News: Guest Posts
Five Year Katrina Anniversary
Today, we remember and reflect

When my husband and I evacuated our New Orleans home the day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall, we assumed that this would be an unexpected, albeit nice visit with my parents in the Chicago area. Surely, we’d head back in a week or so. On August 29, 2005, we learned our fate; there was no going home.

In shock, I took comfort in the fact that our beloved pets – four dogs and two cats – were safe with us. It soon became clear that many other people were not so fortunate and thousands of dogs and cats were in danger of dying due to starvation, heat or worse. Animal lovers from around the country poured into New Orleans and Mississippi, selflessly sacrificing their time and money to save as many pets as they could.

I admired their efforts and yet, I felt for those owners who were unable to bring their pets with them and desperately tried to track them down. In some cases, the pet was found only to have the new owner refuse to reunite them, claiming that the animal had been abandoned, or neglected prior to the storm.

When I interviewed people frantically looking for their animals, I started to have nightmares. The most vivid opened with me sitting in a beautiful old theater and spotting my pets near a woman a few rows away. I called out to her, “Those are my dogs and cats! I need to take them home!” The woman turned toward me and said, “You can’t. You have no home.”

The first time I needed to take one of my dogs to a vet in Illinois, I was asked about his breed and where he was from. I said Louisiana and the tech said, “Oh, a Katrina dog!” No, I corrected her. He is from Louisiana and so am I.

Five years later, and having relocated to the Chicago area, I still occasionally hear people refer to their Katrina dog or cat. Though I am glad that these animals survived, honestly, the label makes me wince. Had we not been able to transport our pets with us, would someone else be calling my 13-year-old Catahoula, Desoto, their “Katrina” dog? Would he have a different name? Would all four dogs, even our Pit Bull mix, Shelby, have been saved? Our cats, Cricket and Bruiser Bear, are siblings. Would they have been separated?

Of course, the alternative would’ve been far worse. In the weeks and months after the biggest man-made disaster in U.S. history, I heard from friends and neighbors what happened to people and pets who were not rescued in time. I saw graphic images on websites and in the news. They are impossible to forget, and they shouldn’t be forgotten.

Fortunately, the lessons gleaned from this tragedy should prevent any animal from being left behind again. Thanks to the PETS Act, people are allowed to bring their pets with them to an emergency shelter. The Louisiana SPCA has since rebuilt, giving safe haven to homeless and unwanted pets in a beautiful, modern shelter. Plus, its volunteer and adoption programs are stronger than ever.

Civic activism became a new, necessary way of life. Local animal lovers and the LA/SPCA persuaded the city council to pass the Intact Dog Ordinance earlier this year, a major victory in the cause against pet overpopulation.

Challenges remain, but as a Katrina survivor once said, New Orleans will always be between storms. The difference is now we are prepared to ride them out.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mapping the Gut
New research seeks to understand the stomach

My dog, Nemo, is an expert at getting into the garbage and eating treasures off the street.  Fortunately, to date,  Nemo’s dietary habits have been fairly innocuous, but eating bad food can easily lead to more serious conditions, like gastrointestinal infections.

Until now identifying canine gastrointestinal disease was difficult because scientists could only culture a small percentage of the bacteria in a dog's gut. And for a long time, diagnosis was further complicated because veterinarians didn’t have any information on what a healthy gut looked like. 

Now researchers at the University of Illinois are using DNA pyrosequencing technology to map the canine gastrointestinal system. Having a standard will make it easier to diagnose and fight infections.

For dogs, a balanced and stable microbiota is important for gastrointestinal health, so research in this area can make a big impact on understanding our dogs’ health.  With their newfound information, the scientists at the University of Illinois plan to study how diet, medicine, and age affect microbial count.  They'll also be looking at the link between human and dog illness. This last topic is of increasing interest as more dogs are considered part of the family.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Doggy Watering Hole
It’s neighbors helping neighbors

While visiting my parents in Oregon, I was out running when I saw a bucket filled with water suspended under a sign that read “Doggy Watering Hole.” I was charmed by this thoughtful, neighborly gesture at the side of the road. This sort of community-mindedness is something to be celebrated.

  Now I realize that there will be folks who think, “Ew, what a great way to share germs.” To this I say 1) I ran by the doggy watering hole nearly every day for close to two weeks to check it out and the water always looked fresh and clean, so it is clearly being changed frequently, and 2) It sure beats having the dogs drink out of nasty puddles in the street that contain fuel products or other hazards.   I’m in favor of people carrying plenty of water for their dogs when they are out and about, but this watering hole is such a great idea as a way to help people and dogs who get caught out without quite enough for whatever reason. Have you seen anything like this in your neighborhood?


News: Guest Posts
Dog Date
At the drive-in

My boyfriend Jason often accuses me of trying to shoehorn the dogs into activities he feels aren’t an ideal fit: birthday parties, beach trips, Saturday morning brunches. Now, we have one more activity we can add to the list: Friday date nights.

  When Friday rolls around, I’m ready for fun with Jason but feel terrible if it means leaving the dogs home. What makes it worse are the hopeful looks on the dogs’ faces. Oh hey, you’re home! Yeah, change out of those work clothes... Hmm, those don’t look like hiking shoes... You’re going to be a little cold in that dress... Hey wait, where are you going? You forgot our leashes … and us! It’s enough guilt to ruin a date.   Recently, thanks to Bark’s articles about summer fun with your dog (see “Outward Hound” in Summer 2010 issue), I discovered the perfect dog + date night solution: the drive-in theater! The only question: Is my local drive-in dog-friendly? While I lived the majority of my teen years by the adage, it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission, I’ve grown less adventurous with age, particularly in this case because I didn’t want to drive 40 minutes only to be turned away.   I tried contacting the theater with no luck. When I asked friends and family if they had brought their dogs to the drive-in before, a few had, but they snuck them in under blankets. Others said they remembered seeing a “NO DOGS” sign a few years back. Jason said he didn’t want to smuggle the dogs into the theater because he’d be too stressed out about the whole ordeal, plus the dogs wouldn’t likely cooperate. It seemed like I only had one option: Lie to Jason and just go for it.   As we approached the drive-in, I pulled over for a second and told Jason I had forgotten something. Then I pulled out a large blanket from the backseat and threw it on his lap. “What’s this for?” he asked.   “So it turns out they might not be dog-friendly here, and I just didn’t want to tell you because I really wanted to go!”   “What? This is insane.”   “I know, but just put this blanket over Skipper on your lap, and they won’t notice Leo because he’s asleep and since he’s black and he’ll blend in.”   Jason rolled his eyes and begrudgingly accepted the blanket.   We pulled up to the ticket-booth and I calmly addressed the teenage cashier, “Two for The Other Guys at 10:15?”   So far so good. I handed the cashier a twenty. He returned my change. “Thank you, turn your radio to 93.6 FM.” Suddenly, both dogs leaped up and barked. Skipper practically jumped out the window. I smiled nervously as the teenager looked at me and said, “Enjoy your show.”   I honestly don’t know if the drive-in had a dog-friendly policy, or if the teenagers running the joint just didn’t care. Either way, Jason and I had a great date with the dogs. We can’t wait to go back.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Joyful Experiences with Dogs
Can you beat running on the beach?

I took this photo of Caity running with her dog Maggie while I was vacationing with my extended family in Cannon Beach, Ore. I had never met either one of them until that day, but when they zoomed by together, I just had to capture the moment.

  I am an obsessive beach and ocean lover, running is my favorite sport, and I hope it goes without saying that I’m a dog person, so for me, all of them together are about as good as it gets. Of course, if I could eat chocolate at the same time without choking, that would probably increase my enjoyment of the experience slightly, but that’s only theoretical since I’ve never tried it.   What I want to know from you is what experiences with your dog give you the greatest happiness? What are la crème de la crème of all the joyful, fulfilling moments you spend with your dog?


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Baseball Breed Ban
Petco Park event bans German Shepherds and other breeds

As a dog lover and a baseball fan, I always look forward to the New York Mets’ Bark in the Park every summer. At the annual event, canine fans are invited to CitiField to watch the game alongside their humans. “Dog days” have become popular promotions at baseball stadiums around the country and, as you can imagine, the Padres’ Petco Park is one of them.

Unfortunately, not everyone will be able to enjoy this Friday’s event in San Diego. Padres fan, Ted Lew, couldn’t wait to attend the Dog Days of Summer event with his German Shepherd, Joey, so he signed up as soon as tickets were made available earlier this year. However, just weeks before the game, Lew received a letter stating that the event had sold out.

After many inquiring phone calls, Lew found out that the real reason he couldn’t attend the event with Joey was because of a breed ban that included German Shepherds. According to the Padres, the breed ban is in effect for safety reasons but they are unable to disclose the exact breeds that are banned, only that the number is between 10 and 15.

I’m guessing insurance may have a part in the Padres’ decision, though many other ballparks offer this promotion without a breed ban. However, the Padres have made this situation even worse by not making the ban explicit, seemingly turning dogs away at random. 

If the Padres must have the breed ban, couldn’t they work with their insurance company to allow exceptions for dogs with therapy or Canine Good Citizen certifications? And at the very least, they should make their decision public instead of hiding behind the excuse of having “limited space” at the event.

How do you think the Padres should’ve handled this situation?

News: Guest Posts
National Dog Day
Celebrating canines, August 26

Thursday is National Dog Day, which was founded in 2004 to acknowledge all the dogs who “work selflessly each day to save lives, keep us safe and bring comfort.” Even if you’re naturally cranky like me and resent being told you need to show your appreciation on a particular day, it’s hard to argue with the fundamental idea that dogs give us a great deal and deserve our best in return.

  I’m willing to set aside my fundamental belief that dogs—just like mothers, fathers, grandparents, lovers, etc.—should enjoy special treats and praise daily to get behind the National Dog Day mission: supporting shelters and rescues, promoting adoption and saying no breed bans.   Among the celebration suggestions on the official National Dog Day website are parties, treats, a day lazing on a new bed (ugh!), and dressing up in patriotic attire (huh?). I think we can do better than that. How about committing ourselves to mastering some new tricks? Kicking off a more active regime? Volunteering for an animal welfare organization or making a donation? Launching a new strategy for helping animals? Reading a book about canine massage? Signing up for an organized activity, such as agility or Nose Work? With the right attitude, we can keep this from being another Valentine’s Day. Improving the health of our own dogs and reaching out to help dogs-in-need is a better investment than a box of chocolates or cut flowers (not that I’d refuse either).   Do you have plans for National Dog Day? Look for our National Dog Day poll this week on Bark’s Facebook page.


News: Guest Posts
Hoarder Faces Seven Years
Book-signing/sales will benefit canine victims

A few weeks ago, I posted a short notice about a local animal hoarder named Marie Castaldo, who was finally arrested on a variety of charges including animal cruelty. She awaits trial in Riker’s Island and faces seven years in prison. Her trial begins next week.

You can read about her crimes here or here (beware sad pictures).    The gist of the story is: This woman, a notorious con artist (and a good one at that), would visit local and New York City shelters and present herself as a kind and loving founder of a charming little rescue group located in Hudson Valley. The shelters’ adoption coordinators, taken with this woman’s charm, would relinquish a dog or two, and the hoarder would be on her way—off to do unspeakable things to these poor dogs.   I don’t need to go on and on to you Bark readers about how absolutely horrible this is. Or how this woman deserves to go to jail. Or how those poor dogs need tender loving care NOW. I mean, there’s so much to say on the subject I don’t know where to begin.   So how about this: I think about those sweet shelter volunteers, whose primary goal in life is to make sure that needy dogs find loving homes. I think of how their kindness, trust and goodness has been betrayed. I think how the dogs have been betrayed. I think how God/dess and Mother Earth herself has been betrayed, because we humans were entrusted to be stewards of the animals, and what kind of stewardship are people like Marie Castaldo exhibiting?   So what can we do beyond crying, bemoaning, complaining and/or hating humans like this?    We can rescue dogs, of course, which is what most of us here at Bark have already done. If we can’t take in any more dogs at this particular moment, we can give: Give our time, our dollars, or even our prayers to all those who suffer or need food or love or are in pain. I expect even this hoarder-woman is in pain at some level too—how else could she behave as she does?   The only good thing to come of horrifying events like this is a reminder that for every animal abuser out there, there is at least one, and probably many, animal lovers/rescuers. This is one of those laws of the universe. So let’s remember this every time we hear some bad news. It reminds us that we have the power to help—in large and small ways. And therefore help make amends for all the wrong that has been done. To dogs. To earth. To all.   At the very least, we can send emails to our local shelters—thanking them for all the hard work they do. We can send a tiny packet of treats.   On Monday, August 23, I am giving a reading and book-signing of my memoir Rex and the City: A Memoir of a Woman, a Man and a Dysfunctional Dog to benefit the 40 dogs of the Ulster County SPCA.  If any of you live in the Hudson Valley, I encourage you to attend. We’re trying to arrange to have some of the dogs attend the event and find a new home. Unfortunately, few are well enough to walk yet.   Details: Inquiring Minds Book Store, Partition at Main Street, Saugerties N.Y., Monday August 23 at 7 p.m. Early birds get a free copy of Bark magazine!   If you can’t make the reading, please visit ucspca.org to donate or purchase a copy of Rex and the City through my website at www.rexandthecity.net. All proceeds from book sales now through Sept. 15 will be donated to this shelter. This memoir is about rescuing and rehabilitating an abused shelter dog, and it has a very happy ending.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs as Children
Having kids changes the way we see our pets

Does having kids change the way we see our pets? A new study presented at the American Sociological Association Annual Meeting this month found that people with human offspring are less likely to consider their pets children. The research conducted by a professor at Indiana University South Bend found that even people who used to think of their pets as kids often re-evaluate the relationship when they have human children.

Additionally, the way we perceive our dogs is also influenced by where we live. The study found that urban pups are more likely to be considered children. People in rural areas are more likely to see animals, including dogs, in a utilitarian way.

I live in the city, so I suppose I easily fall under the category of people who would consider their pets children. Although I don't have any human kids. I can imagine that having a baby is a life changing experience. I can't say that my definition of the word child will change, but to me labels doesn't matter. I know that my pets will always be an important part of the family.

How do you define a child?


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Inspires Bagel Shop
Photos of dogs are all over the walls

In Flagstaff, Ariz., one of the most popular breakfast and lunch spots is Biff’s Bagels and Internet Café. Biff was a Samoyed who passed away more than 15 years ago, and his picture is on the wall with a plaque that says “Our Founder.” And his picture is not the only photo. On the contrary, much of the available wall space is covered with photos of dogs.

  The entire restaurant is a memorial of sorts to people’s departed dogs. If people want to have a picture of their deceased dog up in the restaurant, they are welcome to bring one in as long as it is framed. When a picture is first brought in, it stays on the counter for about a week, and then it is hung on the wall as a more permanent memorial.   Most of the photos have the dog’s name written on it, along with the birth and death days or years. Some of them have a simple message, such as “Forever in our hearts” or “He was a great dog and will always be loved.” I like going and looking at the photos, which are so numerous I’ve yet to see them all. I also love eating their bagels, which are so beyond fantastic that I use any excuse to pop in and order one.