Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Butler will be easing people's pain
With weather extremes making headlines more than ever, it’s nice to know that The Weather Channel does more than just predict and report disasters. With their recent choice of a therapy dog to help those who are in the midst of crises, they are helping to alleviate the suffering caused by them.
After a nationwide search for just the right dog, Butler has become The Weather Channel’s official therapy dog. He was adopted from the Humane Society of Charlotte in North Carolina by Amy McCullough. McCullough is the National Directed of Animal-Assisted Therapy at the American Humane Association, as well as Butler’s handler and trainer.
Many dogs across the nation in various shelters were considered. Butler, a 35-pound, 18-month old Shepherd mix. was chosen because he has the traits of a perfect therapy dog. He is affectionate, social, friendly, attentive, easy to train and well-mannered. He likes to sit in laps and is comfortable in crowds.
Once Butler has completed his training, he and McCullough will visit schools, hospitals, shelters and other locations to help ease the pain of people who have survived disasters.
Two-year old Fletch has lived at Mount Vernon, Ohio’s Knox County shelter for seven months but a week ago he was facing execution. He had accidentally nipped a girl on the hand while the two were playing together—his first offense ever. But Fletch is a well-loved dog by shelter workers and the public so when dog warden, Jordan Barnard, issued the final sentence on him, animal lovers and friends of Fletch went into action. Thousands signed online petitions, and more than a 100 gathered in downtown Mount Vernon to wave signs and get supportive honks from passing cars.
Cody Jackson, 41, of Mount Vernon, had been hoping to adopt Fletch, so he filed an injunction to block the dog’s euthanization. Fletch’s case went to court, with his advocates packing the municipal courtroom. All were relieved when Judge Spurgeon seemed unmoved by the warden’s case and ordered the dog released to Phil Samuell, a shelter volunteer who offered to foster the dog. Samuell takes marvelous photos of shelter dogs to entice adoptions (and often sends them to us for our viewing pleasure), and tells us that the warden has appealed this stay of execution, so a further hearing is now set for 4/1/14. Let’s hope that Fletch’s case is resolved and he gets a permanent reprieve and to go to his forever home with Jackson.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
David Backes, NHL star launches Athletes for Animals
Stereotypes are hard to break. Mention hockey players and some picture battle-scarred faces and toothless grins. Mention shelter dogs and some assume that something has to be wrong with a dog for it to land in a shelter. David Backes, captain of the National Hockey League’s St. Louis Blues, is out to prove both of those stereotypes wrong.
Backes, a veteran of almost 500 NHL games, is a tireless supporter of animal rescue, something he first got a taste of as a young boy when his family took in a small Poodle a neighbor no longer wanted. With that seed planted early in his life, Backes’ interest in animal rescue truly took hold when he and his wife Kelly were students at Minnesota State University, Mankato, and began volunteering at a local shelter.
When the couple moved to St. Louis, Mo., to be part of the Blues organization in 2007, they looked for ways to become involved in the community, and found Five Acres Animal Shelter in St. Charles. During the time they’ve been with the shelter, they’ve worked on a number of projects, including a $1 million capital campaign that financed the construction of two new buildings. Recently, Kelly and David stepped away from their duties on the Five Acres’ board to concentrate on the next step: the formation of their own rescue organization.
As David says, “We’re going to try and use the story that Kelly and I have with Five Acres Animal Shelter to get players in all four major sports and in cities around the U.S. to use that template to start that good work.”
The good work that David mentions will begin with education and networking. “What we’re trying to do is educate the public on animal adoption and the truth about what goes on with the three to four million animals who are euthanized in shelters every year because of overpopulation, and the lack of spay and neuter,” he says.
Eventually, the work will go beyond public education to helping rescue organizations function together in a focused manner. As David describes it, “We want to network with organizations, to get everyone together so we’re all pulling the same rope, instead of having parallel organizations doing the same thing—doing double the work.”
David and Kelly walk their talk; their companion animals—cats Sunny and Polly, and dogs Marty, Rosey and BB— are all rescues. And after Kelly found a stray dog on the side of the road, things were much more crowded for a time. As David recalls, “We took her to the vet, and she had 12 puppies on board. Teammates D.J. King, Barret Jackman and I finished off a corner of our basement and built a little whelping box [for her]. Kelly and I fostered the 12 puppies until we could find them and their mom homes. We had quite a menagerie at the time.”
The NHL season runs from September through June and is bookended by training camp and the Stanley Cup playoffs, which doesn’t leave David with much downtime. Nonetheless, he dedicates most of it to rescue, and he’s quick to point out that Kelly is a huge part of the endeavor, responsible for the bulk of the day-to-day legwork.
The couple’s involvement with rescue is clearly something they are very passionate about, but David knows they face an uphill battle with the public at large in breaking the stereotype of shelter animals. “I think there’s a negative perception that they are damaged or thrown-away products,” he says. “These animals are amazing; there’s nothing wrong with them other than that they are in a shelter, and they need a home.
“If people knew that these animals are just like the dog they have in their back yard, [and are] being euthanized only because there’s no room for them, I think that starts to hit home pretty hard. [Ideally], they’ll think twice before breeding their animals, and they’ll get them spayed or neutered.”
The couple recently celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary by visiting two rescue organizations, the Gentle Barn in Santa Clarita, Calif., and Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah. As David tells it, he and his wife wanted to see the great work the two organizations are doing as inspiration for their own efforts. And, of course, they wanted to volunteer.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Buddy the Chocolate Lab is safe
This weekend’s devastating mudslide northeast of Seattle, Wash. has claimed the lives of at least 8 people, and left over 100 people unaccounted for. Many are feared dead. Treacherous mud has made rescue work dangerous at times and impossible at others. People around the world following the story celebrated the report that a 6-month old baby was found alive.
A later development greeted with celebration was the rescue of Buddy the Chocolate Lab, seen in this video at about 1:20. To dog lovers everywhere this is welcome news in a story that is mostly bad news. Buddy’s rescue has brought joy to family members waiting to hear the fate of their sister, who is his guardian. Hopefully his presence will help them as they face what will likely be a time of grieving. It seems improbable, unfortunately, that Buddy’s guardian was as lucky as he was. She remains missing and rescuers are not optimistic about finding more survivors.
The man who pulled Buddy from the mud caused a rare moment of laughter when he called out, “He needs a bath pretty bad.” Besides a bath, the dog will need to recover from the harrowing experience, which left him shaken up and suffering mild injuries. And yet, there’s no denying he was extremely blessed to have survived the ordeal, which many people, as well as other dogs, did not.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Joins National Canine Research Council
Adam Miklósi just became the newest advisor to the National Canine Research Council. Their mission involves understanding and preserving the human-canine bond and they both conduct and fund research in support of this goal. Miklósi is an expert on the cognitive and social abilities of dogs that make their bond with humans possible and he has played a pivotal role in the way dogs are now viewed by scientists and lay people alike.
Although scientists as brilliant and prestigious as Konrad Lorenz, who won the Nobel Prize, and even Charles Darwin, were fascinated by dogs and studied them extensively, many others found them unworthy of attention. The viewpoint for generations was that because dogs were domesticated, they were not scientifically interesting the way that wild animals are. Many people in the field of ethology, which is the study of animals in their natural habitat rather than in the laboratory, failed to recognize that the natural environment of dogs is with people. Attempts to study them were met with scorn, and almost no funding.
In the last decade, the tide has turned, and now excellent research on dogs is being done in many areas of the world. As founder and head of the Family Dog Project and head of the Ethology Department at Eötvös University in Budapest, Miklósi is a worldwide leader in the study of the domestic dog. The goal of his research is to investigate the ethological and evolutionary foundations of the human-dog relationship.
Dog's Life: Humane
Our Companions Animal Rescue
The first time nicole and Brian Baummer took their newly adopted black Lab, Finn, to the vet, the clinic staff’s reaction surprised them. Finn is particularly social and well behaved, yet the receptionist looked stricken as she pulled out a folder bearing a bright-red “caution” sticker.
“We caused quite a stir,” says Nicole. “They immediately remembered Finn from a visit to their office with his previous owners—and not in a good way. Apparently, he had been very aggressive and interacted negatively with everyone. They even had to muzzle him.”
It’s true that Finn had been well on the road to juvenile delinquency when his first owners decided to give him up. At five months, rambunctious, unruly and overstimulated, he had acted aggressively toward one of the three small children with whom he shared a chaotic household.
Shelters everywhere are full of dogs like Finn, and their prospects are particularly grim. But thanks to a new model for animal rehabilitation and adoption being launched in Connecticut, Finn didn’t become a euthanasia statistic— he became a success story.
Such successes are mounting at Our Companions Sanctuary in Ashford, Conn., a key initiative for the nonprofit Our Companions Animal Rescue. Modeled after Utah’s world-renowned Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, the Ashford facility is on track to become New England’s first large-scale rehabilitation and adoption center for homeless companion animals with nowhere else to turn.
Situated on over 43 acres in rural Connecticut, the sanctuary will one day comprise 16 animal-rehabilitation cottages, a dog park, walking trails, a nature preserve and a center for humane education. The first cottage opened its doors in October 2012, and two more were completed a year later. The cottages are designed to offer animals an enriching, homelike environment where they can physically and emotionally recover from past traumas and become great candidates for adoption.
“Homelike” isn’t hyperbole here. The cottage where Finn spent 27 days has a refrigerator stocked with treats, a flatscreen TV tuned to Animal Planet, and cozy nooks for napping and lounging. During most waking hours, volunteers are on hand to administer belly rubs, offer words of comfort and tuck the guests in for the night. Each dog has his or her own room and crate, gets plenty of exercise in the play areas and outside trails. Upon arrival, each dog is evaluated by director of canine operations, Marie Joyner, who creates an individual behavoiral training program and then works with the staff and volunteers on its proper implementation. The environment is peaceful and supportive, with enough people coming and going to help even the shyest dog develop solid social skills. One cottage house cats and two of them are homes to dogs.
“Our goal is to provide an environment where homeless animals won’t feel homeless and where we can address needs that are not being met in the traditional shelter system,” says Susan Linker, CEO of Our Companions Animal Rescue. “Animals that linger in shelters often exhibit frustration and stress, which can lead to fear, which can turn them into ticking time bombs. We want to defuse that.”
After visiting Best Friends to participate in a workshop on sanctuary building, Linker was inspired to focus on rehabilitation as a solution to euthanasia. However, rehabilitation isn’t possible if an animal is feeling anxious. Linker knew that housing animals in rooms, as opposed to cages, would largely eliminate stress, but she also suspected that a shelter-type facility with rooms instead of cages would not be enough to address the rehabilitation component. For that, she wanted an actual house—a place where animals could be themselves, warts and all. The behaviors that emerged would likely be the same ones to pop up in a home placement, and the same ones that could torpedo that placement. A dog could learn not to fear the sound of a dishwasher, for instance, or be weaned away from barking at the television.
The dog’s behavior in the simulated home would also provide staff with important information on the best fit for a permanent placement, which, in turn, would reduce returns. “Every time a dog is returned, a little piece is gone,” she said. “We want to do everything possible to keep them whole.”
The organization pulls most of its dogs from municipal shelters, but also accepts owner surrenders of dogs who may be difficult to place. In addition to animals with behavioral issues, the sanctuary welcomes seniors, those with medical problems and those who, for whatever reason, are perennially overlooked in traditional shelters.
Recent sanctuary guests included Lucas, a Cocker Spaniel with a penchant for guarding his many treasures; Tinka, an elderly Chihuahua whose original owners were unable to deal with her Cushing’s disease; and Suzie, a Pit Bull whose hyperanxiety, which stemmed from having been caged for 15 months, caused her to aggressively protect her meager turf. Especially touching was Lucy, an abused Pit who was terrified of people. At the shelter, she cowered in the back of her kennel and emitted a continuous low growl. Her breakthrough came after nine days in Ashford, when she melted her 50-pound body onto the lap of a caring volunteer. The sanctuary refers to such milestone moments as the “personality blossom.”
Though Best Friends Sanctuary does not operate the same type of homebased facility, it does offer something related: a sleepover program in which prospective adopters can spend quality time with the pooch of their choice at one of the local pet-friendly hotels. Faith Maloney, Best Friends co-founder, characterizes it as one of their most helpful programs, not just from the dog’s point of view, but from the potential adopter’s as well. That’s because the experience of walking past row after row of kennels and being buffeted by a constant din of barking can make even the most committed adopters feel as though they are adrift in a giant sea of dogs in which no one animal is distinguishable. Removing a dog from that environment immediately changes the perspective.
“If you look at a dog racing around in a kennel, you can’t picture them in your home,” says Maloney, adding that there is an 80 percent adoption rate for sleepovers. “So even in a hotel room, you get to see the dog’s individual preferences— does she like the bed or the couch? Does she snore? Does she look out the window? Suddenly, the dog looks like she belongs in a home—and maybe that home is yours.”
The Baummers couldn’t agree more. The calm environment of the sanctuary gave them a chance to see the real Finn, the one who immediately hopped onto a couch and asked for a belly rub. Also helpful, since they have an elderly cat, was the fact that Finn could be tested in a home setting with some of the feline guests in the neighboring cottage.
Of course, facilities like this aren’t cheap. Our Companions has embarked on a $5 million capital campaign to complete the sanctuary village, which is expected to eventually accommodate about 40 dogs and 160 cats. That population level is projected to result in the rescue, rehabilitation and adoption of 160 dogs and 1,200 cats annually.
Aside from fundraising, Linker’s biggest challenge now is adjusting to the program’s success. “We thought it would take several months for the dogs to rehabilitate from past physical and emotional trauma, but it’s actually happening very quickly, and people are incredibly eager to adopt them,” she says, adding that the dogs spend, on average, just 40 days at the sanctuary.
The unexpectedly speedy turnaround caught the design team off guard. The first cottage had given significant space to common areas, in the hope that long-term canine guests would benefit from the ongoing camaraderie. But, the typical shorter stays didn’t give dogs enough time to gel as a cozy pack; instead they were forced to make constant social adjustments as dogs were adopted out and new ones arrived. To better manage this dynamic, the second and third cottages were built with more individual living quarters for dogs who need additional stability away from the pack disruptions.
The need for a redesign doesn’t much bother Linker. “Actually,” she says, “this is a nice problem to have.”
Gaia is my foster dog through Dogs on Deployment, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that provides a central database for military members to find families and individuals who are willing to board their pets while they are deployed. No pet should ever be surrendered due to a military commitment.
Dogs on Deployment exists to help military members keep their pets by reducing the need for pet relinquishment from military members due to the hardships of deployments. Military personnel are often deployed with two-weeks (or less) notice. This allows them little time to get everything together, including finding accommodations for their pets. They may be forced to give up their pets to shelters or put them on sites such as Craigslist.
I’m hoping to get a shameless plug for DoD with this cute photo of Gaia!
“Vision,” Danelle Umstead says, “is to have sight, an idea, or a dream.” Danelle’s immediate dream is to win gold for the U.S. in alpine skiing at the upcoming Paralympic Winter Games (March 7–16) at Sochi, Russia. Danelle teams with husband Rob Umstead who acts as her coach and sighted guide as they race through the courses. Rooting the couple on in Sochi will be Aziza, Danelle’s new guide dog. Danelle began working with Aziza this past summer, after her longtime guide dog Bettylynn (shown here with Danelle and Rob) was forced to retire due to optic nerve atrophy. Bettylynn will be pulling for the couple back at their home in Park City, Utah, with their son Brocton.
At the age of 13, Danelle was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa, a genetic eye condition where the retina progressively degenerates and eventually causes complete darkness. Her vision is “spotted” and she can only see up to three to five feet in front of her, and even then, only contrasting colors without any level of detail. In 2011 she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS). Still, none of these hurdles have kept Danelle from achieving her best.
Danelle was introduced to adaptive skiing by her father in 2000, who acted as her guide. She quickly fell in love with the sport—the freedom, the speed, the exhilaration. After she began training and working fulltime with Rob in 2008, competitive success soon followed with Paralympic Bronze medals in Vancouver, 2010, nine World Cup podiums and Paralympics Alpine Skiing National Championships. Her success relies heavily on trust and communication—100 percent trust in Rob as he guides her down the hill at top speed. It’s similar to the trust and communication that she had with BettyLynn and is working to build with Aziza. Danelle and Rob have created Vision4Gold.org as a vehicle to mentor junior disabled athletes by sharing her story and offering encouragement. We’re hopeful that Danelle realizes her vision in Sochi.
Update: Danelle has finished 5th and 4th in her first two Paralympic events at Sochi and hopes to climb the medal stand sometime in her next three races.
News: Guest Posts
Jill Breitner is a dog trainer with a mission: to make us aware of how dogs communicate by showing us how to “read” them. She developed her Dog Decoder app to do just that.
A helpful and handy primer on canine body language, it demonstrates the ways dogs let us know they’re scared, excited, cautious, willing and so forth. As Breitner explains, “If we understood what dogs try so hard to tell us, there would be fewer people bitten and fewer dogs ending up in shelters.” The app highlights 60 different poses/situations; each one (“butt sniff,” for example) comes with a helpful description that points out some common misconceptions, or the circumstances in which a dog will exhibit it.
A great tool for newbie dog people and those of us who need to brush up on dog talk. dogdecoder.com
Dog's Life: Humane
Many of us have experienced this conundrum: We love animals and want to help them— especially our local shelter animals, many of whom experience trauma, confusion, pain and fear. And yet, the very thing that drives us to help—their suffering—can also be the thing that prevents us from actually going into the shelters to help. It’s hard to witness suffering, plain and simple. It’s hard to stand in the midst of such need and fear and sorrow and not fall apart. Suffering can make us feel helpless, which in turn makes us feel that we cannot help other helpless beings. And ’round and ’round it goes.
Two years ago, Pamela Fisher, DVM—a holistic veterinarian and founder of the Rescue Animal Mp3 Project, a nonprofit organization that distributes free music-loaded Mp3 players to animal shelters across the country— found herself in a similar situation. As she says, “I, along with many people, had trouble going into animal shelters. I wanted to help the animals [with Reiki and energy healing], but it tore at my heartstrings to see all those animals shaking at the back of their cages. And the barking can be deafening. I thought, there’s got to be a way I could help the animals feel better and be calmer. All I could think of was music.”
Dr. Fisher has used vibrationalhealing music—music specifically designed to not only promote relaxation in the animals and their human companions, but also, to help regulate the immune system—for years at her Ohio-based holistic veterinary practice. Thus, she has witnessed its benefits firsthand. These days, most of us are aware that science has proven that listening to specially calibrated music can help lower blood pressure, calm the nervous system, stabilize emotions and reduce anxiety. This applies to animals as well as humans; the animals who visit Dr. Fisher’s practice, even the vet-phobic ones, always become significantly more calm in the presence of the healing music.
One of the first vibrational healing CDs Dr. Fisher discovered was Healing Touch for Animals (Volume I). Composed by Carol Komitor and Inner Sound (Arden Wilken), this music is specifically designed to not only promote relaxation in the animals and their human companions; but to help regulate the immune system as well. “Of all the CDs I play at my office,” says Dr. Fisher, “I probably play this one the most. In fact, this is the one that helped inspire me to create the Mp3 project for shelters. At first, I figured I could donate some of this [Healing Touch for Animals] music to my local shelter. Then I found out that I was required to get permission to distribute all this copyrighted music. I figured if I was going to do all that work, I might as well try to find a way to distribute the music to all the shelters in the United States.”
Thus, the remarkable Rescue Animal Mp3 Project was born. Dr. Fisher began contacting musicians, sound healers and producers, asking them if they would be willing to donate the use of their music to this project. She focused animal-specific, sound-healing CDs. Most of the musicians Dr. Fisher contacted were thrilled at the idea of being able to help shelter animals. Eventually, she secured the rights to reproduce and distribute almost 30 hours of music.
The current Rescue Animal Mp3 is a “best of” compilation in animal sound healing therapy. Selections include tracks from Pet Calm and Pet Healing by Rick Collingwood, Canine Lullabies by Terry Woodford, Harp Music to Soothe the Savage Beast (gotta love that title) by Alianna Boone, Animal Angels and Connecting with Animals by Stuart Jones and Margrit Coates, Animal Healing and Music for Pets by Perry Wood and Margrit Coates, and the Healing Music for Animals and Their People (Healing Touch for Animals®) series mentioned above. (For a full list of music included on the Rescue Animal Mp3).
It took Dr. Fisher almost eight months to acquire the music and complete the necessary paperwork. Once that was accomplished, she went on to raise funds for the project and apply for grants so that she could purchase the Mp3 players and other necessary equipment. Finally, she loaded the players with the music and begin distributing them to shelters. When asked how many hours she put into the project in its preliminary stages, she says, “I won’t even venture to think about it. I work on it nonstop. My mission was to make it easy for the shelters. They don’t have the time or resources to acquire this music, so I did it for them.”
And when Dr. Fisher says easy, she means easy. All the shelters need to do is fill out an application. Project volunteers ship the pre-loaded Mp3 player at no cost, and provide easy installation instructions along with an FAQ page on their website. Typically, the shelter is required to provide its own amplification system (dock, CD player, speakers or computer), which most institutions already have in place. Sometimes, Fisher says, she donates speakers to shelters in need.
The response has been nothing short of remarkable. Survey responders consistently report that the music’s effect is overwhelmingly positive. Dogs have shown signs of reduced anxiety and anxiety-related behaviors such as barking, scratching, pacing and whining. Aggressive animals have mellowed out, traumatized dogs seem less fearful and storm-phobic dogs are noticeably calmer. Shelter workers have even noticed physical improvements in the form of increased appetites and more speedy recoveries from injuries and illness.
“Overall,” says Dr. Fisher, “the animals are better able to cope with the stress of shelter environments, and in turn, this improves their quality of life and increases their chance of acquiring forever homes. It’s part of a whole program. The Mp3 project is helping the animals get adopted.”
Currently, Rescue Animal Mp3s have been distributed to more than 800 shelters in 50 states, calming more than 87,000 animals. The Humane Society has endorsed the project, and the players are in use at such highprofile shelters as the New York CACC and the ASPCA. The project’s calming music can now be heard in animal sanctuaries as well; as of this writing, lions in Zimbabwe are listening to and benefiting from the music.
These statistics are remarkable, considering that the project—conceived and founded by one woman acting with one mission: to help animals— has been up and running for less than two years.
“The whole process of designing this project, starting a nonprofit, raising funds and applying for grants has been an interesting and difficult challenge for me,” Fisher admits. “But so rewarding for the animals’ sake.”
I hope you are as inspired by this woman and her project as I am. To find out more, donate or volunteer, visit rescueanimalmp3.org.
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