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 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, 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.