Official web site created to reunite pets with their families
Coming out of yesterday's tornadoes in Oklahoma, there are both tragic animal stories, like the estimated 75 to 100 horses killed at Orr Family Farm, and there are also tales of hope, like the dog rescued from rubble and reunited with her "mom" during a television interview.
It seems like natural disasters are becoming all too common lately. The good thing is that people are becoming more organized and better prepared to face these emergency situations.
During past emergencies, it was common to see several web sites and Facebook pages pop up to reunite lost pets with their families. While they all had good intentions, information became scattered. This time, the Oklahoma Media Group teamed up with the Oklahoma City Animal Welfare Division, The Bella Foundation SPCA, and the Central Oklahoma Humane Society to create an official centralized database of lost and found pets for the cities of Oklahoma City and Moore.
People looking for their pets can post a notice in the Lost Pets section, while those who have found an animal (whether you're an individual or work for a veterinary hospital or shelter) can post in the Found Pets section. Anyone can look through both listings on the web site to make matches. Volunteers will also be assisting to connect people with their pets.
The organizations behind the web site are also offering foster care for people who are unable to care for the pets at the moment.
Help us spread the word about this site so more people can be reunited with their pets.
New legislation honors shelter pets and requires cops to learn canine behavior
Earlier this week Governor John Hickenlooper signed two bills that show how much Colorado cares about their animals. One piece of legislation made shelter dogs and cats Colorado's official state pet and the other requires police officers to undergo dog behavior training. The governor's adopted pup, Sky, was in attendance for the occasion (I'd love it if Sky weren't wearing what appears to be a prong collar, but that's a whole other topic of discussion).
Colorado is the twelfth state to designate a state pet (their state animal is the Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep), but the only one that did not give the honor to a purebred dog. The idea was proposed by students as a part of a project to teach them about the legislative process (very cool!). If you can believe it, the bill did not pass without controversy. Lobbyists for purebred dogs and pet stores opposed the state pet, and one person even testified that the bill discriminated against birds and reptiles.
The canine behavior training for police was created in response to high-profile cases of cops shooting dogs and is thought to be the first of it's kind across the country. Despite being introduced in what has been a combative legislative term, all 100 lawmakers in the Colorado Legislature supported the bill. One of the sponsors, Republican Sen. David Balmer, said, "This is a bipartisan day for dogs."
I think Colorado just went up in the rankings for most dog friendly state!
Russian pups adapt to the changing times
Dogs are amazing at adapting alongside humans. It's thought that canines were domesticated after they learned to scavenge for food and became useful companions to people. Today dogs adjust to almost anything we throw their way. I see big pups happily living in tiny Manhattan apartments and herding breeds channeling their energy into activities with no sheep in sight, like agility and obedience.
Dogs in Moscow have impressively adapted to the city's changing culture. During commuting time it's not uncommon to see both two and four legged commuters on the trains--the humans headed to work and the canines in search of food. There are about 30,000 stray dogs wandering the streets of Moscow, many who started taking the train after the Soviet collapse in the 1990s. Scientists believe that this behavior started as people moved industry complexes, which homeless dogs used as shelters, out of the city and into the suburbs. The dogs moved but learned to ride the subway since the city has the best food scavenging opportunities.
Dogs used to be banned on Moscow's trains, but they quickly captured the hearts of riders. Now many commuters give up their seat for tired dogs and even build simple shelters to help the pups manage the cold winters.
The dogs have gotten pretty good at reading people and don't always have to scavenge or even beg for food. Dr. Andrei Poiarkov of the Moscow Ecology and Evolution Institute says that the pups know exactly what they're doing. Sometimes they'll creep up behind someone and bark, scaring a person into dropping their food. Othertimes they'll play to someone's soft side and rest their head on a child's knee.
Andrei says that the dogs often work together to get off at the correct stop, memorizing how long the train ride is. Sometimes, just like humans, they fall asleep and get off at the wrong stop! The dogs also seem to ride the subway for fun, darting on the train at the last second and dodging the closing doors. These pups are really making the most of the trains in Moscow!
Comparing behavior of pet store and breeder dogs
Good dog breeders go through great lengths to ensure that their puppies are well socialized, introducing them to a variety of people, environments, and experiences. On the other end of the spectrum, puppy mill dogs, the source of most pet store animals, are raised in disgusting conditions and barely get any human attention, let alone anything close to proper socialization. It's not hard to imagine how many of these poor pups go on to develop behavioral problems later in life.
While most of the information we have about these differences is largely anecdotal, a new study has shown significant behavior trends related to where dogs were born and raised. A veterinarian from Best Friends Animal Society and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania looked at 413 dogs from pet stores and 5657 dogs from breeders to look at differences in behavioral characteristics. All were purebred and were obtained as puppies at approximately the same age.
Behavioral characteristics were measures using the Canine Behavioral Assessment and Research Questionnaire (C-BARQ), one of the most carefully validated questionnaires of its kind. It looks at a variety of canine behavior like trainability, excitability, sociability, fearfulness, and expressions of aggressiveness.
The results were not so good for pet store pups. Overall researchers found that dogs purchased from pet stores appeared to be less psychologically sound. On 12 out of 14 behavioral subscales, the pet store dogs showed significantly less desirable behaviors, and in no category did the pet store dogs have a better score.
The most striking findings were related to aggressive and fearful behavior. For example, intact pet store dogs were three times more likely to display aggressive behaviors towards people than intact dogs from breeders. In addition, pet store dogs were more likely to show aggressive behaviors towards other dogs, fearfulness, separation related problems, and touch sensitivity.
Pet store dogs were also more likely to exhibit other problem behaviors, such as running away, mounting, and going to the bathroom in the house.
The researchers hypothesize that these behavioral problems are due to the lack of socialization and human contact at puppy mills. It may seem obvious to anyone who is knowledgeable about canine development, but this study is important for creating greater awareness about socialization needs and the cruelty of puppy mills.
Is dog food having a negative impact on the earth?
Being "green" has become quite trendy in recent years and it seems like every industry is jumping on the bandwagon. For pets, I've seen biodegradable waste bags, organic toys, and beds made of recycled plastic bottles. But beyond the novelty products, some scientists believe that pet food is where we can make the biggest difference in terms of the impact we have on the earth.
When University of Illinois professor Kelly Swanson was approached by the Nutro company to look at sustainability in the pet food industry, he thought it would be a good opportunity to collaborate with their scientists on an interesting emerging topic (they define sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the future).
"If you just change the diet a little," explains Kelly, "the financial and environmental costs associated with it are quite different."
For example, animal protein can be replaced by plant protein, which requires significantly less water and energy to produce. Producing soy based proteins, a common pet food ingredient, is estimated to be 6 to 20 times more efficient in terms of fossil fuel requirements than an animal protein.
On the positive side, pet food manufacturers already make use of secondary products from the human food chain, ingredients that would otherwise be wasted.
Pet food is a $55 billion industry, so adopting sustainable practices could have a significant global impact. The effects will only increase as pet ownership continues to become more popular in Eastern Europe, areas of Latin America, and the China-Pacific region.
This model could be used in response to those who believe we should not keep pets at all, like a controversial study published in 2009 that equated the environmental cost of keeping a mid-sized dog with driving an SUV 12,500 miles a year.
Eating less meat is one personal goal of mine for both health reasons and, as Kelly pointed out, because meat production is so taxing on the environment. However, there has been much information about the potential dangers of soy protein in canine diets, so I think there's still much research to do in this area. But Kelly's study is a good starting point in thinking about how we minimize environmental impact while making sure we have the healthiest diet for our dogs.
NYC dogs search for rodents in their spare time
Walking around New York City, you see a wide range of dog breeds. While they all play the role of loyal companion, few get to partake in what they were originally bred to do. A group of urban terriers is changing that by taking advantage of the city's plentiful rodents to exercise their instincts.
Ryders Alley Trencher-fed Society (RATS), organized by New Jersey breeder Richard Reynolds, has been hunting for rodents every week in downtown Manhattan for over a decade.
The group congregates in a rat infested alley about an hour after sunset. The dogs include two Border Terriers, a wire-haired Dachshund, a Jack Russell Terrier/Australian Cattle Dog mix, a Patterdale Terrier, and a Feist.
The dogs often work together as a team. One will bark when they locate a rat, another leaps at the rodent, and another lunges to catch the prey as it tries to get away.
The pups are trained to kill the rat (usually by shaking) and bring it back to someone on the human side of the team. It's not unusual for the them to kill 13 rats in a half hour.
I would be worried about the dogs getting sick from the wild animals, but Richard says that no member of the team has ever fallen ill, after all this is what they were bred to do.
There are references to rat catchers working with terriers and ferrets as far back as 1851, but most people today rely on traps and poison. Modern rat catching has become more of a hobby.
This year the American Kennel Club started recognizing titles from the sport of barn hunt, where dogs sniff around a course and indicate where they smell a rat concealed in a container.
I love to see new dog sports that take advantage of our pups' natural talents. RATS and barn hunt provide another way to bond with our dogs while having fun... and in the case of RATS, removing a few more rodents from the streets of New York.
Study looks at the microbial connection we have with our pets
New research from the University of Colorado Boulder shows that we are more connected to our dogs than we think!
The study published earlier this month looked at microbes and the ways they're transferred between family members, both human and canine. Previous research suggests that microbe sharing is linked to living together, but studies have only looked at humans. Professor Rob Knight, the lead on the University of Colorado study, wanted to include dogs in his research. "Since so many people consider their pets truly a part of the family, it seemed appropriate to include them in a study involving family structure."
Professor Knight and his team sampled 159 people and 36 dogs in 60 families from their tongue, forehead, palms/paws, and fecal sample with the ultimate goal of working towards disease prevention and better treatments.
Interestingly (and not surprising to animal lovers) the team detected a strong link between people and their pets. The microbial connection appeared to be stronger between parents and family dogs than between parents and children. Also, people shared more skin bacteria with their spouse if they had a dog.
We have about 100 trillion microbes in and on our body, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. For example, some scientists believe that children who grow up with a lack of exposure to bacteria and microorganisms may be more prone to getting sick. Many microbes have co-evolved with people to be beneficial.
Curious what microbes you and your dog are carrying? Professor Knight is also involved in the related American Gut project, a crowdfunded effort that allows people to learn more about their own microbes, as well as their dog's. The results from a kit will allow you to compare the microbes in your gut to thousands of other people. Not only will you learn more about yourself and your family, the data will also be shared with scientists for research.
The microbes living in our body can be affected by diet and other lifestyle decisions, having a significan
I loved what Professor Knight said about including pets in any research related to family structure. Hopefully more scientists will take note!
Parents take a page from potty training dogs
Housebreaking is by far the most popular dog training question I get asked. Many consider it the most important skill for a puppy to learn since so many dogs are abandoned over problems in this area. While housebreaking requires patience and a lot of consistency, it's really quite simple to teach. And most dog lovers will say that walking their pup is much better than having to clean a litter box or deal with dirty diapers!
Now some parents are adopting a new potty training method called "elimination communication" or EC that will sound very familiar to dog people. EC teaches parents to respond to behavior that indicates when a baby has to go to the bathroom instead of relying on a diaper. When a parent sees that their infant has to go, they'll position them over an open-cloth diaper, toilet, sink, or even a secluded area outside.
Parents will also start making a noise, often a "ssss" or grunt sound, when the baby is relieving themselves, eventually forming an association that allows the parent to use the sound as a cue.
Some people were first attracted to EC because of a diaper rash problem, while others like becoming more attuned to their baby's behavior and needs. Instead of actively encouraging infants to ignore elimination, EC attempts to teach the correct behavior from the beginning (sound familiar dog people?!). One of the challenges, like in housebreaking dogs, is learning to accurately read the child’s behavior indicating that they have to go.
Recently at an EC gathering in New York City, Pardis Partow, shared a funny observation that when her son, Parker, has an accident on the way to the bathroom, her dog will shoot her a look as if to say, "This isn't fair. Why can he do that?"
Perhaps human and canine parents can learn some potty training lessons from each other!
Bollman Tech students help a Chihuahua to run
Last July a Chihuahua named BeeBee was born without any shoulder blades, making it difficult to walk. This caused BeeBee to get picked on by other dogs at home, so Denise Steininger brought the puppy with her to work at a local nursing home. BeeBee may have been there for her own good, but the Chihuahua was soon bringing joy and inspiration to all the residents at the Life at Alpine Living Center in Thornton, Colorado.
One resident said, "if [BeeBee] can get through what she’s going through, I know I can."
BeeBee had a bubbly personality, but was still having trouble walking around the nursing home. A co-worker suggested that Denise speak with the Bollman Technical Education Center, where her son was an engineering student, about a possible solution. It turns out the instructors thought BeeBee’s dilemma would be a great project for their students.
Hunter Freed, Justin Erickson, and Kyle Cary immediately volunteered to take on the challenge as a community service project. The three students filmed BeeBee to study how she walked and then worked together to design a wheelchair for the tiny pup.
It only took a half hour for BeeBee to learn to move in their creation. With the wheelchair, BeeBee can now run around with remarkable speed.
Denise plans to get BeeBee certified as a therapy dog so she can officially “work” at the nursing home.
It’s amazing how much mobility BeeBee has with her wheelchair. All thanks to three students who now have an impressive project under their belt!
Experts say not to jump in after dogs in the ocean
Although none of us are big on swimming, my dogs and I love running around on the beach. There's something about the cool breeze and sand that makes it a great natural playground.
Back in November, I read about a couple and their son who drowned trying to save their dog at Big Lagoon beach in Northern California. The dog was chasing a thrown stick and was sucked into the ocean by a massive wave. The boy instinctively went in after the pup, followed by his father and mother. Tragically all three of them didn't make it out, while the dog eventually emerged from the water.
It seemed like a tragic freak accident--one that terrifies me because my pups and I are not good swimmers--but it turns out that five people have died in attempted dog rescues since November in Northern California alone.
Because of this, Coast Guard Petty Officer 2nd Class Pamela Boehland has teamed up with the National Park Service and the East Bay SPCA on a campaign to keep people from going after their pets in the water.
To any dog lover it seems absolutely crazy not to attempt a rescue, but Dr. Lynn Miller, DVM says there are many reasons to stay on solid ground. First, the average dog is a better swimmer than the average human. Second, the canine body is better designed to float—their heads are above water, they have a low center of gravity, they have four legs for propulsion, their lungs have a higher capacity than human's, and their fur keeps them warm in cold water. Some breeds even have waterproof undercoats or webbed feet.
Additionally, animals are single-minded, focused on finding safety. While dogs will go with the flow of the water until they're rescued, humans often panic and exhaust themselves before help arrives. And finally, even if you do reach your pup, it can be difficult to carry them back safely in the water.
Pamela's campaign recommends leaving ocean rescues to the professionals. And, as in the Big Lagoon case, many times the dogs are able to make it out of the water on their own.
If your dog does end up in the ocean, East Bay SPCA Director Allison Lindquist recommends following your pup along the shoreline while calling their name. This can help orient them to land while help is on the way. If you end up in the water, swim parallel to the waves and remain calm.
Dr. Miller also says that it's essential for some breeds to wear life vests at the beach. These include breeds with breathing issues, such as Pugs and Bulldogs, breeds with short legs, such as Dachshunds and Corgis, and toy dogs, like Chihuahuas.
I still don't know what I would do if one of my dogs were swept into the ocean. It would be hard to fight the instinct to jump in. However, these are good points to remember as the weather gets warmer and the beaches become more enticing!
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