News: Karen B. London
Beautiful, even though it’s not true
Various forms of the following story have been all over the online world in recent months. As it turns out, it’s yet another urban legend, but that doesn’t take away from its value. Like most fictional stories, its emotional power comes from our recognition of the great truth within it.
This is one version of the tale:
Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten-year-old Irish Wolfhound named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa, and their little boy Shane, were all very attached to Belker, and they were hoping for a miracle.
I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer. I told the family we couldn’t do anything for Belker, and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog in their home.
As we made arrangements, Ron and Lisa told me they thought it would be good for six-year-old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.
The next day, I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker‘s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few minutes, Belker slipped peacefully away.
The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion. We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives.
Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, ”I know why.”
Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I’d never heard a more comforting explanation. It has changed the way I try and live.
He said, “People are born so that they can learn how to live a good life — like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The six-year-old continued,
”Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”
News: JoAnna Lou
In retirement, the Olympian plans to spend more time with his pups
After winning a record 22 medals, Michael Phelps is retiring as the most decorated Olympian of all time. Now with a little more time on his hands, one of Phelps’ first plans is to teach his dog, Stella, how to swim.
Phelps adopted the Catahoula mix in December after appearing on the Today show to talk about his Olympic training regimen. As part of the Bow to Wow segment, Phelps walked out the spotted pup that was looking for a home. The champion swimmer felt an instant connection and ended up adopting the dog.
I love to hike and its one of the first things I introduce to puppies when they join my crew, in addition to agility of course. There is something special about sharing favorite hobbies with our pets. It helps build the deep relationship we have with them.
I love that Phelps will be sharing his greatest passion with his new pup. Perhaps, in addition to swimming, Phelps will take up agility like Olympic diver, Greg Louganis.
What hobbies do you share with your dog?
News: JoAnna Lou
Paramedics receive training to treat canines in combat settings
There are plenty of stories that illustrate the important role war dogs play in assisting the military. Many soldiers consider these canines partners and credit them with saving lives.
The military employs doctors and veterinarians, but if anything happens in action, paramedics are the first ones to respond and often have to give treatment at the scene. These people receive elite training for humans, but have to wing it when it comes to the canines.
There are many similarities in treating humans and canines, for instance you can use the same stitches to sew wounds. However, there are also many differences. The standard procedure of applying a tourniquet to a human can do more harm on a dog.
With military canines playing important roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, the need for animal care skills has become critical . There are about 2,700 dogs serving in the armed forces.
Recently Lt. Col. Stephen Rush organized a training to teach Air National Guard rescuers to treat dogs in combat settings. The session was developed in partnership with Long Island Veterinary Specialists and K-9 Medic, a company that teaches emergency medical care for service dogs. Colonel Rush hopes that the two-day training could serve as a model for future courses.
War dogs are navigating the same dangerous situations as their human counterparts, so it's about time that paramedics receive training to ensure their safety. Kudos to Col. Stephen Rush for creating the course and I hope that other areas of the military will add it to their training protocol.
News: Karen B. London
Little moments bring closeness
It’s the togetherness that makes those who live together and share their lives feel like a family. That’s what’s so great about having a dog in the house. The close proximity makes us realize how much a part of the family the dog is.
When you share the same space, you are literally sharing your lives. The way that we live with our dogs—literally WITH them—means that we have the same sorts of interactions with dogs that we do with other humans in our household. We step on each other’s feet by mistake, bump into each other in the kitchen while getting ready in the morning, share food, open the bathroom door on each other, head out together to bring in the mail or the paper, nap with each other, and share a good stretch in the morning.
None of these little events even touch on the bigger aspects of togetherness: hikes and runs together, attending training classes, playing together, and all the other ways we spend our days in tandem. Sometimes simple things like sharing a water bottle after a run or looking out the window together at the rain make me feel more connected to a dog than other activities do. It’s in these seemingly inconsequential moments that the reality of sharing our lives is most obvious.
What little parts of your day that you share with your dog make you feel especially close?
News: Shea Cox
Dilution is the solution to pollution
It is a common misconception that "acid" in a dog’s urine is what causes the brown spots left behind on our lawns. However, the culprit is actually the high nitrogen content of the urine. Nitrogen is “the waste” in the urine and is the result of protein breakdown through normal body processes. Because a canine diet is very high in protein, there will be high levels of nitrogen, and you’ll be battling blemishes for as long as your pet uses the lawn for its place of business.
A repeated vet school mantra was, "dilution is the solution to pollution," and that concept holds equally true in the case of urine scald on our lawns. Therefore, the best way to help prevent brown spots is either by dilution or by addressing the external environment. Besides training your male dogs to pee through the fence onto your neighbor’s lawn (kidding!), here are tips to keep your lawn lush and green:
The most effective way to prevent grass scald is to the water the area immediately after your dog urinates. If you have easy access to a hose or a rain barrel, give the area a quick dousing. I also have a tub in my sink that I use to catch excess water when I’m at the sink; instead of letting it go down the drain, I collect it and use it to water my plants. This idea could be used to water the lawn as well, while remaining mindful of the environment.
Another intervention is the construction of a small graveled, mulched, or artificial turf area in the back or side of your yard. You can train your pet to "go to the back," and with positive reinforcement and praise, they will eventually and automatically head to that area to do their business. You can make this site visually appealing by placing potted hostas, ferns, or other greenery around the perimeter.
The kind of grass you put in your yard also determines how well it will tolerate dog urine. Fescue and perennial ryegrass are most resistant, and diluted amounts of urine (hosing down the spot like stated above) can actually act as a fertilizer. What are the least hardy of grasses? Kentucky Bluegrass and Bermuda grass are the most sensitive to urine scald. Another tip: if you fertilize your lawn, use a reduced nitrogen fertilizer.
Now a word for those over-the-counter medications that are touted to be "lawn-saving supplements." I personally (and strongly) caution against their use. Nothing you give your pet internally will safely stop urine from damaging grass, and the only appropriate interventions are those that address the environment- not the dog! The environmental changes discussed above may be more time-consuming work, but it’s a small price to pay if you wish to have both a lush lawn and a healthy pet.
These medications work by either changing the pH of the urine, or by adding salt to the body. And it should be reiterated: urine burn is a nitrogen problem, not a pH problem. When you use medications that alter the pH of the urine, you run the risk of causing urinary crystals or bladder stones in your pet. Certain types of crystals and stones thrive in the altered pH environment, which will create a much bigger problem than a lawn blemish. The other “lawn-saving supplements” are actually pills that contain high amounts of salt. This in turn causes your pet to drink more, thereby diluting its urine (dilute the grass, not the dog!). Giving your pet high amounts of unnecessary salt is not a good option, and this is especially true if your pet has underlying kidney or heart disease.
Another recommendation I have heard is the use gypsum salts and this is another option I caution against. Gypsum is calcium sulfate, and this material can cause eye, skin, oral, and respiratory irritation in our pets.
Since we’ll never be free from pee, I hope these tips have helped, and I’ll see you next week!
Nicholas Kristof, of the New York Times, writes an intriguing column today about novel public health efforts to help mitigate the harm of guns in our society. In his column he cites the work done by David Hemenway of the Harvard School of Public Health, who has studied just that, the public health approaches to firearms. He talks about changing societal norms that this will require. Hemenway has seen evidence that such change is possible and says, “Where I see social norms changing is dog poop. You are not allowed to let your city dog run loose now, and you have to pick up your dog poop.” He said in an interview with Kristof that if people felt as responsible to their guns as they do for their dogs, who knows if, nothing else, people might insist on safer guns or trigger locks. One can only hope!
News: JoAnna Lou
Photographer takes pictures of shelter dogs before they're put to sleep
A photographer in Taiwan is on a mission to get people to take a serious look at the way animals are treated in his country. Tou Yun-fei takes photos of dogs at the Taoyuan Animal Shelter in the moments before they are euthanized. In the last two years, he's captured the images of 400 dogs.
Activists say that 70 percent of dogs in Taiwanese shelters are killed after the 12-day waiting period. Tou began his project because he didn't think the media was giving enough attention to the problem and felt that too many people considered these animals disposable.
After Tou photographs the dogs, vet techs take them for a last walk in a grassy courtyard, then lead them into a small room where they are euthanized.
Some of his friends refuse to look at the photos, and I can certainly see why. The pictures are haunting. They look like the kind of portrait that a dog lover would commission of their beloved pet. But then you realize that these dogs were not saved in time and have already been put to sleep.
The project is heartbreaking, if a little morbid, but an important one. I've met photographers who take striking photos of homeless pets in the hopes of catching the eye of a potential adopter, but Tou's project hopes to be much bigger and change the way people view and treat these animals.
It's not easy to inspire cultural change, but Tou's photographs might just be the project to spark conversation and force people to rethink longstanding beliefs.
A selection of Tou's photos will be exhibited in his first full scale show in August at the Fine Arts Museum in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. For those not in the area, you can view his work online.
News: Guest Posts
Sponsors stunned by director deception
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Donors to Boggs Mountain Humane Shelter’s “Lucky Dog” program were shocked to learn that the dogs they sponsored in order to be adopted were in fact, euthanized. The northern Georgia shelter took in strays and owner surrenders and claimed to be no kill.
The “Lucky Dog” program was a brilliantly simple scam. Good-hearted animal lovers gave the shelter $100 to sponsor a dog’s vaccinations, worming, spay/neuter and vet exam. Donors received a photo of their Lucky Dog, and a cheerful email when he was adopted.
In cooperation with a reporter, intake counselor Lynn Cousins admitted that those emails she sent were lies. “If I wanted to keep my job, I had to lie,” said Cousins. After two years of battling her conscience, Cousins decided to tell the truth.
I can see why the program would prove popular. In 2004, I found a female black Pit Bull dragging a leash behind her. She was friendly and appeared to be in good health. Surely, someone would be looking for her. I brought her to the Louisiana SPCA, where I volunteered several times a week.
After five business days passed and no owner came forward, I named her Kaldi and spread the word in hopes that a family member or friend would take her home.
A few days after Kaldi became adoptable, an approaching Hurricane Ivan forced the shelter to begin plans for evacuation. Dogs considered less adoptable would be euthanized; there simply wasn’t enough room on the transport trucks. A black Pit Bull had little to no chance.
If I had gotten there just an hour sooner, I could’ve saved her. The head veterinarian, who had marked Kaldi as one of the dogs to be euthanized, apologized profusely to me as I sobbed in front of her empty kennel.
I did not fault the vet, who was forced to make those terrible choices every day. In the moment, I blamed myself. By taking Kaldi there, I had made a promise that one of two things would happen – she would be claimed by her owner or I would find her a home. If there had been an alternative, such as a no-kill shelter, I would’ve taken her there.
This is why Boggs Mountain Humane Shelter was able to dupe so many people.
Given a choice between bringing a stray dog to a no-kill shelter or a kill shelter, who wouldn't opt for the former? If a monetary donation guaranteed that a dog would be safe and find a home, who wouldn't open their wallet? Shelter director Lowanda “Peanut” Kilby counted on human kindness, and Boggs Mountain Humane Shelter reaped the bounty that she sowed.
News: Karen B. London
Dogs vary in their responses
Hugging is very human. Actually, this behavior occurs in our species as well as quite a few other primate species, as we primates seem to seek out and enjoy ventral-ventral contact with one another.
Dogs are quite different, as they typically don’t enjoy hugs, no matter how accommodating they are to the humans in their lives who insist on it. To see a dog look displeased, or even disgusted, giving one a hug is often all that’s required.
Of course, I would not recommend hugging a dog for a very important reason that is related to but extends beyond that fact that dogs typically detest it. Many dogs bite when they are hugged. The bites are sometimes motivated by fear, and sometimes a reaction along the lines of, “Don’t you dare do that to me. Again. Ever.”
It’s pretty straightforward to me. Humans like to give and receive hugs. Dogs don’t. When we hug them, most tolerate it in much the same way that children tolerate having their cheeks pinched by aging relatives—grudgingly and with an understanding that the people doing these dreadful things really can’t help themselves.
What’s far less clear to me is what dogs make of observing humans hug each other. I’ve known dogs with a variety of responses to hugs between the human members of my family or our visitors. Some dogs join the hug by jumping up and leaning into the action. Some leap onto the huggers repeatedly and with increasing vigor. Others place themselves between the huggers, causing them to separate. I’ve seen dogs spin in place or circle around the huggers, and I’ve known dogs who bark and growl when two or more humans hug in their presence. It’s unusual to have a dog who runs away, perhaps out of the room when they observe hugging, but I do know of a couple of dogs who did respond in exactly that way.
What does your dog do when you hug someone?
News: JoAnna Lou
Ex-shelter dogs are trained to become conversation canines
Families often misjudge how much exercise dogs need, which is how many pets end up at the animal shelter. Insatiable play drive is bad for the average home but great for working canines. The Center for Biology Conservation adopts many of these dogs and trains them to sniff out wildlife droppings. Yes you read that right!
Scientists can learn a lot from scat, including sex, species, and even stress level. They can put together a complete health profile without even ever meeting an animal in person.
The Center's current project is bringing two conservation canines to the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico to track salamanders found nowhere else in the world. These amphibians are threatened due to the changing climate. The information will be used to map salamanders and create a plan to help save the critters and conserve the forests they live in.
The two dogs scheduled for the job are a Labrador named Sampson and an Australian Cattle Dog named Alli. Both are rescue pups and have since gone through rigorous training (all through positive reinforcement!). Sampson and Alli are trained on a variety of animal droppings, including the Pacific Pocket Mouse whose scat is as small as a sesame seed! Other conservation canines can even sniff out killer whale waste.
The Center's Conservation Canines program launched in 1997 and now sends scat sniffing dogs all over the world. Their skills are unmatched as they can collect huge amounts of samples over a large area in a short period of time.
I knew that droppings can provide a wealth of information, but the work that can be done with that data is far bigger that I'd realized. In one notable project, the Center used data from African elephant scat to create a map that is being used to battle the illegal ivory trade. Now when ivory pieces are discovered, the laboratory can identify the exact area it came from, which increases the chances of finding the culprits.
All that thanks to the amazing canine nose!
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