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News: Guest Posts
Blanket Lust
An (seemingly) unstoppable obsession

I am obsessed with blankets. Turns out, so is Leo. My blanket obsession began with a passion for textile design, which developed into a habit of buying any blanket, comforter or quilt that caught my eye. Leo’s blanket habit is related to mine: Whenever I bring home a gorgeous coverlet, he has to chew a gigantic hole right in the middle—as soon as he is left alone with it for more than 20 seconds.

  Sometimes I think fate must have ironically brought Leo and I together, or that maybe Leo is saving me from the fate of being crushed under an avalanche of blankets when I open the linen closet. With Leo’s blanket-munching, I recognized there were two issues that needed to be addressed. First, Leo could not be left alone with blankets until he learned chewing on them is inappropriate. Secondly, he needed a positive outlet for his chewing, such as a chew toy.   Keeping Leo away from blankets worked for like a week. His tenacity for finding unattended blankets was borderline inspiring. I’d leave the bedroom door open for a minute while I went to grab clothes from the dryer: Gigantic hole in the blanket. I’d take a catnap on the sofa: Down feathers everywhere when I awoke.   Since keeping him away from blankets wasn’t going to happen, I tried taste deterrents, like bitter spray misted onto the blankets. Apparently, the only one affected by this was me. Many a nap was rudely ended by a bitter taste. After falling asleep in a blanket cocoon on the sofa (exhausted from watching back-to-back-to-back episodes of Cake Boss), my open mouth would inevitably make contact with the surface of the blanket. It was heinously gross. Meanwhile, Leo would power through the nasty flavor. For my sake, I gave up on the bitter spray.   My plan to redirect Leo’s affection from blankets to toys has been even less successful. Even after taking Leo to training specifically to pique his interest in toys, he drifts after more than 20 seconds unless it is something he can eat (like a bully chew or a Kong toy). I see a future with a morbidly obese dog curled happily on elegant, intact quilts.   The reality is Leo and I both have issues that need to be dealt with (though I’d like to think that I can curb my blanket-purchasing habit as soon as I can curb Leo’s blanket-eating habit). What next? Do I give Leo one blanket and designate it as his? Do I continue my two years of attempting to interest him in toys? Do I concede that maybe I won’t have nice blankets ever? Any suggestions?

 

News: Guest Posts
Dogs Only
Federal government narrows service animal definition

If you have a disability and want to bring your helper parrot, monkey or snake with you in public, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Revisions to the Department of Justice’s ADA regulations were signed by Attorney General Eric Holder last Friday, and they exclude exotic animals as service animals.

  Monkeys, rodents, and reptiles, among others, will no longer be permitted to accompany individuals with disabilities into places of public accommodation. The only animals who will qualify as service animals are … dogs.   DOJ regulations (implementing Title III of the ADA) used to define a service animal as “any guide dog, signal dog or other animal individually trained to provide assistance for the benefit of an individual with a disability.”   The revised regulations define a service animal as “any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability.” Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this new definition.   These regulations will take effect six months after the date they are published in the Federal Register, and at risk of being labeled a species-ist, I must confess I look forward to the changes. I use a trained service dog who adheres to high behavioral standards. When you travel around with a dog like this you get an earful of stories about other service animals: Helper parrots pecking at shoppers in stores; comfort pigs going crazy in airplanes; a therapeutic rat that quells anxiety in his owner but ends up causing anxiety to others instead.     Seeing Eye pioneers worked long and hard to open the doors and give our dogs public access. Opening ADA legislation to even more animals who may not truly be qualified could possibly ruin the good name our Seeing Eye pioneers have worked so hard to build over the years. My hope is that limiting the number of allowable species will stop erosion of the public’s  trust in our well-behaved, helpful—and absolutely necessary—service animals.   

 

News: Guest Posts
A New Job for Pearl
Second graders illustrate book about Haiti SAR dog

Allyn Lee has volunteered for 16 years, teaching second graders about animals and the environment. In January, she was teaching Connie Forslind’s second grade class at Rancho Romero School in Alamo, Calif., about wolves—a subject, she says, always segues to dogs—when Haiti was hit by the devastating earthquake. Lee followed the coverage, in particular stories about the canine search teams, including California Task-Force 2 (CA-TF2), trained by the Search Dog Foundation. CA-TF2 saved 11 lives in Haiti and learned a great deal about saving more lives in future disasters. Lee decided she wanted to write the true story of a Pearl and her handler, Fire Captain Ron Horetski.

  When she told her students they became enthusiastic supporters and illustrators. They studied photos of Horetski and Pearl and watched Search Dog Foundation videos. Every student provided at least one image for A New Job for Pearl: A Homeless Dog Becomes A Hero, and they participate in book sales events nearby. “They are fully involved and determined to sponsor a search dog!” Lee says.    Lee and her students hope to sell 1,000 copies at $10 each to raise the $10,000 needed to sponsor the training of a search dog. To support the kids, SDF and/or to learn Pearl’s wonderful story, visit ANewJobforPearl.org.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Getting a Bad Rap
Loose dogs clash with cyclists

Loose neighborhood dogs remain one of the biggest concerns for cyclists on the road. Aggressive dogs are at the top of the list, but even friendly dogs can cause a cyclist to come crashing to the ground. These clashes can result in serious injuries for both the human and dog involved. 

Many bike clubs around the country have guidelines about how to deal with dogs en route, which shows that these crashes may be more common than we realize.

Canine crashes are even a problem for the professionals. Earlier this month, a stray dog crossed the road right in front of the Tour de France riders, taking down several cyclists. Apparently dog crashes are a regular occurrence during the prestigious event.

So where are these dogs coming from? The wayward hound in the Tour de France was reportedly a stray, but most of the dogs encountered by everyday cyclists are not homeless. 

At first I was shocked when I learned about this problem, but then I thought about my own experience around my neighborhood. When walking or running with my pups, I always see many unsupervised, unleashed dogs sitting on their front lawn. Most stay on their property, sometimes with a menacing bark, but others have run after us down the street. Not only is it scary for me and my dogs, but it’s not safe for the dog coming after us because he could easily be hit by a car or tangle with the wrong animal.

As well behaved as my dogs might be, I would never trust them to be unattended in an unfenced yard. You never know what distractions may lead them to dart into the street. 

Are loose dogs common in your neighborhood?

Culture: Readers Write
How I Found My Dog
Bear in the backyard

One June day in 2006, I opened the door to our back deck to take my marvelous mutt, Furio, for a walk. As soon as his paws hit the wooden slats, his hair raised and his body froze in fear. Then I saw what Furio was looking at: a big black bear underneath the deck. I rushed Furio into the house and came back outside to make sure my eyes weren’t fooling me. Sure enough, there was something very large and black hiding out under our house. Living in Asheville, N.C., it isn’t unusual to see a bear crossing through your yard, but I certainly didn’t want this one hiding under my deck. Just as I was opening the door to go back inside, I caught a glimpse of the big brown eyes looking up at me and realized I wasn’t dealing with a bear at all. Just a very large Rottweiler!

  After chasing him for two hours, my boyfriend and I managed to put him in a crate and called Animal Control. They informed me that a Rottweiler would be highly unadoptable and would probably be euthanized upon arrival. I didn’t have to think about what I would do with this big “bear,” I knew that he had found us for a reason and he would be spending the rest of his life with us. He had an embedded collar, he was severely emaciated (80 pounds) had roundworms and a staph infection. After a few visits to our vet, he was in great shape and weighed in at 120 pounds. We named him Rocco and he became a member of the family. Everywhere we went with Rocco, he touched people’s hearts by showing them how much love a big dog could give.   In February of 2009, we took Rocco to the vet to check up on a cough he had recently developed. We weren’t prepared for what the vet had to say, “Rocco has lymphoma.” The treatment would run close to $10,000. Without treatment, he would be lucky to live for four weeks. With treatment, the average time would be six months. We didn’t have the money but we began fundraising and were able to put Rocco through chemotherapy. He loved going to chemo, and even cried in the office if he wasn’t the first one to receive treatment. We took him hiking at least twice a week, and he continued to live his life as a normal dog.   In August, we realized our time with Rocco was running out. He came out of remission and stopped responding to chemo. We felt blessed for the six months we had been given to enjoy with him, but we weren’t prepared for losing him. On August 30, I was informed about a Rottweiler on death row in North Carolina, scheduled to be euthanized on September 2. Although we wanted to rescue him, we knew Rocco needed us throughout his final days. Later that evening, I kissed Rocco goodnight, told him how much I loved him, and went to bed, while he slept with Furio. I prayed that he wasn’t in pain and that he would pass quietly and quickly when the time came. When I awoke the next morning, I knew something was wrong. Before leaving the bedroom, I turned to my boyfriend and said, “Rocco is gone.” And he was. He had passed peacefully in the night, next to his best friend, Furio.   Although we were devastated over the loss of our sweet Rocco, we felt that by some miracle he had left us just in time to save another dog. On September 2, we drove to pick up the Rottweiler about whom we knew nothing. We didn’t feel prepared for another dog, but we knew he deserved a chance at life. When we arrived at the shelter, we were led to the back room and introduced to a beautiful, big Rottweiler. “His name is Bear.” I couldn’t help smile and look toward the sky, thanking Rocco. Our bear in the backyard couldn’t stay with us forever, but he made sure to lead us to the next one.
Culture: Tributes
Sidehill’s Mab
Queen of the Celtic Fairies and Beguiler of Men

“If there are no dogs in Heaven,
then when I die I want to go
where they went.”

Will Rogers, 1897-1935

  Sidehill’s Mab, Queen of the Celtic Fairies and Beguiler of Men, is now gossiping with Dancer Dawg, Roscoe the Ratador, and Buck(le) Bear about the challenges of living with me. They are talking of misplaced leashes, late dinners, damned cats (and more damned cats), hours in the back of the vehicle of the day and walks promised but not taken. I hope they talk about the good times of meeting and greeting at market, gossipy strolls in the ’hood, playing in the lake and at the river and the great snow marches. No doubt they are comparing notes on the numerous beds, mats and comforters they were each given. Since they all ended up on my bed—they can match stories about my snoring, weird sleep habits and my own marathon naps. Mab can flaunt her trips to the beach (she went to both Nag’s Head and Virginia Beach). She can describe chasing the sea gulls to her heart’s delight at both places and winning admirers with her good looks and gracious ways. She came to me a beautifully trained field English Setter and I ruined her, letting her forget most of her training. I spoiled her rotten and she returned the favor. She was my good good dog.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Crate Rest
Is it possible to survive it?

Besides the obviously horrendous news that a dog has cancer or is in kidney failure, there are few more dreaded statements from the veterinarian than, “Your dog needs to be on crate rest.” Every time a client relays the news to me that the vet has said this, I am torn between the urge to offer them a stiff drink or slide a chair under them before they fall over in despair.

  Keeping a dog on crate rest is unbelievably challenging for everyone involved, especially if the dog is young and active. I’ve found that many of my clients are more alarmed by the thought of living with a dog temporarily restricted from exercising than they are by the original medical problem.   It is never easy to keep a dog on crate rest from becoming restless and perhaps developing undesirable behaviors, such as chewing, whining or barking. The advice I have is to twofold: Continue to spend quality time with your dog and make sure she is mentally active.   Quality time with an activity-restricted dog is easily achieved with lots of physical contact. This can be as simple as cuddling together on the floor, but can also involve canine massage. The book Canine Massage in Plain English by Natalie Winter is one of my favorites. Make sure to check with your veterinarian about any areas of your dog’s body to avoid or that require you to be especially gentle.   Mental exercise can take many forms, some of which also provides you and your dog quality time together. Simple obedience work, either in a class or at home may work, depending on your dog’s specific physical limitations. Tricks are a great way to exercise your dog’s brain, too, as long as you don’t ask your dog for any behaviors that could exacerbate her condition.   There are ways to keep your dog’s mind active while you attend to other areas of your life such as working, showering, paying bills etc. Feeding her in a way that requires her to be mentally engaged, such as by stuffing food into Kongs or Goodie Balls can keep her occupied for a long time.   Surviving crate rest is mainly about preventing boredom, which is the enemy of a happy well-behaved dog.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Helping One Another
Homeless dogs help injured soldiers learn a new vocation

The Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. is on the forefront of using the human-canine bond to help soldiers. Previously, I wrote about research being done on the effects of service dogs on post traumatic stress disorder, but recently I found about Dog Tags, a partnership between the Walter Reed and its neighbor, the Washington Humane Society. 

Developed by the Humane Society, Dog Tags is a program that teaches soldiers the basics of dog training, while providing homeless dogs with training and socialization. Dog Tags gives soldiers the opportunity to pursue a future career in the field of animal training, care and welfare while increasing the dogs’ adoption rate and retention in their new homes.

Participation in the program is voluntary and requires the solders to come across the street to the Washington Humane Society’s Behavior & Learning Center twice a week. The certificate based program has three tiers, each lasting eight weeks. Even better, the certificate based educational curriculum uses all humane, motivational training methods.

I saw a presentation last year at ClickerExpo about a similar vocational program done in prisons. Listening to some of the participants, it was amazing to hear the life transformations they had from working with dogs and caring for another living being. The inmates learned compassion and empathy, while developing an optimistic outlook on life. Learning a career skill is only a small part of what participants receive from these types of programs. I can only imagine the benefits Dog Tags has for soldiers who have gone through so much trauma in their lives.

To learn more about Dog Tags or to donate, visit the Washington Humane Society website. The program is entirely funded by the Humane Society. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Espresso Anyone?
How about a puppy?

Have you ever seen a sign in a store that says: “Unattended children will be given an espresso and a puppy”? This sign is getting more common where I live and many places online actually sell them. Of course, the idea is that parents will end up with a nightmare on their hands if they don’t follow through on their responsibility to monitor their children while shopping.

  A friend of mine is very offended by anyone joking about a puppy being given away to punish parents. I didn’t take it that way at all. I take it as a joke based on the fact that a child hyped up on a massive dose of caffeine would create a lot of work for a parent, as would a new puppy. Taking care of a puppy is a big responsibility and a huge time commitment. In my opinion, this sign acknowledges what a big deal it is to get a puppy and that it should not be taken lightly.   I always have to resist the urge to try to impersonate a child and then say to an employee of the store, “My parents are letting me wander around in here by myself. I’ll take that espresso now.”   Does this sign offend you or cause you to chuckle?

 

News: Guest Posts
Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
Inexplicable phobias and unlikely explanations

“Mitch, you know the rule! No standing in the house! Dude, if you want a drink I’ll get you one, but you can’t stand up—it freaks the dog out.” Whenever my friend Mitch comes over, this is my reality. Most of the time, life at home with the dogs is pretty uneventful. The dogs keep themselves occupied playing with toys or enjoying the backyard whenever we’re not snuggling on the sofa. From time to time, my friend Mitch (a towering six-foot-four, bearded lumberjack of a man) will show up, and Skipper does not like it. My usually friendly and docile dog barks constantly at him, clipping his heels, until he sits down. As soon as Mitch hits the couch or chair, it’s like someone flipped a switch and Skip goes back to normal.

  Fear of unusually (i.e., freakishly) tall people is only one of Skipper’s many strange and inexplicable phobias. He also fears karate, a fact I discovered when Skipper witnessed our friend Andy doing a Tae-Bo workout video. Additionally, and perhaps more logically, Skipper fears smoke. If we’re getting overzealous with the panini maker or those s’mores are getting a little out of control, Skipper will cower and hide in the bushes and look so sad it’s enough to break your heart in two.   This unique constellation of phobias has lead me to only one logical conclusion: Skipper’s previous owner must have been some sort of ultimate karate master (I’m thinking Bruce Lee), who met his demise at the hands of a giant, bearded redhead (plausibly Chuck Norris) during some sort of epic showdown in a burning building. Skipper likely employed an arsenal of canine kicks and punches to save his sensei, but either the smoke was too thick, or perhaps, Skipper was cruelly thrown aside (which also explains his blindness in one eye), and could not save his dojo-master. That, or like many owners, I have constructed an alternate reality to explain the source of all my dog’s fears with one traumatic event.   It’s a natural tendency to want to believe that Skipper’s life was perfectly happy until one fateful day everything came apart, but it all worked out because I adopted him. It’s almost a mode of self-preservation, considering that I already get overly emotional when watching those ASPCA ads of dogs in shelters: I couldn’t handle imagining poor Skipper going through an extended ordeal. The reality is though, any dog, whether from a shelter or from a responsible breeder, can develop strange phobias that we don’t understand.   Think of it this way: As humans, not all of our phobias come from rational places. Case in point, I had (OK, let’s be real, HAVE) an irrational fear of E.T., stemming from my childhood. This doesn’t mean that I was at any point abducted by aliens, or lured into Drew Barrymore’s closet after following a trail of Reese’s Pieces, or forced to fly away from government agents on a 10-speed bicycle (at least, I can’t recall ever having any of these things happen to me). Sometimes, dogs, like their people, just develop phobias we can’t explain. (Some canine compulsions might even have a genetic component.)   As much as I love Skipper and want to know everything about him, I have to accept that’s not possible. Instead, I just have to be the best dog parent I can be, and deal with his quixotic fears. Unless, of course, I am totally right about that Bruce Lee vs. Chuck Norris karate showdown. In that case, Skipper has just been trying to tell me something and I should be very, very afraid.

 

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