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The First Canine Laryngectomy
Bean during her intake at the Humane Society of Silicon Valley shelter.

At her intake at a shelter in April 2012, Bean was a pup with a familiar profile: a Pit Bull whose family could no longer care for her. But it wasn’t long before someone at the Humane Society of Silicon Valley in Milpitas, California did notice something unusual about her.

It was her lack of “boing,” says staff member Finnegan Dowling. “No Pit Bull puppy should be that mellow.”

Bean also had a stiff walk. When she was excited, she hopped like a bunny. They took her for x-rays, but even sedation didn’t relax her joints enough to get pictures, Dowling says, and the vet referred her to UC Davis for an MRI scan.

There, Dr. Karen Vernau, chief of the Neurology and Neurosurgery Service at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, discovered that her hip joints were improperly formed. Bean’s determined spirit wasn’t lost on Vernau, but her chances of adoption seemed slim.

The five month old pup was suffering from muscular dystrophy, a progressive and currently incurable disease that would affect many parts of her body.  

According to notes in Bean’s file at the Humane Society, she was scheduled for a procedure at Davis on May 25. By the 29th, she was diagnosed with myopathy, a neurological condition. But somewhere in between those dates, Dowling says, Dr. Vernau’s relationship with her patient “went from obligation to affection.”

Vernau and her family decided to adopt Bean.  As the vet told a reporter, “We didn’t intend to go down this path with her, but she just sucked us in.”

This happy ending was only the beginning of Bean’s harrowing medical story.

Gradually, things got worse. Surgery to correct her hips was followed by relief—then new problems. A massive hernia called for another surgery. Her swallowing improved, but the muscles in her esophagus were failing and there were bouts of vomiting so intense she would sometimes choke and pass out. Bean grew thinner as she struggled with aspiration (food getting into her respiratory tract when eating), which caused pneumonia.

Her vets sought help from colleagues in human medicine, a multidisciplinary approach the university encourages through its “One Health Initiative.” They included Dr. Stan Marks, a gastrointestinal specialist, and Dr. Peter Belafsky, an expert in human swallowing and airway disorders, and others.

With help from the biomedical engineering department, Bean had been fitted with a feeding tube that allowed her to eat several times per day. It worked beautifully, according to Dr. Marks.

But it didn’t stop the vomiting.

Since the vomiting put her life at risk, Belafsky concluded that they would have to stop it by removing her larynx.

Belafsky, who performed the second documented human larynx transplant, knew how profoundly such problems affect a person’s quality of life. And it was clearly true for Bean.

Her surgery, which lasted more than three hours, was the first ever canine laryngectomy. The procedure is typically used to treat human cancer. According to Belafsky, the separation of her breathing and swallowing tubes will prevent food from getting into her lungs when she eats or vomits.

The lessons learned in Bean’s treatment will impact human care, and vice versa, Belafsky said in a press conference after the surgery. Belafsky hopes she will inspire human patients who have also lost their voice and now breathe through a hole in their neck. She may just get a guest membership in the “Lost Cords Club” for people who have had a laryngectomy.

After all, Bean is only two years old, but has slept out more than 100 rounds of anesthesia and undergone eight surgeries and countless other procedures. Her “can’t do list” is long. Can’t bark, breathe or swallow normally. Forget gobbling down a treat, and she can’t swim without drowning due to the tracheostomy tube.

But the list of things she once endured, the choking and pneumonia, has been tossed.

Now when she accompanies Vernau to the hospital, she serves as ambassador and teacher, allowing students to experience canine tube feeding.

At home, Bean is learning new ways to enjoy life, which still holds plenty of the good old stuff – balls to chew, cushy beds, and a loving family that includes two other dogs.

Watch this video about Bean's surgery and recovery.

 

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Hiking Guide Dog Passes Away
Randy Pierce says goodbye to an amazing canine partner
Quinn, the seeing eye dog who helped Randy Pierce hike all of New Hampshire's 48 4,000+ foot mountains, including the 6,288 foot Mt. Washington three times, passed away yesterday at the age of nine. In 2012, at the time of their achievement, only 46 people could make the same claim.

I was, and still am, in awe of this team. Having hiked one of the New Hampshire 4,000 footers with my dog, I know it is no easy feat with perfect vision! Seeing how Scuttle navigates rocky terrain, I can see it would take a lot of restraint and very strong muscles on Quinn's part to hike the mountain while helping Randy.

Randy and Quinn's journey is even more amazing because by 2003, Randy's neurological disorder left him completely blind and in a wheelchair. But with the Labrador's help, Randy spent the next two years working to get out of his wheelchair.

After working hard to gain mobility, Randy and Quinn began taking their activities to the next level, hiking and even running together. After completing the New Hampshire 4,000 footers, Randy and Quinn went on to run the Boston Athletic Association 5k last year.  

Inspired by their progress and thankful for his robust support group, Randy founded 2020 Vision Quest to share his story and raise money for Guiding Eyes for the Blind (the organization that trained Quinn) and The New Hampshire Association for the Blind. In 2015, Randy is planning to run in the Boston Marathon, sadly without Quinn.

News: Guest Posts
How Well Do You Know Your Dog? Part 2

Does it smell weird in here to you?

You know what I’m talking about. That nagging feeling that something smells “different,” but you just can’t put a finger on it. This has been my life for the last three days. Day after day, I’d enter the living room and think, “Did it always smell like that in here? It smells different, right? What is that!?”

On the fourth day, I finally sat down on the couch to read a book. On the coffee table before me sat a bowl of chestnuts. They had yet to be roasted. “Chestnuts don’t have a smell,” I thought. To the right of the chestnuts, the remote. Electronics, also void of smell (although my Game Boy got moldy, and that smelled). Then, I saw it. Next to the remote sat the biggest, most obvious thing on the table, the centerpiece you might say. A large, overripe cantaloupe. It had been there for 6 days and with the radiator pumping out heat (because it is so cold!), the cantaloupe was starting to mush, and that mush was permeating the air and my nostrils. How could I miss it? It was the most prominent thing in the room. Yet day after day, I missed that the gnarly cantaloupe was behind the new stench.

That’s how I feel about dogs. Not that they are starting to smell (although some of them might be), but that despite them being major parts of our lives, we can overlook the important bits.

I left 2013 by posing a question: How Well Do You Know Your Dog? Part 1. The answer: If judging by smell, you know your dog pretty well. In one study, people could identify the smell of their dog compared to an unknown dog in a “smell test.” I finished Part 1 suggesting that while we might be attuned to some nuanced bits of our dogs — like their smell — we’re not attuned to all parts of them, like behavior. I’ll explain.

Is Snoopy happy?
In a study by Wan et al. (2012), participants watched short video clips of dogs (some of which you can view at Dr. Wan’s website here). They then rated the dog’s emotional state and noted which body parts tipped them off. Because the videos had no sound, participants had to rely on dog behavior to label a dog as, say, fearful or happy. And these videos were not just any videos. They had been pre-screened by dog behavior experts (listed below) whose schooling trains them to look at animal behavior and make science-based assessments. Because Wan and her colleagues wanted to know whether our perception of emotions in dogs is shaped by our experience with dogs, study participants were grouped as having little or no experience with dogs, having lived with a dog at some point, or working with dogs for more or less than ten years.

We know happy! But…
Wan and colleagues found that happy dogs were easiest to identify. Even people with little dog experience could watch a dog frolicking in the snow or rolling joyfully on its back and describe that dog as happy.

But fear was different. Study participants who were dog professionals did a better job identifying fear compared to both dog owners and people with little dog experience. The authors suggest that “professional experience with dogs aids proficiency in interpretations of fearful behavior.” It didn’t matter how many years the dog professionals had spent working with dogs; they had the same proficiency in identifying fear.

So why did dog professionals do so much better in identifying fear? One reason could be that professionals looked at more dog body parts for clues, such as the eyes, ears, mouth and tongue, while non-professionals looked at fewer body parts, focusing primarily on legs, paws and tails. More details in the figure provided by Wan et al. (2012).

The researchers summarize: “The results of the current study are among the first to demonstrate that the perception of an emotion in dogs can be associated with human observers’ level of dog experience.”

While many of us love dogs to pieces (Buzzfeed reminds me of this on a daily basis), noticing and interpreting their subtle behaviors can take practice. That’s okay! Behavior observation can be learned.

Keeping an eye out for fear
Even if you live with the most happy go lucky dog on the planet, fear should still be on your radar, especially if your dog ever interacts with other dogs. Recognizing fear in another dog can help you give that dog space; their owner can take it from there.

What does fear look like? It can include a wide variety of body parts and body postures. Wan and colleagues explain, “…fearful dogs are said to reduce their body size – crouching into a low posture, flattening their ears, and holding their tails in a low position. Shaking, yawning, salivation, freezing, panting, paw-lifting, and vocalizing are examples of other behaviors that have been associated with fear in dogs.”

Maybe, in certain contexts, you notice fearful behaviors in your own dog and want to help decrease it. Like gymnasts, fear is flexible. Just as dogs can sensitize to stimuli, so too can they habituate. With classical- and operant-conditioning techniques, behavior management, and maybe some professional assistance (see below), dogs can have a modified outlook on life. What does a modified outlook look like? Check out Masey’s progress over at Reactive Champion.

Sometimes we just can’t piece it together that the cantaloupe smells. But of course, a trained fruit expert would exclaim, “Julie! Your cantaloupe is rotting.” You see where I’m going with this. Sometimes dogs are fearful, and the clues are right in front of us, like a rotting cantaloupe. Learn to recognize dog fear behavior. This is a blog about dogs after all. Not cantaloupe.

 

Photo: a muddy dog…..is a happy dog via bambe1964; National. Flickr Creative Commons

References & Recommended Reading
Companion Animal Psychology. 2013. Review of Wan et al. (2012). Does Experience Help People Recognize Emotion in Dogs?
Goldman, J. 2012. What Is Classical Conditioning? (And Why Does It Matter?). The Thoughtful Animal
Goldman, J. 2012. What Is Operant Conditioning? (and How Does It Explain Driving Dogs?). The Thoughtful Animal
Thompson, C. Reactive Champion Blog.

This article first appeared on DogSpies, Scientific American. Used with permission.
 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Innovating Shelter Design
NYC architects revamp the traditional layout for housing homeless pups

Although my relationship with Scuttle began at the local shelter, it's still a depressing place to visit. Rows of dark kennels filled with barking dogs isn't enjoyable for the poor animals or the overworked staff. And this of course impacts the visitor experience.

It's been great to see a new trend of shelters designed to improve the atmosphere, such as the San Francisco SPCA with its spacious, homey rooms and the New York-based Animal Haven with its boutique style windows featuring pets for adoption.

This new wave of design is being taken to the next level with the Staten Island Animal Care Center in New York City. The improved shelter will be built from the ground up by Garrison Architects as part of the city's Design Excellence program. The initiative puts public building projects in the hands of top architects, an amazing opportunity to bring innovation to neglected places like the animal shelter.

According to James Garrison, the company's founder, the driving force behind the design process was to increase adoption rates. His team found that happy animals make for happy humans, leading to a total revamp of the traditional shelter layout.

Instead of cramming cages inside long, dark holding areas, the plan is to create rooms that line the perimeter of the building, giving animals exposure to floor to ceiling windows. The design also allows the rooms to be smaller, replacing long rows of kennels with separate areas of seven or eight cages. This will help alleviate barking dogs feeding off each other's stress.

James' team is also planning for custom acoustic separations to keep noise down to a minimum. Normally carpet or cloth would be used to absorb sound, but these materials are also good at absorbing urine. Instead, the rooms will use a special perforated steel material for the ceiling and multi-shell polycarbonate for the walls. These materials will reduce resonating sound, while still being easy to clean. The building will also incorporate as much natural ventilation and light as possible to create a clean and inviting atmosphere.

As if the new design wasn't inspiring enough, an area of the new shelter will be be named after Tommy Monahan, a local nine year old who died after running into his burning home to save the family's Yorkshire Terrier and lizard. It's a special way to remember a boy's love for his pets.

Construction on the new shelter started this month and is scheduled to be complete by April 2015. I can't wait to see the building when it's unveiled!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Cigarettes and Beer as Reward for Lost Dog
It’s an unusual offer, but the dog is back

There’s a similarity among dog lovers in that we would give “anything” to get a lost dog back, but when it comes to being specific about what that means, we’re all different. Abigail Miller of Dayton, Ohio offered a pack of cigarettes and a case of beer for the return of her lost dog, Zoro.

Both of her dogs escaped through a gate in her yard, and though Miller found Ajna at a local shelter a few days later, Zoro was not there. After seeing Miller’s flier with its unusual reward, a man reported that he had seen a dog matching the description. His information led her to the house where Zoro had been taken and to a couple who had found and intended to keep him. Ten days after the escape, Zoro came back home to Miller’s.

The man who found Zoro declined the reward, so Miller plans to give him food from the restaurant where she works instead. When asked about the reward, Miller said that she could afford it and that she hoped it would be unusual enough to catch people’s attention.

Have you seen rewards offered for lost dogs that depart from the usual cash offerings?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Snow Affects Elimination
Tips for helping your dog “go” this season

“Help! My dog won’t “go” in the snow!” Some dogs hold it so long that it’s worrisome and others simply choose to go inside the house, even if this is something they would never do when the weather is more to their liking. Elimination problems when there is snow are common, especially for dogs who have never been in snow and for small dogs who struggle with cold to any degree. There are likely at least two reasons why dogs show a reluctance to eliminate when snow covers the ground.

Most dogs learn at a very young age what surfaces are appropriate for bathroom use. While still puppies, they experience certain substrates such as grass, leaves, concrete, or indoor training pads or litters, and those are what they are likely to prefer for the rest of their lives. When dogs encounter snow, they often just don’t know that it is okay to eliminate on it. Puppies who learn their housetraining skills during a snowy winter are far less likely to have this problem. So, even though I consider raising a puppy in winter to have its miseries, an advantage is that the dog is less likely to balk at eliminating in the snow each winter.

Another issue for dogs with the snow is the obvious one—it’s cold! There is the cold air itself and also the cold snow on their paws (and on their legs and bellies in some cases!) For dogs unfamiliar with snow, especially small dogs who are not fans of cold under any circumstances, they simply hate the feeling of cold and snow. This makes them resistant to head out at all, and unable to relax enough to go once they are outside, which is perfectly understandable.

Luckily, they are ways to help your dog so that eliminating in the winter is still something that happens on the ground outside rather than on the carpet inside. One method that many use is shoveling out a patch of grass for them along with a path from the door to the potty area. I’ve had clients who have tried to minimize the work involved by shoveling a path to an area protected from the snow such as under a balcony or even under a trampoline. Most dogs are more likely to head out to take care of business if it’s easier to walk there and if there is a snow-free area available to them.

Many dogs do better if you go out with them. Not everybody wants to head out with their dogs in freezing temperatures to wade through the snow together, but if you find that it leads to success, it may be worth it to you. In some cases, several outings may be required. You can go out with your dog, and if he doesn’t eliminate within 5-10 minutes, take him inside with you, keeping him right with you on leash so he can’t sneak off and “go” in the house. After another 5-10 minutes, head outside together to try again. You can repeat this many times, and though it takes considerable effort, it does work for most dogs.

Some dogs struggle the most to eliminate in the yard when it’s snowy, but do better on walks through the neighborhood. If it’s not so cold that your dog’s paws can’t take it, walks may inspire your dog to eliminate. Being away from the yard is helpful, and the activity may make your dog’s need to go more urgent. Leading your dog to areas where other dogs have already gone (yellow snow has its benefits!) may encourage your dog, too.

Training your dog to eliminate on cue has helped many dogs potty in all sorts of new and confusing situations, including snow, but it’s most helpful to teach your dog this skill before the weather is working against you. There are two steps to this training process:

1) Reinforce elimination behavior by giving your dog a really great treat every time he pees or poops. Don’t wait until your dog comes running back to the house to give him the treat or he’ll think he earned the treat by running over to you. Stand right near him as he goes and give him the treat the instant he is done eliminating so he connects going potty with receiving a treat.

2) Once you have done this many times and he begins to look at you expectantly for that treat after eliminating, add in the cue. Take him outside as usual to eliminate and give the cue you want to use to tell him to eliminate, making sure to say it before he goes. Common cues are “Hurry Up”, “Get Busy” and “Go Potty.” With enough practice, a dog will learn that when you say the cue, he should take care of business. Continue to reinforce him with treats once you have added in the cue so that he knows he did the right thing and is happy that he did.

Once your dog can eliminate on cue, you can give him the cue in situations where he might not be sure that the area is acceptable, such as in snow or in a rocky area without grass. It’s just one more way that specific training allows you to communicate with your dog and make it easier for him to understand what to do.

Does your dog resist going potty in the snow? If so, how have you handled it?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Lindsey Vonn Adopts a 'Rehab Buddy'
The popular skier finds a pup also recovering from a leg injury

There's nothing like a fuzzy puppy to cuddle up with when you're sick or an energetic dog to get you outside when you're depressed. After succumbing to a knee injury just weeks before the Winter Olympics, Lindsey Vonn has discovered the joys of rescuing a pup in need.

The day after withdrawing from the Sochi games, the popular skier visited the Furry Friends Adoption and Clinic in Jupiter, Florida to bring home Leo, a brindle Boxer mix with a shattered leg. While Lindsey's injury resulted in a missed Olympics, Leo's injury led him to be abandoned at the shelter. Both Lindsey and Leo will require surgery and rehabilitation to get back to full health.

Last week Lindsey posted on Instagram, “I adopted Leo today from an animal shelter and he has cheered me up so much! He was hit by a car and has a bad knee. Maybe we can do rehab together! #meantforeachother #bumkneebuddies.”

What a perfect pair. I'm so glad that they found each other!

News: Editors
Lucy The Beagle Problem Solves
And gets her chicken nugget reward

I'm sure most of you have seen this rather amazing video of Lucy the Beagle demonstrating that humans aren't the only species who use/make tools. Pretty darn ingenious for her to figure out how to propel herself up to snag her chicken nugget quarry. I'm certainly glad that none of my dogs have figured this out yet. Have any of yours?

 

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Facial Recognition by Dogs
They respond to photos of familiar faces

You know your dog knows who you are, right? That enthusiastic greeting when you come home is proof positive that he recognizes you. But what clues him in to your identity—the sound of your footsteps, your voice, your unique smell, that palpable charm? That may all be possible, but recent evidence suggests that dogs can actually recognize faces.

The ability to recognize faces is important for social animals. When living in a group, identifying individual members and being able to distinguish them from one another is essential for keeping track of specific social interactions. For dogs as well as humans, this skill is highly developed.

In a recent study called How dogs scan familiar and inverted faces: an eye movement study published in the journal Animal Cognition, researchers investigated facial recognition in the domestic dog. They concluded that:

  • Dogs prefer to look at faces of other dogs than at human faces.
  • They spend a lot of time looking at the eyes, suggesting that they perceive that the images are faces.
  • Dogs are more interested in familiar than unfamiliar human faces.
  • Pet dogs with families are more responsive to human faces than kennel dogs, but both prefer dog faces over human faces.

These results are similar to those found when studying humans and other primates with the same technique used in this study—tracking eye movement. Across the many species that have been studied previously, primates are more interested and spend more time looking at faces of members of their own species. Similarly, primates look at the eyes of faces, just as dogs did.

This study also investigated dogs’ responses to faces that are shown upside down. Such inversions are interesting to cognitive scientists because there is evidence in other species that inverted faces are not processed the same way as faces that are oriented in the normal way.

Humans are able to identify faces quickly and accurately because we have a mechanism to identify faces that is separate from the system used to identify other sorts of objects. The face is looked at as a complete structure with tiny differences in the configuration of its parts rather than as separate parts as we do with other objects. When faces are upside down, the process of facial recognition is disrupted and we are forced to identify the face as we would other objects, as parts that must be looked at and evaluated individually rather than as a whole. The facial recognition that is usually so effective doesn’t work well on inverted faces. They are processed as other sorts of objects are—piece by piece—rather than as an integrated whole, which is why we are not as good at identifying faces in this way.

Dogs, according to this study, fixate on upside down faces longer, suggesting that it is more difficult for them to identify them than when they are upright. They do spend a lot of time looking at the eyes even in upside down faces, which suggests that they do recognize these images as faces despite their position.

Because dogs have lived with humans for so long, they provide an interesting model for studying facial recognition since they are adept at identifying individual faces in their own as well as in our species.

News: Editors
Dog Is My Co-Pilot: In Action

We just got this wonderful note and video from Tamandra Michaels, a perfect representative for our slogan, Dog Is My Co-Pilot. She writes:

"I think I tried to share this video I had made of my puppy on your Facebook page, but not sure if was really seen. I just wanted to really share this, as I have your shirt on, and he is so fitting with “dog is my co-pilot.” You blogged about my last Shepherd, who pulled me in my wheelchair, and was a very special guy. I was so devastated to lose him. This current pup has really healed me, and is turning out to be just as special, a very amazing boy! He loves to pull me fast in the chair, but also developed this talent all on his own—and it has to be his idea ha ha. He pushes me with his nose, all over the place. It's just especially cool when I have your shirt on .… It fits my whole philosophy of training, too. Force free, truly a team mate, co-pilot :)"

 

You can read more about her and this amazing dog, Justice True, on http://journeywithjustice.com

 

 

 

 

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