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Pet Proofing: Keeping Pets Safe at Home

October 25, 2009

How did Doc Truli’s beloved 15-year-old long hair green-eyed grey Persian cat, Mitzi, end up under the trailer out in the cold, meowing her head off for 2 days?

As a senior veterinary student, Doc Truli lived in a former cow milker’s trailer on a large dairy farm.  Facing East, with the Western sunset illuminating the red with white trim outbuildings, the green grass road edgings trimmed perfectly short with white fences lining the mile-long driveway, the farm glowed like a movie set.  The trailer sported brand new double hung windows, a new circuit box, all new wiring, beautiful little custom-made John Deere green fabric curtains and a koi pond in the front yard!

Well, I’ll tell you.  I’m a fairly decent pet-proofer.  I should be, I’m a professional.  But your pets will find nooks and crannies you cannot imagine.  Guess how Mitzi did it?

It took me a few hours to figure it out.  She opened the bathroom cabinet door under the sink, which shut behind her automatically.  Then, 3 feet to the right, under the dark sink counter, was a 1 foot by 1 foot hole in the wall (don’t ask me why!  I have no idea how it got there.)  Grey tufts of long fur stuck out from the hole’s jagged edges all the way around.  Mitzi must have shoved her portly self through the hole, which led to the outside crawl space under the trailer.  Your truly was away for the night, so when I pulled up the next day and opened my car door, “Meeeooooow.”  And, as a bonus, two hungry farm dogs with eyes glued to the underside of the trailer.  Luckily, my girl did not become a play toy for Murphy Brown, the fat Chocolate Lab, or, Binx, the black German Shepherd fox-killer.

Get Down to Your Pet’s Eye Level!

Temple Grandin, a world-renowned animal behavior expert, teaches veterinarians and animal handlers to move through the animal’s environment exactly at the animals’ eye level.  She discovered that pigs will stop moving, for example, to load onto a truck, if they cannot see around a corner, or if a shiny wet spot on the floor reflects funny, or if they see an inexplicable shadow in front of them.  If pig chutes are curved, with no corners, covered, with no shadows, and dry, with no reflective glassy water slicks, they move right along, nice, relaxed, and calm.  You can imagine, staying calm promotes health.  Panicking, and backing up on 100F heat on a hot, dry summer day, when you are supposed to be moving to a new barn, kills hogs in minutes from heat stroke.  Seeing the world from an animal’s point of view saves lives.

Crawl around rooms and especially the kitchen and bathrooms at your pet’s eye level.  I kid you not.  If you are unable to crawl, even with gardening knee protectors, get your kids to do it.  If you are young, you probably cannot afford a pet emergency visit because Barney found the roach trap you missed.  Use those knees and look around!

Previous tenants in your place probably left pictures, dryer sheets, ant traps, you-name-it! behind when they moved.  Doc Truli found a picture of a previous owner and his sister at a party, with cat chew holes lacing the edge!  Obviously, Porthos (VirtuVet gravitar)  found the picture before the Doc!

Remember, cats are three-dimensional beings.  Look up, to the ceiling even.  Or beyond.  Mitzi once spent a week in the insulation above a ceiling because she was shy in her new home.  Cats will find holes and crannies you ignore.  Try to see the unseeable when cat-proofing.  Actually, how about this: try to think as if you were designing a movie set for the Neil Gaiman sci-fi novel Neverwhere.  That’s where your cat looks for fun!

Electrical Cord Proofing

A special note about electronics and electrical cords and plugs: eliminate, cover, or group the electrical stuff in an off-limits section of your place.  Televisions fall on curious pets, they get stuck in the cords, pets electrocute themselves on the cords, you-name-it.  Don’t be stubborn.  Bundle the cords in a cord-tube from the hardware store, or hire an electrician to properly put casings on them, or a contractor to run them behind the walls.  If your budget is tight, group your computers, televisions, etc, in a room off-limits to the curious pet.  If Porthos ventures into Doc Truli’s home office, he sets off a Star Trek Enterprise bridge red-alert warning, “Woop!  Woop!  Cat-Alert!”

Bird-Proofing Challenges

Another special note about birds.  Wow!  If you love living with bird(s), you have a handful of pet-proofing to do.  Landlords be warned!  After a fish tank water disaster, a pet bird chewing all the trim inside your property destroys your property value unimaginably silently and efficiently!   Yet Doc Truli’s first landlord at veterinary school said, “You have to leave an extra cat deposit, and a dog deposit, but I don’t care about the bird.”  Ha!  My Cockatiel, Othello (“Birdie” for short) ate her 150-year-old window trim in three days flat!  Good Birdie!

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