Zoe Conrad is a Bark contributing editor.
Photography tips that may lead to adoptions
March 2 2016
One of the most important factors in successful animal adoptions is the first impression. In today’s world, people are often introduced to adoptable animals through photographs—online, on flyers, in newspaper ads. An eye-catching portrait and compelling bio can make a world of difference and be the first step in finding a forever home. Taking good photographs of shelter animals is an important way to volunteer your time and talents. Amateur or professional, the tenets of a good portrait remain basically the same—capture the subject’s personality in the most positive light. Here are some tips:
1. Be prepared. In every sense—do your homework on the task specifics, the facility, the staff who you’ll be interfacing with, and the animals you’ll be photographing. Allow at least 5–10 minutes with each dog, maybe more for cats. Be mindful of each subject, and their unique characteristics, some will be shy or fearful, others will be exuberant and want to explore. Be prepared for the commitment, short term and long term—it’s invaluable work.
2. Try to photograph dogs outside if possible. There are exceptions, if you are experienced shooting indoors and have the space and equipment to set up a studio and backdrop … then a controlled environment indoors can work well. But in most cases, moving outdoors in natural light, and away from the hubbub of the shelter offers many rewards—the more natural setting calms the animals, makes for a more picturesque setting, and natural light captures the warmest, best likeness. If it’s sunny and bright, shoot in the shade.
3. Connect with your subject. Talk sweetly and cheerfully with your subject while photographing. Exaggerate your high “happy” voice, make animal sounds, use squeaky toys and balls to focus their attention on you and the camera. Employ high value treats to get dogs to hold still and direct their gaze. Try to capture them looking into the lens, it’s perhaps the best way for the subject to connect with the viewer.
4. Compose the photograph. Look for an interesting visual background—a brick or wooden wall, plants or foliage, a corner structure. Simple, uncluttered backdrops work best. Avoid cages, fences or offices that reinforce the institutional setting. Do your best to fill the frame with your subject, make them the star.
5. Shoot at your subject’s level. Get down low so you are not shooting down at the dog. The results are more personal and intimate. This perspective also allows a more accurate documentation of the dog’s body type and size.
6. Do not use a flash. More often then not, a flash creates a harsh, unnatural light that is uncomplimentary. It can also frighten your subjects.
7. Edit your photos. Photo editing tools are invaluable. Simple tweaks in popular software or apps can make a mediocre photo good, and a good photo great. Adjust the exposure, lighten the darks, bring out the color and detail plus crop out unnecessary background elements. You don’t need to spend hours retouching photos, just a few simple moves and a couple of minutes will greatly improve your results.
Wellness: Healthy Living
May 14 2015
With tick season upon us, we spoke to Bruce Kornreich, Associate Director for Education and Outreach at the Cornell Feline Health Center, to learn the fine points of tick monitoring and removal. Ticks pose a serious threat to both dogs and their human companions. Canines are at risk of contracting tickborne diseases like Lyme disease, Hemobartonellosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, babesiosis, and others. Like the old scout motto says … be prepared!
Bark: How do you remove a tick?
Kornreich: To remove a tick, use a fine-tipped tweezer, hold it near the animal’s skin, grasp the tick and pull upwards without twisting. You should never directly handle or crush a tick with your hands. To dispose of ticks after removal, place them in a sealed bag, flush them down the toilet, wrap them tightly in tape, or immerse them in alcohol. Washing your hands well after removing a tick is a good idea.
Bark: What about those remedies we learned at camp?
Don’t believe the old tales about using burned matches, nail polish, or Vaseline to kill ticks embedded in the skin. Removal is a much better idea, and do it as soon as possible because there’s evidence that suggests the longer you wait the more likely it is your pet will contract a tickborne illness.
Bark: How should I monitor my dog for ticks?
If the tick is engorged with blood, then it’s been feeding for a while and it’s more likely that your pet could contract a tickborne illness. You can preserve the tick by taping it— with clear tape—to a piece of paper and keeping it in the freezer or preserve it in a small container of rubbing alcohol. If your pet becomes sick in the following weeks or months, your vet may be able to identify the tick, and that may provide information about the possible diseases involved.
In dogs, Lyme disease is one of the most common tickborne illnesses. Lameness is often the first sign of Lyme infection, and if your dog becomes lame during tick season you should be doubly suspicious of the possibility of Lyme. Other signs of infection include lethargy and fever.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Ways to honor your pup's memory.
March 21 2014
Without question, losing a much-loved dog is a heartbreaker, but honoring that special pup’s memory is one way to take the edge off the grief. There are many beautiful and creative ways to do it.
For a living memorial, consider a tree. Trees for a Change works with the U.S. Forest Service to identify appropriate areas for planting, then tracks the tree once it’s in the ground and posts photos on its website. If you’re in a position to splash out, you may want dedicate a redwood (or a whole grove) in the name of your dearly departed; see Save the Redwoods for more details.
Or, remember your pup by flickering candlelight. The Furry Angel candle, all-natural vegetable wax in a silkscreened glass tumbler that can be used as a vase once the candle’s burned down (D), is a simple and touching option.
Memorial stones and plaques are a lovely addition to a garden or outside area—we favor the natural stones used by Plaques and More. Or for a personalized memorial, visit Monster Hollow Studios, where Callie Badorrek creates handmade clay plaques and custom urns (A); or By & By Memorials who create boxes of wood, textiles and metal (F).
Incorporating some of your dog’s fur into a pottery piece results in an especially personal memorial. Anna Whitworth at From Earth to Art makes beautiful, one-of-a-kind urns, as does Lori Cooper at Serenity Bells; Cooper can also integrate cremains (ashes) into other ceramics, including vases, urns and pendants.
At My Perfect Pet Memorials, the talented father-and-son team of Roger and Trevor Crosta craft gorgeous hand-blown glass orbs reminiscent of fishing floats (E). As part of the glassblowing process, your dog’s ashes are permanently fused into the richly colored sphere.
Carry your dog not only in your heart but also, around your neck or on your wrist. Lisa Havelin Pet Reliquaries are handmade, custom-designed gold or sterling silver lockets (B) in which a small memento of your dog—ashes, fur, a whisker— is permanently sealed. At Zelda’s Song, Sharon Herrman creates photo-jewelry, leather and charm bracelets featuring a photo of your pup. The leather bracelet (C) has a clever holder that allows you to swap photos between bracelets.
February 15 2013
It’s refreshing to read a novel whose protagonist is a small-town veterinarian, and who better to write such a book than Nick Trout, surgeon at Boston’s Angell Animal Medical Center, author of three nonfiction books and Bark contributor as well!
In The Patron Saint of Lost Dogs, a down-on-his-luck veterinary pathologist, Cyrus Mills, comes home to Vermont with the intention of selling his estranged, recently deceased father’s vet practice. Things don’t exactly go the way he thought they would, however. His dad’s imprudent business ways— among them, rarely asking his clients for payment and becoming the town’s “patron saint of lost dogs”—leaves little for Cyrus to recoup.
The novel has seven chapters, one for each day of Cyrus’s first week in town, during which a mean-spirited bank manager tries to collect on a huge debt. With good-natured tutoring from a much older vet, Cyrus refocuses his skills on living animals; he also discovers how important both his patients and the community can be to him. As he learns how to be a country vet, he uses his pathologist’s insights to correctly diagnose more than one tricky condition.
This all makes for a charming and engrossing reading experience, one with —dare we say it?—great cinematic potential.
July 10 2012
Rex, a small German Shepherd at the heart of Mike Dowling’s new memoir, Sergeant Rex, ranks as the longestserving military working dog (MWD) in the Marine Corps. In this thoughtful account of their shared tour of duty in Iraq in 2004, Dowling shows Rex to be impressively brave, competent, even funny in the way only a dog can be. But canine courage is an old saw. Dowling is neither the first soldier to write well about dogs in the Middle East — pick up Royal Marine Pen Farthing’s moving bestseller, One Dog at a Time, which covers his rescue efforts for the strays of Afghanistan — nor the first to venerate the canines of combat. (William Putney’s Always Faithful and Lisa Rogak’s The Dogs of War are the standard- bearers in this department.)
What’s confounding and original about Mike Dowling’s narrative is how genuinely he writes about protecting Rex, all the while embroiling him in situations of brute violence and deadly risk. Deployed as one of the first 12 Marine dog teams embedded with infantry units since the Vietnam War, Rex and Dowling were successful in their assignment to sniff out IEDs (improvised explosive devices, or bombs). Rex alone unearthed hundreds of caches.
This track record no doubt contributed to a Pentagon task force’s conclusion that MWDs are better bomb detectors than any military technology, by far. The armed forces have taken note MWDs on active duty rose from 1,800 in 2001 to 2,700 in 2011, with about 500 dogs being trained each year. With their unparalleled sense of smell, dogs are functionally suited to the task. Physically and mentally, however, they experience some of the same maladies as their human counterparts. Though the military does not make statistics readily available, dogs are also suffering from a canine form of PTSD and traumatic injury, as well as dying in considerable numbers. So when Dowling “speaks” for Rex through italicized interjections of die-hard zeal and ooh-rah patriotism on missions in the most dangerous areas in and around Fallujah and Baghdad, it’s difficult to believe his assertions that he has the dog’s best interest in mind. After all, every dog in the military is drafted without consent.
Dowling, a voluntary soldier, writes about the U.S. military cause with pure enthusiasm. A capable dog handler, he nurtures Rex’s skills. He loves this dog, and cares for him with unassailable constancy. That much is apparent. But Dowling conflates Rex’s interest in doing the job before him (for the reward of a game of ball) with a conceptual allegiance to the American values these soldiers are defending. In one harrowing scene, Dowling brings Rex, who is already injured, along on a mission anyway. “A barrage of blasts” rattles their vehicle and “Rex goes jittery as hell. He keeps glancing at me with a look of real pain on his features.” In another scene, Rex fixes his protector with “a lonely, frightened gaze, like he’s convinced he’s been abandoned.” In yet another, Rex urinates out of fear. No matter how faithfully allied Dowling is with his dog in combat, these scenes are nevertheless excruciating for an animal lover to read.
Early in the book, Dowling reflects on setting out for their first mission. “Rex trusted me 100 percent, in that unique bond between man and dog. Yet he had no choice in my taking us to war, and he had no idea of the dangers we were flying into.” Everything Rex accomplishes, everything he survives — Dowling is right: Rex does deserve a Purple Heart for his courage. And Dowling deserves the acknowledgment he has earned too. But a medal for military service would mean nothing to a dog. He would not understand why he was receiving it.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Good for you, your dog and business
June 22 2012
In 2010 a study, headed by Christopher Honts, at Central Michigan University, found that the mere presence of a canine in the office could help make people collaborate more effectively. The researchers also showed that the staff who worked with a dog gave all their teammates higher scores for trust and team cohesion than those who worked in dog-free groups. And now a new study confirms what The Daily Show people said in a recent interview with The Bark, dogs are the greatest destressors for both dog owners and the dogless employees in their office, as well as collaborative “assistants.” This study was conducted by an aptly named investigator, Randolph Barker, PhD, professor of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Business. The findings, published in March in the International Journal of Workplace Health Management, found that dogs do buffer the impact of stress during the workday for their owners and make the job more satisfying for those with whom they come into contact. “Dogs in the workplace can make a positive difference,” Barker said. He also concluded that “Pet presence may serve as a low-cost, wellness intervention readily available to many organizations and may enhance organizational satisfaction and perceptions of support. Of course, it is important to have policies in place to ensure only friendly, clean and well-behaved pets are present in the workplace.” (See the infographic on this topic created by the MBAPrograms.org)
The American Pet Products Association recently surveyed 50 companies that welcome pets and discovered: 1. Lower stress levels and less absenteeism than in pet-free offices; 2. Productivity and employee morale got a boost when canine companions joined the work force; 3. Employees were more willing to work overtime, thanks to the addition of pets in the workplace.
So if your company doesn’t have a dog-in-the-workplace policy and is, hopefully, considering developing one, the following tips can be used to help set up a successful dog-policy.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Eyes in the Sky can help find your dogs
June 19 2012
Does your dog suffer from wanderlust? Or during those long summertime hikes, do you worry that she might follow her nose just a little too far and turn up missing? Or would you like additional peace of mind while exploring the backcountry with your dog? A Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking device could help allay those concerns. There are now at least five products on the market that can help you track down your pooch. Three require monthly service charges beyond the initial purchase (Globalpetfinder, Pocketfinder and Zoombak), while two employ handheld tracking devices and have no monthly charges (RoamEO and Garmin’s Astro Dog Tracking System).
All of the units, with the exception of the Astro, work by having you set a virtual fence by either walking around the desired perimeter or, in the case of Zoombak and Globalpetfinder, logging the zone size into their system; you are then alerted if your dog, who is wearing the GPS unit on her collar, breaches those limits. (Note: these units do not function as electronic or “invisible” fences.) The units vary as to how the alert is sent and received as well as how the live action of your departing dog can be followed and charted.
Pocketfinder’s PetFinder, the newest ($130, $15/month), uses the nifty Microsoft Virtual Earth platform for its mapping interface. When your dog moves beyond the allowable zone, you receive an alert via a text message or e-mail—meaning you have to have your cell phone or be near a computer to receive it. A prototype was recently tested by a Los Angeles Times writer, who noted that the alert came minutes after his dog had left the zone, and that the map had a slow refresh rate (five minutes).
Zoombak ($200, $15/month) works in a similar manner, but you set the boundary by logging it into their system on a computer. Its mapping interface might not be as refined as Pocketfinder’s, but the device can be refreshed manually, so the wanderer’s location can be established in a matter of seconds. Globalpetfinder ($290, up to $19.98/month) also uses cell phones, PDAs and computers for the alert. You can create a virtual fence of any size through their online command center, and up to five fence locations can be stored. The easiest way to use this device is in its “Basic Mode,” which does not entail setting up a zone; all you do is dial F-O-U-N-D from an account-activated cell phone, and you will be told your dog’s location.
Two cautionary notes: Since many areas have unreliable, or nonexistent, cell phone coverage or less-than-ideal Internet connectivity, be sure your area can be serviced by these systems. Also, almost all of these devices are for medium to large dogs, as the size and weight of the units are likely to overwhelm the small guys.
The two products that use hand-held receiver devices and do not rely on cell phone coverage to track the dog should be more popular with outdoors enthusiasts. The Astro (about $642) by Garmin, one of the first manufacturers of GPS devices, has a range of five miles, and claims to even be able to tell whether a dog is on point (or perhaps sniffing a gopher hole!) or running. The wireless receiving transponder is worn either on a collar or on a harness that holds the antenna upright. The dog’s location is radioed to a handheld unit, which has a compass showing the precise distance and direction your dog is moving.
For those who are less than adept at compass reading, it also has a map page showing nearby roads and other landmarks; the location alerts update every five seconds. With the RoamEO GPS Pet Location System ($400), the radio unit is mounted on its own rechargeable collar and your dog can be detected at a distance of up to one mile; plus, it allows you to set up a virtual fence (making it adaptable to home use). Like the Astro, you can also clock the speed of your dog; up to three dogs can be monitored by one unit.
One of the most attractive features of any of these systems (except for the Astro, which mainly functions as a tracking device) is the alert you receive if your dog strays out of her allowable space. Nothing is better than having a well-trained dog with spot-on recall skills. But for some, knowing that those “eyes in the sky” are watching their wandering pup could provide that extra bit of comfort.
A. Garmin’s Astro Dog Tracking System
D. Pocketfinder PetFinder (Location Based Technologies)
RoamEO GPS Pet Location System
C. Zoombak Advanced GPS Dog Locator
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Tagged for success in Colorado
April 30 2012
With its plentitude of open space (43,000 acres), trails (130 miles) and glorious mountains—plus its progressive humane perspective—Boulder seems like an ideal place to have a dog. Now, with the launch of its “Voice and Sight Dog Tag Program” (TAG), an off-leash registration and educational outreach effort administered by the department of Open Space and Mountain Parks (OSMP), the city is taking steps to balance wise stewardship of open space with public/recreational usage.
To achieve this challenging balance, OSMP worked closely with the dog community, represented by FIDOS (Friends Interested in Dogs and Open Space), to design the program, which is intended to ensure the continuance of off-leash privileges. Under its terms, in order for dogs to be off-leash on trails and even in city dog parks, they must be registered. Compliance with the ordinance is signified by a tag (worn by the dogs) indicating that the human half of the pair has watched a short video on Boulder’s “voice and sight” control ordinance and basic dog/human etiquette and paid the $15 fee.
What seems to be the most difficult part of the regulation, the “come immediately” command, was part of a dog-related ordinance enacted in 1996, a spokesperson for FIDOS explained. The best way for programs like TAG to achieve success is for, as FIDOS hopes, “enforcement [to] focus on those that are clearly causing problems.”
When it comes to off-leash issues, it is often the case that the misdeeds of the minority color the way the majority is perceived. Let’s hope that Boulder’s proactive educational approach minimizes the number of misdeeds and prevents conflicts. For more information, visit osmp.org
Berkley Trade, 416 pp., 2011; $15.00
February 25 2012
This is a heartwarming and engaging story about a young widow coming to terms with her loss with the help of her late husband’s dog, Minton. Walking their dog is the only thing that Juliet feels she must do — it gets her out of the house and quells her grieving. Then, with gentle prodding from her mom, she expands their forays and becomes a dog-walking service. This UK book seems destined to become a BBC production. It has all the right elements: the lovely Juliet, widow, dog walker and caterer; a charming Irish handyman who helps her transform her house (and her life); family members with compelling and amusing subplots; and a neighbor who was a rock legend in a previous life. And then there are the dogs! A dreamy winter read.
Jeremy P. Tarcher; $23.95
Anyone who lives with and loves dogs knows there’s no better way to unwind from a hard day or combat life’s large and small setbacks than with a canine cuddle session. Dogs pick up on our emotions and, in their own ways, offer solace and diversion.
This ability, which we value so highly in the ordinary circumstances of our daily lives, is of even more significance during extraordinary times and in difficult circumstances. Rachel McPherson, founder and executive director of The Good Dog Foundation (and one of Bark’s 100 Best & Brightest), is intimately acquainted with the valuable work dogs do — helping children with autism; comforting the sick, the lonely and the traumatized; and providing assistance for those with physical challenges. In Every Dog Has a Gift, McPherson not only shares insights from her own experiences, she also collects the stories of others who have been helped and healed by dogs.
Before creating the foundation, McPherson was a film and television producer well-known for her documentaries. In fact, it was while producing a documentary on therapy dogs that she fell in love with her subject — and the rest, as they say, is history (read more at thegooddogfoundation.org).
The stories in this book will touch your heart, inspire you and make you smile in recognition of all the ways dogs save and heal us. For many of the troubles that ail us, “dog medicine” is the best medicine of all, and in this book, you’ll meet some terrific practitioners.
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