MSPCA aims to teach untrained humans appropriate behavior for pet ownership Goal is reducing number of unwanted dogs, cats

November 19, 1998|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,SUN STAFF

Laurie Parker conducts Pet Basics 101 each week at the Maryland Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. But it might be you -- not your dog or cat -- who needs her help.

Parker, the society's outreach coordinator, says interested pet owners -- or prospective ones -- should come without their animals to her free, 90-minute classes at 9: 30 a.m. Saturdays at the society mansion house, 3300 Falls Road.

"People don't know what's involved in owning a pet, even many longtime pet owners," says Parker, whose pets are a husky-collie mix and a Labrador.

Her class topics include spaying and neutering, housebreaking, training, obedience and grooming.

"It's all very basic," she says. The class stresses the importance of annual visits to the vet. Dogs need to be tested for heartworm, cats for feline leukemia. Both need distemper shots and checks for fleas and ticks.

The shelter is intensifying its education program because of its dismay over the continuing need to euthanize unwanted animals. The shelter received more than 8,000 unwanted pets last year and placed 2,200 in adoptive homes after screening. But it had to kill more than 6,000 by sedation and then lethal injection.

Many animals were sick or old, but many were young and healthy.

Since beginning in May, the Saturday classes have grown to include about a dozen people. Advance registration is not required. Parker hopes to begin an evening class soon.

Deborah H. Thomas, executive director, says the MSPCA will add a class in January to help owners of cats and dogs with behavior problems that can be modified by retraining.

Janet Boss, who teaches dog obedience at the society, will offer the 90-minute free class at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays, beginning Jan. 12.

This class is also for humans only. Pet owners can talk about cats or dogs that have specific problems, such as bed-wetting, excessive chewing, and becoming excitable and knocking down children.

The education effort, along with building and grounds improvements, are being financed by $1.4 million left to the Maryland SPCA by a 98-year-old widow, Jeanette Snyder, who died in 1996. Her husband, who died in the 1950s, was involved in overseas oil exploration.

This month, an anonymous advertisement on the back page of The Sun's Maryland section carried a message for "the well-dressed couple in the blue car that dumped their gray cat out at the Jarrettsville Pike near Hess Rd." on Oct. 28.

"The cat was killed sometime on Thursday 10/29," the ad continued. "What a terrible thing to do to an innocent animal. All you had to do was go 1/2 mile up Hess Rd. and put it on a farm. May your worst nightmares come true."

But, Thomas says, "Why put it on a farm? That's no better." The MSPCA director notes that Baltimore County and Baltimore City have many animal shelters where the cat could have been taken.

Society officials urge prospective pet owners to read a study released in July by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy, based on an examination of 12 busy shelters for one year. The council is composed of 11 national organizations, including the SPCA, American Kennel Club and American Veterinary Medical Association.

The report lists some of the most common reasons people

discard their cats or dogs: owners move, the landlord doesn't allow pets, too many animals in the household, the high cost of pet maintenance, the owner's personal problems, inadequate facilities, or no homes available for litter mates.

Dog owners might give up a pet because they have no time for it, the animal is sick or it bites. Reasons for getting rid of cats include allergies of family members, the cat's messiness or its incompatibility with other pets.

"People should think about these things and prepare before getting a pet," says Parker.

Many of the pets relinquished -- 47 percent of dogs and 40 percent of cats -- were relatively young, between 5 months and 3 years. Almost half the dogs and cats discarded were not neutered. One-third of the dogs and almost half the cats had never been to a veterinarian.

Pet owners interviewed in the study represented a broad range of ages, ethnicities and education and income levels, "indicating continued efforts [for education] will need to reach wide and far into communities across the country," says Dr. Mo Salmon, the study's senior author.

Pub Date: 11/19/98

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