Bedbug Sniffing Dogs

4 People, Cat Jump Overboard
to Escape Boat Fire

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Authorities are investigating the cause of a fire on a 50-foot sailboat that forced four people and a cat to jump overboard in the Intracoastal Waterway in South Florida.

Neighbors reported hearing three explosions Saturday morning. Rescuers took the captain to Broward General Medical Center with injuries that were not life-threatening. No one else was hurt.

The cat was taken to an animal hospital and is recovering from smoke inhalation.

Vandals Damage New York 9/11
Rescue Dog Statue
Matthew Chayes and John Valenti -

New York, NY--Retired NYPD officer Steve Smaldon said he was on the verge of tears when he found out that vandals had toppled a 300-pound monument to 9/11 rescue dogs in a Lindenhurst park.

The cement statue, modeled after Smaldon's now-deceased German shepherd who spent about 150 days with Smaldon searching through the rubble of Ground Zero, was the only thing damaged in the memorial park on Irmisch Avenue near Easton Street, officials said.

"It was 9/11, which to everyone should mean something," said Smaldon, 50, of Lindenhurst. "Why would somebody want to do this? It's like going into a cemetery," Smaldon said as he stood near the vandalized statue Friday morning.

The statue "wasn't an easy thing" to knock over, said Suffolk County police Det. Lt. Robert Edwards, commanding officer of the First Squad detectives. "We don't know if it was targeted or if it was just vandalism."

Police said it appeared as if the vandal had used nothing but hands or feet to kick over the monument.

The park has plaques dedicated to eight Lindenhurst residents, including FDNY firefighters Joseph Angelini and his son Joseph Jr., who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

The park also has the statue modeled after Hansen, the rescue dog. A plaque for the rescue dogs says: "Trained to Save. Live to Serve."

The park was dedicated in 2007 and has a stream and two small pools of water in the shape of the Twin Towers. The memorial was conceived by an 11-year-old middle school student the day after the attacks.

Donna Angelini, widow of Joseph Angelini Jr., told Newsday at a memorial ceremony in September that she was given keys to the park after locks were put on the gates to keep out vandals. She said then that she often visited the park to walk and sit on a bench across from an engraving of her husband. "It's very tranquil and peaceful," Angelini said.

Smaldon said Hansen, named for an NYPD officer, found numerous remains.

The rescue dog died of natural causes in 2004 at age 11, he said, adding that seeing the damaged statue was heartbreaking."It's in pieces," Smaldon said. "They took a lot of time smashing it . . . "Watching him laying there is making me cry," said Smaldon, who spent 23 years on the job, a dozen of them with the canine unit.

"You feel like it's him. You can't help him. It's like when he died, Smaldon said."

Dog Finds His Way Home After Alabama Tornado
by Maggy Patrick -

Mason, a young terrier mix, survived when a tornado barreled through North Smithfield, Ala., April 27, 2011. (Courtesy Vulcan Park Animal Care Staff)

Mason, a one-year-old terrier mix, had been hiding inside his family's garage when a tornado barreled through North Smithfield, Ala. on April 27. His owners ran back into the house to take cover. When they emerged, their home had been destroyed. The garage was still intact -- but Mason was gone.

"The garage remained intact but the door came off and the dog was sucked out of the garage," said Dr. Barbara Benhart of Birmingham-Jefferson Country Animal Control.

The owners searched for days but had given up hope. They came back to the site weeks later to sift through the damage -- only to find Mason sitting on what was left of their front porch. Left homeless and without enough resources to take care of the resilient pup, the family called the county animal control office to see if they could help him recover.

The owner, who wanted to remain anonymous, broke down in tears when he realized that they couldn't take care of their beloved pet.

"His front legs were flopping, completely broken, they almost windmilled," said Benhart. "So I asked our director if I could farm out this dog to one of my vet friends and see if we could get someone to help us."

Dr. Bill Lamb of Vulcan Park Animal Care in Birmingham offered to help without hesitation, said Benhart. He took one look at the dog and took him in.

"He was dehydrated, malnourished, about 50 percent of his normal body weight," said Lamb. Once he was able to stabilize Mason, he enlisted the help of two orthopedic surgeons to fix the puppy's legs.

"It took three of us three-and-a-half hours," said Lamb. "Two plates and 17 screws later he had legs."

Though the doctors offered their services free of charge, many people in the Birmingham area have offered donations to cover Mason's medical bills.

"We didn't expect anything," said Lamb. "The donations will go to cover the hardware -- the screws and plates -- and what's left over will go into a general fund for those that still need help."

Now Mason is recovering nicely, according to Lamb. The plan is to keep him at Vulcan Park Animal Care until his owners can take him back.

"He broke down in tears when he found out they could take him home," said Lamb of the owner. "We have it worked out where he is going to be able to go back home when he's healed."

For now, Mason just wants to go back to being a normal puppy.

"He would love to play but we just won't let him," said Lamb. "He's a puppy and he acts like a puppy."

As brave as this hero dog is, there is still one thing that scares him: loud noises.

"After being sucked out of a garage by something that sounds like a freight train," said Lamb. "He does have a little issue with loud noises!"

10-Year-Old Boy Surprises Family with Pet Gator

ROCKLEDGE, Fla. -- Hey, grandpa -- look what I got! Florida wildlife officials report a 10-year-old boy dragged a nearly 6-foot-long alligator home. Michael Dasher's granddad called authorities when he saw the gator in the front yard. Michael tells officers he had been fishing with friends when something big snapped the line. The boy says the gator ran at him. So, he started hitting it with sticks and jumped on its back. Michael just has some minor scratches after his gator encounter. Officers gave Michael a stern talking-to but no charges. The reptile will be released back into the wild

Earl, Fairbanks' Famed Missing Owl, Found Safe
by Tim Mowry--Fairbanks Daily News Miner

Nancy DeWitt holds Earl, a great gray owl, after he was found by Jen and Lee Bruce. Earl, who went missing more than two weeks ago, was spotted by the Bruces’ on Thursday evening. / Photo courtesy Jim DeWitt/Frozen Feature Images

FAIRBANKS — Jen and Lee Bruce were driving home late Thursday night after an evening of kayaking on the Chena River when Jen spotted a big, dark bird standing on the side of the dirt road that leads to their house off Summit Drive a few miles north of town.

“It had its wings out and was hopping around,” she said of the bird. “It kind of reminded me of a vulture, but I know we don’t have vultures up here.”

It wasn’t until the bird lowered its wings that Bruce recognized it as an owl. But this wasn’t just any owl.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, that has to be Earl,’” she said.

Earl, of course, is the captive great gray owl that escaped from his pen more than two weeks ago, which, as it turns out, was not far from the Bruces' home.

His keeper, Nancy DeWitt, who lives on the road above the Bruces and has used Earl as part of educational programs about owls for the past four years, had been looking for him since she found his cage empty on May 9.

DeWitt suspects she failed to bolt the latch properly and strong winds may have opened it.

So, too, had Jen Bruce been looking for Earl after reading a story about Earl’s disappearance in the News-Miner last week and realizing she and her husband live on the road below DeWitt’s house.

“I thought he might be in the area,” Bruce said. “I’ve been kind of traipsing through the woods looking for him every day.”

It was about 11 when the Bruces spotted Earl Thursday night.

“He was hopping around on the road,” Jen Bruce said. “He’d fly in the air a few feet and then hop around. He was working his way toward the woods.”

The Bruces stopped their car so as not to frighten the bird and called DeWitt to tell her they had found Earl.

“As soon as I heard the phone ring I figured it was an Earl call,” DeWitt said of the late hour. “I’ve been getting a lot of owl calls.”

At first, DeWitt was skeptical. After almost three weeks and 50 tips regarding possible Earl sightings that turned out to be dead ends, DeWitt hadn’t given up on finding Earl, but she wasn’t optimistic.

“Is this Earl’s mom,” Jen Bruce asked DeWitt, whom neither she or her husband had ever met.

When DeWitt told her it was, Bruce told her she had found Earl.

“She sounded like she was in disbelief,” Bruce said.

DeWitt asked Bruce if she could see leather straps on his feet. The straps, called jesses, are used to tether Earl to DeWitt’s wrist.

At that point, Bruce said, she couldn’t see any leather straps because the bird was in the grass. But almost as if on cue, Earl hopped on a stump and flew to perch on a log.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, I see the straps. It’s Earl,’” Bruce said.

DeWitt drove down to where the Bruces were watching Earl. The owl was perched on a log and being mobbed by birds, DeWitt said.

“He did a couple of hops when I was crunching through the leaves and sticks as I approached him but then he just stood there and stepped right on to my wrist,” said DeWitt, who was wearing a glove to protect her arm from the bird’s talons. “Then he leapt into his carrier for the short ride home.”

Earl was skinny but perky, DeWitt said. Once back in his cage at home, DeWitt thawed out four frozen mice, which Earl quickly scarfed down, she said.

Earl was only about 300 meters from DeWitt’s house. She suspects Earl was in the area the whole time. In fact, Jen Bruce had called DeWitt the day she read the story in the newspaper about Earl’s disappearance and told her that the birds and squirrels behind the house were “going nuts,” a clue that some kind of raptor was in the area.

“I’m amazed he wasn’t killed by our neighborhood great-horned owls,” DeWitt said. “He could not have flown away from one.”

Earl was hit by a car six years ago and suffered a wing injury that limits his ability to fly and hunt, which is why he became a captive bird, DeWitt said.

For DeWitt, finding Earl was a happy ending to a story she was sure would turn out bad.

“I never thought I’d see this owl again,” she said. “I’m so relieved. I felt so guilty about this whole thing.”

DeWitt plans to put a padlock on Earl’s cage to prevent future escapes.

“My husband is buying one today,” she said.

For the Bruces, who DeWitt called her heroes, it marked the second missing animal they have reunited with its owner in the past week. Last weekend, the couple was walking through the woods behind their house when they found a white husky caught in a wire snare.

Jen Bruce noticed the dog matched a poster she had seen hanging around the neighborhood advertising a dog that had been missing since April 4. They called the owner, who picked up the emaciated dog and took it to the veterinarian. The dog had lost 50 percent of its weight and the snare had cut into its leg, Jen Bruce said. It was too weak to walk and her husband ended up carrying it out of the woods. The dog is doing fine now after receiving care, she said.

“That was awesome to get not just one but two animals back to their owners,” Jen Bruce said. “I feel like Ace Ventura pet detective.”

How on Earth Did He Get in There?

Avoiding 'Cat'-Astrophes:
5 Mistakes You Might Be Making with Your Pet
By Kim Grant,

We know you would never intentionally do anything to harm your furry friend. But while your caretaking may be based upon well-meaning advice and information, there are mistakes that even seasoned pros might make. So read on and find out how to avoid potential cat-astrophes.

Mistake 1: Not "cat-proofing" your house. Your cat depends upon you to make sure that any hazardous materials are out of his reach. Just as you would safeguard your house for a small child, remember that cats, especially kittens, have no more understanding of what is and isn’t off limits. Keep window blind cords out of reach, along with any breakable objects. Make electrical cords “chew-proof” by covering accessible lengths with long plastic tubing you’d find at the hardware store. Keep household cleaners in a locked cupboard and close off rooms where you wouldn’t want your new pet to explore. Materials like plastic wrap, bags and aluminum foil are especially hazardous.

Mistake 2: Wrong toy at play time. The classic picture of a kitten at play is it chasing after a ball of yarn. However, that may not be the best choice of toys. String or yarn can cause choking or strangulation. Try a wide grosgrain ribbon that doesn’t fray instead. Beware of toys that are cheaply made, aren’t one solid piece or appear as if they’ll fall apart with too much activity. Latex toys are especially dangerous because they’ll disintegrate in time. According to Jennifer Zablotny, an AAHA veterinarian, the most problematic toys are ones that are too small and can be ingested. So use common sense and consider supervising your pet during play time.

Mistake 3: Not keeping environment clean. How often do you change the sheets on your bed? When was the last time you washed your cat’s bedding? Make sure you choose a washable pillow and blanket. Bedding should be washed weekly in a natural laundry detergent (try your local health food store) and rinsed well to keep skin irritation at a minimum.

As far as kitty litter, the ASPCA’s pamphlet “Responsible Pet Ownership” recommends keeping the box at least half-full and changing once a week, unless you have more than one cat. It also suggests that abruptly changing the type of litter you use can cause emotional distress. And what of the area around your cat’s litter box? The walls and floor should also be thoroughly cleaned with a disinfectant each week.

Mistake 4: Too much room to roam. No doubt your cat will enjoy the outdoors. Depending on your location, you may have the luxury of rolling hills and pristine fields for your cat’s exploration. If you live in an urban area, however, remember that in a contest between a cat and a cab ... the cab usually wins. Even if you do have miles of grass and gardens, remember that there are poisonous plants that your cat may come in contact with. Lilies, philodendrons and dieffenbachia are harmful if ingested.

You should also be concerned with losing your cat if you let him venture outdoors. The Homeless Pet Foundation says that only a quarter of lost, untagged animals are ever reunited with their owners. Make sure your cat is tagged at all times. You also might want to talk to your vet about microchipping. Microchips are a type of ID that has become more accessible in recent years, but they’re still a complement to tags, not a replacement for them. It’s an easy, painless procedure where a small informational chip is implanted just beneath the skin’s surface. The chip is encased in nonreactive glass and contains a unique identification number.

Mistake 5: Too many tasty treats. Sometimes, you may think the only reason your cat makes an appearance at home is to eat. Never fear, their devotion goes beyond what you feed them, but don’t try to win them over with too much of their favorite fare. Jean Hofre, DVM, says that the average adult cat requires only 30 kilocalories a day per pound of weight.

And even though tidbits from your own plate may make your furry friend purr with delight, treats shouldn’t exceed 15 percent of their overall caloric intake each day. Cats also require two to three times more protein than dogs. This supports the idea that canned foods are better than dry foods, which usually contain more carbohydrates. Try offering a variety of two to three different cat foods so they don’t become dependent upon one brand, and always serve food at room temperature, which will lessen digestive upset. Fluids are very important, especially water, so if you give them milk, dilute it with a little water. Never feed them cream (no matter how much they ask!) because it’s simply too rich.

Remember, cats only have one life. Make sure it’s a long and happy one.

Kim Grant has written for magazines like LDSLiving, the Washington Family, Back Home, Parents & Kids and Natural Life. She has two novels with Covenant Communications. Visit her at

Guest Column:
 Owner Offers Advice on Protecting Your Dog
By Paul Kulik -

I wrote to The Record last February concerning an attack by a Labrador retriever on my two Maltese dogs. After two months of care and multiple surgeries, they are doing very well, physically and in spirit. I am writing to share with other dog owners my advice on ways to protect their dogs from a similar attack.

Where to walk your dog: Walk your dog in open areas that allow you to see an attacking dog early and give you maximum time to react. Avoid wooded trails, confined areas such as dog parks, pet stores, etc. Avoid areas where dogs are known to run free. These are usually where dog owners know the police do not patrol.

Types of dog attacks: There are two general types of dog attacks. One is where the dog would like to attack but can be deterred by defensive ways or devices (pepper spray, stick, whistle, Taser, etc.) The worst attack to defend against is a dog focused in the attack mode where little can be done to stop it. This dog will undergo extreme pain to kill your dog. In my case, an 800,000-volt Taser has no effect in deterring the attack. Your attempt to physically stop this attack will probably result in injury to yourself. The only way to stop such an animal is with an offensive weapon. Legal ramifications against you for defending your pet must be considered in using offensive weapons.

Defending your dog: While walking your dog, keep constant alert for any dog threat approaching. React early since you will not know if the dog is friendly or attacking until the actual attack. Don't believe the owner telling you his dog is friendly or trust a dog's wagging tail. If you have a small dog pick it up and keep facing away from the attacking dog. Carry some type of device to defend again an attack. Call out for others to help, especially the owner, to secure their dog.

Law enforcement: Regrettably leash laws are not aggressively enforced by the police resulting in a great number of unleashed dogs. Due to budget restrictions St. Johns County Animal Control can only field a small number of vehicles from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays and none on the weekends. If you observe an unleashed dog even though he may be friendly, tell the owner he must leash his dog or face a citation or fine. If he fails to comply, report it to the police or Animal Control at 209-0746. Once one dog owner allows his dog off the leash other owners quickly follow suit. Continued disregard of the leash law will eventually result in all dogs being banned from public areas such as parks and beaches.

What to do after an attack: Call the police or 911. Get the dog owner's name, address and telephone number. Get the same from any witnesses and attending police. Beforehand know the location of a local veterinarian and animal emergency clinics. If you have a cell camera, take pictures.

Legal action: If the owner does not make timely restitution for your dog's injuries, you may have to file a small claims case (see or hire a lawyer. When appearing in court, bring witnesses, vet bills, vet treatment notes, photos, etc. Be prepared in court for the owner to blame you or your dog for the attack.

Regrettably there are many dog owners who think their dog will never harm anyone so what's the problem in letting them run free? The fact is that all dogs under the right conditions are capable of an attack. The breeds you think are so gentle are most often not.

The retrievers we believe to be so gentle account for more attacks on other dogs than any other breed.

Demand for Bedbug-Sniffing Dogs Skyrocketing
By Lena H. Sun,

First came the bedbugs. Then the bedbug-sniffing dogs. Now the pest industry is offering certification to companies that want to make sure their dogs and handlers really can sniff out the blood-sucking insects.

In most cases, bedbugs don’t emit an odor that the human nose can detect, according to David Latimer, whose family runs a canine scent detection business called Forensic and Scientific Investigations in Alabama. But the smell, described by some entomologists as sweet and sickly, is something dogs can be taught to sniff out, much the same way they can be trained to detect explosives and narcotics.

( Alex Brandon / AP ) - Bedbugs are seen in the lab at the National Pest Management Association in February.

And because bedbugs are often difficult to find — they range from 1 to 7 millimeters in length — demand for bedbug-sniffing dogs is skyrocketing.

The increase “has been the most dramatic of any canine scent detection since bomb dogs after 9/11,” said Latimer, who is also the police chief and fire chief of Harpersville, Ala., population about 3,000.

In the past 12 months, his company has trained about 40 dogs, just for bedbugs. By comparison, about half a dozen dogs were trained to detect explosives, and an additional eight to 10 to look for narcotics.

It takes about three months, and with a good handler and under excellent clinical conditions the dogs can be “very, very proficient” in finding bedbugs, Latimer said.

His company relies on rescue dogs of mixed breeds, many of them beagles and terriers. Personality is more important than pedigree.

“Most of the dogs we adopt would not make very good pets,” Latimer said. “Periodically, someone calls us up and says their dog is nuts, that it can’t seem to contain itself. It’s like the dog needs a dose of ritalin when really all it needs is a job.”

At a three-day conference in Philadelphia starting June 1, the National Pest Management Association and several scent detection companies will be providing certification to teams of handlers and dogs, and training for handlers. To get certified, the dog and handler have to demonstrate they can find mesh-covered vials of five to 20 bedbugs hidden in hotel guest rooms.

“Some of the rooms will have them and the teams will have to find which ones have them” to pass certification, said Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs for the the pest management group.

About 250 people have signed up to attend the conference, she said, which will feature sessions on how best to work with scent detection dogs, including how to keep them from picking up bad habits such as alerting to odors other than the true target.

“You want to make sure they’re taught what to look for, and if they find a missing pb-and-j sandwich under a couch cushion that they’re not going to be rewarded,” Henriksen said.

The recent nationwide resurgence in bedbugs has led an increasing number of pest control companies to use specially trained dogs to help locate the bugs and their eggs, she said. Trained dogs cost between $10,000 and $12,000, she said, and some companies have used dogs that were not sufficiently trained.

In a study conducted by the pest association and the University of Kentucky last year, 95 percent of the 1,000 participating pest-management companies said that they had encountered an infestation in the past year, up from 25 percent a decade ago. The experts reported the highest incidences in private residences, followed by hotels and motels, college dorms, various modes of transportation, laundry facilities and movie theaters.

Experts suspect that the resurgence is related to resistance to available pesticides, greater mobility and travel, and lack of knowledge about pests that were virtually eradicated in the 1940s and 1950s.

They can live for months without a meal, hidden deep in mattress seams, baseboard cracks, and in clutter around beds. They travel easily, hitchhiking from person to person, city to city.

Experts recommend sealing mattresses and box springs in clear plastic coverings, and in hotel rooms carefully inspecting the wall behind the headboard for telltale signs of infestation: black specks (fecal matter), molten sheddings (like pencil shavings) or the bugs themselves (in their various stages of life).

Be Careful When Choosing Food For Bird Feeders
By George S. Roof -

Dover, Del. — Now that we have all the spring festivities out of the way, perhaps we can get some form of weather stability as this side of the world warms up. I do know that the grass and weeds are thriving on the cool nights and sunlight.

Many of us try to keep attractive lawns and just as often, we use a single decoration that can give it fits: bird feeders. Though they are always a point of interest and amusement around my house, I’m very careful when I buy the food that I put into it. The world’s worst selection is to buy those large plastic bags decorated with bright colorful birds under that ubiquitous name “Wild Bird Food.”

Don’t get me wrong. If you’re a bird, you simply love that stuff. It has sunflower seeds, cracked corn, millet, canola, mustard and thistle seeds that attract birds of all shapes and sizes. Just remember, that only the cracked corn is “sterile” and will not germinate if it gets buried under your grass. The thistle seed is one of the smallest and one of the most aggressive noxious weeds in the bunch and if you have a bird feeder, you’re going to have to treat that thistle sooner or later.

I’ve found that in the long run, it’s still cheaper to buy the separate ingredients and mix your own. Cracked corn is universally accepted by all species of birds. By mixing in a scoop or two of oiled sunflower seeds, you’ll also attract the cardinals and jays along with an occasional flicker. The only drawback to this mix is that it attracts the blackbirds and grackles that’ll empty your feeder quickly. What they don’t eat, they scratch and spread the remainder over the ground underneath. (Not that bad of a thing if you love mourning doves, however. Doves have stubby legs and don’t eat from feeders but forage for any food falling from it.)

It’s still the best entertainment you can get over breakfast. You just have to be careful in your selection of fodder.

I know there have been turkeys taken during our ongoing season, but I only have one in my shop. I suppose with the economy the way it is and the fact that a mounted turkey becomes one big dust bunny, most of them ended up as table fare.

Dan Bendelewski of Magnolia brought in a giant bird on opening day. He took it on private land near Sandtown and the gobbler tipped the scales over 24 pounds. It had an 11-inch beard with spurs nearly 1.5 inches.

John Mitchell, Jr. of Milford took his 5 year old daughter, Faith along for an outing, not really expecting success as much as an adventure for her. To the surprise of both he had a 17-pound gobbler show up within range. It had a 7-inch beard with 1-inch spurs.

Carol Reiter:
A Dog with Its Eye
on the Prize is Ready to Learn
by Carol Reiter -

After working with dogs and teaching dog obedience classes for way too many years, I've discovered the best part about dog training is watching the light go on in a dog's brain.

I think that's what keeps me going, keeps me driving to the park after working all day, only to see a bunch of people with hopeful faces waiting for their instructor to help them train their dog.

Usually on the first night of class, there are a bunch of dogs barking, whining, jumping and just plain not paying any attention to their handlers. It can be pretty chaotic, and I know some of the people are probably thinking they made a big mistake by signing up for the class.

But by the end of the first class, we have dogs that are starting to learn how to walk on a loose leash and how to sit. And by the time the hour is up, most of the dogs have quit barking and whining, mostly because they're tired.

I always tell the classes I teach the reason their dogs are doing well is because of the work the people do. And by the end of six weeks, there are pretty nice dogs ready to live the rest of their lives as well-behaved animals.

But it's the advanced class I'm going to talk about here. After the handlers and their dogs have gone through a beginning class, I offer to help them in an advanced class. This is where the lights really start to go on in the dogs' minds.

One of the things I teach in advanced classes is called a "watch." It's about teaching a dog to pay attention to the handler and to look at the handler at all times.

The way this is taught is to use treats to reward the dog when it looks up at the handler's face. There's a lot of timing needed on the part of the handler, and it usually takes a little while for the dog to figure out that if it looks up, it gets a treat.

The other night, I had four people and their dogs practicing the "watch" command. After each person had showed me how they had practiced the command, I was ready to move on to the next lesson.

Then I looked at the dogs. Every dog, all four of them, was sitting next to its handler, looking right in the person's eyes.

I immediately told the handlers to give their dogs a treat, because all four dogs had figured it out -- watching their handler was way better than anything else going on.

This all took place at a local park, where people were walking, cooking, playing games and making noise. But not one of those dogs was interested in what was going on around them -- they were only interested in their handlers, and the treats, of course.

So why do I teach this? One reason. Because a dog that is watching and paying attention to its handler is a dog that is ready to learn. If a dog is watching the squirrels or the kids running around in the park, it simply can't learn.

I tell all the handlers in the advanced classes the "watch" is not a trick. It's not something to show off, like a dog that knows hand signals. Instead, it's the concrete base of learning new commands, and the beginning of the dog being really tuned into the handler.

I love to see dogs that are having fun learning. That's one of the reasons I use treats to teach new commands. Eventually the treats are phased way down, but by that time the dog has learned how much fun learning can really be.

That night in the park, when I was so tired and my bad knee ached like a rotten tooth, I couldn't stop smiling. I was so proud of those people and of their dogs. Mostly of the people, because I know how much work it is to get a dog to that point. Congratulations, folks, you've opened a window to a great life with your dogs, and you all deserve it.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or

The Feral Debate:
Do Alley Cats Live a Good Life?
By Justin Jouvenal / The Washington Post

An anesthetized cat, strapped down and with a heart monitor attached to her tongue, is about to undergo spaying at the Washington Humane Society’s CatNiPP clinic, which catches, spays/neuters and releases feral cats. Supporters of the program say it’s more humane than taking strays to shelters, where many will be euthanized, but the program has its detractors, too. Photos by Dayna Smith / The Washington Post

WASHINGTON — The lowly alley cat has long been considered a hissing, stinking, brawling fur ball of trouble — something to round up and send to the pound before it fights with your house cat, leaves droppings in your flowers or tears apart your trash.

But a change has come to cities across the nation that might surprise anyone who has been kept awake by the yowling of an alley cat: A small army of volunteers is trapping feral felines, sterilizing them and returning them to the very alleys they came from.

The “Trap-Neuter-Return” approach has gone from an underground movement in the 1990s to an increasingly popular method of managing the nation’s feral cat population. Across the country, there are about 260 TNR programs, advocates say. Those who support it say it’s more humane than taking strays to shelters where most will be euthanized.

And that has touched off a cat fight.

Feline lover is pitted against feline lover. Veterinarians are divided. At least one major donor to animal welfare groups is withholding money. And the feral cats have a high-powered advocacy group spending millions to argue for TNR on their behalf.

The disagreement turns on a slippery question: Does the alley cat live a good life?

The Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA and other supporters say the nation’s estimated 50 million to 150 million feral felines often live healthy lives. They also say TNR has added benefits: After a cat colony is sterilized, nuisance behaviors such as fighting and yowling are reduced, and the feral population stabilizes. Feral cats can keep rats in check, too.

Skeptics, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and some veterinarians, argue the life of an alley cat is rarely pleasant. In many cases, they say it’s actually more humane to euthanize cats, rather than condemn them to a harsh life on the streets.

To make matters more complicated, TNR is the latest flashpoint in a long-running dispute between bird people and cat folks. Many wild bird groups blame feral cats for killing huge numbers of birds. A researcher at the National Zoo’s Migratory Bird Center was charged with animal cruelty for allegedly poisoning stray cats here this month.

Rewarding work

Marc Selinger, a volunteer who runs the cat-rescue group Rock Creek Cats, spent a recent weekend literally herding cats. He trapped the feral felines at an industrial park in suburban Maryland and then drove into Washington for the monthly TNR clinic sponsored by the Washington Humane Society’s CatNiPP program.

“Trapping feral cats is not exactly glamorous work,” said Selinger, who says he’s trapped about 400 cats in five years. “But when you do it, you can really improve their lives. ... When I see their faces, I can’t not help them.”

Selinger refused to say exactly where his recent catch came from — he feared someone might poison the cats or they might end up in a shelter.

As the clinic bustled around him, veterinary technicians, some clad in paw-print T-shirts, prepped the cats for surgeries at two stations. In a separate, glass-enclosed theater, three veterinarians in full scrubs bent over cat-size operating tables performing sterilizations.

A technician jabbed two of Selinger’s cats — a gray male with tiger strips and a black female — with syringes full of anesthetic. The cats were then vaccinated for rabies and distemper.

“He’s scrappy — he’s only got a half a tail,” a tech said of the gray cat.

Once in the operating room, a clothespin-like sensor was clipped onto the female cat’s tongue, which measured her oxygen intake and heart rate. She was stretched out on a gurney and her splayed legs were restrained as if she was on a medieval rack.

As the sensor beeped, a veterinarian finished surgery in about 10 minutes. The male cat’s surgery was less involved — it only took two minutes. Both were a success; the cats’ ears were notched to show they had been sterilized.

The process was repeated again and again throughout the day — a total of 35 cats were neutered in a matter of hours. Last year, the clinic sterilized about 1,300 cats; 5,300 cats have been neutered since the program opened in 2007, officials said.

The clinic might not have come about if it were not for Becky Robinson of Arlington, Va., and the feral colony she stumbled upon in an alley on her way to dinner one night in 1990.

“They were these three, beautiful black-and-white tuxedos,” Robinson recalled. “I wanted to help them.”

Robinson, who was aware of trap-neuter-return programs in Europe, trapped the cats, got a veterinarian to sterilize them and then returned them to the alley. Her name got around and she began helping other people trap and sterilize feral cats, locally and nationally.

Her efforts grew into Alley Cat Allies, a nonprofit organization that has been instrumental in pushing TNR. Allies has a $5.2 million budget and high-profile celebrity supporters including actress Portia de Rossi and comedian Paula Poundstone.

‘A slow kill’

Like Selinger and Robinson, Dana Madalon has a long record of working on cat-related causes, but she’s no supporter of TNR.

The animal rights activist has spent 15 years volunteering in local shelters, organizing charity balls for animal causes, fostering cats and conducting pet-adoption counseling. She is also the president of the board of directors of the Sauk County Humane Society in Wisconsin, where her hometown is located.

Madalon, who sold a government contracting firm two years ago, said she has donated $50,000 to $80,000 a year to animal organizations. But she said she’s curtailed her giving to Washington Humane Society and the Animal Welfare League of Arlington. She said they do great work, but their support of TNR caused her to close her checkbook.

“The TNR folks are doing what’s right for them, not for the cats,” Madalon said. “If you really love an animal, you will do everything you can to ease suffering in its life. The life of a feral cat is a slow kill.”

She is supported by some veterinarians and what might seem an unlikely ally: PETA. PETA describes the life of a feral cat as harsh and supports TNR only under extremely limited circumstances: A cat colony must be isolated from roads, people, wildlife and be in a temperate climate. PETA president and co-founder Ingrid Newkirk said practicing TNR in Washington amounts to “trap-neuter-abandonment.”

Finding Pets After the Storm
Written by Michele Skalicky -

Not too far from where the tornado hit in Joplin is a place where many tornado victims are finding a part of their lives that they thought might be lost forever. KSMU’s Michele Skalicky has more…

Dog at Southwest Missouri Humane Society that Came from Joplin Photo Credit: Michele Skalicky

When the tornado tore through Joplin Sunday night not only did families lose their homes and most everything they owned, they also lost something equally as cherished—their pets.

Monday morning when daylight arrived and highlighted the destruction that the tornado left behind, members of the MO Humane Society and ASPCA began moving thru the area to try to capture animals that had survived the storm.
The Joplin Humane Society began moving their adoptable animals to shelters in Springfield and Kansas City to make room for the pets. Leslie Thurman, director of the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri, says they took in several dozen pets from the Joplin shelter…

"because when the ASPCA and the Humane Society of Missouri leave, and they take down the emergency shelter and they've got to pack up, you know, all those animals that don't get reclaimed will have to go back to the Joplin Humane Society, and so, in an effort to make room for the influx that they're anticipating, we've taken about 70 animals from them."

By late morning Thursday, the Joplin Humane Society had taken in nearly 400 pets with more streaming in and 67 had been returned to their owners.
I got to witness the reunion of the 68th…

Chris Volkman was out of town when the tornado hit…

"My roommate actually had left for a barbecue and left them in the laundry room."

The small dog and her puppy lived thru the violent tornado that ripped apart their home.

Chris’s roommate found the puppy the next day, but it would be three more days before the mama was found…

"and then, kept looking for her, and thank God somebody picked her up."

Chris’s dog Zeena was the 1st pet after the tornado hit to be brought to the Joplin Humane Society.

A volunteer walked by with a dog on a leash who had clearly just recently had puppies. Her babies hadn’t been found.

The shelter’s executive director Karen Equino says some of the animals being brought in are injured—some seriously—and 12 veterinarians are volunteering to help them. Vet clinics are also on standby to help…

"We had one dog that needed an amputation--we don't have the equipment to do that here, so, but most of the minor cuts--we had one dog that actually had lost all of its toe nails because it was down in a storm drain and trying to dig its way out of there, and thank God it was rescued because it would have drowned, but it's been very heart wrenching to see the stories, hear the stories, and, but it's so rewarding when the families are reunited with their four-legged friends."

A clinic just off the main lobby is where injured animals are treated…

"After they're fixed up here, and if they're stable, they go back into our kennels and then the vet techs are going in and monitoring them, making sure they're ok, giving them their medications."

A large black and white dog cowers in a cage in the corner. He was severely injured in the tornado. His owners have identified him but don’t have a place to care for him. He’ll stay at the Humane Society until his owners can take him home.

Next door to the Joplin Humane Society in what was once an empty warehouse is where the ASPCA has set up an emergency shelter capable of holding 500 plus animals. That way the pets are in a central location and can hopefully be reunited with their owners...

"Rescue groups from out of state are just arriving in Joplin, going in, scooping up animals and taking them back to their state, which is just--people can't find their animals. A lot of people don't even have cars to go look or computers, and they say, 'well, we're posting them on our websites'--there must be I don't know how many thousands of rescue organizations in the country, and it's cruel and inhumane, in my opinion, to ask these displaced families to go to a computer someplace and look through thousands and thousands of websites to try to find their beloved pets."

Police are on alert to watch for rescue groups that aren’t authorized to capture the animals. The Humane Society of Missouri has a team on the ground that’s also on the lookout and Joplin, Taney County and Jasper County Animal

Control is also patrolling the destroyed area.

Aquino says to have lost everything and then not be able to find your pet on top of that is devastating.

If you’d like to help, the Joplin Humane Society is in need of monetary donations. They’ve received plenty of food and in fact are planning to distribute what they don’t need to victims of the tornado who have pets.

The Humane Society of Southwest Missouri in Springfield could use donations of cleaning supplies such as bleach and paper towels.

Its director Leslie Thurman also encourages people thinking about adopting a pet to consider doing so now to free up space.

If you’ve lost a pet in the tornado, there’s a website you can visit to view rescued pets. It’s

You can also visit the shelter at 140 Emperor Lane 8 am to 8 pm every day of the week.

Animal Lovers, Budding Novelists
Will Enjoy ‘Miss Wright’
Reporter: Terri Schlichenmeyer -

Imagine if you went to school and you were the only kid in class.

You’d have to read to yourself and play games alone. There’d be nobody to practice spelling with, nobody to sit next to while you colored or drew. Nobody to laugh at your stupid jokes.

Going to school all alone would be weird. And it would be no fun.

Miss Wright hates to work all alone, so she decided that she needs company. In the new book “A Pet for Miss Wright” by Judy Young, illustrated by Andrea Wesson, she searches and searches. Will she ever find the right office-mate?

Miss Wright was an author. People who write books usually write them alone, which is what Miss Wright did. Every day, she sat at her desk and typed.

Words filled her computer screen and her characters had wonderful, exciting adventures, but Miss Wright sat all by herself and made that happen.

Except for the clickety-click of her keyboard, it was too quiet in her office, so Miss Wright decided that she needed company. She went to the pet store and brought home a mynah bird, but the bird didn’t say anything. Miss Wright took it back and got a monkey.

But the monkey made a mess of things, so Miss Wright returned it to the pet store and got a fish.

A fish was too relaxing and nothing ever got done. So Miss Wright took it back and brought home a hamster. Surely a hamster would be better.

But the hamster went round and round in its wheel, and that made Miss Wright dizzy, so she brought home a cat. And that wasn’t quite right, so she took the cat back.

She said there would be no more pets but the pet store man insisted that she try a dog.

A dog? Miss Wright was sure that a dog wouldn’t be any better than the other pets. But she was surprised that the dog rested quietly on the floor as she typed. She decided that he could stay another day. And another day. And another day.

Did Miss Wright finally find the right writing companion?

So your child has been begging for a dog, but you’re resisting? Beware, then, that this adorable book won’t help your resolve; in fact, “A Pet for Miss Wright” may result in a pet for you, too.

Animal lovers, authors and budding novelists of all ages will love this book and the gently funny story of a lonely writer and her quest for companionship, but when you close the back cover of the book, you may be torn — do you like author Judy Young’s story more, or are the illustrations by Andrea Wesson the better part of this wonderful book?

You and your child may have to read “A Pet for Miss Wright” again (and again) before you decide, which won’t be a chore for either of you because this is one really cute book.

For parents and for kids ages 4 to 8, “A Pet for Miss Wright” is just right.

“A Pet for Miss Wright” by Judy Young, illustrated by Andrea Wesson, copyright 2011 by Sleeping Bear Press, is 32 page and sells for $15.95.

Contact book reviewer Terri Schlichenmeyer at

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