I have often been asked what to do if a pet bird escapes outside.

Losing a bird in this manner takes you on an emotional roller-coaster ride. Anything can happen, and I have encountered many scenarios.

First of all, it is usually a waste of time to go out looking for the bird. Even if you do see the bird way up in a tree, it rarely will fly down to you.

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The best use of your time is to print up scores of fliers with the bird's photo on it and place them all over the area. Call everyone you can think of - vets, police stations, animal shelters, pet stores - and let them know the bird is out there. Lawn care companies are a great resource, as well.

After a couple of days of being outdoors in the trees, the bird will become hungry and thirsty enough to want food and familiarity and will start to come down to the ground to look for these things. With a bit of luck, a person who saw your fliers or heard of your plight will see the bird and notify you, so you can get it into a cage and home safely.

Question: About twice a year in the fall, an enormous flock of starlings descends on my block, blanketing lawns, roofs, trees etc. There must be 500 birds, perhaps more. Then, they depart for the other streets. We never see such a sight in the summer - only one or two at a time. What causes them to flock together? They do not seem to be migrating.

Answer: There is safety in numbers. Starlings are survivors and certainly demonstrate this saying. These birds can eat just about anything, and so they do not need to compete for resources as other birds do. Plus, if a hawk tried to attack a flock of starlings, it would bunch up together, twisting and turning like an aerial amoeba and thus confusing the hawk and forcing it to look elsewhere for a meal. However, one thing they cannot share are nesting spots. Each pair must find its own cavity to build a nest in, and that is why you do not see these flocks now. Each pair is off on its own raising the young. However, at the end of the summer when the youngsters are grown, they will mass together to ensure their safety through the winter.

Question: How long is a safe time to leave your dog home alone? When our dog was a puppy, it seemed we could not leave her alone for five minutes, and we used to have a girl who would come in during the day to play with her. Now she is 2 years old. We have to work longer hours for less pay and we are gone 10 hours per day. We do not have the funds to pay the dog walker anymore. The dog seems fine with the situation and does not destroy anything in the house or have any toilet accidents, but we still feel guilty.

Answer: There is no clear answer, as each situation is different. My dogs, like yours, are older now, and if we are gone for 10 or 11 hours, they are still sleeping when we get home and are calm and relaxed. But I know other dogs would be climbing the walls.

The breed of dog has a lot to do with it. Some larger breed adult dogs with big bladders can do fine left alone all day, as can a little toy dog that has access to a wee-wee pad. So it's up to the owner to tell if the dog is suffering any anxiety or discomfort when left alone and to make arrangements to keep the dog comfortable.

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