quotient. You are and will always be my favorite teeny-gorgeous-girl-kitty. And I knew Karma needed someone of YOUR intellect and prestige to keep him in line and teach him important cat-stuff.”

Karma asks, “Can we invite that nut-gathering tree rat inside for a play date?”

Amy says, “No.”

Karma asks, “Can I wrestle and bite Seren?”

Amy says, “No.”

Karma asks, “Can I make you laugh and tickle your toes, and lap-snuggle and love you forever?”

Amy says, “Always.”

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered–post in the comments. Be sure to visit my PetHealthyStore for paw-some products for your furry wonders! Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways, kewl product offers, and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!

Celebrating Old Cats: What Is Old?

SerenChair

The Queen still rules her house and commands the highest perche! Image Copr. Amy Shojai, CABC

Seren celebrates her 18th birthday on February 1st and it’s the purr-fect time to celebrate old cats and talk a bit about what is old age for cats. Actually, February 1st is a chosen birthday since she was found on a doorstep as a kitten, and despite her senior cat status, she still acts like a youngster and keeps Karma-Kat and Magical-Dawg in line.

How should we celebrate her birthday? Shhhh, it’s a secret! But I’m thinking lots of Kitty Kaviar, a taste of ice cream, snuggles and grooming with her fav comb, and maybe a half-day vacation from Karma-Kat. What do you think?

For an old fogey kitty, Serendipity is remarkably well preserved. I keep telling myself that Siamese as a breed tend to be longer lived, and it’s not unusual for healthy cats to live into their late teens or even early twenties.

She’s a healthy one, all right–teeth clean, good appetite, normal litter-ary habits, sound heart and no lumps or bumps. After her bout with the schneezles, and losing one canine (fang) tooth, she’s been rockin’ and rollin’ like nothing can stop her. In fact, she’s gained a bit of weight–and is back up to about 6-1/2 pounds! Weeee!

Anyway, I thought this was a good time to share a bit from the book COMPLETE CARE FOR YOUR AGING CAT.

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000039_00001]WHAT IS OLD?

What is considered “old” for a cat? The question of what is old is complicated by the impact of genetics, environment, and individual characteristics. Consider human beings: one person may act, look and feel “old” at 65 while another 65-year-old remains an active athlete with a youthful attitude and appearance. The same is true for our cats.

“I think that actually varies a lot, and it’s getting older every year,” says Rhonda Schulman, DVM, an internist at the University of Illinois. “It used to be that eight was the major cutoff for the cat that was geriatric. Now we’re moving to the point that’s a prolonged middle age.” According to Guinness World Records, the oldest cat on record was Creme Puff owned by Jake Perry of Austin, Texas. Cream Puff was born August 3, 1967 and died August 6, 2005 at the age of 38 years and 3 days.

A good definition of old age for an animal is the last 25 percent of their lifespan, says Sarah K. Abood, DVM a clinical nutritionist at Michigan State University. However, since we can’t predict what an individual cat’s lifespan will be, the beginning of old age is a bit arbitrary. Certain families of cats may be longer lived than others, in the same way that some human families enjoy a much greater longevity than others. The lifespan of your cat’s parents and grandparents is a good predictor of how long you can expect your cat to live. People who share their lives with pedigreed cats may be able to access this information through the cat’s breeder.

SerenBed

Seren spends a lot more time sleeping these days. Image Copr. Amy Shojai.

PREDICTING LONGEVITY

Longevity of unknown heritage cats are much more difficult to predict. Even when felines are “part” Siamese or Persian, for example, these felines may inherit the very worst, or the very best, from the parents. The majority of pet cats are domestic shorthair or domestic longhair kitties of mixed ancestry, and the products of unplanned breeding. That by itself points to a poorer-than-average level of health for the parents, which in turn would be passed on to the kittens. Siblings within the same litter may have different fathers, and can vary greatly in looks, behavior, and health. When all is said and done, one should expect the random-bred cat-next-door kitty to be neither more nor less healthy than their pedigreed ancestors—as long as they all receive the same level of care and attention.

“If you get a kitten, it is very likely you will have this cat for the next 15 to 20 years,” says Dr. Abood. That means the last 25 percent would be 12 to 15 years. To simplify matters, most veterinarians consider cats to be “senior citizens” starting at about seven to eight years old, and geriatric at 14 to 15.

Here’s some perspective comparing cat age to human age. “The World Health Organization says that middle-aged folks are 45 to 59 years of age and elderly is 60 to 74. They considered aged as being over 75,” says Debbie Davenport, DVM, an internist with Hill’s Pet Foods. “If you look at cats of seven years of age as being senior, a parallel in human years would be about 51 years,” she says. A geriatric cat at 10 to 12 years of age would be equivalent to a 70-year-old human.

CHERISHING OLD KITTIES

Veterinarians used to concentrate their efforts on caring for young animals. When pets began to develop age-related problems, the tendency among American owners was to just get another pet. That has changed, and today people cherish their aged furry companions and want to help them live as long as possible.

Modern cats age seven and older can still live full, happy and healthy lives. Age is not a disease. Age is just age, says Sheila McCullough, DVM, an internist at University of Illinois. “There are a lot of things that come with age that can be managed successfully, or the progression delayed. Renal failure cats are classic examples.” It’s not unusual for cats suffering kidney failure to be diagnosed in their late teens or even early twenties.

“I had a woman with a 23-year-old cat who asked should she change the diet. I said, don’t mess with success!” says Dr. McCullough. These days veterinarians often see still-healthy and vital cats of a great age.

“I think if the cat lives to 25 years, I shouldn’t be doing anything but saying hello,” says Steven L. Marks, BVSc, an internist and surgeon at Louisiana State University (now at North Carolina State University). “If you’ve ever had a pet live that long, you want them all to live that long.”

 Excerpt from COMPLETE CARE FOR YOUR AGING CAT, revised and updated Kindle Edition by Amy D. Shojai, CABC. 

seren-karma

She complains a lot, but having Karma-Kat around has turned back the clock for Seren-Kitty. She’s MUCH more engaged in life and active now she must supervise his antics! Image Copr. Amy Shojai

So do you have an “old” cat? Does he or she act like a senior? What age did you notice a change, if any?

Seren now has a few white hairs surrounding her eyelids, made visible by the dark mask that has begun to fade. And she’s got some arthritis so she doesn’t leap as high any more. A couple of her claws have thickened and require more frequent trims since she has trouble pulling them in (she “clicks” when she walks on hard surfaces). But keeping Magical-Dawg and Karma-Kat in line seems to keep her very happy and engaged in life!

What about your furry wonders? Please share!

love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Be sure to check out my THRILLERS WITH BITE (dog and cat thrillers), and my new “home” at PetHealthyStore.com. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

FAKING IT: Scammers Hurt Legit Service Dog & Emotional Support Animal Partnerships

Elderly Man with Woman Petting Dog

All images courtesy of DepositPhotos.com

I have friends and colleagues who train and/or partner with service animals, including ESA — Emotional Support Animals. I’ve also been aware for some time that unscrupulous folks fake credentials to take advantage of what they consider to be furry perks, like taking their dog with them into businesses and restaurants, or (a biggie!) getting pets into no-pets-allowed housing or on planes for free.

Scammers offer fake credentials supposedly out of the goodness of their heart–but of course, for a fee. Both the fake-paper-pushers and the service-animal-fakers argue, “Who does it hurt? It’s a victimless crime.”

It hurts the business, the reputation of legitimate handlers and dogs, and even the animal and his owner-faker. Read about just a few of the issues here. The only entities that make out like a bandit are organizations supplying fake paper and lining their pockets.

Reality Imitates Art–Or Vice Versa?

Actually, I’ve been researching this a bit for background in my next thriller, since the main character September Day has a service dog Shadow, who helps mitigate issues with her post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). For instance, Shadow alerts in advance of panic attacks, and helps anchor September to the present during flashbacks, among other things. PTSD, debilitating migraines, seizures, diabetes, IBD and other health concerns can be helped enormously by trained service dogs. But these “hidden” issues open the door to abuse in a way that service dogs partnered with visible/physical challenges may not face.

I hadn’t planned to blog about this, at least not yet. Then on January 1, 2015 I received an email interview/story “pitch” that purported to offer reputable, legal help for those seeking ESA credentials. Frankly, the message raised alarm bells, and when I got sick with the “crud” I delayed doing anything about it. I wasn’t sure how to handle it.

Man holding tabby cat with big green eyesCredentials, Conflicts & Confusion

Heck, I’d love to take Magical-Dawg with me more places, and he’d love that, too, especially if they served bacon! Karma-Kat certainly offers me lavish emotional support, as does any animal friend with whom we share a bond. Besides, who would know–According to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a business owner is only allowed to ask two questions:

  1. Does the dog provide a service?
  2. What has the dog been trained to do?

Under ADA guidelines, only DOGS qualify as service animals (sometimes miniature horses qualify), and PETS are not considered service animals. The dog must be trained to provide a SPECIFIC SERVICE for SPECIFIC DISABILITIES.

Sadly, this is easy to fake. Dogs are not required to wear any kind of identification like a vest. Heck, you can order a FAKE vest for your animal, too! In reality, a real service dog/human partnership isn’t required to show documentation for training. There is no single over-arching government-endorsed training agency for service dogs.

But it’s not just the ADA that offers guidelines and regulations. The Fair Housing Act, and the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA, administered through the Department of Transportation) also provide what can be confusing or even conflicting regulations.

Fair Housing Act

The Fair Housing Act follows the ADA definition of service animal (dogs only,) and EXCLUDES those designated as emotional support animals. However, it does state that reasonable accommodations should be made for any service animal including ESAs. To qualify, the person is evaluated by the housing provider based on answers to the following questions:

  1. Does the person seeking to use and live with the animal have a disability —i.e., a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities?
  2. Does the person making the request have a disability-related need for an assistance animal? In other words, does the animal work, provide assistance, perform tasks or services for the benefit of a person with a disability, or provide emotional support that alleviates one or more of the identified symptoms or effects of a person’s existing disability?

Portrait of the girl with the iguana Air Carrier Access Act

ACAA doesn’t restrict Emotional Support Animals to dogs–they can be cats, birds, hamsters, lizards, goldfish–anything at all. Most airlines do require the animal to fit under the seat as “carry on” luggage, though. Rather than a case-by-case evaluation, airlines typically require a signed letter from a “licensed mental health professional” (not just your general practitioner). The letter must include:

  • The professional’s address and phone number
  • State that you have a disorder listed in the fourth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association.
  • You also must be under active treatment for your disorder by this “mental health professional.”

Ditch the Pitch? or a Big Reveal?

Remember that email pitch mentioned in the opening paragraph? Yesterday I got a LinkedIn request for a connection from a person with the same name. So I decided to reply with some pointed questions, indicating I’d like to include them in a possible future blog. Most of my questions arose from the lack of detailed information posted on the website. There were no names, no credentials listed, just a lot of generalities and promises.

The website offers an online evaluation of your completed questionnaire by a (unnamed) board-certified psychiatrist. When that evaluation confirms your qualifications, the expert then generates a letter that qualifies your ESA and thus allows plane or housing privileges afforded to service animals. For a fee, of course. If your answers to the questionnaire fail to qualify you, the fee is promised to be reimbursed.

I figured a “no response” would be telling. So I was happily surprised to receive a prompt response with detailed answers, which I’ve cut-and-pasted below. I will leave it to readers to make judgments about this particular service.

Q & A with National Center for Emotional-Support Animals

Hello Amy!

Thank you very much for your interest. Please see my responses to your questions below.

Who are you? What is YOUR background in pets? Is this you?

Yes, that’s me. I’ve had a dog for the past 10 years and a cat for the past 16.

Who is your “board certified psychiatrist” ?

My husband, Jamie Feusner. He is the co-founder of National Center for Emotional-Support Animals. (Amy’s note: I googled the name and found more about Dr. Feusner here)

What board certifies a psychiatrist to diagnose a patient over the Internet?

Our letter does not constitute a diagnosis. It recommends an ESA to help treat the problems that you are currently experiencing.

Why does the pop-up invite someone to get a FREE “ESA Letter” but then require a credit card to submit the questionnaire for $150?

The offer is buy an ESA letter for housing for $149 and as an added bonus, we provide a letter covering air travel, worth $149, free. Other services charge to each letter separately.

If, indeed, someone qualifies for an ESA, why would they need an annual letter for another $150 each time?

The letter itself never expires. It’s dated the day that it’s mailed out. The issue is that airlines and landlords do not accept letters that are dated more than a year old. In addition, people have to retake the questionnaire because their symptoms and health problems can change. What they said a year ago may not be the case today. No doctor can write a recommendation or prescription for someone in perpetuity. They have to be re-examined at least once a year.

What percentage of your applicants do you turn down as “not qualified” for an ESA and actually refund the fee?

None. Everyone who has come to us have [sic] met the medical qualifcations [sic] to get an ESA letter.

Are you not concerned that unscrupulous individuals would manipulate the questionnaire/answers to get an ESA letter for which they do not qualify?

The medical questionnaire is the same one a psychiatrist would give during an in-office visit. Mental health treatment for the most part is provided based on self-reported symptoms — unlike other health conditions that can be physically measured with tests. If people lie on the medical questionnaire, they could also lie during an in office visit. Psychiatrists have to take people at their word. You may deem someone as “unscrupulous” or that “they do not qualify” but that’s just YOUR opinion and judgement of them. It doesn’t make it true. Mental illnesses are invisible. A person may look and act completely normal yet still suffer from a mental illness.

Your Turn…

Okay, gang, what do you think? How would you characterize such a service? I did fail to ask one question–does a questionnaire answered by a mental health practitioner constitute “being under active treatment for your disorder,” as required by the ACAA?

What about you? Do you think “fake” service animal credentials is a victimless crime? Are you, or do you know someone partnered with an amazing service animal? How could the “rules” be changed to improve the situation you?

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered–post in the comments. Be sure to visit my PetHealthyStore for paw-some products for your furry wonders! Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways, kewl product offers, and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!

COUGHS, CRUD, CHALLENGES & CREATIVITY

Dog with flu

Images Copr. DepositPhotos.com

For the past week, I’ve battled the “crud” with congestion, fever, coughing, aches and more. Apparently everything from the flu, pneumonia, colds and any combination thereof have afflicted many of my friends here in North Texas. I sure hope you dodged the bug!

Magical-Dawg thinks he’s “helping” by stealing the soiled tissues. Eww…sorry, TMI.

When you work for someone or a company, there’s always a bit of “wiggle room” built in, and you can call the Boss to say you’re just not able to attend to business and need a sick day. But that doesn’t happen when you work for yourself. It reminds me of that commercial playing these days, where the parent tries to tell the toddler, “I need a sick day…”

When you work for yourself, that just ain’t happening.

So those of us who are self-employed limp along and do our best to fulfill commitments. I don’t remember the last time that I forgot to send in my newspaper column–how embarrassing! And I didn’t have much of a voice and knew that coughing on camera wouldn’t be appealing, so yesterday I stayed away from my regular TV Pet Talk segment. Meanwhile, I’d love to unscrew my head to get rid of the yuck and the painful breathing/choking/coughing trifecta.

I’m a bit better today. And I promise, you can’t catch my “bug” by reading the blog, it’s not that kind of virus, LOL! I did want to update y’all on my must-do-projects I worked on despite the brain-fuzz-icity.

Little KittensCat Writers’ Association Collaborates with BLOGPAWS!

I’m honored to be the 2015-16 CWA Conference/Program Chair, and this week we announced an official collaboration with BlogPaws Conference 2015. I’m delighted that the CWA-branded WRITER TRACK of two professional panels will be highlighted at this prestigious blogging and social networking event.

Publish Or Perish? This publishing panel features pet book authors and publishers Amy Shojai of CWA, Pam Johnson-Bennett a best selling cat behaviorist and author, Lisa Erspamer a best selling publisher of cat and dog books, and Bob Mayer, a best selling author and publisher. The panel will discuss the current state of publishing from the “traditional” to “indie” paths, how publishing has changed, why bloggers should write a book (or become a publisher), how to choose your publishing path, pitfalls to avoid, and how to leverage social media and blogging to build your author platform.

Bridging the Gap Between Bloggers and Publishing This publishing panel features Layla Morgan Wilde, Janiss Garza, Alana Grelyak, and Deb Barnes. The session will be a “how to use your blog as a springboard to professional publishing” by learning how to write, research, edit, and design your blog posts in such a manner that they become a portfolio of quality work to help open the door to publishing deals. Learn more about the speakers and events at the CWA Website here.

GOODNEWSFORPETS.com INTERVIEW!

I’ve had the privilege of knowing and working with Lea-Ann Germinder for many years, and am thrilled to be featured in an interview on her fabulous GoodNewsForPets site. You can check out the interview here–but be sure to check out all the marvelous pet-centric news and information provided in this stellar site.

SHOW & TELL PROGRESS

The next thriller has progressed in fits and starts, it seems. But I’m determined to get this book finished and into the “paws” of all of you fantastic reader-fans who have been sooooo very patient. I’m very much hoping to launch the next NAME THAT DOG and NAME THAT CAT contest late this month, so stay tuned. The first two books HIDE AND SEEK and SHOW AND TELL would never have happened without you…and the contests and wonderful characters y’all suggested made them that much better.

Now, it’s your turn. Have you been afflicted with the “crud” or something similar, but still had to work? How’d you manage? Did your boss understand? (My boss is a b*tch about being lazy, LOL!) Do tell!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered–post in the comments. Be sure to visit my PetHealthyStore for paw-some products for your furry wonders! Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways, kewl product offers, and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!

New Years Resolutions for Pets

KarmaSerenSandwichIt’s almost 2015, wow. A new year is a time for reflection on the past, and resolutions for the future. This year has been incredibly rewarding on the pet-writing front. I’ve published three new nonfiction pet books including COMPLETE PUPPY CARE and two short-tips guides, the sequel to my dog-viewpoint thriller HIDE AND SEEK, and produced/directed/wrote with my partner Frank Steele the show STRAYS, THE MUSICAL.

My furry crew has increased this year, too, with the addition of Karma-Kat. They tell me it’s a good time to take stock of the past year from a pets’-eye-view, too, and the year to come.

The Magical-dawg romped through the year and had only one “issue” with licking his paws nekkid. Thank goodness, the veterinarian’s prescription worked even better than expected and that has resolved. Magic is now eight but he shows little sign of slowing down.

Seren-kitty has reached the grand age of 17 and noticeably slowed down. This year she continued having problems with schnorkles. She sleeps more, her black mask has turned nearly solid gray, but the arrival of Karma gave her new energy and zest for life—first, staying out of his reach, and then making sure he knows she’s the boss. I pray that the years will touch me as lightly as they have my little Siamese wannabe.

Karma has grown from a lanky adolescent kitten into a hefty man-kat eager for a game of tag, chase and treats. He’s the delight of Magic, makes Seren grumpy, and keeps us humans laughing.
So here are New Year’s Resolutions from Magic, Seren and Karma with commentary by Amy.

MagicToyMagic: “I will train my humans to spend more time playing.”

Amy: He insists on fetch. All the time. I mean ALL the time! both inside the house and out. So I resolve to keep breakables out of tossed-ball-range, and use only the soft stuffed toys to cut down on household damage.

Karma: “I will train my humans to leave open the pantry door so I can help myself.”

Amy: He’s actually learned to open the pantry door himself, where he chews through packaging to spill dog food et al across the floor where Karma can taste. So I resolve to Karma-proof cupboards and offer only cat-healthy treats to (ahem) trim down his waistline.

Seren: “I will stand on table tops, hassocks and Amy’s lap and cry and yowl to get the (spit) Karma-Kat in trouble.”

Amy: She’s used to being the “only” cat and now must compete for our attention. I resolve to keep Karma and Magic otherwise engaged so that Seren can enjoy her teasing perch antics for as long as she continues to want to harass the other pets.

Magic: “I will kill all squeakers and chew sticky-out wrong parts on toys.”

Amy: He amputates teddy-bear ears, and SQUEEEEEKS toys forever to drive us crazy. I resolve to find a Magic-proof squeaky stuffed toy—been looking for years now.

Karma: “I will stalk and tease and pounce at Magic so he chases me—and makes the humans yell, what fun!”

Amy: Karma takes great delight in teasing Magic and getting him into trouble. I resolve to play interactive chase games with Karma each day to give him the exercise, attention and fun he craves and deserves.

Magic: “I will train Amy to play with the Frisbees—all 12 of them—ALL THE TIME!”

Amy: Magic obsessed over the Frisbees. He’s learned to catch and retrieve them, if Amy can throw them correctly. And yes, he’ll stack and carry as many as I throw. I resolve to keep a supply of fresh Frisbees handy for the times Magic loses them (or they’re stolen by coyotes).

Seren: “I will sleep more, hiss less. Except around the *spit* other cat.”

Amy: Seren’s blue bed rests on the dining room table under a stained glass lamp shade. Karma likes the bed, too, but it’s too small for him and he squashes Seren when he tries to climb inside, too. I resolve to invest a larger cat bed so Seren and Karma can maybe-sorta-kinda share.

Magic: “I will go for a ride forever!”

Amy: Magic continues his love affair with the Magic-Mobile. I resolve to give Magic a car ride at least every other day, pending good weather.

Seren: “I will train Amy there’s more to nine lives than paw-tapping and staring at a boxy computer-thing. Like catnip. And whisker-kisses.”

Karma: “I will train Amy that playing with cats is more fun than anything else.”

Magic: “I will train Amy that naps together are a good thing. So are tummy rubs.”

Amy: I resolve to listen to my furry wonders. What about you?

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered–post in the comments. Be sure to visit my PetHealthyStore for paw-some products for your furry wonders! Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways, kewl product offers, and appearances related to my  THRILLERS WITH BITE!