Animals are in the news - and not just a dog that plays the xylophone or a cat that survived a cross-country trip in the wheel well of a high-flying jet.
Two developments come to mind.
One relates to tragic house fires, floods and windstorms that take the lives of animals as well as people. An estimated 600,000 pets, for instance, perished in Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast region in 2005.
But in at least 300 local communities these days, endangered pets need not always be unfortunate casualties. Their fire departments go beyond pulling frightened cats out of trees or squirrels out of attics. They employ oxygen equipment designed especially for animals as small as birds and hamsters.
It doesn't mean the firefighters would carry an unconscious dog out of a burning building before they were certain they'd rescued all the people inside. But once pets escape or are brought to safety, these oxygen-mask kits can help to revive them.
The other animals-in-the-news advisory is less cheery. According to Petfinder.com, an online database of pets that need homes, more than 80 percent of the nation's shelters report taking in animals that have been reluctantly brought in. heir owners lost their jobs - or their homes to foreclosure - and say they can no longer afford to feed their pets.
Petfinder's founder, Betsy Saul, says such circumstances are heartbreaking. If you ever needed your pet, someone who's always going to be happy to see you, she says, it's now.
Many times, however, the increased intake means shelters must turn surrendered animals away, encouraging owners to try to find a new home for their pets on their own, rather than leave Sparks the Cat or Bowser the Dog to a dim fate on the streets.