Archive for November, 2012

Just like in people, allergies are a common occurrence in pets

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Allergic dogs are common visitors to veterinarian Brian Jenkins’ office, making up an estimated 20% of his clientele, and he can relate to their plight because he also suffers from allergies. The three categories of allergies in pets are flea allergy, food allergy and atopic dermatitis. While there is no definitive cure for allergic conditions, Dr. Jenkins says that with time and consistent treatment, many animals can experience relief from their symptoms.



Nan Sterner could not figure out what was wrong with Sadie.

Since she was a puppy, the 4-year-old golden retriever and poodle mix – a goldendoodle – was constantly scratching.

“She was itching and scratching all the time,” Sterner said. “I thought it was fleas.”

But Sadie was found to be flea-free. She was still scratching, though, to the point where she had red and irritated patches of skin all over her body, and even had some scratched-open sores.

So Sterner brought Sadie to Aloha Animal Hospital in Hanover to find out what was wrong, and she was relieved to discover that her condition is treatable.

“Sadie has a huge amount of allergies,” said Dr. Brian Jenkins, veterinarian and co-owner of the animal hospital.

Some cats and dogs suffer from allergies, and often are allergic to the same things as people, like trees, grasses, weeds, and pollen, Jenkins said. While people usually suffer the effects of allergies through their respiratory systems, cats and dogs feel it in their skin.

And over the last year, with continuous warm and often wet weather, those allergies seem to be worse, and Jenkins is seeing more and more cases coming into his office all the time.

The good thing is while allergies are no fun, they are treatable.

Treating pet allergies

Even pets who have not shown signs of allergies before might be scratching their coats and looking for relief from the itching this year.

Jenkins said allergies have a threshold. An allergen might have no effect on a dog or cat in a normal year may flare up with more exposure.

Pets typically have three different kinds of allergies. One is a flea allergy, in which they have a reaction to flea saliva.

Along with common allergens, fleas have been thriving with weather conditions over the last year.

A second allergy is one that’s often difficult to diagnose, which is a food allergy. Most allergies start in the first few years, but food allergies can start at any time. Dogs are usually allergic to beef, followed by dairy and wheat. Cats are also allergic most to beef and dairy, as well as fish.

But the third and more common allergy, and the one Jenkins likes to study, is atopic dermatitis – or the skin allergy.

These allergies typically hit pets that are between 6 months and 3 years old. And they can be seasonal, caused by things like weeds, grass, mold or pollen, or they can be caused by things like dust that are present throughout the year. Tree pollens are particularly bad in Hanover this time of year, Jenkins said. And he said he is seeing lot of allergies to ragweed now, too, as well as sagebrush and a whole host of molds and spores.

“You won’t cure an allergy, but you can treat it,” Jenkins said.

One way to treat these is through the use of steroids, which is quick and cheap, but it can have negative side effects, such as ulcers, vomiting, diabetes and skin and coat problems.

Jenkins treats Sadie, and many of the pets he sees, with topical treatments for the skin, as well as allergy shots. It can be time consuming, and a financial commitment, but it’s often the best way to keep allergies under control, he said.

Every pet and each allergy is different, and Sadie is a pretty extreme case, too, suffering from a whole list of allergies, he said. But even with an extreme case like Sadie, and with the help of an owner who constantly monitors and applies medication, treatment can been successful, he said.

A doctor who understands

Allergies are not fun for pets. Or people. Jenkins takes a special interest in treating allergies because he has suffered from them since he was a little kid.

And as an allergy sufferer, he’s empathetic with what pets are going through when they come in his office with allergies.

He’s allergic to many of the same things as Sadie – particularly ragweed, which he said is vicious this time of year.

Like Sadie, he goes to his doctor for treatment, and is able to keep it under control.

Though he’s a general practitioner of veterinary medicine, and does not specialize in allergies, he takes a special interest in it. And with the hundreds of dogs and cats that come through his doors, he said he could open an allergy clinic if he wanted to. About 20 percent of the dogs he sees have some form of skin allergies.

Any breed is susceptible, he said, but allergies are particularly common among golden retrievers, labs, Boston terriers and shih tzus.

But there’s hope for all allergy sufferers.

“Dogs and cats are allergic to many of the same things as people,” Jenkins said. “And they can be treated in some of the same ways.”

While there is no silver bullet to treat all allergies, he said with time, patience, and constant treatment, allergies can be brought under control.

And dogs like Sadie can continue to live happy, itch-free lives

Military dogs to be honored with national monument

Monday, November 12th, 2012

In two months, a national monument will be dedicated to all the dogs that have served the country in combat since World War II. The bronze monument, designed by John Burnam and created by sculptor Paula Slater, features a handler flanked by four dogs representing breeds commonly used in wars. Burnam, who served in Vietnam with military dogs and wrote two books about the topic, spent years pursuing the idea of a national monument for dogs before legislation authorizing the monument was introduced in 2007 and signed into law the next year.


LOS ANGELES — The act of Congress is in the books, the bills are paid, the sculptures are being cast, and one of the biggest parades in the world will start a glory tour and countdown to dedication.

The first national monument to pay tribute to military dogs will be unveiled in California in just two months. The U.S. Working Dog Teams National Monument will honor every dog that has served in combat since World War II.

Pancreatitis in pets a common holiday concern

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Pancreatitis — inflammation of the pancreas that can be fatal in severe cases — causes pain, vomiting, lethargy, decreased appetite and a fever in dogs and may be caused by ingesting a fatty meal, such as turkey from the holiday table, writes veterinarian Kristel Weaver. Diagnostic tests including blood work and ultrasound help veterinarians diagnose pancreatitis. Treatment involves withholding food to rest the pancreas as well as giving pain medication and antibiotics, according to Dr. Weaver. Cats also can suffer from pancreatitis, but it’s usually not associated with eating a high-fat meal, and cats tend to have more subtle symptoms than dogs

Over the holidays we frequently hospitalize dogs and cats with pancreatitis. Even if your cute little one is looking up at you with big, sad eyes it’s better for them not to eat the greasy turkey leftovers. This month’s article is all about pancreatitis.
What is pancreatitis and what causes it? Pancreatitis results from swelling and inflammation of the pancreas. The pancreas not only produces hormones like insulin but also digestive enzymes. These enzymes are normally inactive until they reach the intestinal tract. But when the pancreas becomes inflamed they activate prematurely and digest the pancreas itself, causing a lot of damage.
How do I know if my dog has pancreatitis? Dogs with pancreatitis vomit, aren’t interested in food, and have a painful belly. They might show their abdominal pain by walking with a hunched back or stretching out in the prayer posture. They might also be lethargic, have diarrhea, or a fever. Your veterinarian will use a combination of history, examination, blood work and ultrasound to diagnose pancreatitis.
How is pancreatitis treated?
Based on severity, pancreatitis is usually treated with a combination of fluids, pain medications, anti-nausea medications, and antibiotics. Food is withheld for the first one to two days to “rest” the pancreas and give it a chance to heal. Moderate to severe cases of pancreatitis require hospitalization on IV fluids, whereas mild cases might be treated as outpatients. Severe pancreatitis can be fatal despite aggressive treatment.
Are some dogs more predisposed to pancreatitis than others? Yes, dogs with diabetes, hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, or high lipids are more likely to get pancreatitis. Dogs that are obese or that eat a rich, fattening meal are also predisposed. Dogs who have had a previous episode of pancreatitis are more likely to get it again. Any dog can get pancreatitis and sometimes we cannot identify a reason why.
Do cats get pancreatitis too? Yes! Cats also get pancreatitis. When cats have pancreatitis it is different from dogs in several ways. First, they don’t usually have a history of eating a rich or fattening meal. Second, they often have a chronic problem instead of a sudden attack. Third, they are not typically vomiting and often only shows signs of a poor appetite and lethargy. Diagnostics and treatment are similar for cats and dogs.
If you want to give your pet something special for the holiday buy a special treat from the pet store. It may be hard to resist those pleading eyes but your pet’s health is worth it! I hope you and your entire family have a wonderful Thanksgiving without an emergency visit to the veterinary hospital.

Dr. Kristel Weaver is a graduate of the Veterinary School at the University of California, Davis where she received both a DVM and a Master’s of Preventative Veterinary Medicine (MPVM). She has been at Bishop Ranch Veterinary Center & Urgent Care in San Ramon since 2007. She currently lives in Oakland with her husband and their daughter, Hayley. If you have questions you would like Dr. Weaver to answer for future articles, please email

Pet cat without a current rabies vaccine exposes owners to virus

Monday, November 12th, 2012

A 15-year-old, indoor pet cat that was not current on its rabies vaccination tested positive for rabies after biting its owner and exposing another person to the virus. Both people are being treated. The owner does not know how the cat contracted the disease.




DALTON, GA (WRCB) —  Two Whitfield County residents are now undergoing rabies treatments after exposure to a pet cat that the Georgia Public Health Laboratory has now confirmed as positive for rabies.

The 15-year old cat bit its owner and exposed the owner’s fiancée to the disease before it died. A test for rabies came back positive October 26, 2012.

The cat was reported to have had rabies vaccinations in the past but was not current with its vaccinations.

Due to the age of the animal and being kept indoors, the expected probability of rabies was considered small. The cat’s owner could not remember an incident when the cat may have been exposed to rabies.

Public health officials have gone on a door-to-door campaign in Dalton delivering rabies notices, since the area is well-populated.

Domestic dogs and cats typically become rabid within one to three months from exposure, longer incubation periods have been documented. In some cases,  humans have not developed rabies until several years after exposure.
Rabies is usually transmitted by exposure to the saliva of a rabid animal through a bite or scratch. Wild carnivores such as bats, raccoons, skunks, coyotes, bobcats and foxes serve as a reservoir for the disease virus and these wild animals can transmit it to domestic dogs, cats, livestock and people.

Bats are considered to be one of the primary conduits for rabies transmission to humans. Contact with bats should be avoided.

Veterinarian makes bird nutrition his mission

Monday, November 12th, 2012

Veterinarian Joel Murphy, who runs a small-animal veterinary practice and has a passion for avian medicine, emphasizes the importance of good nutrition for pet birds. Basing his information on his study of wild birds, Dr. Murphy has developed diet recommendations for pet birds including feeding fresh vegetables and fruits, water and special pellets. According to Dr. Murphy, many pet birds in his area die prematurely due to malnutrition, a situation he believes can be prevented with owner education. He also recommends weighing birds daily because weight loss can signal illness

PALM HARBOR, FL — Inside the Amazon rainforest, thousands of miles from his office in Palm Harbor, the holistic veterinarian watched a colony of chattering macaws glide above the treetops.

“They looked like little blue and gold jewels filling the sky,” said Dr. Joel Murphy, recalling a research trip in 2009. “They were so beautiful, healthy and happy.”

Murphy, who taught graduate avian medicine at the University of Georgia and has lectured at veterinary schools from the Bahamas to Nepal, aims to recreate that vibrancy in the Tampa Bay area. He studies eating patterns in the wild to bring healthier diets to domestic pets.

Exotic bird owners from New Port Richey to Pinellas Park to Carrollwood seek Murphy’s unusual care, which includes blood serum tests, a self-concocted line of flower essences, and dietary counseling. But most of the sick parrots, cockatiels and parakeets Murphy encounters in the bay area — about 2,000 annually — die early from malnutrition, he said.

“It’s a huge, huge problem,” said Murphy, who runs a practice for dogs, cats and his specialty, birds, on U.S. 19 near Nebraska Avenue. “People bring me their beloved pets and have no idea what’s wrong with them.”

For years, Murphy operated an exotic bird research center in Palm Harbor. When a surprise divorce rocked his finances in 2005, he closed the operation. His continued research is independent, out of pocket.

The rainforest macaws and other exotic birds Murphy has observed nibble nuts, berries and tree bark loaded with vitamins and essential fatty acids — ingredients largely missing from many brands of pet store food.

He’s written four books and more than 100 articles related to the subject, most recently How to Care for Your Pet Bird. He constantly campaigns to visitors inside his waiting room, which he paid about $2,000 to “pet feng shui” with gold dragons and amethyst stones.

“I do everything I can to get through to people,” he said. “Proper, natural nutrition information is out there. The problem is fixable. We just need to bring attention to it.”

About eight years ago, when Clearwater resident Donna Taylor’s emerald green Amazon parrot stopped talking and eating, two emergency room referrals guided her to Murphy. She felt her pet, Billy, was close to death.

A tissue biopsy determined the bird suffered from severe liver cirrhosis. His previous owner, a restaurant manager, used to feed Billy beer, Taylor explained.

“Dr. Murphy didn’t even consider putting Billy down,” she said. “I’ve never seen that kind of compassion in a vet. Instead, we started a regimen of twice-daily holistic medications and we got five more wonderful years with him.”

Now, Taylor schedules regular appointments with Murphy to monitor the health of her Amazon, macaw and Caique birds.

“My husband and I had no idea how to correctly feed them before we talked to Dr. Murphy,” Taylor said. “Now, they only eat fresh, human-grade foods.”

To keep exotic birds healthy and happy, Murphy offers owners three basic guidelines: Provide a diet of fruits, vegetables, water and fortified pellets; weigh pets daily, because weight loss is often the first and only sign of illness in birds; and give large breeds proper training to foster good behavior (and avoid bouts of screeching and scratching).

“Birds are just like little people,” Murphy said. “You’ve got to love them and treat them as though they’re part of the family.”

Cat’s eye discharge has many potential causes

Monday, November 12th, 2012

A cat with unilateral, chronic eye discharge improved with topical and oral treatments, but the owner can’t sustain the expense for all the medications and asks for help. Veterinarian Michael Brown offers some possible causes for the chronic discharge and notes that some of those need lifelong treatment. Dr. Brown suggests an over-the-counter supplement that could help but emphasizes that the owner should work closely with a veterinarian to determine the best course of action for the cat’s eye problem.

I have a 5-year-old male domestic shorthair tabby cat (Pokey) that I have had for about 3 years now. Ever since I got him, he has had a black discharge from his right eye, and I was told that he had it from birth. It’s not bad, but I have been cleaning it for him with a paper handkerchief and an eye rinse.

A veterinarian gave me an antibiotic to put in his eye. I finished the tube and renewed it several times, and although it helped, it never cured the situation. Recently, because Pokey couldn’t really open his right eye one day, I went to a new vet who gave me (for almost $200) another tube of antibiotic (neomycin  and polymyxin B sulfates  and dexamethasone ophthalmic ointment) to put directly in the eye, a suspension of Clavamox (a liquid suspension by mouth), and an oral paste Enisyl-F (an oral paste by mouth).

Pokey can open his eye completely and it’s completely clear of the discharge, but the oral paste was not completely used up. I called to see if it needed to be completely used up (like an antibiotic), and the vet said he had to take it for the rest of his life.

I’m a senior citizen, living on Social Security, trying to maintain a house on a limited income, so the cost of this is rather scary, but I’d try to continue to maintain it for him if it wasn’t for the fact that he hates taking the Enisyl-F.

Can you suggest anything else that I can do to maintain a clear eye for Pokey? Or is it not too bad for him to have the discharge? I’ve seen many dogs with a dark stain by the corner of the eye, sometimes staining quite a section of the face, and although it’s not pretty, if it doesn’t do any harm, I’d hate to spoil Pokey’s personality just for beauty.

Your cat Pokey likely had a condition called conjunctivitis. In cats, there are several infections of the eye that are possible causes that include feline herpes, bartonellosis, mycoplasma and chlamydia. Numerous other infections are possible but are rare in this area.

In the northeast, feline herpetic conjunctivitis is by far the most common cause of upper respiratory and eye infection. The clinical signs include tearing, squinting, conjunctivitis, corneal ulcers, sneezing and coughing. Many kittens are exposed to the herpes virus during birth. Every cat mounts a different immune response to this challenge.

The bottom line for your cat is this: topical (eye) antiviral therapy is preferred for this condition (idoxuridine, cidofovir) when an active infection is present. Antibiotics and steroids do not treat herpes infections. Oral L-Lysine is used to help prevent recurrence, as the virus lives in the body forever. You may use Lysine tablets by mouth (over the counter nutritional supplement) to help keep costs minimized. You need to speak to your veterinarian about the appropriate dose for your cat and for advice on how to administer a pill to a cat (crumble in food, dissolve in water, etc.). The tearing may persist as the viral infection may reduce normal function of the tear duct, thus causing the drainage from the eye. This is sometimes permanent. Feline herpes cannot be transmitted to a person or other species so there is no risk to anyone in the house.

Bartonella (cat scratch fever) is a potential zoonotic disease, especially to immunocompromised individuals, and if your cat tests positive for this condition, specific therapy is recommended. Good hygiene with the litter box and the owners’ hands is always recommended, regardless. Please speak to your veterinarian about any concerns you may have about Pokey.

— Michael Brown, DVM, MS, Diplomate, ACVO

Dog needs medical intervention for immune-mediated disease

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Facing a diagnosis of an autoimmune condition in their pet, the owners of a small dog ask veterinarian John de Jong for advice. Dr. de Jong explains that their dog likely has one of two conditions — immune mediated hemolytic anemia or idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura/immune thrombocytopenia. He writes that in animals with such conditions, the body targets its own blood tissue, and he suggests following their veterinarian’s recommendations for treatment.

By Dr. John De Jong / Ask the Vet Sunday, November  4, 2012

Dear Dr. John,

My husband and I own an adorable 4A-year-old teacup poodle who suddenly started bleeding from the mouth and later had some bruising. The first vet who saw her thought she might have an oral infection and started her on antibiotics. Once she started to vomit some brown material, I called the emergency clinic and they advised me to bring her in right away in case she had gotten into some mouse poison. This made no sense to us since we do not have any near us. Our two cats do a good enough job of keeping the mice away.

The clinic ran some blood tests and found our little dog to be severely anemic but that she also had a very low platelet count. They told us that she had some kind of an autoimmune disease and started her on Prednisone, and some other medications to stop the vomiting, and Pepcid for her stomach. They also changed the type of antibiotic that we give her.

We just got news today that a second blood test done earlier in the day showed that she was more anemic with even lower platelets and that she needed a transfusion. What should we do? Can she survive all of this since she is such a tiny dog?

We were told that her chances were 50/50 and we want to do what is right if she has a chance. Thanks.       — M.S.

Dear M.S.:

The two conditions that come to mind are either immune mediated hemolytic anemia (IMHA) or idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura/immune thrombocytopenia (ITP). Both are autoimmune conditions that have no known cause. ITP is more common in small female dogs. In these two conditions, the body attacks its own red blood cells or platelets destroying them and leading to bleeding and bruising conditions as you experienced with your little dog. The treatment of choice for both conditions is to initially give corticosteroids such as Prednisone, and if that does not help, then other immunosuppressants may be given. A transfusion is needed if the anemia becomes too profound and is meant to sustain the patient until the medications kick in. It is hard for me to suggest what you should do since I do not know what the values are in the blood work. However, I do think it is worth a try to proceed with the transfusion to buy some time for the medications to work and see if things can change. I have seen these kinds of cases go both well and badly, which gives credence to the 50/50 outlook that you were given. Size may not necessarily matter regarding outcome even though she is a tiny dog. Either way, I think you will have an outcome one way or another relatively soon. I wish you luck and hope she pulls through!

Berries resolve lower stomach ulcers in horses, study finds

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Louisiana State University veterinarian Frank Andrews has found that sea-buckthorn berry products fed to horses with stomach ulcers resolved the condition in the lower portion of the stomach. Ulcers that form in the upper part of the stomach, an area lined with esophageal cells, aren’t affected by the berries and must be treated with medication, Dr. Andrews noted.

A University professor took horses back to the basics last year, using natural berries rather than pharmaceuticals to heal their stomach ulcers.

Veterinary medicine professor Frank Andrews studied the effects of horse stomach ulcer treatment, finding seabuckthorn berries healed some parts of the stomach just as well as prescribed medication.

Andrews said some horses, especially those in performance, develop equine gastric ulcer syndrome, or stomach ulcers, causing a deduction in performance, a roughening of the hair coat and ongoing stomach pain for the horse.

“What I wanted to do was find a natural product that would prevent those ulcers from recurring,” Andrews said.

Andrews tested the use of a natural product called SeaBuck Gastro Plus, a feed additive made from berries from the seabuckthorn shrub.

Andrews used two groups of eight horses from the University Vet School and fed each group the same type and quantity of food. He said he added four ounces of the natural treatment to each horse’s food in one group while leaving the other group without the treatment.

They inserted a 9-foot endoscope through each horse’s nose to reach the stomach for periodic examination, he said.

After 35 days, Andrews said the glandular ulcers in the lower two-thirds of the stomach of the treated group were gone, but the ulcers in the squamous mucosa, the upper one-third of the stomach, did not go away.

The natural treatment resembled a treatment used to help stomach problems in humans, he said. A horse’s lower stomach is similar to that of a human stomach, so the medication had a similar effect on eliminating the ulcers.

Andrews concluded a horse owner would have to use a prescription to take care of the remaining ulcers in the upper part of the stomach.

While some horses tend to be more likely to develop ulcers than others, Andrews said the ulcers may be caused in part by nature and nurture. He said owners feed horses differently from the way they are fed in a “wild

horse lifestyle.”

Many horses eat sweet feed, which contains corn and molasses. The horses enjoy it, but Andrews said sweet feed does not necessarily promote the best health for the stomach.

Andrews also said esophageal tissue lines the upper one-third of the stomach. When the horse engages in activities like racing, the stomach acid splashes onto the upper stomach area and can cause ulcers.

“The problem is in the anatomy of the stomach,” he said. “The whole horse’s digestive tract was made to walk around in the pasture and eat.”

Bruce McMullin, CEO and founder of Seabuck, said using natural products saves money and prevents the side effects that come with taking prescribed products.

Though a natural diet in horses surpasses prescribed products, McMullin said implementing this diet in horses has not yet caught on with many people.

“Typically, people get a level of comfort with something they’ve used in the past, and it’s hard for them to try something new,” McMullin said.

Dogs choose favorite toys based on play with humans

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Why do dogs prefer some toys over others? A recent study found the critical component was human interaction with the dog and the toy. Other features of the toys offered to the dogs such as size, shape, color, texture and sounds were important points of interest, but they mostly resulted in only transient attention. “For an animal as social as a dog, toys only become really exciting when they are part of a game with a person,” said John Bradshaw, a researcher in the University of Bristol’s Veterinary School. For dogs left alone, the most appealing toys are those that make noise, or chewy toys, especially those meant to be eaten.


Ever bring a new toy home for your dog — only for the gizmo to end up neglected and ignored on the floor?

It turns out there could be a way to avoid such flops in the future with new research detailing which toys will either interest or bore canines. The study, published in the journal Animal Cognition, sheds light on why dogs ignore some toys after just a minute of investigation, while other toys become coveted favorites.

“Because we think that dogs perceive toys in the same way that wolves perceive prey, they prefer toys that either taste like food or can be torn apart, however the latter can cause health problems if the dog accidentally swallows some of the pieces,” co-author John Bradshaw, a researcher in the University of Bristol’s Veterinary School, told Discovery News.

Co-author Anne Pullen, also at the University of Bristol, added that dog toys should be “soft, easily manipulable toys that can be chewed easily and/or make a noise.”

As for what toys cause many dogs to grow bored, Pullen said, “Dogs quickly lose interest in toys with hard unyielding surfaces, and those that don’t make a noise when manipulated.”

The team, including colleague Ralph Merrill of the Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition, has studied canine play and dog toys for some time. Their latest study involved presenting multiple kennel-housed Labrador retrievers with one toy for 30-second periods until interaction ceased.

Prior research has looked at other dogs, but Labradors were chosen for this study “because they’re are very popular pets,” Merrill told Discovery News.

Bradshaw added that Labradors, due to their breeding, are one of the most playful breeds “and we had to be sure that the dogs we studied would play with the toys for a few minutes at least, otherwise we couldn’t have measured what would get them playing again once they’d lost interest in the original toy.”

They presented the dogs with toys of varying types, including different colors and odors. The researchers then gave the dogs a unique toy that contrasted with whatever one the canines were playing with first.

It was clear that all of the dogs showed intense, but transient, interest toward nearly all new toys. Dogs appear to be hard-wired to explore any novel object — toy or not. In the case of toys, the problem is that dogs can become habituated to them quickly, which leads to boredom and neglected toys.

Changing the delay from habituation to presentation of the second toy, between 10 seconds and 15 minutes, did not affect the dogs’ duration of play. No single toy characteristic altered the test results much either, suggesting that getting used to the stimulus qualities of a toy — be they through smell, sound, color, texture — is the clincher for canine boredom.

If that happens, there’s only one solution: the owner needs to jump in and play with the dog and toy too.

“For an animal as social as a dog,” Bradshaw explained, “toys only become really exciting when they are part of a game with a person. Few toys will sustain a dog’s interest for long if the owner is not around to offer encouragement.”

He added, “If a dog has to be left on its own, it is most likely to enjoy toys that can be chewed, make a noise when played with, or are designed to be eaten as they disintegrate (such as a chew).”

At least one of the many reasons why dogs make such good pets is that they are renowned for routinely engaging in play, even as adults. Certain other animals mostly only play when they are juveniles, growing out of the behavior as they get older.

The FBI’s first therapy dog

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Dolce is an 8-year-old German Shepherd/Siberian Husky mix who works for the FBI. He’s not your typical K9 officer. He doesn’t sniff out drugs or bombs, or work on crime scenes in the traditional role. Instead he calms people with his lovable nature and listens as they speak. Dolce is the Bureau’s one and only therapy dog.

His handler and owner Rachel Pierce, is a child psychologist. She joined the FBI five years ago, having previously worked for the Department of Defense and law enforcement. She got Dolce in 2004 from a local shelter because she was looking for a puppy she could train to be a service dog, as she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis.

“I thought it would be nice to have a dog that did some things around the house for me when my symptoms flared up,” she said. “There are days I can’t move or even lift a sheet,” says Pierce.

Dolce easily passed his service-dog training. When it became clear to Pierce how much Dolce loved people she thought he could be an excellent therapy dog as well. She spent several years training him, and he graduated with flying colors. “He’s a good service dog, but he’s an amazing therapy dog,” says Pierce.

The pair now work in the Bureau’s K9-Assisted Victim Assistance Program together. They work in the field with victims of a wide range of crimes such as child pornography, kidnapping cases, violent robberies, and white-collar crime cases as well as death notifications. With his lovable personality, Dolce excels at comforting crime victims and their families.

Dolce works for Victim Services at the FBIDolce also goes to scenes of violent crime, to de-escalate the chaos and stress of the situation. Just the presence of a dog can produce a calming effect. “It can lower blood pressure and make you feel more relaxed,” explains Pierce. A calm witness can better help investigators with information about the crime.

Having seen the positive influence Dolce has had on victims and their families, she suggested a therapy-dog program to leadership, who embraced the idea. Pierce then set about to create and implement a therapy dog program. It became the first of its kind for the Bureau.

Last year, Rachel Pierce and Dolce received the FBI Director’s Award for Excellence for “distinguished service for assisting victims of crime.” Dolce is not retiring just yet, but Pierce is training her new puppy, Kevlar, to take over Dolce’s important work. Pierce also hopes to see the therapy dog program expanded to other FBI offices. “I know a lot of other victim specialists around the country who would be interested in training and working with a therapy dog. I would love to see that happen.”