Susan Tasaki is a The Bark contributing editor.
September 6 2015
It looks like we soon may be able to chalk up another win for the power of the canine nose.
In a recent UK National Health Service (NHS) preliminary study, trained dogs were able to sniff out prostate cancer 9 out of 10 times, making them a more accurate predictor than the standard (but controversial) Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) screening test, which has a high "false positive" rate.
For men of a certain age, the prostate goes from a background to a foreground worry. The walnut-sized gland circles the neck of the male bladder, and when it starts causing problems, there can be a number of reasons. The most serious is cancer. To arrive at a definitive diagnosis requires a biopsy, which--like any surgery--comes with its own risks. And this is why the "false positive" rate matters: in order to make a decision to go ahead with a biopsy, a man needs to have a pretty good idea that it's needed. The more accurate the screening, the fewer unnecessary biopsies.
Based on the success of the preliminary study, the NHS has recently authorized clinical trials to more definitively test the canine ability to identify prostate cancer. Dogs trained by the group Medical Detection Dogs will be taking part in the upcoming trials. This group, co-founded by by Dr. Claire Guest, was among those profiled in Barbara Robertson's Wonder Dogs article; click on over to read more about it.
August 20 2015
Did you know that dogs smell in stereo? You will after watching this terrific animated short from TED-Ed. TED conferences are legendary for the range and quality of their speakers, and their three namesake fundamentals—Technology, Entertainment and Design—converge in the TED-Ed “Awesome Nature” animations. We recently stumbled over one focusing on a dog’s sense of smell, suggested by Alexandra Horowitz, whose book, Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know, was on the New York Times bestseller list for 63 weeks. Take a look and be enchanted, not to mention enlightened.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Expanding the frontiers of the canine capacity to help us carry on.
July 15 2015
We can’t find our glasses, our car keys or the right word. We forget an appointment. We’re unable to bring to mind the name of a long-ago best friend. Many of us jokingly refer to these as “senior moments,” but the humor is only skin-deep. Underneath is the niggling worry that dementia—the term for a set of symptoms signaling a decline in mental abilities severe enough to interfere with our daily lives—lurks. This fear is fed by a sobering statistic: according to the Institute for Dementia Research and Prevention, in the U.S., at least 5 million individuals suffer from age-related dementias (Alzheimer’s disease accounts for roughly 70 percent of the total). These numbers will continue to rise as the population ages.
Severe memory loss is no laughing matter. The brain, a mysterious and complex organ, is, among other things, the repository of the very essence of who we are: our memories. Generally speaking, memory breaks down into three broad categories: sensory, short-term and long-term. Things as dissimilar as childhood recollections and how to walk, hold a spoon or comb our hair reside in our memory As damaged nerve cells (neurons) cease to function, they take much of this information with them. This is where dogs come in.
Dogs love routine. People with dementia have difficulty with routine, everyday activities. Roughly a dozen years ago, two people had the idea to put them together. When Israeli social worker Daphna Golan-Shemesh met professional dog trainer Yariv Ben-Yosef, they chatted about their respective occupations. As Ben-Yosef recalled, “It was clear to us that Daphna’s expertise in Alzheimer’s and my expertise with dogs could result in something new.” Together, Golan-Shemesh and Ben-Yosef pioneered the idea of training dogs to help those with dementia to not only feel better but also, to assist with daily activities.
Fast-forward to early 2012, when Alzheimer’s Scotland secured funding to study the possibility that specially trained service dogs could benefit people in the early stages of dementia. Four students at the Glasgow School of Art developed the initial concept as a service design project in response to the Design Council’s 2011 Living Well with Dementia Challenge. Focused on “finding practical solutions to social problems,” the competition required entrants to “design and develop products and services that rethink living with dementia, and launch them as real initiatives.” The Dementia Dog project grew from this call to action.
Dementia Dog is a collaborative effort, with Alzheimer’s Scotland, Dogs for the Disabled, Guide Dogs Scotland and the Glasgow School of Art pooling their respective areas of expertise. Last year, the research phase was completed, and the group is now in the early stages of a small-scale pilot program. As noted on the Dementia Dog website, the program “aims to prove that dogs can help people with dementia maintain their waking, sleeping and eating routine … improve confidence, keep them active and engaged … as well as provide a constant companion who will reassure them when they face new and unfamiliar situations.”
They are also developing programs for two more assistive functions: intervention dogs, trained to help the client with specifically identified tasks, and facility dogs, who enhance the emotional well being of those living in residential care.
The program’s dogs receive instruction at the Guide Dogs’ Forfar Training School. After 18 months’ work, the first two dementia service dogs—Kaspa, a Lab, and Oscar, a Golden Retriever—were certified last year, and two more dogs are currently being trained.
As noted in the program statement, the dogs help their people with core needs: support for daily living (exercise, balance, alerting to hazards, environmental safety), reminders (prompts to take medication), “soft” support (companionship, a bridge to social interaction, confidence building), and physical and emotional anchoring (staying with their person while the partner/caregiver shops, or helping their person feel safe and secure when alone).
The dogs are also trained to provide another critical service: getting their people home safely. The dogs’ collars are fitted with a GPS unit, and if the person doesn’t give the “home” command, the device helps families or law enforcement zero in on the pair’s location. Unlike guide dogs for the blind, dementia dogs operate at the end of a six-foot leash, which allows them to most effectively steer their people in the appropriate direction.
Dementia service dogs are being trained in the U.S. as well. DogWish.org, a California-based charity that trains and sponsors service dogs, lists “dementia dogs” as one of their training options, as does Wilderwood Service Dogs in Tennessee.
This service dog program taps into our almost primal love for dogs in a very personal way. The dogs of our present, the dogs of our past: their names and quirks and the bone-deep understanding of their nonjudgmental and unconditional love often stay with us when much else has been lost. A person living with dementia may not be able to recall what she had for breakfast or where she lives, but the dogs she loved? That’s another story.
In a 1.28-minute YouTube video clip that’s been viewed by more than 5.6 million people (go to see it for yourself), an elderly man with Alzheimer’s who’s lost almost all of his speech talks to and interacts with the family dog. It’s hard to imagine a better example of the very real value that dogs—purpose-trained or not—provide to the most vulnerable among us.
Read deeply touching comments from family members and caregivers about the ways dogs help their loved ones cope at dementiadog.org.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Summer is prime time for fleas and ticks.
June 25 2015
Keeping these nasty little blood-suckers off our dogs and out of our homes requires vigilance, but it’s work worth doing.
If you live in an area of the country that endured what seemed like an endless winter, you may think that the flea and tick population was diminished by the cold, and be tempted to let down your guard. Don’t do it. As Sheila Pell notes in “Tick Talk,” her excellent Bark article on the subject, “For ticks, it seems, the ice age was a snowbird’s vacation.” (Read the article online here.)
Both fleas and ticks transmit or initiate a host of unpleasant conditions that can seriously affect our dogs’ lives. Depending on where you live, ticks are responsible for Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, canine ehrlichiosis, babesiosis, anaplasmosis, tick paralysis and American canine hepatozoonosis. From fleas come tapeworms, allergic dermatitis, and other bacterial and viral pathogens.
Plus, it’s not just dogs that these pests bedevil. They also like another warm-blooded mammal: us. All the more reason to take them seriously.
Reliable advice on how to prevent or eliminate flea problems on your dog or in your home and yard can be found at the ASCPA website, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has a page dedicated to ticks. Also on the subject of ticks, the best place to start, bar none, is the Tick Encounter Resource Center, the outreach arm of the University of Rhode Island’s Center for Vector-Borne Disease. This incredibly thorough and well-illustrated website has a plethora of tools to help you assess the tick threat in your area, as well as practical suggestions to offset it.
So, arm yourself with the facts, then take steps to protect your pups and other pets, yourself, and your family. Let peace of mind prevail!
Dog's Life: Humane
Partnerships that help alleviate animal suffering in popular resort areas.
June 22 2015
Which of these things is not like the others? Sun, surf, sand, fruit drinks, stray dogs. While on the surface, the last is the odd-dog out, the truth is that in many tropical vacation paradises, emaciated, mange-afflicted and lonely canines (and felines) roam the beaches, alleys and streets in heartbreaking numbers.
Among the humane groups that have sprung up to address this situation is Cats and Dogs International (CANDi), whose mission is “to save the lives of stray cats and dogs in Mexico and the Caribbean through spay, neuter, adoption and educational programs, supported and funded by the tourism industry, travelers and pet lovers.”
CANDi was founded by Canadian Darci Galati, an avid traveler and natural-born entrepreneur, who was inspired by her daughters’ concern for the strays they saw while vacationing in Cancun, Mexico. The girls would do what they could for the animals they saw wandering the streets and beaches, but knew that when they left, these dogs and cats would once again be on their own. Galati made her daughters a promise that she would do something to make the animals’ situations better, and CANDi was born.
The group has no brick-and-mortar shelters of its own, but rather, enlists what it calls “humane partners,” local rescue groups that have charitable status, a substantial and active volunteer base, and a focus on spay/neuter and other prevention work, as well as documented recordkeeping and administrative capacities.
At first, CANDi sponsored free spay/neuter clinics, which became wildly popular with local dog and cat owners, who would line up early on clinic days to have their pets altered. Galati then decided to kick it up a notch—to find a way to address the larger systemic problems by involving those who benefit financially from the tourist trade: hotels, resorts and airlines.
This was an area Galati knew well. Founder of an interline travel company that went on to become one of the largest in the UK and North America, she knew how the tourism industry worked, and how much it depended on the good will of those who enjoyed it. She was determined to parlay that knowledge into a model that would benefit animals in need.
For example, with the group’s “Make a Difference” program, participating hotels invite guests to add the equivalent of $1 per night to their bill at checkout, with the money going to help CANDi provide clinics and educational programs in the local community. While guests are under no obligation to sign up, CANDi’s research indicates that about 75 percent of them elect to take part in this fund-raising activity.
Finding adoptive homes for animals in need locally is another primary activity, but the group also reaches out to the international community, both as adopters and as travel partners to transport dogs and cats to new homes in Canada and the U.S. Currently, ACTA (the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies), Air Transat, CEO Mexico and RIU Hotels and Resorts are actively working with CANDi in support of its mission.
In her work with CANDi, photographer, volunteer and board member Tracey Buyce has had numerous experiences with local communities, and understands the struggle many have just to feed and house their families. According to Buyce, people tend to be judgmental about the animal situation in, for example, Mexico, assuming that the local people are just neglectful. “The reality is, as I spent more time in these areas, I realized that these neighborhoods are filled with people who do love their animals, but have absolutely no means to care for them.” This is the gap that CANDi helps fill.
Buyce’s introduction to the issue also came during a Cancun sojourn. As she and her husband were taking a moonlit stroll on the beach, they encountered a starving stray and her equally malnourished puppy. Not knowing what else to do, Buyce shared her dessert with the dogs, but the encounter shook her. Once she returned home, she began an online search for animal rescue groups working in the area, and found CANDi.
When asked what individual travelers can do to assist, Buyce had several straightforward suggestions: “As a tourist, if you see a stray animal in need, feed that animal; if possible, take it to a vet and have it spayed or neutered. If you fall in love, bring the dog or cat home. There is no quarantine period when entering the U.S. or Canada from Mexico, and it’s very easy to do. Not traveling? Donating just $25 to CANDi can save a dog’s life. And, of course, volunteer.”
Read more about Tracey Buyce’s experiences in our interview.
January 9 2015
Another dog named Dash surfaces in the new addition to the “Dog Diaries” historical fiction series. This one, Dog Diaries #5: Dash by Kate Klimo (illustrated by Tim Jessell), is about an English Springer Spaniel who joins the Pilgrims on their Mayflower voyage to the New World. Dash and his Mastiff friend, Mercy, have front row “seats” for all the action, from the arduous ocean journey to the settlers’ first harvest with the Wampanoag Indians, whom they had befriended. An ideal Thanksgiving read. (Ages 7 to 10)
January 9 2015
Norman, Speak! by Caroline Adderson (illustrated by Qin Leng) is a lovely picture book. Norman is adopted by a family who wants to give a home to the dog who has been in the shelter the longest. This is the first important lesson offered in this insightful book. Though the family loves Norman, they think he might not be the brightest because he doesn’t seem to understand them. But one day at the dog park, an Asian man calls to his dog in Chinese, and Norman runs up to him, too, listening intently to what the man has to say. Mystery solved! Norman “speaks” Chinese. Inspired by the need to communicate with Norman, the family signs up for Chinese lessons. They find the language difficult to learn, which helps them understand Norman’s difficulties with English—another valuable lesson. (Ages 4 to 7)
For Young Readers
November 12 2014
You can count on librarians—they always come through with the goods! In the book review section of our Winter 2014 issue, we cover a handful of recent children’s picture books featuring dogs. But we knew that was just the tip of the proverbial iceberg—oh-so-many more deserve mention.
With absolutely no advance warning, we swooped down on two local librarians—Theresa McGovern and Carolyn Potter of the Marin County Free Library at Fairfax, Cal.—and asked them for a list of their young library users’ faves, not just recent, but across the years. Within hours, we had it in hand and are sharing it with you here. (Your local children’s librarians might suggest others—check with them the next time you’re in.)
As you’ll notice, the suggested age range begins at two and goes up, so if you’re looking for a gift for a dog-loving child, you’re sure to find one that’s age-appropriate. Many are available as e-books as well, though, traditionalists that we are, we can’t imagine anything better than sitting with a child, turning paper pages and lingering over beautifully printed illustrations.
Bad Dog, by David McPhail (2014)
Ball! by Mary Sullivan (2013)
A Ball for Daisy, by Christopher Raschka (2011)
Bark, George, by Jules Feiffer (1999)
Bubba and Beau, Best Friends, by Kathi Appelt (2002)
City Dog, Country Frog, by Mo Willems (2010)
Dog Breath, by Dav Pilkey (1994)
Good Boy, Fergus! by David Shannon (2006)
Harry the Dirty Dog, by Gene Zion (1956)
Little Dog Lost, by Monica Carnesi (2012)
Martha Speaks, by Susan Meddaugh (1992)
Mister Bud Wears the Cone, by Carter Goodrich (2014)
Mogie: The Heart of the House, by Kathi Appelt (2014)
Sally Goes to Heaven, by Stephen Huneck (2014)
Skunkdog, by Emily Jenkins (2008)
The Stray Dog, by Marc Simont (2001)
Trouper, by Meg Kearney (2013)
The Way I Love You, by David Bedford (2005)
And, of course, these classic picture book series featuring two favorite canines:
Good Dog, Carl, by Alexandra Day (Suggested Ages 4–8)
McDuff Moves In, by Rosemary Wells (Suggested Ages 2–5)
Note from the librarians: Some descriptive content provided in our library catalog by Syndetics.
Q&A with Veterinarian, writer, reader and advocate Nick Trout
October 8 2014
Unless you lived in or near Boston, Mass., and had a reason to visit the Angell Animal Medical Center (AAMC), you were unlikely to have heard of veterinarian Nick Trout. That is, until his first book, Tell Me Where It Hurts, came out in 2008. Since then, his visibility has risen exponentially, as has his literary output. Born and raised in England, he is a graduate of the venerable University of Cambridge, a Diplomate of the American and European Colleges of Veterinary Surgeons and an AAMC staff surgeon. In addition to his work and his writing, Trout is an avid reader and a passionate advocate for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
Bark: Are there differences between vet education in the UK and the U.S.?
Nick Trout: Probably the biggest single difference is the age at which students go to school. In the U.S., training to become a veterinarian is a post-graduate pursuit. In the UK, most British students go straight from high school to vet school, meaning you can be a fully qualified veterinarian by the age of 23. Over the years, I have come to appreciate the American approach because I believe it selects for candidates who are potentially more driven and have enough maturity to embrace a lifelong career more clearly. In a recent Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons Survey (2010), only 52.5 percent of respondents said they would still choose to become a veterinarian if they had to do it over. I’m betting that percentage would be a whole lot higher in the U.S., thanks to a career choice made later in life.
B: How about vet practices?
NT: They’re similar in terms of technology and services offered, but roughly 40 percent of UK pet owners have pet insurance, compared to less than 3 percent in the U.S. My sense is that pet insurance can offset much of the financial awkwardness on both sides of the examination table and free pet owners to pursue optimal care. However, it should not become managed care; vets cannot have financial ties to insurers, and we have to prevent third parties making payments with few to no restrictions on skyrocketing costs.
B: How did you choose your specialty (orthopedic and soft-tissue surgery)?
NT: There’s the physicality of using your hands to fix a problem. There’s the potential for instant gratification (yes, totally self-serving, but no less rewarding) when viewing the postoperative X-ray of a shattered bone you’ve somehow managed to pin, screw, plate and wire back together. There’s the responsibility of knowing you might be a dog’s last hope. For me, the most important message I will ever convey to a dog owner, the only thing I will guarantee, is my unwavering, unequivocal determination to do my best.
B: How do you build communication skills with patients and their people?
NT: I don’t wear a white coat during consultations; for many dogs, a visit to the veterinarian is a stressful business, so why wear a uniform associated with rectal thermometers, needles and rubber gloves? Whether the patient is a Great Dane or a Chihuahua, I almost always get down on the floor with them, down on their level, to socialize and better interact prior to the physical examination. The best advice I can offer new veterinarians on the art of good communication is to simply listen. You need to appreciate the intensity of the bond you are attempting to sustain. When communication works, everyone’s on the same page, formulating a plan, weighing the options, considering the budget and fighting for a common cause.
B: Do you do time in AAMC’s ER? Any takeaway lessons for dog owners?
NT: I only get to cover emergency cases one day a week, but I love the unpredictable, chaotic potential of that day. From spinal surgery on paralyzed Dachshunds to the bizarre objects ingested by orally fixated Labradors, anything can happen. The only consistency is the dog owners’ shock, stress and fear. By definition, emergencies require owners to make quick and oftentimes costly financial and medical decisions when they are at their most vulnerable. My advice is to, while your dog is healthy, mull over what you would do during a variety of emergency situations. Consider how far you would go, how much money you would be prepared to spend. That way, if the unthinkable happens, you’ve already got a plan.
B: Are you getting more questions from your clients—do they have more interest in being heard and having their thoughts considered than they did, say, 20 years ago?
NT: With the advent of the Internet and ready access to Google, there was a time when pretty much every dog owner came into an appointment carrying a hefty wad of printed pages telling me what I should already know. Over the last five years, I’ve seen a decline in this physical show of information. It feels like there has been a transition from wanting to catch out the vet to wanting to enhance what can be done together for the animal. Personally, I much prefer it when an owner comes in having done their homework. Decision-making can be tough, and the options are seemingly endless. Anything a dog owner can do to be better prepared to discuss their animal’s health is fine by me.
B: What made you decide to write, first memoirs and then fiction?
NT: Few professions provide better material for a wannabe writer than veterinary medicine. Think about it: my working days are filled with mysteries, drama, conflict and extreme emotional highs and lows. Most veterinarians accumulate a wealth of heartwarming and heart-wrenching stories during their careers, but no one ever has, or ever will, capture the essence of my vocation better than James Herriot. However, we’ve come a long way from England’s Yorkshire Dales of the 1930s. Companion animals are now essential and central members of the American family.
In the spirit of “write what you know,” I have tried to capture the joy, emotional impact and enduring legacy of sharing our lives with animals. My “voice,” for better and for worse, is not the product of creative writing classes; my formal education in English ended when I was 16. I’m lucky to have a job that necessitates strong powers of observation and people skills, a job that strives to restore and maintain a deep relationship between a human and an animal. The switch to writing fiction was originally based on the chance to cherry-pick some of my more quirky and amusing cases and bend them in a direction I wanted them to go. Writing fiction is as liberating as it is difficult!
B: Are there more books on the horizon?
NT: I’m working on a totally new piece of fiction about a boy with a severe illness who discovers that the decline in his health comes with a unique and paradoxical gift—an ability to interpret the pure, unwavering and positive emotions of his dog. For fans of Dr. Cyrus Mills and Bedside Manor, I have a plot outline for a third book in the series.
B: If you weren’t a vet, what would you be?
NT: If I weren’t a veterinarian, I’d like to be a pediatrician. I see significant overlap between the professions, especially with infants, who, like dogs, cannot “tell me where it hurts.” I’m also drawn to human health issues because my daughter, Emily, has Cystic Fibrosis (CF), an incurable chronic lung disease that relentlessly threatens to steal her breath. Over the years, there have been times when I’ve wondered whether I should become a human doctor and help try to find a cure for CF, only to realize that such a radical career change would take me further away from what Emily needs the most—a father who is there for her.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
October 3 2014
As late summer’s dog days drift into fall, it’s time to try something new.
Learn | Sign up for obedience, agility or another canine-centric activity, and crack open the Internet to expand your dog-cog information base. (Patricia McConnell is an excellent guide; visit patriciamcconnell.com for leads.)
Refresh | Toss the flattened stuffies and stock up on new chewables, DIY a toy storage box, or take the washable pooch bed to a commercial laundry and fluff it up.
Volunteer | Stop by your local shelter and offer yourself as a dog walker, or a dog talker; dogs benefit from having someone sit nearby and talk (or read) to them.
Foster | Partial to a particular breed? See if its local rescue group needs foster homes for dogs-in-waiting. Better yet, make the same offer to your shelter.
Unwind | Give doga a try; get out the yoga mat and do a few downwardfacing dogs with your in-house dogini.
Leaf Peep | Fall-color hot spots abound; google “fall foliage” for your region, then hit the road, co-pilot in the car and camera at hand.
Have Fun | Rake leaves into billowy piles for your dog to jump into … then rake them up again.
Light Up | Days are getting shorter; make sure you’re visible on late-afternoon or early-evening walks. Put new batteries in your flashlight and invest in reflective vests: one for you, one for the pup.
Look Up | Sirius, the Dog Star, is the night sky’s brightest, and easy to spot (plus, stargazing is a good way to pass the moments while your furry friend checks her p-mail).
Dress Up | Make your dog a costume and take part in a Halloween dog parade. NYC’s Tompkins Square Park hosts one of the most venerable, and other cities and groups also sponsor them. Or, try your hand at carving a dog-o-lantern.
Freeze Up | Fall is prime time for pumpkins, one of canine nutrition’s high-antioxidant, high-soluble-fiber wonder foods. Puree fresh cooked pumpkin and freeze it in silicone ice cube trays or muffin tins for future meals. (Organic produce seems to provide more good-guy antioxidants, so go organic when possible.) For recipes: thebark.com/pumpkin
Plan Ahead | Popular dog-friendly resorts and vacation venues fill up fast; make your holiday reservations now. Or, if you know you’ll be traveling sans dog, reserve time in your favorite pet sitter’s schedule.
Get Started | Winter and its seasonal celebrations are coming, so put on your DIY hat and make something special. Knit a sweater, felt a woolen ball, crochet a colorful dog bed, assemble a keepsake book.
PS | Stay safe. Along with summer heat’s last hurrah come potentially dangerous blue-green algae blooms, particularly in freshwater lakes and streams. Read up on their hazards at petpoisonhelpline.com.
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