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Schooling for Success

posted July 15th, 2013 by
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Free Training Classes Help Shelter Dogs
and Their New Owners

by Nancy Gallimore Werhane, CPDT-KA

It is 6:15 p.m., on a Thursday at Pooches, my dog care facility in Tulsa. Boarding dogs are being fed dinner, and daycare dogs are heading out the door to their homes—another busy day is winding down. At the same time, several dogs and owners parade in the door and head for the training room where their work is just beginning. There, they are greeted by the wonderful smile of Beth Sharp.

Beth Sharp is a dog enthusiast, trainer and unsung hero who well understands the journey a rescued dog and new owner can take. Her interest in working with dogs was born when she adopted her dog, Cooper, a stray that showed up on her property about nine years ago. Cooper uncovered the “latent dog lover” in Sharp, who had not had a dog since her childhood.

“The training bug bit while taking classes with my unruly Pit Bull mix,” Sharp says. “It was fascinating to watch him learn and to have this completely different species understand what it was I was asking. You can actually see the wheels turning in their little brains, and I love it!”

Sharp participated in several training classes with Cooper, exploring different training methods until she was introduced to force-free, positive training techniques. “I completely geeked-out on it and read every book about learning theory and animal behavior that I could get my hands on— and I still do,” she says. “The results I got were amazing, and I never looked back.”

Sharp’s experience with Cooper inspired her to want to help other dogs, but she wasn’t ready to commit to adding another dog permanently to her family. Instead, she opted to foster dogs waiting for adoption. Providing a temporary home for a variety of dogs not only helped local rescue groups but also gave Sharp a great opportunity to develop her training skills. “I loved the idea of fostering, of helping a dog past its fears and showing it how to be part of a family,” she says. And a bonus was the strong sense of accomplishment she felt when her foster dogs were adopted into good homes.

In addition to providing a foster home, Sharp also started volunteering at the City of Tulsa Animal Welfare shelter (TAW). “I’d been feeling like I wanted to try to have a bigger impact on the animal overpopulation problem in Tulsa. Helping one or two dogs at a time is a lot of fun and very much needed, but I was looking for ways to do more,” she says.

Initially, she helped out at the shelter by walking dogs and assisting with adoptions. As she spent time at the shelter, she realized that it would be helpful to offer some basic training tips to new dog owners in an effort to help adopted dogs settle into new homes successfully and reduce the number of dogs that are returned to the shelter. “I would have loved some tips when I got Cooper to help me avoid wasting time and effort, trying a litany of things that don’t really work,” Sharp says.

“Sometimes new and even experienced dog owners have issues with their dogs that seem overwhelming, but many issues have very simple solutions and that can be the difference between keeping a pet or having to return it to the shelter,” explains Sharp. That theory quickly developed into a free, three-session training class that Sharp would make available to anyone adopting a dog from TAW.

With the help of TAW Manager Jean Letcher, and volunteers Ann Stiles and Cindy Bucher, the training program started in May 2011. Classes were initially held in a small trailer behind the shelter but moved to the Pooches training room for additional space to accommodate more students.

According to Letcher, the program is making a difference. “It’s such a neat deal to be able to tell people about the class—especially if they are adopting their first dog. I have no doubt Beth’s classes have helped reduce our return rate,” Letcher says.

Sharp’s goal for the shelter training program is to show people how to communicate clearly with their dogs in a manner that focuses on positive motivation rather than correction-based training that might include yanking on the leash, yelling at the dog, or using prong collars and choke chain collars. “That stuff really is no fun and not terribly effective—in fact, it can actually be counter-productive to training goals,” Sharp says.

One of Sharp’s former students has nothing but praise for the free classes. Anne Lassiter adopted her Terrier mix, Woodstock, from TAW. A very fearful dog, Lassiter felt that bad experiences in Woodstock’s past had caused his issues, and she wanted to help him learn to enjoy his new life. When Lassiter and Woodstock arrived at their first class, the little dog tucked his tail, raised his hackles and immediately retreated to the space under Lassiter’s chair.

“I thought I made a mistake by bringing him, but Beth assured me that this was exactly what Woodstock needed,” Lassiter says. Sharp helped Lassiter understand that with time, training and positive experience, Woodstock could gain self-confidence. “He quickly fell in love with Beth and would not let her out of his sight,” she says. “He might be under the chair, but he was watching and learning from her.”

Sharp encouraged Lassiter to continue formal training with Woodstock following the three complimentary classes, and that’s exactly what they did. Since that time, Woodstock has graduated from four levels of training, including a trick class that required Lassiter and Woodstock to perform in a show.

“It was hard to believe the little dog I found curled up in the corner of the shelter cage was now on stage performing like a pro,” Lassiter says. “He now has boundless confidence… the transformation has been amazing, and I thank Beth for helping us get started.”

Lassiter says the jumpstart with training that Sharp provides is of vital importance during a crucial time of transition for shelter dogs. “Her gentle hand is reaching out to help, so they are not returned to the shelter before they have time to adjust to their new lives,” Lassiter says. She is certain Woodstock would not be the happy, wellbehaved dog he is today without Sharp’s assistance and encouragement. One glance at Sharp’s new group of students tells a story in itself. One dog is barking nonstop.

One dog is sitting in a corner drooling. One dog is straining at his leash, trying to visit everyone in the room. In the middle of the chaos, Beth Sharp smiles, introduces herself and dives right in, helping each owner/dog team learn how to work together. Before the hourlong class ends, the dogs have settled, the owners have relaxed and progress is underway.

When asked about her classes, Sharp’s response is immediate. “I’m having a blast doing this!” she says. “To date over 150 dogs and owners have gone through the program, and we’re adding more every month.” That’s a lot of dogs and people—past, present and future—who can be very grateful for the inspiration of a once unruly dog named Cooper and a very devoted dog trainer named Beth.

Wild Deliveries

posted March 9th, 2013 by
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by Nancy Gallimore Werhane

When you start your busy day, you take care of yourself, your family and maybe a few pets, right? When Annette Tucker starts her day, she has about 100 mouths to feed, and that’s during the “slow” season.

By title, Tucker is wildlife rehabilitator, president, director of operations and self-proclaimed head pooper scooper at Wild Heart Ranch (WHR), a state and federally licensed medical clinic, rehabilitation and pre-release care facility for all species of wildlife.

Every day, one employee and a dedicated group of volunteers join her in caring for everything from orphaned deer to a great horned owl with a sprained wing. A quick scan down the rescue group’s Facebook page also reveals a bobcat, raccoons, turtles, hawks, possums, geese, and the newest arrivals, a litter of tiny baby squirrels.

Wild heart ranch started in 1996 when Tucker moved to a small farm near Claremore, Okla. already an animal advocate, Tucker’s farm naturally became a sanctuary for numerous domestic animals in need. Then one day a friend brought her a pair of orphaned baby raccoons, and a mission was launched. Tucker discovered her passion for wildlife rehabilitation and never looked back.

For 12 years, she funded the care of more than 1,000 wild animals per year from her own pocket, working two jobs to do so. One of Tucker’s jobs was as a veterinary assistant— experience that helped her support the animals tremendously through the years.

In June of 2008, Wild heart ranch was finally established as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and became Tucker’s full-time job. With help from Wild heart’s co- founder and vice president, Sandy Brooks, Tucker’s support system grew quickly to include Veterinarian Lesleigh Cash Warren, 40 hard-working volunteers, a dedicated board of directors, generous sponsors and, of course, her family and friends.


From her start with two little masked babies, Tucker has created a safe haven where all species of wild animals can receive professional medical and supportive care with the end goal of release back into the wild whenever possible. By the end of 2012, nearly 20,000 wild animals received care at WHR.

The current relative calm at the ranch is about to be shattered. As we head into spring every year, Mother Nature turns into one giant labor and delivery room. if everything goes as planned, baby birds hatch safely, bunnies are snug in their nests, raccoons are tucked away in hollow trees, baby deer are safe hiding in the tall grass, and all receive their mothers’ expert care.

Unfortunately, sometimes Mother Nature’s plans get derailed. Each year hundreds of baby animals are orphaned and well-meaning humans try to figure out what exactly is the right thing to do for them. as Tucker and her volunteers gear up for another busy baby season, they are also working hard to educate the public about how to properly aid wildlife during this delicate time of year.

According to information provided by WHR, one of the best ways to help our wild friends is to steer clear and avoid disturbing nesting sites whenever possible. Tucker advises to think carefully before heading out to spring clean around your house. Thinking of trimming a dead tree limb? Check it first to see if it might be housing a family of raccoons or a nest of baby squirrels.

Planning to clean up an old junk pile? Look for signs of it being used as a temporary nursery. You might see little trails leading into the pile or other small signs that a family is living there. Planning to clean out your gutters? Check for active bird nests before you just sweep everything away.

But what do you do if you find that a bird or wild animal has set up a nursery on your property? “Waiting a bit to deal with the project at hand is always ideal,” Tucker says. Most young families just need a few weeks before the babies are ready to leave the nest and move on.

If your project can’t wait, talk to the experts at WHR to find out how to best deal with the situation. “Finding a nest doesn’t mean you cannot perform your task,” Tucker says. “It just means you will do things a little differently and learn a little patience to support the lives at stake.”

The first rule of thumb Tucker preaches is, whenever possible, babies are better off with their mothers. “We are happy to take in any orphan,” she says. “But it’s sad when a few weeks with mom are traded for several weeks with us.”

If you find a baby bird, returning it to the mother’s nest is ideal. “She is so much better at being a bird example to her babies than we are,” Tucker says. If you should find babies you believe to be orphaned, Tucker advises to make sure the mother is not returning to the nest before intervening. Just because you do not see her, doesn’t necessarily mean she isn’t caring for her young.

10491 S. 4190 RD.
(918) 342-WILD
[email protected]

Take mother rabbits for example. Rabbit nests are just shallow indentions in the ground lined with a bit of the mother’s fur and covered by grass. According to Tucker, rabbits only nurse their young at night and do not sit on their nests during the day because that would attract predators.

Because they are not the smartest moms when it comes to selecting a nest site, Tucker claims it is not uncommon to find a family of newborn rabbits in the middle of your back yard—yes, even if you have a dog or cat in residence.

If you want to see if the mother rabbit is still caring for her young, Tucker suggests using a bit of string or twigs to make an X on top of the nest. If you check the next morning and the X has been disturbed, you will know the mother rabbit is still on the job. She also recommends placing a tomato cage around the nest to protect the babies from family pets. The mother can still get in, but larger animals cannot.

So how do you know when to intervene in helping newborn wild animals? Tucker offers these specific guidelines to determine when it’s time for a baby to go to a wildlife rescue. Intervention is necessary for:

• A baby whose mother is known to be dead.

• A baby that is cold to the touch, injured or dehydrated.

• Any animal or bird, young or adult, which has been caught by a domestic animal. Some internal injuries and puncture wounds are not obvious, and the animal should be checked over by a professional.

• A baby whose nest cannot be located.

If you determine that you do have an orphaned animal in need of assistance, Tucker offers these instructions for ensuring the baby has the best chance of survival. “Do not feed or give milk, water or anything to any animal until you first speak with a wildlife rehabilitator,” Tucker says.

Instead she advises to get the baby secure in a small box with soft, clean, string-free bedding and then warm it slowly if it is cold. “We want them warm and calm when they arrive, so we can immediately get started helping them,” she says. Stress is a primary cause of death in baby animals, so keeping handling to a minimum is vital, no matter how cute the baby.

The first litter of baby squirrels to arrive at WHR signals the tip of the spring breeding season iceberg, and Tucker and her crew are ready. “We expect to accept between 700 and 800 orphaned animals at the ranch by this June,” she predicts.

Her ultimate hope is that instead of taking matters into their own hands, people will ask for information and assistance when dealing with wildlife. “In my world,” she says, “there are no stupid questions when it comes to helping an animal.”

Animal Cops Tulsa

posted May 15th, 2012 by
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by Nancy Gallimore Werhane

Photos by Bob Foshay

HAVE YOU EVER SEEN episodes of Animal Planet’s Animal Cop? There are versions shot in Houston, Miami, New York and Detroit. Each program shows what appear to be small armies of uni­formed authorities fighting the good fight for animal welfare.

So, what about Animal Cops: Tulsa? Meet Tim Geen, the one-man army working the field for the Tulsa Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (TSPCA). Retired from 28 years of mili­tary service, along with the Beaumont Police Department in Texas, Geen ap­propriately found his way into his new job when he rescued two puppies from the side of the highway near the TSPCA shelter. He was an acquaintance of for­mer TSPCA Cruelty Investigator Wade Farnan, who passed away in the spring of 2011. So when he took the pups to the shelter for assistance, he asked if they happened to be hiring. The answer was an enthusiastic “yes!” Eight months later, Geen hasn’t looked back once, and quite frankly, hasn’t had the time.

Having always enjoyed an active life, retirement just wasn’t suiting him. “You can only paint a room in your house and turn around to repaint the same room again the next week so many times,” Geen said with a laugh. “You mow the lawn and then wait for it to grow, so you can mow it again. That just wasn’t for me.” Now it’s a safe bet that Geen’s lawn may no longer be so well manicured. Tulsa’s animal cop, a self-proclaimed dog lover, is on the job before the sun comes up every morning and arrives home after sunset each workday. Geen not only covers Tulsa County but also every bordering county. That means long hours and a lot of miles on the road, as he fields calls for cats and dogs, horses, cattle, goats, rabbits and any animal in need.

The demand for his services is high. Geen fields an average of 100 calls a month for the TSPCA. Of those calls, he says he can generally resolve about 25 of them through phone counsel­ing. That leaves a balance of 75 cases a month that he physically visits. The math alone shows you how busy this man is. During the course of our hour-long interview, his phone rang no fewer than four times.

In addition to fielding calls and travel­ing to check on animals throughout an eight-county region, Geen also care­fully documents each case. While he is not permitted to go directly to the city district attorney (D.A.) to pursue pros­ecution on neglect and abuse cases, his careful documentation has lead to sev­eral cases being prosecuted.

“If I have a case that I feel needs to go to the D.A., I have to take my informa­tion to Tulsa Animal Welfare to pursue through legal channels,” Geen said. “I will work with them and will do any­thing I can to support prosecution if it comes to that.”

In one such case, a man was found guilty of animal abuse for first hanging his dog and then shooting it. Geen was accompanied on the call by the Tulsa police officers who helped him docu­ment the case.

“The owner admitted to shooting the dog, but denied hanging it. Of course, it was a little hard to deny since there was still a hangman’s noose around the de­ceased dog’s neck,” he said. “The case went to court, and the guy received a $150 fine and six months probation. It can be frustrating because you pursue these terrible animal abuse and cruelty cases, yet very little happens. You often see higher fines for traffic violations.”

The most common calls Geen receives are for dogs living on chains and dogs without proper food, water and shelter. He claims that most of those cases can be resolved through counseling owners and conducting careful follow-up calls, though the outcome is not always what he would like to see for the dogs in question. “There is no law in Oklahoma prohibiting people from chaining a dog, and I sure hate to see any animal living like that,” Geen said. “Sometimes, the best I can do is to make sure the dog has shelter and water within reach.”

When asked about the hardest part of his job, Geen thinks for only a moment. Injured and sick animals are obviously high on his list, but from an emotional standpoint, abandoned animals are among the hardest cases he handles. “We see a lot of confused animals—primarily dogs—left behind at rental homes with no one to care for them,” he said. “I will provide the basics for the animal while we wait to see if the owner will return to claim it.” If that doesn’t happen, Geen will remove the dog.

“The hard part is that the TSPCA shelter doesn’t always have room for every abandoned dog. If I can’t bring the dog here, I have to take it to the Tulsa Animal Welfare shelter, and I know it may have to be euthanized there,” explained Geen. The harsh reality he faces in rescuing animals is that space for them is always at a premium, and options are limited.

That means that a good deal of Geen’s time is spent finding solu­tions. “I will make calls and explore all options I can to find assistance or safe placement for an animal.” Geen has even found foster homes willing to care for livestock and has been known to foster dogs in his own home until a permanent home can be found.

For all of the hard cases Geen sees, his joy in helping animals is evident. When I asked him to show me some of the animals he had recently res­cued, his smile was quick; he imme­diately led me to the shelter clinic to visit a litter of chubby, fluffy Rottwei­ler-mix puppies. Holding the largest puppy from the litter as it enthusias­tically licked his face, Geen pointed to an adjacent yard where two other dogs stood watching.

“The big Rottweiler male is their daddy, and that Border Collie standing behind him is their mom. We were able to rescue the whole family,” Geen said with obvious delight. The dogs were removed from a home that had been raided by Tulsa police officers as a sus­pected meth lab.

“I see a lot of sad things—animals that have been injured, abused and neglect­ed. But then I go out and get to save these pups, along with their mom and dad, and it just makes me smile.” Geen is quick to add that all of the pups—now weaned and temporarily housed in quarantine while receiving vaccina­tions—are healthy and should be avail­able for adoption very soon. “Nothing makes me happier,” he said.

Our interview ended abruptly when one of the TSPCA employees tracked us down to give Geen information on a call that had just come in, reporting a horse caught in a fence along the Will Rogers Turnpike. Geen was up, on his phone and headed to his car in an in­stant.

As he took off on yet another case, it was obvious that Geen has found his perfect “retirement” career. “I wouldn’t trade this job for any other job at any price,” he said. “I will keep doing what I’m doing until they run me off—I love my critters.”

Invisible Dogs

posted March 15th, 2012 by
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by Nancy Gallimore Werhane

It was an exciting day at my house— the day I got to pet my foster dogs. This may not sound like a momentous occasion to most people, but those who have rehabilitated a seriously shy or under-socialized dog realize it’s a pretty big step.

My foster dogs are a pair of 4-yearold Dalmatians that were rescued from a puppy mill in Missouri and have no concept of life as a companion animal. Dubbed Jack and Jill, the two actually climbed onto my bed today and let me reach over to pet them. I could not face them directly, and I could not stand up, but we actually had a moment where my touch wasn’t such a terrible thing.

Training sessions on my bed? Well, not what I had planned, but if it works, I’ll run with it. Every dog is different, making every training plan a puzzle to be solved.

There are a number of factors that can cause certain dogs to be shy. For some, it can be blamed on a lack of proper early socialization. Puppies are like little sponges during the first 16 weeks of life. Dogs not properly exposed to human handling as young puppies will have a much harder time assimilating into our world as companion animals.

Dogs that experience stress can also become shy. A stray dog may learn that humans can’t be trusted. A dog in a shelter environment may start to withdraw. And of course, dogs that have experienced abuse or neglect may also become quite timid.

Then, there are genetics. Just as some people have a natural tendency toward shyness, so do some dogs. You can have a litter in which each of the puppies has been raised with the same level of socialization and interaction, but some of the pups might be shy while others are quite outgoing. Whatever the root cause, our shrinking violet dogs are often misunderstood and can be a source of frustration and embarrassment to their owners.

Truth be told, humans tend to be a bit narrow-minded when it comes to communicating with dogs. Usually our intentions are good, but our dog communication skills are often quite clumsy. While most dogs take it all in stride, shy dogs can find the human approach to friendship very overwhelming and confusing.

When humans meet, direct eye contact is expected. We tend to stand squarely facing each other. We immediately grab each other’s hand for a firm shake. It’s all very direct and considered polite.

Now look at things from the dog’s point of view. The average dog generally stands a couple of feet tall or less. Human strangers tower overhead. To greet a dog, well-meaning humans generally move straight toward the dog while bending forward at the waist, staring directly into the dog’s eyes and talking in a loud, high-pitched babble. Then toss in a hand immediately reaching out for a too-much-too-soonpat on the head.

So, when the shy dog backpedals and looks more than a little panicked, what do we do? Well, most people either scold the dog, drag it back toward the newcomer by the leash or collar, or a lovely combination of both. At the same time, the newcomer loudly proclaims that “dogs just love me” and proceeds to try even harder to make the dog submit to attention.

When you consider the dog’s perspective, it’s a giant recipe for disaster, isn’t it? A truly fearful dog who feels trapped and threatened might even resort to growling or barking at the stranger in an attempt to end the confrontation.

So, what to do? How can we help our shy dogs come out of their shells to learn to accept and, hopefully, enjoy socializing with our species?

First, be your shy dog’s champion. Understand your dog’s personality and work to help shift the perception from “new person equals scary” to “new person equals safe interactions and reward.”

Be prepared to explain to people interested in meeting your dog that he or she is a bit shy. Ask them to not acknowledge the dog for a few minutes, so your dog has a chance to smell the new person from a safe distance beside you. If possible, ask the new person to squat down or sit down at an angle to the dog. If the dog chooses to move forward to sniff the newcomer, let that happen without any attempt to interact with the dog. Just give the dog a little space and time to feel secure.

If you see signs that your dog is relaxing, you may want to just stop there. The dog has had a good experience and is starting to feel at ease around a new person. Resist the temptation to ruin that progress by moving forward with too much contact too quickly.

Let the dog move casually away from the new person and quietly praise the dog. By remaining calm yourself, you are setting the stage for your dog to remain calm and happy as well.

Another great tool in helping a shy dog gain confidence is to enlist the aid of another dog. In my experience, most people-shy dogs are good around other dogs. If your shy dog enjoys interacting with other dogs, enlist the aid of a friend with a confident, friendly dog to serve as a good role model. Take the two dogs out to socialize together. Ask people to pet and pay attention to the confident dog while pretending the shy dog is invisible. Just let the shy dog observe the interaction with no pressure to join in.

After a few outings, you may find that the shy dog will start approaching new people along with the confident dog. As this starts to happen, remember the “don’t overdo it” rule. Perhaps let the shy dog sniff the newcomer and maybe have the stranger offer both dogs a treat. End the interaction at this point, again walking away in a calm, matter-of-fact manner.

My shy dog duo is particularly fond of my personal dog, Howie. Howie is a very social, easy-going dog. By petting and playing with Howie, I’ve been able to start including Jack and Jill in the fun. Howie is the best teacher I have for these two dogs.

Formal training with your shy dog is another great way to boost confidence. A group class can provide a learning opportunity where no one dog is the center of attention, allowing a shy dog to blend into the class. If you do choose to take a group class with your dog, be sure to let your instructor know about your dog’s issues, so he or she can adjust lessons accordingly.

For some dogs, however, a busy training school might be too overwhelming. If your dog walks into a training facility and shuts down or panics, perhaps you should contact a trainer for a one-on-one private session. No matter where you train, make sure the methods employed focus on positive motivation training to help boost your dog’s confidence in a fun, engaging manner.

The more you can teach your dog, the more tools you have for helping your dog cope in uncomfortable situations. For example, if you are out for a walk and a neighbor comes to greet you, ask your dog to sit and stay by your side. You have now given your dog a “job” to focus on instead of allowing it to worry about the stranger standing nearby. When you release your dog from the stay, offer lots of calm praise and perhaps even have your visitor casually hand or toss a treat to your dog. This gives your dog a positive association with your neighbor and rewards appropriate behavior.

Another fun exercise I use in working with shy dogs is the touch game. Extend your flat palm to your dog. Most dogs will sniff your hand out of curiosity. When your dog sniffs your hand, or touches it, praise the dog and immediately offer a treat. Then, repeat. Pretty soon you will see that your dog quickly touches its nose to your extended palm when you give the verbal cue “touch.”

Once your dog catches on, you can move your hand from place to place in front of you, beside you and even behind. The dog will enjoy the fun interaction.

This game can then become a tool to use with a friendly stranger. Have a visitor sit and, without staring at the dog or trying to touch the dog, offer a palm in front of the dog and give the “touch” cue. The beauty of this game is that the dog gets to initiate the contact. Keep it simple, short and positive. Hopefully, you will soon see your dog feeling more comfortable around newcomers.

These ideas are just a few of a number of ways you can work to socialize your shy dog. Most importantly, vow to stay patient and, please, always obey the shy dog golden rule: Do not force your shy dog into the spotlight. As much as you want your dog to be social, and as much as people want to win your dog’s affection, trying to force your dog to like new people will almost always backfire.

As for my extremely shy foster dogs, training sessions on my bed with the help of mentor dog, Howie, continue. I look forward to helping them understand that people are a source of good things. In the meantime, I will celebrate every touch and every small step forward.

Fostering for Success

posted November 15th, 2011 by
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by Nancy Gallimore Werhane

So, I just walked into my living room, and there was no place for me to sit down. Every possible surface was covered with snoozing dogs. I wish I could tell you this is an unusual sight for me, but it’s not. I have a lot of dogs. A lot.

No, I am not going to appear on the next episode of Animal Hoarders. At least, I sure hope not. A good number of the aforementioned couch-hogs are not mine — they are my foster dogs. They are my very welcome, temporary canine guests who are staying in our home until the perfect adoptive family comes along to give them a permanent home of their own.

Standing there wondering how and when I might be allowed to relax on my own couch, it did dawn on me that there might be a little flaw in my fostering plan. Dogs free-range in the house and on the furniture… Hmmm…. What if a great prospective home comes along that prefers dogs stay off the furniture? (All of my dogs just gave a huge collective shudder.)

Fostering homeless dogs is a great thing to do. No, this is not me patting myself on the back. This is me patting myself, and a huge number of dedicated people in our area, on the back. The ability to house rescued dogs in private foster homes helps relieve the strain on crowded shelters. It helps non-profit groups save more deserving animals while saving the expense of boarding fees. And for the animals fostered? It lets us learn as much as possible about their temperament and habits, while also getting a jump start on important training. Oh… we’re supposed to be training them.

Ok, I am selling myself a bit short. I do work with my foster dogs to integrate them into normal home life, although I am not sure you can call anything at my house normal. Jim, my ever-patient partner in life and fostering, and I do teach our foster dogs that they should potty outside. We teach them that a dog crate is really just their own private room. We teach them that sitting politely will earn them a cookie. But is that enough? Perhaps not.

According to Amy Hoagland, volunteer with Pet Adoption League (PAL), the most common reason dogs are returned to the rescue is because they are not housetrained. Additional complaints include destructive behavior and/or a lack of manners.

Time for a tiny soapbox moment here. It makes me a tad bit crazy when I am approached by people who want to rescue a dog, but would like one that is housetrained, behaves perfectly in all situations, doesn’t need to use a crate, heels on walks, and if it could make the morning coffee that would be great, too.

Really? Oh yes, dogs just like that are turning up in shelters and rescue programs every single day.  And now I’ll hop back down now. Truth be told, anything a foster volunteer can do to jumpstart a rescued dog’s training is a great thing. It’s part of the job and, hopefully, part of the fun.

Hoagland says that in addition to housetraining, her foster home wish list includes crate training and a routine feeding schedule (no free-feeding!).

“It’s also important for foster families to help socialize the dog and teach it good basic manners — things such as no jumping up on people, not allowing begging from the table and walking nicely on a leash,” says Hoagland. “Instilling routines and boundaries during the foster process will help the dog succeed when it gets to its new home.”

I decided that I should create a pro/con list of sorts for my foster dogs.  If you know a dog’s strengths and, let’s call them “areas in need of improvement,” then you can devise an adoption-focused training plan. Let’s take a look at one of my dogs in waiting.     Meet Suzy. Found stray outside of a convenience store, she is a young mixed breed dog. So mixed, in fact, I can’t really even decide what breeds came together through the generations to create her. She’s about two years old and has a great temperament.  A great candidate for adoption, right? But, she has not yet found that perfect home, so let’s take a closer look at Suzy, and the things I could do to improve her potential.

Pros: Suzy is young, friendly, good around children and good with other dogs. She is housetrained. She will stay in a crate without fussing. She is a nice, medium size and has a short coat that requires little grooming.  She is out of the puppy destructive phase, and she’s very sweet and playful.

Cons: Well, yes, she gets on the furniture. Not a con at my house, but perhaps not what someone else would want. She is housetrained, but accustomed to using a dog door. Without the convenience of a dog door? Well, I’m not sure she understands to cross her legs and whine at the door.

Finally, and perhaps odd for the con list, she’s friendly. Really friendly. When you meet Suzy for the first time, she acts as though you are her long lost best friend. To put it simply, she goes a little (…OK, a lot)  nuts.

On the scale of cons, being overly-friendly may not seem like such a big deal. Friendly is, after all, good. Suzy, however, is bouncy, squealing, jump-all-over-you friendly.  Frankly, it can be a bit overwhelming.

To do my sweet foster girl justice, I need to teach her a few more skills to help her find and stay in a loving, permanent home. The housetraining issue just requires that I designate a few key times throughout the day and evening to take Suzy out the back door and then praise her for doing her business outside. I will crate her at night, so I can take her straight out the door in the morning. I can start a potty routine with her instead of letting her come and go as she pleases, via the dog door.

As for the crazy greeting ritual, a little creative training is in order. Suzy’s intentions are good, she just needs a bit of work on her mode of expression. In the positive training world, the best way to stop a dog from doing a behavior you don’t like is to pick a behavior you do like that is incompatible with the undesired behavior. So, for a dog that is jumping up on people, you teach her to sit for attention. The dog soon learns that jumping up does not get attention, and sitting does.

For a dog that is as enthusiastic about her greeting ritual as Suzy is, just teaching her to sit for hello may not be totally effective. In addition to sit for hello, I am going to teach her a few fun tricks that will allow her to interact and receive attention, but in a fashion that is not only appropriate, but also endearing. Suzy is going to learn to high five, perhaps to sit up and wave or maybe to turn in circles on request — all ways to burn enthusiasm without knocking someone over.

I will also teach Suzy to “hug.” Often, when you put an undesirable behavior on cue, you can control it and give it an on/off switch. By teaching Suzy to “hug” on command, she will learn to do it only on cue, and I will be able to tell her when it’s time to stop.

I think this is a good solution because Suzy really loves to hug, and I really enjoy hugging her back. Anyone who doesn’t want a huggable dog should not adopt Suzy. Actually, I really believe that anyone who doesn’t want a huggable dog shouldn’t adopt a dog at all. Food for thought.

OK, back to the situation in my living room. Well, truth be told, I am going to continue to allow my dogs on the furniture. I truly enjoy having them relax there with me. I’m not going to tell my foster dogs otherwise, but my compromise is that I do teach every dog the “off” cue. So, while I am not teaching them to stay off the couch, I am giving prospective owners the ability to ask the dog to move off of prime seating when necessary. If anyone out there is interested in adopting Suzy, or any of my foster dogs, just know that if you don’t care to share your couch, then you’re going to have a little bit of work to do. My guess is that Suzy’s beautiful brown eyes just might change your mind.


Understanding Tapeworms Like It or Not

posted July 15th, 2011 by
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By Nancy Gallimore Werhane

If you are squeamish, this may not be the article for you. Fair warning. But if you are a concerned pet owner, this is a topic you need to understand, so steel yourself and read on because frankly, your veterinarian may need your help to diagnose this one.

The topic? The mysterious tapeworm. Also formally known as the disgusting tapeworm.

So why in the world should we even discuss this parasite? You take your cats and dogs to the veterinarian for checkups, right? Your veterinarian checks for things like this. Right? Well, here’s the ugly truth. While your veterinarian can screen your pets for many intestinal parasites like hookworms, roundworms and whipworms, the sneaky tapeworm evades detection in standard screenings.

How then, you may ask, is your pet diagnosed with tapeworms? Good question. Otherwise healthy dogs or cats may have tapeworm infections with no outward symptoms. That means detection often comes when you actually see them. Yes, you. Yes, see them. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Ok, let’s sort this out. Perhaps it’s best to start at the end. Literally. Tapeworms are most often diagnosed when someone notices what appear to be little white worms either in a pet’s stool or left behind where the dog or cat was sitting. The most common description is that they look like little pieces of squirming white rice. They might also be diagnosed by the discovery of what appears to be little grains of dried brown rice or seeds around the dog or cat’s anus. Why we compare both to food items is hard to fathom, but there you have it.

According to Dr. Dennis Henson of Hammond Animal Hospital in Tulsa, these little pieces are not the actual worms, but are segments of an adult tapeworm. “As the tapeworm matures,” explained Dr. Henson, “ it drops tail segments called proglottids, that are mobile. Each proglottid is a separate reproductive unit that contains the eggs of the tapeworm. These egg packets then pass in the feces of the dog or cat.”

That’s what makes tapeworm detection a bit tricky. With other parasites, the eggs shed directly in the animal’s feces.

Because the tapeworm eggs shed so neatly packaged, unless the segments disintegrate first, which rarely happens, they don’t show up in a traditional fecal test. The culprit in the spread of the most common form of tapeworm found in our pets is the common flea. Unlike other parasites, tapeworms require an intermediate host to complete their reproductive cycle. So here’s the Reader’s

Digest version of how it works:

  • A flea larvae eats fecal matter that contains tapeworm eggs.
  • The eggs hatch inside the flea and become cysticercoids.
  • A dog or cat may then swallow a flea that contains these cysticercoids.
  • The flea passes into the dog or cat’s intestine where it is broken down, releasing the cysticercoids.
  • The cysticercoids then develop into adult tapeworms that attach to the lining of the animal’s intestine and feed off the nutrients.

This is where we come full circle back to the part where the segments containing the eggs shed and the cycle is allowed to start all over again. Isn’t nature fun?

You may think your pet is safe because you religiously follow a flea prevention routine and don’t have fleas in your home environment. According to Dr. Henson, yes, that helps, but it does not guarantee that your pet will not be infested by tapeworms. “Your pet only has to swallow one infected flea,” said Henson. “A dog who goes for a walk where other animals have been or a cat who strays from its own yard can easily ingest a flea even with flea preventatives in use.”

There is also another type of tapeworm that is transmitted through small rodents, such as mice, rats, squirrels or rabbits, that serve as the intermediate host. If you have a hunter in your midst — and what dog or cat won’t occasionally partake of a “natural diet” when opportunity presents itself — then you have yet another avenue for the tapeworm to find its way into your pet’s intestinal tract.

According to Dr. Henson, there is some good news here. First, unless left unchecked for a very long period of time, tapeworms don’t generally cause a lot of damage in pets. Second, because they must have a very specific intermediate host, tapeworms cannot be transmitted directly from pet to pet or through contact with infected feces. Without a proper host, the tapeworm just can’t exist. It’s hard to imagine, but if your pet must have a parasite, the tapeworm may be the best of the pack. Of course that doesn’t mean we love them. We don’t. So let’s discuss how to get rid of them.

Dr. Henson advises that most over-the-counter worm treatments are not effective for tapeworms. He suggests you call your veterinarian to report your find. “Today’s treatment for tapeworms is simple and effective,” said Henson. “The medication we prescribe causes the tapeworm to lose its protective layer and it is simply digested. You will not see them pass, they just basically disappear.”

The most common medication prescribed is called Droncit® and it comes in the form of a chewable tablet that is apparently quite tasty to pets. Problem solved.

Oh, and in case you are worried, apparently humans rarely get tapeworms. It is possible that you could swallow a flea, and yes, you could get a tapeworm that way, but humans are more likely to come down with a species of tapeworm that is passed through raw or undercooked meat or fish. Just a little something to think about as you sit down to enjoy that next round of sushi or sashimi. Still rare, people. Don’t panic.

So all in all, while tapeworms are truly disgusting, on the scale of parasitic infections, they do rank as fairly harmless. Now take your new knowledge, go forth and watch your pet do number two. Your veterinarian is counting on you.