Q: I have a male white zebra finch, and I want to get it a companion. Will a male owl finch be OK to put in the same cage? --Joanne Gomez, North Amityville
A: Each species of bird acts a little differently in its relationships with other birds. Finches are no exception. Some types of finches -- such as serins (canaries are in this family) -- do not like the company of other members of their own species. The males will feed the females in the breeding season, but they never sit next to each other and groom each other or display any signs of mutual affection. Owl finches and zebra finches, though, are members of the grass finch family, and in their natural state they live in flocks that need to work together to survive. They sleep all together in a group to keep warm at night and spend a large part of the day grooming each other, as primates do. These two species really do need a companion, and since they are both grass finches, they should interact very nicely.
Q: My 2-year-old male golden retriever's urine kills the grass in the designated area in my backyard. I will be reseeding soon. Any tips you can give me to minimize the damage would be appreciated. --Rich Wolff, Selden
A: The botanist in me will say that the urine is loaded with ammonia, and the ammonia is what kills the grass. The fact that the grass around the pee circle is lush and green proves this, as the residual ammonia acts as nitrogen -- a type of lawn fertilizer. Some pet keepers have told me that the urine changes the pH of the pee spot, and that is what kills the grass. There are a number of remedies out there that, when fed to the dog, supposedly will alter the pH of the urine and thus not kill the grass. I have tried them all, and none work for me.
I just waved the white flag and trained my dogs to use a designated area of the backyard that is lined with gravel. We pick up the poop daily and hose down the gravel.
Q: Our 14-year-old cat has been acting odd lately. We had to put his brother down five months ago, and then the strange behavior began. He puts his foot in his water bowl while drinking and splashes the water all over. He has toys that look like mice. He will take them to his food bowl and place them into or next to the bowl. He also has become very vocal. We realize he is lonely. He is very affectionate and sits with one of us all the time. Can you shed any light on his behavior? --Hank and Linda, Ronkonkoma
A: The cats of my youth were outdoors all day long, and so we never really got to see what was going on in their minds. The cats were so busy dodging traffic, getting into fights with other cats, dogs and raccoons and killing native songbirds and rodents that they did not do much in the way of creative behaviors. Most of us agree that these days, cats are better off indoors all the time. In the same way that the discovery of fire, tools and domestication of animals gave early man the free time to develop their minds, I think the free time we have given our pets has allowed them the same thing.
To me, your cat seems to be taking its instinct to save food -- the toy mice -- for future use and may be saving them for the return of his brother. It is a long shot, but it does make sense to me, although a scientist may scoff at my idea.
At any rate, his quality of life would be vastly improved by getting another cat in the house. Even if your cat does not bond with the new cat as he did his brother, the addition would get his mind off the issues he has.
Q: My kitten constantly knocks over garbage baskets in the bathroom and bedrooms. She steals my makeup off my makeup table. I hold her and sternly say "No," and put her out of the room. I've used a spray bottle of water. On the table I've used tin foil, which doesn't deter her at all. Why won't she listen? --Magdalena Crauciuc, Garden City
A: She does not listen because she is an animal that does not share our human values for inanimate objects. Since she has the opportunity to play with them, she will do so. You just have to keep things like this out of reach until she is a year old and no longer as playful.