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Friendship From a Shared Skin Condition
A boy and dog bond over a rare ailment.

Three years ago kindergartener Carter Blanchard was diagnosed with a rare skin condition that developed white patches around his eyes. As you can imagine, it wasn’t easy to come to terms with his transforming face under the scrutiny of his classmates.

“The first thing he’d tell me when he got in the car,” remembers Carter’s mom, Stephanie Adock, “is that he hated his face and the way he looked.”

Now eight years old, Carter is comfortable in his own skin, thanks in part to a dog from Oregon.

Soon after Carter’s diagnosis, Stephanie was browsing Facebook when she saw a photo of a dog named Rowdy who also had white patches around his eyes. The 13-year old pup gained a worldwide social media following because of the unique look.

It turns out Rowdy had vitiligo, the same skin condition as Carter. The disorder is a result of destroyed pigment cells in the skin, but the cause isn’t known.

Carter started watching videos of Rowdy online, which totally changed his outlook.

“Carter used to be very upset but now he is proud that he was chosen to have vitiligo and wouldn’t have it any other way,” said Stephanie. “He thinks that everyone else’s skin is boring.”

Stephanie reached out to Rowdy’s owner, Niki Umbenhower, and they kept in touch for the last few years. Since they lived so far away, Stephanie didn’t think Carter would ever see Rowdy in person. But when a local television station featured their friendship, an anonymous viewer donated $5,000 to fly Carter and his mom from Arkansas to Oregon so they could finally meet Rowdy.

The bond was instantaneous.

“When we walked in I didn’t feel like we were walking in for the very first time, they were family already,” said Stephanie. “You could tell Rowdy knew something was going on and felt the energy of the room.”

Carter spent the first two hours petting Rowdy, and then Rowdy settled down next to Carter as he played with Legos.

Dogs teach us so much and one of those lessons is the power of being nonjudgemental. There’s so much we can learn from Rowdy and Carter’s friendship. Sometimes our pups just know exactly what we need!

Smiling Dog: David
Dog's name and age: David, 9 years
 
Adoption Story:
David's pregnant mother was abandoned when her humans moved away from their home in Talking Rock, GA. Thankfully, the nextdoor neighbor noticed and was able to foster mother and all her pups (including David) until ready for adoption. After a successful foster, David was put up for adoption and found his forever home.
 
David's Interests:
He loves to bask in the sun at Altoon Pass after a good hike and swim. He enjoys being outside with his humans on hikes and visiting grandma at a nearby retirement community.
Howling in Zootopia
It’s extremely contagious behavior

Dogs frequently join in when they hear other dogs howl, and even in response to wolves doing it. In this clip from the movie Zootopia, the filmmakers nailed the contagious nature of this canine behavior for comic effect.

 

In the next video, a dog in front of a television that is playing this movie clip begins to vocalize in response to the realistic howling. The additional howling by the German Shepherd enhances the movie soundtrack considerably. Please note another amusing feature in the video. I refer to the large number of toys on the chair and the massive collection of bones and chews that are piled in the corner. I’m sure this décor is familiar to many of us!

All around the world, dogs are howling, and we know that this behavior is contagious. Please let me know if your dog responds to the howling in Zootopia!

Police Brutality - Dog Playing in Brooklyn Park Shot and Killed by NYPD
Ziggy, dog involved in police shooting (via Facebook)

Playing in a Brooklyn park turned to heartbreak when Laura Stephen’s dog Ziggy was shot twice, and killed by NYPD officers. Ziggy a rescued mixed breed was playing off leash in the Saratoga Park in the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn on Sunday as they did every evening. Two officers entered the park, Stephen explained to news outlets that one asked her to leash her dog, and when she called Ziggy he turned towards her and an NYPD officer pulled out his gun and fired two shots. The officer claims that Ziggy lunged at him, and so feeling threatened, he shot the dog. Stephen says Ziggy never lunged, and was more than 10 feet away from the officer on his way back to her when shot. Neighbors told news outlets that Ziggy was very friendly and never aggressive.

Stephen didn’t have her wallet or phone so borrowed another parkgoers phone to call her son. When her son arrived with her belongings he rushed to his mother and her dog but was thrown against a tree, and arrested by NYPD officers for disorderly conduct. Meanwhile Ziggy was bleeding surrounded by 30-40 police officers who arrived on the scene. Stephen used snow and her coat to try and stop the bleeding from the gunshot wounds.

Police on the scene Sunday night (via gothamist.com)

An hour after being shot NYPD transported Stephen and Ziggy to an emergency veterinary hospital. Despite receiving a blood transfusion Ziggy died. NYPD officials arrived at the veterinary clinic and issued a criminal summons to Stephen for having her dog off leash. 

Read more at the Observer, a group of neighbors also started a GoFundMe to help Stephen cover Ziggy’s funeral expenses.

Neighbor Harassed Dog With His Drone
It turned out to be a costly mistake

You don’t need to be a vengeful person to feel great satisfaction about the consequences faced by a man who used his drone to tease his neighbor’s dog repeatedly. The man flew the drone past the shared eight-foot privacy fence and then close enough to nearly hit the dog. The dog became stressed out by it, especially after many experiences with the man making it dive low to a position just over the dog’s head, pulling out of the dive and then circling around and performing the same maneuver multiple times.

The dog’s guardian said that for many months after getting the drone, this neighbor “insisted on flying like the biggest jerk possible” and the description is apt. In addition to going after the dog over and over, he would position his drone right in front of other people’s houses, including at their windows, and also race cars down the road.

Though the dog’s guardian asked him not to fly it into his yard, explaining that it was scaring the dog, the neighbor’s only response was to tell him to go away and to laugh at him. Though the guardian contacted the police, they were unable or unwilling to do more than ask the man not to fly over his neighbor’s house and yard. The situation might never have been resolved if the dog hadn’t taken matters into his own mouth.

One day, when the drone was buzzing over his head, the dog (a 70-pound Malamute) caught the drone and destroyed it. It may be a powerful machine, but a dog’s jaws can easily tear a drone into pieces, especially with the proper motivational factors of fear, annoyance and frustration. Naturally, the owner of the drone was upset, even though most of us would say he had it coming.

The drone owner reacted in two ways. First, he came over to the house where his drone had died its untimely death, swearing up a storm and threatening the dog’s guardian. Second, he served the dog’s guardian with a summons to appear in small claims court. His demands were $900 to replace the drone and $300 for not being allowed access to what was left of his drone for several hours.

Suing the dog’s guardian did not go as planned for the owner of the drone. The judge did not accept claims that the dog’s guardian had purposely trained his dog to destroy the drone. Furthermore, the dog’s guardian had sought legal advice and countersued the drone owner for the costs of veterinary care for his dog ($700 for an x-ray to determine if the dog had swallowed any hazardous part of the drone, $250 to sedate the dog for that procedure, $400 for a full dental exam plus cleaning and repair, miscellaneous costs for anti-anxiety medication and wet dog food in case he had hurt his teeth and couldn’t eat his regular kibble). The guardian brought in receipts along with videos documenting the months of torture his dog endured being pursued by a drone in his own yard.

Not only did the drone owner have to pay nearly $2000 to the dog guardian, he is being investigated by the FAA for a variety of infractions. These include not registering his drone, flying a drone within five miles of an airport, flying it too close to other people, flying it out of his own line of sight and flying it far above the maximum allowable altitude. He is banned from flying a drone over the property where the dog and his guardian live.

It’s a joy to find out that the person who treated a dog (and various people) so badly not only did not get away with it, but got what he deserved.

6 Design Ideas for Happy and Healthy Pets
Keep your dog (and cat!) feeling safe and in high spirits, and you'll all feel more at peace.

Being around nonthreatening animals, domesticated or otherwise, calms humans. The reason for this seems buried in our prehistory: Back then if we were around other creatures and all was peaceful, that meant predators weren't lurking nearby, about to pounce on us. Plus, the weather was probably fine, too. 

When we're less tense, we have more mental energy at our disposal to do whatever we've set out to accomplish, whether that's having a good time hanging out with family members, writing a novel or planning dinners for the next week. But there's a catch: Having animals in our home is good for us psychologically only if those animals are happy and healthy. If they're not, they add to the tension in our lives. (A moping dog or an out-of-sorts cat doesn't enhance anyone's day.)

The good news is that design can make animals happier, just as it can people. You can create a home where your pets feel as good as you do. It's hard to read the minds of pets, but when you learn more about them as they spend time in your home, you'll find ways that you can make your special animal friend feel particularly happy. Here are just a few ways to keep pets in good spirits.

 

 

1. Some privacy, please! Make sure your pet has privacy. Cats feel most comfortable in their litter boxes if they're in a space all their own. 

Dogs may need a place in your home where they can get away from demanding children or loud music, too. A covered kennel, doghouse or bed in a laundry room might be just the thing.

2. Create sheltered spaces for pets to lounge in. Pets need places where they can decompress, just as you do. Those areas don't always need to be completely away from humans, however. Our pets are social but good at self-preservation, just like we are. 

Most animals, including humans, feel secure when danger can't sneak up on them. While in today's world that's not as likely as thousands of years ago, we're still hardwired to think that way. 

So providing a secure spot where a pet can really let down his or her guard is important. This feline feels at peace because the chair has a high back and is in a corner, assuring the cat that nothing's going to sneak up. Provide that security and you'll have a calm, happy pet.

 

 

3. Build in a view. Pets need to survey their territory. Being able to look out the window while relaxing, as dogs and cats can do on this cushioned shelf, is doubly desirable. 

If you don't have high windows, consider putting a secure pet gate on an opened door that leads outside.

4. Let in sounds and scents. Animals rely on smells and sounds more than humans do. To let them feel safe, having open windows allows them to hear and smell what's lurking in their surroundings.

5. Include places for exercising. Cats enjoy climbing on cat trees, shelves, furniture, anything that allows movement and elevates them off the floor. Small dogs enjoy being able to run down long halls without slipping and sliding, so add carpeting when possible.

 

 

6. Support aging pets. As pets get older, their needs change, just as humans' do. Recognizing those changes will prolong the positive relationship you have with your pet. 

Dogs' joints, like ours, stiffen up when they get older. Senior dogs enjoy eating from a bowl placed on a stand or short bench that raises the bowl high enough above the floor so they can eat in a regular standing posture — no need to lower the front part of the body or head too much.

Your turn: What is your pet's favorite place in your house?

Improving How We Evaluate Service Dogs
Study uses fMRI brain scans to help organizations train pups to help people.
As many as 70 percent of dogs that start a service dog training program are let go before graduation. Given that it can cost up to $50,000 to develop one of these valuable pups, organizations that raise these dogs are always looking for better ways to predict who will be up to the task. 

You may remember we wrote about a study last year where Emory University neuroscientists looked at dogs' preference for praise over treats. Their lab was the first to conduct functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) experiments on awake, unrestrained pups to understand canine cognition and inter-species communication. Now they're using this technology to help solve the classic service dog dilemma--finding more accurate ways to eliminate unsuitable dogs earlier in the process.

Their study looked at 43 dogs who underwent service training at Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) in Santa Rosa, California. All of these pups passed CCI's standard behavioral tests, which selects dogs with a calm temperament to start the formal training program.

Scientists used fMRI to look for higher activity in the amygdala, an area of the brain associated with excitability. They found that dogs showing higher activity here were more likely to fail the training program.

"Data from fMRI provided a modest, but significant, improvement in the ability to identify dogs that were poor candidates," explains research lead Gregory Berns. "What the brain imaging tells us is not just which dogs are more likely to fail, but why."

The team believes that the fMRI would boost the ability to distinguish pups that would ultimately not pass from 47 to 67 percent.

This technology is expensive, so it wouldn't be practical for individual trainers, but could be utilized by larger organizations such as CCI. There's also an additional training component since the dogs must learn to remain still while undergoing the fMRI.

The second part of the study built on Emory's original treat research. In these experiments, the dogs were taught hand signals for "treat" and "no treat," which were shown while the pups were in the fMRI. They found a correlation between training program success and the caudate, a region of the brain associated with rewards.

In response to the treat signal, those who had more activity in the caudate were more likely to complete the service dog training program. In contrast, those with more activity in the amygdala were more likely to fail.

"The ideal service dog is one that is highly motivated, but also doesn't get excessively excited or nervous," explained Gregory. "The two neural regions that we focused on--the caudate and the amygdala--seem to distinguish those two traits. Our findings suggest that we may be able to pick up variations in these internal mental states before they get to the level of overt behaviors."

Gregory's team hopes to refine this evaluation technique and apply it to a broader range of working dogs, such as military and police pups.  

 

Smiling Dog: Chester

What’s your dog’s name and age? Chester, 2 years

Nicknames: Chessy, Bud, Booger Butt and Smiley

Adoption Story:

After starting a search for the perfect pup pal Chester's person headed over to her local shelter. She spotted little Chester in an restricted area and inquired about his history. Turns out he was recently picked up as a stray along with another dog, found alone in a secluded wooded area. Fortunately, Chester became available for adoption that day and his partner had already found a home. After meeting Chester she knew he was the one and they instantly connected!

Chester's Interests:

Chester loves to go hiking, head to the dog park, and play chase with anyone who will follow. Once he's found a ball there's no getting that ball out of his mouth unless you have a treat to swap! His mom says Chester is always smiling and always so happy and can brighten anyone's day.

 

Lyme Disease on the Rise
2017 is on trend to be a particularly risky year for disease carrying ticks.
Ticks are a big concern for dog parents, sometimes I feel like my dogs are magnets for the little pests. They pick up the little buggers while hiking, at agility trials, and even in our own backyard. And it can be annoying to search for ticks under all that fur!

According to Rick Ostfeld, a disease ecologist at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, 2017 is anticipated to be a particularly risky year for Lyme disease. He expects the risk will be high in New York, Connecticut, and possibly areas of the mid-Atlantic region.

This is part of a growing trend, where Lyme contiues to spread in New England and the upper Midwest.

"Reported cases of Lyme have tripled in the past few decades," says Centers for Disease Control epidemiologist Kiersten Kugeler.

On the East Coast, Kiersten says most people catch Lyme near their homes, not just when hiking or camping. So if you live in an area that is tick prone, it's important to check yourself and your pets regularly. Since blacklegged ticks can be as small as a poppy seed and like to hang out in the nooks and crannies of the human body, Kiersten advises people to check behind ears, armpits, and the groin area.

If you find a tick, "very carefully, go under the head of the tick with tweezers and just pull out the mouth of the tick, which is embedded in the skin," instructs Dr. Brian Fallon who directs the Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research at Columbia University Medical Center. Don't squeeze the body of the tick which will transfer possible infection into the skin. Don't use Vaseline or fire to remove the tick. Tweezers are the best tool.

There are a few ways to determine your Lyme risk:

  • Check your state health department's web site to see if Lyme is present in you community
  • Save the tick you pull and have it tested in a lab to see if it was carrying Lyme
  • Take a picture of the tick and send it to the TickEncounter Resource Center where scientists can identify the tick and tell you the chance it could have Lyme
Lyme is hard to diagnose in dogs because the symptoms are often delayed or are similar to those of many other diseases. Animals with Lyme may be in generalized pain, start limping, or stop eating. Lameness can appear suddenly, shift from one leg to another, and even disappear temporarily. Some describe it as "walking on eggshells."

All this sounds depressing, but remember, not all ticks carry Lyme, and it takes 24-36 hours to transmit the disease. The sooner you catch them, the better. Kiersten recommends making tick checks as part of your daily routine to combst this preventable disease.

Why Losing a Dog is So Hard
Daily changes and a lack of rituals intensify the struggle

Losing a dog is often every bit as intense as losing a family member or close friend, but I’m confident I don’t have to convince anyone reading this of that fact. Instead, I’d like to discuss two of the reasons why that is so.

One issue is that our dogs affect our daily life in ways that few of our friends or family members do. We live with our dogs, and that impacts so many little details of our days—when we wake up, our exercise patterns, our rush home after work, what we buy, and who we have over—to name a few. As much as we love our dearest friends and family members, only a small percentage of them are integral parts of our daily lives. That particular form of closeness explains why many recent widows find the grocery store such a source of misery. It’s hard to go on such a common errand and NOT buy the items that have filled the cart for years or even half a century. After the death of a dog, when the morning routine varies and there are no more walks after work with our best friend, so many simple moments carry a similar reminder of loss.

A second issue is the lack of social customs to help us mourn publicly and to ease us into the next phase of life. There are typically no funerals, no religious ceremonies, no obituaries and no organized assistance from the community to acknowledge the solemnity of the event. Our sacred rituals lag behind the new understanding of the place that dogs have in our lives and in our hearts. The lack of these predictable, shared cultural responses can make it harder to move on.

To be fair, it’s hard to imagine anything worse than suffering through the death of a child or of an identical twin, but for many people, the grief of losing a dog has the potential to be as bad as for any other loss. As that becomes more widely accepted in society, it is easier for people to cope with the loss of a dog. The acceptance that our bonds with dogs are intensely strong lessens the shame and embarrassment many associate with grieving for a dog. In an environment in which nobody would even think of uttering that horrid phrase “just a dog”, it would be easier to go through the natural grieving process and move forward.

Loving our dogs as much as we love our friends and family does not diminish the love we have for members of our own species. It just illustrates that the realm of humanity is too small to contain the greatness of our love for others.

Have you grieved for dogs like you have grieved for people?

Peeing on the Leash or on Other Dogs
Is your dog guilty of either offense?

Taking many male dogs out for a walk can be like taking your own little watering can out for a spin—a splash on the light post, a few drops for the fire hydrant, a dribble over an old pile of poop, a good soaking of the neighbor’s prize roses. Males aim their urine for marking purposes, so there’s no doubt that they are able to direct the stream quite accurately.

They are able to put their precious urine where they want it to go, but I’ve yet to see a dog who purposely avoided spraying something in the great outdoors. For the most part, that matters very little to us humans. One patch of grass or tree is pretty much like the next from our perspective. Yet there are times when I wish that dogs would try to avoid dousing various things that get in the way, especially their own leash and any other dogs who are out on the walk with them. I’ve never seen a dog make any effort to make sure that these objects stay dry as they share their liquid calling cards with the neighborhood.

Leashes get wet pretty regularly on walks. Few people have avoided this little drawback of dog guardianship. It happens especially often with dogs who turn around multiple times before lifting a leg. Many dogs do this, circling two, three, four or more times in essentially the same spot before peeing. This behavior serves to tangle them up in the leash or at least to step over it, leaving the leash in the perfect spot to get caught in a urine stream. It’s irksome for anyone holding the leash or who owns the house where the leash is to be hung up later, isn’t it?

Also at risk of being hit by pee is any other dog in the vicinity, especially if both are on leash, guaranteeing that they are in close proximity to one another. Since dogs out on walks together so often sniff the ground together and make little effort to get away from one another, I suppose it’s inevitable that someone gets peed on. As one is still stiffing an amazing smell, the other one decides to mark that exact spot, paying no attention to the fact that his buddy’s head is in the way. Sigh.

Some dogs clearly object to being peed on. My buddies Saylor and Marley illustrate this. Marley is a bigtime marker, and Saylor loves to follow him to sniff whatever he is sniffing. As a result, on occasion, he has inadvertently marked her head, neck or back. However, he has not done it lately, as far as I know, because Saylor now leaps out of the way. She takes advantage of her quickness and agility to avoid Marley’s pee, often jumping swiftly in whatever direction is required. It seems obvious to me that Saylor recognizes the behavioral signs of an impending pee and wants nothing to do with it. As soon as he starts to lift his leg, she is out of there.

I’m mostly accusing males of peeing on dogs and on leashes, but females can do it, too. It may be less likely for dogs who squat to pee (typical for adult females) than for dogs who lift their leg to do so (usually males), but it is by no means just a male issue.

Has your dog peed on his own leash or on one of your other dogs?

Pink and Blue Accessories
Another way we treat our dogs like our children

We all know that it has become common for people to consider their dogs to be like their children. They are often referred to as “fur babies” or “four-legged kids”. Among the many signs of that are the colors of dogs’ accessories. Leashes, collars and tags are far more likely to be pink for females and blue for males than ever before. Long gone are the days where most dogs wore a basic brown collar with a matching leash, or the era after that when primary colors were common for dogs of both sexes.

There have been many color changes for human babies’ clothes and accessories. The current pink-for-girls, blue-for-boys code is less than 100 years old.) It’s no surprise that the colors we choose for our dogs has a fluidity to it as well.

Now, many guardians pamper their pooches with a variety of accessories in their gender-specific color. I was recently taking care of my good buddies Marley (male) and Saylor (female) and noticed that they have leashes and tags in their gender-indicating color. (They both wear navy blue Penn State colors because their guardian is a proud alumna of that university. The color says nothing about trends in gender-specific accessories for dogs, and everything about the great pride of the Nittany Lions.)

The color that a dog wears may seem like a small thing, but it represents a shift in the way people view dogs. Choosing pink for female dogs and blue for male dogs is another way that we acknowledge the role that dogs play in our lives, and it goes beyond leashes, tags and collars. The interest in blue and pink accessories extends to bowls, blankets, dog beds, toys, clothing, and everything else we buy for our dogs.

Are your dog’s accessories blue or pink because of gender?

Smiling Dog: Steve

What’s your dog’s name and age? Steve, 7 years

Adoption Story:

Found walking along the street with another dog in Ft. Worth, Texas he was picked up by a good Samaritan. After effort to locate an owner failed, Steve's fate seemed doomed to the animal shelter. The rescuer called up his friend thinking he and Steve might be a good fit and upon meeting they were instantly best friends. 

Steve's Interests:

Steve loves scratches behind the ear, eating chicken and the song "Free Bird".  When Steve isn't grooving to the music, he can be found hanging out with his best pal Snickers the beagle or snuggling with his people. He is an unparalleled hugger.

Florida Hotel Fosters Shelter Pups
Tallahassee Aloft hotel partners with Leon County Humane Society to feature homeless dogs.

As pet adoption has gotten more attention in recent years, people have found new and interesting ways to promote shelter dogs and cats. Hotels may not be the first thing you think of when it comes to homeless pets, but one lodging chain has found success in partnering with local rescue organizations.

Earlier this month the Aloft Tallahassee Downtown Hotel launched its Dog Foster Program, in conjunction with the Leon County Humane Society (LCHS). Through this program, one lucky shelter pup gets to stay in the hotel lobby, which features a dog house that was built to look like a smaller version of the hotel. This gives dogs more exposure to potential adopters and socialization to different environments and people

So far they’ve had two foster pups--Penelope, a three month old German Shepherd puppy, and Nathan, a five month old Chihuahua/Rat Terrier mix. The guests of honor are cared for by the hotel staff, but the adoption is handled by LCHS. Anyone interested in taking a dog home has to submit an application.

While only one dog can sleepover at a time, the program helps all of LCHS' pups, giving visibility to homeless pets and the need for foster homes. LCHS doesn't have a physical shelter. Instead, all pets are housed in foster homes until they find the perfect forever home.

"Our new foster partnership with Aloft perfectly aligns with our mission to Rescue, Rehabilitate and Educate, thereby fostering a kinder community for people and their pets,” said Lisa Glunt, executive director of LCHS. “The new program is an exciting development for our organization and opens the door for us to match more adopters with homeless pets in Tallahassee while continuing to save more lives.”

Tallahassee isn’t the only Aloft to participate in such an innovative initiative. The program was modeled after two successful partnerships at Aloft properties in Asheville, North Carolina and Greenville, South Carolina. The Asheville location, which teamed up with Charlie’s Angels Animal Rescue, found homes for 14 dogs in the first five months of the program.

I hope this story inspires other hotels and businesses to come up with unique ways to feature shelter animals!

Fooling People But Not Dogs
A study of the Delboeuf illusion

Visual illusions reveal the inner working of the eyes and of the brain, and when used in comparative studies, they can teach us a lot about the differences and similarities in vision and neurological processing between species. A common research approach involves using illusions that affect perception of size and investigating whether the illusions affect choice. Allowing research subjects to choose between various options can elucidate the illusions’ effects on members of various species.

One such illusion is the Delboeuf illusion, which causes identically sized objects to appear different in size depending on what surrounds them. In the image below with dark circles of identical size, humans (and other primates) tend to overestimate the size of the circle on the left, which is surrounded by a ring that is smaller than the ring around the circle on the right.

In practice, this is the reason that people seeking to eat smaller portions of food are advised to use a smaller plate. That makes it appear as though there is more food on that plate than when the same portion is served on a larger plate. Can dogs who are watching their figures make use of this same tactic? In other words, are dogs also susceptible to the Delboeuf illusion? The answer is no, according to a study in Animal Cognition called “Do domestic dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) perceive the Delboeuf illusion?”

In the study, one set of trials tested whether dogs could correctly choose larger portions of food over smaller ones. Dogs were given a choice between two piles of biscuits on plates—one pile of biscuits weighed 18 grams and the other weighed 32 grams. Once dogs chose to go for one plate, the other one was picked up and no longer available. Sometimes both portions of food were on small plates, and sometimes both were on big plates. Each dog was offered this choice multiple times. Pooling the date into one big analysis, dogs consistently chose the bigger pile of biscuits.

In another series of trials, dogs were offered a choice between equal portions of food that were presented on different size plates. The dogs had to choose between 32 grams of food on a large plate and 32 grams of food on a small plate. If dogs are susceptible to the Delboeuf illusion, the expectation is that they would choose the smaller plate even though the quantity of food was identical on both plates. Instead, dogs’ choices were no different than if they picked a plate at random with no reference to its size. They were not significantly more likely to choose the large plate or the small plate, providing evidence that the Delboeuf illusion does not affect dogs the way that it affects humans. Dogs are not fooled by the size of the plate.

Leasing a Dog Is a Really Bad Idea
Leasing Golden Retriever Puppies Is a Bad Idea

We heard about an intriguing (and alarming) Bloomberg story over the weekend on NPR’s Marketplace Money program. When asked about predictions for what the guests are “long or short" on, reporter Gillian White said that she was “long” on the financial sector behind “dog leasing.” She was reporting on a piece from Bloomberg about dubious loan scheme operations, such as leasing a dog. In the Bloomberg piece, “I’m Renting a Dog?” Patrick Clark reports about Wags Lending LLC, a California-based firm, that provides leasing options for people who want to buy expensive pet store dogs.

In one of the examples he cites a couple in San Diego purchased a Golden Retriever pup for $2,400, agreeing to pay for the dog with 34 monthly payments of $165.06, bringing the true cost to be $5,800. As White noted that this kind of “leasing operation, taps into the growing trend of consumers who want things but who don’t necessary want to own things.” Added to that is the wish for instant gratification and the fact that most people don’t take the time to read the fine print on things especially when making emotional purchases, like “buying” a dog. Simple fact, many people just want what they want when they want it. And because these leasing companies aren’t subject to the same kind of regulations as loans or even credit cards are, they are able to charge really high interest rates, which range from about 36 percent to 170 percent on an annualized basis! And if you renege of the payment schedule, they are repossess the dog, that's right, they can take the rental dog back. Bristlecone Holding LLC, the company behind this Wags Lending scheme, leases things like furniture, wedding dresses and hearing aids, and the list is growing—but it all started with the dogs. The mission statement from the aptly named, Dusty Wunderlich the CEO behind these companies notes that he is “living in a Postmodern culture while maintaining my old American West roots and Christian values.” Heavens, we need Senator Elizabeth Warren’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s attention on this one fast. Amazing that they can get away with this. Wunderlich also adds that, “We like niches where we’re dealing with emotional borrowers.” Such as those who are staring into the eyes of a pet shop puppy, obviously.

The idea behind Wags Lending came about in 2013, and as the Bloomberg article notes, when Wunderlich “recruited a former hedge fund salesman named Kyle Ferguson as co-founder and launched Wags Lending, thinking dog leases would mark just the first step in a vertically integrated pet-financing company that would eventually include food deliveries, chew-toy subscriptions, and veterinary loans. Then their point-of-sale lease financing became a hit, and they decided to double down on it.” So beware if you happen to stumble upon any of their other “too good to be true” plans! We are seeing more and more of these “point-of-sale” options in the pet sector, especially at vet offices.

So the lesson behind this is a simple one, first of all, do NOT ever ever buy dogs at pet stores, there are many reasons, besides shady lending schemes to not buy a pet shop dog, including that most of those dogs are supplied to pet stores come from puppy mills and buying such dogs only supports those horrible businesses. But even more importantly, there are many wonderful dogs at shelters or with rescue groups and every dog that is purchased at a pet store means another dog just might be euthanized to make room for another dog. That constant intake flow has to stop. Again, read the small print and know what you are getting yourself into before signing up for any of these leasing products. See the Bloomberg piece for the whole story.

From Abandoned Pup to Firedog
A Pit Bull finds her forever home at a New York City firehouse.
Last year New York City animal rescuers Erica Mahnken and Michael Favor got a call about an abandoned Pit Bull in an old crack house. There was no heat or electricity, and the couple who lived there fled after a snowstorm hit. When Erica and Michael found the poor pup, she was malnourished and covered in cigarette burns. A vet later said that the dog was 25 pounds underweight.

Despite being abused, the pup was happy to be found and jumped right into Erica's car.

Unfortunately they didn't have anywhere to keep the dog, so they called some firefighter friends from a Lower East Side FDNY station nicknamed "Fort Pitt." The firefighters agreed to be a temporary foster home.

"As soon as she walked into the firehouse, her tail was wagging, and she was licking and greeting everybody," Erica remembered. "She was super happy. From where she came from, you wouldn't really expect that. You would think that she'd be a little skittish, but she wasn't at all."

After three days the firefighters named the dog Ashley, "Ash" for short, and called Erica to ask if they could adopt her.

“My heart wants to explode,” Erica said. “Everyone’s so quick to judge a dog, especially a dog you don’t know where it came from or what kind of person they are and what kind… It is very satisfying."

Ashley has been enjoying her role as official firehouse dog, hanging out with the crew in the kitchen and riding along with the firefighters on smaller runs. She even has her own spot in the firetruck.

"They walk her about 30 times a day. They bring her on the roof to play. She's constantly in the kitchen watching them eat. She has endless supplies of treats. She has the life over there," describes Erica.

If you're interested in following Ashely's adventures, the firefighters started an Instagram account that has over 19,000 followers.

It sounds like "Fort Pitt" needed some joy in their fire station, which they found in a Pit Bull named Ashley!

Colorado Kids Train Service Dogs
After school program teaches students to prepare pups to help veterans.
Service dogs have the potential to make a significant impact in the lives of veterans, but many can't afford their high price tag. When students from Summit Elementary School in Divide, Colorado learned about this problem, they wanted to help.

"We recognize a large number of veterans in Teller County who would largely benefit from having a service dog to help them," said student Christian Bonnette.

So five kids teamed up with trainer John Franks from the non-profit group Heroes Pack. After school they work with John to teach dogs the skills needed to help people with PTSD or mobility issues. Currently they're working with a dog named Holly who they plan to donate to a local veteran this spring.

It's not cheap to train a service dog. According to student Leah Strawmatt, it takes about 500 hours to train each pup and about $5,000.

In addition to dedicating their time and raising money, the kids are also doing their part to spread the word about the need for service dogs.

Recently they participated in a regional competition called Destination Imagination (the world's largest creative problem solving competition) and won first place. They were also given the Torchbearer Award, for teams whose solutions have extraordinary impact in and beyond their local communities. According to Heroes Pack, the award has never been given out at the regional level. The kids will move on to the state competition next.

This program is a win-win for everyone. In addition to becoming skilled dog trainers, the students are learning valuable life lessons and helping veterans in the community.

The Great Furniture Debate
Where is your dog allowed to go?

People who say that money is the biggest source of conflict in most marriages are clearly unfamiliar with the clashes over whether or not to let the dogs up on the furniture. These epic battles regularly find their way into my private consultations, where I am repeatedly asked who is right—the person who says dogs should stay on the floor or the one who wants them up on the couch and on the bed. I always handle these mediations with the same four basic steps.

1) I take a deep breath to calm myself for the coming storm. 2) I wish for the umpteenth time that I had a business partner specializing in marital counseling. 3) I explain the factors to consider when making this important decision. 4) I open a discussion with my clients about how these factors relate to their particular situation. So, you might ask, what are those factors?

The main one is personal preference. That is, the answer to the dogs-on-the-furniture question is not absolute and cannot be answered definitively by someone outside of the household. Some people are appalled by the idea of fur and potentially muddy paws making contact with their furniture, and others don’t care at all. Just like with politics, religion and money, there are no right answers that apply to everyone, but life is a little easier and a lot less conflicted if the members of a family agree.

The dog’s needs are also a factor. Dogs who are old, get cold easily, or who have really short coats are often less comfortable on a hard floor, so they may be more persistent about being on the furniture, and it may provide a real benefit to them. Of course, a cozy dog bed, soft blankets or even some towels on the floor may accomplish the same thing. I do feel that it is a great kindness to provide dogs, especially dogs like the ones described above, with a soft, cozy place to relax, and that may or may not involve the furniture. Dogs who are fearful may also be helped by being up on the furniture because that lets them be in close physical contact with you when you are lounging on the couch or drifting off to sleep. It’s true that many people who want their dogs up on the furniture are doing it for themselves at least as much as for the dogs, but dogs’ needs are worthy of consideration.

The dog’s behavior is the piece of this puzzle that allows me the best opportunity to make a meaningful contribution. I don’t buy into the old-fashioned arguments about dogs needing to be on the floor because otherwise they will try to dominate their guardians, causing all sort of horrendous social patterns to ensue. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense. However, that does not mean that dogs’ behavior and manners are irrelevant to the questions of whether or not they should be up on the furniture. Dogs who are pushy can benefit from being required to earn the right to be on the furniture. Those who lack impulse control can learn better self-control by following rules such as staying on the floor despite the temptation of the furniture. Resource-guarding dogs who will defend the bed as they do food, bones or toys are not good candidates for furniture privileges. For dogs with no training who will not move over on the bed when asked to do so or won’t get down off the sofa upon request, it may not be worth the hassle of allowing them on the furniture.

Another avenue I like to pursue with any of my clients who are in the middle of a Great Furniture Negotiation is the possibility of a compromise. Sometimes families decide to let dogs onto only some of the furniture—perhaps just one old couch or chair, or maybe a beanbag. Another option is to cover the furniture so the dogs can enjoy it without ruining it. One common compromise is to allow the dogs up on the furniture only if they are invited, and to require them to get off if you tell them to. This can be combined effectively with the use of covers—invite dogs up whenever the covers are on but not when they have been removed.

When there is conflict, one solution is that the dogs are allowed up on the furniture, but the person who wants them up there is responsible for cleaning the furniture often. Some families have decided to let the dogs up on all the furniture except for the favorite chair of the person opposed. That way, there is always a clean place available for the person who objects to having the dogs up on the furniture. There are families who allow some dogs up on the bed or couch, but not others. Usually the dog with access is older, has better manners or sheds less. Some people are uncomfortable having different rules for different dogs and feel that it is unfair, but the couples who have saved their marriage with this strategy feel that it is worth it. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing when it comes to dogs’ access to the furniture, and sometimes a little negotiating leads to a compromise that makes both members of a couple happy.

There is no right answer and though many people ask me what is “normal” when it comes to dogs being up on the furniture, there is no clear answer to that question. What’s considered normal in this regard is a moving target. Years ago, it was far more common to forbid dogs from being on the couch or the bed than it is now. Then again, it wasn’t so very long ago that it was common to prevent dogs from coming inside the house at all. It was a big change when having indoor dogs became normal. Maybe we are on that same path when it comes to our furniture.

What are your rules (if any) about having dogs on the furniture?

 

Smiling Dog: Buffy

What’s your dog’s name and age? Buffy, 2 years

Adoption Story:

Buffy was a picked up as a stray by a small shelter in Texas. Unfortunately, her chances of finding a forever home there were not good. Thankfully, a volunteer pulled Buffy from the shelter be be shipped up north for a better chance at adoption through the group Black Dog Second Chance rescue in New York. But, Buffy had a suprise in store for them! 
 
Upon arriving to her foster home, it was discovered that she was pregnant! Her new foster home did not feel up to the task of taking on puppies so she was transfered to one with more experience. Buffy ultimately delivered five puppies but two didn't survive.
 
But this story has a good ending, Buffy and her three healthy pups (Bingo, Bruno, and Brandy) were all adopted into loving homes.
 
Buffy's foster mom fosters through Black Dog Second Chance Rescue where she has fostered 32 dogs, including four pregnant mammas. She loves that dogs are just so happy to be with people and that they love you for how you are. If you're interested in reading more about the benefits of foster homes or are interested in becoming a foster parent to a pup in need read on.

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