Friday, December 21, 2012


If you're reading this, that means that December 21st, 2012 has come and gone and we are all still here.  Which is good.  But I would like to chat a bit about actual emergency contingency plans and your pets.

Most human evacuation sites will not take pets, although I'm hopeful that will not always be the case (props to NJ with the recent Sandy landing, where many shelters were announced as pet-friendly).  So in the case of evacuation it is important to have some idea of what you might do with your pets.  I don't have all the answers for this, as every situation is different, but I encourage you to have a sketched out plan in mind.  Animal shelters have been overrun after each natural disaster, either by pets who were lost or abandoned, and then flooded with calls looking for those lost pets as well.  While there are sometimes happy endings to these sad stories, a plan to keep your pets with you or in a situation where they can be returned to you safely is a better bet.

Not all emergencies are to the extreme of Katrina or Sandy.  What about in case of fire?  Do you have a sticker on your window letting fire fighters know that they should be looking for your pets?  You can purchase these stickers from online venues such as, and some rescue organizations and pet stores will have them available for free.

Many people live alone with their pets, and need to consider what will happen with them if they were to become injured or unable to care for them.  I realize that this is a bit depressing, but talking to friends and family about who would be able to help in these situations ahead of time can alleviate a lot of stress and confusion.  I find that clients who have willingly accepted and prepared for bringing a new pet into their homes are much happier than those who have 'inherited' a pet that they didn't want.  Along those same preventative, yet somewhat morbid, lines, specific requests or directions regarding pets should be included in a Last Will and Testament as well.

Contingency plans are important, for yourselves as well as your pets.  But since we've made it past the Mayans' prediction, let's take a minute to squeeze our fuzzy friends.  And tomorrow, we plan.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Runs with Dogs

Like Dances with Wolves.  Get it? sigh.

So I'm a runner.  Not a fast-moving racing fiend, but a runner nonetheless.  And I see a lot of runners while I'm out there plodding along, some of which are running with their dogs.  Which is awesome for the dogs, who need their exercise in order to sleep rather than destroy the couch, and for the humans, who have bonding time as well as fitness time.  But there are things to consider when running with a dog...

Leashes.  In the city, dogs should always been on leash.  When you're running with a dog, you should have a good hold on the leash, and keep it short.  Dogs like to clothesline people, telephone poles, parking meters, etc when you're least expecting it.  And NEVER EVER EVER use a retractable leash when running.  There's a previous blog post about those wretched creations, but just don't.

Running path.  In an ideal world, you would only run with your dog on blissful tree-lined paths with clearly marked lanes for each direction...these do not exist in most of the world, so you'll need to think about the real life path-of-least-resistance instead.  If you're bringing your dog with you, avoid sidewalks with heavy foot traffic, tons of traffic lights and cars making right turns on red.  These obstacles are frustrating for a lone runner, but can be terrifying or deadly for a dog, even if they're only a foot away from you.  It sounds like common sense, and it is, but many of us don't think about it until we're tangled up in a tour group, have a cigarette flicked at us or a Starbucks spilled onto our dog. (Ask me about the woman who just dumped her full coffee, cup and all, 2 feet in front of me.  Didn't even look around first.  AND there was a trash can 100 feet ahead of her!)

Age of dog.  This may be unexpected, but it is actually very important to keep your young dogs off the streets and running paths.  They can chase a ball in the park until the cows come home, but the constant pounding from concrete running does a number on open growth plates.  Wait until your dog is about a year and a half before you do much more than a mile of straight running, and even then you need to work them up to longer distances gradually to avoid injury.  Older dogs are also a consideration - osteoarthritis is one of the most common diseases we see in dogs as they age.  If you notice lameness after a run that used to be 'no problem', you may need to reduce your mileage, or even slow down to walks only.

Breed of dog.  If you want a running partner, be aware of what you can expect from your dog.  An English Bulldog or a Pug are not likely to match you mile for mile.  Any brachycephalic (short-nosed) breed is high risk for exercise, as they don't exchange oxygen as easily and can overheat quickly.  If you are not a runner and you have a high energy breed like a Weimaraner or a Pit Bull, you might want to get yourself fitted for some running shoes!  Keeping a high energy breed on a low energy schedule can lead to destructive behaviors, and is one of the reasons our shelters and rescues are always so full.

Awareness.  You are running with another being who does not share your mind.  They may be the best and most attentive dog in the world, but they can make the untimely decision to go left when you need to go right.  Being aware of what your dog is doing, what fellow pedestrians are doing, and what cars/bikes are doing is a major undertaking, and it is important for everyone's safety.  Just remember, running with a dog ain't no walk in the park!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Tie A Yellow Ribbon...

...around your dog's leash?

That is what a movement out of Sweden is encouraging people to do, for their dogs who need space.  I just learned about this, and I think it is a ridiculously AWESOME idea!

There are many reasons why a dog who is out for a walk should not be approached.  The first to come to mind are that the dog is reactive, fearful, or aggressive.  Wouldn't you be happy to know that you should give those pups a wide berth?  There are other reasons as well - what about a contagious disease?  Those dogs need to get their exercise too, but don't you want to skip that greeting?  Often people are working on training their dogs, and having another dog or person come up to them can be very distracting - a yellow ribbon would allow for training to continue uninterrupted, so that we can soon have another model dog citizen in the world.

I am constantly telling clients that it is much easier to train your dog than to train the people your dog will meet.  Yellow means caution, and if we can train the general public to use caution when we put a yellow ribbon or bandana on a dogs leash?  Just. Freaking. Brilliant.

The (limited) website is: and they have a facebook page as well: .  Friend them, tell a friend, tell all 400+ of your facebook friends, tweet about it, retweet get the idea!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Cat Litter Conundrum

I want to start out by saying something very unfortunate, but in my opinion, very true: there is no perfect cat litter on the market.  There are various types of litter out there, which is one thing I want to cover in this post, but the reality is you need to pick and choose your battles.  It won't be too hard to see which battle I'm fighting...

The most common type of litters out there are clay-based.  They're cheap, they clump, and cats tend to like them.  They are also VERY environmentally unfriendly, as the main ingredient that causes clumping, sodium bentonite, is STRIP-MINED from as deep as 50+ feet into the ground.  This material does not compost and it does not break down - this stuff is in our landfills for the long haul. There is also concern that sodium bentonite can be harmful for the cats - they inhale it, and it is on their paws and fur after use, which is then ingested via grooming.  There are no proven studies that show it is harmful, but it has also only been on the market for ~20 years - a relatively short time.  My guess is that we will start to see studies come out against the use of this material in the future.

Alternative options are not perfect, as I mentioned, but they are better for the environment, which means they are better for me.  There are many, but I will just touch on the most common and readily available.

World's Best Cat Litter is made from corn husks.  As far as usability and availability, it is very similar to clay.  It clumps in a very similar manner, without using sodium bentonite.  It's price point is higher than clay litters, but it tends to last for a decent amount of time with regular scooping.  The negatives: the corn is likely genetically modified corn, and has been exposed to pesticides and herbicides.  It is clearly not organic, and there is no research regarding what kind of remnants of that kind of treatment is still present in the litter.  Again, no research does not mean no harm.  This is the most similar litter to clay, and cats tend to like it, but it may pose a health risk.  Odor control is reasonable, not outstanding.

Feline Pine is made from, shockingly, pine trees.  The wood is a natural source, clearly better than clay, but there are concerns regarding pine resin and oils that could remain in the litter and potentially be harmful for cats.  Again, no research on this, so no definitive answers. It is pelleted, which does not always please the cats, and is probably my biggest issue with it.  When the pellets become wet, they turn into sawdust which can be difficult to scoop out.  Odor control is quite good, as long as you like pine trees.

Yesterday's News is made from recycled newspaper.  I like the idea, and I would love to support this whole heartedly, but unfortunately it is pelleted as well.  The pellets become damp mush when wet, and often you end up dumping the whole box rather than successfully scooping out the waste material.  If you are a diligent daily scooper it is possible to use this with success, as long as your cat approves of pellets.  As a multi-cat household I found it to be very difficult to stay on top of cleaning without wasting.  Odor control is minimal, but if you're scooping often it's less of an issue.

SWheat Scoop is a wheat based litter.  It clumps pretty well using wheat's natural properties when wet, and does not have any added chemicals or fragrances.  I could not find information on whether then wheat has been chemically treated with pesticides, so that concern still exists.  There are reports of insect larvae being an issue with this type of litter (so maybe pesticides aren't an issue), and assumably this would be a problem with World's Best as well, given the crop nature of the litter base.  Odor control is decent.

There are other varieties of litter out there, as I've mentioned.  There is more information regarding various litters here:, and an article discussing clay litter here:  There is also the whole internet, which has opinions too :).

Before signing off on litter speak, I want to briefly touch on flushing and composting.  Cat feces should NOT be flushed into the water supply.  Many cats are carriers for Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that can cause disease in mammals, and has been linked to the decline of sea otters on the west coast.  While we don't have a complete understanding of what damage this parasite can cause, it's better to play things safe.  Please keep your cat poop out of the toilets!  As for composting, animal feces can be composted, but NOT into compost used on any edible plants.  Composted animal feces can be beneficial for your decorative flower beds and your shrubs, but keep it away from your vegetable gardens and fruit-bearing trees!

I hope that at the very least this post encourages you to think about your litter.  And if anyone has ideas for a truly perfect, eco-friendly, cat-friendly, affordable litter that we can produce and retire on, let me know!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Dangerous Dog Laws

This is a difficult topic for me, as for many dog lovers and owners, as we do not always accept that there are dogs that should be labeled ‘dangerous’.  I fully believe that naming a dangerous dog should on an individual basis, and that breed-specific legislation, or ‘breedism’ is wrong wrong wrong.  I see different breeds of dogs all day long, and I know how to read the individual body language that keeps me from being bitten multiple times a day.  And I have owned a dog that is one of the most recognized biters in veterinary medicine - a chihuahua.  (I have also owned a pit bull, who was terrified of said chihuahua).  But I don’t want this post to get into breedism, because that is not what I’m addressing at this time.  I would like to talk about the laws that exist to help humans, in the case of a dangerous dog.

First, many people don’t really think about dangerous dog laws as existing, or at least as existing as relates to their every day life.  They think of some terrible situation that they see on the news, generally of catastrophic proportion.  And they are right - those instances are absolutely cases where these laws are important.  But it is also important to use these laws to protect the every day situation.  Many of my clients tell me of neighborhood dogs or dog park dogs that ‘everyone knows’ they need to avoid.   But no one has reported this dog.  And because there is no report, each incident of aggression goes un-noted in the public record, and thus there is no action that can be taken with repeat occurrences. 

Let me back up a second.  Dogs play; they roughhouse, they growl and grab skin with their teeth as a normal occurrence during interaction.  That is not what I’m talk about.  I’m talking about the dog that causes a fight, and when the fight is broken up it turns on the humans breaking up the fight.  I’m talking about the unprovoked attacks through a storm door when you are walking your dog down the street.  I’m talking about the dog that comes out of nowhere and knocks down a skateboarder or a biker.

In most of these situations, there is a human involved in the mix.  (While a true stray dog is rare, if no owner can be identified and they are causing a problem, Animal Control should already be brought in to address them.)  So who is responsible, in the majority of cases of repeat incidents of dog bites?  The owner of the dog.  Which is where the dangerous dog laws come in to play - the owner receives a citation or warning, which can then lead to a fine, which can eventually lead to the dog being taken away from the owner.  A legal, documented trail can lead to the prevention of these dogs from causing harm to other dogs, to people, and to themselves.

I have many clients that own dogs who are considered ‘dog aggressive’, ‘fear aggressive’, ‘approach slowly’, etc.  And there are steps that can be taken to address all of these categories and more - there are behaviorists and trainers, there are over the counter treatments for anxiety as well as prescription medications.  But the biggest thing that my clients who own these dogs have in their favor?  Awareness.  They don’t bring their ‘dog aggressive’ dog to the park, or if they do it’s at a low traffic time and they are aware of any other dog that approaches.  Owners of ‘fear aggressive’ dogs don’t take them for a walk when school is letting out (kids can be *terrifying*!), and they know that these dogs will be more on edge on garbage day.  And they don’t leave the front door open, with just a screen between their dog and the neighborhood.  These owners are not the people that dangerous dog laws are targeting, because these owners are aware of their dog, working with their dog, and they keep them away from situations that would get them into trouble.  

So, what do we do when a one-sided dog fight occurs? Or a person is bitten or attacked by a dog?  Call 911.  I know it may sound extreme, but the police are the first line of the record keeping process.  You *have* to file a police report.  If it is a first time offense, it is possible that the only thing that will happen is that the report will be filed.  But if it is a known dangerous dog, the fines and citations will begin, and hopefully the owner of the dog will take measures to prevent further incidents from happening.  Even if you do not have a person or address attached to the dog, file the report.  And, while I hate to say this, not every police officer believes that this is their responsibility; they may brush you off, or say there really isn’t anything they can do, or to call Animal Control.  They are wrong, and you should insist on having the police report filed.  

I realize that the last thing anyone wants to do after going through a traumatic experience, either for their dog or for themselves, is to sit around to wait for a cop and then fill out paperwork.  But it is so important to have documentation, so that repeat offenses will stop happening.  What you or your dog are going through at that moment could have happened a dozen times before - if everyone had reported it, you might not be in that situation, and you have the chance to help prevent it from happening again.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Natural Disasters: Making a Bad Situation Worse

Hurricane Isaac just made himself felt in the Gulf region, another hit to an area that has already sustained so much weather-related tragedy.  I want to tell you a story of an unfortunate and not atypical situation, that just happened with Isaac...

My husband's friend Jessie lives in New Orleans, and during Isaac she rescued two sweet little female pitties wandering the streets.  It turns out that they had been left outside in a medium sized crate to ride out the storm, and broke out of the crate (either from complete panic or with some help from the brutal winds is unknown).  When she found the home and suggested returning the dogs, she was told that they would be put back in the crate, so she decided to foster them and try to re-home them.  After eating a hearty meal, they slept for 12 hours straight!

While that is heartbreaking in and of itself, what happened after the initial rescue was also frustrating.  Jessie has her own dog, and these two new girls (named Thelma and Louise, as the crate woman didn't even know their names) weren't used to being indoors or being with a new dog; there was no way that Jessie could keep them in her place for very long.  So she started to look into rescue situations.  She sent emails, made phone calls, tried to contact people through twitter and facebook, and received almost no response.  Zeus' Place, a grooming and boarding facility that does a lot of rescue work, did try to help her and offer her advice. They were unable to take the dogs because their building had structural damage that needed repair before they could open again - they had already crammed all of their rescues into various foster situations even more crowded than Jessie's apartment!  But even with dealing with all of their issues, they took the time to talk to her.

When organizations such as the Humane Society and SPCA were overwhelmed and unable to respond, a small-time rescue did. CPH is trying to organize donations of pet food, blankets, and cat carriers to send down to Zeus' Place, to say thank you for what they are doing and to help them rebuild.  In the aftermath of a hurricane, with power outages and building damage, it's not a surprise that Jessie had a hard time finding help!

The HSUS and SPCA weren't able to respond because they're underfunded, understaffed and undersupplied.  Donation, financial or otherwise, to any rescue or organization is a great way to make a difference for the many homeless pets that are taken in.  While disasters such as Hurricane Isaac make things more immediate, every town has animal rescue organizations that are struggling to feed their wards.  We have one employee who, in lieu of other gifts for her young nieces, buys them gift cards to pet stores - they go in together, the girls pick out toys and treats, and then they deliver them to an animal shelter.  It's such a simple concept, but such an amazing thing to do, and to teach the next generation.  I encourage everyone to take a second to think about donating.  Thank you, from me and all the shelter fuzzballs waiting for a home.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Retractable Leashes - The Unspoken Menace

Aggressive title, right?  Well, retractable leashes can be a real problem, especially for city dwelling dogs.  I'm not saying you have to go and throw away your retractable leash, but I would encourage you to read on and decide whether you may not want to switch it out for a leather or nylon leash instead.

Retractable leashes have a thin cord that retracts into a plastic handle, which allows your dog to have up to 30 feet of distance between you and them.  Even if it's only half that, 15 feet is a big deal when your dog suddenly comes face to face with another dog turning a corner.  Or if he spots a squirrel across the street and makes a break for it. Or when she thinks she's able to run a head because she feels no resistance, and then chokes herself to an abrupt stop.

For dogs in the city, retractable leashes and distracted owners mean numerous incidents that are avoidable.  I have personally treated a dog that was hit by a car while the owner was walking him on a retractable leash - the owner turned her head to look at something for a second, and when she turned back her dog was halfway across the street and she watched him get hit.  It was very traumatic for everyone involved, and cemented my feelings about those types of leashes in a city environment.  More commonly, though, blind corners and long leashes end up with dogs coming nose to nose with other dogs/bikes/joggers/skateboarders with no reaction time possible for the owners at the other end of that 15 feet.

The injuries associated with retractable leashes are multi-fold.  As I've already mentioned, for your dog: dog fights, hit by cars, choking incidents, neck trauma and even blindness.  For the human holding the leash: cuts, burns, drag incidents and, ridiculously commonly, digit amputation.  That's right, amputation.  That sharp little cord that so conveniently disappears into the plastic handle?  Works just like a guillotine on fingers that are in the wrong place when your dog sees that tempting little squirrel.

I think the concept of the retractable leash is fine for certain situations, however.  Hiking on trails or walking in big parks where there is room to run but no physical boundary? Perfect to let your dog have 30 feet of freedom without risking him taking off after a deer or another dog.  You still have the risk or choking themselves, but with training they can learn the boundaries of the leash.  But walking down 5th Street? No, thank you.

And, as a matter of etiquette, if you are aware that your dog is not good with other dogs or people or children PLEASE do not use a retractable leash.  The amount of control you have over your dog is NOT good enough.  And if your dog is not well trained (or even just squirrel motivated), the injury you may be avoiding is your own.  Watch those fingers!

Friday, August 24, 2012

The Real Poo About Dog Poo

Walking a dog in the city means picking up poo (for most of us upstanding citizens, anyway).  But it's unlikely that we get every last fecal molecule with that baggie; and what about the pile that was left behind?  What does all of this fecal material mean for *your* pup, who is walking through and sniffing at these microscopic remnants?

Unfortunately, it means that disease transmission is a real issue in city and other high traffic dog-walking environments.  Many fecal parasites can survive in the environment and be infective for weeks to months.  Whipworms can survive in soil for up to 7 YEARS!  Parvovirus is a very serious and possibly fatal viral infection that is transmitted from fecal material, and can survive in soil for up to a year.  Some of the parasites that our dogs can pick up, such as Giardia, can then be passed on to us - these are considered 'zoonotic'.

Does this mean that we should all keep our dogs on lockdown? Concrete all the green space we can find? Pour bleach on the ground in front of our dog's feet?  Of course not!  What fun would that be? It does mean that veterinary care in the city is of the utmost importance!  Keeping your furry friend vaccinated against Parvo (usually included in the Canine Distemper combination vaccine) is almost 100% effective when administered appropriately. If you have a new puppy, it is important to be cautious until they are considered fully vaccinated at 16 weeks of age.  There is a waxing/waning effect with protective antibodies from a puppy's mother vs. the vaccinations administered, so it is important to limit your puppy's exposure to the outside world until your vet gives you the okay. 

The monthly Heartworm preventative that your vet recommends is also a monthly dewormer, so make sure to put that reminder in your phone each month!  This will get rid of some intestinal parasites your dog can encounter. Those annual fecal samples your veterinary receptionists ask you to bring with you (ewww, right?) are very important to catch fecal parasites before they cause illness. It's not just a runny poo that needs to be checked out!

What all of this means is that you can still take your dog for a walk, to play in the park, or let them roam the streets of Philadelphia off-leash....wait, scratch that last one!  Since you are not going to keep your dog on lockdown, make sure that you're taking the necessary precautions to keeping the *real* yucky stuff out of their poo.