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Welcome to Creature Comforts, a new column devoted to those creature comforts in our lives. You know them – the dogs that drool but rule our lives, the finned and feathered, reptilian pets that enjoy the sometimes slimier side of life. Some move fast; others slow. We find them all moving. Sometimes moving us to laugh, other times to cry or test our good nature. In this column we explore some ways to wind down the winter with our pets.
Winter is for the birds – Get a jump on spring by attracting birds to your backyard with a bird bag. Fine-meshed bags can be filled with birdseed. Adding finely crushed eggshells to the mix will provide the birds with calcium. Or create suet loot in a similar way. Melt beef fat and before it cools mix in birdseed, peanut butter, dried fruit or granola. Fill a mesh bag with the mix for a great suet container that is easy to hang.
A fat goodie for a feathered friend – With the onset of cold weather, our resident insect-eating birds appreciate a handout. Woodpeckers, chickadees and nuthatches love this mix you can make at home or at school. You can make as small or big a batch as you need based on proportions and measurements below. It's also fun to make your own suet feeders. Just take three- to four-inch diameter birch logs about a foot long. Drill one-inch diameter holes about an inch deep in various spots around the log, then spread the mix in the holes. Put a hook or eyelet on the top and hang it up in the schoolyard or on a backyard tree. Keep the leftovers for refilling.
Mix in a small bowl and store in an old peanut butter jar or other lidded container.
Who you calling a pug, pug? — Visit Do You Look Like Your Dog? and find out. This tail-wagging website developed by Gini Graham Scott features photographic evidence that people can begin to look like their pets. The site offers tips for applying dog training techniques to working with humans!
Those aching bones — Think you're the only one that aches in damp winter weather? What about those with four legs to complain about? Aching joints and arthritis plague some of our older pets. Homemade or store bought pet stairs can ease your aging pet onto a bed or into the car. No more leaping for the lap. Pet stairs come in a variety of sizes and carpeting. Find them online or at a pet supply store.
When push comes to pull — Skijoring, which means "ski-driving" in Norwegian, combines dog mushing and cross-country skiing. It's one way for a dog and its owner to enjoy winter together. Any breed of dog has backwoods skijoring potential, but larger breeds tend to have greater strength. Skijor competitions range from sprints of three to 10 miles, to 50- and 20-mile endurance events. Some people assume the dogs do all the work while the skiers just enjoy the ride. But a skijorer must work in tandem with the dog or dogs, using muscles to maneuver and guide them. You don't have to compete to enjoy skijoring with your dog – with minimal equipment, an energetic dog and a pair of cross-country skis, you're on your way. Pulka driving, aka Nordic-style dog mushing, is skijoring with a small sled (pulk) attached between skijorer and dog. The pulk can carry supplies over a distance. Pulka driving, like skijoring, has world championship races organized by the International Federation of Sled-dog Sports. Check out Mush with Pride. Upcoming sled dog events in Wisconsin include the Three Bear Winter Sled Dog Races in Land O' Lakes Feb. 3-4 (visit Land O' Lakes Chamber of Commerce) and the Perkinstown Winter Races in Medford Feb. 10-11, (Medford Area Chamber of Commerce).
Cold-weather woes – Outdoor cats and kittens often nap on car engines for warmth. Knock on the hood and honk the horn; then wait a few minutes before starting your car. Pets also like the sweet smell and taste of antifreeze, but even a small amount can kill them. Thoroughly clean up spills at once. Tightly close containers and store them where pets cannot get to them. Also, remove ice, salt and caked mud from your pet's paws and coat at once. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you suspect your pet has frostbite. Frostbitten skin may turn reddish, white or gray, and it may be scaly or sloughing.
Natasha Kassulke senior public affairs manager, has shared her home with pets from cats to collies, turtles to iguanas, and birds to butterflies.