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.