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News and insights from special guests—from experts to enthusiasts.

 

Pet Loss Research:
How Does the Loss of a Dog Impact the Wellbeing of other Dogs in the Household?

I recently came upon the link for a pet loss survey through social media. My summer of 2013 had far too much pet loss. Curious, I went to the website, which is sponsored by the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine. I met the study criteria: over 18 years of age; have lost a pet from my household due to death, temporary or permanent absence; and at the time of the loss, had at least one other pet that is still in my household today.

I took the survey, a process of about twenty minutes. Many questions were quickly answered by filling in the appropriate multiple-choice bubble; others could be answered with additional detail typed into a box.

I was impressed with the topics covered by the survey; having so recently lost two of my three dogs, I felt they were spot-on based on my experiences. Clearly the study delves into questions and concerns that many of us have about how our pets grieve but presently have no real answers for. We simply hope we’re doing the right thing for them.

I lost Maia, the oldest of my three dogs to old age last June (she was 14). Then quite unexpectedly I lost Meadow, age 12, to bone cancer just six weeks later. I found myself in troubling new territory with no guide. How do I help the surviving dogs through their grief? How is their grief impacted by my own? Was Finn, my youngest (age five) and now sole remaining dog going to be traumatized by losing two housemates in such quick succession? What could I do to make the losses easier for him, even while I was a wreck from grief?

There are websites addressing the issue of pet loss. Believe me, I visited several last summer. There are suggestions about helping us handle loss, helping children grieve, or responding to family, friends and co-workers who don’t understand why you’re a wreck and say, “It’s just a pet.” A few websites offer suggestions for helping other pets grieve, but there’s no research, no science behind the information. I didn’t want to make things worse for my dogs. I remember struggling mightily with whether to let the surviving dogs/dog see and smell the departed dog’s body. I searched for answers online, but couldn’t find anything concrete. I decided to let them come into the room after their housemate was gone. I only hope I made the right choice. It would be nice to have some research saying I did, or if not, what to do differently in the future.

Leticia Fanucchi, DVM and a Ph.D student, is working to bring us the science that will help us help our pets through the dying and grieving process when they lose household members (animal or human) to which they’re attached. As Dr. Fanucchi notes, there’s been some anecdotal data about the grieving process of other animals—elephants, apes, chimpanzees, marine mammals—but no systematic research regarding them or our companion animals. She aims to correct that, conducting controlled studies to help us and our vets better understand pet loss and grieving. Dr. Fanucchi describes this research as her career-long project.

Dr. Fanucchi currently has two surveys going—the pet loss survey I took, and a control survey for pet owners who aren’t experiencing loss. The data she collects will form the basis for the next stages of her research: measuring changes in behavior and diet when a pet loses another pet or a person in their household, and whether the grief of the owner impacts the grief of the pet. To gain early data during the next stage, Dr. Fanucchi will observe in the lab the brief separation (two minutes) of two pets sharing a household, to determine if the pair are attached or not. “If they are attached, then I can assume they will grieve.”

Eventually her research will involve finding pets actually going through the grieving process. The WSU College of Veterinary Medicine sees many animals that are old or have cancer or other life-threatening diseases. “Eventually, sadly, we lose animals,” said Dr. Fanucchi. “They will be the samples we study.” Dr. Fanucchi will seek owners willing to let her visit the pets and family in their home, observing and video-taping behaviors and measuring eating before and after loss to detect changes and influences.

Dr. Fanucchi anticipates analyzing the current pet survey data this summer and publishing the results by the end of this year, although the surveys will stay up all year. Thereafter, as she moves forward through research stages and collects additional data, she will try to publish annually so that new information is shared regularly. So far, some 700 people have responded to the pet loss survey, and another 500 to the pet behavior without loss survey.

You can help this important research by responding to whichever survey applies to your household:

Pet Loss Survey: www.opinion.wsu.edu/petloss

Pet Owner (without loss) Survey: www.opinion.wsu.edu/petbehavior

Participation is voluntary and anonymous. If questions make you uncomfortable, you can leave them blank. If the pet loss survey causes any distress, counseling services are available through the WSU College of Veterinary Medicine Pet Loss Hotline (website and phone numbers provided before you enter the survey).

I urge you to take the small amount of time needed to complete one or the other survey. The more data collected, the better the results and subsequent research, leading to information that, sadly, we will all need at some point in our lives shared with animal companions.

 

Zoo Baby: Part 3
Welcome, Zoo Baby!
newborn zoo baby dogs family

He’s here! Our little zoo baby, Brandon Richard Lane, was born February 23, 2014. He let out a powerful wail as the doctor placed him on my chest, assuring us that he would fit right in with our vocal pack. At 6 pounds 5 ounces, he weighed less than our tiniest cat, Cricket, and he measured 20.5” long. He had a surprising amount of brown hair and beautiful, dark blue eyes.

After three days in the hospital, we missed our dogs and cats and couldn’t wait to bring Brandon home to the zoo. In order to prepare them for the new arrival, my mom, Grandma K., brought them a little shirt Brandon wore so everyone could sniff it.

She reported that only our oldest dog, Darby the 11.5-year-old Dalmatian, excitedly checked it out and whipped her tail into circles. I think she smelled her favorite person, my husband Brian, on the shirt. Everyone else demonstrated some curiosity but once they realized Grandma wasn’t offering food, they wandered back to their favorite sleeping spots.

When we came home that night, I entered the house first and spent a good 10 minutes greeting everybody. Jolie, my 10-year-old Dalmatian, bounced up and down with joy, while the younger dogs, Ginger Peach and Magnum, swirled around me, bringing offerings of slobbery Kongs and rubber balls. Darby the Queen, who usually waits for her loyal subjects to approach her, thrust herself into the chaos, slapping her tail against my shins while she growl-grumbled hello.

Brian then entered the house, carrying Brandon in the car seat. The zoo repeated its manic greeting ritual, either ignoring the baby in the room or just being unaware of his presence. Finally, their noses started working and they realized the humans had increased their ranks. Before they could uncover the blue polka-dot Dalmatian blanket protecting Brandon from cold, wet noses and pools of dog slobber, Brian placed the car seat on the kitchen table.

baby cat family pet behavior
Cricket literally warmed up to the baby

This, of course, delighted the cats, who were lying in wait for their opportunity to climb into that comfortable looking cat bed. Unfortunately, there was some weird creature in the way. Cricket tentatively smelled Brandon, and she was on the cusp of tolerating him when he startled and waved his arms around. That did not go over well. She hissed in his face and would’ve started trash talking had we not intervened. Thankfully, our gentle giant cat, Bruiser Bear, just sniffed Brandon a few times before sauntering away.

I had expected – and prepared for - a variety of behaviors from the dogs. Darby had never been comfortable around children. For everyone’s safety, we taught her to leave the area rather than feel she had to confront a child (many thanks to our nieces, who were willing guinea pigs in the training process). So it was no surprise that she excused herself from the room.      

dalmatian dog baby sleeping family pet behavior
Jolie the Dalmatian enjoys napping with baby Brandon

Jolie is a Therapy Dog who adapts well to new situations and is drawn to people, especially if they’re upset or lonely. She is wonderful with children, who love to pet her soft fur and count her spots. She remained at a respectful distance from Brandon until we invited her over. After inspecting him thoroughly and making sure he didn’t have any crumbs of food to offer, she turned her attention to me. Sensing my exhaustion, she gave me a little kiss on the ear (I can count on one hand the number of times Jolie has kissed anybody in 10 years). That was all the assurance I needed.

Magnum and Ginger Peach were the surprises. The former is a two-year-old Border Collie who adores people and grew up with our young nieces. Yet his high energy and sensitivity to pressure and space made me wonder if he’d feel overstimulated and lose his cool. On the contrary, Magnum loved the baby. He was curious without being obnoxious, and sweetly licked the tips of Brandon’s tiny fingers. When Brandon would cry or fuss, Magnum was right there, wanting to know what job he could do to help this poor little puppy feel better. I figured they would bond once Brandon was old enough to throw a ball, but there was an instant closeness between the two.

newborn baby border collie play training behavior
Brandon, 2.5 weeks old & his best friend, Magnum, 2 years old

The dog I thought would be Brandon’s best pal from day one was actually very conflicted about him. Although she loves people, too, she is an anxious rescue girl who does not handle change easily. Her response to stress is to madly lick everything in sight, from the carpet to people’s clothing. She has strong prey drive and is not to be trusted unsupervised around small dogs. Every time Brandon cried, which sounded like a squeak, Peach went on alert, hoping to find a toy. Yet she knew it wasn’t one, leaving her confused.

Upon meeting Brandon, she demonstrated a behavior that shocked me. She narrowed her eyes, lowered her head, and slunk around the car seat, like a feral dog. She was afraid and unsure. Of course, we moved Brandon up to the table again to remove the pressure from Peach and keep him safe. In typical shepherd mode, she placed herself between Brandon and me. That’s when I realized that she wasn’t necessarily being more protective of the baby when I was pregnant. She had wanted to protect me in what she must’ve perceived as a more fragile state.  

We were too tired that night to worry about Ginger Peach’s behavior with the baby. But it was something we would have to address over the next few days. I hoped that with my training background, we would find a way to help her gain confidence around the newest member of the zoo.

 

Read Zoo Baby: Part 2

App Review: Dog Decoder

Jill Breitner is a dog trainer with a mission: to make us aware of how dogs communicate by showing us how to “read” them. She developed her Dog Decoder app to do just that.

A helpful and handy primer on canine body language, it demonstrates the ways dogs let us know they’re scared, excited, cautious, willing and so forth. As Breitner explains, “If we understood what dogs try so hard to tell us, there would be fewer people bitten and fewer dogs ending up in shelters.” The app highlights 60 different poses/situations; each one (“butt sniff,” for example) comes with a helpful description that points out some common misconceptions, or the circumstances in which a dog will exhibit it.

A great tool for newbie dog people and those of us who need to brush up on dog talk. dogdecoder.com

Home-Schooling for Dogs Could Be Catching On
“Do As I Do” scores high

A rambunctious five-year-old Labrador Retriever who until a few months ago knew not a word of any language, obeyed no command, charged around the house or zipped through any hole in the fence before one could utter the name he didn’t seem to recognize has become my 91-year-old mother’s great and constant companion. He sits or lies by her when she is sitting or lying down. He moves with her when she goes somewhere with her walker and when she tells him to give her clear passage. He accompanies her when she walks around the pool for exercise. She says, “He is a good boy.” My mother has never trained a dog. She had a nice trained dog once, but she had been trained by someone else and given to her.

But Rocky, as he was named by my mother’s granddaughter, received no formal instruction from any source. He was neutered, which helped slow him down, but more profoundly, he and she opted for companionship and accommodation over ignoring each other. She talks to him constantly, telling him what she wants him to do. If she praises him, she is not effusive. She may occasionally slip him some food when she is cooking, and he will if given a chance steal her breakfast bagel. There is no system to it, but there is consistency.Top of Form

More than a few dog trainers who follow behaviorist principles that require a stimulus, a reward or punishment, for learning to occur would argue that Rocky is untrained—that is that he still will not perform on command the actions demanded of him—except he comes when called. He moves when told. He tells my mother when someone is at the door and stands by her when she opens it, thereby providing at least the illusion of protection. If that is not training, what is it?

My friend and fellow Psychology Today blogger, Marc Bekoff (“Animal Emotions”), might call the process dog teaching or dog learning.

It might not be as quick or as systematic as one of the common schools of training, including those that use electric collars and choke chains and those that rely on clickers and food rewards or other positive re-enforcers. But then again the results might be quicker, deeper, and longer lasting.

I have seen no statistics on the numbers of dogs educated in this fashion, but I imagine it is substantial. Essentially it relies on the dog’s innate curiosity, desire to please, and recognized ability to imitate behavior and recognize words and emotions, traits which arguably thousands of years of living with humans have served to enhance. It also requires the human have an interest in being with the dog and interacting with him or her in a meaningful way—what used to be referred to as “quality time” with the hound. Praise and rewards are meted out more according to the person’s nature than any program or schedule. They do not have to involve food. Our Kelpie Katie was unmotivated by food—she would ignore food rewards—but when a tennis ball appeared she went on high alert. Even then the ball was not essential to her learning something.

This intuitive style of dog teaching is not without its intellectual underpinnings thanks initially to Edward Tolman in the first half of the last century. He proposed that learning had intrinsic value and that people and animals could learn in the absence of immediate rewards—latent learning it is called. That idea underpins what is called the social theory of learning, which also views learning as a social endeavor that can involve imitation of behavior that is demonstrated or verbally described.

In an article in the January 28, issue of Applied Animal (Behaviour Science, entitled “Should old dog trainers learn new tricks? The efficiency of the “Do as I do” method and the shaping/clicker training method to train dogs,” Claudia Fugazza and Ádám Miklósi of the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary, look at a canine system of social learning that relies on the dog’s great capacity for imitation called Do As I Do (DAID) compared with clicker training, which relies on the timely delivery of rewards to employ the dog’s associative abilities in shaping its behavior. (The article is only available by subscription, but here is the Abstract.) The clicker becomes a stand-in (secondary re-enforcer) for the actual re-enforcer, usually food. Clicker training is individualized instruction that requires the dog to figure out what earns rewards.

Fugazza, a graduate student in ethology developed Do As I Do in order to study social learning in dogs. To do that she had to develop protocols for teaching them. Judging from its success, it should gain a wide following. In this method, trainers, usually the dog’s primary human companion, use standard reward-based techniques to teach the dog to associate a small number of gestures with the command, “Do It!” The dog is then shown a new task and taught to perform it upon being given that command.

 

For this study, Fugazza and Miklósi compared the speed in learning three sets of tasks of increasing complexity, from knocking over a glass (simple) to opening or closing a locker or drawer (complex task) to a sequence of actions, like hopping on a chair and ringing a bell or opening a locker and removing a purse (compound). Objects were involved in each task that were not considered part of the family dog’s normal repertoire so that mastery of the task could be construed as learning. In the simple task there was no difference in performance between clicker-trained dogs and Do As I Do dogs, but that changed as the tasks became more difficult. Do As I Do dogs performed noticeably better, with more of them learning the task in the allotted fifteen minutes than clicker-trained dogs. 

No one knows how the dogs are making the connections, and in their conclusion Fugazza and Miklósi thought it more important to downplay that result in favor, Miklósi said in an email, of providing trainers with as many methods as possible so they can choose the one best suited to their needs.

That is a tactical decision rather than a scientific one. It is grounded in the recognition that, especially commercial dog trainers and trainers of working and service dogs, like to use what has worked for them in the past with the kind of dog on which it has worked. That is one reason punishment-based forms of dog training persist. 

For home schooling, time, patience, devotion—and a daily reminder of who has the big brain—are the keys to success and those come from discipline we often need more than the dog.

Used with permission of Mark Derr and Psychology Today, see more from Mark Derr’s blog “Dog’s Best Friend.”

Also see http://thebark.com/content/dogs-are-asked-just-do-it

 

 

 

Wisdom Has Gone to the Dogs

This past weekend, I attended the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco. A conference described as “4 Days, 2,000 People, 1 Question: How Can We Live With Wisdom, Awareness and Compassion in the Digital Age?”

The answer is simple. Dogs.

That sounds like a biased answer coming from the president of Humane Society Silicon Valley. Except it didn’t come from me.

During the opening session, Wisdom 2.0 founder Soren Gordhamer highlighted how individual attendees answered the question, “What Most Inspires You?” When the words ‘my dog’ popped up on the big screen, more than a few knowing chuckles came from the audience.

And the evidence kept mounting.

·   Facebook Director of Engineering, Arturo Behar, launched his presentation of ‘Putting Wisdom into Practice’ by showing a picture of Churro, his Siberian Husky puppy. The 2,000 people in attendance responded with a collective ‘Awwwww.’

·  Instagram Director of Product, Peter Deng, discussed ‘Applied Mindfulness’ and said, “If you want to insert mindfulness into your busy life, the best way to start the day is with a cute dog.”

·  Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh wanted to deliver more happiness to employees at the new Zappos campus. He solicited employees for their input during construction. Some asked for an onsite gym, others an onsite library, some even requested an onsite pub. But the biggest request, by far, was onsite Doggy Daycare.

·  Google VP of People, Karen May, interviewed Eckhart Tolle, one of the most influential spiritual leaders of our time. May originally met Tolle a few years ago when seated next to him at a dinner. She figured that since Tolle is so spiritually lofty, he couldn’t possibly carry a technology device like the rest of us. And then he whipped out his iPhone to show her a picture of his dog. “That’s when I knew he was human,” she said.

Tolle continued to discuss why being overly absorbed in our minds keeps us from enjoying life. We get so wrapped up in our thoughts that we miss the moment. He warned that if we allow our connection to technology to take over, we could become completely disconnected to the life within us and around us. If we keep our minds so preoccupied with the next email, the next text, the next Facebook post, we will never be present for one another nor ourselves.

That would be such a tragedy! Because being present is a wonderful gift. When we give pure attention without any intention, it creates true relationship because intuitively, we know that we are not being judged. That’s where dogs (and cats) come into the picture. Tolle also talked about why so many of us love animals, and how it’s not necessarily the reason most of us think—the unconditional love they provide. When you look into the eyes of a dog or cat, you feel really alert. For a moment, it frees you from your mind. You not only sense the beingness; you recognize it. The real reason we love dogs and cats is that we love the consciousness that shines through. And when we acknowledge that consciousness, it arises in us. 

And we become present.

Which brings me back to the original question asked by the conference description. How do we live with wisdom, compassion, and awareness in the digital age? From the sessions I’ve highlighted, I think it’s fair to say, that for many people, having animals in our lives is part of the answer.

And I couldn’t agree more! Animals, for those of us who resonate with them, are an entry point to living in the moment. And in the face of technology and the multitude of devices that are constantly pulling us out of the present—and out of our lives—dogs (and cats) are one of the few ways we can easily be pulled back in.

See Humane Society of Silicon Valley

 

Pub Dogs

We are impressed and amused by the lengths this pup goes to convince his unwitting new pal to share his bag of chips. We have no trouble seeing any one of Bark dogs going to similar extents to "share" a snack.

Pub Dogs was written and animated by Ant Blades of London's Bird Box Studios. Check out the Bird Box Studio YouTube channel for more of Blade's delightful shorts.

Zoo Baby: Part 2
Family Greetings
claw marks dog greeting window

There are claw marks on every door in the house. The deep grooves etched in the living room windowsills were there when we moved in seven years ago. My husband said he imagined the dog of the previous homeowners eagerly welcoming them home by tap-dancing on the glass. Rather than caulk over the marks or replace the window frames, we let them be, expecting our own pack to add their signatures.

When we pull up in the driveway, we listen for the distinctive, joyous barks. They’re home, they’re home! Jolie the Dalmatian, usually so dainty and gentle, pops up in the window to perform her welcome home song and dance, as if it were a stage and she had just downed Red Bull in her dressing room. Ginger Peach the Dutch Shepherd joins the show, paws braced against the windowsill as she emphatically tosses her head back with each staccato note.

We never see Darby the Queen, our eldest Dalmatian, but there is no mistaking her growly trills. They start low and grumbly, deep in her chest, then scale a full octave as the notes flow from her throat and escape her clenched embouchure, cheeks puffing out like little bagpipes.    

The poor Border Collie, Magnum, and cats Cricket and Bruiser Bear, take cover, unsure of their place in the chorus. Or perhaps they’re overcome by stage fright. Housebound, they reluctantly serve as captive audience to this musical spectacular.

I wonder how our little Zoo Baby will respond when his dad comes home from work and the show begins. Will he be like my friend’s two-year-old grandson, who happily barks at the window alongside his canine co-stars when she arrives? He goes so far as to giddily lick her face, perfectly mimicking the enthusiastic greetings of the pack.

Or will the explosion of energy overwhelm him? Will he seek comfort from me, clambering into my lap with his hands over his ears? Or will he bound off stage to his room, finding solace with the quivering cats and Border Collie?

Perhaps he will do as his mama does and smile at the happy chaos.

Read Zoo Baby: Part 1

Rufo's Story

This video is the story of Rufo, a pit bull mix who, though loving and sweet, could not get adopted. He was deposited at a muncipal shelter at age one. For the next six years he lived in a cage twenty two hours a day.

Now adopted and one of our Smiling Dogs in our new issue. Rufo has many reasons to be smiling now.

 

Canine Urination 101: Handstands and Leg Lifts Are Just the Basics

As my Twitter bio says, I’m interested in your dog’s urine. I’m not kidding around here. For a recent Animal Behavior class, I buddied up with a doggie daycare and followed dogs on their afternoon walks. Yes. I was that person walking around NYC with a hand held camera, trailing dogs and video taping them as they peed.

This wasn’t a hypothesis testing experiment, I was simply trying to gauge what parts of urination were easily measured in a naturalistic context. I checked out things like urination duration, urine placement, leg position, leg height, tail position and post-pee scratching. If another dog was present, I got to see whether there was any over-marking (peeing on another dog’s pee) or adjacent marking (peeing nearby). I was just measuring stuff as you often do when starting to investigate why animals do what they do.

I’m not the only researcher interested in your dog’s urine. Patricia Yang and colleagues at The Georgia Institute of Technology have a similar interest in measuring things that might seem odd to measure. They’ve submitted the abstract The Hydrodynamics of Urination: to drip or jet to the Annual Fluid Dynamics Conference held by the American Physical Society in late November.

Using “high-speed videography” and “flow-rate measurement” they investigated independent urination styles, such as the dripping of small mammals and the “jetting” of large mammals. New Scientist interviewed Yang (and Discover has a piece out as well), and the coverage touches on urethra length, gravitational pull and the number of seconds it takes to empty bladders. I eagerly await how the published study links Newtonian physics to urine!

Truth be told, maybe I wanted to write this post so I could write “jetting” of large mammals, and show this video. Also, I want to go on vacation with these people*:

But as you’ve seen, urine does not begin and end with the jetting of large mammals. Dog urination is pretty awesome and a number of researchers are holding a figurative magnifying glass up to it (and you can too!). Some dogs let it all out at once — although, I’m pretty sure that’s not called “jetting”) — while others let a little out at a time. And then of course, there’s how they do it.

A recent study by Wirant and McGuire (2004) found that female Jack Russell Terriers assumed a number of urination positions, including the squat-raise (most common), squat, arch-raise, combination and handstand. They found that females“used the squat-raise and arch-raise postures more when off their home area then when on their home area.” If dog urination has a social function, it might make sense to present your urine in different ways depending on where you are and who you are encountering, don’t you think?

 

Here’s what you can do: When you’re out walking your dog, pay attention to their urine. Do they assume a different position if you take them to an area where they’ve never been or go infrequently? Or do they pull out the same tricks no matter where they are?

 

Leave your urine reports below, and share early and often. My business is urine, and it can be yours too.

——-
* What do you think? Better video title: 1) Wow, What a Pee, 2) Don’t Brag on Camera or 3) Did You Have a Good Pee, Mr. Rhino?

Photo: Flickr Nature’s Fire Hydrant via Mike Finkelstein Creative Commons

References
Wirant & McGuire. 2004. Urinary behavior of female domestic dogs (Canis familiaris): influence of reproductive status, location, and age. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 85, 335-348.

Pham et al. 2013. The Hydrodynamics of Urination: to drip or jet. Bulletin of the American Physical Society. 66th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics.
Volume 58, Number 18. November 24–26, 2013; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

 

 

This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted

The First Canine Laryngectomy
Bean during her intake at the Humane Society of Silicon Valley shelter.

At her intake at a shelter in April 2012, Bean was a pup with a familiar profile: a Pit Bull whose family could no longer care for her. But it wasn’t long before someone at the Humane Society of Silicon Valley in Milpitas, California did notice something unusual about her.

It was her lack of “boing,” says staff member Finnegan Dowling. “No Pit Bull puppy should be that mellow.”

Bean also had a stiff walk. When she was excited, she hopped like a bunny. They took her for x-rays, but even sedation didn’t relax her joints enough to get pictures, Dowling says, and the vet referred her to UC Davis for an MRI scan.

There, Dr. Karen Vernau, chief of the Neurology and Neurosurgery Service at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, discovered that her hip joints were improperly formed. Bean’s determined spirit wasn’t lost on Vernau, but her chances of adoption seemed slim.

The five month old pup was suffering from muscular dystrophy, a progressive and currently incurable disease that would affect many parts of her body.  

According to notes in Bean’s file at the Humane Society, she was scheduled for a procedure at Davis on May 25. By the 29th, she was diagnosed with myopathy, a neurological condition. But somewhere in between those dates, Dowling says, Dr. Vernau’s relationship with her patient “went from obligation to affection.”

Vernau and her family decided to adopt Bean.  As the vet told a reporter, “We didn’t intend to go down this path with her, but she just sucked us in.”

This happy ending was only the beginning of Bean’s harrowing medical story.

Gradually, things got worse. Surgery to correct her hips was followed by relief—then new problems. A massive hernia called for another surgery. Her swallowing improved, but the muscles in her esophagus were failing and there were bouts of vomiting so intense she would sometimes choke and pass out. Bean grew thinner as she struggled with aspiration (food getting into her respiratory tract when eating), which caused pneumonia.

Her vets sought help from colleagues in human medicine, a multidisciplinary approach the university encourages through its “One Health Initiative.” They included Dr. Stan Marks, a gastrointestinal specialist, and Dr. Peter Belafsky, an expert in human swallowing and airway disorders, and others.

With help from the biomedical engineering department, Bean had been fitted with a feeding tube that allowed her to eat several times per day. It worked beautifully, according to Dr. Marks.

But it didn’t stop the vomiting.

Since the vomiting put her life at risk, Belafsky concluded that they would have to stop it by removing her larynx.

Belafsky, who performed the second documented human larynx transplant, knew how profoundly such problems affect a person’s quality of life. And it was clearly true for Bean.

Her surgery, which lasted more than three hours, was the first ever canine laryngectomy. The procedure is typically used to treat human cancer. According to Belafsky, the separation of her breathing and swallowing tubes will prevent food from getting into her lungs when she eats or vomits.

The lessons learned in Bean’s treatment will impact human care, and vice versa, Belafsky said in a press conference after the surgery. Belafsky hopes she will inspire human patients who have also lost their voice and now breathe through a hole in their neck. She may just get a guest membership in the “Lost Cords Club” for people who have had a laryngectomy.

After all, Bean is only two years old, but has slept out more than 100 rounds of anesthesia and undergone eight surgeries and countless other procedures. Her “can’t do list” is long. Can’t bark, breathe or swallow normally. Forget gobbling down a treat, and she can’t swim without drowning due to the tracheostomy tube.

But the list of things she once endured, the choking and pneumonia, has been tossed.

Now when she accompanies Vernau to the hospital, she serves as ambassador and teacher, allowing students to experience canine tube feeding.

At home, Bean is learning new ways to enjoy life, which still holds plenty of the good old stuff – balls to chew, cushy beds, and a loving family that includes two other dogs.

Watch this video about Bean's surgery and recovery.

 

 

Wisdom Has Gone to the Dogs
Zoo Baby: Part 2
Canine Urination 101: Handstands and Leg Lifts Are Just the Basics
How Well Do You Know Your Dog? Part 2
Pub Dogs
Rufo's Story
The First Canine Laryngectomy
ASPCA Ends Law Enforcement Unit