Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Very Special Blessing of the Animals
NYC Church has their 29th celebration of the Feast of St. Francis the Assisi

Last Sunday I attended the 29th annual Feast of Saint Francis the Assisi (also known as the Blessing of the Animals) at the esteemed Saint John the Devine Church in New York City. The Mass was like none other that I've attended previously, interspersed with modern music and dance performances, experienced by hundreds of people with their pets. And dogs weren't the only non-humans in the audience. There were cats, parrots, lizards, and even a hermit crab. See more photos here.

In the sermon, Reverend Dr. James A. Kowalski talked about blessing animals as one of the things that showed the possibility of harmony on the planet. I've been to a lot of different Blessing of the Animas and have seen these events bring together people of different religions and even those who do not consider themselves religious at all. Saint John the Devine has obviously been doing this for a long time and provided detailed programs with the words to each song and ritual. I think it certainly made people feel welcome. 

Paul Winter, a Grammy winning musician, composed and performed songs centered around recordings of humpback whales, harp seals, wolves, birds, and elephants. Modern dancers added movement to the music with colorful costumes and flags that made me feel like I was at a Broadway play.  

After the Communion came the part everyone was waiting for, the procession of the animals. The menagerie included the exotic--a camel, llama, tortoise, and fennic fox, among many others; and the more familiar—a service dog named Janus and a therapy pup named Tony.

Josephine Cascio has been attending St. Francis’ Blessing of the Animals for the last five years. This year she was excited to participate in the procession with Tony, who she adopted eight years ago. Josephine and Tony volunteer at Park Place Nursing Home in Monmouth Junction, N.J. and at Princeton University during finals time. Tony shamelessly solicited a pat on the head from a member of the congregation as he paraded down the aisle.  

During the program, when a dog barked in response to the animal noises in one of Paul Winter's songs, Rev. Kowalski remarked that the dog’s enthusiasm was contagious. Indeed it was. And it made me think that out pets should be allowed at Mass every week!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Egyptian Dog Mummy Had Parasites
Those little pests are nothing new!

Mummified dogs are not a new archaeological discovery, but finding bloodsucking parasites on them is. Over 400 dog mummies unearthed from the El Deir excavation site in Egypt have been found, and one young dog among them was infested with a number of parasites that have been preserved.

There were over 60 ticks found on this poor dog and there was one louse, too. The scientists who found this dog suspect that a tick-born disease that kills red blood cells was probably responsible for the death of this dog at such a young age. Besides the ticks and the louse, remains of two types of fly larvae were found on it, suggesting that the dog’s body had time to attract carrion flies prior to being mummified.

Mummifying animals was common in ancient Egypt. It was done to provide food and companionship for people in the afterlife and to make sacrifices to the gods, yet nobody is sure of the reasons for the dog mummies at El Deir. It is unclear if they had specific human guardians or how they died. Perhaps they were purposely bred to be sacrificed as cats commonly were, but we just don’t know.

Scientists involved with this excavating project are exploring questions about the source of the dogs. They are also hoping to find more parasites on the dog mummies in order to investigate the origin and spread of diseases and to deepen our understanding of the role of parasites in the history of the species.

Evidence that ancient dogs suffered from ticks, lice and other ectoparasites is prevalent in ancient writings such as those of Aristotle, Homer and Pliny the Elder, but this is the first archaeological evidence that corroborates those texts. It’s certainly no surprise that dogs living a couple of thousand years ago faced the danger and nuisance of ticks and lice. It would be astounding if it were a recent development in the lives of canids, but it’s still interesting to have such concrete evidence.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Fat Camps
New trend in the pet obesity epidemic

Last year I wrote about a local doggy daycare's "fat camp." At first I thought it was a marketing gimmick, but the idea has been catching on as the pet industry reacts to the growing obesity epidemic. It's estimated that more than half of American dogs are overweight.  

It's become such a serious problem that the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine offers both an inpatient and outpatient obesity management program. Many daycare and boarding facilities have also added fat camp programs that include treadmill runs, swimming, and playing with other dogs. With so many pets coming in and out of their doors, these businesses see the obesity problem firsthand. Loyalville, a kennel and training center in Hatchbend Fla., started a boarding weight loss program after finding about two-thirds of their clients were overweight. 

Weight loss can make a big difference in a dog's health and quality of life. Boarding facility Indigo Ranch in Veronia, Ore. started a fat camp after working with a rescue Lab named Butters.  He was a friendly pup, but at 142 pounds he was considered unadoptable and was about to be euthanized. By changing his diet and adding more exercise, Butters dropped 54 pounds in five months. Now he's an athletic pup who loves jumping and catching balls in the air.

Pet obesity is a big problem these days, so the more resources people have to combat it the better. But I'm afraid that the idea of a fat camp promotes a magic bullet solution. Weight loss, whether we're talking about humans or canines, is all about behavior and lifestyle change. A dog sent away to one of these programs can come home and go right back to the same habits of overfeeding and inactivity. 

Obesity is a problem for both humans and canines. I would love to see a program that focuses on diet and activity change for both people and their pups together. I think that's the key to solving the epidemic. Plus I can't imagine sending one of my pups away for a month!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Stray Dogs in Restaurants
Cultural differences to ponder

There were stray dogs in the restaurant with us, and this was a high quality restaurant. The Buddha Café in Tortuguero Village, Costa Rica is a lovely chic place to dine with a cool vibe where you can be seated with views of the water from the veranda. It’s no greasy spoon, and yet dogs were wandering in off the street. Charmingly, nobody seemed to mind.

Dogs are certainly allowed in some restaurants in the United States, most often at outdoor cafes or in especially hip, progressive cities, but those are generally well-groomed dogs who are attended to by caring guardians. The dogs I saw while eating out last week were stray dogs living in a humid tropical jungle climate. Some looked healthy, while others looked decidedly unwell, and none could honestly be described as clean.

People weren’t just tolerating them out of a sense that it was hopeless to shoo them out of this open-air restaurant. They behaved genuinely warmly to them, feeding them a few leftovers and happily watching them lying around on the floor or begging at tables. I had no problem with the dogs being there, although I did tell my kids not to pet them. Normally I’m happy for my kids to interact with the various friendly dogs we meet, but I don’t want them to touch dirty or sick stray dogs while eating—call me overprotective.

I’m used to eating in places where dogs are allowed, but eating where stray dogs in all conditions are welcomed without hesitation is new to me. Have you had this experience while traveling or at home? How do you feel about it?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Most Common Pet Injuries
How our pups end up at the veterinarian

Living with two very active dogs, I've spent more than my share of time at the veterinarian from various injuries over the years. Usually it's a mild sprain or torn pad due to rambunctious playing, but my Sheltie Nemo is also prone to eating objects he shouldn't (despite my best efforts to keep temptations out of reach), leading to obstruction surgery.

According to Veterinary Pet Insurance Co. (VPI) these are two of the most prevalent conditions treated by vets. VPI's policyholders spent more than $37 million on procedures related to pet accidents. The top ten most common pet injuries are:

10. Torn or injured nail
9. Gastric Foreign Object(s) Ingestion
8. Abrasions or Superficial Wounds
7. Sprain or Joint Injury
6. Mouth Trauma or Fractured Tooth
5. Cruciate Ligament Injury Surgical Repair
4. Scratch or Wound on Eye
3. Lacerations or Bite Wounds
2. Cruciate Ligament Injury (without surgery)
1. Soft Tissue Trauma (bruise)

You can help prevent some of these conditions by monitoring playing dogs, keeping them from running on slick surfaces, and giving them softer chew toys. I also do physical therapy exercises with my pups to help strengthen their muscles against injuries.

However, it's impossible to avoid every accident. After all, dogs will be dogs. So it's important to bring your pet in to the vet as soon as you notice something wrong. Waiting can make things worse, particularly for a foreign object ingestion or a cruciate ligament injury. Animals are often subtle in their behavior change when they're hurting, so it's essential to know what's normal for your dog.  

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Guardians Reunited With Stolen Dog
Yes, they’re pressing charges

The woman showing them the pit bull told Kenny Erickson and Ashley Preston that the dog took to them well. There’s a reason for that: Lexi belonged to them but had been stolen from their yard a couple of months earlier.

They had been searching for Lexi for months, and many people supported their efforts and helped them. Someone who knew that their dog had been stolen learned that a woman was giving away a dog who matched the description of Lexi, and told the couple. They rushed right over.

The woman trying to find the dog a new home admitted that the dog had been stolen. Now that her nephew, who had been caring for the dog, was in jail, she needed to find her a new home.

Kenny and Ashley didn’t let on that the dog was theirs because they wanted to make sure that legal channels were properly followed so that the thieves wouldn’t get away with the crime. Of course, the most important thing was being reunited with their dog, but they also wanted to make sure that people who steal dogs are punished. It took a lot of self-control not to just grab their dog and run, but they managed it.

After alerting police to the situation, they were happily able to reclaim their dog. The woman who was trying to find a home for her has been cited for possession of stolen property and faces charges of theft as well. Kenny and Ashley want people to understand that if they steal dogs, they could be caught and dislike that many people think that stealing a dog is no big deal. (I have no idea which people think it’s not a big deal, but then, I move in dog-loving social circles.)

After the pain of having their dog go missing, I’m so glad that this family’s story ended well.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Lifespans by State
Where are dogs living longest?

It is hard to decide which of the many wonderful qualities of dogs is the best one, but it’s easy for me to say what is the worst thing about dogs: They don’t live long enough. We all wish dogs lived longer and most of us are hungry for information about which factors may give us more time with our dogs. It’s possible that where our dogs live is one such factor.

A state-by-state analysis of dog lifespan shows Montana and South Dakota at the top with dogs living an average of 12.4 years. Other states with long-lived dogs include Oregon, Colorado and Florida where the dogs are typically living over 11 years. In contrast, Mississippi and Alabama have an average lifespan of just over 10 years.

These data come from Banfield Pet Hospital and only include those states in which they have facilities, which means that Wyoming, North Dakota, Maine, Vermont and West Virginia are not included. It also means that the data may only reflect the specific dogs seen in their practices rather than fully representing each state’s dogs.

However, there are a number of reasons that lifespans may vary from state to state. These include nutrition, exercise opportunities, rates of spaying and neutering and the types of disease prevalent in the area. The breeds and sizes of dogs that are most popular in those states may matter, too.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Human v. Canine: Who to Save
Study looks at our relationship in the worst of circumstances

Last month a couple yachting with their Jack Russell made the news when their boat capsized and the husband saved the dog before going back for his wife. Sound crazy? Most people would probably save their spouse first, but choosing a person over a dog is still a conflicted decision.

A recent study at George Regents University asked over 500 people who they would save from the path of a runaway bus—a dog or a human. It came down to the specifics. Everyone said they would save a sibling, grandparent, or close friend rather than a strange animal, but if the dog was their own pet, the answers were more divided. More participants began to choose the dog if they were picking between their own pet and a distant relative or local stranger. The number further increased to 40 percent if the person was a tourist.

This study shows the special relationship that we have with our pets as they've become a true member of the family. Hopefully I'll never be in the position to have to make such a difficult decision!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Motivating Poop Pick-up with DNA Testing
DNA matching becomes a bustling business

Motivating people to pick up after their dogs is a frustrating problem that never seems to go away. Judging from the poop I often see right next to garbage cans—and even next to poop bag stations!--some people have a stubborn aversion to the less glamorous side of being a responsible pet owner.

There have been creative approaches, such as the Spanish town that used volunteers to monitor parks and mail poop left behind to the corresponding offenders house. While a clever campaign, it relied on dedicated volunteers and the fact that almost all dogs were in the town's license database.

Residential complexes have long struggled with the poop scooping problem, which often causes a rift between dog loving and non-dog loving residents. Many condos are turning to DNA testing as a definitive way to crack down on offenders.

When a Baltimore condo started DNA testing three years ago, it seemed like a fancy gimmick. But now more residential complexes are getting on board, while companies like PooPrints are thriving.

PooPrints was started by a veterinary laboratory in 2010 when one of their scientists came in annoyed that they had stepped in dog poop. Their business has grown rapidly since.

One of their new clients, a complex near me in Riverdale, New Jersey, has required all residents to bring in their pets for a DNA mouth swab by November 1. Going forward, all abandoned poop will be tested for a DNA match and offenders will incur a $250 fine for the first offense, rising to $500 and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.

DNA testing has been very successful in past applications. In Braintree, Mass. the Devon Wood condo complex instituted testing this summer and has already seen a 90 percent reduction in the number of messes left behind.

Some may think that DNA testing is an invasion of privacy, but it seems to be the most efficient and effective way to get people to pick up after their pets. The reality is that residential complexes, as well as public spaces such as parks, will start to ban dogs if people don't start being responsible about their pets' messes.

Pet friendly businesses have increased tremendously in the past few years. It will be a shame if we let poop reverse that trend!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Perfect Older Sibling
Struggles of a new dog

Among the themes I hear from clients repeatedly is that their new dog just isn’t like their old dog. Maybe this dog is just lukewarm on retrieving but their previous dog would happily fetch at any time. Perhaps the new puppy still isn’t housetrained, but their old dog was perfect at it by the age of three months. It could be that the new dog just isn’t that willing to cuddle on the couch for hours, but the other dog did, and it was so nice. Whatever the specifics are, the commonality is that the new dog is facing expectations based on a dog the family had before, and it’s all but impossible to measure up.

I’m a younger sister myself, and I well remember the expectations of teachers that I would be just like my older sister who was an extraordinary student and never got into any trouble at all. It was a lot of pressure. It makes me very empathetic to dogs who are dealing with excessive expectations because of another, older dog. In fact, I often say to clients who are making such comparisons that I myself know what it’s like to have a perfect older sibling, and I urge them to find what they love about their new dog and focus on that.

It’s natural to compare a new dog with a previous dog, but exercising caution is wise. Thinking, “Wow! This dog is more energetic than our other dog,” can have great value if it makes you realize that you really need to find a way to give more exercise to the new dog, who is clearly an extra peppy individual. On the other hand, if the previous dog was 14 years old and arthritic, it’s important to remember that your new dog is an adolescent who obviously isn’t going to be anything like a geriatric dog, and thank goodness for that.

While comparisons are inevitable, it’s so important to remind yourself to treat each dog as an individual, without assuming that there will be similarities with your previous dog. That’s true even if they are the same breed or happen to look just alike right down to the black eye patch or you trained them the same way. Not only is this fair to your new dog, but it may help you recognize what is really special about the dog who may be the new love of your life. The new dog may be great at learning tricks, or may not be interested in chewing on your only ridiculously expensive pair of shoes. The new dog may be easier to hike with than your previous dog or may sleep through thunderstorms at night. If you pay attention, it’s likely that you’ll notice traits that compare favorably with all the dogs who you’ve had before.

Have you ever struggled with a new dog because you couldn’t help but make comparisons with the “perfect” dog you used to have?