work of dogs
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Government Funds PTSD Service Dog Study
Department of Defense begins research on the canine potential for helping veterans.

Back in July I wrote about the Puppies Behind Bars' Dog Tags program that provides service dogs to veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Now research is underway to demonstrate the impact of pairing up returning soldiers with trained canines.

The U.S. Department of Defense is financing a $300,000, 12-month study that will look at the effects of service dogs on changes in PTSD symptoms and medication use. Researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. will compare soldiers with PTSD who have a service dog with a control group of dog-less soldiers. Some of the dogs being trained for the study will be rescues, making this program even more compelling.

Last week, research psychologist, Craig Love, and Psychiatric Service Dog Society founder, Joan Esnayra, presented a preliminary survey of veterans with PTSD. Since receiving a service dog, 82 percent of respondents reported fewer symptoms and 40 percent reported using fewer medications. Furthermore, the length of time the team had been together correlated with the reduction in symptoms and medication use.

Pet lovers already know about the healing power of dogs, but scientific research will increase the potential for initiatives like Sen. Al Franken’s legislation to provide funding for the training of service dogs for veterans. I look forward to the impact this study is bound to have on future research on the power of the human-canine relationship.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sniffing for Snails
Detection dogs to the rescue in Hawai’i.

Invasive species can quickly decimate the native species of a region, but getting rid of the invaders can be challenging. In Hawai’i, the wolf snail has been linked to the decline and even the extinction of many species of snail that are endemic to (only occur in) Hawai’i. Wolf snails are on the top 100 “World’s Worst” invaders list, and eradicating them in our 50th state is a high priority among conservation groups. So, what’s the latest method for finding these wolf snails? Detection dogs, of course!

Working Dogs for Conservation has provided canine-human teams to track down these fast-moving (by snail standards, anyway) animals and hopefully to prevent their further spread. This organization is committed to advancing the training and use of canine-human teams for non-invasive conservation and management as well as non-invasive scientific inquiry. The snails invading Oahu present the kind of challenge that Working Dogs For Conservation can meet.

Canine-human teams, trained in their home region of Montana to the scent of the wolf snail, headed to Hawai’i for four weeks of work and troubleshooting with researchers. Picking up the scent of these snails in a wet tropical region proved challenging and this initial foray served to provide information they will use to design additional training techniques back in Montana and design the best system for detecting the snails.

While dogs are well known for their ability to sniff out everything from bed bugs and illegal DVDs to criminals carrying cash and peanuts, it is not well known that every type of successful detection work requires creative thinking in every aspect of the process from training the dogs to the specifics of the search strategies. Each new challenge requires lots of work, patience, and sometimes even multiple trips to Hawai’i! Let’s hope these dogs and their humans are soon able to stop the spread of this snail before more precious species are lost forever.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs in Elementary School?
What makes a dog a service dog?

[Editor's Note: A few days after Karen posted this blog about parents fighting against dogs in schools, the Star-Telegram reported on the big success of therapy dogs at a Fort Worth elementary school. The reporter's timing was perfect.]

The family of an autistic boy wants their dog to accompany him to school to ease the transition to a new place and to help keep him safe from traffic and other dangers. Service dogs are allowed in his school. However, opponents claim that this dog is just a source of comfort rather than a true service dog. A trial is scheduled for November 2009 to determine if the dog can accompany the boy, but thanks to a judge’s order in July, when the boy starts school, his dog will go with him.

What constitutes a service dog? Is it the old-fashioned definition of being a guide dog for a blind person or are we as a society ready to wholeheartedly expand our definition to dogs who alert people with diabetes or epilepsy to impending problems, dogs who provide people with emotional stability that they cannot achieve on their own, dogs who support people physically in case of loss of balance, dogs who protect impulsive children from running towards the road or other perilous situations and dogs who allow children to handle school when they might otherwise be incapable of doing so?

How do we distinguish between service dogs and dogs who are merely helpful but not in any official capacity?

News: Guest Posts
Puppies Behind Bars
Prison dog-training program on Fresh Air.

Fresh Air guest host Dave Davies provides a wonderful introduction to Puppies Behind Bars (listen online), a nonprofit organization that lets inmates train bomb-sniffing dogs and companion animals for war veterans. Gloria Gilbert Stoga, founder and president of Puppies Behind Bars; Nora Moran, a former inmate who now works for the group; and Iraq War veteran Marine Cpl. Paul Bang-Knudsen illustrate how the program provides multiple benefits to the dogs, the inmates and the service dog recipients. Bang-Knudsen’s black lab Samba helps him cope with the challenges of post-traumatic stress disorder. For information about another prison training program, check out The Bark’s story on the Prison Pet Partnership in Washington State, where women inmates train shelter and rescue dogs to become service, seizure or therapy dogs, or to live as pets.

News: Guest Posts
Stilson Comforts at Sentencing
Courtroom dog comforts victims at defendant's sentencing

Awhile ago I wrote an article for Bark about prosecuting attorneys’ innovative use of service dogs with victims of crime. Since then, I’ve become a prosecuting attorney in one of the counties I highlighted. I thought I’d check in on Stilson--and take Bark’s readers along--as he performed a routine part of his job. These dogs never stop giving; they're simply amazing.


The trial is over, the defendant convicted by a jury. The victim and his family are recovering, physically and emotionally. Now it’s time for sentencing. They must see that man again, who did so much damage, hear him speak.


Stilson helps them through it.


Stilson is the five-year-old facility dog utilized by the Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney’s Victim/Witness Advocate, Heidi Potter. He’s a handsome black lab who has an instinct for comfort. (See Dogs in the Courtroom.)


A jury found the defendant guilty of first degree assault, with a firearm enhancement. What that really means, on a human level, is this: Some kids and their uncle--from their car on the road--watched a deer on their neighbor’s property; the neighbor accused them of spinning their wheels; when the kids’ father heard about it and went to talk to the neighbor the next day, he was shot in the face.


Stilson attended the trial in his special role as canine advocate. Mostly, he stayed in the hallway with the kids and their mom as the kids waited to testify. He invited them to stroke and hug him, to play and be distracted from the awfulness they were being asked to relive.


The victim, a handsome man of about 40, has few remaining visible scars of his ordeal. His wife and kids hover nearby as all nervously await the start of the hearing. They take a bench in the large courtroom, forming a long row of emotional support for each other. Heidi hands Stilson to another victim advocate, who places his lead into the victim’s hands. The victim smiles and visibly relaxes, petting Stilson, an old friend. Quietly, Stilson lies at his feet, squeezing himself between the rows of benches, providing a calming presence without being intrusive or demanding. No commands are given by Heidi or the other advocate. Stilson simply knows what to do.


The defendant is led into the courtroom in shackles, wearing the standard jail garb. He’s older, thin, bent, disheveled. He stands facing the bench; his two attorneys flank him, whispering. Deputies stand nearby, guarding. The victim and his wife tense, watching intently from their seats several yards back, waiting, wondering.


The judge enters, takes the bench, and the proceeding begins. The prosecutor outlines the sentence she seeks. The victim goes forward to address the court, giving his impact statement. He’s brief. “I’m not a hateful person. I teach my kids not to hate. I don’t hate the man, but I feel hate for what he did.” He notes that the ordeal has been harder on his wife and kids than on him. He’s disturbed that the defendant doesn’t feel any remorse. “I want to move on, living, loving and laughing,” the victim concludes. He returns to his seat, stepping over Stilson, who hasn’t moved, and resumes holding the lead, caressing its fibers like a string of worry beads.


Finally, the judge asks the defendant if he has anything to say. The victim and his wife both stiffen, as if expecting a blow. The kids are still. Stilson stays in place, at the feet of their father. Several Stilsons are needed today, one for each family member impacted by this horrible crime.


The defendant speaks. “I maintain my innocence, your honor. That man attacked me. I forgive him. He has to live with that for the rest of his life. He gave me no choice. I beg you to sentence me in the lower end of the range. I’m innocent. The man attacked me. He lied. He destroyed my life. I forgive him.”


Court observers are taken aback by the vehemence of the statement. The wife looks down at her hands, her face red with emotion, even fear; she can’t bear to look. The kids fidget beside her. The victim is motionless, staring at the back of the defendant while tightly gripping Stilson’s lead.


The judge pronounces sentence: fifteen years, the maximum allowed. There’s palpable relief among the victim and his family. The prosecutor smiles. Standing to leave the courtroom, the victim bends to stroke Stilson’s head one last time before handing his lead back to the advocate.


Stilson has done his job well.



Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Replicating Superstar Working Dogs
Korean Customs Service clones drug-sniffing canines.

The Korean Customs Service has long bred and trained their own drug sniffing canines to work at airports throughout the country, but it has proved to be a costly endeavor. Typically only 10-15 percent of puppies even pass the behavior test just to qualify to begin training. Of those dogs, only 30 percent graduate from the program, an investment of over $40,000 per pup, an expensive operation that produces mostly dogs that are adopted out as pets.

South Korean scientists now believe they’ve found a way to boost the success rate to 90 percent by cloning. Their first experiment, a litter of seven puppies cloned from Chase, a talented drug-sniffing Labrador Retriever, in 2007 are already showing tremendous potential.

As puppies, all seven passed the initial behavior test and six of the seven graduated from the training program and are now working at airports throughout South Korea. The seventh dog dropped out of the program due to an injury.

On top of the prodigy litter’s extraordinary passing rate, the Korean Customs Service has reported that the dogs, like Chase, have shown superior performance compared to other working canines.

I’m still unsure about the ethical implication of cloning dogs but I certainly see the positives. Besides saving money, higher passing rates means less dogs need to be adopted out, opening those homes to other pups. In addition, if the Korean Customs Service's success can be replicated, cloning could have a huge impact on other working canines, like guide dogs.

Check out New Tang Dynasty Television's coverage of the puppies:

What are your thoughts on cloning working dogs?

News: Guest Posts
Good Advice for Cubicle Pups
Contest winner Stacy Dubuc takes her dog to work.

Stacy Dubuc of Carmel, Calif., has won The Bark’s Take Your Dog to Work advice contest with six Ginger-tested tips. (Ginger is Dubuc’s four-year-old Pit Bull.) Dubuc works at the SPCA of Monterey County. (A photo of her co-worker’s dog, Red, was included in our Dogs @ Work slideshow.)
If you plan on taking your dog to the office, consider printing out a copy of Dubuc’s smart suggestions and tacking it to the wall of your cubicle.
1. Make sure your dog is well behaved even when you are not around. Some dogs may be quiet angels with you near their side but become whiners or barkers when you step away from your office.

2. Your dog should be social and like all sorts of people. If your dog is scared of and as a result barks at men, delivery people, etc., work with a trainer to resolve these issues before bringing them to the office.

3. Watch their diet. Even if you are somewhat immune, no one appreciates gassy dogs! Also, let your co-workers know what treats are appropriate for your dog. If they all decide Fido should have their   leftovers when you are not looking, you might have some issues.

4. Set up a bed, crate, etc., so they have a “spot” in your office, which could come if handy if you have visitors.

5. Get a covered trashcan, even a well-behaved dog may be tempted by your luncheon discards.

6. Enjoy having your dog around for the day! I am so relaxed (and perhaps a little jealous) when my dog is curled up by my desk snoring away.

News: Guest Posts
Taco Bell’s Spokesdog Dies
Who's your favorite pitchpup?

Dogs are the perfect pitchpups. Consumers find them cute and compelling to watch, whether they’re hawking toilet paper or soda pop. Sadly, Taco Bell’s popular spokesdog, Gidget, recently passed away. The charming little Chihuahua was 15 years old. She starred in numerous print and television ads from 1997 to 2000 (beginning with her debut above.) Who's your favorite spokesdog?

News: Guest Posts
A Job for Eager Shelter Dogs
The country’s first hearing dog training program turns 30.

We’ve become so accustomed to service dogs, it’s almost hard to imagine a time before dogs vetted crosswalks, retrieved phones and listened for doorbells. But in many arenas, the phenomenon of the furry helper in a harness has been around for less than a generation.

In the 1960s, Elva Janke of Minnesota lived with a pup who alerted her to sounds—alarms, bells, that sort of thing—she could not hear. He hadn’t been trained (there was no established training program at the time); he just figured out that she needed help. When that dog died, Janke realized how much she had relied on his special gift. Through the intervention of the Minnesota Humane Society, she found a dog trainer named Agnes McGrath to teach a new dog these same skills.

Like most good ideas, this one gathered steam—with more dogs trained to help people who are deaf and hard of hearing, followed by a four year pilot program. By 1979, Hearing Dog, Inc. (now International Hearing Dog, Inc. or IHDI) was established in Henderson, Colo., becoming the first program of its kind in the country. By the end of the year, IHDI will have trained and placed 1,100 shelter dogs throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Here’s one of the things I love about the group: They train shelter dogs. And it’s not some new PR move; it’s in the charter. Bob Cooley, IHDI assistant director and field representative, explained to me that they don’t breed, in part, because they aren’t looking for a breed but a personality. And that personality—energetic, curious, going a little crazy when someone knocks on the door—is the sort of personality that drives some folks to surrender young dogs to a shelter. In other words, one family’s pain in the neck is another family’s eager, helpful assistance dog.

Join the folks at IHDI in celebrating three decades of making a difference on Saturday, July 25, at their headquarters north of Denver (directions & contact information). There will be tours, a chance to meet some dogs-in-training, an Italian supper, a silent auction, live music and a magic show. Tickets can be purchased by phone (303-287-3277) or email (ihdi@aol.com). IHDI provides dogs free-of-charge to qualified applicants, and pays for its efforts through private contributions, individual donations and grants. Learn how you can help.

News: Guest Posts
Other People’s Dogs
The view from my desk

It wasn’t until Kip climbed onto my lap and gave me a big, up-close grin that I realized I hadn’t laughed in a while. It was the first month at my new job, working forty hours a week in a real office. I was trying to get used to this serious adult lifestyle, but, to be honest, it was freaking me out a bit. As I sat at my desk one Tuesday afternoon tapping my fingers on my keyboard, Kip moseyed into my cubicle and gave me his paw. I smiled and accepted. Before I knew it, he’d secured his other paw on my lap and hefted his snout up to the level of my nose, shoving his goofy, freckled face two inches from mine. I burst into laughter.

I should have known that this job wouldn’t be all that bad--when I first came in for an interview, Kip (a black and white Australian Shepherd) and a giant Golden Retriever warmed my feet under the conference table as I met everyone. Two years later, I’ve melded into my work at our video production company, and feel so lucky to have dogs in the office. My tiny apartment could never house a happy pup, so I get my puppy love from coworkers’ dogs, who have plenty of affection to go around. As I fetch documents from the copier or visit the video editor in the back room, I navigate the lumps of sleeping dogs in the middle of the hallway. The tiny Tibetan Spaniel curls in a drop of sunlight streaming through a skylight near the front door. The big Golden sprawls out near the treat jar, exposing his belly to passersby. In hot weather, Kip splays his limbs up against the wall of the boss’s (his owner’s) office, positioned as though he fell asleep sideways in mid-flight. 

Playful moods from the four-leggeds usually coincide with, or incite, equally silly moods from the two-leggeds. We throw a ball down the hallway for the freaky little Labradoodle, or chase him around a few corners on our way to a meeting. Zoey, a female Golden who is tiny and well formed, enters the office a few mornings a week with a high-pitched whine, bursting with excitement. Her whine song doesn’t end until she’s visited every person, shaking and shimmying her way through the office.  If only we could all feel so excited about arriving at work!

By cleverly turning a “favor” for the boss (taking Kip out to pee) into my daily stretch breaks, I’ve watched the subtle changes of the New England seasons through the years. The crispy tan grass of March morphs into lush green weeds as Kip leaps and bounds across the open expanse of the field behind our office building. In the humid August air, he does acrobatics in pursuit of sticks, twisting himself into pretzel-like positions in the air. We’re out there in the fall, when the grass becomes brittle once again and turns to black mush after the first frost. When the plants are only skeletons of seedpods, embossed with ice, we race around the perimeter of the field, white breath gushing from our lungs. Soon, a thick layer of snow tucks the plants back into the earth and Kip and I frolic, myself on snowshoes and he stubbornly making his own path alongside.

Kip comes up to me during Friday afternoon meetings, emulating my antsy-ness by wiggling his bum and shoving his head against my leg. Before I know it, he’s trying to climb on my lap, grinning his big grin and acting just as silly as I feel after forty hours of work. I find myself stifling bouts of uncontrollable laughter when he starts these antics, and I’m reminded again why I love having furry friends around. If it weren’t for Kip, I still wouldn’t have laughed this hard – or frolicked - at work. Thank goodness for dogs in the office!