My Pet World –

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Sep 9, 2014 in Rat News | Subscribe

These questions don’t directly relate to pet behavior or health, but instead are answers to questions regarding my opinions on timely pet-related topics.

Q: You recently wrote about breed-specific bans and communities banning pit bulls. These dogs are always in the news. It seems that whenever there’s a dog attack, a pit bull is involved. Why in the world wouldn’t you want to ban them?

A: Just because news reports say a dog is a pit bull doesn’t mean this is true. Most dogs you see on the street with a stocky muscular body and broad head of a certain size are called “pit bulls.” However, we now understand with modern genetic testing that many such dogs are merely mixed-breeds that fit a certain look. Their genetic background might not even include true pit bulls.

I suggest dogs with a pit bull look may be the most common dogs in America. So there’s also a numbers game going on. You’re not likely to see many reports of American foxhounds attacking anyone. That’s not only because when well socialized, these dogs are very unlikely to attack, but also because there are so few of them.

Years ago, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped paying attention to the reported breed in the event of a dog bite. For starters, their studies determined that the breed in such incidents is often misidentified. What’s most important is why a dog of any breed or mix bites in the first place.

We know the most common explanations for dog attacks, and breed is not a big factor.

If you want citations to back up this information, check out the new American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior position statement on Breed Bans, which I co-wrote with Ontario, Canada-based veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sagi Denenberg at:–statements/Combined–Punishment–Statements1-25-13.pdf

Q: If you’re such an animal lover, why do you endorse feral cat colonies being placed where rats are for rat control?

A: So, you like rats, do you? Domestic pet rats are, in fact, great pets; they’re very interactive and surprisingly intelligent. Sadly, rats don’t live very long.

City rats are also intelligent, and clearly the Norway rat (though not actually from Norway) is a survivor, co-habitating with people around the world for centuries. In New York City alone, it’s estimated there are about 70 million rats.

The rat’s place in the ecosystem is unclear. In other words, without Norway rats, the world could be a better place. Certainly, the many diseases carried by rats might disappear.

Millions of feral cats roam freely in America. Placing them in shelters is actually not in the best interest of these unsocialized felines (and there’s no way to catch them all, anyway). It’s labor-intensive to socialize these animals to be pets. In the meantime, they take up space better used for more adoptable cats.

Years ago, the TNR or trap/neuter/return program was launched, whereby volunteers trap feral cats and have them spayed/neutered, vaccinated for rabies and ear notched (to identify them as TNR animals). The cats are then returned to the outdoors, and caretakers oversee their care, offering extra food and warm shelter in cold climates.

Over time, because TNR cats can no longer reproduce, their numbers diminish.

Because of budget constraints, many American cities have cut back, or even eliminated, their rat-abatement programs. In Chicago, Tree House Humane Society began a green program to put TNR cats to work eliminating rats. Community leaders love it, and so do the cats.

TNR cats are relocated to where there are rat infestations. Sometimes the cats catch the vermin, but mostly the rats move elsewhere. While these cats eventually die off, there are always reinforcements.

Q: When I grew up, people kept dogs outside, not indoors in their own beds. To me, that’s not a dog’s place.

A: More than anything in the world (except perhaps food and water), our dogs want to be with us. Certainly, when living outdoors a dog is close by, but the relationship between dog and owner benefits from dogs living in the home. Sure, you can treat (and should treat) a dog like a dog, but the pet can still be a member of the family.

What’s more, left to their own devices, outside dogs can get into trouble — jumping over or digging under fences to escape, barking at passerby, digging up rose bushes, etc.

As for whether a dog shares the bed, that’s up to the individual owner.

Write to Steve Dale at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207. Send e-mail to Include your name, city and state.

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