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Julia Kamysz Lane

Julia Kamysz Lane, owner of Spot On K9 Sports and contributing editor at The Bark, is the author of multiple New Orleans travel guides, including Frommer’s New Orleans Day by Day (3rd Edition). Her work has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Poets and Writers and Publishers Weekly.

News: Guest Posts
A Dog's Right to Speak
Debarking ban bill passes NY Assembly
dog, bark, Dalmatian

Despite the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) efforts to stop a debarking ban bill (A01204), the New York State Assembly overwhelmingly voted for its passage on March 5, 2013. AKC argued that the government should not interfere with a dog owner’s decision making. While I understand and value the freedom to choose what is best for my personal pets, I make an exception to acts of cruelty such as debarking.

 

Devocalization is a surgical procedure in which the dog’s vocal cord tissue is cut to soften the bark. If you’ve heard a dog whose vocal cords have been damaged, the bark sounds muffled or raspy.

 

The AKC claims debarking could help a dog stay in its home rather than be abandoned at a shelter. Yet the question remains: why is this dog barking so much? Its quality of life will not be improved after surgery; after all, it has been maimed as a convenience to its owners. In which case, let’s hear the honest justification – that it is for the human’s benefit – rather than pretending that it will help the dog.

 

Could you imagine if a five-year-old child was “despeaked” because she talked too much? The ability to communicate should be the right of all animals, not just humans.

 

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), devocalization should only be performed by “qualified, licensed veterinarians as a final alternative after behavioral modification efforts to correct excessive vocalization have failed.”

 

I would be curious to know how many owners have genuinely tried other options, such as increased attention, physical exercise, mental stimulation or regular training classes and socialization opportunities.

 

For example, an elderly dog who lives next door to my brother was debarked years ago. His home is a concrete pad surrounded by a chain link kennel with a plastic doghouse for shelter. His constant raspy woofs are still cause for surrounding neighbors to call the police to complain.

 

Instead of devocalizing him, the owners should have brought him inside their home. He barks all the time because he is kept in solitary confinement. He is lonely, bored and even though his voice can still be heard, ignored.  

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Doga: Yoga for You and Your Dog
Yoga + dog = benefits for all

Every morning, my pack of five goes through a stretching routine. They begin with play bows, tail tips wiggling high overhead. Then they push out their chests and extend their back legs so far I think surely, this time, one of them is going to fall over. Shelby, my Pit Bull mix, is known for the “ski jump,” in which she thrusts out her back legs like a skier flying off the ramp. But somehow, they all manage to stick the landing with a grace and ease that even our cats envy. Finally, my canine Zen masters look at me with relaxed, happy grins, eager to go outside and greet the birds and squirrels.

If this routine goes on at your house too, then your dog is a natural at doga, or yoga for dogs. “Doga is a partner yoga class that people do with their dogs,” says Kari Harendorf, owner of East Yoga in New York City and star of Animal Planet’s “K9 Karma.” The long-time doga enthusiast, who has partnered with her 10-year-old Husky, Charlie, for many years, began teaching doga classes in 2004. “It’s very much like a dance, using the dogs as we would use a traditional dance partner … just as a teacher might assist you to push deeper into the pose.”

Yoga is a Sanskrit term that means “joining,” or “uniting.” It’s an ancient physical and mental discipline originally developed in India, where it also incorporates Hindu philosophy. Outside of India, yoga is more commonly viewed as a form of exercise. Humans who practice yoga are either a yogi (male) or yogini (female). The canine equivalent is a dogi (male) or dogini (female).

“Like yoga, doga balances, harmonizes, purifies and transcends the body and mind of the practitioner,” says doga teacher Madhavi Bhatia. “What makes doga unique is the practice and benefits that create a harmony and synchronization of energy flow between the owner and dog.”

Though I’m a restless sort who has avoided yoga for superficial reasons (who has time to sit still and think of nothing?), I was instantly attracted to doga. After all, isn’t anything more fun and interesting when you can bring your dog? I signed up my 10-year-old Catahoula, Desoto, for doga class at Wiggles ‘n’ Wags in Lombard, Ill. We were joined by my friend Barb Scalise and her six-year-old Vizsla, Penny. We each brought mats for ourselves and our dogs, treats and water. Neither of us had prior yoga experience.

Bhatia, our instructor, first started teaching yoga 14 years ago in her native India. She only recently began teaching doga classes, but had a lifetime of experience with dogis and doginis. “As a child, I observed dogs, with curiosity about their movements,” says Bhatia. “It was a very subconscious, playful start of doga for me.”

I recognized some of the postures at our very first class. My dogs’ morning play bow corresponds to the “downward-facing dog” posture, perhaps the most natural pose for all dogs. What I described as Shelby’s “ski jump” is the popular “cobra” pose.

But observing a dog pose naturally and helping him into a pose—or using him to support your own—are very different things. I chose Desoto to be my doga partner because I assumed that, being a senior, he would be happy to lie down on the mat next to me and allow me to gently manipulate his legs and head into the various poses.

We know what happens when one assumes. Social butterfly that he is, Desoto was so delighted to be with other people and dogs that he could barely sit still, much less do downward-facing dog. I brought out a bag of treats to help him focus, which it did. But I didn’t count on the waterfall of drool that poured all over my brand-new yoga mat. And did I mention that he weighs 72 pounds and is all muscle? Meanwhile, Barb and her petite, well-behaved Penny were smoothly transitioning from pose to pose as though they had been doing it for years.

Class ended with a soft chant and meditative “oms” lead by Bhatia. I was exhausted and, thanks to the sweat and saliva on my mat, coated with damp fur. But Desoto had finally found his inner dogi. Stretched out with his back against my crossed legs, he watched our instructor through sleepy eyes. As I sang “ohm” with the rest of the students, he raised his head slightly to look at me. Satisfied, he sighed and rested his head on the mat. As the weeks passed, Desoto and I improved, most notably when I strived to let go of everyday tensions and just be in the moment, like he was.

There are other benefits to teaching your dog to allow you to touch any part of his body, including his paws and toes. Doing gentle doga stretches with my Dalmatian, Darby, helped her overcome a fear of nail clipping. It also came in handy with our young mixed breed, Ginger Peach, who has an impatient and pushy personality. She not only learned to tolerate the stretches, she now offers her legs in anticipation!

Being in close contact with your dog’s body provides an opportunity for a weekly health check as well. Harendorf recalls that one of her students found a lump on her dog’s inner thigh that she might never have discovered without her weekly doga class. (Thankfully, the lump proved benign.) Senior and physically handicapped dogs can also benefit from doga as long as the routine is adapted to their needs.

“Doga brings us back to more simple things,” says Harendorf. “My dogs grew up being city dogs, where there are these big dog runs and people just bring their dogs and visit in their social circle or talk on the phone or read the newspaper. We’re so busy, so plugged in with the cell phone and the Blackberry and the pagers. We can walk our dogs and not pay attention to them. Doga is 45 minutes of undivided attention. It is a gift.”
 

News: Guest Posts
Christmas Card Canines
Are your dogs in the family photo?
Christmas photo holiday portrait dog cat pet

 

Every year, I insist that our dogs and cats be included in our annual Christmas portrait. (Who else would want to see a photo of just me and my husband, our parents aside?) This particular holiday tradition annoys my spouse to the point where I question if i am indeed a sadist. But the explanation is simple; this is my family. Do you include your pets in your Christmas photo? A few friends send me Christmas cards with photos featuring only their dogs, no humans. Do you prefer not to be in the picture, or substitute Santa as the human representative? Please share your holiday photos - and stories about the photo shoot - on Bark's Facebook page. Happy holidays!

News: Guest Posts
Pit Bull "Round Up" Part of Problem
BSL promotes ignorance and intolerance

Imagine the outrage if towns decreed that all dog owners must purchase a large outdoor kennel, liability insurance, and muzzle their dog while out in public. Should they choose not to comply, or cannot afford to do so, their dog will be seized and impounded; no exceptions. Dog lovers would not simply roll over and submit. So why do pit bull owners in Sikeston, Mo., and many other cities nationwide face BSL (breed specific legislation) discrimination? 

 

Last week, St. Louis-based reporter Chris Hayes investigated an alleged pit bull “round up” in which 20-30 dogs would be seized from their owners for non-compliance Sikeston, a small town in southeastern Missouri. Soon thereafter, pit bull activists bombarded city hall with questions related to the supposed round up and its laws directed at American Pit Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers and Bull Terriers.

 

However, according to the Sikeston Standard Democrat, the mass pit bull round up was an exaggeration; only three pit bulls were seized for noncompliance.

 

Sikeston Area Humane Society director Trace Allen White further clarified the story on SAHS’s Facebook page. “The Sikeston Humane Society had NO part in the seizing of dogs. ACO and the shelter are 2 completely different entities,” wrote White. “Also the amount of dogs we got in is wrong as well. That day we only received in 3 Pit Bulls for Non Compliance (3 too many I agree). The 20 dogs that everyone keeps reading about was an estimate that an ACO gave me. ...

 

“I also talked to the City Manager who said that they weren't doing a round up but rather an audit to make sure that the people who had met compliance once before were still in accordance with it. If they weren't then their dog would be seized. I do not know when they will finish this audit. With all this media attention I doubt they even will.

 

“The dogs we got in are not subject to immediate euthanasia, anyone who knows me knows that I would never do that. The owners are given 10 days to get their dogs back, if they need more time I always work with them. If the owners do not want them back then they are either put up for adoption or sent to rescues.”  

 

Regardless of how many dogs were taken, why take a companion dog from its home, only to store him or her at the shelter? Is this merely busy work for city officials and employees? Are they more interested in looking good in the eyes of ignorant constituents rather than taking an active role in promoting education and responsible pet ownership?

 

We teach children at an early age to be respectful of differences. Why is it okay to judge a dog by its appearance or purported breed?

 

During his report, Hayes had the following conversation with City Manager Doug Friend: “‘Are you sure they were pit bulls that you took?’
Friend replied, ‘We identified them as pit bulls, but not thru DNA.’
Hayes followed up, ‘How did you identify them?’
Friend said, ‘We just looked at them.’”

 

Friend’s ignorance is astounding. Allowing a dog to be subjectively seized is horrifying. Most people don’t even know what a pit bull looks like. Purebred dogs such as Boxers, Bull Terriers, English Bulldogs, Catahoulas, Mastiffs, Vizslas and many more are commonly mistaken as American Pit Bull Terriers. Think you know what a pit bull looks like? Try the “Find a Pit Bull” test and see how you fare.

 

While the round up story remains murky, Allen makes his view on BSL crystal clear: “The BSL here in Sikeston does need to be changed. I moved from Sikeston partly because I couldn't walk my own dogs down the street without them being muzzled and trust me, it'll be a cold day in hell when you see my dogs muzzled.

 

“If you want to help then contact local Sikeston City Officials and POLITELY tell them you would like to see a generic dangerous dog ordinance put in place, one that does not profile breeds and puts more responsibility on the owners because after all the monster isn't on the end of the leash it is the person holding it.”

 

Does your city have BSL or has it ever been proposed? Are pit bulls available for adoption from your local shelter or are they automatically euthanized at intake?

News: Guest Posts
Family Dies to Save Dog
Tragic ending to heroic efforts
dog swim ocean

Tragedy struck a northern California family when their dog, Fran, was swept out by a wave while playing fetch at Big Lagoon state beach. Sixteen-year-old Gregory Kuljian immediately dove in to save her. Seeing his son struggle in the eight-to-10-foot surf, Gregory's father, Howard Kuljian, 54, quickly followed. Gregory made it out, but returned to the churning waters along with his mother, Mary Scott, 57, to rescue his father.

All three drowned as Gregory's 18-year-old sister, Olivia, and girlfriend watched in horror. The group had gathered at Big Lagoon state beach near Arcata, California, for a leisurely stroll where signs warned of dangerous sneaker waves. The dog, Fran, safely made her way back to land.

News: Guest Posts
Orcas Frighten Diver and Dog
Biologist suggests whales were more curious than killer

My heart was in my throat while watching this video clip in which a diver and dog narrowly escape a pod of Orcas in New Zealand. The videographer, Deonette De Jongh, had been diving for crayfish with the man who we see scramble to safety onto rocks. According to an eyewitness, the Labrador retriever's owner continued to throw sticks for his dog, even though he knew the whales were there, just to "see what would happen." If that had been my dog out there, you can be sure I would have screamed for my dog to return to shore, and fast! Despite sensational news headlines to the contrary, Orca biologist Dr. Ingrid Visser assures viewers that these wild Orcas were merely curious.

News: Guest Posts
Rescued Bait Dog Receives National Honor
From dog fighting ring to show ring in less than one year

Like many young Staffordshire Terrier mixes around the country, Vivian Peyton didn’t have the best chance of finding a loving home. She was used as a bait dog for a dog fighting ring before ending up at a Philadelphia shelter. Wounded, emaciated and understandably wary of people, Vivian was not considered adoptable.

 

Thanks to New Leash on Life, a nonprofit prison dog-training program, Vivian Peyton learned to trust, earned her Canine Good Citizen certification and was adopted by Michele Pich, a Veterinary Grief Counselor at PennVet. Together, they comfort grieving pet lovers and visit children at Ronald McDonald House.

 

Her extraordinary journey and service has not gone unnoticed. Vivian Peyton will be honored as a Purina Therapy Dog Ambassadors at the National Dog Show at the Greater Philadelphia Expo Center on Saturday, November 17 and Sunday, November 18.

 

“Vivian Peyton's honor as Therapy Dog Ambassador at Purina's National Dog Show this year is such an amazing honor,” says proud owner Pich. “For such a sweet beautiful little girl that almost didn't make it out of the shelter alive to go on in a year's time to be part of New Leash on Life's prison-dog program, to have the honor of being a therapy dog through Penn Vet's VetPets program - putting smiles on sick children's faces, and to help grieving pet lovers - and now to be given this special title is incredible.

 

“I have loved her since the second I met her, and could see that she was destined for greatness,” adds Pich. “I just had no idea that the rest of the world would see it too. She is gentle yet rambunctious when she should be, she's goofy yet dainty. She has a loving demeanor and she just seems to know what people need to feel better. I feel so fortunate to be her mom and to be with her through this amazing privilege of being part of the Therapy Dog ambassador team.”

   

New Leash on Life USA is a new generation prison dog-training program that saves the lives of shelter dogs by training and socializing them to enhance their adoptability while helping inmates learn to train and care for dogs. With New Leash on Life USA, dogs live in the cells with their inmate trainers 24/7, making New Leash dogs highly desirable for adoption and ensuring the long-term success for both humans and canines. For more information on New Leash on Life USA visit www.newleashonlife-usa.org.

 

“We are incredibly proud of Vivian Peyton for showing the resiliency of animals and what can be accomplished with love and care,” said Marian V. Marchese, the founder of New Leash on Life. “She will always be New Leash on Life’s ambassador dog.”

News: Guest Posts
What Hurricane Sandy Victims Really Need
Something that dog lovers understand

The physical and emotional devastation of Hurricane Sandy hits too close to home. Seven years ago, Hurricane Katrina flooded our New Orleans neighborhood and changed my family’s life forever.

 

I can relate to the shock and the pain and the fear that Sandy’s victims are feeling right now. I can also tell you that a donation to the Red Cross or any other charity, while helpful, is not as powerful as making an individual, human connection. If you’re an animal lover, you already understand what I’m about to say. 

 

When we were finally allowed to enter our house nearly one month after Katrina, part of me didn’t want to go. Maybe if we didn’t look with our own eyes, all those images on TV would remain abstract. Our pink and white raised bungalow would look exactly the way we left it – dry and safe. Our dogs would greet us at the door, tails wagging. The cats would blink sleepy hellos from their warm perches.

 

Instead, our beautiful home had been submerged in up to eight feet of brackish water for three weeks. Elderly neighbors were found drowned. Friends had evacuated to destinations unknown. Our four dogs and two cats were temporarily living with my parents in a Chicago suburb. Life had become strange and tenuous.

 

Upon realizing that our evacuation had changed into long-term refuge, my mother-in-law said, “ Good thing you don’t have any kids.” I knew what she meant. Being a practical person, she was thinking in terms of finding housing, transportation, schools and babysitters while juggling insurance and FEMA phone calls, not to mention work if you still had a job. What a nightmare for any parent.

 

Even so, my pets are family. They had basic needs, too, such as being fed, sheltered, feeling safe and loved. Family and friends had donated clothing and personal items to us, but dog lovers in particular understood that our animals’ needs outweighed our own. One incredibly generous woman insisted we meet her at PetsMart and she bought our pets $250 worth of food, treats, collars, leashes, bowls, and toys.

 

During our many salvage trips back to New Orleans, a team of volunteers I had met online helped walk and exercise the dogs since my parents were limited physically. Clean Run, an agility magazine, mailed us a care package filled with treats, toys, and training items, plus shirts and coats for the humans. Therapy Dogs International sent us a check in honor of our Therapy Dog Desoto’s service.

 

The animal lovers totally got it. Our pets’ well being affected our own mental health. Desoto, Shelby, Darby, Jolie, Cricket and Bruiser did not understand why their lives had changed in every possible way, but thanks to human kindness, they were well cared for and loved. The people who helped us most were the ones who recognized that it was the little things that mattered, like taking our dogs for a walk. Or the stranger who found me crying on the porch steps of my rotted house, feeling so alone, and gave me a strong hug.

 

Dog lovers, you of all people understand the value of physical touch and the power of connecting with another being. Please reach out to an individual Hurricane Sandy victim and give them something to hold onto.  

News: Guest Posts
Dog Training for Life
A six-week obedience class isn't enough
dog, training, sit, stay, obedience

When I started teaching agility and obedience classes, it became clear early on whether someone was training their dog for life or not. Students who asked questions, practiced homework and came to every single class were hooked. If they’d had a tail, it would’ve been wagging!

The time they invested in their dog lead to quicker progress and more successes. Many of those "lifers" are still training with me today, five years later. They go to fun matches and shows together, and socialize outside of class.

At the other extreme (and yes, I do believe that those of us who compete in dog sports are extreme), the occasional student acted like he didn’t want to be there. Some were downright rude and disruptive, as if they thought they had signed up for a private lesson, not a group class.

One couple told me they preferred a different training philosophy, but I was the only one nearby who offered puppy classes. Despite my best efforts to engage them, they spent the six weeks ignoring my suggestions, and paying more attention to fellow students than their puppy. Sadly, it came as no surprise that I never saw them again.  

Only once did I have to ask someone not to return; she was a family member of a student and argued with me so vehemently that I was concerned she might get physical. I rightly guessed her behavior had nothing to do with dog training and everything to do with a personal issue at home.

She called a few days later to apologize and explain. While I empathized with her, it was not fair to the other students and their dogs to share class time with someone who was not committed to making the most of it.

The people I couldn’t figure out were the ones who seemed to enjoy class with their dog. Perhaps they weren’t as passionate as the lifers, but they were good students. They might even complete a few sessions before dropping out.

In some cases, finances were an issue, and I would offer options to make classes more affordable. Some said work or family obligations made it impossible to attend regularly. Again, I would do my best to accommodate them, by offering a drop in option, private lessons or organizing the class of their choice on a day that best fit their schedule.

Others told me they accomplished their goals and were happy. Their dog no longer needed training. This answer floored me; how could you not want to continue? Your dog could do any number of activities or sports, from agility to nose work to rally. Would you and your dog really be more satisfied just going for walks and lounging on the couch?

This is when I would get “the look,” a reminder that I am extreme when it comes to dog training. For perspective, I asked my mom – who loves dogs, but doesn’t have one of her own - why people would successfully complete a six-week obedience course, thank me for being a good teacher, then never step foot in the classroom again.

She gave it a lot of thought and said that for her, once her dog successfully completed the class, she had done her part as a responsible dog owner.

I find this perspective so difficult to understand. Dog training is not a color by numbers exercise. It’s fluent, dynamic and creative. To me, a graduation diploma is a sign of what’s to come, not what’s done.

Culture: Reviews
Wallace: The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport ... One Flying Disc at a Time
Gotham Books
Wallace: The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport

One underdog in this story, as told by Gorant (author of the best-selling The Lost Dogs), is certainly Wallace. The twice-abandoned Pit Bull overcame negative breed stereotypes when he became a world disc dog champion in a sport dominated by speedy dogs half his size. “Underdog” could also describe his rescuer and disc partner, Andrew “Roo” Yori, whose stoic Midwestern demeanor and athleticism hid a sensitive side sometimes overwhelmed by career, love and self-discovery.

While a student at St. Mary’s University of Minnesota, Roo met and courted his future wife, Clara. A few years after graduation, they adopted two dogs from Paws & Claws, a local shelter. Soon, they were both volunteering, matchmaking homeless pets with adopters.

In the meantime, an adolescent Wallace, who had been confiscated from a suspected dog-fi ghting ring as a puppy, was becoming a handful for the policeman who took him in, and reluctantly, he relinquished the young dog to Paws & Claws. Wallace had another potential strike against him: the policeman had played Schutzhund games with the high-drive pup. Wallace’s breed, lack of impulse control and sheer strength made him potentially dangerous in the wrong hands.

Roo and Clara recognized Wallace’s potential and saved his life, but not without personal and professional sacrifices. In return, he enriched their lives in ways no one could’ve guessed, from introducing them to new friends around the world to pushing boundaries when it came to breed bans and fear.

Ultimately, through family illness, marital discord and financial woes, Wallace was the glue that kept Roo and Clara together. Theirs is an inspiring tale of happiness measured not by achievement and fame, but by transcending the material for special moments shared with the ones we love.
 

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