Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Killing wolves in Michigan

It’s not allowed, first of all. At least not right now.
That would be why a Gladwin man had the law handed to him for killing one in the Upper Peninsula.
Perhaps he was just impatient or uninformed, or maybe he just thought he could get away with it. Note to all others who desire to kill a wolf themselves: the wolves still have collars. When you kill one, a mortality signal goes off and officials investigate.
The hunter, 47-year-old Michael Greaves, received $500 in fines and $1,500 in restitution during his sentencing recently in St. Ignace, where the wolf was killed. Read the full story here.
Greaves and all others who want to hunt wolves would be well-advised to simply wait. Their day is coming.
Wolves were listed as an endangered species in 1973 and have been fully protected since 1965. Interestingly enough, when wolves had disappeared from all but two places in the lower 48 states, Michigan had one of those two places with its Isle Royale. Other than there, however, wolves — which had once been present in all 83 of Michigan’s counties — were as good as extinct.
In the 1980s, sightings of lone wolves in the Upper Peninsula began being reported. In 1991, a confirmed pair of wolves gave birth to pups and were heralded as the first documented wolves on Michigan’s mainland in 35 years.
At the time, 64 percent of people polled in the Upper Peninsula and 57 percent of those polled in the Lower Peninsula were supportive of having the wolf population recover.
Today, it has — at least in the Upper Peninsula.
Criteria for wolves to be delisted as an endangered species in Michigan is having a population of more than 100 wolves between Michigan and Wisconsin for five consecutive years. According to the state’s website, we have achieved that and beyond.
“The combined population has exceeded 100 wolves every year since 1994 and currently includes more than 1,000 wolves,” states the website.
Current numbers are counting Michigan’s population at 580 wolves. In May 2009, wolves were delisted from the endangered species list in our state, but apparently there was a problem with the move because public comment was not gathered beforehand.
The delisting process has begun again. Look for opportunities to comment on the matter.
My latest conversations with the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Environment have me believing that as of yet, there have been no confirmed sightings of gray wolves in the Lower Peninsula. I imagine that won’t last forever, though. (UPDATE: the MDNRE is reporting that wolves have now been sighted in the Lower Peninsula. I need to gather some more information, but look for a blog post all about this in the future!)
Meanwhile, having the wolves delisted means the state will begin a management program, which will probably include a hunting element — a tightly regulated one, I hope.
So, Mr. Greaves should’ve just waited and then, he’d be paying no fines and having no newspaper articles written about him.

Gray wolf facts (from
• Adult gray wolves average 30 inches in height at the shoulder and weigh about 65 pounds
• Paws are 3.5 inches wide, 4.5 inches long. Coyote paws are much smaller — 1.5 inches wide and 2.5 inches long.
• Wolves eat deer, beaver, snowshoe hare, rodents and other small mammals.
• The wolf is Michigan’s only canid species to hunt in social units. Coyotes hunt alone, with rare exceptions for when coyotes are training their pups to hunt.
• Wolves do not need large, undisturbed tracts of wilderness to survive, but they do need large areas of contiguous forest. A pack of gray wolves will roam an area of at least 100 square miles — roughly a ninth of the size of Oakland County.
• Michigan’s average pack size is about six wolves, but can be as small as two depending on how much prey is available in their range.

Wolf population information and other facts from

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

New dog park opening pushed back

* A post earlier today said the Red Oaks Dog Park would open tomorrow, June 30, but due to some delays in construction, that opening has been pushed back to July 6.

Oakland County Parks and Recreation will open its third dog park in the county next Tuesday, July 6.
Called Red Oaks Dog Park, the fenced-in site is located at 31353 Dequindre Road in Madison Heights.
At 5.2 acres, the park will be the smallest of the three dog parks the county operates. Other dog parks include the 24-acre Orion Oaks Dog Park in Orion Township and the 13-acre Lyon Oaks Dog Park.
A picnic shelter and 60 parking spaces will be available at Red Oaks.
Dog parks can be great for some dogs, but bad for others. With my dog’s temperament, I’ve never taken him to a dog park and I never will. In my opinion, more people should do the same and keep their dogs out of dog parks.
Here’s some questions to ask yourself before deciding if a trip to the dog park is a good idea:

1) How much experience does your dog have around other dogs? If your dog is not well-socialized to being around other dogs, you may want to avoid dog parks. However, if your dog has some limited exposures to other dogs in the past and was friendly and sociable, the dog park may be a good way to bulk up on those all-important socialization experiences, with one caveat: walk your dog or get some good exercise in before you go. The lower your dog’s energy level, the more even-keeled it will be in such an exciting situation as a dog park.

2) Does your dog bark aggressively or fearfully, lunge at or run from other dogs? If so, your dog may react poorly in a situation off-leash with many other dogs around. An aggressive dog will create obvious problems, but a fearful dog can too. Often, a fearful dog will react aggressively when it feels threatened. Seek other methods to rehabilitate your dog’s temperament than a dog park, which can be an entirely overwhelming experience for a fearful dog. And obviously, if your dog is aggressive around other dogs, don’t take him to a dog park — he’ll terrorize the other dogs and could injure them as well.

3) Is your dog older than four months but younger than a year? Now may be a good time to introduce him to dog parks, so long as he is fully vaccinated. I recommend practicing your recall command and exercising your puppy before you go. Remember, the first experience at a dog park sets the bar for behavior. Practice good behavior from the first visit on.

4) Does your dog respond to your commands? If he or she does not, that’s something you need to work on before heading to the dog park. Use positive reward methods and remember to practice those commands in a variety of environments, including inside, outside and even on walks. The recall is especially important when at a dog park. Both during practice at home and at the park, call your dog often and reward him when he responds the way you want him to, then let him return to what he’s doing. What you don’t want to do is set the precedent that every time you call your dog and he comes to you, he gets put on a leash or taken inside. If the dog thinks his fun time ends whenever you call him to come, he’ll never come to you at the dog park.

Remember that it’s up to you, as a dog owner, to do your part and make sure your dog doesn’t ruin the dog park experience for other dogs and their owners. Use common sense when deciding whether a trip to the dog park is a good idea. If your dog has a history of not getting along with other dogs, the chances are slim to none that his behavior will be any better at a dog park. In fact, it will probably be worse and could even be dangerous to other dogs and their owners.

Another thing to think about — is the dog park really a good place for your kids? If you have small children, keep in mind that you never know what type of dogs you’ll encounter at the park. Make sure your children understand that it is not OK to approach a dog unless you have asked permission of its owner. Be sure you can supervise your children and keep them safe while you’re there.

Oakland County has some posted rules about dog parks too, like limiting the number of dogs per visitor to two, requiring all dogs to be up to date on vaccines and responsive to voice commands from their owners. Dogs in heat are not allowed and neither are dogs younger than four months. For the full rules, click here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Take your dog to work day

Today, June 25, is take your dog to work dog.
My dog is not here at the office with me. Like many dogs, he is not quite cut out for the workplace. Scared of strangers and not fond of other male dogs, he’s not a good fit for the office.
Plus, our office doesn’t recognize the holiday and that’s fine by me. We’ve got a lot of people in this building and if everyone brought in their dog, it’d be a chaotic day.
If your workplace does celebrate this day and you have a dog who does well in your work environment, congratulations! I hope you and your dog have a great day!
While dogs may not be allowed in The Oakland Press building, there is one special Golden Retriever and Labrador mix who graces us with his presence in the newsroom everyday.
His name is Norton and he’s an assistance dog. Our Voices of Disability columnist, Jerry Wolffe, got him a couple years ago and since then, Norton has become a part of our day here.
Norton is trained to do lots of wonderful things to assist Jerry and it’s clear why he was chosen as an assistance dog — he loves food. Above all else, that dog loves food.
Food motivated dogs are highly trainable, making them sought after as assistance dogs. While all dogs may have some level of food motivation, some dogs are more motivated by food than others. Norton is about as food motivated as dogs get.
This sometimes gets him into trouble.
I remember one morning, walking past the rows of desks in the newsroom. Only a couple people were in the newsroom that early — Jerry was working at his computer and our online editor had stopped by another staffer’s office, his back turned to his desk.
When I looked down the aisle, that’s when I saw Norton — a napkin sticking out of his mouth as he chewed on a stolen sandwich.
“Norton, no!” I yelled instinctively. “Drop it! Bad dog!”
There’s a few things I never expected to say in the newsroom.
Norton had stolen our online editor’s sandwich off of his desk. Jerry was so embarrassed, but I found it all quite funny. Norton is a dog, after all, and a highly food motivated one. Even assistance dogs are not infallible.
Mostly, Norton spends his days here sleeping by the water cooler. We can’t pet him — it would distract him from his job — but he seems to enjoy lifting his head to sniff our feet as pass by on our way to fill up our water bottles. Or maybe he’s just making sure he’s positioned near enough to hear all the water cooler gossip.
Either way, Norton is the dog of our office and for him and Jerry, it’s take your dog to work day everyday.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dog days

More dog-related events coming up this weekend and beyond.


Madison Heights — A low-cost vaccination and microchip clinic for dogs and cats will be from 1 to 5 p.m. at Debbie’s Smooch-a-Pooch Salon, 30557 Dequindre. Cost is $10 each for rabies, distemper and bordatella vaccines. Microchips cost $20. Also available will be $5 nail trims. Only cash will be accepted as payment. Reservations should be made in advance by calling 586-565-0350 or emailing The local nonprofit organization Pet Adoption Alternative of Warren is sponsoring the event.

Royal Oak — What do gorgeous blondes and wine have in common? Fundraising! The Golden Retriever Rescue of Michigan will host a “Night of Wine and Goldens” wine tasting event from 6 to 9 p.m. at The Oxford Inn, 1214 S. Main Street. Tickets are $40 per person if purchased in advance or $45 at the door. Space is limited and participants must be age 21 or older. Finger foods, a silent auction, raffle and jewelry sales will be available. Funds raised benefit the Golden Retriever Rescue of Michigan. E-mail or RSVP by sending a check to Golden Retriever Rescue of Michigan, P.O. Box 250583, Franklin, MI 48025.

Auburn Hills — The 9th annual “Pet-A-Palooza” will be at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Saturday, July 24 and Sunday, July 25. The largest adoption event in the state and one of the largest in the whole country, Pet-A-Palooza will feature entertainment, contests and on-site vendors. Businesses can contact Marie Skladd at 586-914-1623 and rescue groups can contact Joe Sowerby at 586-469-8888. Go online to

Farmington Hills — The 5th annual “Bowl-4-Animal Rescue” will begin at 7 p.m. at Country Lanes, 30250 W. 9 Mile Road. Tickets cost $25 in advance or $30 at the door and includes three games, food and a shoe rental. Auctions, raffles, door prizes, music, karaoke and a cash bar will be available. Professional bowling champions Aleta Rzepecki-Sill and Michelle Mullen are hosting the event. The person with the most pledges wins a free bowling ball with a lesson. All proceeds will benefit Friends For the Dearborn Animal Shelter and the Michigan Animal Adoption Network. Tickets may be purchased by calling 248-615-9060 or emailing

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Storms on their way; how will your dog react?

Leave it to my dog to be finicky about what loud noises scare him and what loud noises don’t.
Fireworks fall into the “terrifying” category for him. Thunderstorms, on the other hand, not so much.
I’m lucky, I know. And many of you out there are unlucky.
Of all the my-dog-hates-thunderstorms stories that I’ve heard, the most surprising to me was from a coworker who said his dog liked to hide in the bathtub when storms rolled in.
I find this weird because generally, dogs don’t equate bathtubs with safety. Bathtubs, to a dog, are usually little more than a reminder of a much loathed activity — the bath.
What does your dog do in a thunderstorm?
I read a great blog yesterday with some suggestions on dealing with thunderstorm anxiety.
The first suggestion was treat therapy, which I am using (and starting to see signs of success) to rehab Sensi’s intense fear of fireworks. I like this idea, but I also know that when a dog is overcome by fear, he is not likely to eat a treat.
If you can get your dog to take a treat, consider yourself golden and go with it. If you can’t, you need to work on lowering the dog’s anxiety to the point where he will take a treat.
Susan McCullough, author of the blog, suggested using a snug t-shirt or purchasing some snug dog wear (one is actually called the Thundershirt) to help calm your dog.
This made me think of Temple Grandin’s squeeze machine. Grandin is autistic and often felt anxious and overwhelmed. While working on her aunt’s ranch, she watched as one cow after another would enter this squeeze chute (the machine’s purpose was to hold the cow still so it could be vaccinated) and suddenly become totally relaxed.
She wanted to try it herself and found the feeling so relaxing that she made a similar machine just for herself. So, there’s a lot to be said for how that tight hug feeling can impact a person’s and an animal’s mood.
McCullough offers some other tips, too. Check her full blog here, and good luck with those storms today!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

My indoor yard

It breaks my heart that I don’t have a fenced yard for my dog to run around in.
But I know the expense of such a large fence is too great for it to be something my husband and I are likely to get done while Sensi is still alive. That breaks my heart too.
This is not to say Sensi doesn’t get exercise — we do walk in parks, and on the treadmill, and he has plenty of stimulating activities to keep him mentally balanced.
But I just want some space for him to open up and really run around. Unfortunately, his aversion to most other male dogs puts the dog park out of the picture for us.
I don’t know why it took two years for me to realize this, but I have a giant basement. And other than some cardboard boxes and things I’m storing for family members — all of which fit neatly into one little corner — my giant basement is unfinished and empty. Just a big open space waiting for someone to turn on a light and dust off the cobwebs.
On Saturday, with the help of my mother, we did just that.
And on Sunday, I brought Sensi down there for his first romp around the basement.
One section of the basement didn’t even have any lightbulbs until my mother and I installed them on Saturday and so, Sensi has avoided this part of the basement every time he’d been down there previously.
Turns out dogs aren’t crazy about dark corners either.
But once I turned on all the lights, I ran around in a big circle and got him to follow me. He kept stopping at the stairs as if to say, “What are we doing down here? Don’t you want to go back upstairs and play?”
I imagine I’ll break him of that pretty quickly.
We both wore out after just a few minutes of running around. Sensi looked elated.
Next on the to-do list: Buy a new package of tennis balls so we can play fetch down there too.

Monday, June 21, 2010

My determined dog

My determined dog just won’t let me sleep through the night.
In my last post, I wrote that I’d set up a perimeter of laundry baskets, table trays and kitchen table chairs in an effort to keep him off the bed.
All I wanted was one full night’s sleep — one night without waking up, curled up in the fetal position while my dog is spread out, taking up all the space and all my covers.
Well, the night after I wrote my last post, I improved my perimeter — adding another table tray and another laundry basket — and it worked. But I didn’t get my full night’s rest.
Nope; I woke up at about 3 a.m. screaming one particularly bad four-letter word and clutching my right leg. It was one of those miserable, wake-you-up-in-the-middle-of-the-night-because-it-hurts-so-bad cramps, right in my calf.
“Can’t we get rid of all this stuff now?” Brent said to me the following day. “I’m sick of having all this crap around the bed.”
I shot him a dirty look. “No way,” I said. “Didn’t you hear me screaming in the middle of the night?”
He shook his head. Of course he didn’t. It must be wonderful to sleep so deeply. So I explained to him about the cramp in my calf.
“Just one night, hun. Just let me have one night,” I said.
So we left the perimeter up on Friday night too. Sometime in the early morning, the high-pitched whine of my very bothered dog woke up me. I refused to lift my head off the pillow, convinced that ignoring him would do the trick.
And then, there was that familiar plopping sound and the weight of the bed shifting as my 90 lb. dog landed on it. This is no small feat for him.
He had managed to jump over a row of table trays onto our bed. Mind you that our bed is so tall, Sensi used to struggle with jumping on it without any obstacles in his way. And though you wouldn’t know it, he also has what in humans would be called a torn ACL in one of his rear legs, making it difficult for him to jump. Additionally, he couldn’t have gotten a running start — because of how the bed is positioned, he had about three feet of floor space between the table trays and the wall.
Oh, my determined dog.
At this point, I did wake up and tell him to get down. And he did, though he hesitated — I’m sure wondering if he’d be able to jump down the way he came without planting his head into the wall.
The barricades came down the next night. What’s the point? The dog won that battle.
Meanwhile, I still haven’t gotten a full night’s sleep.
I’m back to the old routine of waking up, telling the dog to get down and hoping he does so before I fall back asleep. At which point he just climbs right back up anyhow.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

In need of a good night’s sleep

Sometimes, kids have really stupid ideas. I know this, because when I was a kid, I had a stupid idea.
Growing up without a dog, I longed to have to one. I wanted a dog to play with, a dog to walk and — here comes the stupid idea — a dog that I could snuggle up to at night.
Fast forward to when I was 18 and finally had my own puppy and what did I do? I played with him, I walked him, and I let him sleep in the bed with me.
Stupid idea. I’m paying for it now.
Last night, for the third night in a row, I reconfigured an arrangement of laundry baskets, TV trays and kitchen table chairs around the perimeter of our bed.
“Hey, you’re trapping me in,” my husband said as I flipped the laundry baskets around, trying to figure what angle I could place them at that would least embolden my dog to jump over them and on to the bed.
“I am going to get a good night’s sleep tonight,” I muttered back to him.
Here’s the deal: The dog knows that my husband can be dangerous to sleep next to. In the middle of the night, not conscience of his actions, my husband has been known to kick and push any objects pushing into him — like the dog.
So the dog leaves him alone. Instead, he comes over to my side of the bed and nestles up against the back of my legs. As the night goes on, he stretches out from paw to paw until he’s five-feet of dog pushing against my back.
And then I wake up. “Get down, Sensi,” I mumble to him, half-asleep. He stands up like he’s going to get down, knowing that he only has to stand there until my head falls back to the pillow and then he once again nestles into the covers.
We repeat this exercise throughout the night and by morning, I’m tired and my back hurts. But the dog always looks very refreshed.
I have tried to persuade Brent to let me put those bed rails designed to keep kids from falling off their beds on ours.
“I don’t want those things on the bed,” Brent said. “Just tell him to stay off of it.”
Yeah, and after nearly eight years of him not having to do that, he’s just going to listen. Right.
So, my laundry basket-kitchen chair-TV tray perimeter is going to have to work, except it hasn’t. At least not for the past three nights. But you can bet I’ll be trying again tonight.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Don’t let your dog go

I noticed one of my previously dogless neighbors walking a little dog the other day.
“They’ve must’ve gotten a dog,” I said to my husband. He nodded. There’s not much else to say, right? Another young couple like ourselves, probably looking to start a family without actually starting a family, I figured.
The neighbor stopped by last night and, being that I’m crazy about dogs, I was happy for the opportunity to ask some questions about their new pooch.
“Didn’t we see you guys walking a dog the other day?” I asked him.
“Yeah, we kinda got a dog,” he said. “I found it a couple weeks ago.”
He went on to explain that he found the little guy running around in state park land; no collar, no tags, no nothing. He brought the dog home and the couple set out to find if the dog had an owner, calling the county shelter and contacting some local veterinarians for help. They’ve had no luck.
“I’m starting to think someone just dumped him out there to get rid of him,” he told us. “So, he might be our dog now.”
The unneutered little guy is very friendly, he said, and has been adjusting to their home. He’s hesitated to go on carpet and up stairs, which indicates to me that these are new things that he probably hasn’t been exposed to before.
What our neighbors did is great and my guess is that the little dog will pay them back tenfold in affection for his loving new home. But, there are lots of morals in this story.
1) Don’t let your dog go. It’s a pet dog — not a wolf, not a coyote, not a fox. Dogs do not adapt well to living in the wild, especially in the actual wild as in a large, natural space. A dogs’ best chance to survive in the wild is actually in a city environment where it can at least scavenge through garbage cans and beg outside restaurant doors.
The theme of many recent blogs has been the differences between pet dogs and wolves. Pet dogs lost a lot of the skills their ancestors have when humans and dogs came together because they no longer needed those skills; they had us.
Further, research indicates that while some behaviors, like the kill-shake a dog does after having caught a squirrel or something, are innate and instinctual, the eating of the prey is a learned behavior. So, a dog may successfully catch and kill prey, but does not know to then eat it until it has been taught to view the animal as food. And most dogs are not taught that.
2) Spay and neuter your dogs. Unneutered males are especially likely to roam in search of a mate. This may not be the case in our neighbor’s particular situation, but even so, it’s one more thing you can do to keep your dog alive and in your yard.
3) Use collars, dog tags, get a dog license or even a microchip. All these things can help you get your dog back if it happens to escape your yard.
4) Keep your dog in your yard. There are fences and invisible fences, collars and leashes, zip-lines and other methods to assist you in keeping your dog in your yard. Remember that every time your dog wanders out of your yard unsupervised, there is the chance of it being hit by a car, getting into something that could poison it, getting into a fight with another dog or creating other problems for your neighbors.
The bottom line: There’s lots of things you can do to ensure your dog stays your dog. If you no longer wish to own your dog, give it a chance at continuing to live by dropping it off at a shelter or rescue — don’t give it the boot in the middle of a forest somewhere.
Most dogs don’t get as good an outcome as the little guy picked up by my neighbor. Thank goodness for big-hearted people!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I disagree

Oh, social networking — how I love thee.
Yesterday, I saw a tweet that a had link to an article titled, “Dogs dumbed down by domestication.” Before I let my blood boil, I told myself to click the link and read the darn article.
It’s actually a pretty good article, but I still disagree.
First off, the headline “Dogs dumbed down by domestication” should have read, in my opinion, “Dogs dumbed down by co-evolution; humans too.”
I just finished reading Temple Grandin’s Animals in Translation and those of you who read this blog regularly are aware of that by now. I can hear all of you groaning, “Oh geez, here she goes on Temple Grandin again. Give it a break already!”
But I won’t, because she is brilliant and I think she is right. First off, there is hard evidence that the old adage of us domesticating the dog is just not true. Why? Because a sign of domestication is brain shrinkage and guess what? Both the human brain and the dog brain shrank when our two species came together, albeit in different areas. And that is called co-evolution, not domestication.
To read an inspiring blog post all about this and how the saying “Dogs make us human” is really, really true, click here.
Secondly, the subhead to this other article states, “That blank stare in your dog’s eyes could be the result of thousands of years of human intervention.”
OK, the blood is getting hot; almost to a boil now.
If your dog wears a blank stare around, then you have done a really crappy job of training your dog. Dogs who receive positive reinforcement training learn to problem solve quite well and I’ve never seen a dog with a history of positive reinforcement training have a blank stare.
If your dog is staring blankly, shame on you. My dog has never, ever had blank eyes. In fact, everyone who meets him comments on how he seems to “tell you everything with his eyes.”
Now from the dumb headline and sub-headline to the context of the article, which is a report on a study which found that domestic dogs do worse at problem solving situations than wolves and wild dogs.
Is this supposed to be a surprise? Scientists know and have known for a long time that the area of the dogs’ brain which shrank during co-evolution was the frontal lobes, a.k.a. the intelligence center. Of course pet dogs will perform more poorly on these tests than wolves and wild dogs. These are the type of skills that nature decided dogs didn’t need anymore, because of us.
That is not to say dogs can’t problem solve, though. Training is problem solving. They just can’t do it as well as their wild predecessors and that much makes sense. Dogs have us, wolves do not.
Lastly, what about the study that shows pet dogs have an ability to read human facial expressions in ways that wild dogs and wolves cannot? Temple Grandin — yes, back to Temple Grandin again — talked about this study in her book. It shows that things go both ways: you lose a little intelligence here, gain a little intelligence there.
The study this article centered around was not a bad one and its results are not surprising — in fact, they’re on par with everything we already knew about pet dogs vs. wolves and wild dogs.
But for the headline writer to infer that dogs have been dumbed down by domestication (co-evolution, please!) and that all dogs wear around these blank stares is just uneducated and goes to show how dumb the human race can be too.
And I am sincerely worried about that headline writer’s dog. In my opinion, a blank stare indicates a pretty bleak life.
Remember — when it comes to dogs and humans, if we’re going to use the term domestication, it applies to both of us. And it means we both got “dumber.”
I like to think, however, that we both evolved to maintain our most useful skill sets considering our new partnership with another species.

Find low prices for Temple Grandin's book, Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior on by clicking here.

Do these eyes look blank to you? I think not!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Make a shelter dog more comfortable

At least 100 shelter dogs will get an immediate upgrade in their living conditions thanks to two local businesses.
Trainers Academy, LLC and Retro Doggy Rescue will team up on June 26 to make a minimum of 100 dog beds to be donated to shelters.
“Dogs in a number of shelters have to sleep on cement floors,” read a press release from the academy.
A cement floor in a shelter is certainly better than being dead or on the street, but it’s not the best thing for dogs. Cement floors are as bad for dogs’ joints as they are for humans’.
Unfortunately, many people relegate their dogs to living in the garage or basement on a cement floor. In time, the health effects of doing so will show. Callouses and sores often form on the pressure points of the dog’s body where it rests on the floor. Above and beyond that, poor joint health can lead to arthritis.
If my dog is any indicator, comfort does matter to dogs. A dog realizes his human’s bed is better than his, that the couch is more comfortable than the floor, that pillows are good places to rest your head and blankets can keep you warm and snuggly. They are dogs, after all, not idiots.
It has long been acknowledged that the best type of bed for a dog who spends his days on cement is a bed that is raised up off the ground. Pillow type beds just mask the effects of the concrete and don’t eliminate the problems it can cause, and they conduct the coldness. Raised beds are preferred for concrete and outdoor spaces.
The Columbus Dog Connection in Ohio first figured out how to manufacture a raised bed on the cheap and shared its plan with the Michigan groups. Now, more of these beds will be made right here in Oakland County — Troy, to be exact.
People and businesses can sponsor a bed for $20. Checks should be made payable to Retro Doggy Rescue and mailed to the Trainers Academy, LLC, 1016 Troy Court in Troy, MI 48083.
The academy will also accepted drop-off donations of new or gently used pet supplies and office supplies on the day of the event. Blankets, towels, collars, food, toys and more will be accepted.
The new beds will be distributed to shelters in Roscommon, Arenac, Tuscola, Ogemaw and more. Before the beds reach the end of their usefulness, they’ll probably make hundreds upon hundreds of shelter dogs a little more comfortable and warm on their journey to find a forever home.
Photos are from the Ohio group’s website. See more photos by clicking here.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

A western war heading east?

In the wolf war between western states and the federal government, it looks like the feds won the latest battle.
A brief in today’s Oakland Press stated U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland decided in favor of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to uphold a ban on killing wolves in Alaska.
States like Wyoming and Montana are more well known for their struggle against the wolves, hence why I chalk it up to be a western states war. Either way, it is a war.
It is one of few instances where hunters have united against the protection of a wild, native species. Of course, they’re not the only ones or the loudest ones in the room. Ranchers lose money to wolves and have long put up the strongest opposition to the reintroduction and protection of wild wolf populations.
In the Alaska case, the state has argued that without emergency intervention (killing the wolves), the Unimak Island caribou herd in the United States will continue to decline and die out.
National Geographic did a cover story about the wolf war earlier this year. It was a fascinating look at the battle taking place right now.
What I found really interesting is that while native populations of elk and deer are plummeting — angering hunters and the state governments’ whose coffers depend heavily on hunting commerce — the native ecosystem is thriving.
It turns out the wolves are restoring a natural balance to environment via the food chain. As elk and deer numbers drop, more saplings are surviving and this affects a whole chain of other plants, insects, birds and animals. New growth around the riverbeds has also had a large impact on the health of streams and the aquatic life forms they support.
Why should we care? Because, unbeknownst to many Michiganders, wolves are here with us. (Neat fact reported in the natgeo story: in the 70s, wolves were completely eradicated from everywhere in the lower 48 except two places, one of them being our own Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior) Maybe the wolves are not in the lower peninsula yet — though of course, many northerners believe otherwise — but they probably will be.
The wolf issue doesn’t seem to be much of an issue at all here in Michigan, and that may be because the populations are in our state’s most remote areas. But I wonder what will happen if the wolves do start creeping in on Michigan’s more populated areas.
I’d like to think, with a much smaller livestock industry than out west, we’d be OK with sharing our land with wolves. I am biased, of course.
As far as Michigan’s hunting industry goes, though, I’m sure our hunters would be outraged and the state would be hurting for money as deer populations drop, creating a decline in revenue from hunting.
But is there a more ethereal sound in this world than a wolves’ howl? For me, it’s a reminder of who we are, where we came and where our dogs came from, a reminder of how grand and beautiful nature in its natural state — with wolves and other predators that we’ve driven out — can be.
What will we do when the wolf populations reach our backyard?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Good story, fancy writing

Call it the curse of working in the newspaper business, but I just don’t like fancy writing.
Sure, I like a good description as much as the next person. Alliteration is all the rage. Character building is important and in a novel, the best example I’ve come by is Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.
But fancy writing ticks me off. I call it flowery and I hate it. If there were ever a way to define what a “mind boggle” is, I’d say it’s what my brain does when I’m reading a compound sentence that stretches into the space of a paragraph without really saying anything worthwhile.
And so, I did not thoroughly enjoy the book “Love Is the Best Medicine: What Two Dogs Taught One Veterinarian about Hope, Humility, and Everyday Miracles” by Nicholas Trout, author of the New York Times best seller “Tell Me Where it Hurts.”
A couple caveats here: I loved the story. There’s a great little tale hidden among super stretched out sentences with big, flowery words, retrospective thoughts and basically, junk. All those words are junking up the story.
Beyond the writing, I did not like that I did not find the story until I was nearly halfway into the book. I also did not like that I did not find the narrator — yes, the narrator! — until half way through the book.
The first half of the book bounces back and forth between the two main elements of the story — a fat little stray who managed to find a loving home and a nimble little min pin who touched the hearts of many, even past her death.
In those first chapters, it’s not clear who is telling the story. It felt like the voice of God was coming from some mysterious place off in the distance and narrating these dogs’ and peoples’ lives.
Then, suddenly, you’re thrust into an environment that is totally alien to the rest of the book. The narrator begins writing in first person, but you don’t know who the heck he is. And you don’t find out how it all ties together until the end of the chapter.
Lastly, I’ll say there was far too much reflective thought. Not all reflective thought is bad, but keep it to a paragraph here and there or give it its due space at the end of the book. There’s no need for page after page of reflective thought dispersed throughout the book. It just slows things down.
On a positive note, I was able to read the book really quickly because I probably only read half of it. My eyes skimmed over the flowery stuff while I struggled to keep my focus on the words and what they were trying to convey. At first, I made myself reread each sentence until I had digested it. After a while, I realized it wasn’t all that important to digest the flowery stuff and let my eyes skim when they needed to.
One last thing that made me mad: there is no bulldog in this story. There’s a big, adorable bulldog on the cover, but no bulldog in the story. I thought that was misleading.
It is a good story, though. It’s a story about how one little dog impacted many people in her 14 months on this planet, including the veterinarian who carries the burden of being responsible for her death. It shows how the veterinarian, inspired by this dog and her owner, turns that burden into something good. And overall, the book’s message may be summed up by the saying “everything happens for a reason.”
I believe in fate. I believe everything really does happen for a reason, even if the reason is not readily apparent. The book’s message is a good one and the story it tells is a good one too. It’s a shame the writing didn’t make that more accessible.

Purchase the book through by clicking here.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The water addict

I caught an episode of Dog Whisperer recently where Cesar Millan uses a kiddie pool as a positive reward for a fearful Labrador Retriever.
Which reminds me — to those of you who oppose Cesar Millan, I understand, but consider how far this guy has come over the years. He always had the right idea, I think, but lacked some formal education. In more and more episodes now, I am seeing him using positive reward methods with dogs and that shouldn’t go unnoticed by all you behaviorists. He’s listening to all of you!
Anyhow, the episode reminded me of my own dog and his addiction to water. Lately, he hasn’t had any real opportunities to swim and for this, I am sorry.
But it’s just all the more reason for me to buy one of those plastic kiddie pools.
I’ve been wanting to do this for years; never got around to it.
The lab in Sensi makes him believe he’s part fish. Once he gets in the water, he doesn’t want to get out. He’ll swim around in circles if he has to. He doesn’t care, he just doesn’t ever want to leave the water.
This does not, however, mean that he likes a bath. So I’ve always been curious as to how he’d respond to a kiddie pool. It’s not deep enough or large enough for him to swim, but the lab on Cesar’s show was content to just lay down in the water. Cesar scooped handfuls of water over the dog’s coat and you could see the pleasure written all over the dog’s face as he smiled, ears back and relaxed and tail splashing around as it wagged against the water.
I hope to recreate this image for my dog.
I know the kiddie pool idea is an old one and I’d love to see photos or hear about your tales of your dog and kiddie pool.
In the meantime, follow this link and watch the second video down. It’s a video my coworker shot of these two small dogs pulling a “frog dog” (my term for legs extended backward while laying down) in a creek bed. They look so comfortable!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Cute, corny or creepy?

Watch the video first, then let’s discuss what category this falls into.

My first reaction was “cute.” Reading the comments left under the video on its original web page informed me that not everyone sees it that way.
The person posting the video wrote, “I wonder if the dog actually enjoys dancing in that frilly skirt.” Commenter Smoobly replied to say that of course the dog did, “The dog enjoys having a job to do .... That the job entails dancing around in a frilly skirt is purely incidental.”
Then, libraryboi added the comment, “There are more serious concerns than the costume. Dogs aren’t supposed to stand on their hind legs. It’s not difficult to imagine the damage that is inflicted on their joints and subsequent pain from doing this repeatedly over years. Simply because we can train dogs to do this doesn’t mean we should for mere human amusement.”
First off, it looks like this is a dog dance routine — a type of activity that has become increasingly popular to the point that there are now official competitions and judges for such routines.
Secondly, libraryboi may have a point. All that time spent on the hind legs could cause some joint damage, especially in a breed that’s prone to have hip dysplasia. But I think his last comment — that simply because we can train dogs to do this doesn’t mean we should for mere human amusement — misses the mark.
This dog might be entertaining humans and we might find this routine entertaining. But there is a huge benefit to the dog of doing such a dance.
The training for something like that is complicated and time consuming. The man dancing around with her has probably spent years training this dog day in and day out. How many dogs get that much attention?
Training something like this almost has to be done through positive reinforcement, which is a huge mental drain for dogs and hugely rewarding — literally, think: lots of treats during practice — for the dog. It helps to keep your dog mentally healthy. And look at the expression on that dog’s face — she is loving it!
I support these dog dance routines and anything that provides such a positive outlet for dogs. I’ve seen lots of dog dance routines and most of them do not have so much emphasis on the dog being on its hinds legs, if any at all.
The last commenter, Cheesebubble, added: “This lasted too long and was way more creepy than cute. I only feel sorry for the dog. Not amusing.”
I disagree. There are many shelter dogs that would give the world for an opportunity to live with someone who has so much time to invest in their dog’s mental health.