Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Center for Pet Safety tests products
Lindsey Wolko knew that dogs are safer in cars if restrained, which is why her cocker spaniel Maggie was in a safety harness the day Wolko braked hard to avoid an accident. Despite that, Maggie was seriously injured and very scared when she slammed into the driver’s seat and her legs became tangled in the harness. She has since fully recovered from the damage to her spine and hips, but many dogs sustain even more serious injuries and not all of them recover.
Since then, Wolko has learned that all too few of the products that are sold to insure dog’s safety actually do what they are supposed to do, in part because they are not properly tested. She is determined to change that in order to keep dogs safer and prevent injuries to them. That’s why she founded the nonprofit Center for Pet Safety.
Preparing to test products involving designing canine crash test dummies in three different sizes. There are model dogs of 25 pounds, 45 pounds, and 75 pounds. All of the crash test dummies have a steel frame and accurately recreate the true center of mass and weight distributions of dogs.
In a recent series of tests that made up the 2013 Harness Crashworthiness Study, most of the canine restraints experienced catastrophic failure. That means that either the restraint allowed the dog to become a projectile or it released the test dog from the restraint. Only one product, the Sleepypod’s Clickit Utility Harness, consistently performed successfully, offering protection to the dog and to other passengers in the car by keeping the dog from leaving the seat.
Has your dog been injured in a car accident despite being restrained with a product that was supposed to offer protection?
Just in case you missed the newest youtube sensation of cats who just love to steal or bogart dog beds, and the ingenious maneuvers that dogs go through trying to get their beds back—give this a look. I love it that most of the cats seem nonplus by the "attention" they are getting from their dog pals. Really cool cats.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Humans and dogs go all out at the Tompkins Square Park Halloween Parade
Saturday I had the honor of judging the 23rd annual Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade in New York's East Village. It was quite the challenge, as many of the 250+ entries had costumes created by some very clever and creative humans.
The costumes ranged from the cute--a dog with a paper mache snail shell on its back--to the elaborate--a couple dressed as Cinderella and Price Charming with their dog in a horse outfit pulling their other pup in a princess carriage. There were also many people wearing complementary outfits to their pups. One amusing costume featured a woman dressed as Dennis Rodman and her dog as Kim Jong-un.
My other favorites were a dog perched inside a handmade life sized Zoltar fortune telling machine (rolled onto the stage with a hand truck), a canine hot dog cart with tiny condiments and rolling wheels in the back, and a giant cardboard Empire State building with a human gorilla clutching a dog dressed up as the blonde heroine, Ann, from King Kong. More photos here.
The contest really showcased how much fun people were having with their pups. The proceeds from the event benefited the park's dog run, started in the mid 1980's as the first official off-leash space in New York City. The two fenced areas (one for all dogs and one for small dogs) have been managed and funded by the community since the very beginning.
The parade was also a reminder to be thoughtful about how we celebrate Halloween with our pups. Some dogs seemed happy to don a costume and bask in the attention, while others seemed annoyed. As we get into the Halloween spirit with our pups, it's important to remember to pick costumes that don't restrict your dog's movement and to slowly introduce them to any outfits with positive reinforcement.
Enjoy the holiday!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A military dog is featured in the latest installment of the popular video game
Call of Duty: Ghosts, the tenth iteration of the popular warfare video game, features a unique character that defends himself without a gun and runs around on four legs. Riley the military dog has managed to become the breakout star of the game, even though "Ghosts" doesn't come out until next month. The working pup represents one of the biggest, and most popular, technological leaps forward in the next generation of Call of Duty.
After footage released earlier this year revealed that "Ghosts" would feature a four-legged soldier, Riley quickly inspired fan art, doggy cosplay, and an unofficial Twitter account, @CollarDuty, which has over 28,000 followers.
Canine characters are not new to video games, but Riley uses cutting edge technology to create an experience where he actually feels like a real partner. "Ghosts" developers wanted to create a canine hero that would not only assist players, but could be directed to carry out missions at certain points throughout the game.
Early video clips show Riley taking a helicopter down by lunging at the vehicle and biting the pilot. The courageous pup can also create distractions to thwart enemies and is able to give players a unique view of the battlefield through a camera mounted on his back.
The "Ghosts" developers took great care to make Riley as realistic as possible. First they met with a retired Navy SEAL and his former military dog to learn about how the two worked together in action. They then cast two Schutzhund champions, Ruger the German Shepherd and Rico the Belgian Malinois, to have their movements digitally captured for the game.
Ruger and Rico were outfitted with custom motion-capture gear made from form-fitting suits intended for animals with skin conditions. The team later nixed booties because the dogs didn't move naturally in the footwear.
I'm not a fan of violent video games, but knowing all the work that went into making Riley come to life makes me want to pick up a controller!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
“Pups and Planes” program launched
Therapy dogs have long been helping people who are staying in hospitals, students taking finals, those individuals who have recently experienced trauma and those who suffer from generalized anxiety. All of these people feel better after their contact with a friendly canine, and now that same benefit is available for people about to fly or who have just landed.
The San Antonio International Airport has teamed up with Therapy Dogs, Inc, and Delta Pet Partners of San Antonio to create another facet of their ambassador program. “Pups and Planes” launched last Monday and now offers travelers the services of volunteer handlers and their dogs. This program has five dogs participating right now, though more are expected to join. All of the dogs are trained therapy dogs.
Passengers are given the opportunity to interact with the dogs, petting them and spending time with them before they board their planes or just after they land. The goal is to reduce tension and anxiety in passengers and create a calm environment in the airport. The dogs cheer people up, giving them a break from the most common negative emotions of travelers—boredom and stress.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Resources for pet lovers leaving abusive situations are slowly growing
A recent study by the University of Illinois found that 34 percent of women have delayed leaving an abusive situation out of concern for their pets. And I've seen that number as high as 48 percent in past research. It's a problem that keeps people and animals in dangerous situations.
As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Urban Resource Institute (URI) and Nestlé Purina are teaming up in support of URIPALS, New York City's first initiative to allow victims of domestic violence to enter shelters with their pets. Purina is donating welcome kits with food, cat litter, toys, and other supplies, as well as educational materials for families entering URI's largest domestic violence shelter.
The collaboration aims to make people feel welcome with their pets since families leaving abusive situations often move out quickly, without time to plan or pack supplies. They also hope to raise awareness on the impact of abuse on the whole family, including animals.
URIPALS is in a six-month pilot phase and is currently accepting families with cats and smaller animals. They hope to expand the program to include dogs this December.
Unfortunately few shelters are as progressive or have the necessary resources as URI does to accept animals. So the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is tackling the lack of pet friendly domestic violence shelters by providing their own safe haven for cats and dogs until women in local shelters can find housing.
“It would be ideal if the pet was able to stay with the woman at the shelter, but you’d need a reasonably well socialized and non-aggressive animal for that, and it would require a major shift in facilities and training for shelter personnel,” said Marcella Ridgway, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.
The University of Illinois also had advice for how domestic violence shelter staff and veterinarians can help people leaving abusive situations.
For domestic violence shelter staff:
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A familiar scene in many homes
In any household, there is bound to be conflict, whether it is between human brothers and sisters who can’t agree on what game to play, dogs who want the same chew toy, or spouses who can’t find a movie to watch that looks good to both of them. When you add in conflicts across species, there are even more opportunities for discord.
People and pets may not feel the same way about a variety of subjects. Is it a colored pencil for a child’s art class or a stick to be gnawed on by the dog? Should the hamster be quiet all night so the humans can sleep, or is midnight to 6 a.m. the perfect time to run a squeaky wheel?
And as for cats and dogs, the big question might be, “Just whose bed is that anyway?” It seems that cats are notorious for making themselves right at home on the dog’s bed, no matter how big the bed is or how small the cat. In this video, a number of dogs of various breeds, ages and sizes must contend with cats who have taken over their bed.
Do you have dog and cat conflicts over beds in your house? Who usually emerges victorious?
You have to look really close but you'll see a little head in this pile of fall leaves. Isn't it great when dogs invent games for themselves? For the sheer joy of watching them play, you have to watch this video of a Husky who loves her leaf heap. Would love to see your "autumn dogs" at play too.
In honor of National Adopt a Shelter Dog Month the good people at The Humane Society of the U.S., Maddie’s Fund, HALO, Purely for Pets and the Ad Council (the country’s largest producer of public service advertising) have produced an online video series, “Meet My Shelter Pet,” to inspire shelter dog adoptions. These charming videos are part of their larger campaign to change people’s perceptions of shelter animals, and ultimately increase adoptions across the country.
Their series leads off, appropriately, with none other than Late Night with David Letterman band leader Paul Shaffer, with his daughter Victoria talking about their amazing four adopted dogs.
Would love to hear from you why you picked your shelter dog, and what encouraging words you would give to someone thinking of adopting a shelter dog. It really is up to all of us to get the word out!
News: Guest Posts
Ellie is now nearly eleven years old. She still loves going to work every day and has no plans to retire. “She loves coming to work with me, and just seems to be getting better and better at her job,” says Page Ulrey, a King County Deputy Prosecutor and Ellie’s handler.
Ellie is the first facility dog who was trained specifically for use by a prosecuting attorney’s office, to assist victims of crime during witness interviews and courtroom testimony. I first wrote about Ellie, and Jeeter—the facility dog who helped get the idea going in Seattle, Wash.—in 2007. While Page prosecutes cases involving elder and vulnerable adult abuse, Ellie continues to help with a wide variety of cases within the office. Ellie has been working almost nine years now, and in that time has attended a trial every few months, perhaps as many as forty total. She’s had a huge, beneficial impact on how many victims of crime experience the legal system.
Ellie—and other courthouse dogs like her—had to do some convincing along the way. As in other states where facility dogs have been introduced into criminal courtroom proceedings, defense counsel and/or judges in counties across Washington State have often objected when a facility dog accompanies a victim or witness to the stand for testimony. This is especially true the first few times a facility dog is used. Some cases, after a conviction at the trial court level, are appealed in part on the basis that the dog created a bias in favor of the prosecutor’s witness and case, interfering with the defendant’s right to due process. In Washington, most of those cases ended in the state’s appellate level courts with convictions affirmed and the use of the facility dog approved.
Now, however, the Washington State Supreme Court has weighed in. After an appellate court affirmed a conviction and the use of Ellie to comfort a victim while testifying, the case was appealed again to the state’s highest court. The Washington State Supreme Court issued a decision September 26, 2013—State v. Dye— making it clear that the use of facility dogs in the courtroom should be allowed so long as certain facts are established and precautions are followed.
What makes State v. Dye an especially strong case for the use of facility dogs is that the defendant’s counsel made several common objections to the use of Ellie at trial—preserving the issues for appeal—so that the Supreme Court could address them in detail. The victim in the case, though 56 years old, was a developmentally delayed man who functioned at a mental age of six to twelve years. When interviewed by defense counsel prior to trial, Ellie comforted him. Page, as prosecutor at trial, laid the foundation for using Ellie to assist the victim because he felt anxious about testifying, much like any child would. Ellie accompanied the victim to the witness stand. Not only did defense counsel object to Ellie, saying her presence with the victim was extremely prejudicial to the defendant, but also because the prosecutor on the case was Page—Ellie’s handler—who could possibly signal Ellie in some way. And finally, defense counsel objected on the basis that the defendant and even defense counsel might have allergies to dogs, or be intimidated by the dog.
The Supreme Court said that trial judges may exercise their discretion in allowing a special measure such as a facility dog to accompany vulnerable witnesses. The analysis is the same in situations when child witnesses are allowed to take a doll or teddy bear with them to the witness stand. There should be a showing by the prosecutor that the witness would have difficulty testifying without the special measure. The trial judge can then determine whether the special measure would unduly prejudice the defendant.
The Supreme Court noted that Ellie’s behavior in the courtroom was never disruptive; she never left the witness’s side; and she never made any gesture (growling, lunging) toward the defendant that would cause a jury to consider him dangerous or untrustworthy. And finally, the trial judge instructed the jury to not make any assumptions based on Ellie’s presence.
The allergy objection has been a common one in the early stages of using facility dogs like Ellie in courtrooms. In the Dye case, the judge offered to allow the defendant to prove such an allergy with a note from his doctor, and if proven, make accommodations for him. The defendant never produced such a note and the objection was overruled. The Supreme Court approved this approach.
Both the Washington Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court upheld the trial judge’s decision to allow Ellie to assist the victim while testifying. A concurring opinion to the Supreme Court decision did voice some concerns, however. Justice McCloud felt that because Ellie was such a powerful symbol in the courtroom— “…her mere presence conveyed a deeply reassuring, yet silent, message of comfort, security and support”—that in the interest of fairness to the defendant, the trial judge might consider additional steps, for example allowing a facility dog to accompany the defendant’s key witness to the stand, to balance things out. Defense counsel didn’t seek such balancing steps, so no error occurred at the trial level. Justice McCloud was also concerned that a simple instruction to the jury to not draw any conclusions from Ellie’s presence was insufficient, that it’s well known that jurors often fail to follow a court’s instructions. “[T]he presumption that jurors follow instructions is especially inapplicable where the challenged procedure—here, the presence of the adorable dog Ellie—is a procedure that works only because it provides such powerful symbolism.”
There is still room for novel objections to the use of facility dogs in the courtroom. Those objections will wind their way through the appeals process. It’s all part of how our legal system sorts through these concerns and comes to the best possible solutions. Page isn’t worried. Ellie, and facility dogs in general, have become a common sight in King County’s courtrooms; most of the judges have become quite comfortable with their use. I’m sure that’s the case in many other jurisdictions across the country as well, and will become more common in the future.
As for defendants also having access to facility dogs in the courtroom, as suggested by Justice McCloud? “I think that's fair,” said Page. “Although I don't think the prosecutor's office is under any obligation to supply defense with a dog.”
State v. Dye, No. 87929-0, published September 29, 2013, can be found at:
Courthouse Dogs Foundation (www.courthousedogs.com) - promoting justice with compassion through the use of professionally trained facility dogs to provide emotional support to everyone in the justice system.
For the first report on courtroom dogs by Rebecca Wallick see, or for previous update .
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