Friday, May 7, 2010

The Healing Power of Dogs

It hasn't been a good week. Whether it was food poisoning, some new medicine I started, or just a bug I caught, I spent all of Wednesday night and half of Thursday throwing up. I only mention this to get to what I actually want to say -- how healing having a dog nearby can be.
As I was traveling from bed to bathroom all night long, I kept seeing my dog. He would either look up from his bed in my bedroom of poke his head in the door of the bathroom, but he would be a presence. It was comforting not to be alone, even though I don't really expect him to be Lassie and go for help if I collapse on the floor.
But the real effect came on Thursday, when I was still ill, but a little better. First, before I even got out of bed, Teddy came into the bedroom to have the morning play ritual with Nestle. They both lie down and jaw wrestle, with lots of sound. I couldn't even see them, huddled as I was under three layers of blankets, but I could hear them, and it was definitely a pick-me-up.
Later that day, as I was lying on the couch rather than in bed, the dogs came over now and then to give me a lick or just stand nearby. And Teddy did his "I saw something insanely exciting out the front window" act -- he sees our feral cats out the front window and takes off on a high-speed lap around the house while he tries to decide if it's better to stay at the window, where he can see the cat, or go out the dog door, which gets him outside but in the back of the house rather than the front. I couldn't laugh because all my diaphragm muscles hurt too much, but it definitely made me smile.
It's good to have dogs around when you are really in need of a little relief.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Emerging Diseases in Dogs

Here is one you may not have heard about unless you happen to live in my neck of the woods.
We started hearing about the appearance on Vancouver Island of the tropical fungus Cryptococcus gattii in the late 1990s. Though several people had become sickened, some animals, including dogs, had actually died.
The topic has popped up from time to time since then, and our local Peninsula College applied for a grant to study Cryptococcus gattii in its natural environment, but they were not selected to receive the monies.
However, now we get a report that the spore-forming fungus is not only appearing in Washington and Oregon, it has mutated into a more lethal strain as it has traveled. As its primary habitat is Douglas fir and western hemlock -- trees in which we are awash -- it is apparently finding hospitable conditions.
In Canada 218 people are known to have been infected, and slightly less than 9 percent have died. In the U.S., there have only been 21 confirmed cases, but 5 of those have proven lethal. There are no statistics available for animals other than humans infected, but the early reports from Vancouver Island mentioned dogs and llamas that had contracted the fungus.
Symptoms are said to be like pneumonia, but if left untreated, worsening slowly over time . . . shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, fever, headache. The fungus travels in sports, and when they are inhaled they colonize the lungs and then spread throughout the body. Treatment involves IV antifungal medications for roughly two months, followed by other medications.
The infection can easily be missed or mistaken for something else, so knowing that it is now occurring in Washington, Oregon, and California, should be a heads-up to residents, both for themselves and for their animals. There is no direct person to person or animal to animal transmission. Instead, the fungus spores are blown by the wind or carried on shoes or car tires.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Taking Dogs to Outdoor Public Events

The season of farmers' markets and open aire markets is swinging into being here on the Olympic Peninsula. We have farmers' markets in Port Angeles and Port Townsend and an open aire market in Sequim, and this weekend marks the start of the annual Irrigation Festival, a huge deal that goes on for 9 days, with plenty of outdoor activities.
So that got me to thinking. What is the accepted etiquette for bringing dogs to outdoor public events? I encounter plenty of dogs at the farmers' markets and, dog lover that I am notwithstanding, I don't think most of them should be there. Their people generally are paying no attention to them other than to hold onto the leash, and wouldn't know if they peed on a display or pooped in the street, or even bit someone (until the screaming started). The dogs are sometimes okay with it all, but sometimes are overwhelmed by all the activity and totally unsupported by their human, and generally looking for a place to hide. Other times, later in the season, they're wilting in the heat of the street or burning their paws.
I used to bring my dog Nestle to the farmers' market to help socialize him. But all of my attention was focused on him. . . I wasn't shopping or visiting. He was afraid of many things, and I had to be ready to take him away from a situation at a moment's notice, or reward him for relaxing in less trying circumstances. I have a trainer friend who brings her rally dog to the markets to practice amid distractions.
But by and large, the people on the end of the leashes appear to be pretty clueless. I've heard a few vendors complain from time to time (probably after something they were hoping to sell was ruined by a dog), but by and large the public doesn't seem to say much.
I have brought my dogs many times to the open air concerts that take place in both Port Angeles and Sequim during the summer. There, I can choose not to be in the center of the action (or too close to the loudspeakers) and can settle down and relax with the dogs. They seem to have quite a good time. Whether or not the appreciate the music, they like my attention and the occasional pat from a stranger.
I just wish people would give a little more thought to the situations into which they're venturing with dogs. I hate it when other dog owners give the whole group a bad name.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Greyhounds Hunting Coyote

There was an article in Sunday's New York Times about a "sport" in Oklahoma of using greyhounds to hunt and kill coyotes. This was one I'd never heard of before. I'm well aware that ranchers hate coyotes for their predation of livestock. Coyotes have proven highly adaptable to changing circumstances, and dwell everywhere from countryside to city. But they are accepted hardly anywhere. I receive New York versions of the main tv networks, and there was near-hysteria not long ago because a coyote was spotted frequently in some NYC park (I think it was smaller than Central Park, and thus the coyote was turning up on the streets from time to time).

We live with coyotes here on the Olympic Peninsula. I see them fairly often. In fact, I've named one "Gorgeous" because he or she has the most luxuriant coat I've ever seen on a wild canid. I keep chickens, sheep, and llamas, and yes, I've had my share of losses. The first flock of chickens, which I was allowing to free-range during the day, was mostly killed, but the perpetrators were raccoons. We lost two sheep in the past two years, but because they utterly disappeared without a trace -- something a coyote or even a pack of coyotes simply could not accomplish -- I put that down to either cougar or aliens. (I mean, even cougar should leave a trace of blood or a footprint or something!)

I know people around here who hate coyotes because they prey regularly on house cats. Well, if you want to keep your cats safe, then keep them indoors. I know that our feral pack is at risk, but at least I've given them a shed they can access through a cat hole, and our open hay shed, where they can hide among the bales.

But to get back to the greyhound/coyote hunting. It is described as "a regional pursuit that is part of the area's lore, like the cattle drives along the Chisholm Trail." Doesn't that make it sound pretty?

One of the perpetrators of this "sport" states "This is exactly what they're born and bred to do," referring to the Greyhounds. But further on, the article notes that shock collars are used to train the dogs to pursue only coyotes. Otherwise, they would be running after rabbits or antelope or deer, which are actually more their historic target.

The article also notes that the barbed wire fences common to the area tend to tear up the Greyhounds' thin skin, and of course, the coyotes put up a fight for their lives when cornered. So the Greyhounds are injured or killed regularly.

I'm happy to read that this practice is banned in Washington state, by the Fish and Wildlife Commission. Their reasoning was that canines killing other canines was too close to dogfighting, a felony in all 50 states. But apparently, Oklahoma does not subscribe to that view.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Animal Cruelty and the Supreme Court

By now, you have probably heard about the Supreme Court ruling striking down the law on which the case (and conviction) of a man who was selling videos that included dog fighting was based. Several of the dog lists to which I subscribe were immediately filled with messages of indignation. People were disgusted that the Supreme Court could rule in favor of dog fighting!

But of course that is a complete misunderstanding of just what is being ruled on here. The issue is actually one of free speech, the First Amendment. As I understand it, the videos were shot in a country in which dog fighting was at the time legal. The videos were not about dog fighting, per se, but about the Pit Bull and its heritage, or about hunting with dogs. The legislation on which the case was based did not specify "dog fighting" in any way, but was far more vague, with mentions of "animal cruelty" but without specifics of what that was.

If anyone remembers the debate about child pornography, before that law was brought into effect, and comments of "I know it when I see it," you might have some idea of the problems involved with vague definitions. I'm certainly against animal cruelty, but some of what I consider animal cruelty is actually broadcast of the National Geographic channel. . . and no legislators are crying for it to be taken off the air. In fact, while I would love to see it disappear from the airwaves, I would actually have to be AGAINST any legislation to accomplish that goal. Because it is subjective. And it is a matter of free speech.

Issues can get rather thorny when two strongly held beliefs run up against one another. Do I want to see videos including dog fighting available for sale? No. Do I want to ban some mushy, non-defined idea such as "animal cruelty"? Even more strongly no. Because if PETA got to decide what constitutes animal cruelty, my right to even own my dogs would disappear.

The Supreme Court justices indicated strongly that if the legislation is rewritten to be more focused and specific, they would have no problem with it. So there's really no big debate here. An unfortunate percentage of legislation is so broad as to have many unintended consequences, and that was the case here. Our lawmakers need to learn to understand the subtleties of a subject before they write laws about it. Then we'll all have more security and less debate about matters such as this.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Paw It Forward Day

You may remember the book Pay It Forward. It is from a novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde, in which a 12-7ear-old boy does three good deeds for others and asks for them to pass on their own good deeds to three other people. The concept has become an international day -- April 29 is Pay It Forward Day.
This year, the organization has enlisted a dog, Ricochet, as the ambassador for Paw It Forward on the same day. Ricochet has raised money for several causes. You can see Ricochet's video about paying it forward at The Pay It Forward website is .
For the Paw It Forward portion of the day, you could donate to a special shelter dog who needs expensive surgery. . . help a friend who has suffered monetary or health setbacks care for their own dog. . . pay for the bag of dog food for the person behind you in line at the pet supply store. . . contact your legislators about how to pass effective and nondiscriminatory legislation regarding dogs. . . go and clean up poop from a park. The choices are many. In each case (well, maybe other than your legislators), as the recipient or anyone who notes your activities to paw it forward and keep the chain going.
You have some time to make plans. I intend to make one financial donation, one community work-oriented donation (boy, do I know a park that needs cleaning up!), and one personal donation, and seeing where that takes me. Please consider joining in. More kindness going out into the world certainly can't hurt!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Protecting Wild Dogs in Africa

I always thought I would visit Africa (that constantly thwarted vision of being a wildlife photographer is a big part of that), but haven't made it yet. But one of my friends visited Kenya. She went on several "safaris," where a group of tourists are driven around to spot wildlife. She says she enjoyed the lions and elephants and all of that, but she was nearly drummed out of the vehicle when they spotted African wild dogs and she wanted to stay and watch for longer than anyone else. African wild dogs are not one of the "big three" or "big five" or however you want to count the most desirous species of wildlife to spot. Heck, they're not even on the radar of most visitors. As such, they don't have any perceived value to the locals, and they are often blamed (unfairly) for livestock predation, so their numbers are declining rapidly.
Greg Rasmussen became a zoologist almost by accident (while relearning to walk after crashing a small plane in the African bush), but he specialized in African wild dogs. He's now one of the world's leading specialists on them, and he's determined to save them. His first effort is to rename them as "painted dogs." Their pretty spotting patterns lends itself well to the new name, and it's certainly more intriguing than "African wild dogs," which sort of makes it sound as if they're packs of feral animals.
His second initiative is to work with the local people. He runs the Painted Dog Conservation, a center that provides a refuge for the dogs from poachers and a rehabilitation area for the injured. The center also serveds as a children's camp for school groups, where the kids learn that painted dogs don't attack humans and rarely take livestock (hyenas are usually to blame).
The third strategy is to try and elevate the painted dogs to an exotic species that attracts visitors and generates income for the local villages.
You can sponsor a child to go to camp for $60. I think I will add this to my list of charitable donations.
(Information from New York Times article "Every (Wild) Dog Has Its Day")