Saturday, December 13, 2008


One of the most horrible things any pet owner can face is a sick dog or cat who requires emergency treatment when their veterinary hospital is closed and they have to rely on an emergency hospital. It can be the best, or worst, experience of your pet-owning life.

One of my friends had a horribly sick cat. He was bleeding and it was impossible to tell why. Off she raced to a nearby emergency hospital. The cat went into shock as soon as he was taken back to be examined. It was ultimately discovered, on x-ray, that he had swallowed something. No one knew what it could be since my friend is very careful to keep everything locked away and out of reach of a curious kitty. When he finally passed it, it turned out to be a necklace lost in my friend’s house by a neighbor child. It had cut the cat up so badly inside that the veterinary internal medicine specialist was amazed that he had healed so well. Fortunately, he is home and recovering although I doubt as much can be said for my friend’s bank balance. But that was not her consideration when trying to save her beloved cat’s life.

Others have not fared as well.

One of my friends is a delivery room nurse at a major hospital. She’s a dog breeder with a good deal of experience and her education helps her with veterinary emergencies. Her veterinarian had moved to a new house and didn’t have phones in her bedroom yet when my friend had a litter due imminently. My friend had spoken with her in the early evening and they planned a c-section but it appeared that the little mother-to-be had gone to sleep. She woke up in full blown labor and my friend couldn’t reach her veterinarian so she brought the little dog to the emergency hospital and told them she needed a c-section. They said they’d be the judge of that and took her back to examine her. They said she was quiet and put her in a quiet, dark room. My friend asked if they’d ever seen that breed before. They hadn’t. She told them that she’d been breeding them for a number of years and she c-sectioned her dogs because, as a man-made breed, she knew the pelvis of the mother is usually too small to accommodate the large heads that these dogs have. She didn’t want to lose a puppy. She also told them that the girl’s mother and sister both had needed c-sections because the puppies wouldn’t fit through the pelvis. Amazingly enough, they argued with her! She said she wanted to see the attending. Incredibly, they said there wasn’t one in house. They determined the puppy was in the birth canal but said they wouldn’t guarantee the safety of the pup. They wanted to give her pitocin (to increase labor). My friend told them the head was too big for the pelvis and pitocin would only serve to ram the head into unyielding bones and not do anything except to exhaust the mother and injure, if not kill, the other pups.

My friend told them that she was a Labor and Delivery Room Nurse and they said that the human model is not the same as the canine one to which my friend replied that the basics are still the same: the passage, the passenger, and the forces.

My friend was very frustrated because she knew what had to be done and all they had done was argue with her for 3 ½ precious hours! Time was quickly slipping by when they finally said they’d take blood and call the attending at home with the results. She asked if they could call him and have him come in while the bloodwork was done. They said it wasn’t the policy. They’d give him the results before he came in. When he finally arrived, after they made her sign papers that she had refused pitocin, they did the C-Section and the puppy was dead. She asked if the puppy was the biggest in the litter. The attending said it was the smallest. She explained that if he, being the smallest, couldn’t fit through, could he imagine what would have happened to the other four larger puppies if the dam had pitocin? He stared over her head. My friend was relieved to get out of there with the mother and surviving puppies. I keep thinking of that other puppy who was dead as a result of the unyielding intern who was obviously inept and uninformed and claimed to be following policy. They are clearly responsible for that puppy’s death.

And then, in another part of the country is an owner who had two dogs die, separately, in an emergency hospital. Her Toy dog was sprayed by a poisonous Colorado Bull Toad, and she had to rush him to the hospital in the middle of the night. They gave him a drug not tested for poisoning in dogs and he died as a direct result of improper treatment. The drug is meant to stop car sickness and she questioned that since you are supposed to make a dog vomit up poisonous material, not stop him from getting it out of his system. An incorrectly administered drug that hadn’t even been tested for that purpose.

Her other dog died because the hospital was in violation of a State code: they didn’t have proper staff on duty with proper credentials. The State in which she resides requires that a 24 hour emergency hospital have a board certified emergency veterinarian in the building. Twice she has been there when there has only been an Intern in the hospital, a direct violation of the regulations. They also said they couldn’t treat the dog, they hadn’t so much as x-rayed him, and they insisted he be moved which is something that shouldn’t be done with a critically ill patient of any species. By the time he got to the next hospital, where he was x-rayed, his lungs had filled with fluid. Nothing could save him at that point, no matter how much money she was willing to spend. He died at the second hospital.

What has happened to each of these owners and their dogs is unconscionable. We must demand better treatment and competent staffing. There must be more than the almighty dollar of importance to these emergency hospitals. There has to be accountability. If they cannot operate properly and with proper staffing then they should not be allowed to operate.

Then where will owners go? Well, I have to wonder whether there’s any difference between no emergency hospital and one that does such a disservice to animals and their owners that the end result is a dead dog or cat, a heartbroken owner, and an outrageous veterinary bill. Perhaps for those facilities the bottom line is really all that matters.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A Kinder, Gentler World...

I have long been an advocate of positive training. Like so many people, I'm what is known as a "cross-over" trainer. We learned the old aversive methods and I disliked them intensely even then. I loathed the sight of a choke collar. And with good cause. The name itself explains it. And I have to wonder: what part of choke don't people understand? Oh, sure, aversive trainers use words like "pop," as if it were an insignificant movement by the human. It is not insignificant. They call it a "training collar." Another name doesn't change it. And alpha rolls are not a means of communication between dogs and owners; they are a good way to get bitten. It's rather like sitting up and begging to be bitten. Humans are not dogs and vice versa. Aversives might work in the short term but aggression begets aggression and sooner or later, those methods will backfire. They will surely damage the human-animal bond. What good is a relationship that's built on fear?

Old-fashioned trainers talk about "dominance." Are they so insecure that they feel they have to be "dominant" over an animal? If you watch that sort of "training" on videotape or television, turn off the sound and watch the dog. What do you see? The answer is fear. And fear is not a good foundation for a relationship with a living, breathing, sentient being. Practicing 30 year old training methodologies, or going to a trainer who does, is pretty much like taking your dog to a veterinarian who practices 30 year old medical methodologies. Why would you want to do that?

I'm very pleased to say that I'm not alone in believing that operant conditioning (clicker training), or lure and reward based methods, are far better and create a strong bond. There are many trainers, behaviorists, and behavior consultants who also strongly believe this, and seeing is believing. Dogs with positive training are competing in all canine sports and doing well at the highest levels. Even more importantly: they're living in homes as beloved family members with a very tightly shared bond and it certainly wasn't fear that led them there.

It is important to note that the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) recently released a position statement titled, "The Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals." ( The paper can be downloaded in .pdf form from their website. I strongly urge you to read this position statement and point others in its direction as well.

"I sing for the animals..,." Teton Sioux. They did. We should, too. We must speak for those who cannot speak for themselves. When we bring them into our homes, when we see them with their owners, we must give them voice. We must not allow the misguided "training" that is tantamount to abuse.

There are those who insist the old methods are the only way. How sad that they will not acknowledge that it isn't true, will not even try another way, that they are so stuck in the past that they cannot see the present, let alone the future. Positive training is so simple that even a child can do it. It opens up a line of communication between the four-legged companion and his or her human family and helps create a loving, lasting bond. Isn't that what we want?

There are many places where you can find positive training as well as behavior consultants practicing positive training methodologies. A good place to start learning about positive training is Karen Pryor's website ( where you will find resources including a listing of trainers who use operant conditioning.

If you have problems, you can find Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists who can help you. The American College of Veterinary Behaviorists ( has an online presence. Your veterinarian can refer you to a Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorist if there's one in your area. There are Applied Animal Behaviorists ( and there are Certified Animal Behavior Consultants certified by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (

There is nothing better than building a bond of trust. And, yes, you can solve behavior problems using positive methods. I filled a book ("Rover, Get Off Her Leg!") with positive ways to solve problems. Emma Parsons wrote a wonderful book, "Click to Calm," on solving dog aggression problems with positive methods. Those are only two of many books and DVDs available to help people and their dogs.

Do yourself, and your dog, a favor and, as the classic song title proclaimed, "Accentuate the Positive."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Toys for Dogs & Cats

I know you're thinking about holiday gift-giving. Dogs and cats are a great part of that. We not only buy things for them but for our friends' companions as well.

I want to take a minute or two to remind you to be careful when buying toys for your pets or others. There is no regulatory group for pet toys. The industry relies on manufacturers to police themselves. That cute little toy you've been admiring may not be the safest thing for your beloved companion. And the way in which you play must also be considered.

Look for loose parts. If you can loosen it, your dog or cat can, too. And if the pet consumes it, disaster may follow with a swallowed toy, or toy part, getting lodged in your pet's throat or intestinal tract. A visit to the veterinarian or emergency veterinary hospital may ensue. And so might an expensive surgery to remove said object.

Dog toys with squeakers can be a real problem if the squeaker isn't secure. Remove the squeaker before the dog or puppies does precisely that and swallows it. Any little piece glued on can be easily removed. Chew toys made like twisted rags can shred and the yarn can be swallowed. They can also get very dirty. They're not a great idea unless they can be used to grab a loose tooth. Supervise all play with this type of toy.

Be careful of feathers on cat toys. They will usually come off and can be swallowed. Mylar cat teasers can cause the equivilent of a paper cut on the cat's mouth if it is caught by the cat at a certain angle. Why take a chance?

Interactive cat toys must be put away between play sessions. Cats can easily get tangled up in the wire or cord or string. Make play sessions with these toys special times for interaction each day instead.

Laser toys shouldn't be on your list. Having had laser surgery on my eye, I can tell you how powerful a laser can be and a rapidly moving dog or cat can easily find the light in their eye while the well-meaning owner is trying to keep up with movement. Opt for another toy instead. You can always use a flashlight if you want to play with a light. But be certain that the game starts with the light coming from a specific place and is "returned" to that specific place when the game ends so your dog or cat doesn't go crazy looking for the light!

If you're buying your cat a new cat tree or scratching post, be certain that it has a solid base and can't be tipped over. Also your cat should be able to stretch out full-length against it.

Dog toys that can be stuffed should have an opening at the other end so it doesn't create a vacuum, allowing the dog's tongue to be caught inside.

Inspect everything! Don't buy anything that looks "iffy." Since there is no overseeing body to ensure safety it's up to you to inspect all toys as you would for a small child.

And remember to stay in the room the first time you give a new toy to your pet. You want to be there in case something goes wrong. If there's a problem, you want to be there, on the spot to intervene. Your pets are depending on you!

Have a wonderful, safe holiday!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Thanksgiving and The Family Dog

Ahhh, Thanksgiving. It's coming and so are the guests. And the tempting kitchen smells. Turkey roasting in the oven, potatoes, yams, and the desserts. Apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie. Well, you get the idea and if you're anything like me, you're drooling at the thought. Guess who else is getting excited? Your canine companion.

If you've read my behavior book, "Rover, Get Off Her Leg!" (H.C.I. Communications) you know what dogs are capable of doing during a holiday when those smells are soooo tempting. You know where that turkey can end up and in what condition. And with company coming your dog will have to be on his or her best behavior.

Now is the time to start thinking about your dog's "company manners," his comportment, her etiquette in polite company. Well, truthfully, you should have thought about it sooner but better late than never.

Be sure you feed your dog early in the day. Your dog's daily ration should be divided into two separate meals. One fed at breakfast and the other at dinnertime. Your dog will be eating when you are so there's less temptation to give in to his pitiful glances. Never feed your dog at the table. He should learn early on that he waits politely until the family has finished eating and then he can receive a treat, whether that's in the middle of the afternoon, or in the evening. During the holiday, that treat can be a small piece of turkey. He is not allowed to beg, climb up on the table (yes, dogs do that!) or otherwise cajole family members and guests into giving him food from their plates. Remember that onions are poisonous to dogs so keep those well out of reach. The same for chocolate! And nothing laced with nutmeg....

Your dog should also greet visitors politely, with all four feet on the floor. No jumping up allowed. It's too easy for many dogs to knock Grandma or Grandpa off their feet. While this face-to-face greeting is normal dog behavior, it is not normal human behavior and your dog is living in human society and will need to learn the rules of comportment. Sitting politely and waiting to be acknowledged is optimum. Getting underfoot can be equally hazardous for some family members.

You'll also have to enlist the cooperation of your guests. They can't pet the dog unless he's either sitting or standing quietly and no sneaking food to the dog under the table!

Thanksgiving can be a wonderful holiday or a complete canine disaster. The choice is yours. Start training now with positive reinforcement, setting your dog up to do the right thing so he can be rewarded for it. This will pay dividends in the end, for you and for your dog.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your four-legged family members.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Presidents, Dogs and The Right Stuff

There has been so much talk recently about the president elect's plan to get a puppy for his daughters, and the current president's dog biting a reporter. I promised myself I wouldn't add to the white noise of discussion and yet, here I am. I think it's because I'm frustrated by both situations.

Let's start with the current administration. There's no doubt in my mind that President George and Laura Bush love their Scotties. I don't know how the dogs were trained but I have my suspicions. There were at least two factors coming into play when dog teeth met reporter's hand. First and foremost, it's imperative that everyone know how to properly approach a dog. Never, ever swoop down on a dog and shove your hand at him. This simply isn't prudent. The dog-loving reporter was not dog-savvy. No dog likes anyone to swoop down on him. And you should never reach out to a strange dog. Move slowly. Get down to the dog's level if possible. Always present a strange dog with your closed hand and let him sniff your knuckles. And before you even think about doing any of that, ask if you may pat the dog. The dog's owner or handler will be able to tell you if that's a good idea. You, too, can avoid being bitten.

Add to this the dog breed. The Scottish Terrier is pretty well known for being "dour." Terriers are feisty dogs and the Scottie is no exception. He is, perhaps, not the best choice for a dog who is going to be greeting strangers. Any dog would be hard-pressed to be warm and welcoming all the time when being approached incorrectly by strangers, or even by people he knows. Put the huge press corp on the lawn with cameras, etc. and you have an accident waiting to happen.

Now we have a President Elect who has promised his children a puppy. One child is allergic to dogs and he's saying that he can get a "hypoallergenic" dog. Uh, sorry. There's no such thing and whoever told him this was doing his family and the potential new four-legged family member a great disservice. Dogs who have hair, not fur, are far less likely to cause a problem however the problem lies with the dander, not the hair or fur. To bring home a puppy and then discover that the child is allergic is going to cause a problem not just for the family but for the puppy as well who will be uprooted from his original home and then will be a likely candidate for rehoming after he washes out as First Pet.

Then there was that horrible moment when Obama stated that it wouldn't be a small dog because he wouldn't walk a small dog. Let me state unequivocally that I do not recommend Toy dogs for homes with children despite the plaintive voice of one of the Obama daughters mentioning a "Yorkshire." It's seldom a good match. I say that as someone whose area of expertise is Toy and Small dogs. But the statement that he wouldn't walk a small dog? I have often said, and I'm not the first to say it, that it takes a big man to walk a little dog, is true. It takes a man who is secure in his masculinity, is sure of himself as a person to care only that he has a dog he loves who loves him and those he loves. Size doesn't matter to such men. For those who won't walk a small dog, well, I have said before that those people have a problem that I can't handle.

An issue that is important for every dog, whether in the White House or your house, is training along with socialization. All dogs and puppies must be properly socialized. Crucial to the way in which the dog or puppy will respond to those around him is the way in which he's trained. Aggression begets aggression and training a dog with old, aversive methods will only come back to bite you. Literally. Some of those things may work in the short term but sooner or later the dog will react. Operant conditioning is ideal. Even a child can do it. Literally. And this would be the ideal way to get the children involved with their new dog.

So, how to choose that dog or puppy? A shelter dog would be right for most families but there's less of a chance of finding one who won't cause allergy problems. Better is to find a breed that the child can tolerate and then go to Breed Rescue for that specific breed and give a forever home to a dog who deserves a second chance, who may have been thrown away by his first owner for any one of a myriad of stupid reasons. Whatever they do, I hope for the sake of the dog and the children that the commitment is for the dog's lifetime. And doing it right is having the right stuff.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Air Travel with Dogs and Cats

I used to travel by air with my four-legged companions. I prefer carrying a dog or cat on board, tucking the little one under the seat in a safe carrier, rather than having my hairy companion in the cargo hold. It's one of the advantages of a smaller dog or cat. There has always been a fly in the ointment, however. The airlines do not charge for a carry-on unless there's a dog or cat in it. In other words, if you take your laptop computer aboard in a case, it costs you nothing. If you take your dog or cat in a carry-on case, it used to cost approximately $100. each way. You would pay for the privilege of losing leg room.

When asked, the airlines would cite "allergy" if pushed. No one had a real answer because there is no regulation regarding this. It was simply a matter of charging extra because they could. Seldom did you hear a sound out of the carrier. In fact, in all my years of flying, I've never heard from a dog or cat onboard. I cannot say the same for the infants whose parents didn't have the common sense to put a bottle into a baby's mouth on take-off and landing to counteract the change in air pressure. What I did hear was a lifetime of loudly screaming infants on planes. Then there have been the children who have pulled hair, kicked my seat repeatedly, screamed, yelled, whined. Well, you get the idea.

As for the allergy excuse, and it is my understanding that one airline in Canada has banned pets because some person got a doctor to complain, the excuse simply isn't valid. If dogs and cats are to be banned because of allergy, what about the women reeking as if they were standing next to the perfume counter when it exploded? Or the men who are doused in strong after shave? Anyone with asthma can tell you what that is like. Or a migraineur whose migraine is triggered by strong odors. Or the people who smell of cigarettes and cigars? What of those people who cause discomfort to other passengers and can, in some cases, make them downright ill? I was on a flight from NY to London a few years ago when a horrible stench was suddenly filling the cabin. It was pretty scary since many of us thought there was something wrong with the plane. It turned out to be coming from a woman a couple of rows ahead of me who was using nail polish remover and giving herself a manicure inflight! Often it's the flight attendants who are wearing an unearthly amount of perfume or aftershave.

I have sat next to a woman who threw up all the way across the Atlantic. People with colds and flu passing their germs through the cabin. Never once have I been disturbed by a dog or cat. But those respectful pet owners who care enough to carry their well-mannered dogs and cats with them have been punished by the airlines with exhorbitant charges.

The airlines are losing business thanks to the cost of fuel. They are belt-tightening, which is prudent. However, going after dog and cat owners is not likely to be very prudent. A friend who travels a good deal with her dogs made arrangements for two trips. The news of the new carry-on price for pets was nothing short of sticker shock. Her flight from JFK to Cleveland is $167. for her seat and $300. for her tiny dog to fly under the seat! Yes, you read that correctly: THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS! And she is the only one losing leg room! Her dog, by the way, has hair not fur, so if they're pleading allergy (and I don't think she has heard why they are charging so much), it won't fly. Any pun intended. For her flight from JFK to Long Beach, CA she is paying $299. for her seat and $200. for her dog to fly under the seat.

It is patently unfair.

People carrying dogs and cats to dog or cat shows have found air travel convenient but how many of them will now find it better to drive? It may take a little longer but the fuel costs for driving may well be less than those of flying with a dog or cat when outrageous costs are tacked on by the airlines for a carry-on. That's business lost to the airlines. Maybe they think they can afford it. Maybe they don't know exactly how many people travel for dog shows, cat shows, canine musical freestyle competitions, etc. They may be about to find out.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Breed Rescue and Shelters

I love a really good animal shelter. A really good one is clean, safe, and linked into a network of caring people. Volunteers who are adept at handling dogs and cats work with them to make life less frightening for them in the shelter environment and try to make them more adoptable.

Karen Pryor's shelter pets program is a particularly good one that I'd like to see in use in shelters around the world. Volunteers are taught to clicker train the dogs, cats, puppies and kittens. They not only find life more interesting but are more adoptable when they can go to their new homes having learned a thing or two.

The one area in which shelters fall down, in my opinion, is in their misunderstanding and underuse of dog and cat Breed Rescue volunteers. The problem seems to be endemic in U.S. shelters. I don't understand why so many either don't know or are unwilling to learn how to use these people most effectively, to take advantage of their expertise in their breed.

For the purpose of brevity and I hope, clarity, I will talk about dogs but this also applies to cats.

When a purebred dog or cat is turned into a shelter, they go into the system. In a kill shelter there are only a few precious days in which to get them out before they're put down. (The euphemism for killing, "put down," doesn't please me since I prefer to be crystal clear about the act.) Most shelters put the animals up for adoption by the public once they have been deemed adoptable. This includes health exam, possibly spay or neuter and some sort of temperament test that, frankly, isn't consistently good or useful. Before shelter people start screaming at me, I know that you're doing the best that you can and listening to a bunch of "experts" who are often just people who are exceptionally good at self-promotion and earning money through these "lectures." The public has the first crack at adopting these purebreds. Throughout this process of intake, evaluation and adoption is where I think the shelters are not on track with breed rescue and are not properly utilizing this invaluable resource.

Each breed has its own characteristics, health and temperament issues, etc. These are best known to people who have been in the breed for awhile and are experienced in evaluating, training and placing members of their breed. The ideal situation is for the shelter workers to learn to identify the breed, refer to their list of breed rescue contacts (and every shelter should have a such a list clearly available in their office) and call the appropriate person.

The breed rescue person will have a volunteer go to the shelter, "pull" the dog (take him out of the shelter) and will take the dog home for evaluation, medical care, training, and if the dog is a good candidate, placement in a "forever home" that has been carefully screened by someone who knows that breed and is uniquely qualified to make that decision.

Small dogs in shelters, for example, do quite poorly since they're frightened, cold (they lose body heat more quickly than larger dogs), and deprived of the human interaction that is essential for them to do well. They can exhibit fear biting in a shelter setting that would never otherwise happen in a home. It's their only defense when they're terrified. All dogs and cats lose heart and begin to withdraw when placed in a cage with no real love and human contact, without a home of their own. Even a temporary home with a breed rescue foster volunteer is a home where the companion animal will do far better than in the shelter setting.

By getting these dogs into Breed Rescue, the shelter will then have room for more of the mixed breed dogs who also need a home. There will be more space for them when the purebreds are in Foster Care.

Why don't most shelter people understand this and see the value in it? I honestly don't know. Years ago, the head of a large shelter asked, plaintively, why I couldn't get the Toy Dog Rescue people to take the larger purebred dogs since she could place the small dogs. Wow! I was stunned by her lack of understanding of the concept of Breed Rescue. It still makes me shake my head in wonder, even today.

Shelters should not be a cheap pet shop for the public who want a Purebred. Those people who want to adopt a purebred can go to Breed Rescue. The Purebred Rescue groups can be found at the American Kennel Club's website:

I would love to see the day when there is no further need for shelters, when every dog and cat will be in his or her "forever home." But until resources are properly used that day keeps getting pushed further and further away.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Physical Therapy for Pets

There was a time when people would have physical therapy when they had a problem but never considered it for their pets. It never crossed their minds that their companion might need the same sort of help. Physical Therapy for dogs and cats is something that hasn't been around as long. Why? Who knows?! Obviously, it's beneficial for the pet who has had surgery, been in an accident or has a chronic physical problem.

Veterinary physical therapy practices are beginning to spring up in the U.S., Canada, and other countries. One such practice, Sterling Impression Animal Rehabilitation Center of New England in Walpole, Massachusetts ( sits in a small strip mall. An unlikely location but a convenient one for pet owners. 

Inside the doors are an underwater treadmill and a hydrotherapy pool and that's only the beginning. Dr. Marjorie McMillan created Sterling Impression when she realized there had to be a better way to treat animals with lameness problems. The veterinarian had spent 2 years carrying her paralyzed 15-year-old Labrador Retriever. The issue was personal for her. She knew how owners with lame pets felt because she was one. Dr. McMillan headed to the University of Tennessee Veterinary School to learn Physical Therapy where groundbreaking work was, and is, being done in this field. 

Dr. McMillan and Cathy Simons, CVT, created the Water Wellness Center and changed the name to Sterling Impression  when they moved the location of their practice to allow for the heated lap pool and whirlpool area. Why Sterling? That was the name of Dr. McMillan's beloved Labrador Retriever. Show me a pet owner who can't relate to the reason for the change of name.

Therapeutic ultrasound, custom-made carts and more can be involved in the treatment. Mobility issues are helped in many ways, and getting the immobile large dog into the pool happens with the assist of a hydraulic lift. And I should mention that even cats benefit from water therapy.

Spending a day there was one of the most heart-warming experiences I've had. Watching dogs walk using the underwater treadmill, going for laps around the mall with a little dog whose hind legs were in a cart, watching pets wearing life vests and swimming after toys that are thrown across the lap pool is heartwarming. You can see how much better they feel. Massage therapy also helps these beloved companions. The care and concern of the staff matches that of the owners. This is a team effort and it pays off for the pets, the owners, and the staff who take pride in their accomplishment when they see the results of their work.  

Sterling Impression is a happy place where feeling better is a great feeling for everyone involved.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Reading with Dogs - Great Programs for Children

I love to read. It has been one of my favorite pastimes since I was a child. My mother used to read to me and taught me to read long before I went to school. Not every child has that sort of interaction and not every child feels comfortable with books, with reading aloud in the classroom, sounding out the words, enjoying the stories. 

One way to facilitate childhood reading, especially for children who are shy or have problems with reading, is to bring a dog into the classroom and have the child read to the dog. The dog, unlike a human, doesn't criticize, doesn't pass judgement, or cause the child to feel uncomfortable in any way. Studies have shown that reading to a dog reduces stress. This can help facilitate reading. 

Reading programs that include a dog have proven to be very successful.  Therapy Dogs International has a reading program (, as does Therapy Animals ( whose program is called R.E.A.D. - Reading Education Assistance Dogs.  There's Reading with Rover ( and there are more.

These programs are community-based, facilitated with local dog/owner teams who have passed tests for going into schools and/or libraries and allowing the children to read to their dog. 

What do the children read? They read a variety of books but I've discovered one new series that is geared to dog facilitated reading programs. Written by Robert J. McCarty and illustrated by Stella Mustanoja McCarty, the Planet of the Dogs series is geared to children of all ages. 

The first in the series, Planet of the Dogs is the story of the very first time that dogs arrived on our planet to teach people about love and to save the farmers of Green Valley from the invasion of the Stone City warriors. Castle in the Mist is the 2nd book in the series. In this book the dogs return to earth from out in space, on the other side of the sun. This time they arrive to prevent war and free kidnapped children from the Castle in the Mist. 

Coming in October is the third book in the series, Snow Valley Heroes, which is the story of how the dogs saved Christmas.

This delightful series, published by Barking Planet Productions, can be purchased separately or together for use in a reading program or at home. More information about these books can be found at:

Any one of these books would make for a delightful - and one would assume cherished - gift for any child. All three would be an amazing reading adventure.

The books are available from your favorite online bookstore. Find the reading program nearest you. If a reading with dogs program doesn't yet exist in your community, you might want to work towards that goal. 

Every child deserves the magical escape found in a good book.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Puppy Mill Awareness Day

Puppy mills. I've talked about them before. The dogs are bred nearly to death, puppies are raised in cages, crammed together like badly treated livestock. Actually, that's what they are, they're certainly not beloved housepets or family members. They live in wire cages, eat there, eliminate there and live in filth, seldom having human touch or caring. Certainly there is no socialization. Puppies are then taken away from mothers too young by "bunchers," put into trucks and taken to pet shops. Sometimes they don't make it and die in the truck. Often they're sick and die at the pet shop or soon after they are sold at an inflated price to a new owner.

The price is what they think the market will bear, with markups for the buncher, the pet shop, etc. They are sold for more than a pet quality puppy from a reputable breeder, or for the same price. What you won't get from a puppy mill pup is a chance to meet at least one of the parents, see proof of health screenings before breeding, you won't have a healthy, well-socialized pup well on its way to being housetrained. They have every chance of having behavior problems. In fact, it's the rare puppy mill pup who won't.

Some pet shops are fancier than others and they talk about getting their puppies from "breeders" but look at the registration papers and see where those pups originated. Chances are very good that it will be one of the hearts of puppy mill country.

September 20, 2008 is Puppy Mill Awareness Day. I wish every day were Puppy Mill Awareness Day. Here are two websites where you can learn more about it:

I hope you'll take time to think about this issue, learn more about it. Don't be fooled by the puppy mill, the backyard breeder, or the commercial breeder who claims to do testing and have "socializers." There is nothing like a dedicated breeder, one who does all of the testing, knows their pups well, start housetraining and often simple behaviors like Sit, Down, Stay, Come before the pups go to their new homes. They lose money on every litter. The pups are family members and are matched to their owners.

Most people spend more time learning about cars before buying one than they do about dogs and puppies. Take time to learn and be sure you and your new pup are off to a good start.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Dispelling Some Old Cat Myths

I don't know why but people attribute all sorts of things to cats that simply aren't true. They're "Old Wives' Tales" (or should we say "tails?") and I'd love to know who started them and why! It's all patently unfair.
The biggest myth about cats, across the board, is that they're solitary creatures who can take care of themselves and don't need much attention if any at all.  To which I can only respond: HUH?!  Are you kidding??!  Let's get this straight right now: Cats are solitary hunters but they are very social. Observing feral cats it has been found that they group together in what is called a "clowder." Yes, dogs form a "pack,' cats form a "clowder." When we bring them into our home we become their family, part of their clowder.  
Cats love attention and affection but they're not exactly like dogs which is where people make a huge mistake. Cats don't want to be stared at or approached first. They want to observe and make the first move. Look away.  Put one finger out and down at the cat's level and let the cat sniff it. This is polite behavior to a cat. 
Cats need attention, affection and interaction. Use an interactive toy to play with your cat and be sure to put it away between play sessions so your cat won't get into trouble with the string or any feathers or wires.
Another myth is that cats need to be outdoors. That's one of the most dangerous myths because your cat can be attacked by another animal, hit by a car, or otherwise be endangered. Your cat belongs in the house with you with lots of vertical space to go up, a nice view from at least one window, a scratching post and a cat tree, each with a sturdy base that won't tip over, fresh water and fresh food and clean litterboxes. Experiment with a variety of toys to see what your cat likes best. Some like balls, some like pipecleaner toys, trackball toys, soft toys to carry around, etc. Most like a variety from which to choose.
Leaving your cat alone for the weekend is not a good idea from a safety standpoint as well as the fact that he will be lonely. Just because you don't have to take him out for a walk doesn't mean that he doesn't need attention! And, yes, some cats enjoy being walked on a harness and leash.
You can train a cat. They can do just about anything a dog can do and respond very well to operant conditioning (clicker training).  This is also a way to keep your cat's mind engaged as well as exercise his body.  There is also cat agility and, perhaps, your cat would enjoy doing that. 
Frankly, you will get out of a cat what you put into it, just like any other relationship. A little love and attention will be returned more times than you can count. To quote an old TV commercial: try it, you'll like it! 

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Responsible Breeders

I'm often asked to recommend a "good breeder." The breed always varies but the desire is the same. The problem is that I don't need one hand on which to count the people I personally consider to be "good," ergo "responsible and ethical" breeders. My standards are high and I see no reason why breeders shouldn't meet them. Sadly, I find that while many breeders call themselves responsible, you don't have to look far below the surface to see that they talk the talk but don't necessarily walk the walk.
I've detailed what I expect in "Small Dogs, Big Hearts." I don't think it's too much to ask to see at least one of the parents on the premises, to see clearances for health testing done before breeding for any genetic diseases that occur in the individual breed, to ask for a health guarantee to a reasonable age. All puppies should be clean and healthy and have a separate elimination place. The breeder should be properly socializing the puppies and starting their training as well as teaching them about the human-animal bond. And the breeder should be keeping the pups, preferably to at least 12 weeks while socializing the pups. If the breeder isn't socializing the puppies properly (a situation that must continue throughout the dog's life) then the earliest the pup should go to its new home is 8 or 10 weeks. The later, the better.
I have finally found a book that I can refer both breeders and potential pet owners to that details exactly what breeders should be doing and it is written by someone who walks the walk. Jerry Hope, CDBC, is a breeder, judge, trainer and behavior consultant in Georgia whose book, "The Breeder's Guide to Raising Superstar Dogs," is a must read for everyone who cares about dogs. I have a few minor differences with what should be done with Toy dogs but that's very minor. This is a book I'm happy to see available to the general public. And I hope more breeders will adopt Hope's program which includes thorough socialization, training and use of the bio-sensor program which is carefully outlined in Hope's book which is available at Amazon.
Add this one to your collection. You won't regret it. Too many dogs end up in shelters because they've had a poor start in life and have behavior problems for one reason or another. This book can go a long way in helping to prevent that.
I'd like to see what would happen if cat breeders adopted this program. Cats develop at different stages from dogs but I think this would be a worthy experiment to create better feline companions as well. It's certainly food for thought.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Greyhound Racing and Other Animal Abuse

I remember many years ago reading that Greyhounds "stand well for bleeding," which was one reason why many racing Greyhounds ended up in research labs.  You could say, in those days, that those poor animals were the "lucky" ones even though many of us were utterly horrified.  Many were shot, their bodies dumped, when they lost races. Or clubbed to death and then dumped.

Greyhound rescue groups began to spring up around the country. They did, and still do, as much as possible but it's virtually impossible to save every dog. The count I've read was that 16 States still allow Greyhound racing, (, although I have seen the figure at 15 States elsewhere.

Let's get our facts straight about these lovely creatures. They are Sighthounds. They hunt by sight, going after moving prey. Running is natural for them and they enjoy it but Greyhound Racing is something else. It is pure exploitation and not every dog is meant to race. Those who lose, because it's a money-making venture, are disposed of as quickly as possible. The ones trained on a live lure are less likely to be rescued and adopted because you simply cannot trust them around the family cat or small dog.  That's both nature and nurture.  

Why are people still making money from this alleged "sport?"  Why are companion animals - and all dogs and cats are certainly companion animals -- considered "Livestock" in most Midwest States? Where is their protection from abuse? How can animal cruelty laws be passed in any place that considers a pet "livestock?" This is beyond an archaic attitude. Laws need to be changed by those living in States where dogs and cats are designated as "livestock" and they need to start campaigning now. Rescue Groups are trying but they need more help. Don't just sit there and say that "someone else" will do it. Each of us is "someone else." 

Contact your local rescue group and find out how you can get involved in changing legislation. It's not just the Greyhounds who are at stake here. It's every dog and cat. Abuse of animals is the precursor to abuse of people. I'm not making that up. Go and investigate for yourself. Read the published literature.  If you don't care about animals, hopefully, you care about people. If we cannot do something to animal abusers to stop them, how can we hope to stop them from escalating into abusers of people? When is enough, enough? When will people be motivated enough to stand up, be counted, and work for change?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dog Parks

If you know me or you've read some of my books, you've probably figured out that I'm not a fan of dog parks. I think there are too many variables to make it viable for the average dog owner. I have a whole list of "caveats" in a couple of my books, pointing out what you have to look for and why when you're scoping out a dog park. The dog park "bullies," the owners who aren't responsible and aren't paying attention, the fact that children shouldn't be in there playing because it's for the dogs. And then there's the problem of little dogs who can be badly injured or possibly killed by big dogs if owners aren't watchful. There's responsibility on both sides: the big dog owner and the small dog owner.

Not terribly long ago, Cheryl S. Smith wrote a great book about dog parks, "Visiting the Dog Park," by Cheryl S. Smith, published by Dogwise. It's available everywhere books are sold, including at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Dogwise. It's the ultimate guide to using dog parks.

More recently, a sort of picture book for grown-ups was released. It's "fiction" but contains enough fact to be useful even to older children.  "Dog Park Diary, the social round of Goody Beagle," as told to Kim Pearson, tells the story from the dog's perspective.  Frankly, I wasn't sure of the message before I read it. But told from the dog's perspective and with wonderful photos by Anne Lindsay it points out the bully who is expelled from the dog park, the big dogs who get along with little ones, the little dog owner who is afraid to let her Toy dog play with large dogs, the greeting rituals among dogs, etc. For the dog fancier, the sight of Bichon Frise spelled as Bishon Frise thanks to an editorial oversight, might be a bit jarring but shouldn't put anyone off from the book itself.  Published by Primary Sources Books, it's available online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.  A little pricey but probably at a better price point online, it would make a nice gift for the holidays.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

When It's Not Always a Behavior Problem

One of my areas of special interest is animal behavior. So many behavior problems can be fixed with some professional help, either from a Veterinary Behaviorist, an Applied Animal Behaviorist or a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant. Not everything that's assumed to be a behavior problem is one.

The first thing my colleagues and I do, as Certified Animal Behavior Consultants, is send the client to their veterinarian for a complete work-up and, in the case of a dog, a complete Thyroid Panel. It's imperative to know if the problem is organic in nature and the behavior is the result of an underlying physical problem.

Some cases can be more confusing than others, especially for the layperson. Here's a case in point, and a little food for thought. I'm deliberately omitting the names and the place. It could have happened to any rescue person anywhere in the world.

A cat was brought into rescue and placed in a foster home. She was, naturally, a bit frightened at first and supposedly had some problems in her previous foster home. The new foster was prepared to give the cat a fresh start.

The cat was sweet and loving most of the time but for what seemed like no reason at all and from out of nowhere, the cat would growl and bite, going from Angel Kitty to Cujo Cat in mere seconds. After some time with the new foster, the rescue groups board decided that the cat should be put down, that there was a safety issue. That can be a very wise choice in many cases. In this case, the foster refused to do that and would have spent his own money on veterinary care if necessary even though, like so many people, he has precious little to spare these days. The cat was too loving most of the time and he was convinced that this cat was worth saving. He simply didn't have the experience with rescue cats to make a final evaluation.

The cat was subsequently sent to another foster who has a great deal of experience with rescue cats (and dogs). She found the same to be true in her house. The cat was mostly sweet and loving, a purring little angel who appreciated any display of affection and was happy to cuddle, and yet she would suddenly turn. This woman was convinced that there was something more to it and began to observe the cat very carefully.

She finally noticed that the cat's almost reflexive reaction came when anyone petted her back end, especially if they got near her tail. Ah hah! Also, if another cat came up to her and she had to flick her tail it would set her off. The movement seemed to be causing her pain. A broken tail, perhaps?

Off to the veterinarian they went this past week. Upon examination, the veterinarian found the cat to be very sweet, trusting and affectionate. Until he began to examine her hind quarters. Ooops. Out came Cujo Cat. He thought she didn't need an x-ray. If the tail were broken it had happened a long time ago and had healed but she was, he thought, exhibiting signs of inflammation causing excruciating pain. His decision was to give her a steroid injection to reduce the swelling and pain. She may need to be on the injections for the rest of her life if this is what ends the pain for her. Time will tell.

If she is to be rehomed it is with the express understanding that the new owners never touch her hind quarters, certainly never touch her tail. She may very well spend the rest of her life in her current foster home, content, happy and with the understanding that she has a physical problem that may require lifelong treatment.

This was not a behavior problem but a physical problem that manifested itself in what looked like a behavior problem. She will not be put down. She will have another chance and a loving home.

The take-away message here is never assume that you are looking at a behavior problem in a rescue animal or one of your own pets. Go to a veterinarian as soon as possible for a complete work-up and then decide upon the next step when you know if you are dealing with an organic problem or a true behavior problem.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


Last year I was one of the judges for the World Canine Freestyle Organization's International Competition. It took place in Greeley, CO. This year it moved East, to Warwick, Rhode Island. Yesterday I drove down to watch and enjoy the competition for the day. It was great not to have to sit behind the judges' table with a straight face so the competitors couldn't second guess me as a judge and assume I like this or that. Frankly, I love it all. I love the fact that people are involved in this sport, colloquially known as Dancing with Dogs.

WCFO is the world's largest freestyle organization and competitors do, indeed, come from all over the world. Others compete via video entry. All are judged by the same rules.

I long ago labeled this "The Dog Smiling Sport -- everyone is smiling and the dogs are smiling at both ends!" Veterinarians have noticed that their patients who do freestyle are better balanced since they have to work on all sides of their owners. This is a team sport and the dog and owner are the team. 

Yesterday we not only saw pairs dancing (two owners with their dogs) but Brace as well. One owner, two dogs. That is quite an accomplishment.

The sponsors for this year's International, Dick Van Patten's Natural Balance foods and Animal Planet were out in force. For the first time there was a "kiss and cry" area for competitors to wait for their scores because for the first time the International is being televised. You will be able to see the competition on Animal Planet later this year. I  won't give away the name of the winner of the very first Animal Planet Trophy but I can tell you it was big and beautiful!

I had a great time sitting in jeans and a tee-shirt, largely unrecognized by many people because I wasn't in a suit. LOL  I saw old friends, cheered on the competitors and had a wonderful day. I love seeing the creativity of the owners in choreography, music selection, props. It's wonderful to see how much fun they and their dogs have while they're dancing and making the audience smile and cheer. It's a sport that's safe for all dogs, big and small, mixed breed, purebred, rescue. Dogs of all ages. I love the Handi Dandy division for handicapped dogs and/or owners and Sassy Seniors for senior dogs and/or owners, and the Junior Division with our stars of tomorrow who are shining brightly today. 

The best part is seeing the bond between owners and dogs. That's really what every dog sport should be about but in WCFO this is very much in evidence. The bond is more important than anything else and it's very much in evidence.  There is also a great camaraderie among competitors. It just doesn't get any better than that.

For more information about freestyle go to:

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Cell Phones and "Vicious" Dogs?!

If you watch TV, or even if you don't, you probably know about one cell phone company's commercial showing someone going over a fence and having to avoid Pitbulls in order to get their newest cell phone. It is completely offensive to anyone who loves dogs. There are those who will tell you that there is no such thing as a "Pitbull" and that is essentially true. There are "Bully" breeds and there are some crosses that look like anything but an alleged "Pitbull."  What this commercial is doing is further demonizing dogs.

The dogs are chained and portrayed in every possible way to be vicious. The company refuses to remove the ad. There is an ugly tendency now to castigate some dogs because of the way they look. It has been carried to such an extreme that it isn't unusual for someone walking a little Pug or Boston Terrier to be stopped on the street and asked if it's a "Pitbull." 

Many breeds have gone through similar experiences and been falsely labeled as "vicious." Any dog can bite. They have teeth and no other way to defend themselves but to paint all dogs with one brush is as bad as saying that all people are the same, all cars are the same, all horses are the same, well, you get the idea.

If I hadn't already left that cell phone service provider for another last year I would certainly leave them now in protest, opting to vote with my dollars.

What is as offensive as the commercial is the fact that the company won't acknowledge their mistake, apologize and move on, creating better relations with the dog-owning public.  

Are there bad dogs? Of course!  Any dog can be turned into a defensive animal but there are far more good dogs whose owners love them, train them properly, and care for them as family members. Those people buy cell phones and cell phone service, too. And I suspect once they realize what is happening they may opt for another provider.  

Time will tell. Meanwhile, I'm just one more voice asking that this commercial be taken off the air. Now. Please.  

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Help Your Cat Find His Way Home

For longer than I count, dog owners have always turned over every leaf and stone searching for their lost pets. Cat owners, who were even more likely to allow their pets to roam seldom used to look for their lost felines, assuming they'd run away or found a new home. It's really hard to fathom that attitude these days although I suspect some people may still feel that way.

I now see nearly as many posters for missing cats as I do for dogs. Still there is a good way to help ensure that your lost pet will be reunited with his family: microchipping. It is becoming nearly as popular for cats as it is for dogs but we still need to make more people aware of microchipping, especially cat owners.

One microchip company, Home Again, has gone the extra mile for cats and their people, not only providing a safety net of microchipping but helping in another way as well. Home Again Proactive Pet Recovery Network has promised to donate $1. to the Winn Feline Health Foundation for every cat microchipped and enrolled in Home Again during the months of June, July and August. You still have time to take advantage of the company's generosity in helping feline health studies while taking that extra step to provide for your own cat's recovery in case he is lost.

While some cats wear a collar, a cat who gets loose can easily lose his collar and thus his tag as means of identification. Microchipping provides that added measure of security. If your cat is taken to a shelter or veterinary hospital, he can be scanned for a microchip, his number can be called in to Home Again and the owner will be notified.

It's sad to think that microchipped cats are fewer in number than microchipped dogs. It's a relatively inexpensive and painless way to protect your beloved companion. And by taking advantage of Home Again's generous donation offer, you'll be helping all cats have healthier lives through Winn Feline Foundation's studies which will greatly benefit from Home Again's generosity. They will be as generous as you are a responsible owner when you get your cat microchipped and enrolled in Home Again by the end of August.

Feel free to visit: to learn more about this 40 year old non-profit's work. The organization was established by the Cat Fanciers' Association to promote the health and welfare of cats through research and education.

Also be sure to visit: which is a subsidiary of Schering-Plough Animal Health Corporation.

Friday, July 11, 2008


I'll admit that I was intrigued when I first learned about The site brings pet lovers together and helps raise funds for needy animal projects. Started with a bang, they had a contest for a shelter makeover contest. New members began flocking to the site daily, voting for their favorite shelters, reviewing products and news stories, connecting with others, sharing pet photos and more. Zootoo's president, Richard Thompson (known as Topcat on the site) has fashioned a very special website.

They had hired my friend, Dr. Jill Richardson and she went to work with a determination seldom seen. Fueled by her natural enthusiasm for all things animal, she began creating groups. I soon had one. How? I don't know. You have to know Jill to understand. LOL She's one-woman energy-generator. She has tons of ideas and she knows how to get things done.

I had the pleasure of finally visiting's offices in New Jersey yesterday, on my way to PA where I will be teaching all day tomorrow. I'm a learning facilitator in Kutztown University's Dog Training and Management Program.

Just about everyone at zootoo has pets, if not in the office, then at home. Fish, pocket pets, dogs, cats. They run the gamut. Tank, the English Bulldog who arrives with his owner every day, holds court throughout the offices, as the mood strikes him. He's a much-loved dog who knows that he's everyone's darling.

From Jill's enthusiasm sprang a brand new photo contest that zootoo and I are hosting. Do you have America's Smartest Dog? Want to enter? Want to know what you'll win? Then follow this link to the contest on zootoo:

While you're there, sign up, select the local shelter and rescue group that you want to help support. Surf around and see all of the neat things has to offer pet owners. You won't regret the time spent there.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

No So Merry Olde This Time....

One of the reasons I was in New Mexico was to help a friend ship a foster cat to his owners in the U.K. They had been called back to Scotland and had hired a "professional" company at great expense because they said they weren't the cheapest but they were the best. Uh huh. Following the Defra website rules for getting a cat or dog into the U.K., you must first have the animal microchipped, then she or he must be given a Rabies injection, then wait and get a titer which can only be done at one lab in the U.S. having U.K. approval, the one at Kansas State University. Then, no more than 48 and no less than 24 hours before shipping on an approved carrier, a veterinarian must give the cat or dog flea and tick treatment as well as deworming whether they need it or not. The veterinarian must sign off on all paperwork which is then taken by the individual shipping said dog or cat, to the USDA office for their veterinarian to approve the paperwork. The "professional" managed to do the Rabies vaccination before the microchipping. The cat got all the way to England where his owners were to pick him up at Gatwick Airport and was refused entry. The owners were told that the cat would be killed rather than allowed in. A frantic e-mail was sent to my friend asking if poor Victor could be sent back to her to await redoing of all of the above. Another 6 months. Well, of course! This cost the owners another $800. Plus the money from the "professionals" was not only not refunded but there was no apology. The company is part of a larger group of "professionals" but that group is unresponsive as well.

My friend had been reading the Defra website for months to assure that all would go well this time. I read it for weeks. We followed everything to the letter (a little irony there that you'll soon understand) so that Victor could go on the Pet Passport Scheme. Ha, the word "scheme" should have been a clue! Yes, I know it has a different meaning in the U.K. I've been there enough times to be consider bilingual. ;-)

Victor and his paperwork went to the local veterinarian my friend uses and received yet another rabies vaccination. Two in one year which isn't a good thing. After I arrived he had his de-worming, flea and tick treatments and I watched as the veterinarian and his tech carefully went over all the paperwork to ensure that everything was in order. Next on the agenda: we drove to the USDA office where their veterinarians approved all of the paperwork. They said it was in perfect order and signed off on it. So far, so good, right? So we thought....

Victor had his reservation to fly to his owners who were anxiously awaiting his arrival. They'd bought him a new bed. He had been theirs before they had their child and had waited a long time to be reunited with Victor.

My friend made many calls to the receiving person at Gatwick to be reassured that all was well on that end.

Whatever possessed my friend to fax the paperwork to the Defra office in the U.K. I'll never know but thank heavens she did and we didn't put the cat on the plane. They were -- wait for it -- refusing him entrance! Why? Well, it seems that the letter "A" appeared before his microchip number on the Kansas State University form but is not on the microchip itself when the animal is scanned. The "A" is not the Scarlet Letter from Hawthorne's book. No, it stands for Avid, the manufacturer of chip the cat has and would make it easier to know which reader to use. All other numbers match. Everything.

As another friend put it quite succinctly: the cat is being held hostage in the United States by the British Government.

Victor is now 11 years old. A third Rabies vaccination and another 6 months of repeating everything for a third time is not recommended by my friend's veterinarian. Frankly, I wouldn't recommend it, either. Neither would my friend but it was left up to the owners. They sadly agreed. Our hope is that they will adopt a needy cat in Victor's name.

What I do recommend is that if you are thinking of shipping a cat or dog to the U.K. for any purpose whatsoever, that you think twice. We are perfectly capable of reading and following directions. (Two award winning writers so we certainly have that skill!), a series of well-educated and informed veterinarians approved, even the USDA and we couldn't do it. Plus there's the expense. For what? How many dogs have been rejected who were headed to the U.K. to be shown at Crufts? How many dogs and cats are shipped to breeders each year and how many make it into the country? How many are rejected?

The outcome, by the way, is that the owners are heartbroken, as is to be expected. My friend, the owners and I cried on both sides of the Atlantic. This made us sick in every possible way.

I know others who've had similar problems but I foolishly thought that by following their list of rules it could be done. Silly me. I hadn't counted on the whims of bureaucrats.

Victor will live out his days much loved in my friend's home with her cats and dogs. But he's not with his owners who desperately want him. And all because of the letter "A."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Albuquerque Does it Right!

I arrived in New Mexico on Friday. Animal person that I am, I was at the Albuquerque Shelter on Saturday. This is a City that had one of the worst possible systems that was called Animal Services. An average of 28,000 animals was brought into the two shelters every year and far too many were euthanized. That is no longer true and within months it began to be turned around in a big way. Impossible, you say? Hardly. All you need is someone who cares and who is determined to do something.

In Albuquerque's case it was their Mayor, Martin Chavez, who saw the problem and set to work fixing it. In a stroke of absolute brilliance, he put Jeanine Patterson, a Registered Nurse by training, in the position of Director and she set to work turning the entire system around. For the first time in 20 years the euthanasia numbers dropped into double digits. The shelter was cleaned up and a new facility appeared in a mall where people can shop and stop by and visit cats and dogs who might just be great additions to their family. Patterson is no ordinary nurse. She opened medical clinics around the world for Intel. She knows how to make things happen. She even invited Dr. Sandra Newbury from the University of California-Davis visit because she specializes in Shelter Medicine and could make recommendations of everything from the most effective cleaning and deodorizing as well as disinfecting agents to better protocols to limit stress while cleaning cages.

Patterson is one of the nicest women I've had the pleasure of meeting and those who work with her and those who volunteer would appear to agree since there is such a warmth that passes among those at the shelter. The Albuquerque Animal Care Center is something to be seen. And something the residents of Albuquerque can take great pride in having in their City.

The shelter is clean, bright, well-maintained and there is a veterinary staff. The associate director is, in fact, John Romero who is on the New Mexico Board of Veterinary Medicine. The method of adopting is fair.

The fact is that Mayor Chavez has his own dog who goes everywhere with him, including his office every day. One of the most popular annual fund-raising events is the Mayor's Dog Ball.

In concert with this effort, is a group called Kennel Kompadres. The Friends of Kennel Kompadres are those who donate money to help augment the money the City has set aside for the Shelters. In other words, in many other places it's common for donations to a shelter to go into one fund and the money might end up being used for road repair instead of going to the shelter. Kennel Kompadres raises funds to help augment the shelter needs including humane traps for feral cats, etc., puppy and kitten formulas, kitten beds, toys, pet food to help those who foster animals for the shelter. They also do a wonderful job of humane education for children. They bring dogs and cats into school classrooms to educate the children about caring for pets and how to stay safe. They also pay for and distribute coloring books filled with animal care information and they have the equivilent of pet baseball cards for the children to collect. On the back are pet care facts, including spaying and neutering.

There is an Eastside Shelter as well as a Westside Shelter and people who truly care about animals in each.

Thanks to Mayor Chavez, Jeanine Patterson and people who augment the staff like Rick DeReyes, as well as those involved in Kennel Kompadres, many dogs and cats as well as puppies and kittens have found loving homes, life instead of death. The numbers keep coming down for euthanasia and up for adoption. Who could ask for more.

If you know me, you know that I don't impress easily. Albuquerque's Department of Animal Welfare has certainly impressed me. Their motto: Spay, Neuter, Adopt, Love serves as a shining beacon for every community in the United States. And Mayor Martin Chavez should be honored for his foresightedness, compassion, caring, and his determination to take action for the animals of Albuquerque. Bravo!

Visit the Animal Care Centers and Kennel Kompadres online:

Monday, June 16, 2008

Has the World Gone Crazy?!

I was reading my e-mail this week, when up on my screen popped a post with the most incredible story. I thought it had to be a hoax because there are so many of those. Nope. This was real. Almost surreal. And really, really ugly.

Mayor James Valley of Helena - West Helena, Arkansas, it was reported, decided to release all of that city's shelter dogs into the nearby national forest. He did WHAT??! Yes, that was my reaction. He expects defenseless dogs who are scared, lonely and abandoned to make their way in the forest. Domesticated pets are supposed to do what in order to eat, drink and find love, care and medical attention? He had the temerity to claim, according to a news report I read online in a Dallas newspaper, that the dogs were better off! The shelter is run-down, the temporary shelter wasn't good enough and all this time, when the civilized world has volunteers who raise funds for shelters, who staff them with proper personnel and integrate programs such as Karen Pryor's clicker training programs for dogs and cats in shelters to make them more adoptable, the residents and officials of Helena - West Helena, Arkansas have been doing exactly what?

By the way, releasing them into a National forest is an illegal act.

I'm still pondering all of this. I still can't believe that this has happened in a civilized society. Frankly, it makes me sick.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

It's the Economy

Sadly, one of the seldom discussed factors impacted by the economy is the family pet. With houses in foreclosure, or about to be foreclosed, soaring gas and food prices, something's gotta give. Unfortunately, that "something" is all too often the family pet. Dog or cat, they are landing in shelters and rescue groups at an alarming pace. When it comes to deciding between food and shelter, or medication and gas for the car, the family pet doesn't even begin to factor into the equation. Much loved companions are finding themselves homeless and with a limited number of days for which they'll be held at a shelter, without signs of a new home, the pet has nothing to look forward to beyond dead.

My friend, Marilyn Krieger, a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area is also in charge of Bengal Cat Rescue for the State of California. She has noticed a definite increase in the number of surrendered cats by people who simply can no longer afford to keep them. They need foster homes until permanent homes can be found. This is a pattern that repeats itself with every cat and dog breed rescue around the country.

Another close friend, Sue Janson of Wichita, Kansas points to her rescue group seeing an increase in the number of animals being relinquished by their owners because of their inability to pay for their care. They are having to make a choice: do I buy gasoline so I can get to my job? do I buy food for my kids or do I relinquish my pet because I can no longer afford him?

This is a difficult decision for everyone involved. There are no real solutions.

Perhaps you can foster a pet until a home is found. Or, perhaps, you have that home for a pet in need. Maybe you can donate food to your local rescue group or shelter. Or maybe you can help a friend who needs it so that pet can stay in his home. We must find ways to work together to resolve these issues while we wait for the economy to turn around. To paraphase: No Pet Left Behind!

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Greenwich Kennel Club Dog Show's Meet the Author Event

Yesterday was the Greenwich Kennel Club Dog Show's annual "Meet the Author" event. This annual educational event, the first and probably only one of its kind at a dog show, allows the public to meet dog book authors, buy signed books and ask questions. The Taylor Farm Park show site in Norwalk, CT is an impressive stretch of land. Fortunately, there was a mild breeze blowing off the ocean because temperatures soared into the 90s.

It was such fun to meet new people, catch up with colleagues and old friends, and see dogs, dogs, dogs!

I suspect entries were down and some people who entered weren't there. That's not unusual in and of itself but I suspect soaring gas prices are to blame for a good part of it. People have to make serious choices when it comes to hobbies, to fun events. And more serious events. I plan to talk more about that in another blog post.

Meanwhile, I just want to bask in the memories of a lovely day, a wonderful show committee (Joy Brewster is an exemplary Show Chair and Donna Gilbert did a great job in her first time go as Book Signing Chair.)

Thanks to one and all for a great day and a wonderful way to kick off the Summer!

Monday, May 26, 2008

A Little Child Shall Lead Them

When most of us were eleven years old we were playing with dolls and riding bikes. Well, times have changed. Young Mimi Ausland of Bend, Oregon, now twelve, began a project to feed hungry shelter dogs when she was just eleven. She started a website for the express purpose of advancing this idea. The site has many sponsors and she is partnering with to help further her dream.

Starting at her local Humane Society of Central Oregon Shelter, she plans to expand the program one shelter at a time.

So far more than 300,000 pieces of kibble have been donated.

People from all over the world can surf to her website, answer a Bow Wow Trivia Question each day, and for each question answered correctly 10 pieces of kibble are provided to the shelter. Here's the link if you'd like to check it out:

And once again, a little child shall lead them.

We hear so much about the bad things kids do. It's nice to hear about the good things for a change.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Credit Where Credit is Due

A lot of controversy tends to swirl around The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). To be perfectly candid, when it comes to supporting animal related charities, I respond in two ways: to help grass roots humane groups and breed rescue, I will donate a signed copy of one of my books which is worth more than any check I could personally write. People tend to bid up and pay more for a signed-by-author book. And I created, as I mentioned before, The Marcia Polimer Abrams Fund for Canine Behavior Studies at the American Kennel Club's Canine Health Foundation. The Donor Directed Fund, in honor of my mother, is aimed at helping learn more about behavior problems and should benefit both dogs and people.

Back to HSUS. Their feral cat program is headed-up by Nancy Peterson, an absolutely wonderful woman by anyone's standards. Her heart is in her work. Nancy recently brought to the pet press' attention a newly-created resource for anyone who does rescue work or has found a colony of feral cats:

The comprehensive list has everything from frequently asked questions to information about my favorite solution to a difficult problem: Trap, Neuter, Release (TNR).

You don't have to be political to surf over and see what they've created, to take advantage of information in one handy place.

The feral cat problem can't be solved overnight but with TNR, and pet owner education, I believe that it can be solved and sooner rather than later.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Re: The Next Generation...

Last night, at their invitation, I drove to the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, to speak to their new Behavior Group.

I wondered, on the long drive through New England roads, what I would find. UMass doesn't have a veterinary school but undergrads could certainly go on to that if they could get in. Getting into Medical School is easier these days than getting into Veterinary School. Did they want to be Applied Animal Behaviorists? Animal Behavior Consultants? What did they know and what did they want to know?

After getting lost on the campus despite a tiny map that is barely legible to anyone over the age of 25, and with help from the kindness of strangers, I found my way to the correct building.

The students, mainly women which is not unusual, were wonderful. Warm and welcoming and certainly curious about the field of Animal Behavior and the related dog training field. They want to do the right thing. They've been trying to encourage their friends and parents to make proper choices and are so determined to help animals that they want to know more. They are hungry for knowledge with the open minds and bright enthusiasm embodied by the young and young-at-heart.

One young woman had volunteered at a zoo and would do so again this year. Her immediate goal is to bring environmental enrichment to the facility to provide a better quality of life for the animals. Another had been a shelter volunteer and expressed a strong desire to help animals, to make life better for those in shelters and help them live better lives in their homes. That was a common theme: making life better for animals and their owners, help people choose the right pets and train them properly so that they wouldn't end up in shelters, or to rehabilitate those who could be rehabilitated.

I gave them the obligatory explanation of why some can't be saved even when it breaks our hearts to have to admit it. I told them that they would be training owners, not just dogs, that learning what is normal for animals, both physically and mentally, is important. You don't walk in assuming that it's truly a behavior problem without a full work-up being done by a veterinarian.

And on and on it went.

I walked out, tired but uplifted, knowing that the next generation is producing people who care about those who cannot speak for themselves and they want to help in a kinder, gentler way. They know that choke and prong collars get the exact opposite result that they seek, they know that animals are intelligent and can learn more easily when properly trained, or retrained. Among the self-centered, rude, they've-been-handed-everything generation of kids there are some who have learned to care about others.

The world may not be so bleak after all.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Renting Dogs?!

I was horrified to learn that there's a company that rents dogs out to people who are dogless. They claim that the dogs are chosen from shelters. Mainstream press has picked up this story as if it were something good. I cannot imagine how they can report that without thinking about the issues and presenting more information.

Personally, I think this is a horrible idea. Can you imagine the shelter dog who has lost his home for whatever reason, suddenly being shuttled from home to home, caregiver to caregiver with no sense of security? Just as he thinks he's found someone to love him forever, that forever home that every dog needs and deserves, he's off to the next person.

Look further than that and think about the people in our disposable society who think that a dog is to have for a little while, not for its lifetime. Where is there sense of responsibility? Where is the bonding? Will any two people treat the dog the same way? Dogs need consistency in diet, training, attention, love. They give us so much in return. Is this the best we can do? Turn them into yet another disposable commodity to fill someone's fleeting fantasy of having a dog for just a little while?

I don't know whether to scream or cry.

Please tell me how you feel about this latest wrinkle in the world of dogs.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Caring Canines

Today was no ordinary Saturday. It's one I had eagerly anticipated since receiving a request to speak to Caring Canines (, a dedicated therapy dog group in the Greater Boston area. I have a special spot in my heart for therapy dogs since my mother benefitted from a therapy dog who visited her adult day care.
What a heartwarming group of unselfish people make up the Caring Canines membership! I wasn't surprised.
Raise your hand if you're familiar with Therapy Dogs. Not every dog is right for this job but for those who are, and for their owners, they bring a world of caring into the lives of the lonely, ill, infirm.
Caring Canines, one of many such groups throughout the U.S. and probably many other countries, take their dogs on regular visits to nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, day care centers for the elderly, etc. Anywhere people can use a smile, soft fur to pat, and unconditional love.
For some, a visit can mark the first time someone has spoken or smiled in months or even years. For family members and hard-working staff members, the visits to patients also brings smiles and a chance to relax.
After I spoke, many members related what the visits are like for them, how much they, as well as their dogs, benefit. Just walking in and out of a building can take 15 minutes while people come up to pet the dog. Even those accidental meetings are helpful and welcome.
They also have special programs along with their regular therapy dog visits. Their Hug-a-Pet program brings dogs to at-risk children in residential homes, as well as children who are hospitalized and those in Special Needs classrooms. An Entertainment Team brings dogs to do tricks at Children's Hospital, while another, a Critical Response Team, comforts those who are in the throes of an emergency.
The visits are, of course, free of charge and all of the people involved are volunteers.
Sure, they could be out doing other things with their lives. But they have chosen to share their dogs and that unconditional love with others, asking nothing in return. But what they do get in return is not just the knowledge that they have brightened other lives but that they are connected to other people in a very special way. The experiences touch their hearts as well.
Thanks to the volunteers' generosity of spirit and sharing the world becomes a little brighter place for those in need of light at the end of the tunnel.