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News: JoAnna Lou
SAR Teams Come From All Backgrounds
NY based team is honored with the ACE award for their work

Earlier this month I saw the local Humane Fund Award for Canine Excellence recipients honored at the American Kennel Club and Cat Fanciers Association’s Meet the Breeds event in New York. In the past, many search and rescue dogs have been honored with the ACE award, but this year I was inspired by one team in particular--Cassius and Peter Taft.

Cassius was a Milwaukee shelter dog destined for euthanasia. Fortunately someone recognized the German Shepherd’s potential and brought the special pup to train at Seattle’s Northwest K9 Academy to become a search and rescue dog.

Peter Taft came from the other side of the country--New York City. Taft is a fashion photographer and self-described “art geek.” Although he eventually became a trained paramedic, Taft never thought he was capable of search and rescue work until he met a friend’s SAR dog. Taft’s decision to become involved was solidified after 9/11. Taft then discovered Cassius at the Northwest K9 Academy and an unlikely team was born.

Since finishing their training, Cassius and Taft have traveled to Haiti after the earthquake, Sri Lanka following the 2004 tsunami, and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, searching the rubble for survivors.

Search and rescue work may seem like something limited to professionals, but Cassius and Taft’s story shows that any dog and any person, no matter what background, can become involved in an important mission to help others.

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Service Dog Dilemma
Phobia bars guide dog from Mass. store

Earlier this month, Heather Maloney was barred from bringing her guide dog into a local eyebrow threading store in Taunton, Mass., breaking state and federal laws protecting the rights of people that rely on service dogs.

 

Seems like an open and shut case, right? Legally, yes, but it’s not exactly as clear cut as it seems. It turns out that shop owner Fatima Noorani has a canine phobia after being bitten by a dog when she was a child. 

Maloney says that she often encounters businesses that are not familiar with the law and she’s not alone. The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination receives more than 4,000 complaints each year. 

But for those who have genuine phobias, I can sympathize with both sides. For the people who rely on service dogs, they may not have the luxury of traveling to a different store. For people who have a legitimate fear, it’s not something that can be overcome easily. And for small businesses with only one or two workers, options are limited.

What’s your take?

 

News: Guest Posts
Watch Out, Poachers!
Detection dogs stop smugglers

If dogs can sniff out drugs or explosives, why not ivory or rhino horn? The South African Police Service is training detection dogs in an effort to thwart poachers and protect endangered animals such as elephants and rhinos. Thanks to a partnership with South African company Mechem, which created its Explosive and Drug Detection System, new technology will enable the police dogs to work more safely and efficiently. Watch contraband-detection dogs in action. 

News: JoAnna Lou
Calling All Working Dogs
UPDATE! Dept. of Homeland Security looks to recruit 3,000 pups

Editor's update: JoAnna Lou gets her wish. The Department of Homeland Security has bowed to pressure and agreed to screen shelter dogs to work as canine federal agents. Many animal welfare advocates, including PETA, cried fowl when the department made the call for increased breeding to supply the “right” sort of dogs. It worked.

 

[Original post: 8/12/10] As the government gears up to protect the country against terrorists, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is looking to expand its canine workforce from 2,000 to 5,000 dogs in the next five years. These pups will also help other government groups such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Coast Guard and the Secret Service.

  This summer the Department alerted small breeders looking it’s looking for Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers, German Shepherds, Dutch Shepherds and Belgian Malinois between the ages of 12 to 36 months that are “alert, active, outgoing, confident” and “extremely tolerant of people.”   The 150 percent increase may seem like a lot, but many believe that a dog’s skill can’t be replicated, even with modern technology. Although only four percent of the Border Patrol's agents were canine handlers, these teams were credited with 60 percent of drug arrests and 40 percent of all other apprehensions in 2007.   Clark Larson, who runs the Customs and Border Protections canine program, says “there is no technology that trumps the cold nose of a dog.” It’s amazing that in the computer-dependant world we live in, sometimes you just can’t beat nature.    It’s always good to see more working dogs. I only wish the department would consider shelter dogs for their canine program. In the past, almost all U.S. Customs dogs were originally from animal shelters. Imagine the impact the department could have on homeless pets if even a fraction of those 3,000 dogs were rescues.

 

News: Guest Posts
9/11 Memorial Video
Honoring the dogs who searched and comforted

News: JoAnna Lou
Finding Cell Phones
Dogs sniff out smuggled goods in prison

Dogs have been trained to detect cancer, bed bugs, and even illegal DVDs. There really is no limit to how our pups can help us. Now canines are being trained to search prisons for smuggled cell phones.

Prisons ban cell phones because inmates can use them to plot escape plans, harass victims or document security procedures. Jail officials have always searched prison cells for phones, but they’ve only recently begun to train dogs for this purpose. Sergeant Wayne Conrad, who leads the K-9 detection program in California, says his dogs can search jail cells in a fraction of the time it takes a human officer. 

Inmates, and even staff members, go to great lengths to smuggle cell phones inside prison walls, where they can be sold or rented for large sums of money. These attempts include hiding pieces of cell phones in radios or watches, transporting phones with the laundry delivery, and even putting phones inside the body. But it doesn’t matter if the phones are on, off, or broken into a million pieces--the dogs will find them. 

Cell phone sniffing dogs work in state prisons across America, including California, Florida, Texas, Virginia and Maryland. The program has increased in popularity in recent years because it’s effective, but also economical. All of the 14 dogs working in California’s 33 prisons are adopted from shelters or rescue groups and go through an eight-week training program.

As of May this year, California prison officials have already confiscated almost 5,000 cell phones thanks to their team of talented pups!

 

News: JoAnna Lou
Canine Lifeguards
Italian pups train to rescue humans in troubled waters

After vacationing abroad recently, I’ve been jealous of the abundance of parks and beaches in Europe that allow dogs. 

But in Italy, not all of the beach dogs are just lounging in the sun all day, some are also helping to keep the ocean safe. These working pups are graduates of the Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs in Civitavecchia. Currently 300 dogs have been certified through the three-year program. 

The canine lifeguards are trained to jump from helicopters and boats, carry a buoy or raft, and tow victims to shore. The dogs play an important role in rescuing the 3,000 people saved by the Italian Coast Guard each year. 

According to program coordinator, Roberto Gasbarri, canine lifeguards have an advantage over humans because they can easily jump into the water and reach victims quickly. One dog can single handedly pull a boat of 30 people to shore. The canine lifeguards can even help reduce fatigue in the human rescuers by towing handlers to victims for medical attention. 

Think your crew has what it takes? The school will train any breed, as long as they weigh at least 30 kilograms (66 pounds) and are confident in the water, though Labrador Retrievers and Newfoundlands are most common.  Each dog works with a volunteer handler, who also acts as the animal's trainer.

I don’t think my water phobic pups will be lifeguards anytime soon, but I’m thankful for the people and dogs who donate their time to keeping the beaches safe.

News: Guest Posts
National Dog Day
Celebrating canines, August 26

Thursday is National Dog Day, which was founded in 2004 to acknowledge all the dogs who “work selflessly each day to save lives, keep us safe and bring comfort.” Even if you’re naturally cranky like me and resent being told you need to show your appreciation on a particular day, it’s hard to argue with the fundamental idea that dogs give us a great deal and deserve our best in return.

  I’m willing to set aside my fundamental belief that dogs—just like mothers, fathers, grandparents, lovers, etc.—should enjoy special treats and praise daily to get behind the National Dog Day mission: supporting shelters and rescues, promoting adoption and saying no breed bans.   Among the celebration suggestions on the official National Dog Day website are parties, treats, a day lazing on a new bed (ugh!), and dressing up in patriotic attire (huh?). I think we can do better than that. How about committing ourselves to mastering some new tricks? Kicking off a more active regime? Volunteering for an animal welfare organization or making a donation? Launching a new strategy for helping animals? Reading a book about canine massage? Signing up for an organized activity, such as agility or Nose Work? With the right attitude, we can keep this from being another Valentine’s Day. Improving the health of our own dogs and reaching out to help dogs-in-need is a better investment than a box of chocolates or cut flowers (not that I’d refuse either).   Do you have plans for National Dog Day? Look for our National Dog Day poll this week on Bark’s Facebook page.

 

News: Karen B. London
Service Dog Diversity
Pomeranian helps hearing-impaired woman

Pookee the Pomeranian helps Julianna Rigby by alerting her to sounds she can’t detect such as visitors at the door or the telephone ringing. Since the image many people have of service dogs is confined to German Shepherds and Golden Retrievers, Rigby sometimes receives dirty looks or requests to take the dog outside when she takes her with her to the grocery store or other places where dogs are usually not allowed.

  I’ve met service dogs from a variety of breeds beyond the two standards mentioned above: Poodles, Cocker Spaniels, a French Mastiff, a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever, Tibetan Terriers and Flat-coated Retrievers are just a few of them. Do you know of a service dog from a breed that is not typically thought of in that role? Tell us about the dog and what he or she does.  

 

News: Karen B. London
Therapy Dog Gives Great Gift
A wife’s last smile.

 

There are a zillion stories about the amazing effects of therapy dogs on people, but this one moved me even more than usual. A husband was with his dying wife in a Florida hospital when Pogo, a Shetland sheepdog came to visit. The wife began to pet the dog, wrapped her arms around him, and smiled. It had been a long time since she had smiled, and it was to be her last one. She died the next day.   Pogo’s guardian got a letter from the husband soon after thanking her for letting him see his wife smile one more time. I’m actually dripping tears on my keyboard just thinking about how meaningful that single smile was to this man. I mean, seriously, have you ever written or received a letter because of a smile?  

 

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