Q: We do not know what to do with our kitty. She is a rescue and we have had her for almost nine months. She is wild, and runs all over the house from room to room, sliding over rugs, up and down furniture. She loves to play, but is always climbing on something she shouldn't -- window screens, kitchen counter, windowsills, etc. We have tried scolding and spraying with water, but neither works. Does anyone "obedience train" cats? -- Pat Werner, Lindenhurst
A: You need to get the idea that the cat is doing something wrong out of your head. Cats have no idea of right and wrong behavior. There is not a thing in the world that a cat would think of as something that should not be climbed on except perhaps an electric fence. Otherwise, the world is theirs for the taking and spraying it with water just reinforces the cat's idea of how ridiculous and random your actions are.
You have to get the cat a couple of those big cat trees that have shelves and tunnels on them and put them in her favorite rooms.
Make the cat tree even more attractive by rubbing catnip all over it. This is more fun for her to play on than your couch. Get a big cardboard box and tape the top closed and then cut a few holes in the sides so that she can crawl in the holes and explore the inside of the box, something like this can keep her busy for a long time and thus tire her out and divert her attention away from the other household objects that she is knocking over.
To keep her from jumping on the kitchen countertops, you can put a few strips of double-sided tape on them so that when she does jump on the counter she will feel the sticky tape touching her paws and thus decide for herself that this is not a nice place to be.
If she likes to jump on the windowsills, install a couple of those cat window seats in front of her favorite windows so she can lie there and look out the window as long as she wants, thus leaving the curtains alone.
Only by looking at the situation from the animal's point of view can you understand why it is doing what it is doing, and when you understand that you can trick it into making your choices its choices.
Q: I have had an umbrella cockatoo now for the last 20 years and he is a perfect pet. We moved to Smithtown this summer from New York City. Our house has many oak trees on the property and there are bushels of acorns everywhere right now. Can I give them to my cockatoo? We always give him walnuts and hazelnuts and he enjoys opening them and eating them and has done so all his life. -- Alice Franklin, Smithtown
A: I cannot say if there have been any laboratory studies about acorns and toxicity in birds and other animals, but I have been giving them to my pet birds and rodents all my life. I have eaten them myself as well and discovered that they are very bitter. However, this does not seem to bother the birds that like them. Acorns seem to be an acquired taste. (Not all of my birds will actually eat them. Some just enjoy opening the acorns up and playing with them.) The birds that do like to eat them seem to enjoy them very much. Some of my birds have problems opening the acorns so I have to score them with a knife before I give them to those birds, much as you do with a chestnut before you roast it. My rodents like them as well: I give them to my gerbils, hamsters, degus and chinchillas and they all have fun with the acorns.
Q: I have lived on the South Shore now for 50 years and always admired the monarch butterflies that migrate through each fall. I always have asters and goldenrod in my yard so that they have flowers to feed from on their trip South. However, this year I have hardly seen any of them at all. Is there some kind of problem? -- Pat Robins, Sayville
A: Monarchs and all butterflies have such a hard time these days. It is not so much the fact that there are not enough flowers to feed the adult butterflies. The issue is that there are not enough plants to feed their caterpillars. Most of the caterpillars of the butterflies that we admire feed on plants that are thought of as weeds, and as we clear land for houses and plant only nonnative cultivated plants the butterflies have no home to lay their eggs. So no caterpillars are born and thus no butterflies.
Monarchs lay their eggs only on milkweed and so if everyone would plant a patch of milkweed in a sunny corner of their yard then that would do a lot more good for them then all the goldenrod in the world. This is one little tiny thing that a person can do to preserve the monarch butterfly, a treasure native to North America.