The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

September 27, 2013

Animal Island

By Marc Morrone
Associated Press

— Q: I have a 3-year-old Goldendoodle named Annie. For the past two months, she’s refused to go up the stairs in my house or outside, though in the past she had no problem with stairs. She did suffer a mild sprain of her back leg, but the veterinarian said there was no fracture. She is back to running around in the yard but just stops at the base of the stairs when I encourage her to come up! Any suggestions?

A: Animals rarely accept our guarantees or assurances a situation is safe when their instincts tell them otherwise. When she was hurt, your dog felt the stairs were not a safe place to be. She will continue to think that until her firsthand experience proves otherwise. So your job is to allow her to experience going up the stairs without drama and with her in control of the situation.

The best way to do this is to grab a handful of treats and allow the dog to see you holding them. Then calmly walk up the stairs, leaving a treat on each step and saying nothing to the dog at all. Just go up the stairs and ignore her. Most likely she will then suck up as many treats as she can reach without going up the stairs, but the lure will be too much for her, and she will decide her fears are unfounded and she will zoom right up the stairs after the rest of the treats with no hesitation.

Q: My elderly mother passed away two months ago. Her companion was a Yorkshire terrier she had had for the last 10 years. My mother and her dog lived with us for six years. We have two other dogs, but Mom’s dog never really socialized well with them. Mom’s dog seems to be doing just fine in terms of eating and going outside and such, but she will stare at the chair in the living room that Mom used to stay in most of the day for an hour at a time and then slowly walk away and go to sleep in her bed. She does not whine or do anything but sit there and stare. We tried to move the chair out of the room, but she found it and continues to stare at it, even though it is now downstairs in our den. We really do not know what she is seeing or what is going on here, but we are all feeling a bit odd. Should we just move the chair out of our house? Mom’s bed is still upstairs in her room, but the dog does not go in that room at all. What do you think?

A: It is a scientific fact that animals can grieve and, as with humans, not everyone grieves the same way. It is also a scientific fact that animals can see, smell, hear and sense things we humans cannot — even such abstract issues as magnetic fields and other parts of the natural world that science had no concept of for a long time.

From an animal husbandry point of view, I can offer you this. You say your late mother’s dog is eating and acting just fine, apart from her staring at the chair. Well, she is not bothering anyone and is not chewing up the house or anything. If this is her way of grieving, I would just allow her to do so as long as she wants to.

Q: Every fall, migrating birds hit our windows in our office building and it bothers me to see those pretty little songbirds lying dead on the sidewalk every day as I go to work. This year the management put black bird silhouettes that are supposed to scare the birds away from the glass, but they obviously do not work. Is there anything more you can suggest?

A: Birds following the same migration paths that have been used for generations now have so many urban and sub urban obstacles in their path. A few silhouettes on a big window are really not going to do much. The birds are flying so fast it is hard for them to comprehend that those cutouts mean anything.

Netting or sheets to reduce visibility or reflection work best.

The Cornell Institute of Ornithology in Ithaca has studied this issue in great detail. Its website, allaboutbirds.org, highlights some research scientists are pursuing to cut down on window collisions. Some involve using ultraviolet strips that birds eyes can perceive but human eyes cannot.