Q: Five years ago, I adopted a dog from a shelter. She was extremely timid and needed a quiet home. We have bonded well over the years, and she has come out of her shell a lot. However, she is phobic of thunder and, if left alone, will destroy the house in an effort to escape. Her fear has been expanding lately, and now she will go for a walk only if she has to relieve herself. I miss walking with her and do not know what to do to change her behavior. --Ruth Reynolds, Manorville
A: In a mild case of thunderstorm phobia, you can desensitize a dog by playing over and over again a tape or a DVD of a thunderstorm until your pet has heard it so much it no longer bothers her at all. However, there is more to a thunderstorm than just noise. The magnetic fields change and the atmospheric pressure adjusts and all sorts of other environmental factors happen that dogs can sense but we cannot. Dogs with severe phobias will go to pieces, no matter how much thundering noise you play for them every day.
One device I have seen work very well is called a Thundershirt. It is sort of like a jacket that wraps around the dog's torso very tightly. The pressure exerted on the dog's chest helps keep it calm, similar to the way a cattle crush or squeeze chute will calm a nervous cow. The pressure in the torso relaxes the animal. I have seen thunderstorm-phobic dogs just stop panting and pacing during a storm when the Thundershirt is put on them, and dogs that are afraid to ride in cars will calm down in the same manner when they are being "hugged" by the Thundershirt. It's worth a try.
A: Well, you do not need my help here -- the law is on your side. In New York State, any animal that resembles a cross between a wolf or coyote and a dog is not legal to keep unless you have a permit issued by the government that allows you to use the animal for educational purposes only. Such permits are not granted unless you have a secure zoo-quality enclosure for the animal.
These rules are made for a good reason. Thousands of years ago, when man started to keep tame wolves as pets and hunting partners, people realized some wolf traits were not conducive to living in close quarters with humans -- such as thinking of children as food. Other wolf habits, such as not being capable of being housebroken, were tolerable for those living in caves, but nowadays we are not so tolerant of these issues.
As time went on, humans gradually bred out of the wolves the traits we did not like or need and kept only those we wanted. Thus, a few thousand years later, we ended up with an animal that had no undesirable wolf traits at all -- the domestic dog. Now to breed a dog to a wolf to produce a wolf dog undoes thousands of years of domestication. This restores habits and traits that are not conducive to living in modern-day homes. That is why most municipalities have made it illegal to keep them as house pets.
I can understand a young man wanting a pet that is different from what other people have, but there are so many rare breeds of dogs that I am sure he can find one that will satisfy his desire for an unusual-looking dog and yet still act like a dog and not a wild animal.
Q: My green cheek conure is now a year old, and every day for the past week I have found 5 or 6 feathers on the bottom of his cage. I know many birds molt in late summer, but my last bird was a feather plucker and I don't know if what is happening here is a normal molt or the beginnings of feather plucking. --Alice Carpenter, Oyster Bay
During a normal molt, a bird's body reserves are being drained to grow the new feathers, so it is important the bird get a high-quality diet during this time, and be sure to mist the bird with water every day to help the new feathers coming in to look their best.
If a bird's wing feathers are kept trimmed to prevent it from flying, you must get the feathers trimmed again when the molt is over. The trimmed feathers will have fallen out and been replaced by new feathers, and the bird will be able to fly, even though it may not know it at the time.