General Interest

Pet Research of 2013

posted October 13th, 2014 by
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Studies

From Funny, To Sweet, To Informational, Here Are 10 Of The Best Studies Of The Year

by Anna Holton-Dean

Our world changes so fast these days. One thing that doesn’t change is the constant advance of knowledge. Researchers gain new information all the time, and that includes news about the animals around us. With a myriad of studies out there, it would be hard to consume all the information.

Thanks to Pawnation.com, we have a handy list of the top 10 most interesting animal studies of 2013. We are happy to discover several of these studies reveal even more incentives to spay and neuter, and adopt rather than buy.

Lethal Cats

A recent Smithsonian study found domestic cats kill 3.7 billion birds and as many as 20.7 billion mice and other small mammals every year in the U.S. alone. This is not an isolated problem as other countries conducted similar studies with similar results.

The PawNation report says the result could be dire for the ecosystem. This only furthers our belief at TulsaPets that spaying and neutering is crucial for even more reasons than saving the lives of cats and dogs as the problems of overpopulation spill over to other areas.

Big Dogs, Shorter Lives

As a single species bred by humans over centuries into countless sizes   and shapes, researchers have been able to study how size affects life expectancy. They have learned that larger dogs age faster than their smaller counterparts. In the PawNation article, Cornelia Kraus, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Gottingen in Germany, says of larger breeds, “Their lives seem to unwind in fast motion.”

The supporting research shows that about one month of life expectancy      is lost for every 4.4 pounds a dog weighs. For example, “a 155-pound Great Dane has a life expectancy of about 7 years, while a 9-pound Poodle can live up to about 14 years.

“In addition to faster aging, bigger dogs also seem more susceptible to developing cancer than small dogs. This may correlate with size, because cancer is a disease of cell growth.”

So should you factor this information into your decision when adopting a new dog? Can you handle knowing your larger pooch may not be around in 10 years but a smaller choice more likely will be?

Dr. Pat Grogan with VCA Woodland East Animal Hospital in Tulsa says there’s even more to consider than length of years, but what is involved during those years. “It is true that the giant breeds of dogs have shorter life expectancies, but there are other factors that people should consider before getting a very large dog,” he says.

“Large dogs are more expensive to care for—they eat more, require larger beds and kennels, have higher preventive medication costs, and are more expensive when they become ill.  Also, large dogs, if destructive or aggressive can do more harm to property and people.  Having said this, I love large dogs; however, I don’t recommend they be the first dog you ever own.”

Spay/Neuter, Longer Life

It’s no secret spaying and neutering controls the pet population, but research from the University of Georgia shows the procedures can prolong dogs’ lives.

“Researchers looked at a sample of 40,139 death records from the Veterinary Medical Database from 1984–2004,” PawNation says. “They determined that the average age of death for dogs that had not been spayed or neutered was 7.9 years versus 9.4 years for dogs that had  been sterilized.”

Grogan says this research certainly falls in line with what is known about neutered versus intact dogs and can be attributed to a number of causes. “We know that un-neutered male dogs are hit by cars in disproportionately high numbers each year,” he says. “Intact male dogs are much more likely to roam from home, and that does not always work out well for them.

“Also, both male and female dogs can contract life-threatening diseases involving their reproductive organs, including infections and cancer. Female dogs that are spayed before their first heat cycle have been shown to have a significantly reduced risk of mammary cancer, and male dogs that are neutered rarely have disease in their prostate gland.”

Pet Store Puppy Problems

A University of Pennsylvania study found that pet-store puppies are more likely to display behavioral problems later in life. Many factors contribute  to this, including the fact that their mothers are under stress when breeding in puppy mills, PawNation reports. Additional concerns include unusual aggression toward their owners and other dogs, as well as an increased chance of running away.

It is relevant to note “neutered pet-store dogs were more well-behaved, but still more aggressive than neutered non-commercial dogs.” This study serves as more reason to continue doing what we already know is best—adopting shelter pets. Breeding is a no-win situation.

Grogan says a puppy’s key socialization period is between 6 and 16 weeks of age—a time when puppies need a “broad range of good experiences with other pets and people.”

“Puppy mills and pet stores are not the ideal settings for pups in this age range, and truthfully some are more affected by bad circumstances than others,” he says. “I think that all pups deserve a loving home no matter from where they come.”

For anyone who finds this an area of concern, Grogan says seek advice from your veterinarian who can help assess the temperament of the puppy you may be considering before taking it into your home.

Cautions of Homemade Dog Food

In an effort to eat healthier, less processed whole foods, many folks have taken to making more foods at home, and that can include making food for their pets. However, research from the University of California Davis says homemade dog food may be worse than conventional as “it’s almost never nutritionally complete.”

Particularly, the nutritional deficiencies include choline, vitamin D, zinc and vitamin E, “which could result in significant health problems such as immune dysfunction, accumulation of fat in the liver and musculoskeletal abnormalities,” PawNation reports.

Emotional Creatures

“Dogs use specific facial expressions   to show emotion” a Japanese study published in the journal Behavioural Processes says. Each dog in the study displayed different facial expressions in reaction to a series of objects including its owner, a stranger, a toy and a non-desirable object.

The study found “the dogs raised their eyebrows in response to seeing a person, but raised them higher, especially their left eyebrows, when seeing their owners. When seeing a stranger, the dogs moved their left ears back slightly. Researchers believe the dogs’ facial movements reflect activity in the parts of the brain that control emotion,” PawNation says.

This serves as a good reminder to care for your pets responsibly. They aren’t objects, but living creatures with real emotions; research proves it.

Birds Sense Speed Limits

Ever wonder how birds escape near collisions with vehicles just in the nick of time? New research shows birds  are able to sense and react to posted speed limits. Birds reacted to average speed limits, not actual speed limits, PawNation says.

Pierre Legagneux, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Quebec in Rimouski, found the birds “associate road sections with speed limits as a way to assess collision risk. So strictly enforcing speed limits could reduce bird collisions.”

Being a bird brain might not be such a bad thing after all.

Cat Eyes

A general assumption may be that cats have an advantage over us humans regarding sight since they can see well in the dark. However, Photographer Nickolay Lamm produced a series of photographs displaying how cats see differently than humans—not better.

Cats see fewer colors, mostly in blues and yellows, and what they see appears washed out by comparison. “What cats may lack in color perception and focus compared to humans, they make up for with the ability to sense movement in darkness, a larger field of vision (200 degrees compared to our 180 degrees) and greater peripheral vision (30 degrees on each side compared to our 20),” PawNation writes.

Cats Domesticated 5,000 Years Ago

Researchers have discovered what they believe to be the earliest evidence of cat domestication unearthed from a Chinese village, dating back to the Stone Age. Bones, appearing to be more than 5,000 years old, found in the Central China village demonstrated a close interaction between cats and the people of the area. It’s believed they were the pets of farmers.

Yes, Your Cat Is Ignoring You… But He Still Loves You

A University of Tokyo study confirmed that cats understand us when we call but choose to ignore us most of the time. The study published in Animal Cognition observed 20 cats for eight months, responding to a series of audio recordings of five people calling each cat’s name.

“Very few of the cats could muster  up the gumption to respond at all to  being called,” PawNation reports. “Interestingly, the cats did display stronger responses when hearing their owners’ voices, which indicates they  do recognize the difference and per-haps have special relationships with their owners, but they still didn’t bother moving either way.”

The researchers commented in their study that the “cat-owner relationship is in direct contrast to that with dogs.”

The saying is true that cats are not small dogs, Grogan says. “Their solitary nature sometimes makes them seem stand-offish, but many cat owners will tell you of the great affection that their feline friends demonstrate. It’s easy for us to anthropomorphize the way that our cats or dogs interact, but by learning from behaviorists how they see their world, we can really appreciate the wonder that is the cat.”

Prickly Pets

posted October 9th, 2014 by
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Hedgehog 3

By Bria Bolton Moore

From hedges to households, hedgehogs reign as the latest pet trend.

Hedgehog 2

When he was 9 years old, Mary Dickey’s son Ryan didn’t beg for a rowdy puppy or a purring kitten like most kids. He wanted a palm-sized prickly playmate, a hedgehog.

Mary granted Ryan’s wish, and they got their first hedgehog, Tiggy, in 1995. The Dickeys began breeding and caring for hedgehogs at their home in Stillwater, Okla.

“We went from having them in my son’s bedroom to the bedroom being overtaken by being the ‘animal room’,” Mary Dickey said.

Today, 20 years after Tiggy became part of their family, Dickey has eight hedgehogs, three females and five males, and operates Atlantis Hedgehogs.

It seems more and more people are interested in welcoming a quill-covered animal into their homes. Due to exotic animal ownership restrictions, keeping a hedgehog as a pet is banned or restricted in at least     six states. However, their popularity as American pets grows.

Dickey said she has seen sparked interest at Atlantis Hedgehogs with an influx of calls as more people question if a hedgehog is the right pet for them. Similarly, Kimber Knight, who owns Parkplase Heggies in Ramona, Okla., has also experienced more inquiries.

“I have gotten more emails and calls in the last six months than I ever have,” said Knight, who has owned hedgehogs since 1999 when her family got their first heggie, Sonic.

Dr. Rachael Davis, DVM, is a small and exotic animal veterinarian at VCA Woodland South Animal Hospital in Tulsa. She said she has cared for more hedgehogs recently, three in the last few months, and has about five in her client base.

People are fascinated by the small, cute creatures. Social media celebrity Biddy the Hedgehog has an Instagram account with more than 480,000 followers featuring snapshots of Biddy at the beach, on road trips and hanging out with a fellow pet, Charlie the Mini Mutt. The April 2014 cover of National Geographic highlighted Jade, a female hedgehog from South Carolina, who attracted attention to the magazine’s piece on owning exotic animals.

While there are 15 hedgehog species, most domestic hedgehogs in the United States are African Pygmy hedgehogs. They generally have white bellies, of course fur, with more than 5,000 spines covering their crown of the head and back. Male hedgehogs weigh about 1.5 to 2.5 pounds, while the females weigh half a pound to 1 pound. Hedgehogs live about four to six years.

The right pet for you?

Kristen Zorbini Bongard is a board member of the Hedgehog Welfare Society, a 501(c)(3) committed to the health and welfare of hedgehogs through rescue, education and research. The society has more than 1,600 members who reside in 31 countries.

“I originally became interested in hedge-hogs because I was allergic to many of         the more traditional furry pets,” Bongard said. “I read a couple of books about them and then adopted an unwanted hedgehog from a friend of a friend.”

As a rescuer, Bongard said she sees “many, many instances of buyer’s remorse” because people don’t know a lot about hedgehogs before they bring them home. She encourages people to do their research, talk to someone who owns a hedgehog and meet a hedgehog before deciding to get one as a pet.

“They’re really interesting pets, but they’re not for everyone,” Bongard said.

She said she has spent thousands of dollars in vet bills through the years.

“They are exotic animals and require a knowledgeable vet and frequently require anesthesia just to be examined—the downside of a pet that can enclose its body in sharp quills,” Bongard said. “For all you put in, you will still not have an animal that will miss you when you’re gone or greet you at the door with a wagging tail. Make sure it’s worth it to you before you commit to owning a hedgehog.”

Hedgehogs can be interactive pets, but they’re naturally shy, rolling up into a ball when they feel threatened or uncomfortable.

“They require a little bit of effort, but they can be a lot of fun,” Dickey said. “They’re not social like a dog or a cat that seeks to be friends with you. You have to handle them a lot. So, if you’re not willing to handle your hedgehog, you may end up with a little pet that sits in the corner, and you never see it. And, it’s prickly,” she said between laughs.

Dr. Davis echoed Dickey’s comments on hedgehog temperament.

“Some aren’t really interested in being handled,” Dr. Davis said. “They want to just roll up into a ball. But, most of the time, that can be overcome with gentle handling and getting them used to people. Then, I see some that are just out, walking around and aren’t even phased by coming in to see me (in the veterinarian’s office).”

Dr. Davis said some hedgehogs are stressed by new people, small children, or dogs and cats that may be perceived as predators.

Another unique characteristic is anointing. When hedgehogs encounter a new smell or object, they pick it up or chew at it until they begin drooling excessively. Then, they rub the saliva all over their quills and body in a process called self-anointing. No one knows why the animals anoint, but it’s a common behavior.

Hedgehogs can be purchased from a breeder or a pet store that offers exotics.     A hedgehog from Atlantis Hedgehogs costs $125 while a hedgehog from Parkplase Heggies costs $150.

Caring for a hedgehog

“They’re easy to care for,” Dickey said. “They’re not rodents, so they don’t have     any odor.”

A hedgehog should be housed alone in a large cage with a solid base, at least 2 feet by 3 feet with shredded newspaper or Aspen shavings. A hiding place or shelter as well   as an exercise wheel are recommended. The cage should be cleaned weekly.

In the wild, a hedgehog diet consists mostly of insects. However, pet hedgehogs usually eat two to three teaspoons a day of commercial hedgehog food or low-calorie cat food. Their diet should be supplemented with one to two teaspoons of mixed vegetables or fruit as well as insects, such as crickets or mealworms.

“The most common issue I see with [hedgehogs] is obesity,” Dr. Davis said. “It’s hard, because there’s not a readily-available hedgehog diet.”

Dr. Davis said other common health problems are mites and dental disease.

Hedgehogs are also nocturnal, sleeping during most of the day, so Dr. Davis advises owners to house their pets in a non-sleeping room.

“A lot of people will get [hedgehogs] for their children, put the cage in the child’s bedroom, and then the hedgehog’s up, running around all night long.”

Dr. Davis also recommends that owners take their hedgehogs to see an exotic veterinarian at least once a year for a check-up.

Bongard has cared for more than a dozen hedgehogs since getting to know her first hedgehog in 2004.

“Hedgehogs are really fascinating crea-tures,” Bongard said. “They are independent and sometimes standoffish, but that’s part of their charm. There’s something magical about earning their trust over many, many days and watching them splat out, unafraid, on your lap. They have adorable little faces, too.

A Cat Tale – Livin’ the Good Life

posted September 30th, 2014 by
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Cat Tale

by Camille Hulen

“Hi there! It’s Rio here. That’s me in the first picture, basking under the sunlamp in my ‘beach house’.  At least that’s what Mom calls it. You see, I moved here with my roommate, Oso, last winter when it was very cold outside. Mom set up double adjoining crates on a table in the barn and furnished them with nice, warm beds and heating pads. Sure is lots better than life on the street!”

 

 

“I was found in a shed at an apartment complex where people moved away and left me. I was a pregnant teenage mom when some nice lady found me. She took care of me and found homes for my babies, then got me ‘fixed’ so that wouldn’t happen again.”

 

 

“Oso tells me that another nice lady helped her even more because her situation was worse. She was found with four babies behind a vacant house and was so young that she didn’t know how to care for them. The lady helped feed them and gave her assurance; so much, in fact, that she was able to nurse another orphan.”

 

Unfortunately, this happens all too often. People get a cute little kitten, but care little about it when the novelty wears off. Then circumstances change, so they simply move away and leave it because they cannot afford the pet deposit at the new apartment. Every apartment manager could repeat this story verbatim.

 

Others fail to get veterinary care and let their cat outside because it is crying to get out. Chances are that the cat wants outside because it is a female “in heat.” Many do not realize that a female cat can become pregnant as young as four months of age. Since they didn’t care properly for one cat, they certainly do not care for a litter of kittens either. Hence they are abandoned.

Now back to our story. Rio and Oso were found in different neighborhoods but under similar circumstances. Their plights became known through a network of emails. (Email through personal contacts is the most effective way to rehome rescue cats because shelters are usually full.) Ideally, all of these cats would be placed in loving indoor homes. However, many now prefer life outside, and therefore, make ideal barn cats.

It so happened that Nancy, one person in this network, was looking for barn cats to control the mice in her husband’s shop. She had barn cats in other outbuildings on the ranch, but the cat guardian of this building had died recently. She sought two cats, so they could have the companionship of each other. Rio and Oso should fill the bill.

“Hi! Oso speaking now. I’m the sleek, black little girl with big eyes. The lady who found me called me ‘Hooter’ because my eyes were as big as an owl’s, but Nancy renamed me the minute she saw me. She said that I was ‘oh, so beautiful.’ Hence my name became ‘Oso.’

“I met Rio, formerly called ‘Stripes,’ at Camille’s Cathouse where we were introduced. We were both recovering from our spaying and bunked together in a double cage. I wasn’t sure about Rio at first because she seemed a little rowdy. However, we decided that we were now starting our lives anew, so we might as well be friends. Nancy came to visit us regularly and spoke to us gently, using our new names. Plus, she brought us treats!

“When we first came to our home in the shop, we stayed in our cage (aka: beach house). After we were here for a couple of weeks, Nancy opened the cages at night, so we could explore. What fun!  There are lots of nooks and crannies for mice. Rio is the best hunter, but I help her; we usually bring our prizes to show the people. Mom still feeds us morning and evening, ’cause the cat food has a lot more nutrients than just mice.

“Rio has told you a little about life here. Let me tell you more. When Mom Nancy introduced us to her husband, he talked to us and petted us, and then he went to work. Oh, the noise! He ran these big machines that made a lot of noise, but we knew we were safe. Sometimes he stops work and fires up the grill. Yummy! It has become a tradition to share his lunch with us. Now we just hang out during the day up high, away from the noise, but always come when called.”

This illustrates several things:

 

1. When cats are introduced to the barn, they must be confined in order to learn that this is their new home;

 

2. Give them a comfortable bed to keep them warm;

 

3. Introduce yourself to them gently;

 

4.  Feed them daily, so they know that you are their food source. Cats cannot live healthy lives by mice alone;

 

5. Give them food in small quantities, so they look forward to your next visit;

 

6. Call them by name, so they learn to come when called.

 

“It’s spring now, and Mom opens the door to let us outside during the day. The sun is glorious!  We really don’t need the sunlamps now, but still appreciate our nice soft beds. We stay close to the shop, ’cause that’s our home, but we have gotten to meet some other cats and even horses and dogs.

“We have a special cat door up off the ground that only we can access, so we can come and go during the day, but Mom locks us in at night after she feeds us to keep us safe from all the wild things. Yes, we’re livin’ the good life as barn cats!”

Helping Phoenix Rise

posted September 29th, 2014 by
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Phoenix

A Community Connecting To Save One Special Dog

by Nancy Gallimore

It started with a simple plea for help on Facebook.

KOTV-News On Six Reporter Tess Maune was on assignment to cover a story about firefighters checking smoke detectors in a lower income neighborhood where two people had recently perished in house fires. 

As Maune was talking with one of the firefighters, she noticed a dog wandering around the ruins of one of the burned homes. Assigned to cover one story, she instead found two.

According to the firefighter, the dog, in terrible condition with hair loss and sores on his face, legs, and paws, had belonged to an elderly man who had died days earlier when his home was engulfed in flames. The firefighters believed the dog had been burned by the fire and had been giving him food and water while deciding what could be done for him.

After her story was completed, Maune went back to find the sad dog. He was there, curled up inside an old dog house outside the ruins of his deceased owner’s home. An animal lover, Maune wasn’t sure what to do for the poor animal, but knew he needed immediate medical attention and to get out of the sub-zero temperatures Tulsa was experiencing.

Still on the job, however, she and her crew couldn’t take the dog with them.

“I called the Tulsa Humane Society, but they were already closed for the day,” Maune said. “So I did the only other thing I could think to do; I took  a picture of him and posted it to Facebook.”

That’s when an amazing chain reaction started as her posted photo got an immediate response. “I had no idea how many people that photo would reach,” Maune said. “Probably a hundred or more strangers wrote me wanting to know what they could do—many asking where he was so they could go pick him up.”

Rheanna Ali was one of the many people who offered to help the now homeless dog. Maune gave the location of the dog to Ali, and she immediately headed over to rescue the dog. Ali, a professional pet sitter with Sit & Stay Tulsa, said she saw the photo of the distressed dog and didn’t think twice.

“Because of my pet sitting business, I had everything in my car I needed to get the dog and transport him safely,” Ali said. “I just couldn’t bear the thought of him suffering outside alone in the cold.”

After securing the dog she immediately took him to the Animal Emergency Center to have his injuries evaluated. While the dog was with Ali receiving emergency care, another chapter in his rescue story was already beginning.

Maune’s initial outreach on Facebook had also reached the attention of Dr. Lauren Johnson of Hammond Animal Hospital. “My phone just suddenly went crazy with messages from friends forwarding me Tess’ photo of this poor dog and begging me to do something,” Johnson said. “I knew we had to help him.”

“Without skipping a beat,” Maune said, “Dr. Johnson replied to my post and said to bring the dog to her hospital, and she would take care of him. What an incredibly caring veterinarian!”

So after a night of care in Ali’s own home, the dog was transferred to Hammond Animal Hospital. There, the staff appropriately named him Phoenix after the mythical bird that rises from the ashes, renewed and reborn. And so Phoenix the dog started on his long path toward a new life.

Rather than burns, Phoenix was diagnosed with an advanced case of a skin condition called demodectic mange. According to Johnson, this type of mange, which is not contagious to people or other animals, is caused by a tiny mite—demodex canis— that nearly all dogs acquire from their mothers during the first few days of life.

These mites are considered normal when present in small numbers and are generally suppressed by a healthy dog’s immune system. Problems can arise, however, when dogs have immature or compromised immune systems that allow the mites to multiply unchecked.

Localized demodectic mange may only cause little spots of hair loss around the face or on the legs of a young dog and can often resolve in a month or two, either spontaneously or with simple treatment.

In some dogs, however, the disease becomes generalized, causing large patches of hair loss on the head, legs and  body.  Left untreated, the hair follicles become plugged with  mites causing thick, scaly skin and open sores that can lead to infection.

“Phoenix came in malnourished and with an extreme  case of demodectic mange,” Johnson said. “He’s itchy, uncomfortable and in pain, but all he wants to do is rub his face on you and be in your lap. He’s such a good boy.” 

There were no second thoughts. Phoenix would receive the extensive care he needed. While Phoenix started his treatments, Ali was determined to continue to help the dog. She quickly launched an online campaign to provide funds for Phoenix’s initial emergency care and subsequent medical needs.

Once again, people responded to the dog with the pleading light brown eyes and initial fund raising goals were met and exceeded.  Local rescue group Rescued ‘N Ready Animal Foundation joined the effort to save the dog by accepting Phoenix into their rescue program.

According to Amy Hoagland, president of the non-profit organization, once Phoenix’s skin condition is stabilized, the next step will be to find a foster home where the dog can recuperate while he waits for a permanent adoption.

“This dog is so gentle and good-natured. He deserves a second chance at a good life, and we’re going to make sure he gets it,” Hoagland said, who went on to repeatedly describe Phoenix as humble.

 I really wasn’t sure what she meant by humble in reference to a dog—until I went to spend some time with Phoenix myself. This dog, who was severely neglected for the first years of his life, loves everyone he meets. He is exceptionally quiet, gentle, well-mannered, and yes, I have to agree, humble.

 It’s almost as if he looks at you through his golden eyes and doesn’t quite believe his own good fortune. Now, with an entire team of rescuers behind him, Phoenix’s good fortune is guaranteed to continue to rise.

For the time being, as his skin begins to heal, and his soft blonde coat starts to grow in, Phoenix is very content to relax on his comfortable bed at Hammond, surrounded by toys he doesn’t yet know how to enjoy. A hospital favorite, his days are currently filled with treats, love and lots of back scratches.

 Phoenix has definitely risen, thanks to a wonderful chain reaction ignited by one simple online plea. Undoubtedly, someday soon, his coat will be full and shiny; he will be strong and healthy, and the past won’t even be a memory for the dog who stepped out of the ashes and straight into the hearts of so many.

Pet-Friendly Patios in Tulsa

posted September 27th, 2014 by
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Pet Friendly Patios

These local restaurants welcome your well-behaved pooch on their patios. Enjoy drinks, dinner and the warm spring weather with your pet by your side, but please be a courteous, responsible pet owner, both to your host and other diners.

Be sure to snap a photo of your furry dining companion or even someone else’s and share it with us. We may feature it in an upcoming issue.

Andolini’s Pizzeria
Cherry Street
1552 E 15th St
Tulsa, OK 74120
(918) 728-6111

Doc’s Wine & Food
Brookside
3509 S. Peoria Avenue
Tulsa, OK 74105
(918) 949-3663

The Hen
Brookside
3509 S Peoria Ave
Tulsa, OK 74105
(918) 935-3420

Blue Moon Bakery
Brookside
3512 S. Peoria Ave
Tulsa, OK 74105
(918) 749-7800

Elote Cafe
Downtown
514 S Boston Ave
Tulsa, OK 74103
(918) 582-1403

Hey Mambo
Downtown
114 N Boston
Tulsa, OK 74103
(918) 508-7000

Dilly Deli
Downtown
402 E 2nd St
Tulsa, OK 74120
(918) 938-6382

The French Hen
South
7143 S Yale Ave
Tulsa, OK 74136
(918) 492-2596

Baxter’s Interurban
Downtown
717 S Houston Ave
Tulsa, OK 74127
(918) 585-3134

Michael V’s Restaurant
Far South
8222 E 103rd St
Tulsa, OK 74133
(918) 369-0310

Sonoma Bistro & Wine Bar
Brookside
3523 S Peoria Ave
Tulsa, OK 74105
(918) 747-9463

Queenie’s Café & Bakery
Utica
1834 Utica Square
Tulsa, OK 74114
(918) 749-3481

Pepper’s Grill
South
2809 E 91st St
Tulsa, OK 74137
Utica
1950 Utica Square
Tulsa, OK 74114

The Vault
Downtown
620 S Cincinnati Ave
Tulsa, OK 74103
(918) 948-6761

Trencher’s Delicatessen
Midtown
2602 S Harvard Ave
Tulsa, OK 74114
(918) 949-3788

R Bar
Brookside
3421 S Peoria Ave
Tulsa, OK 74105
(918) 392-4811

Ti Amo
South
6024 S Sheridan Rd
Tulsa, OK 74145
(918) 499-1919

 

Champs

posted September 22nd, 2014 by
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Champs

by Lauren Cavagnolo

A roomful of jovial faces and a strong sense of camaraderie among both people and dogs fill the classroom at K9 Manners & More on a Saturday afternoon.

Adults with special needs are assertively leading dogs around the room, commanding them to sit and generously rewarding them with both treats and smiles.

Though it has only been about a year and a  half since Co-directors Mindy Stevenson and Mary Green started the Champs Foundation (in November of 2012), it has already made quite an impact on so many lives.

The program for teens and adults with intellectual disabilities pairs each with a volunteer coach and trained dog, so the participants can learn how to train dogs themselves. Not only do the participants learn new skills associated with dog training, but the classes help with life skills and boost confidence, potentially helping its participants find jobs.

Stevenson’s two sons with special needs, Billy and Danny, were her inspiration for the first-of-its-kind program. After running a therapeutic horseback riding center for 18 years, Stevenson started working with dogs.

At one point, Stevenson had as many as 75 students riding horses weekly, but her youngest son Danny’s life-threatening seizures were not compatible with the program. Stevenson found that working with dogs allowed her to have constant supervision of her son since he could work alongside her.

“Dogs are so much easier to work with, and so many more children could benefit,” Stevenson says. “There’s not a lot of access to the therapeutic programs with horses and not all the kids like the big horses. It was just such an easy transition, why in the world had nobody thought of it before?

“Dogs have proven to be a great comfort and support to people everywhere and in all situations, so the transition to dogs was an easy one to pursue.”

Stevenson had been to several classes at K9 Manners & More through the years. When she approached Owners Mary Green and Kim Sykes about the possibility of beginning the Champs program, they were on board and ready to develop the program.

Green serves as the head instructor for the program and is “absolutely perfect for the job,” Stevenson says. “What a blessing that has been, and so here we are today with a bright future for Champs!”

No barriers

One of the biggest surprises to everyone involved in the program has been how quickly the participants have improved their communication skills.

“I just can’t stress enough how the communication skills have come along,” Green says. “Some of these kids were super, super quiet. The dogs couldn’t even hear when they would give a command or call the dog to come to them. My goodness, now they are all very vocal and very bold.”

However, Green says that strong verbal skills are not necessary to participate in the program because hand signals and other forms of communication are used with the dogs.

“In this environment with support and positive reinforcement and teamwork, they don’t have a disability; this is just as training would be with anybody else,” Green says. “That to me is the greatest joy of it; there are no barriers to being able to handle a dog to participate.”

Linda Evans says she is always looking for activities for her 24-year-old son Nick, a Champs Foundation participant. Evans was initially concerned about Nick’s ability to take part in the class because of his limited verbal skills.

“Once Nick learned the signs and increased his confidence level, he began to speak up, including the verbal command with the sign. When the sessions end, Nick impatiently waits for the next session to begin,” Evans says.

“He has gotten to know the dogs and their owners. These are wonderful, generous people. They donate part of their Saturday to provide this experience for my son and others with special needs.”

Fran Bohan’s 23-year-old son Evan also attends Champs classes, though at first he was hesitant to try it.

“After finding out a couple of friends of his were going to be there as well, he decided to give it a try. From day one, he has loved it,” Bohan says.

Like Nick, Bohan says Evan has gained confidence since joining the Champs Foundation.

“He’s become comfortable with giving the commands and being assertive with the dogs,” Bohan

says. “For a while, he tended to work with one dog in particular, but has since begun changing it up.

“I can’t say enough about the Champs program. You can see it on the faces of these class members every week—the smiles and love for those dogs. The dedication of those running the class and the dog owners is amazing, and we are very appreciative.”

The Champs give more to me

Champs volunteer Cathi Morris, who has previously worked with Special Olympics Oklahoma, began training her dog at K9 Manners & More a few years ago and says the program has allowed her to put her passions to good use through teaching and continuing work with her dog.

“When Champs classes finally began I’m not sure any of us really knew what to expect,” Morris says. “But the thought of being a part of something new and unique was exciting.” 

Fellow volunteer Mary Buck recalls being asked to participate along with her dog Nike and says she all but screamed with excitement. She has been a part of the program since the beginning.

“I never want to miss my Champs time, ever,” Buck says. “I leave our training sessions and head home with a smile on my face and the best feeling in the world. I have seen so many of these kids’ confidence increase and verbal skills increase as well.”

After hearing amazing things about the program, Laurie Lambert began to volunteer her time as a coach last fall.

“I love watching the faces of the Champs as they work the dogs and feel proud of their accomplishments,” Lambert says. “This hour-long session is one of the highlights of my week. The Champs give more to me than I give to them.”

Just the beginning

Up until now, the program has been invitation only but it was opened to the public at the end of February. A session costs $50 and runs for six weeks with classes held weekly.

Stevenson and Green are also working on developing a detailed curriculum for the program with the intent of expanding to other facilities.

“The kids have exceeded any initial expectations that   we had, and it keeps us on our toes thinking of new and greater things for them to accomplish,” Green says.

The pair hopes to raise funds to be able to offer scholar-ships to the program.

“This is just the beginning,” Stevenson adds. “It’s going to be amazing.”

 

For more information or to make a donation, visit www.champsfoundation.org.

Interested in enrolling or volunteering? Email Champs at [email protected] or

Mindy Stevenson at [email protected]