Sunday, October 30, 2011


OK, all those of you who expected a bunch of photos this year involving dogs and cats dressed up for Halloween, raise your hand...and then go stand in the corner!  That approach has been vastly overused in Helpful Buckeye's estimation.  Instead, take a look at this critter:

This is real and didn't involve being dressed up.  Yes, for those of you who recognized it, this is a Red Knee Tarantula and it provides the welcome for our Halloween issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats.  Many of our readers do keep other types of pets besides dogs and cats.  Some of those are spiders...which always seem to be a part of any scary Halloween scene.  There is actually a specialist for these spidery pets at the University of Illinois, as detailed in this article:

How to care for your ... spider? By Andrea Lin

While I find spiders interesting, they're not an animal I'd consider keeping as a pet. But when this column from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine arrived -- with the headline "Care and Keeping of Giant Spiders" -- well, how could anybody not be intrigued?

Creepy-crawly spiders of any size frighten some people, but a few species of tarantulas are commonly kept as pets and can be quite friendly.

According to Dr. Mark Mitchell, an exotics veterinarian at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, the most common pet species -- the red knee tarantula, the Chilean rose spider and the Goliath bird-eater -- are technically "giant spiders" and not tarantulas. The first two make friendly pets, while the Goliath bird-eater, which is one of the largest spiders in the world, can be quite aggressive.

Red Knee Tarantula

Chilean Rose Spider

Goliath Bird-Eater

Giant spiders are typically kept in tanks. Most owners prefer a realistic, natural-looking vivarium. It is recommended that the tank be at least three times the length of the spider's leg span. For the red knee and Chilean rose spider, adult leg span is around five inches, and the Goliath bird-eater can reach 12 inches!  The keys to a good habitat are shelter, substrate (material used for flooring), humidity and temperature. You can find all the necessary supplies -- and the spiders, too -- at pet stores.

"Be sure to provide shelter where your tarantula can hide," says Mitchell. "Shelter can be anything from a piece of bark to one of the decorative resin shelters sold in pet stores.

"The right substrate depends on the species," he advises. "For example, sand is good for the Chilean rose spider, which lives in the desert, and orchid bark is appropriate for the red knee tarantula, which lives in tropical forests. Artificial turf found in pet stores can also work well. Make sure that the substrate does not get too moist, because this can lead to dermatitis for the tarantula."

Humidity and temperature should also fit the species. Desert species require lower humidity than tropical species require. To monitor humidity, you will need a hygrometer. Maintain proper humidity by misting the environment, being careful not to mist the substrate and make it damp. Proper temperature should be provided by a radiant heat source, such as a heat lamp. Do not use heat rocks, which can burn the pet. (This goes for reptiles as well as spiders.)

Of course, your pet will also need water and food. "Provide water in a very shallow dish or on a sponge or cotton ball," says Mitchell. "If you us a large open bowl of water, your tarantula may accidentally drown."

The food provided depends on the size of the spider: smaller insects for young, small spiders and larger insects for larger spiders. Tarantulas do quite well with live insects. Unlike reptiles, spiders have no bones, so there is no need to dust the insects you feed spiders with calcium or other supplement dust as you may do for reptiles.  Goliath bird-eaters can grow large enough that you can feed them baby mice, known as pinkies or fuzzies. Dr. Mitchell advises against feeding live mice in order to reduce the danger to your tarantula.

To interact with your tarantula, let it crawl onto your hand. Never grab your spider, which will cause stress to your pet and could also result in damaged legs or worse. Damaged legs do regenerate with the next molt, but it is certainly preferable not to hurt them.

"Giant spiders have a mild venom comparable to that of a bee sting," says Mitchell. Tarantulas have urticating hairs on their bodies, which they flick off as a primary defense. These hairs have barbs and can be highly irritating, sometimes causing a hypersensitivity inflammation of affected skin.

You should learn to recognize your pet's behavioral cues. A threatened spider will rear up and expose its fangs. A spider with a bald patch on its abdomen is stressed. If this is the case, you need to eliminate the cause of the stress to keep your spider healthy.

Like any pet, tarantulas can require veterinary care. Most tarantula owners call a veterinarian experienced in spider care for consults rather than bring their pet to a clinic. The most common health problems involve molting, mites and damaged legs and abdomen.  When tarantulas molt, they flip onto their backs and crawl out a cut they make in the abdomen. It is an emergency situation for the spider if it gets stuck. This problem is usually associated with humidity, so raising the humidity may help. If necessary, you can help by very carefully peeling the exoskeleton off.

"If your tarantula has mites, do not use any sort of anti-parasite medication," warns Mitchell, "because these can affect your spider too. Instead, dip cotton swabs in mineral oil and carefully wipe the mites off your spider."

Damaged exoskeleton of the leg or abdomen will heal with the spider's next molt. In the meantime, a touch of liquid bandage glue can help seal off the holes.

If you are ever uncertain about the condition, don't hesitate to bring your tarantula to an experienced veterinarian. Mitchell also suggests finding a good support group of experienced tarantula owners or a pet store with knowledgeable staff to help you get started with your interesting and unconventional pet.

Adapted from:

This week's main topic is the result of many questions recently received by Helpful Buckeye about whether or not any vaccinations are necessary for dogs and cats.  This subject has always been worthy of discussion but recent information might have shifted the weight of the evidence to the middle, or "gray," area between yes and no. 

For starters, a rabies vaccination is usually necessary in most states and localities for dogs, as evidenced by the requirement for buying a dog license.  This is also becoming a more frequent requirement for cats as well.  Since rabies is almost always fatal to humans, this vigilance is understandable.  However, for all of the other vaccinations available for dogs and cats, there may be some questions about their necessity.  Let's begin with a short introduction as to just what exactly is a vaccine:

What Is A Vaccine?  Dr. Dawn Ruben

Our world is full of many different forms of life. Some of the more potentially dangerous creatures for pets include parasites, bacteria and viruses. In response to the severe and devastating illnesses or even fatalities that these creatures can cause, researchers and scientists have been working to find ways to eliminate them. Medications were developed to treat many parasite infections. Antibiotics were discovered to treat bacterial infections but the effective treatment of viral infections still eludes us. So far, the best we have been able to do is prevent viral infections, as well as some bacterial and rickettsial infections, through the use of vaccinations.

Vaccinations are the introduction of vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease. The term vaccination comes from the Latin vacca or cow, and was coined when the first inoculations were given with organisms that caused the mild disease cowpox to produce immunity against smallpox.

For centuries, the smallpox virus caused serious, debilitating illness in people. Once someone became infected, there was nothing that could be done. In the late 1700s, Edward Jenner noticed that milkmaids who developed the mild and temporary cowpox virus did not become infected with smallpox. As an experiment, he intentionally infected people with the cowpox virus, also known as vaccinia. As with the milkmaids, these people did not get smallpox. The procedure of using a similar substance to prevent viral infection became known as vaccination, as homage to the vaccinia disease, which started it all.

Have you ever wondered why you get chicken pox once and are considered immune for life but you can get the influenza virus year after year? The reason for this is directly related to your immune system's ability to recognize, detect and destroy previous invaders. The chicken pox virus doesn't change, so your body can recognize it. The flu virus mutates nearly every year and each mutation is considered a new virus. This is the principle behind vaccinations.

A virus is a packet of genetic material, often DNA, surrounded by a viral envelope or membrane. This virus is quite fragile when outside the body but is very damaging when allowed to thrive inside a body. Once it enters a body, it attaches to certain cells and inserts its DNA into the cell. This DNA takes over the function of the cell and begins to rapidly reproduce itself. In a short time, the cell becomes so full of viral particles that it bursts and releases more viruses throughout the body. Each of these then repeats the process until the body is overwhelmed with virus and illness develops.

As the body undergoes this attack by the virus, the immune system begins to realize there is an invader present. Since the immune system has been basically ambushed and has never seen this invader before, the immune system is not prepared, although it makes a valiant attempt to destroy the virus. In time, the immune system often destroys the virus and the body recovers from the illness. Unfortunately, there are some viruses that never leave the body and ultimately cause death.

In the case of viral infections that result in recovery, the immune system is now prepared and memory cells circulate through the body, waiting for that virus to try to invade again. If and when this occurs, the immune system is ready and the virus is destroyed before it is ever allowed to get a foothold.

This is how vaccines work: A modified virus is injected into the body. This altered virus is unable to cause illness but it is recognized by the body as a viral invader. Sometimes, vaccines are made from mutated viruses, sometimes by killed viruses. Newer recombinant vaccines are being developed that work with the viral DNA.

Once the modified virus is injected into the body, the immune system responds and mounts an attack. Since the virus is unable to replicate and cause illness, the immune response quickly subsides, although memory cells continue to circulate. If the real live virus is encountered, the immune system is primed and ready for attack. The virus is destroyed before ever causing illness.

The effects of vaccines vary. Some last for years and others for just a few months. This is the reason that repeated vaccinations are needed. Vaccines are helpful in preventing some viral diseases but they are not foolproof. Some vaccines only provide partial immunity and some vaccines fail to elicit an immune response. For this reason, just because your pet was vaccinated does not guarantee complete protection from the virus.

Now that you know what a vaccine is and how it works, you can understand the importance, as well as the limitations, of this important part of preventative medicine. Due to the amazing courage and foresight of one man in 1798 who intentionally infected people with one virus to protect against another, many people and animals throughout the world have been protected and saved from certain viral, bacterial and even rickettsial infections.

Adapted from:

Now that you understand what a vaccine really is and what is involved in how it works, the American Veterinary Medical Association has put together a list of "Frequently Asked Questions" about vaccinations.  Some of your questions will surely be on this list:

Q:  What are vaccines?

A:  Vaccines are health products that trigger protective immune responses in pets and prepare them to fight future infections from disease-causing agents. Vaccines can lessen the severity of future diseases and certain vaccines can prevent infection altogether. Today, a variety of vaccines are available for use by veterinarians.

Q:  Is it important to vaccinate?

A:  Yes! Pets should be vaccinated to protect them from many highly contagious and deadly diseases. Experts agree that widespread use of vaccines within the last century has prevented death and disease in millions of animals. Even though some formerly common diseases have now become uncommon, vaccination is still highly recommended because these serious disease agents continue to be present in the environment.

Q:  Which vaccines should pets receive?

A:  When designing a vaccination program, veterinarians consider the pet's lifestyle, related disease risks, and the characteristics of available vaccines. "Core vaccines" (e.g., rabies, feline panleukopenia, feline viral rhinotracheitis, feline calicivirus infection, canine distemper, canine parvovirus infection, and canine hepatitis) are recommended for most pets. Additional "non-core vaccines" (e.g., feline leukemia, canine kennel cough and other vaccines) may be appropriate based on the pet's particular needs.

Q:  How often should pets be revaccinated?

A:  Veterinarians have traditionally vaccinated annually; however, they are now learning that some vaccines induce immunity that lasts less than one year, whereas others may induce immunity that lasts well beyond one year. The AVMA recommends that veterinarians customize vaccination programs to the needs of their patients. More than one vaccination program may be effective.

Q:  How does my pet's lifestyle affect its vaccination program?

A:  Some pets are homebodies and have modest opportunity for exposure to infectious disease, whereas others have a great deal of exposure to other pets and/or wildlife and infectious disease by virtue of their activities. Still other pets live in geographic areas that place them at greater risk for contracting some infectious diseases. Differences in lifestyle illustrate the importance of customizing a vaccination program to individual patients.

Q:  Are there risks associated with vaccination?

A:  Vaccines have protected millions of animals from illness and death caused by infectious diseases. All medical procedures, however, carry with them some risk. Fortunately, in the case of vaccination, serious adverse responses are very infrequent. Veterinarians minimize risk by carefully selecting vaccines on the basis of a pet's individual needs and by choosing appropriate injection sites. In an effort to find ways to prevent even these limited numbers of adverse responses from occurring, the AVMA is working with government and industry to redefine how information regarding adverse responses is gathered, analyzed, and disseminated.

Q:  Is serologic testing useful to evaluate immunity to some diseases?

A:  Theoretically, tests that measure antibody response (i.e., serologic titers) may help veterinarians determine the need for revaccination in some cases. Unfortunately, veterinarians cannot be certain that a specific concentration of antibody is always protective or that a lower concentration leaves an animal unprotected.

Adapted from: 

Vaccination Principles


Medical decisions concerning vaccine selection and administration protocols are among the most complicated medical decisions facing veterinarians today. The reasons are numerous and include, but are not necessarily limited to 1) continual changes in our understanding of the immune system; 2) changes in local/regional population susceptibilities to various diseases; 3) increased animal valuation with related liabilities; 4) longer animal life expectancies; and 5) improved medical record systems which allows for better tracking of the short, medium, and long-term effects of vaccine use/administration. Other contributing factors include improved, 1) understanding of infectious diseases; 2) knowledge of the biologic regulatory licensing/labeling, and 3) awareness of potential risks associated with vaccine use/administration…

…Vaccines have played a significant role in enabling people and animals to live longer and healthier lives in this world filled with microbial pathogens. Vaccine products vary in effectiveness and safety and are not necessarily indicated for all patients. Modern science continues to develop strategies and technologies for safer and more efficacious vaccines. Consequently, thorough evaluations of the potential for disease exposure, individual patient susceptibility to various diseases, and the risks/benefits associated with vaccination, are necessary in order to establish optimal health care programs for each individual patient.


…there are insufficient data available to scientifically determine a single best vaccination protocol regimen for application to all animals globally. The body of knowledge surrounding the genetic variability within individual breeds or species and the resulting responses to vaccination (including vaccine-associated adverse reactions), is increasing but remains too inconclusive to make specific recommendations appropriate for all patients. Consequently, …a customized approach to recommended vaccination protocols is the safest and most effective method to medically address the increasing diversity in patients presented for immunization.

Under a veterinarian-client-patient relationship, the practitioner and client must determine the best patient care programs for implementation. Since our knowledge base is constantly evolving, vaccination decisions require a thorough and ongoing review of scientific information and expert opinion in order to appropriately customize vaccine recommendations for individual animal patients.

The one-year revaccination recommendation found on many vaccine labels is often based on historical precedent and was allowed by USDA regulation since it was based on the best scientific knowledge available at that time.

Vaccination is a potent medical procedure with both risks and benefits. While there is evidence that some vaccines provide immunity beyond one year, revaccination of patients with sufficient immunity does not necessarily add to their disease protection and may increase the potential risk of post-vaccination adverse events.

Adverse events may be associated with the antigen, adjuvant, carrier, preservative, or a combination thereof…these are all important parts of any vaccine. Possible adverse events include, but are not necessarily limited to, failure to immunize, anaphylaxis (shock), suppression of the immune system, autoimmune disorders, transient infections, long-term infected carrier states, and local development of tumors. The role of genetic predisposition to adverse events needs further exploration and definition.

Vaccine program goals include providing optimal immunity against clinically relevant diseases the patient is at-risk to contract, while minimizing the potential for adverse events.

Those veterinarians with an established veterinarian-client-patient relationship are in the best position to make recommendations customized to the needs of the individual patient(s) and owner/client.

Revaccination recommendations should be designed to maintain clinically relevant immunity while minimizing adverse event potential.

Veterinarians should create a core vaccine program, intended for use in the majority of animals in their practice area. Core vaccines are those that protect from diseases that are naturally found in a region, those with potential public health significance, required by law, virulent/highly infectious, and/or those posing a risk of severe disease. Core vaccines have clearly demonstrated effectiveness and safety, and thus exhibit a high enough level of patient benefit and low enough level of risk to justify their use in the majority of patients.

Veterinarians should create a non-core vaccine program, intended for a minority of animals in their practice area. Non-core vaccines are those that fit any of the following criteria:

• Targeted for diseases that are of limited risk in the region

• Protects against diseases that present less severe threats to infected patients

• Have a benefit/risk ratio that is too low to justify the use of the product in all circumstances
• Lacks adequate scientific information to fully evaluate the safety and/or efficacy of the product

Adapted from:

Now that we've addressed some of the concerns about vaccinations, the next step in this discussion will be to determine just what vaccines are considered to be more important and when should they be given.  That will be the topic of next week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats.  Come back next week for the informative conclusion.

In the meantime, any questions or comments should be sent to: 

The Pittsburgh Steelers faced a tough New England team today in Pittsburgh, a team that has beaten the Steelers 5 of the last 6 times they've faced each other.  The Steelers opened the game with an impressive drive and never trailed after that.  New England made it interesting at the end, but we all expected that the game would be, that wasn't a surprise.  We play our main divisional rival, the Ravens, next Sunday in Pittsburgh...a very important game that will most likely have huge implications in the playoff seedings.


During our trip down through the Verde Valley, Desperado and Helpful Buckeye explored the towns/villages of Sedona, Cottonwood, Jerome, Clarkdale, and "Old Town" Cottonwood.  In a quaint bread/pastry shop in Old Town Cottonwood, Helpful Buckeye found what had to be the largest coconut macaroon known to man...bought one...and took it home for future enjoyment.  It only cost $1.75!!!  When I got it home, I weighed weighed 4 5/8 ounces...yes, a new world record!  By the way, it tasted great....

Since we're speaking of desserts, Helpful Buckeye made his trademark "special" for a dinner the other night...Tiramisu.  Wow, it was rich with calories...but it was to die for...or so they told me.

Helpful Buckeye's biking continued to be upgraded this week, with more good effort at increasing stamina and strength.  A 35-miler today was a perfect preliminary to the Steelers' game.  Things are looking better for the Tour de Tucson....

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

Sunday, October 23, 2011


To take the concept of service and/or therapy animals a bit beyond the topics of the last 2 weeks, this concluding chapter will deal with some of the more unusual areas of "expertise" shown by pets.

Two weeks ago, Helpful Buckeye presented information on just how sensitive the sense of smell is developed in dogs. We went on to describe how specially-trained dogs could use their sense of smell to detect certain types of cancer in humans as well as being able to smell the increases or decreases in blood sugar of diabetic patients. The lead story in this week's Questions On Dogs and Cats deals with a dog's sense of an entirely different arena...that of the environment:

Dogs will be used to sniff out contamination in Lake Macatawa near Holland, Michigan

Some dogs use their sense of smell to ferret out illegal drugs or help hunters find their game.  The Ottawa County Health Department will turn to a canine with a different sniffing affinity in hopes of trying to find out what’s causing contamination of Lake Macatawa at Dunton Park, in Holland Township.  The Health Department plans to contract with a Michigan company, Environmental Canine Services, to study water quality in the lake, thanks to a $22,705 grant from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.

“They have dogs that are trained to scent human sewage and soaps (in water),” said Addie Hambley, environmental health manager for the county.

In addition, the county plans to boost a 32-hour-a-week environmental health specialist position to a 40-hour position for one year to assist in the study, paid for from the grant. County commissioners are expected to consider the expansion next Tuesday.

The Health Department has banned swimming at Dunton Park numerous times in recent years because of high levels of E. coli contamination. As a result, the park is scheduled to be listed as a contaminated beach by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2017, according to a county memo.

Adapted from:

There are many programs involving dogs and the environment occurring in the world today. The following examples highlight a few ways to dogs are helping safeguard the planet:

The Power of Green Paws - Canines Working in the Field of Conservation

Conservation Canines, a program with the University of Washington is led by Dr. Samuel Wasser. Wasser developed the first scat detection dog program in 1997. Tucker, a black Labrador mix with the program and other rescue dogs, are trained to sniff for fecal samples of threatened and endangered animal species worldwide as tigers, giant anteaters, killer whales, spotted owls, bears, jaguars and the Pacific Pocket mouse. Samples obtained by the teams yield information that reveals critical facts about dwindling species, including details on species abundance, distribution, resource use, and overall physiological species health. "Dogs greatly increase accessibility of these corroborative measures, providing powerful tools to partition the multitude of human impacts on wildlife," Wasser explains.

Environmental Canine Services (ECS) is a program in Michigan, training rescue dogs to detect illicit water discharge. "Our dogs provide a low-tech solution to a huge problem-storm water pollution caused by contaminants like detergent and sewage," explains Scott Reynolds, founder of ECS. Sable, a German shepherd mix, is joined by two more canines, Logan and Sky, plus a small team of handlers to work in densely-packed urban or rural environments. The environmental teams are able to move into an area and efficiently conduct a number of tests thereby eliminating the need for expensive and cumbersome tests as whether or not a fecal sample is human or canine--Sable and the other sewage sniffers know the difference immediately!

Dr. Donna Shaver, wildlife biologist with the National Parks Service and her trained Cairn terrier, Ridley, hunt for elusive nests of the highly endangered Kemp's ridley sea turtle on Padre Island seashore. The pristine beach is located at the southern tip of Texas and the Kemp's ridley nesting season runs from April through July. The turtle eggs are difficult to spot and are often covered in sand, but Ridley has been trained to recognize the distinctive scent of the mucous covering coating the fragile eggs.

"Ridley helps find nests that humans are unable to locate after hours of searching" explains Dr. Shaver, "Thanks to his work, hundreds of eggs have been found, protected and hatched." Due to efforts of Dr. Shaver, Ridley and a dedicated crew of volunteers, Kemp's ridley sea turtles are on the rise once again!

Big furry Maremma sheepdogs are protecting tiny blue Fairy penguins on Middle Island in Australia. The penguins eat fish, squid and krill during the day and overnight return to their nest to burrow in for the evening. Thousands of tourists visit this island in Australia just to witness the unique penguin parade. But when the penguins began falling victim to foxes and wild dogs, local farmer Swampy, took the matter into his own hands by recruiting two Maremma sheepdogs, Eudy and Tula, to protect the 'little blues.' The sheepdogs were such a hit that the idea of adopting Maremma sheepdogs has been officially incorporated by the Warrnabool City Council.

"I must admit that I was very skeptical," admits graduate student Amanda Peucker, "luckily I was wrong! The Maremmas worked, they deterred the foxes." The program is garnering headlines around the world and several governmental agencies want to duplicate the program in their community.

Believe it or not, quagga and zebra mussels are becoming more than a mere nuisance in California, the spread of these invasive species has cost the state million of dollars in lost revenue and more than a few headaches for boaters. After realizing just how pervasive these non-native aquatic species were becoming, Warden Lynette Shimek, supervisor of the K-9 program with the California Fish & Game Department, began training the department's police service canines for invasive species detection work. Once the dogs alert to the possible presence of zuagga and/or zebra mussels, they will sit and their handler then seals off the boat for future decontamination.

So the next time you think of dogs as "Man's Best Friend," remember that there are some working dogs in the field helping to preserve the planet with the power of green paws.

Adapted from:

What’s on your dog’s reading list? Not that Helpful Buckeye is suggesting that your dog might be actually reading a best-seller...but, rather that your dog might be able to help someone by "listening" to them read a book out loud:

Reading to dogs may have benefits for children

A small pilot study by researchers at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University provides preliminary, but suggestive evidence that reading aloud to man’s best friend can have positive effects on children’s desire and ability to read.

“The benefit of the dog is they’re not judgmental, and they are great listeners,” said Lisa Freeman, a professor in the department of clinical sciences at Tufts, who said the study was spurred by observations that having a canine audience seemed to increase children’s engagement with reading. “It really builds their confidence.”

The health effects of pet ownership have been the subject of a number of small studies, which have been far from definitive. Some research suggests that pet ownership provides a wellness boost -- one study found that dog owners who walked their dogs were 34 percent more likely to get 150 minutes of walking exercise per week compared with non-dog owners. But others have found pet ownership correlated with negative health outcomes, like a study of 424 patients admitted to the hospital with acute coronary syndrome, which found that pet owners, especially cat owners, were more likely to die or be hospitalized again.

For years, Freeman said, she had observed what appeared to be the beneficial effects of a reading program that paired children with canine listeners. But there was no evidence to support the anecdotal observations. So the Tufts researchers designed a simple study.

Over a five-week period last summer, 18 second-graders at the Grafton Public Library were randomly divided into two groups: for 30 minutes each week, half read aloud to a dog and half read to a person.  The children were allowed to choose whatever books they wanted, and read to the same dog each week, settling in on a large dog bed with their canine companion. Freeman noted that children seemed to prefer to read books about animals, seeming to want to choose stories the dogs could relate to.

“The kids seem to particularly like the dog-themed books; they seem to think the dogs really enjoy hearing about those,” Freeman said. Those who read aloud to a person might be corrected or prompted if they made a mistake, while the children reading to the dogs would be corrected through the dogs, meaning that the handler might say something like, “I don’t think she understood that last word.”

At the end of the five weeks, the children’s abilities were measured. This was a small sample, and the results were not statistically significant, but researchers saw a signal of a difference, with an increase in the words read per minute by the children in the dog group, and a decrease among children who spent the time reading to humans.

The researchers also measured the change in the children’s attitudes toward reading using a survey that involved a cartoon cat -- Garfield. The survey showed Garfield in a range of moods, from extremely satisfied to very upset, and was used to judge childrens’ attitudes toward reading. The dog reading group showed a slight favorable increase in their feelings toward reading, and the control group underwent a slight decrease. No children dropped out of the dog program, whereas a third of the children dropped out of the control group.

Ultimately, the researchers hope to be able to expand the study to a larger group, to see whether the effects hold up.

“Many dogs -- my dog, when she recognizes the building that the reading program is in, she gets very excited, really excited to go, so they seem to enjoy this too,” Freeman said. “That’s important -- having everybody happy on both sides of the leash is going to be very important.”

Adapted from:

As it turns out, dogs aren't the only animals being trained to "listen" as someone reads to them:

Miniature horses come to University of Missouri lecture about animal therapy

Carol Parmenter led two well-behaved miniature horses into a veterinary classroom Tuesday to meet 100 MU students. Only waist high, the horses were wearing red or blue sports shoes to prevent them from slipping and had forgone breakfast to prevent accidents. Cookie, 12, and Molly, 7, were part of a lecture on human and animal companion interaction.

Rebecca Johnson, an associate professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, invited them to her class to demonstrate the ways horses, like dogs, can be therapeutic to those with mental or physical challenges. "I hope Carol can show you a whole picture of animal therapy visiting including the training and safety issues related to it," Dr. Johnson said to the class.

Most of the students in the class are interested in human and animal connections. "I appreciate this lecture because it's novel," said Katie Molitor, a psychology major at MU. "You don’t really think of horses as being therapeutic animals. You usually think them of pulling your car or doing field work."

Later Tuesday, the horses went to Tiger Place, a retirement center where they interacted with residents.

Cookie has been working with Parmenter for six years as a professional therapy horse. He is also the first horse taking part in a program called Reading Education Assistance Dogs, which is designed to improve children’s communication skills. The program encourages students to read to and with animals, as researches show that while having physical connection with animals such as petting or stroking them, children feel more comfortable in communication. "Animals are non-judgmental," Johnson said. "Children are relaxed and they don’t feel stressed reading in front of them."

Parmenter first took a therapy dog to children in the reading program, but found them reluctant to talk to it. The next week she brought Cookie with her and said she was amazed that every single child came up and read to the horse. One parent told her she had been trying for two and half months to get her son to read to her. The horse did it in two minutes, Parmenter told the class proudly.

Parmenter has 22 horses on her farm in El Dorado Springs, but only three of them are therapy horses. She said that there is no cost for her to visit nursing homes and schools with the horses. She keeps her trips within a 50-mile radius around her farm because of gas expenses.

"It's all about disposition and attitude," she said of the horses. "Just like people, some are good nurses, and some people are not good nurses."

Adapted from:

How many of you have seen security dogs walking through the crowds in an airport?  A fairly common sight if you fly regularly.  However, how many of you have seen security dogs in a train station?  This might be more common in the near future, as more people resort to train travel:

Amtrak's Four-Legged Security System Works, Gets Rave Reviews 

In a nation divided on almost every issue, there is one topic which brings almost universal agreement: travelers hate the experience they face at America's airports. Security is slow, inefficient, and at times downright humiliating, they complain. Surely there must be a way to protect the system, without insulting the very customers that system is designed to serve.

Welcome to Amtrak.

Every day, thousands board trains across America, without ever passing through a metal detector, subjecting themselves to a full body scan, or feeling the probing hands of a surly security guard. Indeed, on most routes, passengers are left to wonder if they have been screened at all.

"The machines would literally shut the system down," says John O’Connor, the Chief of the Amtrak Police. "You can put a canine in literally thousands of people moving through very quickly. And that dog will be able to detect if somebody has explosives."

That's right; with few exceptions, Amtrak's "scanners" are dogs. Often unnoticed by most of the rail agency's passengers, the four-legged security guards relentlessly scour the crowded concourses and platforms, looking for trouble.  The animals are specially trained "vapor wake" dogs, custom-bred to serve a very specific function: detecting the microscopic traces of explosives, which trail in the air behind would-be bombers.

"We don’t stop anybody, or intrude on anybody's path, or rights," says Inspector William Parker, the chief of the Amtrak K-9 program. "Like I tell people, 'Come to Amtrak; we don’t undress you, we don't mess with you.'"

On a recent morning at Chicago’s Union Station, two different Amtrak dogs were working the concourses, circling in and out of the commuters. But the dogs weren’t sniffing the passengers. They were sampling the molecules those passengers left behind.

"He’s smelling the air," Parker said, watching his animals work. "As you see, that dog pulls to wherever somebody's walking, because he wants to search people. He knows what the mission is."

And the dogs can be remarkably accurate. On that morning in Chicago, decoys sent through the crowds, carrying real explosives under their clothing, were quickly identified. Often, that identification came after the bombers passed. But at that point, the dogs caught the telltale scent of explosives, swiveled, and locked in on their prey, leading handlers to the danger.

"They can work a crowd of a thousand people, moving, whereas you can only put a couple hundred people through a machine in an hour," said O'Connor says. "If you’re a bad guy, and you're planning something at this station, you don't know where we're going to be. And you may think, this is not the station I want to attack."

To be certain, the dogs aren’t everywhere on the system. Amtrak officials argue that the randomness and unpredictability of the K-9 program adds to its effectiveness.

Indeed, in a recent hearing on Capitol Hill, the Amtrak dogs were held up as the gold standard of what security could be. At the height of a blistering tongue-lashing delivered to a seemingly bored Transportation Security Administration official, Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah pointed to Amtrak’s Parker and issued a challenge.

"You take a thousand people and put them in a room. I'll give you 10 whole body imaging machines. You give me 5,000 people in another room. You give me one of his dogs, and we will find that bomb before you find your bomb."

TSA officials argue that the dogs don't come cheap and require a full complement of handlers. The TSA supports Amtrak's program, but critics note that officers at the nation's airports are looking for a lot more than just bombs.

"I think the dogs could be used effectively at the airports," O'Connor said. "It may not replace what's there now, but it can supplement it. And in some cases, substitute for it, in places where it might be more efficient to use the dogs than the machines."

Watching his dogs work the concourses in Chicago, Parker didn't flinch when asked about the congressman's challenge.

"I know I would have won it," he said. "With the dogs I have at Amtrak, we would have won it."

Adapted from: 

A dog from long ago, the late 1800s to be exact, is finally getting some recognition...from the U. S. Postal Service:

Longtime Postal Service pal gets his own first-class stamp

Have you heard of mail dogs?

Not male dogs, as in the masculine half of the species. Dogs that actually carried letters and packages in the days of the Old American West. And pooches that tagged along with mail carriers so loyally that they became the stuff of legend.  A scruffy mixed terrier named Owney, for instance. He just got his own U.S. Postal Service stamp - one of the so-called “forever stamps” that will be good for first-class postage no matter how high rates go in the future.

Owney and his postal buddy. Owney’s the one on the right.

Owney was a pal of the clerks at the Albany, New York, post office in the late 1800s. He even spent the night there and would tag along when the clerks went to the railway station to pick up incoming mail pouches.  Before long, he was catching rides in the mail-sorting cars aboard the trains and soon was touring the entire country by rail - a sort of canine hobo, given a lifetime pass by the entire postal service. He even traveled the world on mail-carrying steamships.

Here’s Owney, before his recent makeover, after a taxidermist was through with him, wearing many of the tags his human pals gave him.

After Owney’s death, his body was preserved. In fact, it has recently been fixed up a bit and is now the favorite attraction at the National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.  The late postal pal is displayed there along with several of the dog tags and other tokens given to him by his human buddies over the years.

 The Owney 'forever' stamp. It may even outlast the Postal Service’s favorite dog.

That’s not just because mail clerks liked the little mutt. He was also a good-luck charm. Busy mail trains had their share of accidents. But never once did a train derail with Owney aboard.

So Owney remains an enduring postal mascot.

So much so that, later this month, the Postal Service will launch an interactive e-book about him and an app for handheld devices in which a three-dimensional Owney lookalike jumps and barks.

He doesn’t sort the mail, though, so far as we know.

Adapted from:

A leading American anthropologist claims our prehistoric ancestors' intense relationships with other creatures – including those we hunt, keep as pets and use for food – propelled humanity towards global domination.  Read about how our "Love of Animals Led to Language....":

Humans became masters of the planet for a startling reason: our love of animals gave us unsurpassed power over nature. This is the claim of a leading American anthropologist who says our prehistoric ancestors' intense relationships with other creatures – including those we hunt, keep as pets and use for food – propelled humanity towards global domination.

Interacting with animals on an intimate basis led humans to develop sophisticated tools and evolve enhanced communication skills, including language itself, Dr Pat Shipman of Pennsylvania State University told the Observer. Animals also taught us that others – even other species – have emotions, needs and thoughts, while they also helped us to evolve the vital skills of empathy, understanding and compromise.

"The longest and enduring trend in human evolution has been a gradual intensification of our involvement with animals," she added. "But now our world is becoming increasingly urbanised and we are having less and less contact with them. The consequences are potentially catastrophic."

Shipman traces humanity's animal connection to the period 2.5 million years ago when our hominid ancestors first made tools. These crafted pieces of stone still litter sites in eastern Africa, including the Olduvai Gorge in Kenya, and bear testimony to the mental transformation in our ancestors' brains.

"These apemen didn't just pick up stones and use them to hammer or pound prey or plants," said Shipman. "They shaped those rocks for specific purposes. They had a mental image of the kind of tools they needed and created them by chipping away at a large piece of stone until they got what they wanted."

And what they wanted were tools for cutting up carcasses. In other words, the sharp stone flakes spread over Olduvai were not used primarily as weapons to kill animals or to hack down plants, but to process dead animals that had already been brought down by other carnivores. Apemen had begun to scavenge for meat from carcasses of prey killed by leopards, cheetahs and other carnivores. Armed with sharp blades, they could cut off chunks of antelope or deer and escape quickly before being eaten themselves by an enraged lion, they discovered.

And that was the crucial point that began our special relationship with the animal kingdom, said Shipman, whose book, The Animal Connection, is published this week. "Until that point, we had been a prey species. Carnivores ate us. Then we began scavenging before going on to hunt on our own behalf. Meat provided our ancestors with a wonderful, rich source of sustenance. However, scavenging for it left us in a very vulnerable position. We were still just as likely to be consumed when confronted by a carnivore as we were to kill in our own right. To survive, we had to learn about the behaviour of a vast number of different species – the ones we wanted to kill and the ones we wanted to avoid.

"For example, we would have learned to spot when lions were preparing to mate – when a male was showing off to a female – so that we could take some its prey while it was otherwise occupied. We would have also built up knowledge about the migration of species such as wildebeest and other animals."

In the end, this expertise would have become crucial to human survival, a point illustrated in the cave paintings in Lascaux and Chauvet in France and the other caves painted by humans 20,000 to 30,000 years ago. They show us that after 2 million years of evolution, humans had become utterly fixated by animals.

"These paintings are stunningly beautiful and superbly crafted," said Shipman. "Sometimes scaffolding was erected in the caves. At the same time, artists went to enormous lengths to get their pigments mixed with the right binding agents and placed in exactly the right spot. And what did they depict when they got things just right? Animals, animals and more animals.

"There are no landscapes and only a handful of poorly executed depictions of humans. By contrast the paintings of lions, stags, horses, bulls and the rest are magnificent. We were besotted with animals because our lives depended on our relationships with them."

Not long after these paintings were created, the first animal – the dog – was domesticated, followed some time later by the horse, sheep, goat and others. The development was crucial. In each case, humans had to learn to put themselves in the minds of these creatures in order to get them to do our bidding. In this way our senses of empathy and understanding, both with animals and with members of own species, were enhanced.

Our special relationship with animals is revealed today through our desire to have pets. "Humans are the only species on Earth to have one-to-one relationships with a member of another species," said Shipman. "No other creature would waste resources on a member of another family, let alone a member of another species. But we do and that is because we have evolved such close ties with specific animals over the millennia and because we are adapted to empathise with other creatures. It is a unique human attribute. We get so much from animals, much more than we appreciate."

Unfortunately, as society becomes increasingly urbanised those ties are being stretched and broken, added Shipman. "Our links to the animal world are precious and shouldn't be taken for granted," she said.

Adapted from:

Helpful Buckeye hopes that this 3-part series on service and therapy pets has helped bring more awareness to our readers of the many diverse talents of our pets, particularly dogs.  They really do make our world a much better place in which to live.

Any comments, questions, or ideas can be sent to Helpful Buckeye at: 

The Pittsburgh Steelers came to Arizona to play the Cardinals today and put on a very impressive performance!  With the New England Patriots and Baltimore Ravens coming up the next 2 weeks, it would have been easy for the Steelers to be looking ahead.  However, they were well-prepared for this game.  Now, we'll find out just how ready we are to get back to the Super Bowl.

As for the World Series...the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Rangers...ahh, who cares?

The bike training for Helpful Buckeye has gradually accelerated this week.  I've been riding more miles and using the most difficult gears.  Today, I rode the 4 longest, steepest, and toughest uphills on my regular circuits...all without my calf bothering me.  Hopefully, this improvement will result in me being ready for the Tour de Tucson in 4 weeks.  Just yesterday, I found out that the distance I am entered for in the race has been increased from 79 miles to 85 miles...something about re-locating the finish line?  I feel like a blend of the tortoise and the hare as I go through this re-hab...some of me wants to regain my stamina and the other part craves strength in my leg.  I can only hope that I arrive at the right combination....

A good friend has asked me to go with him to the Arizona State/Colorado game this Saturday down in Tempe.  It will cost me a day of bike riding's homecoming and ASU is ranked in the Top 25, so it's worth it.  Go, Sun Devils!

Desperado and I prepared one of our favorite Fall soups the other night.  Roasted Red Pepper Soup...the Red Bell Peppers coming over from New Mexico this time of year are huge and beautifully formed...and cheap!  It made a great meal on a cool evening and left us plenty for a couple more servings.

Desperado and Helpful Buckeye are finally going to take a short trip this week.  We'll hit Sedona, Cottonwood, and Jerome...all places we've visited many times but this time, we'll be looking for those little out-of-the-way "special spots" that we missed in the past.

Don't forget to keep your pets as safe as possible with Halloween coming up this weekend.  Pets can get into a lot more trouble than normal during all the fuss and activity surrounding the black-and-orange festivities.

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

Sunday, October 16, 2011


Judging from all the e-mails received following last week's issue, our readers must be well-tuned into the concept of service animals.  Many of you wrote to say how much service animals have meant to you, someone in your family, or a friend of yours.  This week, Helpful Buckeye will be getting into more specific examples of situations in which people have benefited from various kinds of specially-trained service animals.

How often have you walked into a hospital or a nursing facility and noticed a handler with a service/therapy dog walking down the hallway?  I experienced both of those this past summer when my Dad was being transitioned from a hospital to a care center.  The importance of this type of service pet is increasing by leaps and bounds.

Therapy dogs help comfort patients at Salinas-area hospitals

Therapy dogs arrive at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital with wagging tails and hearts full of love. It's their job to brighten the lives of patients and staff members.

With their masters in tow, they snuggle up to anyone who reaches out for comfort for the sheer joy of it. They have even been known to accelerate healing.

On a Monday morning, Stormy Blue, one of three female Weimaraner therapy dogs owned by Tom Bailey of Salinas, makes her rounds at the hospital's oncology ward and heart center. She wears an orange Therapy Dogs International vest with her name embroidered on it and her official ID tags attached. Her golden colored, empathetic eyes search for and find a nursing center staff member to greet. After hugs, she begins visiting patients.

Bailey calls his dogs his "girls" and together they have completed nearly 1,500 hours of volunteer work at SVMH, visiting Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Therapy dogs have been part of the hospital's Volunteer Health Career and Spiritual Services program since 1998, said Shannon Graham, assistant director of the program. "We're trying to have at least one team a day," she said. "The dogs brighten up our patients ... and their families too. ... And the staff enjoy it sometimes as much as the patients do."

There are now 18 therapy dogs and volunteers working at the hospital. The dogs include golden retrievers, Chihuahuas, a Pomeranian, a West Highland terrier, a boxer, mixed breeds and a German shepherd named Pirate who comes dressed as a pirate.

The dogs visit most areas of the hospital, except for the ICU, isolation and forensic rooms. Typically, a dog and owner will first visit the nursing station on a floor to see if any patients requested a visit.

"For patients who have been here [before], sometimes they know to ask," Graham said.

Nurses and doctors who know of a patient who would benefit from a dog visit often let the teams know beforehand.

The dogs are known to relieve stress and tension among patients and their families, and the waiting rooms are a regular stop as well.

Bailey, a retired high school math teacher who is one of two certified therapy dog evaluators at SVMH (the other is Kathy Haines), recalled a request from a doctor to visit one of his patients who had undergone open-heart surgery. The man wasn't doing well, so Bailey and his dog stayed with him for 15 to 20 minutes. Afterward the patient's blood pressure had dropped by 10 points and his heart beat had slowed by 10 points. "And it was because of the dog," Bailey said.

Visits can last from five to 90 minutes, depending on the patient, Bailey said. Sometimes the dogs will jump on the bed and snuggle.

Other Monterey County hospitals have therapy dog programs as well. Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula has had a program for many years, while Natividad Medical Center has a relatively new program.

The first known therapy dog is believed to have been Smoky, a Yorkshire terrier found abandoned by British army Corp. William Wynne on a battlefield in New Guinea in World War II. When Wynne was hospitalized with a jungle disease, his buddies brought Smoky to visit him and other soldiers in the hospital. Smoky's cheery hospital visits continued for 12 years after the war.

Therapy Dogs International was founded in the United States in 1976 by Elaine Smith, a registered nurse who had worked for a time in England. There she observed how well patients responded to a golden retriever who visited patients with his master, a chaplain.

Bailey began training to be a therapy dog handler in 2003 and started working with them in 2004. His other dogs are Misty Blue and Diamond, all rescued Weimaraners. These dogs were bred as hunters in Germany and taught to snuggle in with their families at night.

"My girls are super important to me and they are my babies," Bailey said. "They're very people oriented."

More therapy dogs are needed at SVMH, Bailey said. The first step in becoming a handler is filling out an application, then the dogs go through a certification process. That includes a placement interview, orientation and on-the-job training with a working pet team.

Bailey said he likes to get down on the floor with a therapy dog applicant and play with them. Potential therapy dogs must be 2 years old to work at SVMH. They must be well socialized with other dogs (no growling or barking), good on a leash and calm. They must not be bothered by unusual smells or loud noises and they also must be bathed the day before each visit….

…Bailey's girls have visited most areas of SVMH, but he specializes in the oncology ward and the heart center. The dogs have even worked in the emergency room.

"ER is very interesting and the girls are very effective," he said. "They quiet the patients down and put them at ease…."

…Stormy Blue, who is 3 1/2 years old and weighs 88 pounds, was eight months old when Bailey adopted her. She has been working as a therapy dog since she was 13 months old. He said Stormy Blue is frisky and playful before a hospital visit but calms down and is ready to go to work the minute he puts the vest on her.

On their way out of the hospital they pass a first floor room where family members are visiting a patient. A young mom and her smiling dark-haired daughter come into the hall and ask questions about Stormy Blue and therapy dogs. They pet her silky silver coat and play with her floppy ears as she sits beside Bailey, relishing the attention.

Master and canine leave the family with smiles on their faces. Then they walk into the lobby to say goodbye to the staff, another day of brightening the lives of others under his belt and her collar.

Adapted from:

Sometimes, dogs can be very helpful to humans without even being with them.  As this article points out, research on dog diseases frequently leads to new pharmaceuticals for human diseases.

Curing cancer in dogs helps humans too

If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with cancer, there’s another reason to call a dog “man’s best friend": curing cancer in canines could help save human lives too.

According to the National Cancer Institute, a dog is diagnosed with cancer every five seconds in the United States — about the time it took you to read this sentence — and affects roughly 6 million dogs each year. While the diagnosis is never easy to hear, there is hope. Bear, a former cancer patient, is a happy and, finally, healthy Australian Shepherd. After his initial diagnosis, Bear’s family enrolled him in a unique research program at Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, where vets and cancer researchers are working together to develop cancer cures for dogs and humans. These clinical trials are often run at no cost or limited cost to owners. As a result of Bear’s treatment, he is now cancer-free.

As cancer research continues to evolve, scientists are discovering that certain types of cancer in dogs are remarkably similar to those in humans, in both how they develop and behave in response to treatment. At the Comprehensive Cancer Center, researchers treat canine cancer patients and share their findings, including drug activity and potential side-effects, with doctors who then apply this information to human studies.

“About 80% of clinical trials fail in the early stages, and a little less than half fail in the later stages,” says Cheryl London, a veterinarian and cancer researcher at Ohio State University’s Veterinary Medical Center. “There’s obviously not enough information going forward when human clinical trials start. So, we want to help that process become more efficient and more accurate.”

It’s an approach that has already proven to be effective. Over a decade ago, Dr. London helped test a cancer drug called Palladia. It was so effective in treating dogs with cancer, that scientists developed a nearly identical drug for humans called Sutent.

In 2006 Sutent became the first drug ever simultaneously approved by the FDA for use in two different types of human cancer, and in 2009, Palladia became the first drug ever approved specifically for treating dogs with cancer. Its success, London says, is due in part because researchers were able to treat dogs first, which greatly helped to inform the design of human studies.

Adapted from:

Moreover, some disease processes in dogs can be very similar to those in humans and the correlation of successful treatments can result from looking further into that relationship.

Researchers Look to Dogs to Better Understand Intricacies of Bone Cancer

A new University of Minnesota discovery may help bone cancer patients fight their disease more effectively, according to new research published in the September issue of Bone.

Bone cancer typically affects children; the course and aggressiveness of the disease can vary from patient to patient and is very difficult to predict. Some patients respond remarkably well to conventional therapies. Their disease shows less aggressive behavior and they can survive for decades without recurrence. Others respond poorly to treatment or their disease comes back rapidly. Often, these patients survive less than five years.

Recently, a team led by Dr. Jaime Modiano, a College of Veterinary Medicine and Masonic Cancer Center expert in comparative medicine, discovered a gene pattern that distinguishes the more severe form of bone cancer from a less aggressive form in dogs. Dogs are the only other species besides humans that develops this disease spontaneously with any frequency.

In fact, dogs are much more likely to develop bone cancer than humans, but according to Modiano -- who specializes in the relationship between animal and human disease -- human and canine forms of bone cancer are very similar and the gene pattern is an exact match. The discovery of this key differentiating signature may be beneficial in the treatment planning of human bone cancer patients.

"Our findings pave the way to develop laboratory tests that can predict the behavior of this tumor in dogs and children at the time of diagnosis," said Modiano. "This allows us to tailor individualized therapy to meet the patient's needs."

The downstream impact of the findings

University of Minnesota researchers hope to use their findings to develop practical and useful lab tests for humans and for companion animals that will help clinical care providers determine the type of cancer a patient faces, and how aggressive that cancer may be.

Then, depending on which type of cancer a patient has, clinicians could adjust interventions and treatment plans accordingly.

"Patients with less aggressive disease could be treated conservatively, reducing the side effects and the risks associated with treatment, while patients with more aggressive disease could be treated with more intense therapy," said Modiano.

The study was funded by the National Cancer Institute, the AKC Canine Health Foundation and the Kate Koogler Canine Cancer Fund.

Adapted from:

Going beyond the idea of dogs providing comfort for human patients, it is now possible for medical researchers and clinicians to utilize the extremely well-tuned sense of smell that dogs have.

Dogs Sniff Out Lung Cancer

Specially trained dogs can identify most patients with lung cancer by smelling their breath, researchers said.  Sniffing 100 breath samples from patients with biopsy-confirmed lung cancer, the dogs failed to flag only 29, reported Thorsten Walles, MD, of Schillerhoehe Hospital in Gerlingen, Germany, and colleagues online in the European Respiratory Journal.

Among 400 other samples from individuals without lung cancer, the canine sniff test gave false positives for just 28, the researchers found.  However, Walles and colleagues suggested that the findings were most important for confirming that human exhalations contain markers for lung cancer, which eventually may be detectable by more conventional means.

"This is a big step forward in the diagnosis of lung cancer, but we still need to precisely identify the compounds observed in the exhaled breath of patients," said Walles in a press release.

Several earlier studies have found that dogs, with their keen sense of smell, can identify patients with various forms of cancer, including tumors of the breast, colon, and lung merely by sniffing. The proposition originated in 1989 with a case report of a man whose melanoma was diagnosed because his dog kept sniffing the lesion.

The dogs used in the current study were young family pets -- two German shepherds, one Labrador retriever, and one Australian shepherd. Using test tubes containing exhalations from 35 lung cancer patients and 60 healthy controls, a professional dog trainer taught the animals to lie down in front of tubes with samples from the patients.

During both the training and the subsequent testing phase, each sample was given to the dogs only once so that they would not simply learn to recognize individual participants' characteristic odors….

…Whether dogs will ultimately be better than machines for breath analysis remains to be determined, they indicated.

"Electronic nose technologies" are not yet practical because of their complicated sampling procedures and vulnerability interference, the researchers commented.

Dogs, on the other hand, are "virtually on the verge of respectability" for disease detection. Yet without better understanding of what they are responding to, it will be impossible to develop a reliable screening test for lung cancer based on their abilities, Walles and colleagues suggested.

"Unfortunately, dogs cannot communicate the biochemistry of the scent of cancer," they lamented.

Adapted from:

Therapy animals also frequently work with human heart patients.

Vineland hospital's canine assisted therapy is a doggone success for heart patients

Gypsy, a retired racing greyhound, was on the track for four and a half years, chasing rabbits as fast as her long legs could go.

The dog has slowed down since retirement. Now, she’s taking more leisurely steps alongside heart failure patients at South Jersey Healthcare’s Regional Medical Center at Vineland, where recovering cardiac patients are making their own strides toward wellness.  The therapy dog, who works with her owner nurse Sami Abate, sees about six to 10 heart failure patients a day, coaxing them to get up and walk.

“Walking your dog is actually good for your heart,” said Abate, of Millville, whose recent research study found clear evidence that therapy dogs lead to big-time favorable outcomes for heart failure patients.

Abate’s second therapy dog, Gypsy, was already at work in the hospital the day after completing six months of obedience training, which was required before she could begin volunteering.

Walking can be difficult for those who suffer from heart failure. Their feet and ankles are often swollen, and just getting out of bed or treading to the bathroom causes them to breathe like they’ve sprinted a 100-meter dash.

Even though the greyhound looks fast, Gypsy never won a race on the track. At the hospital, she takes slow steps between Abate and the patient holding her leash.

“This is more her speed,” said Abate, who found that Gypsy’s sleek good looks could often charm patients into a stroll around the unit.

The observation encouraged Abate — and research partner Michele Zucconi, SJH’s clinical nurse manager — to study patient-pup interaction to see if heart failure patients could be encouraged to get out of bed with the gentle coaxing of a four-legged friend.

Until now, there had been no evidence-based research on the books supporting Canine Assisted Therapy — a term the research team coined.

Between June 2009 and March 2010, the nurses — and Gypsy — got down to work.

They recorded patient responses when they were asked to get up and walk with a nurse. The initial answer was usually “no.”

After a few screening questions — “Are you allergic to animals or afraid of dogs?” — Gypsy was offered as an escort.

Compared to a hospital ambulation data base of 400 previous heart failure cases, Gypsy’s patients were four times less likely to refuse walking when she was by their side.

“People didn’t think they walked any farther, but they walked twice as far,” Abate said. “We discovered that patients who had walked were released one day sooner.”

An early release could mean a savings near $6,000 for the hospital, according to Bruce Boxer, Director of Nursing Quality and the hospital’s Magnet Program.

The study “does have true physiological meaning,” said Boxer, noting that other studies conducted on pet therapies focused on effects that could not be easily measured, like whether a pet’s visit was responsible for lowering blood pressure or decreasing stress levels.

“We realized that walking was evidence-based,” Zucconi said, who was able to track the positive responses to walking with Gypsy….

…Abate’s study was accepted by a medical journal on the first draft, something nearly unheard of in the world of clinical research. It recently won the Research Poster Award given by the National Teaching Institute and American Association of Critical Care Nursing….

…In addition to the clinical application, Boxer said Gypsy has had other effects on patients — and staff.

“She really facilitates communication,” he said.

The race dog often serves as an ice breaker between nervous patients and clinicians. Abate said quiet patients will start to open up when the conversation turns to pets. Then, more important talks can bloom.

And on tough days, even the staff members have been overheard saying, “I could really use a Gypsy moment,” Abate said.

Adapted from:

It has now been well-established that regular exercise with a dog contributes to a more healthy heart.  Click through the pictures on this site that depict:

The Dog Lover's Guide to Heart Health

Studies show that people with dogs are more active, and activity is good for your heart. Here are 9 easy ways to get heart-healthy exercise and play with your pooch at the same time.

The results are in: According to a study in the Journal of Physical Activity & Health, dog lovers are more active and more likely to get exercise than non-dog owners. Statistics from the study reveal that dog owners are 34 percent more likely to walk 150 minutes a week than non-dog owners, and 69 percent more likely to get at least some leisure-time physical activity. This means that spending time with Fido can also be a great way to fit in heart-healthy exercise. Try these fun activities with your four-legged friend.

1. Walking

2. Jogging

3. Hiking

4. Agility Courses

5. Canoeing

6. Fetch

7. In-Line Skating

8. Hide & Seek

9. Hunting

Adapted from:

Researchers and clinicians can sometimes be a little direct in their zeal to get someone's attention, as in this headline:

Walk the dog, drop the pounds--Researchers look to put a leash on obesity

Taking Fido for a walk can keep people from getting husky, say University of Massachusetts researchers who are trying to get couch potatoes up and out by appealing to their love of dogs.

The first-in-the-nation clinical study at the University of Massachusetts Medical School aims to see if Rover has the power to unleash new levels of human motivation and combat the nation’s obesity epidemic. Researchers are launching a study that will use social networking and other methods to encourage test subjects to walk their dogs — and measure how much walking they do.

“I’ve never had such a great response about a research study. So many people are dog lovers,” said Kristin Schneider, an assistant professor of preventive and behavioral medicine at UMass Medical School.

One-third of adults in the United States are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Just as appalling, 60 percent of dog owners never take their mutts out meandering, Schneider said.

It’s precisely the emotional investment people place in their pooches — and the time they spend social networking on their computers — that Schneider is counting on to coax 120 sedentary Worcester and Lowell residents off their couches and out the door for a minimum of 2 1⁄2 hours of dog walking each week.

In collaboration with physical therapy professors Cynthia Ferrara and Deirdra Murphy at UMass Lowell, Schneider and co-investigator Stephenie Lemon will create a six-month, self-governing community of dog walkers on and provide them pedometers, newsletters, information on walking routes and dog parks — even locations of waste bins.

Over six months, the researchers’ plan is for participants to reach out to each other for doggy play dates and exchange tips on dog-friendly routes and pet-gear sales.

“We can learn so much from dogs,” Schneider said. “They’ll go up to (most) anyone and be so positive and friendly. People need to do more of that in their day-to-day lives.”

“A lot of people have this idea that just letting the dog out in the back yard is enough,” she said.

But the howl-worthy excuses don’t end there. Dozens of dog owners Schneider and Lemon met with this year also griped about weather and the social stigma of Fido relieving himself on a neighbor’s lawn as reasons for begging off breaking a sweat.

Adapted from:

The other very common human disease that lends itself to being detectable by a dog is diabetes.  Dogs are being trained to be able to smell a diabetic's breath for signs of either a high or low blood sugar.

Canines trained to help people with diabetes

Chloe was so rambunctious, her owner didn't want her anymore.

Now the chocolate Labradoodle not only has a home, she also has a job, all thanks to Mark Hackathorn and Scott Smith, who turn homeless and surrendered dogs into service dogs.  Later this month, Chloe will be Seattle-bound, where she will be a diabetic alert dog for Mark Hagen.

Hackathorn, owner of Tidewater K9 Academy for nearly 30 years, and his longtime assistant Smith, are behind CARES, or Canine Assisted Rehabilitation and Education Services. The recently formed nonprofit operates out of a pre-Civil War house in Brentwood that also serves as a boarding and behavior training facility. Initially, CARES was started to rehabilitate dogs to give to the elderly, but Smith read about diabetic alert dogs online and brought the idea to Hackathorn.

"We looked into it and thought, 'Oh, my God. We can help,' " Hackathorn said.

Diabetic alert dogs are trained to give a signal to warn their partners about low or high blood sugar levels. While generally a diabetic can feel the warning signs of low blood sugar, which include sweating, shaking, nausea and confusion, a hypoglycemic-unaware patient cannot.

A diabetic alert dog "can smell when your blood sugar drops too low or goes too high," Smith said. "We teach dogs how to smell that scent and when it gets to a particular point, how to alert us."

Hagen, a diabetic for 32 years, used to be aware of his sugar lows until three years ago, when his health began to deteriorate. Last summer, he went in for a dental cleaning and woke up stunned to see his wife and emergency medical technicians in the room. His dramatic drop in insulin resulted in a visit to the emergency room that evening.

Currently, Hagen relies on a continuous glucose monitor that is about 70 percent accurate in detecting low levels, he said.

"That leaves a lot to fall through the cracks," he said. "My problem is when I get low enough that I can't help myself anymore."

Hagen did some online research and was impressed by the training methods Hackathorn and Smith use. Many trainers rely on dabs of sweat as the scent sample, which can lead to a false positive. Hackathorn and Smith use saliva, an indicator they say is accurate 98 percent of the time.

Hagen flew to Norfolk earlier this year and bonded with Chloe instantly. He will return to the area in the middle of August to spend the week with her under the guidance of Hackathorn and Smith. Then she will ride with him in the passenger cabin back to Seattle and join his family, which includes a pug and Lab mix.

"She's an easy dog to like and work with," Hagen said. "She's extremely smart. I think she'll be a good fit."

Many organizations take years to train diabetic alert dogs; Hackathorn and Smith can do it in as little as eight months. Chloe's training is nearly complete. Hackathorn demonstrates by placing the scent on his body, which causes her to become animated, touching him with her paw. If Smith does not immediately respond, she becomes more persistent.

The first dog the men trained to be a diabetic alert dog is Max, a surrendered yellow Lab, who has since found a home assisting Robert Anderson in Roanoke. Anderson suffers from a seizure disorder that has compromised his ability to deal with his diabetes.

"His memory got so bad, he forgot to test his blood sugar," said his wife, Kimberly. Max came to the family in December and has been a godsend, Kimberly said.

"His being able to keep his independence makes me able to keep mine," she said.

Costs can be inhibiting. Hagen considers himself fortunate to be able to pay the $20,000 for Chloe out-of-pocket. Hackathorn is working to locate corporate sponsors that can subsidize what would be prohibitive expenses to many.

Hackathorn finds rescues via Craigslist, typically seeking Labs or golden retrievers, though he is most partial to the "doodles," because they are hypoallergenic. Once the dogs are trained, they are on alert around the clock, as it isn't unusual for diabetics to suffer highs or lows in the middle of the night.

"These dogs don't have any down time," Hackathorn said.

Giving back motivates Hackathorn, who said he has trained more than 20,000 dogs, largely in obedience. Now his primary focus is service dogs.

"We wanted to do more," he said. "And we wanted to rescue dogs. I like to say, 'Save a dog; save a human.' "

Adapted from:

An appropriate way to finish this week's issue of dogs helping humans with some of their problems is this story of one dog helping another dog--which happens to be deaf.

Deaf Black Lab Fetched By Dog Friend (Great Video)

Teamwork has never been more adorable.

Benson, a cute black lab, is hearing impaired, so when it's time to come inside after playing in the yard, his buddy Buffy has to fetch him.

Despite being "awwww-inspiring," it seems doggy cooperation isn't that uncommon. Earlier this year, Rowdy, a rat terrier, went on a walk with his owner and discovered Casper, a 15-year old miniature schnauzer, stuck in a drain pipe.

Authorities estimated Casper had been in trapped in the pipe for around three days. Firefighters rescued the imprisoned pup with a "unique plan involving a hose and a teddy bear."

Watch as Buffy happily prances over to his roommate, grabs his collar, and ushers him back towards the house. It's even better if you listen to "The Best Of Friends" song from the Fox and the Hound at the same time.

Watch the short video at:

That's it for health and disease-related situations that make good use of our canine friends.  Next week's issue of Questions On Dogs and Cats will present the conclusion of this topic with some very interesting examples of other ways in which pets have become important in making humans' lives more fulfilling.

The Pittsburgh Steelers beat JAX today, although the score was closer than it needed to be. We travel to Phoenix (Glendale) next week to play the AZ Cardinals.


Hallelujah!!!!!  That's all I can say after being able to finally get back on my bike this weekend...rode 10 miles Saturday and 15 miles Sunday.  That doesn't seem like much, compared to my normal distances, but coming off a serious injury, it was a thrilling jolt of happiness for Helpful Buckeye!  I had been anticipating these days for a while but the actual realization of doing it was even greater than I had anticipated.  The chances of making the Tour de Tucson have improved considerably....

I also saw the first tarantula of the Fall today while on my bike ride.  The male tarantulas are out looking for a mate during October at our altitude.

Lastly, the riddle has finally been solved...about the chicken and the egg...and which came first.  As the geneticist J. B. S. Haldane remarked, "The most frequently asked question is: 'Which came first, the chicken or the egg?' The fact that it is still asked proves either that many people have never been taught the theory of evolution or that they don't believe it."  With that in mind, the answer becomes obvious. Birds, as we now know, evolved from reptiles, so the first bird must have come out of an egg--laid by a reptile. From “The Second Book of General Ignorance” by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson.

Now, you won't have to lose anymore sleep over that one....

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~