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Pets need toys to distract them from destructive behavior 

An Australian shepherd puppy chews a dirty rag

An Australian shepherd puppy chews a dirty rag as part of its play. More sophisticated toys can help keep pets out of trouble.  Credit: Getty Images iStockphoto

We have an 11-year-old dachshund named Schnitzel. Whenever we leave home for more than an hour or so, she pulls down clothes, pulls the Kleenex box off the table and pulls the tissues out or grabs the end of a toilet paper roll and has a grand old time pulling that out too. What can we do?

— Lloyd, Tucson, Arizona

Schnitzel may be suffering from a little separation anxiety or boredom when left alone. In both cases, keeping her mind busy will refocus her on less destructive activities.

Because she is a dachshund, you can keep tissues and clothes out of her reach by moving them to higher ground or, in the case of the clothes, shutting closet doors. As for the toilet paper roll, I am surprised she is getting at this if it is at standard level. You have two ways of solving this problem though; one is to close the bathroom door before you leave, or two, move the toilet paper roll to the counter or back of the toilet, so she can't stand on her hind legs and reach it.

Once things are pet-proofed, introduce puzzle toys, like a Kong with frozen peanut butter in it, that you can give her when you leave the house. It may not keep her attention the entire time you are gone, but after the finishes with it, she will likely take a nap since the mentally acuity needed to play with a puzzle toy often wears dogs out physically too.

We have a cat who is very relaxed and affectionate with my husband and me, but when someone comes to our house she runs and hides. If she is inside, she hides under our bed. If she is outside, she won't come in until she is sure they have left. Is there anything we can do to ease her fear of people she doesn't know? Our cat is 6 years old.

— Dawn, Hebron, Connecticut

It's never easy to socialize a cat. They either like people or they don't, and if they don't, their only recourse is to hide under the bed or in a closet. Cats also are sensitive to the activities in the home, so even if she likes everyone she meets, she might not like all the activity in the home from your house guests.

I have a few suggestions though, that might help her feel safer in her world. First, provide her with a tall cat tree (5 to 6 feet high) and place it in a low-traffic location. Most of the time, cats run under the bed when scared, and then stay there because they can't see when the threat is gone. If she can run up a cat tree and observe the world from that lofty spot, she will feel safer and be able to see when your house guests leave.

There also are over-the-counter treats, supplements and medications that have calming effects on cats. Look for feline treats and supplements at the pet store with L-theanine, which is an amino acid that helps reduce anxiety in both pets and people. If she still feels anxious, consider talking to your veterinarian about some cat anxiety medication to see if it reduces her overall panic.

I also recommend feline pheromone plug-ins around the house as these can have a calming effect on cats.

On Aug. 11, 2016, New York City police found and rescued 22 dogs living inside and locked inside an sport utility vehicle parked on a Bronx street. The SUV was home to a German shepherd and 21 puppies. Their owner was said to be a homeless woman who was mentally ill. The story made TV news and the police pictures showed the German shepherd howling and a Chihuahua-Jack Russell mix looking frightened and emaciated. A few months later, my son who was looking to adopt a rescue, found the "frightened and emaciated" pup at a Long Island Shelter in Freeport, and adopted him. This dog is smart and loving. He has learned to be a dental therapy pup in my son's dental office and is loved by all the patients and staff as well.

— Larry, Westbury

It's always great to hear stories about homeless pets getting their second chance at life. I am sure this dog loves working as a therapy pet, and I think every dentist should consider having one to comfort patients. Tell your son thanks for rescuing a pet.

Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.


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