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The Ultimate Holiday Gift
A Sacramento woman facilitates over 700 adoptions in one month.
Kim Pacini-Hauch had been a long supporter of Front Street Animal Shelter in Sacramento, Calif. In the past, Kim donated money and spearheaded a drive to buy the animals beds. But in November, when she met with the shelter's director, Gina Knepp, found that their current predicament was dire. Front Street had around 300 cats and dogs at the shelter, and nearly 700 in foster care.

“I truly was shocked,” said Kim. “Think of putting almost 1,000 animals in one spot, looking at 2,000 eyeballs, and tell me how you would feel if you saw that all in one location. That’s what was going through my mind."

Kim decided she wanted to give the animals the greatest holiday present of all--forever homes.

Kim told Gina that she would cover the cost of all Front Street adoptions through the end of the year, typically $65 per cat and $85 per dog, although the shelter offers a discounted rate of $20 during the holidays. This fee includes spaying or neutering, vaccinations, and microchipping.

When Kim and Gina were taking photos to promote the "Home for the Pawlidays" campaign, someone took a quick 38-second video for the Front Street Facebook page. The clip went viral, with more than two million people watching in 24 hours. The next day the shelter looked like Black Friday at an electronics store. A line extended around the block waiting to get in, with some people even camping out.

Front Street normally does 10-20 adoptions a day, but on the first day of the Home for the Pawlidays campaign, 60 pets were adopted. As of mid-December, the shelter finalized more than 700 adoptions, all paid for by Kim. The promotion was so successful, Front Street took animals from six other Northern California shelters that needed help finding adopters.

Kim's holiday generosity also inspired similar acts. Across the country in Florida, a local resident pledged $2,000 to Tampa Bay's Pet Resource Center to cover 100 adoptions. The anonymous donor mentioned being influenced by Kim's story. Even cooler, some of the patrons paid it forward by covering the adoption fee for another pet. By the time the "Secret Santa's" donation ran out, 126 pets had been adopted.

Shelters often offer adoption deals during the holidays, but it's the generosity of animal lovers that turns this into a social collaboration that encourages others to get involved.

“When someone steps up like the Sacramento donor," said Humane Society of the United States Shelter Outreach Director Kim Alboum, "it does spark the generosity of other donors, especially around the holidays. There are people who never thought of adopting who are now considering it. So this donor has done even more than they realize.”

Reducing or waiving adoption fees can be controversial. As any pet lovers knows, the initial cost of a pet pales in comparison to the long term financial commitment. But I think that these promotions are about more than just the money. These social movements inspire others to get involved, encouraging those who were thinking of buying a dog to consider adoption. As long as shelters are still diligent in the vetting process, I think these campaigns have great potential.

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Pets in the Classroom
New York City pilots a program to bring dogs into schools.
Growing up with a pet helps kids develop compassion, while providing a unique friendship and source of stress relief. This is especially important in today's world where kids have to increasingly navigate uncertainty and anxiety. Unfortunately not every family is able to welcome a pet, but the New York City school district wanted to make sure every child could benefit from the therapeutic benefits of dogs.

Last week New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña joined students, teachers and service dogs at Education Department headquarters to kick off the city’s Comfort Dog pilot program. Through this initiative, participating schools will get at least one dog assigned to a specific teacher or staff member. They'll incorporate the pups into regular lessons and breaks throughout the school day.

“This is something that brings new opportunities to students,” explained Carmen. "When they’re having a bad day, just to pat a dog can make them feel better. This isn’t a fancy idea, the research shows it to be true.”

All of the dogs came from local animal shelters and they're finding homes quickly. Queens Public School 209 teacher Melissa Cerasuolo adopted Jesse, a terrier that had already been visiting her school.

“The kids are falling in love with her,” said Melissa, whose class also includes special needs students. "If kids have behavioral issues, just having the dog around will help them stay calm and control their emotions.”

School can be an incredibly stressful environment and I can see the potential of this program to complement lessons on empathy, anti-bullying, and other important issues. I hope that the comfort dogs are successful. If the city sees an improvement in the test schools' environment, they plan to expand the program. 

 

News: Guest Posts
Dog Lies Down After Police Command
Did he obey or copy the people around him?

Pilota, a Brazilian mutt, did not abandon his peeps during a drug raid. This photo of him lying down with members of his gang when the police ordered everyone to do so shows how he responded to the situation. Pilota (Portuguese for pilot) initially barked when police officers showed up at his home in southern Brazil, but when officers ordered everybody to lie down, he ran over and joined the people already on the ground.

Many have speculated that he was either following police orders or that he was just copying what everybody else around him was doing. Either way, becoming quiet and lying down on his back in apparent surrender along with everybody else was a wise move. Pilota’s actions may have saved his life because Brazilian police often shoot dogs immediately during a raid.

In the picture, Pilota appears to be giving appeasement signals, which are the signals social animals use to communicate that they are not going to challenge other individuals. His belly is exposed, his ears are back, his tail may be tucked and he has turned his gaze to the side. All of his visual signals suggest that he is actively communicating his intention of full surrender. This dog is doing everything he can to let the police officers know that he will not charge at them or fight them.

Though there were some arrests made after police found guns, ammunition, marijuana and cocaine in the raid, Pilota was among those who went free.

News: Guest Posts
Study Finds BPA in Canned Dog Food—and Dogs
Endocrine-disrupting chemical raises red flags

A study by researchers at the University of Missouri finds that eating canned dog food may increase a pet’s exposure to the endocrine-disrupting chemical, Bisphenol A (BPA).

While the study was short-term, the results were “very revealing,” says investigator Dr. Cheryl Rosenfeld, an associate professor of biomedical sciences in the MU College of Veterinary Medicine. Fourteen healthy pets were switched from their usual diet of kibble to canned food. Could a two-week menu change raise the dogs’ BPA levels?

It did, three-fold, and that could really be an issue for dogs that eat the same diet every day.

Over 300 studies have linked BPA to health problems from reproductive disorders to cancer, and now research is shedding light on how people and animals are exposed to the plastic-hardening chemical. While the FDA has reviewed the studies, they still consider BPA “safe at the current levels occurring in foods.”

By measuring BPA’s escape from packaging, scientists are narrowing the focus. One study settled the debate over whether BPA—banned in baby bottles but used in many other items—seeps from metal can linings and taints human foods. (It does). 

And in August, a long-term study in the UK found a sharp decline in canine fertility associated with exposure to other endocrine-disrupting chemicals. The researchers considered food packaging a possible source, finding the chemicals in a range of dry and wet foods.

Some plastic dog toys have also been found to leach the chemical. A study at Texas Tech by environmental toxicologists Phil Smith and Kimberly Wooten found that BPA and phthalates leached from plastic bumpers into dishes filled with artificial dog saliva.

Wooten, who wasn’t involved in the present study, says that while it isn’t clear if dog health is being harmed long-term, “it’s still important information to have since there’s so little data on canine exposure to these types of chemicals.” She knows of no other studies that have looked at the effects of a specific BPA source on the concentrations in the blood.

“I’d say a 3-fold increase suggests that for dogs that eat canned food, their diet is the most important contributor to their total BPA levels.”  

The current study highlights another concern; with the pet food industry being held by about five companies, it seems commercial foods aren’t as diverse as packaging suggests. Of the two (unnamed) brands in the study, one was declared “BPA-free” by the manufacturer.

So, skip the can and spare your dog? It turned out, the dogs already had a small amount of BPA circulating in their blood, shown by initial baseline samples. The researchers then analyzed both the cans and the food for BPA. They also checked for any disturbances in gut bacteria and metabolic changes.

Although one of the diets was presumed to be BPA-free, feeding either brand for two weeks resulted in a three-fold increase of BPA levels in the animals. At the same time, the dogs showed gut microbiome and metabolic changes, with potential health consequences. Increased BPA may also reduce one bacterium known to metabolize BPA and related environmental chemicals, according to the study.

Bagged kibble might also contain BPA, since the dogs had some BPA in their blood before the study, possibly from their dry diets.

“This is the point that it is not clear,” Rosenfeld says. “It could be that the food already contains BPA. However, we saw minimal levels when the dogs were on kibble.” In some cases, very low amounts can lead to equally if not greater harmful effects as high doses, she says. The greatest concerns may be at the low and high doses.

“The doses we found in the dogs after being on canned food though were comparable to what has been linked to health problems in humans and rodents,” a list that includes diabetes and obesity, among others.

If the dogs continued to eat the canned food, would BPA keep building up in their bodies?

“We did not see what would happen if we took the dogs off the canned food or kept them on it longer,” Rosenfeld says. “These are definite follow-up studies.” Ideally, based on the results of this one, she says they would pursue long term studies to test BPA concentrations after long term feeding of canned food, examining the dogs for metabolic disorders—such as obesity and diabetes—and neurological ones, using MRI and behavioral testing.

In a previous rodent study, they did find that the longer mice were on a diet containing BPA, even though it was being metabolized, it would start accumulating in their system so that greater amounts would persist over time, she says.

In humans and primates, BPA is excreted through urine. “It is not clear how it is cleared in dogs.”

While BPA affects the reproductive system, Rosenfeld says they did not find any gender differences in this initial study—“but we would need to test more dogs to confirm.”

The main concern about the gut microbiome changes is that they have been linked with various diseases, including neurological, metabolic, immunological, gastrointestinal, and possibly even cancer, she says. “Thus, by affecting the gut microbiome, BPA could induce such secondary effects.”

Unfortunately, a supposedly safe substitute for BPA, BPS, didn’t fulfill its goal. Rosenfeld says that in rodents and fish, BPS has already been shown to lead to similar health concerns as BPA. Their study didn’t test BPS in the cans. “It is not clear if some dog foods are using this substitute,” she says.

“By feeding fresh food, dry food, and minimizing canned food, it will reduce exposure to BPA and BPS.”

 

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Ex-Shelter Dog Discovers Her Special Purpose
A search and rescue pup to be finds her calling in a different place.
German Shepherd mix Saki's story was already an incredible one. She was found wandering the streets of Sacramento, California, but ended up being chosen as a potential search and rescue dog. Saki was waiting to begin a six-month training program with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation when she discovered a different calling.

One day Saki escaped from her foster family's home and went to visit their neighbors. Across the street lived Danny, a five-year old boy diagnosed with developmental delays. Danny was behind in his motor skills and could only speak in fragmented sentences. The Morgan family had adopted Danny despite the extra challenges and showered him and his siblings with everything they wanted--except a pet. The parents weren't dog people and didn't think the kids were ready for the responsibility.

So when Saki showed up at their door, Danny's mother, Dixie, didn't know what to expect. But it turned out to be a day she'd never forget. The kids were scared at first, but Danny went up to Saki and hugged the pup. Danny's sister recalls Saki had an immediate effect on her brother. "He turned into a different person," she says. Danny took Saki's head in his hands, looked her in the eye, and talked to her.

Saki's foster family began bringing Saki over for regular visits, and she would always seek Danny out. Soon the boy began making huge leaps in his development. About a week after Saki first came over, Dixie remembers Danny was standing in the kitchen and said, with a stutter, "I am Saki's dad." Dixie was floored. It was the first of many advances in his language and motor skills. Soon Danny began talking in full sentences. Previously he couldn't throw a ball straight, but he quickly learned how to play fetch with Saki. Even potty training, which they had been struggling with, came along too.

"When one has confidence a lot of things come together," says Dixie. "As teachers we know that learning takes place most easily and most effectively when there's a high level of emotional involvement. I believe that Danny was very involved with Saki, which contributed to the development of his motor skills and speech. Now his stages of development are most closer to a normal five year old."

Dixie knew that Saki had to stay, but the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation was reluctant to let the dog go. After all, volunteers often test 40-50 pups before choosing one for their program. However, once representatives from the organization came to visit, they knew Saki's place was with Danny.

It's amazing the effect our dogs can have on us, in ways that we can't explain.

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Teach Your Dog a Trick!
It’s the quickest way to present a “well-trained” dog

If your dog knows a trick, people are more likely to consider him well-trained than if he doesn’t. It doesn’t matter that it is far easier and faster to teach a dog to crawl, rollover or high-5 than it is to teach a dog to stay, come or heel. Performing the trick is often more impressive to people. There’s an erroneous assumption that dogs naturally do the standard dog obedience behaviors, but tricks seem like out-of-reach behavior that is above and beyond what typical dogs can do. It’s not true at all, but the perception of that truth is why there is great value in training your dog to do a trick.

I’ve had a few clients over the years who have needed for various reasons to convince someone that a dog is very well trained with short notice. One needed to introduce his dog to a landlord before being allowed to rent an apartment. A second was visiting her boyfriend’s parents and wanted to make a good impression. A third situation involved a family who were scheduled for a home visit as part of their adoption process and had concerns that their dog’s behavior might detract from their appeal. In each case, along with a crash course in the basics, I advised them to teach their dog a trick that they could show off. The potential renter taught his dog to beg, the girlfriend taught her dog to wave, and the couple seeking to adopt trained their dog to bow. All of them reported what I had suspected, which is that the trick did more to convince people that the dog was well-trained than the less flashy “normal” behavior.

Asking your dog to perform tricks always offers an opportunity to show him in the best light, but it’s especially useful if you don’t have enough time to make his training basics rock solid. One key time-saving strategy is to choose the trick that is most natural for your dog so he can learn it quickly. Many behaviors that are already in your dog’s normal repertoire can be turned into tricks. If your dog stretches a lot, consider “bow” as a possible trick. If he bats at things with his paw, he may be good at “high-5”. If your dog backs away from things, teach him to “back up”. Many dogs are naturals at “roll over”, “get your toy” or “spin”. If your dog already does a certain behavior, it is often possible to teach him to do it on cue in just a few quick sessions, and that is what turns it into a trick.

Teaching tricks gives you an edge when you have to get some training done in a hurry because you can choose to teach your dog whatever is easiest for him, and skip anything that poses a challenge. That’s not possible with basic obedience skills because you can hardly skip heel or stay because it doesn’t suit your dog’s natural behavior. Whether your dog naturally likes to come when called, people expect your dog to do it. Tricks are often unexpected and suggest that your dog will do whatever you ask of him. In other words, they offer evidence that your dog is well-trained.

Has your dog had the opportunity to look good by performing a trick?

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
NFL Quarterback Supports Police Dogs
Ben Roethlisberger's foundation funds working pups in the communities his team plays in.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been playing in the NFL for 12 years, but football isn't the only thing that's important to him. Ten years ago Ben started the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation to support police and fire departments across the country with an emphasis on support for K-9 units and service dogs.

“My Dad instilled in me a love and respect for animals," said Ben. "This is a good way to combine that passion with a desire to support the police and fire departments, which deserve all the appropriate resources needed to protect our cities and neighborhoods, and allow these brave men and women to arrive home safely.”

The foundation distributes grants in the Steelers' hometown of Pittsburgh, as well as the communities of each regular season away game the Steelers play. Those cities include Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Buffalo and Cincinnati.

The most recent grants were to the Erlanger Police Department to add a new canine officer to their team, and to the Northern Kentucky University Police to install a temperature monitor in their designated K-9 police cruiser. The school's police dog, Arritt, responds to bomb threats and unattended packages in and around campus, as well as assisting other agencies in the region.

The foundation distributed more than $170,000 in grants to K-9 units around the country during the 2015 NFL season and has distributed in excess of $1.5 million since 2007.

“We’re very fortunate to be in the position that we are able to help these K-9 units." explained Ben. "The work that is performed by the dogs and their handlers as well as the bond that is formed is incredible. We’re just thrilled to do our small part.”

We agree, what a wonderful way to help communities around the country and the dog that support them.

To learn more about the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation, or to submit a grant application, visit their web site.

   
Dog's Life: Humane
Running Buddy Program
Partnership between shelter and local business benefits shelter dogs

“Why run alone when you could have a running buddy? Love dogs? Like to run? Lace up your shoes and join Run Flagstaff as we partner with Second Chance Center for Animals to help exercise and promote shelter pets through a weekly run. You run and Second Chance provides your running buddy! Enjoy a neighborhood jaunt with nine to twelve shelter dogs.”

This announcement in the monthly newsletter from our local running store was proof that life is good. Any combination of my two favorite interests—dogs and running—is sure to make me happy. This program is designed to promote shelter dogs to the community as the dogs gain social experience and get some exercise. Each dog wears a glow-in-the-dark collar and a reflective vest that says “ADOPT ME: SECOND CHANCE”.

Second Chance Center for Animals is eager to help their dogs short term with a great outing, and long term by increasing their chances of adoption. In addition to their training work at the shelter, the Running Buddy program offers the dogs new experiences to meet people in the outside world. Run Flagstaff is owned by a couple who are serious dog lovers. They are guardians to three dogs and are likely at any time to add to their family by adopting another one. I love the collaboration between a local business and a shelter for the good of the dogs.

My sons and I were running buddies last week and had such fun that we signed up to attend again this week. The best news was that so many dogs had been adopted during the past week that they were not able to bring as many dogs as planned to the run. Dogs going to loving homes is always good news, even if it means that we had to take turns running dogs since there was not a dog for everyone despite that being the original plan.

Each of us in my family had a dog who charmed us, but made the event a bit of an adventure. My younger son ran with Boomer who must have some sort of sight hound in him. He was Fast with a capital F. My son got some good sprinting work in, and their love of speed made them a great match. My older son had a dog named Deuce who was extremely strong. He was presumably part freight train, but just as sweet as could be. I ran with Oreo, a very loving mix with black on either side of her face and white in between. Though she prefers her space around other dogs, she is gentle and kind around people, no matter how close they are to her.

While we ran on the path along the main road in Flagstaff, Ariz. (Route 66), many people walking or driving by smiled and asked us questions about the dogs. Seeing polite, well-behaved dogs out in the community is perhaps the best way to remind people that shelters are great places to find great dogs.

News: Guest Posts
A Lost Dog Spent the Night
Happily, she is back with her guardian now

The dog was outside our house one night when my husband and son pulled into the driveway. She approached the car, and when they got out of it, she came right up to them, wagging her whole body. It was raining and the dog was cold and wet, so they invited her in to our house where she happily greeted me and drank some water. After exploring our downstairs and being gently dried with some towels, she settled down by the fire.

She was not wearing a collar, but the gently pressed down fur around her neck showed that she had recently been wearing one. She was on the older side, but other than having very bad cataracts, she seemed perfectly healthy. Though she bumped into things and was clearly blind or almost blind, we thought she was in good shape. In addition, this dog was friendly, affiliative and obviously comfortable inside a home. There was no doubt that this dog had a family, but she was not one of the many dogs we regularly see in our neighborhood.

We went outside to see if anyone was looking for a lost dog, asked a few neighbors if they recognized her and pondered what to do. We even took her outside to see if she would try to head in a particular direction that indicated home. No luck. She was ours until we could sort it out. There was no way we were going to put any dog, much less an old blind one, out in the rain when she had so clearly sought out our company.

We posted a description and a picture on Facebook and on a local lost dog site. We guessed she was about 8-10 years old and a Lab mix, and we mentioned the area of town where she found us and noted that she couldn’t see. We were hopeful that such a distinctive dog would quickly be recognized and could be returned to those who love her, even though the best picture we could get of her was not very good.

The next morning, we called our local Humane Association with information about her, but they said nobody had called looking for such a dog. I took her to a vet to check to see if she was microchipped, but unfortunately, she was not. We felt stuck, but waited. We certainly didn’t want to turn her in as a stray, because as lovely as she was, we feared that an older blind dog might not be a top priority at a shelter with limited space.

Later that afternoon, we got a call from her guardian who answered my “Hello,” with, “I think you have my dog! Her name is Dallas.” He lives just down the street from us, but it was a mutual Facebook friend living thousands of miles away in Pennsylvania who saw the post and then contacted him to tell him I had his dog. You can say whatever negative things you want to about social media, but there’s no denying the good that comes from it in cases like this. Dallas and her guardian were reunited just a few minutes after the phone call. They were thrilled and relieved to see each other.

If you’ve taken in a lost dog, how did you locate the family and how long did that take?

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Tibetan Mastiffs Thrive at High Altitude
Study finds that dogs and humans adapted to mountain living in a similar way.

Sherpas from Nepal and Tibet are known for their unique ability to thrive in high-altitudes, most famously Mount Everest. Scientists believe that this adaptation was acquired over time by interbreeding with the now extinct humans known as Denisovans. A new study from the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences believes that Tibetan Mastiffs may have followed a similar path.

Like their human counterparts, Tibetan Mastiffs can also live in regions most others can’t—in the thin mountain air above 4,000 meters. The lead researcher and geneticist, Zhen Wang, believes that similar to people, this ability was acquired by interbreeding with gray wolves that already lived at high altitudes more than 20,000 years ago.

This breeding allowed the mastiffs to produce less hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in red blood cells. This helps the dogs avoid clots and stokes that can arise when the body produces additional red blood cells in an effort to acquire more oxygen at high altitude. Scientists believe the gene responsible for the adaptation is called EPAS1, which regulates the production of hemoglobin, but weren’t sure how the mastiffs acquired it.

Zhen and his team suspected that the source was gray wolves since they had the EPAS1 gene and had lived on the Tibetan Plateau for some time. So they analyzed segments of DNA containing the gene from 29 canines, including Chinese highland and lowland gray wolves, Tibetan Mastiffs, Chinese lowland village dogs, and a golden jackal. As it turns out, Tibetan Mastiffs are much more closely related to other Chinese dogs than than gray wolves, but they found two genetic areas in the mastiffs that had signs of interbreeding with the Tibetan gray wolf. While the mastiffs got a useful adaptation out of the deal, there’s no genetic evidence that the wolves got anything beneficial in return.

Either way, it’s very cool to see dogs and humans adapt in a similar way!

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