Any time Alexandra Horowitz releases a new book is cause for celebration here at Bark. We’ve been fans since her 2009 hit, Inside of a Dog, and have continued to follow her work as she uncovers new insights into our co-pilots’ internal lives and external behaviors.
In addition to teaching psychology, canine cognition and creative non-fiction at Barnard College, Columbia University, she also leads the college’s Dog Cognition Lab.
Her new book, Being a Dog, delves deeply into the primacy of dogs’ sense of smell, and we talk with her about what she found.
Bark: Has anyone studied why some dogs are better at smelling than others —is it genetic or is it drive?
Alexandra Horowitz: Everything I’ve seen points to drive being the major indicator of whether a dog will be good as a detection dog: drive to find the odor, to keep working when frustrated, to get to the reward (like a game with a tug toy) at the episode’s end.
This is not to say that breed is irrelevant: some breeds are naturally more driven to pursue an odor relentlessly, or are driven to do whatever it takes to get a game of toss with a tennis ball. And some dogs—like Bloodhounds and Beagles—have more olfactory cells in their noses and more equipment around their faces (long ears, drooly jowls) to help bring odors up the nose. They may smell odors at lower levels.
Curiously, though, the notion that certain breeds are inevitably better at detection work than others hasn’t been borne out. It’s tradition more than science.
B: I was once told by a woman who handles tracking Coon Hounds that dogs can show a preference for how they scent; talking about the same breed, she said some sniff the ground, while others prefer sniffing the air. Have you observed individual differences in the same breed in your research?
AH: Absolutely. Different dogs have different sniffing tactics; “on the air” or “on the ground” are the two ways dogs try to pursue a scent. Often, though, these are distinguished by task, not by dog—that is, if a dog is tracking a distant (old) scent, on the ground makes more sense; the odor is probably no longer in the air. But a dog trying to locate someone/something who has recently passed by will be air-scenting.
B: Can adult dogs can identify their littermates or their mother by smell?
AH: In theory, this would be trivially easy for dogs. All dogs have their own “signature scents” (as do we, to dogs), so there would be no trouble distinguishing dogs of one’s litter from other dogs. Now, the question of whether an adult dog who has been separated for years from her littermates/family can recognize them is a different question: it’s more about memory than about perceptual ability. Memory is fallible in humans, and it is fallible in dogs. We forget. So it’s quite possible that, even having known one’s family by scent, it would be later forgotten. (But there is also good reason to believe that a trace would remain—that distant memory one cannot quite place.)
B: While you note in your new book that puppies at the Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania aren’t formally trained until a certain age, they do receive some kind of training, right?
AH: Yes, they are being “trained” to some degree: I think Dr. Otto and the Penn Working Dog Center trainers would agree when I say they are being trained to be good general-purpose working dogs. As I describe in my book, I saw dogs being put through their paces in lots of different (what were to them) games: find the missing person, find the hidden scent. They are being exposed to unusual sounds and environments and getting acclimated to them. They are learning the skills of detecting something, working with someone, and loving it. And they do.
B: Do working dogs get nose fatigue— do they reach a point at which they can no longer reliably follow a scent? If so, what do the pros do to work around that?
AH: The phenomenon of the nose no longer noticing an odor—adaptation —happens to us within minutes. Walk into a coffee shop, take in its familiar odors and a few minutes later, you might smell … almost nothing. The receptor cells in the nose that noticed the odor simply stopped responding after continued exposure.
The cells in the dog’s nose work similarly, but any dog employed as a detection dog is doing something different. Because they continue to sniff different areas of the odor “scene,” their noses won’t turn off to the smell. Tracking dogs are also known to simply lift their noses from the ground once in a while and sniff the air, as though to clear their noses.
On the other hand, working dogs certainly get fatigued from too much stimulation and too much exertion. Handlers know their dogs and will read their dogs’ responses to know when they need a break.
B: In the book K9 Scent Training by Resi Gerritsen and Ruud Haak (leading specialists in identification, tracking and detection-dogs), I read that female dogs are better at smelling than males. Did this also come up in your research? Any idea if the same can be said for our species?
AH: Gerritsen and Haak are great resources on detection-dog training and skills. I suspect their assessment comes directly from their own and other trainers’ experience with dogs. I don’t doubt it, though I don’t believe that the question has been formally tested. Interestingly, women are often said to be “better smellers” than men, and research does bear this out (on average, of course).
B: I’m quite curious about the canine visual sense vis-à-vis their olfactory sense, especially for dogs of the sporting breed. When our Wirehaired Pointer is out in the field, she seems to rely primarily on her sense of smell; sometimes a rabbit’s been sitting just a few feet from her, but she doesn’t see it, or even seem to smell it. Is it “I can’t smell it so I don’t see it”?
AH: As with us, dogs’ senses work together. Only for dogs, olfaction takes priority. From that point of view, you can imagine how vision might aid smelling: if a dog detects an odor on the breeze, she can then look up and try to locate, with her eyes, the source of that odor (and then head toward it for closer sniffing!). When I watched the dogs at the Penn Working Dog Center do a “person search” for people hidden in large PVC barrels in a large field, the dogs used vision to guide them while smelling: first, they followed their eyes to head toward the barrels, then followed their noses to identify which one held a person.
A dog who is sniffing in the grass to a hidden ball (or rabbit) that is perfectly “visible” to someone else nearby is simply using olfaction first. By sniffing in the whole area around the hidden object, she creates an on-the-fl y map of where the object is; the closer she gets, the stronger the odor is. Sometimes, dogs rely on that much longer than we would expect before bringing fuller attention to what they see to aid their search.
B: I’m trying to train one of my dogs, Charlie, to find the poop of his housemate Kit while we’re out in the park; he’s actually pretty good at it. I started doing this after I noticed that he likes to pee on her fresh poop, and only on hers. How would you recommend I boost his proficiency level? And why the peeing on it?
AH: “Find poop!” Great game. And lots of dogs would be pretty good at it. Since Charlie started doing this behavior on his own, clearly little shaping was needed. The only task is pairing it with a request (like “find poop”) and making him aware that what he’s doing—which to him is “following that interesting smell”—is something that’s also valuable to you, so he’ll do it whenever you ask. If he’s not doing it reliably, then he doesn’t see its value to you. Better rewards! More reliable rewards! (But you and every good behavior reader know that.) And, taking a cue from working-dog handlers, you could pair an “alert” behavior—sitting, barking and so forth—so that he tells you when he’s found it.
What I learned from Sam Wasser, who trains dogs to find wildlife scat, is that what’s often difficult in training in the field (and you’re always “in the field”!) is to know yourself if the dog has alerted on the right scat. Once they are confident of their dogs’ alert, and don’t accept partial alerts, handlers can reward only for the correct scat.
As for his peeing on the poo, that’s a question I don’t think science has directly tackled. But we know that marking isn’t territorial in dogs; it seems to be information-leaving. It could be that a nice pile of stinky poo is a good place to leave your own mark.
B: Besides enrolling our dogs in nosework classes, what do you recommend that we do to tap into their world of smell and enrich their lives?
AH: Let them smell. If you live with a dog, start thinking about what the world is like from an olfactory point of view. Let them smell you (you are your scent, to your dog), let them smell each other (that’s how they find out who it is), and let them smell the world. Take walks for smelling (not just for peeing, or for exercise). The pleasure that comes from watching a dog snuffling down a path, nose to the ground and nose in the air, guided by nothing more than the filaments of odors that come his way, is to me unmatched.
Wellness: Health Care
Though in many ways, our dogs communicate with us all the time, when it comes to their pain, we have to figure it out on our own. Here to help with that daunting task is Michael Petty, DVM, author of the newly released Dr. Petty’s Pain Relief for Dogs in a Q&A with Bark editor Claudia Kawczynska.
What are the most common ways dog guardians can recognize that their dogs are in pain, beyond obvious signs like limping or decreased appetite?
The answer to this is complicated and I probably can’t do it justice here. However, if people start to see their dog as lazy, not socially interacting, reluctant to do the things they liked in the past—really, any behavioral change—then pain should be on the list of possible problems. Dogs rarely quit doing the things they like to do because they’re old, they quit doing them because there’s something wrong. And that usually means disease, commonly something painful like degenerative joint disease.
You note in your book that “there is no one-size-fits-all approach to pain treatment.” You also mention something called a “pain examination.” What does that entail, and is it something that’s perhaps best handled by a specialist?
A pain exam can take many forms. My approach depends in part on the history given to me by the dog’s caregiver, the breed, prior medical conditions and watching the dog walk into the exam room, just to name a few.
Every pain exam should consist of a complete physical exam; an observation of the dog’s gait when possible; a basic neurological exam (many neurological issues can mimic pain); and a hands-on palpation of the dog’s joints, muscles and bones. Based on the fi ndings, X-rays are often indicated, as well as blood work and urinalysis in anticipation of possible pharmaceutical interventions and procedures requiring sedation or anesthesia.
No one specialty “owns” pain. Anesthesiologists are well trained to handle acute pain, but not chronic. Neurologists are trained in matters like intervertebral disc disease, but not osteoarthritis. The list goes on. My fi rst choice would be to seek out someone with a pain certifi cation—a Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner—from the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (ivapm.org). This certification takes several years to earn, and program graduates are experts in the fi eld of pain management.
Do most vets understand the importance of neuropathic pain (essentially, a misfire between the sensory/nervous system and a region of the body)? And how is it best diagnosed?
Most of the veterinarians I talk to, outside of those belonging to pain-aware organizations such as the IVAPM, do not have a firm understanding of neuropathic pain. In human medicine, diagnosing neuropathic pain is difficult; it requires both a verbal description of what the pain feels like and verbal responses to certain tests. Without these tools, most of the time, our diagnosis is, at best, an educated guess. However, patient response to therapy for neuropathic pain is one indication that a veterinarian is on the right track.
You note that aspirin is dangerous for dogs. Are there any over-the-counter medications that can be given to a dog who has sustained an injury, to ease pain and infl ammation before taking the dog to a vet?
No. No OTC medications are licensed for use in dogs. Ice and stabilizing injured limbs are about the best you can do.
You support the importance of omega-3 fatty acids as part of a dog’s diet because they work to help decrease the production of pain-causing prostaglandins. Why is a fish-based source of omega-3 fatty acids preferred, and do foods such as canned salmon and water-packed sardines and tuna contain enough of it? How do we determine the correct amount?
Fish-based sources are best because of bioavailability. Sources like flax seed are okay for people but useless for dogs, as they cannot convert flax to omega-3s. If you are feeding a food that has salmon or sardines as an ingredient, then you don’t have to worry about the amount, as it takes very little of these foods to provide enough omega-3s.
You call out a few botanicals, like ashwagandha, boswellia serrata and turmeric, for their benefits in pain relief and/or in reducing infl ammation. Do you prescribe these in your practice?
Yes. The problem is finding a reliable source of herbs, as they are not monitored by the FDA like pharmaceuticals are. One good option is a product called Dasuquin Advanced, from Nutramax; it has many important pain-modifying ingredients, including several herbs.
The veterinary attitude toward acupuncture seems to have changed a lot. In your experience, which conditions respond best to acupuncture? And how do you know which dogs are good candidates for this treatment? (I had a dog who would shake out the needles!)
Talking about acupuncture is one of my favorite things to do. I cannot imagine practicing without it, especially in my geriatric population, which is more sensitive to the effects of many drugs. I think attitudes have improved—in both veterinarians and dog owners—as more and more research is being published on the benefi ts of acupuncture; also, people hear about someone’s dog being helped by it. In addition, it has the support of the National Institute of Health for the treatment of pain.
For many dogs, the proof of being a good candidate is obvious in their response to treatment. Within one to three treatments, we can usually see an improvement in pain scores and observations. If we don’t, then sometimes the decision is made to stop treatment. I have had a few clients return and say they didn’t realize how much it was helping until it was stopped.
Many people experience what you did with your own dog. Some dogs are needle-phobic and resent even one needle going in. Some dogs are just afraid of being at the veterinary clinic and won’t sit still. I sometimes give these patients a mild sedative to get over this hump. A reduction in anxiety for several treatments often means that they eventually accept acupuncture without continued use of the sedative.
Finally, dewclaws. You make the point that a dog’s dewclaw, the equivalent of a human thumb, plays important functions in both the mechanics of the front foot and in joint stability, and that ligaments and tendons connect it to surrounding tissues. Yet you also observe that some breeders routinely remove it. How can this horrible practice be changed? Do any vet groups take a position on this?
Both the AVMA and the American Animal Hospital Association discourage any surgery done for cosmetic reasons, but they only name ear-cropping and tail-docking. Unfortunately, I don’t think this has had much of an impact, as very few breeders belong to either organization. I cannot speak for every state’s practice act, but most (if not all) specify that surgery must be performed by a veterinarian. Every instance where a breeder chooses to perform surgery crosses that line, and they are breaking the law. I feel that the best way to address this issue is through kennel clubs, such as the AKC. If the AKC were to say, “No dog born after such-and-such date who has had cosmetic surgery, including dewclaw removal, ear-cropping or tail-docking, can be shown in AKC sanctioned shows,” the practice would grind to a halt.
Dog's Life: Humane
Saving Dogs Who Live in Darkness
In August 2015, social media shed light on the infamous Yulin Dog Meat festival, an annual celebration held in Yulin, Guangxi, China, during the summer solstice during which festival goers eat dog meat. The festival spans about 10 days, and it’s estimated that 10,000 to 15,000 dogs are abused—it is believed that adrenaline released in response to pain makes their meat more tender—killed and consumed.
After learning about this situation, I travelled to China to see if the things I had read and the images I saw on the Internet were real. I knew the dog meat trade in Asia was a long-held practice, but wasn’t aware that abuse and torture were key components. I felt like I had to do something to make a difference. I left my family, my business and my life here to try to help these dogs who live in darkness. I didn’t have a plan, I didn’t know anyone, and I didn’t speak the language.
I went to China to save as many dogs as I could. It wasn’t about changing the system. While I was there, people asked me what I had come for. I told them, to save dogs. I told them, to make whatever change I could with these hands. You cannot tell a country that does not have the same value system as we do to love dogs. The only way is to plant a seed.
In total, I’ve made four trips to Asia —to China, South Korea and North Vietnam—to save dogs from slaughterhouses; in total, I’ve rescued 249 dogs on these trips. I go undercover as a dog meat buyer, then work to expose the brutal practices embedded in this generational tradition of torturing and eating dogs. I secretly photograph and take videos, then post them on Instagram and Facebook, documenting my journey in real time.
I believe the key to stopping the brutal dog meat trade is awareness, that as people throughout the world become more aware of the abuse linked to dog meat, hearts will turn and laws will change. Because as people learn, and become conscious of what is really happening, a million united hearts become a movement. A million souls become a voice so strong that you can change laws, and pull from darkness lives that only know suffering.
Every rescue organization has its focus. At Animal Hope and Wellness Foundation, we specialize in abuse. We save all the abused dogs we can, both locally and in Asia. We rehab them, and find them amazing homes. The transformation and the lives these abused souls go on to live … it’s amazingly beautiful.
JD Souther is a card-carrying member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, inducted in 2013. Instrumental in shaping the sound that became known as country-rock in the 1970s, he has also contributed to the American songbook by penning such classics as “Best of My Love” and “Heartache Tonight” (both for the Eagles) and “Faithless Love” recorded by Linda Ronstadt.
Never one to rest on his laurels, the singer-songwriter continues to compose memorable songs from his Nashville home. As a performer, he recently toured in support of a new album, Tenderness (Sony), and can be seen in the recurring role of producer Watty White on television’s Nashville.
Despite his busy schedule, there’s nothing Souther would rather do than hang out with his dogs. The Bark caught up recently with John David and talked … you guessed it … dogs.
What is it that you like about dogs?
I like everything about dogs. I love their society, their immediacy, their ability to make anything an adventure. Dogs don’t miss an opportunity to have fun, to find out, to live. I also love the way they feel and smell. If I have to go to a party at the house of someone I don’t know, I look for the dog, or dogs. That’s where you’ll find me: hanging out with the dogs. No dogs, and I usually leave early.
Tell us about your dogs.
I have two loonies we affectionately call the Bruise Brothers, named thus for their incredible rough-and-tumble play, though they are, in fact, 50-pound lap dogs and would abandon their
When we brought them home from the two angels who had found them by the roadside in terrible shape and nursed them back to health, I had a beautiful Irish wife and a six-year-old girl. We built this farmhouse so that the girls would want to be here and not someplace else. It worked very well, but that meant that as the Bruise Bros grew, they were gently coerced to suffer every whim of an imaginative young female community, including but not limited to: shoes, hats, tee shirts, ties, capes, dresses, jewelry, sunglasses and sometimes various combinations of halters and leads that were only necessary for the little girls’ rich imaginations of them as horses.
For all this girlish invasion of their masculine nature, the brothers were as delighted as could be for the attention, and ne’er a growl was ever heard.
It was announced that the Eagles are being honored by the Kennedy Center next year — as a major contributor to their songbook … congratulations. Were there any dogs hanging out with you folks in those early days of Southern California music making?
The honor is well deserved, congratulations to the guys. They certainly have added considerable wealth to the repertoire. The fact is, we were all almost on the move all the time in those early days. The only dogs in our little gang of musicians I can recall with any clarity are two. One was a small white dog that Glenn (Frey) and Janie, his first wife, had named Teeny Turner. She sounded bigger and who could blame her.
Also, Linda (Ronstandt) had two magnificent Huskies or something like them, when she lived in Brentwood. I was fond of one named Molly who voiced her objections to Linda leaving town by eating the couches, a form of protest with which I was to become later familiar on my dogs Murphy and Babe’s first day alone in the house, where they reduced a couch, daybed and several expensive cushions to a carpet of feathers and fluff. I opened the door to a first floor of shredded bedding and found two black dogs resting comfortably, one with feathers still clinging to his snout looking as innocent as possible. Smiling.
Have you ever written dog-centered songs, or lyrics?
I’ve written three songs about dogs, one for each of the Hollywood Hills dogs and one for the Tennessee Brown Hounds. Their place in my musical process is the same as it is in my life: a reminder to (a) not take myself too seriously and (b) pay attention!
How about dog stories—have any good ones to share?
Here’s one that may give you a sense of the humor and boldness that I find irresistible in canines.
As we were building the Dog Ranch, I leased a beautiful Robert Byrd house on Hollywood Boulevard just west of Laurel Canyon so I could be on-site [in nearby Nichols Canyon] every day during construction. The back yard was small, so most days, the black dogs came to work with me. We were, after all, building our dream house.
On the few days when they were left behind and outside, escaping from the yard behind the Byrd house became a game, and a fairly regular source of amusement for Babe. I kept adding fencing and difficulty, including, finally, a spiky pile of lawn chairs at the only conceivable escape route. Alas, she seemed to rise to every challenge, which included (eventually): pulling the lawn chairs down and scattering them, pulling the fence over, scrambling up a near-vertical dirt hillside, jumping on to the second story of the house, down to the first-story roof, then down to the top of the carport, and finally onto the top of whichever vehicle was closest before landing on the lawn.
I often came home to find Murphy, who was not quite tall enough to run the obstacle course, barking hysterically from behind the garden gate and Babe sitting serenely on the front porch, waiting for dinner. Smiling.
We hear that you’re a good friend to Best Friends Animal Society; how did you get involved?
I met Francis and Silva Battista in the late ’80s just as Babe was convincing me to slow down a bit and enjoy my lucky life. I loved what they were doing at Best Friends. Then I went up for a visit and met most of the founders and staff, wondrous folk who I am hoping will someday swap me a nifty little retirement perch in one of the most beautiful places on earth for considerable publishing interest and some
We’ve taken dogs to the Sanctuary together, I loaned them an SUV/ambulance one year in their early days, played a show recently for the donors at Discovery Weekend, give what I can, talk about them every chance I get
They have been salvation for thousands of animals, a fair number of them human, and are methodically helping to create no-kill cities wherever possible. When we would lose one, we used to say (to console ourselves), “Well, maybe you can’t save them all.” Wrong! Now our logo proudly challenges everyone: “Save Them All!” The entire community at Best Friends Animal Society is a model of selfless stewardship and joy. Why wouldn’t
Do you think there’s a reason so many musicians have special connections with dogs?
Maybe musicians, painters, writers, all artists need more time away from conversation and the clanging immediacy of modern life. I think people need quite a bit of it for sanity. Dogs—in fact, most animals I have met—are content to simply live. Just be here. One of my most treasured animal friends is a horse I’ve known for 20 years, but don’t ride. We just … I don’t know. We just hang out.
Children? Animals? They’re our very best things, I think.
We are animals, after all, and when we discriminate against any one, we are diminished.
What do you do these days when you hang out with dogs?
Nothing. Anything. Whatever they want to do usually turns out to be a good idea for all of us. Thanks for asking me to be in your wonderful magazine, which I own all the way back to your big format first issue!
Laurie Anderson is a visionary artist and a pioneer in electronic music as well as a marvelous storyteller. She employs her voice, with its songlike phrasing (as in her 1981 hit single “O Superman”), along with instruments—some of which she invented—video and other acoustic props to weave her tales.
In her new film, Heart of a Dog, her beloved Rat Terrier, Lolabelle, takes center stage in an imaginative, lyrical, confessional narrative. As Anderson describes it, “It’s a series of short stories about telling stories.” Quoting David Foster Wallace, she adds, “Every love story is a ghost story.”
Over the course of this absorbing 75-minute film, she considers the deaths of her mother; her dear Lolabelle, whom she “co-parented” with husband Lou Reed; her friend Gordon Matta-Clark; and finally, Reed himself in 2013. Times critic A.O. Scott praised it as a “philosophically astute, emotionally charged meditation on death, love, art and dogs.” It’s also about learning to “how to feel sad without actually being sad,” as her Buddhist teacher instructed.
While the film offers a visual representation, it’s really Anderson’s Zen-calm narrative that conveys its message. Both film and score open with her recounting a dream in which she gives birth to Lolabelle. She then uses the dog as a springboard, digressing to a variety of other topics but always circling back to the dog. One of our favorite segments, “Piano Lessons,” is about how Anderson and Reed set up keyboards on the floor for their old dog (who was going blind), and used a clicker to train her to make music. As Anderson wryly observes, the dog’s playing “was … pretty good.”
The movie, which has a limited run, will be aired on HBO in 2016. Luckily for dog lovers and Anderson fans, Nonesuch just released its critically acclaimed soundtrack.
Tracey Stewart, author of the new book, in conversation with The Bark
Tracey Stewart has had a constellation of careers (some simultaneously): animal advocate, creator/editor-in-chief of the digital parenting magazine Moomah, writer for Huffington Post, vet tech, graphic designer. She and husband Jon—yes, that Jon Stewart—live in New Jersey with their two children, four dogs, two horses, two pigs, three rabbits, two guinea pigs, two hamsters, one parrot and two fish. As she notes, “all rescues, except for the children.” With the forthcoming publication of Do Unto Animals (Artisan), beautifully illustrated by Lisel Ashlock, she’s now added author to her portfolio.
In your book, you mention that raising children, at least during their younger years, is a lot like your work in the vet field. Are there other similarities that make raising your human family a little easier?
Nothing prepares you for raising a human family. That first day you wake up with a baby, you just have to keep running to stay ahead. When I was pregnant, people would say, “Don’t worry, you’ll know what to do once the baby arrives.” That’s a bunch of hooey! You’ve got to educate yourself and change your technique as your child develops.
I believe this is true of “parenting” an animal as well. My family is constantly trying to learn how to do better for our animals. We’re always looking for ways to enrich their lives and take the best care of them that we can. Every day, we learn something new. It’s a family passion.
Shelter-based projects are one of the ways you and your family express that passion. How can children—and adults, for that matter—become active in this type of volunteerism?
Sometimes, the best way is to start with the closest shelter that shares your values. The easier it is to get there, the more likely you are to visit. We were lucky that our local shelter had aligned itself with a humane education program that invited children in for activities and education.
Even if your local shelter doesn’t offer something specific, be creative. Most shelters are hard at work taking care of their animals. They can use all the generosity you have to give. Offer whatever skills you have to help. Come up with your own idea and reach out. It’s really wonderful to have a personal relationship with a shelter.
And you don’t have to wait for a program to exist. When we’ve been on vacation, my daughter has gone to local shelters and offered to read to their animals.
How do you explain to young children that not all animals in shelters will be rehomed?
Honesty is always the best approach. The older the child, the more details I’m comfortable sharing. I usually know how much or how little information to give each child. Not that I haven’t made the mistake of answering big life questions with more information than my kids want. At that point, they give me a puzzled look and interrupt me with, “Okay, Mommy, is that it?”
As with any topic that is frustrating and sad, I find it helps to look at the positive and to focus on what we can actually do to help. Helping animals has shown my kids the strength of their voices and actions.
You point out that “an animal’s presence in a shelter often says a lot more about the person who surrendered them than about the animal.” Unfortunately, people seem to equate shelters with behavior problems. How do you counteract that perception?
I think we need to tell people to take a moment to ponder the many failings of members of the human race, and then imagine the gold that must get left at shelters every day. Having spent so much time in shelters, I can personally attest to the fact that fantastic animals are just waiting to be given a chance with a reasonable and kind human being. Shelter animals with the most daunting behavioral issues, such as extreme fear or aggression, are usually euthanized, especially if there is a history of biting. Sadly, however, animals with absolutely no serious behavioral problems are euthanized as well, due to lack of space and resources and because no one came to take a look at them.
You also mention virtual adoption. How does that work?
Virtual adoption is a way to help shelter animals without bringing them into your house. Let’s face it, we can only bring so many animals home before we have to worry about accusations of hoarding. Even if your home is already full, you have allergies or a hectic work schedule, you travel or any other of a host of obstacles, there is still so much you can do to help animals find their forever homes. When our family reached maximum capacity, my kids chose a shelter dog or cat to champion. They’d make posters, decorate cages with lovely messages, and make videos and buttons. They’d drop off enrichment toys for their surrogate animal to play with. Social media offers endless opportunities to get the word out as well.
Why is fostering a pet such a good idea for the whole family?
I know that my kids feel really proud when we’re part of finding an animal a loving home. And my husband is relieved when we’re successful because it means we won’t be adding another member to the household. For me, it’s therapy. I lean toward generalized anxiety and am always worried about one thing or the other, except when I’m fostering an animal. There is something soothing and peaceful about taking care of and creating peace for an animal who has been through so much. I’m able to put all my petty concerns aside and just be.
Tell us more about your wildlife rehab center as well as your sanctuary to rescue farm animals.
Our “wildlife rehab center” is nothing official. Mostly, we make sure our home is well prepared to help an animal until we can get it to a licensed wildlife rehabber. (People can sometimes unintentionally harm an animal when they don’t know what they’re doing.) We have all the emergency numbers at the ready. We also make sure that we don’t unintentionally harm the wildlife in the back yard with harmful chemicals. We give a loud holler before we let the dogs into the yard, and we provide lots of food and shelter. My car is always equipped with a container with air holes, dog treats, a leash and protective gloves.
The animal sanctuary is on its way to becoming official, but doing it right requires time. Last year, I took a course at the Farm Sanctuary in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Their national shelter director, Susie Coston, taught it and it was a real eye-opener. I remember thinking that by the end of the conference, some of the attendees would have been discouraged from starting their own sanctuary.
Doing right by animals is no small task, and many well-meaning people get in over their heads. Then people and animals suffer. If you’re thinking of starting a sanctuary yourself, I would encourage taking this class. If you still think you’re capable of doing a great job when you complete it, then march on. If you don’t, give your passion to the animals at an already-existing sanctuary.
Sanctuaries need to be able to provide quality individual care to their rescues. They need to educate, educate and then educate some more. We are so out of touch with the animals we call food. We need to meet them.
The number of animals a sanctuary can save will never be enough. In the U.S., about 25 million land animals are killed for food daily.
What role do your husband and kids play in all this?
Fortunately for me, my entire family has an intense love for animals. I get away with a lot because Jon is such a softie. He has his own projects, but enjoys mine immensely. He’ll sometimes pretend to be exasperated when I tell him things like, “Honey, there are five goats sleeping in our garage tonight. The rescue will—I hope—come for them in the morning,” but I know he loves it. (Right, honey?? Right?!) My kids are essential in all of this craziness. They have feeding, enrichment and training duties. They are constantly teaching me new things about animals.
Among other things, you comment on dog tail- and ear-cropping and cat declawing. In other countries, these practices are thought to be inhumane and oftentimes are illegal. Why are we still doing it here?
My understanding is that one of the reasons this practice still goes on in the U.S. is due to some no-good politics. Other folks speak to that more articulately than I can, but what I do know is dogs’ ears and tails are important to their ability to communicate, and that declawing cats is painful and deforming. Lots of people think that because it’s been done for so long, it must be all right. It’s not!
You also take on the demonization of the Pit Bull. You’ve lived with Pit Bulls; why do you think they’ve gotten such a “bad rap”?
Myths abound. Lazy reporting and a desire to grab people’s attention with sensationalized stories have been implicit in the destruction and abuse of too many innocent creatures.
The reality is that Pit Bulls are smart, loyal and strong, qualities that unfortunately attracted the attention of unsavory types in the ’80s and ’90s. Criminals exploited Pit Bulls’ natural tendencies for the purpose of profit. Because they are usually so devoted to their owners, Pit Bulls could be trusted not to bite them while concurrently obeying their commands to fight.
Pit Bulls are being overbred, are not being spayed or neutered, and are treated as disposable. Couple that with the backlash against them and you can understand why our shelters are filled with Pit Bulls. It is estimated that 2,800 Pit Bulls are euthanized in the U.S. every day.
If BSL laws are in place to protect the communities, communities should be up in arms about the money being wasted. These laws don’t make communities safer. Education does! Pit Bulls do not bite more than other breeds. However, the media often labels dogs who have bitten people as Pit Bulls; their mantra is, “If it bit, it must be a Pit.”
Breed doesn’t appear among the factors relevant to dog-bite fatalities. According to a study done by the CDC, of the 256 dog-bite fatalities between 2000 and 2009, 84 percent were intact males, 76 percent were kept as guard or yard dogs rather than family pets, and 28 percent involved owners with a history of reported pet abuse. History, not breed, determines a dog's behavior. Humans, not dogs, are the variable.
By and large, dogs are at the mercy of human decisions, and when humans make poor decisions, dogs suffer and communities become less safe. Let’s put money now being spent on enforcing BSL laws toward educating communities about dog behavior and safety rather than blaming dogs—put it behind teaching people the importance of spay and neuter, dog behavior, and positive training methods.
Acts of animal cruelty are linked to violence against people. Communities would be safer if animal cruelty cases were enforced.
On a less weighty note, as an avid DIYer, I really love the simple projects you include in the book. But why did you include them?
The thing I like about hand-made projects is that they force people to drop everything else and ponder for a bit. And, if you want to engage people and keep them motivated to keep doing for others, you have to make it fun! DIY projects are a great way to get kids involved. Sitting together working on these projects provides time for conversation, and taking these projects to the animals is incredibly satisfying.
When their efforts feed their souls, people are less likely to burn out and more likely to continue helping. Animals do that for me. Whether it’s animals or something else, I would encourage readers to take some time to figure out what really makes them feel great about helping.
Your book’s theme of bettering the lives of animals should be popular with readers of all ages. What do you hope to achieve?
If nothing else, I hope Do Unto Animals inspires people to do just a little more. If we all did a little more, a lot of good could come from it. Lives are busy and tons of things are going wrong in the world. It can be overwhelming and depressing, but it helps to feel like you’re pushing back with positive action. What’s wonderful about animals is that they’re all around us. Opportunities to make a difference abound.
I’d love to inspire all animal lovers to constantly learn and seek out new information. Don’t take information at face value. Do your homework. Raise questions. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Learning about suffering and wrongdoing isn’t as devastating to your soul when you’re working on the solution. The more I learn, the better I do, and each day I’m doing better than the last.
What’s next for the Stewart family?
I know Jon is looking forward to going to the carwash (he loves that!), stopping by his favorite smoothie place, being with our kids a glorious amount of time and keeping an eye on me. I’m guessing that I’m not going to be able to get away with sneaking so many animals into the house once he’s not at the show every day.
This interview has been edited.
Alex Kava talks with The Bark about her newest character, Ryder Creed, and his dogs.
Alex Kava has been crafting intense murder-and-mayhem-fueled novels for at least 15 years. Fortunately, her heroes—FBI profiler Maggie O’Dell and, most recently, former U.S. Marine and K9 handler Ryder Creed—are up to the task of bringing down the villains. Like many of the authors whose books catch our eye, she writes dogs into the plot, not as afterthoughts but as fully realized characters. Want proof? See her two new books, Breaking Creed and Silent Creed. Bark editor in chief Claudia Kawczynska gets the backstory.
Bark: What inspired your new dog-handler character, Ryder Creed?
Alex Kava: Creed came out of my lifelong fascination with dogs and their capabilities. I’ve loved dogs and followed them around since I was old enough to walk. I wanted to create someone who not only shared my passion but who would be comfortable living in the company of dogs.
B: I confess I was concerned that something bad was going to happen to the dogs, and was relieved that it didn’t. Did you make a conscious decision about this?
AK: I simply can’t read books or watch movies in which animals are hurt or killed, so that was an easy decision. Though Creed’s dogs face dangerous situations, including environmental threats (spiders, snakes, mudslides), the reader can be assured that they will always be okay. I can’t, however, make that promise about their human counterparts.
B: What kind of technical advice or assistance did you get when writing about the dogs’ training and the method Creed uses?
AK: I do a tremendous amount of research for all my novels. For the “Creed” series, it’s been a combination of articles, videos and books (The Cadaver Dog Handbook by Andrew Rebmann is my bible), along with talking to experts. Over the years, I’ve developed a long list of people I can call upon, from homicide detectives and CSI techs to K9 handlers. Their experiences breathe life into my novels. And my veterinarian has helped tremendously; she’s become my go-to source for anything and everything about dogs.
B: It’s refreshing to see an action character like Creed have such concern for his dogs, to the extent of sometimes sleeping with them in their kennel and preparing homemade food for them.
AK: Scout, my 16-year-old dog who sat beside me while I wrote every one of my novels, was dying from kidney disease as I worked on the first “Creed” book. It was a daily ritual to prepare his homemade meals and administer his subcutaneous fluids. For me, it was no different than taking care of a sick child. It’s that way for Creed, too. These dogs aren’t just part of his family—they are his family.
B: Why was it important that the dogs have rescue backgrounds? (Let’s hope that will inspire your readers to adopt shelter/rescue dogs!)
AK: Two reasons: First, I wanted it to be an ongoing theme—Creed rescues dogs, and in return, the dogs rescue Creed, both literally and figuratively. Second, I wanted to highlight that all dogs have amazing capabilities and value, even those who have been abandoned or discarded.
B: As a fan of terriers, I was pleased to see that a JRT, Grace, is one of the featured working-dog characters. What made you decide to use a smaller dog in this role?
AK: I have three West Highland White Terriers, so I love terriers, too. Most people don’t know that smaller dogs can and are trained as working dogs. There are situations where they can get in and out more easily than larger dogs, and in some contexts, they attract less attention. Terriers, in particular, have a lot of energy. Most of them have that all-important intense drive—what Ryder Creed describes as “ball crazy.”
B: Dog-loving readers will be treated to a “two-fer” in these books, since the other protagonist, Maggie O’Dell, who has her own series, is also a dog person. Has she always had dogs? And why did you think of adding dogs to your work?
AK: Maggie did not have dogs in the beginning of the series. As an FBI agent who tracks killers for a living, she deals with evil on a weekly basis, so I wanted to give her something good to bring balance to her life. She rescues a dog—a white Labrador named Harvey—in book number two (Split Second). Later in the series, in Hotwire, a stray German Shepherd, saves Maggie’s life and she ends up adopting him, too. I guess I was creating dogs as heroes even before I meant to.
The third in the “Ryder Creed” series, Reckless Creed, is slated for release in spring 2016, and Before Evil, a new “Maggie O’Dell,” will be out in early 2016.
Ever think there must be more to life than your daily 9 to 5? What if money didn’t matter and you could follow your life’s passions—what would you do? For Matt Hein that meant quitting his job in finance and moving to Norway, eventually becoming a dogwalker.
“Portrait of a Dogwalker,” by 21-year-old Norwegian filmmaker Fredrik Harper, chronicles the young Englishman’s decision to leave his job and travel to the French Alps. He began dating a Norwegian woman and followed her back to Oslo. It was there that he realized his two great passions: Being outside and being around dogs.
He now spends his days walking dogs in the woods outside the Norwegian capital and as depicted in the film—he appears to be absolutely content. The seven-and-a-half minute film shows his canine charges eagerly exploring nature while Hein ruminates on the meaning of life. Never has dogwalking appeared so appealing.
“You have to get in in the morning before your boss, and you have to leave after your boss because that way your boss thinks you’re working much harder than you are,” says Hein, harkening back to his days in London finance. “It’s a competition for who can be sat at their desk pretty much wasting their life. That’s not a way to live your life.”
PORTRAIT OF A DOGWALKER from Fredrik Harper on Vimeo.
Culture: The Daily Show
Take this job and love it
Here at The Bark, we’re always looking for stories that examine the really big ideas affecting the lives of dogs. Our mission started 15 years ago, when we created the magazine in order to cover the burgeoning dog-park movement.
Recently, we had the opportunity to take our mission indoors — to see how dogs add harmony, fellowship and an atmosphere of well being to a very active and creative workplace. This particular lead came to us, unexpectedly, late last year. The email subject line read “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Dogs,” and it came from Renata Luczak, vice president of corporate communications for Comedy Central. Dogs had joined the ranks of The Daily Show, and staffers and others thought it would make a good story for The Bark to cover, and, oh, yes, they are “huge fans of Bark and would be so thrilled to be in it.” At Bark central, we were thrilled and flattered, of course, but we also took the story to heart. We were curious if these dogs could have it that much better than other office dogs throughout the land.
To find out, in early spring, I spent the day at The Daily Show offices in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen, where I met the dogs, sat down with the people, watched a photo shoot and generally saw for myself just how good the show’s dogs have it. Here’s my report.
This dog-friendly workplace started about 15 years ago with Georgia Pappas, then the show’s production manager, and her Tibetan Terrier, Cosmo. Fortunately for Pappas and Cosmo, Jon Stewart is crazy about dogs. Double fortunate, the show’s offices and studio are in a building managed by Adriane Truex, who shares Stewart’s canine appreciation. Permission was quickly granted, and it didn’t take long for more dogs to follow.
These days, the first thing new employees, show guests and visitors notice are the dogs. Free-ranging and ubiquitous, they have become an integral part of the office landscape: roaming, playing or lying about, with toys scattered everywhere. They attend staff meetings, share office chairs, charm the celeb guests — in short, The Daily Show is pretty much dog nirvana.
How else would you define a place where dogs get attention from almost everyone, visit their friends, climb on couches or snuggle up in one of the numerous spare beds that people put in their cubicles to entice doggie visitations? Lunch is a particularly busy time. Christy and Vilma in the accounting department observed that the dogs often start in Stewart’s office (which they can freely visit), hit all the “tidbit” spots, then make their way upstairs to accounting for one more morsel and a nap on their couch.
Meet the Dogs
For co-executive producer Jen Flanz, whose family has always had dogs, this inviting atmosphere inspired her to adopt Parker, a Lab mix, from Manhattan Animal Care & Control. Parker seems to win the hearts of everyone she meets, both dog lovers and those who might not yet be. She’s had a lot of training with Jen, and quickly became a regular who, along with Kweli, introduces the newcomer pups to office-dog protocol. All the dogs soak up and bask in the attention they get, from most everyone who works there.
As Jen observes, the only downside is that “our dogs are used to being here, being around people all day, running around and getting attention from a hundred people. So when we have time off, she bounces off the walls. They get so much activity and stimulation here.”
Artistic coordinator, Justin Chabot got his Golden Retriever, Kweli, when he was still a student in Boston, and started Kweli’s off-leash training during their late-night forays for a place to park his van. As Justin recalls, “I would stop at an intersection, make him sit and stay, and walk back across the street and wait until the light changed. Then I’d say ‘OK, let’s cross.’ Now, he walks with me and never goes into the street — he never steps off the sidewalk without me being there. He’s off-leash even in Times Square.” Another handy trick that Justin easily taught the bright and relaxed Kweli is how to ride steady and calm on the back of his bicycle and motorcycle. He made Kweli a co-pilot seat from an old milk crate, which the dog sits in during their commute down the West Side Highway from Harlem; they turn a quite a few heads as they go by.
Supervising producer Tim Green-berg’s Ally, a rescue Pointer-mix, is a more recent addition. When Tim first adopted Ally, she had fear issues, so he did a lot of concentrated training with her. Initially, he only brought her in on slow days, then, gradually added more time to her “work” schedule. He’s convinced that the training built up her self-confidence, and is the best way to maintain it. When Ally first met Kweli, Tim says, “she tried to eat from his bowl, he snapped at her and since then, they’ve established their relationship — she looovvves him.” Like Parker, Ally flirts with Kweli constantly and shamelessly.
Good training is essential to making the office-dog dynamic work. Everyone knows that having their dogs in the office is a privilege, one they don’t want to lose. As Jen observes, “We all feel this responsibility to keep the dogs pretty well-behaved. If someone comes in and thinks this is a free-for-all, they would be mistaken.” Tim adds that “like the show itself, there really is a strict discipline underlying what looks like a free-form.” From my perspective, it seemed that the office camaraderie, conviviality and general bonhomie — laughter can be heard everywhere — inspires and affects both the people and the dogs.
The dogs may have their own opinions, which they sometimes seem to register. For example, Jim Margolis’ dog, Aunt Blanche, once peed (just this once) on the floor outside the green room when Sharon Stone was visiting, he thinks his dog was expressing her opinion about “Basic Instinct 2.” (Such accidents are rare, however.) So far, the only guest to bring a dog on the set has been Ted Koppel, who came with his granddog, a little black pup named Pepper.
Matt Palidoro, whose cousin owns a dog bakery and keeps him supplied with treats for his officemates, says, “The dogs are a huge perk on the job. If you see two dogs playing with each other, you can decompress easily.”
This group seems to function on some kind of organic, village-like level, with everyone looking out for and being somewhat involved in raising the “village’s” dogs. For example, it’s easy for the dog people to ask colleagues to handle an occasional dog-sitting stint. So many of the non-dog owners, including correspondent Wyatt Cenac, have stories about times they hosted one of the dogs while their people were out of town. Talk about a benefit!
All in all, as Tim Greenberg describes it, “This is a giant dog playground. The dogs run around, and there are at least eight to 10 treat stations throughout the office. Ally’s got her own schedule of things she does. She gets exercise running up and back. The only thing that would make it better is if there were grass and squirrels [inside].”
Who, after all, could blame the dogs for anything? In Stewart’s opinion, all the dogs there are “really the cream of the crop, all have been to military school, their behavior is impeccable, their manners are impeccable, their English is impeccable.” Plus, “Who doesn’t love the dogs?” There is nothing better than dogs, and they bring out the best in us too. Nothing better. Confirming my observation that everyone has a ball here, he added that, “obviously we’ll take you to the reptile room after this.”
Q&A with Veterinarian, writer, reader and advocate Nick Trout
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.
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