Thursday, July 29, 2010

Foxtails: not as benign as you might think

A jaunt with your pooch out in the woods can be a great way to get exercise and spend time together. Most dogs like to dart off into the brush, sniffing as they meander around. Typical dog behavior, right? Of course!

flickr photo courtesy of The Equinest
It's important when fun time is over, to examine your pooch thoroughly. Looking for ticks is crucial, of course, but there is another caveat to outdoor fun, especially for long haired dogs, like golden retrievers. Foxtails are notorious for hitching a ride and embedding themselves easily into tangles of fur, but they can pose a bigger risk: digging into openings in the skin. If this happens, big problems can ensue and surgical removal may become necessary.

Three common places that foxtails enter the body are the ears, nose and paws, so if your pooch spends a lot of time outdoors in fields or brushy areas, examining these areas is very important.

  • Paws: Keep the fur trimmed on the underside of the paws and check frequently. Limping may be an indicator that there's an issue.
  • Nose:  Dogs are habitual sniffers! Any signs of sneezing, pawing, discharge from the nose or blood is cause for concern. The burr can make its way to further into the nasal cavity, and in some rare cases has done so into the brain.
  • Ears: You know how dogs are; they get in irritation in their ear and they shake their head. But with every shake, the foxtail burr can travel further into the ear and cause permanent damage.
Most of the burrs can be removed safely with a comb after returning home. But in cases where you see that one may have gotten under the skin, or you're unable to remove it, get to a veterinarian immediately for treatment. Infection can set in quickly, and the discomfort and pain caused by the tiny barbs is awful.

Lorrie Shaw is a professional pet sitter and dog walker as well as a regular pets contributor on She also enjoys researching solutions regarding pet wellness and behavior, as well as social issues related to pets. She can be reached via e-mail.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Dropping the ball

A couple of nights ago, I was doing my nightly reading and research and ran across a blog post that one of my fellow tweeps, @MelzPetPals had written. The post included a gut wrenching letter from a Shelter Manager that details the not-so-pretty side of reality in a dog shelter. Read it here - but I caution you to grab a box of tissues; you're going to need them.

For quite some time, I've had this sort of thing on my mind, and have been trying to organize my thoughts to pull together a concise blog. I cannot figure out why people are not "getting it".

Why is it that there continues to be a steady stream of unwanted pets relinquished to shelters, unplanned litters of puppies and kittens who were result of an 'accident' and cases of abuse toward animals? Why do people insist on having exotic pets - ones that they have no idea how to, nor ability to care for properly? The plight of  "designer dogs" is distressing, too - and unethical breeders not employing careful breeding practices, or breeding for "desirable characteristics" in their business often leads to physical anomalies, behavioral problems and the like in the resulting litters. Beverley Cuddy chronicles this topic in her piece for The Bark, Breeding for Beauty.

It certainly cannot be that people are not educated enough about the plight that pet overpopulation and greed causes.

The numbers of unwanted pets are exemplified in the annual shelter fundraisers, endless adoption events, donation cans near the cash register at merchants' stores, flyers on bulletin boards and online ads and pet adoption websites (PetFinder is a great example). They're everywhere.

Why is it that spay/neutering isn't as focused on more? Or, maybe it is and people aren't getting that, either. As far as the rights of animals go, it seems that sterilization is a highly effective, far more economical and humane approach to controlling pet populations.

Working in a shelter in Monroe County, MI many years ago, I saw the sad reality of dogs (and cats) that are relinquished by owners. I would often read the detail cards on the outside of the animals' cage and just shake my head. Most of the reasons, honestly - not all, mind you, were workable I think. But as usual the pet always suffers the unfortunate consequences of lack of forethought on the humans part - and the inadequate training of the owner. (Yes, dog training has little to do with actually training dogs - training humans is more like it.) I hated seeing the abuse cases, especially. One cat had the pads of their paws burned intentionally. And the relinquishment of senior pets - that was common, too. I remember one sweet, old black lab - he was in dire need of a simple bath, nail trim and attention - and I made sure that he got it. In looking at his detail card, he was healthy overall, but his owners relinquished him because they were having a baby.

Can you imagine being dumped off someplace strange after years in one family, or be shifted from one home to another frequently - or to be tortured or abused?

Gretchen & Bruiser
My partner Chris and I acquired our three pets, not from a breeder or a pet store, but because they were in dire situations, respectively. And, we've resolved to always keep the tradition going - when we are ready to welcome another pet into the family.

I think that most people want to do right by their animals, don't get me wrong. There are certainly situations where a significant life change - not limited to an ongoing profound financial hardship - necessitates relinquishing a pet for good. There are programs out there to help, but for some families, they know that it's not enough - and it's all too common right now in Washtenaw County. But for far too many others, it's just a case of not enough thought into what things will be like once they get a pet... or where it comes from.

Mel Freer's blog post really brings the issues surrounding the plight of homeless and abused animals into the forefront. I'm fairly certain that all humane societies, shelter and rescue workers would love to see the need for their facilities and services come to an end. To stop the influx of unwanted and neglected animals coming through their doors. To never get another call about an abuse case that needs investigating. That they never need to ask for another dime from people to run their facility. To never have to euthanize another animal.

Please, stop and think your motivation about getting a pet - or giving one up. These animals did not ask to be put on this earth, or in their given situation. We make these decisions for them. I've heard the comment from others that "humans have dominion over the earth". For some, that means different things. I see it this way: because we have the ability to make decisions in ways that animals do not in our society - and because we have the capacity for speech, unlike animals - we have the inherent responsibility to make decisions for animals that put their best interests first. Simply because we have these capacities, does in no way mean that we can do whatever we feel like, because we can't deal with an animals' breed-based behaviors that are in their DNA - or because simply, it suits us. We need to stop dropping the ball. We as a species can do better.

Lorrie Shaw resides in Dexter Township with her family and lives her passion as professional dog walker and pet sitter for many species of animals. Staying up to date on the pulse of pet-related topics, she blogs about them frequently on More Than Four Walls and is a regular pets contributor on If you have an issue or topic that you would like to see addressed, contact Lorrie at

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Friday, July 23, 2010

Retractable leashes - a great use for them

(Photo courtesy of Kim Garrison)
Sequel, seen here padding through a creek in NJ
The weather here in southeast Michigan has been uncomfortable as of late - hot, muggy - oppressive! It's not just so for us, but our pets! We all want ways to keep cool, and safe from the effects of the high temperatures.

This morning, one of my pawsome followers and fellow dog owner, @kimhalligan1 on Twitter reminded me of a great way to keep dogs cool on days like these, while getting them their much needed exercise. Read it here.

Ordinarily, I'm not a fan of retractable leashes because they do not allow me the control and safety factor that is often needed when I'm walking dogs, but in this case - swimming alongside a clear riverbank, or even running or biking in a safe, open area - retractables work great and allow your pooch a bit more freedom and distance while keeping them tethered safely.

Sometimes, that's a really good thing.

So, why not get out there with your pup today and offer them a new way to experience life outside of "More Than Four Walls"!

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting, offering pet sitting and dog walking services in the Ann Arbor area, and is also a regular pets contributor on She also blogs frequently on More Than Four Walls, and enjoys researching solutions regarding pet wellness and behavior, as well as social issues related to pets. She can be reached at and you can also follow her on Twitter.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Fostering homeless animals: many possibilities, opportunities for pet and human

flickr photo courtesy of TerryJohnston

It's no secret that the number of homeless and unwanted pets is difficult to manage for humane societies, shelters and rescues alike. Typically there are opportunities for people to foster animals at their homes, and the rewards can be momumental for both pet and human. In Rikke Jorgensen's article "The Joy of Dog Fostering" in the current The Bark magazine illustrates the scenario of fostering well, giving a glimpse into the lives of foster families. For the animals, just the tip of the iceberg is getting the one-on-one attention that they receive in a household setting, a reduction in the exposure to stress. For the humans, the rewards are limitless.

Many animals being considered for fostering have physical challenges or illnesses - which, when they are housed in a traditional shelter-type setting can make it difficult to heal or thrive. Others are advanced in age; shelters can be hard on them, too. Being fostered provides a more settled environment for these animals so, perhaps they can heal, overcome physical challenges and allow them to put their best foot forward, get adopted and stay in a permanant home.

Cathy Theisen wrote a blog post last week on that resonated with me. It's a bit unrelated, but it got me thinking. There is a significant need for foster families - with specifically one species of animal - cats - in need of care. The subject of Theisen's blog I think probably represents a vast part of our elderly population: they would like to get a pet, but due to things like their age, cost concerns of lifelong ownership make it perhaps, prohibitive in their mind.

After making a comment on Cathy's post, the idea kept mulling over in my mind. Cats are in most cases more physically manageable for an older person to care for. Having the companionship of a cat - even in a temporary situation - can be a healthy, pleasurable experience for the human. A feline in a shelter situation would benefit greatly from a calm, stable and loving home that give them the little bit extra that they need to be at their best for adoption - a perhaps if they are timid or difficult to place.

Why wouldn't a senior be a great foster "parent" for a shelter cat, especially if the person is experienced with pets?

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting as well as a regular pets contributor on She enjoys researching solutions regarding pet wellness and behavior, as well as social issues related to pets.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Merging two households into one successfully: the blended pet family -

Merging two households into one successfully: the blended pet family -

Local people pitch in to help child who suffers from Aicardi Syndrome

Service dogs are an integral part of some peoples lives who are coping with chronic illness. Shaylee Jones is no exception, Shaylee, who is 5 and has Aicardi Syndrome is plagued by the possibility of seizures - as well as the risk of stopping breathing while she sleeps at night. A service dog can help by alerting her family when an emergency arises, saving her life.

A garage sale was held in Berkeley, MI to help defray the cost of a service dog. A local business donated $10,000 to the cause and 95.5's Mojo in the Morning were on site to help out.

Roop Raj of Fox 2 spent some time there, and with the help of his tweet, brought more attention to the cause. Watch the video story here.

The ability of canines - especially those that have been through training - to perceive a possible health crisis and to bring comfort to the individual that they have been carefully matched with is uncanny. A lot of work goes into the selection, training of the dogs, and then matching up human to the specialized service dog. No small feat by any means!

Lorrie Shaw is also a regular contributor to's pet section and owner of Professional Pet Sitting in Dexter Twp, MI.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

FYI - Exercise Induced Collapse - the facts

Flickr photo courtesy of Justin Baeder

This heat wave that we are experiencing has reminded me of a condition that affects canines, and I think that it bears emphasizing as it hits one of the most popular breeds - and can be exacerbated by temperatures and humidity that are higher than the dog is used to.

Exercise Induced Collapse, or EIC, is an inherited disorder that is characterized by onset of weakness in the hind limbs, (sometimes progressing to the front limbs,) an unusual gait, inability to coordinate limbs - to in some cases, inability to move at all. Symptoms are typically brought on by strenuous exercise, sometimes only after a few minutes. EIC is usually found to affect Labrador Retrievers (all colors and both sexes), Chesapeake Retrievers and curly coated retrievers. Although a pooch may seem in tip top condition and athletic, do not let this fool you - EIC can affect seemingly healthy dogs.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota discovered the gene. Additionally, the September 21, 2008 issue of the scientific journal Genetics Nature published the scientific basis for the DNA test to detect the gene.

Border Collies are affected by a somewhat similar exercise-induced syndrome, that can be researched by clicking here.

For additional facts about EIC, click here to download the .pdf file from the University of Minnesota website.

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting in Chelsea, MI, and is also a regular pets contributor to She writes about health issues, dog culture and social issues related to pets. She can be reached via e-mail at:

Common sense, precautions can protect animals from heat-related illness -

The heat wave is going to continue through Wednesday. Keep your pets safe with these tips.

Common sense, precautions can protect animals from heat-related illness -