“Dedicated to providing gentle, compassionate care for companion animals”

 
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Dog Bite Prevention Week just wrapped up, but we're recapping some important points to remember, especially in the upcoming summer months.  

 

Dog Bites by the Numbers
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The idea to adopt a dog is something that crept up on me over a period of time.  I particularly enjoyed when I would enter a business and there was an old dog there who was the unofficial greeter and assistant manager in all matters of customer interaction.  These were usually older, gentle, mellow souls that wanted nothing more than to be near you and maybe an occasional pat on the head.  I must have mentioned my growing interest to my wife, Jane, because one day she came home from work and showed me a flier for a dog needing a home.  “Lincoln” the Labradoodle was 1.5 years old and had been with an older couple since he left the litter. 

The older gentleman had some health setbacks and was now in a wheelchair.  He could no longer manage this 75 pound, high energy dog.  Jane talked to the coworker who was distributing the flier and learned that the couple had been trying, unsuccessfully, to find a home for quite a while and were considering having him put to sleep.  After some discussion about the costs, responsibilities, risks, and rewards of having a dog, we decided to adopt Lincoln. 

There is another interesting, but long story about getting Lincoln from his current home in Illinois to our home in Minnesota, but suffice it to say here, that with the help of some very good friends he came to Minnesota via Missouri after another family adopted him before us and decided not to keep him.

When Lincoln arrived, he was absolutely beautiful.  He could have been on the cover of Labradoodle magazine (if there is such a publication).  He seemed very sad, though.  He was obviously a little shell-shocked from all the changes he had been through in the past weeks.  He arrived at the start of a weekend, with his toys and Scooby Doo blanket, and we did our best to make him feel comfortable in his new home.  I started a walking regimen each morning, which seemed to be a highpoint in his day.  He walked perfectly, with a loose leash, right by my side.

When Monday arrived and we had to go to work, we said goodbye and put him in his kennel.  We would be gone from about 8:00 until noon, home for an hour or so, and then gone from 1:00 to 5:00.  When we returned at noon, we found that he had broken the plastic floor out of his metal kennel, shredded rug underneath, and also his Scooby Doo blanket.  When it came time to leave again, it was difficult to get him back into his kennel.  He wanted to go with us.

Things went downhill from there.  When he thought we were leaving, even if it was just to take the garbage out, he would try to force his way out the door with us.  When we actually did have to leave, it took a long time to get him into his kennel.  We felt terrible each time we left.  We went to see the Veterinarian and explained our situation.  She was wonderful!  She explained that he was exhibiting signs of separation anxiety and provided us with training materials on how to work with him to get past it.  She cautioned that many people would be telling us to get another dog, but that this does not always solve the problem, and we already had our hands full.  She prescribed some medications to try to relax him including Prozac, which takes a while to become effective.

We did all of the training. Stand up and then sit down a hundred times. Stand up, walk to the door, turn around, come back and sit down again a hundred times.  Same thing but this time pick up your keys and put them down.  All of these things had to be repeated over and over to try to desensitize the triggers of his anxiety.  It improved slightly, but not enough.  One day we came home to find that he had broken out of his kennel and destroyed every window blind in the house.  He chewed up rugs, boots, everything he could get his mouth on.  At one point he got into the closet and shredded everything in it. 

I reinforced the kennel so that he could not escape but it was sad to come home at noon and find him lying in a pool of his own drool and near panic.  I continued to walk him 2 to 3 miles at 5:00 every morning before work.  He was almost the perfect dog when we were home, but became a nervous wreck if we left.  We had started spreading our lunch hours out so that one of us would come from noon to 1:00 and the other from 1:00 to 2:00 so that he would be kenneled as little as possible.  We could not leave the house together when we were not working because we did not want to put him through any more stress.  Our lives became committed to caring for our special needs dog.  Over the next three years, he improved somewhat, but was still very upset whenever we left and had to be secured in his kennel whenever we left the house.

Chapter 2

Enter Ryan

Three years later on a cold day in early March, the same coworker who brought Lincoln to our attention, who happens to be the wife of the police chief, told Jane about a puppy that was rescued from the Redwood River.  The Redwood River is a very small, slow-moving river most of the year, but when the snow melts in the Spring, it swells into a very fast moving current with lots of ice and debris in the water.  A citizen called the police to report that someone threw a litter of puppies in the river and the police chief and Officer Ryan responded a little ways downstream to try to find them.

When they spotted the dogs, there were only two left in the swift current.  One was in the water and the other was balanced on a piece of ice.  When we heard the story from the Veterinarian, we were told that Officer Ryan jumped into the river to save them; an incredibly brave act in that frigid water.  When we later spoke to the officer, he humbly told us that he was reaching out to try to grab one of the pups and he fell in, gun, radio, and all.  He managed to reach the one in the water and threw it up onto the shore.  When he turned, the one on the ice was gone and was never seen again.

The chief helped him out of the river and, while the officer went back to the station to change and warm up, he took the remaining pup to the Veterinarian’s office in his patrol car.  He put it under the heater and rubbed it vigorously whenever it went limp several times on the way to the Veterinarian’s office.  The Veterinarian put it under heat lamps and told us that it was hours before the little pup registered a temperature.  Eventually he began to regain consciousness and recovered pretty steadily after they got his body temperature up near normal.  The examination revealed that his tail had been docked and his dew claws removed.  He had to be dewormed because they found that he was full of them.

Jane’s coworker told her that, when puppies are this young, the Vet cannot leave them alone at the veterinary office, so one of the employees or doctors have to take them home with them unless there is a family willing to provide foster care at night and over the weekends.  Jane’s coworker mentioned this to us and we decided to offer to care for the puppy that weekend thinking it was something nice we could do for the Veterinarian and her staff who had been so kind to us and to Lincoln, and also to see how Lincoln would react to having another dog in the house.  

Pets

Lincoln was very interested in the new puppy but kept his distance initially.  We fell in love with the little pup and decided to adopt him.  We named him “Ryan” after the policeman who saved him from the river.

We kenneled both dogs when we left and put the kennels near each other.  Almost overnight, Lincoln became calm.  Ryan enticed Lincoln to play with him and, even though he was just a pup, seemed to be leading Lincoln in some ways.  

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Over the next couple months, Lincoln found his smile again.  (Lincoln has a great smile)  Our morning walks now involved two dogs and became more adventurous with some off leash trips into the woods.  The boys really love to be out in the trees, grass, and brush.  Lincoln loves to run into water whenever we encounter it.  Understandably, Ryan is a little less enthusiastic about water.  He keeps a respectful distance from it at all times.

Eventually, we tested a short departure from the house without kenneling the dogs and returned to find no damage whatsoever.  Since then, neither dog has had to be kenneled.  We are able to come and go as we need to without worrying.  Ryan gave us back our freedom.  

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We recently had Ryan DNA tested and learned that he is one half purebred German Shorthair Pointer going back many generations and the other half is a mix of Siberian Husky and something else.  I am pretty sure the “something else” is an angel because his rescue and the effect he has had on our family are both miracles.   

pets

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Well, the reality is that cats do sleep more per 24 hour period than many other mammals, but not as much as most cat owners believe they do. The sleeping patterns of our pet cats are not representations of "normal" cat behavior. More than anything, their sleep patterns reflect the effects of cohabitation with humans who are diurnal.

Did you know that cats are NOT nocturnal? A nocturnal animal spends the majority of it's awake state at night. Cats, however, sleep as much during the nighttime hours as they do during the day. They belong to a group of animals termed "Crepuscular".  This designation means they spend the majority of their awake-time at dusk and at dawn. These hours are the prime hunting times for small rodents which comprise the majority of their diet in nature.

Studies of domestic cats who are not living with humans, reveal that cats in nature spend the majority of a 24 hour cycle sleeping or resting, but they hunt 15-20 times a day in order to catch and consume 10-15 small prey daily.Hunting expeditions are of relatively short, but intense duration. Each hunt is characterized by hunting, stalking, chasing, catching, and consuming their prey. The average domestic cat needs to successfully catch and consume 10-15 small rodents or birds a day to maintain their body condition. So feral cats exert many brief periods of intense activity per day. The resting periods between hunts are spent in safe hiding places which provide observation posts like the high boughs of trees, roof tops, high decks, etc.

But what about human-owned cats? They don't need to hunt. They are fed the same thing in the same dish at the same time day after day. They have no need to utilize the energy or time they were created to expend to ensure their survival.
So, where does that leave our kitties today? They are bored, sedentary, usually overweight, and lazy. I don't know about you, but I always thought I was a great cat owner to keep my kitties indoors and feed them super-high nutrition foods which were readily available in their "bottomless" dish. The result is that we have created generations of indoor cats who don't have a job (keeping mice out of the grain bins) and are sleeping their lives away. Oops, we forgot about the fundamental facts of their nature.  Then how are we to keep our cats safe, well fed, emotionally healthy and physically fit cats?

There is plenty of great news and lots of help out there for our furry babies. I'll talk more about how to motivate our cats to get off the couch.

Photo credit:  simplytheyu | Thinkstock
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We met Willow 6 days after losing our precious 13-year-old lab, Cedar. Six weeks earlier, we had tragically lost our 11-year old lab, Izzie, so our hearts were so completely broken, we needed healing only a furry soul could fix. Willow's antics brought us laughter where there were only tears before! Now, two amazing years later, she continues her healing legacy by working 20 hours per week as a therapy dog at a pediatric clinic - helping kids find their words during speech therapy sessions. She is a joy for so many now! We love you, Willow Bug!  
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Whiskers are really useful to your cat. They are highly specialized, sensitive structures which provide a continual source of tactile information about the environment. The scientific name for whiskers is vibrissae (derived from the Latin word vibrare meaning vibrate...I knew my high school Latin classes would come in handy someday).

It has been a long held notion that a cat's whisker length is the same as her body width providing a sort of built-in ruler to judge whether she can fit through an opening. It is true that whiskers give cats information about the closeness of objects. However, there is no real correlation between whisker length and the cat's width. The whiskers of fat cats do not grow to match their waistline.

Whiskers are attached to highly specialized nerves which can sense the most delicate touch or shift in air circulation. Cats are predators and whiskers help them gather information about the motion and location of their prey. This ability is most useful during the freeze phase of the hunting sequence which just precedes the pounce. During the freeze a cat fully focuses her attention on the prey and the timing of her pouce. She needs to know about the closeness and movement of objects in the immediate environment in order to be successful in catching her dinner.

Cats are also a prey species. These super-hunters are also hunted by larger animals. While she concentrates on her hunt she is at risk of being caught. As she is using her eyes, nose and ears to collect information about the rodent she has stalked, she also needs to be aware of her own safety. Having whiskers to collect information about changes in her environment without having to change her gaze is of great benefit.

But, here is my favorite part about these touch sensors: cats have very poor near vision. They have a hard time seeing things which are right under their noses because they are unable to focus i their eyes in this range. Now think about whiskers. Notice that in addition to the big, beautiful, laterally directed vibrissae there are many short whiskers nearer the tip of their nose that extend forward. These become the sensory organs cats use to locate objects that are too close for the cat to see! Have you ever noticed that when you drop a treat right in front of your kitty's face she doesn't see it right away? Watch her sniff and then start some subtle head bobbing toward the treat before she finds it. She is locating it with the help of touch from those short whiskers. Cats' eyes are better designed to focus on things at a distance. Now toss the treat a few feet away from her and see how fast she finds it.

Cats are so awesome!

Photo credit: NagyDodo | Thinkstock.com

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