Catnip, scientific name Nepeta cataria is a plant of the Lamiaceae or mint family that can be found cultivated or growing wild in North America and many other places in the world. It is a herbaceous perennial that grows to about 20-40 inches tall and wide with a square stem and brownish-green, coarse-toothed triangular to ovate leaves. The flowers are both showy and fragrant usually white and spotted with pale purple or pink, a nice addition to any garden.

The active ingredient is an essential oil, nepetalactone, and can be isolated by steam distillation. Nepetalactone is a known repellent for mosquitos, cockroaches and termites. It is reportedly ten times more effective against mosquitos than DEET, the active ingredient in most insect repellents but, unfortunately, is not very effective when applied to the skin.

Nepetalactone attracts cats, not only domestic cats. Tigers, leopards and lynxes have all been shown to react to catnip the same as domestic cats, lions less so. When your cat senses the bruised leaves or stems it will rub on the material, roll in it, paw at it, lick and chew it and display intense playful behavior. If the cat consumes enough of the plant it will usually demonstrate anxiety or leaping about and purring. Some cats will play growl, meow, scratch or bite at you if you are holding the plant material. They may become extremely hyperactive, running and jumping and aggressive if you try to take the “toy” away from them. After the cat loses interest in the catnip it may take as long as a couple of hours for the animal to “reset” and evidence interest again.

The nepetalactone is detected by the cat via their olfactory epithelium by binding to one or more olfactory receptors. The euphoria seems to wear off in about 5 to 15 minutes then the cat will become almost non-responsive, just sitting and staring into space. If too much of the material in ingested the cat may become mellow, drool and fall asleep. Only about 2/3 of cats respond to catnip, the others seem to ignore it and the typical response behavior seems to be hereditary. Other plants including Veleriana officinalis, Acalypha india (only the root) and plants that contain actinidine or iridomyrmecin will have similar effects on susceptible cats. When a responsive individual smells the catnip getting “high” from the smell seems to compel it to react in the same manner every time.

Researchers are uncertain about the neurological explanation for nepetalactone’s effect on cats. One theory is that the substance mimics so-called “happy pheromones” and stimulates specific receptors in the olfactory bulb, the amygdala and/or the hypothalamus in the brain.

While cats become hyperactive when exposed to catnip they are by nature survivors and know their limits. Most cats will back away once they have had enough so the substance is not toxic to cats. However if you have both dogs and cats in your house and allow your dog to walk through some Nepeta sp. your cat may pursue the dog with the intention of chewing or rubbing against any part of your dog that has come in contact with the plant material.

We are back in the Sandhills of Nebraska visiting old friends on their ranch, something in the neighborhood of 17,000 acres, Don tells us, “…just a medium sized place for this part of the country.”

I’ve known and been close friends with Don since 1954. He came back to operate the same ranch his great-grandfather put together. I spent the last sixty years living and working in seven different cities and two foreign countries. However, we have always kept in touch. Whenever it was possible our families got together and each time it was as though we had last seen each other the day before. Most fortunately our wives and children became good friends as well.

Don is an economist and widely read philosopher, always looking for a unique and logical way to explain what is wrong with the world and how it might be changed for the better. The stuff he reads is too complicated and deep for me, but he can explain it in terms I can understand. I’m a history buff and try to relate what is happening in the world to our failures to understand and benefit from history. We never lack for conversation that holds our interest and bores tears out of anyone who happens to listen in. That’s the fun part. We always leave with lists of recommended books to read.

Yesterday we had the first fall snow, not really a storm, but over two inches accumulation. Don has a group of calves weaned less than a week ago, pastured close to the house. They are fed a protein supplement and hay each morning and are calming down and settling in. Yesterday’s feeding was done in the storm such as it was, about eight in the morning. Today we are in bright sunshine.



Yesterday they gathered the calves in the snow on horseback.


Making certain all the calves got their share.


This morning the calves were gathered and fed using a pickup and an ATV.


Done with this chore for today. The calves are happy and content.

Historically dogs are most commonly associated with biting humans and transmitting rabies. It is now clear that in the U.S. cats are more often diagnosed with rabies than dogs. The number of verified cases of rabies in cats has increased and now there are three times as many cat cases reported compared to the diagnosis in dogs.

The AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) says that approximately 34-37 percent of families or individuals with pet cats do not take those animals to a veterinarian. The likelihood of those animals being vaccinated to prevent rabies is low to nonexistent. At least a third of all cats not vaccinated? That is a troubling statistic made even more so by cat owners who do take their animals to a veterinarian but have failed to have them vaccinated against rabies.

This is not a rare disease. In 2010 fewer cases of rabies were reported compared to previous years in the U.S. but there were 6,153 cases in animals from 48 states and Puerto Rico verified. Raccoons were most commonly diagnosed (36.5%), skunks (23.5%), bats (25.2%), foxes (7.0%) and the rest in other species including some rodents. Domestic animals accounted for 8% of all verified cases and we still have 2 or 3 cases in humans every year. Last year a woman in Maryland died following a kidney transplant from a donor who was apparently incubating the disease. Other patients that received organs from that donor received preventive care and are, apparently, not affected. Rabid animals can and do come into contact with our pets, especially cats allowed outside. Imagine the response of your cat to a rabid bat, not able to fly, flopping around on your lawn.

The rabies virus is a member of the Lyssavirus genus of the Rhabdoviridae family and survives in both wild and domestic species including farm animals. When I was in veterinary school we were often reminded that exposure for veterinarians was most commonly due to suspecting “choke”, an object lodged in the esophagus of a bovine that prevents the animal from swallowing, when the animal actually has rabies. When I worked for the U.N. for a year in the veterinary school at the Autonomous University of Mexico I almost fell victim to this. Students were handling a cow that was profusely salivating, even putting their hands in its mouth. I almost did the same before remembering what had been drummed into us. We isolated the cow that developed other signs of rabies within hours, died and rabies was confirmed on necropsy. Most veterinarians today have received preventive vaccination for rabies, at least I hope they have.

New oral vaccines for rabies have recently been developed and distributed in bait. This program has successfully reduced the incidence of rabies in rural areas of the U.S., Canada, France and other environments. A serious outbreak of rabies in raccoons in the Mount Royal park area of Montreal, Canada was brought under control using this resource.

So, … get your cat vaccinated. With Halloween soon upon us a bat could fly into your house, your cat pounces on it, gets bit and then you get exposed when your cat bites you.

Question from a reader:

We were gone on vacation and left our dog in a very nice pet hotel where she was allowed to play with the other dogs. Three days after we brought her home she developed a very persistent dry hacking cough. I’ve given her some cough medicine and it helps for a short while but then she is right back coughing. She doesn’t seem ill since she eats and plays but the cough seems to be getting worse. What’s going on?

With the history and signs you provided my best guess, without examining the animal thoroughly, would be kennel cough (trachea-bronchitis, i.e. inflammation of the trachea and bronchi sometimes also called Bordetella). You need to get your dog to your veterinarian as soon as you can for a complete exam and workup. If she does have trachea-bronchitis and it is left untreated it could result in pneumonia and be life-threatening. There are other conditions that can cause this kind of cough and those need to be eliminated from the diagnosis.

Kennel cough is highly contagious, spread from dog to dog via airborne droplets breathed in a confined spaced, such as a kennel, or from direct contact with another animal that is infected, play dates, or even from contact with the causative agents on contaminated surfaces such as a communal water dish at the dog park. The etiology (cause) can be a variety of organisms viral, bacterial and most commonly a combination. Viral infections with the canine parainfluenza virus, canine coronavirus, canine distemper virus, canine herpes virus or canine reovirus make the animal more susceptible to infection with the most common bacterial villain; Bordetella bronchisptica (hence the other name Bordetella). This bacteria has been isolated in more than 75% of cases of this disease and is frequently found along with other opportunistic bacteria.

Most boarding kennels will not accept an animal without an up-to-date vaccination history and the vaccinations provided by your veterinarian will prevent this disease in most cases. However, like the flu vaccine for humans, vaccinations are not one hundred percent effective and some infections are a result of Bordetella alone. There are a few vaccines that are effective, long term, for bacteria but Bordetella does not seem to be one of them.

Treatment is with supportive care if necessary for dehydration, rest (pulling against a collar or heavy exercise will exacerbate the coughing) and cough suppressants. Antibiotics effective against the secondary or primary bacterial agent may be prescribed. Since Bordetella is by far the most common culprit your veterinarian may not bother with trying to culture and do an antibiotic sensitivity test to identify the best antibiotic to use, although this might be indicated in a persistent case. Most veterinarians will treat with the antibiotic or combination of antibiotics that have been most successful in their practice. Make certain you follow the directions and give the entire dose since we do not need more antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria around.

The good news is that this disease, if properly treated, is usually not life threatening. You can expect the distress inducing (in you) coughing to decrease and go away within 3-6 weeks.

Organisms, cyanobacteria, known as blue-green algae, can be found in freshwater lakes, streams, ponds, estuaries, hot springs and water from wastewater treatment plants. Concentrations of these organisms can be found at any time but are almost always associated with hot weather and nutrient-rich water. Most blue-green algae blooms are not toxic but sometimes they produce microcystins and/or anatoxins that can kill birds, wild animals, aquatic animals, livestock, people or pets that ingest contaminated water. Unfortunately it is not possible to know if toxins are present when the characteristic “pea soup” scum is present without testing for them. If anatoxins are present a few mouthfuls of contaminated water can be fatal. Dogs that swim in such water and lick themselves when they come out have been poisoned.


Signs of poisoning by microcystins are vomiting, diarrhea, bloody stools, weakness, pale mucous membranes, jaundice, seizures, disorientation, coma, shock and death from liver failure, usually within days. The diagnosis is based upon the history of exposure to the algae and blood work indicating elevated liver enzymes, low blood sugar, low protein and sometimes abnormal clotting.


The anatoxins produce neurotoxicity with signs of muscle tremors, muscle rigidity, and paralysis, along with dyspnea, difficult breathing, and signs of low blood oxygenation. Death can occur very quickly, minutes to hours after exposure, usually from respiratory muscle paralysis.


An article published by George Francis in the journal NATURE in 1878 described animals dying rapidly after drinking water from the Murray River estuary that contained “a thick scum like green oil paint”.


There is no known antidote for these toxins. Immediate supportive treatment, based upon the signs the animal is showing, by your veterinarian is imperative.

Community residents should keep a sharp eye on what their elected officials are doing. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty recently published a study entitled; “No Safe Place”. They collected data from 187 different cities in the U.S. and found that many of these cities had passed laws that prohibit:

  1. Camping in public (64 cities)
  2. Sitting or lying down in certain public places (99 cities)
  3. Sleeping in a car (81 cities)
  4. Sharing food with homeless people (17 cities)
  5. Begging in public (142 cities)
  6. Loitering, loafing and vagrancy (67 cities)

Those arrested and convicted of violating these laws accumulate a criminal record that makes their life even more difficult. Of course many law-enforcement officers are, understandably, reluctant to enforce these laws. That can translate to sporadic and/or discriminatory enforcement.

In Portland, Maine it is illegal to stand on a median strip. The law was justified as a solution to a public safety threat for people asking for alms and, according to a city council member, for motorists as well. A federal judge has declared the law unconstitutional but the city is appealing. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could solve the problems associated with homelessness by passing laws?

However there is some good news. The Houston Police Department has a homeless outreach program. Sgt. Steve Wick who heads the program says: “You can’t tell a person that’s been living on the street for a long time ‘You need to do this, this, this and this in order to get off the street—because that can’t do it…If you don’t kind of help them through the whole process, they’re just kind of stuck.’ “ Officers and a caseworker guide Houston’s homeless through the confusing bureaucracy helping them secure the services they need. Many of these homeless folks have mental health and/or substance abuse problems and are incapable of dealing effectively with the bureaucracy. Studies have shown that programs of this nature are cost-effective since fewer resources are required than for incarceration, emergency health services, or hospitalization for long neglected health issues.

The great Jewish philosopher and jurist Maimonides had an interesting take on charity: “He who gives alms to a poor man with a hostile countenance and with his face averted to the ground, loses his merit and forfeits it…He should rather give with a friendly countenance and joyfully. He should commiserate with the recipient in his distress…” Maimonides further taught that the alms giver must identify with the alms seeker’s plight and psychological state including his or her desperate and humiliating situation.

Are we working to address the homeless problem or are we just averting our eyes?

My Mom and Dad knew each other in High School and by the time they started dating seriously the Great Depression had engulfed the world. They were engaged for about 3 years while Mom worked as a bookkeeper earning $14 a week, not today’s 40-hour week. Dad worked for a small chain of shoe stores, driving a truck and delivering inventory to a half-dozen or so small stores spread throughout Ohio. When he wasn’t gone on his deliveries he organized and shelved boxes of shoes. After they got married Dad started attending night classes to become an accountant. He earned less than Mom, $13 a week. So they lived on $27 a week, $108 a month in a rent controlled apartment in the Cedar Central Project in Cleveland, Ohio.

For some reason when I think about my parents’ first years of marriage a silly ditty repeats over and over in my head:

“My Ma gave me a nickel to buy a pickle, I didn’t buy a pickle, I bought some “chewin” gum. Chew chew chew some chewin gum I bought some chewin gum….” I can’t explain it, maybe the nickel for a pickle, but it was the Depression. In those days a loaf of good bread, Mom told me, cost maybe 15 cents, she couldn’t remember for certain but;

“A lot of folks couldn’t afford that loaf of bread.”

My parents were young, in love and happy but $108 a month to live on? Incomprehensible.

I recently met a young single mother with two children, a boy 7 and a girl four. Her husband, if that’s what he was, abandoned them. Just took off was all she would tell me. She and her kids were subsequently evicted from their apartment because she was unable to afford the rent. The three of them are currently living in a family shelter. She still works the same job she had when the guy took off. She’s a server in a well-known chain restaurant. She earns $2.50 an hour plus tips but she shares the tips with the people who bus the tables and, she flashed a sarcastic smile, the manager. She usually averages $10-12 an hour. That’s above the current minimum wage, but she is not allowed to work more than 30 hours a week, on split shifts. Something about not having to supply medical insurance benefits…maybe?

So—she works hard, takes good care of her children and earns about $1,440 a month. She doesn’t have health insurance for her or her children so when any of them are ill she sits for hours in an emergency room waiting area. She doesn’t have a car to get around so she can look for a better paying job, or to attend any kind of training that would qualify her for a better job. She does manage to pay for a cell phone. She considers it essential in case one of her kids gets sick at school or daycare. It costs her about $70 a month.

In 2013 the estimate of the full-time (40-hour work week) hourly wage that a family must earn to afford a decent apartment, at the HUD estimated Fair Market Rent while spending no more than 30% of their income on housing, was estimated to be $18.79. If this young mother earned $18.79 per hour she could afford to spend about $225 a month for rent. She’s been looking for an affordable apartment but there are long waiting lists for those that come available and she can’t really afford any of them.

Oh yes, she also has to supply food, clothing and even a very occasional treat for herself and her two children. She doesn’t have a bank account so she pays an exorbitant fee to cash her pay check at a check cashing place and frequently has to get a small loan from that same “business” against her next paycheck, at usurious rates. The folks at the homeless shelter where she and her children now live are doing their best to help her navigate all the possible programs designed to help folks in her situation, but it is a morass and she, understandably gets very frustrated and depressed.

In the face of this the legislature in my state of Washington failed to produce any new help for the working homeless this past session and by their inaction may have made the situation worse for many homeless families. Private and faith-based groups are helping as much as possible but those resources are incapable of providing more than a small fraction of what is needed. Government programs, with all citizens contributing their fair share, are the only possible way to deal with these problems.


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