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."