Doggone Orlando

News, views and reviews for Orlando pet parents from the mom of a menagerie of cats, dogs, birds, horses, fish, and guinea pigs who stays just one step ahead of the "Animal Hoarders" TV crew

Python escapes: When pets in the classroom go very, very wrong

bb A two-foot ball python got loose in a Volusia County classroom today in a case of pets in the classroom going bad. A third grade teacher at Citrus Grove Elementary School brought in the snake to show the class but apparently didn’t make sure that its glass aquarium was escape-proof. When the lid buckled, the snake promptly grabbed the opportunity for freedom, causing a 30 minute evacuation of the school.

School officials downplayed the incident. Volusia County Schools spokeswoman Nancy Wait said that the snake isn’t poisonous and doesn’t post a threat, so things went back to normal even though it wasn’t immediately found. However, back in 2009 a two year old girl was killed by her family’s escaped python. Granted, in that case the snake was over eight feet long and very hungry, but it still underscores the fact that pythons can pose a danger to children. That tragic death is not an isolated incident. Just last year, two boys, aged four and six were also killed by a pet python in Canada. In that case, the snake escaped and managed to get into the ceiling, making its way to the room where the young brothers were sleeping.

According to the school, there won’t be consequences for the Houdini snake incident because the teacher followed the established rules for bringing an animal into the classroom. Apparently those rules don’t include a provision for escape-proof habitats for species that can be deadly.

While the python in question at Citrus Grove Elementary School was much smaller than those involved in the fatal attacks, such snakes don’t stay small for long. You can see a larger python in the Wikimedia Commons photo accompanying this article. While responsible owners keep their pets even when they’re grown, all too many simply dump them in the wild, creating a massive problem. The Nature Conservancy has more information on this problem on its website. The problem is so widespread that the state actually holds Amnesty Days where owners of unwanted snakes and other exotic animals can surrender them instead of dropping them off in the Everglades to fend for themselves.

While the python visit was obviously a bad idea, pets in the classroom are actually beneficial in many ways, according to The Pet Care Trust, a non-profit organization. They help build empathy in kids, decrease tension, and let children interact with and learn about animals even if they don’t have pets. The Pet Care Trust runs the Pets in the Classroom website, which provides grants to help teachers bring animals into schools.

How did you and your cat celebrate Hairball Awareness Day?

b88Yesterday I posted about National Pet ID Week, which ends today, but I neglected to mention another important pet-related “celebration”: National Hairball Awareness Day, which took place on April 25.

Of course, if you’re a cat owner, you really don’t need a special day to make you aware of hairballs. You no doubt already have them on the mind as soon as you hear that special horfing sound that means a carpet soiling is imminent. And yes, it’s always on the carpet, even if there’s wood or tile or any other sort of floor covering nearby.

Hairballs, as their name implies, are disgusting globs of hair that cats hork up after ingesting the hair while they groom themselves. Most felines are meticulous groomers, and if you have a multi-cat household, some might even take on the task of grooming their housemates. Luckily, most cats can bring up their hairballs without endangering their health. The worst past is just the mess that they leave you to clean.

However, there are times when a hairball can pose a real danger to your pet. If your cat keeps retching and struggling without bringing anything up, it’s time to visit the vet. That’s especially true if the struggle is accompanied by other symptoms like constipation, diarrhea, listlessness, and loss of appetite.

A few years back, I learned that the distinctive horfing can also mean another health problem. My cat, Farquaad, seemed to be struggling with the health problem, but it turned out that he had asthma and was actually struggling to breathe. Luckily, that was treatable but I never realized that coughing could sound so close to hairball gagging.

If you want to help your cat by eliminating loose hair, thus leaving less to swallow, I recommend both the Furminator and the ShedMonster deshedding tools. You can read my Furminator review here and my Shed Monster review here. In the photo accompanying this article, you can see just how much hair the Furminator pulled off my cat, Stitch, in just one session.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I also do pet tweets from that account. Email comments and story ideas to

National Pet ID Week ends April 26: Does your dog or cat have ID?

b6National Pet ID Week draws to a close on April 26. If you haven’t already, I sincerely hope you’ll celebrate by getting your dog or cat an ID tag and/or getting a microchip implant. Yes, you can do one or the other, but personally I believe in doing both. A microchip is great, especially if your pet ends up at an animal shelter that has a scanner to find and read the chip. But what if someone on the other side of town finds Rex or Fluffy? Your average person doesn’t haul around a scanner, but an ID tag immediately alerts a finder on how to contact you.

ID tags seem to be a lot more standard for dogs than cats, and that’s a shame. All four of my cats have ID tags, and I alleviate my concerns about their collars by using the breakaway style. Yes, some cats hate…and I do mean hate…to wear collars, but most can learn to tolerate this necessary evil.

“Well,” you might say, “I have indoor cats, but how would anyone know that? They’re not going to call me if they find my cat because they’ll think it’s just an outdoor pet.”

I take care of that problem in a simple but effective way. My cats have tags with my phone number and “Indoor Cat, Please Call If Found” in prominent letters. If you want to take things a step further, add the line “Return for Reward.” Thankfully, I’ve never had to rest the effectiveness of my cats’ tags, but if they ever sneak out, I have high hopes that any finder will realize they’re not supposed to be out.

Maybe you have one last excuse for not getting a tag: “I don’t feel like ordering one.” Sorry, that one doesn’t hold water, as pretty much every pet store has an automatic tag making machine these days with a variety of cute styles to choose from. Heck, even some of the theme parks have gotten into the act. As you can see in the photo accompanying this article, my cat SheiKra has a Busch Gardens pet tag. Considering his namesake and the way in which I got him, I think it’s quite appropriate.

You’ve still got one more day. For your pet’s sake, make sure to celebrate!

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I also do pet tweets from that account. Email comments and story ideas to is perfect for dogs who can’t stand to be kenneled

temp30My dog, Bolt, was adopted, so I don’t know anything about his background. I do know that he has separation anxiety and absolutely can’t stand to be kenneled. That makes things a bit challenging when I’m away from home for a few days.

I use Paw Academy to take care of my other critters. They tend to the cats, fish, bird, and guinea pigs once a day. Bolt, however, is a high maintenance dog who’s used to multiple walks. He gets started with his first one around 8 a.m. and goes out for the last time between midnight and one, so the standard two or three times a day dog walking visits wouldn’t work out. Also, two of my cats hate him, so I wouldn’t want all the critters in the house together with no supervision.

Enter, a website that’s partnered with Petco to refer pet owners to in-home caregivers. Instead of leaving your kennel-shy dog at a facility with cages or runs, you can bring him to a house where he’ll be treated like a member of the family. Some of the sitters have dogs and other pets of their own, while others don’t. If you own a dog like Bolt, who loves to romp and play with other canines, you can find someone with their own dog. If you have a shy pup, he can stay at a home where he’ll be an only dog.

In the past, I’ve boarded Bolt in the Busch Gardens Tampa kennel for a few hours while I’m playing in the park. Their facility is nice, but he hates it. He’s agitated from the minute I leave until I finally return. All I can figure is that it brings flashbacks of the two months he spent in the animal shelter. I used to crate him overnight at home, but I stopped as soon as he could be trusted overnight because of all the stress it caused him.

temp31When I take him to his sitter’s house, he doesn’t even notice when I leave. He’s too busy romping in the backyard with her dog. She has a large, fenced-in yard, and the dogs have at-will access via the back porch. He gets to play all day and bed down with the humans and his doggy friend at night.

All the photos in this article show Bolt enjoying his last stay while I was on a cruise. To read my review of my Carnival Sunshine cruise experience and my stay the night before at the Port D’Hiver Bed & Breakfast in Melbourne Beach, check out my In the Shadow of the Mouse blog.

I love the fact that many of the sitters post photos and send you updates while you’re gone. That way, you know that your dog is doing well and possibly, if he’s like Bolt, having his very own enjoyable vacation. handles all the financial arrangements, and they even provide insurance for added peace of mind.

If you’re interested in checking out, use this link and you’ll get $20 off your dog’s first stay of two nights or more. Orlando and Kissimmee area rates run an average of $25 to $35 a night,depending on the sitter. Each person sets their own rates, and users post reviews to help you narrow down your choice.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I also do pet tweets from that account. Email comments and story ideas to

Cat survives Celebration apartment fire by leaping from third floor window

It would be cliche to say that cats have nine lives, but a spunky feline certainly had a luck and a will to live after fire wiped out an entire 24 unit apartment in Celebration, Florida, on April 15. He jumped out a third floor window and landed pretty much intact, other than burned paws and other minor injuries. You can see him in the still below from a video shot by John Cooke. You can see Cooke’s whole video on the News 13 website.


I was actually driving down Celebration Blvd. (or trying to) shortly after fire crews arrived at the Evander Square complex, which is so new that it’s not even built out yet. It was during a terrible thunderstorm with the usual monsoon-style rain, plus huge thunderclaps and vicious bolts of lighting that any Floridian knows all too well. Unfortunately, one of those lightning bolts struck the apartment building, which is less than a year old, and ignited the roof. It’s an all wood building, so it didn’t take long for the entire roof line to be engulfed in flames. Traffic was stopped, and I had to make a U-turn, but not before I caught a glimpse of the flames shooting out of the roof line.

Losing a pet is any animal lover’s nightmare, especially in a fire or other calamity. Many of the apartment residents were at work, and their pets were helpless inside. I heard through friends, although I can’t confirm it, that a construction worker and another onlooker saved two dogs. I hope that’s true, because the people in that building literally lost everything in the fire. The top floor collapsed and fell all the way to the ground floor, so between the fire, water, and structural collapse, I doubt there’s much to salvage. At least it would be a small comfort to be reunited with your beloved pet.

Can you prevent a similar tragedy?

Is there any way to minimize the chance of this happening to you? In my own home, my burglar alarm system also has fire detection. It will automatically notify the fire department of a problem, even if I’m not home, but fire moves fast so that’s no guarantee. You can also get lightning rods, but although they improve your chances of surviving a lightning strike without a blaze, that’s not guaranteed. It’s one of those things where you just have to play the odds because there’s no guarantee against certain disasters.

If fire happens when you’re home, you have a little more control. Everyone should have an escape plan that includes pets, if possible. Unfortunately, I know that my cats would hide, so at best I could get my dog out, and maybe the guinea pigs and bird, depending on how bad the structure is engaged. Still, I have carriers in an accessible place so I could grab the felines if I had a chance. Smart pet-owning Floridians always have carriers on hand, anyway, in case of the need to evacuate due to a hurricane.

You never want to think that you could leave for work one morning, then come home to discover that all your worldly possessions are gone, including your beloved pets. Since you can’t control the situation, the next best thing is to take the best care possible of your cats, dogs, and other critters. Show them that you love them every day because you might not realize just how precious that day could be.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I also do pet tweets from that account. Email comments and story ideas to

It’s a rough life for shelter cats: 72 percent don’t make it out alive

temp1April 11 is National Pet Day. a day honoring the furry, feathered, finned and scaled creatures with which we share our lives. Started in 2005, this day is meant to spread awareness of the plight of shelter pets and to encourage adoption rather than buying at pet stores and breeders.

All shelter pets have a rough time of it, especially in open admission shelters where they’re constantly at risk of being killed for space. Such shelters have to take all the animals the general public brings in. In a highly populated county, like Orange here in Florida, that can mean over 50 animals ever single day. Unfortunately, cats get the worst end of the deal, with 72 percent of shelter cats being euthanized rather than adopted, according to Becky Robinson of Alley Cat Allies.

It’s tragic to kill healthy cats of any age, but you know those adorable kittens you ooo and ahhhh over in memes? They die just as frequently as their adult counterparts. I often heard people say, “Those kittens are so cute. Someone will snap them right up,” when they see the little balls of fluff on a shelter website or at an offsite adopted event. Alas, that’s not the case. If you take Los Angeles as an example, 57 percent of the healthy animals killed there are unweaned kittens. There just isn’t enough space and time and volunteers to care for the little ones until they can be separated from their moms and adopted out.

b18The numbers become even more staggering when you look at how many feral kittens are born each year: 40 million. Granted, 20 million die at birth, according to Robinson, but that still leaves a huge number that need special care if they’re ever going to have a chance at adoption.

What can you do to help kittens (or puppies if you’re not a cat person) on National Pet Day or at any time of the year? First and foremost, don’t shop. Adopt! That’s my personal policy for just about every pet in my home, from my cats and dog to my guinea pigs.You can see some of my menagerie in the photos accompanying this article.

Animal shelters and rescues are the obvious choices for adoption, but don’t overlook other sources. For example, Craigslist is packed with cats and dogs whose owners need to get rid of them and will likely dump them at a shelter, or even turn them out, if they don’t get rehomed.

For small animals, I discovered that my local Petco takes in unwanted guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, mice, and the like and adopts them out (it also sells animals, so I recommend calling ahead to see if there any any adoptable critters). One of my guinea pigs came from Petco, and the other is a Craigslist refugee.

c84You can even take in a cat or dog that’s been wandering around your neighborhood. Such animals become part of the feral problem because people dump them off, thinking, “He’ll be fine” or “She’s cute, someone will take her in.” Instead, those poor former pets usually lead miserable lives, die awful deaths, and bring more unwanted animals into the world if they’re not spayed and neutered. Two of my cats were abandoned kittens (the other two, along with my dog, were all shelter pets).

I know this post is depressing, but there’s no way to tap dance around the problem. The great thing is, you can make a difference, even if it’s just for one animal. I know people who want to get a dog, cat, or other pet and say, “But how can I choose just one? Does that really help?” The answer lies in one of my all-time favorite anecdotes, adapted from The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley

An old man was walking along the beach at dawn when he spotted a boy ahead of him. The youngster was picking up starfish and throwing them into the ocean. The old man asked what he was doing, and he replied, “I’m throwing them to safety. Otherwise they’ll die in the morning sun.”

The old man shook his head. “The beach goes on for miles,” he said. “You can’t possibly save them all. What difference can your effort possibly make?”The boy looked at the starfish in his hand before tossing it into the water. He said, “It makes all the different to this one.”

No, this isn’t a typical Florida pet: Woman thinks alligator is her ‘puppy’

Previously, I wrote about how small (and even large) dogs in Florida can easily become alligator snacks. But what about people who think the alligators are the doggies?

Yes, that woman in the video below is calling that gator with, “Here, puppy, puppy.” She’s also getting way closer than any sane person should ever get.

The sad thing about this video, and many similar stories, is that the humans usually escape without winning a Darwin Award, but the gators wind up dead. State officials take them away when they get too used to humans because of fools feeding them. I see it all the time in my own neighborhood, which is rife with tourists. They think it’s so cute to toss bread or other people food to the alligators in the lakes. Pretty soon the gators zip over as soon as they see a human because, to them, “Moronic bipeds = food.” Alas, that quickly earns them a one-way ride to the alligator skin boot factory.

east3I’m all for keeping a wide variety of pets, since my household includes a dog, cats, a bird, guinea pigs, and even a horse, but I draw the line at alligators. I love to see them in the wild, although I get a little nervous when they eyeball Bolt while we’re out for a walk, and I’d certainly never do anything to get them tame and doom them.

If you’re a local, you already should know better, although the woman in the video obvious doesn’t have a clue. If you’re a visitor to Orlando, please leave the gators alone.There are plenty of appropriate places to see them up close, like Gatorland. You can even feed them hot dogs there and get a photo with a gator in your lap if that’s what you really want to do. It’s actually a really fun place to visit because it’s a real slice of Old Florida. That’s where I am in the photo accompanying this article.

If you don’t want to pop the money to visit Gatorland, then please leave the wild alligators alone. Risking your hand and getting the poor animal one step closer to its demise isn’t worth a cutesy photo or YouTube video.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I also do pet tweets from that account. Email comments and story ideas to

Animals flee Yellowstone Park: Is massive volcano eruption coming?

Surely you’ve heard the old wives tales about animals fleeing before natural disasters like earthquakes and floods. And, according to scientists, those old wives might actually be on to something. National Geographic reported on animals in India and Sri Lanka reportedly fleeing before the massive 2004 tidal waves. Although eyewitness reports don’t count as scientific proof, remarkably few dead animals were found in the aftermath.

A PBS report examines the objective side of the coin and points out that more animals could have survived the water because of their ability to swim or run up trees. However, it cites researchers who believe that animals can sense sound pulses or vibrations that warn them to flee to safety prior to earthquakes and monster storms.

If you’re on the “yes, animals can predict disasters” side of the coin and you’re over in Wyoming, you just might want to join the wildlife reportedly running en masse out of Yellowstone National Park. Political Ears reports that creatures like buffalo, elk, squirrels, and rabbits are all evacuating. The YouTube video below purportedly shows buffalo getting out of Dodge…er, Yellowstone back in March. While this actually happened shortly before an earthquake rocked the park on March 29, various websites seem to think that there’s something bigger brewing:

The video’s title, “Alert! Yellowstone Buffalo Running for Their Lives!” is on an eye-searing par with “This One Weird Trick Will Melt 100 Pounds Off Your Belly!” or “Miracle Cream Makes Octogenarians Look 20 Years Old!” In reality, it’s a trickle of buffalo running down the street rather than a scene right out of Mufasa’s death in “The Lion King” like the title would have you believe.  It’s not unlike what I saw myself many years ago when I vacationed at Yellowstone, so you’ll have to draw your own conclusions. Apparently there isn’t any video proof showing the other critters that Political Ears says are also on the way out of the park.

temp1The American mainstream media isn’t biting, but the International Business Times did a report about the possibility of an eminent massive volcanic eruption causing panic among the wildlife.

Yes, there is a volcano there, and it’s a pretty massive one, but researchers from the University of Wyoming say it’s very likely on the verge of extinction. Maybe the animals know something we don’t know, or maybe they’re anticipating another sort of disaster while the dead volcano acts as a red herring. Maybe they were predicting the March 29 earthquake. Or maybe they’re just excited that it’s almost spring.

In the meantime, here in Central Florida I haven’t heard any reports of fleeing hoof stock at animal parks like Disney’s Animal Kingdom, Busch Gardens Tampa, or Safari Wilderness in Lakeland, where the water buffalo photo in this article was taken (it’s a very cool place that I highly recommend visiting). Hurricane season is just around the corner, but I figure I can trust Super Duper Doppler Six Trillion Radar to warn me rather than watching for fleeing gators and armadillos.

Speaking of gators, you might like this previous article on why Floridians refer to small dogs as “alligator snacks.”

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I also do pet tweets from that account. Email comments and story ideas to

Sochi dogs make feel-good story, but what about Florida strays who die every day?

By now you’ve probably seen the arrival of dogs from Sochi, Russia, to Central Florida on the way to new homes in the United States At first glance, it’s a heart warming tale of strays plucked from the jaws of certain death who will now get loving homes in America. The only problem is, what about the thousands of dogs that are already here and that die on the streets and in shelters each week for lack of enough homes?

I have no doubt the Sochi dogs will get adopted quickly. Imagine the novelty of being able to say, “My dog is one of those Russian Olympics dogs.” It’s the same thing that happens whenever a homeless dog or cat appears on the news because it was dramatically rescued or has some sort of unusual talent. It happened right here in Orlando recently when an adorable kitten at Orange County Animal Services starred in a viral video showing how it gobbled like a turkey when eating:

That kitten was quickly adopted, but what about the other 50+ animals that arrive at OCAS every day? Alas, a huge number will never make it out alive. They don’t make cute noises, and they’re not from the city that hosted the Winter Olympics, so they stare hopefully from their cages until the clock runs out and they become another furry carcass on the pile.

temp1Orange County isn’t alone. The shelters in Osceola, Polk, Lake, and pretty much every county in Florida face the same problem: too many unwanted pets and not enough people to adopt them. The arrival of dogs from Sochi makes for a feel-good story until you realize that each home they take means one less home for a Florida dog.

I’m a big believer in animal adoption. My cats, dog, and even my guinea pigs are adopted rather than purchased from a breeder or store. I’m sure the Sochi dogs are adorable, and they certainly deserve a better fate than being shot by the Russian government, but my dog Bolt is pretty darned cute, too.You can see him in the photo accompanying this article, where it’s pretty apparent that he doesn’t worry about too much these days, other than how to extort a few extra treats from me.

Rather than go for the media darlings, if you really want to make a difference, adopt a local pet in one of these categories:


I live by that creed myself, as I have a black cat and dog and adopted a 15 year old kitty. I know that the lucky animals who get all the publicity won’t have trouble making it out of the shelter alive, but I’d rather choose one of the passed-over masses.

Of course, if you’re really dead set on adopting a Sochi dog, that’s fine, too, as long as it’s because you want to give a pet a forever home rather than revel in the publicity, then shirk the responsibility when your dog is no longer a media darling. Just remember, no matter what homeless pet you adopt, there are still millions dying each year in the United States that are just as deserving of good homes as their foreign counterparts who are lucky enough to make it onto the news.

Follow me on Twitter via @themeparkwriter and stay tuned for tips, observations, comments, and rants from someone who lives close enough to Walt Disney World to hear the fireworks from her house every night. I also do pet tweets from that account. Email comments and story ideas to