FIRESTARTERS!

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FIRESTARTERS!

FIRE STARTERS!??

According to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 1,000 house fires are accidentally started by pets each year.  Yes, you read that correctly; a thousand house fires are linked to companion animals in our homes.

When I learned this startling stat I immediately thought of Stephen King’s FireStarter, then I began to laugh as the above images flash into my mind.  As comical as it seems to imagine a dog, parrot, ferret, or cat starting fires like Drew Barrymore did, it’s a very serious concern in homes.  Apparently it’s serious enough to have a day dedicated to it!  Today is National Pet Fire Safety Day, so let’s look at the stats, and see what we can do to change them.

Fire Facts:

  • Home fires are reported every 83 seconds.
  • An estimated 500,000 pets are affected annually by fires.
  • 40,000 pets die each year, mostly from smoke inhalation.
  • Stove tops and/or cook tops are the number one piece of equipment involved in pets starting fires in the home.
  • 2010 study showed that space heaters were responsible for 32% of home-heating fires.

Pet20releaseThe American Kennel Club® and ADT Security Services have joined forces for National Pet Fire Safety Day (July 15) to spread awareness about how pets start home fires, and how we can prevent these fires:

Tips to Prevent Pets from Starting Fires!

  • Extinguish flames!  As counter-intuitive as it seems, many animals will investigate cooking appliances, candles, etc.  Make sure animals are not left unattended around an open flame.  Be sure to extinguish all flames before leaving home, or falling asleep!
  • Be aware of Canine Kleptos!  Food- motivated dogs (and cats!) will often try to climb, jump, and reach up to food left out on the stove/counter.  When they do this they can accidentally hit the stove knobs.  Stove tops/cook tops are the number one piece of equipment involved in pets starting fires in the home.  Fire Safety experts suggest that we remove stove knobs or protect them with covers before leaving the house.  My suggestion is to remove any temptation!  Don’t leave food out! If there is no temptation, they won’t be up on surfaces where they don’t belong.
  • Invest in flameless candles.  These candles contain a light bulb rather than an open flame, and take the danger out of pets knocking over a candle.  Cats are notorious for starting fires when their tails turn over lit candles.  Wagging dog tails can knock over incense and candles.  I have seen cats and dogs burn their tails and whiskers on candle flames, then knock over the flame.  Keep these well out of reach of pets! inglow
  • Secure young pets!  Keep them away from potential fire-starting hazards when you are away from home. Space heaters can be a huge risk for pets starting fires. When in doubt, put any hazardous items away!  Or, use a safe crate, or place the pets in secure areas.

Make It Easy for Firefighters to Help Your Pets!

  • Keep collars on all animals in the home. Keep leashes handy in case firefighters need to rescue them.
  • Keep pets in areas or rooms near entrances where firefighters can easily find them.
  • Affix a pet alert window cling.  Write down the number of pets inside your house and attach the static cling to a front window. This critical information saves rescuers time when locating your pets.  Make sure to keep the number of pets listed on them updated.
  • Keep Your Information Updated - Firefighters are familiar with pet alert window clings so keep the number of pets listed on them updated. Knowing the accurate number of pets in the house aids rescuers in finding all of your pets and provides important information so that firefighters do not put themselves or others in danger when rescuing pets.
  • Install Smoke Alarms and Ensure They Always Have Working Batteries – Change the batteries in your smoke alarm at least once a year and test it monthly to ensure it is functioning.
  • Consider Monitored Smoke Detection Services – Home monitoring services can provide an extra layer of protection for your pet by quickly alerting the fire department if there is an emergency.

Help firefighters to help your pets! Set them up for rescue success!

 

BE PREPARED. Have A PLAN.

  • Know their hiding places!   During a fire your pets will be terrified, and they’ll most likely run to in the places they feel most safe.  If you don’t know their common hiding places, you could run out of time to save your furry, scaly, or feathered friend.
  • Map it out!  Find their hidey-holes and niches. Map these out on a piece of paper, and include the map in your fire escape plan.
  • Always evacuate your pets on a leash or in a pet carrier. Pets will panic at the smell of smoke, and may bolt when outside, making them impossible to find.
  • Prepare an emergency kit for each of your animals. The kit should contain your pet’s food, veterinary paperwork, prescription medications, and an updated photo and description of each animal. You may have to board your pet at a kennel or other facility until you get settled after a fire, and they will require proof that your pet has current vaccinations.
  • Have an evacuation plan. If you have to evacuate your home, and you cannot return for a while, have a plan of action!

 

Get A Pet Alert Window Cling!

You can find them at Petco, and other pet stores.  The ASPCA distributes free alert stickers on their website!  It only takes a few seconds to request one!  I just ordered ours, and it will be arriving soon.

Order a FREE safety window decal for your family!

Order a FREE safety window decal for your family!

 

 

You can also choose from a variety of window clings here.

pet rescue stickers _fire_safety_ There are so many pet rescue stickers available for your home and your animal family!

There are so many pet rescue stickers available for your home and your animal family!


 

Get out and stay out.  If pets are still inside, every attempt will be made to rescue them.  Firefighters have the training, equipment and breathing protection to be in that environment.” ~ Fire Marshall Baker 

Many people have hamsters, parrots, rabbits, rats, and other companion animals.  Use a window cling to help the firefighters to LOOK for them in your home!

Many people have hamsters, parrots, rabbits, rats, and other companion animals. Use a window cling to help the firefighters to LOOK for them in your home!

 


 “Planning for unexpected emergencies like home fires and taking these precautions are an integral part of responsible pet ownership.”

 

None of us wants to believe that “those things” can happen to us, but the statistics speak for themselves.  Accidents do happen. Faulty house wiring does occur.  We are forgetful by nature. Mother Nature can be brutal, so we must be prepared.

Have a plan. Be proactive. Our curious critters can cause more damage than you realize!

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Do you have eye for safety or are you blinded by bad habits?


Resources:

United States Fire Administration

Red Cross

ASPCA

 

Stimulate Them!

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Animal enrichment promotes naturalistic behaviors that stimulate the mind and increases physical activity.  It reduces stress and therefore promotes overall health by increasing an animal’s perception of control over their environment and by occupying their time. 

An Amur tiger cub enjoying bubble enrichment at the zoo. Amur (Siberian) Tigers are critically endangered. Less than 40 exist in the wild. Zoo breeding programs are helping the species to survive.

While working for a decade as an Enrichment Coordinator for various animal sections at the Audubon Zoo, I learned that physical and mental stimulation is vital to every species on the plant.  Squid, poison dart frogs, mice, tortoises, spiders, jaguars, sheep, dogs, parrots, ferrets, anteaters, cats, and pigs all need daily mental and physical stimulation!  Think of any animal, and I assure you that it needs daily stimulation.

Life is very stale and very boring without enrichment.  Imagine sitting on the couch in your home. There are no windows. You cannot leave the house.  No one ever visits you.  You have no radio, T.V. iPhone, or internet.  You have to eat and drink the same thing every day.  What do you think would eventually happen to your mind and body after a day, then a week, then a month?  This kind of mental stagnation is incredibly harmful to all living creatures.  In fact, it’s downright deadly.

All animals need enrichment, which is a fairly simple but important concept.  Enrichment improves or enhances the environment for an individual animal and stimulates the animal to investigate and interact with their surroundings more.  At the Audubon Zoo, I would enrich an animal’s environment by making changes to structures in their enclosures, present novel objects and scents for them to investigate, change how we presented food to them, and much more.  We encouraged them to forage, hunt, and handle their food in ways that are natural to them in the wild. The Shape of Enrichment has a great sample article of this kind of enrichment.  These tools were used on a regular basis at our zoo to alleviate boredom.  Boredom often leads to frustration, and other unwanted behaviors.  Giving animals more choices prevents boredom!

 

animal enrichment_pets_DIY puzzle toys

Offering an animal more CHOICES prevents boredom and other unwanted behaviors!

 

As an Enrichment Coordinator, it was my job to ensure that every animal in a particular section had species-appropriate enrichment provided for them every day.  This could be anything from planting geographically appropriate plant species to encourage a critically endangered female Blue Iguana to forage on her native country’s plants to prepare her body for breeding season, to providing a Boomer Ball for our Miniature Donkey in the Children’s Zoo to keep her from becoming bored and harassing the goats, sheep, or visitors!

The video below is an excellent example of how we could use a Boomer Ball in a captive zoo environment.  This demonstrates the fun and importance of mental and physical enrichment, with a focus on Choice, Change, and Complexity.

Otters Playing with Boomer Balls at the Philadelphia Zoo

Behavioral enrichment should be random, interesting and novel. The goals of enrichment are to offer a sense of control by allowing animals to make choices and to stimulate species-appropriate behaviors


Right about now you might be asking, “So what does an otter playing with a ball, underwater, at a zoo, have to do with my pet at home?”  Well, that otter is a perfect example of  what I encourage all of my clients to do with their pets, in their homes, every day: mentally and physically challenge them!   Every one of you has the ability to have this much fun with your pets at home!  I am going to explain how you can do this, why enrichment is so important for your pets, and how it improves your life as well.

Science Insights:  Results from a study showed that when dogs solved a problem and earned a reward they wagged their tails more.  These dogs were also more likely to try to solve the problem again, rather than if they were just given a reward.  The study also found that food was a preferred reward, compared to spending time with another dog, or being petting by a familiar human.

Now let that really sink in for a moment …. What does that tell you?


What is enrichment?

Enrichment can be defined as a process for improving or enhancing animal environments and care within the context of their inhabitants’ behavioral biology and natural history.  It is a dynamic process in which changes to structures and husbandry practices are made with the goal of increasing behavioral choices available to animals and drawing out their species-appropriate behaviors and abilities, thus enhancing animal welfare (Association of  Zoos and Aquariums [AZA] Behavior Scientific Advisory Group 1999, excerpted from Disney’s Animal Programs).

Behavioral enrichment is defined as “the environmental enhancement of the lives of animals in a managed setting by providing them with mental and physical stimulation to increase natural and healthy behavior.”  Simply put, enrichment is “the act or process of increasing the intellectual or spiritual resources”.  More simply put:  Add a little creativity, fun, and stimulation to an animal’s life!

 


Why Enrichment Is Important

Enrichment is as integral to animal care as veterinary and nutrition programs. 

Behavioral enrichment and environmental enrichment are necessary components of life in captivity.  Enrichment improves the welfare of all animals.   All animals in captivity need environmental enrichment whether they live in a zoo, shelter, laboratory, sanctuary, or your home.  It’s one of the 3 Key Elements That My Work Is Based Upon.

Studies have shown that when animals are given an enriched, stimulating environment (a variety of things to do, smell, and explore) they live longer, are better adjusted, more relaxed, better able to develop problem-solving skills, and they remember what they learn.  This directly relates to your pets at home!  Bored animals are easily frustrated, and frustration can lead to destruction.  You can avoid boredom and destruction by enriching your pets!  Enrichment is one of the keys to enhancing your pet’s life.  It is also one of the easiest tools to implement on a daily basis.

Enrichment at Home Serves To:

  •        Curb boredom and restlessness of an animal
  •         Reduce frustration and destructive behaviors
  •         Increase an animal’s natural behaviors, and as result, increase their health and longevity
  •         Teach you new ways to engage and play with your animal companion

 

Science Fact: Results from a study showed that when dogs solved a problem and earned a reward they wagged their tails more. These dogs were also more eager to repeat the experience than if they were just given a reward.  The study also found that food was a preferred reward, compared to spending time with another dog, or being petting by a familiar human.


 

Types of Enrichment 

Enrichment is generally grouped into the following categories.  All of these can be used at home with your pets:

  • Food based
  • Sensory (touch, sight, smell, taste, and sound)
  • Novel objects
  • Social
  • Positive Training
  • Foraging
DIY pet-enrichment-puzzle-feeders_dog_cat_parrot_turtle

Food, sensory, novel objects, and foraging enrichment are all shown in this image of pets in homes. Can you identify each one?


The Key to Successful (and appropriate!) Enrichment 

As I mentioned earlier, enrichment is something that can, and should be, incorporated into your animal companion’s life every day.  The image above is a great example of how easy it is to do!  However, the key to successful (and appropriate) enrichment for an individual animal is doing a bit of research.  Your homework is to understand your pet’s natural history.  This means that you need to learn about the history of their species, or background and history of their breed.

For example, did you know that the Italian Greyhound was bred to  hunt rabbits, and the Dachshund was used to hunt badgers?  Did you know that the main reason cats were bred and kept around homes was originally for hunting vermin?  Did you know that the Bengal cat breed originally came from crossing domestic cats with wild Asian leopard cats?  Did you know that although cats are carnivores, they still have an occasional craving for live green plants?  All of this matters!  The breeding history and the natural history of animals affects our pet’s today – even if only on a small level at times.  Your domestic house cat still has a strong predatory instinct, so she needs to hunt every day.  Your cockatoo may live in a metal enclosure in your house, but he/she still has the innate need to chew, fly, and forage.  Your couch potato dog might have a lineage that was bred to swim and retrieve.  We must provide opportunities for animals to do things that are in their DNA.  We can provide simulated hunting, chewing, foraging, and seeking in our homes.  This is what enrichment provides.  It’s important that we take the time to put the pieces of their breed /species puzzle together.

 

Ask yourself:

  • What would my _____ be doing if they were living in the wild??
  • Are they nocturnal, crepuscular, or diurnal?
  • Do they like to climb, hide, or fly?
  • Do they enjoy chewing, foraging or digging?
  • Do they need to soak or bask?
  • Do they hunt, stalk, ambush, or chase?
  • What does this breed of cat do really well, naturally?
  • What does this breed of dog do on his/her own that might be a peek into their genes?
  • What was this breed of dog, cat, horse, etc. originally bred for?
  • What behaviors does this species do naturally in the wild?
  • What kinds of food are found in their country of origin?

 

Exploring the breed- and species-specific background for each animal in your home is where we should begin thinking about how to provide appropriate enrichment for them.

The video below is an example of how hedgehogs naturally behave in the wild when they have the opportunity to make their own choices.  Why does this matter?  Well, if a hedgehog owner knows how hedgehogs naturally behave, then they can then provide this kind of stimulating environment for their hedgehog in the home!  The same concept is true for your dog, cat, parrot, or turtle!  When we learn about how our animals would behave naturally in the wild, we then have the tools to help them thrive and live long, healthy, happy lives with us in our homes!

Behavioral enrichment should be random, interesting and novel. The goals of enrichment are to offer a sense of control by allowing animals to make choices and to stimulate species-appropriate behaviors


How You Can Provide Enrichment at Home! 

Most people have limited resources available to enrich the lives of their animal companions, which results in a huge lack of appropriate enrichment with most household pets, especially exotic animals.  Making a few changes to their daily routines can greatly enhance the life and longevity of your animal companion! They key is to make things simple and safe, but challenging for the animal.   

 

You don’t have to be rich to enrich your pet’s life!

One thing I learned very quickly while working at the zoo was that funds were limited.  If you wanted to do a lot of enrichment, you had to get creative and do it yourself.  This now carries over into our home, and also when I am working with a family that has a very limited budget.  I teach my clients that anyone can make enrichment toys out of almost anything, and in the process you get to recycle in a super fun way!

Every night we give our dog Hocus Pocus (and the cats) some sort of enrichment challenge to do.  Below is a video demonstrating a very easy one for her, but the point is to not just “give a dog a bone”.  Make them work for it!  Dogs are natural foragers, so allow your dog to utilize his/her natural instincts!  Be as creative as you want to be!  This kind of enrichment provides mental and physical stimulation, and in the process they learn that being alone is a Very Good Thing.  Bonus: it gives you time to do whatever you need to get done while they are having fun!



 

Here’s another suggestion: The old school (“traditional”) method of feeding animals out of a bowl does little to stimulate complex feeding behaviors.  Enrichment keeps animals active and interested, while encouraging natural behaviors!  The video below is a great example of providing simple mental and physical enrichment for a very smart and energetic dog.



Below are a few more examples of simple, easy enrichment that we use in our home on a daily basis.  Each of these are examples of natural behaviors that the animal would do in the wild if they were given choices.  Click the links to see each short video:

Make toys, or buy feeders that “feed” your cat’s natural hunting instinct!

The BoomerBall "Herding Ball" is designed for herding dogs (Shetland Sheep dogs, Australian Cattle dogs, Australian Shepards and Aussies). It's also great for horses when 3.5" holes are added so hay can be stuffed into ball.

The BoomerBall “Herding Ball” is designed for herding dogs (Shetland Sheep dogs, Australian Cattle dogs, Australian Shepards and Aussies). It’s also great for horses when 3.5″ holes are added so hay can be stuffed into ball.


 

 

In the video below, Chopin, the Moluccan cockatoo, is being challenged mentally and physically to utilize his natural foraging and problem solving skills to retrieve a high-value nut from a puzzle feeder.  We used this kind of enrichment for Chopin to reduce aggression, frustration, and boredom.



 

I encourage everyone to learn what their animal enjoys doing.  Discover their natural behaviors. Learn the history of the breed, and the natural history of the species.  Once you understand these things, you can challenge the animal to move out of their stale comfort zone and step into the space of Who The Animal Really Is.   Enrichment allows us to bring out the inner “House Panther” in a lazy cat.  Enrichment transforms destructive dogs into mentally healthy canine companions.  It changes frustrated parrots into relaxed, feathered friends.

Daily enrichment doesn’t have to be complicated and time-consuming, but the more creative you get, the more fun your animals will have!  Make it a FUN challenge for you and them!

TIP: Be there with them as they discover their new toy.  Encourage them every time they make a small success!  Don’t just leave them alone with the new toy or puzzle feeder.  You wouldn’t offer a puzzle to a child, then leave him/her alone in a room to “figure it out.”  You would guide the child, and encourage the child when they make progress!  The same is true for our animal companions.  Encourage them.  Praise them when they make small progress, and even when they are just trying to figure it out!

enrichment

What kind of enrichment do you provide for your animals?  Please share in the comments below!

 

The Fourth of July Doesn’t Have to Be “Feline Fright Night”!

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cats and fireworks how to keep cats safe on 4th of July

The 4th of July is a favorite day of celebration for many people, but let’s be honest.  It’s a day of terror for many pets.  And while we’re at it, let’s be even more precise: the Forth of July might as well be renamed “Feline Fright Night” for most cats.  So what’s a devoted cat guardian to do?? There is a cornucopia of clever advice for dog owners to help their canine companions on the Night of Assault on the Senses, but what about the cats??  Cats need help, too!

 

Feline Fact:  Hearing is a cat’s best developed sense.  A cat’s sense of hearing is far more acute than that of dogs and humans!  A cat can hear sounds up to 64,000 kHz.  By comparison, dogs can hear sounds up to 45,000 kHz, while humans hear sounds only up to 23,000 kHz.

So why does this matter? Well, it means that all sounds are much more intense for cats.  Combine this fact with a cat’s lack of understanding (or appreciation) for a day dedicated to deliberately making things explode, and you have the perfect recipe for a full on Feline Freak Out.

Here’s the good news:  family festivities such as the 4th of July don’t have to become the Feline Fright Night to our kitty friends!  There are many things that you can do to help your feline family members successfully cope with the Big, Bad Booms and Bangs this weekend.  Below are some of my most valuable tools to help you become a Conscious Companion, and change Fourth of July Fright Night into a stress-free experience for everyone in the home!


 

How to Make Your Home a SAFE, CALM Haven for your Feline BEFORE The FIREWORKS Begin!

  • Keep Kitty Indoors!  Even the savviest of kitties can become startled, scared, disoriented, or confused and stray far from home when those frightening sights and sounds begin. More pets go missing on/after Independence Day than any other day of the year! Why risk it?  Keep your cats inside the day and night before, during, and a few days after July 4th.  Be aware that Independence Day is on a Friday this year. It’s a safe bet that the firework festivities will last long into the weekend, so be sure to keep your Pet Guardian guard up!  Don’t assume that once the 4th of July passes, that the booms and cracks have passed, too. Be ready for anything!
  • Create Safe Zones. – Make a Feline Fort Hideout!  Set up a “fort” or safe place of refuge for your cat(s) in the home.  If you don’t have a “safe room” yet, I strongly recommend that you create one today.  It can be as simple as a chair covered with a blanket, a comfy “hidey” spot in the back of the closet, the bathroom, or a covered crate that feels like a cozy kitty den.  Even the space underneath a bed can comforting to cats.  Be sure to set up this Safe Zone away from windows where the sights and sounds are loudest and brightest.  Acclimate them to this safe zone before the firework festivities begin.  Offer treats and attention when they are in this area.  By doing this, you are creating positive feelings with this safe zone.

    Our youngest cat, Knox, hiding in his favorite box that we refer to as "Fort Knox"

    Our youngest cat, Knox, hiding in his favorite box that we refer to as “Fort Knox”

TIP:  If you are not sure where to set up this safe zone, observe where each cat chooses to retreat when they are over stimulated.   Ask yourself: Where do they go when company comes over, the big game is on TV, or when a storm hits?  Where do they hide?  That’s where you want to build Fort Hideout!

TIP:  If you have a nervous kitty like we do, prepare ahead of time for their comfort and safety.  Make sure they have their favorite cozy hideaway ready.  If they love boxes, provide one or two for them to explore. You can also consider adding a dash of catnip to get them relaxed and increase their confidence! Remember that some cats become relaxed on catnip, while others can become very wound-up.

scaredy cat

“Help! My world is exploding all around me!”

  • Play Calming Music. Soothing classical music is beneficial for many species. Therapeutic music such as Through a Cat’s Ear has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety and have calming effects on cats!  It is psycho-acoustically designed and clinically demonstrated to calm the feline nervous system.  However, it’s most effective when you play the music well before the fireworks begin, at a time when the cat or dog is already relaxed.  Animals will start to associate the music with being calm and content.  Then you play the music a couple of hours before the fireworks start and continue to play through bedtime.  Check out these free sound samples!

NOTE: Don’t just crank up any old tunes or the T.V. in an attempt to make the inside of the house louder than outside. That will only create more stress on the cats. Keep the energy inside peaceful and calm.

  • Consider homeopathic calming remedies.  Homeopathic relaxation supplements such as Feliway (cat appeasing pheromones), Spirit EssencesHomeoPet, and Pet Rescue Remedy are extremely helpful with calming an animal’s nerves on the big bad boom day.  You can find Pet Rescue Remedy at most health food stores or animal supply stores.  Applying a few drops to their food, water, or directly into their mouths BEFORE the booms begin can do wonders for stress levels!  Essential oils such as lavender and valerian can also help with various anxieties. Learn how here. Check with your veterinarian before you use them.

    Homeopathic remedy can provide relief from fear of Fireworks.

    Homeopathic remedy can provide relief from fear of Fireworks.

Note: Feliway is a liquid synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone, used by cats to mark their territory as safe and secure.  You can spray it on their favorite napping spots to make them feel more secure.

Note:  If your cat has reacted very badly to fireworks, etc. in the past, you can consider discussing stronger medications with a veterinarian who specializes in feline anti-anxiety medicine. I recommend trying the above products before rushing to the vet for prescription meds! We have seen incredible success with these products.  Medication alone is generally not going to “fix” much of anything.  It’s can be a helpful intervention, but not a specific treatment.  It needs to be paired with counter conditioning techniques.

 

  • Utilize Tactile Tools.  There are two wraps on the market that reportedly help pets with noise phobias.  The original Anxiety Wrap uses acupressure and maintained pressure to reduce stress.  Thunder Shirts have been successful with calming many cats.  Over 85% of Thundershirt users see significant improvement in noise anxiety symptoms.  The Storm Defender Cape has a metallic lining that discharges the fur and shields them from static charge build-up before and during storms.  Rubbing an animal down with scent-free dryer sheets can help with reducing the static charge as well!

    thundershirt for cats

    Thundershirts can be very helpful for many cats.

  • Reduce the Visual Assault.  Close the windows and blinds or anything around the house that will help to eliminate the visual assault on their senses.  Turn on lights around the house. This will also help to block out the flashes from the fireworks.
  • Comfort Your Cat! If your cat is displaying fear and anxiety when the fireworks begin, stay calm and stay near them. Contrary to some belief, this is NOT rewarding fearful behavior!
  • Distract them! Start playful game and break out the treats if they are beginning to show signs of fear and anxiety.  You can also offer novelty items such as cat nip, special treats, and enrichment toys. Grab some of that recycling material and create a fast, homemade puzzle toy!  The idea here is to turn Fright Night into Fun Night!

TIP: Withholding these toys for a few days ahead of time will make these treats even more special on the Night of Assault on the Senses.

 


How do you keep your feline family members safe on The Fourth of July? Please share your tips!