Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Pets in the Eldercare Community

As I visit the elderly in assisted living, skilled nursing and memory units of eldercare communities, the response of life-long dog lovers to my therapy dog, Murphy, is both sweet and sad. These folks smile, pet and hug Murphy, and tell stories of their own dogs. Some of those stories are about having to leave a dog behind when they moved in. Those are the sad ones. You see it in their eyes and you know, absolutely, if that dog could be with them, their days would have renewed purpose (caring for the dog), laughter (dogs are clowns), bragging rights (ask him to give you five, go head, ask him), and of course, unconditional love.

Thanks to a friend and therapy dog handler who works in one of these communities and suggested this, I was asked to consult with a resident, her family and the resident's five-year-old small breed dog. The resident was lucky enough to be able to bring her dog with her to assisted living. But a disruptive dog has to go. And this dog is becoming increasingly reactive (and very loud) toward other dogs and in peril of being sent away. The goal is to prevent that from happening.

Today I spent an hour with a therapist, the resident, her dog, and a family member. Here's how it went:
  • the dog was out of control, running and jumping on furniture, when we entered the resident's room
  • the resident was unable to quiet the dog effectively
  • the dog responded well when I asked the resident to put his leash on
  • the resident, the dog and I sat on the floor where I offered a bit of chicken for a polite sit, which he gladly provided
  • we talked quietly, reinforcing good behavior in the dog and after a few minutes he settled into "training"
  • the dog is sensitive to touch, reacting a bit negatively when touched on the back
  • when we left the resident's room to take the dog for a walk (with me on the other end of the leash), he was responsive, making good eye contact with me
  • the dog became anxious from time to time - seeming to be sensitive to unexpected sounds
Next visit we will see if I am able to start teaching the resident the skills she needs to keep her dog. As with so many elderly people, she has memory loss. And that's the challenge: create a plan that will work in spite of that memory loss.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Holidays & Puppies

The Humane Society of the United States ­estimates that six to eight ­million dogs and cats enter animal shelters every year. Half of those are ­euthanized. How can you ensure that your next dog will not be a ­statistic? Here are some ­suggestions that are especially important to consider as the holidays approach. Please remember that dogs are expensive. And they are not disposable.If you are considering buying a purebred dog, choose a breed that is appropriate to your lifestyle. Research the breed. A good place to start is the American Kennel Club (www.akc.org/), where you can find breed standards, as well as reputable breeders and breed rescue organizations (an excellent source for mature dogs). Another great place to find both purebred and mixed breed dogs is your local humane society.

Puppy Proofing. If you are adopting a puppy, are you willing to puppy proof your home, deck, yard, pool, and vehicle? Indoors this includes making computer cables, electric cords, articles of clothing (dirty laundry and shoes are puppy favorites), sporting equipment, children's toys, books, magazines, remote controls, eye glasses, etc. inaccessible. There should be a gate at every stairway and trash cans should be out of reach. Toxic substances (including house plants like dieffenbachia, lily of the valley, mistletoe, philodendron, and poinsettia) must be put away. Remember: if a puppy can get it in his mouth (it being just about anything), it will go in his mouth ... which is just a swallow away from being in his belly.

Outdoors, if you have a pool, make sure the puppy cannot get in it. Yards are full of things puppies like to ­investigate. Make certain all ­poisonous substances ­(fertilizer, antifreeze, etc.) are out of reach. Do you have a trailered boat in your backyard? Move it. If your yard is fenced in, make sure there are no spaces a puppy can squeeze through. Put the gardening tools away. Their handles make wonderful chew toys. Under­stand that if you have a yard, your new pal may­ dig holes, bed down in the flowers, chew the ­corners off of your deck steps, and bark at everything from butterflies to falling leaves. He may eat dirt and rocks and parts of trees. He is, after all, a dog.

Cost. Can you afford a dog? The first year of a dog's life is usually the most expensive. It will include three sets of shots, the cost of spaying or neutering, flea and tick and heartworm preventative. Add to that food, treats, a crate, collar and leash, food and water bowls, and toys. Then there is the cost of obedience training, more collars (when he outgrows the original) and leashes (when he chews through the original), and fencing in the backyard to keep him safe. Can you afford to board him when you go on vacation?

Responsibilities. Are you committed to be a ­responsible pet owner? Are you willing to neuter or spay your dog? Take at least one basic obedience class and/or work with a private trainer? Provide plenty of exercise and positive ­reinforcement? Crate train?Choose a veterinarian before you pick up your puppy. Schedule his first vet appointment for a few days after you bring him home. At that first appointment you can ask questions about vaccinations, ­spaying and neutering, flea and tick protection, heartworm preventatives, etc. And here are a few other issues to consider:
  • Is a spotless house important to you? Dogs, ­especially puppies, can be messy creatures.
  • Is anyone in the household allergic to dogs? If so, choose your breed carefully from those that don't shed much and produce small amounts of dander.
  • Do you already have a dog? Tread carefully when bringing a newcomer into the family. Avoid jealousy by paying special attention to the older dog.
  • Do you have small children? Puppy teeth are very sharp. Pups nip and mouth other dogs and in the beginning don't understand the difference between ­nipping a dog and nipping a child. Consider adopting an adult dog.

When you bring a new dog into your home, know that you have way more than a pet. You have a new family member, one who will love you for life.