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Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Lessons from Joey the two-legged pup
There is much joy to be found in life, if only we look for it

I followed the sweet, white-haired woman down a flight of stairs as we chatted about her day. She had called our shelter and stated that she had found a stray dog a few days previously had been unable to locate the owner. She requested an animal control officer to pick it up. When we reached the basement she opened the door. I looked inside and stopped in surprise. It’s pretty rare that I’m speechless. In my job I sometimes feel like I’ve seen it all. The dog wagged his tail eagerly but it took me just a moment to get my wits about me. He was extremely tiny at only three pounds but his slightly graying muzzle showed him to be long past puppyhood. He was unusually small but what caught me off guard was the fact that he had no front feet.

The little guy stood up on his rear legs and wiggled and wagged at me in delight. I scooped him up, impressed by his happy attitude, while still being shocked at his lack of front feet. One limb ended abruptly just past the elbow, while the other was slightly longer with a floppy bit of flesh at the end. One tiny nail spiraled bizarrely out of the tip to a great length. He was a little thin and his coat was black with fleas that swarmed over his skin in tremendous numbers. Even as I held him, he was attempting to scratch the pests that plagued him. Closer inspection showed him to have rotten teeth and a penis that would not retract into the sheath and he kind of stumped along on that too. Even his back feet, while appearing fairly normal, only had two toenails apiece.

I placed the dog in a well padded carrier in the front seat of my animal control truck and he curled up, seeming content other than the constant scratching at his fleas. I kept glancing at the dog as I drove. It was likely that his feet had been missing since birth. Whether it was a congenital issue or the result of an overeager new mom chewing more than the umbilical cord, I couldn’t say. He looked back at me, big brown eyes trusting and accepting of whatever I chose for him. Someone must have cared about him somewhat or he never would have made it to adulthood. I pictured a poor but caring family with few resources to deal with a dog like him. The must have fed him, sheltered him and cuddled him for he was friendly and trusting. I wondered how he had ended up on his own after all this time. Back at the shelter, I placed him in a warm sudsy bath and scrubbed and rinsed the fleas off of him until the water ran black. I dried him in a big fluffy towel and he was photographed, vaccinated, wormed and treated for his fleas.

Due to his numerous medical issues, I took him home to foster. I decided to call him Joey as he reminded me of a baby kangaroo the way he stood up on his hind legs. Joey’s attitude and good nature is a constant source of delight and a reminder that life is less about what happens to us and more about how we respond. A veterinary check up and bloodwork showed him to be relatively healthy other than the obvious. The vet guessed him at around 7 or 8 years of age and also found that his jaw is fractured, maybe from his rotten teeth, and he’s a bit anemic, likely from all the fleas that had been feasting on his blood for who knows how long. He will need at least another month or so in foster care to try and resolve his anemia before he’s neutered and has his dental needs addressed.

Joey is thriving in foster care in my home and has numerous adoption options, including a woman who previously had a Chihuahua with no front feet. He is friendly and happy and loves people, especially children. In every way, he is a well adjusted little guy who doesn’t let his issues define him. As much as I would love to keep him, he would be happier in a home that where the adopter doesn’t work full time as I do. He is such a reminder that in spite of the challenges that many of us have, there is much joy to be found in life, if only we look for it. There is a lesson to be learned from every dog I meet and Joey certainly has much to teach.

I would love to hear about readers experiences with dogs with unusual challenges. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Loving Dogs and Children
Similarities and differences in brain response

If you’ve read the headlines recently saying that science has proven that we love our dogs just like we love our kids, then you have only gotten part of the story. Yes, we love our dogs and consider them our children, and yes, a new research paper gives details about the similarities in the way our brains view these important individuals. However, there are nuances to the way our brains react to the world around us, and as is usually the case with scientific studies, it’s not that simple.

A study called “Patterns of Brain Activation when Mothers View Their Own Child and Dog: An fMRI Study” found both similarities and differences in mothers’ responses to dogs and children. Researchers evaluated brain function patterns in women when they saw pictures of their children and their dogs, as well as pictures of unfamiliar children and dogs. The study focused on areas of the brain that are involved in social bonding.

Mothers had similar activation patterns in some parts of the brain when they viewed photos of their children and photos of their dogs. These patterns differed from their responses to pictures of unfamiliar children and unfamiliar dogs. One region that responds similarly to these two types of images is relevant in rewards, emotion and affiliation. Another region of the brain involved in affiliation and reward was activated by images of mothers’ own children but not by images of their own dogs. An area of the brain that is critical to the processing of facial features was activated far more by images of mothers’ dogs than by images of their children.

According to the authors, “These results demonstrate that the mother-child and mother-dog bond share aspects of emotional experience and patterns of brain function, but there are also brain-behavior differences that may reflect the distinct evolutionary underpinning of these relationships.”

If you are a parent to both humans and dogs, do you feel both similarities and differences in those relationships?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Optimism in Dogs
Study looks at optimism and how it may predict successful service pups.
My perpetually optimistic pup, Nemo.
Those of us who live with dogs know that our pets have distinctly different personalities. My Sheltie, Nemo, is one of the happiest dogs that I know. A few years ago he was in a veterinary intensive care unit and the staff was amazed at how upbeat he looked, even while being whisked away for emergency surgery. I'm sure that his positive attitude contributed to his eventual full recovery.

So I wasn't surprised to find that studies have suggested that dogs may have a degree of optimism and pessimism. Back in 2010, Bark blogger Karen B. London wrote about a study that gauged these tendencies by the speed at which dogs approached food bowls. The canine test subjects first learned to associate a full food bowl with a certain location and an empty bowl with a different location. They were then brought to various ambiguous locations to observe their speed towards a bowl. Dogs who assumed a new location may also mean a full food bowl were labeled optimistic.

The study went on to measure behavior as well and found that the pessimistic dogs (the dogs who slowly approached bowls in ambiguous locations) were more likely to show separation-related distress, like destructive chewing and barking. While it was an interesting study, Karen believed there were too many variables to draw any conclusions about optimism and pessimism.

However, a new study just published out of the University of Sydney improves on the previous experiment and is applying the work to the selection of service dogs. Led by Dr. Melissa Starling, dogs were taught to touch a target on cue to trigger the release of a liquid. The cue was a sound—one tone that meant touching the target would produce milk and a different tone meant touching the target would result in water. As you can imagine, the dogs were much quicker to interact with the target after the "milk sound."

Once the target behavior was learned, the dogs were presented with ambiguous tones. Those who continued to touch the target at "milk speed" were labeled as optimists, while those who responded with "water speed" were labeled as pessimists. Dr. Starling also looked at the degree of optimism by looking at differences in their response to a range of tones. For instance, a very optimistic dog may touch the target at a quick speed even after a tone that sounds more similar to the water noise.

The research team also found that pessimistic dogs appeared to be more stressed after failing a task than the optimistic ones. This included whining, pacing, and avoiding the task. Optimistic dogs tended to be unfazed by failure and kept trying.

The cool part is that Dr. Starling is now working with Assistance Dogs Australia to see if an optimism test could help in selecting successful training candidates. She believes that this could help determine which dogs will take risks to gain rewards, be more resilient when things don't go their way, and be willing to persist through setbacks.  

I can see how this information could be valuable for working dogs and even as a temperament test for future dog sport pups. I can't wait to see the outcome of her continued work with the service dogs.

Do you think your pup is an optimist or a pessimist?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Marathon Recovery Buddy
Another job for a dog

Marley has a job this week that is not mentioned in lists of the ways that dogs help us: He is my marathon recovery buddy. His guardian knows how much we love to have him visit, so she asked me if I would be interested in watching him while she is traveling for work the week after my first marathon. As an experienced marathon runner, she knew what an asset he would be to me. I knew I would enjoy him, but the degree to which he helped me recover was a pleasant surprise.

This is a dog who goes with the flow, is laid back and knows how to relax. In other words, he is everything I am not, but everything I need to be to make my recovery as smooth as possible.

I need some extra sleep now, but it’s hard to take the time when I have so much to do. Marley’s inspiration helped me out there. Seeing him take a snooze on a cool fall afternoon gave me just the push I needed to spend 30 minutes doing what my body needed me to do—sleep. I seriously doubt that I would have napped without his fine example.

I don’t feel much like walking, but Marley is working hard to maintain his youthful figure, so those extra miles are a must. The gentle activity is good for me, and I am grateful that he gets me out the door.

Yesterday I headed out for a short run, which was my first since the race. Marley’s contribution on this occasion was preventing me from going too fast. He’s no speedster so even at my easy pace, he was lagging behind. I might have accidentally gone too fast and subjected my body to more pounding than it could handle, but Marley’s “take time out to sniff the world” approach to running kept me in check.

Marley is always great company, but especially when I’m not as active as usual and spending more time at home. I am glad to have one of my favorite buddies around 24/7.

Dogs play so many roles in our lives, but marathon recovery buddy is one that’s new to me. Has your dog performed a job for you that you did not expect or did not even know existed before?

News: Editors
Ruling Against a Park Ranger for Using a Taser on a Dog Walker

A couple of years ago we reported that Jackie Speier (D-Calif) deserved a Bark call-out for a job well-done for “ripping” into the National Park Service for an agent who used a taser on a man who was running with his small dogs off-leash in an unincorporated area in San Mateo County.

Now a judge has ruled that the park ranger, Sarah Cavallaro, acted unlawfully when she used her taser on Gary Hesterberg. Not only that but Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley also found that since the leash law had never been enforced at the Rancho Corral de Tierra—which had only recently been acquired by the Golden Gate National Recreation Area—that the ranger overstepped her duty that day, the first day of leash enforcement. Rangers had been instructed to take a “soft enforcement, outreach approach with regards to violations of the Rancho’s new rules.” This was an approach that apparently Cavallaro did not follow.

It was reported that

“After four minutes with the stun gun pointed at him, Hesterberg said he had a heart condition and again asked what authority he was being held under, to which Cavallaro answered, “the Constitution.”

“That is no kind of answer,” Hesterberg responded, before turning to leave. When he did, Cavallaro fired her stun gun, hitting Hesterberg in the back and buttocks, court records show.

When Hesterberg was confronted by the ranger about the leash policy, he, allegedly, was uncooperative and would not provide her with his name. So after being tasered he was actually arrested on suspicion of failing to obey a lawful order, keeping dogs off-leash and providing false information, but San Mateo County prosecutors declined to file charges.

Back in 2012, Representative Speier had noted that, “Many of my constituents are understandably angered by what appears to be an excessive use of force by a park ranger.” She added, “From the information I have to date, it does not appear that the use of a taser was warranted.” Speier also requested information about training in taser usage for park rangers, including the appropriate utilization and risks of tasers.

The court also found that Hesterberg, though uncooperative, never posed an immediate threat to Cavallaro or anyone else and that the ranger did not provide an adequate warning that she would shoot him with the stun gun if he tried to leave.

The judge found in favor of Hesterberg, awarding him $50,000 in damages for both physical and mental suffering.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Invention of Velcro®
Dog walks and burrs

Last week I veered off into some brush while walking dogs in order to maintain some distance from an untrustworthy dog coming the other way. Heading off the trail from time to time is an easy way to avoid trouble, and I don’t consider it a big deal—usually. This time, though, I managed to take the dogs straight through what must have been a burr convention. We were all covered with these annoying seeds. The soft fine hair behind their ears and along their legs picked up hundreds of them. I removed as many as I could over the hours following our little detour, using my hands as well as combs and brushes.

As I was sitting on the floor counting burrs (. . .89, 90, 91. . .173, 174, 175. . .), I remembered reading that it was a similar experience that led Swiss engineer and inventor George de Mestral to come up with the idea for Velcro®. Mestral came back from a walk with his dog, and they were both covered with burrs. He went to his microscope and observed the many tiny hooks that attached to fur or fabric fibers. Inspiration struck, and he decided to invent a hook-and-loop fastener. He called his new invention Velcro®, which he made up by combining the French words velours (velvet) and crochet (hook).

I did not feel inspired by my walk and the resulting grooming hassle. “Annoyed” is a far better description of my feelings during the arduous process of cleaning up the dogs. It takes so long to remove large quantities of burrs from dog fur, and there are many more satisfying ways to spend quality time with our canine friends. I felt inferior to this inventor who used the experience to come up with an idea for a product that is so beneficial to so many until I learned something more about the day he came up with his great idea.

By his own account, when Mestral returned from the walk, he ignored his dog and went right to his microscope to satisfy his own curiosity about how the burrs attached themselves to his pants. Sure, I may not have invented something useful as did this man over 60 years ago, but I did at least immediately groom the dogs.

That’s what I always do when we get them stuck to us, though Murphy’s Law usually means that it happens at the least convenient times. Years ago my dog ran through a section of burrs moments before taking him to stay with friends while I was traveling. Another time, it happened just prior to a photography session with my dog, which was unfortunate because he always looked better when his tail and ears were NOT stuck to his body with plant parts.

Has your dog ever become covered in burrs at the worst possible time?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog to Be Killed in Ebola Fight
Sick nurse's pet is targeted as Spain tries to control the deadly virus.
The internet has been buzzing about Western Europe's first case of Ebola, diagnosed in a Spanish nurse on Monday. Teresa Romero, her husband, Javier, and two others were quickly ushered into quarantine. If that wasn't stressful enough for Teresa's family, the government announced yesterday that they plan to put down her dog, Excalibur, as a precaution.

Teresa and Javier objected to the decision, but the government obtained a court order that would allow them to carry out the euthanasia.

While dogs can be infected by Ebola, they do not develop symptoms or die from the disease. However, they can spread the virus to humans through licking and biting, as well as their urine and feces. When the virus is cleared from the dog, they are no longer contagious. So Excalibur could be quarantined like Javier and Teresa, but the Spanish government likely doesn't have the resources to do so (or the protocol on how to carry it out safely). I also think that this is a knee jerk reaction to mitigating the spread of Ebola, which has become a politically and emotionally charged problem.

Ebola has certainly highlighted gaps in disease control around the world. Reading about Excalibur also made me think that we could be helpless to save our pets if an outbreak happened close to home. What if I was sick in the hospital and the government ordered my dogs to be put down? It's frightening.

Animal lovers around the world are mobilizing to change the Spanish government's mind. One of the top hashtags on Twitter this morning is #SavemosaExcalibur. And a Change.org petition has been created with over 350,000 signatures so far. These social media campaigns may not sway the current decision, but I hope it inspires other governments to include pets in their emergency plans in an outbreak scenario.

News: Editors
Kennedy's wedding with doggie guest

I just saw a story on Huffpost about a trove of photographs that were recently found from John Kennedy's wedding to Jackie back in 1953. The photos were taken by a freelance photographer Arthur Burges, a backup shooter for the occasion. You can quickly see who our attention was drawn to in these photos and wonder who the lucky pup was and how he had such a prime spot on that memorable day.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The First 'Pup Nup'
U.K. animal welfare organization creates a pet version of the prenup.
These days it's common for couples to sign a prenuptial agreement before getting married. While it protects money and other material assets, it makes no plan for what happens to pets after a divorce. As a result many animals end up in shelters when their parents split up. U.K. animal welfare organization Blue Cross estimates that marital conflict and relationship breakdown results in four relinquished animals each week at their shelter. They've even had cases where one person will bring in an animal without their ex's knowledge.

If we can make a plan for our bank accounts and material possessions, our dogs certainly deserve the same courtesy. So Blue Cross partnered with divorce lawyers at Lloyd Platt and Company to create a "pup nup." This document outlines who will maintain primary custody, the financial responsibility split, and visitation rights in the event of a break up.

Not only does the "pup nup" make one aspect of divorce a little easier, it also encourages responsible pet ownership by helping couples make a long term plan for their animal's care. Even if couples don't end up signing the "pup nup," just inspiring more conversations about a long term plan is a step in the right direction.

The "pup nup" template is available as a free download for anyone adding a new pet to the family.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
British Airways Launches Onboard Pet Entertainment
The airline's new Paws and Relax in-flight channel is designed to soothe passengers.
Flying can be incredibly stressful these days, between getting through security, navigating crowded terminals, and squeezing into tiny economy cabin seats. So British Airways decided to soothe passengers by harnessing the calming ability of animals.

Paws and Relax, an in-flight entertainment channel dedicated to cute pet videos, launched in long-haul flights just a few weeks ago. It can be found free of charge in the in-flight library's Entertainment section. British Airways' entertainment team got the idea for the channel after reading that watching animals could lower your heart rate and blood pressure.

Richard D'Cruze, the in-flight entertainment manager, says that they were looking for a way to enhance the wellbeing of passengers, while creating something that appealed to all ages.

The initial launch lineup includes popular British animated cartoon, Simon's Cat--which features funny stories of a man and his cat, BBC's The Secret Life of Cats--a documentary which follows felines fitted with cameras and GPS collars, and Animal Planet's America's Cutest Dogs--which shows footage of playing pups.

This is such a fun idea and really should help relieve the stress of flying (at least when you finally get to your seat!). I only wish Paws and Relax had launched a month earlier when I flew home on British Airways.

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