Dog's Life: Humane
The benefits of adopting a more mature companion.
When I first saw Rooney at the Martinez, Calif., animal shelter, she was dazed, matted and unsteady— obviously on her last legs. Her breath could’ve fueled my car. As a dog rescuer, I kicked myself for agreeing to see her. What possible prospects could I offer this bedraggled old Border Collie, beyond a marginally better demise?
Within two months (and minus several bad teeth), she was adopted—and seven years later, just after her passing, I look back on her as one of my all-time favorite success stories.
Named for her resemblance to “60 Minutes” commentator Andy, she was a grand old gal, full of nobility, life and love. She was gentle with adults and grandkids, she respected cats, and she kept younger dogs in line, even with that half-empty maw. Rooney was quick to settle into a regular routine, and when you patted her she just oozed gratitude and affection. In short, she was the perfect companion for Margie, the empty nester who adopted her. The world would have been poorer if those two hadn’t matched up and devoted themselves to each other.
If you’re approaching your AARP years (or even if you’re far from it), you’ve probably read about the many health benefits of pet ownership. Study after study has shown that blood pressure goes down, cholesterol levels improve and even heart attack risk declines. Companion animals may be the anti-aging medicine that you really should “ask your doctor about.” Having a pet also encourages you to get out and exercise, even if it’s just a gentle daily walk. And statistics don’t count the warmth, companionship and pure love that a mature canine can bring into a household.
Adult dogs are settled into their personalities, so you know what you’re getting more than you would with a puppy or yearling. They are usually house-trained, and may already know basic commands like “sit” and “stay.” Contrary to the old adage, you can teach these dogs new tricks—with adolescence out of their systems, they tend to focus pretty well on teaching moments. Their desire to please their people is very well ingrained.
And I can’t prove it, but I’ve heard it said too many times to discount the notion that adult adoptees are just plain grateful—they’ve seen the world’s harsher side and seem particularly appreciative of the new lease on life they’ve been given.
In recognition of the many mutual benefits of matching older dogs with their human counterparts, many shelters have established “seniors-forseniors” programs. They offer reduced adoption fees to folks older than some threshold age for mature dogs—typically six or more years old.
I recall an older gentleman who was looking over some impossibly cute foster puppies. Asked where he planned to be in ten years, he replied, smiling, “Dirt nap!” With many breed life expectancies in the 12–18 year range (smaller being typically longer-lived), six- or seven-year-old dogs—and even teenagers like Rooney, still have plenty of good “tread-life” on them. My senior friend decided on an eight-year-old Lab mix, and they’ve never looked back. (And I know Margie wouldn’t trade her years with Rooney for anything. She’s since taken in Gloria, another senior grand dame.)
A shelter in Reno recently received a letter from a woman who had adopted a senior dog there some time ago and then returned for another. She wrote: “Frankie’s time with me was very good. He was loving, gentle and a good friend. He would bound out of the house at the end of the day when I returned home from work. He would wiggle with happiness to see me. He would do those “play bows” that sometimes much younger dogs do.
“I want to tell you that I think I needed Frankie more than he needed me, but he loved me and I was grateful for that wonderful creature every day that I had him. My new girl, Willow, is lying at my feet chewing on a rawhide. I hope this makes sense—I heard her snore last night while I was watching television. I can hear her breathe and I am not so alone.
“It is possible that animals are our greatest gifts in this life.”
Sitting here with that story fresh in my mind, where it shares space with fond memories of Rooney, I am gratified to know that these adoptions can hold such meaning and so enrich the lives of all concerned. If you have a hankering for “one more good dog,” please consider adopting an older best friend—it’s one of the biggest win-win opportunities that senior life affords.
Dog's Life: Humane
Insurance companies’ breed-restriction lists take a bite out of housing options
The term “foreclosure dogs,” which came into the lexicon sometime around 2007, is all too familiar to animal shelter and rescue workers. Canine victims of the housing collapse, many of these economic orphans face the added burden of being, say, a Chow Chow — or just looking like one. Why does that matter? Two words: breed restrictions. At least a dozen breeds and their mixes are commonly found on insurance companies’ “prohibited” lists, which affect those who rent as well as homeowners. How many dogs might have dodged the shelter had their foreclosed owners found rental housing that allowed them to keep their companion animals with them?
According to Adam Goldfarb, director of HSUS’s Pets at Risk program, so many pets are losing homes that it’s impossible to track specific breeds or breed mixes. However, other statistics don’t bode well for those on the restricted lists. The long-running mortgage meltdown has resulted in more than 4 million foreclosures as of 2009, and no clear end is in sight. Factor that against a 2009–2010 survey by the American Pet Products Association, which shows that 39 percent of U.S. households include at least one dog, with a national average of nearly two per household. And when it comes to size, seven of the 10 most popular breeds weigh more than 25 pounds, according to the American Kennel Club, and that’s not counting the mixed progeny of popular breeds, which, when restrictions exist, are also prohibited.
“It’s more of a problem for renters than for homeowners,” Goldfarb observes. “It’s harder for renters since they don’t control the insurance used by the rental property,” much of which is run by large companies with business- wide policies in place that they’re unlikely to change. Take, for example, Parkwood Rentals in Pierce County, Wash., which handles all types of rental housing, from single-family homes to apartments and townhouses. On its prohibited list are more than 14 breeds and their mixes.
“We did not compile this list,” says Katie Howard, associate broker with Parkwood Property Management, Inc. “This is the list of breed restrictions recommended by the insurance industry that we have adopted as part of our pet policy. If there is a question of breed, veterinarian certification may be required, along with pictures, references and a possible pet interview.”
Will the pet interview or a training certificate help if a potential renter’s dog is on the list or has a relative that is? Not according to Howard. “Unfortunately, we are not able to make exceptions to the breed restrictions.”
An explanation of the rationale behind the restrictions comes from a spokesperson for Allstate Insurance, who — in 2005, when a Washington state bill prohibiting insurance companies from banning breeds failed to pass — defended her company’s position by saying “We’re in the business of evaluating risk, and based on what we know, those dogs [on the list] pose a higher risk.” Two states — Michigan and Pennsylvania — restrict breed profiling by insurance companies.
In the U.S., breed bans began in the 1980s after a string of serious attacks, many said to involve Pit Bull–type dogs. In 1984, Tijeras, N.M., was the first to enact a ban, which targeted Pit Bulls. As other regions followed suit, the insurance industry took note. Goldfarb isn’t sure when the practice began in housing, but says that in his opinion, it has definitely increased in the last five years. Over time, at least 75 breeds — from Dalmatians to Karelian Bear Dogs — have made the lists, which vary by region and company. To make it even more confusing, breeds allowed in one place or by one insurer may be restricted in others, or by other companies.
Though not all insurance companies profile — Farmers and State Farm are among those that don’t — those that do base their restrictions on actuarial and claims data, dog-bite reports, and state or local breed-specific laws. According to an article found on Michigan State University College of Law’s Animal Legal & Historical Web Center (animallaw.info), the use of actuarial data has been blocked by courts in some situations. For example, when actuaries found correlations between poor minority neighborhoods and increased risk for homeowners’ claims, they stopped issuing policies in those neighborhoods, a practice known as “redlining.” In the same article, the writer states that breed discrimination is a different kettle of fish from redlining, because insurers “have been unable to demonstrate an actuarial justification for discriminating based on breed.”
In the 1990s, reports of dog attacks increased. Breed bans boomed, lawyers found a new specialty and insurance underwriters scrambled to adjust their policies. But those who actually worked with dogs scratched their heads.
“It didn’t jibe with my experience,” says Janis Bradley, formerly an instructor at the San Francisco SPCA’s Academy for Dog Trainers. Bradley, who had worked with dogs for years without incident, also talked to other trainers — “I didn’t know anyone who had been seriously bitten by a dog.” Her curiosity piqued, Bradley decided to find out what was actually going on, and started looking for facts related to this contentious subject.
In 2001, soon after she began her research, another sensational story gripped San Francisco and the nation: the mauling death of Diane Whipple by two Presa Canarios kept by Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel. Though the case hinged on owner negligence rather than the breed’s aggression, the dogs were huge and the details were terrifying, and it became a touchstone for breed-ban advocates; terms Bradley calls “fear words” made headlines. Of the many factors that lead to breed bans, she thinks reporting bias is the most influential. How — and how often — information is relayed, along with a focus on certain breeds, can distort the issue in people’s minds. Her research convinced her that perception is everything; the more we hear something, the more we believe it to be true. No breed has been proven more likely than another to bite, Bradley says, but a log she keeps of Google hits and key phrases related to bites and breeds turns up an unsurprising fact: Pit Bull and Rottweiler are the most common search terms.
The study “Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998” (J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2000; 217: 836–40) is often cited as support for restricting these two breeds. This study, which was a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), tried to link breeds with fatal bites to assess policy implications. “It has done tremendous damage [but] there is no putting the genie back in the bottle,” Bradley says of the report, which she feels continues to be misused today. The biggest problem, she says, was its focus on fatalities, “an extraordinarily rare event.”
In contrast to the study’s narrow approach, Bradley gathered all the research then available, pulling together numbers showing that the likelihood of being killed by a dog is about one in 18 million. Or that roughly 3.9 million of the annual 4.7 million reported bites require no medical attention. (Most bite victims are children, according to the CDC.)
Ironically, the authors of the study had hoped to prevent the discrimination they feared was taking root at the time, says co-author Dr. Gail C. Golab, director of the AVMA’s Animal Welfare Division. “The folks involved in the study had concerns that people were considering breed bans,” she recalls. Golab goes on to note that they also had concerns about the study itself, among them, that the breeds involved in fatal attacks change over time. The study didn’t address breed popularity, a factor that could cause breeds to appear more often in bite statistics simply because there are so many of them. Another concern was that the study authors were looking at fatalities rather than bites, which are impossible to track. This meant they were unable to definitively assess any specific breed’s inclination to bite.
Reliance on media accounts and questionable breed identification were also areas of concern. The ability to tell a bear from a deer may be a useful human survival tool, but newer studies show it hasn’t helped when it comes to breeds; people often can’t tell a Foxhound from a Doberman. Eyewitness reports were — and still are — “pretty spotty,” Golab says; in one instance, “a Boxer was identified as a Pit Bull–type dog.” Often, identification occurred after the dog had been euthanized, making it even more speculative.
Though the final report did not conclude that any breeds are more likely than others to bite, it did call out Pit Bull–types and Rottweilers as being involved in more than half of the fatal attacks. Golab and her colleagues warned against using the flawed data to enact bans; the alternative to breed laws, they wrote in the report, “is to regulate individual dogs and owners on the basis of their behavior.” At that point, the CDC abandoned its efforts to link breeds and aggression, acknowledging that it’s impossible to track the numbers.
Golab says that breed discrimination existed before the study, and has gradually become more prevalent over the years. “It certainly doesn’t help adoption rates when owners are penalized for choosing a dog of a particular breed, whether the penalty is a higher insurance rate or a flat-out refusal to insure. [Restricted breeds] can easily end up on the least-desirable list for adoption.” Or, if owners can’t obtain affordable — or any — insurance because of the breed they own, they often relinquish the dog; euthanasia is a common result. Foreclosure only adds to the problem, as people struggle to find alternative housing that will allow them to bring pets with them at all, let alone a dog of a “blacklisted” breed.
Bradley, whose research provided her with material for her first book, Dogs Bite: But Balloons and Slippers Are More Dangerous, continues to track CDC bite statistics. The number of dog bites has held steady over 15 years, she says. Even so, she doubts such information will change people’s minds if they are already convinced there’s a dog-bite epidemic, or that certain breeds are more likely to bite.
“We are innately credulous if we don’t have prior knowledge of something,” she says. “The default response is to believe what we are told,” or have heard repeated time and again. Bradley feels that breed discrimination, like other forms of bias, won’t end without large societal changes.
As the recession wears on, pet policies will continue to restrict housing options for people and pets in crisis. In addition to planning ahead for a move, Goldfarb suggests homeowners do the legwork to find an insurance company that doesn’t profile, and renters look for an individual homeowner or smaller company, which may be open to changing their policy or making an exception. They are both ways “to encourage breed-neutral policies.”
Dog's Life: Humane
I was saddened to hear of the passing of Wallace the Pit Bull today. Wallace was a former shelter dog who had “issues” and spent a long time in a kennel. Thankfully a shelter volunteer and his wife took a chance on Wallace and adopted the problem dog. They spent a great deal of time working with him and he later became a champion Frisbee dog, winning many competitions and becoming an ambassador for Pit Bulls. A delightful book was written about Wallace’s transformation from unwanted dog to adored champion (Wallace. By Jim Gorant). Wallace passed away at a great old age, comforted by those who loved him, after a long and happy life.
As I walked through the shelter today I was struck, as I always am, by the number of wonderful dogs waiting hopefully behind the chain link. Many of them stare eagerly as I walk by, wagging their tails harder and harder the closer I get. Some are terrified and huddle at the back of the kennel, glancing at me furtively. A few are quite aggressive but most of them respond to a kind word and the offer of a cookie. The only difference between most of these dogs and Wallace is a person. One person willing to do whatever it takes to give that dog the life he or she deserves.
Shelter dogs are not flawed or bad. They just need someone to teach them how to behave and to manage them in such a way that they are set up to win. Most dogs will become a problem if allowed to roam or bark incessantly. I recently had a case involving an adolescent Great Pyrenees who barked day and night in the owner’s backyard until the neighbors complained. On investigating, I learned that the owners liked the dog but didn’t understand a dogs needs. The pup had food, water and shelter but they didn’t ever take him out of the yard. He didn’t come in the house, didn’t go for walks or have any kind of enrichment in his life. This puppy wasn’t a bad dog; he was just desperate for company. The owners surrendered the puppy to the shelter and he was adopted soon after. What a wonderful feeling it was to see that beautiful puppy leave with an adoptive family who understood his need for companionship, direction and exercise.
How I wish that every dog had the chance for a life like Wallace had. It wasn’t always easy, but Wallace’s family did whatever it took to help Wallace succeed.
I would love to hear from readers that were able to turn a “problem” dog into a happy pet. Tell me about your dog and how you did it.
Dog's Life: Humane
Creating a snapshot of the state of animal sheltering in the U.S. can be a challenge. Bring up the topic in any group of dog-or cat-lovers and be prepared for a conversation that can move quickly from meaningful discussion to explosive argument. State and local political candidates are often confronted with questions regarding public-shelter policy, and even President Obama was criticized for not adopting a shelter dog.
Since at least the 1860s, animal sheltering has been an industry at odds with itself, splintered between 5500 welfare and humane associations and public, governmental animal control and sheltering groups and deeply torn by philosophical differences on strategies and programs intended to address pet overpopulation. However, all of the battling factions care very deeply and feel they are doing the best they can for the millions of dogs and cats in their care.
Most shelters operate on tight budgets, often relying on volunteers to supplement small employee rosters. Tending to the animals consumes the majority of their resources, and collecting and maintaining data come in a distant second. Further muddying the waters, most states don’t legislate direct oversight, although a few assign advisory boards, which tend to function in a cursory manner.
Though sociological research into human and animal interaction focused on family, shared meanings between people and pets, euthanasia work and identity reflects a paradigm shift in how we view our companion animals, applied research—studies of animalsheltering operations—has inched forward more slowly. This issue of The Bark features a trio of innovative programs that concentrate on increasing adoption and significantly decreasing euthanasia. Many other shelters also work to creatively address similar problems.
Applied research can assist these dedicated leaders and volunteers. To determine the validity of new strategies and establish a baseline for future comparisons, basic statistical analysis and data collection are required. Regrettably, at this point, we hit another wall. Not only are organizations reluctant to share essential data for fear of being stigmatized for euthanizing companion animals, when data is available, shelters may code or define intake or outtake procedures differently, which negatively affects reliable data collection.
As a PhD student in the University of Louisville’s sociology department, I have spent summers collecting information on policies and programming from public animal shelters in Kentucky, and on the canines and felines held therein. Right now, I’m working to transcribe in-depth interviews with animal-shelter directors about their day-to-day work and leadership. This research is important and necessary to help improve Kentucky’s shelter system.
My next project will focus on nationwide data collection and, from my current position as an intern with The Bark, I’ll be asking for your help. Over the coming weeks, look for a survey request and an opportunity to participate via in-depth interviews. I hope that leaders of organizations, animal-shelter workers, volunteers and readers who have adopted furry family members will contribute to this research.
Dog's Life: Humane
Serving food for dogs and comfort for owners.
As the economy struggles, animal shelters across the nation are facing a staggering increase in surrendered pets due to the economic downturn, and many shelters, and even food banks, have started offering pet food. According to the HSUS, 68 organizations nationwide currently offer pet food assistance to those in need, many supported by grants from the Humane Society’s Foreclosure Pets Fund established last year.
In California, the Santa Cruz SPCA distributes more than 7,000 pounds of food each month at Heather’s Pet Food Bank. Named after local songwriter and dedicated shelter advocate Heather Zir, the food bank has become one of the largest and longing running in the nation since opening 10 years ago.
This year, Heather’s Pet Food Bank has seen a 25 percent increase in demand. “People who used to donate are now coming to get food and supplies,” says Santa Cruz SPCA Executive Director Lisa Carter.
On the opposite coast, at Long Island, N.Y., Little Shelter’s Animal Soup Kitchen has also observed a striking demographic change in the past year.
“While once restricted to low income areas, people [looking for help] are now coming from all neighborhoods,” explains Little Shelter Communications and Events Manager Jodi Record. “Without assistance, many families would have no choice but to surrender their pets to the local animal shelter.”
Tom Wargo has made it his life’s mission to help Georgia families care for their pets during hard times. His volunteer-run organization, the SOS Club, has been distributing supplies for the past 11 years, and as the recession deepened, Wargo found that pet owners needed more formal assistance.
In September 2008, the SOS Club opened Daffy’s Pet Soup Kitchen in Lawrenceville, Ga., to keep up with increasing demand. During their first month, Daffy’s distributed 4,000 pounds of food in addition to pet supplies and discounted medical care. Now the soup kitchen averages 8,000 to 12,000 pounds each month and feeds 1,500 animals. With the growing need, plans are in the works to start five new locations in Georgia; the group is also working with others across the nation to open soup kitchens in other states.
“The goal is to keep families and pets together,” says Wargo, “We get calls every week from rescue groups with people who need to surrender their pets because they can’t afford food. It breaks their heart. Now shelters can refer owners to us for supplies and veterinarian care.”
Pets aren’t the only ones receiving support through the soup kitchen. Daffy’s encourages donation recipients to do a minimum of five volunteer hours each month at a local organization. It can be humbling to need the food pantry’s assistance, and the suggested service requirement fosters a sense of responsibility and importance. In tough times, Daffy’s has proven to be much more than just a food bank.
“At first some people are embarrassed to come,” explains Wargo, “but once they do, everyone sits in the office and swaps stories, ideas, and advice to help each other out. We have become a family for most and everyone acts like they’ve known each other for years.”
Monster Milers Saves Shelter dogs' Lives
Philly's First 5k for Animal Rescue Coming this September
We were asked to post this notice of an upcoming event/race to help a remarkable organization in Philadelphia, Monster Milers. Hope you can come out to show your support, or get inspired to start a "chapter" in your city.
Editor, The Bark
Philadelphia, PA — Fill up water bottle. Lace up running shoes. Fix the leash and martingale on their running buddy.
This is the pre-running routine for Monster Milers volunteers, whose primary mission is to connect Philadelphia runners with homeless dogs as running companions. Over 330 “Milers” or volunteers take out pre-screened dogs from PAWS Wellness Clinic in Grays Ferry, the PAWS Adoption Center in Old City and the Street Tails Animal Rescue shelter in Northern Liberties on runs throughout the city and nearby parks.
Dogs grow anxious, bored, depressed and stressed after spending the majority of their days in small, confined spaces. When they receive a visit from a potential adopter, they either give off the impression of being depressed and aloof or wild with excitement. To take the edge off, “Milers” take dogs on daily runs, anywhere from a half mile to eight miles depending on the dog.
In addition to giving dogs much needed exercise, dogs gain basic training, social skills and exposure to thousands of potential adopters during runs and adopt-a-running-buddy events at area races. Calmer shelter dogs result in quicker adoptions and more room for the 30,000 animals that flood Philadelphia’s shelters each year.
"We are an all-volunteer organization and this race is going to be our first big kick-off fundraiser. Specifically, the funds will be used to keep this all moving. Let's be frank— it's going to cover not-so-glamorous stuff like liability insurance and our volunteer management software,” said Carrie Maria, Monster Milers’ CEO and Founder.
“On a more exciting front, we'd love to set up a fostering arm of The Monster Milers in which we'd pull animals directly out of the city shelter, but we can't do so without a stable funding base. This race will help move the Milers into our next phase of development. We want to go beyond adoption advocacy and actually start placing vulnerable animals into loving homes."
Monster Milers will host The Rescue Run, Philadelphia's first 5k to promote adoption and rescue on Sunday, September 29 at 10 a.m. at the Navy Yard. During the post-race Rescue Rally, hundreds of runners and spectators will greet adoptable dogs, enjoy favorite foods from area food trucks, and meet local vendors and rescue organizations. Early bird registration is $25 until July 31st, $30 after August 1st and will increase to $35 on race day.
The Rescue Run 5k will be chip-timed and all runners who register online will receive a race tech-tee. Running isn't the only way to get involved in the Rescue Run: Monster Milers is looking for day-of volunteers, 501(c)(3) rescue organizations to participate in the Rescue Rally and race sponsors.
To learn more about Monster Milers: call 267-282-1270, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting their website or facebook. Since Monster Milers hit the ground running in 2010, they’ve helped hundreds of dogs find their forever homes, one step at a time.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A fellow animal control officer received a call to pick up a dog found lying emaciated and soaking wet in a creek bed. The tiny Chihuahua was rushed back to the shelter and examined by the shelter veterinarian. In addition to being skin and bones, she was too weak to stand, had a clouded eye and the look of long time neglect about her. She was immediately started on treatment but the prognosis was poor. Her blood work suggested that her organs were failing. Whether this was result of starvation or some other medical condition was unknown.
When I first saw the dog she was lying apathetically on her blankets in the shelter clinic. She looked terrible but the thing I noticed was the odor. She had that terrible “hoarder” smell to her sparse coat. Unless you’ve lived it, there is no describing it but it’s a combination of rotting garbage, feces, urine and filth that’s unmistakable. Every hoarder situation I’ve gone on smells the same, whether its dogs, cats or something else.
The tiny dog declined overnight and the discussion ensued about whether it was kinder to let her go. I certainly didn’t want to put her through anymore pain if she wasn’t going to survive but she didn’t seem to be in terrible pain, just incredibly weak and sick. I decided to take her home to foster. If she wasn’t going to survive, at least she should die in a quiet place surrounded by love.
As weak as she was, I couldn’t bear the stench of her coat and gently lowered her into a warm sudsy bath. She seemed to relax into the warm water and was soon clean and sweet smelling although she still looked terrible. I wrapped her in a warm towel and cuddled her close. She sighed, leaned against me and fell asleep.
I called the little dog Hannah and since she was unable to eat on her own, I carefully syringed a tiny amount of bland gruel into her mouth every few hours. People always want to pour high fat food into starved animals but in most cases that can be very harmful. The animal’s body needs time to slowly acclimate to eating normal foods again and re-feeding must be done very carefully. Within a day or two she was able to eat tiny amounts of food on her own and was able to stand and walk a little.
I was so encouraged by Hannah’s progress but was cautious about getting too excited as I knew she wasn’t out of the woods yet. Her gum color was still pure white as a result of anemia and I worried about organ failure. I worked closely with the veterinarian on her care and thankfully she continued to improve. After a week or so it looked to me like she might have gained a little weight. I put her on a little food scale and found that she had gone from less than 4 pounds to about 5 pounds. I was jubilant! As Hannah felt better her personality began to emerge and what a delightful girl. She followed me everywhere and began playing with toys and asserting herself with my 120 pound Great Dane.
I had been posting Hannah’s progress on my facebook page each day and a woman who had seen her photos expressed an interest in adopting her. After several weeks when it seemed obvious that Hannah would survive, we arranged a meeting. The introduction was successful and after Hannah had another thorough vet exam and was spayed she went to her new home. She had gained more than 2 pounds by then and was really starting to look good.
It is such an amazing feeling to watch a neglected animal blossom and get a forever home. I would love to hear from readers who have rehabbed a dog in need, or adopted one.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
I recently wrote about Take Your Dog to Work Day and how I enjoy having my dogs along with me on the job. Often they help me coax insecure stray dogs in so that they can be safely reunited with their owners or adopted out. I recently had the unique experience of having one of my dogs help me rescue a cat in distress.
I usually have Sundays off but a fellow officer, Justin, called me on a Sunday afternoon to ask for help with a call. He had a report of a cat with a jar on its head and when he arrived, the panicked animal ran into a culvert. It was too small for him to climb into and he knew that if he tried to push her out from one end she would run out the other and be lost. He was wondering if I could bring one of my dogs and help him? Of course I would. This is so much more than a job to me and I have always told my co-workers to call me anytime. I loaded up Hula the Golden Retriever and Breeze the Doberman and headed out. Half an hour later we pulled up behind Justin’s truck and he showed me the culvert. My flashlight beam found the unfortunate cat smack in the middle of the pipe, plastic jug still firmly attached.
With Justin situated on one end of the pipe and ready with a net, I took Hula to the other end. Hula is as mellow and easygoing as they come and she’s also gung ho for any adventure. I showed her the pipe and told her to “go get the kitty.” Hula isn’t very tall and the narrow pipe was a tight fit but in she went. Justin called to her from the other end as she made her way through. The kitty didn’t see her at first due to her jug and Hula walked right up and sniffed her before the cat realized it and went bonking down the pipe with her burden. Hula followed her as she darted right into the net and was safe.
I put Hula on a sit-stay as we dealt with the cat who acted quiet feral. She appeared healthy and had a tipped ear (meaning that she had been trapped and spayed) so we planned to just remove the jar and release her but I asked Justin to scan her first. To our surprise she had a microchip so we took her back to the shelter.
Once there we carefully removed the jug and settled her in while waiting to hear back about the chip. Soon the couple who had trapped her and had her spayed and chipped came for her. The cat was truly feral but had kind people to care for her and it was great to see her returned home safely.
I would love to hear how our reader’s dogs have helped another animal.
Dog's Life: Humane
We humans are terrific at measuring and recordkeeping— we even know the length of Noah’s ark, in cubits (300) no less. Technology abets this trait, as computers dutifully crunch our numbers, ad, well, infinitum. As a species, however, we are not so good at appraising information to extract its meaning. Confronted with new data, we tend to overemphasize and generalize, often less than critically.
On that cautionary note, what are we dog people to make of a new University of California, Davis, study that examines relationships between early, late or no spay/neuter and several health conditions in Golden Retrievers? How do we apply its conclusions to the animals in our care?
The Davis docs found increased risk of several cancers, hip dysplasia and cranial cruciate ligament tears among sterilized Goldens; the incidence varied according to the sex and age-at-neuter of their subjects. As such, their findings add to a growing library of veterinary literature on the spay/neuter subject. However, the authors are careful to limit their conclusions, as should we.
First, the findings are breed-specific. Goldens, a highly inbred line, were chosen in part because of their susceptibility to cancers and joint issues. The gene pool was further limited by a study sample of dogs (759, to be precise) seen at the UC Davis clinic, in northern California.
Second, we need to remind ourselves that risk is not destiny, and that correlation is not causation. The study notes that the risk of one type of canine cancer quadrupled in late-neutered females, but also reveals that its incidence grew from 1.6 to 7.4 percent— meaning that about 93 percent of the subjects did not contract the disease.
The authors also indicate that they did not specifically consider obesity, another known factor in dysplasia and cancers. Neutered dogs do tend to be heavier, but we can manage that risk by controlling food intake and quality. We also need to recognize that other studies have noted countervailing positive health effects, as spay/neuter reduces or eliminates rates of other common diseases, such as mammary cancers and uterine infections.
Third, context is crucial. These data feed into the universe of things that are harmful to canines. We know, for example, that nationwide, some 50 percent of the animals in shelters don’t survive the experience. To the extent that intact canines contribute litters to the shelter population, that risk dwarfs exposure to accidents or disease. Shelter “save” rates are improving in many places, but we remain far from a no-kill equilibrium. Job One for canine partisans (including the veterinary community) remains the imperative to reduce that carnage.
After sheltering, risk-of-death varies widely by age and breed. A comprehensive University of Georgia study of vet-reported deaths (“Mortality in North American Dogs from 1984 to 2004,” published in 2011) identifies infections, trauma and birth defects as primary culprits in young dogs, with tumor-related diseases at various breed-specific rates, distantly followed by trauma and infections, which dominate the tally for the late-in-lifespan.
Finally, there are the behavioral and other risk implications of fertility, including management of ardent males and bitches in heat.
The Davis study is a significant contribution to our understanding of the unintended consequences of fertility management in a useful and popular breed. Reproductive organs contribute hormones for many reasons—it would be surprising if their removal were completely trivial. Alternatives to traditional spay/neuter do exist, but they are rarely performed. Injectable sterilizers and contraceptives are coming on the market (they, of course, will carry their own measurable side effects).
It’s important to recognize the limitations of the study: one breed, one gene pool, defined conditions and their rank among all the calamities that can befall our best friends. The study itself notes that spay/neuter is uncommon in Europe, which would appear to open up a range of comparative research possibilities and fertility management options.
We should add the Davis work to the burgeoning database. But until a lot more measurements have been taken from which broader conclusions may be drawn, the best advice is not general to all dogs, but individualized: choose your canine companions carefully and love and support them well, and completely. And recognize that we can’t measure or control for everything, yet—or ever.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The 4th of July from an Animal Control Officer’s Perspective
As the fourth of July approaches, I feel my dread rising. I always volunteer to work as the on-call animal control officer on the fourth, even though it’s our worst day of the year. Why would I volunteer? I guess it’s the hope that my training and skills will make a difference to some of the panicked animals that will be suffering in our county with the onset of fireworks.
Last year was my worst 4th ever. Within minutes of the first fireworks going off, my phone rang with an injured dog. I rushed to the scene to find a stunning German Shepherd lying injured on a busy road. He looked well cared for and I’m sure he was a beloved pet but he had no tags or microchip. I scooped him up and rushed him to the emergency vet and held his big beautiful head in my hands as the vet started treatment. His blood stained my uniform and his terrified eyes bruised my heart but minutes later my phone rang again and I left him to rush out and pick up the next victim. When I got back to the clinic with the second dog, I learned that the Shepherd had died.
I continued getting calls all night long, and each time, I would race out and pick up the injured dog and rush it to the ER. And each time, the dog I had picked up previously would have died of his injuries while I was gone. In one case, I arrived on a rural road to find a beautiful young woman in tears as a young red heeler bled his life away in her headlight beams. She had come across the critically injured dog on her way home and been kind enough to wait for me. I rushed the heeler to the vet where he also died.
Only one dog that I picked up last Fourth of July survived and his foot pads were a bloody mess from his panicked run. One is enough to make me feel that I made a little bit of a difference, but I’m haunted by those dogs whose terror caused them to jump fences they wouldn’t normally jump, break through windows or rip through doors. I also had a case of a terrified dog a few years ago that escaped and then tried to climb into a van full of strangers. 4 or 5 people were bitten in the dogs panic to get away from the noise and the dog had to be quarantined.
It’s critical to plan ahead for a safe Fourth of July. Ideally, we would stay home, with our dogs inside with us. If that’s not possible, dogs should be safely crated inside, in an interior room, with a radio, air conditioner or other noise to help mute fireworks sounds. Some pets may need sedation so talk you your vet ahead of time if you think that might be the case. All dogs should have tags and microchips and please check and make sure your information is current.
I even know of one family that goes camping in a remote area every year on the fourth. They do it just so they will be far from the fireworks for the sake of their beloved dog.
Please share with us what measures you take to keep your dog safe on the fourth?
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