Dog's Life: Lifestyle
HomeAgain Hero of the Year
Founder of a Colo. rescue is awarded $10,000 for her dedication
Last week HomeAgain Pet Recovery Service named Theresa Strader, founder of the Colorado-based National Mill Dog Rescue (NMDR), as the winner of its Hero of the Year Award. Since starting the group in 2007, Theresa has rescued nearly 8,000 dogs from puppy mills across the country.

Besides rehabilitating former mill dogs, Theresa is also dedicated to attacking the root cause, using social media, speaking engagements, and other educational programs to create awareness around the commercial dog breeding industry. Theresa started NMDR after rescuing an Italian Greyhound named Lily from a dog auction in Missouri. Prior to meeting Theresa, Lily spent the first seven years of her life as a commercial breeding dog. Given little to no veterinary care, the roof of Lily's mouth and lower jaw had rotted away, her chest was full of mammary tumors, and she was terrified of people.

Determined that Lily's years of living in misery would not be in vain, Theresa started NMDR to give a voice to puppy mill dogs across the country. The organization is run almost entirely by volunteers with over 1,300 people around the country pitching in.

NMDR takes in dogs that puppy mills are "throwing away," usually because they can no longer breed. These dogs would probably otherwise be euthanized.  

Theresa was one of five finalists, chosen as the winner by a public vote. As part of the honor, NMDR will receive a $10,000 donation from HomeAgain. The four remaining finalists will have a donation of $1,000 made in their name to one of the following animal organizations: Petfinder Foundation, Winn Feline Foundation, Assistance Dogs International, or Morris Animal Foundation.

The Hero of the Year award was well deserved for Theresa's work saving individual animals, as well as her mission to educate people on puppy mills. I know NMDR will put the donation to good use!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fearful Dogs in Crowded Places
It’s terrifying, not socializing

“Does he bite?” I asked.

“Yes,” she answered.

“Does he bite children?” was my next question.

“Well,” she said, “We don’t want him to. That’s why we brought him here—to get socialized.”

I had approached this little dog to distract him when I noticed him in a staring contest with two big dogs. He was acting tough but was clearly terrified. My concern was that someone would run between them and be frightened or injured if the tension between the dogs escalated. The owner of the little dog immediately came over to tell me to stay away from the dog, which is when we had our conversation.

The mom in me was furious that she had brought a dog who bites to the park during a children’s soccer tournament and tied him to the back of a goal, putting so many kids at risk. However, the canine behaviorist in me looked at the situation differently. I know from over a dozen years of working with dogs with serious behavior problems (and specializing in aggression) that people often think they are doing the right thing with an aggressive dog even when they’re not.

Most dogs who are behaving aggressively towards people are acting out of fear. The aggressive behavior diminishes only when the fear does.

Taking a fearful dog to a place full of people will not help him conquer his fear. It will actually make the fear, and thus his behavior, even worse because he is having yet another experience of being terrified. This is not intuitive because it’s natural to think that if a dog is misbehaving around people that he should go to classes, to the park, or any other place with lots of people for socialization. Though this seems sensible, it’s not actually true.

Socialization refers specifically to the process that occurs during the sensitive period— between three and twelve weeks of age—when puppies are becoming aware of the social world and learning how to behave within it. Anything or anyone that a puppy experiences in a positive way during this critical period of development is unlikely to produce fear in the dog later in life. Proper socialization includes providing puppies many good experiences with new people during this brief and specific period of development so that they accept new people throughout their lives without being afraid. Only puppies can be socialized—not adult dogs.

Taking a fearful dog out and about to be with or near people is unlikely to help a fearful dog become less afraid. The exposure elicits fear in the dog, giving him additional experiences that confirm how scary it is to be around people. This usually makes the fear worse, along with any undesirable behavior that is a result of the fear.

Most people dealing with an aggressive dog desperately want to improve their dog’s behavior, and knowing what NOT to do is an essential part of success. Though it may seem like a good idea, it’s counterproductive to take fearful dogs who are behaving aggressively to crowded places.

Many dogs can overcome their fears with desensitization and counter classical conditioning, both of which involve exposing them to low levels of whatever frightens them and preventing them from becoming overwhelmed. Two great resources are Patricia McConnell’s book The Cautious Canine and Debbie Jacobs’ website fearfuldogs.com.

Have you run into people trying to help their dogs in this way?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Tracking Human Health Through Canines
Study looks at monitoring pet behavior to uncover problems with their people
We develop close relationships with our dogs, so I think most animal lovers would agree that our pets pick up on our moods. When I'm having a bad day, I can see the effect on my dogs, whether it be a transfer of emotions or, something more tangible, like feeling restless because I've skipped their daily walk. But can my dog's behavior predict my own state of mind and health?

Researchers at Newcastle University are exploring the possibility. The team is using movement sensors to track canine behavior in and out of the home. A high tech waterproof collar monitors 17 activities, including barking, chewing, drinking, laying, shivering, and sniffing.  

Led by Dr. Cas Ladha, the study mapped what they consider baseline, or the normal behavior of a healthy, happy dog. They can then use this as a benchmark to compare other animals against. Any change in behavior might be an indication of illness or boredom.

The really unique part is the next stage of the research. Now Dr. Ladha's team is hoping to use canine behavior as an early warning for elderly family members in trouble. Their goal is to develop a system that can reassure family and caretakers than an older relative is well, without intruding on their privacy. If canine behavior and the well being of their humans is linked, tracking a person's health through their dog could be an ingenious way to discreetly support an elderly family member. A pet's behavior could also pick up on subtle changes that could uncover problems before they become serious.

This research seems to have some really cool possibilities for how we can help aging friends and family. I can't wait to find out more as the Newcastle team explores the next step.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fences For Fido
Oregon’s new law will mean more requests

Oregon’s new anti-tethering law specifies that it will be considered second degree animal neglect if tethering a dog results in an injury to the animal, and first degree animal neglect if it causes the dog to be seriously injured or killed. The purpose of the law is to improve dogs’ quality of life and to enhance community safety. (Tethered dogs are more likely to bite than dogs who are not tied up.)

The law will likely create an increase in requests for help from the group Fences For Fido, which builds fences for dogs who would otherwise be tied up. Since 2009, they have given more freedom to over 230 dogs in Oregon and Washington by building them fences to free them from their chains.

Their work goes far beyond building fences. This volunteer organization also improves living conditions for dogs by providing shelter and veterinary care, including spay and neuter procedures when needed. They work hard to provide information to guardians about caring for dogs and the value of allowing them to participate in more family activities. Twice a year, they visit all the dogs they have helped in order to confirm that they remain unchained, healthy and safe. They report that many people with new fences spend more time with their dogs and that their connections to one another are stronger as a result.

Oregon’s new law, which takes effect in January 2014, will increase many people’s interest in fences for their dogs. Fences For Fido will have a lot of work to do, which means happier dogs, a safer community, and better relationships between people and their dogs.

News: Guest Posts
Great News on the Canine Cancer Front

In honor of November’s National Pet Cancer Awareness Month I would like to share some “hot off the press” wonderfully optimistic news with you. Dr. Nicola Mason from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine has been researching a new way to treat osteosarcoma, an aggressive and fatal form of bone cancer that has an affinity for growing within the leg bones of large and giant- breed dogs.

Until now, treatment of osteosarcoma has consisted primarily of amputation (removal) of the affected leg with or without chemotherapy. In spite of such aggressive treatment, inevitably tiny clusters of cancer cells eventually grow into metastatic tumors that ultimately become life-ending. Approximately 60% of dogs die within one year of the diagnosis.

A new approach

Dr. Mason’s innovative approach to treating dogs with osteosarcoma involves “cancer immunotherapy” in which the patient’s own immune system is triggered to target and kill tumor cells. In order to use a dog’s immune system to treat osteosarcoma Dr. Mason devised a vaccine consisting of bacteria that have been modified to express a protein called Her2/neu. This protein is known as a “growth factor receptor” and is found on a variety of different cancer cells, including some canine osteosarcoma cells. You may have heard of Her2/neu before because it is commonly associated with breast cancer cells in women. The concept behind the vaccine is as follows: The bacteria stimulates the dog’s “immune system soldiers” to seek out and destroy the bacteria along with cells that express Her2/neu (osteosarcoma cells).

Outcomes to date

Thus far, Dr. Mason has treated 12 dogs with osteosarcoma following amputation and chemotherapy. The dogs received the vaccine once weekly for three weeks. Side effects of the vaccine were minimal. All that was observed was a mild, brief fever following vaccine administration.

The preliminary results have been immensely encouraging. The first vaccinated dog, Sasha has a survival time of 570 days thus far. Two other dogs vaccinated at the beginning of the study are alive and cancer free more than 500 days post diagnosis. Other dogs who were vaccinated more recently are still doing well. These are truly fantastic results.

What comes next?

Some dogs with osteosarcoma are not good candidates for amputation primarily because of neurological or musculoskeletal issues in their other limbs. Treatment options for these dogs are aimed at reducing the pain associated with the tumor. Dr. Mason plans to begin including some of these nonsurgical candidates in her osteosarcoma vaccine study.

Additionally, Dr. Mason is contemplating learning if what she has developed would be an effective means for prevention of osteosarcoma. Certain breeds (Rottweilers, Irish Wolfhounds, Great Danes, Saint Bernards, Doberman Pinschers, and Greyhounds, to name a few) are particularly predisposed to osteosarcoma. It will be fascinating to learn if the osteosarcoma vaccine will effectively prevent this horrific disease in high-risk individuals.

The research results gathered thus far represent a monumental success in cancer treatment and provide significant hope for a disease previously associated with a grim prognosis. Kudos to Dr. Mason for her stunning work! If your dog has osteosarcoma and you are interested in participating in Dr. Mason’s studies, contact her at 215-898-3996 or by e-mail at nmason@vet.upenn.edu.

If you would like to respond publicly, please visit Speaking for Spot. 
Best wishes,
Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog's Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog's Best Health.   There you will also find "Advocacy Aids"- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet's health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog's Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.

News: Editors
Naptime Puppy Love

If this already isn’t the newest viral sensation, it soon will be. Nothing cuter than a young child and pup sleeping together!

Jessica Shyba, mother of three, blogs about her newest “child,” a pup her family adopted from the Santa Cruz SPCA. As she writes:

“Big Bird—as he was named at the shelter—was the shyest of them all to meet us, though he bounded instantly into [my son] Beau's lap as soon as he entered their pen. The look on his little furry face was enough to seal the deal for me, we had met our newest family member."

The pup, who has been renamed Theo, has also become the co-star of an adorable photo series on her Instagram account, and appears to have settled into his new home, especially with Beau, his new naptime companion, quite nicely.

Shyba writes that these naps have turned into "what I can only describe as the most organic and beautiful friendship I have ever witnessed." But her other two children also relish their new bro.

News: Editors
Are Emotional Support Dogs on Planes Causing a Backlash?

There is a front page story today in the New York Times about emotional support dogs on planes, and how many people seem to be gaming the system. It is obviously a very touchy subject for dog lovers. But one that needs serious addressing. Should rules regarding emotional support dogs (different from assistance/service dogs for blind or physically disabled people) be re-examined? This article dealt specifically with plane travel, which allows emotional support animals to fly free. Those animals (not just dogs) are not restricted to a crate and are even allowed to sit on their guardian’s lap, unlike other animals who must fit under-the-seat in a carrier, and for which a fee is charged on most airlines.

Robert Farr of the Pacific A.D.A. Center explained that, “The Air Carrier Access Act allowed for emotional support animals to be taken on planes, broadening the American Disabilities Act, which recognized service animals in public places.” Little (or no) proof of their status is required. And as the article points out, there seem to be many who are flaunting the guidelines.

Is this a problem? According to Marcie Davis, founder of International Assistance Dog Week, it is becoming a big one.

“I’ve seen people bring on pets and try to pass them off as an emotional support or service dog. It’s not appropriate and it’s not safe.”

Ms. Davis, who uses a wheelchair, flies about once a month, along with a service dog, for her job as a health and human services consultant.

She goes on to note:

“Honestly, I understand that there’s some value that people need an emotional assistance dog. But I think a lot of this is that people love their dogs and think they feel like if you have your dog, why can’t I have mine?” Airline workers echo Ms. Davis’s view. “It’s out of control,” said an American Airlines flight attendant, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to speak publicly.

Not only are there psychotherapists who provide the necessary “prescriptive” paperwork, but online stores that sell service dog vests to anyone. Like one in Southern California who the Times spoke with who is willing to offer certification papers for a one-hour $99 phone/Skype call.

I know a few people without legitimate issues who do this as well, like a couple with two 70 lb. dogs who wear such vests. Their dogs are extremely well trained but, to me, that isn’t the issue. They simply prefer that their dogs fly in the cabin with them and not in the cargo, an understandable sentiment, but one that doesn’t give consideration to other passengers, including those with service animals or those with animal allergies.

The comments to this article are interesting, especially when addressing the needs of those with severe allergies. Unfortunately their rightful concerns could also impact other guide/service animals—with stale cabin air being recycled, it is hard not to take into consideration the pet dander allergy issue. One commenter suggested that those with severe allergies should also be accorded “ADA” status, warranting special consideration too.

But there is also the fact that airlines are charging more and more for things that use to be standard for the cost of a plane tickets, baggage, roomier seating, snacks etc., so it was suggested that if they started to charge for emotional support dogs (like they do with “carry-on” dogs), perhaps they would see a reversal in the popularity of misusing the system. Or as another commenter noted,

“When airlines are able to provide a more humane way for our pets to travel on an airplane, i.e. a secured heated in winter/air conditioned in summer section in the cargo area, where the crates are also secured and not dumped in with luggage, etc., when airlines stop asking vets to sign waivers that say if your pet comes out the other end of the flight like a frozen Popsicle or overheated Pizza Pocket and not breathing, when pets do not escape due to negligence on the part of the airline employees, who are not specifically trained to handle animals, are trained properly to do so and in fact have dedicated jobs for only this function, than I would love to be able to relinquish my beloved dog to the airline and get on the plane! with some level of peace of mind.”

Are there really that many people who are abusing the system who, in turn, are making it more difficult for others to bring their service dogs with them? Perhaps an example of how this might be affecting the attitude of crewmembers too comes from a story reported yesterday in the New York Post about a blind man, Albert Rizzi and his guide dog Doxy, who were booted off a US Airways plane by TSA guards.  As the story goes:

“The 9-year-old Lab was under his seat, Rizzi said, but the loving pooch got restless as the plane sat for 90 minutes on the runway before the scheduled hour-long flight at 8:30 p.m.

“My dog had been under the seat for an hour and a half, and he needed to be near me, touch me,” Rizzi told The Post. “This is the relationship between a guide dog and his handler.”

But there is great twist to this story when other passengers voiced their support to Rizzi.

 “After he [Rizzi] was removed, people on board began to voice their opinion,” said passenger Carl Beiner, a 43-year-old construction manager. “Everyone was saying, ‘You’re 100-percent wrong.’ There was not a single person backing the stewardess. Every single person on that flight was behind the blind guy.”

“When we, the passengers, realized what was going on, we were, like, ‘Why is this happening? He’s not a problem. What is going on?’ ” Passenger Frank Ohlhorst told Philadelphia TV stations. “The captain came out of the cockpit, and he basically asked us all to leave the aircraft.”

Obviously, one hopes that is an extreme example on how easy it is to fray nerves while sitting in a plane for hours on a runway, and one that the management of US Airways agrees was a severe overreaction by the crew.

As for the broader issue of support dogs being accorded the same status as guide dogs, and how this leads to misusing the system, is this perhaps an example of a good idea gone bad? Is it time to reexamine the certification process? Is more accountability in order? We would love to get your thoughts.



Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Funding Seeing Eye Dogs
Service dog organizations face challenges fundraising in a sea of nonprofits

Seeing eye dogs give people freedom and confidence, all while amazing us with their dedication and abilities. It would seem to be an easy case for fundraising, but the cost for raising these dogs is expensive and coming up with the money to run these programs has become more and more challenging.

Even with dedicated volunteers, a guide dog can cost approximately $45,000 to $60,000 for the two years of care and extensive training. Service dog organizations must compete against other nonprofits, which each have their own compelling mission. The Urban Institute estimates that 1.6 million such groups operate in America today, a 25 percent increase in the last decade.

Many people choose to give their money elsewhere citing the high failure rate (which organizations are addressing by training dogs that don't pass the test to work as PTSD or police pups) and the fact that guide dogs can only work for eight to 10 years before they retire. That means a blind person could need six to seven dogs in their lifetime. Also, while no one will argue the impact of these pups, the guide dog organizations help hundreds of people each year while other organizations, like initiatives to feed the homeless, have the ability to touch thousands or even millions. 

Donor profiles are also changing, forcing organizations to change their fundraising strategies. The Seeing Eye, a guide dog organization based out of New Jersey, currently receives three-quarters of its support from bequests and estate gifts, two areas that are decreasing as younger donors seek to give while they are living. 

The Seeing Eye and Guide Dogs for the Blind in California are lucky to currently have large endowments, but most other service dog organizations rely on individual donors and fundraising events like walk-a-thons and dinners. 

Still, despite the barriers, giving to a guide dog foundation may reflect a person's interests and passions. And each dollar donated means the world to the people who are enjoying newfound independence thanks to their service pups.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Service Dog Missing in N.Y.
An autistic boy has been without his pup for over a week
Update: Echo was returned home safely on Friday, 11/15, read more here.
A very special dog is missing in my neck of the woods. Echo, a Black Labrador, has been gone from her Rye, N.Y. home since last Wednesday, leaving 5-year old Mark Fontana without his service dog.  

Two years ago Mark was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and as a result, does not speak. He is prone to running away from home or darting into the street or pools, although he can't swim.  

Echo was donated to the Fontana family by Guiding Eyes for the Blind and has been invaluable for keeping Mark safe. The 5-year old Lab is trained to automatically brace Mark when he tries to run.

Echo is between 50 and 55 pounds and is wearing a red collar with tags. There was a possible sighting yesterday in New Rochelle, N.Y. Officials ask that anyone who finds Echo bring her to a vet or animal shelter where they can read her microchip and get in contact with the Fontanta family.

Follow the search for Echo on the Guiding Eyes for the Blind web site. They also have fliers that you can print and post if you live in Westchester County. Hopefully Echo and Mark will be reunited soon!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Photographing Shelter Dogs on Walks
Weekly journey is uplifting

The dogs that Shannon Johnstone takes on walks are experiencing a freedom that they haven’t known in a long time, if ever. Each week, she brings one dog with her to a park that was built on top of an old landfill and observes the dog enjoying a rare moment of happiness. She photographs them on their walk and once they reach the top, which is about 500 feet up and one of the highest places in the area.

Johnstone is an art professor and professional photographer who has been photographing dogs, many of them Pit Bulls, from the Wake County Animal Center for over a year. These dogs have been living in the shelter, and some have been there over a year. A lot of the dogs she has photographed have been adopted. Some are still waiting for a family to choose them. A few have been euthanized.

The old trash pile turned landfill where they walk reminds Johnstone that people have treated these dogs as disposable and tossed them away just like we pitch trash. She emphasizes that these are good dogs, but that they’re just unlucky. Her experience, perspective and photographs reveal that well-known truth: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.