News: Guest Posts
Animal Cruelty Registry
NYC suburb makes offenders’ identities public

In February, we wrote about California legislators’ efforts to create a statewide animal abuser registry, along the lines of sex offender databases. Although this effort stalled, probably over funding, Suffolk County, N.Y., has created an animal cruelty registry that will be the nation’s first.

  “The law was prompted by a number of animal abuse cases in recent months,” reports The Huffington Post, “including that of a Selden woman accused of forcing her children to watch her torture and kill kittens and dozens of dogs, then burying the pets in her backyard.”   The idea is that a registry will not only keep offenders in check but also provide for the future protection of animals and maybe people, since violence against animals is often a precursor to violence against humans.   I sympathize with the impulse to mark these often dangerous people with a scarlet letter but at the risk of drawing your ire—last time around, Bark readers’ general consensus about the registry was a hearty thumbs-up—I have to wonder where we draw the line in creating public, online databases. If we list all the people convicted of animal cruelty, then why not list those convicted of domestic abuse, or arson, or robbery? Why not create neighborhood maps that reveal where every felon lives? I also wonder if the registry might not have a negative impact, taking away offenders’ incentive to reform since they've been publicly flagged. Why not create an easy-to-use, searchable database with access limited to law enforcement, employers in animal-care related fields and shelters and rescues?   Honestly, I don’t know where I land on this, but I do think it’s important to move beyond fear and anger to consider the potential consequences of registries of this kind.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Low Stress Handling
Sophia Yin’s advice book available free online

Sophia Yin has written another great book to go along with her popular Small Animal Veterinary Nerdbook and How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves. Her latest book is called Low Stress Handling, Restraint and Behavior Modification of Dogs & Cats. The ideas and techniques in this book can improve safety at veterinary clinics, decrease stress in the animals, and make life easier for veterinarians, guardians and their pets. And best of all, an abridged version is available online for free through December.

  This book is all about helping animals who are nervous when visiting the veterinarian, those who dislike grooming or handling, and even those who feel uncomfortable with visitors at home. Specific issues in the book include getting dogs in and out of kennels and putting them on leash, different methods of restraint necessary for procedures, picking dogs up, the principles of classical and operant conditioning, modifying behavior through a variety of techniques, recognizing fear and understanding dominance.   Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and behaviorist, is an expert in behavior modification. Her book is a product of her knowledge of learning theory combined with her practical experience. With clear text, more than 1,600 photos and 100 video clips with informative narration, this book can help improve the lives of our pets as well as our relationships with them. There are sections on helping pets who already have issues with handling, and the book also covers ways to help puppies (and kittens) learn at an early age to take being handled in stride throughout their lives.   So many dogs and cats struggle to deal with every day handling and care or completely freak out at the veterinarian. By modifying behavior—both that of humans and of dogs and cats, so much of the resulting stress can be eliminated or at least greatly decreased, and this book provides the sort of practical information needed to make it happen.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Service Dog Dilemma
Phobia bars guide dog from Mass. store

Earlier this month, Heather Maloney was barred from bringing her guide dog into a local eyebrow threading store in Taunton, Mass., breaking state and federal laws protecting the rights of people that rely on service dogs.


Seems like an open and shut case, right? Legally, yes, but it’s not exactly as clear cut as it seems. It turns out that shop owner Fatima Noorani has a canine phobia after being bitten by a dog when she was a child. 

Maloney says that she often encounters businesses that are not familiar with the law and she’s not alone. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination receives more than 4,000 complaints each year. 

But for those who have genuine phobias, I can sympathize with both sides. For the people who rely on service dogs, they may not have the luxury of traveling to a different store. For people who have a legitimate fear, it’s not something that can be overcome easily. And for small businesses with only one or two workers, options are limited.

What’s your take?


News: Guest Posts
Spay Plates
California joins spay/neuter initiative

I received my car tab renewal announcement in the mail on Friday, and decided that this year I’d take the opportunity to order one of Washington’s special We Love Our Pets plates, which supports grants to provide low-cost spay and neuter. My state is one of a couple dozen around the country, where a specialty license purchase supports these initiatives and helps spread the word about this important effort to reduce pet overpopulation.

  I was surprised to learn that California is late to the effort. Activists there launched the California Spay and Neuter Specialty License Plate Program only this past summer and they need to pre-sell commitments for 7,500 spay plates by June 2011, in order for the program to go forward. So there's probably not a better time to upgrade your plate in that state. And, if you're not a Golden State resident, when it's time to renew you may want to find out if your state has a pet plate.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Vets Without Borders
Web series focuses on rabies

Last month I wrote about the shock of finding out that 55,000 people die each year of rabies, a major health issue outside of the United States.  I couldn’t believe that so many people die each year form something that can be easily prevented with a simple vaccine.

Veterinarians without Borders/Vétérinaires sans Frontières (VWB/VSF) has been working since 2005 to get that number down to zero. This year, as part of their Make Rabies History campaign, they’ve created a documentary web series called Vets Without Borders to create more awareness around the cause.

Vets Without Borders follows VWB/VSF vets to a small mountain village in Guatemala where residents are dying of rabies from being infected by stray dogs. The vets spay/neuter and vaccinate the dogs, in addition to handling emergencies involving pigs and other wild animals. Animal hospitals don’t exist in this remote area, so the vets must rely on limited supplies and a little creativity.

Check out the first episode: 

News: Guest Posts
Botched Euthanasia
Dog survives, what next?

This story will keep you up at night. A Michigan man takes his 11-year-old Rottweiler, Mia, to the vet to be euthanized. It’s a difficult decision, but he feels it’s the best thing for Mia, who suffers from a spinal problem. He brings her body home to bury the next day but when he retrieves her from the garage the following morning, he discovers she’s alive!

  It’s not a Halloween tale. The vet’s office—you seriously have to wonder what’s happening there—says the dosage was either too little or watered down. Does this happen more than we know? The dog, the man—have been through a harrowing ordeal, and now he faces the choice all over again. What would you do?


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Are Some Dogs Pessimistic?
A new study addresses this question

In a recent study in the journal Current Biology, researchers assert that shelter dogs who show behavior indicative of separation distress tend to be pessimistic, compared with more optimistic dogs who are less likely to exhibit separation-related behavior. I’m going to explain briefly how the experiment was conducted and then discuss my concerns with the researchers’ conclusions.

  In their experiment, 24 shelter dogs were taught that a bowl in one location had food in it, while a bowl in another location was empty. Once the dogs were trained to this paradigm, they were tested to determine whether or not they had a “pessimistic” cognitive bias, or an “optimistic” one. In the test, bowls were placed in locations other than the ones that the dogs had been trained to understand. These ambiguous locations were in the same room as the tests with bowls that had either been empty or containing food during training. The time it took for the dogs to approach the bowls in these new locations was recorded.   Dogs who went quickly to bowls in ambiguous locations were regarded as having an optimism that the bowl would contain food, while dogs who were slow to approach the bowl were considered to be pessimistic about the likelihood that the bowl would contain food.   In another part of the study, these same dogs were observed to determine how much time they spent exhibited separation-related behavior patterns such as vocalizing, destructive chewing, and inappropriate elimination. The researchers found that “pessimistic” dogs showed more separation-related distress than the “optimistic” dogs, and thus concluded that the negative affective state of these pessimistic dogs is correlated with separation distress.   My concern about this study is that I’m not convinced that the time until a dog approaches a bowl in an unknown location indicates optimism versus pessimism. What if degree of curiosity or tendency to fear new things is more relevant, rather than a cognitive decision about the likelihood of food being present? It is even possible that the dogs who were slower to approach the bowls were not as good at generalizing from the learning task or that they spent time considering what to do rather than acting impulsively. Or, perhaps the dogs who were slow to approach the bowls don’t tend to investigate things that are not theirs? (For dogs in home settings, we call this being “well-trained” or “well-behaved.”)   The authors say that the results of the experiment were “unlikely to be explained by running speed/motivation, learning ability, or other dog characteristics” but except for running speed, they did not control for them. The researchers have provided evidence that dogs who are slower to approach a bowl in an ambiguous location are more likely to exhibit signs of separation distress, but I don’t think they have made a strong case that they can conclude more than that. They have not demonstrated a correlation between separation related distress and a pessimistic cognitive bias. There are too many other possible explanations that need to be sorted through and tested for such a claim to be convincing.
News: Guest Posts
Counter Surfer, Caught!
Man videos his unsuspecting Basenji

Ever wonder what your dog is up to when you’re away? I know I’m curious about how my dogs pass the time when I’m gone, especially when I return to find what looks like the aftermath of a fairly epic couch party, but I’ve never gone so far as to deploy the nanny-cam. Thanks to this bit of undercover cinematography, I’m thinking twice about respecting their canine privacy.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Cutting Nails
Reducing the stress for you and your dog

There are few parts of dog guardianship that are less agreeable than cutting nails. In fact, the only task that I dislike more is picking up poop, and depending on the dog, clean-up duty may even be preferable to nail trimming.

  I worked for almost a year as a dog groomer, so I know a few tricks about getting nails trimmed no matter what. Whether it’s keeping a dog occupied with treats or a favorite chew toy, the promise of a walk immediately afterwards, calming holds to use with struggling dogs, or trimming one nail a day for three weeks and then starting over, it is possible to cut any dog’s nails. I even occasionally advise using a muzzle. It’s better to get it done quickly in order to minimize the stress for the dog or the chance of a bite to the human, and if a muzzle makes that happen, it may be the best option.   Of course, many people have dogs who patiently present each paw and sit like a statue while each nail is cut. For the rest of us, it’s worth trying out a variety of techniques to learn what works best for your dog.  


News: Guest Posts
Dog Food Recall
Blue Buffalo recalls chicken and salmon dog food

The Blue Buffalo Co. has announced a voluntary recall of specific production runs of its Wilderness Chicken-Dog, Basics Salmon-Dog and Large Breed Adult Dog products, “as we have reason to believe that the products from these runs may contain a higher level of Vitamin D than is called for in our product specifications.”

  According to the company, the potential of increased Vitamin D presents risk to a very small segment of the canine population who appear to be sensitive to higher levels of Vitamin D.    The ASPCA has advised pet owners who use Blue Buffalo products to contact the company with any questions related to its products and monitor their pets for signs of illness. Dr. Camille DeClementi, veterinarian and senior toxicologist at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center said, “Should pet owners notice symptoms such as increased thirst, urination, stomach upset or loss of appetite, they should consult their veterinarian or contact the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center for help.”   According to ASPCA, excessive exposure to D can result in hypercalcemia is a serious illness that affects the electrolytes in the body and can disrupt normal organ function. Serious cases can result in acute renal failure and cause damage to the heart or central nervous system. Coma and death have occurred in untreated cases.   Blue Buffalo will reimburse any veterinary or testing expenses related to illness caused by these products. Visit the Blue Buffalo website for the affected product codes and to learn more about the circumstances of the recall.