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Musical Treat at a Florida Shelter
A cellist gives homeless pets a private concert.

Animal shelters can be a stressful environment, but recently the dogs at Florida’s Humane Society of Sarasota County (HSSC) were treated to a special musical break.

While Natalie Helm, Principal Cellist with the Sarasota Orchestra, was visiting her local shelter, she came up with the idea to perform for the animals.

“I know it’s very cliché, but music is a language that everyone appreciates and understands,” she explained. Natalie felt it was a way she could use her talent to make a different in the lives of these animals. She was right.

“I could really sense they were enjoying it,” remembers Natalie. “There was a great feeling of peacefulness that spread quickly through the kennels.”

Classical music has many benefits for both humans and animals, and has long been used as a tool to calm animals in shelters. Studies have shown that dogs’ stress levels decrease after music is played in their kennels. HSSC plays music in the shelter, but nothing can come close a live performance. Fortunately Natalie plans to continue playing for the animals on a regular basis.

I hope this story inspires other musicians to consider volunteering at their local animal shelter. It’s a special gift that can give the animals a moment of calm amid a time of transition and stress.

Dog-Directed Speech
Puppies are most responsive to this type of talk

Baby talk may make grown-ups sound ridiculous to many people, but that doesn’t take away from its value. Extensive research has shown that human infants are better able to learn language when we talk to them using higher pitches and at a slower speed than when we talk to other adults. This style of communication is called “infant-directed speech”, and it’s natural for many folks to slip into it when addressing young individuals, especially those who are not yet verbal.

A new study called “Dog-directed speech: why do we use it and do dogs pay attention to it?” suggests that the same principle may be operating when humans speak to dogs—another of our social partners who don’t fully understand our language. People tend to talk to their dogs in a way that is similar to the way they address children. There may be value in this “dog-directed speech” as well.

This study investigated the behavior of two species, and reported a major finding about each of them. On the human side, only women were studied, and researchers found that they used dog-directed speech with dogs of all ages, but used higher pitches when they were talking to puppies than when addressing fully grown dogs. For the canines, this worked out well based on their age-related responses to the way we talk to them. Adult dogs were equally responsive to normal speech and dogs-directed speech. Puppies, however, became more engaged when addressed with dog-directed speech than when the women spoke to them as they normally talk. Specifically, it was the higher pitch in the dog-directed speech that influenced how attentive puppies were.

There are many questions that flow naturally from this study and its intriguing results. Do men talk to their dogs with higher-pitched, slower speech patterns, and does the age of the dog influence the degree to which they do it? Do dogs who look more juvenile because of larger eyes, shorter muzzles and bigger heads elicit dog-directed speech more than dogs who have a more mature look? Does dog-directed speech facilitate language learning in dogs as it does in human babies?

Do you talk to your dog using a different speaking style than the one you use for adult humans?

Through a Guide Dog’s Eyes
London man attaches a GoPro to his service pup.

Living with a disability is not easy and can make people feel invisible. For those of us who are fortunate not to struggle with one, it’s hard to understand what it’s like to walk a day in their shoes. A man in London decided to show exactly that—what it’s like to see through his guide dog’s eyes.

Amit Patel worked as a doctor in London until he started losing his sight three years ago. Diagnosed with keratoconus, a disease that changes the shape of the cornea, Amit is now completely blind in his right eye, and has lost nearly all sight in his left eye.

Fortunately Amit has his guide dog, Kika, to help him navigate the streets and trains of London, which he travels through almost every day. As if getting around wasn’t hard enough, sadly Amit and Kika face daily abuse by fellow commuters and transit employees. People hit Kika or step over her to get by, and often don’t extend the common courtesy of making a seat available to Amit on the train.

“Kika always sits to my left hand side so we often block the escalator and people will hit her with bags and umbrellas to get her to move out of the way,” explains Amit.

To help others understand what they go through, Amit has been attaching a GoPro camera to Kika’s harness. His wife, Seema, views each day’s footage and posts selections to Twitter.

And it’s not just physical abuse. Amit and Zika endure many unbelievable interactions on a daily basis.

“One lady even said I should apologize to the people behind her for holding them up. I asked her if I should apologize for being blind and she said, ‘yes.’” remembers Amit. “Sometimes I wonder who is the blind person when there are people glued to their mobile phones.”

Amit says losing his sight makes him feel very lonely, especially when people he encounters aren’t friendly. However, Amit is grateful to have Kika, who is one of only five percent of guide dogs trained to navigate an escalator. Kika even saved Amit’s life once from a car that ran a red light.

“Kika saw the car, got in front of me and took the hit—the car grazed her nose,” says Amit. “It was three days before she could work again.”

Amit hopes that his video footage will encourage people to think twice the next time they see someone with their guide dog. A little courtesy goes a long way.

Pet Health Care Monopoly
Is the Mars acquisition of VCA cause for concern?

An explosive, must-read article in Bloomberg Business Week looks at what happens when big business monopolizes the pet health business and how this corporatization might not be in the best interests for our dogs. 

Ever wonder why many veterinarians do not heed the 2003 American Animal Hospital Association’s recommendation for core vaccines to be administered every three years? Instead a number of vets still prescribe annual vaccinations—with boosters for distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus. According to the Bloomberg article the immunologist, Ronald Schultz, from the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, was one of those researchers who recommended this three-year protocol in the 1970s. He recalls that the AAHA Canine Vaccination Task Force, facing a revolt from vets about the decrease in their future vaccine incomes, struck a compromise at three years instead of the once-in-a-lifetime approach that he and others recommended. But yet you can find that annual vaccines are still being recommended by the 1,000 Banfield Vet Clinics in this country. Another surprising fact is that pet vaccines seem to be the only vaccines where one size, seemingly, fits all—the doses are the same regardless of weight or size of the animal, so the same 1 milliliter is given to a Chihuahua or an Irish Wolfhound—very little research has ever justified that approach. Bloomberg points to an example from Banfield's software program "Pet Ware," used to instruct the veterinarians in diagnosing and prescription advice:

“the book shows a checklist of therapies for a dog with atopic dermatitis, or itchy skin. Doctors are encouraged to recommend a biopsy, analgesics, topical medications, antibiotics, a therapeutic dietary supplement, an allergy diet, and a flea control package. They’re required to recommend antihistamines, shampoos, serum allergy testing, lab work, a skin diagnostic package, and anti-inflammatories. It’s a treatment course that might run $900 for symptoms that, in a best-case scenario, indicate something as prosaic as fleas. The manual reminds doctors: You cannot change items that were initially marked Required. They must remain required.

No wonder the pet health industry is booming and going through a period of rapid consolidations, Banfield, located in many PetSmart stores, was purchased in 2007 by Mars, the candymaker and pet food giant (the largest in the world with over $17 billion in sales from brands like Pedigree,  Cesar, Eukanuba, Iams, Natura brands, Royal Canin, Sheba, Nutro). Then in 2015 the Mars Petcare portfolio of vet clinics grew when they acquired BluePearl Veterinary Services, with an additional 55 locations.

Mars, seemingly, facing a slowdown in consumer purchases of prepared/package foods and sugary products, is acquiring even more veterinarian companies and it was announced that their newest acquistion that they are paying $7.7 billion is VCA, Inc., the veterinary and doggie day-care business based in Los Angeles. VCA owns 750 hospitals and employs 3000 vets and 23,000 people, and had a 2015 revenue of $2.1 billion. The Los Angeles Times noted that “VCA has used acquisitions to combine hospitals, diagnostic labs and veterinarians into its network. In 2014, the company even acquired a dog day-care chain called Camp Bow Wow.” 

And similar to Banfield’s approach, the Times notes that “VCA has been criticized at times by some customers for requiring tests that can be costly, but VCA maintains that it’s against its policy to sell unnecessary tests or treatments.” But 41 percent of VCA’s operating profits comes from their company’s Antech Diagnostics that also does bloodwork and other tests for more than half of the country’s hospitals, including their own of course. As Bloomberg reported, Tom Fuller, VCA’s chief financial officer, puts it this way when he speaks to investors: “Diagnostics is what grows the industry.” And the company’s business strategy has been “to leverage our existing customer base by increasing the number and intensity of the services received during each visit” (as found in their annual financial reports by Bloomberg reporting.)

Pushing tests unto clients is “good” for business, if not always for their clients’ pets,

"according to Wendy Beers, a veterinarian who resigned in 2014 from a VCA hospital in Albany, Calif. 'Every month they would print out things to say how many packages you sold, how many procedures you did,' she says. 'And if they came out and said, ‘This month we want everyone to do 20 heartworm tests,’ and you only did eight, well, next month you have to do better. I don’t feel when they’re lecturing us that their chief interest is to make sure animals get the best care.'”

According to Ken Shea, an analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence, who says that with Mars’ expanding presence in animal hospitals, the company will have an opportunity to use the facilities to sell even more of its pet foods. Is this troubling news for pet parents? A recent class action suit brought on behalf of consumers by a San Francisco law firm thickens the plot further when you consider that this suit contends that pet food manufacturers (including Mars) and retailers (such as PetSmart) are using "prescriptions" to justify overcharging consumers for food that contains no restricted ingredients. Neither the FDA nor any other government agency mandates such prescriptions.

Bloomberg clearly makes the case why all these things, like over vaccinations, unnecessary testing, false prescriptions for pet food matters is that veterinary medicine is largely unregulated. And one of the reasons why businesses like Mars find the pet industry a good investment strategy is that

“...pet owners pay cash: Vets don’t deal with insurers haggling for better prices or questioning whether that vaccine or ultrasound or blood panel is really necessary. (A small percentage of pet owners carry insurance, but they pay vets upfront, like anyone else, and then take on their insurers for reimbursement.) What’s more, when veterinarians make fatal mistakes, they face no real financial consequences. The law hasn’t changed to reflect the attitudes of the average pet owner; courts still treat pets as property. Damages paid to owners whose pets have been killed or injured are so low that a typical medical malpractice insurance policy for a veterinarian costs less than $20 a month. Damages are so low, in fact, that few pet owners can find a lawyer willing to take even the most egregious case of veterinary malpractice.”

So, yes, it should matter, and as always, it is good to understand what you are up against, what to expect if you use any of these services, to double check before you agree to over vaccinations, or receive a “prescription” for pet food, you are after all the only advocate your dog has and the better informed you are, the better decisions you will make. Nancy Kay, DVM, author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life, added that she “feels truly disheartened for my profession” about this expansion of Mars’ vet monopoly. Be sure to read the Bloomberg story and get the word out.

Crate Escapes
Dogs use creativity to break free

Most people love that dogs are good problem solvers except when they hate that dogs are good problem solvers. Take the age old battle of dog versus crate. This is one of the situations in which we fuddy-duddy humans object to our dogs’ creative thinking and hamster-like wiggling ability. When we crate dogs, we are usually doing it for their safety and the safety of our homes. Millions of dogs love the coziness and security of their crates, and happily trot in to spend some restful time there, but the people who recorded the following videos have dogs who are not in that category. These dogs will apparently do anything to escape their crates, and they are successful at doing so. The many ways that our canine buddies set themselves free show that where there’s a will, there’s a way.

This dog breaks out after much effort, and while I admire his acrobatics and persistence, it is concerning that a dogs who make a break for it in this way will injure themselves. Luckily, this particular dog seems to have accomplished the goal without suffering any damage, but his level of desperation is concerning because he is literally forcing the issue.

What’s interesting me about this next dog is not the “how” of her escape, but the “why” of it. She was so drawn in by the calls of a litter of puppies in the shelter that she was apparently compelled to escape her kennel to be near them. Her own litter of puppies had recently been taken from her, so it’s likely that she her post-partum physiological state made her especially receptive to the needs of puppies.

This dog is methodical in her escape. There is no evidence that she is distressed or emotionally aroused in any way. She seems simply to prefer to be out of her crate than in, so she takes the necessary steps to make that happen in a calm, organized way. She shows evidence of having the emotional stability of an astronaut, to the point that I can practically here her saying to herself, “Work the problem.”

One of the sweetest videos of dogs escaping their crates is this one, because the crated dog had outside help. It’s great to have a pal who can help you get out of a jam!

Has your dog been victorious in a contest of Dog versus Crate, and if so, do you know how the escape happened?

 

Col. Mailman Befriends a Neighborhood Dog
Jeff Kramer builds a ramp for an elderly pup on his mail route.

Dogs and mailmen have a reputation for being enemies, but there are of course plenty of exceptions. In fact, the guy who delivers my mail happens to be beloved by the neighborhood canines because they know he carries treats. But Boulder, Colorado mailman Jeff Kramer and Tashi the Black Labrador take being friends to the next level.

A few years ago, Jeff was on his mail route when he was greeted by an enthusiastic pup outside a home on Bluebell Avenue. "As fast as Tashi could — which was not very fast — he ran up to me tail wagging, first day I met him," remembers Jeff. "He's just a really friendly dog. And I am a dog person, and they can tell." Jeff and Tashi became instant friends and Jeff always made sure to stop at Tashi's house to say hi. Tashi's owner, Karen Dimetrosky, says that Tashi waits outside on the porch and gets so excited when Jeff comes by. If he's on leash, Tashi will try and pull Karen towards the mail truck.

But at 14 years old, Tashi soon became unable to walk up and down the steps of the porch. Karen started carrying him, but at 70 pounds it was no easy feat.

Jeff couldn't bear to watch his friend struggle so he ended up building a ramp that allows Tashi to easily go in and out of the house. Jeff used the wood from a ramp he built years ago for his own elderly dog, Odie. Since Odie passed away, the ramp had been sitting in Jeff's backyard, so he repurposed it and installed the ramp at Karen's house on one of his days off. Karen says it has really improved Tashi's quality of life, allowing him to remain mobile and independent.

Karen calls Jeff and Tashi's bond amazing. "Jeff will come knock on the door and Tashi will get up off his bed and walk out to greet him." Jeff even recently attended Tashi's 14th birthday party.

According to Jeff, the dogs versus mailmen myth just isn't true. "I've got about 30 or 40 that enthusiastically greet me," he says, but admits that he's "got three or four that enthusiastically want to eat me."

However, Tashi will always be special. "He's just so happy with life," explains Jeff. I'm sure Tashi's joy is due in part to his relationship with Jeff... and vice versa!

Genes Underlying Social Behavior in Dogs
The same genomic regions affect human social behavior

The remarkable social abilities of dogs include the many ways that they are able to interact with humans. Dogs seek out humans for food, companionship, assistance and information. They have evolved these social skills throughout their recent evolutionary past because of the advantages of communicating and cooperating with people. Genetic changes in the domestic dog over thousands of years are the source of these behavioral changes, but there remains a lot of variation in both canine genetics and canine social behavior.

A recent study (Genomic Regions Associated With Interspecies Communication in Dogs Contain Genes Related to Human Social Disorders) investigated behavioral and genetic variation in hundreds of Beagles with similar upbringing and similar previous experiences with humans. Researchers studied the dogs’ social behavior by presenting them with an impossible task. Dogs were given a container that held three treats, but only two of them were accessible to the dog. The third treat was impossible for the dog to obtain. Using video, researchers quantified the time dogs spent looking at the people in the room with them, approaching them, and being in physical contact with them. Different dogs showed different tendencies to seek human interaction when they faced an unsolvable problem.

To investigate possible genetic sources of this behavioral variation, the scientists used a process called GWAS (Genome-Wide Association Study). Basically, this means that a large number of parts of the entire DNA of each dog were examined to discover potential genetic variants that were associated with the social behavior. This study shows a strong genetic aspect to differences in human-directed social behavior by dogs. Researchers found multiple sections of DNA that were associated with differences in social behavior. In some cases, specific alleles (gene variants) were strongly associated with the tendency to seek out humans for physical contact.

Interestingly, the genes associated with variation in dog behavior in this study have been found to be related to various behavioral issues and social behavior complexes in humans. Specifically, autism, bipolar disorder and aggression in adolescents with ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) are all variations in human behavior whose genetic contributions come at least in part from the same areas of DNA that influence human-directed social behavior in dogs. This suggests that dogs may be an appropriate and valuable model for studying these aspects of social behavior in people.

 

Exposing Puppy Mills
A Rolling Stone reporter takes a look at the horrors of the commercial breeding business.
Sometimes I wonder how puppy mills still exist. A quick internet search uncovers endless information about how you should avoid buying dogs from pet stores or backyard breeders. At the same time, there's been a lot of media attention promoting adoption in recent years. Yet stores continue to sell puppies and kittens, while millions of shelter animals are euthanized each year. It's easy to feel disheartened, but we can't loose sight of the fact that education is the key to this fight. So I was encouraged to see Rolling Stone's incredibly thorough and moving investigative report on puppy mills.

Reporter Paul Solotaroff did a great job sharing stories from the front lines of commercial dog breeding. Paul began his investigation by shadowing Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) workers and the Cabarrus County sheriffs office on a mission to seize dogs from an operation near Charlotte, North Carolina. The breeder, Patricia Yates, had been selling puppies on multiple web sites without a license and had many buyer complaints against her. But even with evidence, busting an illegal kennel is no east feat. As the author notes, "the HSUS is unique in that it has the money and equipment to house and treat puppy mill rescues. When you close an illegal kennel, you're suddenly swamped with sick dogs, often double what had been reported."  

In this case it was 105 dogs, many pregnant or in heat. Paul knew the situation would be bad, but wrote "nothing can prepare you for the house caked in pet fur and waste, damp laundry draped across every flat surface, maze of crates and garbage, and dozens of puppies in dust-cloaked cages." He describes the dogs as "so matted and excrement-mottled it was hard to tell which from which." Despite the horrid conditions, most of these puppies would be destined for pet stores across the country to be sold for top dollar.

As if the puppies weren't bad enough, the older breeding dogs were "in desperate shape: blinded by cataracts and corneal ulcers; their jaws half-gone or missing entirely after their teeth had rotted away. Some were so feeble they couldn't stand erect; their paws were urine-scalded and their wrists were deformed from squatting on wire their entire lives." These pups had spent their whole lives in slavery, never knowing what it was like to bask in the sun or romp in the grass.

As Patricia Yates was arrested, she yelled, "These dogs are the love of my life!" I'm not sure if she's lying or is just blinded by the real situation.

"Most every pup sold in stores in America comes from this kind of suffering – or worse," explains John Goodwin, the director of the puppy-mills campaign for HSUS. "If you buy a puppy from a pet store, this is what you're paying for and nothing else: a dog raised in puppy-mill evil."

Only a fraction of the 10,000 puppy mills in America are licensed by the USDA or individual states, meaning they're flying completely under the radar. But even a license means very little considering low legal standards and short staffing. The internet has only made the problem worse. The HSUS estimates that half of the two million pups bred in puppy mills are sold online, which is almost impossible to regulate.

Paul's next stop was a dog auction in Missouri where he watched 300 pups bid on and sold, many who looked battered and sick after years of producing. Paul describes the unbearable stench that came from the back room every time they opened the door to bring a new dog into the auction room.

It was here that Paul met Wes Eden, a man devoted to rescuing dogs by the controversial method of buying them at auction. Wes talks about seeing dogs with stomach hernia, bleeding rectums, and ears rotted off from hematomas. It's absolutely heartbreaking.

On that day Wes spent $60,000 buying 21 dogs, which would later require thousands of dollars in veterinary procedures. After they recover, Wes helps them adjust to their new life, teaching them how to walk and climb stairs, and eventually finds homes for them. Most rescue groups believe that Wes' methods just puts more money in the hands of puppy mills, but he can't resist helping these poor pups. Who can blame him.

So how can we change the landscape? Putting pressure on pet stores has helped, but it's also driven sales online. Strengthening laws is one tactic, but can be extremely hard to accomplish.

John believes that the answer lies with the buyers. "The only way you end it is choke its blood supply: stop buying purebred dogs, and adopt one instead." He encourages people to look at Petfinder.com, where you can search through thousands of adoptable dogs. "You can find any breed you like. The difference is these dogs are healthy and you won't spend thousands in vet bills"

The raid that Paul shadowed cost at least $100,000, mostly due to medical costs. As you can imagine, it's not realistic to eliminate the problem this way. We need to get to the root of the issue--the millions of buyers that keep these operations in business.

Read Paul's full report to learn more about the history behind puppy mills, the attempts to regulate them and improve conditions, and the stories he uncovered.

 

Reacting to Behavior Before Departures
How many different situations does your dog understand?

Dogs respond to our behavior when we are preparing to leave the house. Reactions are different depending on where we are going. Each type of excursion is associated with a distinct set of (human) behaviors that occur prior to the departure. Dogs pay attention to these different behaviors because they carry a lot of information that matters to them.

The going-to-work behaviors that dogs observe their guardians perform mean that the person is leaving for much of the day. Those behaviors can include packing a lunch, blow drying hair, putting on dress shoes, carrying a specific bag or backpack and possibly being rushed and impatient. Dogs typically respond by sighing, going to lie down, and perhaps acting bored or disinterested. Their reaction reflects their understanding that they will not get to come along.

The actions that take place before a run may be putting on running shoes, grabbing a water bottle, stretching or eating something specific like toast or a banana. It’s easy for dogs who are running buddies to figure out that they get to come along and become excited in anticipation. Many will jump, spin, bark or do some other behavior associated with their enthusiasm or happiness. Some will bring the leash to their guardian, and others will stick very close, as if making sure that they are not accidentally left behind.

The behavior that is often most distressing to dogs involves the actions associated with travel. When many dogs see people filling suitcases, gathering items for a trip or anything else they connect to a long departure, their reactions reflect their displeasure. It’s as though they are thinking, “Uh-oh. I don’t like the looks of this at all.” Some dogs whine, some look sulky and others try to get in the way of our packing efforts.

Some departures are so brief that most dogs don’t make too much fuss over them. If you look outside, slip on your flip-flops and go outside suddenly, a dog who has seen this many times before likely connects those actions to your daily visit to the mailbox. Dogs may watch you from the window the whole time you are gone just to make sure they’ve read the signals correctly, but few experience much distress.

There are so many cues that tell dogs whether or not they are going when you leave, and give details about what’s to come. A bike helmet often means they stay behind (though in some families, it means just the opposite). Picking up the leash is a clear sign that they get to go with you. Shopping bags mean they are staying behind, as does a stuffed Kong being prepared. Grabbing poop bags is a good sign from the dog’s point of view, but grabbing your tablet is not. Dogs pay attention to what we do before we leave because information about their immediate future resides in our actions.

I’ve generalized about the reactions by dogs to various pre-departure behaviors. Obviously, a dog who is too new to the household to know the various patterns will not react predictably to your actions. Dogs who struggle when left alone, especially those with separation anxiety, are often too emotionally overwhelmed and panicky at any sign that you are leaving without them to cope with details distinguishing various situations. (Such dogs are often the most astute at figuring out whether they will be coming with you or being left behind, though.) Most dogs become quite attentive if they’re unsure about what is happening and can’t tell what your actions mean. If the cues that tell them what kind of departure is impending are mixed up or don’t match your usual pattern, most dogs focus closely on what you are doing to try to figure it out.

How many different situations involving your departures can your dog distinguish, and how nuanced are his reactions to each one?

Dogs and Dreidels
Reactions vary

Like other holiday articles, dreidels are not part of daily life. These once-a-year items can cause a variety of responses in dogs, depending on the individual. For some dogs, they pose challenges, eliciting fear, arousal, caution or even panic. The dog in the following video is clearly not enjoying his dreidel experience at first, although he seems to become more comfortable with it as time goes on.

Other dogs always have a lot of fun with the dreidel, which means that their guardians can share this part of Chanukah with them. This dog apparently understands that it is a game.

The next dreidel-experiencing dog is particularly playful and probably enjoys any object that moves on the floor with or without his help.

There are plenty of dogs who fall in between these extremes. Like the dog below, they may find the dreidel riveting, but not really enjoy seeing it spin.

In my house, dogs don’t participate in the game of dreidel. I have never had a dog who was interested in doing anything but attacking them or running away from them. Just like fireworks on the Fourth of July, or trick-or-treaters at Halloween, a spinning dreidel is a part of my holiday celebrations from which I protect dogs.

If dreidels are part of your festivities, how does your dog react to them?

The Story Behind the Calendar
A South Carolina firefighter adopts his canine counterpart.
The combination of hot guys and cute puppies has become a popular calendar fundraiser for animal welfare organizations across the country.

Last year South Carolina firefighter Rob Tackett was posing for the Charleston Animal Society's 2017 calendar. He was shirtless and holding a puppy named Kimber. The German Shepherd's family warned "Mr. March" that she didn't normally like men, but as soon as Kimber met Rob, she curled up in his arms.

"It was an instant connection," remembers Rob. "She felt safe with me."

Kimber was a special dog. Found malnourished and suffering from two different skin conditions, the poor pup was brought to the Charleston Animal Society where she recovered and was adopted by Marine veteran Steve Hall. Steve suffers from post traumatic stress disorder having served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fortunately he found that his symptoms were alleviated with the help of his dog, Scout. But when Scout passed away, he adopted Kimber and she became his new source of support.

Steve and his family became good friends with Rob following the photo shoot. When Steve became sick and required several surgeries, Rob took care of Kimber during the hospital stay. Unfortunately Steve's health didn't improve, so he asked Rob to adopt Kimber. Steve was heartbroken, but it was in Kimber's best interest.

Rob knew what a hard decision it was, but didn't hesitate.

“I love that dog,” said Rob. “Kimber is an incredibly special dog, I’ve never been around a dog like her. Just being around her makes everything easier.”

Inspired by Steve, Rob has been training Kimber to be a therapy dog and hopes he can one day bring her to visit veterans to share the joy she brings to everyone around her.

“She’s skittish around other people at first,” explains Rob. “But when she gets comfortable she is the most loving dog in the world.”

Who knew there was such a heartwarming story behind the Charleston Animal Society's March calendar spread. All proceeds from the calendar go to their medical fund, which saves thousands of abused and abandoned animals each year. To purchase a copy, visit their web site.

 

 

Falling While Walking a Dog
Has it happened to you?

A couple of times a decade, a fall of a truly spectacular nature occurs in my life because of dog-related forces. This morning, for example, an unlikely combination of bad luck and bad timing led to this score: Laws of Physics—1, Karen—0. I was walking Saylor, a sweet, cuddly adolescent dog with more power than you’d think based on her medium size and willowy build. Her strength is most obvious when she sees another dog, but usually I can distract her with treats and (reasonably) calmly walk by another dog without revealing her reactivity to anyone. That’s not how life unfolded today.

We had received more than a foot of snow this weekend. It’s still deep in places but has turned slick in others. (You can probably see where this is going.) On a sidewalk that had not been shoveled, I spotted a sled that resembled a boogie board. Detecting a potential issue, I actually said out loud to Saylor, “Don’t step on that sled. You’ll go flying,” without expecting her to understand. It was just my way of getting her attention so we could veer around it. Saylor noticed the dog before I did, and moved in his direction before I could make an adjustment or give her treats. The dog leapt up on the fence in front of the house so that his head and forelegs were over the fence. He remained there, threatening to make it all the way over, and barked aggressively.

Saylor had charged in his direction with such speed and power that my next step was right on the sled. It traveled in the way that children everywhere want sleds to move—fast and with no friction—resulting in an immediate slam to the ground with my entire backside hitting at the same time. I still had a firm hold on the leash, but that just meant that in addition to my undignified position in a pile of snow, my arm was thrashing about as she lunged at the dog attempting to climb the fence.

“I’m okay!” I said immediately to my husband, who was walking Marley—a dog much older and more calm than Saylor. I assumed (correctly) that my husband would be concerned that such a fall might have caused serious damage. I feel a bit stiff, but I’m grateful to have avoided the usual worries—broken wrist, concussion, bruised tailbone. My pride was far more damaged than my body. I got up laughing, headed away from the debacle of the sled, snow and barking dog on the fence, and worked on calming Saylor down.

I would love to have the incident on video because I’m sure it was hilarious, if not the sort of footage I would use to promote my dog skills. It’s all just part of life with dogs! If you’ve taken a similar spill, please share your story. (And I hope you were also unhurt.)

The Ultimate Holiday Gift
A Sacramento woman facilitates over 700 adoptions in one month.
Kim Pacini-Hauch had been a long supporter of Front Street Animal Shelter in Sacramento, Calif. In the past, Kim donated money and spearheaded a drive to buy the animals beds. But in November, when she met with the shelter's director, Gina Knepp, found that their current predicament was dire. Front Street had around 300 cats and dogs at the shelter, and nearly 700 in foster care.

“I truly was shocked,” said Kim. “Think of putting almost 1,000 animals in one spot, looking at 2,000 eyeballs, and tell me how you would feel if you saw that all in one location. That’s what was going through my mind."

Kim decided she wanted to give the animals the greatest holiday present of all--forever homes.

Kim told Gina that she would cover the cost of all Front Street adoptions through the end of the year, typically $65 per cat and $85 per dog, although the shelter offers a discounted rate of $20 during the holidays. This fee includes spaying or neutering, vaccinations, and microchipping.

When Kim and Gina were taking photos to promote the "Home for the Pawlidays" campaign, someone took a quick 38-second video for the Front Street Facebook page. The clip went viral, with more than two million people watching in 24 hours. The next day the shelter looked like Black Friday at an electronics store. A line extended around the block waiting to get in, with some people even camping out.

Front Street normally does 10-20 adoptions a day, but on the first day of the Home for the Pawlidays campaign, 60 pets were adopted. As of mid-December, the shelter finalized more than 700 adoptions, all paid for by Kim. The promotion was so successful, Front Street took animals from six other Northern California shelters that needed help finding adopters.

Kim's holiday generosity also inspired similar acts. Across the country in Florida, a local resident pledged $2,000 to Tampa Bay's Pet Resource Center to cover 100 adoptions. The anonymous donor mentioned being influenced by Kim's story. Even cooler, some of the patrons paid it forward by covering the adoption fee for another pet. By the time the "Secret Santa's" donation ran out, 126 pets had been adopted.

Shelters often offer adoption deals during the holidays, but it's the generosity of animal lovers that turns this into a social collaboration that encourages others to get involved.

“When someone steps up like the Sacramento donor," said Humane Society of the United States Shelter Outreach Director Kim Alboum, "it does spark the generosity of other donors, especially around the holidays. There are people who never thought of adopting who are now considering it. So this donor has done even more than they realize.”

Reducing or waiving adoption fees can be controversial. As any pet lovers knows, the initial cost of a pet pales in comparison to the long term financial commitment. But I think that these promotions are about more than just the money. These social movements inspire others to get involved, encouraging those who were thinking of buying a dog to consider adoption. As long as shelters are still diligent in the vetting process, I think these campaigns have great potential.

Pets in the Classroom
New York City pilots a program to bring dogs into schools.
Growing up with a pet helps kids develop compassion, while providing a unique friendship and source of stress relief. This is especially important in today's world where kids have to increasingly navigate uncertainty and anxiety. Unfortunately not every family is able to welcome a pet, but the New York City school district wanted to make sure every child could benefit from the therapeutic benefits of dogs.

Last week New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña joined students, teachers and service dogs at Education Department headquarters to kick off the city’s Comfort Dog pilot program. Through this initiative, participating schools will get at least one dog assigned to a specific teacher or staff member. They'll incorporate the pups into regular lessons and breaks throughout the school day.

“This is something that brings new opportunities to students,” explained Carmen. "When they’re having a bad day, just to pat a dog can make them feel better. This isn’t a fancy idea, the research shows it to be true.”

All of the dogs came from local animal shelters and they're finding homes quickly. Queens Public School 209 teacher Melissa Cerasuolo adopted Jesse, a terrier that had already been visiting her school.

“The kids are falling in love with her,” said Melissa, whose class also includes special needs students. "If kids have behavioral issues, just having the dog around will help them stay calm and control their emotions.”

School can be an incredibly stressful environment and I can see the potential of this program to complement lessons on empathy, anti-bullying, and other important issues. I hope that the comfort dogs are successful. If the city sees an improvement in the test schools' environment, they plan to expand the program. 

 

Dog Lies Down After Police Command
Did he obey or copy the people around him?

Pilota, a Brazilian mutt, did not abandon his peeps during a drug raid. This photo of him lying down with members of his gang when the police ordered everyone to do so shows how he responded to the situation. Pilota (Portuguese for pilot) initially barked when police officers showed up at his home in southern Brazil, but when officers ordered everybody to lie down, he ran over and joined the people already on the ground.

Many have speculated that he was either following police orders or that he was just copying what everybody else around him was doing. Either way, becoming quiet and lying down on his back in apparent surrender along with everybody else was a wise move. Pilota’s actions may have saved his life because Brazilian police often shoot dogs immediately during a raid.

In the picture, Pilota appears to be giving appeasement signals, which are the signals social animals use to communicate that they are not going to challenge other individuals. His belly is exposed, his ears are back, his tail may be tucked and he has turned his gaze to the side. All of his visual signals suggest that he is actively communicating his intention of full surrender. This dog is doing everything he can to let the police officers know that he will not charge at them or fight them.

Though there were some arrests made after police found guns, ammunition, marijuana and cocaine in the raid, Pilota was among those who went free.

Study Finds BPA in Canned Dog Food—and Dogs
Endocrine-disrupting chemical raises red flags

A study by researchers at the University of Missouri finds that eating canned dog food may increase a pet’s exposure to the endocrine-disrupting chemical, Bisphenol A (BPA).

While the study was short-term, the results were “very revealing,” says investigator Dr. Cheryl Rosenfeld, an associate professor of biomedical sciences in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. Fourteen healthy pets were switched from their usual diet of kibble to canned food. Could a two-week menu change raise the dogs’ BPA levels?

It did, three-fold, and that could really be an issue for dogs that eat the same diet every day.

Over 300 studies have linked BPA to health problems from reproductive disorders to cancer, and now research is shedding light on how people and animals are exposed to the plastic-hardening chemical. While the FDA has reviewed the studies, they still consider BPA “safe at the current levels occurring in foods.”

By measuring BPA’s escape from packaging, scientists are narrowing the focus. One study settled the debate over whether BPA—banned in baby bottles but used in many other items—seeps from metal can linings and taints human foods. (It does). 

And in August, a long-term study in the UK found a sharp decline in canine fertility associated with exposure to other endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The researchers considered food packaging a possible source, finding the chemicals in a range of dry and wet foods.

Some plastic dog toys have also been found to leach the chemical. A study at Texas Tech by environmental toxicologists Phil Smith and Kimberly Wooten found that BPA and phthalates leached from plastic bumpers into dishes filled with artificial dog saliva.

Wooten, who wasn’t involved in the present study, says that while it isn’t clear if dog health is being harmed long-term, “it’s still important information to have since there’s so little data on canine exposure to these types of chemicals.” She knows of no other studies that have looked at the effects of a specific BPA source on the concentrations in the blood.

“I’d say a 3-fold increase suggests that for dogs that eat canned food, their diet is the most important contributor to their total BPA levels.”  

The current study highlights another concern; with the pet food industry being held by about five companies, it seems commercial foods aren’t as diverse as packaging suggests. Of the two (unnamed) brands in the study, one was declared “BPA-free” by the manufacturer.

So, skip the can and spare your dog? It turned out, the dogs already had a small amount of BPA circulating in their blood, shown by initial baseline samples. The researchers then analyzed both the cans and the food for BPA. They also checked for any disturbances in gut bacteria and metabolic changes.

Although one of the diets was presumed to be BPA-free, feeding either brand for two weeks resulted in a three-fold increase of BPA levels in the animals. At the same time, the dogs showed gut microbiome and metabolic changes, with potential health consequences. Increased BPA may also reduce one bacterium known to metabolize BPA and related environmental chemicals, according to the study.

Bagged kibble might also contain BPA, since the dogs had some BPA in their blood before the study, possibly from their dry diets.

“This is the point that it is not clear,” Rosenfeld says. “It could be that the food already contains BPA. However, we saw minimal levels when the dogs were on kibble.” In some cases, very low amounts can lead to equally if not greater harmful effects as high doses, she says. The greatest concerns may be at the low and high doses.

“The doses we found in the dogs after being on canned food though were comparable to what has been linked to health problems in humans and rodents,” a list that includes diabetes and obesity, among others.

If the dogs continued to eat the canned food, would BPA keep building up in their bodies?

“We did not see what would happen if we took the dogs off the canned food or kept them on it longer,” Rosenfeld says. “These are definite follow-up studies.” Ideally, based on the results of this one, she says they would pursue long term studies to test BPA concentrations after long term feeding of canned food, examining the dogs for metabolic disorders—such as obesity and diabetes—and neurological ones, using MRI and behavioral testing.

In a previous rodent study, they did find that the longer mice were on a diet containing BPA, even though it was being metabolized, it would start accumulating in their system so that greater amounts would persist over time, she says.

In humans and primates, BPA is excreted through urine. “It is not clear how it is cleared in dogs.”

While BPA affects the reproductive system, Rosenfeld says they did not find any gender differences in this initial study—“but we would need to test more dogs to confirm.”

The main concern about the gut microbiome changes is that they have been linked with various diseases, including neurological, metabolic, immunological, gastrointestinal, and possibly even cancer, she says. “Thus, by affecting the gut microbiome, BPA could induce such secondary effects.”

Unfortunately, a supposedly safe substitute for BPA, BPS, didn’t fulfill its goal. Rosenfeld says that in rodents and fish, BPS has already been shown to lead to similar health concerns as BPA. Their study didn’t test BPS in the cans. “It is not clear if some dog foods are using this substitute,” she says.

“By feeding fresh food, dry food, and minimizing canned food, it will reduce exposure to BPA and BPS.”

 

Ex-Shelter Dog Discovers Her Special Purpose
A search and rescue pup to be finds her calling in a different place.
German Shepherd mix Saki's story was already an incredible one. She was found wandering the streets of Sacramento, California, but ended up being chosen as a potential search and rescue dog. Saki was waiting to begin a six-month training program with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation when she discovered a different calling.

One day Saki escaped from her foster family's home and went to visit their neighbors. Across the street lived Danny, a five-year old boy diagnosed with developmental delays. Danny was behind in his motor skills and could only speak in fragmented sentences. The Morgan family had adopted Danny despite the extra challenges and showered him and his siblings with everything they wanted--except a pet. The parents weren't dog people and didn't think the kids were ready for the responsibility.

So when Saki showed up at their door, Danny's mother, Dixie, didn't know what to expect. But it turned out to be a day she'd never forget. The kids were scared at first, but Danny went up to Saki and hugged the pup. Danny's sister recalls Saki had an immediate effect on her brother. "He turned into a different person," she says. Danny took Saki's head in his hands, looked her in the eye, and talked to her.

Saki's foster family began bringing Saki over for regular visits, and she would always seek Danny out. Soon the boy began making huge leaps in his development. About a week after Saki first came over, Dixie remembers Danny was standing in the kitchen and said, with a stutter, "I am Saki's dad." Dixie was floored. It was the first of many advances in his language and motor skills. Soon Danny began talking in full sentences. Previously he couldn't throw a ball straight, but he quickly learned how to play fetch with Saki. Even potty training, which they had been struggling with, came along too.

"When one has confidence a lot of things come together," says Dixie. "As teachers we know that learning takes place most easily and most effectively when there's a high level of emotional involvement. I believe that Danny was very involved with Saki, which contributed to the development of his motor skills and speech. Now his stages of development are most closer to a normal five year old."

Dixie knew that Saki had to stay, but the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation was reluctant to let the dog go. After all, volunteers often test 40-50 pups before choosing one for their program. However, once representatives from the organization came to visit, they knew Saki's place was with Danny.

It's amazing the effect our dogs can have on us, in ways that we can't explain.

Teach Your Dog a Trick!
It’s the quickest way to present a “well-trained” dog

If your dog knows a trick, people are more likely to consider him well-trained than if he doesn’t. It doesn’t matter that it is far easier and faster to teach a dog to crawl, rollover or high-5 than it is to teach a dog to stay, come or heel. Performing the trick is often more impressive to people. There’s an erroneous assumption that dogs naturally do the standard dog obedience behaviors, but tricks seem like out-of-reach behavior that is above and beyond what typical dogs can do. It’s not true at all, but the perception of that truth is why there is great value in training your dog to do a trick.

I’ve had a few clients over the years who have needed for various reasons to convince someone that a dog is very well trained with short notice. One needed to introduce his dog to a landlord before being allowed to rent an apartment. A second was visiting her boyfriend’s parents and wanted to make a good impression. A third situation involved a family who were scheduled for a home visit as part of their adoption process and had concerns that their dog’s behavior might detract from their appeal. In each case, along with a crash course in the basics, I advised them to teach their dog a trick that they could show off. The potential renter taught his dog to beg, the girlfriend taught her dog to wave, and the couple seeking to adopt trained their dog to bow. All of them reported what I had suspected, which is that the trick did more to convince people that the dog was well-trained than the less flashy “normal” behavior.

Asking your dog to perform tricks always offers an opportunity to show him in the best light, but it’s especially useful if you don’t have enough time to make his training basics rock solid. One key time-saving strategy is to choose the trick that is most natural for your dog so he can learn it quickly. Many behaviors that are already in your dog’s normal repertoire can be turned into tricks. If your dog stretches a lot, consider “bow” as a possible trick. If he bats at things with his paw, he may be good at “high-5”. If your dog backs away from things, teach him to “back up”. Many dogs are naturals at “roll over”, “get your toy” or “spin”. If your dog already does a certain behavior, it is often possible to teach him to do it on cue in just a few quick sessions, and that is what turns it into a trick.

Teaching tricks gives you an edge when you have to get some training done in a hurry because you can choose to teach your dog whatever is easiest for him, and skip anything that poses a challenge. That’s not possible with basic obedience skills because you can hardly skip heel or stay because it doesn’t suit your dog’s natural behavior. Whether your dog naturally likes to come when called, people expect your dog to do it. Tricks are often unexpected and suggest that your dog will do whatever you ask of him. In other words, they offer evidence that your dog is well-trained.

Has your dog had the opportunity to look good by performing a trick?

NFL Quarterback Supports Police Dogs
Ben Roethlisberger's foundation funds working pups in the communities his team plays in.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been playing in the NFL for 12 years, but football isn't the only thing that's important to him. Ten years ago Ben started the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation to support police and fire departments across the country with an emphasis on support for K-9 units and service dogs.

“My Dad instilled in me a love and respect for animals," said Ben. "This is a good way to combine that passion with a desire to support the police and fire departments, which deserve all the appropriate resources needed to protect our cities and neighborhoods, and allow these brave men and women to arrive home safely.”

The foundation distributes grants in the Steelers' hometown of Pittsburgh, as well as the communities of each regular season away game the Steelers play. Those cities include Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Buffalo and Cincinnati.

The most recent grants were to the Erlanger Police Department to add a new canine officer to their team, and to the Northern Kentucky University Police to install a temperature monitor in their designated K-9 police cruiser. The school's police dog, Arritt, responds to bomb threats and unattended packages in and around campus, as well as assisting other agencies in the region.

The foundation distributed more than $170,000 in grants to K-9 units around the country during the 2015 NFL season and has distributed in excess of $1.5 million since 2007.

“We’re very fortunate to be in the position that we are able to help these K-9 units." explained Ben. "The work that is performed by the dogs and their handlers as well as the bond that is formed is incredible. We’re just thrilled to do our small part.”

We agree, what a wonderful way to help communities around the country and the dog that support them.

To learn more about the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation, or to submit a grant application, visit their web site.

 
 
Running Buddy Program
Partnership between shelter and local business benefits shelter dogs

“Why run alone when you could have a running buddy? Love dogs? Like to run? Lace up your shoes and join Run Flagstaff as we partner with Second Chance Center for Animals to help exercise and promote shelter pets through a weekly run. You run and Second Chance provides your running buddy! Enjoy a neighborhood jaunt with nine to twelve shelter dogs.”

This announcement in the monthly newsletter from our local running store was proof that life is good. Any combination of my two favorite interests—dogs and running—is sure to make me happy. This program is designed to promote shelter dogs to the community as the dogs gain social experience and get some exercise. Each dog wears a glow-in-the-dark collar and a reflective vest that says “ADOPT ME: SECOND CHANCE”.

Second Chance Center for Animals is eager to help their dogs short term with a great outing, and long term by increasing their chances of adoption. In addition to their training work at the shelter, the Running Buddy program offers the dogs new experiences to meet people in the outside world. Run Flagstaff is owned by a couple who are serious dog lovers. They are guardians to three dogs and are likely at any time to add to their family by adopting another one. I love the collaboration between a local business and a shelter for the good of the dogs.

My sons and I were running buddies last week and had such fun that we signed up to attend again this week. The best news was that so many dogs had been adopted during the past week that they were not able to bring as many dogs as planned to the run. Dogs going to loving homes is always good news, even if it means that we had to take turns running dogs since there was not a dog for everyone despite that being the original plan.

Each of us in my family had a dog who charmed us, but made the event a bit of an adventure. My younger son ran with Boomer who must have some sort of sight hound in him. He was Fast with a capital F. My son got some good sprinting work in, and their love of speed made them a great match. My older son had a dog named Deuce who was extremely strong. He was presumably part freight train, but just as sweet as could be. I ran with Oreo, a very loving mix with black on either side of her face and white in between. Though she prefers her space around other dogs, she is gentle and kind around people, no matter how close they are to her.

While we ran on the path along the main road in Flagstaff, Ariz. (Route 66), many people walking or driving by smiled and asked us questions about the dogs. Seeing polite, well-behaved dogs out in the community is perhaps the best way to remind people that shelters are great places to find great dogs.

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