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


Case to Protect ADA Rights
A little girl and her service dog vs a school board

The US Justice Department filed suit yesterday against a public school district in upstate New York for refusing to permit a student with disabilities to attend school with her service dog unless the family pays for a dog handler to accompany the pair.

The lawsuit alleges that the Gates-Chili Central School District in Monroe County, NY, violated Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which states that a public entity must permit the use of a service animal by an individual with a disability, except under specific exceptions.

The child at the center of this debate, Devyn Pereira, 8, was born with Angelman Syndrome, a rare disorder that results in developmental delays, seizures and autism. Her mother, Heather Pereira, a single mother of two, spent more than a year raising the $16,000 for Hannah, a 109-pound white Bouvier trained to perform numerous tasks for Devyn, including alerting school staff to oncoming seizures, preventing Devyn from wandering or running away, and providing support so she can walk independently. 

Pereira, has spent three years trying to convince school officials to allow her daughter’s one-on-one school aide to provide periodic assistance in handling Hannah—primarily, tethering the service dog and issuing limited verbal commands. The dog is trained to last the school day without food, water or bathroom walks.

The lawsuit requests the school district permit Devyn to act as the handler of her service dog, with assistance from school staff. It also seeks compensatory damages of about $25,000 for Pereira for the ongoing cost of the dog handler.  

Announcing the suit this week, Vanita Gupta, principal deputy assistant attorney general and head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said: “Honoring an individual’s choice to be accompanied by her service animal in all aspects of community life, including at school, promotes the ADA’s overarching goals of ensuring equal opportunity for, and full participation by, persons with disabilities.” In hearing the news of the department’s decision, Pereira responded, “knowing the United States of America is not only sympathizing with our situation, but willing to take this all way to the top to fix it is an amazing feeling.” And she added, “I have so many dreams for my little girl and with the DOJ’s help, they are all within our reach. It is so exciting to think we are blazing a trail for all those that follow with service dogs.”

For more information about this lawsuit, or the ADA, call the Justice Department’s toll-free ADA Information Line at 800.514.0301 or800.514.0383 (TDD) or access its ADA website at www.ada.gov.  Complaints of disability discrimination may be filed online at http://www.ada.gov/complaint/.




Valley Fire Dogs in Need

As embers fell and flames grew, the question of “what to take” often came down to a four-legged bundle. But the Valley Fire in California’s rural Lake County left many with just minutes to escape as it sped through parched brush in record time.

“The community had to leave so fast that hundreds of animals were left behind,” says Bill Davidson, director of Lake County Animal Care and Control. 

Countless dogs that managed to stay with their people soon joined cats, goats, horses and more in evacuation centers crammed with cots and crates. One local shelter had to face its own tough choices; whether to euthanize existing animals to make way for the incoming. (Luckily, these two groups stepped in).

In South Lake County, where the 73,700-acre blaze began, among the worst in California’s history, the roads out are windy and narrow, through rock-strewn mountains and forests, with yawning drops at every bend. In 2011, a group of horse owners along with Davidson formed the Lake Evacuation and Animal Protection team (LEAP) to help prepare for the inevitable, catastrophic fire.

The volunteer group has trained to enter the fire area and either impound or shelter in place. The vast majority of city and county animal control agencies lack the training, equipment, or support from local fire agencies to do the work, Davidson says.

In recent days, some people ventured back into smoldering fire zones, escorted by sheriff’s deputies and CHP officers for a 15-minute check on the animals they’d left behind. Some would find their homes; others would not.

“Everyone is calling to have us check on their animals,” says Davidson. “The list is endless.” With the enormity of the crisis, he called in the ASPCA. Everyone wants to help, he says, but LEAP only uses those with fire training and personal protection equipment. The fire zone, where animals still wander, is filled with dangers. “Many things are actively burning, trees are falling, power lines are down, and fire crews are running around to trouble spots.” On Sunday, the ASPCA arrived with a 30-foot trailer. The four field rescuers and three shelter helpers are expected to stay through Sunday.

“We brief each morning and then they are gone for most of the day, not returning to well after midnight so far,” Davidson says.

The field rescue is uplifting at times, heartbreaking at others.

“As long as the property was spared, most dogs have done well,” he says. “Our goal has been to shelter in place as many as possible, providing food and water for the absent owner, then moving on to the next address.” If they survived the initial blast, most are far more comfortable and easily managed staying at home.

But over 1,000 structures were likely destroyed, “pretty much a total loss, including anything left inside,” he says. “The injured animals have been trickling in, all being sent for medical attention.”

How many dogs are missing? Davidson is sure there are hundreds that escaped yards or were set loose by their owners. “Social media has been full of pictures of animals set free by their owners before leaving. We have impounded about a dozen dogs just wandering around as we check on addresses.”

Lake County’s animal shelter now brims with almost 200 animals whose lives were upturned by fire…again.

In August, the county was struck by another roaring inferno; the Rocky fire, nearly as large but in a less populated area. Less than two weeks later the Jerusalem fire ignited. Help arrived from Chico-based North Valley Animal Disaster Group, but the run of disasters has left shelters reeling. And with some 600 homes lost, many people and pets are homeless.

 “We survived the Rocky and Jerusalem fires, but it pretty much depleted our resources, both physically and mentally,” Davidson says.

“Then this came.”


Best in Health: Purebred or Mixed-Breed?

With their extremes of limb and coat, purebred dogs may seem more prone to health problems. And don’t breeders even compound defects, as they tinker with uniformity? Yet the dog of many varieties, a potluck of traits, outlasts them all.

Not quite, say U.C. Davis researchers in a recent study lead by Anita Oberbauer in Canine Genetics and Epidemiology. Their analysis of health records of 88,635 dogs, both purebred and mixed breeds, tilts assumptions. So does another recent study, in which they found both populations shared similar risk for 13 inherited disorders. One condition was even more prevalent in mixed-breeds.

Purebreds, and their health records, have made it easier to explore the genetics of diseases that get passed down, the researchers say. But as we hear about the studies, the belief that purebreds are less healthy grows. In fact, many breeds have proven more prone to some diseases, like Great Danes and hip dysplasia.

In this study, they sliced the data thinner. Could particular AKC breed groups, not just individual breeds, be the source? Do the diseases arise from dogs with genomic similarities like working and herding groups? The huge pack of canines, seen over 15 years at U.C. Davis veterinary teaching hospital, showed that ten inherited conditions are more common in purebred dogs. But surprise, not all purebred dogs.

A subset of pedigreed pups tied with mixed breeds for the disorders.

The conditions include aortic stenosis (narrowing above the aortic heart valve or of the valve); skin allergies; bloat; early onset cataracts (clouding of the lens inside the eye); dilated cardiomyopathy (enlargement of the heart chambers); elbow dysplasia (abnormal tissue growth that harms the joint); epilepsy (brain seizures); hypothyroidism (underproduction of thyroid hormones); intervertebral disk disease (affects the disks of the spine, causing neurological problems); and hepatic portosystemic shunt (abnormal blood circulation around the liver, rather than into it).

With a spotlight on the ten maladies, the researchers set out to learn which canines are more at risk. Purebreds were subdivided into categories, then compared to the mixed breeds.

For three conditions common across the purebreds—skin allergy, hypothyroidism, and intervertebral disk disease—many groups had higher prevalence than the mixes. But for seven others, most purebred groups were statistically neck and neck with mixed-breeds. (Aortic stenosis, gastric dilation volvulus, early onset cataracts, dilated cardiomyopathy, elbow dysplasia, epilepsy, and portosystemic shunt).

Terrier groups even bested the mixes for one problem, having less intervertebral disk disease.

Among the purebred groups, health differences were clear. Compared to mixed breeds, terriers and toys were more likely to have two disorders. Herding and hound groups were more burdened with four conditions. The non-sporting group, where pooches ranging from Poodles to Dalmatians fit in, were more likely to have five disorders. Working breeds, animals expected to have grit and vigor; six. Worst in health: the sporting group bred for outdoor stamina. They were more at risk for seven inherited disorders.

In fact, in three categories of dogs bred for endurance—herding, sporting, and working AKC groups—aortic stenosis, the heart condition present at birth, was higher. With narrower focus, other findings emerged. The researchers say the data “suggests that most breeds in the herding group are not at higher risk”—except the German Shepherd, which other studies have also found susceptible.

And while Retrievers were more affected by aortic stenosis, another sporting breed, the Spaniel, wasn’t. For a different malady, Spaniels were the unluckiest. Epilepsy was more prevalent in herding, hound, and sporting groups, particularly the Spaniel breeds.

Early onset cataracts beset both non-sporting and sporting breeds more often.

How did all of these health glitches arise? The study mentions other research that found some diseases, like elbow dysplasia, are more frequent in dogs of related ancestral origin. The so-called “liability genes” may hail from founding ancestors of related breeds, or be the result of human error in the quest for desired traits. This study, the authors say, “may shed light on the possible origin of certain inherited disorders in domestic dog evolution.”

For the ten diseases, the analysis found some purebreds genetically healthier than others. Flipped around, mixed breeds were no healthier than certain purebreds. But both populations may benefit from the work. According to the researchers, defining the lineage associations for such disorders may bring about new therapies.

Better, it could allow breeders to weed out the responsible genes to begin with. Especially at the local level. “Whether breeding reforms will mitigate inherited disorders in mixed-breeds will depend upon the locale,” the scientists say. That is, some regions have a greater potluck of breeds within their mixed-breeds.

Still, since most mixes have purebred ancestors, they say, improvement of the genetic health of purebreds “may trickle down to mixed-breed dogs.”



Dog Days of Cleaning
Tools to Groom

For those of us with dogs, summer is a season to be outdoors—early morning walks, afternoons at the lake or beach, weekend camping trips. Life outdoors is great but it has a tendency to follow you home as it attaches to your dog’s coat and paws … burrs, sand, mud and plain old dirt. Having our own pack’s three coats and dozen paws to clean and maintain, we’ve searched out a small arsenal of canine grooming products to help combat the inevitable summer soiling. Here are some of our favorite tools to keep ready in your mudroom, porch or garage … wherever your dog grooming takes place.

The Groom Genie
A new handy brush that untangles knotted fur with its unique bristle design. Brushing with this ergonomic tool also massages the skin to soothe and calm your dog—and fits in easy in the palm of your hand. What is often a stressful chore for both you and your dog becomes an enjoyable activity. The debris from your dog’s coat is easily removed from the brush, and affords you the chance to check your dog for bumps, bruises and hot spots.

These sturdy cloth mitts allow you to wipe down your dog without a bath. The neutrally scented product tends to stay moist in the package until used. The manufacture claims an all natural formula and biodegradable materials. All we know is when Lola comes traipsing in with who-knows-what on her paws and the after odor of a good roll … we reach for these indispensable wipes to do the dirty work.

Messy Mutts Gloves and Chenille Grooming Mitt
These colorful latex gloves fit snugly without cutting off your circulation and making your arms perspire like other cleaning wear. The soft chenille mitt is highly absorbent and the finger-like shapes allow a gentle, deeper reach to track down dirt. Use with or without water to good effect.


Shampoo Sponge
Bath Day sponges are all natural, certified cruelty-free, ethically sourced, compostable and detergent-free. They fit easily into the hand, plus they don’t foam up too much. These lightweight sponges free up our hands to better control our bath adverse pups. It also gets the job done quicker and saves precious water. Good for travel and spot cleanups, too. Available in three formulas: oatmeal, tea tree and watermelon.

This ingenious devise solves the age-old problem of a spot bath on the go. Store in your car or truck and use the RinseKit to give your dog a quick shower with its pressurized spray that lasts up to three minutes without pumping or batteries. The container holds up to two gallons of water, comes with a six foot hose and a spray nozzle that offers seven different settings. Great for travel and at home.

Think Twice about the Fish in Dog Food
Be sure where it comes from

There’s a new concern about fish, and once again, labels won’t clear it up. The hidden ingredient in some pet food is slave labor used to harvest small forage fish like mackerel. A New York Times expose of brutal conditions on Thai fishing ships describes the link to several top brand U.S. pet food companies.

Why not just skip Thai fish? Many would if that information was on the label, as it is with seafood meant for humans. But country of origin doesn’t apply to pet food rules. So where the fish or fishmeal is from isn’t likely to be announced on labels or packages. The difficulty tracking each link in the global seafood supply chain can even leave manufacturers in doubt. The article says bar codes on pet food in some European countries let consumers track Thai seafood to the packaging facilities. But prior to processing, the global supply chain for forage fish, much of which is used for pet and animal feed, is “invisible.”

Given the unsavory news, not to mention the topic of fishing the oceans to extinction, any amount of Thai fish is likely to be too much for many shoppers.

AAFCO, the governing (though not regulatory) body for the pet food industry notes that FDA pet food regulations “focus on product labeling and the ingredients which may be used.” Where those ingredients originate is left out.

That’s why some shoppers look for “alternative” certification labels from organic to Fair Trade, and put their faith in U.S. companies that aim to exceed regulatory standards. For example, Honest Kitchen, which sells human food-grade products, states on its website that suppliers guarantee their statement of country of origin. (Another promise is that no ingredient is from China.) The company is a member of Green America that promotes companies that operate in ways that support workers, communities and the environment.

As for buying dog food with fish sourced from non-Thai waters, some pet food companies do state where the fish is sourced. But many manufacturers have a long way to go to make the process transparent and easy enough for consumers to find their ingredient sourcing. (We highly recommend calling pet food companies and asking for this information to be more readily available!)

Advertising terms like “holistic” (meaning the whole is greater than the sum of the parts) and “biologically appropriate” (referring to meat-content for carnivores) say nothing about origin.

Even pet food regulators admit that pet caretakers “have a right to know what they are feeding their animals.”

So if in doubt where the fish is from, ask the company behind the bag or can. That much—the manufacturer’s name and address—is required on labels.

And some say, why should pet food buyers beware the global supply chain? With some research on a dog’s protein, calcium and other basic needs, it’s more possible than ever to get it right with a home-made diet rich in “human food” or even home-cooked table scraps. In fact, local food waste is a problem with plenty of solutions.



What Else Is In That Supplement?
Dog fed blue green algae supplement develops liver problem, report finds

A new report by researchers at U.C. Davis points to the need for oversight of nutrition supplements. The pills and powders fed to pets to boost their health come with no assurance of getting what you pay for—or more than you bargained for, like toxic contaminants.

In this case, a tainted organic algae powder was damaging the liver of an 11 year old Pug, who lost her appetite and was lethargic after several weeks use. The authors say it’s the first documented case of blue-green algae poisoning in a dog caused by a dietary supplement. (Most reports of illness involve dogs exposed to water containing certain blue-green algae toxins.)

Blue green algae supplements are sometimes fed to dogs to relieve arthritis or boost the immune system.

Many consumers believe these products can only be sold if they are safe for use, the authors say. “Unfortunately, the opposite has been demonstrated in several studies showing the contamination of blue-green algae supplements with microcystins.”

With the use of commercial health products on the rise, the risk is growing. While supplements are regulated by the FDA, there are no requirements for proving them safe or effective before marketing. That is, the industry “is largely self-regulated,” the report says.

Toxic blue-green algae blooms occur in Oregon’s Klamath Lake, where supplement manufacturers harvest much of their source material. In 1997, the state became the first to regulate the amount of mycrocystins allowed in supplements.

Adrienne Bautista, the lead researcher on the current report, says in an email that the tests may not catch every problem. The tests many companies use to certify their products are below the 1 ppb Oregon limit are often ELISAs, Bautista says, which mainly detect “the LR congener of microcystin.” But there are more than 100 other congeners likely to have similar modes of action that the tests are “quite poor” at finding. So even if the supplement tests below the 1ppb for this common toxin, others may still be present.

What could lower the risk from these particular supplements is to produce the algae in a lab-like setting, Bautista says. “By harvesting it naturally, you have no control over contamination from other algae.” 

The researchers call for stronger oversight of dietary supplements for companion animals, and greater awareness among veterinarians.

With treatment and by stopping the supplement, the Pug made a full recovery.


Pet Summer Safety Guide
Every Dog Needs Love

The call initially came in of loose dogs at a rural address. I pulled up half an hour later and was surprised to find a large number of dogs barking at me from behind a secure fence. They looked like maybe beagle, corgi, fox terrier type mixes and my rough count was about 10-15 dogs. None of them matched the description of the stray dogs and the fence seemed secure but there were other issues here.

I knocked on the door and a man answered who seemed pale and weak. He apologized for his condition and explained that he was undergoing treatment for a serious illness. He had started out with just a couple of dogs and they had puppies. More litters were born and he just didn’t know what to do with them and was too sick to really spend much time on it. The dogs looked healthy and had a spacious yard, food, water and shelter but this rampant breeding just couldn’t continue.

After further questioning I found a variety of challenges including finances and his health. After consulting with shelter staff it was agreed that he would sign over several dogs a week until he was down to his legal limit of four. We would also spay and neuter the remaining dogs for him at very low cost. We would even pick them up and drop them off after surgery as he was too sick to drive. On that day he signed over 4 darling puppies of about 8 weeks of age. As I carried the puppies to my truck I smiled at how cute they were. They would be easy to rehome.

I was surprised to see one of the puppies still in the kennels the following week. He was adorable little morsel of white and black spots with a waggy tail and a happy smile. I couldn’t believe he wasn’t up for adoption yet. His siblings had been adopted immediately. A quick check of his records showed a major heart murmur. A 6/6 is as bad as it gets. He would have a greatly shortened life span and could die suddenly at any time or go into heart failure at an early age. It was a huge dilemma. Who wants to adopt a puppy that could die before his first birthday?

The puppy saw a cardiology specialist who thought that surgery could potentially increase his lifespan significantly but at great cost and it couldn’t even be done until he was more mature. What to do? How do you find someone willing to take on such a monumental uncertainty and expense?

The decision was made to put the puppy, who was later named Max, up for adoption with full disclosure and see what happened. I took Max out to the play yard whenever I could and I could feel his heart though his chest wall when I carried him. It wasn’t anything resembling a heartbeat, more of a strange fluttering movement. It made me sad but when I looked into his big brown eyes and smiling mouth I was reminded of what is so great about dogs. Dogs live in the moment. Max doesn’t care about what may or may not happen in the future. He’s full of love and joy and all he cares about is that I’m rubbing his tummy or tossing a toy for him. There’s so much to be learned from dogs.

I loved spending time with Max but I kept thinking “he’s gonna break someone’s heart.” But the more I thought about it, the more I was reminded that they all break our hearts. And they’re worth it, for however long or short we have them. 

I was thrilled a few days later to hear that Max had been adopted and his adopters are absolutely willing to do surgery or whatever is needed to give him the best life possible. I called his adopter, Laurie, and thanked her for adopting him. I asked her why she chose to take on such a difficult project and she had the perfect answer. She said, “Because he needs love just like everyone else.”

Audrey Hepburn: Portraits of an Icon (and Dog Lover)
National Portrait Gallery exhibit reminds us why we love her
Featured in the exhibition Portraits of an Icon is a photograph of Audrey Hepburn and an unidentified dog by Bert Handy, 1950 (left).

A riveting photographic exhibition, Portraits of an Icon, recently opened at London’s National Portrait Gallery illustrates the life of actress and fashion maven Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993). This exhibit features photographs from Hepburn's early years in London as a dancer to her later years as an impassioned philanthropist. From the museum’s description:

“A selection of more than seventy images defines Hepburn’s iconography, including classic and rarely seen prints from photographers such as Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Terry O’Neill, Norman Parkinson and Irving Penn. Alongside these, an array of vintage magazine covers, film stills, and extraordinary archival material complete her captivating story.”

Hepburn is revered for her performances in a string of films produced in ’50s and ’60s including: Gigi, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Charade, My Fair Lady and Funny Face (my personal favorite). Along with her acting and humanitarian work with UNICEF, Hepburn was also an avid animal lover. Dogs were an important part of her family for much of her life. Her dog, Mr. Famous, is one of her best known companions. He traveled with the actress to film locations and photo shoots, and even had a cameo in 1957’s Funny Face. It was a common sight to see Hepburn and her beloved Yorkie bicycling around studio lots during breaks in filming.

The camera loved Hepburn’s natural beauty and inimitable style. The best images on display in Portraits of an Icon radiate an inner quality seldom captured on film. Like the subject herself, the portraits display a wide range, showing Hepburn as a young ballerina, Hollywood actress, fashion model, humanitarian. For those fortunate to attend the exhibit, they will find more reasons to fall in love with Audrey Hepburn (and her canine co-pilots).

Portraits of an Icon appears at the National Portrait Gallery in London through October 18, 2015. For more information visit www.npg.org.uk.

Clean Carpet Pet Stains Naturally

This simple 3-step method for cleaning carpet pet stains uses only natural, eco-friendly products that most people have in their pantry or cupboards and works just as well as any store bought stain remover that uses chemicals to eliminate pet stains.

Why is all­-natural important?
Because the less we use manufactured cleaners on our floors, the less we expose our beloved pets to any harmful chemicals. They’re much closer to the floor than we are and any harsh chemicals will affect them much more than they will for us humans.

So next time your puppy leaves a bit of a mess for you right in the middle of your living room, give this pet friendly cleaning method a shot and let us how well it worked for you.

Bonus: This method also actually works well for mild stains like spaghetti sauce and cleans and deodorizes without leaving any residue.

Materials You’ll Need

  • Paper Towels or Towels (paper towels seem to work best)
  • Equal parts Vinegar & Water
  • Baking Soda (…and Time for the baking soda to absorb any smell)
  • Vacuum

Step 1: Blot, Don’t Rub

Use a paper towel to blot the stain dry.

Rubbing the stain with paper towel only serves to spread the stain more, so unless you plan on rearranging your furniture to cover that stain, pat the stain with a paper towel.

Replace the paper towel if it’s no longer soaking up the urine.

Keep patting the stain until the spot is fairly dry.

Step 2: Apply The Vinegar

In a bucket, water bottle, or spray bottle, mix together a solution of 50% water and 50% vinegar. Soak the area with this water/vinegar solution.

This does two things: it helps to cut through the stain if it’s being especially stubborn and re­-wets the stain so you can make sure that all the pet urine is lifted off the carpet. The vinegar neutralizes the ammonia in the urine, helping to neutralize the smell.

Now is the time to indulge your inner scrubbing beast. Scrub hard to make sure you get deep into the fibres below the carpet’s surface to remove any lingering pet urine.

(For particularly bad smells or stains on your carpet, use a 100% vinegar solution)

Step 3: Pour Some Baking Soda Then Wait

While the spot is still wet, apply baking soda and little the mix of vinegar and baking soda. Right away you’ll see and hear it fizzing and cackling as it starts to work at lifting the stain and smell from the carpet. It helps to rub in the baking soda with your hands or a brush to get it deep down into the carpet fibres.

Leave the baking soda on the carpet until it’s completely dry. This might take a day or two, or it could just be overnight, depending on how much of the water/vinegar solution you put.

Once it’s completely dry, vacuum the baking soda from the carpet and voila, your carpet is as good as new.

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