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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
Pup Perks at Work
Allowing dogs at work can be a real morale boost.

Did your company cancel its annual holiday party? Or insist on more hours for less pay? Employers are finding it tougher than ever to keep up employee morale when everyone worries that the next cut might be their job. So kudos to businesses like Marcus Thomas marketing agency in Ohio for allowing dogs at work. Employees and customers alike benefit from the relaxation of petting a pup and it costs the company nothing.

As a freelance writer and part-time agility trainer, my dogs are constant companions. Occasionally, this can be a bit of a distraction, but for the most part, they remind me to take a break from the computer to rest my eyes, stretch, and throw the ball a few times. When I wrote about this subject for Bark last year (“Dogs @ Work,” May/June 2008), it was surprising how many workplaces allowed dogs and how well everyone got along. Even employees who weren't necessarily "dog people" didn't object to a pup presence.

 

Do you bring your dog to work? If so, how has the experience affected you and your co-workers’ productivity? If not, would you like to and do you think your boss would be open to it?
 

News: Guest Posts
Pay to Play
Once free, some dog parks now require a hefty fee.

When we lived in New Orleans, we regularly took our dogs to a fenced-in model airplane  field in the middle of City Park to play.  Friends who lived Uptown took their pups to a grassy levee area along the Mississippi River.  On especially hot days, we’d go to the lakefront, where Bayou St. John met Lake Pontchartrain, forming a perfectly shallow, sandy area for the dogs and their people. The good news was that all of these gathering places were free. The downside? None of them were official dog parks, which meant we could lose the space. For example, bicyclists and horseback riders (understandably) protested dogs chasing them as they rode along the levee. (New Orleans will soon have two legal dog parks, City Bark and the Louisiana SPCA Dog Park.)  

However, as much as I longed for legal dog parks, I was shocked by the sticker price of said puppy play areas when we moved to the Chicago area. If you’re lucky enough to have a nice off-leash spot nearby, the resident fees aren’t too bad – generally $10-$50. But the closest fenced park – just 10 minutes away – is outside of our county, so we have to pay $150 for the first dog and $25 for each one thereafter. There is a free dog park about 15 minutes away, but it’s not fenced and one boundary is bordered by a fairly busy road.

So I feel the pain of a group of California dog lovers whose park access might change from free to a $75 annual fee. I can understand the need for some kind of fee to cover park maintenance and “amenities,” such as poop bags, but $75 seems a bit much. Regulars to Dogbone Meadow in Novato, Calif., are upset and protesting the fee, in part because visitors become a family of sorts and not everyone will be able to afford to come if the fee is implemented. One of the best things about dog parks is serving as a social equalizer. No one cares what you do or how much money you make. All they want to talk about are dogs.

Do you pay a fee for your local dog park? If so, how much and do you think it’s worth it?  

News: Guest Posts
AKC Announces Mixed-Breed Program
Mutt lovers question the new “separate but equal” designation.

After 125 years as an advocate for (select) purebred dogs, the American Kennel Club (AKC) announced its new mixed-breed program last week. For the past several years, rumors abounded that AKC was on the cusp of allowing mixed breeds to participate in activities, such as agility, obedience and rally. Some folks claimed AKC was growing enlightened, while others claimed it was simply trying to shore up its bottom line. (Obedience entries are down and other venues, such as USDAA and APDT, welcome mixed breeds in their agility and rally programs, respectively.)

Mixed breeds may be registered with AKC as of October 1, 2009, and be eligible for agility, obedience and rally competition on April 1, 2010. No doubt this is a step in the right direction, but I do have mixed feelings (no pun intended) about some conditions of the program. For example, mutts may participate in agility, obedience and rally competitions, however, they will be in a separate class and not allowed to compete head to head against purebred dogs. Are we mixed-breed lovers really expected to support a “separate but equal” class? Why this special designation?

Offering separate classes will create more work for the hosting club’s members and volunteers. Since the inclusion of a mixed-breed class is optional, clubs might simply choose not to offer it at their event. Another rule states that mixed breeds will not be allowed to participate if the agility, obedience or rally events are held in conjunction with a conformation show. So what good is a mixed-breed program and registering your mutt with the AKC if you can rarely participate in events?

What about people who have a rare purebred dog, such as a Catahoula Leopard Dog or McNab? They do not fit either class since they’re neither AKC-recognized breeds nor mixes. Not to mention, the mixed-breed program requires proof of spay/neuter and some rare purebred dogs might be part of a responsible breeding program with another registry, such as UKC.
 
In an old AKC PowerPoint presentation, “Why Explore Mixed Breed Dog Listing” (that until recently was posted on the AKC website), one rationale was: “Exposing mixed breed dog owners to AKC and encouraging them to make their next dog a purebred by showing that purebreds consistently outperform mixed breeds (Purebreds consistently score better than mixed breeds in head-to-head competition. The U.S. Dog Agility Association has given 63 lifetime achievement awards for outstanding performance, and only three of those have gone to mixed breed dogs.)”

Aside from the fact that the AKC misrepresented USDAA’s statistics in order to support the superiority of the purebred dog, I find it rather sad and disappointing that AKC even felt the need to reassure its members that their purebred dogs would remain top dog. Was this just a tactic in order to get all AKC members on board? Or will this attitude persist even after mixes are supposedly “welcomed” into the group?

Currently, I compete in AKC agility with two rescue Dalmatians and am training my youngest dog, a mixed breed, to compete in USDAA and NADAC agility. Despite its flaws, I think the AKC mixed-breed program is a step in the right direction and I will likely support it. But I am prepared to hear cries of protest from fellow mutt lovers who disagree with my decision.

This topic continues to be hotly debated between dog lovers both in person and in cyberspace. Some people think the program will only improve if mixed-breed owners support it right from the start and lend their voices to its evolution. Others find it insulting and want nothing to do it with it. What do you think about AKC’s new mixed-breed program? If you have a mutt, will you consider participating in AKC events? Why or why not?

News: Guest Posts
Does Your Dog Chase His Tail?
It’s not all in his head; it’s in his blood!

Remember that viral video of a dog “attacking” his hind leg that a lot of people found funny? I cringed every time it was sent to me with a comment like, “Isn’t this hilarious?” Clearly, the dog was suffering from some kind of illness and needed treatment, not to be videotaped and shown far and wide for the ignorant masses’ amusement. That’s an extreme example, but it got me wondering—are some of our dogs’ “cute” or “funny” behaviors actually a reflection of poor health?

A recent study published in Journal of Small Animal Practice (March 2009) demonstrates a possible link between compulsive tail-chasing and high cholesterol. What’s even more fascinating is that, according to Discovery News, “The finding adds to a growing body of evidence—mostly from studies on humans—that high cholesterol may be a marker for behavioral problems, such as panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder, which could be expressed by frequent tail-chasing falls in dogs.” The theory so far is that high cholesterol blocks the normal flow of serotonin to the brain and thus affects behavior. Females and certain breeds, such as Bull Terriers and German Shepherds, seem more prone to chasing their tails, but it’s not known why. So the next time your dog does something cute or funny, it might be time for a check up!

 

News: Guest Posts
Does Mandatory Spay/Neuter Work?
Some shelters and veterinarians don’t think so.

Last week, a proposed mandatory spay/neuter bill for Chicago was put on hold in the face of overwhelming opposition. Personally, I'm in favor of public education and encouraging people to choose spay/neuter for their pets, not forcing them to do so. What surprised me most about this hearing was who opposed it, including popular "Pet World" radio host Steve Dale, the Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association, the Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago and others.

The Chicago Tribune published a letter to the editor submitted by a group of shelters and veterinarians; it read in part: "Perhaps most disturbing about the mandatory approach is that a proven, cost-effective, alternative model already exists. Unlike the failed mandatory measures that punish non-compliance, subsidized spay/neuter programs rewarding positive behavior are successful. Privately funded, large-scale, subsidized spay/neuter programs already exist in Chicago. Together these programs were responsible for nearly 20,000 low-cost or no-cost spay/neuters last year alone (along with the tens of thousands of sterilizations performed each year by private veterinarians). The success of the current voluntary approach calls into question the need for any new law."

As a positive dog trainer, that makes so much sense to me. Often, I see people in my beginner obedience class pushing down on their dog's rear to "get them to sit." Using a clicker and a treat, I can accomplish the same thing in less time and without touching them. Not to mention, the dog actually learns and isn't just being physically manipulated.

Just like dogs, people are motivated by positive reinforcement (which explains the cup of M&Ms on my desk). And if people or dogs are forced to do something, they'll react one of two ways - they'll either do it out of fear of the negative consequences or they'll find a way to avoid the situation. Is that a way to live? Or learn?

News: Guest Posts
Oprah Opts to Adopt
UPDATED. Shelter pups get another shout out from the talk-show superstar.

[Editor's Note: One of the two dogs Oprah adopted from her local shelter has died of canine parvovirus.]

After Oprah Winfrey’s beloved Cocker spaniels, Sophie and Solomon, passed away last year, she announced that she would adopt her next dog when the time was right. Last Friday, March 6, she kept that promise and introduced new family member Sadie on her show. Oprah and her partner, Stedman Graham, adopted the adorable 10-week-old Cocker spaniel puppy through PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving) Chicago, the city’s largest no-kill shelter. Sadie was one of 11 puppies in the litter. Three of her siblings still needed homes and also appeared on Friday’s show. They quickly found new homes by that afternoon thanks to the extra attention. Hopefully, other shelter pups around the country also benefited from Oprah’s example.

News: Guest Posts
How Does Your Dog Ride?
Canine car safety highlighted at the Chicago Auto Show.

I'm sure my 11-year-old Catahoula, Desoto, longs for the days when he could stick his head out the car window and feel the breeze on his face. But after hearing about traffic accidents in which the dog was seriously injured because he was not restrained, I feel better knowing that he is safe when traveling. For years now, my minivan has boasted doggie seatbelts for the middle bench seat and two large wire crates in the back. If necessary, I can crate two dogs in the back and harness the other three on the bench seat.

This past weekend, the Chicago Auto Show featured Kane County police dogs to emphasize canine safety in cars. Pet-focused consumer group Bark Buckle Up shared interesting stats and educational info. For example, an unsecured dog in the car could be thrown and be seriously hurt or cause injury to other occupants of the car. Also, a traumatized, protective dog could impede police or firemen from quickly responding to the human victims.

If you travel with your dog, how does he ride?

News: Guest Posts
Chloe’s Bill Divides Dog Lovers
The AKC isn’t happy with Illinois animal advocates

In Illinois, a bill designed to reform the puppy mill industry is causing controversy. According to animal advocates such as the Southern Illinois Pet Society, Chloe’s Bill will improve standards of care for dogs in commercial kennels, limit breeders to 20 intact adult dogs, ban convicted animal abusers from aquiring a breeding license, and require Illinois pet stores and breeders to tell prospective dog buyers where their puppies came from. The American Kennel Club strongly disagrees. Do you think the Illinois legislature should pass Chloe's Bill this Tuesday, February 10? Why or why not?

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Peanut Butter Recall
Stop the spread of salmonella by taking stock of your pantry.

Now is the time to check the ingredients list of your dog's food and treats as the peanut butter recall has spread, so to speak. If you want to look up a particular item, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has created an exhaustive database. Click on the "Pet Food" category for specific brands. If you're like me and treat your dogs to a dollop of peanut butter from time to time, it's worth looking through the list for any other brands that might be on your shelves.

News: Guest Posts
Chicago’s Crimefighting Pit Bull
Elliott Ness crosses the blue line

When you think of police dogs, don't German shepherds or Belgian Malinois come to mind? Chicago's Cook County K9 Unit recently introduced its two newest recruits, one of whom is a four-year-old pit bull. Officer Deborah Thedos rescued the handsome brindle dog -- now known as Elliott Ness -- from a local shelter and trained him to locate cadavers. To see Elliott Ness and his colleague, a young Bloodhound named Melanie who has already saved one man's life, click here for their public debut.

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