Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Dog waste, poop... whatever you call it, it's your duty as a pet owner. (Or would that be doody?)

Walking your dog is one of the most fun and important things that you can do with them. It's a great activity that dogs of all ages can do and best of all - you're both outdoors! It's physical, mentally stimulating and a great way to bond any time of year.

The number of people who share life with dogs has grown substantially -  more than 72 million dogs in the United States alone.

With all of these pets and people in close proximity, there are a few rules of engagement to keep in mind. Good manners on leash is essential, of course as is one other very important thing: picking up after your pooch.

No one likes to see waste on the local trails, on streets or worse yet - on sidewalks. It's just unsightly, not to mention unsanitary. 

With all of the walking that I do, I can attest to the scowls from some people when they see a pooch that I'm accompanying might possibly stop on their lawn. It's understandable, certainly. I see dog waste left behind in very public areas - even in people's front yards - and it's irritating to those who don't have pets, especially.

Besides being the right thing to do, it's a health issue. Diseases can be transmitted to both pets and humans through fecal matter, so cleaning up right away is important.

It's easy to forget to grab a couple of the disposable grocery bags that are commonly used to take care of business, and if you have more than one dog, you need more bags and having ample pockets is a must, or tying them to the leash, as is having free hands to handle the leashes.

My nifty waste bag dispenser
I'm a pro, and see several pups a day for a visit. In the early days of the business there were plenty of times that I realized that I had forgotten a bag. *groan*

Yep, I felt pretty stupid having to return to the scene of the crime to swoop in and retrieve the evidence.

A simple solution solved that problem: a dispenser loaded with biodegradable waste bags attached to a favorite leash.

Yep, I love my dispenser from Bags on Board - the easy-to-load dispenser keeps bags handy, hands free and lightweight. I'm never without my trusty tool, and if I encounter a fellow human who has been a little forgetful, I can quickly offer them a spare bag discreetly.

If you're a dog owner living in Washtenaw County, you should take a minute to leave a comment and share your favorite places to get out for canine adventures.

Then, head over to my Facebook page, click "like" and you could win a new Bags on Board dog waste dispenser of your own. One lucky human's name will be drawn on September 30, 2011.

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting  in Dexter Township, MI. She welcomes your contact by email.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Cesar Millan phemomenon: Is there blame to be laid? Where do we go from here?

I'll admit it. As a pet care professional, I am not a fan of "The Dog Whisperer". I cringe when I see the commercials for the show, and the poor dogs being subjected to methods of interaction that are cruel, and even dangerous. Cesar Millan, star of the show and self-professed dog behavior guru offers his methods and advice to millions of people across the country on the National Geographic Channel.

I will say that I do appreciate Millan's emphasis on dog's getting enough exercise and humans being more involved with their pets.

flickr photo courtesy of pmarkham
Alas, Millan relies heavily on the "dominance theory", which is for so many reasons, just backward thinking. In fact, the trainers who get the best results from their client rely on positive reinforcement techniques.

The Alpha roll, stringing up/hanging - all things that Millan is in favor of - are counterproductive, detrimental to actually teaching a canine anything besides, well, aggression (things that in many years past, they were implemented to "root out", or even stop it so to speak).

These tools of negative reinforcement as many readers are used to it being referred to, but is actually punishment, to be accurate, keep us from connecting to a canine, and teaching them self-control.

After all, that is the goal, right? To teach canines self-control so that we can both exist together under the same roof, and with others?

Click here for an interesting video that illustrates some of Millan's handiwork.

I'm a little curious that the dog in question, Shadow, was referred to as being "dominant". What's interesting, is that if you watch early on - although it can be hard to tell what Shadow seems to be feeling - he seems to have more of a "curious" posture when he sees the other dog, as does the other dog. Millan quickly "corrects" Shadow with a noisy check with the leash, gives him a soft rear kick when then seems to instigate defensive behavior from Shadow.

Millan proceeds to choke and physically subdue the pooch, all of which goes on for a few minutes.

My querie is: isn't a defensive reaction to being treated in that way normal?

I would hope so.

This isn't the only episode in which tactics like this are used on dogs, but this is an especially problematic one. So much so, that the American Veterinary Society of Behavior issued a position statement about the type of interaction that you just saw in the video.

I should note that Millan has no formal training or certification in animal behavior. That's not to say that there aren't dynamic, knowledgeable and very talented people out there who don't have certifications and are great trainers, because there are. But animal behaviorists are in a different category.

Now, as I said before, I'm not a fan of The Dog Whisperer. Far from it. And a lot of people feel the way that I do, including seasoned animal behaviorists and trainers.

There is talk that The Dog Whisperer show will not continue in the future, but that remains to be determined. I'll take a stab at it and say it's over money. After all, with Millan's seemingly disarming ability with dogs and their humans, his rags-to-riches story and most of all - his marketability (the market is inundated with his merchandise and endorsements) - he probably feels as though he deserves more. He built an empire on what he does.

The show has done quite well, and it's no secret why. We love dogs. My business clearly demonstrates just the tip of the iceberg: a society of caring, mindful human beings who love sharing their lives with those of the tail-wagging persuasion.

People also want to get a quick-fix, and to get it for free. With so many dogs being welcomed into homes as young pups, and even adult dogs being rescued by willing (albeit that some are ill-equipped to handle a difficult dog) families in our country, the help is needed.

So why not look to the television? It must be real, right? Surely, National Geographic wouldn't put someone that wasn't capable on their channel.

Did I mention that this is television?

In the years that I've been a professional pet sitter and dog walker, I have seen experienced, gentle dog owners who are mindful and intelligent turn to complete novices when it comes to their canines. All because of other people who want to make some money in a field that's all the rage - dog training and animal behavior - by  telling these unsuspecting dog owners that they need to be following the methods that they teach, not what has worked for them in the past.

A lot of negative talk against Millan and his methods are out there. Myself? I'm taking the opportunity that this situation has availed to emphasize why animal behavior problems need to stop being a part of our pop culture and fixing the problems need to go back into the hands of the real professionals.

Since it's already there, why not use the visibility that Millan has given animal behavior to really educate people about how to co-exist with their dogs correctly from the start - and point those who need help in the right direction. (Maybe, just maybe Cesar Millan could be 'rehabilitated', in the process as well.)

After all, if your child was clearly in the same need of help to get over their serious behavioral issues, it wouldn't be acceptable to watch a television show to try and get a handle on things - right?

So why does your dog - a long-term member of your family - deserve any less?

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting in Dexter Township, MI. She is also lead pets blogger for AnnArbor.com and writes about pet health, behavior, pet culture and more. Catch her daily adventures or email her directly.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Repelling mosquitoes on pets can be safe and easy

Abundant rain in the first two weeks in June, coupled with the hot temperatures here in south east Michigan has created an environment that is perfect for mosquitoes to thrive.

Humans aren't the only ones who are affected by these irritating pests - pets suffer too, and pet owners are eager to find something to help their four-legged friends get relief.

Since traditional mosquito repellent isn't safe to use on companion animals, you might be wondering what is. In this vlog, I detail what is safe, what ingredients work and what you want to stay away from.

As you recall from a blog that I wrote in March for AnnArbor.com, catnip has been proven to be effective in a study that was done on livestock.

Included in today's vlog is information on a piece that Linda Diane Feldt wrote in May on creating your own effective and safe mosquito repellent at home - for yourself, and your pets. Linda is a Holistic Health Practitioner in Ann Arbor and a contributor to AnnArbor.com.

Lorrie Shaw is lead pets blogger for AnnArbor.com and writes about pet health, behavior, pet culture and more. Catch her daily adventures as a professional dog walker and pet sitter, or email her directly.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

With video: Assisting dogs that have a balance disorder

This week I've been caring for a dear client, a 15 year old large-breed Lab mix who has been experiencing the effects of an idiopathic balance disorder. The lack of coordination, balance and her frustration were obvious.

I saw the need right away to find a way to assist her physically, to help my back and peace of mind - and her dignity.

I decided to pull out the Easy Walker harness out of my day bag, and it worked great.

She improved throughout the week, thankfully but I think that having the harness helped her through the difficult periods.

Check out the video for more:

Lorrie Shaw is a professional dog walker, owner of Professional Pet Sitting and lead pets blogger for AnnArbor.com. Contact her via email or give her a buzz: 734-904-7279.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Storms, dogs, anxiety and bathrooms: What do they have in common?

How many people have you chatted with that comment that their dogs become afraid during a storm - or even when a storm is expected? Chances are, a lot. I know that I have.

After writing a piece for AnnArbor.com on helping dogs with noise or storm phobias, there was an interesting dialogue with folks about their dogs' behavior. One thing in particular seemed to be a common theme: Dogs who camp out in the bathroom to cope - either wedged between the toilet and the wall, up against the tub or the sink, or inside the tub/shower.
Flickr photo courtesy of Alicia Nijdam

This might seem like an odd thing, but a theory that Dr. Nicholas Dodman, Professor and Head of Animal Behavior at Tufts University has regarding the behavior is quite interesting.

Dodman writes in his book, "Puppy's First Steps" and "The Dog Who Loved Too Much", that it's common to find a dog pressed against one of the aforementioned surfaces, and for good reason - dogs become statically charged due to the changes in the atmosphere - and Dodman suspects that the pipes/metal act as a way to conduct electricity away.

A 2001 study conducted by Tufts University found that certain breeds have an above average risk of developing noise phobias. These include some of the working and sporting breeds such as Collies, German Shepherds, Beagles, and Bassett Hounds. According to other resources, the issue is common in Labrador Retrievers as well. 

So, if your pooch has some trouble with storms and displays this behavior, here's hoping that this brings some better understanding, and some peace of mind that your dog isn't "weird'.

There is something that can help your pet feel more comfortable, however: The use of anti-static capes, sprays and softener sheets. The premise of using any of these is to to reduce static build up, Dodman has had success instructing owners to spray anti-static spray on their dogs’ paws or swiping them with a softener sheet (I'm not too keen on the latter suggestion, as even the most natural ingredients could be licked off and ingested by your pooch.) Find more about a Tufts University study on a product called Storm Defender here.

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and owner of Professional Pet Sitting in Dexter Twp, Michigan. Follow her daily writing and pet adventures on Twitter.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

New study details breed-specific mortality in dogs

With so many breeds of canine, medical data can be confusing when considering the longevity of a dog. The standard has always been: The smaller the breed, the longer that they live.

A recent study supports that mantra, for the most part.

The records of over 80 breeds were kept over a 20 year period and analyzed in a new study co-authored by Dr. Kate Creevy, an assistant professor in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine and Daniel Promislow, a genetics professor in the UGA Franklin College of Arts and Sciences,

Flickr photo courtesy of powazny

Promislow notes, "Normally, if you compare different species of mammals, big ones live longer than little ones, and that pattern holds pretty well across hundreds of different species of mammals. With dogs, the opposite occurs; the little dogs live longer."

This study may provide more answers as to why that is true. Click here to read the study.

In 2003, the first canine genome was mapped by researchers and they have since compiled data on genetic variations at single points on the genome for more than 80 breeds. The UGA team can search for genes that influence the risk of diseases, hopefully, by combining the genetic data with the data from their own study.

"Is genetic variation for disease due to a few genes that vary in the population and that have a big effect, or dozens or hundreds of genes with small effects? That's a basic biological question that we can address," Promislow says. "There's potential to learn a lot about the genetics of disease using the dog as a model."

In a previous piece that I wrote for AnnArbor.com, I detailed how understanding canine genome could potentially shed light on genetic disease in humans, because the building blocks of each are the same.

Small breed dogs had higher death rates from metabolic diseases, such as diabetes and Cushing's disease; comparatively, larger breeds were found to be more likely to die of musculoskeletal disease, gastrointestinal disease and cancer.

For more on the topic, click here.
Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and owner of Professional Pet Sitting in Dexter Twp, MI. Shoot her an email or contact her at 734-904-7279.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Visually-impaired chihuahua has a leader dog, gets adopted

Training a dog to assist someone who is visually-impaired typically takes a lot of time, skill and money to achieve. Having a leader dog can offer a great sense of freedom to someone who cannot see - but as you'll read, humans are not the only ones who can benefit from having as little help from an apt second set of eyes.

Rhett and Scarlett are two peas in a pod. They were put up for adoption together in Albuquerque, NM recently after their owner had to relinquish them.

The chihuahuas have been together for quite awhile, and have forged a unique bond: Rhett cannot see, and relies on Scarlett to guide him around. Scarlett is an all-too-willing assistant, who leads the way through their days. Rhett follows the sound of the bell that is attached to Scarlett's collar, navigating through doorways, around on walks and more.

The pair were adopted by a nurse in their area who had previous experience with dogs who had lost their sight, after the shelter that facilitated the adoption made it clear that Rhett and Scarlett were to be kept together.

Adjust and adapt - it's amazing what can be achieved if one is given the tools to do so. Way to go, puppies!

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and owner of Professional Pet Sitting in Dexter Twp., MI. Follow her daily writing and pet adventures on Twitter or shoot her an email. 

Monday, April 4, 2011

Two pet owners share their unique experiences with euthanasia

In all likelihood, we will outlive our pets. That's probably a good thing. The way that our relationships are structured these days, they are dependent on us not only for basic care like food and shelter - but medical care and eventually, entering into the final stages of life, regardless of the age of the pet.

It's difficult to live with the end in mind, but as you'll read from two local residents' stories, doing so and keeping the pets best interests in the forefront can be invaluable.

The beginning of a journey's final leg

Wendy Beckwith speaks of her yellow Labrador, Holly with a quiet fondness that you would expect of any person that has shared their life with a pet for as long as she and her husband, Paul Takessian had. After arriving in their lives in 1999, it was evident that Holly loved people, and as Beckwith illustrates, Holly loved attention more than food - unlike most Labradors. In hearing about her, Holly's exuberance and the bond that she shared her with owners is still resonant.

After presenting with a limp that led to a diagnosis of osteosarcoma - a type of bone cancer - in December 2010, her owners decided that based on Holly's prognosis, that the best path to follow would be to offer palliative care and to forgo surgery. Beckwith notes that she felt strongly that her beloved dog be able to go through that period of her life in a dignified way - including her final days. In fact, the mantra that she and her husband kept in mind was that Holly should be afforded a life that was joyful, quality and dignified.

Photo courtesy of Wendy Beckwith
With that in mind, a normal of a schedule as possible was maintained, but it also, lots of attention, plenty of time on the floor with Holly, with toys and games - as well as physical contact - lots of touching was important.

Something else that was in the forefront: The idea of Holly's last moments being spent in a clinical setting, if euthanasia was needed, was something that Beckwith and Takessian wanted to avoid. Not long after the diagnosis, Beckwith was on a walk with a friend and confided that she felt being at home would be ideal for Holly as she made her transition.

Her friend said, "I know just the person that you need to be in touch with."

Dr. Cathy Theisen, DVM was brought on early as a home vet and proved to be integral in helping the family navigate through the entire period, making everyone feel very comfortable.

Visiting vets are the preference of many pet owners today, as the premise provides for a more comfortable alternative for an uneasy pet to get the care that they need - especially when addressing end-of-life issues.

Despite the disease affecting a front limb, Holly did well for a time with the help of radiation to help mitigate some of the pain, as well as great care from her family. Beckwith and Takissian felt that it was integral to have ongoing, daily dialogue with regard to how Holly was feeling and getting along: Was the pain being managed adequately? How well was Holly able to physically get around? Her quality of life - was it still good?

Another important part of their dialogue meant checking in with each other about how they were managing as Holly's caregivers. Beckwith, a retired guidance counselor noted how important it was for she and her husband to maintain an open dialogue with each other asking, "How are we handling things? How is the experience affecting us today?" After all, it wasn't just Holly's journey, but their journey as well.

Drawing from her experiences in caring for two friends during their terminal illnesses, Beckwith instinctively knew to apply the same mindfulness when it came to caring for Holly at that point in her life.

Kimberly Troiano and her husband, Chris were on a similar journey this past winter.

Their cat, Zepplin - or Zeppi, as he was affectionately known, was adopted in early 2005 and shared his owners with another feline, Tana.
Photo courtesy of Kim Troia

Life was good for years, and then sadly, Tana fell ill and eventually, the illness was having a profound effect on his quality of life. Euthanasia became the most logical choice. The Troiano's did what many people do: They took Tana into the very clinical setting that is the veterinary exam room, lingered while they said their goodbyes, waited by the side of their four-legged family member through the process as they watched him slip away.

Because the couple wasn't sure how Zeppi would process the idea that Tana wasn't going to be around anymore, they made the decision after talking to their vet to bring him along and into the room during the process. In retrospect, Troiano says that not might have been the best decision, as trips to the vet after that were impossible to manage for the cat: The fear and anxiety was just too much.

Troiano, who took faith as a Nichiren Buddhist in July 2010, notes that chanting Daimoku daily was integral in helping to find a different solution to address her pets' health needs in a way that would help them be more comfortable - ideally at home. It was then that Dr. Theisen came into their lives.

Fast forward to September 2010, and Zeppi needed to have a dental cleaning performed by Dr. Linda Griebe, DVM at Ann Arbor Cat Clinic after Dr. Theisen's recommendation.

There was one problem: Dr. Griebe saw a problem as she prepped Zeppi for the procedure, which requires anesthesia.

As it turns out, the news wasn't good. At age 7, Zeppi was diagnosed with Squamous Cell Carcinoma. Although the cat had some minor health issues, the diagnosis was a shock to the couple.

After looking at treatment options, it was decided that palliative care was the best choice. As a Nichiren Buddhist, it was important to Troiano that Zeppi be able to go through this process with dignity, as much joy as possible and a decent quality of life. After all, this was not about his owners - but it was about how they could help him navigate through this period of life - an all-encompassing process - just like Holly's family was doing.

Final transition

Holly lived fully with her family from the time she was diagnosed, with the help of radiation to help quell the pain of the disease for a time - and pain medication throughout. Takessian made a ramp to assist the pooch in getting in and out of the house, which proved to be helpful.

By early March, it was a different story: Over the course of a week or so, her pain medication wasn't being tolerated very well, and Holly was having difficulty getting in and out of the house to eliminate. Her owners had anticipated this time coming, and made the decision to call Dr. Theisen to come by and help Holly transition.

That morning, because her husband was unable to help lift the struggling canine, Beckwith asked a neighbor to come by and help with getting Holly outside to relieve herself.

"The vet is coming today to take care of Holly; it's time."

Understanding the gravity of the situation, her friend asked, "Would you like me to stay?"

The offer was most welcome, and her friend graciously brought her guitar, and softly played "Amazing Grace" as a handful of other loved ones came by to shower Holly with attention and love, stroking her and talking, reminiscing, comforting her and each other. Holly was aware of those around her and maintained a relaxed, peaceful state throughout that afternoon. Even after Dr. Theisen helped Holly ease through the final moments, the mutual support remained, as her loved ones lingered that day.

Beckwith said softly, "It was totally unexpected, the way that everything fell into place that day: The people who were important to the three of us were present, Holly's peaceful passing... and it was very much like a wake afterwards."

Conversely, I noted that the process that day sounded a bit like awaiting a birth - everyone gathered, the anticipation, the support.

Beckwith, her voice brightening, said, "Yes, yes it was very much like that, ironically enough; you're right. It was."

Zeppi maintained a quality of life that was totally manageable for a few months after his diagnosis. Despite the cancer affecting his epiglottis, he ate wet food without issue and to someone who didn't know him, he didn't look like he was batting a terminal illness.

Troiano's faith continued to be a sustaining factor throughout the process, and she and her husband kept in mind that this process was more than about Zeppi's dying. It was a transition - one that would assist him in attaining Buddhahood - and through chanting Daimoku, this would be facilitated.

Sadly, right after New Year's, Zeppi started to decline and by mid-week had stopped eating. At that point, the Troiano's understood clearly that it was time, but were glad that they didn't have to move their furry friend, who had since settled into the quiet sanctuary of the master bedroom.

Arrangements were made for Dr. Theisen to come by at about 2:00 pm on January 11 and assist Zeppi, and fellow Nichiren Buddhists were notified by phone to chant at that time to help him through the transition. As it turned out, the doctor arrived a bit early, and after chatting downstairs about what each party might see and hear during the process, (the couple got some insight into how euthanasia is administered and what typically ensues, the doctor was clued in on the chanting that she'd hear throughout), all three headed up to where Zeppi had chosen to retreat.

In keeping with the Buddhist tradition so that a proper transition could be facilitated, Zeppi was positioned with his head pointing toward the north, and face to the west. His owners sat at his side talking to him, stroking him, all the while chanting as the doctor helped the animal along. As he began to slip away comfortably, slowly, the doctor gave the family private time to comfort Zeppi, and each other - saying all of those things that pet owners want to convey to their four-legged loved ones in those final moments if they are able - and as it was evident that he was gone, the clock read 2:00 exactly.

The event still very fresh in her memory, Troiano is incredibly sad that her very loyal sidekick is gone, but finds solace in knowing that the choices that were made on behalf of her pet were the right ones. Musing how Zeppi would sleep with her, his habits, the joy that he brought to the family, it's clear that he was very special.

"Zeppi was able to go through this process - especially dying - on his terms. We had an obligation to ensure that he lived and died with dignity." She adds, "We're very thankful to have had the option to allow him to stay home and transition where he was comfortable."

One piece of advice that both pet owners give: You are your pets advocate. When they are facing death - regardless of the reason - keeping their best interests in mind is paramount. It's hard to let go, but it's harder to watch them suffer needlessly.

Read more about the topic of end-of-life care for companion animals by clicking here.

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and has previously written about end-of-life, palliative and pawspice care. She welcomes your contact via email, and to follow her daily adventures as owner of Professional Pet Sitting on Twitter.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Humane Society of Huron Valley earns accolade as best large animal shelter in Michigan

Washtenaw County's very own Humane Society of Huron Valley does a phenomenal job of so many things, but do you really know the reach of their work?

What's the image that pops into your head when you think of HSHV? It's likely that what goes on in the day-to-day is very different than you might think.

The organization takes in all animals, whether they be unwanted, injured, stray or otherwise, and they adopt most of these animals back out to responsible homes.

The people who work and volunteer there also cultivate a culture of responsible pet ownership by way of education programs, assistance with training and even help with correcting behavioral issues with pets. Also, low-cost spay and neuter services are available.

Pet owners can go for help when a temporary financial burden or life-changing event occurs so that they can keep their companion animals, by way of the Safe Harbor and Bountiful Bowls programs.

Assistance with reuniting lost pets with their families is part of what HSHV does, too.

Providing 24-hour rescue services for sick or injured stray animals, the Cruelty and Rescue division responds to cases of cruelty and neglect reported by residents.

They cover a lot of areas with regard to the care of pets, and they do it well. So well, in fact, that on March 25, they were honored with the Outstanding Large Shelter award by the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance at the first No Kill Conference in Ann Arbor.

HSHV was ranked No. 1 among all large shelters in Michigan, and with a current save rate of 81 percent, it's no wonder.

"We are very honored by this award,” said Tanya Hilgendorf, HSHV executive director. “I accepted the award, but it is certainly not mine … it belongs to our staff and volunteers who provide the love, refuge, protection, and new beginnings to the lost, hurt and abandoned. It is created through the magical alchemy of their blood, sweat and tears. It is also for our board members, donors, and government officials who believe in what we are doing and make sure we have the support to do it well. Being truly successful is always a story about love and about perseverance. When you have both, you can’t be stopped from meeting your goals.”

Representatives from rescue organizations and animal shelters in the small, medium and large category were in attendance at the important event.

HSHV shares some of the same goals as other animal welfare groups. Because of that, people make the mistake of assuming that they are somehow tied together, which is unfortunate.

“Some people believe that all humane societies are governed by one organization or receive money from other agencies," said Hilgendorf. "That is not the case. All animal welfare groups are completely independent and do not share donations. It’s important that people do their homework when deciding where their donor dollars are going and which organizations are really saving lives. It’s up to community members to demand more from the organizations caring for the homeless pets in their hometowns.”

So, the next time that you are considering where your support for companion animals is directed — whether it's financial or otherwise — consider wisely. You have the highest-rated facility — which helps over 10,000 small animals each year — and pet-related resource right in your backyard.

Read more about the award, and the ranking of other large animal shelter rankings by clicking here.

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and writes about various pet-related topics. She welcomes your contact via email, and to follow her daily adventures as owner of Professional Pet Sitting on Twitter.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Mutts are the best, and Ann Arbor is a dog-friendly town

Dogs who find themselves in the unfortunate situation of being abandoned, homeless and waiting to be adopted, numbers in the millions nationwide.

Despite low-cost spay and neuter programs, overpopulation is a problem.

For many dogs though, they end up in shelters, rescues and humane societies due to their owners' inability to provide what they need - whether it be time, proper training or financial resources to care the pet. Factors like a life-change or perhaps moving into a place that doesn't allow pets might be behind the decision.

Sometimes the life that a dog has led before coming into a shelter situation is a mystery - they are found wandering alone, no identification, hungry.

One thing is for sure: Dogs that are waiting to be adopted at shelters are superb choices for family pets. And as many dog owners will attest, mutts are the best!

Jill Costello knows this all too well. Her pooch, Pete was a shelter dog. Despite what his life might have been like prior to the two of them coming together, he lives an amazing life now.

At the time, Costello and her husband were living in Denver, Colorado, and she was longing for a dog. Since her better half was in sales, that meant that he was gone quite a bit - which made for some lonely periods of time for Costello. The timing was perfect to welcome a pet.

Due to her volunteer work in a local shelter there, and also knowing the plight of puppy mills, adopting a homeless pet - preferably a mutt - was logical to the prospective dog owner.

At the time, the Costello's lived in an apartment, so they knew that a small dog would be ideal as a house mate. The search began, but smaller breeds are always adopted quickly, as it was discovered. A call would be made, and the same disappointing response was heard - 'Sorry - they've been adopted.'

"I basically stalked the local shelter's website," she jokes, "checking it several times a day because it would be updated so often with new dogs."

But one day, a small tri-color terrier mix appeared on the website while Costello was checking it from work.

"I saw the picture and called right then. He was available, so I made arrangements to leave work immediately to go meet him," Costello recalls excitedly.

Upon seeing him in person and spending some time with the then underweight 13-pound pooch, she knew that he was the one. There wasn't much known about his past, as is the case with some dogs that find themselves in a shelter, but it was clear that he as no worse for the wear from his previous life experience. He was housebroken, good on a leash and very well-behaved.

An earlier phone call to her husband telling him the good news resulted in the response to Costello: If you feel that he's the right one, then bring him home. We've talked about this for awhile, and I trust your judgement.

It turned out to be a great decision. Pete adjusted easily into family life and had no issues. A fast learner, Pete can do tricks, like high-five, play dead, hop like a bunny - and he's a master at hide-and-go-seek.
Photo courtesy of Jill Costello

The fun-loving pooch was entered into the very first 'Best Mutt in Show' competition on ABC's 'The View' - and won. As you'll remember, Pete isn't the first dog with an Ann Arbor connection to win the coveted honor. This years' top dog was none other than Ann Arbor's own Sweetie Sue, a former shelter dog herself.

"It was a fun experience getting to travel to New York, and seeing Pete win," muses Costello, "meeting the hosts, being on TV and seeing the behind-the-scenes stuff was really interesting for me. Pete was so nonchalant about the whole thing. He was just having a good time, going with the flow."

Fast forward 3 1/2 years after coming together, the family now lives in Ann Arbor. The now 22-pound sidekick gets to take advantage of the area's many dog-friendly spots, dog parks, including Olson Park and Swift Run - and hiking trails. Costello says that she's thrilled with all that's available for families with dogs in Washtenaw County, counting Mill Pond Park as a favorite, too.

Ann Arbor's downtown area is favorable, too as Costello notes. "Not all towns are as dog-friendly. And, people here are genuinely mindful about not only how they interact with their dogs, but how others do as well."

The positive interaction is important not only for good socialization with dogs and their owners, but children, too. When kids see adults treating animals kindly, it trickles down and sets an example for them to emulate throughout their life.

Adopting a shelter dog has been a rewarding experience for Costello, and she encourages people who are ready to welcome a dog into their family to consider that option first.

Local organizations like the Humane Society of Huron Valley is a great place to not only to adopt a pet like Hercules, a recent graduate of MiPaws - but as a resource for many things pet-related.

Lorrie Shaw wrote "Getting the message: Teaching kids about animals". She welcomes your contact via email, and to follow her daily adventures as owner of Professional Pet Sitting on Twitter.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Cats prefer women? A new study says so, but the jury is out on this one

Cats are interesting creatures to say the least. They do communicate differently than their canine counterparts do (or at best, we simply process their respective ways of communicating differently). Cats, for many of their owners, can be a little challenging to understand.

But do felines have a preference for men or women? It's fair to say that most people would have a tendency to think that women are favored by the species.

But why? This got me thinking.

It makes logical sense to many for several reasons, I think:
  • Cats are physically more delicate than most dogs. In history, dogs were associated more with men and more "sturdy" activities like hunting and gaming. Traditionally — and albeit to some, misguided — women are seen as being more delicate than men.
  • Most people believe that women are more intuitive than men. Ditto for cats as opposed to dogs. (Is that because cats may not seem physically and vocally expressive as canines?)
  • The seemingly mysterious nature of felines baffles some, and in literature, the female essense has been popularly associated as being mystical.

Are connections like this behind the popular thought that cats prefer women, or is there a more concrete basis for this theory? Research led by Kurt Kotrschal of the Konrad Lorenz Research Station and the University of Vienna says so.

In studying 41 cats and their owners, there was evidence that cats were more drawn to their female owners more frequently than male owners, but there is some skepicism.

What do you think? Has this been your experience? Take the poll and leave your comments below.

Read more on the study here.

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and frequently writes about dogs. She welcomes your contact via email, and to follow her daily adventures as owner of Professional Pet Sitting on Twitter.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

My two cents on the "Guilty Dog" video, higher-order emotions and anthropomorphism

Let's face it: We love dogs.

Sharing our lives with dogs has changed dramatically over the past couple of decades, and by and large that's been a good thing for them. Better treatment of canines, our better understanding of the species as a whole and by the sum of its parts by experts, better health care and more has been helpful.

The area of canine cognition has grown vigorously, which is also important for more reasons than I can count.

As dogs have been brought into our lives in a more inclusive capacity, the whole dynamic of their behavior has changed. Dogs have had to evolve quickly. We expect more out of them - sometimes too much - and in order for them to exist in a more civilized way so that they can be with us inside our homes, the need for us as humans to learn to modify their natural instincts and behaviors has become a necessity.

An unfortunate side effect of this change has been the anthropomorphism of animals as a whole.

Ask anyone who lives with pets how they perceive the animals' behavior, emotions and perceptions, and you'll get a wide range of answers.

That's not surprising, quite honestly. Considering all of the influences, like books, blogs, TV personalities, and sometimes very unqualified people that are out there telling dog owners what dogs think and feel, it happens a lot. Combine that with the preconceived notions that we have to draw from on our own personal experiences as humans, and people not knowing how to choose a dog trainer or behaviorist (if and when it's needed), and it's usually a recipe for disaster for canines.
flickr photo courtesy of Emery_Way

I see many things in any given week that leave me with raised eyebrows as far as what pet owners say or do to with regard to the behavior of four-legged members of our world.

This past week was no exception. Surely you've seen the video of the "guilty" yellow lab circulating all over the internet, by now.

After seeing it myself last weekend, I was immediately incensed by the assertion that this pooch was somehow feeling guilty about getting into a package of cat treats. By mid-week, the video went viral.

Why do I feel this way? This video - and the circulation that it's gotten - along with the hordes of others like it on the internet give the wrong message. Good Morning America decided to do a segment on it as well, albeit tongue-in-cheek.

The video of the pooch conveyed anxiety and nervousness. Guilt? Not likely. Guilt is part of the human condition. A higher-order emotion.

It's difficult for most not to be anthropomorphic with dogs especially, but It's puzzling why we continue to place human emotions on canines to this degree. The practice leads people off track, especially where serious behavior problems are concerned.

Before we can help unfold a dog into the unique creatures that they are, we need to understand them on a level that is appropriate - not one that is tainted by our preconceived notions due to our human experiences.

Let's leave the postulating about dog behavior to animal behaviorists and ethologists, shall we? Dogs might be better served if we spend more time trying to understand higher-order emotions where they truly reside: In humans.

Read more on the topic of "dog guilt" and higher-order emotions by clicking here.

Lorrie Shaw is lead pets blogger for AnnArbor.com and frequently writes about dogs. She welcomes your contact via email, and to follow her daily adventures as owner of Professional Pet Sitting on Twitter.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dog walking is serious business - are children up for the task?

         flickr photo courtesy of A Gude

I saw a blog over the weekend that caught my attention, and for good reason: A town in Virginia is proposing a law that would require only competent, responsible adults to walk dogs.
The article spawned a lot of controversy, and I think that the notion of creating a law is an interesting one.

Frequently in my travels with dog walking, I am presented with an all-too-common situation where my charge and I encounter another dog accompanied an apt human on the other end of the leash. Many people are mindful about the dog in their possession: Are they calm, and able to pass by another dog without issue, or does being faced with the prospect of passing another dog on the sidewalk pose a problem?

Most people who are aware that their dog isn't so good at dealing with others will usually move to the side or in some cases or change their course. I've done it myself - usually with a nod or a verbal confirmation. Walking in downtown areas or on tight trails is cause for an extra amount of awareness and care when you've got a dog alongside of you.

While I rarely encounter an issue that's too dicey, there is one scenario that I find to be deeply troubling.

Thursday, I was walking a large dog who was quite docile.The weather was exquisite, and that prompted a lot of people to get out and walk their dogs, resulting in a lot more foot traffic than we usually encounter. I was thrilled to see so many people out and about with their pets, but what troubled me was the number of children who were walking dogs while unattended by adults.

Now, before you get all up in arms, I think it's great - necessary even - that kids are exposed to the responsibility of walking a dog on a leash, learning how to control a dog safely and understanding the gravity of the task.

That day, I encountered an alarming number of children who were clearly too small and physically unable to control the dog in their possession - and/or trying to multi-task. In the latter case, I witnessed two children on three-wheeled scooters, trying to manage their dogs on leashes, all the while the dogs and their leashes were getting tangled around the scooters and the children's legs.

It's frightening to watch a child, 8 to 10 years of age, heading in your direction, with both hands tightly, furiously clutching the leash, on the cusp of literally being dragged down the street by an enormous dog who has no leash manners - another scene that availed itself that day.

Those instances are examples of why I posit that supervision should take place until a child is able to handle the responsibility on their own - meaning that they can handle it physically, emotionally and intellectually.

It's a lot of responsibility being on the other end of the leash. A lot can happen, and in many cases, much of it isn't within your control - but how you react to a situation is.

Can a child handle that responsibility? What are your thoughts? Please, take the poll and leave your comments below.

Lorrie Shaw is lead pets blogger for AnnArbor.com and a professional pet sitter and dog walker. Follow her daily writing and pet adventures around Washtenaw County on Twitter. She welcomes your contact via email.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Product Review: IQ Treat Ball by Ourpets

Last week I posted this photo on Facebook and made a comment about the super cool dog "toy" pictured in it.

There was an enthusiastic response to my post; the most common was "What is that called?"

A simplistic idea, an equally simple yet ingenious design, the IQ Treat Ball gets dogs interested and keeps them moving. Foraging toys are not a new concept; several companies make them and they are a great way to give dogs a little something extra to do.

Foraging toys can be used as an outlet for fun to dispense treats, or as a way to feed your pooch (as one of my clients does, and their dog prefers it.)

In the wild, dogs had to hunt, catch and kill their food. Now, typically they just get a bowl of kibble plunked down in front of them. While many people argue that dogs are so far removed from living in the wild, and that the way that we deal with them today is perfectly healthy, a  lot of folks - including myself - beg to differ. 

The problem is, dogs are the fastest evolving species on the planet. They have had to be because of human intervention. What we may see as progress, comes at a price for many breeds, especially. Dogs still have their instincts and those need to be fostered. Foraging toys are a way to help satisfy that.

The IQ Treat Ball allows dog owners to stuff a few treats inside the entirely hand-washable plastic ball, and let dogs have a little fun. Powered by your dogs interest and activity, the ball -which comes in a 3" or 5" size - has a flat stopper/insert in the middle that has a hole that allows the treats to trickle out fast or more slowly, so that you can adjust the level of difficulty.

Simply unscrew the two halves of the toy, drop some kibble or treats in, replace the insert, set the dispensing hole size, put the toy back together, scootch it across the floor and watch your furry friend go!

One of our dogs loves foraging toys, the other, not so much. That being said, I think that it's certainly worth a go for any dog. In my opinion, the more variety, the better and honing in on what your dogs get in to for fun, stimulation and using their problem-solving skills and senses is key.   

But since the Ourpets IQ Treat Ball has a great design, a low price point (starting at $10) and is durable (too difficult for most dogs to pick up and chew) it's a great product to introduce your four-legged companion in using a foraging toy. 

I recommend, as always, that this and all toys like it be used by pets while they are under supervision of a responsible human, for safety's sake.

For more information and to find out where to purchase, click here to go to the Ourpets website

Lorrie Shaw is a professional pet sitter and dog walker and is also lead pets blogger on AnnArbor.com, where she has previously made recommendations on pet products. Follow her writing and other pet related adventures on Twitter or contact her via email.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Detroit Dog Rescue makes plea to The Ellen Show

Monica Martino set out to create a reality show, and as an Emmy-nominated producer, she has a knack for getting people's attention. But instead of creating just another reality show, Martino had a purpose in mind: To highlight the plight of the homeless dogs in Detroit from a unique vantage point - the dogs themselves.

Its no secret that the city has suffered it's share of unwarranted setbacks and beat-downs, and so many people have suffered as a result of economic strife at the hands of greed and mismanagement. It's a great city, and great people, but the resources are limited. Those who suffer immensely, with absolutely no way to change their situation, are the homeless, abandoned and neglected pets.

In the end, the City of Detroit shot the idea down, and Martino and her partner in the project, Hush, whose real name is Dan Carlisle, were at as loss for what to do since the project couldn't go forward.

Out of the duo's despair came the idea to stay and help by creating what came to be known as Detroit Dog Rescue. Their mission: To involve and edify the community about the plight of homeless dogs, and to get canines rescued and placed into loving homes.

The non-profit has a big task ahead of them. By some estimates, there are 50,000 homeless dogs in the city alone, with very few animal control officers to put a dent in the problem. DDR, knowing the size of the task, has made a plea to help raise money and awareness to none other than all-around champion to companion animals, Ellen DeGeneres to get some help with getting the word out about their cause. 

Check out this video plea:

Lorrie Shaw is a pets blogger and professional pet sitter/dog walker in the Ann Arbor area. Follow her daily pet adventures on Twitter or shoot her an email.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Canine brucellosis confirmed in six Michigan counties, and the possible culprit

Brucellosis is a venereal disease that you hear about typically with regard to breeding canines, but a Michigan State University veterinarian and researcher has stern news: Not so fast.

In light of an outbreak that has affected six counties and is suspected in another ten - Missaukee, Osceola, Wexford, Grand Traverse, Ottawa, and Macolm - Cheri Johnson, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVIM warns people not to discount the fact that the highly transmissible disease is spread simply through breeding. 
flickr photo courtesy of Acme Canine

Any dog owner will tell you that dogs frequently poke their noses in all sorts of places. They have a habit of eating gross stuff and licking things that they shouldn't. By and large, it's not an issue. 

Brucella, as the bacterial disease is referred to, is present in the bodily fluids of infected vertebrates - in higher concentrations in the semen, urogenital secretions, fetal membranes - but can also be found in urine and saliva.

There's no reason for the average pet owner to get all up-in-arms. It's a pretty safe bet that your typical pooch isn't going to be infected with the disease via casual contact.

In fact, humans rarely pick up the strain of brucella that canines get, B. canis, but you can transmit it to other dogs. Good hygiene is a must, of course, if you have contact with bodily fluids, regardless (remember the "happy birthday rule", though).

If you are considering breeding your dog, here's some food for thought: It's a good idea to have your dog tested, and insist that the owner of your dog's mate produce documentation of a clean bill of health. Since brucella can be hard to detect, and  it's so slow growing, blood tests that are typically done may not give the correct result and the disease could still be present - so proceed with caution.

Brucella is treated with antibiotics, but it's not a foolproof solution; the bacteria are hearty, and great at hiding out in the host cells.

Johnson notes another issue that can be a problem however, for a wider demographic of dog owners. "To avoid euthanasia, well-intended but misguided rescue organizations in Michigan have rescued dogs from infected kennels and adopted them out as pets to unsuspecting owners, whose veterinarians will be equally unsuspecting."

This may or may not be a contributing factor to the diseases' re-emergence, but it does highlight the need for education about transmissible disease for rescues and for those who prefer to adopt from them. This statement in no way demonizes rescues or the work that they do, but if they are conducting themselves in a questionable manner, then that poses a problem.

The bacteria is slow-growing and is masterful at hiding out in the urinary and reproductive tract. Infected pets typically look and seem healthy, and while that's the case, the disease can cause long-term damage to your pet, like inflammation in the spleen, liver, discs in the spine and kidneys. Inflammation in the joints can occur, as well.

Read more here.

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and professional pet sitter and dog walker in the Ann Arbor area. Follow her daily adventures on Twitter or email her directly.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Humane Society of Huron Valley launches cruelty investigation after discovery of two tortured dogs in Chelsea

Humane Society of Huron Valley Lead Cruelty Investigator Matt Schaecher is warning Chelsea residents to keep an eye on their pets after two dogs were found tortured.

The dogs, owned by two different neighbors, were outside playing in the morning, and discovered missing. Found eight hours apart on the same day - severely injured - they were rushed to the Humane Society of Huron Valley Veterinary Clinic after being picked up by the Humane Society of Huron Valley Rescue Department.

Both dogs had to be humanely euthanized due to the extent of their injuries.

Necropsy results from Michigan State University show that wounds were intentionally inflicted with a hatchet while the dogs were bound.

“This is a very heinous case of animal cruelty and we want to make sure that the community is aware that dogs running loose may be in extra danger. We have no reasonable explanation for what happened to these dogs. For their sake, and that of the safety of the community, we will do everything in our power to find this person and bring them to justice,” said Schaecher. “That is why we are asking that anyone with information to please come forward.”

A $500 reward is being offered by the Humane Society of Huron Valley for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the individual(s) responsible for the assault near I-94 and Pierce Road in Chelsea. The anonymous tip line is (734) 661-3551.

Read the full release here .

HSHV handles investigations of cruelty and neglect in the area, and works with law enforcement when necessary to prosecute offenders. In many cases, the public-at-large is integral in alerting authorities to the mistreatment of animals. Click here for additional information about what Michigan law defines as cruelty or abuse.

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Follow her on Twitter or contact her via e-mail

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Trying to treat a sick feline can be difficult, but there are rules of thumb that you can follow to help

Having a sick pet is hard. They cant speak, can't convey what is wrong exactly and can be uncooperative when trying to medicate or getting them to eat. This is compounded when it's a feline - times ten!
flickr photo courtesy of lunachrome

Chronic illness can be especially challenging, especially when kidney disease or other serious disease has taken hold. Eating can be a hurdle, as can oral medications. There are a lot of treatments and medications that can help sick kitties, but if they won't take them, what good are they, right? 

What do you do, as a pet owner if a cat is just too disagreeable? Is there a time to say "when"? 

Dr. Jess Franklin of Ann Arbor Animal Hospital came up with the Sick Cats Bill of Rights to help cat owners get as better handle on this topic. Click here to read more. 

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and a professional dog walker and pet sitter serving the Ann Arbor area. Follow her writing and pet adventures on Twitter @psa2 or send her an e-mail. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

With video: More male cats are southpaws, but this kitten uses every one

In a study done by researchers from Belfast University, there is a clear preference of female cats in using their right paw for most activities.

And, depending on a tasks' complexity in both sexes, cats will use either their right or left paws, which shows that the feline brain has specialized areas.

Try watching your furry friend the next time he or she is trying to retrieve a piece of errant kibble from under a large object — which paw do the cat use? How about when you are playing a game with them using a suspended cat toy?

In the following video, you'll see that none of that matters though, as this kitten uses every paw. It's sure to brighten up any dreary day.

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Follow her daily writing and dog walking adventures on Twitter @psa2, and contact her via e-mail.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Pit stop - Culture - Detroit Metro Times

Pit stop - Culture - Detroit Metro Times

You say tomato, I say tomahto: Animal behaviorists and dog trainers - is there a difference?

One topic that I frequently find myself troubled by is the training of canines.

As someone who works with dogs every day, I see all sorts of living arrangements, behaviors (some quite normal, some not-so-normal) and approaches (again, some good, some downright horrible) in finding a happy medium in co-existing with dogs.

I can see that the main problem with dogs today, isn't with dogs - it's with people... they're the root of the issue. It's always been the case, but now, it's amped up.

With today's way of living, which in my opinion is for some dogs nothing short of chaotic and counterproductive to the nature of dogs, it's no wonder that dogs can't settle down or walk on a leash when they do get to go out for a walk, behave, not chew things and forget what they've been taught.

We've asked a lot of canines. Too much. In fact, because of humans, dogs have had to be the fastest evolving and adapting species in the world.
flickr photo courtesy of markles55

Many times, people find that their dogs do indeed have behavioral issues that they don't feel comfortable trying to correct on their own, and with all of the problems that some dog owners are seeing, the need for outside help has increased. And, it's not surprising that there are as many choices for training your pooch as there are jellybeans in the proverbial jellybean jar.

We live in a fast-food society that thrives on instant gratification. People love a quick-fix. And they love watching troubled dogs transformed into sweet, obedient pooches right before their eyes on TV. I assure you, there is no shortcut to helping your dog understand reasonable expectations in behavior.

There are really great professionals out there who can help humans get the most out of their relationships with their dogs. And the there's the not-so-great ones, just like in any other field. And others, well, they just blur the line as far as what their qualifications are.

The difficult thing, I think for pet owners, is that they feel inept in the first place. So, when someone reaches out for help with their dog, I think it's fair to assume that they feel like they are dealing with very capable professionals who understand their own limits and the limits of the dog that they are working with.

I see many instances of training and behavior modification techniques employed by trainers that are dangerous, like the "alpha roll", or where dogs are treated harshly. These sort of things don't help progress the goal of good behavior, and in many cases put the human in danger of getting bitten. The American Veterinary Scoiety of Animal Behavior offers their position on dominance and dominance theory here.

Sadly, the field of dog training and dog behavior is not regulated by federal or state laws, so pet owners are on their own if they need to consult someone besides their veterinarian for help. For that reason, I think it's important for dog owners to do their homework, and put in an effort into checking out the qualifications of their trainer or behaviorist as they do a lot of other important things. Read more here for resources on selecting a trainer, and here to learn more about certification designations.

On a final note, there seems to be a very blurry line with regard to what a trainer is - and what a behaviorist is. With so many people out there jumping on the dog training bandwagon, it's hard to know who is who. Click here to read an article on the topic by

Lorrie Shaw is a pet blogger and owner of Professional Pet Sitting in Dexter Twp, MI. Follow her daily writing and pet adventures on Twitter or contact her via email.