Dogs Bring Us Together

Yesterday we went to a wedding in Malibu. It was a small intimate affair. We didn’t know many of the other guests.  The view of the ocean was spectacular. We all talked about our favorite beaches along the coast. I mentioned the dog beach just to the north of the restaurant where the reception was taking place that we have always taken my Goldens to and suddenly everyone was talking about their dogs. The groom, who has had a stroke, shared about how important his Jack Russell has been to him. Another woman asked me what kind of dog I had. When I mentioned a Golden she jumped out of her chair and ran over with her cell phone to show me pictures of her Golden. Of course I had plenty of my own of Morgan. It turned out both of our dogs were rescued from the south LA  area.  Other attendees took out their cameras with pictures of their families. Our dog interactions gave all of us something in common other than knowing the grooms and we felt like we knew each other just a bit more. When we left we all embraced in a way that we might not have.

Photo of Jack Russell found on flickr

Visiting a Shelter

Palm Springs has had a new dog shelter for about two years now. The old one was built in the 60’s and it was long overdue. I had visited the old shelter once when I was asked to write a column for the local newspaper about a fundraising event for a new shelter. It broke my heart just for its deplorable condition. The new shelter is state for the art and a tribute to our love for animal-kind. Right now there’s an ongoing matching fund campaign and I’d been wanting to make a donation to honor my three life companions.  A friend of mine who works for the shelter offered to meet me there and take my check. I’d been there once before for their grand opening and it broke my heart again to see so many dogs in the pens. On this day I refused to see the dogs, I just couldn’t take it. This time I was heartbroken by the number of cats at the shelter. By chance I happened to walk by the canine section and there were the dogs, mostly pit bulls, staring up at me. Now I know why a friend of mine adopted his second pit bull. How could he not?  Their big sad eyes looking out. Photo found on the Facebook site from Army of the Kind by j. j. woof ‘n’ paws.

Nicholas overseeing Happy Hills Ranch, Cazadero, Sonoma County

Preparing your Pet for Travel

My life has been blessed with three amazing Golden Retrievers – Nicholas was my first, then Willy and now Morgan. They traveled everywhere with me and over the course of time we’ve experienced a whole array of situations from cuts on the paw pad and Lyme’s disease to a noisy hotel room that frightened Morgan. You never think something will happen to you or your pet but sometimes it does and being prepared is the best cure.

This is what AAA recommends you take when a four-legged member of your family is coming along.

  • Carrier or crate
  • Nylon or leather leash collar or harness, license tag, ID tags, and leash. All should be sturdy and should fit your pet properly.
  • Food and water dishes
  • Can opener and spoon.
  • An ample supply of food, plus a few days extra.
  • Bottled water from home
  • Cooler with ice
  • Healthy treats
  • Medications
  • Health certificate and other required documents
  • A blanket or other bedding. An old sheet of you think the pet might end up on the hotel furniture.
  • Litter supplies and poop scoops and plastic bags
  • Favorite toy
  • Carpet deodorizer
  • Chewing preventative
  • A recent photograph and a written description including name, breed, gender, height, weight, coloring and distinctive markings
  • Grooming supplies: comb/brush, nail clippers, shampoo, cloth and paper towels, cotton ball/tissue
  • First aid: gauze, bandages, and adhesive tape, hydrogen peroxide, rubbing alcohol, ointment, muzzle, scissors. Tweezers.
  • Local emergency phone numbers
  • First aid guide

Beginning around 1998 I lost a lot of my hearing and since then my dogs have been designated as Assistance Dogs so it has made long distance travel easier for me but that doesn’t mean things won’t still happen. The list above may seem obvious and things you might be able to purchase at your destination but it’s so much easier having things ahead of time. For instance, when Willy cut his paw pad while swimming in Kennebunkport, Maine we had gauze, bandages and adhesive tape with us and didn’t have to ask the hotel or find a store. When he started to pick at the gauze and tape we covered it with a clean white sock so he couldn’t get to it.


Steal a Dog

I found this on the web and wanted to share it. I’ve been just as guilty about these risky behaviors as anyone else.  I always left Nicholas outside of a business store front. He waited for me while I worked out at the gym. In fact, my friends would come by and say “we saw Nicholas outside and knew you were here.”  It sounds down-home and neighborly. As though we were in a small village. But the truth is, I was careless and mighty lucky. It always made me nervous and I spent a lot of time looking out the window to make sure he was all right. But it takes only a few seconds for someone to swipe a dog off the street or from a yard and into a van.

Once Willy was tagged as my service hearing dog I was able to bring him inside and this situation was someone averted. But a dog can be stolen from your home, too. Read this and take precaution.

 Top Five High Risk Pet Theft Scenarios

#1 Dogs in Autos:

In the blink of an eye, a partially opened window is forced down or the window is smashed and the dog can be removed from the vehicle. It takes 20 seconds or less to abduct a dog and by the time the pet guardian returns to the car, their dog is long gone. The American Kennel Club reports a 70% rise in dog theft in 2012 and a 40% rise the year before. A weak economy is fueling financially motivated dog-napping and a dog in a car is quite simply a sitting duck.

#2 Highly Prized Breeds or Dogs With Special Abilities:

A purebred dog or a dog with special skills is a bit like a gold watch. Thieves see dollar signs and that’s more than enough temptation. Any dog left unattended under any circumstances can be taken, but there is far greater motivation for criminals to walk off with a dog who can bring in a large sum of cash.

#3 Pets Left in Fenced Backyards:

Everyone loves the convenience of a doggy door, especially criminals. Homeowners who let their pet explore the fenced yard without supervision have the illusion of safety, but police departments across the country will tell you that the theft of these dogs is climbing.

In broad daylight on a single Saturday in November, Corning (California) Animal Shelter Manager Debbie Eaglebarger documented the theft of four Dobermans, four Australian shepherds and two Rottweilers. There were actually other dogs taken that same day but the first few calls were not recorded as the shelter had not yet realized that the town was in the midst of a widespread crime wave. One neighbor saw a man and a woman driving a green pick up truck lure one of the dogs out of a backyard and into their vehicle. All dogs taken that day were purebred, but that is not always the case.

#4 Pets Left Tied in Front of Businesses:

This one may sound like a no-brainer, but particularly in urban areas where people take their pets on their errands on foot, it’s not uncommon to find dogs tied up in front of a bank or grocery store. Typically, these are dogs with a gentle demeanor making them highly susceptible to the commands of a would-be thief.

“Leaving your dog tied up in front of a store is about as ludicrous as leaving your child out front and saying, ‘Wait right there, I’ll be back in 10 minutes,” explains Howard Simpson of Integrated Security and Communications in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts. “Do yourself a favor and realize that there are security risks in even the safest of neighborhoods. Being naive makes you a target.”

#5 Strangers in the Neighborhood:

Any strangers on the property can be a risk to your pets. Whether they are invited contractors, deliverymen or activists with a petition in hand, visitors could easily grab a pet during a moment when the homeowner is distracted. In some cases, they are making a mental note of homes with valuable breeds or easy-to-subvert home security that will facilitate a quick dog-napping at a later time. It bears mentioning that it’s not uncommon for cats to jump into the back of truck beds for a snooze and to be unwittingly carried off at the end of the day.

Which Breeds Are Most Likely to Be Stolen?


According to the American Kennel Club, the most-stolen dog of 2011 was the Yorkshire Terrier, followed by the Pomeranian, Maltese and Boston Terrier. Small breeds are targeted by thieves because of their size but also because of their value on the market as a single dog can fetch well over $1,000. Among the large breeds, Labrador Retrievers are a frequent target and Pit Bull Terriers and Pit Bull mixes are frequently coming up stolen for perhaps a much more sinister purpose.

Dog Thieves: Why They’ll Steal Your Pet

1. Bait Dogs & Laboratory Dogs:

This is every dog guardian’s worst nightmare. Indeed people involved in dog fighting will gather “bait” dogs to be used as training tools for fighting dogs. It happens in both urban and rural areas and there has been no measurable decline in dog fighting in recent years despite attempts to police against it. And, despite some legislation intended to stop the sale of undocumented dogs to research laboratories, under-the-table purchase of dogs continues and, in some countries, these exchanges are not considered a crime.

2. Financially Motivated Theft:

For the first time ever we’ve seen a trend now where shelters are being broken into and purebred and mixed breed dogs are being stolen,” said Lisa Peterson, spokesperson for the American Kennel Club. In fact, any pure bred dog, particularly puppies, are considered a high-value commodity. Even with a microchip, it’s often too late by the time a pet buyer discovers that they have purchased a stolen dog.  By then, the thief is long gone.

3. Emotionally Driven Theft:

What’s often overlooked are the emotionally motivated crimes that rob dogs of their families. This can happen because the perpetrator feels that a dog is not being properly cared for. Some animal lovers will feel justified in stealing a dog that is tied in front of a store or who gets on the loose one day. Other times it’s an act of revenge, and there are many reports of dogs being taken where a former romantic partner is considered the prime suspect.


One very risky move…

Whatever the scenario or the motivation, dog guardians can best protect their dogs with watchfulness. Never leave a dog unattended. Secure your home, including all doors and windows, to the best of your ability and budget. And be wary of strangers in your neighborhood at all times.

Brought to you by the Harmony Fund international animal rescue charity.

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Sum sum summer time

Summertime is here and it’s time for getting out and away. When I moved to Palm Springs in 2003, where the temperature can get as high as 115 or worse during June, July and August, I promised my Golden Retriever companion, Willy, that we would escape the searing heat and head for Cape Cod or San Francisco and we’ve been doing it ever since. This year’s escape is north to the city by the bay.

As our pets have become full-fledged members of our families, traveling with them has become easier. More than 14,000 AAA approved hotels and campgrounds from coast to coast are pet friendly.

Here are four rules that AAA recommends when deciding if your pet should travel.

Rule 1: Pets who are very young, very old, pregnant, sick, injured, prone to biting or excessive vocalizing, or who cannot follow basic commands should not travel.

Even a well-travelled dog or cat might not be ready for the activities you have planned. No pet is going to be happy or safe cooped up in a car or hotel room. Things a dog likes to do may not give pleasure to your cat. Putting some thought toward your pet’s needs and safety will pay off.

I took my Willy to the Grand Canyon once and I will never do it again. I was foolish. It’s a dangerous place and he didn’t enjoy it. The trail is narrow and slippery. I’m lucky nothing happened. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do it.

Rule 2: If your pet can’t actively participate in the trip, she should stay home.

This mostly refers to those who own a bird, hamster, pig, ferret, lizard or some other exotic creature. Also, be aware that unusual animals are not always accepted as readily as more conventional pets. Always specify the type of pet you have when making arrangements.

Rule 3: Be specific when making travel plans that include the needs of your pet. Nobody wants unpleasant surprises on vacation.

This means if you’re leaving Fido behind – family, friends and neighbors make good pet-sitters especially if they already know the animal and can care for him in your home. Provide detailed instructions for feeding, medication and exercise, as well as phone numbers for your destination, your vet, and your local animal emergency clinic.

Here are some other precise details to consider.

1. Your dog’s usual food: Some dogs get an upset stomach if you change their chow, so be sure to pack plenty of your dog’s usual food for his stay. For dry food, a Tupperware container works best and you can leave wet food in the can. Just make sure you have packed enough for your entire stay, and perhaps a little bit extra just in case.

2. Any medications or supplements that Fido may need. New environments may trigger existing ailments, so even if your pet doesn’t need his medication all the time, it’s better to have it on hand to be safe. And be certain to include instructions on how to administer the medication, from vet directions to your own “what works.”

3. Instructions: Take the time to write a short list of any special instructions you may have for your pet host regarding feeding times, portions for food, the phone number of your local vet, and where you can be reached etc. And as always make sure Fido’s collar fits him properly and that all tags are up-to-date with your cell phone number and address.

4. Pack Two Leashes: It’s always a good idea to pack more than one leash just in case your host loses one. You can pack a short leash and one that has an extendable line for areas where your dog might want to get some exercise.

5. Favorites: You definitely want to take the time to pack your dog’s bed and favorite toys so that they have some comforts from home; you might want to avoid squeaky toys just so Fido doesn’t drive his weekend host crazy. An old t-shirt that smells like you can also make for a great cuddle toy for your dog while you are apart.

However, if you are not comfortable with traditional boarding, you might want to check out DogVacay, a website that sets up owners and host families for a fee, in which the host families will treat your dog as you do (with no cages or kennels involved.) I’ve never used them.

Rule 4: Never leave your pet with someone you don’t trust.

Rule 5: Never leave an animal in a parked car, even if the windows are partially open.


The Strongest Swimmer


There’s been a few heartbreaking stories in the news   lately about humans attempting to rescue their dogs from turbulent ocean waves only to be swept away and drowned. Shortly after Thanksgiving a family and their dog were walking along a beach up in Eureka when a wave suddenly swept their dog out to sea. Their 16-year-old son went into the breaking surf to attempt to rescue the dog. When he got in trouble both parents rushed into the water to save him. The dog made it safely back to shore unharmed. The mother, father and son did not.

A month later, a Bay Area man died attempting to save his dog from the surf at Point Reyes National Seashore. Two weeks later a 32 -year old woman was walking her dog along the coast at Shelter Cove, when a sneaker wave carried her out to sea.

At least seven people have died in northern California since 2008 while attempting to rescue their dogs from the ocean. In all but one case, the dogs made it safely back to shore without any human intervention.

The simple truth is that dogs are better swimmers than their two-legged masters. According to army veterinarian Capt Lynn Miller, “Compared to their human counterparts, many dog breeds have a compact center of mass in relation to their long d limbs and an elevated head and neck, which makes them good swimmers in calm water.”

If you take your four-legged buddy to the beach, keep a few safety tips in mind. Vigilance and prevention needs to be foremost on all dog owners’ mind to protect themselves. Dogs that weigh less than 40 pounds should not be allowed to run off leash near the surf zone.

“Even the fittest canine athlete isn’t made for pounding surf. And dogs should be discouraged from going near rough water and rocky areas. Remember a small wave that comes up to your dogs elbow is equivalent to a bigger wave that comes up to a human’s knee.

If your dog is swept away, simply give him or her an opportunity to swim back to shore. “Dogs are far better equipped to “go with the flow” and get themselves to shore than are humans.”

Lindquist also advises that dog owners make sure their pets have microchips and wears a collar with ID tags. This will help you and your dog be reunited more quickly if he comes ashore a long distance from where you are.

Having lived in Northern California I can attest to the dangerous ocean surf. But even in Southern California the ocean can be a dangerous place. Once when I was swimming and body surfing in Laguna Beach I got caught in an undertow and was dragged out into the ocean. Luckily, I didn’t panic and swam parallel to the shore. For the last few years I’ve gone to the dog beach in Malibu and there have been some days when the crashing surf was so big and so loud that I kept my dog safely onshore. Here’s how I see it – dogs are like kids. You wouldn’t let your kids close to the roaring, crashing surf so don’t let your dogs.

Always make sure you and your dog have plenty of fresh drinking water. Salt water is not good for a dog’s intestines and stomach. After his swim, rinse off your dog’s coat with fresh water to remove salt and prevent skin irritation. And also so your house won’t get sand in it.

Finally, as a sensible safety precaution, any dog that enters open water. Whether beach or riding on a boat) should be fitted with a life vest, regardless of his size.

Remaining onshore when you think your best friend is in trouble is not an easy thing to do.

Though this article focuses on the ocean, any body of water, be it a river, a lake, or a back yard pool, do not leave your pet unattended for even a moment. Like children, a dog can drown in a pool. A river can have unexpected rapids.

I was walking along the bank of the Russian River once in the winter time. It’s the rainy season and the river was high and flowing strongly. I had no intention of letting Willy into it. As we walked along, the bank curved and there was an unexpected trail leading right down to the water. Willy, off leash, bolted. He leaped into the water and began to be carried down stream. I ran along the edge coaxing him toward shore. Little by little he got closer until he was against the bank of the river and I helped him out. I learned my lesson that day that even well-trained dogs can suddenly do unexpected things.

Here’s another safety tip – don’t talk on your cell phone when you’re walking at the beach. It only takes a second for a dog or human to get into trouble. That extra minute on the cell phone can mean the difference between a fun day and a catastrophe.