Diane's Articles & Other Links

A Vet Weighs In On Reiki

Dr. Daniel Sickmiller, a Middletown Veterinarian first heard about the use of Reiki on animals two years ago. While he himself has not used the therapy on animals, several of his clients have sought therapy for their dogs from Diane Novak. He recommends Reiki for treating pain, anxiety and behavioral problems. The therapy can be calming he said and may help an agitated animal become a more acceptable pet.

"There are some times when you have to try alternative therapies and anything that can help your pet and doesn't have adverse side effects is worth it", he said. Dr. Sickmiller noted other benefits of Reiki. It is both natural and non-toxic, and provides a valuable bonding experience between an owner and his or her pet.

Jacquie Elliot, whose horse Donnie has received Reiki treatments over the course of several months from Novak also endorses the technique. "I would definitely recommend it, particularly when you've tried everything else and are at a loss of what to do", she said. Donnie suffered from unexplained pain attacks, said Elliot. He would buck, rear and start up to throw his rider.

After his first session, Donnie appeared more confident, and within a few sessions was much more relaxed around his rider and would even allow Elliot to touch his ears, which he would not allow before.

Dr. Sickmiller admitted that Reiki is not a common topic of discussion among veterinarians but is slowly gaining more attention and credit. Novak hopes that as more veterinarians have experience with Reiki they will recommend it to pet owners and help the therapy gain credibility.

The Chronicle/ Strauss Newspapers

Return to Main Menu

The Simple Reiki Graduate

In the last few years my husband I have made it a habit of giving each other gift certificates for anniversaries and holidays for different things we have wanted through the year. Massage was always at the top on my list. I made an appointment with Kathy, someone I had been going to for several years. Unfortunately, I came down with a horrible case of bronchitis and called to cancel my appointment. My wonderful masseuse said ‘come anyway, I want to try something on you that I just learned’. I agreed hoping the massage would help me feel better. After about twenty minutes on the table, Kathy asked if she could do Reiki on me. I thought ‘sure, whatever works’. I hadn’t a clue what the word Reiki meant, but I trusted her.

After looking up towards the ceiling and doing what seemed to be a short prayer, she placed her hands on my very congested chest. Within seconds I felt an incredible surge of heat. It was like she had a heating pad in her palms. In about ten minutes I felt (and heard) what sounded like a ‘pop’ in my chest. Suddenly I was breathing easier and felt amazing. Wow I said. What in the world did you just do? ‘Reiki’ she said.

I wanted to know more about this healing technique, so in January 2001 I took my first Reiki workshop and was attuned. If I thought Reiki was powerful during Kathy’s session, I was blown away by the surge of energy I felt during the attunement.

Okay, so here is where we get into the part about cats and Reiki. At the time of my graduation from Reiki l, I was a volunteer with a small humane society. I was a seasoned cat trapper, foster care home, and spay neuter educator.

My goal was to use Reiki with my personal animals, and also those nervous or injured rescue animals. Many of the animals who were homeless found themselves in that predicament because of emotional issues. I felt if I could find a way to help these animals adjust maybe they could remain in their homes.

My cats were a little uncomfortable with Reiki. Whenever I began, three out of three would jump off the bed as though they felt a ‘shock’. I gave up (sort of) for awhile. During that time, I worked on my husband and son and they loved all the attention. I discovered later that some animals find Reiki a little too strong. Many cats and small animals (rabbits, gerbils, hamsters) are not all Reiki fans.

One day, a humane society friend of mine who fed two neutered males behind a cemetery noticed a young cat who had taken residence among the colony of ‘old men’ as she affectionately called them.

Marcia made a make shift shelter for the older guys but found that the new cat was spending more time in it then they were. Strangely enough the ‘old men’ did not challenge the newcomer. We came up with a theory that this new cat must be a pregnant female nesting in the warm straw, and the boys just stepped aside for her.

It turned out that our hunch was correct. This became an interesting challenge. We would not only need to get the momma cat fixed, but needed her to nurse her babies for six weeks and then be able to handle (socialize) the kittens so they would become adoptable.

Unfortunately momma was very feral (wild) and we felt it was too dangerous to try and socialize her. We had to hatch a plan where she could be trapped, nurse her kittens in a place that was safe, and easily accessible.

It seemed like an impossible situation. But with the help of third trapper and Marcia’s generous offer of letting Momma stay in a crate in her house, “mission impossible” began.

After the kittens were a week old, we set a trap for the mother cat knowing she left her babies in the make shift shelter several times a day to hunt for food.

We set up an elaborate trap that would have the mom go towards the babies but instead be humanely trapped. After a few hours, she was successfully trapped and the two other gals transferred her to Marcia’s house to a warm and safe crate.

My job was to pick up each kitten (I hadn’t been near them until that day for fear that she’d move them if I did) and transfer each to a laundry basket with straw from the shelter they were born in. Time was of the essence because infant kittens eat every two hours and these babies were overdue.

I successfully got them all in the basket and into my car that was already warmed up. When I got to Marcia’s house I went to a separate room while the gals took on the tricky job of transferring momma from the trap to the crate.

Each of those kittens were moving around and mewing at the top of their lungs when I moved them from their nest outside. I wanted them warm so I let them get somewhat buried in the straw. As I took each out to examine them, I was horrified to find that one kitten was totally still.

Her breathing was unnoticeable and her body beginning to feel cooler then the others. I was in a panic, but couldn’t open the door to alert the others since one of Marcia’s dogs was now standing guard outside and I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I called but no one heard me. It was a moment like none other I had ever experienced. I sat on the floor with this lifeless body in one hand. I was in a state of total helplessness. I thought I needed to pray for this little life that seemed to have ebbed out. Suddenly in the middle of my praying, the thought ‘try Reiki’ came to me.

I held its' little body in my hands, and tried to use the techniques I had learned not long before. I continued praying through my tears that God would help me save this little one.

I don't have a clue how long I stayed like that. But after awhile the lifeless kitten began to move. I mean really move! How could this be? What was happening here? Could the Reiki energy (which I believe is a gift from God) have energized the last bit of vital force in that animal? I’ll never know the particulars! The only thing I’m certain of is that some sort of miracle occurred in that room, and I was blessed to be part of it. Looking back, I still can't believe that kitten survived.

So to all you recent Reiki graduates, please know that even a simple Reiki l graduate was able to access this powerful gift which is available to all of us.

I learned that if you have the desire (or intention) to help another you are 99% there already. It matters not how many degrees you have on the wall or whether or not you have your RMT (Reiki Master) after your name.

One does not have to be an ‘expert’ in anything to make a difference in anothers life. That kitten lived on and was eventually adopted into a loving home.

Reiki is pure love and love is what I we’re all about. For me personally, Reiki is a gift from God to all of us. Please don't let your doubts stop you from being a vehicle for miracles! Remember me, the simple Reiki l graduate.

Return to Main Menu

Choosing the Right Pet for You Part 1: Dogs
by Diane Novak

In our last article we explored the medical and social benefits of pet ownership for older adults. If you have decided that a companion animal is right for you, Bravo!

But hang on. Before you run out and buy that new leash or litter box, I'd like you to take an honest appraisal of your physical limitations, lifestyle and financial abilities. It is far better to be brutally honest now then to deal with those 'heart in the right place' mistakes later on.

If you have limited finances, adopting a four legged creature may not be the best decision. With the cost of pet food, litter (for cats) and yearly visits to the vet, it is important to take a serious look at how the extra expense will impact your fixed income. You may decide a tank of fish, or a small bird is the wiser choice. With that said, there are probably more then one shelter and rescue group who is willing to give surplus food, and litter as a perk to senior citizens who adopt from them. Some veterinarians will even offer discounts to senior citizens who adopt a shelter animal.

Physical limitations such as walking with the aide of a cane or walker may pose a problem for individuals wishing to adopt a dog. However, if your home is graced with a fenced in yard, a dog could be an option providing there is someone to help clean up the yard and shovel a path for Fido on snowy days.

Since we're on the subject of dogs, let's talk for a moment about puppies. They are irresistible for sure, but when it comes to the amount of work required for their care, no animal comes close. Puppies don't have the luxury of a litter box and don't easily understand that relieving oneself is done 'outside' the home. Nope, pups will squat whenever nature calls, and, could care less if it's on the Oriental rug or the linoleum floor.

Puppies are babies. They teethe on anything they can get their mouths on and travel at warp speed across your polished floors. If you're physically up to the challenge, but not prepared for the middle of the night walks or early morning presents on the kitchen floor, I would forego the puppy route.

I believe in older animals for older adults. It just makes sense. Mature dogs are on your wave length. They basically sleep through the night, are up for a game of fetch whenever you are, and respect your need for 'space'. And even though the older pet has less need for your undivided attention, they are always appreciative of that well placed scratch or pat on the head.

Often the senior will be attracted to a smaller dog because it's assumed they will be easier to care for. However the 10 lb ball of fur you've been eyeballing could be a high energy jumping bean in disguise, while that large older dog you passed along the way could be a docile couch potato just eager to curl up at your feet.

As with human alliances, choosing a companion based on breeding, size, or beauty, will never be the best tools for judging a long term commitment. Observing temperament, personality and the way one feels in each others company will always be the more reliable method for predicting a happy relationship.

Return to Main Menu

Choosing the Right Pet for You Part 2: Cats
Diane Novak

For those of you who have decided to adopt a companion cat, there is a plethora of beautiful 'older' felines waiting for you to meet in area shelters. I stress 'older' for good reason.

Kittens, while adorable and fun to be around, can be a challenge for seniors with equilibrium issues. If you've ever watched a kitten self propel straight into the air from a standing position, you would know what I meant. Kittens not only understand gravity, they live to defy it. For seniors with a tenuous gait that delightful explosion of feline energy can be a bit unsettling not to mention dangerous.

In contrast, the older cat's energy level is more sedate. She sleeps several hours a day and when awake will play as long as her owner wants, and not the other way around. Kittens, like their human counterpart, the toddler, have boundless energy with an internal clock that is always set to Australian time.

My choice for the senior looking for a feline companion is definitely a mature cat. If an older cat could campaign for your adoption 'vote' her motto would be:

'Been there, done that. A vote for me is a vote for quietude.'

With that said, I have three cats over the age of ten who would be highly insulted if they heard me describe them as semi conscious blobs of fur with little interest in life beyond my couch. That broad brush stroke would be an unfair portrayal of every older cat.

A perfect illustration of that is Rosie the 14 year old gal I fostered in New York several years back. Rosie would absolutely come alive for a ball of string. When her owner became ill and went into a nursing home, there was talk of putting her to sleep. I didn't think age was a good enough reason to deem her un-adoptable so I offered to foster her until a suitable home became available.

Older cats have lots of life in them and enjoy batting a ping pong ball or chasing a feather as much as kittens do. These toys will keep your adult cat exercised, and interacting with you for as long as you want. And that's my point. With an older cat, she won't insist on your undivided attention if you tire out first.

But there are ethical reasons for adopting an older cat as well. Through no fault of their own, (the death of an owner or move to a nursing home) more and more healthy adult animals are finding themselves in shelters across Orange County hoping for a second chance.

The next time you plan a visit to the shelter, please take a few minutes to spend with that timid looking cat cowering in the corner of her cage. Consider her fear, and confusion. One day you're in a home with your favorite person and the next, your whole world is turned upside down.

Now, try to imagine that same animal in a quiet, loving, home where the noises and smells are more like the ones she is used to. Picture that same animal blossoming into the wonderful companion you always dreamed of. Then follow your heart and take her home.

PS: 14 year old Rosie found her forever home with a gal in Vermont. The two bonded instantly and her guardian says Rosie has " .. become like second skin to me and I can't imagine life without her".

Return to Main Menu

Introduction to SAINT
by Diane Novak

Recently, medical science has acknowledged what animal lovers around the globe have known all along. Animals not only make us feel good, they are good 'for us' too.

"A study at Cambridge University found that owning a pet can improve ones health in as little as one month! Pet owners reported fewer minor health problems like headaches, colds and hay fever. In another study involving Medicare patients, seniors who owned dogs actually visited their doctors less than those patients who did not have canine companionship". 1

And it gets better! Research done at the State University of New York, Buffalo, looked at the effects of pet ownership on 48 stockbrokers who were already taking medication for hypertension. "It found that the 24 stockbrokers who were given a pet had a significant reduction in high blood pressure accompanying stress than did those without pets". 2

Alan Entin, Ph.D., of the American Psychological Association says the study concluded that "Hypertension can be controlled with a pet without drug therapy. We have demonstrated that dogs can indeed have a significant health effect on people who live alone and have borderline hypertension." 3

Besides the medical benefits that living with a pet affords us, there are great social rewards as well. When my husband's Uncle Gordon lost his wife, he went into a deep depression. His doctor said "Gordon, you need companionship. Go to the pound and get yourself a dog". So Gordon followed his doctor's orders and his whole life turned around. Today Uncle Gordy's day revolves around his dog, Larry and the new friends he has made at the dog park.

Living with a pet is the best way to shift the focus from 'me' to 'we'. When there is feeding, walking, litter box or cage cleaning to do there is less time to think, worry and obsess about oneself.

Pioneers of the Eden Alternative, a progressive approach to nursing home living believe that the elderly battle Three Plagues of the Human Condition. These are loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. It is believed these three "account for the bulk of suffering in a human community". 4

Adopting a pet will take the senior a quantum leap from the three plagues. Loneliness, boredom and helplessness will be replaced by companionship, feelings of self worth and empowerment.

Animals have a way of gently nudging us into action. And our reward for this response is the gift of unconditional love doled out in large furry doses each and every day.

1) www.davita.com 2) discoveryhealth.com 3) www.edenalt.com

Return to Main Menu

Article: Pet Allergies
by Diane Novak

People's Allergies Don't Always Preclude Pets

If you've been told you can't have pets because of allergies, don't give up hope.

When I was a kid in the Bronx, I was always finding stray animals to bring home. The scenario was always the same, no matter how carefully I prepared my argument for the court (spell that M-O-M), the itchy welts on my face, complete with swollen itchy eyes, and non-stop sneezing betrayed the defense.

I can't tell you how many trips my father and I made to the ASPCA on Tremont Avenue with me sneezing and crying the whole way there. It wasn't just the pets, I'd sneeze and cough whenever we took family trips to the country as well. One day, I vowed, I'd have a house full of animals.

When I met my husband, he lived in "the country" in a house with two cats and two dogs. Hmmm...this one was a keeper.

While I was in animal-and-grass nirvana, my allergies were kicking up serious problems for me. One kitty in particular sent me into a sneezing fit whenever we were in the same room together.

What happened next was very interesting. After several months of constant exposure to the animals in my new home, I developed less and less reaction to them. It seemed that as time went by, my sensitivity to the animals' dander was reduced. Isn't this the way allergy shots work?

It didn't happen overnight, and for those who can't "tough" it out there may be some help. Some years ago, research was done at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

According to this study, soaking your cat for 10 minutes in lukewarm distilled water may help human pet allergies.

While this study was done with cats, it seems as though this technique would reap similar rewards with dogs, but it's always a good idea to check it out with your vet first.

So, how does one wash a cat? The doctor in this study suggests starting with a large pan or sink filled with one to two inches of lukewarm water. Just like bathing a baby, you want to have everything you need in one place before you begin. Have towels ready and a nice warm place to put kitty after the bath. Avoid interruptions like the phone or doorbell.

Since cats need security, having something for the cat to grip onto in the sink would help. Suggestions are a heavy towel, piece of mesh window screen or rubber sink mats could help. Having an extra hand nearby would be even better. After you have everything in reach, place the cat in the tub. Push the cat straight down from the center back. This is easier than trying to control each leg. Talk to the animal in a calm voice as you move several cups of the distilled water over his body.

If your cat is especially nervous, there is an all-natural product called Rescue Remedy that can be purchased at any health food store. Place a drop or two on the cat's gums or drop in its' mouth before you get ready and it may reduce stress. (This also helps with trips to the vet.)

Back to the bath. If you're thinking you'd like to use a shampoo while the animal is already wet, skip that step. According to the study, plain water removes dust (a major culprit for allergy sufferers) best.|
Rinse the cat well, then towel dry her.

But there is one more thing to consider before you get Kitty ready for his bath. Removing one allergen (animal dander) without removing all the others in your home may be futile.

You need to remove the additional dust-collecting items from your home, which could be setting your allergies off. Plants and books that collect dust should be kept out of the bedroom.

Animals should have their own sleeping space, and it shouldn't be yours. Until your symptoms subside, your bedroom should be off limits to the pets.

If your house has a mold problem, get that fixed or nothing will help your allergies. I know one very young child with asthma whose life turned around when his family moved out of an apartment with a serious mold problem. Not only did it help the child, but it enabled the cat to remain with the family.

Please remember most allergies and even asthma are seasonally related.

This child still gets occasional flare-ups at certain times of the year, but that would have happened regardless of living with an animal.

In their concern for their patients, doctors have traditionally recommended a "no pet" policy when it is discovered an allergic or asthmatic child or adult is living with a pet. But is there another way?

A quick poll to shelters reported surrenders due to allergies range from a low of 5 percent to a high of 90 percent. Would it be possible to shift those numbers by incorporating some changes into our homes? Possibly! Talk it over with your doctor, but understand that he or she may not be thrilled with chancing a medical condition they consider serious.

As a child, Laurene Sandstrom suffered from asthma. Her pets were given to neighbors, but when they continued to find their way home, her mom decided Laurene would have to learn to live with the allergies.

After a few months of discomfort, Laurene discovered her symptoms reduced in intensity. Sound familiar? Who would have guessed that an asthmatic kid would grow up to be shelter manager for the Humane Society of Walden?

As for me, I now reside with two hairy dogs and six cats. It's just too bad my folks didn't have this information when I was growing up. Not only could we have enjoyed owning a pet together, but we could have also saved a life or two along the way.

Diane Novak
Copyright (c) 2000, The Times Herald-Record

Return to Main Menu

Article: Fostering an Animal
by Diane Novak

What does it mean to foster an animal?

A foster home can be best described as the safe haven between being "rescued" and finding a forever home. Foster "parents" are extremely special. They are responsible for feeding, loving and tending to the needs of animals who are not technically theirs, but must be treated as one of the family. Usually foster homes provide food and litter (for cats) and the rescue organization or shelter pays for all medical needs. Some organizations have the funds to also pay for food if the foster home is not financially able to. It is interesting to note that any food, litter and (mileage)to the vet are tax deductible "donations" so keeping all receipts and even a mileage book is a good idea.

I first heard about fostering animals in 1992 when readingan article in the New York City Post how Manhattan's ASPCA on 96th street created a solution to caring for their special needs animals. Whenever the ASPCA was presented with orphaned kittens that needed bottle feeding every two hours, or a dog who was severely depressed, they turned to an elite group of volunteers who took these "special" animals into their homes. The ASPCA dubbed this rare breed of volunteers "foster homes".

What does it take to be a foster home?

Not much really: An extra room in a house or apartment (can even be a roomy laundry room) and the willingness to make a huge difference for a cat or dog on a temporary basis. Animals do not need to be isolated from your personal pets unless that is something you choose. Actually the more socialization with other pets, family members and different aged children, the more rounded (and more adoptable) that animal will become. Of course each animal is different and should be matched specifically to your family. Some animals need to be the only dog or cat in the house while others need to bond with another animal. The job of the rescue or shelter is to find the best temporary setting available at the time. Hopefully this would include "temperament testing" the animal before it goes to the foster situation.

Being in a shelter setting is clearly unlike a home setting, so an animal now placed in a home may behave differently. For instance, some dogs may have only lived their entire lives on a chain or penned outside. These animals may not have been given the opportunity to be excercised or even leash walked. Others may have never been housebroken. The foster home is their opportunity to learn the traits that would help them become more adoptable.

Any organization placing an animal in foster care has an obligation not only to the animal but to the foster home to create a suitable "fit". If the temporary placement isn't working, (for whatever reason) the animal needs to be placed elsewhere.

There are exceptions to every rule. Several years ago we took in a shelter dog as a temporary foster. The shelter had very little information on him except that he was surrendered by an elderly man who had 'too many dogs'. We were unaware (as was the shelter) that Toby had "separation anxiety". In a few weeks he was ate through three remote controls (to the tune of $30 a pop!), munched his way through my wall to wall carpet and ate the rear end of my young son's favorite stuffed toy.

Now here was a perfect example of a quiet "foster" dog that showed no signs of "unusual or displeasing" behavior in the first several weeks of fostering. In his case, the ironic twist occurred when he became bonded with us. His anxiety heightened whenever we left the house. Unaware of his background, we could only imagine what fear he was experiencing. He was taken to obedience classes, crated (PS: never place a crate too close to a couch-yeah he ate that too!) and eventually became the loving, confident dog he was meant to be.

No two fosters are alike, and because each animal has his or her own distinct personality and history, each will react differently in a home. Some animals bond very quickly to their foster "parents" while others take longer, or remain guarded depending on their history. There are very few hard and fast rules when fostering. Fostering is a work in progress.

What if I fall in love with the animal I am fostering?

You may. And if you do, there is always the choice of adopting the animal. We affectionately call these situations "failed" fosters because it is common for a foster home to shy away from ever fostering again once they adopt.

When you foster an animal be prepared to invite strangers into your home to meet your foster animal. The shelter or rescue will contact you when interest in the animal is expressed. You could be asked to speak to the potential adopter first. But rest assured every opportunity to comfortably coordinate with your schedule will be made. If you are fostering for a shelter, the meeting may take place at the facility itself instead of your home.


A potential adopter may have seen the animal on the website or in an ad under your organization's name. Each organization operates differently. One may do the screening of potential homes for you; another may ask you to screen. Oftentimes it will be up to the foster home to evaluate after an initial phone conversation whether further screening is needed. One must never leave out important "tidbits" about the animal that would not show him/her in the best light. In other words it is best to be honest with any potential adopters since we want to make quality connections and not encourange "returns". Omitting information that does not show the animal in its' best light will ultimately be a disservice to the animal.

If after accurately describing the animal to the potential adopter and exchanging information about the home, you will get a "feel" if this would make a good "match".

On the day the potential adopter(s) come to meet the animal, it is a good idea for the foster "parent" to make the initial introduction. Most of the time the organization sponsoring your foster animal will lean heavily on your instincts regarding a impending adoption. You are in the unique position to observe interactions between animal and adopter, and would be a reliable source regarding the success of any potential match.

Sometimes the shelter or organization will share information on adoption applications prior to meeting the animal. Other times people will be filling out applications at your home. Although each organization handles reference checking differently, rest assured that this is an important part of the application process.

The Bottom Line: When you foster an animal, you open your heart, not protect it! You are the animal's caretaker and are always asking yourself: "What would be the best placement for this animal?". If the animal has special-needs sometimes the best solution is to remain a foster animal for the remainder of its life. As a rule, first time foster homes are eased into the process with animals who are easy to place.

I have kids. Won't they be upset when the animal leaves for its' forever home?

That depends. In my home we've fostered ever since my son was an infant. He understands what we do and why it's necessary to do it. He has tried to convince me to trade some of our permanent brood for a foster kitten or cat through the years, but once he realized that was a non-negotiable issue, he gave up trying. He's seen them come and go. He's cried when some have left and has visited others. Did it destroy him? No. Did it make him a better person to have this experience? Most definitely! He comprehends the meaning of volunteerism and helping others in need. Through it all, my belief is that fostering animals is a character builder. A definite WIN-WIN for the whole family.

Return to Main Menu

Article: Declawing
by Diane Novak

Some people get very upset when their new kitten or cat uses the couch as a scratching post, while others are fearful that their children will be scratched and hurt.


A declawed cat is the equivalent to an AMPUTATED CAT. Declawing is NOT a deep nail cutting as is commonly thought.

Cats need to exercise their nails:
In the wild, tree bark was used by the cat to file down his long nails. These nails were used for grabbing prey. Now that we have domesticated the cat, we trim the cat's nails when it becomes too long. It can get caught on different items in your home and cause injury. Your Vet or a book on cat care can show you how to cut your cat's nails safely and without hurting either of you.

Claws are the cat's first defense in times of danger:
If a child grabs, or hurts a cat or kitten, the animal will naturally use its' claws. This not only sets limits for the child but it protects the animal from further (greater) harm. When a cat is declawed there is no level playing ground.

When my child was small:
I slowly introduced him to cats in our home. I also monitored him so neither he or they would be hurt. I found this a perfect opportunity to teach the concept of "boundaries" and RESPECT.

In the United Kingdom:
Declawing a cat is outlawed and no vet will perform the surgery. To be totally informed, please get a copy of Catlore by Desmond Morris. To quote from the book, "To remove a cat's claws is far worse than removing the fingernails of a cat owner. This is because the claws have so many important functions in the life of a cat. A declawed cat is a maimed cat, and anyone considering having the operation done to his pet should think again."

Twelve years ago I declawed a kitten because she was tough to deal with. Tiffany would wrap herself around my ankles and just scratch away. Had I known the alternatives listed here, I could have saved both of us a lot of heartache.

A cat's nails help them maintain balance: Tiffany became very clumsy after she was declawed; often falling because she couldn't grasp onto things when she jumped.

I was left with one ANGRY kitty after Tiffany's claws were removed. Because she no longer had the use of her claws to defend herself, she reverted to biting.

Tiffany began urinating out of the litter box as well. She was taken to the Vet on several occasions and Feline Urinary Syndrome was ruled out. We created a behavior problem in our cat.

Rescue workers and shelters are often given surrendered declawed "biters." Now insult to injury; the animal has not only lost its' claws but lost its' home as well.

There are homes that have no problems with their declawed cats. They are fortunate and so is the animal or it would be out of a home.

If I knew what I know now, I would have never declawed Tiffany!


Some years back a product called SoftPaws was introduced. These rubber tips cover a cat's claws. I have no direct experience with this but your veterinarian should be able to discuss whether it is a viable alternative. For more information about declawing and about SoftPaws visit Declawing.com


Fill up a spray bottle with plain water and spritz the cat/kitten's feet with a short burst of water while saying "NO" sharply. This along with the discomfort of water should work. Eventually the word "NO" will be effective and if it isn't, the mere sight of the spray bottle will usually send kitty flying from the spot.

I have also used aluminum foil to cover the area and I've found that cats don't like this feeling.

Finding a cozy spot for them where it is is okay for them to scratch is another alternative.

With all this said, the allure of furniture may still tempt your feline friend every so often. So I say with all sincerity, if you are really worried about the kids getting scratched or the furniture being ruined, it may be wiser for you to choose another type of companion animal. OUR STRONG FEEliNG IS THAT CLAWS BELONG ON PAWS!

Return to Main Menu

Article: New Kitty Seminar
by Diane Novak

Page: 1

Congratulations on deciding to adopt a new pet. We've put this "tutorial" together for folks who haven't been "Owned" by a cat before or haven't in several years.

This is just a "primer" and we really support you in doing your own research in the library and on the Internet as well.


A Veterinarian: Ask your friends whom they like. Prices will range from vet to vet, but a personal recommendation is always best.

A Book on Cat Care: It's a good idea to have a reliable resource on hand should you have a question or sudden emergency.

Cat Carrier: A carrier is necessary for safe and comfortable trips to the vet. Buy one large enough if you have a kitten as kittens grow to full-size in a year. Inside the box, cut a piece of carpet or bath mat with a rubber backing that won't slide and will give kitty something to grip onto during trips.

Litter Boxes: We recommend using a box large enough so your kitten can use it when it's bigger as well. You may need to have a smaller box to start off with if your kitten can't climb over the rim however. Cornell advises using 1box per cat OR three boxes per two cats. This will mean getting creative about space if you live in an apartment, but some cats like their own personal boxes. More on litter boxes in subsequent information.

YOUR PET'S ADJUSTMENT TIME: We recommend bringing your new pet home on a day where you know you'll be able to spend lots of time with him. RESIST the temptation to let your new pet roam the house. Cats like cozy small places when being re-adjusted to a new place. There's a lot to learn including new family members, other pets, as well as all the rooms. This animal may have had several foster settings before coming to your house, so take it slow. We suggest confinement to a small room with water; food and litter box all in one place for a few days. Hang out with your new friend in that one room, but be cognizant that cats will need to have their own "space" too. Cats sleep several hours a day, but like company. Within a few days you can allow it to explore more of the house. Best idea is to ask the foster home how they think the new kitten/cat will react with lots of room to explore.

ALLOWING SUNliGHT IN: When you cat or kitten will be indoors, it's VERY important to allow sunlight into the home. The sun is nurturing to all living beings. The absence of sun will cause fur to shed, scratching, and vitamin deficiencies. Also, animals can get depressed liKE HUMANS without natural sunlight. Raise blinds, shades and open windows to let the fresh air in. Even if it's a cold day, a bit of fresh air is good.

HOLDING AND liFTING YOUR NEW CAT: Some animals are not too keen on being lifted from their position of the floor all the way up to your height. This can make certain animals feel insecure and they may fidget to get down or meow in fear. Don't push it if you sense they're upset. Put them down. Sometimes an adult cat has an unknown history that may include this particular fear. It's best to start at their level on the floor. Then if they seem comfortable, bring them to your lap. Eventually the cat may enjoy being lifted, but forcing the issue will not make the animal bond with you.


CAT FURNITURE: Young cats love kitty condos and cat trees. These pieces are helpful when needing an appropriate place to scratch. *See more under declawing. I notice my older cats are happy with their window perch or hanging out on the couch or bed.

CAT TOYS: Mature cats may not be into chasing balls or string but get a kick out of a toy called the "cat dancer" which is a feather attached to a wire handle. Kittens are easy to appease and will be happy chasing a dust ball. There are track toys with that have balls that roll along a track and a scratching area to exercise nails on in the center. My adult cats enjoy watching the ball go round and round. There are toys that attach to a door and cheap ping-pong balls are always a favorite. A WORD OF CAUTION: Be extra careful with leaving yarn and other types of string around little kittens when you're not home to supervise. They can get caught, panic and choke themselves. They have also been known to swallow string which can cause great harm.

SAFETY AND YOUR CAT: Sometimes innocent things can cause big problems for our naturally curious feline friends.

1) Remove string items when you're not in the same room.

2) Check to see where your cat or kitten is when you open the fridge door. I had a little kitten jump into the bottom shelf because it smelled so good in there.

3) Check dryers before you close the doors.

4) Ovens. It may seem like a no-brainer, but the scariest near CATastrophe I ever had involved my own cat when he jumped into the broiler unbeknownst to me.

COLLAR SAFETY: Indoor cats do not normally wear collars. If you MUST have one on an outside cat, PLEASE only use the expanding or breakaway type so he/she can easily get out of the collar if accidentally caught on a fence or tree. We heard of an inside kitten that did not have a break away collar on and was unfortunately hung on a piece of furniture. This information is not to horrify you but to make you an educated cat/kitten mom or dad.

DIETARY NEEDS: First and foremost always have water available for your pets. If you give a diet of mostly dry food this is especially important. Get your cat or kitten started on the best food you can afford. What you feed it now will determine its health in years to come. Look for foods with the lowest magnesium count. It's listed on the ingredient label. Low magnesium keeps the urinary tract healthy and prevents FUS (Feline Urinary Syndrome) Speak to your Veterinarian about this as well as reading about FUS, but to be on the safe side, avoid supermarket brand foods which are typically less quality then brand names and I suggest that people avoid any FISH FLAVORED FOODS as they have a tendency to have a higher magnesium count.

Dry vs. Canned Foods: I take the middle ground and give my animals both. Your vet will be the best person to ask about this however. Sometimes you do all the right things, but if your cat or kitten has a proclivity towards FUS, it'll happen anyway.


The Following is a List of WARNING SIGNS that your cat needs to be seen by a Veterinarian ASAP.

1. The cat squats and urinates in places other than its box.

2. The cat is becoming increasingly irritable. If it's FUS (Feline Urological Syndrome) your kitty will be very uncomfortable.

3. Cat becomes withdrawn and/or cries when walking around.

When it comes to the issue of inappropriate urination, always take the precautionary stance and ASSUME a physical problem. When in pain, a cat has been known to avoid using the litter box as it associates the pain with urinating there. Unfortunately some cats HAVE BEEN EUTHANIZED because their owners thought they were hopelessly "dirty cats" with a behavior problem. Without the proper guidance from a skilled professional, owners will incorrectly assume a behavioral issue instead of a serious physical problem.


There are some times when cats do urinate out of the box and there is no medical reason for this. Ask yourself these questions:

1) Has there been a change in the house lately causing your cat stress?

2) Have you moved the box or changed the type of litter you always used?

3) Had a new baby?

4) Moved, added, or changed people to or from the home?

6) Have you reduced the attention you previously had given. Animals are sensitive creatures and may react negatively if upset by changes in the environment or feeling stressed.

7) Has your animal been declawed? While we may get some heat on this one, we have heard of too many cases where animals that have been declawed developed litter box issues. We are not sure why this is, but it is something to consider when figuring out the problem.

Always ask you Veterinarian for his/her advice first. Try adding another litter box to another part of the home. If after making whatever changes you can to accommodate the animal, the behavior hasn't changed, try calling The Cornell University. They have a free phone-in advice line. That toll-free number is 1-800-KITTYDR.

Return to Main Menu

by Arliea Cloer

GOSHEN - When you ask Diane Novak about her work with animals she smiles. A wife, mother and a devoted pet owner, she has spent the last decade helping stray and abandoned animals find safe homes, educating people about the importance of pet sterilizations and volunteering at the Goshen Humane Society. She now works as a Reiki practitioner for horses, cats, dogs and other small animals because she said "I get to help make an animal's life better."

"I have a difficult time explaining Reiki", Novak said. "It' so unexplainable, I just do it. Just like you can't see, touch or hold the wind, but you know it's there. That's the way Reiki works too. It's an energy transmitted between living things. Novak has been working closely with Cindy Brody, a Reiki Master, energy worker and animal communicator, to offer a CinergE clinic next weekend. Participants will learn how to improve their horses' soundness and natural abilities while deepening the connection between horse and rider.

"CinergE" is Brody's combination of alternative treatments to promote self-healing. It integrates Reiki (pronounced RAY-key) with a range of complimentary therapies, such as energy balancing, kinesiology, deep tissue massage, acupressure, intuition and animal communication. Reiki, a Japanese word for universal life force energy, was created by Mikao Usui in the early 20th century. It is the healing energy that flows through and out of the practitioner's hands.

Brody said the CinergE combination alleviates an animal's physical and mental strain. It can help heal muscle injury, back and joint pain, arthritis, and discomfort during pregnancy, and many also reduce an animal's stress and irritability and stimulate its immune system, she said. CinergE is used to treat all animals, young and old. Behavior problems are most often found in younger animals, and middle aged and older dogs are treated most often for pain relief, Brody said.

"What I do is find imbalances in the body and through touching", she said, "I break up that tightness, which enables a horse to move more comfortably."

Brody began practicing energy balancing 23 years ago and has been practicing Reiki for seven. At first she worked on people, but later, during the late 1980's, she tried the therapy on her horses and met with positive results. Working in animals is gratifying, Brody explained, because animals are less skeptical and more willing to accept the treatment.

Because she is unable to take on new clients, Brody presents workshops to teach pet owners how to treat their own animals.

"The best way I can help more horses is to teach other people to help their animals," she said. "Everyone has the talent and ability to do energy work. You just have to work at it, practice and improve your technique." She is currently working on an instructional video and writing a book.

Novak, who has been practicing Reiki for three years, agrees that anyone can learn and practice energy work. While learning to be a practitioner, both Novak and Brody say, it is important not to consider yourself a healer, but rather a facilitator of healing.

"Working with animals and Reiki makes you trust your intuition", said Novak. "It validates the way you feel about your animal and helps you trust that you can communicate with your pet. It strengthens your relationship with your pet.

Novak has performed Reiki on people, but she finds working with animals more rewarding. People often have opinions about what is going on around them. Animals just get it. They seem to access the Reiki energy faster than anything I've every seen. They're just open to the nice relaxing feeling that is coming their way. They know, intuitively, what is right for them."

Dr. Daniel Sickmiller, a local veterinarian, first heard about the use of Reiki on animals two years ago. While he himself has not used the therapy on animals, several of his clients have sought Novak's help for their dogs. He recommends Reiki for treating pain, anxiety and behavioral problems. The therapy can be calming, he said, and may help an agitated animal become a more acceptable pet.

"There are some times when you have to try alternative therapies, and anything that can help your pet and doesn't have adverse side effects is worth it", he said.

Dr. Sickmiller noted other benefits of Reiki. It is both natural and non-toxic, and provides a valuable bonding experience between an owner and his or her pet.

Jacquie Elliot, worse horse Donnie has received a Reiki treatment from Novak, also endorses the technique.

"I would definitely recommend it, particularly when you've tried everything else and are at a loss of what to do ", she said.

Donnie suffered from unexplained panic attacks, said Elliot. He would buck, rear, and start up to throw his rider.

"His actions reminded me of someone with PTSD or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," said Novak. After his first session, Donnie appeared more confident, and within a few sessions was much more relaxed even allowing Elliot to touch his ears, which he wouldn't allow before.

Dr. Sickmiller does not recommend Reiki as a substitute for medicinal therapy, but rather as a complement to it. Brody and Novak also stress that energy healing does not replace good, stable management. It should be used along with proper care - fresh water, nutritious food, a safe living environment, and of course, good veterinary care.

Dr. Sickmiller admitted that Reiki is not a common topic of discussion among veterinarians, but is slowly gaining more attention and credit.

Novak hopes that, as more veterinarians have experience with Reiki, they will recommend it to pet owners and help the therapy gain credibility.

Why try Reiki or other alternative therapies? "Because you love your animal and you want it to feel its best, both physically and emotionally" Novak said.

Return to Main Menu

Keeping Pets With Kids

by Diane Novak

Animals In Our Lives

Can I Still Keep My Cat Now That I'm Pregnant?

Why not? Just get someone else to change the litter box & ask for our reprinted article Fact Vs. Fears re: toxoplasmosis.

My Vet swears that in all his years of practice the fastest way to see a dog or cat get kicked out of a house is to add the birth of a new baby. That's sad and I think for the most part may be unnecessary.

When my child was born we had seven animals. He is now four years old and we still have seven animals. Some of the problems people encounter when they bring the new baby home are based on misconception about the animal's intention.

Animals are curious by nature and will inspect and investigate new people and things that turn up in their living space. Once you understand what may be going on, you'll realize your pet and your new baby can live in concert with each other. So take a deep breath, read on and get ready to throw out some basic misconceptions about pets and babies and why you all can't live together harmoniously.

Admit it, you're apprehensive about being able to have your cat and do the right thing for the baby, or you're concerned that you won't have enough of that precious commodity 'time' for everyone. You won't, but that has nothing to do with your pet. Your baby is going to take up all your time-all that was once your 'free' time and anything in between. But, after the initial few months you'll get into a swing and you'll figure out what needs your attention now, and what can wait. Your pet will be very patient, so don't assume you'll need to find kitty or spot a new home-chances are you will regret it if you do anyway.

At first you'll be a little apoplectic about cleanliness. You'll get past it just as the diaper commercials joke-trust me on this one. Here are a couple of scenarios that may occur when you bring baby home:

1-Baby comes home: Kitty freaks out and hides. The crying scares him/her. This is natural.
2- Baby comes home and the cat/dog thinks she/he smells great and wants to get a closer sniff. Also natural.
3- Baby comes home: and Kitty hops in the crib. You freak, but it's natural!

It's important to be prepared so you don't think there's something-strange going on. Every animal will react differently to a change in his or her environment. A baby is a huge change for everyone, but it is something that can be handled.

Check your motives, if you are determined as I was to keep my animals and maintain the same 'family' I had before baby was born, you will get through this together in one piece. It takes commitment and patience and YOU CAN DO IT!

A sad fact is forty-five percent of all cat owners do not keep their cats for the life of the animal. Because of this, I have decided to highlight the feline for the purpose of this article. Some of the top reasons cats are given up are: Divorce, Allergies, and New Baby!

My mission here is to get you over the 'hump' of what I call 'overwhelm' when your baby and your pet(s) are all tugging for attention. In six months you will see how the thing that worried or caused you grief will no longer be an issue. Some sage advice to remember is: This too shall pass. With patience and sheer determination, you will have emerged victorious and together as a family. All it takes is patience, understanding and a good sense of humor, and hey, you're going to need those skills for motherhood anyway! So let's get going!

Begin By Introductions: You know those little blue or pink hats they hand out to all the newborns at the hospital? Before we brought the baby in the house, I went into the house first with the little hat as well as the little drool towel he used that day. Both carried his scent.

I allowed the cats and dogs to sniff the items and shove it around with their noses and left it there on the floor for them to investigate. (For those of you, who think that's disgusting, don't call child protective services on me just yet, these items are washable.) When we brought the baby in: Lo and Behold, he smelled familiar!

While one of us was holding the baby, we knelt down on the animal's level and one of us petted the dogs and cats while speaking in low tones. The animals seemed very interested in Grant. We allowed them to follow us around and be part of our first moments together as a family. I never had a problem with the dogs, and only one cat (who had a little personality problem to start with) seemed to have every 'natural' reaction listed.

Animals Are Curious By Nature, Not Devious:

Some things are just too interesting to pass up. You bring home this new live 'thing'. It smells and looks different and you fuss over it non-stop. For a cat, this is interesting stuff and there's no time to waste in finding out more about 'it'.

Looking At The New Baby Scenario From A Cat's Point Of View:

Your people love and spoil you, and NEVER BEFORE have you been restricted from entering ANY room in the house. Because of this, you figure you'll just go in to this new room and check its new inhabitant out. BIG MISTAKE!

Never did it occur to you that there are NEW HOUSE RULES and that this new little human and its room is now off-limits. Further more, never could you have imagined that pushing those limits would be synonymous with 'all hell breaking loose.' However, had you known that pushing those 'limits' would mean certain banishment from the home you love, surely you would not have put yourself in jeopardy and made your people so ANGRY.

Most likely you would have never jumped into the crib when the baby wasn't there. Who wanted to hear all that yelling and fussing? Why it sent you straight under the bed quaking with fear. But hey, you thought, they must have misunderstood what I wanted. Maybe if I get in there under the covers when the little human is sleeping, they'll understand what I really want and start loving ME the way they do him/her. Oh major mistake-a-roni!

What follows is a hail of screams the likes of which you've never heard or seen before. Then you hear it! The battle cry cats have heard through the ages: 'WE HAVE TO GET RID OF THE CAT'! He's trying to hurt the baby!

HARDLY! In fact you don't even like the brand of milk it drinks. You'd just like to know what all the fuss is about-and how to get some of the warm fuzzies that has now been reserved for the little human.

For The Humans: But once you understand what's at play here and can put it all into perspective, you will be ready to swing into action.

Suggestion Number 1: When my son was an infant, my husband came up with the idea of putting a screen door up in the baby's room. He took down the regular door, and we replaced it later on when my son was older (when I might add the cats wanted nothing to do with him). If the baby needs you, you'll hear it crying and kitty stays safely out of the baby's room.

Suggestion Number 2: Take time out for your kitty. I know that when my son was born, I was wiped out because he didn't sleep through the night for fifteen months. The last thing I wanted to do was a pet a cat or dog. But, they weren't going to accept this NEW BEHAVIOR OF MINE and they let me know it. . . Wherever I sat down, (and I mean WHEREVER) a cat jumped on my lap or a dog lay by my feet.

At night when I finally curled up in my bed or couch exhausted from the day I'd find an animal next to me craving attention. In the beginning, they first reacted communally by giving me my space. One day it dawned on me that they were 'depressed'. They moped around the house and had no 'spirit' like they used to. When I saw this, I managed to put aside some few precious minutes a day (that's all they needed) for giving them some praise or a scratch behind the ears. I realized that they desperately needed the thing I had eliminated from their lives for too long: touch and communication.

We managed to work it out and I'm so glad that we did! Working in rescue just breaks your heart to see so many animals being shuffled from home to home and sometimes never making it out of the shelters. How many of the families that placed them there could have actually stuck it out too? No one is saying it's easy. But it's the right thing to do and sometimes the right thing isn't necessarily the easiest.

Now kick off your shoes, sit on the couch, fold those little layette sets and remember to pet that kitty!

Return to Main Menu