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My Pet World: How foster families help pets and their families after disasters

By Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

We live in Wisconsin, but would love to care for someone's dog from Hurricane Harvey until they get back on their feet. We have a two-year-old white German Shephard who is great with kids and other dogs. Please let us know how we can do this. -- Paul and DeAnne O., Wisconsin

Dear Paul and DeAnne,

It's very nice of you to want to help hurricane victims with their pets. When people are forced to evacuate their homes, they want to take their pets with them, but human shelters don't always accept pets. South Texas animal shelters learned these lessons after Hurricane Katrina and now line-up foster families and establish temporary shelters to take care of people's pets while families are displaced from their homes.

Sadly, some people are so overwhelmed or are displaced for so long they end up giving up their pets at some point. After a disaster, however, foster families play a vital role in caring for these pets for longer, which is comforting to displaced families who don't want to have to lose their pets too.

While I am not sure how you can foster a pet from so far away, you can call your local shelter to see if they are helping the region. The Humane Society of the United States has flown hundreds of dogs and cats who were strays or waiting for homes in Texas shelters (not people's pets) to animal shelters in Oregon, Washington, and New Jersey to free up space in shelters impacted by the hurricane to make room for more pets in need. Maybe your local shelter can take in some of the stray and homeless pets from the hurricane affected region that needs homes.

You can also donate to animal shelters in Houston, Beaumont and south Texas impacted by the storm -- or animal shelters in San Antonio, Austin and Dallas who are providing direct care to evacuee pets. If I hear of any shelters looking for out-of-state foster families, you will be the first to know.

Dear Cathy,

My four-year-old male orange tabby cat has a taste for weird stuff. He eats plants, but particularly loves pineapple leaves. If he gets out, he'll run to eat grass and whatever plant he can find. I can't keep live plants in the house. Even worse, he eats strings and fabric, including my bathing suit straps and the fringes on my oriental rugs. I'm worried he'll wind up with an intestinal blockage. He's on a urinary diet and is only supposed to eat his special food. Any ideas? -- Linda L., Florida

Dear Linda,

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Cats lick and chew and suck on items for a variety of reasons. Some cats may have been weaned too early; some may have a deficiency in their diet; and some may have an underlying health problem, like feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Some cats may even have developed an obsessive-compulsive behavior.

Eating a little grass is normal for most dogs and cats. Eating a lot of grass could indicate a health problem. Always rule out a health problem first before addressing something as a behavior issue.

If your cat has a clean bill of health, begin removing things your cat likes to eat from his environment. For example, hang wet bathing suits on a shower rod and keep dry bathing suits in drawers. Get the pineapple plant out of reach. The leaves have low toxicity levels, and can cause digestive problems for your cat.

Next, spray items, like the oriental rug fringes, with either Bitter Apple -- a proven product that keeps both dogs and cats away. If the scent doesn't thwart your cat, apply SmartCat Sticky Paws (available on a roll at pet stores) across the fringes until your cat kicks the fringe-licking habit.

Also, get rid of all potentially dangerous houseplants. Search online for the ASPCA's "Toxic and Non-Toxic Plant List for Cats" to see what's safe to have in your home. Then, place houseplants that aren't dangerous out of reach. You can also spray the product Bitter Apple directly onto the leaves of your houseplants to keep your cat away. Give your cat something to chew on by growing catnip or cat grass in a container in the home.

Finally, build in two 10-minute play sessions a day with your cat. Inside cats rarely get enough physical or mental stimulation and some develop obsessive behaviors, like licking and chewing strange things or even licking the hair off their belly, as a result. Keep your cat busy to reduce that anxiety-driven behavior.


(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)



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