Monday, November 5, 2012

Animals Give a Helping Paw to America’s Veterans and Others

I recently finished reading an incredible book, Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him. I was privileged to meet and briefly speak with author and former Army Captain Luis Carlos Montalvan. Listening to Captain Montalvan, witnessing his service dog, Tuesday, and then reading about them in Luis’ book, touched my heart and soul. I’ve met a few service dogs and their human partners in times past; coupled with Captain Montalvan’s recent presentation and reading about him and Tuesday in the book, I possess a deeper appreciation for the service that assistance animals provide – as well as a deeper understanding about the horrors of war and the affects upon our service men and women. In light of Veteran’s Day and my encounters with Luis, Tuesday and their story, I spent a bit of time researching and learning about animal assistance programs for veterans. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will pay for guide dogs for blind veterans, hearing dogs for the hearing impaired, and assistance dogs for veterans with other physical disabilities. However, the agency ruled in September that it would not pay for service dogs for veterans suffering from PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) – see link: Yet, it will provide (and prescribe) nearly any type of pharmaceutical drug for treating mental and emotional distress. Scientific studies show people with pets are less prone to depression, are more active physically, and have lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Dogs, cats and other animals trained as therapy pets visit nursing homes and hospitals and help lessen anxiety among those with whom they spend time. Emotional support animals (ESA) are used with people who have an emotional disability, and can be prescribed by a licensed mental health provider (learn more at the National Service Animal Registry website: Our wounded warriors can use such assistance. The Pentagon reported earlier this year that suicide among American active-duty military personnel rose to an average of one per day. Additionally, according to the Army Times in 2010, about 18 veterans each day committed suicide. It’s estimated that 30 to 40 percent of veterans suffer from PTSD. These are startling, and scary, statistics. Montalvan suffers from PTSD as well as remnants from traumatic physical injuries to his brain and vertebrae from an incident in Iraq. He also experienced nightmares, sleeplessness, hypervigilance, and isolation, common threads in PTSD. Although his condition improved after being partnered with Tuesday, his service dog, Montalvan will never be completely healed, either physically or emotionally. He relies on Tuesday to get through his days and his nights. Tuesday is trained to respond to Luis’ needs, the physical and the emotional. Tuesday provides Luis balance, steadying him on the bumpy, concrete sidewalks and helping him navigate stairs (Luis walks with a cane). Tuesday provides Luis balance emotionally as well, navigating the signals of anxiety as they walk through towns and travel on subways or airplanes. Luis admits in his book, “I don’t look exactly like a typical disabled person with a service dog.” And for that, he, and numerous others, have been and are discriminated against. Service animals who are trained to perform tasks to help disabled people wear a vest, often with the words “service animal” or “working animal” on them; there are laws which allow such animals into places where most typical “pets” are not: restaurants and other public buildings, airplanes and public transportation, housing. However, Luis recounts numerous times the discrimination he encountered. Although Emotional Service Animals are not always allowed in the same places as certified assistance animals, there are federally protected rights for these animals and their human partners, including flying on an airline not being allowed into “no pet policy” housing. I am grateful those who need such physical or emotional service can and do receive that. Numerous others do not. May this Veteran’s Day be the eye-opener we need to recognize and honor those service men and women who have lost limbs, experienced traumatic brain injury and PTSD, or perhaps even suffer silently yet can greatly benefit from the devotion and care a service animal provides. Our wounded warriors deserve whatever medical treatment suits them best… and sometimes that’s lick in the face or a paw on the knee from a four-footed creature that adores (and sacrifices) for them. Learn more about Captain Montalvan and Tuesday by visiting

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Tribute to Presidential Pets

With the political campgains in full swing and the loud barking commencing, perhaps it would be fun to look at the pet choices of America's presidents. This country recently celebrated its birthday (July 4th), and what could be more American than a pet? Canines and other creatures of the White House have been as diverse as their humans, representing various breeds and species, from lap dogs to livestock. So, in honor of the politicos, let's take a quick stroll through the pet picks of some of this country's leaders: The first “first dogs” were foxhounds. Some say George Washington possessed as many as 10, including one named Sweetlips! James Buchanan, Ulysses Grant and Rutherford B. Hayes had Newfoundlands. Teddy Roosevelt owned a variety of dogs, from small (Pekingese) to very large (St. Bernard). He was also a terrier fan – he had five of them! Guinea pigs and garter snakes were also part of his furry family. Warren Harding’s Airedale, “Laddie Boy”, is still seen today thanks to a statue of the dog in the Smithsonian. Franklin Roosevelt’s Scottish Terrier, Fala, supposedly received more fan mail than most presidents. FDR also had other dogs, including Irish Setters, a German Shepherd, and a Bull Mastiff. Scottish terriers are a popular breed with American Presidents. In addition to FDR, others who had Scotties at the White House include Dwight D. Eisenhower and George W. Bush, who had two: Barney and Miss Beazley. The first George Bush brought a Springer Spaniel named Millie to the White House. Millie even helped author a children’s book! She had puppies while living in the famous Washington DC home, two of which lived at the White House with Presidents George 1 and George 2: Ranger and Spot, respectively. Bill Clinton had his Chocolate Labrador Retriever buddy appropriately name Buddy. Lyndon Johnson’s breed of choice was the beagle – he had three of them, named Him, Her, and Edgar. The president ruffled some feathers when he lifted the beagles by their ears. Feathers have been part of presidential menageries. Calvin Coolidge had two canaries named Nip and Tuck, and John F. Kennedy’s family had a canary named Robin plus two parakeets. The movie “We Bought a Zoo” could easily have been about the lives of Coolidge or JFK – each president nearly had zoos while living at the White House! In addition to the dogs and birds, Coolidge and his family had a donkey, a pygmy hippo, a wallaby, bobcat, black bear, and two raccoons. Kennedy owned many dogs, one not surprisingly, an Irish Wolfhound. Additionally, the Kennedys had several horses and ponies, including one named Macaroni, plus hamsters and a rabbit named Zsa Zsa. Cats have also graced the hallways of the White House. Possibly the most famous was the Clintons’ cat, Socks, but there were kitties in the kabana before that, including Gerald Ford’s cat, Shan, the Kennedys’ Tom Kitten, and Teddy Roosevelt’s cats Tom Quartz and Slippers. Livestock have also been part of many a president’s presence in Washington. Besides horses and ponies, other livestock that were sometimes visible on the White House lawn included cows, sheep, chickens, goats and even a pig named Maude (owned by Teddy Roosevelt). Woodrow Wilson had sheep graze the lawn to keep it “mowed” during the World War I era! By far the most popular presidential pet has been the dog, and some of their names reflect America’s values. FDR had a Great Dane he named President, and Ford’s Golden Retriever was named Liberty. The current president, Barack Obama, did not break the honorable circle of pets in the White House. He and his family welcomed their first dog, Bo, a Portuguese Water Dog, not long after entering the White House themselves. Pets of American presidents and their families hold a special place in American history… and in the hearts of the country’s citizenry. Move over fireworks, someone let the dogs out! Learn more about America’s presidents and their pals at: Now, if only the howling and growling would cease! (And I don't mean from the dogs, cats, goats, sheep, horses, etc, etc!)

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Passing of Sage - Dealing with Pet Loss

One of the most difficult aspects of being a pet owner is dealing with the loss of a beloved companion. Recently that hit home not just once, but twice. Greg and I lost our beloved Sage, our blind Springer Spaniel, just a few weeks ago. She had been part of our household for more than 11 years and because of this special dog, I am an author and many children and adults have learned valuable life lessons through her life story. Just the month previous, my parents’ cat, Milly, died from an unknown disease. Although Milly had only been with them about a year, her death rendered their hearts. Many people know that feeling. How does one deal with the loss of a pet? Grief experts state that intense sadness is normal. During the years, even if the years are few in number, that pet became a significant and constant part of one’s life, and the absence is felt deeply. People experience different emotions, not just sorrow or pain; sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s guilt and sometimes it’s depression. Experts state that one should honestly acknowledge their feelings, not hide or deny them. Try to find a confidant with whom to share your feelings, perhaps another pet owner, a sympathetic family member or friend, someone who will provide comfort and understanding, not belittle your true emotions. What you feel is real; don’t mask it. How do you talk with your children about a beloved pet’s death? Honesty is critical. If you say the pet was "put to sleep," be sure your children understand the difference between death and ordinary sleep. It’s not wise to say the pet "went away," or your child may wonder what s/he did to make it leave and wait anxiously for its return. When you talk with your children, make it clear that the pet will not come back, but that it is happy and free of pain. Children are never too young or too old to grieve. Please don’t criticize your child for tears or for feeling sad. Be honest about your own sorrow and let them be honest about theirs. Discuss the loss as a family, and give everyone a chance to work through their grief in their own time. If you have other pets in the house, they may also appear to grieve when their companion is gone. Our Cocker Spaniel, Cody, paced the floor the night before Sage passed. He whined and was restless. Pets observe household changes, therefore, they are bound to notice the change in the family’s emotions as well as the absence of the pet that has passed. Pets can form strong attachments to each other and they recognize when their friend is gone. You may need to give your surviving pet lots of extra attention to help it through this period. We are do this with Cody. That extra attention is helpful for you as well; surviving pets can provide great healing to you and your family. Take time before bringing a new pet into the household as children and surviving pets may not accept a new addition for awhile. Grieving is a very personal and individualized experience. Therefore, there is no “right way”. Simply being honest with yourself and your family is the key to dealing with the loss of a beloved pet. For me, it meant sobbing uncontrollably at first, taking a drive to some of the places Sage and I shared in this community, like the river walkway and a park. Being grateful for sharing life with her helped put a salve over my broken heart. Additionally, sharing my loss with others who understand and experiencing their love and comfort provides relief. Time heals a broken heart. And, healing does come when we allow it.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Spring Into Exercise with Your Four-footed Friend

The end of winter is just around the corner as we've enjoyed some GLORIOUS warm, sunny days. As we look forward to warmer days, greening grass, and blooming flowers we can help our pets and ourselves become healthier and more rejuvenated by getting outdoors.

Exercise is as important for our pet’s health as it is for our own. Many dogs, especially those of the herding and hunting breeds, need activity to keep them both physically and emotionally healthy. Working dogs can get bored without a job. Activity stimulates their physical muscles and their mental abilities. For example, weaving through poles and running through tunnels in agility training engages a dog’s mind and body. Playing fetch or going swimming also stimulates the body and brain. Even walking and allowing your dog to explore the grasses and trees provides it with activity that stimulates the senses. Without exercise, a dog can become not just bored, but also destructive, chewing on furniture or digging up the yard.
Senior dogs may not need as much activity as younger ones or more active breeds, but they still need some exercise. Often, a simple walk around the neighborhood will suffice. Walking is great exercise for both human and animal, and partaking of spring’s flavorful sights and sounds stimulates the mind as well as the muscles in both you and your dog.

Perhaps running is more your sport. Many dogs, such as labs and border collies, also benefit from a jog or run. These types of dogs need more active exercise than a short walk around the block, and the companionship you’ll share on such an outing helps cement the dog-human bond. Hook your pet’s leash to your wrist and jog on out there!

Whether it’s an hour playing fetch, two hours on the agility course, or a short jaunt around the neighborhood, activity adds up to a more enjoyable day for your pooch – and for yourself!

Cats, too, need exercise. My mother would take her cat, J.J., on a walk around the house on a leash. J.J. enjoyed these strolls, hearing the birds sing and rolling around in the vegetable garden’s dirt. She and mom would sit together under the weeping birch, stretched out on the grass and simply enjoy the day. I, too, once had a kitty that walked well on a leash. I lived near a creek, and therefore, didn’t want her roaming beyond the back yard border. I could actually “tie her out” on a long lead near the lilac bush, and she would spend hours there, relishing the sights and smells of the blooming shrubs. Or, simply nap in the overgrown shade. Even indoors, a cat that’s provided toy mice and games of “catch-the-feather-on-the- fishing-pole-if-you-can!” enjoys the stimulation of her senses.

Spring officially arrives March 21. Cabin fever strikes us all, and the coming of spring helps alleviate some of that by providing extra daylight, extra sunshine, and extra-stimulating fragrances. Fresh air, warm sun, blooming flowers, and singing birds – the great outdoors is calling to our pets and us! Allow your dog some extra time in your fenced backyard to drink in the sights, smells, and feelings of the new season. Take kitty for a safe stroll around your house – many cats become very amenable to a leash and stay safe from passing cars or roaming dogs by being on one. Enjoy your furry friend’s company while outdoors this spring – you’ll both feel better for it!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tips for Keeping Your Pet Healthy This Winter

A New Year has begun, and with its dawning come resolutions by people to eat healthier and get into better shape. Although many often break those declarations before month-end, perhaps you and your pet can become healthier together, thereby sticking to your resolution and helping your pet stay healthier and happier in the process.
Just as people need nutritious foods to keep them healthy, so do our pets. Just as there are a wide variety of foods we can choose to eat or not, so, too, are there many types and brands of foods from which to choose for our pets. Whether you go to your vet’s office, shop at a grocery or big box store, or buy your pet food from a pet supply store, you are bombarded by the many flavors, brands and special diet foods. With the numerous options, it can seem overwhelming to tackle the question, “What should I feed my pet?”
The best decision is to research. Look at the brands in the store and discuss with the store staff. Inquire of trusted friends who are pet owners what they feed their animals, and of course, talk with your vet, especially if your dog or cat has a health issue, such as diabetes. Then, get on the Internet and read about the company from their website as well as learn more about pet food from the Association of American Feed Control Officials ( Ask your pet food supplier for samples to try as you learn what food is best for your furry friend.
You can read the labels, however, the order of ingredients on a pet food label is often based on the precooked weight (water and its contributing weight), not on the finished product weight. For example, if chicken is listed as the first ingredient, which we all think is good thing, how much chicken is really in the kibble? Processing chickens to create dry dog and cat food takes the moisture out of the meat and carcass. What is the percentage of chicken actually in the product – 10 percent, 25 percent, 40 percent, more than that? How much corn meal or wheat does the product contain? Some pets are allergic to wheat and corn. Are there synthetic vitamins and minerals in the food? Pets cannot always completely digest synthetic materials. And where is the food processed? Remember the pet food recall involving melamine and China in 2007?
In addition to food selection, here are a few other tips to keeping your pet healthier and happier this year:
1. Provide your furry friend with exercise. Perhaps you and your dog can take more walks together, become running partners, or get involved with the local agility club – or simply conduct agility in your own backyard. Cats, too, need exercise, so provide tunnels, climbing posts, and toys to help keep them active. Wiggling a feathered “fishing pole” may not seem like much exercise, but having your feline chase the feathers around the room keeps your kitty alert and agile. Animals need stimulation, and exercise not only stimulates them physically, but mentally as well.
2. Make sure your pets are current on their vaccinations. If your animal encounters another dog or cat that is not vaccinated against distemper, for example, you may end up with a much larger vet bill than if you had kept your Fido or Fiona’s vaccinations up-to-date. Plus, the emotional stress on both you and your pet should your friend become ill is also a significant factor to consider.
So, as the New Year sets in and thoughts of resolutions sprout, if you’re pondering a healthier you, also think about a healthier pet. Together, you just might keep that resolution to be healthier, and therefore, happier!