Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bomb Dogs & Terrorism

I've spent a lot of time thinking about the state of airport safety since 9/11. My home airport is Logan International in Boston, where many of the hijacked flights originated. I flew into that airport less than 24 hours before the hijackings and that flight to Los Angeles was one that I often took. Yes, I was rattled. There but for the Grace of God....

Since then, we've supposedly had an increase in security. After the shoe bomber attempt, we all had to remove our shoes for screening. We still do. Travel with a dog or cat and you'll be treated to what amounts to Theatre of The Absurd. I've flown with both species but let's focus on one. It was after 9/11 and I was flying with my cat to visit friends. Clearing airport security is always a juggling act if you're carrying a laptop computer. Carry your laptop companion (who isn't allowed to sit on your lap) and you'll find yourself going through some interesting contortions. Beyond that, however, is the reaction of the TSA people who are supposed to be on the alert for terrorists.

You are required to remove your small companion from their carrier; the carrier is sent through the screening device and you and your cat (or dog) walk through the metal detector. My cat, a lovely Chartreux, is blue which is standard for the breed. Blue is the correct color name but most people refer to blue cats as gray. I tell you this for a reason which will become clear in a moment. As I took Aimee out of her carrier and held her close to me so if she panicked she wouldn't escape from a firm hold, TSA agents came rushing over to us. "Oh! A kitty!" "What's her name?" "Aimee." "It should be Smokey." "Or Stormy." "Or Shadow!" They were so busy gushing over my cat that they wouldn't have noticed if an assortment of Terrorists passed through the screening area. I was really upset but wasn't sure of my ground. What would they do to me if I pointed out that they should be doing their jobs instead of fussing over Aimee whose name was not about to be changed no matter what they thought. And, frankly, I didn't want to be held up, either. I wanted to pass through the metal detector as quickly as possible in order to get Aimee back into the safety of her carrier.

I stopped flying her because I didn't want to be the cause of a TSA Agent not paying attention to the task at hand.

This week we've heard much about airport screening since a Terrorist who had been someone of interest was allowed on a plane in Europe that was headed to the United States. He tried to set off a bomb on board and was stopped by some alert passengers who apparently tackled him. Had he succeeded, not only would every person on the plane have been killed but many people on the ground as well. The reactions, among others, was to have people stay in their seats for the last hour of the flight. Which makes me wonder if we're all supposed to wear adult diapers. And no one can hold anything inflight. My paperback book of choice is not going to get me through any more long trips if their knee-jerk reaction becomes a policy.

So the issue is once again raised: how to prevent it. When the shoe bomber tried to set off a bomb in his shoe, it was decided that all passengers have to remove their shoes for screening. This latest terrorist had the explosive material in his underwear so the reaction is to use invasive screening apparatus that may or may not be able to detect a bomb but will certainly be the visual equivalent of a full-body orifice check. The reaction is always just that: a reaction and nothing that seems to have had forethought. This latest is a particularly expensive option. And still those in high places insist that the TSA screeners are the best option. Well, if they're not admiring my cat, perhaps they are but I'm not convinced.

Here's what I am convinced of, as is just about any dog person: a bomb dog can easily alert to a bomb and far less expensively than any machine and probably more accurately than a TSA employee.

I've heard the objections: they can't work all the time; some people are allergic to dogs; some people don't want a dog sniffing their crotch. Well, for those who are allergic, they can take an antihistamine before leaving for the airport; for those who don't want a dog sniffing their crotch, well, it's less invasive than those machines, and Auburn University is working on a method to train dogs to sniff from a distance - the olfactory system of a dog is a wonderous thing. As for dogs working shorter hours, well, have several teams trained! It's a whole lot cheaper than one of those machines and the dog will not be suggesting names for your four-legged companion.

Today, someone sent me a link to a CNN story about the use of bomb dogs. They mentioned the objections as well as the benefits. My only objection was that the dogs were wearing choke or prong collars. An old and unnecessary way to train dogs that has been scientifically proven to be problematic.

Years ago, before the real terrorist threats, I wrote an article on Bomb Dogs for Dog World Magazine. It was pretty thorough and contained all the information anyone would need, sans the training technique which would have been releasing confidential information. It wasn't necessary to do that and I wouldn't jeopardize my Country's security. I was told a couple of years later that when the FBI had visited the Massachusetts bomb dog unit which was - and still is to my knowledge - based at Logan Airport, they took a copy of my article back to Washington with them. They had been thinking of ending the bomb dog program and I was told that my article helped to save it. I hope that's true.

So, here's the conclusion: please let me have my paperback book, an opportunity to use the rest room before the plane lands, and for heaven's sake, let me keep my shoes on in the airport and once again comfortably carry a four-legged companion with me. Just get the bomb dog program beefed up and we'll all be safer and happier.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Help Us Help" ACIDIC's Young Musicians Make a Difference

What happens when a young up and coming band in California decides to help animals? You have an interesting phenomenon that could serve as a lightening rod for others.

ACIDIC Lead Singer and Guitarist, Michael Goassard, started the band in early 2007 when he was a freshman in high school. About 15 months ago ACIDIC took its current form when drummer Matt Whitaker and bass player Ted Dubrawski joined the band.

What makes these young men stand out from others is that they started “Help Us Help,” before Christmas 2008.

“There was a really bad brush fire in Sylmar,” Michael recalls. “The fire burned a lot of people out of their homes. We heard from volunteers at the East Valley Animal Shelter that everything there was getting really stressed. Animals lost their homes too and people who were burned out couldn't keep their pets. Those pets wound up at the East Valley Animal Shelter. Lots of people donate dog toys and blankets and stuff but nobody thinks about how the volunteers need other supplies, and they run short of money for vaccinations and other things. They were dreading kitten season because they'd have to provide foster care themselves for the animals and cover all the expenses out of their own pockets. And then there was a foreclosure crisis at that time with lots of people losing their homes because of money trouble. That was bad for pets, too. We thought we might be able to help because we all have pets and they're rescues. So we thought if we split the money from CD sales with the volunteers with that shelter, our fans and friends could "Help Us Help." Seemed like a good idea,” he recalls.

Their charitable efforts started there but didn’t end there. These young musicians are serious about continuing “Help Us Help.” The charities they support usually are something meaningful to them on a personal level, starting with animal shelters.

“Ted's a surfer so he cares about the ocean and Heal the Bay. We're all into environmental protection and preservation. And Matt's a cancer survivor. He had childhood leukemia. He's been active in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society that helps sick kids and their families,” Gossard explains. “We've played at a lot of their events and we'll do more for them whenever they ask. There's this place in San Pedro called Beacon House - it's a rehab center that helps a lot of people conquer addictions and alcoholism. They invited us to play at their Summer Block Party two years ago - it was one of our first gigs ever. Then they kept inviting us back, like for Halloween and the next summer. We just played our third straight Summer Block Party a few weeks ago. We love those guys! They had faith in us even before we did! We'll go down there and play for them forever! They really make a difference,” he enthuses.

“And there's one more. We heard about the horrible car accident that Deftones bass player Chi Cheng was in last November. He's still in a coma and his family didn't have health insurance. There was a fundraiser on Ebay last spring and we raised the most money for him. They were able to get him some treatments they couldn't afford before. What we got in return was the chance to play Main Stage at Bamboozle Left at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater last April! That was THE BEST!!!!”

How many charities they will help will depend upon what their fan base and other compassionate people could support. “And how much strength and how many gigs and other opportunities we have and how little sleep we need,” Gossard adds. “We'll help whoever we can - however we can, and whenever we can. Life's been pretty good to us. We want to give back - kind of like saying a big thank you to the cosmos….”

They’re always open to new charities, “Whatever pulls at our hearts. There's an awful lot of need out there. It's a way we can say thank you for everything nice that's happened to us - by giving back. And hey, people need the help. I was in another band last year that put on a concert for my high school. We raised 5,000 dollars!” he adds. “But we won't forget our favorites!”

When asked what he wants people to know about ACIDIC, Gossard says, “I'd LOVthem to know that ACIDIC is a band definitely worth their knowing and their time. We work harder onstage than you can believe! We figured each of us probably loses two or three pounds after every show. Our drummer, Matt, had to go to First Aid right after we finished our set at Bamboozle, and have his hands all bandaged up. I'm told our tunes are good to drive to, also. And don't forget - if you support us, you're probably going to be supporting one of the charities we care about, too. Like I mentioned earlier - you'll be helping us help. And thank you for asking! Please check us out - - which will take you everywhere like Myspace and Facebook and YouTube. Check out our video - "Ironic Dreams," too, and also - there's a link on our home page where you can join our mailing list and find out what we're doing. We'd really appreciate that a lot!”

ACIDIC has been described as “the youthful exuberance of Green Day with Coldplay sensitivity” is currently touring in conjunction with the release of their debut CD, “Ironic Dreams.”

It’s nice to know that they understand that there’s more to life and they use their music to make a difference.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Michael Vick and The NFL

I really didn't think I'd add my blog voice to the ongoing outcry on both sides of the issue, but here I am nonetheless.

Vick was convicted of animal abuse. He was running an illegal gambling ring and viciously abusing and killing dogs. He served time in prison and then came the decision to reinstate him in the NFL, to allow him to continue to earn his rather cushy living playing the same sport that afforded him so much, including the money to back his hideous operation.

In direct response to my tweet against abuse, someone I don't know and had never seen on Twitter, tweeted me to ask if I felt the same way about people as I do about animals. Did she ever miss the point! I informed her that I don't like any abuse, in any form, directed at anyone, not animals, not people. In that respect, I'm no different from other animal lovers. We tend to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.

Another missed point is that people who abuse animals, frequently abuse people. It's a short step from Point A to Point B. So why are people lauding this man? The sports press in general seems to think that abusing dogs isn't such a big deal. Would they feel the same if Vick had abused a person? The general sports fans seem to think that animal abuse is okay as long as Vick can play football again.

Should he work again? Sure. Football? No, I think not. I think that he can find something else to do, something that doesn't allow him to reap the rewards of his previous career. He needs a lot of time in counseling to understand what he has done. He's repeating pretty words in interviews but they are empty. It's pretty obvious that he's using a prepared statement from which he can crib on TV. Say the words people want to hear and it's all okay. Well, no, actually it's not okay.

Many have pointed to his background, that where he comes from, people fight dogs illegally and that kind of abuse is considered perfectly normal. As long as you don't get caught. Are we to believe that none of his previous teammates owns a dog? Is attached to a four-legged companion? Are we to believe that he has never been exposed to this sort of relationship? That rather stretches credulity, doesn't it?

So, what should he be doing if this were a perfect world? Well, if this were a perfect world, there would be no abuse at all. Ever. Of any species. If he were to do anything it would be a real job, not a fantasy career where he makes an inordinate amount of money for pushing people around. He would be in counseling to learn about abuse in all of its forms. And he would go back to his former neighborhood and those like it and teach others why abuse is wrong, why dog fighting is illegal, and rightly so.

And the NFL wouldn't have given him another chance to make a lot of money but would set a better example for others. But for them, obviously, the bottom line is the bottom line and to heck with the kids who look to their players as heroes. Some hero Vick is.... Not.

But this isn't a perfect world. And it is up to each of us to do the job of explaining why abuse is abuse, the proven link between people who abused animals when they were children and serial killers, to teach about a kinder, gentler world. To truly Do Unto Others...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Albuquerque Animal Services Revisited

Thirteen months have passed since I visited Albuquerque, met with the Shelter people and toured. What I saw and heard impressed me. Why? Well, for one thing, Albuquerque is smart enough to put a Registered Nurse in charge of the shelters. This is someone who understands the need for sanitation. She upgraded the shelters, as I said last year, with the goal of keeping animals healthy and preventing disease. She brought in the shelter medicine specialist from U.C. Davis. After learning what had been implemented, here is what Dr Sandra Newbury wrote on Dec 30, 2007, following the Dec 23, 2007 ABQ Journal article entitled, City’s Toasting Animal Welfare Revamp This Year:

“Thanks for doing such a great job and setting such a great example for other shelters to follow. You all are clearly one of the best two day long investments I have ever made. Thanks for including me. You really are a great team. Congratulations!”

There is no doubt that this is one of the few shelter systems where the animals are less likely to break with illnesses after leaving the shelter.

I’ve done some investigation. This past fiscal year the city of Albuquerque’s Animal Welfare Department had the greatest number of Live Exits in the history of that city. Read that sentence again. It’s meaningful. Albuquerque is up 17% for the last two years under the direction of Jeanine Patterson, MS RN and they are up 24% overall for the past four years.

There are always euthanasias at shelters. That’s a fact of life. Every animal cannot be saved despite the best of intentions. In Albuquerque, they are at an all-time low in euthanasias with a 20% decrease over the last two years and 26% over the past 4 years. This is a wonderful record. Patterson’s determination and dedication will only serve to move this forward and improve the already impressive record.

Can more be done? More can always be done but this is a rousing start in only two short years. I expect an outreach project involving the dog and cat community as well as more of an outreach to volunteers whose work is very much appreciated by Patterson.

What would I wish for Albuquerque? I wish that someone would have sense enough to rid the City of the Draconian spay/neuter laws that were instituted before Patterson arrived on the scene. There are always well-meaning but horribly misinformed politicians who want to force this Animal Rights issue on citizens. ( Not only have these laws been proven not to work in other cities but all they serve to do is punish responsible breeders. Lawbreakers will simply continue to break the law. These spay/neuter laws are the result of the animal rights agenda that is determined to see that no one will ever own a dog or cat. (Ingrid Newkirk – PETA – quotes: That means not only an end to responsible breeding but, ultimately, an end to service dogs, therapy dogs and cats, police dogs, drug and bomb sniffing dogs, therapeutic riding programs and more. This is no exaggeration. This is what has been stated but those who put forth these laws don’t do their homework. They simply have a knee-jerk reaction to overpopulation.
It’s important to note that despite budget cuts of $1.5 million, Patterson has achieved so much yet has received no attention for it. It’s about time someone stood up and applauded her work to date.
Patterson doesn’t work in a vacuum. The head of Shelter Medicine, Dr. John Romero is a wonderfully dedicated veterinarian with a background that includes time spent at Boston’s world-renowned Angell Memorial Animal Hospital. In-house surgeries and outstanding medical care are his purview.
Getting the word out and getting so much organized is more than capably handled by Rick DeReyes. This is a formidable team and Albuquerque Mayor Martin Chavez should be applauded for his ability to bring the best people into these positions. His trust in them is obviously paying off in solid numbers. The attention has been placed where it should be in animal welfare: on health and adoption while impressively decreasing the number of euthanasias.
I’m looking forward to more advances from this forward-thinking group of hard working people. The rest of the country should be taking a good look at what Albuquerque has accomplished in such a short span of time and what they will no doubt continue to do to improve the lives of animals in Albuquerque. Mayor Martin Chavez, Jeanine Patterson and Dr. John Romero can stand up and take a bow.
And, yes, I will continue to report on what they are doing.

Friday, May 29, 2009

The Incomprehensible Loss of Kari Winters

How does anyone describe the loss of a much-loved friend? How does anyone describe someone who did so much for cats, dogs and people that her work can never be placed in truly solid numbers? My heart aches and the world is a sadder and lonelier place for dogs, cats and people with the news that Kari Winters was found dead in her home on Tuesday, May 19th. Kari was the most amazing person yet had no sense of her own accomplishments. Her modesty was another of her special qualities.
An award-winning writer and author she was amazed when she received her first Muse Medallion from the Cat Writers’ Association. She was even more astonished to receive a special award for her writing from the ASPCA. She was over the moon when she received one from Cornell University, presented by their esteemed feline specialist, Dr. Jim Richards who, himself, died too young, for an important piece on Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) that was published in “The Pet Press,” a small Southern California publication. (You can read that article, and more, at her website:
Kari was responsible for Siamese Cat Rescue in Southern California and helped with Siamese Rescue throughout the U.S. She was an avid volunteer for The Amanda Foundation, helping rehabilitate and rehome countless cats and dogs; several found their way into Kari’s home as permanent family members. She always credited Teri Austin with teaching her the basics, but she took those basics and ran with them as only a truly gifted person can. She had a magical touch with them. A chosen few have a special gift for rehabilitating special needs animals. Kari was one of those people. Her ability to help dog after dog, cat after cat, was more than impressive yet very few knew about this because she was entirely too modest. Kari had the patience and the love to gain their trust and turn them around. Whatever problems they had developed from unknown situations before finding their way into rescue, Kari could change their lives, taking something broken and making it whole.
What Kari Winters did was remarkable. And she didn’t just help animals. An advanced practice psychiatric nurse, she was invariably assigned to difficult cases because she had a way of reaching those people.
Kari was diagnosed with thyroid cancer about 5 years ago. That was the beginning of a series of health problems. A fall led to a back injury and surgery led to sepsis from which she amazingly recovered, however it also left her with excruciating back pain that traveled down her leg making it impossible at times for her to function. She never quite knew when the pain would force her to cancel plans with friends. It certainly meant that she often couldn’t drive because she didn’t feel it was safe to be on the road and she didn't want anyone else to be at risk of injury. The impact of her illness forced her to retire from her nursing career, which had meant so much to her. She could no longer live in her beloved California home because of the State’s outrageous cost of living.
About three years ago, she moved with her assorted four-legged family to Albuquerque. She did not take to retirement. Even though she couldn’t work she threw herself into volunteering for Kennel Kompadres, and other local rescue organizations, doing what she could with her limited physical abilities, while still running Southern California Siamese Cat Rescue via e-mail and phone for nearly a year after her move. She was a major fund-raiser for the Mayor’s Dog Ball in Albuquerque. Once she saw what they were trying to do, she immediately phoned Albuquerque Animal Services the day after the Ball and asked how she could help Kennel Kompadres.
Kari took in rescues, usually one at a time. And then there was a mother and her litter of puppies that Kari helped to raise and rehome, each one carefully socialized. Helping her in this endeavor was her darling Kobi, one of her Oriental Shorhair cats. Kobi co-parented the litter and those puppies learned to purr before they learned to bark.

Six months ago a small elderly black dog needed a permanent foster home, it was Kari who took on the responsibility and expense of his veterinary care and she did an amazing job of rehabilitating the nearly shutdown little dog she named Bucky after a favorite comic strip dog. Every new accomplishment became a cause for celebration especially when, wonder of wonders he kissed her!
Kari helped her human friends as well. She was the first one to reach out, to lend an ear, a shoulder, to encourage. She was so supportive of her friends.
It’s probably fair to say that no one will ever be able to count how many cats, dogs and people Kari Winters helped. A thousand would probably be a conservative estimate. She didn't keep count. But was happy when, even years later, adopters would get in touch to tell her how much they loved their cat or dog and to let her know how they were doing.
Her sense of humor and her infectious laugh will also be sorely missed.
Kari was beautiful on the inside as well as the outside. Most people had no idea that she had been a model in Florida. And those who saw her courage when she received the Cornell award didn't realize what they were witnessing. Her body was outrageously bloated from the medication she had to take at the time. She had not only lost that bloating but additional weight in the past few months, wanting to appear at her best. Unfortunately, most of the pictures circulating now were taken at that CWA banquet. I'd prefer to show something else, something of the real Kari.
What most people didn’t see was how well she masked her almost constant pain. She bore it with grace and never resorted to painkillers except for a few days following a recent complex eye surgery to repair a detached and torn retina. That surgery was three weeks after a major back surgery. Confined to bed for weeks, unable to see because of the gas bubble that was put in her eye to help it heal, her sight was beginning to slowly return and she could put in a contact lens and go out for awhile. She could even drive. She was delighted to be able to do that again. Her last foray included buying a gift for the dog’s birthday party she planned to attend on Saturday. Early that day she told me that her leg felt wooden and she didn’t feel well. She told her long-time friend Gary, that she wasn’t feeling well, and left a voice mail message for the friend with whom she was going to lunch and the doggy birthday party, saying she didn’t feel well enough to attend.
We talked daily, usually multiple times, but on rare occasions we missed a day and then caught up. She would often phone me in the middle of the night. Often unable to sleep at night, she'd call me and, without preamble but with great humor she would say, "Is this the Open All Night Cafe?" Yes, I'd assure her that she had reached the right place and could I take her order? Sometimes sharing her pain, her frustration. I was one of the chosen few she’d tell how she was really feeling. I ached for her. But the best I could do was to be her friend, listen, offer whatever words I could to try to help.
When her cherished Kobi died of kidney failure at a year-and-a-half, perhaps a week after her eye surgery, she was utterly devastated. It was one more blow in a series of difficult events that would have been impossible to consider. She had a remarkable faith that never wavered but she felt pain and loss along with happiness. With each successful placement of a cat or dog in a new home, she rejoiced and had to share it. With each cat or dog she helped she found new happiness in each step forward.

She never gave herself much credit. Kari Winters did what she did out of love, never looking for compliments or verbal pats on the back. And so her accomplishments went largely unrecognized except by those who adopted one of the rescues who had been in her capable hands or those of us who knew her well and those who were involved in the rescue organizations for which she volunteered.
Kari Winters never really knew how many lives she touched, how much she was loved, how dearly she was treasured as a friend and how deeply she will be missed. She never wanted anyone to say that she lost her fight with cancer because she wasn't fighting. She didn't like it when people who never had anything nice to say when someone was alive would come out of the woodwork to talk about that person and praise them after they died. Kari was ethical, honest, compassionate and caring.
Heaven may have gained an angel but earth surely lost one.
It would be very much appreciated if you remembered Kari Winters with a donation specifically made in her memory, whatever its size, to Kennel Kompadres: Treasurer, Kennel Kompadres, 139 Palacio Road, Corrales, NM 87048.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The First Puppy

Much interest has been devoted to the Obama's dog. What would they choose, especially with a child who has allergies. Malia, age 10, and Sasha, age 7 were promised a puppy. Much was made of "hypoallergenic" breeds. One television dog trainer enthused, on one of those syndicated celebrity TV programs, that they should get one. Well, here's a news flash: there's no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog. There are breeds with hair, not fur, and those are often a better choice but I fervently hope the child was exposed to the dog before the breed was selected. Rescue people hoped for a shelter pet; others hoped for a purebred. They took sides as if they would have any impact on a personal decision being made by novice dog owners, let alone the President's family.

It was finally announced that the Obama family's dog, named Bo, would arrive 2 days after Easter, a 6-month-old Portuguese Water Dog, a gift from MA Senator Ted Kennedy who owns 3 Porties. Bo had been returned to the breeder. Kennedy is an experienced dog owner. I've often said that having a Portuguese Water Dog as your first dog is like having a Lamborghini as your first car. The breed is very active, intelligent and was bred to dive into the water and set the nets for the fishermen in Portugal. This means that they work independently. And they have a sense of humor, sometimes with the owner as the butt of the canine joke.

The dog is supposedly being trained. My question: by whom and in what manner?

Since everyone else seems to be throwing in their two cents' worth, here is what I would do. I'm at least as qualified as the next person and, perhaps, more so since I am a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant. I'd rather see the family start off right than have to deal with behavior problems in the future. I would tell this to any new dog owner.

First, the name is, in my opinion, a mistake. Bo sounds like No. No is not a word I like to use. I prefer an interrupter like "UH!" but first time dog owners aren't very likely to remember that and are more likely to tell the dog, "No!" and then call "Bo" later and wonder why he's not coming very happily after awhile. A dog should be called to you in a happy tone and never punished after you've called him. He needs to learn that coming to you is always a positive experience, that he is safe and loved. This can help to save his life if he gets loose and needs to be called back to you. He should be microchipped with the microchip registered so he can be correctly identified if he escapes and is found and scanned for a chip. With all of the Obamas' security details it doesn't seem as likely as for the average family.

I recommend that all members of the family get involved in training, each of them given a clicker and some very tiny tasty treats, like miniscule pieces of chicken or turkey or cheese. To "load" or "charge" the clicker, click and treat several times in a row. This teaches the dog that click means treat. Then, the first thing you train him to do is something you must decide in advance because it becomes the default behavior. There are many options but for the family pet, I personally prefer Sit. When you're walking your dog and stop to speak to someone, if he doesn't know what to do, your dog will sit. Click and treat for the Sit but don't use the word until the dog is doing it reliably half a dozen times and then add the word. For a dog who isn't food motivated, a favorite toy, or praise may be the right motivator for your dog.

Stay, Come, Down, Wait, Drop It, are all necessary for a dog to learn and each can be easily taught with operant conditioning (clicker training). It's easy, it's fast - only a few very short training sessions each day, each in a different place so the dog learns he doesn't think he only does each thing in one place.

Housetraining is best accomplished with crate training and he must be taken to his pre-chosen elimination spot each time and praised lavishly as soon as he begins to eliminate.

Is there more to be said? Of course! That's why my colleagues and I have written books.

Every dog is a special dog whether the dog belongs to the President of the United States or the homeless person who will leave anything but his pet. No choke collars, no prong collars. You don't need them! A flat buckle collar is all you really need. For a small dog, or any dog, a harness is great because it doesn't put any pressure on the trachea.

Building the human-animal bond is all-important and there are things to remember: aggression begets aggression; if you are using harsh training methods of the past you will be dealing with fallout later and that fallout is sometimes dangerous.

Having a dog is a wonderful way for the Obama girls to have someone special in their lives, out of the spotlight. They can learn a great deal from operant conditioning because positive reinforcement works with people as well as dogs. But in the end it is the parents who bear full responsibility for the care, feeding and training of their dog, for getting that complete and balanced high-quality food, veterinary care, etc., with the girls taking on age-appropriate, supervised responsibilities for their new family member. And the girls are at the right age for a dog.

I wish the First Family and their new dog well, just as I wish everyone well with their new canine family addition. I hope this works out because Bo has already been through one home. I hope the experience is a good one for Bo and his new family. As the AKC says, "A Dog is for Life." I wish them a long, happy life together.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Purebred Dogs and Yellow Journalism

Last night, March 11, 2009, ABC-TV's Nightline proved that they are willing and able to stoop to biased reporting, totally slanted journalism. What they did has, traditionally, been called Yellow Journalism. What did they do, you're asking yourself, aren't you? They aired a completely biased and far from factual report on purebred dogs and the dog fancy. It was appalling in its bias.

Pretty much a rip-off of the equally unbalanced BBC program, "Pedigreed Dogs Exposed," whose producer had an obvious bias, not just visible in the resulting program but in the approach the producer took with a breeder on this side of the pond who didn't hesitate to let others know. The breeder in this country is also a journalist and wasn't about to participate in such predetermined "news" programming.

Let me say right up front that the responsible breeders I know, and there are many, the ones whose dogs are shown, are responsible for every puppy they produce. The breed standard of every breed points to moderation in all things, not extremes. Responsible breeders do all possible tests on dam and sire to screen for possible health problems before breeding. They remove from their breeding programs any dogs that might carry a health issue. Those are spayed or neutered and placed as pets or kept in their own homes as beloved pets. The pups that aren't pet quality in each litter receive the same stellar screening, early socialization, are kept in clean conditions where they're treated as family members and learn early on the basics of housetraining and often to sit, lie down and walk on a leash. They also stay long enough with their mother and littermates to learn the all-important bite inhibition.

Dog shows are not beauty contests as some might have you believe. The reason for dogs shows is to get an independent opinion of several knowledgeable judges as to how their potential breeding stock meets the Standard for the breed. They are judged against the Standard for their own breed. You will see the judges going over the dogs, feeling for structure. Underneath that beautifully groomed exterior is what the judge is looking for: a structurally sound dog. The dogs are gaited around the ring so the judge can see if the dog moves correctly. It's very easy to see a luxating patella or hip dysplasia when a dog moves. Bad structure is further determined by watching the dog move from the front, side and back. That's why the dog is moved up, down and around so the judge gets every possible view.

This reporting smacks of the animal rights agenda that would ensure that no one will own a pet. Not a dog, not a cat, not a horse, etc. Read the website of such organizations and you will see their agenda. They do tremendous fundraising and with their wealth they work to ensure that the human-animal bond will be forever broken, will entirely disappear.

They tried to paint the AKC as having something to hide by not appearing on camera but issuing a statement. The AKC educates pet owners, helps with fighting bad legislation (another Animal Rights move to deny us pets in the future) and through their Canine Health Foundation they fund important research. Most of what the AKC's Canine Health Foundation funds helps people as well as dogs. This is a real win/win. A visit to their website,, will show you how much this organization has helped people and dogs. Their work on cancer research, mapping the canine genome, and breakthroughs in various illness that also appear in people is exemplary. The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, the one Nightline tried to malign (an all-champions show, the best of the best competing each year), donated $50,000. this year alone to the AKC's Canine Health Foundation.

As a journalist, I do my research. When I wanted to do something in my mother's memory I started The Marcia Polimer Abrams Fund for Canine Behavior Studies at AKC's Canine Health Foundation because I know that they have an excellent charitable rating and that their funded research also benefits people.

I wish the people at Nightline had done their research. They should be ashamed of themselves for what they aired last night.There was nothing fair and balanced in their reporting; there was just an agenda that they were obviously determined to push. That kind of "journalism" makes me ashamed to call myself a journalist. They should be ashamed of themselves. It's my hope that those who viewed the program will do their own research. Knowing how this was reported I will no longer watch Nightline because I obviously no longer have confidence in their reporting. And that is very sad indeed.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Emergency Redux

On December 13, 2008 I posted about the Emergency Clinic experiences of three different pet owners. Of the three, only the cat owner had what seemed like a really good outcome. At least her cat was still alive which was more than could be said of two dogs and one puppy belonging to the other two pet owners. Sadly, more has come to light about the cat owner's experience and I can't decide if I'm sickened or just furious. Here's what transpired. There will be no names mentioned, nor will I say where it occurred. It could happen anywhere, to any pet owner.

The pet owner in question is a medical professional so she's not an uninformed individual. She also adores her cats and dogs and has done a good deal of rescue work. Her health, of late, has not been what it should have been which has meant that she could only drive when she felt she could do so safely. (A recent surgery should have resolved that issue.) She had brought the cat to the Emergency Hospital as reported earlier, where it was discovered that he had ingested a piece of jewelry dropped by a neighbor's child, that had cut him up internally. You already know that he survived that episode but here's the short version of what I have discovered since then.

Complete bloodwork was done, hence, it should have been analyzed. He also had an upper respiratory problem. They would only look at one thing even though she had his care transferred to a specialist who specialized in respiratory issues. Not only did that specialist not check for that issue but the owner was told she'd have to make a separate appointment with the specialist at her practice for that. Nor did the specialist at any time talk with the owner on the phone. Further, they did not do a complete enough workup, despite having complete bloodwork, to tell her if there were something else going on besides the issue with the swallowed item.

Not being able to travel to the hospital each day, but calling many times around the clock, the hospital staff implied that she was a bad owner for not being at the hospital! Nothing could be further from the truth. She desperately wanted to be there but couldn't drive and there was no one to take her there. A friend who is an experienced cat owner and also has health problems, said she'd go visit the cat in the hospital. The owner made arrangements, calling to give permission. When the woman traveled all the way across town to the hospital, they refused her admittance to see the cat. The owner had never denied any tests or treatment, despite the cost. She was well aware of the fact that Emergency hospitals are expensive. She wanted the best care for her cat. And they would not allow a friend to visit in her stead to reassure her that she had seen the cat and spent some quality time with him.

You may be thinking that all of these things are trivial since the cat survived but there's more. The records were to be sent to her regular veterinarian so that he could follow up and would have the bloodwork. When the cat got sick again, becoming quite lethargic, she discovered that the records had never been sent to her veterinarian from the Emergency hospital. He had no opportunity to see the results of the lab work.

She took the cat to another specialty hospital to see a well-respected respiratory specialist along with another of her cats who was displaying respiratory symptoms. The older cat's problem is the result of something structural but she's essentially fine.
She thought the younger cat's problem was his respiratory issue which seemed to be worse and wasn't responding to antibiotics

More bloodwork was done on the young cat at the referral hospital. The little guy had to stay to be rehydrated and he needed more tests to try to determine what was at the root of his problem. The resulting bloodwork showed that the young cat was in kidney failure! That should have been discovered at the Emergency hospital, had they properly interpreted the bloodwork. If they had sent the records to her regular veterinarian, he could have discovered the kidney problem and the little guy could have been started on subcutaneous fluids immediately at home to prevent exactly the dehydration and lethargy that resulted from lack of diagnosis.

Frankly, I call this bad medicine. I believe that it is important for veterinarians to look at the entire animal. Yes, treat the emergency for which he was admitted but if the bloodwork tells you that something else is going on, then tell the client that there's another problem as well. First Do No Harm. And why didn't they follow through by sending the records to the client's veterinarian? Why did they repeatedly infer that the owner is a bad owner? Why did they refuse to allow the owner's friend to see the cat when the owner had called specifically to give permission?

That hospital saved the cat from one problem but allowed his kidney problem to go undiagnosed when they had all of the information in their hands and added further to their mistake by not sending a copy of the records to the client's veterinarian. They allowed the cat to suffer because they missed the diagnosis or didn't care enough to properly interpret the bloodwork.

How many other Emergency Hospitals function this way? How many clients are mistreated? How many diagnoses are missed when the information is in the bloodwork results that are right in front of them? This could have happened anywhere. To anyone. This isn't a story. This is real. It happened.

My heart aches for this owner, this cat, and for all of those others who may have suffered from a similar experience.

By and large, veterinarians are excellent practitioners. Be sure you have fully investigated all Emergency options before you need emergency care. Ask questions. If the State Board keeps records of formal complaints, ask if there are any against that hospital or any specific veterinarians who practice there. Sadly, too few people report these issues. Caveat emptor: let the buyer beware.

Yes, the one "good" Emergency hospital in my previous blog post wasn't so "good" after all.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Having Faith

So many people have seen Faith, the two-legged dog on various television programs, walking on her hind legs. It’s not unusual to wonder about her, about her life and the family that adopted her.

Faith was born in 2002, just before Christmas. She wasn’t the only deformed puppy in the litter but she was the only one of those deformed puppies to survive and is the one one of the litter who was adopted by Jude Stringfellow and her family in Oklahoma. Faith’s mother, Princess, is thought to be mostly Chow Chow. About three weeks after her birth Faith was rescued by Jude’s son, Reuben, who jumped over the fence into the flea market that Princess was raised to guard. Reuben was accompanied by his friend, Johnny, who owned Princess. Princess was trying to kill the deformed puppy but Reuben managed to snatch her out from under Princess and, tucking her into his football jersey, he brought the tiny pup home.

“We accepted her immediately because we don't believe in treating any animal or person differently just because of a handicap or disability,” says Jude. “I would call what Faith has done for us a concerted effort between herself and Jesus to change my hard ways of looking at life. I was in a bad place at the time we got Faith both financially and emotionally. She taught me, and my family that being complete doesn't mean looking complete, or having money. We all have a unique and genuine purpose that only we can fill. She may not have realized it, but she was the perfect fit to our dysfunctional family - - she was the thumb that crossed over our fingers to make us one fist of a family. Before she came along we were all connected, but in many ways we were not working together. She changed that,” she explains.

When Reuben brought Faith to us she had three legs, but the left front leg was badly deformed, placed backward, upside down, and it had more toes on it than is normal. The leg was removed when she was seven months old when it began to atrophy. People ask Jude if it was easy to teach Faith to walk upright. The answer is that it was neither easy nor natural. According to Jude it was “Super natural.” She states clearly that she gives the credit to a high power and to Faith in every sense of the word.

Faith was given an Honorary Commission as an E5 SGT in the U.S. Army in June 2006. She was commissioned out of Ft. Lewis near Seattle, WA. There were many many soldiers and civilians in attendance who cheered her on as she accepted her Commission. She even has her own custom-made ACU jacket with the American Flag and Department of Defense patch. No, she can’t be deployed and she has no official benefits. Faith makes therapy dog visits giving hope, love, and yes, faith.

Not surprisingly, Jude Stringfelllow wrote a book about her family’s wonderful dog, “With a Little Faith.” And there will be a movie of her life. It’s currently in pre-production.

“Not one thing is different about Faith really,” says Jude. “She makes just as many messes, and farts just as many times as the other dogs do! She was more difficult to train only because what we had to train her to do. She was actually quite easy to potty-train - it was the upright thing that set her apart from the other dogs in my life. She has been very well behaved and has had the best disposition of any dog I've known personally. She rarely gets upset and if she does it is rightfully so. She is a bit shy of men only because she cannot fight. She barks or walks away so that there isn't a problem. She has always been drawn to children who are around her height or bigger - she smells all the babies too, just to see if they'll play with her or not.”

There are lessons to be learned. Faith didn’t just change a family. She’s touched the hearts and lives of many people. There’s obviously a reason why she was saved. We could all use a little Faith in our lives.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Kathryn Hopper and Fritz the Brave

Yesterday I lost a colleague. Kathryn Hopper, a member of the Cat Writers' Association, died far too young. Only in her 40s, she should have had many more years on earth yet she did more with the years she had than most.

Kathryn was in a shelter when she was captivated by a 6 year old Siamese. She brought Fritz home not knowing that he had feline asthma. She not only nursed this sick cat, she set about helping others. Ultimately, Fritz died but Kathryn was unceasing in her efforts to research this disease and to help other owners whose cats also had asthma.

She was in almost constant contact with Dr. Philip Padrid and made his resources available on the website she created: The site became the ultimate reference source for anyone interested in learning more about this disease and helping the cats with feline asthma.

My heart aches at the thought of a world that has been diminished by this loss, of grieving family and friends. But she leaves a wonderful legacy.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Winter Hazards

Winter weather brings special hazards for our four-legged companions. So many, in fact, that it requires a good deal of thought on the part of the owner to keep their dog or cat safe and healthy.

All cats should be indoors with lots of environmental enrichment but you'll notice in Winter that cats (and dogs) will sleep more and exercise less. This means that you will have to find ways to keep your four-legged companion more active. If it's extremely cold you're dog can't go out for extended periods of time - it's just too dangerous - but you can find games to play indoors. You can hide treats around the house and let your dog "find" them. And remember that all treats should be figured in with the amount of food your dog or cat eats so there's no weight gain. You can practice canine musical freestyle steps - put on some music and dance with your dog! Even my cat enjoys dance steps. You can start clicker training if you haven't already begun and teach your dog some new tricks. Your cat, too! Cats are certainly capable of doing the behaviors a dog can do and your cat will likely surprise you when you discover how smart she is! You can toss a toy for games of fetch and you can set up a mini-agility course indoors for your dog or cat. Yes, cats do agility, too!

If you have a small dog, he's going to lose body heat more rapidly than his larger cousins. He'll need a warm coat or sweater and time outdoors should be limited. Your dog can get frostbite, too.

If you're walking your dog on roads that are salted, or past a neighbor's salted driveway, be sure to clean his feet thoroughly as soon as you come home. You don't want him ingesting the salt when he licks his feet and you certainly want to get out the "snowballs" that will form between his toes. If you can get your dog accustomed to wearing dog booties on your walks it will be helpful in protecting his feet. Be careful of ice. If you slip and fall it's only too easy for your dog to slip his lead or pull it out of your hand. You may want to buy those slips-on with studs attached to go over your boots and help keep you from slipping.

On cold days, do not take your dog or cat in the car with you when you run errands. Leaving your pet in the car on a very cold day is as dangerous - potentially lethal - as leaving him in the car on a very hot day.

And at the end of the day, there's nothing better than a snuggle with you four-legged companion. Love and companionship and that all-important human-animal bond is what it's all about.