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: