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Flea/Tick Tags for Dogs and Cats: My Assessment

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

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 We have ticks. So many ticks. They’re black-legged ticks, Ixodes scapularis. The kind that carry all the worst diseases: Lyme, anaplasmosis, babesiosis. They’re new here, only appearing in the last 7 years in southeast Ohio. I don’t recall finding any on Chet Baker before about 2015. But when they arrived, they came in force.

 


Maybe we’re in the middle of an explosion. If so, it’s a protracted explosion. The first winter I found them on Chet, he was a strapping ten-year-old, unstoppable, able to run seven miles in a day. Having lived in Lyme, Connecticut; having had Lyme disease four times, I freaked out when I found those detested parasites on my beloved Boston terrier. Ixodes ticks LOVE winter and are active year-round.  I knew what those ticks could do to a dog, or a human. I wanted to protect Chet if I could. 

 

I’m going to make this short, because it hurts to write about it. It was recommended to me to give Chet Nexgard, a systemic medication that would kill the ticks before they could fill up on his blood. And boy, did it work. I found dead ticks, legs curled, everywhere. They’d bite him and drop like flies. Wow. So I didn’t have to worry too much about his getting Lyme disease. However. It wasn’t four months after he got his first dose that Chet’s health declined so steeply that we were at the vet’s every couple of weeks.  I had to give him a handful of pills every morning. I discontinued the drug as soon as I figured out what might be going on, but it was too late. It started with an ear infection that rendered him completely deaf. His skin deteriorated and his hair fell out. His thyroid was destroyed: Cushing’s disease. His heart had a worsening murmur. He didn’t make it to his 12th birthday, this dog who was my entire heart. I blamed Nexgard, and I still do. I vowed I would never give another dog a systemic flea/tick poison again. Nor will I use a collar that emits pesticides. I’m not going to love on a dog who’s covered in poison. And any dog of mine is going to get loved on.


I will always miss Chet Baker. I know he had to leave, but he was only 11.

 

I promised Curtis I would never poison him, and I won’t. But oh Lord, the ticks that dog collects. I special order Lyme vaccine through his veterinarian, and he gets it yearly. That’s about all I can do. The natural herbal sprays with lemon verbena and cedar oil? Just a lovely smelling condiment for the ticks. They don’t work for us, either. And the cinnamon and clove oil in some “natural” sprays can make pets, especially cats who ingest it as they groom themselves, very sick.  So I pull ticks off Curtis every damn day. We have come to enjoy it. It’s a bonding thing. If we have another choice, given that I’m personally convinced that systemic tick poisons kill dogs, I don’t know what it is. 

 

So when a friend told me her holistic vet was intrigued with a metal tag that supposedly creates a forcefield that repels fleas and ticks, I was intrigued, too. She gave me her vet’s number, and I called, hoping perhaps they had purchased some tags I could test for them. No, her veterinarian just wanted someone to take the leap and buy the thing and then tell them whether or not it worked. Oh. I checked out the website. The little metal tags cost $98 apiece. Hmm. In business for over 20 years. 95% effective in keeping ticks and fleas off dogs and cats. No poisons. Emits a protective electromagnetic field. Scalar waves. Woo. Many customer testimonials. Much talk of scientifically proven results, but no hard  scientific testing that I could discern. It was all testimonials. Lots of talk about science, but no actual science. But hey. Money-back guarantee. OK. If they would honor their guarantee, I’d be OK. I ordered two. One for Curtis, and one for me. They make a human version, too. It’s $112 as opposed to $98 for a dog tag.  I ordered two dog tags, because I didn’t see any way in hell a little piece of metal could tell if it was on a human or a dog. So I guess I was skeptical of their claims right out of the gate. Still, if it actually worked, wouldn’t that be wonderful? 

 

I was instructed to put the tag on Curtis and not take it off, even for a few seconds, for 30 days, at which point it would start to work its magic. They called that “charging the tag.” I couldn’t see how that could be, that a simple piece of metal could “charge,” and I couldn’t see why it would take 30 days. But I put the tag on a light collar and put it on Curtis, and I didn’t take it off him, even to bathe him. Same for me. The durn thing stayed on me, and I hate wearing anything around my neck, so I’d clip it to my pajama waistband so I could sleep.  I counted the ticks I pulled off Curtis for 10 days before the tag came. I counted them every day for the 30 days it took the “charge the tag,” and then I continued counting them for the next 40 days. That is a lot of counting. Sometimes, the website said, the tag took 30 days to kick in and start repelling pests. Sometimes longer. OK. I counted. And I stuck the ticks on packing tape and recorded how many I got each day. I froze them in Ziploc bags. Why not? Save the evidence, in case I need it. I wore my tag, too, and I felt foolish wearing it for all to see, but I was dead serious about giving these things an actual test on a dog and a human, too. 

 

There were a LOT of ticks. For the ten days in late October and early November, prior to putting the tags on, I picked 207 ticks off Curtis.

 

In the first 30 days, while his tag was supposedly “charging,” I got 125 ticks off him. I wondered if it would suddenly kick in on Day 30. I was losing hope that it worked at all. The 30 day mark came and went. The tags were “charged.” Nothing changed. The tick counts actually rose.


 

Days 30-70, I got 133 ticks. On Day 39 alone, I pulled 38 ticks off that dog. On December 16, Chet Baker's birthday, when I’d been wearing my tag continuously for 38 days, I pulled an embedded tick from behind my ear. It was 8” away from the magic tag I had worn so faithfully for so long. I said a lot of bad words. 


 

At Thanksgiving, a relative of mine noticed that Curtis and I were wearing matching tags. He asked what the deal was. I described how they were supposed to work, feeling more than a little sheepish as I did. At that point, I was just running on stubbornness, determined to test these things or prove them worthless. We were still within the “test period.” My relative explained to me that there was no way a piece of metal, even “Klarvak**!”  could emit an electromagnetic field, or “scalar waves,” unless there was an electric current going through it. Oh. There was definitely no electric current running through our tags. But somehow they were supposed to be radiating an electromagnetic field?? How??

 

I’ve since found out that "Klarvak" is a fancy name for an alloy comprised of zinc, aluminum, magnesium and copper.  My relative looked at the website, read through the testimonials, then found a study online that involved putting cats, some with “charged” flea/tick tags, and some without, in a flea infested room. They took the cats back out and counted the fleas on them. There were the same number of fleas on both sets of cats. “It’s a piece of junk, a $100 piece of junk,” he said. “It’s a scam.” 


You can read the study here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/10996742/


 Well, I wanted to look at my data, give it the full 60 days, and then seek a refund. But I knew he was right. 

 

Along about Day 68, when I was finally ready to throw in the towel, Curtis shook and flapped his ears, and I heard a different sound. The ring that had held his tag hung empty from his collar. Oh, crap, crap, crappity crap. How could you lose that $100 tag the day before I was going to send it back for a refund?? Well, I still had mine. I could maybe recoup half the good money I’d thrown away. 

 

I followed the explicit and very fussy directions for returning the tag. I had to have my original invoice number, and a tracking number for my shipment, and the tag had to be in its original packaging, and cushioned just so…OK OK OK. Did all that. I sent the thing off and waited for my return receipt with tracking number from the post office. I honestly doubted they’d give me any money back at all. 

 

I got my tracking number from the Post Office the next afternoon. I went to the magic tag website and filled out their online refund request. Here’s the letter I wrote. You’ll note that I told them I had two dogs. One of the dogs was me. 

 

To Customer Service:

 

I bought two 5-year tags on Nov. 5, 2021. My dogs were bathed and completely free of ticks upon first use. To get baseline data, I saved and froze and kept daily count of all ticks I pulled off them for 10 days prior to putting the tags on: 207 ticks. Tag wearing Days 1-30: 125 ticks. Tag wearing Days 30-70: 133 ticks.  There was absolutely no effect on tick abundance after the tags were supposedly “charged.”  I pulled 38 ticks off them on Day 39 after deploying the tags! To my distress, one of my dogs lost his tag on Day 58, just as I was preparing to send the tags back. It wore through at the hole and fell off--the ring was still on his collar. As they absolutely didn't work for me, I would like to have my money back for both tags, though I can only return one. 

 

This has been a time consuming and very disappointing—but illuminating--experiment. We have a terrible tick problem, but I don’t want to use systemic poisons. You offered a guaranteed solution, “scientifically proven.” We must be using different science. I had such high hopes and followed your instructions to the letter. I'm out $195.92 and a lot of time and effort with nothing to show for it but several hundred frozen ticks. I respectfully request that you refund the full amount of my purchase at your earliest convenience.


JZ 

 

I had no sooner submitted the form than a refund showed up in my PayPal account. I mean, within minutes. I was floored. I figured if they were going to scam me, they’d scam me all the way. They hadn’t even waited to get the tags back, as the website warned. 

 

How to interpret this swift action? I think it’s hush money. It tells me they KNOW they’re selling snake oil, and when someone writes in and says, “HEY. You’re selling a piece of junk and it doesn’t work!” they jump on it. They don’t want me to be mad AND $200 poorer. They want to shut me up! My next stop would have been the Better Business Bureau. I had already decided that, refund or not, I was going to publish my personal study results here, as a public service. For what it's worth, I didn't want my study to and all the time I'd put into it to go to waste. I wanted to help other people who might be suckered in like I was.

 

 I suspect they are making PLENTY of money, sending out little $100 medallions of “Klarvak” alloy that supposedly emit “scalar waves” to people who don’t have a real flea or tick problem in the first place. So they're going to refund the noisemakers, no problem. They're not after people like me, who actually have a huge tick problem and are willing to pick and methodically count ticks for 68 straight days. They're after people who just want to believe this shiny trinket works, who want to prevent a possible problem and are more than happy to throw $100 bucks at it and believe they’re doing right by their pet. Let’s face it. What percentage of people let their dogs run around outdoors on acres of tick-infested land? It Is Very Small. 



By the time any fleas or ticks finally show up on your typical house-bound dogs and cats, the 60 day refund period is up. Or their “2 year tag” has “expired,” and they have to spring for a “5 year tag.” This bunch has been in business for over 20 years, selling alloy trinkets with a lot of claims attached to them. And they are probably selling them successfully to people who don't even have a flea or tick problem in the first place, but are willing to believe that's because the tags they buy magically repel the pests. 

 

What I can tell you is that these tags were put to the test in a place with a lot of ticks, and they failed to deliver anything but disappointment.  While I appreciate that the company honored my refund request swiftly and completely, I personally have zero faith in any of their claims. I learned a lot. I learned that the best scams are the ones that exploit our optimism, our hope, by offering a solution to a heretofore insoluble problem. If a beloved pet’s health hangs in the balance, so much the better! Shall I let my dog keep collecting dozens of potentially deadly ticks each day, or give him a systemic poison? Hmmm. I don’t like either option. Along comes someone with a nontoxic “solution” and a bunch of customer testimonials, and I wanted to believe them, so badly.

 

 I’ve since figured out that the company I ordered from is a MLM (Multi-level Marketing) scheme, inviting people to be “affiliates” so they can rope other people in to sell the product. If that isn’t a red flag, I don’t know what is. Not only that, but I am quite sure they have figured out a way to stack the Google results so that when you Google, “Do flea/tick tags really work?” all you get for results are the company’s unsubstantiated claims and customer testimonials that the tags work! Haha!! It reminds me of an (unsolicited) book someone sent to me once, claiming that scientists had proven that the world and everything in it had been created in only seven days. But when I looked at the scientists’ "proof," it consisted entirely of quotations from Scripture. I was like...I need science. 

 

I advise you not to waste your money or time on any metal tags (and there are several brands) claiming to emit any magic forcefields that will protect your pet from fleas and ticks. Don’t buy them, don’t sign on to sell them, don’t believe people who claim they work unless they’ve actually tested them, as I did, and whatever you do, don’t trust your or your pet’s health to them. 

 

Science Chimp, signing off. 


** "Klarvak" is my corruption of the name the company actually uses.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Song Sparrows Stayed!

Saturday, March 12, 2022

3 comments

A wild song sparrow sings in Fairyland. 


This is the most current installment in the story of three orphaned song sparrows I raised upon receiving them August 30, 2021. You can find the prior three by scrolling down or hitting "Older Post." 

 The challenge I would face going forward was keeping track of my three song sparrow babies, who were, amazingly enough, hanging around through the autumn and early winter! 
This was worthy of note because I don't often have song sparrows here in winter--they seem to clear out. So to have three hanging around, and those being birds I'd raised, was an embarrassment of riches for me. 
I had expected them to take off soon after release, but they didn't. Fall migration time was already in full swing when they were hatched, for crying out loud--they fledged on August 31. 

As I thought more about it, it occurred to me that perhaps they were up against a metabolic wall. For no sooner had their juvenile plumage grown in than they--perhaps prompted by shorter daylength and the ebb in hormones that produces--began to molt it out. There were little feathers all over the fledging tent. They looked scruffy as could be. 

And it occurred to me that they may have been in no shape to attempt fall migration. Perhaps they had no choice but to stay the fall and winter with me here. Just born too late.
That was fine with me. I could help them through the winter. 

Baby, October 12, 2021. This is such a classic Baby pose. 
Lots of pinfeathers over her eye!


Baby, October 17, 2021. Still showing pinfeathers under the eye (click on photo to see).

About a zillion photos later, I finally got two of them together. 
Imagine my surprise and delight when both Baby and Ball showed up together in the side yard on December 16, 2021! This is a crummy picture, but you can make out the fault bars on both their tails.


It had to be Baby and Ball, because Bob had lost his first tail to a chipmunk, and had grown in a perfect one.

What better Christmas present could there be than Ball, singing away on December 26,  2021, down along the meadow edge?


My baby boy is singing!! And I caught him at it! See the little pale bar on his tail?? That's diagnostic of my hand-raised babies. He looks wonderful, doesn't he?



When the ice storm hit in February, somebody turned up tailless. Oh jeez. Ice will pull out bird tails. It happens. I didn't know who it was. One of the three. Maybe Baby. Maybe Bob, again. Feb. 5, 2022


Whoever it was liked to hang out close to the studio window. How sweet!!
I'm kinda leaning toward Bob here. Feb. 6, 2022. Telling song sparrows apart with neither bands nor bar-marked tails is above my pay grade. I try, but I'm never sure. 


They liked dried mealworms, and I was only too glad to toss more out the window. 
Grow that little tail back, fast!!


And then, after I photographed the tailless one, here came one with a bar-marked tail, sitting right in the Zick Dough feeder, pigging out! Ball? Is that you? Baby?? I'm lost. 


All I know is you're one of mine. And you're either Baby or Ball. If I can photograph you singing, I'll know you're Ball, because I'm pretty sure Baby's a female. Feb. 5, 2022


And so it goes for a Science Chimp and bird mom, forever watching, scrutinizing, photographing. Obsessively confirming, over and over, yes, you still draw breath, my dear ones.
It would be ever so much easier if I could band them, wouldn't it?

It's good to be pretty much caught up, to have followed these three for six months!
What a gift! 
I am looking forward to tracking down and photographing any song sparrow that sings, hops or scratches
on my place as spring comes on. I sure hope to see one with a marked tail. Maybe two.
You never know what little present awaits when you walk out the door. 

Latest sightings: Ball(?) turned up in the ZickDough feeder for the Great Backyard Bird Count on Feb. 19. I was so happy to see him. And he's been singing his distinctive scratchy song right under my bedroom window, Feb. 19 and 20 at first hint of light. He sings once, then takes off from his night roost in the blue spruce by the fishpond and sings farther down in the back, below the fallen willow. What a wonderful start to my day, to hear a bird singing who I've known since he was 8 days old!

On Feb. 24, Ball sang from the steps of my front porch. Oh, how I hope he establishes a territory and stays to breed here! 

Speaking of gifts...On the 28th of September, I was sitting in my lawn chair, clicking away at the babies as they fed on the sidewalk, when someone else came hopping up. My eye, well trained, knew instantly that this was no song sparrow. Please click on the photos to see the fine penciling of a gorgeous fall Lincoln's sparrow, come down from the squishy bogs of the North Country to grace my yard, and feed on millet for one glorious September morning. 


Such are the gifts of being outside, and looking closely. Swoon! Feast your eyes on that ochre wash across malar and breast! The clean gull-gray above the eye! That white belly! Oh, what a bird!



Bird Watcher’s Digest is Coming Back!

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

48 comments

 Bird Watcher’s Digest is coming back!

Ivory-billed woodpecker. "The report of my death was an exaggeration."

Bird Watcher’s Digest was the first magazine for bird watchers, and was family owned from its inception in 1978 to Editor/Publisher Bill Thompson III’s death in March 2019. For 43 years, it carried a standard of editorial excellence, reliability, and scientific accuracy in a small but powerful package. The sudden announcement that the magazine was closing its doors just before Christmas 2021 shocked subscribers and staff alike.

 

Like the staff, subscribers, and advertisers, two people: one in Tucson and the other in Terre Haute, were devasted to see this well-respected magazine close down, and instead of standing by, they decided to do something about it. Rich Luhr has been the founder and publisher of Airstream Life since 2004. It’s a niche publication for owners of the streamlined aluminum travel trailers, and like them, it is fascinating, sleek, and beautiful. Mike Sacopulos is an attorney who specializes in medical malpractice and is the CEO of Medical Risk Institute, but at his heart is a birder—a real birder. A family friend got him started at age six. His father took him to see whooping cranes while he was in high school, and he has been traveling to see birds ever since. 

 

Rich and Mike’s task is to strip away that which has impeded Bird Watcher’s Digest, and to keep that which moves us forward. Together they are bringing the magazine back, with Mike stepping in as Publisher and Rich as the Associate Publisher. They are laser-focused on the long-term health and quality of the magazine. To that end, they’re keeping as much of its expert staff as possible, and giving them the resources to build an even better magazine.

 

There will be changes, all for the good. The magazine will grow to 8 1/8” x 10 7/8, creating a vastly improved, more easily read showcase for top-flight writing, photography, and art. A long-overdue redesign will organize and declutter, for a more readable and attractive layout. The name will change—a little. Publishing all-new material, it hasn’t actually been a digest for decades. In homage to our rich past, we’re now simply called BWD.

 

There will be challenges. We must rebuild our social media channels from scratch, having lost 39K Facebook, 25K Twitter, and 15K Instagram followers. With our social media wings so drastically clipped, we will need your help sharing and spreading the word that we’re coming back. The magazine’s website will get a total overhaul, preserving its vast and invaluable library of information while making it more accessible.

 

We’re also rebuilding relationships with contributors and advertisers, and our treasured and all-important subscribers. Many improvements to customer service will come online sometime in April. We’re aiming to come back with a July/August 2022 issue—an ambitious goal, but one that’s well underway.

 

It is an incredible gift to be able to re-imagine an established magazine, to think about how to lift it higher, while keeping the elements that serve it well: editorial integrity; compelling content that’s practical, educational and fun; beautiful art and photography; and most of all its soul. BWD has always had soul.

 

We have mindfully chosen to announce the magazine's rebirth on March 3, 2022. In a more just world, Editor/Publisher Bill Thompson III would have turned 60 today, and we can feel his happy, forward-thinking energy crackling in the air around us as we work days, nights, and weekends to bring BWD back to vibrant life. 

 

Stay tuned for updates; like us, follow us, share this post, and, when the time comes, please subscribe or renew your subscription! (If you’re a subscriber, we’ll be in touch in the next 60 days to confirm your existing subscription.) Thank you for your patience, your support, and your faith in BWD.

 


Facebook: facebook.com/bwdmag


Instagram: @bwd_magazine



As you could probably tell, the post you just read was written in my formal press release voice. And as my readers know, Bird Watcher's Digest is a highly personal endeavor for me, and has been since I painted my first cover for the magazine in 1986, when dinosuars roamed the earth, as my husband used to say.  Bill, I remember another thing you used to say. 

 "One day, I'd like to just get up in the morning, lie down in the yard and watch clouds go over until it gets dark." 

You'd say that when the pressures of running a many-armed, ever-challenging family business got to you. And you never took that day off, dear one, because there was always too much you felt had to get done instead.

 I hope that, wherever you are, your worries are gone, and the cloud-watching is fine. I hope that you're happy that the magazine, to which you gave your entire working life, is coming back. I can't help but feel you're guiding us still, because this Hail Mary rescue of your widely-loved magazine has been all too good and soul-filling to be true. Thank you for giving BWD everything you had. It's a lot to live up to, but now, we're giving it everything we've got. Happy birthday, big guy.

Bill in Papua New Guinea. Photo by Mark Cocker


UPDATE April 25, 2022
Our subscription portal is up and running!
To subscribe, and check the status of your subscription, go to bwdmagazine.com
You can look up the status of your subscription in the tabs at the top.
If you were owed some issues when Bird Watcher's Digest folded in December 2021, 
you can get up to six free issues.


 

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