Holiday Pet Safety

Trojan with bow Crop

Gitli with bow

The Holidays are upon us and these events can be rather hectic for our pets.  We need to stay alert to possible dangers to them.  These threats can be things like consuming an excessive amount of rich and harmful foods, inappropriate or even toxic items which can be the seasonal decorations, ornamental lighting and plants.

While having fun with family and friends, don’t forget your companion animals and have  fun with and protect them during the holidays festivals.

“Watch this month’s yuletide episode of Pet Talk and find out what holiday trimmings are on the nice list and which ones are on the naughty. Your heightened awareness could help prevent everything from unintentional fire hazards to unwanted ingestion of plants that are safe for humans but poisonous to pets. Simply by following these helpful guidelines, your pet kid could avoid gastric upset and serious injury.”

Please watch the video of Dr. Sarah, you can advice you on how to make sure your pet’s holidays are safe as well as jolly.

Merry Christmas and have a Safe and Happy Holiday!

To Stay Active Outside During Winter Select Proper Clothing

Trojan dressed for negative temperatures in Southern Illinois 2014

Trojan dressed for negative temperatures in Southern Illinois 2014

Many of us have seen Christmas Story and the scene that Ralphie is so well insulated that his arms are stuck up as he has been bundled for his walk to school.  He whines “I can’t put my arms down” and his mom comments “ can put your arms down when you get to school.” When I work in locations that require walking dogs in snow and ice, I can’t be bundled up like Ralphie.  When we are out playing with our dogs in winter areas that has snow and ice, we need to be able to move about safely and stay warm.

I lived in Alaska for two years and really had to prepare for travel in subzero temperatures.  Part of that ritual was having my own traveling winter emergency kit available.  It includes extra warm clothing, blankets, dry shoes, a candle, a lighter or water-proof matches, food that doesn’t freeze, access to water, emergency flares, a first aid kit, and the list goes on.  The biggest challenge was dressing for winter.  I had to learn to layer so that I wouldn’t be walking around like Ralphie.  One of the important layers is two pairs of breathable socks or a pair of heavier breathable or insulated socks, if your feet got cold or wet there can be problems.  Then the first layer was the layer closest to the skin after the undergarments and socks.

Trojan hiding behind pole

In Alaska that first layer was a polypropylene top and bottom, this is also called long johns, long underwear, or a base layer. From that I would put on the normal outerwear garments: pants, blouse, or sweater.  I got into the habit of wearing two tops one being a turtle neck and then something on top of that.  That way if I got to hot inside I could remove a layer of clothing.  From there came the coat (my coat in Alaska was gauged for minus weather) or a jacket that covers the butt.  I sometimes will double layer under the coat with a fleece vest.  To protect myself from the wind a light weight pair of ski pants to cover the bottom.  I like to double layer my hands, head, and neck.  For the hands my first layer would be a light weight pair of contact gloves and either another set of heavier gloves on top or a pair of mittens.  There are also gloves out where the wearer can remove the top to expose the fingers just in case one can’t use the fingers with gloves on.  For the neck/chest area I would put a scarf under the jacket and a neck gator that would cover a portion of the neck, mouth and nose.  I use to double layer the head gear as well, using a warm hat and either on or under the hat I would wear ear mittens.

The final dress wear before going out in snow and ice is the shoes.  Your type of shoes will determine how warm and dry your feet are and wearing normal tennis shoes in snow or ice will maintain this goal and will be slip resistant.  Using waterproof shoes or boots that are lightweight will help.  Coating those with a water repellent fabric treatment can help waterproof shoes.  Traction is very important on ice and snow, I keep a pair of slip-on cleats to put on the bottom of my boots, these are similar to the ice shoes worn by those who climb glaciers.  Don’t forget polarized sun glasses to block the glare of ice or snow, it’s important that you see where you going.

In 2013 Southern Illinois got a lot of negative weather temperatures and I actually layered well enough that my main layer was a hunter’s jacket (camouflage on one side and orange on the other) all winter long.

Gitli dressed for negative temperatures in Southern Illinois 2014

Gitli dressed for negative temperatures in Southern Illinois 2014

Take care of dog paws, some dogs won’t put up with dog boots on their feet so using a petroleum jell on their feet will help protect the paws just be sure to wipe off when your back from walks.  Do your best to protect the paws form getting cut by ice or the salt while out walking.  Rinse the paws in warm water to remove ice pellets and other ice melt products, so not to send the body into shock.

Winter can be a wonderful season to be out in about walking dogs and taking care of pets. Take care of yourself and dress appropriately during the winter to protect yourself.  Don’t forget to take care of pet’s paws when out walking.

Joyce Rheal is based in Southern Illinois and is a nationally certified pet care consultant, trainer, and the author of Preparing Your Pets for Emergencies and Disasters and Disaster Plans: Preparing Your Pets for Emergencies and Disasters.

Should I dress my pet for Halloween?

talk2theanimals_ver2_300px“Our animal pals can experience being dressed in costume quite differently from how we humans experience it. Your buddy is dressed in an odd, usually constraining outfit, with different feelings, different smells, different everything about it. We humans act differently both as we’re dressing our buddy in costume, and afterwards, when s/he is in the costume.



This whole experience can range from very confusing to even terrifying for your animal buddy. “Click her to read more “does my animal palwant to dress up for Halloween.”


 The Holidays are upon us and these events can be rather hectic for our pets.  We need to stay alert to possible dangers to them.  These threats can be things like consuming an excessive amount of rich and harmful foods, inappropriate or even toxic items which can be the seasonal decorations, ornamental lighting and plants.


It is up to us to take the appropriate steps to protect them during the holidays.

  1. Keep your dogs busy with appropriate treats, toys and activities.
  2. Take steps to ensure dogs are maintaining their manners and that the guests are respecting your canine companions and are alerted to these dangers.
  3. Rich and inappropriate foods can create health problems. Avoid giving your canine friends chocolate, cooked bones, coffee, onions, alcohol, fatty foods, grapes, raisins, etc. Keep these foods out of reach.
  4. Be sure your guests know that your canine friends are part of the family and the festivities.
  5. Plan ahead and invite pet friendly people to avoid problems.
  6. Use baby gates or play pens to protect your dogs and still allow them to be a part of the activities.
  7. Some experts recommend including the young visitors (most children love animals) to occupy your dogs. My caution is that these children do need to have a responsible adult with them while with your dogs. Protecting your dogs from visitors regardless of age is important.
  8. I would never recommend bringing in a new pet into the household during the holidays; the festivities can be hectic and stressful for both the new comer and the household.
  9. Recommend pet gifts are pet products like toys, bedding, housing, dishes, brushes, collars etc.
  10. Plants that are poisonous to dogs are holly, poinsettia, lilies, mistletoe, etc. (Please do your research before bringing possible poisonous plants into the household. If they do make it in, keep these items above the reach of the dogs.
  11. Pine needles can create a problem with the digestive tract if eaten.
  12. Secure your Christmas trees and other decorations, these can be easily topple, knocked over, and climbed on.
  13. Protect your dogs from digesting the Christmas tree water, it will be stagnant and or contain chemicals that are bad for them.
  14. Keep others items like candles, liquid potpourri pots, menorahs, etc out of reach and secured. These scents could cause harmful breathing problems and if left unmonitored can cause fire and or burns.
  15.  Inappropriate items like tinsel, garlands, ribbons and food can cause either sickness, digestive obstruction, death, etc.
  16. Keep breakable items out of reach.
  17. Use pet gates and other containment items to prevent dogs from accessing electrical cords, heated bulbs, hooks and other various decorations.
  18. Nicotine is very dangerous to dogs, keep it out of reach.
  19. Keep the trash in containers that have tight lids, dogs eating trash can cause health risks.
  20. Secure foods in containers with tight lids and out of dogs reach to prevent accidental ingestion and or poisoning.
  21. Grapes and raisins are poisonous to dogs, keep these out of reach.
  22. Ingesting sufficient amounts of chocolate is toxic to dogs. Their metabolism does not allow this to be digested effectively. Theobromine can remain in their bloodstream for up to 20 hours. Chocolate can cause seizures, heart attacks, internal bleeding and even death. If digested vomiting needs to be induced within two hours of ingestion or a trip to the emergency room. A 40 lb dog can be affected after eating about 8.5 ounces of dark chocolate and it can cause intestinal distress. Dark chocolate and cacao bean shells are the most dangerous to dogs. Keep these away from the dogs. Carob treats which are similar to chocolate can be purchased through pet stores as chocolate treats, which I would recommend.

While having fun with family and friends, don’t forget your companion animals and have  fun with and protect them during the holidays festivals.

Happy Holidays!

Joyce is a nationally certified pet care consultant and trainer and the author of Preparing Your Pets for Emergencies and Disaster. She is also a federally certified for FEMA’s “Animals in Disasters” and is based out of Southern Illinois.

Pet Fire Safety

Many of us hope unexpected events in our lives will never happen or they just exist in our minds.  But some basic statistics may put things in perspective – over half a million pets in the US are affected by house fires each year and a devastating 40,000 pets are killed. What does this mean for a responsible pet parent?



Tips for Cat People

Cats don’t usually come when you call. You need to know where they hide when they’re stressed and scared.  Watch your cat and see where it goes when you turn on the vacuum cleaner, when people she doesn’t know come to visit, or when you test your smoke alarm. Wherever your cat disappears to right then is probably where she’ll be in a fire.

The first objective in a house fire is to get yourself to safety but if you do have time to get your cat, be prepared.  Learn to grab your cat by the scruff of the neck.

This means latching onto the right place on the back of your cat’s neck so you can carry it without getting bitten. Once you’ve grabbed the cat pillowcases make great emergency carriers or have a cat carrier available.

Cats may run out of the house during an emergency so be prepared by having ID tags on your cat’s collar, micro-chipping it and make sure your neighbors are familiar with the cat and know its name.  Only two percent of cats brought to rescue facilities are ever reunited with their owners.

Tips for Dog People

It is important that your neighbors know your dog’s name. If the dog is loose in the neighborhood, it will respond better to someone who knows its name.

The other reason for having your neighbors know your dog’s name is if you’re unconscious in your home, the dog may, in an effort to protect you, try keeping emergency crews from entering the property. If the firefighters get your dog’s name from neighbors it can help soften the interaction.

All dogs should be taught to come when called. In case of fire this good training can be a lifesaver.  Obedience training is crucial to successful dog ownership anyway, but in situations like this it becomes vital. The key is to practice calling your dog when it’s urgent.  Otherwise, your dog could pick up on the stress in your voice and be reluctant to come to you as you exit the building, choosing to hide instead.

Teach your dog a certain word that you include in calling him like “NOW” and stressing on the importance of coming “NOW”.  Your dog needs to be trained to respond to it and stay consistent with the training and words and reward your dog when it does respond.  It’s important that the dog learns that coming to you means coming to a positive experience and not just going to the vet or leaving the park.

Once those steps are routine, you’ll want to train under distracting circumstances, too. You will be glad you did, should you ever need to persuade your dog to follow you through smoke, noise and flashing lights.

Simple prevention that will notify you of a fire? 

Make sure your smoke alarm works.

House fires are not the only fires to be alert to.  Wildfire and forest fires happen and sometimes you do not get much notice when it comes to evacuating.

If you happen to see a forest or wild fire:

  • Call 9-1-1 and report it, never assume that someone else has already done it.
  • Have an evacuation kit and an emergency plan ready (kit should include copies of all valuable papers, mementos, pet information, etc.).

Before the fire approaches your home:

  • Evacuate immediately and take your pets.
  • Wear protective clothing.
  • Close all doors inside the house to prevent draft.  Open the damper to the fireplace if you have one and close the fireplace screen.
  • Close all outside attic, eaves, and basement vents, windows, doors, pet doors.
  • Remove all flammable drapes and curtains, close the shutters, blinds or any heavy  non-combustible window coverings that will help reduce radiant heat.
  • Shut off any natural gas, propane or fuel oil supplies at the source (knowing      where these are should be in your disaster plan).
  • Connect garden hoses, fill pools, hot tubs, garbage can, tubs and other type of      container that will hold water.
  • Disconnect any automatic garage door openers so that the doors can still be opened by  hand if the power goes out. Close all garage doors to discourage      unwelcomed guests.
  • Load your car with your evacuation kits, plan, pets, family members, etc.
  • Make your home more visible in heavy smoke by turning on all lights outside and inside.
  • If you are not able to evacuate, stay in your home and close the windows and doors to prevent as many drafts as possible.

The key to dealing with fire is be alert and prepared.  When you’re developing your family emergency evacuation plan, be sure to include your pet and practice it.  Your emergency evacuation plan should also include an evacuation kit and a detailed, written document that includes who you are, who are your pets, and copies of any other vital document to shows proof of ownership. Don’t forget to include shot records.

Precautions to consider in your plan:

  1. Have an escape route – have more then one way out of your home and off your property and practice with your pets.
  2. Know Your Pets’ Hiding Places – this is where pets are most likely to be when they get scared.
  3. Secure Your Pet – always evacuate your pet on a leash or in a carrier, in case they panic and bolt outside.
  4. Prepare Emergency Kit For Your Pet – include food, water, bowls, cat litter & pan, medications or prescriptions and vet paperwork since you might have to board your pet in the event your home is not habitable. Also include a photo of your pets in case they get lost, shot records, proof of ownership.
  5. Display Window Stickers To Alert Rescue Workers – firemen are familiar with pet rescue stickers/clings  and those should be displayed in windows around the home. To obtain safety stickers get them at local pet stores or ADT Security Services, or through the ASPCA.  Make sure stickers are clearly visible and include the types and number of pets, your vet’s name & phone number. Keep your stickers updated.
  6. Invest In Pet Fire Alert Collar – this innovative product works together with your home smoke detector and allows you to locate your pet as the collar flashes and sounds off when your smoke detector goes off.

Protecting your pets from fire is important so include them in your family disaster plan and have an evacuation kit for them.  Don’t leave your pets.  Arrange for a safe place for them to stay.

Joyce Rheal is Emergency Planning Committee chairwoman of the National Association Professional Pet Sitters and with Pets-life. Joyce is also a federally certified for FEMA’s “Animals in Disasters” program, and a certified pet care consultant based in Southern Illinois.

The Superstition of Black Cats

What is a black cat?  It is a feline with black fur and can either be a specific or a mixed breed.  A cat known for the sleek black fur is the Bombay and their high melanin pigment results in cats having yellow or golden eyes.

Are black cats bad luck?  Depending on specific cultures black cats are considered either good or bad luck. Japan, Great Britain, Scotland, and Ireland symbolizes the black cat as good luck.  So if a strange black cat arrives at a home it signifies prosperity.  A fairy known at Cat Sith in Celtic mythology does take the form of a black cat and yet the people of the Scottish Highlands did not trust the Cat Sìth because it was believed that it could steal a person’s soul before it was claimed by the Gods by passing over a corpse before burial.  It is also believed that a woman owning a black cat will have many suitors.

The Western and Southern European cultures looks upon black cats as symbols of evil omens and familiars with witches.  We have all heard the story if a black cat crosses your path you now have misfortune, death, or bad luck.  In Germany when a black cat crosses a person’s path going from left to right it is a good luck while right to left, it is a bad omen.



Most casino players believe that black cat crossing their path as they go to gamble will bring them bad luck and they should not go into the casino to gamble.

Some cultures believe that the black cat is able to change from human to cat acting as a spy or courier for witches or demons.  When the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth rock they also brought with them their devout faith in the Bible, which deepened the suspicion that the black cat was of the devil because they viewed the black cat as a companion or familiar to witches.  So anyone caught with a black cat was punished or killed because they were thought to be practicing sorcery and teamed up with the devil.

This superstition had led to the death of many black cats, even during the Middle Ages.  Unfortunately this superstition in Europe had unintended consequence because the killing of the cats allowed for the rat population to grow which then spread the Black Death known as bubonic plague and various other diseases carried by rodents.

Fishermen and their families viewed black cats positively and sailor’s considered them to be the ship’s cat because it brought them good luck.  Wives of fishermen kept black cats at home in hopes that it would influence the protection of their husbands while at sea.

The Egyptian Goddess Bastet favored the black cats, she was known as the cat goddess and Egyptian households believed that if they hosted black cats in their homes, they would gain the favor of  Bastet.  This view was held until the early 17th Century even by the monarch Charles 1 and upon the death of his treasured black cat, it is said that his good luck rain out and the next day he had been arrested and charged with high treason.

Even Pirates had their superstition in the 19th Century.  It was bad luck if the black cat walked towards a person and good luck if the cat walked away.  As well if a black cat walked on a ship and then walked off, the ship was doomed to sink.

Black cats and black animals in general are less likely to be adopted from shelters because of these superstitions.  Even some shelters suspend the adoptions of black animals during Halloween to protect them from being tortured, killed, and from being used as “living decorations” and then abandoned afterwards.

To help ward off the superstitions of the black cat August 17 has become Black Cat Appreciation Day.

Is a black cat good or bad luck?  Is it just cat?  It all depends on ones cultural believes, myself a black cat is a black cat.  Have a safe and happy Halloween and keep all your pets in and secured during the festivals.

Joyce Rheal is Emergency Planning Committee chairwoman of the National Association Professional Pet Sitters and with Pets-life. Joyce is also a federally certified for FEMA’s “Animals in Disasters” program, and a certified pet care consultant based in Southern Illinois.

Ensure a Happy and Save Halloween for your pet(s).

Many humans find All Hallow’s Eve fun but for our pet(s) Halloween can become quite unnerving, stressful, and even dangerous. Take some precautions and ensure a HAPPY AND SAVE HALLOWEEN for you and your pet(s).

The increase in foot traffic, loud noises, and additional knocks or door bell ringing can rattle many pet’s nerves. The spooky altered appearance of friends, family members and strangers can cause pet(s) to act unpredictable. Avoid mishaps or incidences by removing pet(s) from the loud noises and festivities and keep them in a secured room. Check on your pet(s) regularly and comfort them when they seek it. DO NOT force attention on your pet(s); allow him or her to approach willingly and on their own terms during these festivities.

Your pet(s) might not enjoy dressing up for Halloween….DO NOT force them to wear a costume if they appear uncomfortable, sheepish, or resistant. For those pet(s) who enjoy costumes, be very wary of costumes you purchase for your pet(s). Costumes containing rubber bands can harm your pet(s) by getting entangled in objects, pulling out hair or digging into the skin. Some costumes can have the potential for being a fire hazard or contain toxic materials. Do not allow pet(s) to chew on and ingest parts of their costume because it can be potentially harmful or contain toxic substances.

Keep all decorations out of reach of your pet(s) because they can be toxic to them including:

  • Jack-o-lanterns
  • Candy wrappers
  • Candles
  • Chocolate

Halloween can be made special for your pet(s) by making special homemade pet(s) treats like dog biscuits and cat treats.  Please read “Thirteen Ingredients to Avoid in Dog Food”. These also can be handed out to friends and family who have pet(s).

Halloween can be terrifying and even life-threatening for pet(s), especially black cats. Superstitions and myths abound targeting black animals as the bearers of misfortune and evil. Some black animals have been horribly tortured and maimed, severely abused, and even killed during Halloween!

To prevent such horrendous acts from happening to your pet(s) it is highly recommended that all pet(s)s be brought in starting the night prior to Halloween and during All’s Hallow’s Eve. To be even more cautious it is advised that pet(s)s be brought in two weeks prior to Halloween.

It is unfortunate that those cruel, misguided souls have made this holiday a concern for caring, devoted pet(s) owners but for the safety and peace of mind of all involved these precautions should be implemented.

Pet(s) Safety Tips for Halloween:

  • Bring your pet(s) inside, using dog(s) to keep pranksters away from your home puts them endanger especially since there is no way for the animal to escape anyone who wants to harm, tease or taunt them.
  • Prevent anxiety and stress by placing your pet(s) in a quiet, secured, indoor room away from the loud, boisterous festivities. Secure them away from trick or treaters so they don’t run to or out of the door when opened. Secure them in a different room, behind a baby gate and be sure that you have taught your dog the stay command.
  • Comfort your pet(s) whenever your pet(s) seeks it on your pet(s)s terms but DO NOT force it.
  • Keep decorations, jack-o-lanterns, candy wrappers, and candles out of reach of your pet(s).
  • Chocolate is not good for dogs and can kill them.
  • Keep candy, alcohol, and other potentially toxic foods out of reach of your pet(s).
  • Click on Provide or Make healthy treats for pet(s) to view “Thirteen Ingredients to Avoid in Dog Food” if there are plans to making your pet(s) treats.
  • Avoid dressing up your pet(s) if they appear uncomfortable, stressed, or sheepish.
  • If you do purchase a costume and your pet(s) is receptive to the idea, avoid customs with rubber bands, and ingestible items. These may cause potential health risks to your pet(s) and always supervise your pet(s) to avoid possible mishaps.
  • Keep Electrical cords out of reach of pet(s) by covering them or tacking them down.
  • Keep your pet(s) inside two-week prior to and throughout Halloween night, especially black animals including cats.
  • Microchip your pet(s) and keep the information current and Identification tags should be current and legible on each pet(s).
  • Maintain regular and feeding routines to avoid undue stress, yet avoid allowing them outside without supervision.
  • Secure your pet(s) so that they not able to escape outside through an open door or window.
  • Some dogs scare easily, desensitize them to hats, big wigs and masks or be sure that they are secured and away from the trick or treaters.
  • Keep your pet’s identification tags and vaccinations up to date.
  • Keep the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center number handy, which is (888) 426-4435.

These simple precautions will help to ensure that you and your pet(s) will avoid the potential dangers and enjoy this holiday together. Happy Halloween!

Joyce Rheal is Emergency Planning Committee chairwoman of the National Association Professional Pet Sitters and with Pets-life. Joyce is also a federally certified for FEMA’s “Animals in Disasters” program, and a certified pet care consultant based in Southern Illinois.