Inkwell: Authors and Artists
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 13 Oct 06 13:14
Joining us today is syndicated columnist and author Gina Spadafori. Gina is a lifelong animal-lover who has been writing about pets almost as long as she has been sharing her life with them. She started writing a pet-care column for The Sacramento Bee in 1985. The column was picked up a decade ago by the Universal Press Syndicate, and is now a weekly pet page in newspapers across the United States and Canada. Gina has written five books, including the first three in the " For Dummies" pet-care series.Her news books, written with "Good Morning, America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, are "Why Do Dogs Drink Out of the Toilet?: 101 of the Most Perplexing Questions Answered About Canine Conundrums, Medical Mysteries and Befuddling Behaviors" and Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?: 101 of the Most Perplexing Questions Answered About Feline Unfathomables, Medical Mysteries and Befuddling Behaviors." Her Web site and Web log are at <http://www.PetConnection.com>
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 13 Oct 06 13:17
Co-leading the conversation with Gina are The WELL's <pets.> conference cohosts, Fawn (fquared) Fitter and Christine (cmbegle) Begle. Christine is a long-time dog lover, first time dog-owner. She lives with Prunella, a 9-year-old rescued lab-shepherd mix. Fawn says that though she grew up with a dog and still stops to coo over every pup she passes, she is officially a cat person. She used to volunteer with the feral kittens at the SPCA, but stopped when she realized she couldn't adopt them all. Her current feline-in-residence is an 11-year-old tuxedo kitty named Surely, who's having a much better life than she could have expected when she was born in a parking lot in Brooklyn.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 13 Oct 06 13:18
Welcome, Gina, Fawn, and Christine! I'm looking forward to this conversation (especially the "cat" part, being a lifelong cat person).
Gina Spadafori (giori) Fri 13 Oct 06 14:49
Thanks for inviting me in. The books are lightweight fluff laced with serious information on best-practice in dealing with health and behavior. We were trying for something entertaining -- I hope we achieved it -- in the "spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down" way. The books popped up kind of suddenly for me. I was moping around the house and Dr. Becker called. We've known each other for more than a decade, and really enjoyed bumping into each other at conferences and such. He had a great idea for a pair of books -- these ones -- but was on publicity tour for a previous book, "Fitness Unleashed." We needed to get the books done in time for Christmas sales, so he asked me to come on as a co-author. I loved the idea, so I did. We wrote the books in four months, during which I continued working full-time (I work as an editor/writer for Sacramento's public utility) and producing a weekly syndicated pet page for Universal Press. I was ... a wreck when we finished! But I think the books turned out just the way we imagined them, and we're happy.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sat 14 Oct 06 22:05
Gina, I have a cat and I like dogs. Christine has a dog and she likes cats. Is there really that much of a difference between cat people and dog people?
Gina Spadafori (giori) Sun 15 Oct 06 09:11
At the extremes, yes! There are cat people who loathe dogs, and vice versa. But in the great middle, there are people who just flat like animals, dogs and cats both. Plus, I find a lot of people would love to have a dog, too, but the time and space involved in keeping one just doesn't fit with their lifestyle. I definitely lean more to the "dog people" side of the spectrum, because for me one of the joys of having a pet is the training and "getting out with" aspect. (I like training so much that I've also trick-trained my parrots -- which is easy, they're so smart! -- and tried a little with the rabbits, too. But my lifestyle is all wrapped around training, competing and travel with the dogs, or even just going to the river with the dogs. The flip side of how adaptable cats are to busy and urban lives is that they're not really interested in doing things with you. I do find cats infinitely more interesting than dogs in a health and behavioral way, though. They're so much more of a mystery, because of their ecological niche as both predator and prey. Sitting at the top of the food chain, dogs aren't as difficult to read.
Gina Spadafori (giori) Sun 15 Oct 06 09:14
By the way, I'm really not trying to sell books here, but if you're interested in buying, Amazon currently has them marked down to $7.77 each, because we're deep into promotions -- my co-author was on "Good Morning, America" last week, etc. If you go through petconnection.com, you can also get more than $100 in bonus gifts with the purchase. That deal will run through the 24th. Not pushing, just saying.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sun 15 Oct 06 10:11
Bonus gifts! We like bonus gifts! As a pet columnist, you obviously get lots of questions from all over about both cats and dogs. What's the most common question, and why do you think it keeps coming up?
Gina Spadafori (giori) Sun 15 Oct 06 11:17
That's an easy one! My co-author, Dr. Marty Becker, is also a syndicated pet-care columnist. We both get more questions on cats who won't use the litter box. It's not even a contest. It keeps coming up because ... well, it's not really natural for an animal who should have the choice of a whole neighborhood to have to confine his elimination -- which is something that also has communications aspect for animals -- to a single small box in a place not of his choosing. Litter box use is all about compromise for a cat, and humans are notoriously unwilling to make compromises for behaviorial problems. I can't tell you how many people WILL NOT BUDGE when it comes to what kind of litter they like to buy and where the box goes. I tell them, "If the cat's not happy, nobody's happy," but many people just don't want to hear it. Of course, it's an issue that's also complicated by health problems -- UTIs, diabetes, hormonal disorders -- and other factors. But the basic thing is that it's really good of a cat to use a litter box at all, and it's no surprise that many of them don't want to, for whatever reason.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Sun 15 Oct 06 12:26
What about the most common dog question?
Gina Spadafori (giori) Sun 15 Oct 06 19:13
Skin conditions. They're pretty hard to answer, because a lot of the skin problems are congenital, and many of the ones that aren't are because ... well, it gets into a lot of nutrition stuff, and my basic belief that dogs and cats weren't designed to eat processed food any more than we were. Vets don't have good answers for those questions, either, and so scatter-shot the problem with steroids and antibiotics, treating symptoms not causes. Referral to a derm specialist is more expensive than many can afford, so ... skin issue questions are hard to answer in any helpful way. Saying, "your vet's taking shortcuts, your dog's food is crap and you shouldn't have bought a puppy mill Westie" doesn't seem a particularly good idea for a pet-care columnist. I hate skin questions.
Gina Spadafori (giori) Tue 17 Oct 06 05:33
A perfect example in the e-mail this morning: -- She has been constantly scratching and licking herself to the point that she lost most of her hair. She was also emitting an awful smelling ooze from her skin that caked up when it dried. She has been to a vet several times, been given shots of antibiotics, been bathed in sulphur/lime, (several times) and she still wants to scratch and lick. She is eating purina dry dog chow and is also on the joint medication for her hind legs. She does have 90% of her hair back, except for her belly that she keeps scratching. Also, before any of the shampoos, etc., her skin was tough like an elephant, but not now. Is there anything else that I can do for her???? I cannot stand to see her constantly scratching, as I am sure she is very uncomfortable doing also. It seems that her hind legs just do it automatically now. This has been going on for the last 6 months or so and I really hate to keep her like this. I have in the back of my mind to put her down, which I really DON'T want to do. The vet did check for mange, scabies and yeast infection. As far as I know, the yeast infection was the most likely. She is just a sweet, loveable dog, and I need to try and correct this problem one way or the other. Can you help???? Any kind of supplement, or any other remedy I can try? -- The shots are probably steroids AND antibiotic. Poor veterinary practice. So there you have it: Miserable dog, vet treating symptoms not cause, crap food, and a person who wants a "magic wand" home remedy and would likely never take the dog to a veterinary dermatologist, because of the expense. What can you tell readers with such problems? I'm completely helpless, because they don't want the answers I give them. And the animal will continue to suffer. Damn.
Fawn Fitter (fsquared) Tue 17 Oct 06 19:01
THat does sound frustrating! On the other hand, what kind of questions make you happy?
prunella (cmbegle) Tue 17 Oct 06 19:08
That letter is just awful... do you sometimes feel like the animal's life is in your hands -- like if you don't answer quite the right way, they're going to put their pet down? That's almost the feeling I get from that letter.
Gina Spadafori (giori) Wed 18 Oct 06 10:20
I can't think that way. I'm not responsible for what other people do. I'd go crazy if I took on that burden. After 20-odd years of this, I just developed a tough skin. I do what I can and then move on. People threaten me all the time with the euthanasia of their pets. I put it back on them, and make it clear that THEY need to do something, not me. As for e-mails I like, oh yes, there are many! People write with ideas, suggestions and stories. Love to hear all of these. And I like when people are clearly thinking before they make a pet decision, so they can make the best one possible.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 18 Oct 06 11:49
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Gail Williams (gail) Wed 18 Oct 06 12:01
I'm marvelling at this statement: > We wrote the books in four months, during which I continued working > full-time (I work as an editor/writer for Sacramento's public utility) > and producing a weekly syndicated pet page for Universal Press. Wow, and congrats!
Gina Spadafori (giori) Wed 18 Oct 06 12:27
Thanks! Honestly, I have no idea how I accomplished this. I do know it required the judicious use of some prescription medication.
caper fields guarded by decapitator bunnies (cjp) Wed 18 Oct 06 15:31
I devoured your "cat" book and am impressed by how it answered even my weirdest mental meanderings, like why cats' eyes are different from lions', why cats try to return to their old homes, and so forth. Thanks so much for writing this! Okay, my question would be, what was the weirdest question you ever got in re cats and/or dogs?
Gina Spadafori (giori) Wed 18 Oct 06 16:14
My favorite question from the cat book is, "Why do cats always head for the one person in the room who doesn't like cats?" The answer is that cats find direct eye contact intimidating, and so a friendly cat will avoid all those people who are staring at them (the cat-lovers) and head for the one person in the room who is politely not. As for weird ... a great many people evidence a lack of knowledge regarding feline and canine genitalia. Like those who think their veterinarians pulled a fast one or screwed up because it appears a dog who has come home from neutering still has his "package." What he has, of course, is the scrotal sac -- the testicles are gone. The sac will eventually reduce in size and virtually disappear, but people don't know that, and often ask why their neutered dog still appears to have all his attributes. I also get a smile because of people who don't realize their parakeets and cockatiels aren't snuggling with them -- they're masturbating against them. It is a challenge, however, to tactfully impart such information.
Michael Zentner (mz) Wed 18 Oct 06 16:22
>>> a great many people evidence a lack of knowledge regarding feline and canine genitalia Our society doesn't exactly encouraging exploration for that knowledge.
Gina Spadafori (giori) Wed 18 Oct 06 16:46
My co-author, veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, often points out that some of the reason we don't know so much about how animals really are is that we're more removed from nature than we once were. Growing up as an Idaho farm kid, he was well aware of how animals reproduced -- everything from the barn cats to the cows. More familiar with the concept of death, too, in a real way, not as a video-game abstraction. Animal behavior? You needed to know that as a farm kid, too, or you'd stand a good chance of being hurt.
Elaine Sweeney (sweeney) Wed 18 Oct 06 17:06
>we're more removed from nature than we once were It may be part and parcel of that...how people (including myself) anthropomorphise their pets has always fascinated me. The litter box example is part of that, viewing the problem as cat "being bad", but also when people introduce a new cat into their already cat-bearing home, they'll have this mindset that "they'll be friends!" and they plop the cage down, open the door, and watch the explosion with kind of a giggle. In their dreams, "friends", and now guaranteed to not tolerate each other in the least going forward.
prunella (cmbegle) Wed 18 Oct 06 18:48
Ack, sweeney. I hope people don't try that, well, more than once, anyway! I anthropomorphize a whole lot. I actually believe my dog loves me when she gives me kisses, no matter what the book says! I love that reason for why cats always go to the person who doesn't like cats!! Is there actual animal behavior research that this information comes from, or is most of the information from lots of experience with animals? Just curious. OK, I know that the books are not about birds, but since you brought them up -- is there any way to know whether you have a male or female bird, if sexes look alike for that type of bird?
how many butt rolls do you want (ray-coshow) Wed 18 Oct 06 19:33
Hi. A dog person here. I read the Dog book. Gina, I want to say right off the bat, your anecdotes were my favorite part (those little narratives with the gray background.) Not too far into the book, I found I was able to tell whether one of those was yours or Dr. Becker's usually within the first paragraph. I really enjoyed them and kind of wish there had been more of those.
Gina Spadafori (giori) Wed 18 Oct 06 19:59
I liked those parts, too! We're going to do another round of the books next year, because we left out so many good questions. We have plenty of stories to tell, believe me! Yes, there's a lot of behavior research going on. Some of it's academically drive, and some is profit-driven. If you know what makes pets tick, people will be happier with them and will buy more for them. As for birds, gender typing is handled with a simple DNA test following a blood draw by the avian vet. When I got my caique, Eddie, I didn't know until I had him a couple of months and got down to Oakley to see my "Birds For Dummies" co-author, avian specialist Dr. Brian Speer, if Eddie was a Eddie boy or Eddie girl. A week later, I knew: Eddie boy. The MOST sexually dimorphic parrot species in the pet trade is the eclectus. The females are red and purple; the males bright green: <http://www.modernrenaissanceink.com/tom/eclectus.jpg>
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