When veterans return from combat, many can’t leave behind the terrors they witnessed. In the U.S., roughly 22 veterans commit suicide every day — or one every 65 minutes — according to a report by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The psychological pain of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) breaks up relationships, ends jobs and causes depression and other issues. To help manage the haunting memories and pain, some veterans have found respite in four-legged treatment. Trained service dogs have helped some veterans return to their lives after combat.
The documentary “To Be of Service” follows several American veterans of wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Vietnam and the dogs that help them cope with PTSD. The film was directed by Josh Aronson, known for the Oscar-nominated documentary “Sound and Fury” about deaf families.
Many of the veterans in the documentary had turned to medications, alcohol or illegal drugs to try to cope with life after combat. But the film shows how having to care for a dog gave them a sense of a purpose and an ever-present friend.
‘I had to tell these stories’
Glen Moody rarely left his house before being paired with Indy. (Photo: ‘To Be of Service’)
The documentary follows nearly a dozen veterans including Glen Moody, who was a Navy Corpsman stationed with the Marines in Iraq. He never got into a fight in his life before he was deployed, but he returned an adrenaline junkie. He would get into bar brawls and ride his motorcycle drunk at 100 mph. He was heavily meditated to treat his PTSD, but never went out, eventually losing all his friends.
“They spend millions to make us warriors but not near enough to teach us to return home,” Moody says.
After being paired with service dog Indy, his rage and anxiety has started to subside. He has made friends again and he rides his motorcycle “like an adult,” he says.
It’s stories like this that prompted producer Julie Sayres to get involved. She has been writing about and working with veterans for the past several years.
“I began to imagine how unsafe a veteran struggling with physical and emotional trauma must feel upon returning from war, to a world that doesn’t have a clue what he or she has endured. It’s isolating and terrifying, leading to never leaving the house, excessive drinking or drug use and in many cases, suicide. I began to explore what these amazing service dogs do to mitigate this kind of anguish,” said Sayres.
“I’ve seen men and women come back to life after letting a dog into their life. I’ve seen families come together after the black cloud of despair is lifted from their father, mother, daughter or son. I had to tell these stories.”
Currently, the film is scheduled for screenings in about a dozen cities, but more will likely be added. To find a screening near you or to find out how to schedule a community or educational screening, check out the film’s website.
Here’s a tissue-worthy peek at what to expect:
I have said it before and no doubt that I will say it again many times: A dog is without doubt man’s best friend!
I was blown away by the results. Using their own search facility I put in the word ‘dog’ and received 313 responses. Top of the list were the two articles that I just mentioned.
But first a word about the Association. As their History page very comprehensively says (just a small extract from me):
Before the American Heart Association existed, people with heart disease were thought to be doomed to complete bed rest — or destined to imminent death.
But a handful of pioneering physicians and social workers believed it didn’t have to be that way. They conducted studies to learn more about heart disease, America’s No. 1 killer. Then, on June 10, 1924, they met in Chicago to form the American Heart Association — believing that scientific research could lead the way to better treatment, prevention and ultimately a cure. The early American Heart Association enlisted help from hundreds, then thousands, of physicians and scientists.
“We were living in a time of almost unbelievable ignorance about heart disease,” said Paul Dudley White, one of six cardiologists who founded the organization.
In 1948, the association reorganized, transforming from a professional scientific society to a nationwide voluntary health organization composed of science and lay volunteers and supported by professional staff.
Since then, the AHA has grown rapidly in size and influence — nationally and internationally — into an organization of more than 33 million volunteers and supporters dedicated to improving heart health and reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
Here is a timeline of American Heart Association milestones in more than 90 years of lifesaving history:
As dog lovers have long suspected, owning a canine companion can be good for you. In fact, two recent studies and analyses published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, a scientific journal of the American Heart Association, suggest your four-legged friend may help you do better after a heart attack or stroke and may help you live a longer, healthier life. And that’s great news for dog parents!
Dog owners have better results after a major health event.
The studies found that, overall, dog owners tend to live longer than non-owners. And they often recover better from major health events such as heart attack or stroke, especially if they live alone.
Some exciting stats for dog owners:
Heart attack survivors living by themselves had a 33% reduced risk of death if they owned a dog, while survivors living with someone else (a partner or child) had a 15% reduced risk.
Stroke survivors living by themselves had a 27% reduced risk of death if they owned a dog, while survivors living with someone else (a partner or child) had a 12% reduced risk.
Dog owners are 31% less likely to die from a heart attack or stroke than non-dog owners.
Interacting with dogs can boost your production of “happy hormones” such as oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. This can lead to a greater sense of well-being and help lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. And having a dog can help lower blood pressure and cholesterol, ease depression and improve fitness.
Studies show that people who walk their dogs get significantly more exercise than those who don’t. And there’s a bonus: our pets can also help us feel less social anxiety and interact more with other humans. Maybe that’s why dog owners report less loneliness, depression and social isolation.
Make the most of dog ownership.
Here are some tips to make the most of your four-legged companion time:
Playing and interacting with your pooch will bring the most health benefits for both of you.
Get out with your pet. Not only are the walks good for both of you, you may find yourself meeting other dog owners in your area. And socializing can be a good thing!
Some dogs love to travel. Research pet-friendly hotels so you and your furry friend can have all sorts of adventures together.
Everybody loves a good snuggle. Give lots of scratches behind the ears, belly rubs or good old-fashioned head pats. The more you love your pet, the more they’ll love you back.
The second is also very recent, about the findings from Sweden.
Here’s more evidence your dog might lengthen your life
By American Heart Association News
Letting your health go to the dogs might turn out to be a great idea: New research bolsters the association between dog ownership and longer life, especially for people who have had heart attacks or strokes.
Earlier studies have shown dog ownership alleviates social isolation, improves physical activity and lowers blood pressure. The new work builds on that, said Dr. Glenn N. Levine, who led a committee that wrote a 2013 report about pet ownership for the American Heart Association.
“While these non-randomized studies cannot prove that adopting or owning a dog directly leads to reduced mortality, these robust findings are certainly at least suggestive of this,” he said in a news release.
The two new studies were published Tuesday in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
One study, from Sweden, compared dog owners and non-owners after a heart attack or stroke. Records of nearly 182,000 people who’d had heart attacks and nearly 155,000 people who’d had strokes were examined. Dog ownership was confirmed with data from the Swedish Board of Agriculture, where registration of dog ownership has been mandatory since 2001, and the Swedish Kennel Club, where pedigree dogs have been registered since 1889.
When compared with people who didn’t own dogs, owners who lived alone had a 33% lower risk of dying after being hospitalized for a heart attack. For dog owners who lived with a partner or child, the risk was 15% lower.
Dog-owning stroke survivors saw a similar benefit. The risk of death after hospitalization for those who lived alone was 27% lower. It was 12% lower if they lived with a partner or child.
What’s behind the canine advantage?
“We know that social isolation is a strong risk factor for worse health outcomes and premature death,” said study co-author Dr. Tove Fall, a doctor of veterinary medicine and a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden. “Previous studies have indicated that dog owners experience less social isolation and have more interaction with other people. Furthermore, keeping a dog is a good motivation for physical activity, which is an important factor in rehabilitation and mental health.”
Compared to non-owners, dog owners had a 24% reduced risk of dying from any cause; a 31% reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular-related issues; and a 65% reduced risk dying after a heart attack.
The study did not account for factors such as better fitness or an overall healthier lifestyle that could be associated with dog ownership, said co-author Dr. Caroline Kramer, an endocrinologist and clinician scientist at Leadership Sinai Centre for Diabetes at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto. “The results, however, were very positive.”
As a dog owner herself, Kramer said adopting her miniature Schnauzer, Romeo, “increased my steps and physical activity each day, and he has filled my daily routine with joy and unconditional love.”
Tove, however, cautioned more research needs to be done before people are prescribed dogs for health reasons. “Moreover, from an animal welfare perspective, dogs should only be acquired by people who feel they have the capacity and knowledge to give the pet a good life.”
If you have questions or comments about this story, please email email@example.com.
American Heart Association News Stories
American Heart Association News covers heart disease, stroke and related health issues. Not all views expressed in American Heart Association News stories reflect the official position of the American Heart Association.
HEALTH CARE DISCLAIMER: This site and its services do not constitute the practice of medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always talk to your health care provider for diagnosis and treatment, including your specific medical needs. If you have or suspect that you have a medical problem or condition, please contact a qualified health care professional immediately. If you are in the United States and experiencing a medical emergency, call 911 or call for emergency medical help immediately.
When Shauna Darcy first brought Ruby home, the plan was to have Ruby act as a service dog to help her with anxiety, depression and agoraphobia. Ruby was an incredible service dog and companion from the very beginning — and quickly showed Darcy just how far she would go to help her.
“While she was training to be a service dog I noticed that she started picking up on changes in my heart rate and would act funny — for example, paw at me, try to get my attention, get on top of me, etc.,” Darcy told The Dodo.
Picking up on Ruby’s cues, Darcy went to the doctor and discovered she had health issues she hadn’t known about, including a rare heart condition called vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. Ruby had known something was wrong even before Darcy did, and her main focus as a service dog quickly switched to Darcy’s cardiac issues.
Every day, Ruby helps her mom with things like monitoring her heart rate and blood pressure, helping her during panic attacks and retrieving emergency medications. She also carries groceries, picks up dropped items and gets things her mom can’t reach, and is trained in deep pressure therapy.
“When I pass out she gets on top of me and applies all her pressure on me and licks my hands and face until I come around,” Darcy said.
Ruby is there for her mom every single day — even when she doesn’t realize she needs her.
Last week, when Ruby started alerting her mom that something was wrong, she had no idea why. At that point, Darcy was feeling fine, but decided to trust Ruby and call an ambulance anyway, just in case.
“It turns out my heart was going into atrial fibrillation,” Darcy said. “By the time the paramedics came, I was in pain and barely conscious.”
As the paramedics rushed Darcy to the hospital, she realized that Ruby had saved her life that day.
While Darcy was in the hospital and the doctors worked to get her stable again, Ruby refused to leave her mom’s side. Even while Darcy was unconscious, Ruby lay in her hospital bed, pressed up against her, hoping her mom could sense she was there and that her presence would make her feel safe.
During their stay at the hospital, so many people stopped by to meet Ruby. She’s always very popular whenever she and her mom are at the hospital and loves saying hi to everyone — but also makes sure that she’s never too far away from her mom. She loves her so much, and her mom loves her just as much right back.
Without Ruby, Darcy’s life would be very different. Ruby helps her mom stay healthy and safe every single day, and her mom is so grateful for everything she’s done for her.
“I wouldn’t be alive without her,” Darcy said.
“I wouldn’t be alive without her,”
I’m emboldening that last statement.
This is a wonderful story.
For Darcy has articulated what millions of other dog lovers know in their hearts. That the relationship between a dog and a human is extra special!
When I take a walk with that little fluff ball of a foster puppy above, we don’t get very far. It’s not because Galen is blind. It’s because everyone wants to stop and pet him because he’s so darn cute.
I’m fostering Galen for Speak! St. Louis, a rescue that specializes in blind and/or deaf dogs. He’s my second special needs foster puppy. My first, Whibbles Magoo, was blind and deaf, which was a little more challenging. Both of them are double merles. Merle is a beautiful mottled pattern in a dog’s coat. Some disreputable breeders will breed two merles together hoping to get merle puppies. Those puppies have a 25% chance of being double merle — which results in a predominantly white coat and usually means they have hearing or vision loss or both.
As I’ve been talking to potential adopters, there have been so many questions about how to prepare for a blind dog. It’s like getting ready for a sighted pup, but with a little extra special planning.
Create a safe zone
Whether your new blind pal is a puppy or an adult dog, you’ll want to make an area for him where he feels safe. It should be a place where he can’t hurt himself or anything in your home and where he feels comfortable. Some people gate off a room in their homes or use a pen and crate.
I work from home, so Galen has a metal exercise pen surrounding a crate in my office. He can sprawl out or play in his pen or sleep in his crate. He has toys and there’s plenty of room for him to do what he wants, but he can’t gnaw on baseboards or electrical cords. At night, I put him in the crate to sleep.
Blind-proof your home and yar
Look for any sharp edges or stairs where your pup could get into trouble. Install baby gates to block off rooms or staircases. A recent applicant climbed around her home on her hands and knees to see what perils might be at Galen’s level.
Consider using carpet runners and mats to define specific areas. At our house, there’s one at the back door, one near the kitchen and a runner that goes down the hallway to the office. When I recently cleaned the kitchen floor and picked up the mats, Galen stood frozen and confused in the room as if his world was turned upside-down. When I placed the mats back down, he raced around again, now that everything had returned to normal.
Similarly, make sure your yard doesn’t have any hazards and is securely fenced. If you have a pool, fountain or electrical outlets, be sure they are puppy-proofed with fences, gates or locks. Walk your dog on a leash for the first few days and stay nearby after that until you know he has the yard mapped. Once he does, you’ll be amazed at how deftly he will navigate. Galen zooms around the yard, avoiding bushes and fences, gleefully running at full speed.
Resist the urge to move things around. Keep the things at dog eye-level where they are so as not to confuse your dog. Your pet will learn landmarks and maneuver around them, quickly learning the locations of doors, walls, furniture and anything that could potentially be in his way. Be careful about remembering to push in chairs or ottomans after using them so they don’t become new obstacles.
Work on training
It’s always smart to take training classes with a new dog, but especially important to work on training with a special-needs pup. It’s key that you have a strong bond, and working on games and commands is an excellent way to get there. One of the first commands to teach is “watch!” whenever your dog is about to get too close to something like a wall, a bush or even your legs. You’ll find that soon he’ll put on the brakes when you say it.
When a dog doesn’t have one sense, his other senses are often heightened. He may be really tuned in to smells so you might want to try playing games that use stinky treats to get his attention. (I use soft treats that I can cut up in small pieces like venison and even watermelon-flavored dog treats.) Using a snuffle mat is also a good way to serve meals because it works on your dog’s sense of smell. It’s a homemade toy that lets them use their noses to sniff for treats or their dinner.
A note on scents and devices
If you research blind dogs, you’ll find suggestions that you mark certain areas of your home with unique scents. Maybe the back door is marked with a drop of vanilla and your pet’s feeding area has a dash of peppermint. But your dog’s sense of smell is remarkable and he’ll be able to smell his water (and food!) and he’ll quickly figure out the back door and bed and toys. Everything already has its own special smell. One story I read suggested that an owner always wear the same body lotion or perfume, but as a rescue friend pointed out: We all have our own personal odor. Your dog isn’t going to get you confused with anyone else.
You will likely also hear about devices like halos — which are sturdy circular loops that hook onto a dog’s collar, encircling his head to keep him from bumping into things. Some people in the special-needs world say this keeps dogs from learning spacial recognition and some dogs just “freeze,” not wanting to move when this unwieldy device is attached to their heads.
I’ve found that Galen is actually pretty careful. He doesn’t go barreling full force in areas he doesn’t know. Occasionally when he’s playing hard with Brodie, he might lose his bearings and bump into the couch or forget that’s where the toybox is. But all puppies do that when they’re caught up in the heat of the moment. Dogs, and especially puppies, are incredibly resilient. He shakes it off and jumps back into the wrestling match.
But it all depends on the dog and the owner. If your dog is tentative in new places and doesn’t like to explore when he’s unsure, you may find that these aides help. You may decide that you like the idea of scent mapping and using a halo, but I’d suggest letting your dog figure it out by himself first.
If your dog has very limited vision, some vets suggests doggie sunglasses like Doggles. It helps with light sensitivity when they are out in bright sunlight. Plus, they can help protect your dog’s eyes if he bumps into things, and it just looks really cool. Like anything new — a collar, harness or even a leash — it will take a while for your dog to get used to wearing something new, so be patient.
Get ready to talk … a lot
Because your blind dog can’t see you, you’ll need to let him know where you are in different ways. The easiest way is by talking.
When we take a walk, Galen will bump into me every few feet to check in. He used to try to weave between my legs to keep track of me to make sure I was still there. My trainer friend suggested I carry a bell, but I found that it’s just as easy to keep up a running conversation with him. He seems to like it and has his ears constantly going back and forth as he’s listening to my reassuring stream of babble.
In addition to saying “watch!” I say “step up” and “step down” to navigate curbs. I tell people he is blind when they want to approach him and pet him so a strange hand doesn’t just come at him out of the blue. Then when he hears someone cooing to him, his tail and his whole rear ends starts wagging with joy.
Even if you’re not a chatty person, you’ll likely find yourself talking more with a blind dog in the house. When you leave the room, it’s a good idea to call out to your four-legged pal so he knows where you went. I’ve found that Galen listens much more intently to me than Brodie, who has definitely learned to tune me out unless I’m saying something about treats or dinner.
You might want to leave on some music or the TV for your blind dog when you’re not home. Also, try squeaky toys that make noise. In our house, the louder the toy, the more enticing it is
Size up your pets
If you have other pets in your home, consider their personalities and how accepting they’ll be to a new blind family member. My long-suffering dog Brodie doesn’t love that we have a parade of foster puppies in and out of the house, but he tolerates them with incredible patience.
A blind dog can’t pick up on warning signs like pinned-back ears from a fellow canine or a twitching cat tail that mean it’s a good idea to back off. How would your current pet feel if a blind dog bumps into him or stumbles upon his favorite toy or food dish? If he’s snapped at in those situations, a sight-impaired pup won’t have any idea what he did wrong.
Even if you have a laid-back pet, always keep an eye on him around your new addition. It can take a few weeks for everybody to figure out their spot in the family.
If you aren’t sure if your pets or your family are a good fit for a blind dog, check with a trainer or a vet you respect.
Sometimes, you’ll have to count to 10. For me, the laces of my new sneakers were mistaken for a chew toy and have lost their fancy tips. Searching for me in the yard, Galen came racing at me mouth open and collided with my shins, leaving a puppy-tooth puncture wound. He’s afraid to walk down stairs (imagine how scary it must be to take that step into nothingness) so I’m still carrying all 18 pounds of him down the steps many times each day. It’s a great workout but not so great for my lower back.
But man, is he awesome. I’m amazed every day how happy he is and how much he loves everything and everyone. Squeaky toy! Person! Snuggle! Grass! Just because he can’t see something doesn’t mean he doesn’t adore it. When you add a blind dog to your life, you’ll be amazed at how much it opens your eyes to the wonder in the world.
This was an excellent article, not only for blind dogs but also for the partially-sighted. So much better to care for them than the alternative!
PUBLISHED ON 09/13/2019
To Loijuk the elephant, nothing is more important than family — especially now that she is starting one of her own.
In 2006, the orphaned elephant was found all alone at only 5 months old, and was rescued by the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) in Kenya. She was hand-raised by SWT until she was old enough to return to the wild.
Years have passed, but Loijuk still has a close bond with her human family. She returns to the grounds of the sanctuary every month to visit. But in September, Loijuk surprised her former caretakers with a newborn elephant calf in tow.
It was clear the proud elephant mom couldn’t wait to show off her baby. The calf, who has since been named Lili, was only hours old — likely born only the night before.
Loijuk has never forgotten the kindness of those who helped her. She even invited Benjamin Kyalo, the head keeper, to have a special moment with her newborn calf.
“Benjamin was able to get close to Lili (who nestled into his legs), stroke her delicate newborn skin and breathe into her trunk, thereby letting her know who he was via his scent,” Rob Brandford, executive director of SWT, told The Dodo. “Elephants have an incredible memory and sense of smell and our keepers will often breathe into the orphans’ trunks so they can recognize who they are.”
You can watch a video of Loijuk and Lili’s touching visit here:
Lili was quite wobbly on her feet during the meeting, but over the course of the week, Kyalo watched as she got stronger and stronger.
“Loijuk has stayed close to the area around the unit, allowing our keepers to watch over her and check how she’s getting on,” Brandford said. “Considering September is the peak of the dry season in Tsavo, not the most favorable of conditions for a new baby, we are delighted that Loijuk has returned close to home so that we can help supplement her diet when she visits.”
In the wild, calves are raised with the help of female relatives within the herd. Loijuk has played nanny to other babies before giving birth to Lili, and now her calf has nannies of her very own — two other wild orphans named Naserian and Ithumbah.
Lili will remain with her mom’s herd in the wild for life, and if she is ever in need, she now knows there is a safe place she can always return to.
Lili is the 31st calf born to female orphaned elephants raised by SWT now living wild, and she is a beacon of hope for threatened elephant populations everywhere.
“Moments like these are momentous,” Brandford said. “In saving one orphaned elephant’s life, we are not only seeing that orphan thrive but start a family.”
“Lili has a brighter future ahead of her than many elephants,” Brandford added, “and we look forward to watching this little girl grow up in the wild.”
We are not going away until the 23rd. We are taking Brandy with us!
But it seems as though getting our ducks in a row is going to become a high priority this week.
Plus, I am pleased to say that I am writing my second book. I had a meeting with H. Ní Aódagaín during the week and she has set me on the straight and narrow, so to speak.
She has her website here and although she promotes herself as a writer she is quite an editor and writing counsellor. I had over 20,000 words already written but had got myself completely lost and confused. Under her guidance I believe I got myself sorted.All of which is to say that the blog is taking a slightly backward step between now and the 14th October. I’m not saying that nothing will be published but at the present time I don’t have a clue as to what I shall do!
Hope you understand!
Finally, there should be plenty of photographs to share with you at some time after we are back.
RIO DE JANEIRO — High above this Brazilian city, in a jungle blanketing a mountain, the turtles were out, and the scene was hopeful.
Scientists were reintroducing 15 mud-caked tortoises to this urban forest where they had once been plentiful. Children were running around. People were oohing and aahing. A stern-looking security guard appeared to briefly smile.
But not government biologist Katyucha Silva. She was thinking about dogs.
What would they do to these turtles? What were they doing to Brazil?
It’s a question more researchers are beginning to ask in a country where there are more dogs than children — and where dogs are quickly becoming the most destructive predator. They’re invading nature preserves and national parks. They’re forming packs, some 15 dogs strong, and are hunting wild prey. They’ve muscled out native predators such as foxes and big cats in nature preserves, outnumbering pumas 25 to 1 and ocelots 85 to 1.
Every year, they become still more plentiful, spreading diseases, disrupting natural environments, goosing scientists who set up elaborate camera systems to photograph wild animals, only to come away with pictures of curious canines.
“It’s a difficult thing for people to hear,” said Isadora Lessa, a Rio de Janeiro biologist who wrote her doctoral dissertation on domestic dogs causing environmental mayhem. “They love dogs too much.”
How the dog became one of the world’s most harmful invasive mammalian predators is as much a global story as a Brazilian one. Over the last century, as the human population exploded, so did the dog population, growing to an estimated 1 billion.
That has been great for people — and even better for dogs — but less so for nature, according to a growing body of academic research implicating canines, particularly the free-roaming ones, in environmental destruction.
“The global impacts of domestic dogs on wildlife are grossly underestimated,” researchers concluded in a 2017 study published in the journal Biological Conservation. The researchers, based in Australia, convicted dogs in the extinction of 11 species and declared them the third-most-damaging mammal, behind only cats and rodents.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature maintains a list of animals whose numbers dogs are culling. There are 191, and more than half are classified as either endangered or vulnerable. They range from lowly iguanas to the famed Tasmanian devil, from doves to monkeys, a diversity of animals with nothing in common beyond the fact that dogs enjoy killing them. In New Zealand, the organization reported, a single German shepherd once did in as many as 500 kiwis — and that was the conservative estimate.
“Unfortunately, we have a big problem,” said Piero Genovesi, chair of the agency’s invasive species unit. “There is a growing number of dogs.”
People all over the world are — begrudgingly — beginning to take note.
And in Brazil, atop a mountain outside of Rio de Janeiro, 15 tortoises were nestling into the forest floor, oblivious to the danger of the forest’s leading predator.
‘A complex problem’
And in Brazil, atop a mountain outside of Rio de Janeiro, 15 tortoises were nestling into the forest floor, oblivious to the danger of the forest’s leading predator.
Brazil is home to an estimated 52 million dogs, according to the most recent government statistics — more than anywhere in Latin America — but their lives vary widely. In a nation defined by inequality, where the rich fly in helicopters over the poor in the favelas below, the dog has become one more way of understanding the divide.
In wealthy cities, the dog is everywhere, strolling through fancy shopping malls, sitting in the laps of restaurant patrons, even riding paddle boards out on the surf. Some people wheel their dogs around in little strollers.
“The dog brings to Brazilians some things that Brazilians appreciate in themselves,” said Alexandre Rossi, a television personality more commonly known as Dr. Pet. “To be friendly, to want to socialize with everyone . . . and be there and be close to your family. These are perceived as very good Brazilian qualities.”
On the streets of trendy Ipanema one recent afternoon, few people could believe that a dog — or at least their dog — could be much of predator.
“The dog is a friend!” sputtered Philipe Soares, the furball Bobby at his feet. “No, I’ve never thought of him that way.”
“Difficult to imagine,” said Carlos Alberto Vicente, peering down at his own pooch.
“In her case,” said Flavio Vilela, a shirtless man striding through a park with a small mutt named Nicoli, “they’d hunt her.”
The problem, researchers say, isn’t these dogs, who lead the coddled lives of European or American pets.
The problem is the dogs in poorer and more rural communities, where the life of the dog is more frequently the life of hunger. They prowl the streets day and night with neither a collar nor an owner, looking for food wherever it can be found — in trash heaps, alongside roads, and in forests and fields, where they form packs to hunt and kill.
“It’s a very complex problem,” said Silva, the government biologist.
A stunning discovery
Ana Maria Paschoal, a researcher at the Federal University of Minas Gerais, remembers when she first started thinking about the dog differently. She was out in the Atlantic Forest in Southeast Brazil around a decade ago when she noticed there were an awful lot of them.
She wondered: How many dogs are using the protected areas? Are these feral or domestic dogs? Is their presence changing the occurrence of wild species?
So she set up cameras across 2,400 acres of forest to find out. What she discovered, published in 2012 in the scientific journal Mammalia, stunned her.
“The presence of the domestic dog is a threat,” Paschoal and her co-authors concluded.
The research, subsequently confirmed in a larger survey, laid the groundwork for a growing field of study here. One researcher linked Brazil’s dogs to the spread of diseases. Another accused the dogs in the National Park of Brasilia, where they hunted in massive packs, of scaring off natural predators. It was found that the closer humans lived to a nature preserve, the more likely dogs had penetrated it.
But perhaps most striking? The dogs were neither feral nor domestic — but somewhere in between.
“All the dogs we detected had an ‘owner’ or a person that the animal has a bond with,” Paschoal said. “The species population increases following human populations, exacerbating their potential impact on wildlife.”
It was something Fernando Fernandez, an ecology professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, learned the hard way. For the last decade, he has been reintroducing native animals to the Tijuca forest, one of the world’s largest urban woodlands, which spills across Rio de Janeiro’s mountains.
First came the agouti, a squirrel-like rodent. Then followed a problem: “Dogs.”
They started killing the agouti, and not for food. It was just for fun.
Fernandez and Silva wanted to learn more. They set up cameras and discovered dozens of dogs in the forest. They estimated more than 100 dogs were in the park — not residents, it turned out, so much as frequent visitors, tracking in from nearby favelas.
“These are people who are very poor,” said Silva, who has six dogs at home. “They don’t have money to build walls. . . . When the owners leave for work, the dog leaves, too, and only returns when the owner comes back to the house from work.”
The owners often have no idea what their dogs are up to. Even if they were told, Rob Young said, they almost certainly wouldn’t believe it.
Young, chairman of wildlife conservation at the University of Salford in Britain, witnessed the psychology at work after seeing dogs kill flightless birds in the state of Minas Gerais.
“We’d do interviews with the farmers: ‘Have you seen these dogs?’
“And they’d say, ‘Yeah, but my dogs aren’t the problem; it’s my neighbor’s dogs.’
“Every farmer would say the same thing.”
These factors — inability to see aggression in dogs, intractable inequality, the rapid expansion of humanity — left Silva feeling apprehensive as she watched the tortoises being reintroduced into the Tijuca forest.
In the long term, she didn’t know how the problem of dogs laying waste to the world’s environments would realistically improve.
And in the short term: Could dogs kill these tortoises, just as they’d dispatched a few agouti?
“Yes,” she said. “They could.”
It’s a tough read and there doesn’t appear to be a solution, not in the short-term at least.
As was reported in the article it is as much a global problem with something of the order of a billion dogs roaming the planet.
A short while ago I was emailed by Holli Burch who asked me if I was ready for another guest post. Was I! I love to receive guest posts. From regular contributors, such as Holli, and people who are new to Learning from Dogs.
There was a quick exchange of emails and then yesterday in came Holli’s latest. It’s brilliant!
How Dogs are Good For Kids
By Holli Burch. 22nd August, 2019 Many kids dream of having a dog.
While we know that dogs teach kids loyalty and unconditional love, there are also many other reasons that dogs are good for kids! I feel so grateful to be able to have both human and canine kids at home. I have always had dogs around me as a child also. My dad had hunting dogs and my mom liked the smaller poodle terrier dog breeds.
According to an article in the Washington Post, a recent study found that children who had strong bonds with their dog also had more secure stronger bonds with their parents and with their (human) best friends. I find this so extremely important, especially in adolescent age when kids struggle the most!
They had another study regarding how dogs effect children’s emotions during stressful times. They found that when the children had their dog with them, they were much more calm. Suggesting that the contact they have with their dog enhances positive affect.
More reasons dogs are good for our kids…
Dogs can help kids with behavioral problems – A dog can calm a hyperactive child and have been shown to be especially beneficial to those with special needs. Having a therapy dog can help ease parent worries a little by knowing the dog will protect them and can be trained to react to certain behaviors, including wandering.
Dogs can help ease anxiety- Petting your dog or cuddling with them releases the “feel good” hormones in their body called oxytocin. This soothes the anxiety mind and helps to calm them down
Dogs teach kids responsibility- Dogs need to be fed, walked and given love daily. When a child gets a dog they learn to take care of something other than themselves. This also creates empathy and self confidence.
Dogs keep kids in better health- Dogs can help overweight children and help get kids active. Parents need to make sure both are getting daily exercise. A study from Psychology today found that children who walked their dogs were 50% less likely to become obese. Not only that but according to LiveScience, kids that grow up around dog dust have less chance of developing allergies and asthma! It helps them develop a strong immune system.
Protection- A dog will always protect those it feels are family. This can mean protecting your child from bullies or helping them to feel safe while home alone. Kids often feel more safe during scary events if they have their dog by their side.
Dogs are best friends- They are always willing to play with your child and lift their spirit. Dogs can help with loneliness and depression because they won’t go away, they give unconditional love no matter what, so kids feel wanted and loved. They don’t fight with them, hit or yell. Kids can share anything with them with no judgement. Dogs often can help kids recover from trauma because they can confide in them.
We rescued Tuffy (above) from a shelter, as a puppy, after my daughter lost her horse in a traumatic accident. It’s been a couple years now and Tuffy has also helped her through more. We are blessed to have her and she follows my daughter everywhere. I know she will always keep her safe. Their bond is so strong and if she is ever feeling down, Tuffy knows and is right there to lift her spirit.
Each of my children have one of our dogs that they call theirs, except my 5 year old. Although, he did just ask me the other day if he can get his own dog. He is good at helping me walk them everyday and loves to cuddle with them. When we recently lost Jesse in April, it was also a hard lesson for the kids on loss. We miss her everyday. That’s her below.
One last thing I want to mention is how important it is to teach your child to respect their dog. First few things to teach is to respect their boundaries, how dogs communicate and how to interact when the dog is new to the family.
I would love to hear your comments and stories about how your dogs have helped your kids!
Dog Bless!~ The Dog Connection
A little bit about Holli.
As a mother of 4 canines and 4 humans, I am here to help the connection between dogs and humans; mind, body & soul. My purpose is providing inspiration and information to dog lovers on health, training and bonding.
Time and time again we see a bonding between a human and a dog. It’s precious and the need to involve children from a young age is crucial. Young people growing up today will be facing a whole raft of issues, many of them extremely serious. All the more reason to have a young person bond with a dog, because that’s so important for that young person.
One of the most frequent questions dog and cat owners get asked is how old is he or she. The pet that is!
And one of the most frequent concerns we have for our pets is how long will they live, as in what is their natural life span. Certainly, most of us realise that the larger dogs live slightly shorter lives but is that borne out in practice.
Well a recent professional article on The Conversation blogsite answered those questions.
How old is my pet in dog years or cat years? A veterinarian explains
Clinical Instructor of Veterinary Medicine, Mississippi State University
July 23rd, 2019
“Just how old do you think my dog is in dog years?” is a question I hear on a regular basis. People love to anthropomorphize pets, attributing human characteristics to them. And most of us want to extend our animal friends’ healthy lives for as long as possible.
It may seem like sort of a silly thing to ponder, born out of owners’ love for their pets and the human-animal bond between them. But determining a pet’s “real” age is actually important because it helps veterinarians like me recommend life-stage specific healthcare for our animal patients.
There’s an old myth that one regular year is like seven years for dogs and cats. There’s a bit of logic behind it. People observed that with optimal healthcare, an average-sized, medium dog would on average live one-seventh as long as its human owner – and so the seven “dog years” for every “human year” equation was born.
Not every dog is “average-sized” though so this seven-year rule was an oversimplification from the start. Dogs and cats age differently not just from people but also from each other, based partly on breed characteristics and size. Bigger animals tend to have shorter life spans than smaller ones do. While cats vary little in size, the size and life expectancy of dogs can vary greatly – think a Chihuahua versus a Great Dane.
Human life expectancy has changed over the years. And vets are now able to provide far superior medical care to pets than we could even a decade ago. So now we use a better methodology to define just how old rule of thumb that counted every calendar year as seven “animal years.”
Based on the American Animal Hospital Association Canine Life Stages Guidelines, today’s vets divide dogs into six categories: puppy, junior, adult, mature, senior and geriatric. Life stages are a more practical way to think about age than assigning a single number; even human health recommendations are based on developmental stage rather than exactly how old you are in years.
Canine life stages
Veterinarians divide a dog’s expected life span into six life stages based on developmental milestones. These age ranges are for a medium-sized dog; smaller dogs tend to live longer, while larger dogs tend to have shorter life expectancies.
0 – 0.5
Birth to sexual maturity
0.5 – 0.75
Reproductively mature, still growing
0.75 – 6.5
Finished growing, sexually and structurally mature
Dog breed and its associated size is one of the largest contributors to life expectancy, with nutrition and associated weight likely being the next most important factors for individual dogs.
But this still doesn’t answer the question of how old your individual animal is. If you’re determined to figure out if Max would be graduating from high school or preparing for retirement based on how many “dog years” he’s lived, these life stages can help. Lining up canine and human developmental milestones over the course of an average life expectancy can provide a rough comparison.
How old is Buddy in ‘dog years?’
By matching up human and canine life stages, vets can approximate how many ‘dog years’ your pet has lived. Horizontal axis shows calendar years; vertical axis shows ‘dog years.’ Because different sized dogs have different overall life expectancies, small, medium, large and giant dogs age at different rates.
In a similar manner, the joint American Association of Feline Practitioners-The American Animal Hospital Association Feline Life Stage Guidelines also divide cats into six categories: kitten, junior, prime, mature, senior and geriatric. Since most healthy cats are around the same size, there’s less variability in their age at each life-stage.
How old is Fluffy in ‘cat years?’
By matching up human and feline life stages, vets can approximate how many ‘cat years’ your pet has lived. Horizontal axis shows calendar years; vertical axis shows ‘cat years.’
Figuring out how old Buddy is in dog years or Fluffy is in cat years allows a veterinarian to determine their life-stage. And that’s important because it suggests what life-stage-specific health care the animal might need to prolong not just its life, but also its quality of life.
Physicians already apply this very concept to human age-specific health screenings. Just like a normal human toddler doesn’t need a colonoscopy, a normal puppy doesn’t need its thyroid levels checked. An adult woman likely needs a regular mammogram, just like an adult cat needs annual intestinal parasite screenings. Of course these guidelines are augmented based on a physician’s or veterinarian’s examination of the human or animal patient.
And as is the case for people, your pet’s overall health status can influence their “real age” for better or for worse. So next time you take your pet to the veterinarian, talk about your animal’s life stage and find out what health recommendations come with it. Watching out for health abnormalities and maintaining a healthy weight could help your cat live long past the literal “prime” of its life.
So it all comes down to life stages and not years.
As with humans.
I find that the most interesting aspect of today’s post.
Ian and I are still processing what we saw and what we learned in Tennessee, each in our own way.
He is taking a break and feels he can’t look at the pictures for a bit. His pictures capture the emotion of the dogs caught in our human failure, and that is hard to look at. I know eventually he will be ready to edit them and to hopefully share more here on the blog. He took thousands of pictures. My big son has a very big heart, and it truly broke in Tennessee.
For me, seeing the conditions in western Tennessee made me furious. This should not be happening. We should not be leaving the responsibility for lost and surrendered animals to a handful of citizens who are quite literally standing in the gap left by a government that neglects its duties and an unaware public.
I cannot look away. So, I am doing what I do– writing and talking and making a nuisance of myself. I’m working on articles, blog posts (like this one), and even a book. I am in the midst of signing a publishing contract for 100 Dogs and Counting, a follow up to Another Good Dog: One Family and Fifty Foster Dogs that will recount more of our fostering adventures, and then take the reader south to discover where these dogs come from and what they can do about it.
I am also planning another trip in September– this time back to Tennessee, and then on to Alabama. Ian will be in school, but I will bring along another talented photographer and excellent co-pilot, Nancy Slattery.
One of the people I am excited to see on this next trip is a rescue hero of mine — Aubrie Kavanaugh. I’m excited to introduce you to her today in the following interview. Aubrie is not only an expert in the fight for a No-Kill nation, but a talented writer, a wickedly smart and funny person, and a dog-hearted woman relentlessly and methodically committed to changing the situation.
The biggest first – the question everyone asks me – Why are there so many unwanted dogs in the south?
I honestly try to avoid the word “unwanted” because it implies that no one wants the animals when that is not necessarily true. Having said that, we have so many in need of homes for a host of reasons, some of which I’ll explain.
In many locations, there is a complete disconnect between animal control agencies/animal shelters which have animals needing new homes and the general public who could provide those homes. The shelters presume no one wants the animals and the public presumes the animals all find homes. The chasm between the agencies and the public is wide and leads to animals who otherwise may be saved being destroyed.
We have issues with most municipalities who manage animal shelters continuing to use the outdated “catch and kill” method of sheltering because they have not learned about or embraced No Kill programs and philosophies which could both reduce shelter intake and increase shelter output. Rather than educate themselves on how to keep animals alive which still ensure public safety, they hold firm to the status quo with the mindset of, “its’ not broken, so don’t fix it.” But the shelter system is broken and it does need to be fixed.
Many people are quick to ascribe what has been called “The Bubba Factor” to the south which essentially means that people here are too woefully stupid or callous to care about what happens to animals in need. We do have cultural differences regarding the value of animals in our lives (“it’s just a dog”) or where animals live (inside v. outside) and there are some people who could care less about animal welfare. Most people, however, do care at most about the welfare of animals and at least about how their tax dollars are spent. People can be informed not only about how their tax dollars can be best used, but also about how they can make better personal choices which affect how shelters operate (like the value of spay/neuter, how to keep pets contained, how to rehome pets in the event of their death or some life crisis, etc.). Many see themselves as stewards of the species we have domesticated and for them this is an issue of ethics, but they need to be informed of the need to address the need.
In many parts of the south, there is also very limited access to spay/neuter at all, let alone at a reasonable cost. This means that in some places, pet populations are not contained and just continue to grow over time. The more animals there are in any particular community, the more animals are apt to end up in animal control systems.
Define what ‘no-kill’ means to you.
No kill means we don’t kill healthy and treatable shelter animals using our tax dollars or donations.
Some try to portray the phrase as controversial or complicated when it really is not. When we use the intended meanings of words like “euthanasia” and “kill,” the phrase makes more sense.
If you have ever made The Terrible Decision to euthanize a beloved pet who is suffering, you know exactly what euthanasia means. It is an act of mercy to end or alleviate suffering. If a shelter ends the life of a healthy dog, that is not euthanasia no matter how many times we call it that. If someone outside an animal shelter setting were to end the lives of healthy animals, we would not say those animals were euthanized. We would say they were killed. We should not alter the meaning of words based on the location where the act takes place.
There will always be animals in shelters who are suffering and for whom euthanasia is the only responsible action as an act of mercy. There will also always be a very small number of dogs who are so broken as to be genuinely dangerous (as opposed to scared, traumatized or undersocialized) and who cannot be adopted out because they present a public safety risk and those dogs must, unfortunately, be euthanized. No Kill does not mean animals do not die. It means we keep the healthy and treatable animals alive because that’s what the public expects and because it is possible using a progressive business model.
We had our 16-year old German Sheppard mix euthanized on Earth Day of 2006. We knew for years that the day was coming, but it was heart-wrenching. I found I was not coping well in the wake of our loss. I began donating to the animal shelter in the city where I work in her honor and to help me cope with the loss by doing something positive.
I was on the shelter website a few months later when I came across a promotional video which began harmlessly but then transitioned to footage of an outwardly healthy dog being taken from his kennel to be killed. It shocked me. I had no real clue prior to that that the shelter was destroying healthy and treatable animals. When I later asked if the dog in the video had actually died, I was told five words that changed my life: “nobody wants Beagles these days.”
I got upset, then I got angry and then I began educating myself about why this was happening not just in my area, but all over the country. I wanted to do all I could to make it stop. I now consider myself an unapologetic No Kill advocate. For me, this is an issue about free speech and municipal accountability. I see my advocacy as a moral imperative. Shelters operate using tax dollars and it is up to us to hold those places accountable for how they spent our money and in our name (while sometimes blaming us for the process). As a country, we are better than this.
Is no-kill truly possible and if so, what will it take?
I absolutely believe that any community can become a No Kill Community and that as more places take this step, we move closer to a time when the killing of healthy and treatable animals will become part of our shameful past. Change can come in one of two ways. Municipalities can get ahead of this issue by adopting progressive programs. If they will not do so, the burden passes to citizens to educate themselves and then speak out to demand better of elected and appointed officials. If elected officials will not listen to the will of the people, they need to be replaced.
What can someone who is not in the rural south do to help?
Every area can improve. If you live outside the south, find out how your local shelter is functioning using your tax dollars. Many shelters claim to have high release rates when, in fact, they are playing a numbers game or are using words in different ways than they are used by the public to condone or excuse killing. If you don’t like what you learn, speak out and ask for better. Only when more places across our country change will those changes ultimately become infectious everywhere, including in the south.
Even if your local area is doing a great job, you can connect with people you know in the south and encourage them to educate themselves and perhaps become politically active about their local shelter. It often falls to the public to speak out and demand better. Only those who live in the area can speak out for better use of their tax dollars in ways which are consistent with their values.
If you don’t know anyone in the south, you can help rescue and advocacy organizations in the south which are doing some of the heavy lifting to keep animals alive. If that is the help you choose to provide, please also encourage the rescue group or advocates with whom you engage to speak out to seek better. While I have the utmost respect for people “in the trenches,” who are keeping animals alive, they are doomed to provide that role indefinitely unless the system is forced to change through public demand. I have a section in my book called “For Rescuers,” which addresses this need to go beyond saving X dog and Y cat to becoming a catalyst for change so there are fewer animals in need of rescue or help. As simple as it sounds, nothing will change unless something changes to alter the process.
I love the title of your book because that’s what I’ve concluded, too – It’s not Rocket Science. Tell me a little about why you wrote the book and what you hope people take from it.
I formed an advocacy group called No Kill Huntsville in 2012 to speak with one voice to persuade the City of Huntsville, Alabama, to stop destroying healthy and treatable animals using tax dollars. The live release rate at the shelter at the time was about 34% and my individual efforts going back to 2008 to bring about change had failed. Fast forward a few years and things have changed remarkably. The live release rate at the shelter has been above 90% for more than four years and while there is still work to be done, the culture at our shelter has changed. It was an incredible struggle for a long time. It got ugly with some strong opposition from some unlikely sources. But we’re proud of what we did working together as a coalition.
One day last fall after a city council meeting which set some new guidelines for the shelter, I was thinking back to all the times people have contacted us asking for help or asking what we recommend. People contact us from the south, from other regions and even from other countries. I decided to write the book to help others learn from our path. We didn’t get everything we wanted and our work is not over, but the worst is behind us and I think people may learn something from our methods and from our mistakes. I think the content in the book about the opposition we faced is almost as important as the No Kill Equation we promoted and still promote. If advocates are not prepared to counter opposition, their arguments in support of animal shelter reform may fall short.
Anything else you’d like to add?
The phrase No Kill is on the public radar and is not going away. We do better to educate people on what it means and to help people learn how to promote change than to try to sugarcoat what is happening in our shelters using our money. We should be respectful in our advocacy, but there truly is no polite way to say, “please stop killing healthy and treatable animals using our money.” No Kill advocates are not the enemy of shelters any more than the public is the enemy. I always encourage people to focus not on the messenger, but the fact that the message is necessary in the first place.
There are some who use the phrase No Kill and do so in ways which are inconsistent with our social movement. Some of these people engage in criminal acts for which they should be prosecuted. We should absolutely call out those bad actors when we find them. Those people who co-opt the phrase No Kill for illegal or unethical purposes are no more representative of our social movement than unethical breeders of animals represent all breeders. If an organization calls itself No Kill and destroys a lot of animals, keeps them for years, or does not provide for their care, they are using the words without the actions to support them. My book covers this topic and I touch on it in the No Kill Movement blog.
I believe a time will come when all shelters in America will be No Kill shelters. How long that takes is up to all of us. We must educate ourselves on what his happening in our own communities so we can decide if our money is being spent in ways of which we approve. When it is not, it is up to us to ask for better and, when necessary, be advocates for change. The lives of animals depend on it.
Aubrie Kavanaugh is an Army veteran who has worked for decades as a litigation paralegal doing defense work; her clients are mostly municipalities and law enforcement officials.
Aubrie became an animal welfare advocate in 2006 after learning about the deaths of animals at her local animal shelter. She manages the Paws4Change educational website, blogs on animal welfare issues, creates video productions and public service announcements for animal shelters and nonprofit organizations across the country, and is involved in advancing animal welfare legislation on the local and state level. She also leads an advocacy group called No Kill Huntsville. She lives in northern Alabama with her husband, their dog, and the enduring inspiration of their dogs to whom they have said farewell for now.
America is an animal friendly society. Approximately sixty-eight percent of U.S. households own a pet – about 85 million families. Most of us consider our companion animals family members. We recognize that they enrich our lives in countless ways, improve our physical and mental health, and make us better people. We value the fact that they don’t care what we look like, where we live, what we do for a living or how much money we make; their love for us is unconditional. And we agonize over our decisions when the time comes to say farewell to them due to advanced age or disease.
But there is a dark side to our relationship with companion animals which is our collective shame. We destroy millions of healthy and treatable animals in our tax-funded animal shelters every year. Many people simply do not know about what happens at their local animal shelter using their money and in their name. Some who know about this tragedy believe there is no other way to function. There is.
“Not Rocket Science” is a story of no kill animal shelter advocacy in Huntsville, Alabama, which explains how a group of animal welfare advocates joined forces to speak with one voice to save the lives of healthy and treatable animals in the municipal animal shelter. This advocacy helped change the shelter from one which destroyed more than half of the animals entrusted to its care to a shelter which saves the lives of all healthy and treatable animals instead.
Any community can be a no kill community. Sometimes it just takes the courage to try something new. And sometimes it just takes a group of people willing to band together and speak out with one voice to say “enough. We are better than this.”
The book is priced at $5.52. I have ordered a copy!