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Dr. Fox: Pet dogs in public demonstrations

Dr. Michael Fox

Dear Dr. Fox: In this season of protests, I have been increasingly troubled by people taking one or more dogs to crowded, loud and chaotic venues, where humans are so densely packed that movement is severely restricted.

My adult daughter and I recently attended the Women's March in Washington, D.C., and as attendance built at the pre-march rally, we found ourselves all but trapped in an incredibly tight crowd. As we attempted to sidle our way to the street (a process that took about 90 minutes), I was startled to see a woman struggling to make her way into the central area being led by two plump, elderly dogs, whose withers were no higher than my knee.

I was distressed that the dogs were subjected to such conditions, and I told the lady it was a bad idea, to which she took bitter exception. I have since noticed many people bringing their dogs to similar—admittedly less densely packed, but still very loud and stressful—events. It seems that their pets are treated less as companions than fashion accessories, which troubles me very much.

What is your guidance regarding bringing dogs to crowded public events?—E.L., Rockville, Md.

Dear E.L.: I appreciate your concern about people taking dogs to public demonstrations. There are likely to be more protests in the near future and outbreaks of unpredictable violence in some demonstrations of public outrage, with agitators bent on causing mayhem to discredit the legitimacy of protesters.

People do take offense when confronted about how they are treating their animals, especially the suggestion that they are exposing them to unnecessary stress. It is regrettable that most public demonstrations are still limited to the degree that they are generally human-centered and not embracing all life and the environment. Bringing dogs to a predictably massive gathering of people is grossly irresponsible, self-indulgent and confirms this lack of vision and scope of concern. All life matters, and Earth justice and animal rights should have equal representation.

Dear Dr. Fox: I have three cats and a new chair. Cat No. 1 noticed it first and started scratching the side. I covered it with a throw blanket, and the cat settled down on it, staying there and getting up only to eat and use the litter box.

After two days, cat No. 2 moved to claim it. She is my loving bedmate, but she has chosen the chair over me. Cat No. 3 dared to try out the chair when No. 2 was away. No. 2 was very upset, running around sideways with a bushy tail. Now cat No. 2 is queen of the chair again. What is going on? Is there catnip woven into the chair, or is it a game of who is the alpha female?—C.H., Washington, D.C.

Dear C.H.: Late German ethologist and professor Paul Leyhausen described this cat behavior as place- or situation-dominance. Cats in groups do not have a relatively clear-cut dominance hierarchy like the kind seen in wolves and dogs, who have a social order to reduce conflict.

Rather, cats tend to maintain a different social order, which is based on their relatively less social and more solitary behavior in the wild.

This is based on selecting their own resting places and learning quickly to obey the rule of respecting each other's favored places to avoid conflict. Additionally, cats in the wild will patrol their territories on different time schedules to avoid accidental face-to-face confrontation, which could lead to injurious fights. The more insights the science of ethology provides, the better we may be able to understand and control our own aggressive and territorial behaviors, as Nobel laureate Konrad Lorenz offers in his seminal book "On Aggression." This would be a good read for some of our politicians today.

Dog food recall

On New Year's Eve 2016, three pugs became ill, and one died; these incidents are believed to be linked to Evanger's Dog and Cat Food. Lab results provided by the pet owner show the pet food contained pentobarbital, a drug used to euthanize animals.

Evanger's Dog and Cat Food is now voluntarily recalling specific lots of its Hunk of Beef product because of a potential contaminant (pentobarbital).

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