Susan Tasaki

Susan Tasaki is a The Bark contributing editor.

News: Editors
Dog Breeders & Puppy Handling
Early tactile input pays off

As our readers know, The Bark is 100 percent in favor of adopting dogs from rescues and shelters. Giving a dog a new life in a home in which he or she is understood, loved and cared for is a giant gift, not only to the dog but also, to ourselves. It's one of those cliched win/win situations: we do something good for a dog and in the process, benefit from the unparalleled companionship that dog provides.

That being said, we also know that every day, hundreds—or more likely, thousands—of dogs are purchased from breeders for a variety of reasons. The most commonly cited reason has to do with predictability: those who buy a puppy from a breeder are looking for some degree of certainty in the adult dog's behavior, trainability and looks. Taking the wide-angle view, that notion has merit, but when it comes to individual dogs, it doesn't necessarily hold up. 

I'd like to say that I'm a purist, that I've only adopted, never purchased, but that would be untrue. In my 20s, I purchased a Dalmatian from a breeder who was also a neighbor. All of the pup's littermates had been sold, and at 12 weeks, he was the last one in need of a home. The breeder had determined that he was going to exceed AKC standards in terms of height at shoulder and size of spots (I'm not kidding--she told me his spots were too big) and so decided to sell him as a companion dog. He turned out to be a great dog, one with none of the stereotypical Dalmatian behavioral quirks.

Fast forward 30 years, and I made another foray into purchasing a dog, although not from a breeder, but rather, from an acquaintance whose Siberian Husky had had a litter fathered by a Siberian mix. In that case, I was specifically looking for a Siberian mix for the very unscientific reason that on some level, I was trying to replace a much-loved dog who had died shortly before. I was guided by my heart, not my head.

In both cases, I lucked out—and believe me, the luck was definitely of the "dumb" variety.

The Dalmatian breeder bred her dogs infrequently and carefully, and the pups were well-handled and well-socialized before going to their new homes. The Siberian's people were teachers, not professional breeders. One could be critical of their decision not to spay their female and to deliberately allow her to mate, but in their raising of the puppies who were the outcome of that mating, they were stellar.

Recently, I read a posting from Stan Rawlinson, the UK's "original dog listener." In it, he talks about the impact a breeder has on a dog's adult behavior and health. Following is an excerpt that I found particularly interesting—it also explains why I'd been fortunate in the two dogs I'd purchased: in both cases, the puppies were born in the home and handled extensively from birth. 

Humans handling pups from day one provide a mild stress response, which acts to improve the puppies both physically and emotionally.  After that at 10 to 14 days the sense of hearing and smell develop, eyes open and the teeth begin to appear.

Their eyesight is not fully formed until seven weeks. Though they can see enough to get round from around three weeks of age. Pups that are handled regularly during the first seven/eight weeks of their life mature and grow quicker.

They are more resistant to infections and diseases, and are generally more stable. These pups handle stress better, are more exploratory, curious and learn much faster than pups that are not handled during this period.

They are also more likely to be happy around humans and are rarely aggressive. Therefore the pups born in kennels outside, and not in the home, and the ones born into puppy farms are less likely to get this vitally important tactile input. 

Here's the first take-away: If you care deeply for a specific type of dog and are determined to start with a purebred puppy, it behooves you to pay careful attention to the way the breeder approaches the pups' crucial first weeks of life and the environment in which those pups are being raised. (After that, it's up to you!).

And here's the second obvious-but-true take-away: the value of handling very young puppies early and often isn't limited to purebreds —it applies to all pups of all persuasions in all situations. Hands-on breeders, shelter workers and rescue volunteers improve the odds that their smallest charges get off to a good start .

Dog's Life: Humane
Shelter Pets Are Tops in California

The first week of September saw a heartwarming example of positive political action when California lawmakers of all persuasions voted to make shelter animals the new official state pet. In both the Assembly and the Senate, the votes were all ayes, no nays.

ACR-56, introduced by Assemblymember Eric Linder (R-Corona), is numbers-driven bill. As it points out, there are currently around 8,000,000 abandoned pets living in animal shelters in the United States, and of these, 3,000,000 to 4,000,000 are euthanized every year.

Like shelters everywhere, those in California stretch to help the animals who come into their care, and it's a big, big job. It's hoped that greater public awareness will get more dogs and cats (and the occasional rabbit, guinea pig or chicken) out of shelter care and into forever homes.

Though the numbers are daunting, keep this in mind: every single adoption makes a difference. The dogs and cats who find new homes also find new lives. For them, it's a 100 percent win.


News: Editors
Health Basics: Canine Seizures

For years, I kept a supply of phenobarbital on hand, prescribed by my vet for my mixed-breed dog's seizure. It turned out to be a one-time thing, and eventually, I disposed of the drug. But I can testify that watching her in the grip of it was both scary and confusing.

As dog-lovers, most of us hope we're never faced with a number of canine health conditions. Seizures fall into that category. When they happen, however, it's helpful to understand what we're looking at and what we need to do next.

Seizures, which are caused by abnormal electrical activity in the brain, can indicate a variety of conditions, some transitory, some longer-lasting. Our old friend "idiopathic" --or, of unknown origin--also comes into play more than either we or our vets would like. 

As explained on the Texas A&M newswire, "For some dogs, a seizure is a one-time experience, but in most cases seizures reoccur. An underlying problem in the brain could be responsible for reoccurring seizures, often resulting in a diagnosis of epilepsy. Between the many causes of seizures in dogs and the often normal lab results, idiopathic epilepsy proves to be a frequent diagnosis." Other causes include toxin ingestion, tumors, stroke, or another of several related neurological disorders.

Dr. Joseph Mankin, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, describes a typical seizure. “The dog may become agitated or disoriented, and then may collapse on its side. It may exhibit signs of paddling, vocalization, and may lose bladder control. The seizure may last for a few seconds up to a few minutes, and often the dog will be disoriented or anxious afterward. Occasionally, a dog may be blind for a short period of time.”

When a dog is in the grip of a seizure, there's little we can do, other than to keep our hands away from his or her mouth. Afterward, the most important thing we can do is take the pup to the vet for investigation into the cause. Fortunately, a number of treatments, ranging from allopathic (Western medicine) to complementary (including acupunture) exist.

Like most things, especially those related to health, knowing what we're dealing with is half the battle.

For more on this topic, read Dr. Sophia Yin's excellent overview.

News: Editors
Detection Dogs: Prostate Cancer

It looks like we soon may be able to chalk up another win for the power of the canine nose.

In a recent UK National Health Service (NHS) preliminary study, trained dogs were able to sniff out prostate cancer 9 out of 10 times, making them a more accurate predictor than the standard (but controversial) Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) screening test, which has a high "false positive" rate. 

For men of a certain age, the prostate goes from a background to a foreground worry. The walnut-sized gland circles the neck of the male bladder, and when it starts causing problems, there can be a number of reasons. The most serious is cancer. To arrive at a definitive diagnosis requires a biopsy, which--like any surgery--comes with its own risks. And this is why the "false positive" rate matters: in order to make a decision to go ahead with a biopsy, a man needs to have a pretty good idea that it's needed. The more accurate the screening, the fewer unnecessary biopsies.

Based on the success of the preliminary study, the NHS has recently authorized clinical trials to more definitively test the canine ability to identify prostate cancer. Dogs trained by the group Medical Detection Dogs will be taking part in the upcoming trials. This group, co-founded by by Dr. Claire Guest, was among those profiled in Barbara Robertson's Wonder Dogs article; click on over to read more about it.

News: Editors

Did you know that dogs smell in stereo? You will after watching this terrific animated short from TED-Ed. TED conferences are legendary for the range and quality of their speakers, and their three namesake fundamentals—Technology, Entertainment and Design—converge in the TED-Ed “Awesome Nature” animations. We recently stumbled over one focusing on a dog’s sense of smell, suggested by Alexandra Horowitz, whose book, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know, was on the New York Times bestseller list for 63 weeks. Take a look and be enchanted, not to mention enlightened.

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Dementia Assistance Dogs
Expanding the frontiers of the canine capacity to help us carry on.

We can’t find our glasses, our car keys or the right word. We forget an appointment. We’re unable to bring to mind the name of a long-ago best friend. Many of us jokingly refer to these as “senior moments,” but the humor is only skin-deep. Underneath is the niggling worry that dementia—the term for a set of symptoms signaling a decline in mental abilities severe enough to interfere with our daily lives—lurks. This fear is fed by a sobering statistic: according to the Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention, in the U.S., at least 5 million individuals suffer from age-related dementias (Alzheimer’s disease accounts for roughly 70 percent of the total). These numbers will continue to rise as the population ages.

Severe memory loss is no laughing matter. The brain, a mysterious and complex organ, is, among other things, the repository of the very essence of who we are: our memories. Generally speaking, memory breaks down into three broad categories: sensory, short-term and long-term. Things as dissimilar as childhood recollections and how to walk, hold a spoon or comb our hair reside in our memory As damaged nerve cells (neurons) cease to function, they take much of this information with them. This is where dogs come in.

Dogs love routine. People with dementia have difficulty with routine, everyday activities. Roughly a dozen years ago, two people had the idea to put them together. When Israeli social worker Daphna Golan-Shemesh met professional dog trainer Yariv Ben-Yosef, they chatted about their respective occupations. As Ben-Yosef recalled, “It was clear to us that Daphna’s expertise in Alzheimer’s and my expertise with dogs could result in something new.” Together, Golan-Shemesh and Ben-Yosef pioneered the idea of training dogs to help those with dementia to not only feel better but also, to assist with daily activities.

Fast-forward to early 2012, when Alzheimer’s Scotland secured funding to study the possibility that specially trained service dogs could benefit people in the early stages of dementia. Four students at the Glasgow School of Art developed the initial concept as a service design project in response to the Design Council’s 2011 Living Well with Dementia Challenge. Focused on “finding practical solutions to social problems,” the competition required entrants to “design and develop products and services that rethink living with dementia, and launch them as real initiatives.” The Dementia Dog project grew from this call to action.

Dementia Dog is a collaborative effort, with Alzheimer’s Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled, Guide Dogs Scotland and the Glasgow School of Art pooling their respective areas of expertise. Last year, the research phase was completed, and the group is now in the early stages of a small-scale pilot program. As noted on the Dementia Dog website, the program “aims to prove that dogs can help people with dementia maintain their waking, sleeping and eating routine … improve confidence, keep them active and engaged … as well as provide a constant companion who will reassure them when they face new and unfamiliar situations.”

They are also developing programs for two more assistive functions: intervention dogs, trained to help the client with specifically identified tasks, and facility dogs, who enhance the emotional well being of those living in residential care.

The program’s dogs receive instruction at the Guide Dogs’ Forfar Training School. After 18 months’ work, the first two dementia service dogs—Kaspa, a Lab, and Oscar, a Golden Retriever—were certified last year, and two more dogs are currently being trained.

As noted in the program statement, the dogs help their people with core needs: support for daily living (exercise, balance, alerting to hazards, environmental safety), reminders (prompts to take medication), “soft” support (companionship, a bridge to social interaction, confidence building), and physical and emotional anchoring (staying with their person while the partner/caregiver shops, or helping their person feel safe and secure when alone).

The dogs are also trained to provide another critical service: getting their people home safely. The dogs’ collars are fitted with a GPS unit, and if the person doesn’t give the “home” command, the device helps families or law enforcement zero in on the pair’s location. Unlike guide dogs for the blind, dementia dogs operate at the end of a six-foot leash, which allows them to most effectively steer their people in the appropriate direction.

Dementia service dogs are being trained in the U.S. as well. DogWish.org, a California-based charity that trains and sponsors service dogs, lists “dementia dogs” as one of their training options, as does Wilderwood Service Dogs in Tennessee.

This service dog program taps into our almost primal love for dogs in a very personal way. The dogs of our present, the dogs of our past: their names and quirks and the bone-deep understanding of their nonjudgmental and unconditional love often stay with us when much else has been lost. A person living with dementia may not be able to recall what she had for breakfast or where she lives, but the dogs she loved? That’s another story.

In a 1.28-minute YouTube video clip that’s been viewed by more than 5.6 million people (go to see it for yourself), an elderly man with Alzheimer’s who’s lost almost all of his speech talks to and interacts with the family dog. It’s hard to imagine a better example of the very real value that dogs—purpose-trained or not—provide to the most vulnerable among us.

Read deeply touching comments from family members and caregivers about the ways dogs help their loved ones cope at dementiadog.org.

Wellness: Healthy Living
Fight the Bite
Summer is prime time for fleas and ticks.

Keeping these nasty little blood-suckers off our dogs and out of our homes requires vigilance, but it’s work worth doing.

If you live in an area of the country that endured what seemed like an endless winter, you may think that the flea and tick population was diminished by the cold, and be tempted to let down your guard. Don’t do it. As Sheila Pell notes in “Tick Talk,” her excellent Bark article on the subject, “For ticks, it seems, the ice age was a snowbird’s vacation.” (Read the article online here.)

Both fleas and ticks transmit or initiate a host of unpleasant conditions that can seriously affect our dogs’ lives. Depending on where you live, ticks are responsible for Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, canine ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, tick paralysis and American canine hepatozoonosis. From fleas come tapeworms, allergic dermatitis, and other bacterial and viral pathogens.

Plus, it’s not just dogs that these pests bedevil. They also like another warm-blooded mammal: us. All the more reason to take them seriously.

Reliable advice on how to prevent or eliminate flea problems on your dog or in your home and yard can be found at the ASCPA website, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has a page dedicated to ticks. Also on the subject of ticks, the best place to start, bar none, is the Tick Encounter Resource Center, the outreach arm of the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease. This incredibly thorough and well-illustrated website has a plethora of tools to help you assess the tick threat in your area, as well as practical suggestions to offset it.

So, arm yourself with the facts, then take steps to protect your pups and other pets, yourself, and your family. Let peace of mind prevail!

Dog's Life: Humane
Doing Good: Cats and Dogs International
Partnerships that help alleviate animal suffering in popular resort areas.

Which of these things is not like the others? Sun, surf, sand, fruit drinks, stray dogs. While on the surface, the last is the odd-dog out, the truth is that in many tropical vacation paradises, emaciated, mange-afflicted and lonely canines (and felines) roam the beaches, alleys and streets in heartbreaking numbers.

Among the humane groups that have sprung up to address this situation is Cats and Dogs International (CANDi), whose mission is “to save the lives of stray cats and dogs in Mexico and the Caribbean through spay, neuter, adoption and educational programs, supported and funded by the tourism industry, travelers and pet lovers.”

CANDi was founded by Canadian Darci Galati, an avid traveler and natural-born entrepreneur, who was inspired by her daughters’ concern for the strays they saw while vacationing in Cancun, Mexico. The girls would do what they could for the animals they saw wandering the streets and beaches, but knew that when they left, these dogs and cats would once again be on their own. Galati made her daughters a promise that she would do something to make the animals’ situations better, and CANDi was born.

The group has no brick-and-mortar shelters of its own, but rather, enlists what it calls “humane partners,” local rescue groups that have charitable status, a substantial and active volunteer base, and a focus on spay/neuter and other prevention work, as well as documented recordkeeping and administrative capacities.

At first, CANDi sponsored free spay/neuter clinics, which became wildly popular with local dog and cat owners, who would line up early on clinic days to have their pets altered. Galati then decided to kick it up a notch—to find a way to address the larger systemic problems by involving those who benefit financially from the tourist trade: hotels, resorts and airlines.

This was an area Galati knew well. Founder of an interline travel company that went on to become one of the largest in the UK and North America, she knew how the tourism industry worked, and how much it depended on the good will of those who enjoyed it. She was determined to parlay that knowledge into a model that would benefit animals in need.

For example, with the group’s “Make a Difference” program, participating hotels invite guests to add the equivalent of $1 per night to their bill at checkout, with the money going to help CANDi provide clinics and educational programs in the local community. While guests are under no obligation to sign up, CANDi’s research indicates that about 75 percent of them elect to take part in this fund-raising activity.

Finding adoptive homes for animals in need locally is another primary activity, but the group also reaches out to the international community, both as adopters and as travel partners to transport dogs and cats to new homes in Canada and the U.S. Currently, ACTA (the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies), Air Transat, CEO Mexico and RIU Hotels and Resorts are actively working with CANDi in support of its mission.

In her work with CANDi, photographer, volunteer and board member Tracey Buyce has had numerous experiences with local communities, and understands the struggle many have just to feed and house their families. According to Buyce, people tend to be judgmental about the animal situation in, for example, Mexico, assuming that the local people are just neglectful. “The reality is, as I spent more time in these areas, I realized that these neighborhoods are filled with people who do love their animals, but have absolutely no means to care for them.” This is the gap that CANDi helps fill.

Buyce’s introduction to the issue also came during a Cancun sojourn. As she and her husband were taking a moonlit stroll on the beach, they encountered a starving stray and her equally malnourished puppy. Not knowing what else to do, Buyce shared her dessert with the dogs, but the encounter shook her. Once she returned home, she began an online search for animal rescue groups working in the area, and found CANDi.

When asked what individual travelers can do to assist, Buyce had several straightforward suggestions: “As a tourist, if you see a stray animal in need, feed that animal; if possible, take it to a vet and have it spayed or neutered. If you fall in love, bring the dog or cat home. There is no quarantine period when entering the U.S. or Canada from Mexico, and it’s very easy to do. Not traveling? Donating just $25 to CANDi can save a dog’s life. And, of course, volunteer.”


Read more about Tracey Buyce’s experiences in our interview. 

Culture: Reviews
Book Review: Dog Diaries #5

Another dog named Dash surfaces in the new addition to the “Dog Diaries” historical fiction series. This one, Dog Diaries #5: Dash by Kate Klimo (illustrated by Tim Jessell), is about an English Springer Spaniel who joins the Pilgrims on their Mayflower voyage to the New World. Dash and his Mastiff friend, Mercy, have front row “seats” for all the action, from the arduous ocean journey to the settlers’ first harvest with the Wampanoag Indians, whom they had befriended. An ideal Thanksgiving read. (Ages 7 to 10)

Culture: Reviews
Norman Speak!
Book Review

Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson (illustrated by Qin Leng) is a lovely picture book. Norman is adopted by a family who wants to give a home to the dog who has been in the shelter the longest. This is the first important lesson offered in this insightful book. Though the family loves Norman, they think he might not be the brightest because he doesn’t seem to understand them. But one day at the dog park, an Asian man calls to his dog in Chinese, and Norman runs up to him, too, listening intently to what the man has to say. Mystery solved! Norman “speaks” Chinese. Inspired by the need to communicate with Norman, the family signs up for Chinese lessons. They find the language difficult to learn, which helps them understand Norman’s difficulties with English—another valuable lesson. (Ages 4 to 7)