product reviews
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
“Reading” Dogs Help Children Learn
By lending an ear at story time

Reading is indeed fundamental, but for many, acquiring the skill is daunting. Fortunately, thanks to some innovative programs and cooperative dogs, the challenge is getting easier to meet. Across the nation, dogs are lending their ears, and thousands of children who need extra help with reading and interpersonal communication couldn’t be happier.

Imagine this scene, described by Brooklyn’s Good Dog Foundation founder and executive director, Rachel McPherson: “For each session, the dog and the child-tutor settle down onto a blanket-covered pad on the floor in a corner of the school media center or in the library. Either the dog picks out a book or the child selects a picture book, brings it to the dog, holds it flat and begins to read.”

Though the children believe they are teaching dogs to read, in fact, with the dog as a comfortable, attentive audience (and an occasional gentle assist from the dog’s adult volunteer partner), they are actually teaching themselves. As far as the child is concerned, however, reading is about the dog, not about the child. No pressure. No embarrassment. No humiliation.

Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) was among the first to use “reading dogs” in the classroom. Launched in November 1999 by Utah-based Intermountain Therapy Animals, the program was introduced in a Salt Lake City library (where it continues to be available to both children and adults), and a year later, successfully moved into the school system. READ dogs are trained, registered and certified therapy animals who serve as classroom reading tutors, assisting children with their quiet presence and helping them develop a love of reading. Currently, 1,300 therapy teams are working their magic in schools and libraries. “We were the first to put a model around the idea, to improve reading and communication skills and to build the love of books among children that will last forever. It is priceless to see the eager faces of enthusiasm of young children reading to their therapy dogs,” says Kathy Klotz, READ’s executive director.

Within a year, READ enlisted another set of tails in Durham County, N.C., where psychologist Amy Parsons, a volunteer with Helping Paws International, collaborated with Intermountain to create a therapy assistance dog program known as Bonding, Animals, Reading, Kids and Safety (BARKS). By 2002, the program had accepted and trained several breeds of dogs, and cofounder Jeani Gray says the waiting list of schools interested in the program is long. BARKS dogs act as partners in 30-minute weekly reading sessions with elementary school children—the children are proud to be chosen to teach a certified pooch to read. Helping Paws International has also been successful in working with autistic children in North Carolina, and now has a total of 115 teams operating in Florida, Ohio, Texas and New Zealand.

Sit Stay Read!, founded by MaryEllen Schneider and Sarah Murphy, blew into Chicago schools in 2003. “Sarah had the vision,” says Schneider, who managed a dog training school, “and I had the operational tools. Our teachers, reading specialists and literacy experts put the program together. Our focus is on reading fluency with second- and third-graders of low-income communities. Currently, there is one volunteer team to every four children. Even the teachers spend their free time as program volunteers.”

Sit Stay Read! has 40 certified teams and 90 volunteers. The progress the children make is amazing, according to Schneider, who notes that the latest fluency test results indicate reading acceleration to 24 words per minute, versus nine words per minute for those not involved with the program. Attendance has also improved, as has classroom demeanor. “The children are so excited to read to the dog. Even disruptive boys have learned to sit and pet the dog while reading.”

Currently, the Sit Stay Read! program is used in four schools, and 38 more are on the waiting list; the group also hopes to add components for fourth- and fifth-graders. “We need volunteers,” says Schneider, “even those who don’t have a dog.” Schneider, confident about the program’s future, says she sees “successful fluency as a continuous process.”

In 2005, Canine Assisted Reading Education (CARE) was born in North Carolina’s Moore County, thanks to the combined efforts of Rebecca Vassallo, MD, and Linda Hubbard, a volunteer coordinator for the Moore County school system. Vassallo brought Luther, her certified rescue dog, into the classroom. As she recalls, “Luther sat with the children who had difficulty reading. The trial period worked so well that the county decided to expand the program.” Vassallo adds that Luther has his own website (learnwithluther.com), so the children can contact him outside the classroom. Another volunteer, Kelly Stevens, and her chocolate Lab, Gunner, visit more than half a dozen children every week. Stevens, who’s also known as the “Pinehurst Pet Nanny,” doesn’t mind if Gunner falls asleep. “The children continue to read to him,” she says.

Reading dogs spread northward in 2005 when a Brooklyn therapy program known as the Good Dog Foundation added the READ program to its offerings, using dogs to help at-risk children improve their reading skills. “We extended our pet program to libraries and school systems in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut,” says Leslye Lynford, director of development. “In Manhattan, sometimes as many as 19 children line up at 7:30 every morning because they want to read to the dogs.”

Under Rachel McPherson’s leadership, the Good Dog Foundation helped change New York state law to allow therapy dogs into organizations and schools. “It’s a win–win situation,” she says. “Reading levels have tripled. Every child walks down the school hall and knows the freedom of reading with these ‘cool’ dogs. It brings self-esteem in a secure environment where there are no threats.”

McPherson estimates that the program operates in 15 elementary schools as well as in the New York public libraries. “The Manhattan library offers READ on Saturdays,” she says. “We also work closely with children from [troubled] homes. They experience a comfortable, caring world with us.” McPherson hopes to expand the program. “It’s a dream—I hope to see it in upper grades and in future adult programs. We have over 375 teams, trained and certified to meet the requirements.”

The dogs who participate in the Good Dog Foundation’s program, like their compatriots across the country, go through a training course. They must have basic obedience skills, be in good health, be able to go into elevators and display a sound temperament. “We give support and have the facilities to train the dogs through certified trainers,” McPherson explains. “The trainers then follow through by deciding, planning and certifying all school visits.” More than 15,000 dogs and 13,000 handlers are registered as pet-assisted therapy teams, and the foundation now makes more than 77,000 visits to several groups and schools each year. The Good Dog Foundation has won awards from the ASPCA and the Red Cross for its therapy dog services.

“We base ourselves on the premise that good dogs are good medicine,” says McPherson, “and dogs will continue to help children become better readers for many years to come. Therapy animals consistently demonstrate that when we respect and care for other species, they have great gifts of connection, joy and healing to share with us, and we with them.”


Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Guest Editorial: Dogs Redeem Us
Prison pup programs do more than produce well-trained service dogs

I am a prisoner at the California Institution for Women in Chino, where I have now been for 25 years. It is a hard and often cold world. On rare occasions, I would see dogs outside the fence, perhaps a stray or one belonging to one of the many dairies surrounding the prison. These sightings brought me both sadness and joy. How I longed to touch and be touched by these creatures, a joy that lived in my memories of “Before …”

Then one day, running late from lunch to my prison job, I turned the corner and there, right on the sidewalk, was a miracle: a lady in a wheelchair with a big fluffy Golden Retriever at her side. I stopped in my tracks. Who was she? Could I perhaps touch the dog? Would I get in trouble if I moved closer? A thousand thoughts flew through my mind while my feet moved forward of their own volition.

I stopped a few feet away and stared, awestruck. Other women stood close by in the same pose. Finally, someone asked if she could pet the dog. The woman in the wheelchair nodded and we approached ever so slowly.

When it was my turn, I went down on one knee and reached out, barely touching his fur with my fingertips. As I slowly stroked him, I felt his breathing, his soft, sun-warmed fur, and silently whispered a humble prayer of gratitude for this gift. When he turned his trusting brown eyes on me, the tears flowed down my face. I realized that the other women were crying too. I looked up and saw several prison administrators, utterly baffled, looking upon the scene: a lady in a wheelchair and a dog surrounded by a bunch of “lifers”—by society’s definition, the “most dangerous prisoners”—on their knees, crying as they reverently touched the dog. This was my introduction to Carol R. and Marty of the Canine Support Teams.

Since that day, the California Institution for Women, in conjunction with Canine Support Teams, has started a Prison Pup Program inside the prison. We raise and train dogs to be assistants to physically challenged people. But that statement of goals doesn’t begin to touch what the program has accomplished. The unforeseen peripheral results of this program have been nothing short of miraculous in the lives of the women touched by these dogs.

I have seen women without hope or joy light up at the sight and touch of these wonders. I have seen angry, bitter women come out of their darkness to nurture and shower love on a dog. I have seen guilt-ridden and shamed women rise up to give their all to a dog who will give back to a life. For so very many of us, this act of atonement lifts some of the burden of guilt. I have seen even the hardest of gang-bangers soften and break into laughter at the antics of a dog. I have seen the shattered, battered, abused and damaged venture out of their isolation to reach out to a dog.

These are the things I see. What I know is the miracle these dogs have become in someone’s life after they leave us. We sometimes get pictures and updates of the dogs we have raised. To know that a child now has not only a helpmate but a companion—a friend to give her a measure of independence impossible before—is a gift to us beyond words. To know that the creature we taught and loved so dearly for a time has moved on to give such a grand gift; to know that we are, in part, responsible for this gift, is beyond expression.

We all suffer from the guilt and shame of what put us here, and this is a mighty and tangible atonement. A little part of us goes out with each dog, the burden lightens, joy grows, pride blossoms. Gratitude and humility suffuse us. As a trained and disciplined service dog emerges from a romping pup, a new, stronger, gentler and loving woman is born as well.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New Products: Canine Covers to Viva Coco
Fun, functional and fruity characterize our product round-up

A. Viva Coco is a nutrientrich coconut water powder that can boost your dog’s health and hydration. Mix with water and offer after a period of high activity or simply as a liquid treat. 100% all-natural and GMO-free with no artificial preservatives or flavors. Viva-coco.com

B. Fruitables Chewy Skinny Minis are an allnatural, low-cal treat for your pup. Their small size and soft texture make them perfect for training! Available in five yummy flavors. Free of gluten, wheat, corn, soy, artificial flavors and colors; sourced and made in the USA. Fruitablespetfood.com

C. Fetchbee means no more slobbery, tired hands, no more stooping. The plastic arm clips easily onto the special disc, helping you play a little longer with your disc-obsessed dog. Fetchbee.com

D. Keep your dog safe in the backseat with Canine Covers Canine Travel Seatback Barrier. The US-made mesh barrier fits most vehicles with two bucket front seats. Easy to remove and fold up for storage. Caninecovers.com

E. Handmade Pet Company’s Slip-Thru Collar Bandanas stay put, which means they won’t come off during a romp on the beach. A readyto- wear line is available, or request a custom design that perfectly fits your dog’s unique sense of style. Handmadepet.com

F. Turn mealtime into a challenging “stimulation” game with The Company of Animals Green Slow Feeder. Scatter food in between its grass-like blades. Finding the food can slow down intake, which can reduce vomiting, gas and the risk of bloat. There is a Green Mini too for smaller pups. Companyofanimals.us

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Puzzles for Dogs
Innovative toys help dogs develop problem-solving skills
Ottosson with Ville and Zigge

Nina Ottosson calls her Zoo Active Products “party games” for dogs, and—judging by the enthusiasm dogs display when they play with the toys—she’s definitely on to something. Ten years ago, Ottosson came up with the first of her dog puzzles, which she based on her dogs’ natural movements and instincts, and since then, has added several more to the mix. Collaborative play is an important aspect of this Swedish company’s attractive product line. These aren’t toys that you toss to the dog and walk away—you also need to come to the party.

Curious to find out more about the story behind these clever toys, we went to the source and spoke with Ottosson herself about her background, her philosophy on toys for dogs and the importance of canine “brain gymnastics.”

As might be expected, Ottosson has lived with dogs for as long as she can remember. Having two children within the space of 18 months, however, dramatically reduced the time she had to train and interact with her pups. Before her children were born, she and the dogs were accustomed to spending time together, and she felt badly about not being able to do more with them. This concern prompted her to look for other simple and enjoyable ways to keep them active and stimulated indoors.

Though she has no formal training in the subject, Ottosson says she has always been interested in design. Before venturing into dog enrichment toys, she had a textile business in addition to her “day job” as a nurse at a local hospital. She continued to work as a nurse until Zoo Active was established; now, conceptualizing and developing dog toys is her full-time occupation.

Observations of her own and other dogs and reading scientific investigations into canine cognitive behavior helped Ottosson identify the benefits of toys that require the dog to use his or her capacity to solve problems.

“The best fun is developing new toys,” Ottosson says. “My dogs and I love that. I’m always working on new ideas, and we come up with at least two new products every year.” Ottosson also takes into account her customers’ opinions and experiences. “I listen to what other dog owners have to say about my products, both positive and negative. As a mother, I am also inspired by children’s toys—the difference between small children and dogs is very small [when it comes to toys]. One can help both dogs and children develop with positive encouragement, love, creative toys and firm rules without violence.”

Ottosson’s two canine co-developers are Zigge, a massive 60-kilo (132-pound), seven-year-old Bouvier des Flandres, and Ville, a four-year-old Bouvier/Schapendoes cross. Both dogs love to learn new tricks; carrying in firewood, answering the telephone, dancing, counting and even packing away their toys in their toy box are among their repertoire. Their favorite job, however, seems to be as “test drivers” for the new products, a task they love to do, says Ottosson.

“First of all, we make a simple prototype, which I test with my own dogs. If that goes well, we make more advanced prototypes—I have a company with my own factory and employees—and these are tested initially by my dogs and then by other dogs of different breeds and sizes. After testing, we often find we need to make some adjustments before we can put them into production.”

According to Ottosson, dogs react in various ways to her products. “Certain breeds are more active than others, depending on their original purpose. Working dogs, such as Sheepdogs, often need more mental stimulation and more difficult activity toys than, for example, smaller companion dogs. Other breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers and some Terriers, are also more motivated to look for edible treats. Because of the different motivating factors, I have designed my activity toys with various grades of difficulty. You can begin with the easiest, then try the more challenging. After all, dogs are just like us—the more we try to solve problems, the better we become.”

But what about the human half of the equation? Is there any particular type of person who’s more likely to buy and use her products? “Not really. We have customers of all types and ages! It seemed to be mostly women at first, but the number of male purchasers has increased a lot over the last few years, possibly because many vets recommend these products for dogs who are lame or have been through an operation. We have also seen that many dog trainers and dog psychologists are talking about, demonstrating and using the products.”

Sweden is known for its environmental consciousness, and Nina is proud that her toys are as environmentally friendly as possible. The wood comes from timber that cannot be otherwise used, and the nonwooden parts are made from recycled plastic mixed with the fine sawdust that’s a manufacturing byproduct of the wooden sections. And, as is common in Sweden, at the end of their useful lives, the toys can be left at recycling stations so the materials can be reused.

Currently, Ottosson is in discussion with U.S. retailers. “It will be exciting and interesting to see how America takes to the toys and if [U.S. customers] appreciate them as much as the rest of the world. I hope that the dogs in America will also appreciate the opportunity to work and play with my toys.”

Ottosson is clearly passionate about canines. “It is vitally important that dogs have the opportunity to exercise their brains as well as their bodies. Just like people, they need stimulation, play, exercise and rest. And, just like people, different dogs need different levels of each—understimulated, they can develop their own, less attractive behavior patterns,” she says. But best of all, the most valuable result of this collaborative play is the strengthened bond between the dog and his person.

Nina Ottosson Zoo Active Products

Available in the U.S. through
Paw Lickers Bakery & Boutique for Pets
Greenfield Center, N.Y.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What’s New: Products
With many new products on the store shelves, these caught our eye.

Keep floors dry and clean with CarpetSaver’s absorbent foam-backed (non-skid) fabric that grabs debris and water. Just shake it out or toss in the washer when it’s dirty. Comes in two widths, three colors and a variety of lengths.

Minnesota’s Mendota Products is in the “pink” over a new color they introduced to their pliable, durable safety collar line. Pink teams up with yellow, green and orange as the high-visibility colors now being offered. Cleaning is simple—dirt and odors are quickly rinsed off.

Ma Snax’s sweet smiling leprechaun cookies are sure to bring good luck. Wheat/ corn/soy and preservativefree. Baked in small batches in Sonoma, Calif., to ensure freshness; hand-decorated.

Skookum Dog makes a synthetic sheepskin, memory foam bed whose curvy design looks like the “real” thing. Perfect for a nap out on the porch or anywhere inside too.

Sleepypod’s Clickit™ Utility claims to be the world’s first three-point dog safety harness, offering a safer ride for your favorite co-pilot. It was named the 2013 Top Performing Pet Safety Harness in a Subaru and Center for Pet Safety collaborative study to test the effectiveness of pet harnesses.

Add new flavor and zing to your dog’s kibble meals with Doggie Shotz. It comes in six flavors including Three Cheese, Chicken Stir Fry and Turkey ’n Mash. Just shake, pour on and stir into kibble.

Moso Bags are a safe, natural way to purify and dehumidify your home. Made of bamboo charcoal, it’s non-toxic and fragrance free. Great around dog beds, litter boxes and anywhere odors linger in a house!

These useful microfiber cleaning cloths from Poochie-Pets feature fun “Live in Dog Years” designs, and are great for cleaning fingerprints or nose “kisses” off your tablets and phones. Available in six designs.

For a soft, durable collar, Timely’s rounded styles are handcrafted from the finest Italian and Finnish leathers. Developed by a small family-owned Danish company, they are designed with a unique “inside stitch” technique with no outside edges.

The Loop is an easy, stylish way to carry the all-important poop bags with you. “Loop” it through a leash, or even through your handbag strap; refilling is simple. Comes in six fashionable colors.

Dexas presents its H-DuO, the first bottle carrier designed for both you and your active dog! Carry two drinks at the same time—one for you, and one for your dog. A companion cup collapses flat against the side of the bottle—it’s BPA-free too.

Recall: P&G Voluntarily Recalls Limited Quantity of Dry Pet Food Due to Possible Health Risk
Iams and Eukanuba Brands are affecte

Editors note: Make sure you do not feed your dogs the food on the recall list and also make sure that the store you shop it pulls it from their shelves!


CINCINNATI–(BUSINESS WIRE)–The Procter & Gamble Company (P&G) has voluntarily recalled specific lots of dry pet food because they have the potential to be contaminated with Salmonella. These lots were distributed in the United States and represent roughly one-tenth of one percent (0.1%) of annual production. No Salmonella-related illnesses have been reported to date in association with these product lots.

Salmonella can affect animals eating the products and there is risk to humans from handling contaminated pet products, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the products or any surfaces exposed to these products.

Healthy people infected with Salmonella should monitor themselves for some or all of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramping and fever. Rarely, Salmonella can result in more serious ailments, including arterial infections, endocarditis, arthritis, muscle pain, eye irritation, and urinary tract symptoms. Consumers exhibiting these signs after having contact with this product should contact their healthcare providers.

Pets with Salmonella infections may be lethargic and have diarrhea or bloody diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. Some pets will have only decreased appetite, fever and abdominal pain. Infected but otherwise healthy pets can be carriers and infect other animals or humans. If your pet has consumed the recalled product and has these symptoms, please contact your veterinarian.

This issue is limited to the specific dry pet food lot codes listed below. This affects roughly one-tenth of one percent (0.1%) of total annual production. The affected product was distributed to select retailers across the United States. These products were made during a 10-day window at a single manufacturing site. P&G’s routine testing determined that some products made during this timeframe have the potential for Salmonella contamination. As a precautionary measure, P&G is recalling the potentially impacted products made during this timeframe. No other dry dog food, dry cat food, dog or cat canned wet food, biscuits/treats or supplements are affected by this announcement.

P&G is retrieving these products as a precautionary measure. Consumers who purchased a product listed below should stop using the product and discard it and contact P&G toll-free at 800-208-0172 (Monday – Friday, 9 AM to 6 PM ET), or via website at www.iams.com or www.eukanuba.com.

Media Contact: Jason Taylor, 513-622-1111.

Products affected by this announcement:


Procter & Gamble
P&G Consumer Relations, 800-208-0172

Link to Eukanuba Recall notification:  http://www.eukanuba.com/en-US/SpecialAnnouncement.pdf

Link to Iams Dog Food Recall notification:  http://www.iams.com/en_us/data_root/_pdf/8-14-13%20Iams%20Product%20Information%20Dog.pdf

Link to Iams Cat Food Recall notification:  http://www.iams.com/en_us/data_root/_pdf/8-14-13%20Iams%20Product%20Information%20Cat.pdf


Dog's Life: Humane
Puppy Mill Bust
A report from the inside

She was a timid thing, a tiny Chihuahua whose swollen belly was packed with five pups waiting to enter the world. Cradling this fragile, trembling mom-to-be in my arms, I carried her around the well-lit yet somewhat cramped quarters known as the “back wing” of the Humane Society of Skagit Valley adoption center.

A rare uncovered window positioned at eye level sparked a sudden idea—I’d brighten her day with a glimpse of the outside world. But the pup failed to show excitement. In fact, she registered nothing at all. At that moment, I embraced the stark truth: An unwitting rescue from a life of dark, unspeakable cruelty, this dog—estimated to be three years old—had no idea what a window was, nor was it likely that she had ever set foot outdoors.

The petite Chihuahua and her two-dozen shelter mates were among hundreds of dogs seized in January from an alleged “puppy mill” ring operating in northwestern Washington state. The rest were farmed out to other shelters and foster homes. Malnourished and suffering from infection, almost all required immediate medical attention. Some didn’t survive.

Like others moved by such news accounts, I broke my years-long streak of avoiding the dismal atmosphere of animal shelters. I put on my big-girl pants and signed on to volunteer as a caretaker. I also resurrected the investigative aspect of my extinct career as a newspaper reporter. I needed to do more, but also to know more, and to tell what I knew.

Dogs in Limbo
The scope was astounding. Animal care costs for the two counties in which the operation was located—Skagit and Snohomish—skyrocketed within a week, reaching into tens of thousands of dollars. Already underfunded, overworked shelters found themselves deluged. Legal ownership of most of the dogs remained with defendants, who were facing multiple counts of felony animal abuse. Nonetheless, they refused to surrender their “property,” turning the dogs into de facto wards of the state and running up tabs with county coffers and nonprofit rescue agencies that would otherwise adopt them out.

The refugees I saw were, I suspect, the cream of the crop—the healthiest and least traumatized of the bunch. They’d been bathed, groomed and treated to manicures that brought their nails down to a manageable length. Nonetheless, visible signs of their plight were heartbreaking. Most cowered at the approach of caring humans who wanted only to help them. Some less timid dogs, starved for attention and desperate to be held, charged workers entering their pens. None was properly socialized.

This is the world of breeding for bucks, an insidious industry in which jaw-dropping sums of money are made through trafficking the offspring of dogs crammed together in cages and bred until they can no longer stand. Adult dogs are used as procreative vessels, and puppies are pawned off to pet shops and resellers who position themselves as small-time “hobby” breeders. Proprietors of these canine factories operate on the sly, locating mostly in remote areas hidden from the prying eyes of law enforcement officials.

Doing the Right Thing
Friends’ eyes are a different story. Brandon Hatch never thought he’d turn in his lifelong buddy to child welfare officials, but after walking in on a gruesome scene, he faced a moral dilemma. Hatch knew his friend was involved in breeding dogs. But what he saw on his last visit tormented him: 160 dogs stacked up in cages that were caked with feces and dripping with urine. The stench was overwhelming, Hatch told me, but it was the excrement on a nearby bed that left him no choice but to summon authorities.

“I knew there were children sometimes sleeping there,” he said. “In all honesty? It hurt to do what I did, but it was the right thing to do.” (Read more at PuppyJustice.com, Hatch’s blog.)

Agents inspected, then promptly called law enforcement. An ensuing raid led to searches of three residences in two counties, and the seizure of almost 600 malnourished, diseased dogs with a wide range of medical ailments, including spinal deformities, dangerous bacterial infections and—in a few cases—dental deterioration so severe that the afflicted dogs’ jaws had dissolved.

What Hatch uncovered was an unlicensed, mostly unattended, large-scale breeding operation—a “puppy mill,” in the vernacular of animal advocates, law enforcement officials and concerned legislators who for years have made attempts to shut them down.

Emily Diaz, an animal control officer in Skagit County, has seen her share of horror. Most of her cases are smaller in scale and “walk the fence,” as she puts it, between behavior in need of adjustment and actionable abuse. I asked Diaz to recount her emotions as she processed the dogs removed from that property.

Her answer was understandable. “What I was really feeling I probably shouldn’t say.” It’s essential not to let emotions overtake your ability to work effectively, Diaz says. But she never disconnects entirely. “The moment I quit caring is the moment I have to quit my job.”

Don’t look for Diaz to quit her job. She is a warrior working on behalf of the voiceless by attempting to educate rather than impound, and hoping for that one tip from a witness or complainant willing to go on the record as a source so she can build a case for seizure when necessary.

Taking a Legal Approach
As news of the raids sparked a groundswell of outrage and protests in the Seattle area and beyond, Washington state legislators were busy revisiting bills left over from an abbreviated 2008 session that would place stricter controls on breeding operations and permit inspections by animal welfare officials who have reason to suspect noncompliance.

While it sounds aggressive, Washington’s legislation is dwarfed by a new Virginia law that mandates inspections of licensed kennel operations and forbids retailers from selling pets acquired from breeders not licensed by the USDA and subject to that agency’s basic standards of care.

Washington State Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, sponsor of Senate Bill 5651, would love to see even stronger legislation passed. But in an economic downturn, she said, few have the appetite to force rural, fiscally struggling counties to perform scheduled inspections. At a minimum, this bill will put breeders on notice: Cross the line into greed-induced, abusive practices and you will be held to account. (At press time, the Senate’s version had passed, but not unanimously.)

Opponents in the legislature worry about over-regulating responsible breeders and kennel owners, one of whom testified before a Senate committee that unannounced inspections were tantamount to a violation of her constitutional rights. Supporters rejected that contention, citing existing laws subjecting food establishments to mandatory, random inspections. Kohl-Welles emphasizes the consumer-protection aspect of her bill. “I understand these are financial endeavors that people have, that they are businesses, and that’s just fine,” she said. “But it also can be very costly to families and to individuals who purchase these dogs. And there is the more intangible impact of heartbreak. How do you measure that?”

Calculating the Costs
By Sydney Cicourel’s measure, the sum is $800—so far. That represents a one-day spay and dental surgery for a five-year-old Papillon named Butter, whom she adopted after authorities seized 111 dogs from an Eastern Washington operation in February.

Cicourel, a lifelong animal lover involved in pet-shop protests and dog rescues, knew the expenses of bringing Butter home would be enormous. Her beloved three-year-old Maltese/Poodle mix, Polly, came from a puppy mill, though that fact only surfaced after she’d spent $4,000 in veterinary bills and discovered that another $3,000 would be necessary to correct orthopedic problems in Polly’s hind legs. As Cicourel has learned, very few survivors of puppy mill environments escape genetic defects.

It’s a hard pill to swallow, considering that operators of these warehouses can take in a staggering amount of revenue. Prosecutors in the Skagit County case allege that its ringleader has netted several million dollars over the last decade.

Like many of those who purchase dogs through newspaper or Internet ads, Cicourel was duped by a seemingly scrupulous breeder. Her goal is to warn off future victims, both human and canine. She urges patience through education.

“You have to be forgiving of people. They don’t want to know ugliness,” she said. “They don’t want the drama, the horror of it.”

A degree of understanding even toward perpetrators is encouraged by Officer Diaz and Brandon Hatch, both of whom believe few people start out with the intent of inflicting devastating harm on animals. But when commonsense barriers drop and greed takes over, innocent victims are left rotting in their own waste. They are deprived of the most basic sensory stimulation necessary for any living being capable of feeling pain, misery and fear.

Cicourel hopes the high-profile stories in Washington and elsewhere fuel support for continued activism that will eventually stop unnecessary suffering. People who buy or adopt animals as pets are searching for well-tempered companions. Though through an inordinate amount of care and socialization, dogs from puppy mills may become these companions, many fall devastatingly short.

My heart sank listening to Cicourel’s impassioned tale. In the shelter, I’d cared for a select group of relatively fortunate victims snatched from the confines of mass breeders. But it wasn’t hard to get to the place she hinted at—a world of despair she likened to concentration camps.

“They all have this spiritless persona. They’re like ghosts; they look right through you,” Cicourel said. “They’re empty and broken. It’s one of the most gut-wrenching things I’ve ever seen.”




News: Guest Posts
Old Spice's Mr. Wolfdog
Charming huckster or disturbing stereotype?

In an effort to sell a new line of products—the “Wild Collection”—Old Spice has created a character they’re calling Mr. Wolfdog.

Mr. Wolfdog, a wolf, is supposed to know a lot about the wild as well as marketing. He wears a clunky metal collar that translates his vocalizations into English. He sits at a desk, covered with Old Spice products and other decorations.

Mr. Wolfdog has the head of a real canine (hard to tell if it’s a dog, a wolf, or a hybrid) and a puppet body, so that he appears to be sitting at his desk, arms moving, like a human.

The style is cheesy, a riff on Mad Men’s bygone era of marketing that includes touches like a 10-key calculator and an ancient intercom system on the desk, as well as Mr. Wolfdog’s complete disdain for his assistants.

In fact, Mr. Wolfdog eats his assistants.

Yes, wolves are the epitome of wild. I get that. The target male audience for Old Spice products—the original cologne debuted in 1937—probably doesn’t include many wolf-huggers. But that doesn’t justify a high profile company that has hit some home runs with prior ad campaigns perpetuating a myth that contributed to the eradication of wolves across the West and continues to confound their successful reintroduction today.

Adding to my concern is another ad in the new campaign. It’s called “Irresistible.” An elegant man descends the stairs into an opulent party room with…a wolf growing out of each shoulder. I guess he’s a man-wolf hybrid. The man never speaks. The wolves, however, snarl and threaten a pretty woman who says she’s afraid, then intrigued, then drives off with the man and the wolves. “I never had a chance,” she says. I guess because they man-wolf smells so good, with his “wild” scent by Old Spice.

[“Irresistible” ad video on YouTube]

I asked some friends with dogs for their reaction to the Mr. Wolfdog ad.

From Tina: “Ooookay. Wow. At first I thought it was just really, really stupid. Then it got to the part where the wolf just can't resist the urge to eat his staff members. When so much has been done to get people to understand that wild animals (especially the highly feared ones like wolves, bears, sharks, snakes) are NOT living for the day that they can consume a human being, what Old Spice is doing is very wrong.” 

From Shelle:  “I thought it was stupid, revolting and couldn't figure out what the hell they are trying to say. I hated it. The poor dog looked hot and uncomfortable. The copy was nonsensical. Did I say I hated it? Where's the sexy black dude. Loved him.”

Shelle is referring, of course, to Isaiah Mustafa, who gained sudden fame in February 2010 as the bare-chested actor in the popular “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” advertising campaign for Old Spice. Women who buy Old Spice products for their men were the target audience, and the ads worked.

My informal poll shows males responding slightly more favorably to the Mr. Wolfdog ad than females, although none of them liked it.

What do you think? Love it or hate it?




Culture: Reviews
Sink or Swim Custom Sneakers
Happy Feet

New Yorker Jill Forie describes herself as a full-time teacher, entrepreneur, student, humanitarian, artist and adventurer. At least three of those roles converge in Sink or Swim Custom Kicks, a company she founded in 2009. Since then, she’s painted nearly 400 pairs of shoes for customers both domestic and international. Like many artists, she works on canvas and uses a variety of media (plus a good fabric protectant). Forie, who takes pride in not repeating a design, collaborates with her clients to create custom artwork, images that speak to them specifi cally. You’ve heard the phrase, “wear your heart on your sleeve”? Well, for $150—which includes the shoes—you can wear your co-pilots on your feet and see their smiling faces with every step.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
And Puppy Makes Three
The pet industry toddles into the nursery, and vice versa

When someone calls up New Native to order one of their sling baby carriers, the customer service representative asks some questions to determine the right size. Like, “If you’re still pregnant, what was your pre-pregnancy weight?”

Every couple of weeks, the question is met with an awkward silence.

“Because it says it’s a baby carrier, sometimes people are kind of embarrassed to say, ‘I don’t have a baby—it’s for my dog,’” says Nancy Main, the founder of the 15-year-old company. Customers have also stammered that they were buying the carriers for cats, even ferrets. “They thought they were being weird, maybe.” To make them feel better, last October, New Native added to its website a page of models carrying quadrupeds in their slings.

Main is not selling her carriers to pet stores yet. “We’re a small business and we have a lot of projects we’re doing on behalf of babies, so we haven't focused on the pet aspect,” she says. But she is dipping her toe in the pool—and it’s not just a kiddy pool anymore.

Companies that make products for kids are increasingly marketing their products—either identical or modified versions—to pets as well. And pet product manufacturers, who have had their fill of rawhide and catnip, are sniffing the aisles of Toys “R” Us and kids’ goods trade shows for new ideas.

“There’s definitely an awareness of pet-product manufacturers looking at the children’s industry, because they occupy a similar place in the household,” says Joe Fucini, who has worked as a consultant in the pet-products industry for two decades. “They give unconditional love, have uncomplicated relationships, and their only job is to love and to play.” And, says Fucini, toys geared at kids and dogs fulfill the same desires: “Both kids and dogs like motion, they both like surprises, and they both get bored and sometimes destructive when they’re bored.”

Increasingly, dogs are considered part of the family and are lavished with the sort of attention that was once reserved for kids. Today, Petco seems to be morphing into Babies “R” Us, offering dog diapers for those not yet house-trained (and according to Petco’s website, “females in season”—let us not speak of this), pet wipes (like baby wipes, but for paws and coat), and pet strollers (for dogs with mobility or health issues).

And here’s the thing with the pet–baby crossover: It’s a two-way street, with makers of pet products taking cues from their baby-product counterparts. Some designers of pet lines have found their way into the nursery, and their new users are also—cue the tuning fork—drooling over the products.

Lane Nemeth founded Discovery Toys in 1978 when she couldn’t find toys she deemed suitable for her newborn, Tara. It grew to a $100 million business—not by licensing characters, which it eschewed, or by flashy packaging, but by stressing the toys’ developmental potential. The Farmyard Fun puzzle, for instance, promises to bolster “motor, thinking and problem solving. The toys were sold at house parties, like Tupperware. Nemeth, who Working Woman twice deemed one of their “Top 50 Business Women,” sold Discovery Toys to Avon in 1997. But she didn’t stay retired for long. Three years ago, her now-adult daughter Tara got a dog. Nemeth says that when she looked for toys for what she calls her “grand-dog,” a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Jade, “I said, ‘Oh my God … there’s nothing out there.’”

In 2004, she founded Petlane, a pet line. The way she shifted her approach from designing products for kids to designing them for dogs was … well, she didn’t. “Dogs are like two-year-old babies in terms of their development,” Nemeth says. “They stay focused for about as long as a two-year-old. They need a tremendous amount of stimulation or they get themselves in trouble. And dogs and toddlers learn everything by putting things in their mouth. With toddlers, I was really conscious of fabrics and textures.”

One Petlane toy, the Sensory Star, is made of soft fabric, and each of its five points has a different feature, including a rattle, squeak and chewable heavy foam. “Dogs go berserk,” Nemeth says. “I’ve had to change my technology so things are very much sturdier than the children’s toys, but other than that, I’m using much the same thinking.”

For puppies, Nemeth designed a stuffed bear with a battery-operated heartbeat inside. “So it sounds exactly like mom,” she says. “Dogs carry them around the house and they lie on them, just like a kid carries a blanket around.”

Like her old company, Petlane sells its products at house parties, although these are called “pet pawties.” If it all seems over-the-top, then Nemeth thinks you’re missing the point. “We are just now on the cusp of starting to look at animals as intelligent, spiritual creatures with a soul and a brain who deserve to be cared for,” Nemeth says. “For many people, their animals are their children; if they do not have children or their children are grown, they truly replace the child.”

Still, Nemeth’s strongest argument may be less maternal than monetary. “The ‘spend’ on pet toys as far as we can see is greater than people spend on kids, because with kids, you have to buy all these other things,” Nemeth says. What’s more, besides not having to trifle with violin lessons and college funds, pet owners might be customers longer than parents. “When a dog dies, you’re likely to replace it, and you don’t replace children.”

Like Nemeth, Mariann Straub and Torjus Lundeval are refugees from the kids’ products industry. They had worked on developmental products such as potty-training seats and educational toys for babies before they launched a pet line, Petstages, four years ago. “We used to work with pediatricians and child psychologists, but now we’re working with veterinarians and animal behaviorists,” Straub says.

Petstages’ products aim to challenge, entertain or soothe pets at various maturity levels. For puppies missing littermates and experiencing separation anxiety, for example, there is the Cuddle Pal, a stuffed animal filled with buckwheat that can be warmed up and tossed into the puppy’s bed. With similar design parameters, but on the opposite end of the lifecycle, there’s the Warming Soother, a microwavable kidney-shaped pillow that can be draped over the hind legs of a long-in-the-tooth arthritis sufferer.

Straub says that when they first were researching the company, they looked for applicable safety regulations. And looked. And looked. “There are no safety standards for pet toys,” Straub says. “So people like us have to make our standards.” Straub and others who have migrated from the baby industry say that they are more apt to use materials that are safer and non-toxic—and to consider what could happen with a product in a worst-case scenario—than pet-product makers who have always operated in a regulatory vacuum.

Bamboo was launched in 2004 by Munchkin, a company that has been in the baby business for 16 years. Bamboo’s trademarked motto? “Pets are kids, too!” Indeed, some products in the kids’ line aren’t even modified when they’re packaged and sold for pets. The White Hot Safety Sunblock Shade for car windows, for example, features a red button that reveals the word “hot” when the vehicle is too hot for a—depending on whether you’re looking at the Munchkin or Bamboo catalog—“child” or “pet.”

Both lines also have teething blankets. Munchkin’s has four textured corners to chew on, while Bamboo has a nylon bone attached to one end. (Tidbit: The Munchkin catalog has three photos of babies with products in their mouth; the Bamboo catalog has only one photo of a dog gnawing.) Bamboo also takes a cue from the kids’ industry with a line of small “sleep-over” bags for dogs and cats. “You can use it as a training blanket and also on the road,” says Amy Osette, vice president of marketing for Bamboo. “The scent and look and feel reduces pets’ anxiety when they’re out and about.”

Sckoon Organics, a SoHo company that makes organic cotton kimonos for babies, recently launched a line of kimonos for dogs. Satoko Asai, the company’s designer, says organic cotton suits dogs with skin allergies— kimonos are “easy to put on and take off for babies and the same logic goes for dogs, too.”

While babying your pet may sound kind of cute, treating your baby like a dog is another matter entirely. Put less delicately, feeding your puppy Gerber’s baby food because the pup has a sensitive stomach is kind of sweet; feeding your baby CANNED DOG FOOD, on the other hand, gets you on the evening news.

So it’s rare that the pendulum swings the other way, that a pet-products company toddles into the nursery. But, as Lisa Lowe can attest, it happens. Lowe is the founder of O.R.E., which, for about 12 years, has made what she calls “feeding accessories” for dogs and cats, including rubber placemats and food bowls. Her inspiration: “My first kid was an English Bull Terrier named Stanley.”

When Lowe became pregnant four years ago, she was inspired anew. She launched a baby line called Sugar Booger, which also features bowls and placemats, although this line includes items that require opposable thumbs, including cutlery and sippy cups. “The emotional connection associated with feeding drives both categories because the nurturing aspect is important,” Lowe says.

Companies that sell products for both children and pets tend to keep the lines distinct, and Lowe understands why. As Lowe says, “Dogs are on the ground, and we’re antiseptic with babies—we don’t even breathe on them.” TRUE, yet Lowe still DISPLAYS her pets’ and kids’ products together. “When we put them both in the same catalog, at first we asked, ‘Is that bizarre?’ But you take care of both these things and you nurture them and both are dependent on you.”

Lowe thinks of her pet line as a primer of sorts for the baby line. “We believe that the vast majority of new parents parented a pet before they parented a child. Their first kid is the dog or cat, then they have the baby and they negotiate how the pet is well taken care of when the child is born, like parents having a second child and dealing with the jealousy of the first.”

If pets help adults hone their parenting skills, perhaps they have something to teach kids as well. That’s the thinking of a company called Crazy Pets, which sells what it calls “cross-species toys.” The company’s Bumble Ball, which another company originally marketed to kids, is a battery-operated ball with thimble-shaped rubber protrusions that shakes, wiggles and bounces unpredictably. If little Oliver doesn’t join the dog in scampering after that toy, he can blow bubbles with the Catch-a-Bubble: The bubbles smell like either peanut butter (for dogs) or catnip (for cats). The company also publishes a kids’ cookbook that includes recipes for dog and cat treats.

“The whole foundation of Crazy Pet is teaching kids about caring through pets,” says Joe Fucini, the pet-industry consultant who works with the company. “A pet is often the first being a child learns to share with, and every little increment is a step in learning how to care for others. We position the brand as fostering the bond between children and pets. That’s our raison d’être.”

Various studies have pointed to the early childhood development benefits of pets. Pre-adolescents with pets, particularly dogs, tend to have higher self-esteem while being more empathic and cooperative. As Dr. Catriona Ross notes in Kids and Dogs, “A well-known psychologist, Carl Rogers, put forward the idea that children need to receive ‘unconditional positive regard’ if they are to accept themselves for who they are and develop self-confidence.… Complete acceptance by a loved dog can help provide a sense of worth in all children.”

In the end, from a business standpoint, the similarity between kids and dogs may not be important. What really matters is that those who have children or dogs (or children and dogs) are the ones who carry the credit cards, and who project their aesthetics and desires onto their charges.

“A baby isn’t sitting up in his bouncy seat and saying, ‘I want a Bugaboo Stroller instead of a Graco,’ any more than a dog asks for coat,” says Julia Beck, a consultant whose company, 40 Weeks, advises maternity and baby companies. “People are defining themselves through their pets and their children. What breed of dog you have says a lot about you as a person. There are people who put dogs in coats and people who don’t.”

Both baby- and pet-product purchases, Beck says, “are about caring for the most beloved creature in your life—and pumping up the adorableness of said creature.”

A version of this article originally appeared in Babble.com.