animal care, Uncategorized

Keep your pet (and yourself!) cool this summer with cooling mats


It was a hot week in Los Angeles, with temperatures in many areas reaching the triple digits.  For myself and many of my clients, our top priority during a heat wave is making sure our pets stay cool!

Since we’re usually blessed with beautiful weather here in the South Bay, many of us don’t have (or need) central air conditioning.  Instead, we rely on fans, closed curtains, and portable air conditioners to keep our pets comfortable while we’re away at work.  If you feel like your current heat wave regimen might not be cutting it, maybe your pet would enjoy a cooling mat?

I first tried these out two summers ago when my former roommate bought some for the animals to share.  They took to them right away, especially the cats, and would seek them out to nap on.  I’ve since moved, and last week was a reminder that I should order some cooling mats of our own.  I went with two from the Green Pet Shop brand, since that was what we had used previously and everybody liked.  I also ordered one of the Little Dove donut mats, because, I mean, obvi.

The donut mat came first, and the day it arrived was particularly hot.  I felt bad that I didn’t have enough to go around yet (more were on the way), but I put it out and figured whoever claimed it would get to use it.  But it was different from the mat they were used to, and I don’t think they caught on right away that it was meant to cool them down.  That night they left the mat alone, sought out their regular cool spots, and went to sleep.

I, on the other hand, kept waking up that night, uncomfortably hot.  The donut mat was still unclaimed.  Feeling a little guilty, I got up and grabbed it for myself – and I can tell you from experience, it works great for humans too!

The kids have since realized that this magic donut will help keep them cool, and have started using it.  It’s too early to say for sure, but I think they may have been more attracted to the Green Pet Shop mat, possibly because the exterior is a bit softer.  Both are great choices and will help your pet have a great summer!

Little Dove Summer Chill Mat

The Green Pet Shop Self Cooling Pet Pad

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animal care, Uncategorized

How to pest-proof your pet food

From baby animals to butterflies, I really love how nature shows itself during the warmer months.  Unless by nature we mean ants, and they’re showing themselves to your pet food!  This is an all-too-common problem that can seem difficult to escape, but luckily I’ve learned some easy fixes.  Since many people are understandably a little panicked when combating an insect attack, I decided to put together this guide to make things easier.

The Vittles Vault

This is the only container I really trust to keep food fresh, and keep pests out.  The airtight seal even contains odors, so bugs won’t even be tempted.  It’s made to last, and comes in a several shapes and sizes to accommodate your storage needs (and shelf space).  I use a different canister for Bruce, but many of my clients use this product – if pests ever became an issue at home, I’d switch to the Vittles Vault ASAP.


The Antser

This is another product that I haven’t personally used at home, but I’ve seen it in action with clients and it truly works!  This is great for pets who don’t eat their food as soon as you put it down, but prefer to graze throughout the day.  With their bowl securely on this raised tray, the ants won’t get to it before they do.antser

The BugSnub

I’m hesitant to recommend a product I haven’t actually worked with, but based on its design and great reviews, I think the BugSnub is a good alternative to the Antser.  (Side note: this list was fun to make just for the product names alone!)  The bowl and stand come apart for easy cleaning, and it includes enough USDA food grade BugSnub Insect Blocking Gel for over one year of protection.bugsnub

The Anti-Ant

This is another product I have not personally used, but is conceptually similar to my DIY method (shown below).  The outer ring gets filled with water to form a protective moat, with your pet’s food safely inside.  Upon first glance, I thought the moat was a little too small, and a few reviewers thought the same.  However, most reviewers seemed happy with this product and although it may not be 100%, I think it would be worth a try.



If I walk into a client’s house and discover that ants have found their way to the pet food, without any of the special products above, this is usually what I do.  Just place your pet’s bowl inside of a plate with a slightly raised lip, and fill the larger plate with water.  If you don’t have a plate that works with your regular dog or cat bowl, a side plate inside of a dinner plate usually works well.  This can be a bit tedious to do on a daily basis, but if ants are only an occasional problem it could be all you need.  If you do decide to order any of the products above, this temporary method might help you out until a more permanent solution arrives.

Processed with VSCO with fp4 preset

Diatomaceous Earth

I moved to a new house in January, and while I was still getting settled, some slightly terrifying 6-legged critters I’d never seen before (and definitely did not want in the house) revealed themselves on my patio.  After more entomological research than I’d really care to do, and researching pet-safe, environmentally friendly insect control, diatomaceous earth was the only thing I really felt comfortable using.  I ordered this bag on Amazon, but by the time it arrived, the buggos were gone and I haven’t had to use it.  I am still glad to have it on hand, because it’s very inexpensive and can also be used as a secondary defense against fleas.  As someone who works with animals, I do not mess around when it comes to fleas, and will definitely be putting this down if we see any this summer.

Okay, but what the heck is it?  Diatomaceous earth is silica dust from the fossilized remains of plankton.  It works by making tiny lacerations in the body of an insect, causing them to dehydrate and die.  Sounds brutal, I know.  Ants will usually disperse on their own once their food source is removed (which also makes cleanup easier for you), but you might draw a perimeter with DE to help keep them out.

Some notes about diatomaceous earth:

  • Because DE works on any insect with an exoskeleton, it can harm non-target insects as well, including those who may be beneficial or just minding their own bees-ness.  I recommend using it with discretion, and try to limit to indoor use only.  #savethebees
  • Make sure you are buying food grade only, like the product I’ve linked above.  DE used in swimming pools is not safe for this purpose.
  • Although food grade DE is safe and non-toxic even when ingested, it can be a skin and respiratory irritant.  It’s a good idea to limit exposure, and avoid breathing it in.


Did you learn anything new?  Please let me know if you decide to try any of these recommendations; I’d like to know how they work out for you!

This post is supported by affiliate links.  Please check out my affiliates page for more information.

animal care

My favorite (and least favorite) dog walking gear

image (2)Whether you’re a dog parent or a professional dog walker, you want to make sure you’re using the right equipment to keep your companion safe and happy on your walks.  Based on many years of experience walking dogs of all sizes and personalities, I’ve put together a list of some of my basic necessities – and a few products you should avoid at all costs.  Most items will work great for everyone, but for items like harnesses which can vary from pup to pup, I’ve given my top three options to help you find the best fit.

A few things to consider when choosing new equipment:

  • Is it safe?  Obviously, you want to choose products that are well made, fit properly, and your dog won’t be able to chew through.  Bonus points if it makes your dog more visible, or makes it easier for you to keep them away from danger.  Also keep in mind that it’s usually a good idea to remove everything but your dog’s collar and tag when they’re left unattended.
  • Does it require aversive training methods?  If a collar or harness relies on painful corrections in order to “work,” that’s gonna be a no from me, dog.
  • Will it put pressure on my dog’s throat?  I’ve long avoided collar-walking because it can cause hacking, reverse sneezing, and even tracheal collapse.  But veterinarians also suggest that walking with a collar could put your dog at risk for cervical spine damage, nerve damage, and thyroid trauma.  To be safe, especially if you have a puller, choose something that secures your dog around their head or torso, instead of around their neck.

Without further adieu, let’s get to the list!

The Best

Four Paws Nite Brite Reflective Leash
If you walk at night or early morning, it’s important to make sure you and your dog are visible to motorists and other dog walkers.  I’ve tried a few other reflective leashes, but this specific one by Four Paws is my favorite due to durability and comfortable grip.  You might also try a collar light, LED collar, or go all-out and get this reflective dog vest with matching human vest!  Make sure to remove safety gear when your walk is over.


Gentle Leader
In most cases, this is my number one harness recommendation for dogs who have difficulty with leash manners on walks.  I’ve seen it work for big dogs and small dogs, reactive dogs and high-energy pullers.  I’ve even seen parents go from prong collars to Gentle Leaders, and watched their dog walks get much more enjoyable for everyone involved.  Use of a head harness can help keep your dog more focused on you, turning down external stimuli and making them more attentive to your cues.  Some dogs take to Gentle Leaders immediately, but with others you’ll have to do a bit of conditioning.  If your dog is particularly resistant to the Gentle Leader, or you have other reactivity issues to work on, I highly recommend planning to introduce the Gentle Leader with the help of a positive reinforcement trainer.  Bonus:  If you want your dog’s personality to shine, check out the bones, floral, and donut prints!

image1 (5)

Sporn No-Pull & No-Choke Dog Harness
This is the harness I’ve used with Bruce from the beginning.  It’s comfy, easy to take on and off, and I like that the leash attachment fits perfectly through the hole in most dog outfits, so he can wear it under his jacket, shirts, or raincoat.  (Hey, sometimes you gotta have fashion and function.)  I also highly recommend these for dogs who have body shapes that don’t work well with more basic harnesses – barrel chested?  stubby legs? – as long as the neck is the right size, you can adjust the arm holes to fit perfectly.

image1 (6)

EzyDog Premium Quick Fit Adjustable Harness
I’ve used these with fosters and clients, and I think this will be my next harness purchase for Bruce.  His back can be a bit sensitive, and I love that this design doesn’t require the dog to go up on their hind legs or lift their arms to put it on.  It just goes over the head, and clips under the chest while all four paws stay on the ground.  It has a handle on the back which is great for when you want to keep your dog especially close, like in a crowded vet’s office, or if you need to pull them away from something dangerous.  It also comes in fun colors with reflective stitching, and has a matching leash.


Earth Rated Waste Bags
These bags are manufactured to break down over time, unlike standard plastic bags.  I’ve linked the most popular and economical Earth Rated bags above, but this brand also makes compostable bags which are even more environmentally friendly (at a slightly higher price).  At home, you can further reduce your plastic usage even more by switching to a scooper.


Lola Bean Pooch Pouch
Cute and functional – the extra zipper pouch is a great place to stash your keys, cash, treats, or a spare roll of bags.  This is another item I’ve been using ever since I adopted Bruce!


Red Dingo ID Tags
Red Dingo has a huge selection of beautiful, durable identification tags that are made to last.  Automatic tag machines in pet stores are convenient in a pinch, but they come at a similar price or higher, and often don’t hold up.  I’ve seen other tags fall off and digits of phone numbers wear away, but Red Dingo tags look great and keep your information intact, year after year.  Note: I recommend keeping a collar and tag on your dog at all times.  

PetSafe Treat Pouch
If your pooch is in training, or you just want to be able to give continual positive reinforcement on your walks, this is my favorite bag for keeping treats at the ready.  The quicker you have access to your treats and can get them to your dog following a desired behavior, the stronger your dog will associate that behavior with a reward.  Treats can also be great for redirecting your dog’s attention away from things that scare them, such as other dogs, bikes, or skateboards – keeping their attention on you instead of the scary thing.


Pepper Spray
Coyote encounters are becoming more common here in the South Bay, not to mention you could come across a less-than-friendly stray or off-leash dog.  There have been an unfortunate number of coyote attacks on pets, which can be reduced by following proper deterrent and safety protocols.  In the event that an aggressive animal is approaching you and your dog, pepper spray could help prevent an attack and save their life.  Position yourself and your dog upwind from the spray, to prevent it from blowing back toward you.  I recommend spraying to a few inches to the side of the animal if you have time to do so safely – sometimes, the smell and loud blast is enough to send them running.  But if you do have to spray them directly, know that the effects should only last about 45 minutes and not cause permanent damage.


The Worst

Retractable Leashes
I hate them.  Under any circumstances, for any dog.  I hate them so much that if a client has one, I will bring my own leash to use.  When I was a child and took my first dog training class with our family dog, I learned to walk dogs by putting your wrist through the handle and wrapping the leash around your hand – that way, it’s unlikely that you will lose your grip and drop the leash.  You don’t get this security with a retractable leash and they are extremely easy to drop, especially if you’re trying to juggle more than one!  Imagine your dog takes off after a squirrel, you lose your grip on the leash, and now your dog gets spooked by the clunking hunk of plastic dragging along the ground, “chasing” them.  I’ve gotten rope burned trying to recall a dog on a retractable leash, and have heard of other walkers and animals getting lacerations or even severed fingers.  In a dangerous situation, retractable leashes offer almost no control over your dog – which is why when I have used them in the past (provided by clients), I always kept them retracted to about 3-4 feet, making them even more pointless than they already are.


Like retractable leashes, these are another product marketed for ease and convenience for the walker, without considering comfort and safety of the dog.  I’ve literally seen dogs get yanked mid-poop by their friend, who was ready to move along.  Like retractable leashes, couplers offer the walker very little control.  And what little ability you do have to correct or communicate via the leash gets applied to both dogs, whether they need it or not.  Imagine every time your brother chases a cat or sniffs a discarded chicken bone, your leash gets pulled back?  What a bummer!  Couplers are a leash manners disaster waiting to happen, and I don’t recommend using them.


Prong Collars, Choke Chains & Shock Collars
If you’ve gotten in the habit of using these, or think they’re the only way you can control your dog, I can’t say I blame you.  For years, aversive training was incorrectly used as the go-to method of correcting inappropriate dog behaviors, but these days we know that positive reinforcement is much more effective.  Training methods or equipment based on pain or fear can even make the behavior you’re trying to correct worse, and make your dog less trusting of you.  As mentioned above, collars that constrict around a dog’s neck can also harm their trachea, thyroid, and spine.  If this information is all new to you, don’t worry – there are a lot of great free resources online, books, podcasts, and YouTube videos on the subject of positive reinforcement dog training.  Working with a positive reinforcement trainer or taking a group class can also be a great way to start learning these methods and bond with your dog.

I hope you found this blog post helpful!  Dog walking equipment recommendations are some of my most frequently asked questions from friends and clients, so I figured it was time to put them all in one place.  Be sure to let me know if any of these items work out for you, or if you have any favorites that I missed.  What should I cover next?

This post contains affiliate links.  Please check out my affiliates page for more information.

animal welfare

Is it time to commit to pet-free pet stores?

guinea pigs

I’ve always found it ironic that when you finish checking out at places at Petco and PetSmart, they pop the question – would you like to make a donation to help homeless animals today?

It brings to mind the thousands of guinea pigs, hamsters, rats, reptiles and birds who end up in shelters or worse.  Many of whom were purchased at places like Petco and PetSmart.

Walking among the cages of small animals in these stores, you’ll see signs that encourage you to “think adoption first.”  But, given the pet overpopulation epidemic, why don’t we think adoption only?

If you browse the Los Angeles County Animal Care & Control website right now (which is looking pretty nice after a recent makeover, by the way!), here’s what you’ll find:

  • 17 rabbits
  • 5 red eared sliders
  • 8 guinea pigs
  • 1 ball python
  • 1 corn snake
  • 1 yellow-headed Amazon parrot
  • 1 cockatiel
  • 1 cockatoo

Searching with Los Angeles Animal Services will give you 273 small animals of similar varieties, plus a few hamsters and mice.  That’s over 300 small animals in need of a home, not even counting the ones on Craigslist, posted on social media and neighborhood apps, abandoned in parks, and being fostered through reputable rescue groups.

I spoke with Michiko Vartanian of Orange County Cavy Haven to get an idea of the number of animals the rescue works with, and to see the breadth of how many small animals need homes in the Los Angeles area.  OCCH is a tiny but mighty organization that works closely with each animal, and focuses only on one species: guinea pigs.  They typically have 25-30 animals in foster homes at any given time, and average about 25 adoptions per month.  One of the largest small animal rescue groups in Southern California is Bunny Bunch, and I counted 158 animals (mostly rabbits, with a few chinchillas and guinea pigs), at their two locations in Fountain Valley and Montclair.

Clearly, small animal rescue groups deserve a huge round of applause.  They are doing the work for these little guys that pet stores don’t, from educating the public about proper housing and care, to rehoming the animals who are no longer wanted.  And even though most animal lovers support adoption of dogs and cats, the idea of rescuing a small animal – or donating to groups that do – might not even be on their radar.

I first got some insight into the world of small animal rescue pretty early on in my activist career, when I started a campaign against a local pet store to stop them from selling puppies from puppy mills.  One of my biggest supporters was Linda Baley, founder of Too Many Bunnies Rabbit Rescue, who also despised the store.  She said that not only did they sell rabbits with cages that were much too small, they kept a stack of her cards to give to customers when the rabbit inevitably outlived their short attention span, or became too difficult to care for.  I also became familiar with a few common dumping grounds for small animals, a plan which is not only cruel to the animal you’re abandoning, it’s harmful to native species, and most definitely illegal. 

My campaign against the pet store was successful, and the location in Torrance pretty quickly closed down.  Their other branches switched to adoption only for puppies, which is what we wanted, but it was hard to see this as a victory.  The conditions these rescue puppies were kept in were far below ideal, and small animals were still being sold.  When the chain eventually went out of business, I have to say it was a huge relief.

In the past decade or so, we’ve seen some corporate and legislative improvements to help animals in pet stores, and overpopulation.  City ordinances have slowly popped up around the country that outlaw the retail sale of dogs, cats, and sometimes rabbits.  PetSmart actually stopped selling rabbits in 2007 after pressure from The House Rabbit Society, and Petco followed in 2008.  Both chains also used to sell puppies, something that is a very foggy memory from my childhood, but gives me hope that their policies can improve for small animals as well.  After talking to Michiko, I’m more convinced than ever that this has to happen soon.  She says:

Our biggest problem is that the laws that require pet stores to sell only animals from rescues do not include small animals.  When these ordinances were passed in some counties a few years back, it only made the situation for guinea pigs worse, as they were one of the few animals now in pet stores, so they are now filling up shelters faster, and the incidences of them being dumped in parks, trash cans, etc., has increased dramatically.  Furthermore, we have a ‘re-home’ program, where we will help people re-home unwanted guinea pigs, and the prior owners now become ‘fosters,’ while we find new homes for their animals.  This helps us help more guinea pigs in spite of having very limited foster space, but we also track the origin of the animals.  In 98% of the cases, they came from pet stores.  It’s sad the new laws won’t help the guinea pigs and other small animals.

I’m writing this post in the wake of yesterday’s PetSmart raid in Tennessee, which I believe accurately depicts the values of these big name pet stores and their small animal suppliers.  We would never support a company that treated puppies this way, and I think it’s time to extend our compassion to the little guys, too.  Vote with your dollars, and support companies that understand animals – big and small – deserve more consideration than a product on a shelf.

For a list of local compassionate retailers, have a look at my South Bay Pet-Free Pet Store Guide.