A Competence Test for Dog Owners?

The Science of Sniffer Dogs
by Alan Boyle - msncb.com

Rescue dog Duncan peers between the legs of Peruvian firefighter Gustavo Villavisencio as they prepare to leave Lima for Haiti.


(This story was first posted on January 15, 2010)
Rescuers from all around the world are converging on Haiti in the wake of this week's earthquake - and not all of them are human. Finding survivors amid the rubble of Port-au-Prince is a job tailor-made for dogs and devices.

The search-and-rescue operation "appears to be unprecedented in scale," Discovery.com reports.

Many of those teams, such as Virginia Task Force 1 and California Task Force 2, have been in this kind of situation before - for example, after the catastrophic Iranian earthquake of 2003 or the collapse of a Haitian school in 2008. But the magnitude of this week's disaster is so great that rescue teams who have never before gone into an international operation are being pulled into action.

"This is an unusual situation," said Debra Tosch, executive director of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation.

Tosch has been doing search-dog training for 12 years, and was in the midst of a training session when I called her today. Despite all the technological advances in search and rescue, she says dogs are still "man's best friend" in the wake of a disaster.

"They can cover a large area much more quickly than we can," she said. Robots and listening devices may come into play during a rescue operation, "but a dog is much quicker."

The making of a sniffer dog
The best breeds for this job are working dogs: Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, border collies, German shepherds and the like. "We will test 100 dogs before one one goes into our program," Tosch said. "What we're asking them to do is not natural for a dog. How many dogs on their own would go up a fire ladder to the second story?"

The dogs that make the grade are trained to recognize a specific smell: the scent of a live, not a dead, human. "We all have a common scent that says, 'Yes, I am a live human being,'" Tosch said. "We also have an individualized scent, but these dogs are trained to look for that common scent."

Sniffer dogs are adept at matching up that scent with the people surrounding them - in effect, saying to themselves, "This is it ... oops, that's you ... then, this is it ... ah, there's nobody there," Tosch said. At that point, the dog barks until it receives its reward.

During training, the dog is given a tug toy by the supposed victim. "That's why the dog always wants to find the victim," Tosch explained. "That's where the fun is. It's a hide-and-seek game."

In the field, the dog's handler has to find a way to give the dog its toy as if it had come from the disaster victim, to reinforce the hide-and-seek behavior. And if the dog doesn't find anything, a rescue team member might have to hide amid the rubble to give the dog a chance for positive reinforcement.

"We've done that," said Lt. Gery Morrison of Fairfax County Fire and Rescue in Virginia, a veteran of Virginia Task Force 1. "We've put rescuers behind a building, just a mock rescue, so that dogs will find a live person and get rewarded. Otherwise, they get discouraged."

Once the dog finds a survivor, other methods come into play for the actual recovery. "It's not that dog's job to tell us exactly where the victim is," Tosch said. "His job is to tell us where the strongest human scent is."

Search-and-rescue workers from Mexico carry their dog as they search for survivors amid the rubble of an earthquake-hit building in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.


Pinpointing the victim's location
The victim might well be caught under tons of rubble, and the scent could waft up through nooks and crannies to a spot on the surface yards away. Or the dog might have caught a whiff of a false positive. Nobody's perfect, not even an expert canine.

"If the dog gets a 'hit,' then we'll go with some other device to get a secondary confirmation, either using a SearchCam or a listening device," Morrison told me. "If we don't get any information from those devices, then we'll send a second dog in."

Search-and-rescue cameras are typically mounted on wands that can be extended to 8 feet or so, with 360-degree view control. Listening devices can pick up the faint sounds of human voices or movements within the rubble. But how do you actually retrieve the victim? That's where human hands and specialized tools come into play.

Getting the victims out
This time around, Virginia Task Force 1 is using a few new twists, including a heavy-duty rebar cutter that can handle the reinforced concrete found at Haitian disaster sites. "We stole that from the construction trade," Morrison said.

The task force's upgraded toolbox also heavy-duty saw that can cut through 2-inch-thick steel. "Believe it or not, it looks like a Skilsaw but it cuts steel," Morrison said.

As horrible as the Haitian earthquake was, there are some factors that make this search-and-rescue job easier than the typical urban situation, Morrison said: "The biggest thing that we have is the height of the buildings. We don't have the six- or eight-story buildings. They're all one-, two-, three-story buildings, so that helps us."

But search-and-rescue robots aren't on the scene as much as they were in the aftermath of the 9/11 terror attacks and Hurricane Katrina. The main reason for that has to do with the characteristics of the collapsed buildings in Port-au-Prince. Morrison explained that collapses generally follow one of three models: a pancake collapse, a "V" shape or a lean-to collapse.

"In Haiti, we're dealing with a pancake collapse. ... When you have the lean-to or the V collapse, you have more voided areas. The pancake doesn't have so many of those empty spaces for operating a remote device," he said. "On the other hand, the structures are more stable when they pancake. You feel more confident about putting a rescuer or a technician in there."

Robin Murphy, a Texas A&M professor who heads the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue, said she didn't know of any robots currently being used on the ground in Haiti. "Ground robots are helpful for large buildings, but in general, dogs are the biggest help in finding victims in residential areas - dogs smell faster, much faster than the most agile robot can get in the rubble," she wrote in a blog posting.

She said robots in the air, such as the U.S. military's Global Hawk drones, can contribute to post-disaster reconnaissance. "I'm not sure if the air traffic control problems have been resolved to permit larger aerial assets to fly," she told me in an e-mail. (In fact, a Global Hawk has been flying over Haiti for the past couple of days ... here's a video report.)

Considering that the quake occurred on Tuesday afternoon, is it getting too late to find survivors amid Port-au-Prince's rubble? Not on your life, Morrison said.

"We have found individuals [alive] 72 hours after the fact," he recalled. "In Turkey, we found one after seven days. The only guideline is that you go multiple days after the latest find. Also, it's the amount of devastation. Are we fruitlessly putting people in a dangerous situation?"

At some point, the live-scent dogs will have to be replaced by cadaver dogs. The search teams will head home, and Haiti's rescue effort will become a recovery effort.

But that point hasn't been reached yet. The dogs are still barking.

Update for 10:30 p.m. ET: The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation sent along some good news at the end of this bad-news week. Here's today's news release from Janet Reineck, the foundation's development director:

At 1:15 p.m. local time, an SDF Search Team in Port-au-Prince located three girls, trapped alive since Tuesday in the rubble of Haiti’s devastating earthquake.

Bill Monahan and his border collie, Hunter, were searching a neighborhood near the Presidential Palace, concentrating on a large bowl-shaped area of rubble which was all that remained of a four-story building.

After criss-crossing the area, Hunter pinpointed the survivors’ scent under 4 feet of broken concrete and did his “bark alert” to let Bill know where the victims were. Bill spoke with the survivors, then passed them bottles of water tied to the end of a stick. As they reached for the water, one of the girls said, “Thank you.” Highly trained rescue crews from California Task Force 2 are now working to extricate the girls from the wreckage and provide first aid.

Bill and Hunter continue to search, as do the six other SDF teams on the ground in Haiti:

California Task Force 2 – Los Angeles County
Gary Durian & Baxter – L.A. County Fire
Ron Horetski & Pearl – L.A. County Fire
Bill Monahan & Hunter – L.A. County Fire
Jasmine Segura & Cadillac – L.A. County Fire
Jason Vasquez & Maverick – L.A. County Fire
Ron Weckbacher & Dawson – Civilian

Florida Task Force 1
Julie Padelford-Jansen & Dakota

At Search Dog Foundation headquarters in Ojai, CA, SDF Founder Wilma Melville received the news with silent gratitude. “This moment is what SDF Search Teams train for — week in and week out — throughout their careers together. When one SDF team succeeds, all of our teams succeed. Our thoughts are with our teams in Haiti, who continue to comb the rubble into the night. Their perseverance, skill and strength in the face of extreme challenges make us all proud, and give us hope.”

Captain Jayd Swendseid of CA-TF2 confirmed earlier today that the 72-member team Task Force with 70,000 pounds of rescue equipment is actively looking for victims around-the-clock. “The teams are working in 12-hour shifts so they have time to rest and recuperate. Yesterday the team put in a long and exhausting day. Roads are closed and there is a lot of debris that is making transportation difficult, but the team is managing to get to buildings and make rescues. Morale is good and supplies are sufficient so far.”

The teams of CA-TF 2 are now assigned to one of two squads to enable round-the-clock searching. The Red Squad (Dawson, Pearl, and Maverick) is in rotation with the Blue Squad (Hunter, Baxter and Cadillac). The squads connected briefly with SDF Team Julie Padelford-Jansen and Dakota — deployed as part of Florida Task Force 2 — before Julie and Dakota were assigned to search a different neighborhood.

SDF Executive Director Debra Tosch: “All SDF handlers are experts in reading their canines, pacing them throughout their shift to ensure the dogs are kept safe, healthy, happy and motivated. The canines are literally the Task Force’s most precious tool in the hunt for survivors: Their well-being is mission-critical.”

SDF is grateful to all of our supporters around the country who are truly part of the search, having made this rescue possible.

Tabby Cat Hitches 80-Mile Ride
Under Iowa Family's Truck

Courtesy Odeen Family

When Ed and Shelly Odeen drove their truck from Tipton, Iowa, to the Orange Bowl game in Miami, they had no idea they would return two weeks later with a tabby cat.

They had ventured south so they could watch their daughter Becki, 19, a freshman at the University of Iowa, march in the drum line at the Jan. 5 football game.

"A couple of days after the game, my parents were on their way home from Florida in 5-degree weather and snow, so they stopped at a hotel in Mt. Pleasant, Iowa, about 80 miles from our house," Becki Odeen tells PEOPLEPets.com. "When they got home the next morning, my dad said he heard meow sounds coming from the truck."

Confused and alarmed that there could be a frozen animal lost inside of his white vehicle, Ed encouraged his 5-year-old yellow Lab Maddie to sniff it out. It didn’t take Maddie long to find a cute little amber eyed cat that had crawled into the under-space between the spare tire and the bed of the truck.

"We were all amazed," Odeen says. "Then we watched my dad arrange two space heaters around a little box to help the kitten thaw out. He also left her some deer sausage. She ate it, and an hour later was walking around the garage."

When Becki’s brother Sean, 27, brought the cat into the house, she seemed happy to be there with her new friends. "She was so cute and sweet and nibbled at my knee," Odeen says. "We learned quickly that she loves people and doesn’t like to be alone. She would cry when anyone walked out of the room.”

Looking for help and advice, the family called an animal reescue, the police and various restaurants near where Ed and Shelly stayed in Mt. Pleasant. Then, after a news report, a staff member at a hotel in Mt. Pleasant called a local TV station to say they had been feeding a stray for about a month that matched the description of the cat.

"We are pretty sure she is a stray," says Odeen. "She has claws but is definitely house-trained to use the litter box. And she easily eats her food."

Since she keeps crying, the siblings agreed to name her Tebow after the popular University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, who wept when his team lost to University of Alabama in December.

"We have had Tebow for a week now, and she seems to really like the whole family," Odeen tells PEOPLEPets.com. "I am so in love with this cat!" The family members want to keep her, but are afraid to trust Maddie with a feline sibling.

"We have many people calling to adopt Tebow and will be particular if we let her go," promises Odeen. "She is very special, and we are quite close to deciding that we might keep her!"

Your Dog's Growl Means
`Stay Away From My Things'
By Yvette Van Veen - TheStar.com

Q: Our dog has the Jekyll-and-Hyde personality you described in a recent column. He becomes very possessive when he is chewing a bone or eating food. He gives a deep growl, wags his tail and freezes – but he has not bitten us.

The breeder, veterinarian and trainer are all giving us mixed messages. How should I manage the problem? Should I be putting my hand in his food dish and taking his bones away? What should we do when his behaviour changes? Finally, how do I keep my kids safe during this process?

A: Putting your hand in a growling dog's food dish is asking for a bite.

In a nutshell, the animal is guarding its resources – a natural instinct. In the worst case scenario, the dog becomes more agitated. Ignored warning growls escalate to snapping and biting.

Training can address this but the outcome is never fully predictable – some dogs, given enough repetition, will learn to tolerate intrusions, others will not. It's similar to speeding tickets. Some people learn their lesson but others get better at avoiding speed traps.

For best results, work with a qualified professional trainer who has realistic expectations but also plans for the worst. That honesty lets you take adequate safety precautions.

Parents especially need to be aware of risks. Children imitate adults but haven't an adult's advantage of size and experience; thus, children become vulnerable to the negative repercussions if a dog misbehaves.

Avoid techniques with unnecessary risk while modelling appropriate behaviour. Set age-appropriate rules and always supervise children when dogs are present.

As an added precaution, most trainers recommend removing bones temporarily. This should not be mistaken for a solution. The problem still exists. But the absence of bones and other "valuables" means the dog has nothing to guard.

Based on the trainer's recommendations, resources would be reintroduced systematically. When and how this happens varies from animal to animal. But it will always begin at a level where the dog remains relaxed.

For example, a good starting point would be if a dog is eating and remains calm as owners pass 10 feet away. As people walk past, they should toss a high-value treat over to the pet. This use of special treats creates a dog that not only tolerates intrusions but also learns to love them.

After many repetitions, owners can pass a little closer. Ten feet becomes nine and then eight, until people can pass right beside the eating animal.

At that point, owners may want to push the boundaries further. Rather than tossing food, owners can stop and say hi while dropping the treat. They should also work on touching the dog briefly as they pass. Each of these steps prepares the dog for the final step of taking the bowl away.

Bones and toys would be handled in a similar manner. First, boring, low-value items are reintroduced for training sessions only. As with the food, owners pass at a distance while tossing special treats.

Gradually, and with the guidance of the trainer, owners can begin petting the dog and taking the bone away in exchange for a treat. Higher-value objects would be added systematically in the same manner.

The question of what to do regarding behavioural changes never comes up. When dogs learn one step at a time, they have no need to react. Any sign of tension means the dog is being pushed too hard and too quickly. Temporarily reduce the level of difficulty to maintain a safe learning environment.

Yvette Van Veen is a certified animal behaviour consultant. Write her at pet advice@awesomedogs.ca.

Get Pet Medical Advice For FREE

What pet owner wouldn’t want to get free medical advice for their pet? It’s really possible, if you know where to look. However, you should be sure you’re going to the right place for medical advice. Don’t just pick the first person you see and ask. Even when looking online, be sure you’re asking reputable people and companies about the information you’re looking for.

Where To Get Pet Medical Advice
Advice abounds on the Internet. There are all kinds of people who ‘know’ everything about everything. Because of that, you have to be careful about the information you’re getting and the information you’re asking for. You can get pet medical advice through forums on pet-lover websites, and there are also some veterinarians who have websites where medical advice is offered, so shop around if you’re looking for free advice.

Who Can You Trust?
Keep in mind with free advice that you sometimes get what you pay for. In other words, you might not get advice from people who really know what they’re talking about. If you ask a vet online you can feel pretty comfortable with what you’re told. If, on the other hand, you’re asking in a forum or on a random, pet-related Web site, you may want to be very careful with what you’re told. See if you can verify somewhere reputable before trying it.

When To See Your Vet
If you can’t get good medical advice from a trusted source for your particular pet’s problem, or if you don’t feel comfortable trying what’s been suggested, it’s a good time to see your vet. It’s nice to get things for free, but your vet’s fees are much better than the damage you could accidentally do to your pet based on someone else’s advice.

Don’t take everything you read as the truth, especially if the people providing info aren’t vets. Take your time, do your research, and pay for the information if you need to.

Click on banner to visit The Pet Warehouse

Pets Need Dental Care
in All Life Stages
By Dr. Greg McGrath - McClatchy Newspapers

A veterinarian explains why and when pets need to have their teeth and mouths examined

Cats and dogs need proper dental care throughout their lives in order to enjoy the longest, healthiest lives possible. Caring for oral health can make a big difference in your pets' quality of life, especially as they get older. The foundation for this lifetime with a healthy mouth begins in infancy.

An oral examination is part of a complete physical examination, and should be performed at the first visit to the veterinarian with a puppy or kitten. The doctor will check to see that the baby has the proper number of teeth and that they are properly positioned. As the pet returns for recheck examinations and booster vaccinations, the eruption of new teeth can be monitored.

Special attention needs to be paid to the mouths of small and toy breed dogs, as they are more prone to having retained deciduous teeth ("baby" teeth that don't fall out as the permanent teeth come in). Sometimes these teeth need to be extracted to allow the adult teeth to develop with proper alignment and prevent gum problems that may develop when food and other debris wedges between teeth that are too close together.

In young adulthood, the primary dental care that is needed is periodic cleaning to prevent the development of gum disease. Owners can help keep teeth clean by brushing their pets' teeth regularly, feeding dry food and providing proper chewing devices.

Most cats and dogs will need their teeth cleaned professionally (a "prophy," or prophylactic treatment) for the first time somewhere between 2 and 5 years of age.

After that, they may need a dental prophy every year or two. Some pets will accumulate tartar more rapidly than the average and need more frequent cleanings. If your pet has "bad breath," it's probably a sign that it needs an oral exam.

Having your pets' teeth professionally cleaned when it is recommended by the doctor is one of the most important things you can do to care for its entire body, not just its mouth. The normal mouth contains many bacteria that will cause problems if they get into other areas of the body.

If gum inflammation or deeper periodontal disease is allowed to develop, these bacteria get into the bloodstream and travel to other parts of the body. The kidneys and heart valves are two locations where secondary infections often develop.

These infections may not be obvious immediately, but they can cause insidious damage and lead to premature kidney failure or heart failure.

And allowing periodontal disease to progress by not cleaning teeth when they need it can cause serious problems down the road inside the mouth.

Once bone is lost around the roots of the teeth due to periodontal disease, it will never be replaced. When enough bone is lost that a tooth becomes unstable, the only treatment to let that infected area heal is extraction of the tooth.

With modern veterinary dental care, tooth loss in older pets does not have to happen, and shouldn't. It's disappointing to have to extract loose teeth from a pet and look back in the medical record to see that cleaning had been recommended years earlier, but never was done.

Older pets also need to have their mouth examined by a veterinarian to look for other problems such as oral tumors, broken teeth, or cavities. If these problems are detected and treated early enough, your pet's quality of life will be enhanced.

Dr. Greg McGrath is a veterinarian at Cedar Lake Pet Hospital in Biloxi, Miss.

Dog First Aid Tips -
How To Give Your Dogs
The Care They Need

One of the activities that you may be forced to perform for your dog in his or her lifetime is some sort of first aid, whether that be bandaging up a small cut, or heaven forbid, something more serious. Are you going to be prepared when this happens? Dogs, like most animals, have a very curious sense about them and they are always out to find something more interesting than what they already have discovered. This, unfortunately, can get them into a bit of trouble or put them in situations that are less favorable with regard to risk of injury.

If the situation arises where your dog needs medical help or some sort of first aid assistance, then it will be up to you to provide the care that your dog needs. Your help will be required until you can get your dog to a veterinarian where he and she can receive the proper care that the vet will be able to provide. It’s important that you have some sort of first aid kit or medical equipment available so that you’re prepared in the event that something does happen to your pet.

Some of the important items that you may want to keep in your dog first aid kit are things that will help bandage up cuts and/or stop bleeding. The supplies most commonly used for these types of actions are gauze, tape, and bandages. Before you bandage up a wound, it is important that you clean it with certain supplies like peroxide, which will get rid of any dirt and bacteria that may be present. Another great item to have in your kit is a blanket, which can be used to wrap up your dog in the event that he begin to experience shock.

Other items that should be included in your dog first aid kit are antihistamine, antibacterial creme or gel, and solution that can be used for washing out eyes. There are other medical products such as tweezers or medical scissors, syringes for distributing medications, and other items that can be used in many different types of first aid situations. Cotton is also a great tool to have when it comes to being able to patch up wounds.

If you are not familiar with the more basic steps of providing first aid for your dog, then you may want to consider becoming more familiar with them so that you may properly care for your dog if the situation arises. Always keep the veterinarian number on hand in the event that your dog needs medical assistance that you may not be able to provide, regardless of what time of the day it is. If you’re not sure what to do, and it is after hours, then your vet may be able to provide assistance to you over the phone or through email. There has also been an increase in the number of pet emergency centers so if your dog is in need of critical care, and a veterinarian is not immediately available, then this is one place that you can take your dog in order to get the care that is needed.

Top 10 Tips For Working with Animals

As our love for animals grows, career opportunities expand. Years ago, we didn’t have travel services for pets. The same can be said of pet travel products, upscale doggie daycare centers, organic pet foods, designer pet clothing, and new technologies and branches in veterinary medicine. These new products and services for our pets have fueled the expansion of the animal care industry. If you are interested in working with animals, here are 10 tips to follow:

1. People who work with animals must be compassionate.

“While the financial rewards can be high, the work itself is rewarding,” says Kimberly May, DVM, DACVS (Diplomat of American College of Veterinary Surgeons), and Assistant Director of the Communications Division of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “The animals we treat don’t tell us in words, but seeing how much better they are is an overwhelmingly good feeling.”

2. Working with animals requires good people skills.

“The dog you are training is a key member of the family,” say Jim Burwell, who is nicknamed the dog whisperer of Houston and runs Petiquette, a dog training service. “These people invested time and money on their dog. You go to people’s homes and see photos of their children and their pets. You know how important this animal is to them. That’s why a good bedside manner is needed in this business.”

3. Careers with animals continue to grow, even during economic downturns.

According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 39 percent of U.S. households own at least one dog and 34 percent live with at least one cat. Pet owners dote on and spend money on their pets. They pay for veterinary care, doggie day care, pet sitting services, clothing, toys, food, and more. This translates to job opportunities for animal lovers.

4. Switching from the corporate world to a career with animals is not unusual.

Burwell earned a good salary working as a vice president at a local bank. He put in long hours and was bored. When he got a puppy from a shelter, he and the dog took dog training classes. “It was the highlight of my day,” he says. “So much so, that I became a dog trainer and owner of Petiquette.”

A lot of the skills he acquired at the bank were transferable—like how to run a business. “I did, however, need to go back to school to learn dog training methods,” he says.

5. The majority of careers require continuing education courses.

This depends on the type of job. Veterinarians, entomologists, zoologists, and others need advanced degrees. Veterinary technicians and dog groomers can attend technical schools. People who run animal welfare nonprofits often have a degree in business. All jobs require experience, and to get that experience you will have to volunteer at a zoo, a veterinary office, or a wildlife park.

6. Animal care workers are sharply needed in rural areas.

The pay may be lower, depending on the opportunity. However, there is a strong need for vets and vet techs who work with livestock. Plus there are opportunities for those in a wide range of jobs from teaching animal science to running pet stores to overseeing nonprofits like a 4-H Club.

7. Many careers with animals have similar requirements and can lead to other jobs.

It is possible to move up the ladder. Instead of suits, your lab coat might change. Many zoo directors started out as zookeepers. It’s a good way to learn, observe, and gain experience. The key is getting your foot in the door, getting hands on work experience—and that can mean cleaning out kennels. Once you prove yourself, you can move up when an opportunity presents itself.

8. More women enter the profession than men.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, more women are entering veterinary schools than men. In the 1960s women made up five percent of the student body. Today, 79 percent of the students are female at the nation’s 28 veterinary schools. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just released a report that says veterinary medicine is one of the fastest growing jobs of the next decade.

9. Animal care workers can earn a comfortable living.

The pay scale ranges from low for shelter workers to highly paid for veterinarians and zoologists. It all depends on the job and the job location. As with most jobs, people in cities earn more than people in rural areas.

10. The emotional rewards are rich.

Several studies have been done to show the positive effects that pets have on our mental and physical health. The benefits are enormous, and there really is no typical day.

Some Tips To Help You
Recognize Common Cat Ailments

Cats are a favorite choice of pet among animal lovers and the reasons for this are obvious. They are cuddly and playful, bringing joy to whoever owns them. They are also independent, so they require less attention than other animals. They don’t have to be walked, a simple litter box will do and they thrive indoors as well as outdoors. They are fastidiously neat and take care of much of their own grooming and are fun to watch as they play with the toys that are given to them.

Despite their independence, cats still require health maintenance and should be taken to see a veterinarian on a regular basis. Many potential health issues can be avoided by keeping them up to date on their vaccinations. There are still health problems that need to be watched for, even if you take your cat for its annual physical and shots.

One of the things that even healthy cats can suffer from is hairballs. Cats are constantly cleaning their coats by licking them. Because of this, they are subject to ingesting the fur that sheds from their coats. This fur can begin to accumulate in the stomach and can become stuck in their digestive systems and forming balls.

Cats usually handle this problem themselves by coughing up the accumulated fur balls. Although it is uncommon, fur balls can block the intestinal tract of a cat and if this occurs, immediate medical attention will be necessary. Signs of this problem are poor appetite, dull looking fur and constipation. You should brush your cat several times during the week, to prevent large quantities of loose fur from being swallowed. There are also products to dissolve the fur in their stomachs, as well as food created to aid in the prevention of fur balls.

Another common issue that you cat may face is a urinary tract infection. This problem can affect both male and female cats, but male cats that have not been neutered are more likely to suffer from it. There are clear signs of a urinary tract infection, the biggest of which is that your cat will stop urinating or will urinate in areas other than the litter box. They may do this to let you know something is wrong. Another sign is if the urine takes on a strong smell. Medication prescribed by your cat’s vet will usually cure the infection.

One of the most dangerous threats that a cat faces is feline leukemia. This disease can greatly shorten your cat’s life and can be prevented by making sure your cat is vaccinated against it. It is easily spread between cats, so caution should be taken to keep your cat away from those who may be infected. On the same token, if your cat suffers from this disease, make sure that you protect other cats in your area by keeping it inside.

Gregg Hall is an author living in Navarre Florida. Find more about this as well as pet medication at http://www.petmedicationandsupplies.com

Paw Print Pick: Abandoned Pup Loves Everyone

Finnigan was left tied to a tree before finding a good home in Montreal. (Handout)

Today's Paw Print Pick was left tied to a tree overnight before this couple adopted him. Now he won't leave their side. He also does visitations at hospitals.

Real name: Ray

Job: Retired

Pet's name: Finnigan

Pet's breed: Havernes

Pet's age: 3

Why and where I got him/her: He was abandoned and left overnight tied to a tree. My neighbor brought him to me knowing I would take him in and love him.

Where we live: Montreal

Favorite activity with my pet(s): Going for walks, visiting patients at the hospital,

One thing my pet does that I just don't get: Won't ever leave me alone.. lol

One trait I share with my pet: Acceptance and love for all.

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Cat Credited with Saving Couple
in Fire is Missing

The search is on for Baby.

The white, brown and gray tabby is credited with rescuing a couple by rousing them from sleep when fire broke out in their Wonder Lake home early today. But Baby disappeared after everyone safely escaped the burning home.

"She's an inside cat. We'll find her," said Josh Ornberg.

Ornberg said Baby woke him and his longtime girlfriend, Letitia Kovalovsky -- 7 months pregnant with twins -- as fire spread in their home in the 7600 block of Brook Drive in an unincorporated area near Wonder Lake.

Kovalovsky had fallen asleep on the couch and he soon nodded off next to her.

The next thing he knew, Kovalovsky's 13-year-old cat had jumped on them -- a rare occurrence for a cat that usually "hides under the bed or the bathtub," Ornberg said.

Ornberg said he looked up and noticed that the recessed lights in the ceiling of the living room were the wrong color. He looked down the hall and saw an orange glow.

Ornberg made sure Kovalovsky was headed out the door, then grabbed a fire extinguisher and kicked down the door to the burning back room. The fire was spreading quickly, so he ran out and dialed 911 just after midnight this morning.

Ornberg, Kovalovsky, 36, and Baby all got out of the house, which Kovalovsky bought from her mother just two weeks ago after renting the house four years.

But Baby disappeared, and Ornberg said the family has set a live trap near the house.

Wonder Lake Fire Protection Assistant Chief Mike Weber said the fire started in the back of the house and is not considered suspicious.

The fire was brought under control in less than half an hour, but the recently rehabbed home sustained major damage and was left uninhabitable, Weber said.

An insurance adjuster estimates about $115,000 indamage was done, and the couple lost about $60,000 worth of personal property, Ornberg said.

Among belongings destroyed in the fire were numerous baby items stored in a back room, Weber and Ornberg said.

"We'd bought the cribs, clothes, the changing table," Ornberg said."This weekend, I was going to buy one of those Disney ceiling fans. Now there's nothing left."

The Wonder Lake Firefighters Association is soliciting funds to help defray Ornberg and Kovalovsky buy new baby items, Weber said.

The Westminster Winner
Sadie, a Scottish terrier, is photographed by the media after winning Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show at Madison Square Garden in New York, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

UK Government Wants Competence Tests
Before You Can Be a Dog Owner
By Jonathan Petre - DailyMail.co.uk

Ruff justice: Owners of all breeds, including border collies like this, may have to pay for tests

Every dog owner will have to take a costly ‘competence test’ to prove they can handle their pets, under new Government proposals designed to curb dangerous dogs.
Owners of all breeds would also have to buy third-party insurance in case their pet attacked someone, and pay for the insertion of a microchip in their animal recording their name and address.

The proposals are among a range of measures to overhaul dog laws in England and Wales being considered by senior Ministers, who are expected to announce a public consultation within weeks.

But critics said responsible dog owners would be penalised by yet more red tape and higher bills – one expert estimated the extra costs at £60 or more – while irresponsible owners of dangerous dogs would just ignore the measures.
They added that genuine dog lovers could end up paying for efforts to control a small number of ‘devil dogs’ that terrorised socially deprived areas.

The RSPCA said last night it would welcome a review of legislation which has failed to curb the numbers of dangerous dogs that can attack, and sometimes kill, children and adults.

But a spokesman for the charity added: ‘We would not support anything that would hit sensible owners while failing to police those who are a danger.’

A government source said the proposals, contained in a confidential document headed Consultation On Dangerous Dogs, have been drawn up by the Department for Environment, Farming and Rural Affairs (Defra).

They follow mounting public concern about the spate of serious injuries and deaths inflicted by dogs.

Police figures show an increase in the number of ‘status’ dogs used to intimidate or threaten others. According to the last available figures, there were 703 convictions for dangerously out of control dogs in 2007 – up from 547 in 2004.

Under the proposals, would-be owners would have to show they had a basic understanding of their dogs before being allowed to keep one.

The document says: ‘There have been suggestions for a competency test for all or some dog owners, akin to the driving theory test.’

But the document admits the cost of setting up such a scheme to cover Britain’s six million dog owners ‘is likely to be prohibitive’, and would have to be met by either charging for the test or by imposing a dog licence fee. Moreover, the officials concede that there were disagreements over what would constitute competence in looking after and controlling a dog.

Taking the lead: The proposals are among a range of measures to overhaul dog laws

Third-party insurance would be less contentious, as owners of certain breeds of dogs are already required to take out such cover.

It is also included in the pet insurance taken out by owners to cover unforeseen vets’ bills and it can be bought for a little as £5, though it will be more expensive for larger and more powerful breeds.

In addition, many owners have had microchips implanted in the necks of their dogs – a process that costs about £30.

Other proposals due to be floated by the Government include giving the police and local authorities the power to impose Asbos on the owners of unruly dogs, and extending the law to cover attacks everywhere.

At the moment, dogs which attack people on private property where they are allowed to be are exempt from the law, despite the complaints from injured postmen.
There are also plans to boost the enforcement powers of police, the courts and local authorities.

As part of the proposed overhaul, all dog laws, including the Dangerous Dog Act 1991, often cited as an example of poorly drawn-up ‘knee jerk’ legislation, could be incorporated into a single law.

An RSPCA spokesman said: ‘We welcome a review but the problem is that while responsible owners will abide by the rules, inevitably you are going to get a fraternity that does not. There are always people who will buy a dog from their mate in a pub and won’t tell the authorities.

‘So the danger is that sensible owners will be out of pocket while irresponsible dog owners will ignore any new rules unless the policing of them is rigorous.’
He said, for example, that while the RSPCA encouraged the use of microchips, the system relied on owners keeping the information up to date.

‘It is no good finding an aggressive dog roaming the streets, perhaps having attacked someone, and going to the address on the microchip to find that the owner hasn’t lived there for years,’ he said.

The Kennel Club said that it was in favour of measures to promote responsible dog ownership, but that the competence tests sounded impractical.
A spokesman for Defra said: ‘We do not comment on leaked documents.’

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Parrot is No Birdbrain
By LANA BERKOWITZ - Houston Chronicle

Ethologist Irene M. Pepperberg with Alex, her African gray parrot.

A researcher who has spent more than 30 years studying parrots says putting one of the big birds in a cage alone while you work long hours is like leaving a 4-year-old in a playpen all day with a few toys and snacks.

Dr. Irene M. Pepperberg, author of Alex and Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence — and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process (Harper Paperbacks, $13.99), says a large parrot needs an enriched environment to challenge its intelligence.

“And we have to recognize that they may not be the perfect pet for everybody. It's a lifestyle issue,” she said.

In 1977, Pepperberg bought a year-old African gray to study. The scientist named him Alex (short for Avian Learning Experiment), and they began a relationship that lasted until the parrot's death in 2007.

“He was a laboratory subject, and in that sense I had to maintain a certain amount of distance between us, but that didn't mean that I treated him exactly like a subject. He was my colleague as well as a subject,” Pepperberg said.

By the time he died, Alex had 100 words for different objects, actions and colors. He could count up to six sets of objects and was working on seven and eight.

For his first 15 years, Alex was the only bird in a lab that revolved around the parrot and the quest to learn more about the avian brain.

“It wasn't always work, work, work. We interacted with him as though he was a toddler,” Pepperberg said. We talked to him constantly. We asked him questions. We commented on what was happening. So if he said, ‘Want bean.' We'd say, ‘Bean? It's a green bean. The color is green,' ” Pepperberg said. “The way you work with young children.”

Pepperberg is now studying Griffin and Wart, who are younger African grays that Alex enjoyed correcting during training and testing. Her goal is to use optical illusions to test the way parrots see the world.

She says parrots are suitable pets for people who are home a lot. Writers and others who don't have to leave the house for work can interact with the birds all day long.

“They make wonderful companions if you have the lifestyle,” Pepperberg said. Sanctuaries are full of parrots given up by pet owners who complain they are too loud and messy or they didn't know what they were getting into because the birds can live 50 years.

“These are really intelligent creatures. I'm not trying to say they are terrible pets. I'm just trying to say be aware,” Pepperberg said.

She suggested a smaller parrot as a better choice for a pet.

“Something like a budgie might work because they live about six to 10 years,” Pepperberg said. She advises getting a large cage so the bird can flutter and stretch its wings. Fill it with toys.

Getting another bird as a companion doesn't always work, because parrots are picky.

“It's like with people,” Pepperberg said. “You wouldn't like someone you didn't know to choose a friend for you.”


Pet Talk: Hospice Fosters Offer Dogs,
Cats a Peaceful Death
By Sharon L. Peters, Special for USA TODAY

Tami Tanoue, a volunteer for MaxFund in Denver, provided hospice care for a stray dog named Copper for two months before he died.

The old dog obviously didn't have long.

Thin and scarred-up, he'd clearly had a rough go of it for at least part of his life, and had been fending for himself for at least a little while. And now he had inoperable prostate cancer, common in dogs that, like him, haven't been neutered.

But he was cheerful and affable and seemed to take great joy from even the smallest things. The folks at MaxFund, a no-kill shelter in Denver where he'd landed, felt he had some good days yet to be lived.

So the sweet-natured lab/shepherd mix they'd named Copper went home with Tami Tanoue and Roger McKenzie.

And for two sunny months he lived the life he deserved. He settled in with the couple's other pets, adapting quickly to the various rhythms and routines of the household. His big tail was a constant-motion metronome, thrubbing against the wall whenever a human approached, flinging everything at big-dog height to the nether reaches of the room (his nickname became Slappy because of all that tail action). He took long walks around the neighborhood and snacked on grilled steak.

And then Copper died.

It was pretty much the same story with Missy, the emaciated old Pomeranian mix found in someone's window well. She was deaf and nearly blind, probably from a brain tumor, but she took great comfort in being wrapped in a blanket and held on a lap, so Tanoue and McKenzie took her home, and that's what they gave her for the final weeks of her life.

And then there was Roger the cat, dumped with a vet when he was 14 after he'd been missing the litter box. Turns out he had cancer. He lived his final five weeks with the couple, well-fed and taking long naps in the sunshine.

The couple are among a devoted corps of MaxFund "hospice fosters," about 15 in all, who provide end-of-life love and care to terminally ill animals ditched by their owners.

Only a tiny fraction of the nation's shelters have such programs. The meds and care such animals need to stay content and pain-free cost plenty. And there are millions of healthy animals requiring shelters' attention. Moreover, hospice fostering isn't the kind of work every volunteer feels able to take on. It's tough enough to foster a litter of puppies, becoming attached, knowing they'll be gone soon. But hospice fosters know there will be no happy-ending adoption to mark the end of their time with an animal.

"Your consolation when you lose him," says Tanoue, "is you gave him the best you could."

The pain of loss is not insignificant — she still gets a little teary when speaking of Copper, a dog she knew for only a few weeks before he died more than two years ago. But "the opportunity to get to know another animal, even if only for a little while, is a wonderful gift," she says.

And there's the truth that helps such people through the sad moments: That old dog or cat was not scared or alone. Whatever else had happened in its life up until then, including abandonment by an owner without the compassion or soul or guts to be there until the end, is erased or at least overwritten by period of love and a peaceful parting.

Tanoue, a lawyer, and her writer husband don't spend even one second thinking about the people who put their pets into the fix that resulted in their landing at the Tanoue-McKenzie home.

"When you volunteer at a shelter, it's easy to become cynical about people," she acknowledges. "But focusing on how the animal got there is unproductive."

You just do what you can to make up for the misdeeds of others.

Oddly, until just a few years ago, Tanoue had never had a pet. Not growing up; not as a young adult. She and McKenzie adopted their first —from MaxFund — in 2004, and things just progressed from there. Now their pets number four — three dogs and one cat — and they've provided temporary foster care to a dozen or so animals in need of a temporary safe haven before adoption, as well as to the three terminally ill animals.

Tanoue shrugs off comments about the selflessness it must take to gird oneself so a dog or cat can live its final days in peace. "There are so many wonderful volunteers who do so very much," she says.

Yes, that is true. And the very notion of categorizing the various aspects of animal volunteerism into some sort of hierarchical ladder of greater or lesser contributions is horrid. Still, when you think about a dog like Copper, who but for the grace of an extraordinary couple would have spent his final hours alone and confused in a strange place, well, it seems a little like there are angels here on earth.

Copper got a final summer of happiness. He took long walks, ate boiled chicken and lay on Tanoue's feet every night while the rest of the pets clustered around. When he died it was at the place he'd known as home, with the people who loved him holding his head and telling him so.

Aquarium Care for Freshwater Fish

Freshwater fish are perhaps the easiest fish to care for in comparison to saltwater species because they are usually hardier fish. A basic aquarium set up will be required. You will need a tank, some rocks or substrate to line bottom of the tank. You will also need a filter, and some lighting. When choosing fish, it is imperative to make sure the fish are compatible. Not only do they need to be compatible for water temperature and P.H., but they also should have similar food requirements. Try to keep the fish relatively the same size. It has been said that if a fish is small enough to fit in another fishes mouth, that is usually where it ends up. So don’t be discouraged if this happens. Even fish that have been housed together for several months have been known to disappear on occasion.

Freshwater fish should be fed twice daily. Feed only a small amount that can be consumed within the first two to five minutes. Over feeding is a common mistake among novice fish keepers. Any excess food should be lifted with a net if possible, as it will become debris and quickly dirty the tank. Water should be kept regulated and tested weekly. Any discrepancies in P.H. and water temperature should be corrected immediacy in order to minimize stress caused to the fish. Stress is significant because it causes illness in fish. It is important to monitor the activity and overall well being of the fish in an aquarium. The signs of stress will be fairly obvious. Slow moving or lethargic looking fish will require a stress coat that can be purchased at a local pet store. Try to avoid overcrowding the tank. This should help to reduce the amount of stress caused to the fish.

Change about a third of the water in the aquarium at a time, because this type of change will cause the least amount of disturbance to the fish and other inhabitants. This will need to be done every two to three weeks. Use either a bucket or a siphon to remove the water from the tank. Try to remove any loose or floating debris at this time. When adding the new water to the aquarium, be sure that it is within approximately two degrees of the tank water. The sides of the aquarium should be scrubbed regularly to remove an algae build up. Again be careful not to disturb the fish. Wash your hands thoroughly before and after handling the aquarium. Lastly, check the manufacturer’s recommendation on filters and change them accordingly. Filters collect any fish waste or left over food. They can’t function properly unless they are clean.

Introduce hardy fish to a new tank. These fish can withstand higher nitrite levels that are present in a new aquarium. Choose fish such as danios, barbs, gouramis, and live bearers. Don’t add more than three to four small fish per week. Acclimation times vary per species, so check with your retailer before adding any other new fish.

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