Archive for April, 2013

Conservation dogs sniff out endangered animals

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Peppin DogBy Elizabeth Devitt edevitt@mercurynews.com

Megan Parker carries poop in her purse. At least she does when she’s working with her dog Pepin, who’s trained to track the scat of endangered wildlife.

Having the right scent on hand allows Parker to direct her dog during a search.

Parker and Pepin have helped conservation workers protect wildlife all over the world. With Pepin’s superior sense of smell, the 7-year-old Belgian Malinois has tracked everything from endangered kit foxes in the San Joaquin Valley to the perilously small population of Cross River gorillas in the mountains of Cameroon.

“Scat is a gold mine of information,” said Parker, one of four co-founders of Working Dogs for Conservation, a nonprofit group of six biologists who trained

Scientists can extract DNA — the genetic blueprints found in cells — from scat samples to check the sex of animals and learn who’s related to whom. Stool can also be used to evaluate diets, test hormone levels and check for diseases. By mapping areas where samples are found, an animal’s home range can also be determined. All that information helps conservationists keep tabs on endangered animals without having to hunt, trap or tag them.”People see and hear the world,” said Parker. “But dogs are really good at this because they smell the world.”

With samples of wolverine and cheetah scat from her stash, Parker recently demonstrated Pepin’s search skills. From the moment Parker fastened a bright orange service-dog vest on Pepin, the dog focused on finding his target scents. He sniffed relentlessly around a cavernous lecture hall and trotted briskly among 50 people seated in rows of chairs. In less than 10 minutes Pepin made his finds, alerting Parker by promptly sitting down and throwing her a hard stare.

Pepin is one of nine dogs on staff at Working Dogs for Conservation. A mix of breeds — retrievers, border collies and German shepherds — most of the dogs come from shelters where their high-maintenance traits made them great for detection training, but not so perfect for the easy life of a pet.

The dogs all live with their handlers. That close relationship is part of what makes their teamwork so successful, said Parker. In the field, the dogs work off-leash. So it’s critical to know the dog well enough to know whether he has truly found a target or is just testing the handler, she said.

With highly sensitive noses, dogs such as Pepin have proven they find samples quickly and more accurately than human-based methods, said Alice Whitelaw, another cofounder of the group. Reliability matters because testing scat samples from the wrong animals wastes time and money. Using dogs is also less costly than capturing and radio-collaring animals, which are intensive efforts in terms of manpower, money and handling the wild animals, she said. So far, the dogs have worked on 38 projects in 11 countries.

Scat isn’t the only thing these dogs can find. With scent-discrimination capabilities at least twice as good as those of people, the dogs have nosed out specific plant species — a critical skill on islands where one invasive species can wreak havoc on the rest of the ecosystem, said Whitelaw.

Pepin recently learned to sniff out snares. Poachers use small coils of wire to illegally trap lions and other animals for meat; an elephant can suffocate if a snare entraps their trunk. In two months, Parker and Pepin will travel

Megan Parker, director of research for Working Dogs for Conservation, gives the go-ahead to Pepin to hunt for wolverine scat at Dinah’s Garden Hotel in Palo Alto, Calif. (LiPo Ching)

to Africa to see if they can find these traps faster than the wildlife workers — or the hapless animals.It takes about four weeks to train a dog on a particular scent. Pepin knows fifteen targets, ranging from invasive snails to endangered plant species and gorilla dung — and, now, snares. The handlers borrowed dog training techniques used for narcotics, bombs and body detection, and modified them for wildlife work. They train the dogs at least twice a week to keep up their scent skills, said Parker.

All the dogs work for play. Every time Pepin finds a target, Parker rewards him with an all-out game of tug with the dog’s favorite toy. Although a tug toy sounds like little reward for a lot of work, the psychology of dogs evolved to rely on people for social reward, said Brian Hare, co-author of “The Genius of Dogs.” If you take a dog with a natural instinct to search and add the bonus of being with humans while searching, you’ve got a powerful ally when a sense of smell is the best avenue to discovering what you are looking for.

Pepin and his canine colleagues aren’t the first dogs to work the wildlife conservation beat. In 1997, Sam Wasser, at the University of Washington, collaborated with Barbara Davenport, a former narcotics detection dog trainer, to assist conservation scientists by training scat-detection dogs. Davenport even taught a dog to follow the scent of whale poop from a boat deck. Now, several universities and private groups have trained dogs to aid wildlife research efforts.

This month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced four new four-legged hires — Viper, Butter, Lancer and Locket — to nose out illegal wild animals and contraband, such as elephant tusks and rhino horns, coming across the borders.

“We need all the resources we can possibly muster to help wildlife,” said Georgeanne Wedergren, a zoo docent who watched Pepin work during a noontime presentation. “I’m so glad they save shelter dogs, too.”

Rebuilt CSU equine center thriving after fire

Monday, April 29th, 2013

CS Equine CenterClinicians at Colorado State University’s Equine Reproduction Laboratory, which reopened in March after it was destroyed in a 2011 fire, wasted no time in getting back to work even as construction continued around them. “Literally the day we moved into the facility, we were examining mares,” said veterinarian and facility director Jerry Black. The new space, bigger and filled with state-of-the-art equipment, is central to the effort to develop an Equine Institute at the school. The Coloradoan (Fort Collins, Colo.) (tiered subscription model)

It burned into the ground only to be reborn from the ashes — a home to new life.

After it was demolished by an early morning fire in July 2011, Colorado State University’s Equine Reproduction Laboratory was rebuilt in its former place at the Foothills Campus in west Fort Collins. Just days after final inspections, the now-larger and updated facility opened to eagerly awaiting employees and clients in early March.

“Literally the day we moved into the facility, we were examining mares,” said Jerry Black, appointed the new lab director at the year’s start. Black, a veterinarian and associate professor in the Department of Animal Sciences, also kept his title as director of CSU’s undergraduate equine sciences program.

As construction got under way, CSU continued providing services in temporary Equine Reproduction Laboratory buildings scattered among barns and other facilities unharmed by the fire. And while work never stopped, Black and others are excited for what came next.

“With the tragedy came an opportunity,” he said Wednesday, sitting in a new office that still smelled of fresh paint. The fire, which burned an estimated $12 million in real estate, research equipment and genetic material stored for clients, is counted among the most costly and damaging disasters in CSU history.

The rebuilt facility is “considerably” larger than its predecessor at 12,000 square feet and brings together several long-separated services. Traffic flow is much improved, Black said, with mare and stallion services kept apart for the safety of both horses and humans.

Still in the works is an equine molecular reproduction lab — what Black said will be “one of the only” labs of its type in the country. There users will manipulate high-tech equipment to identify in mere hours potentially harmful bacterial organisms growing in a mare’s uterus; compare this to common practice of growing cultures over two to three weeks.

There’s also more teaching space and places for professors and visiting professionals to conduct research, said Black, opening doors to rooms in which still-covered microscopes and boxed monitors lay unopened on countertops and tables. Down the hall, interns, professors and resident veterinarians were gathered around a microscope and screen that displayed fluid flushed from a mare next door.

Caring folks at Angel Fund saved Skipper’s life

Monday, April 29th, 2013

Skipper PhotoIn June, 2011, Kathy Mullins’ dog Skipper had a problem.  “We’d take him out in the yard and we’d notice immediately that he couldn’t urinate. He was trying very hard and he was straining and he just couldn’t. And that went on a day or so. Eventually little drops of blood started coming out.

“And you can imagine, I started panicking.” Mullins took her dog, a five-year-old Pomeranian-Toy Poodle mix, to Irvine Boulevard Animal Hospital in Irvine where Dr. David Driscoll examined him.  “I’m thinking he has some kind of blockage,” the veterinarian told Mullins, “probably some stones. But I won’t know for sure until we do x-rays. I might be able to do this without surgery. But I can’t guarantee that. It could be that he has to have surgery.’”

Mullins said: “So I’m thinking ‘Oh, Lord!’  First of all, you don’t want your pet to suffer and you don’t want to lose your pet but you’re also certainly thinking about the financial end of it. At the time, I didn’t have a job.  I was working at some temporary jobs.  That was the only thing I was able to get at the time. And I was between temporary jobs.  It was a really difficult time.

“So Dr. Driscoll did the x-ray and I was able to scrounge up a few dollars for that so that he could determine exactly what was going on.” The x-ray showed that Skipper had bladder stones – “quite a few of them.” Mullins recalled, and the doctor said that surgery would be needed to save Skipper’s life.

“Dr. Driscoll was able do a procedure to alleviate the problem that seemed to buy us a little time. It was getting to the point where the bladder could have ruptured.  And he told me about Angel Fund. It took us a day or two to arrange for them to help us.

“The people at Angel Fund were very nice. And we were able to get Skipper back in there and schedule the surgery.  I couldn’t sleep and I was crying the whole time and my three daughters were very upset.

“But everyone was very kind. We still talk about it to this day. How Angel Fund and the doctor and the other people at the hospital – people cared.  And that was so touching for our family, that they cared about our pet and they cared about us. And so we still get to enjoy our Skipper. They saved our dog.”

Angel Fund contributed $500 to help pay for Skipper’s surgery and Irvine Boulevard Hospital slashed its bill by $700.

Kathy and David Mullins, who lived in Irvine when Skipper was sick, have since moved with their three daughters to Ashland, Ky. “We feel very blessed. It was such a hard time then and there were some caring people who helped us and saved our dog and we are very grateful.”

Geneva and Daleen are Bonnie’s Teammates

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

BonnieComer

Bonnie

 (BearCreek Bonfire, CGC)

Breed:              Shetland Sheepdog (Sheltie)

Birthday:         February 8, 2005

Handler:           Daleen

Bonnie has been a registered therapy dog since 2006. An active, lively dog at home, she is calm and cuddly with patients at Mission Hospital. As a “Reading Education Assistance Dog” at an elementary school in Orange County, she loves to listen to children as they read aloud to her. She also enjoys visiting with seniors as well as teens. Bonnie shares her home with her human family, another Sheltie, three cats, four birds, and a tortoise.

Meet Bella – Cindy Daversa’s Pet Partner

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Bella Daversa

Bella

Birthday:                           July 11th

Favorite Toy:                     My green stuffed turtle

Favorite activities:             Running through canyon trails with my best friend Tyson (another boxer) and playing chase with Maddie and Mitch

Favorite treats:                  Liver treats, peanut butter on milk bones

Greatest accomplishment:  Passing the Pet Partner Exam with my Mom and Pet Partner Cindy

Betty Estremo’s Teammate – Bosco!

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Bosco and Betty 2008 028

BOSCO

Breed:                   American Bulldog

Birthdate:               May 18th, 2004

Weight:                  105

Human/Partner:     Betty

 

Bosco’s favorite things to do: sticking his head out the car window while I am driving, going to the beach and playing in sand, wading in the ocean (Bosco doesn’t swim, but will wades in the ocean)

 He loves all treats and food

 Bosco has special talents/tricks:   He waves, crawls, holds items in mouth, rings a bell, and my favorite…puts his arm around another dog.

 He is very photogenic and comfortable in front of a camera. Its like he knows when you have a camera and are going to take a pic.

Stryker – Pet Partner of Jim and Dorothy Taylor

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

stryker take 2

STRYKER

 

Breed: Husky / Labrador

Birthday: April 17, 2009

Partners: Dorothy & Jim

 

When I was just 6 weeks old I was adopted into a loving family.  I was just a brown puff ball with floppy ears and a skinny tail.  As I grew my ears went up, my tail got bushy like a fox and my fur turned the same color as my eyes. I grew to love and respect cats too since I live with 3 of them.  I have never met a treat I didn’t like, including fruits and veggies! I love to play ball, hike, run with a bicycle and go everywhere with my family!  I always get asked about my black/purple tongue and great eyeliner.  I just tell them, “That’s the way God made me and I like it!”  I certainly loved meeting you and I hope I brought a smile to your face today.

Dogs and owners share bacteria

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Should we say Germ-an shepherd? Mango Doucleff, of Washington, shows off the bacteria living on her tongue, which also flourish on her owner's skin.People living with dogs harbor betaproteobacteria and actinobacteria, microbes that normally inhabit the tongue and feet of dogs, as part of their microbiome, according to a recent study. Whether the bacteria pose health concerns was not addressed in the research, but previous work has found that exposure to bacteria can help humans prevent infection and even allergies by priming the immune system. National Public Radio/Shots blog

Well, it looks like there really is such as thing as a dog person.

Humans who share their homes with canines also share the similar bacterial houseguests on their skin, ecologists Tuesday in the journal eLIFE.

In fact, two dog owners who don’t even know each other have about as many of the skin bacteria in common as a married couple living together.

The signature doggie blend is a mixture of harmless bacteria from their tongues and paws, the report finds. Microbial sharing from pooch to person occurs primarily through two routes: tongue to skin and paw to skin.

That’s right, dog owners have bacteria from Fido’s tongue and paws flourishing all over their bodies.

There wasn’t an analogous germ signature for cat owners, the scientists say. Cats are more selfish?

Dogs, cats and people are all coated in microscopic critters. They cover our skin, grow in our mouths and completely dominate parts of the gut. Your body has about 10 times more bacterial cells than human cells and up to a thousand different species.

Collectively, this microscopic zoo is called the . And it plays a in human health. It helps to set your metabolism, fine-tune your immune system and even freshen (or sour) your breath.

To see how canine cohabitation could alter the species in this zoo, and his team at the University of Colorado, Boulder, characterized the bacteria shacking up with 60 families – 25 of them had at least one dog, including big breeds, like German shepherds, Labrador retrievers and huskies.

The scientists took samples from each inhabitant’s forehead, palms or paws, tongues and poo. They then sequenced the DNA in each sample to determine which species of bacteria were living there.

Humans living together shared similar bacteria at all three body sites: skin, mouth and gut. But for dogs, it was all about the skin.

Two types of pooch bacteria were flourishing on dog owners’ skins: , a group of critters that hang out on dogs’ tongues, and , which live in soil and like to nestle in the nooks of dogs’ paws.

These findings are “consistent with a common occurrence of oral–skin transfer between dogs and their owners,” the authors write.

Looks like, all those slurpy dog kisses really do have a long-lasting effect on your skin’s ecology.

Could they also affect your health?

This study can’t say. But we do know that innocuous bacteria on the skin the immune systems learn the difference between good and bad germs. And allergies can crop up when this ability short circuits.

Recent have even linked up contact with pets when we’re young with a decreased risk of allergies and autoimmune disorders later in life.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go snuggle up with my very stinky German shepherd.

Therapy dogs help Texas school children cope after explosion

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

Texas Therapy DogsAfter a blast at a Texas fertilizer plant destroyed West Intermediate School, therapy dogs were on hand to help the students transition back to school at a new location. The explosion occurred after children had been sent home for the day. Counselors and donations are also helping the children and parents cope. The Dallas Morning News (free content)

By Eva-Marie Ayala The Dallas Morning News

West youngsters returned to school today, chasing each other on the play ground and skipping into borrowed portable buildings, as the town tried to find some semblance of daily routine.

The front office staff at West Elementary School juggled phone calls from parents and well wishes wanting to send supplies and donations.

“It was very much like the first day of school here with mommas and daddies hugging their babies a little longer when they dropped them off,” superintendent Marty Crawford said.

The elementary school has about 300 more students than usual as it accommodates classes from the intermediate school that was destroyed in the deadly blast.

Some parents and volunteers walked children to class. Each class had at least one counselor in the room to help address student needs if necessary.

“They are having kids draw how they feel when they may be having trouble expressing themselves,” Crawford said.

Donations and supplies have poured in from districts, churches and groups across Texas.

Therapy dogs were on hand, received with giggles and warm strokes from students.

“This one is the softest,” said kindergartener Lesley as she petted Moses.

Despite the sadness, many found solace that the deadly blast did not happen just a few hours earlier when hundreds of children would filled nearby classrooms.

West Intermediate School, built just across the railroad tracks from the fertilizer plant less than half a mile away, is a complete loss. The adjacent middle school and the high school have structural damage.

Natura recall expanded to include all dry pet food products

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Natura Pet Products has voluntarily recalled all dry pet food and treats that expire by March 24, 2014, expanding a recall initiated in March because the food may be contaminated with salmonella bacteria. Agriculture officials in Georgia and Michigan identified salmonella in some of the products included in the recall. “Salmonella can affect animals eating the products and there is risk to humans from handling contaminated pet products, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the products or any surfaces exposed to these products,” the company said. International Business Times

PRODUCTS INCLUDED:

California Naturals; Innova; EVO;  Healthwise; Karma

By | April 20 2013 8:09 PM

Natura Pet Products, a unit of the Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE:PG), announced Friday it is expanding its voluntary recall to encompass all dry pet food products and treats with expiration dates before and including March 24, 2014. The company announced its initial recall March 29.

Natura said the products could be contaminated with salmonella. “Salmonella can affect animals eating the products and there is risk to humans from handling contaminated pet products, especially if they have not thoroughly washed their hands after having contact with the products or any surfaces exposed to these products,” the company said.

Five brands are subject to the recall: California Natural, EVO, Healthwise, Innova and Karma. “This action affects dry pet foods and treats only; no canned wet food or biscuits are affected by this announcement,” Natura said.

“Your pet’s health and safety are our #1 priority. We are taking all actions necessary to ensure that our products meet both your expectations and ours,” the company said on its online site. Referring to the recall, it added, “We are sorry for the disruption, but we simply want to ensure that every product meets our highest quality standards.”

The Georgia and Michigan departments of agriculture both confirmed samples of the recalled listed products did contain traces of salmonella.

List Of Dry Pet Food Products Recalled

California Natural

— All Sizes

— All dry dog and dry cat food and treat varieties

— All UPCs

— All Lot Codes

— All expiration dates before and including March 24, 2014

EVO

— All Sizes

— All dry dog and dry cat food and treat varieties

— All ferret food varieties

— All UPCs

— All Lot Codes

— All expiration dates before and including March 24, 2014

Healthwise

— All Sizes

— All dry dog and dry cat food and treat varieties

— All UPCs

— All Lot Codes

— All expiration dates before and including March 24, 2014

Innova

— All Sizes

— All dry dog and dry cat food and treat varieties

— All UPCs

— All Lot Codes

— All expiration dates before and including March 24, 2014

Karma

— All Sizes

— All dry dog food varieties

— All UPCs

— All Lot Codes

— All expiration dates before and including March 24, 2014

List Of Treats Recalled

EVO Wild Cravings Herring & Salmon Formula Cat Treats

EVO Wild Cravings Turkey & Chicken Formula Cat Treats

EVO Wild Cravings Weight Management Cat Treats

EVO Wild Cravings Herring Formula Dog Treats

EVO Wild Cravings Red Meat Formula Dog Treats

EVO Wild Cravings Turkey & Chicken Formula Dog Treats

EVO Wild Cravings Weight Management Dog Treats

Innova Cat Treats