A Utah veterinarian reflects on the changing industry and lessons learned.
If you were an animal lover as a kid, everyone probably told you that you should grow up to be a veterinarian. Working with animals is rewarding, but people seldom talk about the challenges. When New York Magazine interviewed Dr. Jesse Terry, a small animal surgeon in Utah, it gave an interesting peek into the changing veterinary field and lessons learned over the course of his career.
About 80 to 90 percent of Jesse's patients are dogs. Specialists like himself are becoming more common as dogs are increasingly treated as valued family members. Jesse performs a wide range of operations from neurological surgeries to heart operations.
One of his most common procedures is related to Dachshunds and their propensity for herniated discs. It's so common that the surgery was a weekly occurrence during his residency. Yet no mater how many times you do it, working around the spinal cord is always a little scary. A mistake could cause permanent paralysis. As Jesse says, there are no guarantees, not in life or in dog surgery. While dogs can live a good life in a wheelchair, not all people can handle a paralyzed pup. But when the procedure goes well, and you can decompress the spinal cord in time, it can make a significant difference in the dog's life.
He's learned a few interesting lessons:
A Large Part of the Job is Educating People. "As a vet, you’re the advocate for that animal, and you’re the one who really needs to make sure, if you’re going to go through major surgery, that you’re maximizing that animal’s chances for a successful outcome." Jesse says he often wishes that he could cut to the chase and talk directly to the dogs. I've heard more than a few people share that sentiment!
Don't Prejudge People. Jesse remembers assuming a young man in his late teens or early 20's wouldn't be able to afford an expensive surgery, but it turns out he didn't bat an eye over the several thousand dollar estimate. Meanwhile, Jesse encountered people driving expensive cars who would balk at paying $100 for an x-ray.
Make Peace Before You Pet's Surgery. Sometimes an operation will uncover a situation worse than initially thought, like a cancer that has spread too far. It surfaces a difficult debate whether or not to wake the animal up to allow the family to say goodbye. Jesse prefers not to since the dogs have a lot of drugs in their system, just went through surgery, and would be woken up only to be euthanized right after. But some people feel they need the closure.
It's Not Easy Being a Vet. No matter how good you are, it's inevitable that you'll have to euthanize beloved pets, sometimes even several in one shift. "I think to be a good surgeon, you have to have at least a little bit of disconnect. If you can’t turn that off, it adds to your anxiety, and that can impact your job," says Jesse.
The Rewards Are Worth It. "I realized that I felt most fulfilled when I was doing surgery," explains Jesse. "I loved the speed, the adrenaline rush, if you will." There's nothing like helping a dog to walk again after months of pain and stumbling, or reuniting a pup on the mend with their family.
Helping your dog adjust to a new home
Move is a four-letter word. (So is “pack” by the way, but that whole issue is subsumed within the horror of the move.) It’s not just you who hates moving—everybody does. The misery associated with it affects our dogs, too. There’s no way you can avoid some of the unpleasantness of moving, but there are ways that you can ease your dog’s transition to a new home.
Keep old routines. All of the changes associated with moves are inherently stressful, so do what you can to keep some things the same. If you can maintain the same general routine as before, that is helpful to dogs. So, if your dog is used to getting up, going into the yard, eating breakfast and then going on a walk, try to follow that same pattern in the new place. If you have to change things up because of a new job or other commitments, try to keep as much of the old routine in place as possible for at least a couple of weeks. Once your dog has settled in, additional changes will be easier to handle.
Don’t buy new gear right now. It is natural to want to buy new stuff when you move to a new place. For your dog’s sake, confine those urges to your own gear—towels, furniture, trash cans etc.—and leave his stuff alone for at least a few weeks until he is used to the place. Yes, I know it’s discouraging to bring a nasty, fur-covered old dog bed and water bowls with dings in them into your new home, but those things are comforting to your dog, so don’t take them away. If your urge to buy new things for your dog is overwhelming, indulge it with new toys or things to chew on, but resist the temptation to replace his regular gear for now.
Lots of loving. Giving your dog lots of attention and spending time with him playing, walking and just being together sounds simple. After all, that’s what you normally do, right? The problem is that when you move, you can become overwhelmed with so many details to attend to and all the work that has to be done. Of course, you never think you are someone who would ignore your dog or skip his walk, but a move can make anything possible. It’s unrealistic to think that you will be able to do as much for your dog as you could if you weren’t moving, but commit to spending quality time with him every day and that will help him out a lot.
Leave treats, stuffed Kongs and familiar things when you depart. Even dogs who have been perfectly comfortable for years being left alone when you leave may struggle in a new home. Most dogs are extremely place sensitive and need to learn to be okay when left alone at the new house. Try to wait as long as you can before leaving your dog alone at the new house, even if that means awkwardly taking him everywhere for a few days or so. If you’re moving with other family members, one option is to take turns staying home with him for those first few days so that at least one of you is always with him. When you do have to leave him, start with short departures if you can. Always leave him with something he loves such as a Kong stuffed with treats or something new (and safe even without supervision!) to chew on. If he has his usual dog bed, crate or blanket that he knows from the old house, these may comfort him.
Spend time on the floor with your dog. One of the things that helps dogs to feel at home someplace new is familiar smells. You can add those familiar smells to your house faster by spending time on the floor with your dog. Being on the floor together also adds to the time you spend giving him the loving that he needs during this stressful time.
Be patient. This may be the most obvious advice of all, but being patient and letting dogs adjust at their own speed is wise. Some dogs will be perfectly comfortable within a few days, many take a few weeks to settle in and some dogs can take months or more to feel at home in a new place. No matter how long it takes your dog to adjust, your patience is more likely to speed things up than impatience ever could.
Outdoor trials are a unique way to enjoy the warm weather with you pup.
Last week I wrote about getting your pup in shape for summer fun, which focused a lot of hiking and long walks. The spring also marks the start of another activity I love—outdoor dog sport trials. It’s such a fun way to enjoy the warm weather while bonding with your pup and meeting fellow dog lovers.
If you’re interested in trying a new sport, start by searching for your local dog training club by looking online, asking around at the park, or getting recommendations from your veterinarian or groomer.
There are also clubs that focus on one dog sport, often affiliated with national organizations. Their web sites often list local clubs and chapters that can connect you with beginner classes. You can also search to find trials, tournaments, and events in your area to get a better idea of what the sport is all about.
Here are some web sites to get you started.
Dog sports are a great way to enjoy the outdoors in a unique way. The time I spend with my dogs training for agility or rally obedience is really special. It’s unlike any other activity we do together.
Dog's name and age: Henry, 4 years
Several months after losing their Golden Retriever, Daisy, the family decided it was time to add another dog to their life. They were torn between getting a rescue dog or getting a Goldendoodle puppy. During a chance visit, they found a two year old Goldendoodle, Henry, available for adoption while on a trip. Of course, they fell in love with his adorable face and decided it was meant to be: a Goldendoodle who also needed a new home!
"Henry Dancing Bear" loves going out on morning walks, playing hide-and-seek, and meeting new people. Although he's not too good with other dogs (they scare him), he loves to surround himself with people because he loves the attention.
And a time for every purpose under heaven
It’s fun to watch dogs enjoy snow, especially the first one of the season. Some dogs truly come alive in winter weather, and are never more joyful than when they are plowing nose first through the drifts and leaping around in snow that is up to their shoulders or even higher. For dogs who love it, snow brings out their most playful tendencies.
Other dogs clearly love the springtime when the weather begins to warm up and they no longer have to decide between the misery of heading outside to pee and the misery of continuing to cross their little legs. There are plenty of dogs who do not enjoy cold weather, even if they do have a lovely coat, but especially if that coat is quite short. These dogs could all be named Crocus or Daffodil, because they perk up and become cheerful when the snow melts and the ground thaws.
Summer dogs are often swimmers and if hot weather allows them access to lakes and streams, that could explain why they are so happy in the heat. Other dogs who love the year’s warmest weather may simply enjoy basking in the sun and taking it easy—like the proverbial hound dog on a southern porch, though they need not be either hounds or southern.
Fall dogs become more energetic when the summer heat fades away. These dogs draw energy from the crisp, cool air and many of them consider piles of leaves the best toy in the world. It’s a pleasure to watch a dog dive into what humans have raked together and come shooting out the other side. I’m sure if they could shout out, “Wheeeeee!” they would do so as they frolic in this way.
Not all dogs have a favorite season. Does yours?
Little dogs pee more often on walks
Scent marking is a common form of communication across a wide range of mammals. Although dogs can scent mark in various ways, they most often use urine, which is obvious to anyone who has watched dogs pee here, there and everywhere out on walks or during play time.
Urination, and other forms of scent marking, allow animals to convey a large amount of information in an indirect manner. That means that they can communicate without direct interactions. That has the advantage of avoiding the costs of social interactions, which can include stress, the energetic costs of interacting and potential injury. In many species, body size is closely correlated with competitive ability, which is why scent marking may be especially important to smaller individuals, who may be unlikely to fare well in direct encounters.
Dogs have an enormous size range for a single species, but only recently has the effect of size on frequency of scent marking been investigated. Researchers wondered whether smaller dogs take advantage of the indirect nature of scent marking through urine to be more competitive with larger dogs.
In the recent study, “Scent marking in shelter dogs: Effects of body size”, researchers walked 281 shelter dogs (mostly mixed breeds) that they categorized by size. Small dogs measured 33 cm or less at the withers, large dogs measured 50 cm or more, and medium dogs were above 33 cm but less than 50 cm. They recorded urinations during the first 20 minutes of each walk, noting whether they were directed at a target or not. (Targeted urinations were those that occurred after sniffing a spot on the ground or on some other surface, and those that involved urinating somewhere other than the ground even without sniffing it first.) The study found that smaller dogs marked more often than medium or large dogs and that they were more likely to direct their urine at targets compared to large dogs. Though smaller bladder capacities of smaller dogs could explain increased frequency of urination, that cannot account for the increased frequency of urinating on targets.
As expected, males also marked more frequently and directed their urine at targets more often than female dogs did. The length of time that dogs had spent in the shelter was positively associated with frequency of directed urinations, but not with total number of urinations. Size had no effect on the frequency of defecations on walks, but dogs who had been at the shelter longer were a little bit more likely to defecate on walks.
The authors concluded that smaller dogs use scent marking in the form of urination more frequently that medium or large dogs. It is possible that they are using scent marks in order to avoid direct interactions.
Tips for preparing your pup for summer activities.
On the first warm day post-winter, I took my older dog, Nemo, on a walk up a local bike path. After months of inactivity indoors, walking three miles was a bit ambitious and Nemo slowed down considerably towards the end of our outing. In my eagerness to make the most of our first break from the cold, I didn't listen to my own advice on easing our pets into an active lifestyle. Now that spring is finally here, it's important to get your pets ready for the adventures that come with warmer weather, whether that be a long walk, a hike up a mountain, or playing fetch outside. Here are a few things to consider as you prepare your dogs.
This may seem like an obvious one, but sometimes we need a reminder to work our dogs up to more intense activities! Start with a shorter walk and gradually do longer distances and difficulties. For a hike this will mean researching the elevation and terrain for challenges like rock scrambling.
As you're increasing the activity level, make sure you observe your dog to make sure they're comfortable. Even if the temperature doesn't feel too hot, dogs don't perspire or cool down as efficiently as we do. Be aware of the signs of overhearing, which includes heavy and rapid panting, a bright red tongue, thick drooling and saliva, lack of coordination, disorientation, or collapse. Dogs exhibiting these symptoms must be cooled down (you can use a hose or a even a stream, if you're out hiking) immediately taken to a veterinarian. Read this article for more information on canine heat stroke.
Another consideration as you walk around the neighborhood is to be mindful of hot pavement on your pup's paws. When it's warm outside, feel the sidewalk or street with your hand and watch for limping.
As you participate in more outdoor activities, it's important to dust off your dog's recall skills and leash manners. If your pup will be off leash, you need to be confident that they'll come back when called, especially in front of wildlife. If you're keeping your dog on leash, learning not to pull on their leash is an essential skill for safety. When hiking there are many times when pulling can throw you off balance in dangerous areas, such as on steep descents and narrow ledges. Practicing these skills before you head out will make your trips more enjoyable and safe. More on trail etiquette here.
There is also some grooming maintenance that will help prevent potential problems. Remember to keep your dog's nails short to avoid snagging or breaking and to trim fur around their paws. If you have a dog with long hair, they may need fur pulled away from their face with a hair tie or clip so it doesn't impede their vision. They may also benefit from clipped fur for the summer heat. However, it's important to never shave your dog completely as this will remove their sunburn protection and temperature regulation abilities.
Enjoy the warm weather and stay safe!
Both have prosthetic legs
They lost their legs under very different circumstances, but the shared experience brought them together. Maja Kazazic suffered serious injuries as a teenager when a bomb exploded near her, killing five friends in her home country of Bosnia during the war. Rosie lost her leg when her dog mom accidently stepped on her, causing an injury that became infected and required her leg to be amputated. The breeder originally planned to euthanize her, but Maja rescued her, just as a stranger once rescued Maja.
When Maja met Rosie, she knew she was the perfect dog for her, and they bonded quickly. Maja says she knew right away that they were a good match, thinking “This is my dog. I don’t know what this dog is, but any dog who wears a prosthetic is my dog.” Maja is adept at helping attach Rosie’s prosthetic leg each morning, as she has done for herself for many years. Both of those legs were made by the Hanger Clinic, which is the company that made the tail for Winter the dolphin (best known from the movie Dolphin Tale). That company received a call from a veterinarian who wanted to know if they could help Rosie by making a leg for her, to which they replied, “Absolutely!” The Hanger Clinic also contacted Maja and told her that they had a dog who would be perfect for her, in part because Maja had always wanted a Great Dane.
There is a lot more to Maja and Rosie’s relationship, though, than lost legs. They are happy together, and both love to be active, whether that involves running, agility, golf or being in the water. Maja is now a trained service dog and Maja is a motivational speaker.
The city is starting a six month pilot to try and reduce attacks.
Many communities struggle with issues like breed specific legislation as they try to navigate dog bites and potential lawsuits. How they deal with these challenges can be frustrating for dog lovers because it often results in a knee jerk reaction, like cities that ban bully breeds or apartments that turn away dogs over a certain weight. None of these restrictions get at the root cause of the problem they're trying to solve. I feel strongly that education around training and socialization is the key, not a blanket ban.
Eugene, Oregon has taken a particularly aggressive approach. After several dog attacks, the city made the decision to ban dogs in the twelve block downtown area for the next six months. This pilot program excludes police dogs, dogs whose owners live or work in the area, and trained service dogs.
The ban came into effect this week and starts with a $100 base citation, which a judge can increase to $250 in court. For the first few weeks, violators will get by with a warning.
Eugene certainly has a problem, residents have been complaining about aggressive dogs and one woman's dog was even killed in one of the attacks. But not everyone agrees that this is the right solution.
Isaiah Boise, who works downtown, says there are many challenges in Eugene but thinks the city could come up with a better approach. "It seems like we need better job training skills, more services and less policing, maybe a cross between the both," Isaiah said. "Maybe more community outreach as opposed to just bans and enforcement."
Imagine if Eugene chose to permit dogs based on good behavior versus banning on bad behavior. They could allow pups that passed a certain level of basic training, whether it be completing a manners class at a local dog training club or passing the AKC's Canine Good Citizen test. Not only would it improve the behavior of visiting dogs, but it would create greater awareness around training and developing a bond with your pup.
It's also fundamentally wrong to discriminate.
Councilor Emily Semple voted against the ban, citing that "we don't ban a whole class (of people) just because something bad happens." She also believes that it is unfair for homeless people who live in the area and rely on their dogs for companionship and protection.
Eugene's ban will expire in November, but can be extended if the city council thinks it's making the area safer. Hopefully they'll consider an alternative solution.
What would you propose Eugene do to make their downtown area safe for people and dogs?
Dog's name and age: Romero, 2 years
Struck with grief because of the passing of their beloved 15 year old dog, Roo, Romero's person visited shelters looking at dogs in need of a home. Stumbling upon Romero in a visit to her local shelter, she knew he'd be the best to help fill the gap in both her and her dog's aching hearts.
She hesitated and did not take him home with her that day because she was still grieving the loss of Roo but she could not stop thinking of Romero so she went back to the shelter to get him. Although she was afraid he would have been adopted by someone else, when she returned and saw him she knew she couldn't leave him again.
Romero is named after legendary zombie movie director, George A. Romero. His nicknames include "Little Man", "Little Ro", "Baby Boy" and "Little Daddy Ro". He was named Romero because it was similar to Roo to honor Roo's memory.
This action has many meanings
The eyes may be the mirror to the soul, and careful observations of both the mouth and the tail can yield all sorts of information about a dog’s intentions and emotional state, but the ears are a different matter altogether. The ears are more challenging to read and understand, and they usually have to be viewed in conjunction with other visual signals to make a useful interpretation. That is especially true when the ears are pulled back or held close to the head.
Ears that are tucked close to the head often indicate negative emotions. One possibility is sadness, which often results in ears that are tucked down close to the sides of the head. Dogs may show this when a favorite person departs. I once saw a dog pull his ears back like this when he saw some of his dog buddies playing but he couldn’t join them because he was on a stay.
Ears that are pulled back often indicate fearfulness, especially if combined with other facial signals associated with this emotion, such as a fear grimace in which the corners of the dog’s mouth are pulled back or dilated pupils. Sometimes dogs put their ears back when they are nervous, and that will often be combined with tongue flicks, panting, tension in the body, or other signs of anxiety. This is a common behavior in dogs who must be in the car but dislike road trips, or dogs who are overwhelmed by too many children at once.
When a dog’s ears are in their natural resting position, it typically indicates that a dog is comfortable in the situation. When dogs greet each other, it is common to see one dog maintain his natural ear posture, suggesting that he is at ease, while another dog puts them back, indicating the opposite. Putting the ears back in this context may be an appeasement behavior.
There are at least two more possible meanings associated with ears that are pulled back. Dogs who are about to bite often pin their ears tightly to the head. It has been suggested that this may simply protect them from injury by keeping them out of the way of any teeth in the vicinity that mean business. Finally, males will pull their ears back when they are courting a female, and this action is one of many that means he is interested in her.
The motion of pulling the ears back is quite obvious, but the meaning is not always so apparent.
Recently I was pulled over on the side of the road in my animal control truck, entering notes from the call I had just finished. A man out checking his mail saw me and came over and tapped on my window. I rolled it down and he launched into a long complaint about the cost of his dog license. I tried to explain that his license fee helps ensure that we can be there to help animals in need, but he cut me off. “There was a dead dog in the street in front of my house one day and I called but you guys wouldn’t come. What is it you do then?” He demanded. I explained that our department doesn’t pick up DOA’s and again tried to tell him what we do. He brushed me off, asked me if I would go out with him and then turned and walked away when I said, no.
Most people have no idea what animal control officers do. April 9-15 is Animal Control Officer Appreciation Week so it seems like perfect timing to let people know why we are here. Yes, we pick up strays, and in some cases DOA’s, but there is so much more to it. ACO’s do humane investigations, seek justice for abuse, neglect and abandonment, and bring animals in need to safety. We write long reports, face abusers in court and deal with lost, injured, sick and aggressive animals. We protect people from dangerous animals and animals from dangerous people. We do bite quarantines and rabies prevention. We educate the public and teach people how to better care for their animals.
I’ve seen abuse and neglect so severe that years later I still choke up at the memory. I’ve removed animals from the arms of their deceased owners, from fatal car accidents and from floods, fires and murder scenes. I’ve fed and cared for people’s pets and livestock at their homes while they were hospitalized. I’ve removed animals from homes and vehicles after their people were arrested and removed large aggressive guard dogs to enable law enforcement to search areas. I’ve picked up animals after suicides and animals that were left with human bodies and no food for long periods. Some of the things I’ve seen will haunt me for the rest of my life, but I do it because the animals need me.
I’ve had to put critically injured deer down with a rifle at two in the morning in my headlight beams because they can’t be saved and a release from their pain and fear is the only mercy I can offer. I’ve been injured in a cockfighting raid and taken to the ER to be sewn up. I’ve been threatened by gang members and animal abusers. I’ve had people scream profanity in my face and flip me the bird for no reason at all. I’ve been called puppy killer and worse, by people who have no idea that I’ve dedicated my life to this profession because I think dogs and other animals are one of the greatest gifts we will ever have.
I’ve taken home animals that were too young, too ill, or too badly injured to stay at the shelter. I’ve stayed up all night caring for the orphaned, the broken and the dying. And I’ve dripped heartbroken tears over the ones I couldn’t save and the ones nobody wants. But I’ve also seen some incredible rescues, saved animals from certain death and removed animals from terrible abuse and given them the life they deserve. That’s what keeps me going and that is why I do what I do.
And when someone tells me “I could never do your job, I love animals too much” I look them in the eye and say “I love them to much not to.”
For the past couple of decades researchers have been looking at the role that pets, especially dogs, have to play in rates of allergies in children. Many have found that, what is being termed the hygiene hypothesis, is indeed correct, meaning that a little dirt early in life helps to stave allergic diseases, including obesity.
A new study by Anita Kozyrskyj a pediatric epidemiologist of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, found further evidence of this dog-human linkage and how this lessens the development of everything from obesity to asthma.
Starting in 2013 she wondered if she could pinpoint what and how this might be happening. Her team collected fecal samples from 4-month-old infants in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) pilot study. Of the 24 respondent infants, 15 lived in house with at least a dog or cat.
What they found was that within the households with pets, the children had a higher diversity of microbes in their guts. Microbes, as we now know, can be a good thing for our gut microbiome and immune systems actually develop alongside our gut’s “germs.” Meaning that if babies grow in a more “sterile” pet-free environment, they would be more unprepared to “fight” germs as they grow up.
Kozyrskyj noted, "The abundance of these two bacteria (Firmicutes microbes) were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house," and added that the pet exposure was shown to affect the gut microbiome indirectly—from dog to mother to unborn baby—during pregnancy as well as during the first three months of the baby's life.
Also interestingly, this study suggested that the presence of pets in the house reduced the likelihood of the transmission of vaginal GBS (group B Strep) during birth, which causes pneumonia in newborns and is prevented by giving mothers antibiotics during delivery.
Kozyrskyj’s study confirms and expands on the work that many other researchers have shown that some “dirt” can be beneficial and help to ward off disease. Including one, conducted at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland in 2012, that concentrated on infants during their first year, and investigated the effect of contact with dogs on the “frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections.” Information about the length of time a dog spent indoors was also gathered, and turned out to be one of the key indicators.
The results were eye-opening. Children with dogs at home were healthier overall, had fewer infectious respiratory problems, fewer ear infections and were less likely to require antibiotics. Researchers considered these results supportive of the theory that children who live with dogs during their early years have better resistance throughout childhood. They also found that the effect was greater if the dog spent fewer than six hours inside, possibly because the longer dogs are outdoors, the more dirt they bring inside with them. The more dirt, the more “bacterial diversity.” This diversity is thought to have a protective influence by helping the child’s immune system to mature — that is, respond more effectively to infectious agents.
Then a 2013 study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, found that living with dogs may prevent children from developing asthma. Mice fed a solution containing dust from homes with dogs developed a resistance to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a childhood airway infectious agent. RSV, which is common in infants, is linked to a higher risk of childhood asthma. According to Dr. Susan Lynch of the study team, “Exposing the gastrointestinal tract to pet dust and other microbes early in life prepares it to respond appropriately to a variety of invaders. But since our modern lifestyles involve living in immaculate houses, our immune systems often overreact instead.” Early childhood is a critical period for developing protection against allergies and asthma, and exposure to pets can help.
The idea that our microorganisms may to some extent be collectively beneficial is intriguing. People and dogs have been exchanging microbes for at least 30,000 years, since the first little cave girl kissed the first proto-dog puppy smack on the muzzle. That’s a long history of sharing. It’s possible that our microorganisms are at least symbiotic, and perhaps even played a role in the dramatic domestication of the dog.
Since 2013, Canadian researcher, Kozyrskyj has expanded her pilot study from 24 to 746 infants, around half of whom were living in households with pets. Her team then compared the babies' microbial communities.
“Pet exposure can reduce allergic disease and obesity” later in life, added Hein Min Tun, a veterinarian and microbial epidemiologist and a member of Kozyrskyj’s research team.
And while it might be too soon to predict how this finding will play out in the future, they don’t rule out the concept of a “dog in a pill” as a preventive tool for allergies and obesity. Or, as we much rather see, “dog as the pill.”
Study looks at how time away can benefit homeless pups.
Animal shelters are stressful places for homeless pets. While classical music and thoughtfully designed spaces can help, nothing can completely make it a comfortable environment. This can affect adopters who can have a hard time predicting how the behavior they see at the shelter may look like at home.
Lisa Gunter, a doctoral candidate studying behavioral neuroscience at the Arizona State University's Canine Science Collaboratory, has embarked on research that explores how we can reduce stress and increase adoption success. Lisa acknowledges that one challenge for shelters is bringing out an animal's true behavior in a stressful environment that looks nothing like home.
As a first step, Lisa wanted to look at the sleepover program at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, the largest no-kill shelter in the country. About 1,600 dogs and cats live there, and it's become a popular vacation destination for pet lovers. One volunteer program lets visitors take a dog back to their hotel room for the night.
The pilot study set out to see how these sleepovers affected stress levels.
Lisa measured cortisol levels, a diurnal hormone that is a measure of stress, at three time points: at the shelter pre-sleepover, during the sleepover, and back at the shelter post-sleepover. She also took a behavioral snapshot of each dog, answering questions such as, What's he like on a leash?, What's he like when he sees another dog?, and What's he like when you come into his kennel?
The impact was measurable. The dogs' cortisol levels were significantly reduced after one night.
"We're trying to get more at the dog's welfare, how they're feeling on a larger timescale, not just 10 or 15 minutes," explained Lisa. "When we saw the cortisol had significantly reduced on just one overnight, that was pretty exciting. We didn't imagine that one night out would make a difference."
Lowered stress levels could allow the dogs to behave more naturally, giving people a better view of their true personality. They also discovered another potential factor into shelter pets' welfare.
Anecdotally, people who participated in the sleepover program reported that after the dog settled down, they would often immediately go for a long sleep. This could be an important finding.
"Getting good, uninterrupted sleep could be one mechanism by which we're seeing this reduction in cortisol," says Lisa. "The dogs are getting a good night's sleep, something they can't get at the shelter because they have a lot of noisy neighbors."
Lisa has been working on this study in collaboration with a researcher at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. They were recently awarded a grant to carry out this study at four more shelters with a two-day sample instead of the one-day Lisa did at Best Friends.
I look forward to seeing more developments and would be interested in seeing the long term effects of getting away from the animal shelter, even if it's just for a few hours. While most organizations wouldn't be able to implement a sleepover program like Best Friends, most shelters do have volunteers who can take the dogs out for a long walk or day trip.
89 guide dogs-to-be train at a New Jersey airport.
We've written about comfort dogs visiting airports during times of stressful travel, but what if you got to the airport and saw nearly 100 pups romping around?
Last weekend travelers passing through New Jersey's Newark Liberty International Airport saw just that--89 guide dogs in training. These pups were brought to Terminal C as part of their prep with The Seeing Eye, a local group that places about 260 guide dogs per year with the visually impaired.
The Labradors, Poodles, German Shepherds, and Golden Retrievers accompanied their handlers through ticketing, security checkpoints, and baggage claim. They rode escalators, explored the terminals, and even boarded a United Airlines plane.
Newark Airport has been hosting guide dog training for more than 20 years. According to airport deputy general manager Frank Radics, "the program has trained nearly 3,500 dogs to assist visually impaired passengers navigate busy airports, making air travel a little easier."
Exposure to a variety of environments is essential to a guide dog's training.
"We have to make sure the dogs are steady when there's a lot of noise so they're confident and it doesn't scare them," said longtime puppy raiser Jeanne Kollmer. "It's so many different experiences you can have in one venue."
Jeanne was at the airport with ten month old Black Labrador, Shari, the 18th dog she helped raise for The Seeing Eye. It's been incredibly rewarding.
"You're making a difference in someone else's life," says Jeanne. "There's nothing better than that."
If you missed the parade of pups, they'll be back at the airport this Saturday for more training.
Persuasive strategies to consider
You’re all ready to adopt a dog! Perhaps you’ve been dreaming of this moment for years, or maybe it just occurred to you today that you need—really need—a dog in your life. There are so many wonderful dogs waiting for a home and the love of a family, and your life may soon be enhanced by a new best friend of the canine persuasion.
But what if you need to convince your partner—husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend—to get on board with your obviously fantastic plan? Well then, you have some work ahead of you, and it may not be easy. Your dream of adopting a dog is on hold. How can you proceed?
The first step is to figure out what your partner’s objections are. Many people who are opposed to getting a dog like the idea in general, but are held back by one or more particular concerns. If you can come up with a solution to what your partner views as the problem, you increase your chances of successfully convincing him or her to adopt a dog.
Financial: It costs money to have a dog, and the prospect of extra expenses scares a lot of people. It’s important to figure out how easily your budget can accommodate an increase in spending. If you can save money ahead of time for the dog, that shows your partner that you understand the concern, that you are serious about budgeting for it. It also indicates that your household can make it work. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut something else out of your budget to convince your partner that financial concerns need not hold you back.
Lifestyle Changes: Many people worry that having a dog will make it harder to go out in the evenings, to go away on for the weekend, or to take vacations during holidays or time off from work. It’s a legitimate concern—having a dog means that spontaneous outings present challenges, so it’s important to have a plan to meet them. Find out who can care for your dog when you are away or if you want to go out after work. Consider professional facilities, dog walkers and neighbors you could hire to help you. Do some research on local pet-friendly cafes and restaurants as well as vacations that could easily accommodate (and even be enhanced by!) your dog. Whether or not you can convince your partner that this issue can be resolved depends a lot on your current lifestyle and what kind of trips you enjoy. Hiking and camping with dogs is great fun, but a tour of the great cities of Europe will involve arranging care for your dog.
Fear of failing the dog: Having a dog is a lot of responsibility, and that can make many people nervous, especially if they have never had a dog before. Find out about resources in your area such as trainers, behaviorists and veterinarians. Educating your partner about the basics of dog behavior and care will help you both feel more confident about bringing home a new dog.
Household Cleanliness: Not everybody is unbothered by muddy paw prints and (let’s be honest) nobody is totally okay with dog vomit or what happens to the carpet while housetraining is still a work in progress. The really gross things tend to happen rarely, but the slobbering by the water bowl and dog hair showing up here, there and everywhere are daily occurrences for many of us. If this drawback to getting a dog is your partner’s concern, you are not alone. Many people without dogs are somewhere on the scale of hesitant to totally freaked out about the prospect of a dirtier house. Whether you promise to step up your housecleaning or shell out the money to hire people to clean your house, it’s essential to have a solution to this problem. It’s also sensible to choose a dog who is less likely to drool and shed than the nightmare your partner is probably picturing.
Affecting Other Pets: If your partner is concerned about how a dog will affect your cat, for example, consider yourself lucky to have such a thoughtful and caring person in your life. It’s very sad when a cat who has been happy in a home is suddenly living under the bed or only in one room because it is terrified of the dog. A dog will fit into the family far better if you choose one who gets along with cats, so make that a top priority. Additionally, it is wise to commit to doing the initial introduction with a professional trainer or behaviorist to make success more likely.
Along with addressing any of the specific concerns that your partner has about adopting a dog, here are some additional tips that may help you convince your partner. Let your partner have the final say in choosing which dog you adopt, and a lot of input into what kind of dog to consider. There are so many variables (old, young, big, small, long hair or short, hound or terrier or other type). Since your partner is—at best—on the fence about the whole dog thing, you may be able to tip the scales in your favor by giving them a weighted vote on which dog to adopt.
Let your partner know how important this is to you, and be prepared to make the case that since it matters to you, it should matter to him or her. This is a tricky one. Although it makes sense that if you want a dog so much, your partner should consider agreeing just because it is so important to you, there’s obviously a flip side to that. If adopting a dog is so unappealing to your partner, you need to consider that simply because it matters to your partner. Feeling very differently about this subject can cause a serious rift in a relationship, and the only sensible advice is not to let this difference ruin the relationship unless it truly is a deal breaker for you.
Adding a dog to your life is a big step, and that can be intimidating. A trial run of sorts could help your partner feel more comfortable about it. Consider watching a friend’s dog for a little while or fostering a dog so you can try out what it feels like to have a dog in your life without the long term commitment. The joy of sharing your home with a dog temporarily—whether it belongs to a roommate, a visitor or a traveling friend— has convinced many people to adopt a dog of their own.
If you’ve ever persuaded a partner to adopt a dog, how did you do it?
Dog's name and age: Katie, 11 years
Katie's mom often went by the shelter to see the dogs in need of a home. On this particular day, after a jog, Katie was spotted in a kennel at PAWS rescue along with her sister. They greeted their soon-to-be mom with eyes that said You are my mom! She got into the kennel with them and just knew these two intended to go home with her.
Now Katie gets to enjoy napping, playing and hanging out with her mom and her sister everyday. Katie is pure love. Her health hasn't been well in the last year so her family makes sure that everyday Katie knows how much they love and treasure her!
San Diego is starting district wide water testing after a dog refuses to drink water from a classroom sink.
It's easy to get caught up in the busy day to day of our lives and overlook important details. On the other hand, our dogs live in the moment and take notice of of all the little things we miss. They also have the benefit of a much better sense of smell and hearing than we do. So in a way, it's not surprising that a San Diego therapy dog alerted a school to a serious problem.
Earlier this year, a teacher at Emerson-Bandini Elementary School noticed her therapy dog wouldn't drink from a bowl filled with water from the classroom sink. She then noticed a sheen similar to what oil looks like on the surface of water. The district tested a sampling of water from around campus and detected contaminants that exceeded the state's allowable level. According to the school district, they found vinyl chloride (C2H2Cl), a chemical that is related to degrading plastic, in a range up to 2.35 micrograms per liter. The maximum allowable level is 0.5 micrograms per liter.
As a result, beginning this week all pipes in the San Diego Unified School District will be tested for contaminants including lead. And in the meantime, the students are drinking bottled water until the district can ensure their safety.
There are countless stories of dogs who detect medical conditions, sense when bad weather is coming, and alert people to someone in trouble. Our pets have an uncanny ability to notice things that go right over our head. The students at Emerson-Bandini Elementary School are lucky that this therapy dog uncovered the toxic water before anyone became sick.
Have your dogs ever alerted you to something peculiar?
Izzy stayed after her guardian died
Izzy lives at an assisted living senior center in Tennessee, even though her guardian, Jim, died months ago. When Jim came to live at the Brookdale Kingston senior living facility, he was able to bring his dog Izzy with him. Izzy was friendly to everyone, and became close to many of the residents and to the staff.
As Jim’s health got worse, other people stepped in to help take care of her. Staff members took her for daily walks. Other residents and their visitors spent time with Izzy, and she became an even more beloved member of the community. When Jim passed away, there were no relatives who could take care of Izzy, so she stayed at the assisted living center. Residents and employees said they were so glad that they didn’t lose Izzy, too, after Jim passed away.
At first, Izzy continued to spend a lot of time in Jim’s room, but over time, the staff began to move both Jim’s and Izzy’s possessions out of that room. Izzy eventually moved into the office of the facility’s sales and marketing manager. She spends much of her day visiting with residents all over the facility (except the dining room which is off limits to her). If she needs a break from all of the loving attention, she heads to the dog bed under a staff members’ desk to rest or nap.
Izzy’s job is “official greeter” and she is a good worker, making sure to welcome all visitors. She also attends social functions such as parties and socials. Besides playing with her rubber chicken, she loves to go door-to-door to say hello to each resident. She used to get a treat at each stop along the way, but when she started to lose her girlish figure and had some bellyaches, that changed.
If having Izzy live at the facility becomes a problem in the future, there are staff members who are willing to adopt her. For now, the plan is for Izzy to spend the rest of her life at Brookdale Kingston. She is happy there and makes others happy, too.
Scientific study into the cues causing dogs’ reactions
“Fighting like cats and dogs” is an expression that succinctly describes the worst case scenario of dog and cat interactions. Not all dogs and cats have to get along with each other to live full and happy lives, but it sure is important to know which dogs can live with cats and which ones can’t. That’s especially critical for shelters seeking to find homes for dogs, because nobody wants to adopt a dog who will terrorize their cat. Though there are many ways that shelter staff can evaluate a dog’s response to other dogs and to people, there is far less information, and no validated assessment tool, for evaluating how a dog will react to cats. In most cases, we don’t even know what it is about a cat that sets dogs off, other than the useless knowledge that the dog is reacting because the cat is a cat.
A recent study seeks to change that by adding to what we know about which triggers from cats set dogs off. “Dogs’ responses to visual, auditory, and olfactory cat-related cues” concludes that the sound of a cat and how a dog reacts to it may be of critical importance when evaluating dogs. In the study, dogs reacted more to the auditory stimuli of cats than to visual stimuli of cats, but the stimuli they used were not directly comparable.
The visual stimulus was an animatronic children’s toy, the auditory stimulus was a recording of cat vocalizations, and the olfactory stimulus was cat urine. Because only the auditory stimulus was the actual stimulus that a dog would perceive in the presence of a cat, it is hard to accept the conclusions of the study. The actual odor of a cat and the sight of a live cat are different than the stimuli presented in the study.
The researchers found that dogs who had previously hurt a cat were more attentive to the auditory stimuli than other dogs were, though there was no difference in the behavior of dogs in either group towards the visual cat stimulus. The olfactory stimulus was associated with dogs spending more time sniffing than when no olfactory cue was present.
Responses to cat sounds could be a useful predictor of whether or not a dog will get along with cats, but more research is necessary. (It would be of particular importance in future studies to consider the stimuli presented during assessments.) The results of this study could also be explained by concluding that dogs attend more to realistic cat stimuli and that dogs who have previously hurt a cat are especially attentive to realistic cat cues, which in this study only applied to the auditory cue.
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