When Dogs Fly

 

dsc07145Picture this. A dog eagerly jumps up into a truck bed, excited to go on an outing.  As the truck cruises down the road, the dog is the quintessential image of canine joy: ears flapping in the wind and tongue lolling to the side…

…Until the truck slams on its breaks to avoid a collision, swerves to miss an obstacle in the road, slams into another vehicle, or the dog simply leaps from the truck, lured by a distraction. Thrown from the truck, she dies from impact or from being struck by traffic.

What if she was tethered? The collar became a noose. If the lead was long enough for the dog to reach the ground, she was then dragged on the road or run over by her owner.

Only Takes Once

Many years may have gone by without mishap. However, it only takes once for the idyllic scene to be shattered, with the consequences far outweighing the thrill of the ride.

A Lucky Dog

According to the American Humane Association, 100,000 dogs are killed each year in accidents as a result of riding in truck beds.

That 100,000 doesn’t include injuries. If the dog is “lucky” enough to survive, possible injuries include broken bones and spines; joint injuries requiring amputations; head, abdominal, and thoracic trauma; road rash so severe that skin is stripped away; internal injuries to organs; and, serious cuts and bruising.

A Deadly Chain Reaction

Then it’s a matter of whether the owner has deep enough pockets to cover the ensuing surgeries and medical treatment, with the price tag for veterinary care running into thousands of dollars, depending on the severity and length of treatment. Even then, the dog may not recover to full health.

The issue extends beyond the dog’s welfare too. A dog flying from a truck or running loose on the road is a public safety concern. If the dog lands on another driver’s windshield, the passengers in that vehicle might be killed or maimed. Cars swerving or striking the dog can cause a chain reaction, resulting in death, injury and property damage to others – all because “the dog liked going for rides” or “there wasn’t room in the cab.”

Some states ban the travel of unsecured dogs in truck beds. Not Utah[1], of course. For example, in Washington, the law states “It shall be unlawful for any person to transport any living animal on the running board, fenders, hood, or other outside part of any vehicle unless suitable harness, cage or enclosure be provided and so attached as to protect such animal from falling or being thrown therefrom.”

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Have You Driven a Ford Lately?

The Ford Motor Company is weighing in on the issue, encouraging drivers of its trucks to keep all passengers safe. The recommendations include:

  • Have animals ride inside the cab, preferably in the back seat (if available) where the odds of being injured or a distraction are less
  • When possible, crate the dog or use a dog harness and seatbelt to secure her
  • Never leave a dog unattended in a vehicle

Doug Scott, truck marketing manager with Ford, says, “We’re not asking people to go to onerous lengths while driving with pets.”

If the dog MUST be in the back, no harness is considered adequately safe. Crates are an option in warm weather, if securely tied down.

Painting a Prettier Picture

Of course, riding upfront is still a joyous event for a dog.

Picture this instead: A dog eagerly jumps into a truck cab, happy to be close to her loved one and on another adventure, heading for a destination where she will safely arrive.

Picture perfect, if you ask me.

 [1] Utah is one of the few states that fails to restrict humans from riding in truck beds too. However, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety: “It’s much better if people ride inside the cab of the truck and use safety belts.”

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picm_march2014First published in Pets in the City Magazine, March 2014

Helping Our Heros: Can Dogs Aid Returned Veterans?

Service dogs have long been recognized for their ability to assist their human companions. Since the 18th century, guide dogs have helped the vision impaired. In the 1970s, their training expanded to mitigate the needs of those with other disabilities. As of 2013, over 50,000 people in the United States with disabilities benefit from the service of these highly trained, working dogs.

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, one of the recognized tasks of service dogs is to assist “a person with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) during an anxiety attack.”  PTSD commonly results from traumatic experiences, such as the violence to which military personnel in war zones are exposed. PTSD causes biochemical and physical changes in the brain and body, including altered levels of serotonin and dopamine (neurotransmitters) and size reduction of the hippocampus (one of the memory centers of the brain). Common symptoms include re-experiencing these traumatic events, awake or in dreams, causing tremendous anxiety. PTSD sufferers may even “shut down” at times when their surroundings become too overwhelming.

Service dogs can likely help with the symptoms with PTSD. Anecdotal evidence from dog owners suggests that spending time with dogs, such as chilling on the couch, throwing tennis balls, or going for walks, is relaxing, restorative, and enjoyable. In other words, these interactions relieve stress, anxiety, and depression.  However, the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), while acknowledging dogs lessen stress, says “Clinically, there is not enough research yet to know if dogs actually help treat PTSD and its symptoms.”

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Research is underway to address the issue of whether animal-assisted intervention (AAI) can help our returned veterans struggling with PTSD. At the University of Colorado, Dr. Cheryl A. Krause-Parello, an associate professor in nursing and founder and director of C-P.A.W.W. (Canines Providing Assistance to Wounded Warriors: a Health Research Initiative for Veterans), is leading the research. She and her research team are conducting clinical research to investigate the therapeutic effects of AAI.

According to Jessica Grey, one of the research assistants at C-P.A.W.W., dogs sense when PTSD sufferers are becoming anxious. “Their touch can help ground them and bring them back to the here and now.”

C- P.A.W.W. has two grants to study AAI in the military population. One will underwrite a pilot study on the effects of canine interaction on stress indicators  (salivary cortisol, salivary alpha-amylase, immunoglobulin A, blood pressure, and heart rate) in older, hospitalized veterans. The other will investigate “the biobehavioral and psychobiologic interface among animal-assisted therapy and stress indicators, salivary cortisol, salivary alpha-amylase, and IgA, blood pressure, and pulse, in wounded warriors being treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.”

“Plenty of anecdotal evidence indicates that dogs help. Dogs are nonjudgmental and supremely compassionate,” says Grey. “The goals of the research are to provide objective data that indicate how canines relieve stress and to find the cases in which canines can be a reliable source of stress relief. Ultimately, we hope the data will make it easier for those who need this kind of assistance to get it.”

The research methods are non-invasive. To gauge a veteran’s stress level, his/her heart rate and blood pressure are measured and saliva samples taken before and after encounters with a therapy  dog. These measurements and stress markers, such as cortisol levels, in the saliva objectively establish stress levels for analysis.

C- P.A.W.W. is partnering with Pets for Vets and Warrior Canine Connection. Pets for Vets rescues, trains, and matches shelter dogs with veterans looking for companion and service animals. At Warrior Canine Connection, veterans train service dogs as “a valuable opportunity for a Warrior suffering from psychological injuries to reintegrate into civilian life.” The trained dogs are then placed with fellow veterans.

According to the VA, if the clinical evidence ultimately shows that veterans with PTSD benefit from service dogs, the VA will provide veterinary care for these dogs.

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picm_july2014First published in Pets in the City Magazine, July 2014

Look What the Cat’s Dragged In…

Birds…baby squirrels…voles…crickets…usually intact, the warmth draining from them as they lay next to a hairball. I think it was the beautiful red cardinal that upset me the most, and that stiff body by the door was but a fraction of what Cleo caught or maimed during her periodic outings.

A study by the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (published January 2013) now show that Cleo and her fellow felines – housecats with outdoor privileges and feral cats – kills up to 3.7 billion birds a year in the United States. Wild mammals fare worse, with numbers estimated between 7-21 billion. You must admit: very large numbers to swallow.

Most of these “prey” go uneaten. Even well-fed cats kill out of sheer instinct, so their hunting doesn’t exactly fall into the “circle of life” narrative we might want to believe. Even belled and declawed cats kill with equal success. They’re predators par excellence.

But back to the numbers. I’m still chewing on them.

Cat hunted a birdApproximately 114 million cats live in the continental United States. Eighty-four million live in households, and up to 70 percent of those roam outdoors at least part time. They’re not just sunning themselves. Up to 80 percent hunt, and they hunt a lot.

Cats are not subject to the same laws of predation as are native predators, such as hawks and foxes. Household cats have the advantage of protection from diseases, competition, and starvation. They are not vulnerable to changes in prey population. Cats are not strictly territorial and can co-exist at much higher densities. Being non-native (i.e., introduced by humans), cats also have an advantage over animals that didn’t evolve with their threat.

Of course, these deaths are compounded by wild animals losing habitat to human encroachment, moving into smaller pockets of land that essentially corral the animals for easier pickings. Wild animals are also dying from air and water pollution, pesticide poisonings, and collisions with cars, windows, and communication towers. Still, by some estimates, deaths by cat outnumber the deaths by these other causes.  As a result, some of these animals are endangered. The loss of one of these can have serious consequences to the species’ survival.

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The cats also suffer. While they may “enjoy the freedom” of being outside, outdoor cats gets hit by cars; attacked by dogs, other cats, and wildlife; get lost or stolen; contract fatal diseases, such as feline immunodeficiency virus and feline distemper; get poisoned; or, suffer during harsh weather conditions.

The answer – at least for indoor cats – is to keep them indoors. They needn’t be bored. Animal companions, interactive toys, cat perches, and scratching posts can provide stimulation in a safe environment. They also have you for loving attention.

Feral cats pose more complications. Abandoned, lost, or descendants of strays, these cats are ultimately victims of human irresponsibility and the failure to neuter and spay. These poor animals endure short, miserable lives, while producing three litters a year that average four to six kittens at a time. Homes are in short supply for these wild felines. However, trap-neuter-return programs can curb their population growth. It’s a tedious process, but if it boils down to loving both cats and the wildlife around us, perhaps it’s one that more of us should actively support with trapping or helping finance. Spaying one female will save thousands of wildlife from one year’s worth of litters alone.

That translates into more bird song. Food all around for other wildlife. More flashes of brilliant colored feathers in the trees. More squirrel chatter.

Humane animal care shouldn’t be limited to our domesticated friends. It should extend to the needs of wildlife too.

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First published in Pets in the City Magazine, August 2013