health care
News: Guest Posts
Report Dog Bites
One women learns a terrible lesson.

I never thought I'd say it, but you can go too far in "protecting" a dog. Last week in Alameda, Calif., an 80-year-old woman died from an infection three days after she was bitten by an unfamiliar dog. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, she lied to doctors about the cause of her injury to avoid having the dog quarantined. She paid the ultimate price, and the dog has not been found.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs each year, and one in five dog bites results in injuries that require medical attention. But the CDC and the Humane Society of the United States view dog bites as largely preventable.

News: Guest Posts
Does Mandatory Spay/Neuter Work?
Some shelters and veterinarians don’t think so.

Last week, a proposed mandatory spay/neuter bill for Chicago was put on hold in the face of overwhelming opposition. Personally, I'm in favor of public education and encouraging people to choose spay/neuter for their pets, not forcing them to do so. What surprised me most about this hearing was who opposed it, including popular "Pet World" radio host Steve Dale, the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association, the Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago and others.

The Chicago Tribune published a letter to the editor submitted by a group of shelters and veterinarians; it read in part: "Perhaps most disturbing about the mandatory approach is that a proven, cost-effective, alternative model already exists. Unlike the failed mandatory measures that punish non-compliance, subsidized spay/neuter programs rewarding positive behavior are successful. Privately funded, large-scale, subsidized spay/neuter programs already exist in Chicago. Together these programs were responsible for nearly 20,000 low-cost or no-cost spay/neuters last year alone (along with the tens of thousands of sterilizations performed each year by private veterinarians). The success of the current voluntary approach calls into question the need for any new law."

As a positive dog trainer, that makes so much sense to me. Often, I see people in my beginner obedience class pushing down on their dog's rear to "get them to sit." Using a clicker and a treat, I can accomplish the same thing in less time and without touching them. Not to mention, the dog actually learns and isn't just being physically manipulated.

Just like dogs, people are motivated by positive reinforcement (which explains the cup of M&Ms on my desk). And if people or dogs are forced to do something, they'll react one of two ways - they'll either do it out of fear of the negative consequences or they'll find a way to avoid the situation. Is that a way to live? Or learn?

News: Guest Posts
Three-Year Rabies Requirement
UPDATED. Finally Arkansas. Alabama and Rhode Island next?

The only state in the union to require a rabies vaccination every year may be changing its tune. Weeks after Arkansas extended its rabies booster requirement from every year to every three years, Alabama Senator Larry Dixon introduced legislation to do the same in his state. In addition, Senate Bill 469 includes a medical exemption clause for animals whose health would be jeopardized by the vaccination. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Health Committee. [Editor's Note: Progress in Alabama. On March 26, the Senate Health Committee has sent the three-year rabies vaccination requirement to the senate for a vote.]

Proponents of less frequent vaccination argue that the booster provides immunity that lasts for years and carries risks for significant adverse reactions including autoimmune diseases. Leading the fight against over-vaccination and spearheading research to determine the long-term duration of the rabies vaccine is The Rabies Challenge Fund. After success in Arkansas, the Fund began nudging legislators in Alabama and also Rhode Island, which has a two-year requirement.

Finally, earlier this week, Wichita, Kansas, extended its municipal ordinance from one- to three-year rabies requirement. (Unfortunately, these revisions to the city animal ordinance also included restrictions on Pit Bull owners, although the City Council rejected an outright breed ban.)

News: Guest Posts
The Fido Fine Is Back! NOT.
Update: Animals won’t pay for the budget crunch.

Editor's Update: Good news. The nearly 10 percent tax on veterinary services was dropped from the California state budget.

The proposed tax on veterinary services in California is back. The dreadful idea to pitch the welfare of animals into the state’s budget sinkhole with a nearly 10 percent tariff will be in the budget plan presented by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in his annual “State of the State” today.

After we blogged about this potentially catastrophic idea in December, it looked like the Democrats in the Senate and Assembly saw the error of Arnie’s ways. They passed a plan without the tax on December 19. But the Governor and his legislators haven’t been able to agree, and he wants the “Fido Fine” back.

What’s the fuss? When the cost of health care services jumps nearly 10 percent, animal advocates and veterinarians predict a reduction in routine wellness visits—which means missing opportunities to treat problems early, and more affordably and effectively. They worry that recession-battered guardians already struggling to keep animals in the family will be forced to abandon them rather than pay for treatment. Aside from the humane consequences, there is also a practical matter: More abandoned animals will only add additional strain (and cost) to shelters and rescues—hardly a positive for the budget.

Learn more details and how to take action at the California Veterinary Medical Association and the Humane Society of the United States.

News: Guest Posts
VIDEO: Vet Smarts
Dr. Marty Becker answers Bark’s questions about health care on a budget.

With the recession, we’re all feeling the pinch, and according to Dr. Marty Becker, one place some guardians are cutting corners is by skipping visits to the vet. Waiting until you know there’s a problem can be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Dr. Becker makes a pretty compelling argument for why wellness visits are so important for your dog and your wallet. He also pitches a few low-cost, at-home strategies for keeping your dog healthy--plus, an opportunity to save $20 on your next visit.

Dr. Becker’s visit with Bark is part of an effort to raise awareness about the importance of vet visits through a campaign called Help Your Pet, Get to the Vet. Visit www.gettothevet.com for a chance to win a $20 voucher toward your next vet visit. Vouchers will be awarded everyday on the hour from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. through February 28, 2009.

News: Guest Posts
Top Vet
California veterinarian wins Thank Your Vet for A Healthy Pet contest

Already tops with her three cats (Charlie, Nikita and Jack), Rachel S. Boltz has fans in the fur-free community. The Los Altos, Calif.-based vet took top honors in the second annual Thank Your Vet for A Healthy Pet competition. Conducted by the Morris Animal Foundation (with fabu pitch lady Betty White), the contest provides an opportunity for clients to sing the praises of their favorite veterinarians with essay-style nominations. Read more about Dr. Boltz and the four other vets who took regional honors.

News: Guest Posts
The Marrow Bone Incident
How I learned to pack wire-cutters in my pet-care toolbox
Lee Harrington and Chloe

For the New Year, I have resolved to get pet insurance for my dog Chloe, who doesn’t look like a troublemaker or act like a troublemaker, but who has—in the four short years I’ve had her—racked up several thousand dollars in veterinary bills.

I love this dog. But sometimes, in the dead of the night, when I am feeling financially challenged, I ask myself: Can I afford her?

Of course! I’ll always find a way. I am hoping pet insurance will be that way. I have hoped that for some time. It’s just that, for the past few years, I haven’t even been able to afford pet insurance. It’s a cat-and-mouse game for sure—trying to save up enough money for pet insurance, only to blow all that saved money on lacerated paw pads or a swallowed river rock. This is a long topic for another day—one that I am sure millions can relate to—but today I am writing about The Bone. 

For, yesterday we had to make another trip to the vet—this time because Chloe had an inch-long marrow bone stuck around her lower jaw.

Yes, yes, it’s my fault for letting her have the bone in the first place. But what dog doesn’t love a good marrow bone? Especially on a blustery Northeast Atlantic day, when the winds are gusting at 60 MPH and the rain sounds like machine-gun fire? What dog doesn’t love a bone when she has been condemned to strictly-limited exercise, meaning three short pee-walks per day, because of a recent rabbit-chasing incident that resulted in a torn ACL and two $250 trips to the vet?  My dog Chloe, that’s who.

Yesterday, however, while I was in the kitchen making ginger tea, I heard a yelp, and a helpless little whine, and I rushed into the living room to see what was wrong. There, I found Chloe with the bone-ring lodged around her lower jaw. It was hard not to laugh. She had stopped whining and was looking at me with a completely perplexed expression on her face, with the bone shaping her mouth into a goofy smile. And don’t be mad at me for laughing because everyone who has experienced this tells me they laugh too. And take pictures. And videos. And post them online. I did not do that. Instead, I knelt before the dog, and stroked her head, and told her I would help her get the bone off.

But the bone was wedged behind her canine teeth, and I could see no way to slip it back over them, and off.  This is why Chloe yelped, I surmised: One hard crunch had forced the bone behind her teeth. Poor baby. As I inspected her mouth, and turned her jaw this way and that, she kept her head still and wagged her tail. She even tried to kiss me but her tongue was, um, obstructed.

I’m not a mathematician. I have problems with spatial thinking, too. But still, I kept analyzing the bone, and its position, to see if there was any possible way it would slip off without causing her pain.  To the best of my limited knowledge, it looked as though Chloe’s teeth were a quarter of an inch too long to make this possible.

Still, I spent an hour twisting and turning the bone this way and that. Every few minutes I would conclude that I needed to take her to the vet, and then I would consider the costs of such a visit (I had just paid rent, so I was a bit strapped), and then I would resolve once again to try to solve this myself, at home.

So, back and forth it went—to vet or not to vet? I spent another twenty minutes trying to calculate—geometrically—if/how I could wedge bone off my now-patiently-drooling dog.  I tried to lubricate the bone with extra-virgin olive oil.  Nope. Arnica gel. Nope. It wouldn’t budge. I looked at my checkbook, to see if I could afford another trip to the vet.  Nope. I prayed to St. Francis.  I searched the internet, where I found all those pictures of all those other silly dogs with bones ringed around their lower jaws.  Each of these dogs, in the end, had to be taken to the vet. Back to the olive oil. Nope. It finally got the point where poor Chloe had had enough, and she crawled off into the closet with her tail between her legs. At that point I had a small meltdown (How had my life come to this? Why am I so pathetic?), and then called the vet. 

Now, I am in South Carolina for the winter, and can tell all sorts of stories about how the vets and the dog people ‘down here’ differ from the ones ‘up there’ where I am from. But that would make me sound like a New York City snob, which I guess I am. It’s in the blood.....

We ended up at a veterinary practice with a waiting room littered with advertisements for pharmaceutical products. There were pamphlets for anti-anxiety pills, anti-depressants, anti-shedding, and anti-bark sprays on every table and windowsill. There was a slick mobile hanging overhead, dangling cardboard images of large fleas and ticks, interspersed with packets of toxic flea and tick preventatives. There was even a TV mounted in the corner, showing, again and again, some kind of pumping animal organ—I don’t know what—crawling with worms. The screen intermittently flashed to an image of the pill that was going to prevent this. Next to a long row of bagged dog kibble was a poster advertising the latest anti-itch pill.  That to me was a great irony, because in my mind, it’s the crapola commercial dog food that causes the skin allergies in the first place.

Practices like this, I am told, tend to try to jack up your vet bill with pharmaceuticals, so I prepared myself. Plus, I now considered myself an expert on marrow-bone removal, given that I had spent 40 minutes on the internet reading about it. I told them that I needed to have the bone sawed off, that I refused to have my dog anesthetized, and that I wanted to be in the room with the dog and the vet while the vet sawed. The vet resisted, saying that he wanted to take the dog “into a back room” so that he could shoot her up with pain killer, but I insisted.  I am a New Yorker after all, and we must uphold our reputation of being pushy, obnoxious Yankees. I’m also a crazy dog lady. Why not let it all hang out?

 “I want to be with her,” I said. “I am going to apply acupressure to one of her calming points so that she’ll stay still.”

“Acu-what?” the vet said.


Confused, he and the vet tech stepped out of the room to discuss my proposal (and perhaps my damn-Yankee insanity).  In the meantime, I started to think about this pain-killer thing. Chloe would not need a pain-killer—I knew this instinctively. What else might these vets try to sell me?

When the vet returned, I told them I needed to see an estimate before they did anything. Sure enough, there was an extra $150 worth of painkillers, penicillin, antibiotics, and some other pills I’ve never even heard of but I knew were not necessary. I pared the bill down to two things: Office Visit; Removal of Foreign Object. I felt proud. I had also vowed this year to stand up for myself.

“Ready?” the vet said.

Ready. I had already dosed Chloe with Rescue Remedy, and had been acupressuring her Governing Vessel for the past half hour. So she was ready, too. Patient, trusting, and mellow as you please.

I had expected the vet to come equipped with saws, drills, rubber gloves, and a headlamp, the way a dental surgeon might. Instead, he came forth with a pair of wire-cutters. I held the dog, pressed her calming points, and was about to whisper “it will be all right” when—clip!  The vet clipped, the bone snapped, and it was all over. Chloe did not even yelp. 

“That was brilliant!” I said, truly impressed. “What kind of tool did you use?”

“Just your basic pliers,” he said.

“You’re kidding!” 

I can’t tell you how excited I was about that tool. I finally understand why men get so excited about such things.

“That acupressure thing you did really works,” the vet said.

We parted as friends.

Let it be known: I am single, and I live in New York, which means I do not own a wrench. Or a screwdriver, or a hammer.  But I do have an entire storage bin full of ‘dog supplies’ (flea combs, thinning shears, toe nail clippers, herbal conditioners, first aid supplies, travel bowls, etc). And now I will add a pair of marrow-bone-clippers to this collection.  It will be a nice assurance to have them. But I hope I never have to use them again.

An extended version of the essay appears at www.emharrington.com.

News: Guest Posts
Good News for Bad Hips

For a long time, surgical hip replacement has been the go-to procedure for dogs with hip dysplasia. In older dogs, when surgery is too risky, pain meds are often the only option. But now, a third alternative is rattling over the horizon. Mechanical engineering students at Purdue University are fine-tuning a canine exoskeleton, essentially a brace, that when fitted on a dog’s back relieves some of the pressure and pain off the hips.

In the process of unsuccessfully scouting for a photo, or better yet a video, of a demo-dog strutting her bionic stuff, I stumbled onto human exoskeletons. One device, created by a paralyzed engineer in Israel, may help people who have lost the use of their legs to walk. More evidence, we're all in this together.

Another, created for military use, practically turns soldiers into supermen. Yikes. Check it out:

News: Guest Posts
Vets Oppose Ear Cropping and Tail Docking

Somewhere between packing my car and dicing celery and cranberries, I missed it. On the day before Thanksgiving, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) released a statement opposing ear cropping and tail docking for cosmetic purposes, and encouraging the elimination of cropped ears and docked tails from breed standards.

Not surprisingly, the American Kennel Club (AKC)—which was not consulted on the policy—took issue with the position and use of the term “cosmetic.” AKC calls these “acceptable practices integral to defining and preserving breed character, enhancing good health, and preventing injuries.”

In particular, the AKC highlights the importance of these procedures in insuring the safety of dogs "that perform heroic roles with Homeland Security, serve in the U.S. Military and at Police Departments protecting tens of thousands of communities throughout our nation.”

Setting aside, for the moment, the AVMA's clear exception for procedures essential to good health and preventing injuries, are we really talking about Homeland-protecting heroes? Isn't the bulk of this surgery performed for the conformation ring and breed standards? Maybe it's time to look across the pond, where European nations banned these practices in 1987.


News: Guest Posts
Governor Schwarzenegger’s Very Bad Idea

Last week, I talked with the founder of a senior dog rescue organization near Seattle. Her report from the frontlines was dire. She says she’s never seen the situation for dogs so bad. She gets several calls each day from people around the country. They are frantic. Unable to make ends meet and losing their homes and jobs, they plan to “give up” their dogs. The shelters are overcrowded; the rescues, including hers, overextended.

It’s into this environment that California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has introduced a potentially catastrophic idea. At a special legislative session to address the state’s budget crisis, he proposed new taxes on certain services, including an approximate nine-percent charge on veterinary services.

What happens when the cost to see the vet jumps up by 9 percent? Animal advocates and veterinarians predict an even greater reduction in routine wellness visits—which means missing opportunities to treat problems early, and more affordably and effectively. They worry that people already struggling to keep animals in the family will be forced to abandon them rather than pay for treatment. Aside from the humane issues, there is also a practical matter: More abandoned animals will only add additional strain (and cost) to shelters and rescues.

This isn’t a solution. They are meeting as I blog. If you are a dog-loving California resident, contact your lawmaker.