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Bark about it: weekly news roundup

April 14, 2014

I only have time for a quick post today, but I ran across a few interesting stories that I thought would make for good discussion. First up, this Wall Street Journal piece by David Grimm, online news editor at Science, on the legal status of pets. He writes:

Until the early 1900s, both animals were deemed so legally worthless that they didn’t even qualify as property—and could be stolen or killed without repercussion. But as Americans began to spend millions, then billions, on food, toys and veterinary care for their pets, the law changed. Today, cats and dogs aren’t just property; they are the most legally protected animals in the country.

Felony anticruelty laws in all 50 states impose up to $125,000 in fines and 10 years in prison for anyone who abuses animals. The federal Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, passed after Hurricane Katrina, requires rescue agencies to save pets as well as people during natural disasters. Judges have been increasingly willing to treat cats and dogs like people in the courtroom, allowing custody disputes over pets and granting large awards in cases like Ms. Lohre’s—including so-called noneconomic damages typically reserved for the death of a spouse or a child. In a few recent court cases, judges even gave dogs their own lawyers.

I know I would want recourse if my pet were harmed by a careless veterinarian or groomer, but I can see the qualms on the other side, too. I think I can safely say we all agree that pets have value, and more and more, courts are agreeing as well. What’s your position in this debate? What limitations would you set, if any?

On the lighter side, the New York Times has an essay by David Hochman, a new member of the barkoisie (a word I coined myself a few years ago) on the latest in helicopter parenting–of dogs.

The last time I had a puppy, I was 9 years old. This might as well have been in the Mesozoic era, since life with a dog was so primitive then. If Buck was good, he got Gaines-Burgers and maybe a Milk-Bone. Bad, we’d deliver stern admonitions over the half-eaten sneaker. But within hours of adopting our fuzzy, adorable Pi, I sensed that being a pet parent today — nobody uses the word “owner” anymore, apparently — means cultivating intelligence, manners and communication skills the way the parent of, say, a small human might.

You’ll either laugh or snarl when you read it.

Under the heading “gratuitous mention of one’s own dog” is this week’s PetConnection newspaper feature, withKimKeeper1 hints on tricking dogs (in which Keeper, pictured here, plays a starring role), the dangers of lilies for cats, cool new pet products and what to know when your pet goes under anesthesia.

Filed under: behavior and training,gratuitous blogging,media,pets, connected,worth a click — Kim Campbell Thornton @ 10:38 am

A country dog learns to live a city life with confidence

April 10, 2014

Sisko 2013-10Sisko was born on a ranch in the mountains of Arizona east of Tucson. Paul and I brought him home when he was about six months old. Poor little dude: Suburbia was overwhelming for Sisko.  Our neighborhood was noisy compared to the ranch he grew up on, and there were sights and sounds and smells new to him.  He tends to be cautious by nature, but at times he was just plain frightened.

So I set out to gradually and carefully introduce him to his new world. The days we had puppy classes at Kindred Spirits Dog Training, I brought him  even though technically he was too old.  I figured the socialization with happy puppies would be good for him. He was wary and often worried, but he did OK.  I also gave the driver of the trash truck some treats to give Sisko because that truck was huge, stinky, and noisy. The neighbor who drove a loud Harley gave him treats, too. Gradually, over several weeks, with many short, upbeat drives and walks all over northern San Diego county, he began to trust me and relax.

Then, just a few months after Sisko joined our household, my husband died. It was chaos again, and Sisko’s newly won confidence was shaken. And a year after that Riker, my oldest Aussie passed away. Poor Sisko. Thankfully, however, Bashir has been a rock and Sisko was able to lean heavily on Bashir’s confidence. The three of us made it through those tough times without Paul.

I began teaching Sisko therapy dog work as a means to keep his brain busy. I was entering him in every class I could to build his confidence and to challenge him, so he had already been having fun in non-competitive agility, trick training, stockdog work (he’s an Australian shepherd) and obedience training. But since most of my dogs have been therapy dogs, I started teaching him those skills knowing full well that he might not have the confidence (or desire) to be a therapy dog. But he did well, and we began visiting. Initially, I kept the visits short and if Sisko began showing signs of stress we would leave. However, he quickly learned what was expected of him and soon was visiting for an hour at a time.

Sisko will be four years old on April 12, and for lack of a better term, he’s blossoming. He looks forward to our Monday morning therapy visits. He knows which people enjoy him at the facility we visit, and he knows how to find their rooms. For some, he will lean up against their wheelchair so they can reach him. For others he puts his front paws on the side of the bed and offers them his head to be pet. Some people want to snuggle with him in bed and he knows how to jump up carefully and position himself so they can hug him. Out on the street he doesn’t pay any attention to strangers at all,  but should he spot someone in a wheelchair, he makes a beeline for that person. If he could verbalize it, he’d say, “This person needs me!”

20140110_162355I see Sisko’s change in confidence around Bones, too. I had told my friends that Bones, with his bold character, would probably overshadow Sisko before Bones was grown up, and for a while that’s the way it appeared. However, in the last few months, as Bones (now a year and a half) was growing from puppyhood to adulthood, Sisko made a change. He became bolder during playtimes. When things get rowdy instead of leaving the play and watching from the sidelines as he used to do, Sisko began controlling some of the play. Instead of giving up his toys as he did, he is no longer allowing Bones to steal them.

A four years old, my shy and formerly fearful boy is coming into his own. He still has that natural caution and always will have it. But when something startles him now he doesn’t panic, and he is willing to investigate the thing that startled him. He works as a demo dog in my classes, plays hard with Bones, respects Bashir (as he should), loves his therapy dog work, and is a happy dog. And he makes me smile.

Both photos of Sisko; by Liz Palika

Filed under: behavior and training,pets, connected — Liz Palika @ 7:29 am

Dr. Karen Overall: ‘Bad tests are killing good dogs’

April 8, 2014

bigstock_Proud_Labrador_Retriever_2914606Are behavior assessments in shelters getting it right? One expert says no.

At the 2013 NAVC Veterinary Conference, Karen L. Overall, MA, VMD, PhD, DACVB, CAAB, editor of the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, spoke about the science of behavior assesments in shelters as part of the event’s shelter medicine track.

“All my dogs are rescue dogs,” she told the audience, “and I am absolutely committed to those left behind.”

Dr. Overall said established methodologies of assessing behavior, such as those used in studying the mating displays of birds or to assess animal behavior among wildlife, are seldom applied to the assessment of dogs and cats in shelters.

She said ideally, assessments should have the qualities of:

  • Standardization
  • Reliability
  • Validity (in the scientific sense of having gone through the validation process)

In the shelter assessment efforts she’s seen, she said, “Data is being gathered, but it’s not useful data…. There are standards; we should be using them!”

Her advice: “Before you construct an evaluation, talk to a statistician. It will cost around $300 to have a statistician help you design a meaningful evaluation, better than a bunch of iPads that are collecting a bunch of crap that doesn’t mean anything…. What’s out there is not sufficient for the need at this time.”

Dr. Overall recommends taking video of an assessment from two different perspectives, and not to rely on real-time examination and observation of body language and position.

She expressed concern with the “Assess-a-Hand” test, saying:

If there were one thing I could eliminate from shelter assessments, it would be the “Assess-a-Hand,” which is responsible for thousands if not millions of animal deaths over the years.”

The concern here is that if you are looking for dogs and cats to euthanize, this test fits the bottom line. And that’s what the Assess-a-Hand does.

Another problem Dr. Overall discussed: Testing too close together, when the dogs haven’t had a chance to calm down yet. This will confound results, she said. “Many people doing these tests are teaching dogs to be reactive. They’re making them worse.”

Dr. Overall said she frequently hears objections that shelters lack the resources to validate their assessment tests, but she pointed out that researchers in one study “did this test with two handlers, two ropes – because they couldn’t even afford regular leashes – two open spaces, and one enclosed space. Don’t tell me you don’t have the resources to do better than you’re doing.”

“Shelter animals should be sheltered,” she concluded, saying that the use of unvalidated tests will result in the deaths of dogs who could be safely adopted.

Filed under: behavior and training,no-kill — Christie Keith @ 5:33 am

Diamond Pet Foods class action settlement: Coupons or a pittance

April 7, 2014

BSPCatFoodBowlIt’s a settlement designed to fill pet owners with mistrust of commercial pet foods. Diamond Pet Foods has decided to settle a class action lawsuit related to its 2012 salmonella-related recall of nine brands of pet food, including Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul, Country Value, Diamond, Diamond Naturals, Premium Edge, Professional, 4Health, Taste of the Wild, Apex, Kirkland Signature, and Canidae.

Class members will receive small settlements — in some cases, $2 coupons for purchase of Diamond pet foods. Some subsets of the class will receive reimbursement for some veterinary expenses, and those whose pets died may receive the “fair market value” of their pets, a number that might be as little as zero, given that it’s the oldest and most compromised pets who are most likely to sicken and die from food poisoning.

Class members won’t even get that much if the $750,000 settlement fund is exhausted.

Diamond says it denies wrongdoing, but wanted to avoid a trial.

Do you feel warm and fuzzy toward pet food companies now? Confident they’ll take strong measures to keep from poisoning your pets to avoid penalties and lawsuits in the future?

And if you were a member of the class, what would you do with the Diamond coupons?

Filed under: recalls — Christie Keith @ 11:28 am

The Rabies Challenge: Five years in, and what do we know?

April 7, 2014

Who hasn’t cried at the ending of Old Yeller? (Well, I haven’t because I was only four when Disney re-released the classic film in 1965, but I’m sure I would have.)

Although I was too young to see the film, of course I know the story of the beloved dog felled by the bite of a rabid wolf. Humans have feared rabies for millennia. The viral disease was fatal until Louis Pasteur and Emile Roux developed a vaccine against it in 1885.

Thanks to the vaccine, millions of pets are protected from infection and from spreading the virus (according to theDog Getting Vaccination Centers for Disease Control, only 8.4 percent of the rabid animals reported in 2012 were domestic animals), but it has a down side. Because rabies is fatal and is a zoonosis, meaning it can be transmitted between animals and humans, rabies vaccination of dogs is required by laws in all states (many but not all states also require vaccination of cats). Because rabies vaccines are licensed for only one and three years, pets receive multiple rabies vaccinations over their lifetime.

While many states have moved to a triennial requirement for the rabies vaccine in dogs, some still require the vaccine annually. In some respects the subject is complicated, but it’s widely held that overvaccination with the rabies vaccine is associated with harmful side effects in cats and dogs, including vaccine sarcomas at the injection site, autoimmune hemolytic anemia and other autoimmune diseases, seizures and epilepsy.

Evidence suggests that the rabies vaccine has duration of immunity of five to seven years and possibly more, but changing the laws regarding frequency of rabies vaccination is a long and expensive process. The Rabies Challenge Fund was established to cover the cost of a seven-year rabies vaccine challenge study, finance a study of adjuvants used in rabies vaccines, and set up a rabies vaccine adverse-reaction reporting system. The ultimate goal is to extend the legally required interval for rabies booster vaccinations to five and eventually seven years.

Concurrent five- and seven-year rabies challenge studies are beginning their fifth year at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine, conducted by Ronald Schultz, DVM, according to the USDA’s vaccine licensing code. I spoke recently to Dr. Schultz and RCF co-trustee Jean Dodds, DVM, to find out where the research currently stands.

(For anyone who’s unfamiliar with them, Dr. Schultz chairs the pathobiological sciences department at the University of Wisconsin School of Veterinary Medicine and is one of the world’s leading experts on veterinary vaccines. Dr. Dodds is a highly respected veterinary research scientist in the fields of hematology, immunology and endocrinology and founded Hemopet, the first nonprofit national blood bank for animals.)

So what’s the status of the rabies vaccine challenge?

“It’s complicated,” says Dr. Dodds.

The first rabies vaccine studied was selected because of the superior response it provided in USDA challenge trials for licensing, but it’s no longer available due to a company merger. A second licensed rabies vaccine was administered to a separate group of dogs two years after the first study began. That vaccine is the one currently administered to a high percentage of dogs.

Dr. Dodds says both vaccines demonstrated excellent response based on rabies antibody testing for each of the first three study years, but fewer than 30 percent of dogs in the first vaccine group, now six years from vaccination, had serum rabies antibody titer levels considered adequate on the Rapid Fluorescent Focus Inhibition Test (RFFIT). Adequate levels are those above 0.1 IU/mL, which the Centers for Disease Control consider to be an adequate response to rabies vaccination in people.

“Some of the dogs with low or no detected RFFIT antibody were further tested to determine if they had ‘immunologic memory,’” Dr. Dodds says. “This in vitro test shows whether memory is present or not, even in cases when serum antibody cannot be detected at a level considered to be adequate. The results of this further testing indicated that most of the dogs vaccinated five years ago, even without an adequate RFFIT, do have immunologic memory.”

The conclusion from studies with the initial rabies vaccine is that the immunity conferred by that product was excellent for the first three years but declined during the fourth and fifth years.

“The dogs who completed the five-year study who were given the second rabies vaccine–even those with rabies antibody titers that dropped below the RFFIT adequate level–demonstrated boosted rabies titers,” Dr. Dodds says.

That indicates the presence of an active immune memory. The group of dogs who received the second vaccine four and a half years ago will continue to be studied for two more years.

The next step is to challenge some of the dogs with the rabies virus. That will determine whether the memory response actually protects the dogs.

Doing a rabies challenge is indeed a challenge. It’s expensive and requires special facilities.

“With all of the changes that have occurred in the industry, it’s hard to find a place now to do a rabies challenge,” Dr. Schultz says. “The company that was going to do ours went out of business. There have been a lot of mergers, a lot of changes. You can’t do a rabies challenge just anywhere. There are very, very few places to do it, so that becomes something of a challenge in and of itself. [A rabies challenge is] not something you want to do casually or in any place other than where it can be very well controlled, and the animals have to exist in isolation for a long period of time.”

The results will be submitted for scientific peer review and publication. On the RCF website, Drs. Schultz and Dodds say: “After completion of the peer-review process, it is our hope that this data will establish the world’s first canine rabies titer standard. If this data is further verified by challenge, it will provide a solid scientific base enabling states to incorporate titer clauses into their laws.”

Filed under: non-profits and charities,pets, connected,veterinary medicine — Kim Campbell Thornton @ 6:00 am
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