Legalizing Pets in Our Final Resting Place
Mass. considers allowing pet burials in human cemeteries.

Cemeteries serve as a final resting place for families, so it's only natural that people would want that family to include their pets. However, it's not easy to include animals in traditional burial plans. Most states don't allow pets to be buried in human cemeteries and, a few years ago, New York temporarily banned the spreading of human ashes in pet cemeteries. It's apparently a controversial topic.

However, this could soon change for Massachusetts residents. Sponsored by State Rep. Nick Collins, Massachusetts legislators met last week on a bill that would allow the state's cemeteries to designate land for humans and pets to be buried alongside each other, including cremated remains.

Although the bill is in motion, it's not a straightforward issue. Critics oppose the legislation due to environmental, sanitary, and religious concerns. The Massachusetts Cemetery Association has not yet taken a position on the idea and has been considering what exactly the law would mean. They're currently looking into the impact on other people who own plots or have relatives buried in cemeteries and if the law would permit humans to be buried in unregulated pet cemeteries.

If the bill were to pass, it would make Massachusetts the fifth state to allow pet burials alongside humans. There is also much variation among the current laws. Last year Virginia passed legislation that permits pets and pet owners to be buried side by side, as long as they're not in the same grave or coffin. In Florida, pet remains can be interred with a human provided the pet died first.

What do you think about pet burials in human cemeteries?

No Hiding from the Search Dogs
Escapees try to throw tracking dogs off scent

Once those escaped killers, Richard Matt and David Sweat, were caught in northern New York, people were wondering why it took the authorities three weeks to track them down. Police dogs had soon after the escape caught their scent only three miles from the prison. Nonetheless there was chatter online that perhaps Matt and Sweat had used a trick of sprinkling pepper in their tracks to confuse the dogs. It was thought, that the fugitives might have been inspired by “Cool Hand Luke.” In this movie Paul Newman brings some “chili powder and pepper and curry and the like” with him when he made his escape. In the movie the ruse worked and threw Bloodhounds off and they ended up sneezing and rubbing their noses. But could this really happen? The New York Times consulted with Alexandra Horowitz, canine cognitive researcher, about the likelihood of this being effective and she thought it was “extremely” unlikely because, as she explained:

That when people move “they slough off dead skin cells, and the scent from those cells lingers both in the air and on the ground.” Dogs, even those who seem to have their noses close to the ground like Bloodhounds, can “air scent” too and as Horowitz explained “there is no way that people can erase the olfactory information that they are leaving.”

Nonetheless, it’s good to note the dogs did their job when they were the first in the team to alert that the convicts were making their way on foot. They also proved to be key members of the long manhunt by helping the authorities to narrow the field—with or without the pepper. 

Keeping Dogs Safe and Happy This Fourth of July

With the Fourth of July right around the corner, I wanted to share some important tips to help dog owners keep their furry friends happy and healthy during this patriotic (yet loud) holiday!

Fireworks are fun. Scared dogs are not. Here are some tips so both you and your pup will have a sparkling and safe July Fourth:

Shelter Loud Noises: While fireworks may be entertaining and dazzling to us, for most dogs, the loud noises generated from large-scale firework displays to home lit bottle rockets can create anxiety and fear. Some common reactions to look for in your dog include: shaking, stress panting, putting their tail between their legs, bolting, hiding, and howling. To help relieve this anxiousness, owners can try to:

  • Use a sound machine to block the noise from outside.
  • Put your dog in a Thundershirt. They are proven to reduce anxiety and stress in dogs. The shirt provides a gentle, constant pressure on your dog, similar to swaddling an infant. It’s a safe way to make them feel secure and can be reused in many different situations.
  • Place your dog in a room with the windows closed to block outside noise.
  • Also, it should go without saying that you should never fire up fireworks around your dog. If you have kids (or adults) who like playing with fireworks at home, make sure your dog is far away from the action and noise.

Mind the Exits: When hosting parties, or even when taking your dog with you to a party, always make sure exits and entrances are closed (doors, gates, fences, etc.). Dogs may wander out or if they are spooked, will bolt out any available exits. Some dogs have been known to even jump through windows when they are frightened. As always, make sure your dog is tagged in the event he or she finds a way to escape.

Comfort in the Chaos: Provide your dog with a favorite “spot” for them to go to at any time. Dogs like to be in the mix, but sometimes they don’t know where to be or know how to participate if a party gets too crowded. It’s nice to have a cozy spot for your dog to retreat to when they are over stimulated or tired, but can still see what’s going on so that they feel like they are part of the action. Dogs generally don’t like being locked up in a backroom, but for those that are more sensitive, placing them in a quiet room alone may be the best or only option.

Food Control: Make sure you have a no human food policy. Your dog will likely linger around and beg for scraps while you are cooking or while your guests are enjoying their meals. Most BBQ and other summertime favorites have too much sugar and fat and are made with ingredients that are harmful to dogs (like garlic, onions, grapes and chocolate). It’s best to tell guests not to feed the dog, and try to follow the rule yourself - no matter how big they make those puppy eyes!

Follow these tips to keep your pup safe during the summer festivities.

World's Ugliest Dog Crowned
Is this annual contest a good or bad thing?

Last week a new dog was crowned the world's ugliest dog. This year the title went to Quasi Modo, a Pit Bull-Dutch Shepherd mix from Florida. Quasi Modo has multiple birth defects to her spine, which made her back abnormally short. However she is still able to run and play. Quasi Modo took the award from a pool of 27 other pups at the Sonoma-Marin Fair's annual contest in Petaluma, California.

The dogs are judged on first impressions, unusual attributes, natural ugliness, personality, and audience impression. Karen Spencer, marketing director for the fair, says that inner beauty and personality shine in the popular contest.

Based on past winners and the first and second runner-ups, Chinese Crested Chihuahuas, and their characteristically funky appearance, seem to take the top prize a lot. But Quasi Modo embodies the contest's core mission--to encourage the adoption of dogs, regardless of their physical appearance.

Quasi Modo's owners say that their 10-year pup has been mistaken for a hyena or Tasmanian devil and people have even jumped in their cars to get away. But once they get to know her, Quasi Modo wins everyone over with her bubbly personality. She's become an ambassador for teaching people about acceptance and tolerance for things that are different.

Initially I was turned off by the idea of an ugly dog contest. First, it assumes there is some agreed standard of beauty or ugliness. Second, some of these "winning features" could very well be the product of exaggerated characteristics resulting from inbreeding or other questionable breeding practices in the search for perfection.

But, I do love that this year the contest is celebrating a rescue pup who was probably passed over many times before finding her forever home. I hope others are inspired to open their home to one of the less popular dogs at the shelter.

What do you think about this annual contest?

Another Take on Retractable Leashes
Experts give their views

I listened in on a webinar today held by the good people of the Animal Behavior Associates—it was their June CAAB  (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists) Chat, the general topic was Pet Behavior Wellness. Similar to a veterinarian wellness exam, but with the main focus on a dog’s behavior. Participants were Suzanne Hetts, PhD, Dan Estep, PhD and guest “chatter” Nancy Williams, MA, RVT, ACAAB.  Questions that they addressed included:

-  What is behavioral wellness and why should we be interested in it? 

-  What does it mean to have a behaviorally healthy pet and how do you get one? 

-  How do behaviorally healthy pets act?  What are the criteria for behavioral health?

-  Is behavior wellness simply the absence of behavioral problems or something more? 

-  Does simply meeting an animal’s behavioral and physical needs put it in good behavioral health or is good behavioral health something more? 

As professional behaviorists they all were frustrated that oftentimes clients came to them for behavioral consultation as the “last resort” instead of being proactive about their dog’s behavioral health. Being proactive about this can reap benefits similar to preventive medicine. They discussed the characteristics of behaviorally sound and healthy dogs, and referenced a test you can take, see how your dog’s behavioral health measures up.

Among the list of behavioral needs that should be provided to our dogs besides the basic ones of food, care and shelter, are providing a dog with the “ability to control some aspects of the environment, opportunities for mental stimulation, and for pleasant social contact.”

When the discussion turned to how to fulfill those particular needs, much to my surprise, they brought up the controversial topic of retractable leashes. None of these veteran trainers had started out as fans of those devices because so few people seem to employ them properly, but all three are now advocates for their wise and limited use, again, something that surprised me. But that turn in the discussion definitely sparked my interest to learn more. They talked about how all dogs aren’t good candidates for dog parks or doggie day care, but the retractable leash was offered as an alternative to giving a dog both the mental stimulation and some control over their environment. As we know, dogs prefer to walk ahead of us, something that is really impossible at the end of a standard six-foot leash and the resulting pulling on the shorter leash can make a pleasant outing into an uncomfortable walk for those on both ends of the leash. These experts spelled out the characteristics of beneficial leash walks which can be obtained by use of retractable leashes: they "allow for ample sniffing, physical exercise, ability to control their own experience, and lack of restraint and pulling against something." The three of them agreed that using retractable leashes does not mean that a dog will learn to pull harder on a standard leash, or that a dog will think she is in charge because she is able to walk ahead of you. Dogs basically like to forge ahead of us, playing “scout” perhaps, and those who can do so with the flexibility provided by a retractable leash, usually, according to these trainers, do not venture that far ahead or pull to get even further ahead.

But they cautioned that these leashes are also not appropriate in many cases and many dog people do not have the skill to use them properly. Retractables should not be used on city streets, in confined areas, or on dogs who can be aggressive to other dogs or people, by kids, with people with physical disabilities, when walking more than one dog or when walking a dog for training and not for exercise. For many of us a trainer will need to show you how best to use one.

I have never been a fan of these leashes, having had a horrible experience with a woman who did not know how to use one and almost hogtied me when her pup tried to play with my dog, her leash quickly wound around my knees and cut into the back of my legs, she didn’t have the sense to just drop the leash! But then again, that woman should never have used such a leash without proper direction. What Hetts, Estep and Williams had to say about this, made me question my ingrained negative perspective on retractables. But I know that this is really hot button issue, so am curious to hear your opinion.

You can purchase a recorded copy of the CAAB webinar for a small fee if this topic interests you (the retractable leash part is towards the end of the hour and a half long webinar) and sign up for free their monthly chats, they are always interesting and informative.

Therapy dogs Visit Charleston, South Carolina
Comfort canines bring relief and hope to a city struck by tragedy.

As animal lovers, we hardly need a reminder of the healing ability that our dogs have. Following last week's church shootings in Charleston, South Carolina, therapy pets have been playing an important role in bringing relief to the community. But simply seeing pictures and stories of therapy dogs can be equally as important for breaking up all of the negativity we see on the news. Many of us around the world are heartbroken by the events, even though we may be thousands of miles away.

Meet Porsha, a St. Bernard, and George, a Labradoodle, two therapy dogs from HOPE Animal-Assistance Crisis Response who visited Charleston this week. Not only did they spread comfort, but they also served as a reminder of the greater mission at hand--to unite the community despite the shooter's attempt to divide.

Since September 2001, HOPE has organized therapy dog teams all over the country to deploy to places in need. They provide consistent training to respond to intense emotional and environmental situations. Porsha and George were much appreciated in Charleston and touched people in a variety of ways.

Ellie Fletcher came to a rally last Sunday to honor the victims. She told People Magazine that "there's so much bad stuff going on in this world, but after interacting with [the dogs], you know that you're always going to have someone to rely on, be that a dog or person. Someone's always going to love you."

For two kids at the park, petting George was actually the first time they'd ever touched a dog before. They were a little tentative at first, but were soon enamored by petting his fluffy fur after being told he wouldn't bite them.

Karen Gregory was devastated by the recent events, which was compounded by the death of her mother last month. George and Porsha marked the first time Karen had smiled in days. She says that the pups made her forget her grief, even if it was just for a few seconds.

It's amazing to see the impact that two dogs can have on an entire community.

Genetic Testing for Dogs Made Easy
Learning a dog's heritage has its benefits

When we adopted our dog Charlie from the Sacramento Independent Rescuers, his foster mom, Shana Laursen, who specializes in Greyhound rescue with Greyhound Friends for Life, told us that he probably had some Whippet in him, thinking that not only his brindle coloring but the “set” of his back legs indicated that he might have a sprinter in him. She also added that was one of the reasons she picked him to foster. Lucky for us she did because by the time we saw his posting on Petfinder I had been getting discouraged after scouring for weeks online pet adoption services nationwide and local shelters to find a scruffy male terrier to be the “bro” to our three female dogs.

At that time we didn’t really know what breeds contributed to making Charlie the perfect match that he turned out to be. Some type of terrier definitely in the ascendency, his very first night in his new home found him scooting under the covers to sleep at my side, a position he has proudly claimed since. As for the Whippet? Sometimes he manages to keep up with our speedy Pointer, Lola, so perhaps Shana might be right. It was time to figure that out, so we decided to “test” Charles’ DNA using the really easy-to-use, Mars Wisdom Panel DNA test.

Unlike other genetic tests that rely on blood samples, for this one you only need to collect saliva samples from inside your dog’s mouth, using the two swabs that come with the kit. Next you dry the swabs out for a few minutes placing them in a convenient “holder” that comes with the kit. Next you register the sample online, filling out a few basic profile questions about the sex/age/weight of the dog. Plus they pose some really interesting optional questions like the reasons why you are doing the test—perhaps you want to understand your dog’s behavior better, or confirm the breed make up of a prospective adoptee, predict the adult size of a pup, or testing for health reasons? Many breeds are prone to a variety of genetic diseases, so it is beneficial to know what breeds your mixed breed dog might be, for possible preventive or diagnostic reasons. Importantly, this newest version of the Wisdom Panel 3.0 also includes a screening for the genetic mutation for MDR1 or Multi-Drug Resistance 1 that can be a really important consideration, and which can affect many herding breeds. As it is explained on their website:

“The MDR1 gene is responsible for production of a protein called P-glycoprotein. The P-glycoprotein molecule is a drug transport pump that plays an important role in limiting drug absorption and distribution (particularly to the brain) and enhancing the excretion/elimination of many drugs used in dogs. Dogs with the MDR1 mutation may have severe adverse reactions to some common drugs. Although the mutation is most closely associated with some purebreds, it can also be found in mixed-breed dogs. Therefore it is important for owners of mix-breeds to test their dogs and to share the results with their veterinarian in order to provide their pet with the best possible care. The discovery of the MDR1 mutation in dogs was made by Washington State University.”

While it is unlikely that terrier-mix Charlie has any herding breeds in him, he might have a Whippet ancestor—the long-haired variety having a 65% frequency of this mutation—so it is good for us to find this out now.

Browsing around their interesting site I also found this very informative video that explains the genetics behind a dog’s physical characteristics. I actually learned a lot from watching it, including the reason that many dogs have white markings on the their feet and paws—or on areas farther away from the dog’s back (where the dominate color starts off). Watch the video for the explanation of why this is:

So stay tuned, we’ll be getting Charlie’s results really soon. But until we do, what kind of terrier do you see in him?

Beagle: Free to Good Home
Man posts Craigslist ad rehoming his girlfriend

Several days ago a man posted a Craigslist ad that seemed to be offering a free Beagle to a good home. In the post he explains that his girlfriend wants to get rid of the dog. He proceeds to describe his Beagle pup saying "I have had her 4 years. She likes to play games. Not totally trained. Has long hair so she's a little high maintenance, especially the nails, but she loves having them done." However, by the end of the post we learn that he is in fact rehoming his girlfriend and keeping his dog!

As the ad went viral he updated the post saying it was all a joke and that in reality he's a pitbull owner and his girlfriend loves his dog. He ended his post encouraging one simple message—that adoption is a life long commitment, not just while convienent. It's great that he is using his viral fame to continue to push his message and promote pet adoption.

Way to go, dude!

Dogs Dislike Those Mean to Their Owners
A study finds that canines will refuse food from people unwilling to help out.

I think that my dogs would take food from just about anyone. But a new study from Kyoto University found that canines don't like when people are not kind to their owners. And even a bribe won't change their mind!

The study, led by comparative cognition professor Kazuo Fujita, put three groups of 18 dogs through role plays in which their owners needed to open a box. The owner was accompanied by two people that the dog didn't know and were instructed to act differently in each situation. In the first group, the owner asked one of the two people to help with the task, but was refused. In the second group, the owner asked for, and received, help from one person. In the third group (the control), the owner did not solicit help and didn't interact with either person. In all groups, the third person remained neutral, neither helping or refusing.

After watching the box-opening scene, the dog was offered food by the two unfamiliar people in the room. Dogs that saw their owner being rebuffed were more likely to choose food from the neutral observer and ignore the person who had refused to help. The dogs in the control group showed no preference between the two strangers.

According to Kazuo, this is the first study to show that dogs make social and emotional evaluations of people regardless of what they had to gain. If the pups were acting solely out of self-interest, there would be no differences, meaning an equal number of dogs would have accepted food from each person. This ability is a key factor in building a highly collaborative society, and a trait that is present in children from the age of about three. It's a behavior that not all primates demonstrate. For instance, there is no evidence that chimpanzees show a preference unless there's a direct benefit to them.

Yet another study confirming the special relationship we have with our pups!

Cats Stealing Dog Beds
Watch the ongoing struggle for comfy beds

The classic rivalry between cats and dogs over their respective beds continues in this compilation of interspecies land grabs. Happiness is a warm bed indeed!

The Imaginary Dog Awards
Take a bow, or a bone, whatever works

You won’t find the Imaginary Dog Awards among your television listings. You won’t find them in the plethora of awards shows that grace every channel, celebrating the sensibilities of shallowness like salt in the cracks of an evaporated pond. (Do I sound bitter?) The Imaginary Dog Awards are a fiction created by my dogs, or so I’ve come to believe. I’d include myself as a co-creator if I didn’t accept their uncanny canine power over me. My dogs have saved me from bitterness, and in return, they’ve acquired a guy who can open a can of dog food with the best of them.

I do know a little something about real awards shows. For the last 40 years or so, I’ve been one of the four members of a reputedly avant-garde comedy group called The Firesign Theatre. We’ve made a whole lot of records and CDs and a few video and film projects, and have done stage shows as well. In the process, we’ve been nominated three times for a Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album. And we’ve lost each and every time. It’s pathetic. We’ve rented limos and been to cocktail parties. (We even appeared on TV one memorable year—Jerry Seinfeld was nominated with us, and so the powers-that-be thought it worthwhile to put our award on the tube.) But each time, we’ve lost. We’ve lost to Weird Al. We’ve lost to Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks and George Carlin. Lost like goats.

I’ve driven that lonely limo called “Just-Glad-to-Be-Nominated,” and believe me, the little shreds of my stillborn acceptance speeches still rattle around my pitiful brain. It’s positively embarrassing. I’d love to have risen from my seat, fist punching the air as the TV cameras rolled, loved to have kissed the Blonde Bombshell and trotted up on stage with my partners to babble and be cut short by an orchestra eager to go home, but it didn’t happen and—because of dogs—I’m not bitter, or so it turns out.

Over the years, the Bombshell (her actual name is Oona) and I have adjusted to the inevitable. If we are not to be award-winners, we can at the very least become award–givers. The awards we give out are called the Imaginary Dog Awards. Our life is all about dogs, after all. And our imaginations. And the dogs’ eerie control over our imaginations. Let me explain.

It’s been said by responsible scientific types that dogs just might be entirely responsible for human civilization, that our complex web of social life would have been impossible were it not for the domestication of wolves, that without wolves raising the alarm and protecting humans and helping them hunt, humans wouldn’t have had the time to construct civilization. This is a perfectly plausible theory, but it’s large-scale and long-term, like evolution. My theory is short-term, but weirdly logical.

I have come to believe (I hope I’m not imagining this) that dogs are somehow able to control human imagination in order to get us to give them more dog food. (My dogs love dog food more than anything in life, and I’ll bet yours aren’t far behind.) The fact that I make up stories about them, ascribe to them human-like characteristics, have names for them, talk to them constantly, write about them ... it’s all their doing. They’re controlling me, not the other way around. Ostensibly, it’s human imagination at work, but I’m suspicious—it creates a fantasy that results in dogs getting more dog food, at least in the case of our awards.

Whatever their origin, the Imaginary Dog Awards are fun. Oona and I have been campers for all our life together. Years ago, we thought we’d cleverly instituted a family tradition: On the last night of any camping trip, we’d have an awards ceremony and present our many dogs with some awards. Over the past 35 years, we’ve had usually five or six dogs at a time, so you can imagine the number of awards that have been given out. Plus, we usually manage two or three major camping trips a year—most often in the Eastern Sierra or the Sonoran Desert of Arizona or, more recently, the Pacific Northwest, particularly on the beaches thereof.

At this point, your intelligence begins to kick in. Face the facts, Your Intelligence says, even though dogs don’t actually care about the Dog Awards; don’t understand that you give them names; only care about dog food, other dogs and sleep, in that order—still, you and Oona are people who enjoy talking to your dogs, and about them, as though they’re both human and care what you’re saying.

You’re right, I say, it’s really just us two humans entertaining one another, of course. But the more we do it, the more the whole fabric of our imaginary dog conversations takes on the spooky feel of reality. Ignoring the obvious is a big part of dog ownership, to be sure.

Your Intelligence then points out that, since dogs have a unique ability to make humans feel better about anything and everything, why not give them awards for this, if nothing else? Well, yeah, I say, and Your Intelligence quickly and politely mentions that Oona and I could easily have thought up the awards all by ourselves.

We’re certainly a big part of things. Indeed, if you watch enough TV, you’ll notice that many shows feature a certain amount of carousing, and we do try to fit that in. No matter where we are, no matter how unshaven (me), how peaceful (her), how uneager to return to what passes for Life, we manage to squirrel away a bottle of Champagne to crack open around the campfire on the last night in camp. We drink out of those big plastic container-cups with covered tops. Big Gulp Champagne, we call it, and it’s become an Imaginary Dog Awards favorite.

We’ll save something special—french fries, in the most recent instance—and watch the stars pick up where they left off the night before, she and I in our camp chairs, the dogs lying underfoot. Oona will have her current journal open in her lap and we’ll look up at the night and contemplate Orion or Cassiopeia or Arcturus rising and think about the weeks of camping. Then comes the drinking of Champagne and the handing out of awards. She’ll write down the winners and make watercolor sketches of the event. Our policy is that no dog goes without an award, even the (semi-coveted) Worst Camper Award.

Over the years, amid the humdrum acceptance speeches for the more pedestrian awards (Best Camper, Best Sleeper, etc.) some great moments stand out: That memorable night in the desert, beneath the dead-black saguaros, under a crescent moon, when Bodie, our biggest and best Australian Cattle Dog, pulled down the one-time I Bit the Ranger award, after a playful nip to the sleeve of Ranger Steve (who’s since become a friend, even dropping by our camp at the end of his shifts to see his dear friend Bodie).

We’ll never forget Porter the Pup winning the Avoiding the Cat on a Leash award. Then there was the weeping, star-struck night when Noodle, our Unknown Breed, was given the It’s Only a Fatty Tumor award after a trip to the vet to examine some mysterious lumps. Waddel the Red Heeler got big laughs as he accepted the Open Pit Mine award for his fine work under the picnic table, and there was Wigeon, the sainted matriarch of Cattle Dogs, winning the Take Me to a Motel award (also known as the I Hate the Desert award).

But the really outstanding moment was a double award nailed down by General Douglas McBugeye, who, while in the High Sierra, won not only the Most Improved Camper award, but followed up almost immediately with the Worst Camper award. The applause was deafening. Fries flew over the heads of the crowd, spinning in the klieg lights. (I handle the kliegs—those little waterproof flashlights work really well—and toss the carbs.)

Here’s to all the nominees. They reach high and grab their fried trophies, and they roll over and sleep, on their backs, four feet straight up, under the stars. Much better than me and the Bombshell—losing at the Grammys, riding home in the back seat of our limo … but—wait a minute—having spent the rest of the evening four feet away from the best Bluegrass musicians in the world playing just for us at one of the many wonderful intimate post-Grammy parties you get to attend whether you win or lose, finishing off the Champagne as the city lights spread below us like ... yeah, wait a minute indeed, let me rethink this. It doesn’t sound bad at all. In fact, we’ve always had a very good time once the Bad News was announced.

Comedy is nothing if not about imagination, and if the Grammys—or even the Dog Awards—were to give out an award for Best Imaginer, I’d probably have a chance at it. And if my theories are correct, I’d trot up on stage after getting on tiptoes to kiss the Bombshell (she’s very beautiful, but considerably taller than I am) and elbow whoever’s up there out of the spotlight to grab the microphone and thank all my dogs, past and present. They got me there, I’d be nothing without them, etc., etc. And I’d be right. The current crop would be waiting out in the limo, asleep and dreaming, presumably, about dog food and how you’d imagine something called the Imaginary Grammy Awards in order to get more. Oona and I would wave goodbye to Ricky Skaggs and Alison Krauss and collapse into the limo clutching our statuette, and pull out the Big Gulps and pop the Champagne and tell the nice driver to go slow and get up into the hills so we could hold hands and watch the city lights spread out below.

Ah, imagination. Ah, dog food.

Making Animal Shelters Better
Fostering can be the key

I’ve been working in animal shelters for more than 25 years and I fall in love almost every day.  I get my heart broke just about every day too but it’s worth it to get to spend time with and help so many amazing dogs and other animals. I started as a shelter volunteer, then a kennel cleaner and have worked in just about every capacity since then. I’ve done temperament testing, adoption counseling, vet tech, management and now animal control officer. I’ve seen a lot of improvements in sheltering over the years and I’ve seen a lot of shelter bashing.

I recently saw a comment on social media where the person stated that “all shelters suck.” That was painful to read and certainly not true. Often shelters are the first place an animal hears a kind word or gets the medical care they need. It can be a place to recover from abuse or find a forever home, to learn to trust or learn social skills that will help them get adopted. I have seen so many dogs come into our shelter as miserable, broken shells and prance out the door, shiny and healthy and full of life, ready to take on the world with their adopters. I’ve also seen dogs returned to frantic owners after the shelter took them in and kept them safe. Lots of happy reunions happen in shelters.

All shelters need community involvement to reach their full potential though and it’s true that many shelters aren’t performing at their best whether it’s due to lack of resources, overwhelming populations, poor management or other issues. It’s so easy to criticize but so hard to roll up our sleeves and make a difference. Even a small donation or just an hour a week can make life sweeter for shelter dogs. There are so many ways that a little time can make a big difference. Walking dogs, doing some training, working at adoption events and photographing adoptable dogs can all help a dog find a new home. Some of our local groomers even come in and donate grooming. There’s nothing like seeing some dirty, matted, neglected dog transformed into a sweet smelling beauty.

Recently some of our shelter volunteers have seen an area of huge need and addressed it. Our shelter, like so many others, has been inundated with large, energetic, untrained dogs, many of them bully breeds. The public isn’t always eager to adopt these rowdy pups and they were being overlooked in our kennel. One volunteer, Christine, saw the issue and started fostering these dogs one by one in her home. She teaches them some manners, learns what their strong and weak points are and posts the heck out of them on social media. Dogs that had been in the shelter system for many months sometimes get adopted within days of going into foster care. Christine even started a Facebook page called The Tiny Pit Bull to promote these dogs. She works together with some of our photographers and they, along with the rest of the staff and volunteers, are making a huge difference in improving life for our shelter dogs. Christine’s involvement has encouraged others to help and its changing our shelter for the better.

Fostering can have life changing and even life saving benefit for shelter dogs. Some dogs are too sensitive to thrive or show their best in a shelter environment. They may be shut down, huddled in the back, growling in terror or refusing to interact. Many of these dogs blossom almost immediately once in a home, others take longer, but all can improve in the right situation. Yes it’s hard to part with them when they leave for their new homes. Yes we choke back tears when we say good-bye, but it’s not about us, it’s about the dog getting a great home. And if heaven forbid, you just can’t part with the foster, then an animal still gets a great home and the foster gets a loving companion.

It’s time to be the change we want to see in our local shelters. The animals need us. What do you do to make a difference?

Comfort Dogs at Funeral Homes
Funeral directors are starting to see the benefit of animals at work.

Therapy dogs have become common visitors at hospitals, college campuses, and nursing homes, but now these pups are adding a new workplace to the list--funeral homes.

Dogs have the ability to lighten the mood at wakes and funeral services, which can run the emotional gamut. Having a pet present can make the room feel more homey and comfortable, or even simply give people something else to focus on. Anyone who has worked with therapy dogs will tell you that the pets seem to know who needs their help and how to provide it.

Mark Krause, owner of a funeral home in Milwaukee, Wis., started bringing his Portuguese Water Dog, Oliver, to work back in 2001. Mark's wife had been training Oliver to visit schools, nursing homes, and hospitals, when she thought that Oliver could be just as beneficial at the funeral home. In his ten years attending wakes and services, they estimate Oliver has touched a couple of thousand families. People light up when Oliver walks in the room.

The work Oliver does can be quite powerful. Mark talks about a time when a 7-year old boy lost his 3-year old sister and completely stopped talking. But the minute Oliver walked in, the boy started chatting quietly to the pup about his sister. Oliver quickly became an indispensable part of the team. When he passed away in 2011, 150 people attended his funeral. Mark can't imagine the funeral home without a dog, so Oliver has since been succeeded by Benny, another Portuguese Water Dog.

Oliver was a pioneer when it comes to therapy dogs in funeral homes, but according to Jessica Koth, spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association, more and more members are bringing animals to work--both certified therapy dogs and well behaved family pets.

Matthew Fiorillo, owner of a funeral home in White Plains, N.Y. is a recent adopter of the idea. He was inspired after seeing the calming effect a Maltese had on stressed people at the airport. Soon after he brought home a Golden Retriever Poodle mix, Lulu, and spent a year training her to be a therapy dog. Now when mourners make arrangements, Matthew asks if they'd like to meet Lulu and tells them she's available, at no extra charge, for any wake or funeral. Almost all have accepted.

The death of a loved one is a stressful and trying time. It's also a time when we need the support that only a pet can provide. The funeral home is a place where comfort animals can have a great impact and I hope to see more successful dogs in this context!

Survey Research
Vet student asks for help

We received a query from Lauren Hunnisett, a final year veterinarian student in the UK (at the Royal Veterinary College) to see if our readers could help her with a research project. As part of her course work she has to create and complete a research project in an area of her interest. For her, she decided to collect data on where the general public is buying or adopting their dogs and the general health conditions experienced by those dogs. As she explained it to us:

“I am interested in looking at where owners purchase and adopt their puppies and dogs as I feel these days people are able to acquire dogs from pretty much anywhere, with such convenience and not much thought or effort. I believe it is a good idea to look at this area as there is not currently a lot of research available. I am also collecting data on general health status of owner's puppies and dogs within their first year of ownership to look to see if there is any correlations, and to determine what diseases are affecting our young canine community.”

If you are interested in taking her survey and helping with this important research, you can find the questionnaire here. www.surveymonkey.com/s/rvcdoghealth


DNA Testing for Breed Bans
NYC co-op tightens their pet policy in a questionable way.

Unfortunately breed bans are popping up everywhere, from apartment buildings to entire cities. But one Manhattan luxury co-op is taking their restriction to the next level.

The Upper West Side building put a new rule in place that requires residents to prove that their pet is not one of the co-op's 27 banned breeds. Going forward, a veterinarian must sign off on every dog's pedigree. For mixed breeds, the co-op board may ask that the pet take a DNA test. If a dog is made up of 50 percent or more of the forbidden breed, they will not be allowed to live in the building. Outraged residents have been calling the "canine breedism" intrusive.

The long list of banned breeds is supposedly based on "documented information regarding their tendency towards aggressiveness," but it's unclear where the information was obtained. And it's not just the traditionally discriminated pups on the list. Besides Pit Bulls, the group also includes Shih Tzus, Pomeranians, Malteses, Basset Hounds, and Saint Bernards. 

The compilation of 27 outlawed breeds makes you wonder why the building even bothers to be "pet friendly" at all. It also highlights what's wrong with breed bans in the first place. Individual dogs in the hands of the irresponsible people are dangerous, not entire breeds. The co-op's new rule is terribly misguided. DNA tests are not going to make the building safer. I wish the co-op board would instead focus their time on figuring how to encourage and reward responsible pet ownership and not punish based on breed stereotypes. 

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