DEAR JOAN: Is there any harm in using a laser pointer as a cat toy? They like to chase the red dot.
DEAR BILL: As long as you don't shine it directly into their eyes, there is no physical danger. Some people, however, worry that too much play may frustrate the cat's natural instinct to hunt, capture and kill. No matter how hard Fluffy tries, that little red dot will never be his.
So after playing laser tag with your cat, put the light away and toss him or her a ball or stuffed mouse to bat around and maul.
And because we're talking about play fulfillment, if you have a dog who likes to play tug-of-war with you, let the dog win every now and then.
DEAR JOAN: We have a little bird that thinks it's a hummingbird. We have bird food, birdbaths and a hummingbird feeder, but just recently there is that little bird -- I guess it is only one -- who flutters to the spout of the feeder and then flies back to the branch. I have never observed this. Does it just want to get a drop of that sugar water?
DEAR CHRIS: Ah, a house finch with hummer envy. Your little bird, which I'm guessing is a finch, may have a sweet tooth and is trying to get a sip of the nectar. Or he could just be curious about what's available in the buffet you've laid out for the birds.
A lot of birds that aren't hummers like a sweet treat. That's one reason why it's best not to have perches on your hummingbird feeders. As much as the other birds might want to partake of the nectar, they just aren't quite as good at hovering as the hummers are.
DEAR JOAN: We live on a hill in the Concord-Clayton border, near open space. Every couple of years we find a rattlesnake in our yard around May or so. This past weekend we found a 3-inch long rattler under our tall front deck and assume its early appearance is due to the warm weather we had last week.
Have you had other reports of early rattlers?
DEAR LINDA: I haven't had any reports, but it doesn't surprise me. Everything this year seems to be on the early side.
It's a good time to remind folks to pay attention to your surroundings, no matter where you live. As the weather warms, snakes come out of hibernation and crawl out into the sun to warm themselves. At the same time, we're spending more time outside walking the trails and poking around in our gardens, increasing the chances of encountering a snake.
There's a notion that snakes are lying in wait, just ready to bite a hapless victim. Nothing could be further from the truth. If we don't bother them, they won't bother us.
Most snakebites occur when we stumble upon a snake minding its own business. If you take your dogs hiking, please keep them on a leash and don't let them get too far ahead of you. And if you have a dog like mine who loves to poke his head into bushes and tall grasses in hopes of finding a lizard, restrain him. Snakes, when startled, tend to bite first and ask questions later.
The most common snakes you are likely to encounter in the Bay Area are rattlesnakes, garter, gopher, sharp-tailed, king and racer snakes.
The rattlesnake can be deadly but all of the others are nonvenomous. However, the bite of any animal can become infected, so clean and treat any bite, and get a tetanus shot if you haven't had one lately.
Joan Morris' column runs five days a week in print and online. Contact her at email@example.com; or P.O. Box 8099, Walnut Creek, CA 94596.