Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Annie's canine lead showcases the potential of rescue dogs.
Last week the modern adaptation of the classic film, Annie, opened starring a cute and talented Golden Retriever/Chow mix named Marti as Sandy. One thing that I love about canine actors is that many of them are adopted from animal shelters, showcasing the potential of these often forgotten pups.
Animal trainer Bill Berloni has trained many Sandys over the years, all from local shelters. The original Broadway Sandy was cast from the Connecticut Humane Society, hours before the pup was slated to be euthanized. For the new film, director Will Gluck wanted the the canine lead to look different from past iterations. The original Sandys were intentionally a bit sad looking, but Will wanted the modern character to come off as smart and heroic.
When people think of Sandy, they think of a shaggy dog. But Marti, named in honor of Martin Charnin, the lyricist and director of the original Broadway production, is closer in appearance to the bright orange pup with pointy ears from the Chicago Tribune comic strip that inspired the play.
Marti came to the Adopt-a-Dog shelter in Armonk, N.Y. last year with four other rescue dogs from Georgia. She was there for five months before Bill came in to look at prospects for the Annie movie. He visited Marti several times to evaluate her potential before deciding that the six year old pup was the one for the job.
Bill says that shelter dogs blossom when given love and a purpose, and that their rough past makes them especially motivated and appreciative to work with his team. He uses positive reinforcement to train all of the acting skills and never forces the dogs to do anything.
Marti and her human counterpart, Annie star Quvenzhané Wallis, instantly bonded as soon as they met. Quvenzhané is a huge dog lover and has said she'd like to be a veterinarian one day, so she couldn't wait to work with Marti. Now that filming is over, the two of them still meet up in New York City when Quvenzhané is in town.
I wonder if Marti's former family will recognize her on the big screen!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Helping Save a Dog's Life
I had a profoundly moving experience recently. I pulled up on a call to pick up a sick kitten and the song The Christmas Shoes came on the radio. I wrote about this song in The Secret Life of Dog Catchers because it always makes me cry. Sometimes I see so many sad, terrible things on the job that I lose the ability to cry even when I need to. A tender song can be a catalyst to release some of that pain. The Christmas Shoes is about man who is feeling caught up on the stress and commercialism of Christmas. He’s in line to buy something and the little boy in front of him doesn’t have enough money for his purchase. The child is trying to buy a pair of shoes for his dying mother to wear to heaven. The boy asks the stranger to help him and the man finds the true meaning of Christmas in helping a stranger.
The song had me feeling teary as I got out of my animal control truck and as I crossed the parking lot a woman called to me from a car. She asked me to please help them so I approached and saw a family holding a tiny, older Chihuahua in their arms. The dog, Lilo, was the special pet of the ten year old daughter and was critically ill but they had no money. Every vet clinic and shelter had turned them away. Veterinarians are generally hard working and compassionate people but they have to make a living just like everyone else and shelters are there for animals who have no owners.
Lilo probably didn’t weigh more than 3 or 4 pounds, with just enough gray around her muzzle to show her maturity without advanced age. The big brown eyes were resigned to her fate, whatever it may be and I could see that she was lethargic and dehydrated. The family was distraught and obviously adored their pet. I asked a few more questions and then called in my credit card number to a nearby vet clinic and asked them to please see the dog. The family and I embraced and exchanged some tears and I sent them on their way.
A couple of hours later the clinic called and said Lilo had a life threatening pyometra and needed emergency surgery to save her life. Pyometra is a nasty uterine infection common in un-spayed female dogs. The kind-hearted veterinarian gave me a break on the surgery and many generous people chipped in to help pay for it. Lilo ended up with major complications and spent 5 days in the hospital before she was well enough to be released. I was finally able to pick her up and drive her home and placing her in the daughter’s arms was one of the best feelings I’ve had in a long time.
Now animal control officers don’t make a lot of money. I buy most of my clothes at the Goodwill and drive a 20 year old car. We don’t spend much at Christmas other than some gifts for the kids. We have everything we really need and although I love giving gifts, I don’t like buying them just for the sake of buying them. Helping this family meant more to me than any gift I could ever get.
If I look close I can see my reflection in the dog’s eyes.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Remembering events based on dogs
A friend of mine was trying to remember what year her husband had run the Chicago Marathon. Naturally, she thought (and said out loud), “Let’s see, what dogs did I have then? Hmm, Izzie was a puppy, but she had already started obedience training, and Piper was competing in Utility, so it was probably around 1995.
I keep track of my life with the help of a canine timeline, too. As my brain searches for a memory to place an event at a specific time, dogs run through my mind.
“Let’s see, we were fostering Who the year it stayed below zero for over a week, so that was probably 2002.”
“Her husband died while we had Tyson, so I think it was in 2008.”
“We moved to New Hampshire weeks before we got Bugsy, so that would have been 1998.”
“Their baby girl was a newborn when Bear came to visit, so she is just turning two this year.”
Do you keep track of life events by remembering which dogs were present and what they were doing?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Collaboration opens a new world for a South Carolina pup.
Earlier this year I wrote about TurboRoo, an adorable Chihuahua who received a 3D printed dog cart to help him get around. Dog carts have been the norm for lucky disabled pups, but it makes it hard to really run and play with other dogs. Canine prosthetic legs are more expensive and can take a long time to get the right fit.
But that all could change starting with a special pup named Derby, the first animal to be successfully fitted with 3D printed prosthetics. A few months ago, Tara Anderson, an employee at South Carolina based 3D printing company 3DS, started fostering the Husky mix born with two deformed front legs. She initially fitted Derby with a dog cart, but after it limited his mobility she enlisted a few of her colleagues to help make Derby prosthetic legs with their 3D technology. They were all on board, but none of them knew anything about designing prosthetics.
So Tara reached out to Derrick Campana, founder of Animal Ortho Care in Virginia, one of the first companies to make orthotics and prosthetics specifically for animals. Derrick had been wanting to incorporate 3D printing into his business because not all of the materials and tools that work for making human prosthetics are 100 percent compatible with animals. For example, the technology used to scan a person's leg is not so accurate when scanning a furry leg.
So while Derrick still had to mold a custom fiberglass cast, 3D printing brought speed and flexibility to the project. "The beauty of 3D printing is that if the design needs to be adjusted, we don't have to wait for time-consuming and expensive traditional manufacturing processes, we can simply print out a new set," said 3DS vice president Buddy Byrum. The new technology allowed them to create complete prosthetics printed in a single, custom-fit build.
Derby did have to learn how to use the prosthetics, with the help of his veterinarian and physical therapist, but now the energetic pup runs two to three miles a day with his adoptive parents.
Derrick plans to continue collaborating with 3DS to further advance the field of animal prosthetics and hopes to one day be able to directly scan canine legs to make the process even more efficient.
It takes a lot of work to successfully fit a dog with prosthetics, but seeing Derby's happy face certainly makes it all worth it.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Must-have travel items for guests
If you’re traveling with your dog this holiday season to stay with friends or family, you probably have more stuff jammed into your car than if your dog were staying home. I hope you’ve still have some space left, though, because you’ll want to make sure you have those extra items that can help make the trip with your dog a success.
I’m not talking about the obvious stuff like food, food bowls, crate, leash, collar, and a brush for daily groomers. I assume those are already packed and ready to go. No, I’m talking about the things that make visits easier for social reasons—the ones that are useful because they help prevent or ease the tensions that so often arise when dogs are guests.
Let’s not kid ourselves—even friends and relatives who love our dogs may not love the extra mud, hair and slobber that they bring or those little behavior gaffes such as counter surfing, barking, crotch-sniffing, trash parties and jumping up. With a little planning ahead and thoughtfulness, you can minimize any feelings of regret they may have about inviting your dog to come with you. Here are some must-have items to bring.
Extra-nice hostess gift. Bring something really special for your hosts and write in the card how much you appreciate that your dog is welcome, too. Consider adding a second gift that is from your dog.
Lint rollers. The hair that you consider a standard accessory to your outfits may not match everyone else’s style. Sharing these clean-up tools helps everyone get ready for family photos and also lets them know you realize that your dog sheds and that you care about how this affects others.
Washcloths and towels. At my house, we have a huge bin of old towels and washcloths that we use for anything slightly gross. At some houses, all linens are fancy and new, which means their owners may not appreciate them being used to wipe muddy paws and bellies, to put on furniture or rugs under a wet dog or to clean up everything from dog vomit to water bowl spills.
The phone number and location of a nearby hotel that accepts pets. It’s wise to be prepared in case it becomes prudent for you and your dog to relocate. Hopefully, tensions will not escalate to the point where you feel compelled to leave, but being prepared for that (just in case!) is always wise.
Thank-you gift. When you leave, let your hosts know that you appreciate them with something like flowers or a bottle of wine. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it shows that you are grateful and includes a gracious note praising your hosts’ hospitality to you and your dog.
I hope you and your dog have a wonderful visit and that you are both invited back again!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
NYS law protects pets against unnecessary aesthetic procedures.
Earlier this year, Brooklyn tattoo artist Mistah Metro ruffled feathers in the animal community when he posted a photo of his tattooed dog on Instagram. Mistah inked the pup while she was under anesthesia for a spleen removal. At the time it wasn't illegal, just ethically questionable. After all, the dog was subjected to an unnecessary and permanent procedure.
While Mista's pup couldn't be spared the skin decoration, other pets in New York will be protected against similar aesthetic procedures in the future. Earlier this week Governor Cuomo signed legislation outlawing the tattooing or piercing of pets in the state of New York, calling it "common-sense legislation." The bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal in 2011, after she read about a Pennsylvania woman selling "Gothic kittens" with piercings on their necks, ears, and spines. Mistah's canine tattoo gave Linda's legislation the momentum it needed to finally become a law.
Linda has been a longtime advocate for animals in the state legislature, believing pets need protection from careless owners. She's drafted other legislation giving judges the power to issue orders of protection to pets, limiting the testing of cosmetics on animals, and giving cities the ability to shut down puppy mills.
The tattoo and piercing law will go into effect in four months. Violators will face up to $250 in fines and up to 15 days in jail. Ear tags on rabbits and tattoos for identification purposes will be excluded from the law, as well as piercings that provide a medical benefit and are performed under the supervision of a veterinarian.
It certainly sounds like a bizarre law, but apparently a much needed one.
News: Guest Posts
One of the most shared recent articles in the New York Times was one about a “wrong dog” and how the op-ed blogger felt she was wronged by agreeing to adopt a young dog from a rescue group. I was going to write about this but then our good friend, and former Bark science editor, Mark Derr, wrote a great post for Psychology Today that brought up all the points, and then some, that I had wanted to make. He kindly allowed us to cross post his article:
The New York Times ran a opinion piece on Saturday, December 13, by Erica-Lynn Huberty on the trauma caused when a well-meaning young couple bring a sweet young rescue dog into their home who turns into a cat-killing maniac. The essay, “The Wrong Dog,” serves as a sobering reminder that not all found dogs fit as seamlessly into their new homes as Arthur, the Ecuadoran stray who joined a team of Swedish adventure racers and traveled several hundred arduous kilometers with them last month. The team captain then sought and won permission to take him home to Sweden, and their story went viral.
Arthur’s story raised several questions in my mind: How frequently can dogs be said to choose their human companions, what criteria do they use, and what is their success rate? I have several friends who literally rescued dogs off the street, in one case the Brooklyn Bridge, and took them home to discover they had a friend for life.
Is it merely random chance that a dog and man or woman should meet and become instant friends? I think that both are choosing—the human to save a fellow creature in distress; the dog to find a loyal companion. Any dog dumped in the road would want that but be suspicious, too, I should think.
People I know with multiple dogs often have dogs dumped near them by neighbors who assume they will take the dog in. They do and if it doesn’t fit into their existing “pack,” they will find the dog a home. The private placements I know of have worked well—on occasion spectacularly. But dogs who go that route are the lucky exception among the abandoned millions.
The apparent ease with which human and dog share affection and respect casts light on why wolves and humans teamed up initially. Though the reasons remain mysterious, they clearly, I have long suspected, have to do with the ability of individuals from both species to form lasting bonds of friendship with someone other than their own kind and to do so voluntarily, as adults, as well as children and puppies.
Whatever mutations governing sociability occurred to make dogs, at least one must have involved fixing them as dominate in the dog genome—or so it appears.
But there are times human and dog don’t match up well, and unless something is done, the results can be tragic. Many of the failures in that relationship seem to arise from a lack of forethought on the part of the human, a fundamental failure to think through and find ways to meet the animal’s need for exercise, social contacts with people and dogs, consistent treatment and mental stimulation.
The central problem with Huberty’s essay lies in her argument that nothing short of ditching the dog when she first started acting oddly would have prevented the catastrophe that occurred. They would have done that had they known that some dogs are unfit for adoption, and no amount of training, discipline, or coddling will change that.
“We let ourselves believe that beneath our rescued puppy’s strange, erratic behavior was a good, loving pet,” Huberty writes. The truth was the opposite.
The back story is common enough. Having become smitten with a five-month old Lab mix, Huberty and her husband, decide to have her share their home with their three cats, a female dog, and two children.
From her arrival, the new dog, Nina, showed a defensive/possessive aggression that led Huberty to seek more information from the group who rescued her.
Huberty says that she and her husband followed the advice of Cesar Millan, “the Dog Whisperer” to create a “loving but disciplined environment.” Nina responded by attacking a cat and biting Huberty when she intervened.
In response, Huberty called the woman who gave them Nina. She agreed to pay for a trainer, who proved to be the anti-Millan. She advocated a rewards-based approach rather than “discipline.” The essay takes an odd turn here as Huberty calls the rewards-based method ‘coddling” while appearing to indicate that it was working up to a point.
Nina would go along being a normal, playful puppy. But at times, out of nowhere it seemed, she would snap at me or Alex and, once, at our son,” Huberty says, “She would suddenly cower and growl. It was like a switch flipped, yet we couldn’t figure out what had done it.”
Nor do they try to find out. Dogs do not usually change their behavior that rapidly and dramatically without reason. That could very well be an underlying pathology that a thorough examination by a veterinarian might reveal. Indeed, Huberty gives no indication that she ever took the dog to a veterinarian—the first stop a new dog or cat companion should make.
If no physical reason for the behavior can be found, the next stop is to consult a board-certified veterinary behaviorist. There are not many in the country but your veterinarian should help arrange a consultation.
Huberty blames the dog, the woman who gave her the dog, the trainer—everyone but herself and her husband—and Nina herself for her failure to fit seamlessly into Huberty’s home. From this experience, she draws the conclusion that some dogs are just unsuitable for living with humans. That might be the case but there is no proof of it here.
Maybe we should seek ways to allow more dogs to choose their human companions. I have a notion they would do a better job of it. “And when they don’t fit in they may be saying ‘wrong family,’” said my fellow Psychology Today blogger Marc Bekoff after reading “The Wrong Dog.” “Living with a dog is a two-way street and assigning unilateral blame gets us nowhere and once again leaves the dog out in the cold. This sort of ‘musical dogs’ is bad for the dog, as much research and common sense tell us.”
Nina might pay with her life for human miscalculations and failure to seek professional help.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The holidays can present a different picture for animal control officers and shelter workers. It’s hard going to work each day and seeing all the homeless faces. Some eager and hopeful, some scared and lonely. All in need of someone to show them how good it can be. Of course not everyone can adopt a pet and certainly in most cases pets shouldn’t be given as gifts. The exception is a parent who is committed to the life of a pet giving a pet to a child or a family who is picking out a pet together. It was once thought that no animals should be adopted out around Christmas but the thinking later changed to encourage people to give needy pets a home for the holidays. I’m all for taking things on a case by case basis. An easy-going family adopting a confident, happy dog can be a blast at any time.
Even if you can’t adopt, there are lots of ways to make life sweeter for homeless pets during the holidays. As we look at our beloved pets lounging in pampered comfort, remember the dogs who have no one. Contact your local shelter or rescue and ask for a wish list. Donate blankets, food, toys, treats or money. Volunteering to walk and play with shelter dogs is a great way to walk off all the rich food most of us indulge in this time of year and makes all the difference for a lonely dog.
The holidays can be a stressful time for our own dogs as well. Some dogs thrive on all the activity this time of year but many don’t. We often see cases of dogs biting visitors around the holidays. Even nice dogs can bite and dogs are limited in the ways they can ask for space. I constantly see well meaning people ignoring numerous stress signals from dogs. If your pet isn’t thrilled to see visitors, settle them in a quiet room with some treats and toys instead of subjecting them to the chaos of people who may push them past their limits.
We can all benefit from slowing down and focusing on the real meaning of the season. What are you doing to make life sweeter for your pets and others?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Photos of dogs dressed for Christmas
Some dogs enjoy sporting costumes, but they are in the minority. I see many dogs who look absolutely adorable dressed up for various holidays, but only a small subset of those look happy. I recently saw a photo on a restaurant wall of a dog done up as Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, complete with a red clown nose and large antlers. One way to describe his mood is “less than thrilled.” It’s far more accurate to say, as the person next to me DID say, “That is one pissed off dog.”
It’s become a game in my family to imagine captions for photos of dogs subjected to being adorned with excessive Christmas cheer. Whether they are wearing antlers, a Santa suit or a string of lights, it’s usually hard to imagine that the dogs are thinking, “Thanks, I do love to look festive!” Here are some of the sentiments that I think more likely match their opinions on the matter.
Oh, no you didn’t.
Do we have to do this EVERY year?
You take this off me this instant!
One more things gets put on me, and your fingers are history.
How come the cat never has to wear this stuff?
Someone’s gonna be sorry!
Why does this always happen to me?
This is so embarrassing.
Is this the way best friends are supposed to treat each other?
Now, I’m not saying the dogs look anything but great in their holiday attire, and I certainly understand how much the right canine outfit can add to the annual family photo. But if you look at your dog and see an expression that is anything but joyful, it makes sense to consider skipping the costume, or putting it on just long enough to take a photo.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Singing along to “Let It Go”
This dog sleeps right through Charli XCX’s “Boom Clap” featured in “The Fault in Our Stars,” but watch how he reacts when Frozen’s “Let It Go” by Idina Menzel comes on. The way his ears respond first followed by a slight movement of the head, then a head raise and a look directly at the camera makes the sequence look choreographed. The dog acts very much like an actor in a musical at the start of a big number.
I find it especially amusing that the dog yawns and looks ready to sleep again when the music switches from “Let It Go” and returns to “Boom Clap.” This guy knows what he likes. I’m curious about why this dog prefers one song over the other. Personal preference could obviously account for his reaction, but prior experience may play a role, too.
The people who posted the video call “Let It Go” their dog’s favorite song. It certainly makes sense that familiarity plays a role in the dog’s enthusiasm at hearing it. Perhaps, like me, this dog lives with kids in the age range of 4-12, in which case he’s probably heard this song hundreds of times by now.
Whatever the reason, he really has his performance down! Somebody needs his own iPod or a karaoke machine!
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