Recycled Pet Toys: A DIY Project

by Denise Plemmons

Merfi trying out Denise's DIY pet toys from recycled materials.

Merfi trying out Denise's DIY pet toys from recycled materials.

Pet toys can be expensive and often don’t last very long. But you can save money by making your own toys. You don’t have to be a Pinterest queen to make some simple toys! Here are a few examples:

T-Shirt Rope Toy

Got some old t-shirts you don’t wear anymore? Or even old towels? You can turn those into a great tug toy for your dog. Simply cut it into 2-inch wide strips, and if you want it thicker, just add more strips. You can make them as long or short as you want. Then simply tie one end into a knot, section into three sections, and braid. When the braid is done, tie another knot at the end and you’re done. You can add an old tennis ball to the middle for some added fun!

Water Bottle Sock

Grab an old sock, insert a water bottle, and then close with a knot. Your doggie will love the crinkly noise.

Interactive Treat Puzzle

Get an empty plastic container, and cut a few holes big enough for treats to fall out. I used the treat container itself. Fill with treats, close and let your pet have a blast. 

Toilet paper tubes also make great treat puzzles for cats. They’re free, everyone has them and they can be made into many things. I added some cute Valentine’s stickers for a festive look. Just be sure to secure them so your kitty or doggie doesn’t eat them.

Cork Toys

Cork is a 100 percent natural, biodegradable and renewable resource. But not recyclable in Athens. However, it can be used to make a great cat toy! Just insert some feathers, ribbon, jute or anything else that will attract your cat.

Stringed Straw Toy

Straws are one-time use pieces of plastic that aren’t recyclable, and they seem to be everywhere. You get them even if you don’t want them. Here I found a fun way to put them to good use. Just cut two straws into 2-inch pieces, and string together. It can be a fun toy for a cat or for small critters like birds and rats. You can even put small pieces of food in the straws.

Here’s my test kitty, Merfi. I think her favorite was the straw wrapper.

As with any toy, monitor your pet when they are playing. Toss out any damaged toys.

Denise Plemmons is the Commercial Recycling Specialist for Athens-Clarke County Solid Waste Department. She has also worked with animals at the Athens Area Humane Society. If you have any questions about recycling, you can reach her at or 706-621-2836.

Ways to Keep Pets Warm this Winter

by Morgan Solomon

Photo: Morgan Solomon

Photo: Morgan Solomon

As the leaves start to fall and the air becomes crisp, it is time to start considering how to keep your canine or feline companion warm through the fall and winter seasons. We have you covered with a list of items and tips to keep your furry friend warm and cozy.

One tried and true product that your pets will either love or hate are clothes. If your pet loves to wear clothes, or will at least tolerate it, then this may be your best option. There are plenty of options to choose from. Your dog or cat can wear the latest fall trends in the form of a sweater, or if they are more of the outdoor type, they might like a vest that is durable and waterproof. For those days when all they want to do is take naps, there are plenty of footy pajama options that might tickle their fancy. If you take the fashion route, be sure that you take the clothing off every now and then to make sure they do not have any matted fur or chafing. You should also supervise them for most of the time they are wearing clothes in order to prevent any injury or accidents.

If your pet is not a fan of fashion, don’t worry—there are other solutions. The key is making sure they have plenty of sources of warmth, which can be achieved through blankets and special crate pads. There is an array of blankets to choose from, such as a classic fleece blanket or more durable blankets made from waterproof materials. 

Warmth can also be achieved through pads and beds. You can purchase a normal bed that uses a fabric that is warmer than normal, or purchase a bed or pad that has thermal heating technology. These types of bed retain heat better in order to keep your companion warm. 

If you have an outside cat or dog, you want to ensure that they have a shelter that has all the necessary accoutrements. This includes a warm blanket and bed, but it is more than just that. It is important to make sure their shelter is well insulated, does not have any leaks and is protected from the wind. The shelter should also have an area elevated off of the ground—this can be achieved with a normal bed, but a better option is an elevated bed. We recommend bringing any outdoor pets inside when it gets too cold to be on the safe side, as well. 

During winter, you should keep your pet’s coat full so they can produce more heat. If you have an outdoor animal, you should increase their caloric intake so they can create more heat by burning calories. It is important to keep your pets dry—wipe down their paws, and make sure they are not wet before going outside which will help prevent frost bite. The most important tip is to pay attention to your pet and their specific needs. Be aware of the weather, and do not leave them outside for long periods of times, if at all. You are their best resource for warmth this winter, so bring on the extra blankets and cuddling! 

Safety Lights for Pets

by Morgan Solomon

As a pet owner, we are always concerned for our dog’s safety, ranging from whether or not it is safe for them to eat something to if they are sad when we are gone for more than an hour. One big concern is when you are walking your dogs at night. You should always take extra measures to ensure that your dogs, and yourself, are safe when taking a stroll in the dark.

With Halloween around the corner, it is crucial to make sure you are prepared with the right accessories to light your path. While flashlights are helpful, it can be tricky handling a flashlight while walking your dog. Fortunately, there are many different options of light-up accessories available. Below is a list of five low-cost options so you and your canine companion can find the best to fit your needs. 

The first is a clip-on LED light that can be easily attached to your dog’s collar or leash. This light is extremely versatile and is not limited to just your dog—you can also use it when walking at night or for your children on Halloween.

The next option is a clip-on collar light. This light has the appearance of a keychain and is easily attachable to your dog’s collar. It can also be clipped onto a leash but works best when clipped on a collar. Much like the LED light, it allows you to easily transform a plain collar, making it a great option if you don’t want to worry about changing your dog’s collar when it is time for your nightly walk.

Next we have my personal favorite, a light-up leash. Most options are fabric leashes that have a rope of LED lights inside. Many of them have different settings so your leash can continuously light up or flash at different speeds. I personally prefer the flashing setting because it turns your walk into a fun disco. You can find these leashes in all sorts of colors to match your dog’s collar.

If you want your dog to look rave-ready and a flashing leash is not enough, then a LED dog collar is the accessory for you. These collars come in an array of colors and make your dog look like they are ready to party with its glow stick appearance. These are convenient and easy to put on your dog on top of a regular collar so they are ready to go!

Light-up gear is not limited to collars and leashes. If your dog is into dressing up, there are plenty of options! The obvious choice is a reflective vest, but since we are preparing specifically for Halloween, why not get them a fun glow-in-the-dark shirt? This way your dog can be safe while making a statement!

DIY Dog Treats

by Taylor Solomon

Photo: Morgan Solomon

Photo: Morgan Solomon

When you become a pet owner, you want to give your new companion the best.  Going to the store to buy food or treats for your furry friend can be an overwhelming experience. There are so many options, different price points and ingredients—how do you know you’re making the right choice? One easy and cost effective way to ensure the treat you’re getting is beneficial to your pet’s health is by making your own dog treats.

I know what you’re thinking: this woman has too much time on her hands. At first I didn’t think I had it in me. I am by no means a picture-perfect Pinterest pet mom. I have wanted to make my own dog treats for a long time, but life gets in the way, and at the end of the day, it seems easier to grab a bag of treats off the shelf in Target than to go through the process of making them. But for the same price as (or less than!) some of the most popular all-natural treat varieties and 10 spare minutes, it’s worth knowing exactly what you’re feeding your pet.



  • 2 c whole wheat flour
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 c smooth peanut butter
  • 1 c hot (not boiling) water



  1. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and line a cookie sheet with tinfoil or parchment paper.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the whole wheat flour and baking soda.
  3. After you have mixed the dry ingredients, add the water and peanut butter.  
  4. Thoroughly mix all ingredients together. If the dough is too dry, you may add a little more water; if it is too wet, add an additional tablespoon of flour.
  5. Place the dough on the counter, and use a rolling pin to roll out the dough or flatten it with your hands.
  6. Use a cookie cutter to cut out the dough into individual treats. Place cut-out treats on the cookie sheet. Leave space between the treats on the cookie sheet so they may spread while baking.

DIY Dog Enrichment Activity

by Caitlin O’Donnell

The average dog is about as smart as a 2-year-old child.  Humans bred these brilliant creatures to hunt, assist the blind and herd sheep, among other things. Before humans bred them for specific jobs, they were wolves who spent 60 percent of their waking hours hunting for food. Dogs are biologically wired to work and usually have the energy to do so. Unfortunately, most modern dogs spend most of their time indoors not getting enough exercise for their minds and bodies. This pent-up energy can lead to destructive behavior, excessive barking and general decreased quality of life. 

Ensuring your dog gets enough stimulation can be difficult, whether it’s your busy schedule or concerns about heat exhaustion that stand in the way. That’s where enrichment puzzles come in. Enrichment puzzles are an excellent way of exercising your pet’s mind and body indoors without much effort on your part. Just fill the puzzle up with something yummy, and your dog is ready for a workout. Enrichment puzzles can be used to give your pet treats or their regular meals, depending on you and your dog’s preference. They are recommended for healthy, energetic dogs with no eating problems. Although enrichment puzzles are primarily created for dogs, cats may also enjoy and benefit from the extra stimulation. 

Store-bought enrichment puzzles can be expensive, but there are plenty of DIY puzzles you can make with things you already have in your home. The following is a simple DIY to get you started. It will require your dog to use their sense of smell to identify which ball has a treat in it. Then, your dog will have to use its smarts to get the treat out of the ball.



  • six-pack of practice softballs (be sure they are the softball-sized, as smaller sizes may pose a choking hazard)
  • old t-shirt
  • training treats or pieces of dry dog food
  • scissors
  • ruler or tape measure
  • an excitable dog
  • shoe box (optional)


  1. Cut the t-shirt along the seam on both sides until you have two even halves. 
  2. Cut the tags and sleeves off the t-shirt. Discard them.
  3. Cut the remaining fabric into one-inch wide strips. You will need at least 24 strips. If you have a larger t-shirt, you may need to cut the strips in half.
  4. Stuff two fabric strips into each ball.
  5. Put a few treats in three of the balls.
  6. Stuff two more fabric strips into each ball, leaving enough room for the treats to fall out when the ball is played with. If you have extra strips, you can keep them to add if the game gets too easy for your dog.
  7. Arrange all six balls on the floor where your dog can reach them. If desired, display the balls in a shoe box for an added challenge.

The Simple Things

Photo: William Wise

Photo: William Wise

by William Wise, Walton County Animal Control Director

I’m a good pet owner. I know about all those things that good pet owners do: spay and neuter, heartworm preventative, socialization, no chaining, annual vet visits, current vaccinations. Simple. With a sense of pride, I look down at my dog lying nearby and see what is hanging on his collar: nothing! 

During a recent review of our shelter at the Walton County Animal Control, an evaluator noted that it is often the common, simple things that we overlook. The things we all know to do are often the things we neglect, because “everybody knows that.” We think we are in compliance through knowledge but may actually fail to implement it. Likewise, as a pet owner, we can overlook the simple things… simple things that can have huge ramifications when neglected. Simple things that can mean life or death for a beloved animal.

One of those simple things is an identification or rabies tag. As good pet owners, we know the importance of an ID tag in reuniting an owner with a lost pet. But look at your dog right now. Does she have a tag on her collar? We all know our dog or cat should have on a tag, but does he? A study published in Preventative Veterinary Medicine revealed that only 33 percent of owners keep ID tags on their pets.

“But he’s an indoor dog.” Accidents happen: doors are left open; squirrels run by; kids drop a leash; thunderstorms pop up and random fireworks go off; the pest control guy comes in and forgets to shut the door behind him. Not to mention natural disasters, house fires or other unforeseen circumstances. Even if you have a perfectly-trained dog who is always walked on a leash, it is possible to end up losing your dog. 

I want you to consider another viewpoint on this issue. Having a tag on your dog or cat can be an issue of life or death in another capacity. A simple tag on your dog may save the life of a shelter dog. How so?

As the director of an open-intake shelter, I have to come in each morning and assess the available room. There must be some kennel space for the day’s possible intake. The officers working after-hours and weekend emergencies must have a kennel or two if needed. Unfortunately, there are times when we reach capacity and some animals must be euthanized. Each animal that comes into the shelter puts a strain on space, and sometimes tough decisions must be made. 

So how does your dog’s tag come into play? Recently, a dog named Ginny came into the shelter on a day when we were at full capacity. Her intake prompted one of those “tough decisions,” and a couple of dogs were put down. A few hours later Ginny’s owner came and claimed her. At the time of intake, we had no idea who owned her, and no crystal ball to know she’d be claimed so quickly. Had she had on that simple tag, she could have been re-connected with her owners even faster, and two dogs could have possibly been spared another day. 

So tagging your pet may not just save the life of your animal, it could also spare the life of a shelter animal waiting on a home. Don’t neglect the simple things. 

Cat-friendly Enrichment Plants

by Jan Van Horn

When you are planting your summer flowers and favorite vegetables of the season, it’s a great time to put in a little love foliage for your favorite feline. We all know kitties love cat nip, but there are a few less-known herbs that they also find favor with—and you can, as well! We have put together a short list of plants that you and your feline fur baby can both enjoy. Whether you are a big farmer of land, spreading out far and wide, or more of a patio container kind of Mr. Green Jeans, these few plants are grown with ease and minimal care.

LEMON GRASS: Makes a lovely tea and is pleasant to flavor food with. As far as kitty is concerned, it is a stimulant (similar to other cat grasses) that cats love to smell and nibble on.

LICORICE ROOT: As someone who found licorice disgusting as a child and still as an adult, something called licorice root really held zero interest for me. However, in the name of broadening my horizons, I have opened my narrow childhood mind to the fact that licorice root is regarded as one of the best medicinal plants with a long list of do-good qualities. It is a consoling balm to an itchy kitty having anti-inflammatory characteristics and a natural cortisone. Bonus: kitties love the taste!

VALERIAN: Presents itself with bunches of small white or pink blooms and is extremely pungent. It is well-known for being an aid to relaxation and restful sleep. However, that is not the case for your feline friend. It is quite stimulating when eaten (much like catnip) to cats and has been known to put the laziest lounge lizard of a kitty into Richard Simmons exercise mode. So if you are looking for putty tat to get going while you nap, this is your plant.

PEPPERMINT and CATMINT: A very easy and rampant grower, peppermint is lovely to have around to flavor your iced tea, to make a mint julep or just to take in the sweet smell. Cats are attracted to the smell, and mice find it unappealing. There could be the added benefit of Mr. Whiskers not leaving Mr. Mouse at your feet if you choose to grow some peppermint. Typically, cats are more opt to frolic in peppermint than to eat it. Catmint will not only draw your kitty in with it’s pretty purple blossoms, but it also attracts bees and butterflies.

DANDELION ROOT: Once you have blown the fluff and made a wish, you can thank this little gem for all of its medicinal purposes! While generally purveyors of lawns are not happy to find dandelions, they perhaps should reassess their thinking on that. Dandelion root is a soothing anti-itch remedy for kitties bothered with allergies. You can also make you favorite feline a yummy salad from the leaves.

As always, it is wise to check with your vet when introducing anything new to your pet. Hopefully these suggestions may give your beloved house plants a bit of a rest while kitty is occupied with some new feline-friendly foliage.

Preparing for Vacation: Tips for Boarding or Using Pet-sitters during Trips

by Amanda Newsom

Photo: Gabriella Audi

Photo: Gabriella Audi

Summer is here, and vacation planning is in full swing for many pet owners. We have some quick tips to help you find the best boarding facility or pet-sitter to make your vacation planning a little more streamlined.



Unless you’re taking a last minute trip, plan ahead for who you want to care for your pets. During holidays and busy times of year (like summer), your favorite boarder or sitter may be booked up farther in advance than normal. It’s also a good idea to have a back-up in case they aren’t available.

Be sure your pets are up-to-date on all of the vaccines required by boarding facilities or pet-sitters so you aren’t turned away when you drop off your pet. Most boarders require a current rabies, DHPP and Bordetella vaccines for dogs and current rabies, FVRCP and FeLV for cats. 



Boarding and pet-sitting are both excellent options for ensuring that your pets are well cared for while you are vacationing, but there are some differences to consider. 

Pet-sitters may drop in for visits multiple times per day or even stay in your home, or they may allow your pets to stay in their home. The biggest perks to pet-sitting are that your pets typically receive more one-on-one attention, and there is more flexibility to work with the sitter to meet yourspecific needs.

Pet-sitting is a wonderful option for some pets, but boarding may be a better option for you depending on your needs. Boarding facitilies have pre-set schedules and protocols in place already that may work better for your pet, especially if they have medical or behavorial issues. Many facilities also have live cams where you can check in on your pet, which is a pretty cool feature. 



While many boarders or sitters may provide food and enrichment items, it’s a good idea to pack a bag for your pet for a couple of reasons if they won’t be staying in your home. First, you’ll want to keep your pet on their current food instead of using the provided food if possible because changing foods abruptly will upset your pet’s stomach. The last thing you want for them to deal with while staying in a new place without you is an added stomach ache.

Also, take their own toys, blanket, bed and crate so they will feel more secure and comfortable in their temporary housing. 



Once you choose your boarder or pet-sitter, set up a meet and greet before your trip at the location where your pet will be staying. If you choose a boarding facility, ask them to give you a tour ahead of time. If you’re using a pet-sitter, this is a good time to let them meet your pet to be sure they are comfortable with you and you are comfortable with them. Your tour or meet and greet is the best time to review all of your pet’s care and enrichment information.



This may seem like overkill, but it is extremely useful for everyone involved. Even after you go over everything for your pet’s needs, write it all down and provide your pet-sitter or boarder with it. It should include:

  • Veterinary Office Name/Phone Number 
  • Vet Records 
  • When & How Much to Feed Each Pet
  • Any Medical Issues
  • Any Behavioral Issues
  • Where Important Items are Located in Your House
  • Any Other Instructions Discussed

Now you can enjoy your vacation knowing your pet is in good hands while you’re away!

The Hidden Dangers of Dog Tie-Outs

by Kathryn Tuck

Photo: Morgan Solomon

Photo: Morgan Solomon

Many dog owners without a fence or enough house space use dog tie-outs to provide more mobility and activity for their pets. Tie-outs are a thick metal wire that attaches to a dog’s collar or harness and then to a tree or stake, giving them the freedom of the outdoors without the ability to wander off.

There are many benefits to the product. Price-wise they start at $15, but different models go up to $35. The device allows for more outdoor time for dogs, which is particularly important for younger dogs and active breeds that need a place to exercise regularly. Tie-outs are significantly cheaper than a fence, but many consumers are unaware of the precautions necessary to protect their dogs.

When setting up a tie-out system, the owner needs to check to make sure the wire doesn’t go out too far or into the street. The tie-out also needs to be in an area without too many objects that could cause them to become tangled or tied to an object. Some dogs may even panic if they become stuck, which can exacerbate the situation.

Summertime poses an even bigger threat to the safety of dogs on a tie-out system. With many 90-degree and even 100-degree days, dogs may be accidentally and intentionally left out for hours with minimal shade on these blistering days. Dogs regulate their body temperature through panting and can become overheated very quickly. They can also become dehydrated, which causes vomiting and diarrhea. In more serious cases, dogs can pass out or die without access to shade and water.

That’s why it is very important to make sure the tie-out area has at least one place to go for sufficient shade and that there is a water bowl somewhere in the area, preferably in a cool place. It is safest to use a tie-out while at home with your pet. When used properly, tie-outs can be a great way to give dogs more freedom and fresh air. Increased activity and more time outside is extremely beneficial to a dog’s health and well-being, but pet owners should take into consideration the hazards that come along with using this product. 

Always make sure the area where the tie-out reaches is free of dangers and excessive objects. In warm weather, consider the shade and water necessary to keep your dog cool and hydrated. While these dangers exist, the steps to prevent them are simple—preparation and caution can allow for more exercise and fun for your puppy!