Among the many heroes in the days and weeks following September 11 were search and rescue dogs. These dogs and their handlers were brought in from all over the country to help at the New York and Washington, D.C. disaster sites. Many people are not aware that the handlers of these dogs are not always law enforcement employees, but volunteers using their own dogs. These volunteers incur all costs including mileage, equipment, plane tickets and dog expenses. These volunteers must take time off from work, often drive thousands of miles a year, and spend 50 to100 hours per month in training and searches.
On average, it takes 1 1/2 to 2 years of training for a search and rescue dog team to become mission ready. For example, handlers initially train a dog in one of two disciplines, either trailing or area search. Trailing dogs are trained to follow the path that a lost person has taken. They most frequently work trails that are several days old. Area search dogs are trained to find any human scent in the area. They work most frequently off leash and can cover large areas.Other dogs are trained in more specialty areas: water search dogs work in boats and along the shore to locate scent as it emanates from the water. Cadaver dogs are trained to locate human tissue. Avalanche dogs are trained to find victims buried in snow, and disaster dogs are trained to locate victims that may be buried in the rubble of collapsed buildings.
Michael Hingson was on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. His yellow Labrador guide dog “Roselle” was sleeping peacefully under his desk when the first plane hit the tower just fifteen floors above. Roselle led him through the disheveled office and to the stairwell to begin the long descent. Although they didn’t feel anything, Michael estimated that the second plane had struck the other tower when they were somewhere around the 50th floor. “By the time we reached the bottom, it had become very hard to breathe,” he said. “We were both very hot and tired. Roselle was panting and wanted to drink the water that was pooled on the floor.”
They continued walking away from the building. They were about two blocks away when Tower 2 began to collapse. “it sounded like a metal and concrete waterfall,” he said. “We started running for the subway.” Roselle remained focused on her work and Michael kept his commands simple. When they emerged and were making their way from the scene, Tower I toppled, showering them with ash and debris. Roselle guided him to the home of a friend in mid?Manhattan where they stayed until finally they returned home to Michael’s worried wife at 7 p.m. For more information on guide dogs, see www.guidedogs.com or call 1-800-295-4050.
There are many ways in which people and dogs are similar, but an area in which dogs are much superior is in their olfactory ability, or their sense of smell. Dogs can smell 100,000 times better than humans. In tests, dogs have been able to detect a chemical in a solution diluted to 1 to 2 parts per trillion. The human brain has a large area devoted to vision, while dogs have a large portion dedicated to olfaction, in fact, 40% more of a dog’s brain than a human’s is committed to smell. The average person has 5 million smell receptors, while the average dog, depending on breed, has 125 to 250 million smell receptors. The Bloodhound has an incredible 300 million smell receptors! Dogs can smell things up to 40 feet underground. Dogs can even smell human fingerprints that are a week old!
Part of the reason dogs have an excellent sense of smell is the moist leathery surface of the nose determines the direction of air currents. Also sniffing brings air with scents directly into the nostrils and then onto the moist surfaces inside the nasal cavity which catches the molecules so the dog’s internal receptors can decode them. It is believed that even long ear flaps can help their sense of smell by stirring up odors close to the ground.
People have taken advantage of this incredible sense of smell and trained dogs to detect certain odors. One of the more unusual objects that dogs have been trained to find is whale feces.
Whale researchers for years have been stymied by their inability to test whales in the wild. It was then discovered that whale poop could give them information on diet, genetics, hormone status, level of toxins, etc. But how to find enough whale feces to get significant findings? Whale feces floats for only about 30 minutes. One research group found only five samples in two weeks by searching on their own. Then Tucker and Fargo came into their lives. Tucker is a Labrador mix -breed dog who searches for Orca whale feces in Puget Sound, and Fargo is a Rottweiler who finds right whale poop in the North Atlantic.
With the dogs on board, the research teams have found as many as 12 samples a day. At first their success rate was less, only because the researchers underestimated the distance at which the dog could detect the odor. With time the researchers learned that when the dog signaled , they should point the boat in the direction of the dog’s nose and keep going until they found the feces; this has been as far as 1.2 miles. As one researcher said,” The lowest-tech method turns out to be the most effective.” Findings from these studies show that the orcas have had a drop in thyroid hormone; the researchers attribute this to a poor food supply. This could explain why orcas had a 20% decline in population in the last decade in Puget Sound.
The Atlantic study has not found the reason for the poor reproduction of the right whale since a hunting ban went into effect 70 years ago. From a low of 100 whales, the population is now only about 300, while 100,000 used to swim those waters. Research continues as long as the dogs keep finding samples!
Another amazing example of dogs detecting unusual things is the study that showed that dogs can identify people with cancer by smelling the person’s breath or urine. The person’s breath was used to find lung and breast cancer; urine was used to detect bladder or prostate cancer. The dogs were accurate 99% of the time for lung cancer, and 88% of the time for breast cancer! This is equal or better than high tech techniques such as scans. This study was done with only two to three weeks training using pet dogs and the only previous preparation was basic puppy training.
For centuries dogs have helped people with hunting, herding, and protection. These examples clearly show that dogs are capable of much more. Only our imaginations may limit what dogs might do in the future.
A surprising issue that has arisen in the American political arena is not foreign policy, but rather which breed of dog the Obama’s chose to join their family in the White House. Barack Obama has announced that his family narrowed their breed choices to a Labradoodle, a mix between a Labrador retriever and a Poodle, and a Portuguese water dog. Both breeds are large, with curly hair and a mild amount of shedding.
Obama stated in interviews that a limiting factor was his daughter Malia’s allergies. They decided on a six month old Portuguese water dog they named Bo. The dog is a gift from Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, who owns several Portuguese water dogs.
There has been a long history of pets in the White House. Most Presidential pooches have been pure-breed dogs, including “Buddy” Clinton, a chocolate Labrador retriever and “Barney” and “Miss Beazley” Bush, both Scottish terriers. Bush Sr. had a Springer Spaniel named “Millie” that gave birth to puppies while at the White House. Ford’s Golden Retriever “Liberty” also had a litter of puppies. Reagan owned a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named “Rex” and a Bouvier des Flandres named “Lucky”. James Garfield named his dog “Veto”.
There have been some mix-breed dogs in the White House though: Abraham Lincoln’s dog “Fido” and Lyndon B. Johnson’s dog “Yuki” were both strays that found a home in the most prominent house in the world. Cats have also lived at the White House, most notably “Socks” Clinton. Eleven presidents have brought their cats to the White House, including Lincoln, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, Kennedy, Ford, Carter, Clinton, and George W. Bush. Although the standard White House pets are dogs and cats, a few presidents have enjoyed the company of more rare animals. John Quincy Adams owned an alligator and silkworms. Martin Van Buren briefly owned two tiger cubs. Calvin Coolidge had pet raccoons and a pygmy hippopotamus named Billy, among many other exotic pets. James Buchanan had a Newfoundland named “Lara” and owned a herd of elephants, which were a gift from the King of Siam, and two bald eagles. John F. Kennedy had a collection of animals joining him at the White House, including dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, hamsters, ponies, and horses.
Teddy Roosevelt had the most elaborate menagerie at the White House, including a bear named Jonathan Edwards, a badger named Josiah, and a blue macaw named Eli. He also had a lion, a hyena, a wildcat, a coyote, bears, a zebra, and various dogs, cats, snakes, hamsters, and guinea pigs. Animals at the White House certainly provides opportunities for some embarrassing occurrences. Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Terrier named “Pete” chewed a hole in the French ambassador’s pants at a White House reception. “Yuki”, Lyndon B. Johnson’s mix-breed dog would howl during Oval Office meetings. Jimmy Carter’s dog “Grits” ruined a White House photo op for Heartworm Awareness Week by becoming aggressive, ripping off her muzzle, and growling while a technician tried to draw blood for a heartworm test. Obama and his family have a big choice to make. Animals living with their family at the White House are an American tradition, and whichever dog the Obama’s choose, one thing is for sure, it will be one lucky dog.
Advances in science have enabled the decoding of several animals’ DNA. Knowing the genome of a species has enabled medical professionals to detect some diseases that have a genetic basis. But it also has other uses, even in the criminal justice system.
The Veterinary Genetics Laboratory Forensic Unit at the University of California, Davis is the first accredited crime lab dedicated to animal DNA profiling. There are three main types of cases: where an animal is a victim, where the animal is the perpetrator, and where the animal is a witness.
DNA can be used to confirm the ownership of an animal that has been stolen or to identify the remains of a lost pet. Tissue samples can be compared to items that would have the animals DNA on it, such as brushes, bedding, or food and water bowls.
When an animal is suspected of being the perpetrator, samples from the victim may lead to the culprit. Collection of samples from bite wounds, or clothing if the victim is a person, can be studied to determine what species performed the attack, and even to determine which individual is guilty.
Cases where animals are a witness are usually human crimes. Animal DNA can link a suspect with a crime scene or a victim. Transfer of DNA from saliva, blood, hair, stool, or urine can occur during the commission of a crime. The UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Lab has been involved in solving or proving several serious crimes. One was a kidnapping and domestic abuse case in West Virginia where they analyzed hair from around a drill bit and blood on a hammer owned by the suspect and matched them to two puppies belonging to the victim. Another case in Texas involved a serial rapist who rolled in dog feces during an attack. The victim owned three dogs, and they matched the stool found on the suspect to the victim’s chihuahua. He was found guilty after lab personnel testified.
In a triple murder case in Indiana in 2000, a suspect denied he had ever been at the location of the murders. An examination showed that he had a very small amount of dog feces on a shoe. The UC Davis lab was able match this to the only dog on the property where the slayings occurred. The killer is now serving life in prison.
The use of DNA is opening up a whole new field of science, just one aspect is its use in the criminal justice system. The UC Davis Veterinary Genetics Lab is still in the process of informing criminal investigators of their capability of analyzing any type of animal DNA. Who knows how many cases can be solved now?
Assistance dogs are not just for blind or visually impaired people. Today, these dogs help people with a range of conditions enjoy full lives.
Guide dogs, also known as Seeing Eye dogs, help blind and visually impaired people live independent lives. These dogs “see” for their owners and help them travel safely to work, school and other destinations. Guide dogs are trained to stop to alert their owners if there are changes in elevation ahead, such as curb or stairs, of if there are overhead obstacles, such as low-hanging tree branches.
German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers are usually chosen to serve as guide dogs. Puppies live with volunteer families until they are 1 year old and then spend the next four to six months learning how to assist blind and visually impaired owners. Once they meet training requirements, they are matched with an owner.
It’s not easy to be deaf or hard of hearing in a world full of sounds. Hearing dogs offer a valuable service by alerting their owners to important sounds, including ringing telephones, crying babies, doorbells or buzzing smoke alarms. These mixed breed dogs are typically a little smaller than guide dogs and are often rescued from animal shelters. They receive specialized training that allows them to make sure that deaf and hard of hearing people do not miss important auditory cues.
Service dogs help people with other types of disabilities. They may be trained to alert someone with a seizure disorder when a seizure is likely to occur, help steady a person with balance problems, pull a wheelchair or fetch items that are out of the reach of a disabled person. These dogs can be trained to perform a variety of tasks, such as opening and closing doors, turning on light switches and keeping children with autism from wandering. Labrador or Golden Retrievers, some of whom come from animal shelters, are often chosen to be service dogs.
Emotional Support Dogs
An emotional support animal provides companionship to someone who has a psychiatric disability or mental impairment. Unlike other types of assistance animals, these dogs are not trained to perform a specific function. Their presence can help reduce stress and loneliness and lower anxiety. Caring for emotional support dogs also provides opportunities for the owners to spend time outdoors and socialize with other people.
Where Are Assistance Dogs Welcome?
Assistance dogs are welcome everywhere their owners are. In fact, the Americans With Disabilities Act (A.D.A.) stipulates that trained assistance dogs are permitted to accompany people with disabilities anywhere they need to go, including stores, restaurants and hotels. Because emotional support dogs are not trained to fulfill a specific purpose, they are not offered the same protections provide by the law; although many stores and other businesses still allow the dogs to accompany customers and clients.
Although the provisions of the A.D.A. do not apply to emotional service dogs, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has passed a regulation that allows emotional support dogs to live with their owners in designated non-pet housing, as long as the owner can produce a letter of need from a doctor.
Whether you have an assistance animal or your dog is the cherished family pet, a yearly veterinary examination will help ensure that your furry friend remains healthy and happy. Call us today to schedule your pet’s next exam.
Your pets probably don’t understand that in nine months a new baby will be joining your family, but dogs and cats do detect differences in mood, posture, behavior, and body chemistry that clue them that an enormous change is happening.
Your dog or cat will pick up other signs, too: Our four legged friends are masters at reading our body language, so they’ll notice when your movements start to get more and more awkward. Pets are also highly attuned to changes in your daily routine – say, if you’re not taking your dog for runs as often as you used to, if you’re spending more time on the couch, or if family members are treating you with extra care.
It’s common for dogs to go on alert and become overprotective of their expecting owner from the very beginning of her pregnancy. Behaviorists have witnessed dogs growl, bark, or even block doors with their bodies to prevent other family members – even the baby’s father – from coming into the same room as the mom-to-be.
Cats on the other hand are less socially involved, therefore less likely to go through these sorts of behavioral changes. Cat owners have reported a wide range of responses from uninterested to more loving and protective behaviors. But keep giving your cat attention and love during your pregnancy, as neglected cats may become more aggressive or act out by urinating where they’re not supposed to, like in your bed or laundry basket.
To help prevent problem behaviors, try to stick to your pre-pregnancy routine as much as you can, and ask family members and friends to help when you’re not up for a run in the park or a long brushing session. I advise clients to develop a plan for their pet while they’re in the hospital, just like they’d develop a birth plan. Line up a caretaker for your pets and write down your pets’ schedules for that person.
To help your dog understand that you still love him, be careful of the messages you send through your body language. Pregnant women often unconsciously place their hands over their stomachs, and dogs read this closed-arm posture as saying “I’m unavailable” or “step back.” Open-armed postures, on the other hand, send dogs the message to “come here.”
If your dog or cat starts seriously misbehaving during your pregnancy, or if you don’t have experience preparing pets for a new baby, it’s a good idea to get help from a professional trainer. Many offer “baby readiness” classes or individual training sessions to help pets adjust.
If you stay on top of any potential behavior problems, having pets during your pregnancy and afterward can be a wonderful thing for you and your baby. Studies have shown that spending time with a domesticated animal can improve mood, reduce depression, lower blood pressure, and even help you live longer. So enjoy!