Dog's Life: Humane
As we welcome the New Year, I’m still recovering from the holiday season. Along with the usual craziness, animal control officers see more dog bites, more lost dogs, and more owners who pass away and leave pets behind. New Year’s fireworks cause panicked dogs to bolt and holiday celebrations result in more arrests and accidents with dogs needing to be picked up.
I was trying to think of some New Year’s resolutions relating to my own dogs but frankly, they already get lots of attention and exercise and have it pretty darn good. I’m sure they would like to go to the off- leash beach every day instead of every week or two but I have to go to work to buy kibbles so that’s not gonna happen.
Having worked in shelters for 25 plus years, I do have some New Years wishes. On my fantasy wish list is that every dog would have a wonderful home. On my more realistic wish list are some things that even good dog owners can do to improve their dog’s lives and safety. I have also included some things that people can do to help dogs in need in their communities.
If your dog is overweight, now’s a great time to help them reach a healthy weight. Even just being a little chubby reduces a dog’s life span and quality of life. Dogs are just as happy to have a tiny treat as a big one. Substitute healthy treats for fatty ones and cut back on their rations while increasing exercise and stimulation. Check with your vet first and then get those dogs out for a daily walk or better yet, two or more. You’ll improve your own health too. Try agility or join a dog-friendly hiking group. You’ll both feel better. Exercise is a great stress reducer and often improves behavior issues as well.
Even the most beloved of dogs often have behavior problems that could be improved on with good management and training. A well behaved dog is a joy to have around and can be included in more activities. Dogs that pull the leash or are reactive with other dogs are no fun to walk. Work with a trainer or read up on techniques to work on.
An ID tag is a lost dog’s first chance to get home. I will usually return a dog with no fees if they are wearing a tag. Check and see if your dog’s tags have current information and are in good condition. I find that they tend to wear through and drop off every few years. Even people whose dogs never run loose should keep tags on. Accidents happen, doors get left open, fences blow down and dogs get lost.
I would also love to see all dogs microchipped. I have seen some miraculous returns that never would have happened without microchips, including pets that were found years later and returned to owners all because of a microchip.
Consider adopting or fostering a dog in need. It may be one of the most rewarding things you ever do. I am endlessly amazed at all of the wonderful dogs in shelters. Some are near perfection while others are diamonds in the rough that just need a little polishing to really shine. Volunteering for a shelter or rescue is another way to help. Sure it’s hard sometimes, but you can really make a difference for a unwanted dog. If you have grooming or training skills you can make a shelter dog more adoptable. Donating to a spay/neuter program is great bang for your buck as it saves lives by preventing overpopulation. Shelters and rescues can always use donations of blankets, food, money etc. Check with your local shelter to see what their greatest needs are and thank you for making a difference.
New Years Day will find me at our annual walk at a local off-leash beach. Lots of friends come with dogs of every size and shape and everyone has a blast. I hope you have lots of fun things planned as well and that 2014 is the best yet for you and your dogs.
What are you going to do to make life sweeter for your own dogs or dogs in need in the next year?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mexico to roll out pet food tax in January
Starting January 1st, Mexicans will face a 16 percent sales tax on pet food. Previously commercial animal diets were not taxed, along with fresh human foods. Now the Mexican government is desperate to raise money and has declared pet food a luxury item (food for horses and other livestock animals will be excluded from the tax). Protesters have been rallying outside of the Finance Ministry, but the tax is unlikely to be overturned.
Pet food sales average $2.2 billion a year in Mexico, meaning the government stands to profit tremendously from the new tax. Mexico is the world's 10th biggest pet food market, with the U.S. in the top spot, spending more than $20 million annually to feed our dogs and cats.
It's estimated that half of Mexico's pet families use commercial foods, while the rest make their own, typically a mixture of chicken, rice, and tortillas. The new tax will hit low income households the hardest and may cause more people to rely on table scraps for pet food, or even abandon their animals altogether. Some fear that the tax will also create a reluctance to adopt animals, putting an even greater strain on shelters who will already be feeling the financial effects of the food tax.
I understand that the government has to raise money somehow (proposals for taxes on real estate sales and private school tuition were not passed), but I wouldn't consider pet food a luxury item. I could see taxes on the purchase of a pet (versus adopting) or even professional grooming (a tax proposed years ago in Chicago), since they're not essential.
What's your take on the luxury pet food tax?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog-related plans for 2014
Years ago, my sister’s New Year’s resolution was to give up New Year’s resolutions, and she was one of the few people who stuck to her plan. (Success rates are generally less than 10%.) Her secret was resolving to do something that she wanted to do anyway. If your resolutions for 2014 are dog-related, make success more likely by choosing to focus on one or a few things that are of real interest to you.
Simple ideas for dog-related resolutions are plentiful. Here are 10 possibilities.
1. Leave that cell phone in your pocket on walks so that you are truly present and spending time with your dog. It’s the time you spend together that builds the relationship, and this is one of the easiest ways to enjoy each other’s company.
2. Try a new activity with your dog. Classes in agility, tracking, fly ball are common in many areas. Hiking, weight pulling, dock jumping, herding, lure coursing and canine freestyle are just a few of the other possibilities.
3. Provide better nutrition for your dog. This is a big task for most of us, but even a few simple steps can make a difference. Try a higher quality dog food, add fresh vegetables to your dog’s diet or vow to measure your dog’s food for every meal so there’s no risk of overfeeding.
4. Give back to the canine community. There are so many ways to help out such as walking an elderly neighbor’s dog, volunteering at a shelter or rescue, fostering a dog, or giving money to an organization that improves the lives of animals.
5. Teach your dog something new. Practical training skills such as walking nicely on a leash, waiting at the door or a solid stay all pay big dividends. Other possibilities are to teach your dog a new game so you can play together more. Fetch, tug, find it, hide and seek, and chase games are all options, though depending on your dog, not every game may be a good fit.
6. Make plans for your dog in the event that you die first. Financial planning so you can provide for your dog when you are no longer here as well as making arrangements for someone to be the guardian for your dog are two important steps.
7. Give your dog more exercise. This can be daunting so plan to make one small improvement to start. Perhaps add 10 minutes to a weekend walk or set up a play date with a dog buddy a couple of times a month. When it comes to increasing activity, every little bit helps, so taking one step in the right direction is a wonderful goal at this, or any, time of year.
8. Take better care of your dog’s teeth. Consult with your veterinarian about a dental cleaning or about brushing at home. Dental care helps improve overall health and can make your dog’s breath more pleasant, too.
9. Make plans in case of a medical emergency. Whether it is putting aside a little in savings each month or investigating pet insurance, the peace of mind that you’ve got it covered in the event of an emergency is worth a lot.
10. Go new places with your pet. Novelty is great fun for most dogs, so try to go a few new places this year. Perhaps a new pet store or a new hiking trail will provide your dog with an experience that is really enjoyable.
Love them or hate them, New Year’s resolutions are common this time of year. Do your plans for 2014 include any dog-oriented New Year’s resolutions?
New Orleans lost one of her favorite sons, artists George Rodrigue, on December 14, of cancer. He was 69. Rodrigue, the son of a bricklayer, drew upon his Cajun heritage for his work, most notably for his Blue Dog paintings, which were inspired by his deceased pet named Tiffany. The Spaniel-Terrier mix, painted with a white nose, yellow eyes and a cobalt blue body, first appeared in 1984. Rodrigue’s Blue Dog image became a New Orleans icon, appearing in advertising campaigns for Absolute Vodka and Neiman Marcus, posters for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, coffee table books and the collections of celebrity collectors. The paintings were beloved for their pop sensibility and folk art style mixed with regional folklore—the Blue Dog is a gentle, friendly version of the loup-garou, the werewolf or ghost dog that hides in sugarcane fields and haunts mischievous children.
In addition to his creative accomplishments, Rodrigue is being lauded for his numerous charitable acts. After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the subsequent flooding laid waste to much of south Louisiana, the Blue Dog appeared with an American flag, both partly submerged, to raise money for storm relief. The Blue Dog Relief drive raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to aid rebuilding, including $100,000 to help the New Orleans Museum of Art reopen. In 2009, he founded the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, which advocates the importance of the visual arts in education.
When asked to explain the popularity of his Blue Dog paintings, the artist offered this appraisal—“The yellow eyes are really the soul of the dog. He has this piercing stare. People say the dog keeps talking to them with the eyes, always saying something different.” The paintings, he said in the interview, “are really about life, about mankind searching for answers. The dog never changes position. He just stares at you, and you’re looking at him, looking for some answers … The dog doesn’t know. You can see this longing in his eyes, this longing for love, answers.”
Survivors include his wife, Wendy Rodrigue, and two sons, Jacques Rodrigue of New Orleans and André Rodrigue of Lafayette.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Helping vulnerable people feed their dogs
Low income means tough choices. Should I buy medications or heat my home? Do I pay my rent or buy shoes? Who gets to eat—me or my pets?
It’s this last question that inspired volunteers with Meals on Wheels to add pet food to deliveries for seniors and disabled individuals who are at risk of hunger. People who were taking food to some of the most vulnerable people in our communities noticed that many of them were doing without the food they desperately need in order to make sure their pets had something to eat.
As dog lovers, this is no surprise to most of us. Many of us have a “my dog eats before I do” mentality in the event of economic stress, but not all of us have had to act on it. Once volunteers became aware of this new threat to adequate nutrition for the people they serve, they became enthusiastic partners with a program called AniMeals on Wheels.
This program allows volunteers to deliver pet food along with the meals they bring to human clients. It relies on donations and volunteers for all pet food and deliveries and involves collaborations with a number of pet programs in multiple states. Despite the popularity of the program and the huge amount of food donated, the need is even bigger. They are never in a position where they don’t need more donations of pet food.
AniMeals on Wheels is one of many programs nationwide that seek to address the problem of hunger in both people and dogs. It’s important to understand that until there is enough food for their pets, the problem of hunger in low-income seniors and the disabled will not be solvable.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Georgia woman offers to spay all of the Macon's female dogs
Earlier this month, dog lover and pet foster parent Kerry Hatcher Fickling was inspired by what seemed like a particularly overwhelming week of strays and abandoned litters in Macon, Georgia. Kerry regularly donates time and money to local rescue groups, but this time she wanted to do something that would really get to the root cause of the city's overpopulation problem. So she posted a "Christmas gift for Macon" on Facebook, offering to pay for any female dog to be spayed. Kerry is even willing to pick up the dogs in the morning, bring them to the vet, and return the pups in the evening after their surgery.
So far she's paid for almost 50 spay procedures and has been fielding hundreds of calls from other interested people.
Kerry is hoping to eventually reach a goal of 2,000 spayed dogs. Even at the discounted rate of $55 offered by the Gordon Animal Clinic, 2,000 dogs will run her a $110,000 tab. Kerry credits her real estate business and healthy savings with being able to fund this initiative.
In order to achieve her goal, Kerry is planning to start canvasing neighborhoods to reach people who don't have computer access and don't know about her spay offer. Kerry also realizes that part of her mission is now education. Making a difference can be as simple as letting people know that dogs don't need to have a litter or two to have enriched lives, a common misconception around Macon.
Perhaps this will inspire others to think about starting similar programs in other cities. Most people wouldn't be able to afford 2,000 spay procedures, but multiple people sponsoring one $55 operation each could be a possibility. It could be the start of a great holiday tradition!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Her own qualities helped her survive
A few days ago, Crosby the Golden Retriever was rescued from the Charles River by officers in the Wellesley Police Department. Crosby had fallen through the ice and was unable to return to shore. The ice was too thick for her to break through and swim for safety. It was too thin to support her weight and allow her to walk to shore, even if she had been able to climb onto the ice from the water.
Officers in cold-water survival suits swam out to her and hauled her 50 yards back to shore. Without their help, she is unlikely to have survived. She was swimming back and forth in the freezing water when rescuers arrived and without help, she would have been at great risk of drowning due to hypothermia, exhaustion, or a combination of the two.
When I watch the video of her rescue, I see many factors that helped Crosby to survive. The rapid response, skills, and equipment of the police department obviously played a critical role. The technology that allowed the guardian’s location to be pinpointed from her 911 call was also important.
As a canine behaviorist, what I notice most is how the dog’s own qualities played an important part in her survival. Specifically, I observed that this dog was fit, emotionally stable, and social, all of which contributed to the success of a challenging rescue.
Fitness. Swimming in freezing water is exhausting. We don’t know how long Crosby was in the river. It wasn’t long enough for her to freeze, but it was long enough for her guardian to call for help, for police officers to arrive, to prepare for the rescue and to reach her 50 yards from shore. Some dogs would not have had the physical abilities required to stay above the surface that long, so Crosby’s fitness was a huge asset in this emergency situation.
Emotional stability. Nobody could watch the video and claim that Crosby looked happy at any point, but she did not seem panicked either. She was calm in the water before she was rescued, while the officers pulled her to shore and afterwards as she was dried off and entered the vehicle. It’s hard to imagine that she wasn’t frightened, but she held it together. If she had freaked out, it would have been entirely understandable, but it would have made her rescue less likely. A dog (or a person) who is too emotionally distressed is less able to cope with immediate dangers. Because she was able to stay calm, she helped herself stay afloat until she was rescued.
Social. By social, I’m not referring to dogs who are wag-the-back-end-off-during-greetings friendly. I just mean dogs who are comfortable around strangers. Dogs who are not social enough in this way may shy away from rescuers. Tragically, this is a real issue for dogs in water catastrophes and in fires and also for those who flee after car accidents. Crosby was clearly at ease with the strangers helping her in the water, and the one on land drying her off so she could begin to warm up. Even a dog who is frightened of people may be scared enough in an emergency situation to allow them to help. However, a dog like Crosby who is social will almost surely be able to accept the help of people working to rescue her.
I’m not taking anything away from the skills of the police officers who rescued Crosby. They performed an exemplary rescue of a dog who was in real danger. It’s just that I can’t help but observe that Crosby made the rescue just a little bit easier than it might have been with a dog who was not so fit, emotionally stable or social.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Lawsuit questions the abilities of drug and bomb pups
A new lawsuit is questioning the abilities of drug and bomb sniffing dogs. The claim against Nevada's Metropolitan Police Department says that dogs were trained to respond to handler cues instead of freely searching for drugs. If the accusations are true, this would be a huge constitutional violation of the right to a lawful search.
The lawsuit also accuses the Department of animal abuse and racketeering, so they're obviously a potentially troubled group. However, the claims related to the working dogs could impact the use of drug and bomb sniffing pups, and the legal latitude that they are given. To date there are no mandatory training standards and little research that backs up their skill level.
In 2010, the University of California Davis tested the reliability of drug and bomb sniffing dogs by putting them in a clean room, without drugs or explosives. To pass successfully, they needed to go through the room and detect nothing. The 18 subjects tested had a 85 percent failure rate, which the researchers believed was because the dogs are so heavily influenced by their handlers.
We know the canine nose holds extraordinary ability. There have been studies showing a high success rate detecting cancer and countless stories of explosive detecting dogs saving soldiers' lives overseas. I have no doubt that dogs have the ability to detect drugs and bombs if trained and handled correctly, but there must be a standard of training and testing for both dogs and handlers.
In the sport of K9 Nosework, dogs go through a course to detect scents or, equally importantly, not detect anything if the course is clean (the handler does not know if there is a scent on the course, and if there is one, where the scent is located). It seems like a no brainer to have a more complex version of that test for all law enforcement dogs. Certainly you can never duplicate real life, and there is always room for canine error, but training and testing standards would be a good baseline.
And this isn't just about the dogs. The U.S. Supreme Court gives police "probable cause" to search your vehicle if a police dog detects drugs, whereas officers without a dog need "a reasonable belief that a person has committed a crime" for the same search or the evidence can be thrown out in court. Because of this, some have called the pups a "search warrant on a leash." Having a sniffing dog provides a lot of power that can potentially be abused.
After the Nevada Highway Patrol created its K9 program in 2008, the dogs helped troopers seize more than $5.3 million in cash and over 1,000 pounds of marijuana in the first three years. But the lawsuit cites numerous abuses, such as stopping people out of jurisdiction, profiling Hispanic motorists, and poking holes in FedEx boxes so dogs could better sniff for drugs inside.
Having concrete standards and protocols seem like a clear solution to many of the problems, but the idea faces a lot of backlash. Lawrence Myers, an Auburn University professor who has studied police dogs for 30 years, says that his research on the effectiveness of drug-sniffing dogs has been shunned by most in the industry. Many K9 handlers don't speak out because they are afraid of being blacklisted.
Perhaps the outcome of this lawsuit will spark the standards in training and testing that is necessary to restore faith in these dogs' abilities.
Suleika Jaouad is a 25-year-old woman who has been battling leukemia and chronicling this in a blog, “Life, Interrupted,” for the New York Times. In the most recent installment she introduces her puppy, Oscar. Having been wooed by a therapy dog as she during her first rounds of chemo, she had longed for her own dog. As she writes about the effects of the therapy dog visits:
“For the first time since I had fallen ill, I didn’t feel like I was being treated as if I were made of porcelain. The therapy dog made me feel like a human first, and a cancer patient second.”
She had to wait some time after her bone marrow transplant before the doctors gave her the ok to get a dog, but she finally did. At first little Oscar (a shelter adoptee) was a little more “work” than she had expected—as puppies can be:
“Oscar, unlike my caregivers, doesn’t care that I’m tired, feeling nauseous after my chemotherapy treatments. Every morning between 6 and 7, Oscar scoots over to my side of the bed and begins the process of baptizing me with his tongue until I wake up.”
But it didn’t take long for him to open up new worlds for her and help in her recovery.
“Although I was the one who rescued Oscar from an animal shelter, it has become clear that he’s done most of the rescuing in our relationship. … When we leave my apartment, Oscar bounds ahead of me, tugging at his leash as he guides me toward the dog park. For the first time in a very long time, it’s not the cancer that leads. It’s Oscar.”
Do read her whole column here.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A lost pup found a new home before his family could find him
Imagine coming home to find your home destroyed by a tornado and your beloved dog missing. That is the reality that the Robinson family went through in Mellott, Indiana last month. Except when they finally found their pup Rosco, he had been adopted by a new family who refused to give him back.
After the twister, Rosco ended up at the Clinton County Humane Society, about 45 miles from home. The Robinsons' neighbor posted the 3-year old Boxer's photo online, but by the time a shelter volunteer recognized Rosco's photo on Facebook, the pup had been adopted.
Clinton County Humane Society director, Jim Tate, contacted the Robinsons to explain that Rosco was fine, but had found a new home after the shelter's five day waiting period. According to Jim, once an adoption takes place, the shelter has no authority to return the animal to the original family.
Shelter officials did serve as mediators to try and get both parties to reach an agreement, but the new family bonded with Rosco and did not want to return him. The Robinsons ended up hiring a lawyer, but fortunately the adoptive family caved into media and social pressure and returned Rosco.
"I could have dealt with my house being gone 100 percent," says Rosco's mom, Kyla Robinson, "but having a family member be gone when we got back was the hardest." The Robinsons are thrilled to have Rosco home.
I can't imagine being in this situation, but am glad that Rosco is back home with the Robinsons. I do hope they've learned that leaving Rosco tied outside while they're not home isn't a good idea. This story also highlights the importance of microchipping your pet, a small step that will go a long way in an emergency.
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