Friday, June 29, 2018

Fireworks season can be easier on pets and families with a tailored approach

Each year at this time, just as many other people here in Michigan, I delight in the arrival of the extended daylight hours; the warmer weather; not worrying about ice-covered roads; outdoor gatherings. Fireworks isn’t included on that list, and though I can appreciate other’s enthusiasm for them, they are the bane of those who share life with pets.

The noise is the chief offender when it comes to frightening pets, but I've no doubt that if the light and smell resulting from them are within a detectable distance of a pet, they’re contributors, too. It’s understandable; the loud pops and bangs are confusing and occur without any sense of place. Though it need not be a precursor, for a pet that already has some level of anxiety or fearfulness, the things that make fireworks enjoyable to humans only feed the behaviors that signal to us that our pet is having even more trouble coping. 

Over the years, I’ve had more companion animals in my care that find themselves in this situation than I care to count. My own dogs were included in that group. I’ve learned a few things in that time, and thankfully, there are more strategies and tools to help stave off the anxiety and fear associated with the nightly light and noise shows—and to assuage it if it’s already a problem. The key, as is the case with so many things, is to anticipate and plan ahead.

The approaches of using storm treats, T-Touch and Thundershirts is something that I’ve written about in the past, but there’s still more that families can do to keep the peace during these particularly taxing periods of time. Whether you've a young pet or an old friend in hospice or end-of-life—the latter posing its own set of emotional challenges—there's some flexibility in choices. 

Pheromone analogs aim to appease

A staple in my day-to-day work, pheromone products work to promote a sense of calm and well-being in dogs and cats, and can be found at vet clinics, better pet stores or online. What are pheromones and how do they work? Pheromones are natural chemicals produced by mammals, and different types serve various functions depending on where they are secreted, but in this case, we're focusing on the ones that aim to appease, happy make, feel good. A synthetic form of the real thing, Adaptil for dogs, and Feliway for cats are available in a plug-in diffuser, spray and for dogs, families also have the choice of a collar.

Herbal and nutraceutical approaches

Rescue Remedy - What’s in this tiny bottle does so much. Long sought after to alleviate anxiety in humans, there’s a formula for pets, too. Available at better pet and health food stores, no vet prescription needed.

ComposurePro chews – Available from veterinarians, these tasty gems are readily accepted by both dogs and cats. Bovine colostrum- and vitamin-based, this product promotes stress reduction and a sense of calm. 

NutriCalm – A combination of amino acids and herbs, this product is available in capsule form for medium to large-sized dogs, and a liquid form for cats and smaller dogs. As with the aforementioned products and as the name suggests, it can be a help to promote a sense of chill. 

Zylkene – This nutraceutical is something I'm really excited about. While attending a Fear Free workshop in Arizona, I spent some time learning about this product by the Vetoquinol company. What makes it unique? It's formulated with bovine-sourced hydrolyzed milk protein, and is good to implement before potentially stressful situations not limited to fireworks season. Events like a move, bringing a new baby home, a visit to the groomer or vet and even preparing for the transition to an adoptive home are appropriate. Zylkene is purported to allow pets to be more receptive to behavior modification training as well. 

Solloquin – Formulated with an amino acid as well as plant-based ingredients and others., this product from Nutramax Labratories boasts its ability to help dogs and cats get in their chill zone. Additionally, Solloquin is indicated to help address inappropriate elimination in cats, and would be a great addition to help make introductions between established family cats and new-kid-on-the-block kitties go more smoothly. 

Though these products are not pharmaceuticals, and don't cause sedation per se, they still need to be used with care. Despite the fact that you'll likely be able to find them available for purchase online, there's no guarantee of their authenticity through that avenue. The good news is that you can get them through your veterinarian, which is where you can figure out which product or combination thereof is right for your furry friend. Your clinician can help you sort out any possible contraindications with existing herbal supplements, prescription medication and diagnosed medical conditions.

Something new

Sileo, a new prescription option on the market, is designed to home in on one pressing issue associated with fireworks: noise aversion. Launched in 2017, Sileo is delivered transmucosally and is not sedating. This drug is not indicated for every dog, but that's something your veterinarian can help you decide. It seems mindful to note that there have been reported incidences of overdose in dogs, so it's a must that families (and pet sitters) are clear about how to dose and administer it properly. 

Queue up the tunes

Music is an area of great interest in recent years, and while classical has been touted as the gold standard for soothing anxiety and offering an audible buffer to offending noise in dogs and cats, a recent study suggests that our canine friends respond favorably to reggae as well. What kind of music would be most effective to help a pet in hospice and end-of-life? Harp music. Click here for more. 

No matter if you've one pet or a menagerie, there are plenty of choices to help your family navigate this ever busy and noisy time of year with more finesse.

Scents and Sensability

A recent study indicates that essential oils  -- four of them, to be specific -- may elicit a sense of calm in dogs. According to a recent study, The behavioural effects of olfactory stimulation on dogs at a rescue shelter, the essential oils containing coconut, ginger, ginseng and valerian seemed to promote better rest and less vocalization and barking in dogs. A trial to see how your dog responds to smelling a couple of drops applied to a bandana might be worth a try. 

Lorrie Shaw is a Certified Professional Pet Sitter (CPPS) and owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care. She's a member of Doggone Safe (where she completed the Speak Dog Certificate Program), as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care, Pet Sitter International and Pet Professional Guild. Lorrie can be found at and tweets at @psa2

Friday, June 8, 2018

Anthony Bourdain made me a better pet sitter

This has been an especially tough week for a lot of people. The loss of two famous people due to suicide only highlights what goes on everyday in our midst: fellow humans grappling with the depth things that no one else can understand, no, not from their point of view. A couple of comments, including "...sometimes the sad just catches up" and "...suicide puts a fly in your head. It's always inside, buzzing around" caught my attention on social media. Maybe because they're simplistic, and that's what we crave when looking in from the outside—a way to get our head around something that confounds us. 

Though working in different fields, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain shared an untimely, hair-thin thread and with the latter's demise, things somehow felt more resonant. Bourdain was the second of the two to be reported to have passed away, and maybe that's why. I'll argue, though, that it might be because his craft, what he shared in-kind with the masses was something that we can't live without: food. And not a stark, preparatory, recipe-led offering on how to make a dish—no, we savored his culinary escapades throughout the world met with unknown-but-interesting humans who were just as much our [vicarious] guides to locales and cultures that we'd otherwise never be privy to. And we watched. And listened to those conversations between guide or friend and traveler—not tourist—some of which were as intimate and forthcoming as they should be at late-night, over a plate of something good, after a day of exploring and drinking and rubbing elbows with locals who are the tightest threads of a city's tapestry. And we let our minds wander to those places and attempted to try our hand at making the foods that might give us that opportunity to have a slice of that place on our plate, in many cases, places that many of us will never visit. I'll admit that the segment on the seemingly mundane cal├žot alone motivated my desire for some tether to something less-familiar. Because onions can do that. Yes, onions.

Bourdain's joie de vivre for people and food were front and center, it was never about him. He was just along for the ride, it seemed, asking the questions and doing the things that most of us would be too timid to.

This piece of art hangs on my front door

I'm grateful to say that Bourdain's body of work first piqued my interest eons ago because of my long-held love of eating and preparing food. His writing was unpretentious and far-reaching through experiences, those in common and not so much so. But his silent urging, 'go, experience, eat, be curious and most of all, listen to those you meet and please... enjoy your life," spurred my love of indulging wanderlust late in life, where, as I understand is where he began his travels. I began traveling a little over ten years ago—and solo a little over half of those trips around the sun. Because of Bourdain, I've gotten over my fear of traveling alone and have criss-crossed the continental United States even Puerto Rico as my budget and schedule have allowed. I've had experiences like quickly getting over my dislike of octopus when a grandmother (the chef) presented me with a dish of it after my over-confident-but-misguided use of Spanish ordered it; watching buskers after a day of setting my feet, my ears and my eyes loose in New Orleans; being given a nearly-private tour of longest-operating synagogue in the country; seeing things I'll never see again before they were destroyed by Hurricane Maria; being on a road trip through South Carolina, sitting roadside with a very old sweet grass basket weaver to hear her stories; downing a shot of hooch with a group of strangers after spending the day with them in the rain forest; coming together with other bumped passengers to offer our food to a young passenger from Europe who didn’t know that food vouchers are only good for vendors inside the security checkpoint. I could go on.

Traveling in it's way, does so much more, and really, you need not go far.

It's forced me to open my eyes to things that are ordinarily dimmed by everyday life. It's allowed me to recognize the importance of standing up for myself, and others. It's magnified how much we all truly rely on others and trust them to take care of us each and every day, because as a traveler, that's what makes for the best experience. Ditto for being a really good listener. Traveling makes for being a better storyteller, too.

Yes, this has been because of Bourdain, or what his example showed me was possible.

And it has also bolstered a philosophy that I carry with me each and every day in my journeys with families as a pet sitter and animal hospice worker, reinforcing the notion of there's much to be experienced in life, near and far, no matter how much time there is to work with, you can hop to it and I'm going to help you do it. 

I've been connected to folks with pets who have not wanted to miss a beat with their wanderlust after a move to the area, others wanted to pick up where they left off with it after being paired with the pet love of their lives, some who found themselves tethered to home and needing the solace of a night out immersing in local food and culture after their pet goes into hospice. There have been several in past years who've remarked, ' helped save my marriage; we were on the verge of splitting because I wouldn't travel and you demonstrated it was possible to leave our pets and enjoy a life outside of them.'

That was possible due in part because I had a vicarious sampling of life that made me want to partake in experiences in different locales, and in turn I want the same for others if they so choose. Because this is what my business, at it's core, is really about: serving others in a way that enables them to live more fully. So, in that way, I owe someone I've never met and never will an ocean of debt for being an unlikely influence on a life and a livelihood that in many ways was so unlike his own.

Taking from an episode of his show, No Reservations, Bourdain said: 

Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.

And he did leave something good behind. 

The only way I can think to truly pay homage to Anthony Bourdain—a human gone far too soon—and his legacy is to continue pursuing my adventures with food, my travels to places I've not been, and helping others who need help doing the same. That, and to just show up for someone who might be feeling as if they need to make a very final choice. 

Lorrie Shaw is owner of Professional Pet Sitting, where she specializes in ancillary pet palliative and pet hospice care support. She is also a Certified Pet Loss and Grief Companion and a member of The Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement as well as the International Association of Animal Hospice and Palliative Care and Pet Sitter International. She tweets at @psa2.