Wellness: Healthy Living
A Seasonal Heads-Up
Spring officially, well, springs forth in late March, but depending on where you live, it might show up earlier, or later. Either way, if you live with companion animals, it comes with a few cautions. Take note …
In the house. Thinking about dealing with a winter’s worth of dust and debris? Think smart about your cleaning products; many are irritating or even toxic for dogs. Invest in eco-friendly products, or make them yourself. (For a passel of cleaning tips as well as other ways to green up your paw print.)
In the driveway. Most often associated with winter, antifreeze poisonings happen in the spring as well. Whether from shade-tree mechanics, unidentified vehicle leaks or even the bases of portable basketball hoops, ethylene glycol–based antifreeze winds up in driveways and streets, where its sweet taste attracts dogs and cats. Even in tiny amounts, it’s been known to cause sudden kidney failure.
In the yard. Slug and snail baits combine an attractant, usually apple meal or some other sweet-smelling base, with an active chemical compound such as metaldehyde to poison whatever swallows the bait. Increased rodent activity also means increased use of rat poison, which is one of the deadliest things your dog can ingest. Keep all of them out of dogs’ reach.
If you’re planting (or replanting), check out the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants. A safe choice trumps a dangerous one, particularly if your dog likes to graze in your garden. Go to aspca.org and enter toxic plants in the search box.
Then there are fertilizers; even organic or natural varieties can be harmful. Blood and bone meal can cause vomiting, diarrhea and pancreatic inflammation. Grass and flower fertilizers can also contain toxic chemicals that may be deadly if ingested.
Out and about. If your dog spent a good chunk of the winter crashed on the couch or eating a few too many sweet potato chews, it’s a good idea to bound gradually into a spring exercise regime. Monitor your pet and start slow. (This is also applies to the human member of the team.)
If your outings take you to your local dog park or over hill and dale, keep an eye out for foxtails—wild grass awns that begin to sprout in abundance in the spring. They’re more obvious later on in the year when they dry out, but they’re also a problem at the green stage. Get Dr. Shea Cox’s take on the problem.
Message from the Editor
The first issue of what would become The Bark came out in 1997, which makes this our 19th year. It’s hard to believe we’ve lasted this long. In the beginning, Bark was a humble community newsletter drumming up support for an off-leash area in Berkeley. We had no intention of transforming it into a full-fledged magazine.
But, as they say, timing is everything. While publications aplenty focused on what’s called the dog “fancy,” there was a noticeable gap in the larger area of everyday life with dogs—what has come to be called dog culture. Bark stepped in to fill it and, in many ways, defined it.
For dogs and the people who love them, things have evolved in many interesting directions over the last 19 years. Most of the changes have been for the better.
On the science front, researchers across a number of disciplines are expanding our understanding of the canine mind, the domestication process and how our two species co-evolved. More humane and science-based training methods have come to the forefront, as have increasingly sophisticated and well-informed behavior-modification strategies. Advances in veterinary medicine and health care include an increased validation of alternative modalities.
Then there’s food, which always provokes a lively discussion. In the commercial food sector, a greater variety of ingredients can be found, along with different delivery systems —dehydrated, freeze-dried, raw-prepared—many of them healthier than they were 19 years ago. The industry also has paid attention (to some extent) to consumer’s post-2007 food-recall concerns, but there is a still a long way to go on that front, and greater transparency is still needed. In the DIY sector, there’s a growing interest in angst-free home-prepared meals that can be as balanced and nutritious as packaged varieties.
Many of Dog Nation’s greatest strides have come in the increasing social acceptance and understanding of the role of dogs in communities—not just in the lives of dog lovers, but in the lives of people in general. For example, we’re seeing more dog-friendly housing opportunities (some with amenities), dog parks, off-leash recreation options, day care centers and professional services. There’s a canine sport for every type of dog, and people are actively interested in supplying dogs with enrichment activities. Hotels and resorts are eager to attract the growing number of people who travel with their co-pilots. In literature, a flood tide of books, both fiction and nonfiction, explore our oldest friendship, and filmmakers and other inventive artists recognize and pay homage to our favorite muses.
In another healthy sign of progress, there are fewer dog race tracks, which are now legal in only six states. This bodes well for Greyhounds, who can retire and live their lives as the elegant companions they were meant to be.
In the digital world, Petfinder and similar sites have revolutionized the way we locate the dog of our dreams and, by extension, meet up with others of similar dog-centric interests. A plethora of apps and gadgets promise what seems like hands-free pet care, and a few may prove to be helpful in enriching the lives of workday-home-alone dogs.
Dogs have many talents, more of which are being tapped for a wider variety of guide and assistance work; many jobs can’t be done—or done as well—without them. It’s also inspiring that canine rehabilitation and training are taking place in unlikely venues, such as prisons and juvenile institutions.
The best development of all, however, is that mixed-breeds are now number one in the nation, most of them likely to have been adopted from a rescue group or shelter. People are beginning to understand how important it is to be part of the solution by adopting rather than buying, to opening their homes and hearts to shelter dogs. Shelters also have come a long way since 1997, with many of them offering state-of-the art care and accommodations and paying greater attention to enriching the lives of their charges: organizing play groups and innovative volunteer, foster and walking programs, and working collaboratively with local rescue groups. Burgeoning rescue and sanctuary movements, including the transport of animals both within the country and internationally, are inspiring to behold.
As editor-in-chief of The Bark, when I look back at the past two decades, I can truly say that there have been more positive advances in Dog Nation than in most other areas of our society. But while we celebrate these developments, I must also caution that there is a still a long way to go. The number of Beagles and other dogs being bred for and used in labs—living out their entire lives in cages—remains a blot on the landscape; there really has to be a better and more humane alternative. And there must be an end to the needless deaths of animals in shelters, and to animal abuse and cruelty.
That being said, I’m proud to be in a position to keep tabs on these situations, and to report on them to you. My hope is that by chronicling what’s going on, and shining a light on areas that still need work, we (the magazine and our readers) can inspire policy- and decision-makers to step up and make the changes needed to push that progress along. We would love to hear your thoughts on this.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Boredom Be Gone!
If you feel guilty about leaving your dogs home by themselves while you go to work, join the club. Most of us dislike it, though, truth be told, the majority of dogs do just fine. Many of them simply relax and sleep for a good part of the day while we stress out at work.
I say “many of them” because I’m absolutely not including dogs who are too young to handle a lot of time alone, or those who are struggling with separation anxiety or some other condition that makes being at home without you truly traumatic, somewhat upsetting or even just unpleasant. I’m talking about typical, behaviorally healthy dogs who really don’t mind the daily rhythm that includes your regular workday absence (though obviously, they would rather you stayed home).
Along with making sure that their basic needs are met, what do we owe the dogs who hold down the fort while we’re gone? Some dogs are fine with a cozy place to snooze, and some may be satisfied with a compatible dog buddy or some toys. Others need a little help in finding interesting ways to stay occupied while we go out and earn the money to support them in the style to which they have become accustomed. A great way to help these dogs is to provide them with multiple activity stations around the house.
Activity stations are just what they sound like: places for dogs to engage in activities that can be done alone. Setting up different activity stations in distinct areas of the house allows dogs to make good choices and to have fun even when they’re on their own.
This kind of enrichment won’t cure separation anxiety or help a dog overcome a fear of traffic, airplanes, passersby or the sound of sirens, and it’s not a cure for excessive barking or destructive chewing. What it can do, however, is make being alone more fun.
Deciding what sorts of activity stations will work best for your dog requires you to give some thought to your home’s layout and your dog’s interests and abilities. But basically, they are really only limited by safety concerns and your creativity.
Some stations are extremely simple, involving nothing more than a tug toy attached to the wall with a carabiner and a sturdy hook. Dogs who love to tug often do best if the toy is a little stretchy to compensate for the fact that nobody is on the other end giving it life and motion. The toy must be safe—no chance of the dog choking on it, becoming entangled in it or shredding it. A tug station is not suitable for dogs who would either become obsessive about it or frustrated by it. To interest your dog in it, shake the toy a little to make it move; once your dog has hold of it, let him tug on his own. Putting peanut butter on the toy makes it more enticing and helps many dogs engage.
A related activity station is for dogs who like to bat at toys rather than tug them. As long as the dog won’t become entangled in the toy or attempt to ingest it, this sort of station can occupy those who love to use their paws in play. Toys with multiple hanging parts often appeal to dogs who like to play this way.
Another activity station with simplicity in its favor consists of providing your dog with something safe to chew or eat. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to buy hundreds of new items. Rotating your dog’s durable favorites, supplemented by an occasional new treat, keeps this from costing a fortune. You can also use stuffable toys such as Kongs, or toys that the dog has to chase around or otherwise manipulate for the food to be dispensed —for example, the PetMate Wobbling Treatball, Kong Wobbler, West Paw Design Toppl or Buster Cube.
Make sure you are not giving your dog anything that poses a choking hazard or other dangers. Avoid rawhides and rope toys, and check with your vet about what else may be dangerous for an unsupervised dog. All dogs need to learn to enjoy an activity station is that it provides good things. For safety and convenience, site the station away from areas that are off limits to the dog, such as the counter or where kids store their toys.
On a related note, you can also keep your dog occupied by making the whole house (or at least a room or two) a place for food-searching activity. Hide treats while your dog is in another room, say “find your treats” and then head out for the day. (If your dog is sure to follow you, tell him/her to stay, or close a gate or door while you hide the treats.) Teaching your dog to search for food in response to the cue “find your treats” is not hard, but it’s critical to start by making it easy and gradually working up to greater challenges. Start with the food in full view and point to it or tap your toe by each treat until your dog gets the hang of it. You can also hide treats in canine puzzle toys that are specifically designed for this purpose.
A basket of toys is a great activity station, but for most dogs, it’s only appealing if the contents change frequently. To maintain your dog’s interest, rotate toys in and out and add new ones regularly. That way, your dog will never know which toys will be available on a given day. If your dog has a couple of favorites, make sure they’re always on hand. The purpose of rotating toys is to prevent your dog from becoming bored, not to take away toys just for the sake of removing them periodically.
For dogs who like to fetch, independent play may seem harder to provide. However, some dogs can be taught to fetch on their own using a ball and a ramp or an iFetch. There needs to be enough space for them to chase after the ball without injury to themselves or to your furnishings. It takes practice and patience, but once dogs get it, they are able to play on their own.
To teach dogs to use a ramp at a fetching station, start by placing the ball on the ramp and letting it roll away. This accustoms dogs to fetching a ball that has been “thrown” by the ramp. Then, teach them to drop the ball at the top of the ramp themselves. Once dogs realize that they can make the ramp work for them, many really enjoy the activity, though I’ve yet to meet a dog who didn’t prefer fetch played as a social game outdoors. (Caution: this activity station is not suitable for dogs who are so obsessive about fetch that they would play all day and drive themselves mad.)
Again, the safety of the stations and their elements is critical. Don’t use anything that could in any way strangle or trap a dog. Only use toys that can handle serious chewing, the level of which varies from dog to dog. Avoid rawhide or rope toys that a dog can choke on. If in doubt, put the toy away before you leave.
Don’t expect dogs to automatically be interested in activity stations just because you’ve set them up, however lovingly. The statement “If you build it, they will come” rarely applies. Dogs have to be taught what to do and to understand that the stations have entertainment value before they will engage on their own.
Activity stations can be antidotes to the boredom dogs may experience when left home alone. Providing them with something constructive to do can improve their quality of life, even though they may be fine with being alone. The stations can also help us fulfill our responsibility to make sure our dogs are happy, stimulated and entertained (not to mention relieve our guilt!) when we leave the house without our dogs, as most of us must do daily. Above all, they’re a wonderful way to change our dogs’ daily alone time from “fine” to “fun”!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Get bright smiles with one of these image-rich treasures.
In Bread and a Dog, Japanese food stylist Natsuko Kuwahara combines delightful photographs of enticing morning fare (the bread) with the internal ponderings of Kipple (the dog). Delectable recipes are included, including a few for traditional Japanese breakfast dishes. (Phaidon, $14.95)
Pete Thorne’s Old Faithful captures the essence of the beauty and serenity of dogs of “a certain age.” With personal stories of each of the 75 dogs profiled. (Harper Design, $19.99)
Brazil-based Rafael Mantesso’s whimsical drawings of his Bull Terrier Jimmy Choo are one Instagram sensation that actually merits the attention. Now, with A Dog Named Jimmy, which includes 100 images, Mantesso and Jimmy’s fame will surely spread. (Avery, $19.95)
British designer Fenella Smith teams up with her brothers Greg and Myles McLeod to create Breeds: A Canine Compendium, lending their delightful and humorous touch to a guide to more than 100 different breeds. (Flatiron, $16.99)
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
You wouldn’t think that the passing of a 13-year-old dog could be considered sudden, but it was. Gizmo had some issues, but none were life threatening and all were under control. Which is why it was a shock when, after seven months in our care, the elderly terrier went into renal failure.
Gizmo didn’t have a home, but he did have a family of sorts, houses he loved to visit and a good life. When he passed, he was attended by one of his best friends, a staff member who took him home for sleepovers and frequently shared her office with him. The vet who had steadfastly monitored his care was there. He didn’t die surrounded by strangers and he didn’t die because he didn’t have a home. He died because he was old and his body couldn’t go on anymore.
When we met Gizmo, he was a mess. He had only three teeth in his head, and his tongue hung out to one side. His coat was so thick and tangled that he looked more like a bathmat than a dog. He wheezed and sneezed. But with his little, brown, button eyes and low wagging tail, he was irresistible.
Found on the streets, he was running out of time at a crowded city shelter. When the shelter let us know that he needed help, HSSV transport coordinator Candy swooped him up and brought him back to us.
Gizmo spent the majority of the seven months he was with us in foster care. While he came in for doctor visits and adoption fairs, he lived the life of a normal dog: He went for walks. He rode in a car. He slept inside. Because he was so “dentally challenged,” his meals were specially prepared. (He left a debris field when he ate, which no one thought was a big deal.) When his wheezing and sneezing proved to be asthma, we got him an inhaler. We took him to a local television station to film a “Perfect Pet” segment and he stole the hearts of everyone on set. We believed in our heart of hearts that there was a forever home out there for him.
When his foster parent was no longer able to care for him, he spent most of the time in behavior programs manager Michelle’s office, waddling after her with gusto. Due to his mellow nature, he was given the run of the joint so he could follow her wherever she went. Some nights, he went home with her, others, he went home with volunteer Kelly, who took him on beach outings and made sure he got his walks. Because Gizmo loved walks, even if he couldn’t keep up.
And eventually, he did steal someone’s heart. The potential adopter had to go out of town for a few days, so while he waited, Gizmo hung with Kelly.
But one weekend, he stopped eating and became lethargic. A blood test confirmed that his kidneys had begun to fail. There was no cure and there was no comfort. Amid tears, the decision was made to euthanize him.
While this wasn’t a happy ending, the story of the last seven months of Gizmo’s life is a triumph for many reasons. He had a big life. He went on TV. He went to the ocean. He went just about everywhere and hung out with his buddies all the time.
Gizmo didn’t have a big life because he had a bucket list or because anyone felt sorry for him, but because, with the aid of awesome foster parents, that’s what we could offer him. Foster parents like Kelly have taken many dogs to the beach and given them islands of normalcy during transitional points in their lives. He went on TV because our local media supports animals and wants to help them find homes. He had a great life because people cared.
More amazing than the fact that he had a normal life was that he had a life at all. Ten or 20 years ago, the script for a stray, elderly, special-needs dog would have been very different—he would have been written off as a hopeless case. Instead, staff at the busy city shelter went out of their way to give Gizmo a second chance. They were certain that with a more time and more care, a dog like Gizmo would find a home.
That certainty speaks volumes about where we are as a society.
Another reason Gizmo’s life was a triumph? There were options like HSSV available to him. There were arms willing to welcome him. Candy, Kelly, our medical staff, our receiving staff, our managers: nobody balked at taking on Gizzy and his issues. That’s what we’re here for. Us being here, and being embraced by our community, is a triumph in and of itself.
No, Gizmo’s story doesn’t have a textbook happy ending. There are no unicorns, no sunsets, nothing to wrap it up in a happy bow. It does, however, demonstrate how far we’ve come.
RIP Gizzy. Thanks for everything you taught us.
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
For two decades, Michelle Flanagan- Haag competed in the Elite Wave of the American Birkebeiner—aka the “Birkie,”—the largest, and one of the longest, cross-county ski races in North America, which draws 10,000- plus skiers to Cable and Hayward, Wisc., annually.
Last year, under pressure from her husband, Mike Haag, who planned to compete in the Barkie Birkie 5K skijoring event with one of their dogs, Mr. Finn, she agreed to partner up with their other dog, Brewster, for the event. She thought she’d take it easy, but Brewster had other ideas.
Whether he was inspired by the cheering crowd on Hayward’s main street or by thoughts of catching up with Mike and Mr. Finn, Brewster took Flanagan-Haag to second place for women in 2014.
“I wasn’t competing at all, but Brewster sure was,” she laughed. “He was hell bent on getting to his brother. I was just waterskiing.”
You never know quite what to expect with the Barkie Birkie. Dogs as small as Toy Poodles and Dachshunds all the way to big Leonbergers show up at the start line. Some run behind their owners, some sit down, some trot alongside, but they all seem thrilled to be there.
“Spectators love that race,” says organizer Connie Mack. “It’s a fun way to get your dog out exercising.”
Up to 100 teams can compete in the 3K (sport) or 5K (expert) races. Two teams go out at a time, 15 seconds apart, which, as Mack says, adds to the fun.
The Barkie Birkie starts, appropriately enough, near Sophie’s Dog Bakery on Hayward’s Main Street on February 18, 2016.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
By lending an ear at story time
Reading is indeed fundamental, but for many, acquiring the skill is daunting. Fortunately, thanks to some innovative programs and cooperative dogs, the challenge is getting easier to meet. Across the nation, dogs are lending their ears, and thousands of children who need extra help with reading and interpersonal communication couldn’t be happier.
Imagine this scene, described by Brooklyn’s Good Dog Foundation founder and executive director, Rachel McPherson: “For each session, the dog and the child-tutor settle down onto a blanket-covered pad on the floor in a corner of the school media center or in the library. Either the dog picks out a book or the child selects a picture book, brings it to the dog, holds it flat and begins to read.”
Though the children believe they are teaching dogs to read, in fact, with the dog as a comfortable, attentive audience (and an occasional gentle assist from the dog’s adult volunteer partner), they are actually teaching themselves. As far as the child is concerned, however, reading is about the dog, not about the child. No pressure. No embarrassment. No humiliation.
Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) was among the first to use “reading dogs” in the classroom. Launched in November 1999 by Utah-based Intermountain Therapy Animals, the program was introduced in a Salt Lake City library (where it continues to be available to both children and adults), and a year later, successfully moved into the school system. READ dogs are trained, registered and certified therapy animals who serve as classroom reading tutors, assisting children with their quiet presence and helping them develop a love of reading. Currently, 1,300 therapy teams are working their magic in schools and libraries. “We were the first to put a model around the idea, to improve reading and communication skills and to build the love of books among children that will last forever. It is priceless to see the eager faces of enthusiasm of young children reading to their therapy dogs,” says Kathy Klotz, READ’s executive director.
Within a year, READ enlisted another set of tails in Durham County, N.C., where psychologist Amy Parsons, a volunteer with Helping Paws International, collaborated with Intermountain to create a therapy assistance dog program known as Bonding, Animals, Reading, Kids and Safety (BARKS). By 2002, the program had accepted and trained several breeds of dogs, and cofounder Jeani Gray says the waiting list of schools interested in the program is long. BARKS dogs act as partners in 30-minute weekly reading sessions with elementary school children—the children are proud to be chosen to teach a certified pooch to read. Helping Paws International has also been successful in working with autistic children in North Carolina, and now has a total of 115 teams operating in Florida, Ohio, Texas and New Zealand.
Sit Stay Read!, founded by MaryEllen Schneider and Sarah Murphy, blew into Chicago schools in 2003. “Sarah had the vision,” says Schneider, who managed a dog training school, “and I had the operational tools. Our teachers, reading specialists and literacy experts put the program together. Our focus is on reading fluency with second- and third-graders of low-income communities. Currently, there is one volunteer team to every four children. Even the teachers spend their free time as program volunteers.”
Sit Stay Read! has 40 certified teams and 90 volunteers. The progress the children make is amazing, according to Schneider, who notes that the latest fluency test results indicate reading acceleration to 24 words per minute, versus nine words per minute for those not involved with the program. Attendance has also improved, as has classroom demeanor. “The children are so excited to read to the dog. Even disruptive boys have learned to sit and pet the dog while reading.”
Currently, the Sit Stay Read! program is used in four schools, and 38 more are on the waiting list; the group also hopes to add components for fourth- and fifth-graders. “We need volunteers,” says Schneider, “even those who don’t have a dog.” Schneider, confident about the program’s future, says she sees “successful fluency as a continuous process.”
In 2005, Canine Assisted Reading Education (CARE) was born in North Carolina’s Moore County, thanks to the combined efforts of Rebecca Vassallo, MD, and Linda Hubbard, a volunteer coordinator for the Moore County school system. Vassallo brought Luther, her certified rescue dog, into the classroom. As she recalls, “Luther sat with the children who had difficulty reading. The trial period worked so well that the county decided to expand the program.” Vassallo adds that Luther has his own website (learnwithluther.com), so the children can contact him outside the classroom. Another volunteer, Kelly Stevens, and her chocolate Lab, Gunner, visit more than half a dozen children every week. Stevens, who’s also known as the “Pinehurst Pet Nanny,” doesn’t mind if Gunner falls asleep. “The children continue to read to him,” she says.
Reading dogs spread northward in 2005 when a Brooklyn therapy program known as the Good Dog Foundation added the READ program to its offerings, using dogs to help at-risk children improve their reading skills. “We extended our pet program to libraries and school systems in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut,” says Leslye Lynford, director of development. “In Manhattan, sometimes as many as 19 children line up at 7:30 every morning because they want to read to the dogs.”
Under Rachel McPherson’s leadership, the Good Dog Foundation helped change New York state law to allow therapy dogs into organizations and schools. “It’s a win–win situation,” she says. “Reading levels have tripled. Every child walks down the school hall and knows the freedom of reading with these ‘cool’ dogs. It brings self-esteem in a secure environment where there are no threats.”
McPherson estimates that the program operates in 15 elementary schools as well as in the New York public libraries. “The Manhattan library offers READ on Saturdays,” she says. “We also work closely with children from [troubled] homes. They experience a comfortable, caring world with us.” McPherson hopes to expand the program. “It’s a dream—I hope to see it in upper grades and in future adult programs. We have over 375 teams, trained and certified to meet the requirements.”
The dogs who participate in the Good Dog Foundation’s program, like their compatriots across the country, go through a training course. They must have basic obedience skills, be in good health, be able to go into elevators and display a sound temperament. “We give support and have the facilities to train the dogs through certified trainers,” McPherson explains. “The trainers then follow through by deciding, planning and certifying all school visits.” More than 15,000 dogs and 13,000 handlers are registered as pet-assisted therapy teams, and the foundation now makes more than 77,000 visits to several groups and schools each year. The Good Dog Foundation has won awards from the ASPCA and the Red Cross for its therapy dog services.
“We base ourselves on the premise that good dogs are good medicine,” says McPherson, “and dogs will continue to help children become better readers for many years to come. Therapy animals consistently demonstrate that when we respect and care for other species, they have great gifts of connection, joy and healing to share with us, and we with them.”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog love runs both ways
Dogs are no longer just our figurative best friends. Close to one-third of the participants in a Medical College of Virginia study said they felt closer to their dogs than to anyone else in their family. When surveyed by the American Animal Hospital Association, well over half of the respondents said that, if marooned on a desert island, they’d opt for the companionship of their dog over that of their partner. Now, that’s love (for the dog, anyway).
Wellness: Healthy Living
Medical marijuana shows promise for ailing companion animals.
A Bulldog who spent two years either lying down or throwing up plays like a puppy thanks to a daily dose of medical marijuana. A Boxer’s skin cancer begins to disappear following topical applications of cannabis oil. A 12-year-old Lab mix diagnosed with liver and lung cancer regains his appetite and becomes more himself after his owner gives him a cannabis tincture purchased from a licensed medical marijuana dispensary.
These stories offer hope to those of us who live with aging and/or infirm dogs, hope that we can improve the quality of their lives and perhaps even extend them.
Even more hopeful is the fact that these aren’t isolated incidents, but rather, three in an ever-increasing narrative of companion animals and cannabis- assisted healing. Yet, veterinarians played little to no official role in them. Why? Because Cannabis sativa (aka marijuana, grass, pot, hash, ganja, et al.)— a plant cultivated for literally thousands of years for its seeds, fibers and medicinal value—is a federally designated Schedule 1 controlled substance, a “drug with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”
So, even if vets believe that medical marijuana could or would relieve a dog’s pain, nausea or seizures, their hands are tied, including in the 23 states and the District of Columbia where cannabis is legal for human medical use. Physicians in those states are exempt from prosecution, but veterinarians don’t have the same protection. Prescribing, or even recommending, cannabis for medicinal use exposes them to the loss of their license to practice.
It’s a difficult place for a vet to find him- or herself: to have a remedy that has been shown to have very real benefits but not be able to use it, or even mention it, without career-ending consequences. Nonetheless, some have put their livelihoods at risk by challenging that prohibition, usually for the same reasons given by the late Doug Kramer, DVM, of Chatsworth, Calif., in a 2013 interview with Julia Szabo: compassion, and to prevent owners from accidentally overdosing their animals in well-intentioned efforts to relieve their pain.
And that’s part of the veterinary quandary. Medical marijuana has been described as the new “dot.com” boom, fueled by a growing body of research that seems to be validating cannabis’s beneficial effects for people. When people are helped by a particular treatment, they tend to want to share it with their ailing companion animals.
With medical marijuana, they’re doing this in increasing numbers, acting on the belief that if it works for them, it can also work for their dog or cat … or horse, for that matter. In doing so, they’re not necessarily curing incurable conditions but rather, are helping their animals enjoy daily life with better appetite and less pain until age or disease ultimately catches up.The Backstory
The plant world has given us some of our oldest and most trusted—and, it’s true, sometimes abused—remedies. Pain relievers like codeine and morphine (poppy); colchicine, an antitumor drug (autumn crocus); the cardiac drug digitalin (purple foxglove); antimalarial quinine (quinine tree); and salicin, the chemical precursor to aspirin (white willow). The list is long.
When that plant has a cultural backstory like marijuana’s, however— “demon weed” in the ’50s, counterculture toke of choice in the ’60s, DEA Schedule 1 drug in the ’70s and onward —empirical evidence is harder to come by. Many barriers are placed in the path of those who want to find answers to questions about marijuana’s potential healing powers. Consequently, there’s a scarcity of rigorous research on the topic, particularly for veterinary application.
Determining whether or not to bring medical marijuana into general and legal use nationwide for humans and animals alike—and how to do it in a way that maximizes its benefits and minimizes its risks—requires this research. Stories, no matter how compelling and promising, are not science, and anecdotal evidence isn’t evidence in the scientific sense. Rather, hypotheses need to be tested in randomized, placebo-controlled studies, the results analyzed and conclusions drawn. The results are then retested and found to be replicable (or not) by others.
Until relatively recently, claims for cannabis’s medicinal values haven’t been supported in this way. As Hampton Sides notes in “High Science,” the June 2015 National Geographic cover story, “for nearly 70 years, the plant went into hiding, and medical research largely stopped … In America, most people expanding knowledge about cannabis were, by definition, criminals.”The Science
Now for the more technical aspects of the topic, greatly simplified and synthesized.
The first published research related to cannabis and companion animals appeared in 1899 in the British Medical Journal. Written by English physician and pharmacologist Walter E. Dixon, the article included Dixon’s observations on dogs’ response to cannabis. However, it would be almost 100 years before we understood where the response originated: in the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
All vertebrates, from sea squirts to humans, have an endocannabinoid system, which scientists estimate evolved more than 600 million years ago. This ancient system, unknown until the late 20th century, is named for the botanical that most dramatically affects it, Cannabis sativa. Cannabinoids are the ECS’s messengers. The system’s purpose is to maintain internal balance— to “Relax, Eat, Sleep, Forget and Protect.”
Marijuana, a complex botanical with more than 400 known natural compounds, contains at least 64 phytocannabinoids (plant-based cannabinoids). The two produced in greatest abundance are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
How do they work? According to the National Cancer Society, cannabinoids “activate specific receptors found throughout the body to produce pharmacologic effects, particularly in the central nervous system and the immune system.” The effects depend on the receptors to which they bind.
Robert J. Silver, DVM and veterinary herbalist of Boulder, Colo., provides another way to look at it. “Receptors are like locks, and cannabinoids are like keys. They fit together perfectly. Once the cannabinoid connects to the receptor and ‘turns that lock,’ a series of actions in the cell membrane occur; these actions are responsible for some of the cannabinoid’s effects.”
In his forthcoming book, Medical Marijuana and Your Pet, Dr. Silver notes that the ECS is unique in the world of neurotransmitters. Instead of releasing signals across a synapse (gap) in a forward direction, “the body’s naturally occurring endocannabinoids travel backward from the post- to the presynaptic nerve cell, inhibiting its ability to fire a signal. This is one way the ECS helps modulate and influence the nervous system.”
Research has revealed two distinct cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2. As in other vertebrates, canine CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain, but also appear in dogs’ salivary glands and hair follicles, while CB2 receptors are localized in canine skin, immune system, peripheral nervous system and some organs, such as the liver and kidneys.
Of the currently known cannabinoids, only one—THC—provokes a “mind-bending” response. CBD, on the other hand, has several well-documented biological effects, including antianxiety, anticonvulsive, antinausea, anti-inf lammatory and antitumor properties.
Terpenoids, components that give plants their distinctive odors, also play a role, helping cannabis cross the bloodbrain barrier and work synergistically. Ethan B. Russo, MD, associated with GW Pharmaceuticals in the UK, calls this the “entourage effect.” In an article in the British Journal of Pharmacology, Russo notes that terpenoids may make a meaningful contribution to cannabisbased medicinal extracts “with respect to treatment of pain, inf lammation, depression, anxiety, addiction, epilepsy, cancer, fungal and bacterial infections (including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA]).” The entourage effect also suggests that in general, the whole plant, with all of its phytocannabinoids, is likely to be most effective for medicinal purposes.
Those who choose to treat their companion animals with medical marijuana generally give it to them in one of two ways: as an oil or as an edible —a food item made with marijuana or infused with its oil. While edibles intended for human consumption usually contain THC, those for dogs and cats more commonly use CBD from industrial hemp, strains of cannabis cultivated for non-drug use, which has almost no THC.
In 1996, California became the first state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana. It now has the largest legal medical marijuana market in the U.S. —not to mention an almost clichéd historical relationship with the herb— so it’s no surprise that many who are pushing the boundaries of its use with companion animals are based there.
Constance Finley, founder of Constance Pure Botanical Extracts (a Northern California legal medical cannabis collective) became involved in cannabis use with dogs when her 10-year-old service dog was diagnosed with hemangiosarcoma and given six weeks to six months to live.
Finley had been using cannabis oil herself to treat the effects of a debilitating autoimmune disease that began when she was in her mid-40s. The prescription medication she took almost killed her, she says, an experience that inspired her to set aside her long-held bias against marijuana and give it a try. The oil provided both pain- and symptom relief, and Finley went on to study cannabis cultivation and the complicated laws around its use. She eventually developed proprietary blends of highly concentrated oils from multiple strains of cannabis, extracted with organic, food-grade solvents.
So, when her much-loved dog was struggling with cancer, she says she dithered, then began giving the dog small amounts of cannabis oil, wiping it on her gums. Within days, the dog started to move around normally and eat; after three weeks of treatment with the oil, her vet could find no signs of the cancer. Unfortunately, she didn’t completely understand how cannabis worked; she figured her dog was cured and stopped using the oil. Within six months, the cancer was back, and ultimately it claimed her dog’s life.
However, the experience made her a believer in its value for companion animals. While to date, there’s been no dog-specific research on its medical use, Finley is confident that cannabis oil has a place in the veterinary toolbox.
In her work with human clients, Finley says she has yet to see a conflict between conventional medications and cannabis, although anyone using it with dogs needs to be aware of the dog’s entire situation. It’s critically important, she says, that the dose be correctly titrated so the dog’s system isn’t hit with too much THC too quickly. She also notes that the effectiveness of an individual dog’s endocannabinoid system, not the dog’s weight, determines the dose. To establish the correct dose, it’s necessary to work with and observe the dog.
A dosage protocol for dogs is one of the areas in need of study and standardization. In the mid-1970s, researchers found that dogs have a high concentration of CB1 endocannabinoid receptors in their hindbrain and medulla as well as other areas of the brain. This suggests that, in terms of compounds that include THC, dogs require less to get the desired effect. (One of the diagnostic signs of THC overdose is something called “static ataxia,” first described in the 19th century and unique to dogs. Dogs in this condition rock rigidly back and forth and drool, their muscles tense up, and their pupils dilate.) According to Dr. Silver, when it comes to dogs and medical marijuana, “The ratio of brain weight—and by extension, receptors— to body weight is not linear.”
Finley also observes that there are at least two myths about medical marijuana that need to be dispelled. First, that CBD is good and THC is bad; each has its uses, but for cancer in particular, she says, THC is the workhorse. Second, that hemp and cannabis are the same; they are different varieties or sub-species, and while CBD can be refined from hemp, she feels that cannabis provides oil that is more easily used by the body.
In Oakland, Calif., Auntie Dolores has been making cannabis-infused edibles for California’s medical marijuana users since 2008. It recently launched Treatibles, a new, locally manufactured product for dogs and cats. The active ingredients are CBD, CBN (cannabinol) and CBG (cannabigerol) distilled from European industrial hemp, which, founder and CEO Julianna Carella notes, is “non-toxic, 100 percent safe and non-psychoactive. Even dogs who do not have health problems can use the product as a preventive measure.”
Each bag of Treatibles, about 40 pieces, contains 54.6 mg of CBD; each t reat contains about 1 mg. Carella says that the company guarantees 40 mg per bag, but often the consumer gets a bit more. “We feel that all products purporting the health benefits of CBD should have at least enough of the material in the product to warrant the price, as well as to provide a medicinal dose. Even so, dogs are more sensitive to cannabinoids and generally need less than humans.”
Carella says that she was inspired to develop edibles for companion animals by cannabinoid science and research into the endocannabinoid system as it relates to all animals. Like others in the field, she is dismayed by cannabis’s current federal legal status. “Unfortunately, research on cannabinoids and animals is delayed due to the status of cannabis and the Controlled Substance Act, which has disallowed research into its medicinal value. CBD has become part of this controversy, even when derived from hemp.”
Initially, Treatibles was sold only through the company’s Treatibles website, but Auntie Dolores has recently been making it available in California medical cannabis dispensaries and local pet retail outlets. Holistic Hound in Berkeley, Calif., is one of the first stores to carry the product. While its name includes the word “treats,” store owner Heidi Hill considers Treatibles to be more closely aligned with supplements— i.e., to have health benefits. She says her customers have given Treatibles an enthusiastic reception, with most reportedly using the edible to alleviate their dogs’ anxiety and, in some cases, pain.
Hill says she gives Treatibles to Pearl, her aging, arthritic Siberian Husky, and has observed an improvement in her appetite and energy level. The quality of its other ingredients—among them, organic, gluten-free oat flour; pumpkin; peanut butter; organic coconut oil and coconut nectar; organic brown rice flour; applesauce; turmeric; and cinnamon— also recommends it, she says.Change Is Coming
While many have seen positive outcomes, some veterinary professionals worry about people extrapolating from their own experiences with medical cannabis to their dogs’ health problems and giving dogs inappropriate amounts. “Sometimes public sentiment and activity get ahead of the scientific background, and that can be dangerous,” Barry Kellogg, senior veterinary adviser to the Humane Society of the United States, has said.
To date, the American Veterinary Medical Association has not taken an official position on the use of medical marijuana with animals. The American Holistic VMA is the first, and so far only, veterinary organization to officially encourage research into the safety, dosing and uses of cannabis in animals. In 2014, the group released a statement that said in part, “There is a growing body of veterinary evidence that cannabis can reduce pain and nausea in chronically ill or suffering animals, often without the dulling effects of narcotics. This herb may be able to improve the quality of life for many patients, even in the face of life-threatening illnesses.”
Other developments are on the way. In March of this year, Nevada state senator Tick Segerblom (D-District 3) introduced Senate Bill 372, which makes a variety of changes related to medical marijuana in the state. Among its provisions is one that would allow officials to issue medical marijuana cards to companion animals whose owners are Nevada residents and whose vet is willing to certify that the animal has an illness that might be helped by marijuana (the illness does not need to be fatal).
California is also in the process of creating a structured regulatory system. In the June 4, 2015, edition of the Sacramento Bee, reporter Jeremy White summarized Assembly Bill 266: “[It] would create what’s called a dual-licensure system, with cannabis entrepreneurs needing to secure permits both from local authorities and from one of a few state agencies. The Department of Public Health would oversee testing, the Department of Food and Agriculture would deal with cultivation and the Board of Equalization would handle sales and transportation—all under the auspices of a new Governor’s Office of Marijuana Regulation.”
According to Constance Finley, the fact that the marijuana industry is unregulated has been part of the problem regarding access. But next year may be the tipping point. If California’s AB 266 is passed and the marijuana industry comes out of the shadows into effective regulation, particularly in terms of verifiable cannabinoid content and freedom from contaminants, the rest of the nation could follow. The state’s size, market potential, and trailblazing environmental and technology industries have historically inf luenced trends nationwide, and that dynamic is likely to drive the discussion in this case as well.
Veterinary professionals are generally in agreement that more study is needed. In a 2013 interview with R. Scott Nolen, Dawn Boothe, DVM and director of the Clinical Pharmacology Laboratory at Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, commented: “Veterinarians do need to be part of the dialogue. I can see a welldesigned, controlled clinical trial looking at the use of marijuana to treat cancer pain in animals. That would be a wonderful translational study, with relevance to both pets and their people.” (In translational research, laboratory science and clinical medicine combine their efforts to develop new treatments and bring them to market.)
Narda G. Robinson, DVM, director of Colorado State University’s Center for Comparative and Integrative Pain Medicine, agrees. In an email exchange, Dr. Robinson said, “There is a big gap that needs to be addressed between those who are already using hemp products and finding value for their animal and science-based practitioners who want to make sure that their patients are receiving safe and effective treatment. Research will help bridge that gap.”Next Steps
Clearly, veterinarians—our partners in keeping our animals healthy—need a voice in this debate. While interested in the herb’s potential, many are leery about trying it, not only because of the legal consequences but also, because there’s so little evidence-based information. On the other hand, dog owners who have found it useful for themselves feel that not including it in the vet-med repertoire is a missed opportunity.
Although the tide is slowly turning in its favor, the debate about the utility of medical marijuana and its related components for both people and their pets is often mired in personal bias and opinion. Regardless of what position we take, it would seem that the best way to come to a resolution is to focus on the science. Controlled studies that determine cannabis’s therapeutic and toxic ranges in veterinary use and standardization of THC and/or CBD content have the potential to make a potent natural ally legally and safely available to our four-legged companions.
In transforming anecdote to evidence, we can move from what we think, what we believe and what we imagine to what we actually know. That would be a very good thing for us and for our co-pilots as well.
Dog's Life: Humane
Founder Deirdre “Little Darling” Franklin discusses her work with Bark’s Sophie Cox
Pinups for Pitbulls (PFPB), a nonprofit founded in 2005, works tirelessly to end the unnecessary killing of Pit Bull-type dogs and to educate people about Pit Bulls and the flaws of breed-specific legislation. Every year, PFPB also releases a stunning calendar that pairs women with darling Pit Bulls, a feel-good purchase that harks back to the first half of the 20th century, when these dogs were viewed as war heroes, and pin-ups were all the rage. In October 2014, PFPB will publish its first book, Little Darling’s Pinups for Pitbulls, followed by the nonprofit’s 10th anniversary calendar in 2015.
Deirdre “Little Darling” Franklin is PFPB’s founder, but she’s more than just a dog lover: she’s an educator, hero and a determined voice for Pit Bulls everywhere. Bark had the pleasure of interviewing Deirdre to discuss PFPB’s work, the upcoming book and misconceptions regarding Pit Bull-type dogs.
Bark: Who are the dogs in your life?
Deirdre Franklin: My first Pit Bull-type was Carla Lou. I adopted her when she was one and had her until she was 18; she passed away in August 2012. She was the true inspiration for Pinups for Pitbulls—we often use the hashtag #itsallforyoucarlalou.
I lost my second of four dogs, Lexi Doodle, this past year to hemangiosarcoma. She lived to be 14 and was a Lab/Shepherd mix.
I currently have Zoe, a 14-year-old Harrier mix, and Baxter Bean, a Pit Bull-type from a dog rescue in New Jersey. He was my foster failure when he was five months old. His back is covered in scars from a chemical burn or having been set on fire. He latched onto my heart, and I couldn’t let him be rehomed; now he’s about nine. He is on the cover of our 2015 calendar and on the cover of the book, covered in kisses.
B: What sparked your interest in Pit Bulls?
DF: In the mid ’90s, I fell in love with a shelter dog who happened to be a Pit Bull-type, only to find out that I could not adopt her because she was a Pit Bull and was therefore sentenced to die. Despite the efforts I [made] to save her, the shelter denied my interest in her and told me it was simply policy. I did everything I could to save this dog, but unfortunately, they euthanized her. I worked with Chako, a Pit Bull rescue, to try to pull her and they offered to give me a chance. I adopted Carla Lou through Chako’s director, Dawn Capp, and the rest is history.
B: What sort of work does PFPB do?
DF: We step out of our comfort zone by displaying at comic and tattoo conventions. I also speak regularly at Amazing Pet Expos about breed-specific legislation and dog bites, reaching the unconverted and the ignorant in these audiences. It’s an honor to speak on behalf of dogs.
I also interview children who [express interest in] being Pinups in Training (P.I.T.), a term our volunteer Nancy coined. Many of these children are already passionate voices for the dogs, and want to share their love by training to be better advocates. (I started out as a child advocate 25 years ago, and I haven’t stopped.) We encourage these kids to educate their peers through their own lens.
B: Does PFPB collaborate with other dog rescue organizations?
DF: We promote any rescue that requests our assistance through our social media pages, especially Facebook, where we have over 340,000 followers. Many advocates trust our page as a resource because they know we always fact-check and use science-based information to promote dogs, rather than just emotional appeals. On average, we’ve gotten 40 or more dogs adopted per month by cross-promoting them on our page. This [statistic] is based on the people who take the time to update us on successful outcomes. We are confident that the number is even higher.
B: How is the calendar put together?
DF: It’s a six-month process. We begin by hosting an annual model call, though we look for any woman who cares about ending breed-specific legislation and advocating for dogs. We select our calendar girls through an in-depth voting process (this includes 10 judges, [women] who have been in our calendar in the past and have a strong sense of what we look for), then contact each girl to let her know we’d like to feature her. We set up shoot dates, and all of the models travel to Philadelphia to Celeste Giuliano Photography. We do everything once they arrive—hair, make up and so forth—and Unique Vintage, our clothing sponsor, provides costuming. After the shoot, we lean on these gals to help promote our cause and calendar through their own social networks.
B: What will readers find in Little Darling’s Pinups for Pitbulls?
DF: We broke the book into sections. One of my favorites is “Hero Dogs”—we feature many amazing dogs like Hector (former Vick dog), Wallace (Flying Disc champion), Handsome Dan, Oogy and many therapy dogs as well. It’s a great section of the book because it showcases the various ways these dogs are making a difference in their communities.
Another section tells Carla Lou’s story and why PFPB exists today, while another gives educational resources for being a better advocate. There are also plenty of pages of gorgeous photos from our calendar shoots.
B: What inspired you to use pin-ups for your cause, other than the great alliteration? What’s significant about the retro aesthetic?
DF: During the first half of the 20th century, American Pit Bull Terriers were considered war heroes, and graced the cover of Life magazine; they were symbols of loyalty and tenacity. The pin-up style grew out of the same period (WWI and WWII). It made perfect sense to me to marry these two in a classy and eye-catching manner. Also, I was doing a lot of pin-up and alternative modeling before I started PFPB, and garnered an audience fairly quickly through the aesthetic of being a modern pin-up girl. We make sure our calendar is office-friendly and PG-13.
We love showing these dogs not only as the individuals they are, but also as the often goofy and fun characters we know them to be. When we host tables at the various events we attend, people are drawn in by either the pin-up or the dog aspect of our booth; many will walk up saying, “You’ve managed to pair my two favorite things—pin-ups and Pit Bulls!” We love that.
We are here to break down stereotypes, and we do so in a fact-based, non-emotional and well-educated voice. Being a pin-up girl is a bonus, but it is the smallest part of our approach. It just gets the most attention so that we can educate on behalf of dogs. We advocate for all dogs, not just Pit Bull-types.
B: How would you characterize the media’s portrayal of Pit Bulls?
DF: I can honestly say that, after starting PFPB in 2005 and looking back from where I stand now, we have come a long way, and so has the media. There is a lot more balance overall in the portrayal of these dogs, and in the reporting. There are still many ignorant reporters, and many who prefer to sensationalize, but there is a healthier balance of well-informed journalists who present the full story.
I finished my graduate degree in public policy and wrote my thesis on breed-specific legislation, and whether or not it keeps people safe. The answer is no, but in doing my research, I found about 18,000 news articles that said yes and not a single peer-reviewed study that could prove it worked.
The reason is, all dogs have teeth and we are responsible for their behavior. The only dogs making headlines are those who have been abused, neglected and/or chained. It’s the same story time and time again. We can do better on behalf of dogs, and PFPB will not quit until that day comes. Pit Bulls are just dogs, like any other breed of dog, and they are individuals before anything else—they need love, shelter, food and water.
B: What can Bark’s readers do to help remedy the misconceptions surrounding Pit Bulls? Are there ways for them to get involved with PFPB in their own communities?
DF: Start by thinking of Pit Bulls as individuals. They are special in that we love them as members of our families, but they are otherwise simply dogs and are not inherently different. We need people to understand that they are not an “other.” They want what your dog wants. Some are scared, some might require some extra help, but that is true of any dog. They rely on us. We also promote the use of non-force-based training— such as positive-reinforcement methods. We want dogs to feel safe so they can be their best selves.
We have an open-door policy for volunteers—we cannot finish this without them! Remember, we do more than make a calendar each year. We are on the road almost every week throughout the year and need advocates everywhere. Our calendar work is important, but our daily street-team volunteers and advocates hosting booths are doing the bulk of our work.
To get involved or to learn more, visit pinupsforpitbulls.org.
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