a torture-free halloween for pets: let's play dress-up

Each October I see some informative articles about how to keep your pets safe during Halloween. The tips offered are important and valuable, especially for new pet owners. Since these Halloween safety articles are abundant and readily available and I don't really have anything new to contribute, I started thinking a bit more about pets and Halloween and why these tips are necessary. If we use our common sense, it's pretty obvious that an entire bowl of chocolate shouldn't be left out for the scrounging dog to enjoy or that we shouldn't let our black cat go on the prowl. Problem is, so many of us don't use our common sense.

I guess for every ghoulish soul who would harm a black cat on Halloween, there is a misguided soul who would let the black cat out. Sigh.

So–really–let's think about this. The most common torture pet owners subject their furry friends to is the Halloween costume.

Perhaps one in a hundred pets will tolerate a costume. And if we're talking cats, I'd bet the odds are more like one in a thousand. And even those few aren't enjoying it. Your dog doesn't care if he's Spiderman or a ballerina, but he's probably totally uncomfortable either way. Let's think about how our pets feel...like hell. They feel like hell in that costume. Just restrain your selfish desires to make your pet look like Yoda. He doesn't like it. 

The good news? There's a great alternative! There are countless photo-editing web sites out there, so you can take a plain old pic of your pet and virtually dress her up to your heart's content, then spread the silly photos all over Facebook. We'll all get a laugh and you'll enjoy making your pet look like a doofus. All the while, your pet relaxes, curled up on the couch, none the wiser. My favorite editing site is PicMonkey. There are free and paid versions, and though the paid version is stellar, the free version is more than sufficient for your average Joe. They have a whole Halloween-themed section, complete with fonts and embellishments. You can even zombify or vampire-it-up. Go wild.

I recruited a couple of willing participants. Neither of them would have tolerated an actual costume. Jack and Suzanne got to try out a couple of different looks:

Jack is a wiggly rough-and-tumble pooch, and Suzanne is so old we don't remember exactly how old she is, but she's likely made it through two decades of Halloweens. So–voila! Instant dress-up party sans torture. Purrrrrfect. 

I know, I know. Your pet is that one-in-a-thousand who tolerates the costume without shaking, rolling, or ripping it off in a rage. No...your pet actually enjoys the costume. Really! He loves all the attention...am I right?


animals in an umbrella: the kindergarten project from hell

Every Friday I spend two hours volunteering at the littles' school. I spend every other Friday in Campbell's class and every other Friday in Porter's. Campbell's kindergarten teacher likes me to come in on the afternoons she has meetings so I can help the teacher's aide. It's a pretty good routine we've got worked out.

The other day, she said she had a "great" project coming up for me to help with. "Awesome," I said. "Can't wait." Since we're all just returning from fall break and getting back into the routine has left me a bit scattered, I sent her a text the next day:


I didn't catch on to the evil nature of the emoticon grin.

So this past Friday, I happily presented myself to Ms. Lacey*, the T.A., at the agreed-upon time. She was just starting to read a story to the class for their "author study." You see, each quarter, the class studies a particular author. Throughout the quarter they read books by that author, learn about the author's life, and do projects themed around that author's body of work.

"Who can name the author we are studying this quarter?" Ms. Lacey asked.

Everyone raised their hands, but Hailey was selected to answer "Jan Brett."

"Correct!" said Ms. Lacey. And today we'll be reading this book (holding up said book), "The Umbrella."

I'm a sucker for any book that involves animals, so I was pleased to see a bunch of them on the cover. Ms. Lacey pointed out the incredibly detailed illustrations. Since the kindergartners are learning how to add detail to their pictures, it was the perfect opportunity to drive home how much difference detail makes. Almost as if the teachers had planned it that way.

As Ms. Lacey read the story, I drifted in and out of paying attention, eager to get on with the show. Had I only known that this time would be my only piece of sanity for the next two hours...

After Ms. Lacey finished reading the story about animals riding in an umbrella through the rainforest (the vital plot point I gathered during the moments I was paying attention), she announced that the students would have the opportunity to make their own umbrellas with animals in them! Excitement mounted as the children disengaged their criss-cross applesauce poses and moved from the cozy rug to their tables.

Ms. Lacey handed me a stack of papers with outlines of the animal characters who appeared in The Umbrella. I passed them out as she instructed the children to "color the animals with colored pencils, and try to add as much detail as Jan Brett did in her illustrations. I know you are all budding Jan Bretts!"

As I passed out the coloring sheets, I noticed that most of the colored pencils in cups on the tables were very dull. "Ms. Lacey, would it be helpful if I sharpened some of the colored pencils, or would the sound be too disruptive?"

"That would be great," she said.

I got out the sharpener, plugged it in, and inserted the first dull pencil. That's when the madness began.

The sound of the pencil sharpener elicited a Pavlovian response in the tiny humans. A dozen of the twenty-one kindergarteners in the class were lined up behind me with their colors of choice.  

"Mrs. Carr, this brown isn't sharp."

"Mrs. Carr, I need the blue sharpened."

"Mrs. Carr, will you please sharpen the yellow and the green for me?"

"Mrs. Carr...

"Mrs. Carr...

"Mrs. Carr...

Riley said, "Mrs. Carr, I can sharpen my own pencil...see...but which hole should I put the pencil in?..." she trailed off as I watched her tiny finger go directly into the sharpening hole. "NO!" I snapped, grasping her hand and saving her finger from a gory fate. "Do NOT put your finger in the hole. Pencils only."

"Okay," she smiled, cheerful and unknowing.

While I recovered from the heart attack, the line behind me grew. Bennett appeared for the fourth time and presented me with a perfectly sharp pencil. "Mrs. Carr, this yellow isn't sharp." 

I examined it. "Yes it is."

"No, it's not. If you look closely, the very tippy-tip is flat."

"Bennett, I know it's fun to sharpen pencils, but there is a big line, and I'm not going to sharpen pencils that don't need sharpening."

"But this one definitely needs sharpening."

"It doesn't."

"It does."

"It doesn't."

"Yes it doeeeeeeeeeeees."

"Bennett, go back to your seat."

"But this yellow isn't sharp."

"Then go find another yellow. I'm not sharpening that pencil," I said, finally, beating my head against the wall.

Relief sprang in Ms. Lacey's voice. "Mrs. Carr, would you like to help me with the next step of the project?"

Fu¢k, yes. "I'd be happy to, Ms. Lacey. What would you like me to do?" I inquired.

"If you can work with one table (of five), I'll work with another. The tables we are working with can take a break from coloring for this part of the project, and then finish up afterwards. You'll need to provide each child with a sheet of white construction paper, a brown umbrella handle, and a wax paper 'umbrella' to cut out. They should glue only the bottom portion of the umbrella to the page with a glue stick so that it creates a pocket for the animals. That might be challenging.  Then a tray of glue with paintbrushes and a pie pan full of multicolored tissue paper squares to make the umbrella colorful. They can either paint the umbrella with glue and attach the tissue paper or they can paint each tissue paper square and attach it. OR, they can put the tissue paper on the umbrella and then paint the glue over the tissue paper because it will also stick like that." I started to zone out as if I was listening to the Peanuts teacher.

It was then when I began to understand the true nature of the "great" project and realized I was going to have to buck up for this. How was she maintaining composure in the face of it?

I played it off. I think I played it off. I'm sure my eyes were the size of saucers. "Okay...sure." I deliberately chose to work with a table that had four children instead of five. Two girls and two boys. Not the one with four boys. Not the one with the trouble-maker.

I gathered the required materials and approached my chosen table. "Hi, guys. Can we put down the coloring for a minute? I'm going to help you make the umbrellas!" I may as well have been speaking Chinese. They continued to color, not looking up.

I spoke slightly louder and with a smidge more authority. "Alright. Let's put the coloring away and move on to the next step! We're going to make the umbrellas!"

They looked at me and blinked their eyes, then went back to coloring.

"Ooooookay. I'm going to take away your coloring sheets for a few minutes while we do the next part of the project." I warned them as I removed the writing utensils and animal pages from the table. They looked a little pissed, but whatever. I glanced over at Mrs. Lacey's table, and her five children (including my daughter) were halfway done. The race was on. 

I passed out the white construction paper, and they all scrawled their names on their sheets. Sweet. I didn't think of that. It took me five minutes to get them to orient their construction paper vertically. I made the mistake of putting the "painting glue" on the table prior to the "painting glue part" of the project. They all picked up their glue-soaked paintbrushes. "Hold on..." I begged. Already, this had gotten out of control.

I am not one who has a great deal of patience for groups (more than one) of children who are not related to me by blood. Four at the table was an all-out intimidation factor. They didn't wait for directions, but simply plunged into for different tasks involving the materials I had prematurely placed within reach, none of which were correct, and all of which were messy. Did I mention I also have an aversion to messes?

While Leslie quickly glued her umbrella handle upside down, Stephen had painted the wrong part of the paper with the glue and Grace colored the construction paper. It took me eight seconds to shift my gaze to Carter, and by that time, the palms of his hands and fingers were completely covered in glue and tissue paper, robbing him of any function whatsoever. Maybe that wasn't such a bad thing. Could I just glue all of the children to the table? Because I didn't see a pause button on any of them.

"Carter, let's start fresh. Please go to the sink and wash your hands thoroughly with soap and warm water," I directed. I'd be down to three kids, if only for a moment.

As soon as Carter got to the sink and my back was turned toward the table, I heard Ms. Lacey's voice. "Carter, you can't possibly be done with the project...should you be washing your hands?" Carter shot me a quick look.

I interjected. "Ms. Lacey, he was basically covered with glue and tissue paper, so I asked him to wash his hands...everything was sticking to him." 

"Oh. Okay..." she seemed to approve. 

I then removed all of the supplies from the table. "Okay. One thing at a time," I said more for my own reassurance than for their benefit. We worked through the steps together, and though there were quite a few misguided cuts and sloppily-placed blobs of glue, the five of us survived, and they each had an umbrella on paper. Basically.

I considered lingering a bit longer at the table in hopes that Ms. Lacey could cover all four other tables in the time it took me to finish up, but no such luck. Ms. Lacey handed me a new set of supplies. I knew enough, now, to not place everything on the table at the same time. This second table should go much better.

Only table number two had an entirely different problem. An opposite problem. The children didn't dive into tasks with reckless abandon. Instead, they just took off. They scattered in different directions. They couldn't go out of the confines of the classroom, but it was still like herding cats. It seems none of the children at table two were very interested in doing anything at all. Except Jack. Jack was banging his fist on the metal file cabinet. He was busy.

"Mrs. Carr," Ms. Lacey addressed me.

"Yes?" I turned around with giant eyes.

She giggled with me in solidarity, finally, and said "I'm so glad you're here today. If it wasn't for you...well...it would be just me." I thought she might have been better off, but I was relieved to know she didn't feel that way. 

"This is insane," I confessed.

She laughed more. "Maybe you can help Jack get started. He'll need someone to sit with him."

Jack is a special needs child. He has a great heart and is as cute as cute can be, but he can be quite challenging in the classroom. I'd take it, though. I'd take one kid to the twenty Ms. Lacey was handling. Seemed like I drew the long straw this time. Since I hadn't worked closely with Jack before, I asked Ms. Lacey a bit about his abilities and what to expect. I wondered exactly what I should let him do on his own and how much help he'd need with each aspect of the project. Ms. Lacey simply said "Watch the scissors, he tends to go like this..." She held a pair of scissors close to her own eyes and opened and shut them rapidly to demonstrate.

Um. Okay.

I took Jack gently by the hand, removing him from the file cabinet. I took a pair of scissors and the wax paper and hoped for a smooth start. Jack sat down the first time I asked. And then, the scissors. Just as Ms. Lacey said. I asked him to please stop and managed to get my hand around the implement before it could do any damage to him or me. "Do you know how to hold the scissors, Jack? Let me help you." We held them together, and I was proud that he managed to cut while I guided the paper. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous that one of us would end up in the nurse's office, but we managed. 

Then came the glue. At first, Jack didn't want any part of the glue. Having tactile-sensitivity, the sticky substance wasn't his favorite. After much going back and forth and retrieving him from various parts of the classroom, we finally worked out a system. each time he glued a square of tissue paper onto his umbrella, we'd high-five. He liked to high-five. Again, I was proud I'd figured out how to get through to him. 

All was going along well until some of the glue transferred from Jack's hand to mine. It was a microscopic amount on my pointer finger, but Jack felt it every time we high-fived, and it bothered him. He started to pick at it, which was a bit painful, but okay with me. I got him to leave it alone for a while, but then he'd come back to it. When he couldn't remove it (it may have been skin hanging off and not glue at this point), he took my finger into his mouth and started to try to bite it off. "Oh, no, no, Jack. Let's not put my fingers in your mouth." He tried again and again, and I determined that both of us had reached the limit of our patience for the project. I let him go back to the file cabinet as I admired our half-finished umbrella.

I went back to surveying the entire class, and realized that while I'd been so focused on Jack, the other students were all finishing coloring their animal sheet and began to cut out the animals. Many of the children were in various stages of distress, some crying because they accidentally cut the leopard's leg off. Others had lost their toucans. One child was being accused of stealing another's tapir.

"Okay, friends!" Ms. Lacey chimed. "It's almost time to clean up, so please finish up. If you don't have all of your animals finished, you can bring them home to finish."

Oh. Thank. God. 

My daughter, Campbell, who I'd all but forgotten about, hopped over to me and gave me a big hug. "I finished mine, Mama. Do you want to see it?" I couldn't think of anything better to do at that moment. Of course, I wanted to see it. At least one child had finished the project, and she was mine. I hadn't spent a moment with her at all during the past two hours, but she didn't seem to mind. She probably loved watching me flounder.

Campbell's finished product.

Campbell's finished product.

I enjoyed the moment of parental pride, but I was exhausted. I needed a drink. And then I turned around and saw the messy aftermath that was "The Umbrella Project."

That's when Campbell's teacher walked in.

My eyes shot daggers at her. She laughed. She knew exactly what she'd done.

But I love her anyway. She and Ms. Lacey are awesome. I'll just make sure to ask more specifically about the nature of the project I'm signing myself up to assist with. My bad. My bad.

On a positive note, the kids learned a bunch about animals and the rainforest and how to draw a detailed picture. 

P.S. I don't do field trips.

It's all in the details.

It's all in the details.

Book jacket photo source: janbrett.com

*Names have been changed.

my client cheated on me. ain't karma a bitch?

So I was out with a bunch of friends the other night, and this couple–friends and clients of mine–said they had something to tell me. "Something happened." It seemed serious, so initially I thought something terrible might have happened to Eddie*, their dog , but they had slight smirks on their faces, so I calmed.

Since my family just returned from a California vacation that included Legoland, it seemed like a natural conversation-starter that Mark began by telling me that they recently spent four days at Legoland. "Wow! Did you have fun?" I inquired.

"Well, yes. It was great, but..." he gave Jodi a look. "Well, I have this buddy. He's a career bachelor and has had dogs all of his life. He has two, and Eddie gets along great with them. He offered to take Eddie while we were gone, and I thought, 'awesome! Free pet sitting.'"

Again, I feared the worst. Had the dogs fought? Was Eddie okay? "No biggie," I said. "Who would pass up free pet sitting? Sounds like a great situation. Did something go wrong?" Didn't Mark and Jodi know that you get what you pay for? I've been to this rodeo before. Clients may cheat, but they always come back. Something always happens.

"He came back...um...with ticks," Mark announced.

"Complete infestation," Jodi added. "And we didn't know for over a week."

I'm not sure what my face looked like, but I'm guessing it was one of sympathy mixed with a dash of "ha-ha," which is exactly how I felt. But, of course, I was concerned about Eddie. "Oh my God! Is Eddie okay?" I asked with a giggle. 

"Yeah, he's fine. He will be. He's just chewing himself alive right now because he's in the scabby stage," Mark told me.

Poor Eddie.

"The groomer found hundreds," Jodi elaborated. "The first time I saw one, I was plugging in the vacuum to an outlet in the living room and a tick literally jumped out of the socket. I knew right then and there that we had a big issue."

"Wow. I'm so sorry." I was.

Jodi went on. "They found them in Eddie's paw pads and growing in the pits of his legs. He was literally being eaten alive. The exterminator sprayed the inside and outside of our house multiple times because–just our luck–ticks multiply quite quickly in this dry, hot AZ environment we live in. They can actually survive weeks without a food source."

They went on to tell me about multiple vet visits, multiple "dips," and a complete home extermination. "We've spent hundreds of dollars," Mark said. "It would have been less expensive to hire you."

"Cheaters never win," I joked. "Ain't karma a bitch?"

"Yep," Jodi agreed. "Our attempt to save a little money on a pet sitter ended up costing us over $500.00, hours of frustration, and some serious strain on a friendship for failing to disclose to us that his dogs had ticks! We asked ourselves 'Why didn't we just call Kristen?' So, basically, we'll never have anyone except...YOU...watch Eddie again." 

"Solid plan," I said.

We laughed and toasted to my job security and to Eddie's speedy recovery.

*Names have been changed. 





don't count out the old guys: adopting an adult cat

The littles and I have been volunteering for several months at our local PetSmart Cat Room as representatives of Lost Our Home Pet Foundation. Though we love getting to know the cats and look forward to seeing our feline friends every week, we hope we don't see them, because that means they've been adopted. That's the goal, after all.

When we first started, we were sad when we'd come in and see that the adorable kittens we'd enjoyed the previous week had been adopted. We missed them! Time and time again, it would happen. 

But then there were our old friends. We could always count on the fact that the older cats would still be there. And they were. It seems that no one wants to adopt an adult cat. Perhaps they aren't as cute, or perhaps they are a bit pudgy. Maybe they don't play enough. Or maybe potential adopters feel that an adult cat might have too many health issues.

This past weekend, we were thrilled to hear the news that one of our older feline friends, Hercules, was finally adopted! We've been visiting Hercules since June, and we started to lose hope for him. Even he seemed to lose hope, becoming less social, accepting his favorite thorough brushing, but remaining in the confines of his enclosure. He didn't want to play with the other cats. Though we loved seeing him every week, it was breaking our hearts, just the same. 

But all of that is over. Hercules found his forever family!

Hercules has finally found a home. 

Hercules has finally found a home. 

I can't argue that kittens aren't teensy and cute, but we all have to remember that they don't stay that way, and we have to commend this family for seeing the good in Hercules and giving him the home he so very much deserves.

So what is great about adopting an adult cat?

• What you see is what you get. You know how big the cat is. He's full grown.

• You know the cat's personality. When you adopt an adult cat, you get to choose a cat that fits your family well because his personality is pretty much established (though most adult cats will shine even brighter when they are settled with their adoptive family).

• You know if it will be a good fit with other pets and/or children. Most adult adoptable cats will come with a "resume" of sorts, letting you know if the animal gets along with other types of animals or plays well with children.

• Potty training–check. Unless there is an underlying medical issue, adult cats know where to "go." Just show the adult cat the litter box, and he gets it.

• Clawing and chewing are mostly a thing of the past. Adult cats don't chew on hazardous things or claw the furniture as much as kittens do. Save the sofas!

What's the most important reason to adopt an adult cat?

You might be their last chance. Kittens go like hot cakes, but adult cats are a tougher sell. If you're considering welcoming a new feline into your home, please open your mind and your heart to an adult cat. It will be life changing for you and your new family member. You'll save a life. 

Read Hercules' full adoption story here.

Click here to see Lost Our Home Pet Foundation's Adoptable Animals.

we're partnering with #SomaPet to bring you health and deals


This past summer, we were introduced to a natural pet supplement called SomaPet. I couldn't believe the results we saw in N.A.S.H.A. I mean, I usually really love the products we review, but SomaPet was over-the-top can't-live-without-it awesome. I knew we'd continue N.A.S.H.A. on it. You can read our full review here.

In a nutshell, it's everything good with nothing bad. It comes in powder form and contains only natural, 100% organic ingredients. It is sugar free, gluten free, and fat free, and contains no preservatives, additives, fillers, or artificial coloring. And it's vegan. It's recommended for dogs and cats over three years of age.

So what does it do, you ask?

SomaPet describes it:

SomaPet is a proprietary combination of organic, pure free-form crystalline amino acids that help jumpstart your pet's natural processes of cell repair and regeneration.
The ultimate dietary supplement, SomaPet consists of a synergistic combination of free form L-amino acids designed to assist:
• strengthens collagen and bones
• improves immune system
• renews vitality
• helps reduce body fat
• healthier skin and coat
• promotes cellular energy
• increases healing

When we first reviewed SomaPet, N.A.S.H.A. had been taking it for just two weeks, and I already noticed a remarkable improvement in her coat and energy level. Now that she's been taking it for three months, we see a consistent improvement in her energy level. She's jumping and playing more, and she's more spry. It used to take her a few attempts to hop onto our high bed, but now she makes it on the first try, every time. She runs around the back yard more, and she asks the kids to play more often. (Yes, she asks them by tossing them one of her toys.) And her coat? Let's just say José Eber would swoon. 

It makes me feel great to give my pooch something that helps her so much. I would highly recommend SomaPet to anyone with an adult dog or cat. No joke. 

As you can imagine, I was thrilled when SomaPet contacted me about partnering to bring this fantastic supplement to Well Minded readers at a discount. SomaLife, the company that makes SomaPet, began by offering supplements for humans. After I've seen what their product has done for my dog, I'm anxious to try the human variety, and I'll be sure to let you know what I think. 

So check it out and get to saving!

Connect with SomaPet and SomaLife on Facebook and Twitter.

Well Minded is an affiliate partner of SomaLife and SomaPet. SomaLife and SomaPet are not responsible for the content of this article, and all opinions expressed are our own. We only share information we feel would benefit our readers.

life stages dogs and cats #infographic and pet parenting info. from petbrosia

We love Petbrosia pet food because of the high-quality, nutritious, natural ingredients that are free from artificial preservatives and synthetic dyes and flavors. We also love the fact that the food is customized to the needs of our pets. Petbrosia asks about your pet's age, weight, breed, and lifestyle in order to taylor the food to your pet's nutritional needs for optimum health. And your custom food is delivered right to your door!

Check out how Petbrosia stacks up:

Petbrosia is all about customizing the food to meet the needs of the individual animal at various life stages. They have created an infographic that clearly illustrates the importance of tailoring your pet's diet to these life stages:

Petbrosia keeps improving–I love that! They have recently developed and now offer a grain-free salmon recipe. They also recently began offering high-quality treats that fit with their mission to bring only healthy products to consumers, so their little family operation is becoming more of a one-stop shop. 

In keeping with their caring spirit, Petbrosia is also becoming a fantastic resource for pet parents. Check out these recent articles:

If you haven't tried Petbrosia, yet, I encourage you to give it a shot to see what your pet thinks. N.A.S.H.A. loves it. She even gets excited when that box arrives. My little humans even groan a little, saying "Oh, man! Why is it always something for N.A.S.H.A.?" Sorry, kids, the magic toy fairy didn't make a special-for-no-reason delivery today. 

Has your pet tried Petbrosia? We'd love to hear what you think. If not, Well Minded readers can save 25% off their first box!

Connect with Petbrosia on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Well Minded is an affiliate of Petbrosia, which means that each time you use our coupon code, Petbrosia compensates us for referring you. All proceeds go to bringing you free content on this blog, and we appreciate our reader support. Well Minded only shares information we feel is relevant to our readers. Petbrosia images courtesy of Petbrosia.

introducing your baby to your pet: just act natural

My baby had been in the house for five minutes. This is the nursery. Act as you mean to go on. 

My baby had been in the house for five minutes. This is the nursery. Act as you mean to go on. 

It is important to prepare your dog or cat for your baby's arrival. But contrary to conventional "methods," I feel that the introduction shouldn't be a big production. Just act natural. It's true that some pets can feel cast aside or put off by the new addition, but there is a lot you can do behind the scenes to make sure the initial meeting and lifelong bonding between your baby and your pet go as smoothly as possible. 

Before the Baby Comes

• If your pet has not spent a lot of time with infants, invite as many babies to your home as you can. This will help your pet get used to the smell, sounds, and attention-hogging nature of tiny humans. Be sure to supervise all interactions at all times.

Everyone can help paint the nursery!

Everyone can help paint the nursery!

• Make sure training is in order. This may require professional help. If your dog is prone to jumping on you or jumping right on your lap as your bottom is only halfway down to the couch cushion, you may need to train your pet to "sit" and "wait" to be invited into your lap. This is more crucial with larger or boisterous animals, but may also apply to cats or small dogs. Your lap will soon have a baby in it. That lap can be shared, but it needs to be on your terms, and it needs to be safe for the baby.

You can teach your pet to "settle." Give him a special place nearby (don't shun him from the family)–like a cushy bed–to go to when needed. Provide small treats to create a positive association with that spot so when you tell your pet to "settle," he is happy to do so. Polite manners around baby are important. 

• Get your pet used to newborn noises and paraphernalia. Many pets will ignore a mechanical swing, but some might be startled. Even a glider or rocker that moves may be all new to your pet. Let him get used to these things before baby arrives. You can even use a baby doll to get your pet used to having a little body around. 

Good thing we practiced this before.

Good thing we practiced this before.

• If you plan to walk your dog with a stroller, practice before baby arrives. It may seem like a simple thing, but walking a dog and pushing a stroller at the same time can be a challenge for you and your dog. Toward the end of my first pregnancy, I started walking our dog while pushing an empty stroller. Sure, I got a lot of odd looks, but it gave us a chance to practice without the worries of a real live being in the stroller. We worked all the bugs out, so we were ready to roll as soon as we brought my son home from the hospital. 

• Most people don't want their cat lying in bed with their baby, so be sure that the baby's crib does not become a pet bed. Train your cat to stay away from the crib before the baby arrives. If this is a challenge and your cat insists on making it her own, the ASPCA recommends placing pennies in cans and lining them up along the crib rail. An attempt or two should be all your cat needs to know that the crib is off limits. 

Do you want to play?

Do you want to play?

• Talk to your pet about the baby, and use your baby's name, if you've chosen one. It is thought that cats can understand between 25-35 words, and the average dog, approximately 165. That's about as many words as a human two-year-old! Your pet may not understand every nuance about the baby, but you'll have a nice head start if the concept isn't completely foreign. 

• Pets are very sensitive to smell, so use that to your advantage. If you have lotion or some such thing that you plan to use on your baby's skin, rub a little bit on your own skin in the weeks leading up to your baby's birth. Your baby will seem more familiar to your pet. 

• Start as you mean to go on. Don't drastically change your pet's routine as soon as the baby gets home. It is best to change your pet's routine as little as possible. If small adjustments have to be made, do them gradually over the duration of the pregnancy.

Once the Baby Arrives

• Make sure you have someone on call to care for your pet when it's time to go to the hospital. It's best to have a family member or professional pet sitter stay in your home to maintain your pet's routine.

Just hanging out.

Just hanging out.

• It is often recommended to have a staged initial meeting in a special room under special circumstances, but if you've done your work ahead of time to properly prepare your pet, something so formal shouldn't be necessary. I'm in favor of keeping the initial meeting as natural and casual as possible. Introduce your baby to your pet in a way that feels natural and safe to your family so everyone will be relaxed.

• Since your pet is sensitive to smell, bring home one of your baby's hospital blankets for your pet to smell before you bring your baby home. Having the garment around before the baby joins the family fold will help get your pet used to the actual smell of the new arrival. 



• Energy is important. Remain calm during the initial meeting, and try your best to be relaxed during all interactions between your baby and your pet. If you feel anxious, your pet will pick up on your nervous energy and feel anxious, too. Stay even-keeled, and it's likely your pet will, too. 

As Baby Grows

• Once your baby becomes mobile, it's a whole different ball game. Teach your baby–even before he's mobile–to respect your pet and your pet's things. If everyone is to live in harmony, your baby will have to be trained as much as your pet. Your initial inclination may be to separate your pet and toddler, but teaching is a better tactic in the long run. (Though providing your pet a safe, quiet spot away from the madness of the day is a must.) For best results, teach your baby from day one.

Family time!

Family time!

As a professional pet sitter, I started bringing my babies on pet sitting visits soon after we came home from the hospital. I talked to them about the animals in our care right away, even when they were just little mushy lumps. They learned to respect the animals. They learned early on the proper way to greet an animal, they know how to protect themselves from "jumpers," and they know the signs of an animal who simply wants to be left alone. They are not "tail pullers." I credit their behavior to early exposure and constant teaching. 

• Keep it positive. Interact with your pet while the baby is around so your pet has positive associations with the baby. If you withhold attention when the baby is present, your pet will feel cast aside. Include your pet in interactions with the baby, instead.

Getting to know you...

Getting to know you...

• A little bribery never hurts. You can create a positive association with the baby or with any object your pet might need adjusting to by providing treats. For example, if you pet is bothered when the baby cries, have some small treats on hand to provide when the baby cries out. Your pet will soon realize that crying is just a part of what babies do and he doesn't need to hide each time it happens. 

• Don't be afraid to let them interact, but never leave them unsupervised.

When my son, Porter, was about eight months old, I left him unsupervised with our dog, N.A.S.H.A. (I did not practice what I preach). He and N.A.S.H.A. already had a tight bond, as she'd rarely leave his side. I took for granted that nothing could go wrong. On one occasion, I left the room for a couple of minutes. I heard N.A.S.H.A. let out the slightest whimper–a noise I'd never heard form her before. I rushed in and saw Porter with two dog fur pom-poms, one in each hand. He was smiling, and she was not, yet her loyalty to him overrode any instinct she had to bite or run away. She stuck by his side and didn't harm him. We were lucky. She's a dream to have not slaughtered him. I learned a lesson. I felt terrible for N.A.S.H.A., and so thankful as I pondered the possibilities of how things may have gone down, had she not been so tolerant. 

A Word of Caution

Pets are part of the family, and I'm all for making sure your baby and your pet are the best of friends, but caution should always be used, both for the safety of your child and your pet.

Best friends forever.

Best friends forever.

NEVER leave your baby or toddler with your pet unsupervised. Until your child is older and consistently treats your pet with respect and care without guidance, children and pets should never be left alone. There is no magical age...it all depends on your child and your pet. 

If your pet shows any signs of aggression toward your baby, it is important to get professional help immediately. For a list of certified trainers, go to the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers web site

Overall, I feel that the more time your baby and pet spend together, the better. Bonding is important. Your baby's first interactions with animals will help shape her attitude about animals for a lifetime. Focus on the positive. If you keep things positive for all parties, you're sure to foster a winning partnership to last your baby's childhood, and a respect for animals to last a lifetime.

Further reading:

How to Approach and Pet a Dog: 10 Steps Kids Need to Know

Kids and Animals: Instilling Respect

Dogs Should Never be Trusted: Leighton's Story

This article by me originally appeared on Hybrid Rasta Mama, for whom I create original content. It has been published here with minor changes with permission.