Rebecca Wallick, a long-time Bark contributing editor, resides with her two dogs in the mountains of central Idaho.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Do sick children benefit?
February 2 2015
Every year, nearly 13,000 children are diagnosed with cancer, and some 40,000 are receiving treatment. It’s a scary time for both the children and their families, and anything that helps make it less frightening is a good thing. Can dogs do that?
Those of us who love dogs already know how much they improve our lives, especially by providing absolute love and comfort when we most need it. This healing human-canine bond is the basis for the ever-growing use of therapy dogs in all sorts of settings, including nursing homes, retirement homes and schools, and as part of disaster-relief teams.
Therapy dogs have become common in hospitals as well, but access varies by institution. Dogs in hospitals raise general concerns about human safety, including increased infection risks, allergies, phobias and aversions. While there is a wealth of positive, anecdotal evidence for the benefit of animal-assisted therapy (AAT) in all these settings, there’s little hard evidence to verify it. To overcome remaining barriers to AAT as part of their treatment programs, hospital staff and risk managers need proof.
Enter the American Humane Association (AHA). With financial support from Zoetis, a global animal health company, and the Pfizer Foundation, a charitable offshoot of the international pharmaceutical giant, AHA is in the final stage of a rigorous, three-year, peer-reviewed, controlled study, “Canines and Childhood Cancer: Examining the Effects of Therapy Dogs with Childhood Cancer Patients and their Families,” or CCC for short.
The study aims to document the specific medical, behavioral and mental-health benefits AAT may have for children between the ages of 3 and 12 recently diagnosed with cancer, as well as for their families. The third and final clinical stage of the study includes 100 children receiving treatment at five participating children’s hospitals across the country, including Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel in Portland, Ore.
Janice Olson, MD, MHA, is medical director of the Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Program at Randall and manages its CCC study. “We have a long tradition of pet therapy, at least since I arrived 15 years ago. So when this study opportunity came up, I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ We already had dogs visiting in in-patient, so why not out-patient as well? Staff didn’t have any concerns. Everyone was more than happy to participate.”
According to Amy McCullough, AHA’s national director of humane research and therapy, the hospitals were selected because they had existing therapy dog programs. “It was difficult to recruit hospitals for the study,” Amy said. “Doing research [has an impact on] their resources and staff. Some only allowed therapy dogs one day a week, or in one room outside of the treatment clinic. It was interesting to see the differences between hospitals across the country in terms of how therapy dogs were used. There are no standards. Some hospitals were willing to modify their policies to allow for our study—for example, in how often dogs can visit and where.”
The study requires that the dogs be registered with a therapy dog organization, be credentialed and meet the participating hospital’s criteria. Some hospitals’ criteria exceeded those AHA would have required.
To answer the question, “What can we do to improve the day-to-day health, healing, and quality of life of children suffering from cancer, and the families who suffer along with them?” the study tracks blood pressure, heart rate and psychological responses in the kids, their families, and the staff and caregivers who enjoy the benefit of working with therapy dogs. (Sadly, 50 percent of the children and families enrolled in the study will not be spending time with the therapy dogs because they are in the control group required for the study to have validity.)
Ryker Halpin was diagnosed with leukemia in April 2014, the month he turned six. He and his parents, Allison and Matt Halpin, are enrolled in the CCC study at Randall. They have an English Mastiff at home, so Allison and Matt knew Ryker would be comfortable with visits from a therapy dog. Ryker had been in the hospital a week when they were approached about participating. “Given all the dreadful news we’d just gotten, it seemed like a great opportunity, something positive to look forward to,” said Allison.
Ryker was paired with Bailey, a five-year-old female yellow Lab, and her handler Kate Dernbach. Bailey visits Ryker and his parents once a week at the hospital; each visit lasts 15 minutes (give or take five minutes). They’ll do this for four months. After each session with Bailey, Ryker is asked questions about how he’s feeling, and his blood pressure and pulse are recorded. His parents are also asked a series of questions, and a sample of Bailey’s saliva is taken to monitor her stress level.
At the time this article was written, Bailey had visited Ryker four times. “The first couple of visits were pretty low-key because Ryker had been given a lot of steroids, was just not himself, withdrawn and quiet,” Allison said. “But when he came home, he talked about Bailey. Bailey was something for him to look forward to. The last visit, Ryker was just waking up, so was in bed; he asked Bailey to get into bed with him. He enjoys brushing her. She was there during a chemo treatment; she’s one more thing to take his mind off it all.”
Dernbach and Bailey have been volunteering at Randall for close to three years, visiting once a week and making appearances on every floor to see children with all sorts of illnesses. Dernbach is a mom and a cancer survivor, so the idea of participating in the CCC study appealed to her on many levels. “It’s so rewarding to go in and help. The dogs are a huge distraction from why the kids are there, so even if the visit is only 15 minutes, it’s good for them. Bailey has calmed and relaxed people. I know what a huge impact she makes.”
Bailey’s visits with Ryker got off to a slow start. “Maybe it was just that everyone was unsure, because of the study,” Dernbach said. “He didn’t want her on the bed, didn’t want to touch her. If that happens during a visit to other kids outside the study, we quietly leave. With Ryker, we had to stay. But by the third visit, he brushed her, and on the fourth visit, he was excited to see her, asked her to get up on the bed, had his hand on her the whole time while getting chemo. Bailey slept beside him, which he thought was funny because she’s a 70-pound Lab taking up the whole bed and he couldn’t straighten out his legs.”
Bailey and the other therapy dogs are also being closely studied. Researchers videotape the visits and dog behaviorists review the videos for signs of canine stress, such as excessive yawning and other body cues. They also measure the level of the stress hormone cortisol in the dogs’ saliva before and after visits to see if and how ATT has an impact on their physical and mental health. According to Dernbach, Bailey’s not allowed to see other children during study visits with Ryker to ensure that the data collected from her saliva samples is valid.
The good news: earlier stages of the study showed that the dogs did not have increased stress from their time with the children and families. In fact, their cortisol levels, on average, were lower after spending time with the children.
McCullough and AHA hope that the study results, which are expected sometime in 2015, will bolster efforts to expand the use of ATT as an affordable adjunctive treatment option for people of all ages and walks of life, with many sorts of illnesses in a variety of settings. Some of the already-documented benefits of ATT include relaxation and lowered blood pressure; improved social skills; and decreased stress, anxiety, loneliness and depression. “We encourage therapy dog handlers to get involved in programs like this,” said McCullough. “It’s a low-cost, accessible treatment, helping families in need.”
For the Halpins, the benefits of participating in the study are immediate and real. Even the survey questions asked of Ryker after each visit with Bailey, about his stress and anxiety, are helpful. “They ask him to rate things as very satisfactory, satisfactory or unsatisfactory. He expresses his feelings in so many ways when responding to the survey. As a parent, I get better insight to his feelings. He says he’s not stressed or scared, that he’s joyful. That reminds me to not project my feelings onto him. Ryker lights up when it’s a Bailey-visit day. He’s a shy guy; seeing Bailey helps.”
Such a simple thing—a visit from a therapy dog—provides powerfully healing benefits for patients young and old, as well as for their families and the staff who treat them. Here’s hoping the study’s results open even more doors to therapy dogs and their handlers very soon. No one should have to go without.
Dog's Life: Humane
A haven for special-needs animals
August 22 2014
Dogs can inspire us to do many wonderful things. When animals are the direct beneficiaries of that inspiration, the results are truly extraordinary.
Take Steve Smith and Alayne Marker—Marker’s dog led her to meet Smith on a mountain trail near Seattle in 1994 … which led to dating and marriage, the adoption of several special-needs dogs, and, ultimately, the couple’s decision to create Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary, a haven for disabled animals.
It started when Smith and Marker were in their early 40s, living outside Seattle with six dogs and six cats and enjoying high-powered jobs at Boeing—she as an attorney in the corporate insurance department, he as an executive in communications. Their inner voices urged them to move to the Rockies and create an animal sanctuary, and in 1998, they purchased 160 acres of grassland in a gorgeous Montana valley; in 2000, they relocated there. As they watched their dogs roll on their backs in the ranch’s grass-covered meadows, feet up, happy to be alive, Smith and Marker lit upon what they would call their enterprise—and Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary, a 501(c) nonprofit, was born. What they lacked in animal-care and shelter experience, they made up for in passion—and compassion—for disabled animals.
Word Gets Out
Today, Rolling Dog Ranch provides lifetime care for 40 dogs, 30 horses and 12 cats. Over half of the animals—49—are blind, and many have chronic health conditions that require constant care. The ranch’s mission is to take in as many of the most vulnerable animals—those who would not otherwise be given a chance at a happy life—as they can accommodate. When Smith and Marker take in an animal, their assumption is that it’s for life, regardless of the expense; that they can and will provide whatever care is needed, whether it be eye or orthopedic surgery, or simply plenty of food, shelter and love. While on occasion, an animal they’ve rescued has been adopted (after the prospective new home has undergone careful scrutiny), placement is not the primary goal.
Local vets provide incredible care for the ranch’s animals. As Smith notes, the sanctuary’s vets welcome the challenges presented by Rolling Dog Ranch residents, as they tend to have more unusual health-care issues than the typical companion animal. All vet care requires planning. The sanctuary’s large- and small-animal vet clinics are more than an hour’s drive from the ranch (in opposite directions), and specialists as far away as Spokane, Wash., (or, in one case, an eye surgeon in San Diego) are sometimes needed. In 2005, the ranch spent $33,000 on vet bills, its largest category of operating expense. Though Smith and Marker have always insisted that their animals not be considered charity cases—they want the best possible care, and so are willing to pay to ensure it is delivered—they’re appreciative when their vets provide medicines at cost, or free boarding if an overnight stay is required.
Keeping the Wheels in Motion
Joy Is Contagious
Bratcher is now a regular at the ranch. She makes the 150-mile round-trip once a month and helps any way she can. During her first visit as a volunteer, she built cat runs so that the cats could bask in the sunshine filtering through the windows of their house. “I learn something new from the animals every visit. They’re so happy. They don’t know they’re disabled!” Bratcher has adopted four animals from the sanctuary: Winchester the cat, who had been shot four times; Chance, an older, deaf Lab mix; Bandita, one of 28 cats rescued from the attic of a hoarder (only eight survived); and most recently Rudy (formerly known as Wobbly Wilbur), a six-month-old Jack Russell/Poodle mix with cerebellar hypoplasia, a condition that affects his balance and fine motor skills. Bratcher assures me that Rudy “is a pistol; he just bumps into things and keeps going!”
As can be imagined, it takes an enormous amount of work to shelter, feed and exercise such a collection of animals, let alone attend to their varied health-care needs and vet visits. “It’s a 24/7 job,” says Smith. “It’s a lifestyle, an intense personal commitment.” Despite living in such a beautiful area, not far from Yellowstone, Smith hasn’t gone trail running and Marker hasn’t gone hiking—activities they enjoyed back in Seattle—since starting Rolling Dog. Only in the last year did they feel comfortable quitting their day jobs and focusing completely on the ranch.
The added incentive—a special reward—that keeps Smith and Marker so committed and dedicated to their cause is the simple joy of living exhibited by each of the ranch’s animals as they romp and play. Others thought these animals were hopeless cases. At Rolling Dog Ranch Animal Sanctuary, not a single animal feels sorry for himself. There is no hopeless case. “I can’t imagine doing anything else,” says Marker about working with, and on behalf of, these animals. Smith heartily concurs.
News: Guest Posts
How Does the Loss of a Dog Impact the Wellbeing of other Dogs in the Household?
March 14 2014
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.
News: Guest Posts
December 4 2013
Some dogs seem oblivious to music, while others feel compelled to join in, singing harmony. This dog in the Ukraine clearly enjoyed accompanying a street musician as he played his clarinet. The dog’s presence delighted those passing by, likely increasing the donations received by the musician.
One of my dogs asked to go outside whenever I started playing piano. The others would curl up nearby and wait for the concert to end. Everyone’s a critic!
Do you have a musical dog?
News: Guest Posts
November 22 2013
A Missoula man is living my worst nightmare. My heart goes out to him.
On Sunday, November 17th, Layne Spence took his three family members – Malamutes Rex, Frank and Little Dave – out into the forest near Lolo Pass in Missoula County for some recreation. They drove to a campground that is closed for the winter. Spence was x/c skiing while his dogs did what Malamutes love to do – trot up the road just ahead of him, enjoying the snow. Because it’s hunting season, Spence’s dogs each wore a special collar with lights.
Suddenly, without warning, their peaceful winter outing was destroyed by the sound of gunfire—as reported in the local paper—two quick, muffled shots. Horrified, Spence watched Little Dave’s rear leg explode just yards ahead of him on the road. Yelling “Stop! Stop!” to alert the shooter, Spence stood helplessly on his skis as the camo-wearing hunter quickly fired four more times at Little Dave, with at least one bullet piercing the dog’s neck, killing him. The hunter then came down out of the trees, saying he thought Little Dave was a wolf and asked if he could do anything. Spence did exactly what I would have done—screamed at the guy to leave.
In 2005, my Malamutes Maia and Meadow and I moved to the West Central Mountains of Idaho, a rural ranching and logging area adjacent to the Payette National Forest, just outside the tourist town of McCall. Wild wolves had recently been reintroduced and were gaining a toe hold in the State, over the vocal objections of many Idahoans, including most hunters and ranchers. I had been living in the Seattle area, where strangers were always interested in meeting my girls, rarely showed fear and never thought they were wolves. In Idaho, I discovered the opposite was true: most locals assumed they were wolves, were immediately afraid of them, and only with reassurance from me that they were dogs— very friendly dogs—would they come closer to meet them. One of my new neighbor, a rancher who—like so many there—bought grazing allotments from the forest service and grazed his cattle in the Payette every summer, letting them roam freely, making them possible targets for wolves—assured me that no one would mistake my girls for a wolf, that wolves have longer legs, don’t hold their tails curled up on their backs, etc. I wanted to believe him, but…I couldn’t, based on the fearful reactions the girls kept eliciting. A couple years later, as I was walking my girls on leash up a country lane, this same neighbor stopped his truck beside us. Without preamble, he pointed at Maia, the one who looked most wolf-like, and said, “I shot a wolf that got into my cattle yesterday. It looked just like that one.” He then drove away. I felt threatened and didn’t sleep easy for weeks.
During my time in Idaho—2005 through 2008—wolves were still protected as an endangered species and it was illegal to hunt them, although they could legally be shot if they “worried” livestock or threatened a pet. Despite those protections, I quickly learned that most locals would shoot any wolf they happened to see in the forest, any time of year, the Feds be damned. They bragged about it, or wanting to do it. So I made sure, any time I took my girls hiking or trail running in the forest, they stayed very close to me. During hunting season, I covered them in orange and even then—because I feared they would still be mistaken for wolves—I took them trail running in the only two nearby places where hunting was always illegal, a State park and a ski resort. I referred to their orange vests as “Do Not Hunt Me” vests. In fact, my fear was so great, I embellished the first vests I found (ironically sold by gun manufacturer Winchester to be worn by bird hunting dogs) by adding several lengths of orange flagging tape to their collars. The vests had nothing covering their chests so that head on, my girls could still be mistaken for wolves. Eventually I found bright orange vests made by VizVest that covered virtually their entire chest, backs and sides. I relaxed only slightly.
By 2008, it became clear wolves would lose federal protection and hunting them would be legalized in Idaho. Despite my love of the breed and having at least one Malamute in my life since 1985, I vowed that if I continued to live in Idaho I would not get another because the stress of worrying they’d be shot was too great. When I did add another dog to my family in 2008, I got an Aussie—a ranch breed no hunter would mistake for a wolf.
Trying to understand everyone’s perspective, I asked lots of questions—of locals, hunters, fish and game experts. Here’s my opinion, based on those conversations and living with the issue in a far-too-intimate way: Hunters out to kill wolves do so based on myth and fear. Their motivation is far different than the typical game hunter. Wolf hunters aren’t hunting for food, or even a trophy (although there are some really sad people out there who consider wolves a trophy animal and pose proudly next to one they’ve killed). An ethical elk or deer hunter will aim carefully to take the game with one shot; they don’t want the animal to suffer, nor do they want to follow a wounded animal over rough terrain to finally kill it. Many give thanks to the animal for the food it will provide. But a wolf hunter? They want wolves to suffer, they want to exterminate the species all over again. Wolf hunters seem motivated by an intense, almost irrational hatred borne of fear, believing wolf actively seek to kill humans. When I was building my house in Idaho, a concrete contractor told me with a straight face that the wolves the Feds were forcing on Idaho would come down onto school playgrounds and snatch children. (When I asked my 80-something father, who as a Kansas farm boy grew up hunting, why people were so afraid of wolves, he replied with his usual insight, “I guess they still believe in fairy tales.”) Add to that fear a strong anger based on the misguided belief that wolves are decimating elk populations, making it harder for hunters to find them. (This hunter complaint is common, despite research in Yellowstone showing that reintroducing wolves improves overall herd health, and reduced elk populations allow aspen trees decimated by the elk to thrive once again, returning the entire ecosystem to balance.)
Mix misinformation (myth), fear and anger and you have a combustible combination leading to rash, irresponsible shootings like the one that killed Little Dave.
I moved back to western Washington in early 2009. By then, wolves were delisted and states like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were eagerly issuing hunting tags for them or planning to do so. Idaho’s governor boasted he wanted the first tag. The blood lust for wolves was palpable, and for me, sickening. Locals complained how the wolves didn’t belong in Idaho, saying they weren’t even “native” which totally ignored their extermination decades earlier. Rumors spreading around town of the evils perpetrated by wolves grew to fantastic proportions. As one sympathetic dog-loving friend said to me, “It’s like religion. They believe what they want to believe and can’t be persuaded they might be wrong.” It was clear to me that tragedies like that suffered by Little Dave and Layne Spence were waiting to happen in any state allowing wolf hunting.
Even more tragic for Mr. Spence? There’s nothing the State of Montana—the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department nor local Missoula County law enforcement—can or will do. Apparently the shooter had a tag for wolf hunting, the season in Montana for wolves in all winter long (September 15 – March 15), and the killing occurred in an area where hunting was legal. (If Montana is like Idaho, legal hunting territory is pretty much everywhere outside city limits.)
However, Mr. Spence may have a civil cause of action against the hunter for intentional or negligent infliction of emotional trauma—seeing his beloved pet shot and killed on a public road—depending on Montana’s statutory and common law. I hope he finds an animal law attorney and pursues it, because these sorts of cases, whether won or lost in the early rounds, can slowly change laws and people’s perceptions of what’s okay and what isn’t. When the pets we take onto public lands with us are afforded the same protections from harm that we are, others will be more careful. There are better, safer ways to “manage” wolf populations than issuing cheap hunting tags to people whose hatred and fear turns them into vigilante exterminators, overcoming their ability to hunt safely.
Read the original article in The Missoulian on November 19th, which has since posted several follow-up articles.
News: Guest Posts
October 18 2013
Ellie is now nearly eleven years old. She still loves going to work every day and has no plans to retire. “She loves coming to work with me, and just seems to be getting better and better at her job,” says Page Ulrey, a King County Deputy Prosecutor and Ellie’s handler.
Ellie is the first facility dog who was trained specifically for use by a prosecuting attorney’s office, to assist victims of crime during witness interviews and courtroom testimony. I first wrote about Ellie, and Jeeter—the facility dog who helped get the idea going in Seattle, Wash.—in 2007. While Page prosecutes cases involving elder and vulnerable adult abuse, Ellie continues to help with a wide variety of cases within the office. Ellie has been working almost nine years now, and in that time has attended a trial every few months, perhaps as many as forty total. She’s had a huge, beneficial impact on how many victims of crime experience the legal system.
Ellie—and other courthouse dogs like her—had to do some convincing along the way. As in other states where facility dogs have been introduced into criminal courtroom proceedings, defense counsel and/or judges in counties across Washington State have often objected when a facility dog accompanies a victim or witness to the stand for testimony. This is especially true the first few times a facility dog is used. Some cases, after a conviction at the trial court level, are appealed in part on the basis that the dog created a bias in favor of the prosecutor’s witness and case, interfering with the defendant’s right to due process. In Washington, most of those cases ended in the state’s appellate level courts with convictions affirmed and the use of the facility dog approved.
Now, however, the Washington State Supreme Court has weighed in. After an appellate court affirmed a conviction and the use of Ellie to comfort a victim while testifying, the case was appealed again to the state’s highest court. The Washington State Supreme Court issued a decision September 26, 2013—State v. Dye— making it clear that the use of facility dogs in the courtroom should be allowed so long as certain facts are established and precautions are followed.
What makes State v. Dye an especially strong case for the use of facility dogs is that the defendant’s counsel made several common objections to the use of Ellie at trial—preserving the issues for appeal—so that the Supreme Court could address them in detail. The victim in the case, though 56 years old, was a developmentally delayed man who functioned at a mental age of six to twelve years. When interviewed by defense counsel prior to trial, Ellie comforted him. Page, as prosecutor at trial, laid the foundation for using Ellie to assist the victim because he felt anxious about testifying, much like any child would. Ellie accompanied the victim to the witness stand. Not only did defense counsel object to Ellie, saying her presence with the victim was extremely prejudicial to the defendant, but also because the prosecutor on the case was Page—Ellie’s handler—who could possibly signal Ellie in some way. And finally, defense counsel objected on the basis that the defendant and even defense counsel might have allergies to dogs, or be intimidated by the dog.
The Supreme Court said that trial judges may exercise their discretion in allowing a special measure such as a facility dog to accompany vulnerable witnesses. The analysis is the same in situations when child witnesses are allowed to take a doll or teddy bear with them to the witness stand. There should be a showing by the prosecutor that the witness would have difficulty testifying without the special measure. The trial judge can then determine whether the special measure would unduly prejudice the defendant.
The Supreme Court noted that Ellie’s behavior in the courtroom was never disruptive; she never left the witness’s side; and she never made any gesture (growling, lunging) toward the defendant that would cause a jury to consider him dangerous or untrustworthy. And finally, the trial judge instructed the jury to not make any assumptions based on Ellie’s presence.
The allergy objection has been a common one in the early stages of using facility dogs like Ellie in courtrooms. In the Dye case, the judge offered to allow the defendant to prove such an allergy with a note from his doctor, and if proven, make accommodations for him. The defendant never produced such a note and the objection was overruled. The Supreme Court approved this approach.
Both the Washington Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court upheld the trial judge’s decision to allow Ellie to assist the victim while testifying. A concurring opinion to the Supreme Court decision did voice some concerns, however. Justice McCloud felt that because Ellie was such a powerful symbol in the courtroom— “…her mere presence conveyed a deeply reassuring, yet silent, message of comfort, security and support”—that in the interest of fairness to the defendant, the trial judge might consider additional steps, for example allowing a facility dog to accompany the defendant’s key witness to the stand, to balance things out. Defense counsel didn’t seek such balancing steps, so no error occurred at the trial level. Justice McCloud was also concerned that a simple instruction to the jury to not draw any conclusions from Ellie’s presence was insufficient, that it’s well known that jurors often fail to follow a court’s instructions. “[T]he presumption that jurors follow instructions is especially inapplicable where the challenged procedure—here, the presence of the adorable dog Ellie—is a procedure that works only because it provides such powerful symbolism.”
There is still room for novel objections to the use of facility dogs in the courtroom. Those objections will wind their way through the appeals process. It’s all part of how our legal system sorts through these concerns and comes to the best possible solutions. Page isn’t worried. Ellie, and facility dogs in general, have become a common sight in King County’s courtrooms; most of the judges have become quite comfortable with their use. I’m sure that’s the case in many other jurisdictions across the country as well, and will become more common in the future.
As for defendants also having access to facility dogs in the courtroom, as suggested by Justice McCloud? “I think that's fair,” said Page. “Although I don't think the prosecutor's office is under any obligation to supply defense with a dog.”
State v. Dye, No. 87929-0, published September 29, 2013, can be found at:
Courthouse Dogs Foundation (www.courthousedogs.com) - promoting justice with compassion through the use of professionally trained facility dogs to provide emotional support to everyone in the justice system.
For the first report on courtroom dogs by Rebecca Wallick see, or for previous update .
Dog's Life: Travel
July 24 2013
If you and your dog enjoy off-leash parks, traveling and outdoor activities, dog camp is for you!
Good socialization and play skills make dog camp more fun for everyone. Your dog should enjoy playing with — or at least be neutral toward — other dogs and people. Young dogs should be able to read cues from other dogs and older dogs should be able to tolerate jostling by faster, younger dogs. Small dogs should be comfortable around big dogs. All dogs should be willing to share toys, and possibly cabin space.
Solid, basic obedience skills — sit, stay, coming when called — are critical for off-leash games, heavy-duty play, hikes, swimming and other activities. Good manners help everyone relax.
Research dog camps to determine which best meets your vacation goals. Some focus on competitive agility and obedience, others on off-leash games and hiking, and some are quite rustic. Then, sign up and give dog camp a whirl!
It’s all here. The classic summer camp experience you remember from childhood — swimming, hiking, boating, rustic cabins, campfire songs and lots of socializing — tailored to four-footed guests. That means days packed with agility, flyball, Rally-O, lure coursing, dock diving, clicker training, freestyle, even painting, not to mention well-earned naps. Two-footed campers can bone up on animal communication, Tellington TTouch, canine massage and much more. Each camp has its own flavor, style and emphasis, but here are a few favorites: Camp Dogwood, Ingleside, Ill.; Camp Gone to the Dogs, Stowe and Marlboro, Vt.; Camp Unleashed, Asheville, N.C., Berkshires, Mass., and Sequoia, Calif.; Camp Winnaribbun, Stateline, Lake Tahoe, Nev.; Canine Club Getaway, Lake George, N.Y.; Dog Scouts of America, St. Helen, Mich.; Happy Tails Daycamp for Dogs, Fennville, Mich.; and Maian Meadows Dog Camp, Lake Wenatchee, Wash.
News: Guest Posts
Yes, If a Proposed Amtrak Bill Passes!
May 22 2013
Wouldn’t it be nice to travel with your canine companion on Amtrak, just as passengers with pets on airplanes are allowed to do?
A bi-partisan bill has been submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives that would start the process of allowing dogs and cats to travel on Amtrak.
Short and sweet, the Pets on Trains Act of 2013—co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.)—would require Amtrak to submit a proposal for allowing pets on at least one car of each passenger train. Just as with airline travel, the bill requires Amtrak’s plan to allow pets to travel as carry-on luggage in a passenger car, in a pet kennel that meets Amtrak’s stowage size requirements, with passengers traveling less than 750 miles. The bill also requires Amtrak to provide a proposal for pets to be carried as cargo, which—while not as pleasant for the pet as riding in the passenger car—would allow larger animals to travel by train without many of the risks of traveling as cargo on an airliner.
Each sponsor of the bill confesses self-interest in seeing the bill become law. Denham’s dog Lily regularly travels with him to and from California. Cohen considers pets to be family members who should be allowed to travel with their owners on trains, rather than left at home.
Let your representative and congressperson know you support this bill.
News: Guest Posts
March 28 2013
A much-commented New York Times article explores the singular pain and responsibility that comes with end-of-life decisions for our pets. How much effort, and how much money do you spend to extend their lives? All of the diagnostic tools and treatment options available today make these questions inevitable and also much more difficult to answer. Cancer can be treated with chemo and radiation, even amputation. Nearly every medical specialty for humans has its counterpart in veterinary medicine—cardiology; neurology; oncology; surgery—including hospice care for the end of life. We don’t like to talk about the expense involved with the treatment options we’re offered, but financial resources for our entire family (including our other pets) are impacted by the choices we make.
The same questions we must answer for ourselves—health care directives regarding heroic measures, do-not-resuscitate orders, what a quality life looks and feels like—should be answered with regard to our pets, at least in a general way before we’re sitting in the vet’s exam room and are asked “What do you want to do?” There are no easy answers, no one-size-fits-all. Ultimately, we as pet guardians must decide what’s best for them, what they would want, and what maximizes their quality of life.
Reading the article and the comments it generated are a good way to start your own discussion.
Dozer setting the pace
March 19 2013
Dozer is dog who’s just gotta run. A young Goldendoodle full of energy and mischief, Dozer decided to join a Maryland half-marathon, mid-race. He simply couldn’t resist tagging along as two thousand runners passed right in front of his yard.
The joy in Dozer’s face as he paces himself with the runners is obvious and contagious. As he nears the finish line, you can see his paws are muddy – he must have found his own water station, probably a stream. Not only did Dozer have fun, so did the runners who ran beside him, and his story inspired people to donate to a worthy cause.
A runner like Dozer completely changed my own life with dogs.
I had recently graduated from law school and was living in a small, rural town in eastern Washington. It was autumn 1984 and I was dog-less for the first time in my life. One morning, running with a friend on country roads a couple miles outside town, a Siberian husky suddenly appeared beside us, joining us. Fearing he would get lost, I said rather sternly, “Go home!” The dog ignored me. He trotted alongside us with an easy, relaxed stride for a few miles, smiling as only a happy dog can. He didn’t seek attention from us. He just wanted to run, and we were running. It was that simple. I was impressed with his beauty and athleticism. Then, as suddenly as he had appeared, he changed direction and disappeared.
I felt sad he was gone – it was a joy to have him join us – but didn’t think much more about it.
Until a week later, when he suddenly reappeared and accompanied us on another morning run. I happily welcomed him. “Hey Buddy, how are you?” He remained aloof, easily trotting beside us but not coming close for a pet. I longed to see if he had a tag, but didn’t want to spook him. This time, he followed us all the way home, right onto my porch, where he let me stroke his soft, thick fur. By now, I’d fallen in love with him. Until that moment, I’d not thought of a dog as a runner. I’d grown up with small dogs. Now, I wanted a canine running companion in my life. If this husky didn’t have a family, I wanted him. But by the time I had showered and returned to the porch to check on him, he was gone.
I never saw him again. Yet he left an indelible impression on my heart. I’ve had a least one road and trail running dog in my life since 1985. I believe there’s a special bond developed when human and canine trot alongside each other, doing what their bodies were designed to do, endorphins coursing.
Here’s to Dozer and all our dogs who remind to go outside and play.
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