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")

Monday, April 12, 2010

International Search & Rescue Dog Day

April 25th is International Search & Rescue Dog Day. This is a young event, begun in Austria in 2008, but it is certainly worthwhile. You probably have some inkling of the enormous amount of work involved in training and being certified for search and rescue work, but did you know that teams almost always pay their own way to search or disaster locations. Not to mention having to take time off from whatever their paying work may be, and leaving family and friends for however long their services are required.

With all the recent magnitude 7+ earthquakes around the world, I'm sure many teams have been busy. This event is one fine way to acknowledge their dedication. You can find the official website at

On April 25th there will be events at various locations (unfortunately, mostly in Europe) beginning at 10 am local time. At 3 pm GMT (that's Greenwich Meridian Time, i.e., London), all participating dog teams will have a symbolic deployment around the world and greetings will be read out by the highest ranking politician available. Some teams will be online via webcams. You can also find a list of participating rescue dog teams at the website, and new photos will be posted after the event.

When you are thinking about charitable donations, please consider your local search and rescue. We have one out here on the relatively small and isolated Olympic Peninsula, so there's probably one near you. They almost always need equipment and training and travel expenses. And they'll be ready to help if you ever need rescuing.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Pet ID Week April 18-24

There are a lot of pet-related events this month, so I need to get started on mentioning them early.
In honor of Pet ID Week, I want to talk about microchips. This has been on my mind anyway, as my niece has a new Rottweiler and told me that she isn't having him microchipped because she lost her previous two Rotts to cancer at early ages and "the only thing they had in common was being microchipped." Well no, actually, they had quite a large other thing in common -- they were Rottweilers.
This got me searching the Internet, and I came up with an excellent document put out by the American Veterinary Medical Association. You can find it on their website, and redistribution is okay as long as the source is identified. It's from October 2009, called "Microchipping of Animals."
It includes a section on adverse microchip reactions. They tracked reports of adverse reactions in the United Kingdom, where more than 3.7 million pets are microchipped, from 1996 through 2009. Migration of the chip was by far the most common complaint, with swelling, infection, and chip failure much more distant chances. There was one report of a tumor in 2003 and 1 in 2005.
The article then goes on to a specific section addressing cancer. It points out that the reports of mice developing tumors around chip injection sites have no correlation to dogs, as the strains of mice are particularly prone to developing foreign body-induced tumors. They also note that the site of chip implantation is often also the site for giving vaccinations, and thus the cause of any tumor is difficult to identify.
On the other hand, over the years, chips have become much more valuable and reliable as universal scanners have become available. They note that owners of unchipped dogs who searched for a lost dog were successful only 13% of the time, but a chipped dog turned in to a shelter was reunited with the owner 74% of the time. One of the recommendations put forth as a result of the 2006 National Animal Disaster Summit was that all animals rescued during a disaster be chipped if they weren't already, largely because after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, microships helped identify rescued animals. (Finding their owners in the aftermath of the hurricanes was another matter.)
We recently had a demonstration of how effective the universal scanners are, as Teddy was microchipped in Taiwan and our veterinarian's scanner read the chip just fine.
The odds of losing a dog are much much greater than the odds of a dog developing cancer because of a microchip. Do yourself and your dogs a favor and have them chipped.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A Belated Happy Easter

We had a truly lovely Easter Sunday. First, Nestle and new dog Teddy started really playing together for the first time. They ran the racetrack around the house (our house path is round), chasing each other, tugged with plush toys, and wrestled. Lots of fake growling and smiling.

Then we walked the Olympic Discovery Trail to the foot of our property, where a bench is dedicated to my dad. We wanted to put up signs that the property is in the Land Trust and a certified wildlife habitat before an Earth Day bicycle ride of Land Trust properties that includes ours. While we were there, a board member of the Land Trust came jogging with her dog, so we had a nice chat. And then our two eagles appeared soaring not far overhead. They must have a nest somewhere nearby because we've been seeing them fairly regularly, but this was the closest ever.

After having my heart gladdened all day by pets and wildlife, it was a real downer to see a New York Times article that a class action lawsuit has been launched on behalf of Denver and Aurora service dog owners whose dogs happen to be American Pit Bull Terriers or mixes thereof (banned in those cities). The lawsuit is referencing the ADA, and the fact that the dog owners have been told to move or give up their service dogs. Sheesh! Will our stupidity never stop?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Human Familiarization and Training Program

I have only been able to access the abstract of this article so far (darned paying work gets in the way of tracking down and reading interesting stuff sometimes), but it sounds quite interesting, though not surprising.
A study in Belgium investigated the performance of military working dogs. The dogs were divided into two groups, one trained in the traditional manner used by Belgian Defense and the experimental group also receiving a new "human familiarization and training program." The abstract does not go into any detail about what this program entailed, but the abstract intro notes that dogs can use a number of human social cues to successfully accomplish tasks.
The results state that the experimental group performed better, with better overall results and a "higher body posture" (I would guess demonstrating more self-assurance), than the traditionally trained dogs. The final sentence notes "Regular training combined with positive dog-handler interaaction is also required to increase the dog-handler team's performance."
This sounds promising, and I hope to have the time to track down the full study soon. Getting the military and police to move away from force-based training has been a tough nut to crack (despite Steve White's continued efforts), so studies like this can certainly help the cause.

Friday, March 26, 2010

New Dogs Make New Work

We have worked hard over the past week to install fencing around the portion of the larger yard that either didn't have it or had it in bad condition. Teddy had already gotten out twice, and we couldn't have that keep happening. He's a good guy, but he doesn't know his boundaries yet, and he's very quick on his feet and hard to catch. Training has started, but we're nowhere near a reliable "come" cue yet.
This got me to thinking about things we put up with related to our dogs. I have tons of desk work. I am, in fact, running far behind today because of time spent on fencing. I can't make it up tomorrow because I have to travel back to Edmonds to do a big group book signing. So I am stuck here until I do what has to be done. All because I had to drop the desk work while my brother was available to help, and go out and work on fencing.
Then of course the dogs need their exercise, so yesterday afternoon time was taken off to let Teddy have his first go and staying in the yard off-leash. That meant we had to be out there with him, trying to keep him within visual range. We have a couple of small sections of woods, and some buildings behind which he can disappear, and we weren't sure yet that we had fixed all the weak points in our containment. So we traipsed merrily from one end of the (4 acres) yard to the other, over and over, following Teddy's eager explorations. This despite the fact that the weather had turned typically northwestern and saw spitting rain.
Teddy had a grand time. He and Nestle almost initiated play. (I expect that will come when the exploration isn't so very enticing to Teddy.) And about the umpteenth time we maneuvered around near the front door, I opened it, called Nestle in, and Teddy came with him. . . for which he got rewarded with whipped cream.
We will have a few more supervised outings, then will hope that there are no as-yet-unfound weak points, and just go about our business as usual with us and the dogs out in the yard, without having to chase the little white streak hither and yon.
Do I resent spending the time to make the yard safe for Teddy? No. I regret the confluence of events that mean I can't make up the time tomorrow, but those are the breaks. It's worth it to see the little guy running around in utter joy at being free. He's very funny to watch run, with his little stumpy legs, but boy, he can cover ground!
I find dogs so enticing, beautiful, funny in so many ways, the payback is always more than the effort.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Animal Abuse Leads to Additional Cruelties

Okay, this really shouldn't be news, because I've been aware of Frank Ascione's work for over a decade. A professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work, Dr. Ascione has studied the topic of animal abuse and its relation to child abuse, spousal abuse, and even serial killing for many years. Yet this article appeared in the New York Times only last week, reporting that "animal abuse is a clue to additional cruelties."
I don't know where the disconnect has been, but I'm glad that finally states are paying some attention. The article reports that counties and states are increasing the penalties for animal cruelty and trying to develop better methods for tracking convicted animal abusers. They are including animal hoarders in the animal abuse designation.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is quoted as saying that animal abuse is not more prevalent, but "what has changed . . . is the recognition that animal abuse is often a warning sign for other types of violence and neglect." They also note that in these times of economic crunch, states also have less money to handle the costs associated with caring for animals of busted hoarders. Franklin County, Ohio, reported that caring for more than 170 dogs from a hoarder cost over $1 million.
The majority of states now have legislation that shifts the payment of care for abused or neglected animals to convicted defendants. Most states now also authoritze vaterinarians to report suspected animal abuse (something I'm sure vets are still not eager to do).
Tennesse and California are considering bills to create online registries of animal abusers, similar to what is done with sex offenders. It would cover adults convicted of felony-level animal abuse. Arkansas, Illinois, and Oregon have recently enacted laws requiring investigators of human abuse and animal control officers to inform one another when they find instances of abuse in a home. One of the sponsors of a similar bill in Connecticut noted that animal abuse is one of the four indicators used by FBI profilers to assess risk of future violent behavior.
Professor Ascione noted that "Often children are not willing to talk about what is happening to them, but they will talk about their concerns about what they are seeing done to their pets." Recent case have demonstrated that when children hinted at animal abuse to their teachers and the teachers alerted animal protection workers, the workers found warning signs of other types of abuse and social workers went in and found that the children were being abused.
All but foud states now have felony-level animal cruelty laws. May they use them well.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spot On Flea Products

Full disclosure: I have never liked the idea of the spot-on products. It always seemed to me that they could rub off.

Now reports from the Environmental Protection Agency seem to confirm my feelings.

It's certainly no surprise that dog products used on cats, or large dog products used on small dogs, would cause problems. These products are poisons, after all, or they wouldn't work on the fleas. The alarming part of the message, to me, is the new advice to keep dogs and cats separated after using the products. There would be no reason to do this except that the dog product could transfer to the cat, either by contact or by licking.

If this transfer can be made, then it is also conceivable that products could transfer to bed linens, clothing, or hands petting the dog. So are you now not supposed to touch your dog after treating them with a spot-on product? For how long? And if the product is meant to flow over the dog's entire body after being applied to only one or two spots (another fine point that has bothered me about these products), then does it also flow over human skin once it comes in contact?

I have written endlessly about flea control, and have always had a hard time recommending these products to anyone but a person with a dog with flea allergies. I had one of those myself, and it was hard to get satisfactory control (and I lived in California at the time, where the flea infestations are much worse than in the Pacific Northwest), and still I didn't use the spot-on products on my own dog.

I use Program, which is not insecticide, but a sort of birth control for fleas. Its ingredient has no effect on mammals. True, it doesn't kill the fleas, and yes, we do have a few bites from time to time, but it is effective in not letting an infestation take hold. I am happy with its results, and very happy not to be putting a poison on my dog every month.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New Dog. . . from Taiwan

First, people have asked to see Teddy, so I will post a picture of him here. We don't have any great pictures yet, but this will give you an idea.

You can't really tell how short his little legs are here (very). He is a compact 17 pounds.

The strange thing about Teddy is he is from Taiwan. I still feel a little strange about this. A rescue group in Edmonds imports dogs into rescue. . . small dogs, of course, because they are in demand. To save myself the heartbreak of visiting multiple shelters (there aren't a lot of small dogs in shelters around here), I went to Petfinder to look, and there I found Teddy (then known as Duke). The only other small dogs were a couple of Maltese (deemed too small by Judy - yay! - I would have constantly worried about stepping on them), a whole bunch of Chihuahuas (not a candidate for either of us), and an older Shih Tzu. The only local dog was the Poodle/Bichon mix who took a chunk of hair out of my dog Nestle when they met. So that left Duke/Teddy, and the way things fell into place (the phone call inviting us to meet him came during the only 5 minutes we were home and indoors that day, we had just seen and rejected the local dog) made it seem fated.

But it still feels strange to have a dog from Taiwan. His Chinese exportation papers are fascinating. A veterinarian asked about the possibility of importing disease (as the post-Katrina dogs helped spread heartworm around the country). But the papers list a variety of diseases/parasites not seen in Taiwan, plus other diseases/parasites for which Teddy tested clear. So it doesn't seem like a problem.

I spoke the few phrases of Chinese I know to him, and he did seem to perk up. But he is fitting in well, and appears to be quite happy with his new digs. Yesterday, when he came home (Judy is still in class, so is taking him with her, leaving him crated in the car, and taking frequent breaks to walk him) Nestle and he greeted each other with nose licks (Teddy has to stand on his rear legs to reach Nestle's nose), and then they had their first indoor play session, and Teddy grabbed a fuzzy squeaky toy for the first time. So it seems like a good fit all around. I regret not helping a local dog out of rescue, but there just isn't much choice. In fact, I took a look at ALL the local dogs on Petfinder and only found one that would suit my own less-stringent requirements as far as size and type. Rescue seems to be inhabited by Chihuahuas, Pit mixes, Lab crosses, German Shepherd crosses, and perhaps hounds right now.

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Dog Reminders

It has been nearly 12 years since we brought in a new dog, so though I know all the things we need to pay attention to, it still comes as quite a shock to have to do the work. New dog Teddy has already (1) gotten out of the car when a front door was opened (teaching "wait" rose to the top of the training program) (2) gotten through the fencing around the yard (admittedly not totally secure, but unchallenged by previous dogs -- it became the work goal of the weekend) (3) done a little digging in the yard (time to rebuild the digging pit, but that got delayed by the fencing issues).
Teddy is already signed up for the next available Pet Dog Manners class, starting at the end of the month. But we are working on "wait" and a recall in the meantime. I also have to dig out my nylon tracking line to have on Teddy whenever he is outside the secure dog yard, because he is far too fast and nifty for us to be able to catch him without a drag line. Fortunately, running away from him back into our yard worked, and he followed like a shot. . . after investigating much of the neighbor's acreage.
But he has had no problems with housetraining (he's two years old, and though he was in a shelter in Taiwan and then in rescue here, he has experience with living in a home), he rides well in the car (aside from zipping out any open door), he learned at some point that sitting up will get him a treat (not with us, but he's still trying), he and Nestle played for the first time this weekend (before Teddy left the yard), and he's generally settling in well. He did not object to being brushed, and we will try teeth brushing and nail clipping soon. He will see our veterinarian on Thursday, so we'll get an idea of how he responds to that.
We are all tired from keeping up with this youngster! Once we were settled for the evening yesterday, Nestle disappeared into my office and slept in his bed away from all of us. I think he wanted to be sure he wasn't interrupted!
My roommate hasn't decided yet if she wants to do pet therapy with Teddy. He seems like a fine candidate, so there shouldn't be any problems if she does.
On a side note, the AKC is offering a discount on signing up for its mixed breed program right now, so even though I don't plan to compete (well, maybe in Rally if the opportunity presents itself) I think I will sign up Nestle and Teddy just to support the program.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Author Signing

Just in case anyone reading this is local to my area, I will be doing an author signing on March 27 at Edmonds Bookshop (in Edmonds, WA) along with about a dozen other local authors. My latest book, The Trick Is in the Training second edition, will be there with others.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dog Camps

I saw a posting today about Canine Club Getaway at Roaring Brook Ranch in Lake George, New York. I don't know the ranch itself, but Lake George is a popular New York getaway. This camp says it offers agility, swimming, lure coursing, hiking, frisbee, flyball, tricks classes, barks and crafts, plus seminars by trainers, behavior experts, veterinarians, and canine nutrition professionals. For the owners, there's horseback riding, country line dancing, gourmet dining, and a spa.
There are plenty of other canine-centered gatherings every year, including Dog Scouts and Camp Gone to the Dogs. They seem to be increasingly popular, although our attempt to have one here on the Olympic Peninsula was a total failure. At the Dog Scouts camp I attended (sans dog), the attendees seemed to be evenly divided between returnees and new campers.
So I have to ask, what's the deal? Who actually attends these camps? Somehow I don't think it's the average dog owner (or there would be WAY more of them). Some are for specific sports, so those are easy to figure out. But the general camps, who do they attract? We tried to penetrate the Seattle market to draw from the nearest population center, but apparently failed, or maybe Seattle-ites just aren't interested.
I haven't got a handle on this, and I find it perplexing. Would you attend a camp for dogs? Would anyone you know? Just who do they attract? They were popular before stay-cations, so that isn't it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Positive versus Negative Training

The dog lists are all abuzz with debate over the wisdom of Premier Products (purveyors of the Gentle Leader, Manners Minder, click sticks, and other dog-related products considered acceptable or admirable by most positive trainers) selling themselves to Radio Systems (purveyors of electronic fences and shock collars).
Some well-respected names in the dog training and dog biz are involved in this acquisition, and say that the merger will encourage Radio Systems to develop electronic devices for positive trainers, and thus push the agenda of positive training. I wish them luck, and I wish it were so, but the Manners Minder itself is the most applicable case in point.
Originally marketed as the Treat n Train through the Sharper Image catalog, it is a remote rewards device that was sold along with a DVD of how to use it to teach a dog to "go place" (i.e., lie down and stay in a specific location). It did not sell well. It went through a slightly modified version and still didn't sell well, and then went to Premier as the Manners Minder. Quite a few trainers have one of the old or new version -- I have one myself. But it never made anything like a wave as far as selling to the general public.
On the other hand, electronic fences and shock collars are wildly popular. I cringe at ads by a local radio host I thought knew better, enthusiastically promoting an electronic fence. I try to ignore the lovely display of shock collars when I visit the local Petco. Most of the pet supply catalogs I receive have a whole section of electronic devices such as shock collars, Scat Mats, electronic fences, bark breakers, all based in punishment. I'm sure they sell or they wouldn't continue to be carried by the catalogs.
I'm a realist. I understand that some people may have covenants that prohibit them from building actual solid fences, but still need some way to contain their dog. But I also know that as a species, humans tend to find punishment rewarding. Sound contradictory? It isn't. There have been a fair number of studies demonstrating that humans are quite willing to punish other beings, sometimes to a rather horrifying extent.
Don't people find rewarding other beings rewarding themselves? That seems to be a less common characteristic of our species. Add that to the often-expressed sentiment that the dog is "doing it for spite," and you've got a real tendency toward using and accepting punishment.
So do I think that Premier will change Radio Systems for the better? No. Do I wish them all the luck in the world with their efforts? Yes.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Indians and Dogs and Horses

Just a quick post today, as it's once again sunny and while I have a break in desk work, I need to go out and tackle some of the tons of yard work that need doing.
There was a long article about wild horses in the March issue of Smithsonian. That in itself was interesting, but one line really caught my eye: "By the mid-1600s, Plains Indians were capturing and taming horses--which the Lakota called sunka wakan, or sacred dog. . ."
It's pretty obvious what the sudden availability of horses meant to Native Americans, but calling them "sacred dog" certainly brings up the thought, just what did DOGS mean to them? Dogs were used for many things, from pulling travois from camp to camp, to helping keep predators out of camp, as a food source, as a clothing source (wool dogs were specifically bred, separate from camp dogs, for their coats, which were shorn like sheep). Truly fearless braves were called dog warriors. So it appears that dogs were held in high esteem (despite their ending up in the stewpot at times), and invoking their name to give to the horse just makes that even more evident.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pet Adoption Weekend

March 20 and 21 are National Pet Adoption Weekend. Oddly enough, our little household will probably be out looking for a new dog that weekend. My roommate graduates from her retraining course the Friday before that, so she will have some time at home while seeking work. And this past weekend, we had to have her dog put to sleep. So the household is down to one dog, and rather quiet and empty. Nestle was along with us to witness the euthanasia, so he is aware that his life-long companion is gone, and he is a bit more clingy and wanting to offer up more kisses, but seems to be coping reasonably well.
It's always a heart-rending event, but Diamond was very nearly 17 years old, and had lived a full life, with nearly 10 years devoted to pet therapy. She will be hard to replace, but we know there will be some soul out there who needs a home and fits with our family. I will have to gird myself for the trips into shelters -- I make the initial foray and only bring Judy in if there is a doggie candidate. Starting with our own local shelter makes it especially hard, as this is an old shelter with not much good going on. They just lost their second good and effective director because of the shelter board. Now the board is in charge again, and the hopes for a new building are again pushed aside. But I have to look, as adopting a dog from them would indeed be an act of rescue.
We will probably not find anything here or in Jefferson County, as both are small shelters mostly occupied by pit, Lab, hound, and shepherd crosses, and Judy requires a small dog. So it will probably be on to Kitsap, a much larger (and better run) facility where years ago I found Nestle. There is also our local rescue guild, but I haven't heard back from them yet about anything small and fuzzy they may have in foster care.
In any event, we will be an active part of National Pet Adoption Weekend this year.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Flawed Dogs

Flawed Dogs is a book by Berkeley Breathed, the Pulitzer-prize-winning creator of the comic strip Opus. I read it yesterday afternoon. (Yes, you can read it in an afternoon -- and it has some really quirky artwork.)
As with the Super Bowl ad I liked, I may get some flak for saying this, but I loved the book. It takes a decidedly twisted view on purebreds versus "flawed dogs," but it's one that equates well with how I feel about dogs.
I will admit that Mr. Breathed either doesn't know all that much about dog shows or doesn't feel a need to portray them accurately (Westminster figures large in the plot), but he gets some of the flavor right. And choosing a show-groomed Poodle as one of the villains of the piece allows him to focus on some of the more over-the-top aspects of dog shows. (Okay - may as well dive completely in. I mean, if dog shows are supposed to determine the best of the breeding stock, then what does how you trim the coat have to do with it? Or crop the ears? And that's not even getting into the hairspray and chalk!)
Anyway, a Dachshund with the Duuglitz tuft (a mythical sign of Dachshund perfection) is the protagonist, and because of the Poodle and other events, he becomes a "flawed dog." And he leads other flawed dogs in a scheme of revenge that, at the end, turns into an act of redemption.
Anyway, if you aren't too easily offended by some downgrading of the dog fancy, it's a quick and bright and entertaining little book.
Now it's back to Junk Science and my continued dismay at the state of affairs, particularly in the U.S., regarding scientific literacy.

Monday, February 22, 2010

More Updates on Dogs and the Law

Two items of interest crossed my desk this morning. The first, thanks to a friend in Germany, concerns Switzerland and a vote they are about to take.
I didn't know, so I expect many of you may not either, that Switzerland is a true direct democracy. Citizens can collect signatures to bring an initiative to a full vote of the populace. Some Swiss have done just that, collecting over 100,000 signatures to bring a vote on requiring domestic animals to be represented by a lawyer in court. In cases of alleged abuse, a Swixx canton (similar to our states) would have to appoint a special attorney to represent the animal's side of the matter. Supporters say the current laws aren't strong enough to secure convictions against those suspected of animal cruelty, so having a court-appoint attorney to act on behalf of the animals is necessary.
The second is closer to home. In California, the majority leader of the state Senate, Dean Florez, has proposed that animal abusers be placed on the same level as sex offenders by listing them in an online registry, complete with home addresses and places of employment. A person would have to be convicted of a felony involving animal cruelty to make the list, but would then have to register with police and provide the state informaiton as well as a current photograph.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund, promoting the registry, says that there is a proven link between those who abuse animals and those who perform other forms of violence. An out-of-state attorney notes that such a list could be valuable in tracking people who run puppy mills, animal fighting rings, or who are just hoarders, as such people often just pick up and move if authorities get too close.
Mr. Florez recently helped establish an Animal Protection Caucus, and thinks he has the votes to more the measure forward. He comes from the farming-friendly Central Valley, and thinks that will also help his cause.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ban on Sales of Pets, Events at Westminster

There were two news brief items in my local paper relating to dogs.
The first announces that in West Hollywood City the city council voted unanimously to ban stores from selling dogs and cats "in a move aimed at curbing puppy mills and kitty factories." The law goes into effect in September. Pet shops will be permitted to offer animals from shelters, but not to sell pets for their own profit. The brief says 'Officials acknowledged the new ordinance would have little bite," so perhaps there are no stated penalties, or they don't plan on making any effort at enforcement.
It's not a bad idea. If people want purebred dogs, they can go to breeders, and if they just want a dog, they can go to the shelter or a rescue organization. But another statement in the brief, saying that the city "formally recognizes pets as companions and their owners as guardians," does give me pause. This is the wording of the animal rights folks, so it is possible that the city council is being lead by that agenda, and doesn't really know where they're heading.
In any event, the law itself isn't a bad one, but if it isn't going to be enforced, I don't know how much good it's going to do. And if the next step is mandatory spay/neuter for all dogs, then it's a scary start.
On a completely different note, right next to this brief was one about Westminster, titled "Top do crowned after animal rights touted." I'm sure this wasn't something that was shown on tv coverage, but just before Best in Show, two women apparently walked into center ring and help up signs reading "Mutts rule" and "Breeders kill shelter dogs' chances." Again, I'm not opposed to the "mutts rule" slogan, as I have a long line of shelter dogs myself. But the "breeders kill shelter dogs' chances" is another clever slogan popularized by PETA, who does their own fair bit of dog killing in their supposed "shelter." The brief notes that the "crowd gasped, then booed the women and cheered as security ushered them away without incident."
Both of these items point up that PETA is very good at what they do, as well as being a very efficient money collecting machine. The average dog lover needs to look a little deeper at what they support, or someday we could be legislated out of owning our beloved dogs. And yes, we do own them.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Olympics and Dogs

Overall, I think the coverage of these winter Olympics has been rather poor. They show one pair skate, break for commercial, come back for their scores, break for commercial, whip you away to some snowboard event, break for commercial, do a taped piece, and on and on. You sort of lost the drama of competition because they dilute it to last all night.
But that has nothing to do with dogs. I have noticed that in their little "get to know the athletes" pieces, dogs are mentioned rather frequently. A skier lives on a farm with his four dogs, another skier named her dog for a past competitor she admires. But here's the one that really caught my attention. American pair skater Jeremy Bennett (I think I got that right) has a scar on his left cheek. The commentators noted it, and said that when he was a boy, the family Greyhound bit Jeremy in the face. His parents were going to put the dog down, and young Jeremy proclaimed that he loved that dog, and he would run away from home if his parents had it killed. The dog was spared.
I was bit by a dog when I was young - not my own dog, because I wasn't allowed to have one, but one of the many neighborhood dogs I associated with regularly. (I was also bitten, more severely, by a horse, by the way.) It did nothing at all to put me off of dogs. In both the dog and horse bite cases, I tried to hide the damage for fear that my parents would take the next step of forbidding me to associate with animals.
This is a testament to how strong this human-animal bond can be -- it can't be damaged even by "attack" by one of the partners. I think some people just innately understand that animals do us a world of good, and will do all they can to keep associating with them.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Super Bowl Ads

One of the first ads out of the gate once the Super Bowl got started was a Doritos spot featuring a young male sitting on a park bench eating Doritos, and a dog wearing an anti-bark shock collar. For anyone who didn't see it, you can take a look a But this is the gist --
The dog comes up to the guy, begging for a Dorito. The guy notes the anti-bark collar, holds up a Dorito, and says "You want this? You have to speak." The dog wisely does not oblige, but does move off, take off the shock collar with his paws (in an anatomical impossibility, of course, but hey, this is fantasy), then moves behind the bench and puts the shock collar on the guy. The dog then barks, which shocks, the guy, he falls off the bench, and the dog has his head in the Doritos bag, eating happily. When the guy starts to get up, the dog barks again, and the guy flops around on the ground like a fish.
This was a big hit in my household. I don't know what the ad agency intended viewers to think (other than buy Doritos), but I view it as a perfect example of the just comeuppance of the unthinking young male who thinks it is funny to shock the dog. I am not painting all young males with this brush, but there seems to be a substantial segment who find great humor in things like shock collars and potty jokes (reference the popularity of any number of recent Adam Sandler or Jack Black movies). And having a dog turn the tables, get what he wants, and shock the offending human in the bargain was pretty funny to me.
I have heard from others that they were offended by the violence, or upset that this was meant to be humorous. And I can't help them. If you're offended by this level of violence, with it happening to the "right" party, then how do you exist in the world? And if you can't see humor as an effective weapon against things such as shock collars, then you're missing the boat. I mean, come on, I had a very small part in writing for M*A*S*H, and that was humor used to the utmost advantage to lampoon war.
Of course, the less controversial animal ad was the annual Budweiser Clydesdale feel-good entry, this year with a young Clydesdale befriending a Texas longhorn. That was pleasant. The Denny's screaming chickens got to be annoying by the end of the game, I thought.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Dogs' Place in Society

There is a long article in the current New York magazine (don't ask why I read it) entitled "A Dog Is Not a Human Being, Right?". The author, John Homans, subtitled it "The increasingly twisted relationship between man and his best friend." Inside, it's titled/subtitled "The Rise of Dog Identity Politics: Dogs are increasingly rootless souls, country bumpkins in city apartments. But is a vegan pup still an animal?" I started reading with some trepidation, but it turned out to be a fairly balanced article. Mr. Homans lives in the city, and wonders if that is an appropriate life for his Lab mix Stella. "Guilt, along with plastic bags of dog poop, is pretty much a constant in an urban canine-human relationship. Is this any kind of life for a dog?" he asks.
He quotes James Serpell, of the University of Pennsylvania, with whom I've had some interesting conversations. Serpell notes that, as detailed in the book Bowling Alone, people are living more isolated lives, marriages break down regularly, and all of this coincides with a sharp upswing in the pet population. He says we're using animals to fill the gap in our lives.
Serpell also cites research from Japan that showed an owner's oxytocin levels rise when their dog gazes at them. Oxytocin is a majorly important social-bonding hormone, and a great stress reducer.
Homans notes the industry that has built up around dogs, and notes the financial empire of Cesar Millan (though he refers to his view as "an elaborate fantasy"). He backs that up with a quote from Patricia McConnell that Millan's is a very simplistic view. Then he goes on to reference Peter Sing'ers Animal Liberation, and from there to Ingrid Newkirk and peta. He says plainly that peta dreams of a world in which pets have been abolished, and brings in Nathan Winograd, a no-kill advocate, to debate her. He sees the animal rescue movement as an offshoot of the civil rights struggles of the sixties, a final frontier for universalist ideals. He also notes that despite all the bluster about the need for mandatory spay/neuter laws, euthanasia figures are well down. In a year in the mid-80s 12 million dogs and cats were euthanized, according to ASPCA figures. Now the figure is 3-4 million a year, about half of those dogs. Of course that's still far too many, but look how far we've progressed. Homans reveals Wayne Pacelle and the HSUS as animal rights, calling Pacelle "the silky pony of the animal-rights world, a Yale graduate who looks tremendous in a suit."
Back to Serpell, who notes "The thing about mandatory spay-neuter is that those who are most willing to have their dogs spayed or neutered tend to be responsible people. And often, their dogs also happen to be nice animals in temperament. So what you're doing essentially is taking those dogs out of the breeding population."
Homans notes that the AKC's breed rules are strictly visual, having drifted into the vagaries of fashion rather than usefulness. And he wraps up with a look at euthanasia and the extreme measures that can be undertaken to keep a dog alive.
It was quite an interesting piece of reading, and I commend Mr. Homans for a thorough and thoughtful piece of writing.

Monday, February 1, 2010

DNA Testing for Mixed Breeds

I'm sure you know that there are several tests available now for mixed breed owners to learn the breeds that went into their dogs. The Wisdom Panel test from Mars says they have the most breeds in their DNA databank - 175 currently, I believe. That was the test used by the lecturer at the AVMA Convention who had attendees look at short video clips of mixed breeds and try to identify their breed heritage, then compared it to DNA analysis through the Wisdom Panel.

As I mentioned before, some of the results were pretty surprising, and no one did all that well at getting them right. But I didn't know those dogs, and I assumed that the testing was more accurate than the guessing.

But now I've sent in my Nestle's DNA sample using the Wisdom Panel and recently got back the results. They didn't show any major breed (25% or more of DNA), but they showed two significant breeds (12-1/2% or more of DNA). Unfortunately, those two breeds have made me question the validity of this entire process. The breeds they noted as "significant" were Shetland sheepdog and Boston terrier.

Understand that I'm fully aware that a 4th or 5th generation mixed breed may have a dozen or more breeds intertwined. But this is still a disturbing result. I could maybe fathom a Sheltie somewhere in Nestle's family tree. They are of the herding family at least, though his size, coat, and markings show nothing of a Sheltie heritage. But Boston terrier? Way too small, completely wrong conformation, wrong coloring, to say nothing of temperament.

My guess at Nestle, based on personality, appearance, and size, has always been herding dog (perhaps Kelpie or Border Collie) and sighthound (he looked SO much like a Basenji when I first got him, has outgrown that, but still shows a lot of sighthound characteristics).

So for this analysis to be correct, the remaining 75% of his heritage would have to be a blend of no more than 10% of any one herding and sighthound breed, but be mostly of those two groups to make him what he is. Given that sighthounds are not the most common breeds out there, this seems rather far-fetched.

I still have a Wisdom Panel test yet to do - of Nestle's companion, Diamond - later this month. If those results come back German Shepherd and Irish Setter, I'll know that there's something wrong here!

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Stress and How We Relate to Dogs

I was going to write this blog yesterday, and then it happened. Despite the fact that I had been saving often, the changes for an entire book manuscript disappeared. A whole morning's work of formatting and neatening was gone somewhere into hyperspace. As I was contemplating this sad state of affairs and trying not to dissolve into tears, my dog Nestle came over and pushed his nose under my arm.
Okay, you have to know that the rules in my home office are that when a dog comes over, I stop work momentarily and we have a good scratch or talk or, if I'm not really involved in anything, maybe even a quick game. This is how I help save my sanity in an occupation that is never secure and always changing.
But yesterday, in a moment of high stress (my co-author was waiting for the manuscript to review this weekend), Nestle came over and I ignored him. And not just ignored him, but had to use some will power to not push him away or yell at him for bothering me.
And . . . now that things have calmed down, all the work is redone, and the manuscript is with my co-author. . . that made me think. If that can happen to me, who has a really stable relationship with my dogs and feels obligated to them as part of the way I make my living, then what happens to the relationship when a regular dog owner is under stress. Not that I mean in any way to denigrate dog owners, but most aren't home with their dogs all day, and don't make money from writing about them. What happens in the "average" family when things go wrong and the dog innocently walks over, maybe even to try and offer a kind paw?
I have no idea what the answer is to that question, but it's certainly bothering me.

Monday, January 25, 2010

"Survival of the Cutest"

That was the name of a recent article in Bioscience Technology. It referenced a study published in The American Naturalist comparing the skull shapes of domestic dogs to each other as well as across the order Carnivora. They made some odd statements about variation in skull shape in dogs supporting the Darwinian theory of natural selection. As the dogs they were studying were purebreds, and hence artificially selected by human breeders, their research actually has no relation whatsoever to Darwin's theory or natural selection.
But even overlooking that, the title of this article, and the statement by one of the study authors, Chris Klingenberg that "Domestic dogs don't live in the wild so they don't have to run after things and kill them -- their food comes out of a tin and the toughest thing they'll ever have to chew is their owner's slippers. So they can get away with a lot of variation that would affect functions such as breathing and chewing" is offensive. Again, the authors seem to gloss over the fact that the dogs are not making these selection choices. And they also seem to ignore the many fine working and herding dogs who do a lot more than chew their owner's slippers.
Yes, there are undoubtedly a lot of people who get a dog just because it's cute. But there are certainly also plenty of people who put a lot of thought into what a breed was bred for and whether that will fit with their family or not, or people who adopt mixed breeds and then work to understand them and fit them into society.
Humans have done many dogs a great disservice by breeding to extremes, so that the dogs have breathing difficulties or can't reproduce naturally or have joint disorders. Disreputable backyard breeders cross toy breeds to create "cute" "designer" "breeds." (Sorry for all the quotes, but all of those words have incredible baggage.) Articles such as this, with a combination of bad science and a look-down-their-noses attitude toward dogs and their owners certainly aren't needed.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Animal Welfare versus Lab Animals

There was a thought-provoking article in The Scientist some time ago. It pointed out that over half of law schools in the United States now include animal law courses. Many of the same universities also have research programs that use the very animals protected by federal welfare laws.
Support for these animal law programs has come at least partially from contributions by the Bob Barker Endowment Fund for the Study of Animal Rights Law. This fund has provided $1 million gifts to Harvard, Duke, Stanford, Columbia, and other universities.
Under current law, animals remain property. The animal rights movement has been engaged for some time in trying to change that and have animal given the status of "personhood." This would have many, many serious implications well beyond the realm of research. After all, slavery was banned some ago, so you couldn't legally "own" another person. That may fit with the desired outcome of some animal rights organizations to do away with all companion animals, but it doesn't fit into my world.
Aristotle suggested a solution to this a long, long time ago. He saw three categories: things, animals, and persons. Persons had responsibilities to care for animals humanely. As you all know, there are few things treated better than a cherished family dog! Many of my friends have stated a sincere wish to reincarnate as one of my dogs because they envy their lifestyle.
So will law schools and medical schools on the same campus end up in conflict, or can we reach a reasonable level of "use" and "concern" regarding animals? After all, medical research in dogs can benefit both dogs and humans and medical research in humans can cross over and benefit dogs. We share so many of the same or related maladies that great things have been coming from the "one medicine" concept. This shouldn't really be the weighty topic it is made out to be.
Unnecessary research shouldn't be funded or done. Unnecessary duplication shouldn't be funded or done. In the best case, animals already suffering a disease should be used for research into the progression and treatment of the disease (rather than animals being given a disease on purpose) whenever possible. Computer models and analysis should be optimized to minimize the need for animal models. But animal research has a valid place in benefiting both animals and humans.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Haiti Earthquake

Isn't it interesting that there's barely been a word about animals in relation to the Haiti earthquake? I've gotten a couple of posts about humane rescue groups going in, but mostly even they indicated that most of the animals of Haiti are unowned. So the dogs and cats are feral, and no one is much concerned about them.
That's certainly a far cry from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when people who had no homes were still searching for their animals, and rescued animals were being sent around the country to foster homes. And of course the infamous "Snowball" incident where a young boy's puppy was quite literally taken from his arms because it wasn't allowed on the bus to go to temporary housing.
That also prompted me to consider that I've never heard another word after attending the local meeting on animals in emergencies.
I don't think we learn our lessons from these things very quickly.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How Much Will People Put Up with from Their Dogs?

I happen to have the same name as another dog person, who lives in eastern Canada and works with aggression. Apparently she does not have a web presence, as people stumble onto my web and think I'm her. So I get questions. . . actually, usually more like pleas for help. . . about aggression problems on a pretty regular basis.
The latest one was from a woman with three dogs, the last being a recent addition. The first two dogs are attacking the third dog, who is disadvantaged (I think blind, if I remember correctly). There have been punctures, and the last time the woman was bitten (severely, as she put it) because she got between two of the dogs. She says she can't get rid of the new dog because he would be put down, and wanted the other Cheryl Smith to work with her one-on-one.
Certainly face-to-face work is the right idea with a problem such as this. But since she found me rather than the person she wanted, she's still without that help as far as I know.
So just how much will people put up with from their dogs?
I owned a psychotic Springer mix when my roommate adopted a terrier mix that had never lived anywhere but on the streets. The two were a disaster together. The terrier wouldn't submit to the springer, and if I wasn't on constant red alert, they attacked each other with vigor. We ended up with some expensive vet visits. When we had company, we had to put at least one of the two dogs away in a closed room so they couldn't fight. We couldn't relax in our own home because we had to be on the lookout for trouble brewing. But we didn't even consider getting rid of either dog.
I see two extremes with this problem -- the people who immediately ditch one or both of the dogs, and the people who hang in there through everything, paying the bills, often getting bit themselves. It's an odd display of our devotedness to our dogs.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Going Green but Anti-CFL

First, I apologize for not posting sooner. I've been knocking down a lot of deadlines, and when I'm on deadline, the world pretty much goes away for me.
I want to rant a little about CFL bulbs, but first I want to provide my "green" bona fides, so that I don't just sound like some anti-environmental troglodyte. I drive a Prius. I fill only one 32-gallon trash can a month. I have 30 solar panels on my roof. I just bought a new washer and dryer even though my old ones are still working because the new ones are much more energy- and water-efficient. Ditto the dishwasher. Now I have to save up for the new refrigerator.
But CFL bulbs. Aaarggghhh! I can't stand the things. And neither can a lot of our pets. REmember those old "traditional" flourescent, and how they flickered and hummed? Well, the new CFLs do that, too, but they do it at a different rate. It isn't apparent to most humans. But the hum is smack dab in the middle of the cat's hearing range, and within most dog's as well. And, because my hearing range is a bit abnormal for humans, I think I hear them right at the edge of my hearing. In any event, they drive me crazy. I tried one in my bedside lamp and it lasted two nights before I put the old incandescent bulb back in.
Okay, most of you probably won't have the problem I have with them. But they've had a really awful effect on some pets. Sudden behavior problems appeared when CFL bulbs were brought into the house. Cats and some dogs became anxious or aggressive. The problems disappeared when the bulbs were replaced.
And that's while the bulbs are working as intended. You probably know that in order to fluoresce, they contain mercury. So you don't want to drop one. You could find yourself a newly-minted toxic hazard site. And you certainly don't want any of your pets interacting in any way with a broken CFL bulb.
I really can't stand the darned things, and if the legislation outlawing incandescent bulbs really does come into effect in the U.S., I guess I'll be smuggling them in from Canada. Or maybe by then LED bulbs will be ready for use. I have an LED fixture in the kitchen, and it's been performing well for a couple of years now. The LED bulbs that are available now only go up to the equivalent of 50 watts, so not enough to be really useful, and I've had problems with them burning out really quickly in fixtures. So they're not here yet (other than for little things like Christmas lights), but I hope they will be soon. I'd hate to have to become an international criminal to satisfy my need for safe lighting for myself and my pets.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Low Tide

In the Pacific Northwest, during the winter, low tides in daylight hours are a rare thing. So this week is a rare occurrence, with low tide yesterday at roughly 2 pm, and today at 3 pm. I was at one of our local beaches yesterday, and will shortly be at a different one today.
I blame it on my dog, of course. I say that he misses his beach walks in the winter, so we can't miss the opportunity when it arises. And that's at least partly true. He really does (once we got him past his initial fear of water) love the beach. It was our prime exercise location when I adopted him from the shelter -- he a young Border Collie mix with energy to burn, me an aging sedentary writer with no energy to spare. Together we developed a game of herding the waves, where he runs the shoreline right at the curl of the breaking wave, till it breaks, and he barks, and he comes back to do it again. It has been a marvelous way to burn off some of that fire.
Now, at age 11+, he doesn't feel as much need to herd waves, though a particularly good surf will still entice him. But he does still love all the smells and the many birds and digging in the sand. Even his dog companion, Diamond, at age 16+ still manages to sniff out crab shells and seaweed (both of which she considers edible delights), and because she has largely lost her hearing, is no longer worried by the crashing surf.
Of course, I should tell the whole truth and admit that I am greatly attracted to beaches even without the presence of dogs. The air is fresher, there's constant movement of something, there's always a new discovery of an agate or beach glass or, on rare days, a flower stone.
So, having conquered yet another deadline (at the last minute) and facing more of them the rest of the week, we will all take ourselves off to enjoy a good long walk on the beach before dark.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Law to Ban Puppy Mills

I just read about a piece of legislation passed by the Washington legislature, designed to stop a rising puppy mill problem in the state. The fact that I didn't hear about this until after its passage is a bit surprising, as I am supposedly signed up to receive email alerts on pending legislation related to animal issues. Guess that system isn't working.
In any event, we had several rather horrible seizures of dogs in Washington last year. One may ultimately result in the closure of the King County Animal Shelter, as trying to deal with the dogs, even with the support rescue groups, exhausted their funding. One bust found bodies of puppies in a freezer and dead dogs in a garbage bin. The surviving dogs were matted, in bad health, and of course unsocialized, and numbered about 160. This was only one of several puppy mills uncovered in the past year.
So the legislation, which took effect on New Year's Day, now makes it illegal to own or have in your custody more than 50 dogs capable of breeding and over the age of six months. Retail pet stores, veterinary facilities, and boarding facilities are exempt. The law also specifies requirements of caring for the dogs, including the size, temperature, and cleanliness of their cages. For anyone with more than 10 dogs, the law requires "adequate time and space to exercise." (I haven't seen a copy of the actual law, so am only going on what was reported.)
I haven't talked to any of my acquaintances in the world of purebred dogs and showing to get their take on this. They are usually staunchly opposed to any efforts to limit the ownership and breeding of dogs. But this seems totally reasonable to me. How can you effectively care for more than 50 dogs? I was stretched to the limit taking care of four, and have since cut back to two. True, I don't employ kennel staff, but neither do a lot of breeders, and even if you did, how many would you need to care for more than 50 dogs?
I need to get my hands on a copy of the actual legislation, but from what I've heard so far, this seems an eminently fair attempt to prevent more puppy mills from springing up in my state. I just hope there are some enforcement "teeth" included in the legislation.
And just so that the puppy millers can't simply flee across state lines, Oregon initiated similar legislation on the same day.