News: Guest Posts
The more I read about how dogs have been very helpful for answering all sorts of questions in the field of conservation biology, the more interested I got in learning more about this exciting and growing field. Thus, I was extremely happy that Pete Coppolillio, the Executive Director of Working Dogs for Conservation, was able to take the time to answer a few questions about just what these amazing beings—the dogs and the humans—do. Their banner reads: We train the world's best conservation detection dogs & put them to work protecting wildlife and wild places. We do it to save the world. They do it for the love of a ball.
They also note:
Our work with canine programs in Africa prevents poaching and reduces illegal trafficking in ivory and rhino horn.
Partnerships with 50 conservation groups have taken us to
Thousands of high-energy dogs are stuck
How and why did you get interested in this project?
I was doing “traditional” or what you might call mainstream conservation, and we wanted to use dogs to learn about African wild dogs, because at that time, handling them was not allowed in Tanzania. As I continued working, I kept running into species that were either too difficult to capture, or situations where we were unwilling to capture them because it was too dangerous or too expensive. After being in the field a few times with dogs I got very enthusiastic about the possibilities they offer, and started pestering the founders of the organization with questions like, “Have you ever thought about using dogs to track or stop aquatic invasive species?” or, “What about disease? You think they could tell the scats of a diseased animal from a healthy one?” All those questions and a little bit of enthusiasm earned me a spot on the Board of Directors, and then when the organization got big enough to have someone direct traffic and chase money full-time, so I said I would love to be the Executive Director… and here I am. The photo above is of Ngaio Richards and Lily taking a break from Cross River Gorilla surveys to meet with school children in Cameroon.
What are the benefits for conservation?
There are so many really significant ways that dogs can push conservation forward. One of the earliest benefits we saw, and one of the most obvious, is simply how sensitive and effective they are at finding rare species. Some nice work was done in the northeastern US and they demonstrated that, at very low densities—in that case just one individual animal in particular a landscape—dogs were 39 times more efficient detecting that animal than camera traps or hair snares.
We have also demonstrated that dogs can do things that simply weren’t possible before. For example, they can detect the microscopic larvae of zebra and quagga mussels. No matter how hard we look visually, we can't see them so that's a game changer for stopping the spread of those two invasive species, which cost us billions and billions of dollars every year. Another surprising benefit of having the dogs working on stopping invasive species was how quickly they work. It can take a human inspector over an hour to do a thorough job looking for mussels hitchhiking on a boat from contaminated waters, but a dog can inspect that same boat in about three and a half minutes. That's a big deal because many states’ check stations are voluntary, and if there's more than one or two boats in line people will simply keep driving by, or the officers themselves will wave them on so that they don't delay them. The photo above is Alice Whitelaw, during Diesel's training in Montana. Diesel now works with the Alberta Ministry of Environment to keep exotic zebra and quagga mussels out of Alberta's lakes and streams.
Source: With permission of Pete Coppolillio
The final thing I'll mention is our dogs’ impacts for anti-poaching and anti-trafficking. In some areas, Africa has lost around 60 percent of its elephants in the last 10 years. Our dogs not only make it virtually impossible to smuggle significant quantities ivory in a vehicle or container, but they can also intervene and prevent elephants from being killed in the first place. One of our dogs, Ruger, who is a lab shepherd mix rescued from the Blackfeet Reservation in northern Montana, detected and his handlers seized 13 guns in his first two months in the field. On the face of it, that's an enormous impact, but when you take into consideration that a single gun is often shared by seven, eight, or even more than 10 different poachers, Ruger becomes a one dog force for conservation in Zambia.
Are there any downsides?
I think one of the most important things we've learned—and that's the collective “we” of the organization and the whole conservation detection dog field—is that there are times and places where dogs are the best option, and there are others where the traditional methods still make a lot more sense. Collecting scat and detecting species non-invasively is really valuable and important, but it's very difficult to get mortality data, and by that I mean to figure out what's killing a species, without being able to follow individual animals, and that generally means having to capture and collar them. It's also a little bit uncomfortable when we consider that these dogs are in the middle of very serious and high-level law enforcement. Unfortunately, the people who traffic wildlife are also the same nasty characters who traffic in narcotics, guns and even humans, so this work is not without risks to the people who do it and the dogs to help them. Africa in particular, is also a hard place to be a dog. Trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, can be really serious for dogs and we have had to figure out ways to protect them from it.
What do you say to people who feel that you're using dogs against their will? Do you think this is so?
When I watch a working dog in the field, I wish that for just a few seconds I could lose myself in my work or my passions as completely as a dog does. I think anybody who sees that happen recognizes that these are very lucky dogs who truly love what they're doing. The days of coercive and dominance-based “training” are really over for serious dog trainers. Positive or reward based training is simply much more effective, and of course it's more ethical, so I can say without a doubt that all of our dogs not only want to work; they love to work. Our dogs also live with their handlers. That’s preferable from a technical standpoint because they really know each other well, so the handler can see when a dog struggles or is even just having a bad day, but it’s also nice because the dogs and handlers are partners for their whole lives, not just for their work.
Are there any other organizations that are doing similar work?
Yes, a little over 20 years, ago Megan Parker, one of our founders, started a collaboration with a woman named Barb Davenport, who is the lead trainer for the Washington Department of Corrections, and Sam Wasser, who is a conservation biologist at the University of Washington. Meg and three other women who are all biologists started our organization, Working Dogs for Conservation, and Sam and Barb have started their own organizations as well, and these three are the oldest and most established organizations in the country and the world. We have each grown to occupy slightly different niches now, but we all do similar work. Nowadays, there are lots of conservation detection dogs working in this country, and Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and increasingly in Asia and Africa. In 10 years time I believe that every university, every state wildlife agency, and just about anyone doing serious wildlife work will have or use dog teams. They will be as common as camera traps and radio collars for wildlife research, management, and conservation.
Why do you think it took so long for people to recognize how dogs can help us along and not suffer by doing it?
It's a great question. We've spent decades trying to figure out what wild carnivores are doing, as they run around the landscape leaving little messages for each other in the form of scat, or urine, or scrapes, and it took us until the mid 90s to look down at our own dogs and realize they could read the messages themselves, and even more importantly, they’re keen to tell us about it. It's hard to imagine, given that we've lived with these guys for 30 or 40,000 years, but maybe that's why we've taken them for granted.
What have other conservation biologists said about your project?
People love to see what dogs can do, and when we talk with biologists or land or wildlife managers the conversation almost always leads to new ideas and new ways that dogs can help. It's great fun. Dogs are also a great tool for outreach because people love to see what they can do. We often work on projects where biologists have been studying or working to protect an animal for years or sometimes even decades, and they laugh because the first time a dog comes to help them do their work, the press is there, and they want to hear about the project. This is also a pretty good job to have when you go to cocktail parties. A friend of mine recently introduced me as her friend “the environmental conversationalist”, which isn't far from the truth these days, I suppose.
What projects are planned for the future?
This is an exciting time for us. We've grown a lot, and we've moved from being a service provider who sits back and waits for people to ask for our help, to a real driver in our field. We are now able to try new things, develop new methods, and work in places and focus on issues that we think are important for conservation and the health and wellbeing of wildlife. We're going to continue to grow in two important ways. First, we're shifting towards building capacity. That's just a fancy way of saying that we're going to teach others how to do this work, rather than try to do it all ourselves. We believe that conservation dogs need to stop the illicit wildlife trade by being as ubiquitous and effective as narcotic detection dogs. That's a huge, daunting undertaking. Think of all the borders, airports, post offices, shipping terminals, rail stations, and everywhere else that dogs would need to be. By creating model programs and sharing how we do the work we do, we hope to make it as risky to trade and wildlife as it is to traffic drugs.
The second, and maybe even more exciting, growth area for us is through innovation. Every new laboratory technique opens a door for us, by increasing what we can learn from scat. Just last year some of our collaborators made it possible to detect pharmaceuticals, flame retardants, and heavy metals in mink and otter scats, so we’ve combined these techniques with dogs’ ability to find those scats, to create a new way to monitor the health of aquatic ecosystems. We also started another related program looking at the ways in which poisons, specifically rodenticides, move through terrestrial food webs. The results can be a little bit alarming, because we find contaminants and poisons in places we thought were pristine, but the information is invaluable in documenting the problem and figuring out how to prevent it.
Is there anything else you'd like to share with readers?
No matter how much I do this work, I continue to be amazed at how effective the dogs are, and how tirelessly and enthusiastically they do their work. We really are only limited by the crazy things we can dream up and ask the dogs to do. As more people know about us and see the possibilities that dogs offer, they support our work, either financially, through donations and grants, or by collaborating with or hiring us to try new things and expand the possibilities. It's really amazing how many different issues or problems are limited by what we can detect, so it's great fun and really gratifying to have a bunch of partners who run around with the world’s best chemical sensors on the front of their faces!
Many thanks, Pete. I really appreciate your taking the time to answer these questions. This is fascinating work and I look forward to learning more about your future projects and successes. I imagine there are a lot of dogs who would love working with you. You can contact Working Dogs for Conservation here.
Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce) will be published in early 2017.
This story was originally published by psychologytoday.com. Reprinted with permission.
Any time Alexandra Horowitz releases a new book is cause for celebration here at Bark. We’ve been fans since her 2009 hit, Inside of a Dog, and have continued to follow her work as she uncovers new insights into our co-pilots’ internal lives and external behaviors.
In addition to teaching psychology, canine cognition and creative non-fiction at Barnard College, Columbia University, she also leads the college’s Dog Cognition Lab.
Her new book, Being a Dog, delves deeply into the primacy of dogs’ sense of smell, and we talk with her about what she found.
Bark: Has anyone studied why some dogs are better at smelling than others —is it genetic or is it drive?
Alexandra Horowitz: Everything I’ve seen points to drive being the major indicator of whether a dog will be good as a detection dog: drive to find the odor, to keep working when frustrated, to get to the reward (like a game with a tug toy) at the episode’s end.
This is not to say that breed is irrelevant: some breeds are naturally more driven to pursue an odor relentlessly, or are driven to do whatever it takes to get a game of toss with a tennis ball. And some dogs—like Bloodhounds and Beagles—have more olfactory cells in their noses and more equipment around their faces (long ears, drooly jowls) to help bring odors up the nose. They may smell odors at lower levels.
Curiously, though, the notion that certain breeds are inevitably better at detection work than others hasn’t been borne out. It’s tradition more than science.
B: I was once told by a woman who handles tracking Coon Hounds that dogs can show a preference for how they scent; talking about the same breed, she said some sniff the ground, while others prefer sniffing the air. Have you observed individual differences in the same breed in your research?
AH: Absolutely. Different dogs have different sniffing tactics; “on the air” or “on the ground” are the two ways dogs try to pursue a scent. Often, though, these are distinguished by task, not by dog—that is, if a dog is tracking a distant (old) scent, on the ground makes more sense; the odor is probably no longer in the air. But a dog trying to locate someone/something who has recently passed by will be air-scenting.
B: Can adult dogs can identify their littermates or their mother by smell?
AH: In theory, this would be trivially easy for dogs. All dogs have their own “signature scents” (as do we, to dogs), so there would be no trouble distinguishing dogs of one’s litter from other dogs. Now, the question of whether an adult dog who has been separated for years from her littermates/family can recognize them is a different question: it’s more about memory than about perceptual ability. Memory is fallible in humans, and it is fallible in dogs. We forget. So it’s quite possible that, even having known one’s family by scent, it would be later forgotten. (But there is also good reason to believe that a trace would remain—that distant memory one cannot quite place.)
B: While you note in your new book that puppies at the Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania aren’t formally trained until a certain age, they do receive some kind of training, right?
AH: Yes, they are being “trained” to some degree: I think Dr. Otto and the Penn Working Dog Center trainers would agree when I say they are being trained to be good general-purpose working dogs. As I describe in my book, I saw dogs being put through their paces in lots of different (what were to them) games: find the missing person, find the hidden scent. They are being exposed to unusual sounds and environments and getting acclimated to them. They are learning the skills of detecting something, working with someone, and loving it. And they do.
B: Do working dogs get nose fatigue— do they reach a point at which they can no longer reliably follow a scent? If so, what do the pros do to work around that?
AH: The phenomenon of the nose no longer noticing an odor—adaptation —happens to us within minutes. Walk into a coffee shop, take in its familiar odors and a few minutes later, you might smell … almost nothing. The receptor cells in the nose that noticed the odor simply stopped responding after continued exposure.
The cells in the dog’s nose work similarly, but any dog employed as a detection dog is doing something different. Because they continue to sniff different areas of the odor “scene,” their noses won’t turn off to the smell. Tracking dogs are also known to simply lift their noses from the ground once in a while and sniff the air, as though to clear their noses.
On the other hand, working dogs certainly get fatigued from too much stimulation and too much exertion. Handlers know their dogs and will read their dogs’ responses to know when they need a break.
B: In the book K9 Scent Training by Resi Gerritsen and Ruud Haak (leading specialists in identification, tracking and detection-dogs), I read that female dogs are better at smelling than males. Did this also come up in your research? Any idea if the same can be said for our species?
AH: Gerritsen and Haak are great resources on detection-dog training and skills. I suspect their assessment comes directly from their own and other trainers’ experience with dogs. I don’t doubt it, though I don’t believe that the question has been formally tested. Interestingly, women are often said to be “better smellers” than men, and research does bear this out (on average, of course).
B: I’m quite curious about the canine visual sense vis-à-vis their olfactory sense, especially for dogs of the sporting breed. When our Wirehaired Pointer is out in the field, she seems to rely primarily on her sense of smell; sometimes a rabbit’s been sitting just a few feet from her, but she doesn’t see it, or even seem to smell it. Is it “I can’t smell it so I don’t see it”?
AH: As with us, dogs’ senses work together. Only for dogs, olfaction takes priority. From that point of view, you can imagine how vision might aid smelling: if a dog detects an odor on the breeze, she can then look up and try to locate, with her eyes, the source of that odor (and then head toward it for closer sniffing!). When I watched the dogs at the Penn Working Dog Center do a “person search” for people hidden in large PVC barrels in a large field, the dogs used vision to guide them while smelling: first, they followed their eyes to head toward the barrels, then followed their noses to identify which one held a person.
A dog who is sniffing in the grass to a hidden ball (or rabbit) that is perfectly “visible” to someone else nearby is simply using olfaction first. By sniffing in the whole area around the hidden object, she creates an on-the-fl y map of where the object is; the closer she gets, the stronger the odor is. Sometimes, dogs rely on that much longer than we would expect before bringing fuller attention to what they see to aid their search.
B: I’m trying to train one of my dogs, Charlie, to find the poop of his housemate Kit while we’re out in the park; he’s actually pretty good at it. I started doing this after I noticed that he likes to pee on her fresh poop, and only on hers. How would you recommend I boost his proficiency level? And why the peeing on it?
AH: “Find poop!” Great game. And lots of dogs would be pretty good at it. Since Charlie started doing this behavior on his own, clearly little shaping was needed. The only task is pairing it with a request (like “find poop”) and making him aware that what he’s doing—which to him is “following that interesting smell”—is something that’s also valuable to you, so he’ll do it whenever you ask. If he’s not doing it reliably, then he doesn’t see its value to you. Better rewards! More reliable rewards! (But you and every good behavior reader know that.) And, taking a cue from working-dog handlers, you could pair an “alert” behavior—sitting, barking and so forth—so that he tells you when he’s found it.
What I learned from Sam Wasser, who trains dogs to find wildlife scat, is that what’s often difficult in training in the field (and you’re always “in the field”!) is to know yourself if the dog has alerted on the right scat. Once they are confident of their dogs’ alert, and don’t accept partial alerts, handlers can reward only for the correct scat.
As for his peeing on the poo, that’s a question I don’t think science has directly tackled. But we know that marking isn’t territorial in dogs; it seems to be information-leaving. It could be that a nice pile of stinky poo is a good place to leave your own mark.
B: Besides enrolling our dogs in nosework classes, what do you recommend that we do to tap into their world of smell and enrich their lives?
AH: Let them smell. If you live with a dog, start thinking about what the world is like from an olfactory point of view. Let them smell you (you are your scent, to your dog), let them smell each other (that’s how they find out who it is), and let them smell the world. Take walks for smelling (not just for peeing, or for exercise). The pleasure that comes from watching a dog snuffling down a path, nose to the ground and nose in the air, guided by nothing more than the filaments of odors that come his way, is to me unmatched.
Kim Kavin’s provocative and probing new book, The Dog Merchants, takes a hard look at the “business” models behind how we get our dogs and the fur flies in many directions. We talk with her about some of her insights.
Bark: Why do you think people chose the dogs they have? Do you think that mixed-breeds are changing breed favoritism?
Kim Kavin: That’s a question it took me a whole book to try to answer. To sum up briefly, I think our choices about the dogs we bring home result from a combination of history, tradition, religion, culture, politics, gender, societal obligations and personal responsibility—all the stuff of humanity’s greatest world wars.
I think most of us feel in our hearts that we love dogs and are doing the right thing, whether we choose purebreds or mutts. And I think that most of us—on both sides—have never considered the enormous business interests and marketing efforts that are at play, all of which feed into our beliefs as well.
BK: You aren’t a big fan of televised dog events like Westminster, why not? What do you suggest as an alternative?
KK: To be clear about Westminster, I’ve never said the breeders who participate are necessarily doing anything wrong with their own dogs. What I’ve written is that when you take a show like Westminster and put it on millions of televisions and computer screens around the world, it stops being about the people and dogs in the ring and starts becoming about the resulting mass-market demand, which cannot possibly ever be filled by the types of breeders in that show ring. By their own estimate, they are merely 20 percent of the supply chain. When you turn a dog show into a mass-media event, it becomes the biggest marketing asset for all of the worst offenders, no matter how good the intentions of the people in the show ring.
The alternative I suggest in The Dog Merchants is that we evolve the concept of televised dog shows into a format that is more in keeping with our morals, media impact, and breeding and shelter realities today.
I’ve seen the attempts Fox has made, and cheer them. I think they’re a good start, and I give Fox and those producers like Michael Levitt who care deeply about dogs a great deal of credit for trying to be the first to break down that wall. They’ve made at least a small hole in it.
What I’d like to see is the entire wall smashed to smithereens. I think we need to get even more top-notch, highly talented people involved who are truly dedicated to animal welfare, people on the level of Simon Cowell of American Idol and Ricky Gervais. We need to use what they know about producing those big-time, international broadcasts to create a new format for dog shows that the general public will actually switch channels away from the Westminster-style shows to watch.
We need American Idol meets X-Games meets the Oscars, not just another version of a rescue-dog telethon, to really move the massmarketing needle.
Tell me dog lovers wouldn’t change the channel to watch. Tell me it wouldn’t show, inside of five minutes, just how antiquated the big beautypageant productions like Westminster have become. Tell me it wouldn’t change the way people think about dogs, and about what’s important when deciding to bring one into their families.
BK: What advice do you offer to people who are considering adopting a rescue dog but still wonder if it may be safer to buy a dog from a breeder?
KK: I think we all need to be far more conscious consumers, whether we’re buying from breeders or from rescuers. There are responsible and irresponsible people dealing in dogs on both sides, and it’s up to us all to put the latter out of business.
My book offers a litany of openended questions that people can ask to try to determine the true nature of any breeder or rescuer, and dogmerchants.com—if we all come together as dog lovers to post ratings and reviews—will go a long way toward helping us crowdsource the answers we need.
Here’s my ultimate advice: Stop being on the side of the breeders. Stop being on the side of the rescuers. Let’s get together on the side of all the dogs.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Q&A with Judith Jones
Recently, we chatted with Judith Jones, a renowned cookbook editor who worked with the greats—Julia Child, Jacques Pépin and Marion Cunningham, among others. Now in her 90s, she has written a delightful book, Love Me, Feed Me (Knopf), about cooking for herself and her little dog Mabon.
This sensible book reminded us of food writers like Elizabeth David and MFK Fisher: recipes plus a pinch of life itself.
After I got my compliments on the book out of the way, I asked her why cooking for her dog was important to her.
Judith Jones: There are insecure people who are a little nervous about cooking; they think, “Oh, I don’t have the precise enough measurements,” or something like that. I want people to relax and have fun, like when I’m having a steak dinner and put aside a third of it for my little friend. For me, it’s part the camaraderie I share with him. Mabon loves his meals, and he’s having what I’m having. I follow the basic one-third meat protein, one-third vegetables and one-third grain [ratio] for his meals.
CK: How about the little spot of wine you add to some of the dishes?
JJ: The wine usually boils away and is there for the flavor. Sometimes, if it is easy [to do], I hold back and don’t give him any, but if it is a big braise or a stew, I add the wine and it just burns off. Mabon has never objected. Nor does he get boozy.
He’s really incredibly healthy, and he definitely makes choices. The world is now made up of kale lovers and kale haters—I’m so sick of kale … I don’t think it’s one of the most graceful and delicate of our vegetable offerings. The first time I gave it to Mabon, I put little clumps [of it] in his dish; he pulled them out one by one, put them on the kitchen floor and walked away. So eloquent—he didn’t need words.
CK: Has Mabon turned tail on other things besides kale?
JJ: He hasn’t given up on kale, but I haven’t forced it. He loves broccoli, so it isn’t just a big prejudice that covers everything green.
CK: I loved your roasted-vegetable recipe; it seems so simple to prepare.
JJ: Mabon loves the roasted vegetables. It is easy, and roasting changes the flavor slightly because it sweetens the vegetables. The natural sweetness comes to the surface—that’s what causes them to brown.
CK: What are your hopes for the book?
JJ: I don’t want to force people to do things, because then they wouldn’t have any pleasure it in. But I think we have become a little bit rigid about our own diet. They want us to do cookbooks called “food is medicine.” It’s not medicine—it’s so much more, almost transforming. It’s sensually delicious, and you love to taste it. If it needs tweaking, maybe you add a drop of lemon juice or bit more salt. I think that I really want to bring pleasure to cooking for your dog, whether you’re alone or with a family.
CK: I think the book is also perfect for children, a great way to get them involved in that level of dog care.
JJ: Exactly. Dogs are part of your family and you should know what you’re feeding everyone in your family. It shouldn’t come from China; treats from China have killed dogs. My vet agrees that I couldn’t be doing anything better for Mabon. She risks something by saying that, as some vets would disagree with her.
And don’t you love that quote by MFK Fisher? “I wouldn’t feed my dog or cat anything I wouldn’t feed myself.” That’s all there is to it.
Judith Jones is the author of The Book of New New England Cookery and The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food. In 2006, she was awarded the James Beard Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.
Wellness: Health Care
Though in many ways, our dogs communicate with us all the time, when it comes to their pain, we have to figure it out on our own. Here to help with that daunting task is Michael Petty, DVM, author of the newly released Dr. Petty’s Pain Relief for Dogs in a Q&A with Bark editor Claudia Kawczynska.
What are the most common ways dog guardians can recognize that their dogs are in pain, beyond obvious signs like limping or decreased appetite?
The answer to this is complicated and I probably can’t do it justice here. However, if people start to see their dog as lazy, not socially interacting, reluctant to do the things they liked in the past—really, any behavioral change—then pain should be on the list of possible problems. Dogs rarely quit doing the things they like to do because they’re old, they quit doing them because there’s something wrong. And that usually means disease, commonly something painful like degenerative joint disease.
You note in your book that “there is no one-size-fits-all approach to pain treatment.” You also mention something called a “pain examination.” What does that entail, and is it something that’s perhaps best handled by a specialist?
A pain exam can take many forms. My approach depends in part on the history given to me by the dog’s caregiver, the breed, prior medical conditions and watching the dog walk into the exam room, just to name a few.
Every pain exam should consist of a complete physical exam; an observation of the dog’s gait when possible; a basic neurological exam (many neurological issues can mimic pain); and a hands-on palpation of the dog’s joints, muscles and bones. Based on the fi ndings, X-rays are often indicated, as well as blood work and urinalysis in anticipation of possible pharmaceutical interventions and procedures requiring sedation or anesthesia.
No one specialty “owns” pain. Anesthesiologists are well trained to handle acute pain, but not chronic. Neurologists are trained in matters like intervertebral disc disease, but not osteoarthritis. The list goes on. My fi rst choice would be to seek out someone with a pain certifi cation—a Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner—from the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (ivapm.org). This certification takes several years to earn, and program graduates are experts in the fi eld of pain management.
Do most vets understand the importance of neuropathic pain (essentially, a misfire between the sensory/nervous system and a region of the body)? And how is it best diagnosed?
Most of the veterinarians I talk to, outside of those belonging to pain-aware organizations such as the IVAPM, do not have a firm understanding of neuropathic pain. In human medicine, diagnosing neuropathic pain is difficult; it requires both a verbal description of what the pain feels like and verbal responses to certain tests. Without these tools, most of the time, our diagnosis is, at best, an educated guess. However, patient response to therapy for neuropathic pain is one indication that a veterinarian is on the right track.
You note that aspirin is dangerous for dogs. Are there any over-the-counter medications that can be given to a dog who has sustained an injury, to ease pain and infl ammation before taking the dog to a vet?
No. No OTC medications are licensed for use in dogs. Ice and stabilizing injured limbs are about the best you can do.
You support the importance of omega-3 fatty acids as part of a dog’s diet because they work to help decrease the production of pain-causing prostaglandins. Why is a fish-based source of omega-3 fatty acids preferred, and do foods such as canned salmon and water-packed sardines and tuna contain enough of it? How do we determine the correct amount?
Fish-based sources are best because of bioavailability. Sources like flax seed are okay for people but useless for dogs, as they cannot convert flax to omega-3s. If you are feeding a food that has salmon or sardines as an ingredient, then you don’t have to worry about the amount, as it takes very little of these foods to provide enough omega-3s.
You call out a few botanicals, like ashwagandha, boswellia serrata and turmeric, for their benefits in pain relief and/or in reducing infl ammation. Do you prescribe these in your practice?
Yes. The problem is finding a reliable source of herbs, as they are not monitored by the FDA like pharmaceuticals are. One good option is a product called Dasuquin Advanced, from Nutramax; it has many important pain-modifying ingredients, including several herbs.
The veterinary attitude toward acupuncture seems to have changed a lot. In your experience, which conditions respond best to acupuncture? And how do you know which dogs are good candidates for this treatment? (I had a dog who would shake out the needles!)
Talking about acupuncture is one of my favorite things to do. I cannot imagine practicing without it, especially in my geriatric population, which is more sensitive to the effects of many drugs. I think attitudes have improved—in both veterinarians and dog owners—as more and more research is being published on the benefi ts of acupuncture; also, people hear about someone’s dog being helped by it. In addition, it has the support of the National Institute of Health for the treatment of pain.
For many dogs, the proof of being a good candidate is obvious in their response to treatment. Within one to three treatments, we can usually see an improvement in pain scores and observations. If we don’t, then sometimes the decision is made to stop treatment. I have had a few clients return and say they didn’t realize how much it was helping until it was stopped.
Many people experience what you did with your own dog. Some dogs are needle-phobic and resent even one needle going in. Some dogs are just afraid of being at the veterinary clinic and won’t sit still. I sometimes give these patients a mild sedative to get over this hump. A reduction in anxiety for several treatments often means that they eventually accept acupuncture without continued use of the sedative.
Finally, dewclaws. You make the point that a dog’s dewclaw, the equivalent of a human thumb, plays important functions in both the mechanics of the front foot and in joint stability, and that ligaments and tendons connect it to surrounding tissues. Yet you also observe that some breeders routinely remove it. How can this horrible practice be changed? Do any vet groups take a position on this?
Both the AVMA and the American Animal Hospital Association discourage any surgery done for cosmetic reasons, but they only name ear-cropping and tail-docking. Unfortunately, I don’t think this has had much of an impact, as very few breeders belong to either organization. I cannot speak for every state’s practice act, but most (if not all) specify that surgery must be performed by a veterinarian. Every instance where a breeder chooses to perform surgery crosses that line, and they are breaking the law. I feel that the best way to address this issue is through kennel clubs, such as the AKC. If the AKC were to say, “No dog born after such-and-such date who has had cosmetic surgery, including dewclaw removal, ear-cropping or tail-docking, can be shown in AKC sanctioned shows,” the practice would grind to a halt.
Culture: Science & History
Robert Weintraub talks about Judy, a remarkable dog
We recently talked with Robert Weintraub, author of No Better Friend, our favorite book of 2015. This remarkable story about Judy, the only canine POW of World War II, has won the praise of many critics, and was selected, too, by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan as one of last year’s best. This inspiring (and harrowing) story reminds us just how inimitable our bond is with dogs.
Q: No Better Friend is certainly an apt title for a book about an amazing dog and the intense bonds she shared with the people in her life. What made you decide on this title?
A: Well, in all honesty, the marketing department at Little, Brown went through a whole host of options before we settled on this. But No Better Friend, I thought, captured Judy’s incredible loyalty and unique comradeship with the servicemen, both before and during her imprisonment. She took the saw, “man’s best friend,” to a whole new level.
Q: What inspired you to write about this subject—not just Judy, but also, WWII POWs and the Pacific theater?
A: Once I discovered Judy’s story, I knew I would have to capture the larger picture of her fellow prisoners, Frank Williams in particular. That led me to the fall of Singapore and the mad dash to Sumatra amid total Japanese domination in the South China Sea. Had Judy been in France, of course, I would have told that story, so in a sense, she took me to the Pacific. But despite their intense deprivations, the POWs of Sumatra have been largely ignored by history, so I was rather glad to be able to shine a light on a subsection of WWII that was more shadowy than others.
Q: You come from a sports journalism background—is there anything from that perspective that especially drew you to Judy’s story?
A: Certainly the qualities that draw people (including me) to sports—performance under duress, teamwork, strength of character—were fully on display in this story. The POWs, including (and especially) Judy, got one another through the worst possible times. They shared food despite not having enough for themselves. They put themselves in harm’s way to prevent fellow prisoners from taking beatings from the guards. They nursed one another through terrible disease and suffering. Judy and her fellow POWs rose above the nadir of humanity to display the best qualities humans have to offer. Obviously, the stakes were far higher than in any sporting contest, but the characteristics were similar, just writ large.
Q: It’s difficult to read about this period in history—about a war waged against a country that practiced extreme mistreatment of captives, unhindered by the Geneva convention. It makes stories about survivors like Judy and Frank Williams even more startling, and the details of what they, and many others, went through as POWs that much harder to digest. That must have been very challenging as you researched the topic.
A: I considered myself something of a buff on military history, WWII in particular, even before I began the research, but nothing prepares you for firsthand accounts of the brutality and shocking inhumanity of the camps. The legacy of the German concentration camps somewhat obscures the horrors in the Japanese camps, at least to the average person, so I thought it was important not to shy away from the terror tactics and sadistic barbarity practiced by the Japanese (and their Korean lackeys). In the course of writing, I found that any temptation I had to ease up on the worst of the offenses was offset by admiration for the POWs and Judy’s ability to withstand them. So my perspective tilted; I actually wanted to highlight the atrocities, for they presented Judy and her friend’s courage and endurance in greater relief.
Q: I tagged more pages in this book than in most that I review. Judy demonstrated so many instances of valor, intelligence, loyalty and, at times, cunning. Which ones stand out for you?
A: Yes, Judy made the exceptional look almost routine. Before she was even taken prisoner, she had several amazing episodes. At one point she took to guiding a small band of shipwreck survivors across the Sumatran interior in a quest for escape, through a deep rainforest thick with insects, mud and predators. Judy was actually slashed by a crocodile during this long march, but kept to her station as ranger, leading the group to (perceived) safety on the opposite coast.
There was the time when she was being transported by Japanese prison ship and the boat was sunk by a torpedo. She narrowly escaped, and once in the water, went about saving the lives of flailing shipmates instead of worrying for her own safety. In the camps, she repeatedly threw herself at guards in order to distract them from beating up fellow prisoners. One time she was shot and slightly wounded while thrusting herself between attacker and prey. Judy obviously put herself in grave danger during these episodes. But she continued to stand up for her fellow POWs right until liberation. Hers was truly a story not just of survival, but also of spirited resistance.
Q: What do you think made Judy so exceptional? As I read this book, I looked at my dogs and wondered what they would have done in the same circumstances. Do you have a dog?
A: We have young children, so we are waiting until they are a bit older before we get a dog of our own. But I grew up with a very loyal, very spirited Golden Retriever. Although he wasn’t nearly as intelligent as Judy, I like to think that he would have displayed the same courage and stamina. I don’t know that it’s possible to compare an average domestic canine with Judy, however. While she wasn’t a trained military dog, she was a mascot on a navy ship from a very young age, and was baptized to the sights and sounds (and smells!) of war, as well as death and destruction. Even before that, as a very young pup, she escaped from her kennel and survived on the streets of Shanghai for months before being brought home again. Clearly, this was a dog with something special inside her; an essential piece of her welcomed action and adventure, and when she faced the worst, she rose above it.
Q: What do you think it is about dogs that draws people like Frank Williams to the realization that, as you write, “His love for her was noble”?
A: Clearly, we recognized dogs’ special kinship with us at some point in their transition from wild animal to domesticated friend. In Frank’s case specifically, I was putting his love and loyalty to Judy in the context of his experience during the war. He was captured early on without putting up much of a fight (he was a radar technician in the Royal Air Force). After years of awful treatment in the camps, he had every reason to give up and let death take him, as so many other prisoners did. But Judy’s battling example shook him from his lethargy, and instilled in him the seed to fight on, survive each day, and put faith in a better time ahead. In exchange, he shared every bit of devotion he had with Judy, even risking his life to procure official POW status for her. In the worst situation imaginable, even worse than the war itself, Frank found the nobility that had eluded him while he was a free man. That was thanks to a dog—a special dog, true. But the qualities all dogs bring out in people is what makes our relationship with them so remarkable.
Q: I understand that a young readers’ version will be out soon. How did you recast the story to make it appropriate for that age group without diminishing its essence?
A: That version will be out on May 3, thank you for mentioning that! It was a difficult task to rework the narrative for younger readers, in part because I had never done it before, and in part because of the material. I had to walk a fine line between highlighting the inhumanity of the camps, which made Judy and Frank’s bond so special, without overplaying the brutality. I also found it necessary to trim much of the surrounding historical material in order to concentrate on the story at the heart of the book, the relationship between Judy and Frank. Not to worry, however; a series of sidebars provides historical context while not diverting the main narrative.
Q: What do you hope younger readers learn from your book?
A: I hope kids everywhere, including Asia (there is a Chinese edition), learn that love, loyalty and friendship are unconquerable, no matter how horrifying the surrounding conditions. And that while humans are forever finding ways to treat one another badly, the special relationships we have with dogs can transcend the often-shaky relationships we have with each other.
For more see our review of No Better Friend, plus an excerpt from the book.
Irresistibly amusing portraits of wet dogs
On our cover is Coffee Bean, whose portrait was taken by Sophie Gamand, a photographer who sees dogs differently. For an example of Gamand’s unique viewpoint, consider her series Flower Power: Pit Bulls of the Revolution. Her pictures of smiling, solemn and saucy Pit Bulls, their heads adorned with colorful crowns of flowers, suggest that we reconsider what we think we know about these sturdy dogs. An award-winning French photographer who has become well known as an animal advocate in her adopted hometown of New York City, Gamand will be celebrating the release of her first book, Wet Dog, this fall. Recently, she shared some of her observations and experiences with us.
BARK: Are dog-rescue groups active in France?
Gamand: Absolutely. Abandonment is somewhat less of an issue there than it is in the U.S., though. I once calculated that the ratio in France is about one dog per 660 inhabitants will be abandoned each year, whereas in the U.S., it’s one dog per 82 inhabitants. Thanks to my Wet Dog book, I was able to help the SPA (Société Protectrice des Animaux), the largest and oldest animal welfare and rescue organization in France. They fell in love with my wet dog photos and asked if they could use them for their nationwide adoption campaign this October. I was so proud to be able to help animals in my home country! (I even photographed wet cats for them, which was quite an experience!) The campaign ran in France, in the Paris subway stations and in SPA’s 60 shelters. I was told by their team that their adoption event was hugely successful, thanks in part to the campaign, which touched thousands and thousands of hearts.
In Wet Dog, you write that one of first things that happens to a dog at a shelter is a bath, and that marks the beginning of the dog’s new life. Is this why you decided to do the wonderful Wet Dog book?
My “Wet Dog” series was born out of a happy accident. I was at a groomer’s, working on a personal project about grooming and the hair-cutting process. Then the groomer started bathing the dogs, and I could not take my eyes off them! I’m not sure why I felt that intense connection with wet dogs. They make me laugh, but most importantly, they make me feel guilt, compassion and immense empathy.
Suddenly it hit me. That was exactly how I felt when bathing rescue dogs. It was interesting to explore those memories and feelings, and to realize how important bathing had been for me and for my relationship to rescues. I really believe that for the dogs, the bath is an initiation process, almost a form of baptism. They enter a new life, the abuse and the neglect and the suffering they experienced are washed away, and they become new. It’s a poignant and beautiful moment to share with a rescue.
You have volunteered a great deal of time taking portraits of shelter dogs. How important do you feel it is that their personalities are captured through good photography—does it make them more adoptable?
It is absolutely essential! Good photography helps in so many ways: It gives more exposure to the dogs on social media, and by extension, it gives more exposure to the shelters as well. It also brings more adopters to the shelters and creates more connections between people and shelter dogs.
I want my photos to be amazing, beautiful, exciting, fun, touching. I want people to see beyond the “shelter dog” aspect. I want them to witness the personality and uniqueness of these dogs. The photos, like the baths, are also a rite of passage. I want to give the dogs their dignity back. My photographs have been responsible for many direct and indirect adoptions— for people falling in love with a particular dog, or feeling more confident about getting a shelter dog. The photos remind us that these dogs could be our best friends. Their happy faces are so inviting.
How did you come to work with the Sato Project, and why do you say it was life-changing for you?
I met Chrissy Beckles, the project’s founder, in 2011. At the time, I was looking into volunteering with a shelter or a rescue group, but found many closed doors. Chrissy welcomed me and let me do my thing. Over the course of two years, I traveled extensively with her, documenting her work in Puerto Rico—specifically on Dead Dog Beach, an infamous dumping ground.
The work I did with the Sato Project profoundly changed me, personally, professionally and artistically. The first time I stepped foot on the island, Chrissy and I picked up a dying dog. He was beautiful and heartbreaking and in such a horrible shape. He died in Chrissy’s arms, and I was there with my camera, taking the photos and videos that would help Chrissy spread the message about her important work.
I called the dog Angel, and I captured his last breath with my camera. I still remember the way he looked at me; for a split second, I thought he was smiling, and then he expired. He was loved so much during the last few seconds of his life. This horrible experience bonded me with Chrissy and her organization in ways I can’t explain. It also bonded me with rescues and shelter dogs across the world. In many ways, we created dogs, and we are responsible for them. Teaching compassion toward all beings is such an important part of our humanity.
What do you hope people come away with from your Wet Dog book?
Wet Dog is meant to be a fun book. I want to celebrate the unique relationship we have with our dogs. I also hope to use it to spread simple messages, such as #AdoptDontShop, which is dear to my heart. People need to stop buying puppies in stores or off the Internet. One out of three of these puppies will end up in a shelter within their first year.
I also want to encourage people to look at shelters and help in small ways. For example, did you know that shelters are always in dire need of gently used towels and linens? It’s a great way to help, and to make shelter dogs’ lives a little more comfortable while they wait for their forever homes. Bathe your doggie, then wash the towels and donate them to your local shelter! Wet dogs uniting for shelter dogs: I like that idea.
JD Souther is a card-carrying member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, inducted in 2013. Instrumental in shaping the sound that became known as country-rock in the 1970s, he has also contributed to the American songbook by penning such classics as “Best of My Love” and “Heartache Tonight” (both for the Eagles) and “Faithless Love” recorded by Linda Ronstadt.
Never one to rest on his laurels, the singer-songwriter continues to compose memorable songs from his Nashville home. As a performer, he recently toured in support of a new album, Tenderness (Sony), and can be seen in the recurring role of producer Watty White on television’s Nashville.
Despite his busy schedule, there’s nothing Souther would rather do than hang out with his dogs. The Bark caught up recently with John David and talked … you guessed it … dogs.
What is it that you like about dogs?
I like everything about dogs. I love their society, their immediacy, their ability to make anything an adventure. Dogs don’t miss an opportunity to have fun, to find out, to live. I also love the way they feel and smell. If I have to go to a party at the house of someone I don’t know, I look for the dog, or dogs. That’s where you’ll find me: hanging out with the dogs. No dogs, and I usually leave early.
Tell us about your dogs.
I have two loonies we affectionately call the Bruise Brothers, named thus for their incredible rough-and-tumble play, though they are, in fact, 50-pound lap dogs and would abandon their
When we brought them home from the two angels who had found them by the roadside in terrible shape and nursed them back to health, I had a beautiful Irish wife and a six-year-old girl. We built this farmhouse so that the girls would want to be here and not someplace else. It worked very well, but that meant that as the Bruise Bros grew, they were gently coerced to suffer every whim of an imaginative young female community, including but not limited to: shoes, hats, tee shirts, ties, capes, dresses, jewelry, sunglasses and sometimes various combinations of halters and leads that were only necessary for the little girls’ rich imaginations of them as horses.
For all this girlish invasion of their masculine nature, the brothers were as delighted as could be for the attention, and ne’er a growl was ever heard.
It was announced that the Eagles are being honored by the Kennedy Center next year — as a major contributor to their songbook … congratulations. Were there any dogs hanging out with you folks in those early days of Southern California music making?
The honor is well deserved, congratulations to the guys. They certainly have added considerable wealth to the repertoire. The fact is, we were all almost on the move all the time in those early days. The only dogs in our little gang of musicians I can recall with any clarity are two. One was a small white dog that Glenn (Frey) and Janie, his first wife, had named Teeny Turner. She sounded bigger and who could blame her.
Also, Linda (Ronstandt) had two magnificent Huskies or something like them, when she lived in Brentwood. I was fond of one named Molly who voiced her objections to Linda leaving town by eating the couches, a form of protest with which I was to become later familiar on my dogs Murphy and Babe’s first day alone in the house, where they reduced a couch, daybed and several expensive cushions to a carpet of feathers and fluff. I opened the door to a first floor of shredded bedding and found two black dogs resting comfortably, one with feathers still clinging to his snout looking as innocent as possible. Smiling.
Have you ever written dog-centered songs, or lyrics?
I’ve written three songs about dogs, one for each of the Hollywood Hills dogs and one for the Tennessee Brown Hounds. Their place in my musical process is the same as it is in my life: a reminder to (a) not take myself too seriously and (b) pay attention!
How about dog stories—have any good ones to share?
Here’s one that may give you a sense of the humor and boldness that I find irresistible in canines.
As we were building the Dog Ranch, I leased a beautiful Robert Byrd house on Hollywood Boulevard just west of Laurel Canyon so I could be on-site [in nearby Nichols Canyon] every day during construction. The back yard was small, so most days, the black dogs came to work with me. We were, after all, building our dream house.
On the few days when they were left behind and outside, escaping from the yard behind the Byrd house became a game, and a fairly regular source of amusement for Babe. I kept adding fencing and difficulty, including, finally, a spiky pile of lawn chairs at the only conceivable escape route. Alas, she seemed to rise to every challenge, which included (eventually): pulling the lawn chairs down and scattering them, pulling the fence over, scrambling up a near-vertical dirt hillside, jumping on to the second story of the house, down to the first-story roof, then down to the top of the carport, and finally onto the top of whichever vehicle was closest before landing on the lawn.
I often came home to find Murphy, who was not quite tall enough to run the obstacle course, barking hysterically from behind the garden gate and Babe sitting serenely on the front porch, waiting for dinner. Smiling.
We hear that you’re a good friend to Best Friends Animal Society; how did you get involved?
I met Francis and Silva Battista in the late ’80s just as Babe was convincing me to slow down a bit and enjoy my lucky life. I loved what they were doing at Best Friends. Then I went up for a visit and met most of the founders and staff, wondrous folk who I am hoping will someday swap me a nifty little retirement perch in one of the most beautiful places on earth for considerable publishing interest and some
We’ve taken dogs to the Sanctuary together, I loaned them an SUV/ambulance one year in their early days, played a show recently for the donors at Discovery Weekend, give what I can, talk about them every chance I get
They have been salvation for thousands of animals, a fair number of them human, and are methodically helping to create no-kill cities wherever possible. When we would lose one, we used to say (to console ourselves), “Well, maybe you can’t save them all.” Wrong! Now our logo proudly challenges everyone: “Save Them All!” The entire community at Best Friends Animal Society is a model of selfless stewardship and joy. Why wouldn’t
Do you think there’s a reason so many musicians have special connections with dogs?
Maybe musicians, painters, writers, all artists need more time away from conversation and the clanging immediacy of modern life. I think people need quite a bit of it for sanity. Dogs—in fact, most animals I have met—are content to simply live. Just be here. One of my most treasured animal friends is a horse I’ve known for 20 years, but don’t ride. We just … I don’t know. We just hang out.
Children? Animals? They’re our very best things, I think.
We are animals, after all, and when we discriminate against any one, we are diminished.
What do you do these days when you hang out with dogs?
Nothing. Anything. Whatever they want to do usually turns out to be a good idea for all of us. Thanks for asking me to be in your wonderful magazine, which I own all the way back to your big format first issue!
Tracey Stewart, author of the new book, in conversation with The Bark
Tracey Stewart has had a constellation of careers (some simultaneously): animal advocate, creator/editor-in-chief of the digital parenting magazine Moomah, writer for Huffington Post, vet tech, graphic designer. She and husband Jon—yes, that Jon Stewart—live in New Jersey with their two children, four dogs, two horses, two pigs, three rabbits, two guinea pigs, two hamsters, one parrot and two fish. As she notes, “all rescues, except for the children.” With the forthcoming publication of Do Unto Animals (Artisan), beautifully illustrated by Lisel Ashlock, she’s now added author to her portfolio.
In your book, you mention that raising children, at least during their younger years, is a lot like your work in the vet field. Are there other similarities that make raising your human family a little easier?
Nothing prepares you for raising a human family. That first day you wake up with a baby, you just have to keep running to stay ahead. When I was pregnant, people would say, “Don’t worry, you’ll know what to do once the baby arrives.” That’s a bunch of hooey! You’ve got to educate yourself and change your technique as your child develops.
I believe this is true of “parenting” an animal as well. My family is constantly trying to learn how to do better for our animals. We’re always looking for ways to enrich their lives and take the best care of them that we can. Every day, we learn something new. It’s a family passion.
Shelter-based projects are one of the ways you and your family express that passion. How can children—and adults, for that matter—become active in this type of volunteerism?
Sometimes, the best way is to start with the closest shelter that shares your values. The easier it is to get there, the more likely you are to visit. We were lucky that our local shelter had aligned itself with a humane education program that invited children in for activities and education.
Even if your local shelter doesn’t offer something specific, be creative. Most shelters are hard at work taking care of their animals. They can use all the generosity you have to give. Offer whatever skills you have to help. Come up with your own idea and reach out. It’s really wonderful to have a personal relationship with a shelter.
And you don’t have to wait for a program to exist. When we’ve been on vacation, my daughter has gone to local shelters and offered to read to their animals.
How do you explain to young children that not all animals in shelters will be rehomed?
Honesty is always the best approach. The older the child, the more details I’m comfortable sharing. I usually know how much or how little information to give each child. Not that I haven’t made the mistake of answering big life questions with more information than my kids want. At that point, they give me a puzzled look and interrupt me with, “Okay, Mommy, is that it?”
As with any topic that is frustrating and sad, I find it helps to look at the positive and to focus on what we can actually do to help. Helping animals has shown my kids the strength of their voices and actions.
You point out that “an animal’s presence in a shelter often says a lot more about the person who surrendered them than about the animal.” Unfortunately, people seem to equate shelters with behavior problems. How do you counteract that perception?
I think we need to tell people to take a moment to ponder the many failings of members of the human race, and then imagine the gold that must get left at shelters every day. Having spent so much time in shelters, I can personally attest to the fact that fantastic animals are just waiting to be given a chance with a reasonable and kind human being. Shelter animals with the most daunting behavioral issues, such as extreme fear or aggression, are usually euthanized, especially if there is a history of biting. Sadly, however, animals with absolutely no serious behavioral problems are euthanized as well, due to lack of space and resources and because no one came to take a look at them.
You also mention virtual adoption. How does that work?
Virtual adoption is a way to help shelter animals without bringing them into your house. Let’s face it, we can only bring so many animals home before we have to worry about accusations of hoarding. Even if your home is already full, you have allergies or a hectic work schedule, you travel or any other of a host of obstacles, there is still so much you can do to help animals find their forever homes. When our family reached maximum capacity, my kids chose a shelter dog or cat to champion. They’d make posters, decorate cages with lovely messages, and make videos and buttons. They’d drop off enrichment toys for their surrogate animal to play with. Social media offers endless opportunities to get the word out as well.
Why is fostering a pet such a good idea for the whole family?
I know that my kids feel really proud when we’re part of finding an animal a loving home. And my husband is relieved when we’re successful because it means we won’t be adding another member to the household. For me, it’s therapy. I lean toward generalized anxiety and am always worried about one thing or the other, except when I’m fostering an animal. There is something soothing and peaceful about taking care of and creating peace for an animal who has been through so much. I’m able to put all my petty concerns aside and just be.
Tell us more about your wildlife rehab center as well as your sanctuary to rescue farm animals.
Our “wildlife rehab center” is nothing official. Mostly, we make sure our home is well prepared to help an animal until we can get it to a licensed wildlife rehabber. (People can sometimes unintentionally harm an animal when they don’t know what they’re doing.) We have all the emergency numbers at the ready. We also make sure that we don’t unintentionally harm the wildlife in the back yard with harmful chemicals. We give a loud holler before we let the dogs into the yard, and we provide lots of food and shelter. My car is always equipped with a container with air holes, dog treats, a leash and protective gloves.
The animal sanctuary is on its way to becoming official, but doing it right requires time. Last year, I took a course at the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Their national shelter director, Susie Coston, taught it and it was a real eye-opener. I remember thinking that by the end of the conference, some of the attendees would have been discouraged from starting their own sanctuary.
Doing right by animals is no small task, and many well-meaning people get in over their heads. Then people and animals suffer. If you’re thinking of starting a sanctuary yourself, I would encourage taking this class. If you still think you’re capable of doing a great job when you complete it, then march on. If you don’t, give your passion to the animals at an already-existing sanctuary.
Sanctuaries need to be able to provide quality individual care to their rescues. They need to educate, educate and then educate some more. We are so out of touch with the animals we call food. We need to meet them.
The number of animals a sanctuary can save will never be enough. In the U.S., about 25 million land animals are killed for food daily.
What role do your husband and kids play in all this?
Fortunately for me, my entire family has an intense love for animals. I get away with a lot because Jon is such a softie. He has his own projects, but enjoys mine immensely. He’ll sometimes pretend to be exasperated when I tell him things like, “Honey, there are five goats sleeping in our garage tonight. The rescue will—I hope—come for them in the morning,” but I know he loves it. (Right, honey?? Right?!) My kids are essential in all of this craziness. They have feeding, enrichment and training duties. They are constantly teaching me new things about animals.
Among other things, you comment on dog tail- and ear-cropping and cat declawing. In other countries, these practices are thought to be inhumane and oftentimes are illegal. Why are we still doing it here?
My understanding is that one of the reasons this practice still goes on in the U.S. is due to some no-good politics. Other folks speak to that more articulately than I can, but what I do know is dogs’ ears and tails are important to their ability to communicate, and that declawing cats is painful and deforming. Lots of people think that because it’s been done for so long, it must be all right. It’s not!
You also take on the demonization of the Pit Bull. You’ve lived with Pit Bulls; why do you think they’ve gotten such a “bad rap”?
Myths abound. Lazy reporting and a desire to grab people’s attention with sensationalized stories have been implicit in the destruction and abuse of too many innocent creatures.
The reality is that Pit Bulls are smart, loyal and strong, qualities that unfortunately attracted the attention of unsavory types in the ’80s and ’90s. Criminals exploited Pit Bulls’ natural tendencies for the purpose of profit. Because they are usually so devoted to their owners, Pit Bulls could be trusted not to bite them while concurrently obeying their commands to fight.
Pit Bulls are being overbred, are not being spayed or neutered, and are treated as disposable. Couple that with the backlash against them and you can understand why our shelters are filled with Pit Bulls. It is estimated that 2,800 Pit Bulls are euthanized in the U.S. every day.
If BSL laws are in place to protect the communities, communities should be up in arms about the money being wasted. These laws don’t make communities safer. Education does! Pit Bulls do not bite more than other breeds. However, the media often labels dogs who have bitten people as Pit Bulls; their mantra is, “If it bit, it must be a Pit.”
Breed doesn’t appear among the factors relevant to dog-bite fatalities. According to a study done by the CDC, of the 256 dog-bite fatalities between 2000 and 2009, 84 percent were intact males, 76 percent were kept as guard or yard dogs rather than family pets, and 28 percent involved owners with a history of reported pet abuse. History, not breed, determines a dog's behavior. Humans, not dogs, are the variable.
By and large, dogs are at the mercy of human decisions, and when humans make poor decisions, dogs suffer and communities become less safe. Let’s put money now being spent on enforcing BSL laws toward educating communities about dog behavior and safety rather than blaming dogs—put it behind teaching people the importance of spay and neuter, dog behavior, and positive training methods.
Acts of animal cruelty are linked to violence against people. Communities would be safer if animal cruelty cases were enforced.
On a less weighty note, as an avid DIYer, I really love the simple projects you include in the book. But why did you include them?
The thing I like about hand-made projects is that they force people to drop everything else and ponder for a bit. And, if you want to engage people and keep them motivated to keep doing for others, you have to make it fun! DIY projects are a great way to get kids involved. Sitting together working on these projects provides time for conversation, and taking these projects to the animals is incredibly satisfying.
When their efforts feed their souls, people are less likely to burn out and more likely to continue helping. Animals do that for me. Whether it’s animals or something else, I would encourage readers to take some time to figure out what really makes them feel great about helping.
Your book’s theme of bettering the lives of animals should be popular with readers of all ages. What do you hope to achieve?
If nothing else, I hope Do Unto Animals inspires people to do just a little more. If we all did a little more, a lot of good could come from it. Lives are busy and tons of things are going wrong in the world. It can be overwhelming and depressing, but it helps to feel like you’re pushing back with positive action. What’s wonderful about animals is that they’re all around us. Opportunities to make a difference abound.
I’d love to inspire all animal lovers to constantly learn and seek out new information. Don’t take information at face value. Do your homework. Raise questions. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Learning about suffering and wrongdoing isn’t as devastating to your soul when you’re working on the solution. The more I learn, the better I do, and each day I’m doing better than the last.
What’s next for the Stewart family?
I know Jon is looking forward to going to the carwash (he loves that!), stopping by his favorite smoothie place, being with our kids a glorious amount of time and keeping an eye on me. I’m guessing that I’m not going to be able to get away with sneaking so many animals into the house once he’s not at the show every day.
This interview has been edited.
Alex Kava talks with The Bark about her newest character, Ryder Creed, and his dogs.
Alex Kava has been crafting intense murder-and-mayhem-fueled novels for at least 15 years. Fortunately, her heroes—FBI profiler Maggie O’Dell and, most recently, former U.S. Marine and K9 handler Ryder Creed—are up to the task of bringing down the villains. Like many of the authors whose books catch our eye, she writes dogs into the plot, not as afterthoughts but as fully realized characters. Want proof? See her two new books, Breaking Creed and Silent Creed. Bark editor in chief Claudia Kawczynska gets the backstory.
Bark: What inspired your new dog-handler character, Ryder Creed?
Alex Kava: Creed came out of my lifelong fascination with dogs and their capabilities. I’ve loved dogs and followed them around since I was old enough to walk. I wanted to create someone who not only shared my passion but who would be comfortable living in the company of dogs.
B: I confess I was concerned that something bad was going to happen to the dogs, and was relieved that it didn’t. Did you make a conscious decision about this?
AK: I simply can’t read books or watch movies in which animals are hurt or killed, so that was an easy decision. Though Creed’s dogs face dangerous situations, including environmental threats (spiders, snakes, mudslides), the reader can be assured that they will always be okay. I can’t, however, make that promise about their human counterparts.
B: What kind of technical advice or assistance did you get when writing about the dogs’ training and the method Creed uses?
AK: I do a tremendous amount of research for all my novels. For the “Creed” series, it’s been a combination of articles, videos and books (The Cadaver Dog Handbook by Andrew Rebmann is my bible), along with talking to experts. Over the years, I’ve developed a long list of people I can call upon, from homicide detectives and CSI techs to K9 handlers. Their experiences breathe life into my novels. And my veterinarian has helped tremendously; she’s become my go-to source for anything and everything about dogs.
B: It’s refreshing to see an action character like Creed have such concern for his dogs, to the extent of sometimes sleeping with them in their kennel and preparing homemade food for them.
AK: Scout, my 16-year-old dog who sat beside me while I wrote every one of my novels, was dying from kidney disease as I worked on the first “Creed” book. It was a daily ritual to prepare his homemade meals and administer his subcutaneous fluids. For me, it was no different than taking care of a sick child. It’s that way for Creed, too. These dogs aren’t just part of his family—they are his family.
B: Why was it important that the dogs have rescue backgrounds? (Let’s hope that will inspire your readers to adopt shelter/rescue dogs!)
AK: Two reasons: First, I wanted it to be an ongoing theme—Creed rescues dogs, and in return, the dogs rescue Creed, both literally and figuratively. Second, I wanted to highlight that all dogs have amazing capabilities and value, even those who have been abandoned or discarded.
B: As a fan of terriers, I was pleased to see that a JRT, Grace, is one of the featured working-dog characters. What made you decide to use a smaller dog in this role?
AK: I have three West Highland White Terriers, so I love terriers, too. Most people don’t know that smaller dogs can and are trained as working dogs. There are situations where they can get in and out more easily than larger dogs, and in some contexts, they attract less attention. Terriers, in particular, have a lot of energy. Most of them have that all-important intense drive—what Ryder Creed describes as “ball crazy.”
B: Dog-loving readers will be treated to a “two-fer” in these books, since the other protagonist, Maggie O’Dell, who has her own series, is also a dog person. Has she always had dogs? And why did you think of adding dogs to your work?
AK: Maggie did not have dogs in the beginning of the series. As an FBI agent who tracks killers for a living, she deals with evil on a weekly basis, so I wanted to give her something good to bring balance to her life. She rescues a dog—a white Labrador named Harvey—in book number two (Split Second). Later in the series, in Hotwire, a stray German Shepherd, saves Maggie’s life and she ends up adopting him, too. I guess I was creating dogs as heroes even before I meant to.
The third in the “Ryder Creed” series, Reckless Creed, is slated for release in spring 2016, and Before Evil, a new “Maggie O’Dell,” will be out in early 2016.
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