Saturday, December 3, 2011

How to keep your dog or cat stress-free

To Adopt Leo:  Hound.haven AT gmail DOT com

We are fast approaching the time of year when life as a dog can become quite stressful! With the festivities due to begin shortly, now is the time to act and prevent stress occurring before it happens.

Keeping Calm

Traditionally there are a handful of techniques used to keep your dog (and cats!) calm during stressful situations such as during the New Year firework displays. These traditional methods can be split into six main categories:

  • Training and behavioural programs
  • Pheromones
  • Dietary management
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Nutraceuticals
  • Others

I'm going to go through each of these categories in a bit more detail and give an example of each type of product.

Training & Behavioural Programs

How your dog responds to stressful situations depends on how they were treated as a puppy during their first 16 weeks of life (also known of the socialisation period).

By introducing your puppy to possible situations in a positive manner, there is the chance that it won't affect them in later life as much. For example, gradually introducing the sound of fireworks to your dog as a puppy may prevent them from being scared of fireworks as an adult.

You can also use this technique when the dog is older - this is called desensitisation. You play a CD such as the Sound Therapy CD (which contains a number of possibly frightening noises for a dog such as fireworks or gunshots) and over time gradually increase the volume of the CD. The dog eventually learns that these noises are not something to be afraid of.


Pheromones are chemicals that enter our body through our nose and activate a special 'pheromone organ' (the vomeronasal organ). It is commonly believed that in humans this organ doesn't work anymore, however in cats and dogs the organ functions to some degree.

Two products which take advantage of this are DAP for Dogs and Feliway for Cats . Each contains a different pheromone (as pheromones are species specific) that act on dogs and cats to produce a calming effect. When the pheromone reaches the vomeronasal organ, a signal is sent to the brain which activates a feeling of calm. With these products it is best to start treatment early - so to prepare for this year's festivities I'd recommend starting treatment now. Pheromones come impregnated in collars or as a plug-in diffuser/spray.

Dietary Management

A natural chemical which has a major role in causing a calm state in dogs and cats is the amino-acid Tryptophan. This fortunately doesn't require any fancy products to produce - just feed your pet a big, protein meal 2 hours before a stressful event, such as your New Year party. Tryptophan is converted by the body to serotonin - a natural calm-inducing chemical. If you don't want the hassle of creating a large protein rich meal before hand, you can simply give your dog or cat one of the many Calming Treats available for purchase online and at most good pet stores. These treats are naturally high in tryptophan.


If you are seriously concerned as to how your pet is going to cope with all the noise, commotion and festivities happening this holiday period, it may be worth asking your vet what pharmaceuticals are available. Four main types are available; anti-depressants, sedatives, amnesic/anxiolytics and beta-blockers. Each have specific pros and cons, but all are subject to side effects of some degree. The amnesic/anxiolytic drugs have one of the more interesting side effects as they can sometimes increase stress! I'd only recommend pharmaceuticals if you know your dog or cat is likely to react severely to the extra stress.


Nutraceuticals are similar in effect to pharamceuticals, although they use all natural ingredients. This has the benefit of having fewer (if any) side effects - although the result may not be as powerful as pharmaceuticals. Nutraceuticals are cheap and quite easy to purchase online, just make sure you are buying a reputable brand such as NaturVet otherwise the product may be of poor quality. Calming nutraceuticals typically work by providing extremely high (yet safe) levels of tryptophan to ensure a maximum conversion ratio to serotonin - the natural bodily chemical which promotes calm.


One new product which a lot of people are raving about is the Thunder Shirt. Thunder shirts calm a dog by wrapping them tightly around the chest. That hugging feeling provides a comforting sensation similar to that of swaddling a child in a blanket.


Whilst pharamceuticals will provide the fastest, most effective relief from stress, it is unlikely that your dog will need to be calmed to such a degree over the festive period. Only if you know your dog really doesn't get on with people, should you consider pharmaceuticals. In most other cases nutraceuticals, pheromones or even a Thundershirt are probably a better choice.
Most pets enjoy the company of other humans, so you may not even have to worry about keeping them calm, but if you are likely to be near a big firework display or if you/ your neighbours intend on putting on your own display it is always better to be prepared.

This post was writing by James Watts, author of VetSci and PetSci, two UK based sites which focus on both the veterinary and household aspects of pet ownership.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Getting a dog or cat is great - just not as a gift

To Adopt Ambrosia:  e-mailHound.haven AT gmail DOT com
The holidays can be a great time to add an animal to your family, but your timing and planning must be right.  Some good reasons to make that move now are:

You may have time off work

It is the season to share and you may want to share what you have with an animal who needs you

You may feel lonely at a time when you are relentlessly told you should be cheerful

There is nothing wrong with wanting to banish loneliness with doggy kisses or a lapful of cat.  Fostering with the possibility of adoption is also a good option.

What is wrong is giving an animal as a gift.  The husband, who brings two dogs home as a surprise, may be creating a stressful situation.  This should be a family decision.

Even young children who plead for an animal may be disappointed at your selection. A puppy or kitten who arrives Christmas morning is going to compete with all the new items.  That sends a message that an animal is an object like the other gifts. 

Surprises are fun, but there is also magic in seeing a puppy select your child and vice versa.  If you want the surprise, but want to delay the animal's arrival - give a cat or dog toy with a note that this is a gift for a new arrival coming soon.  Getting the animal before the day you give gifts is also an option.

But if you do decide to spring a surprise gift on someone you love, here is a cautionary tale.  An acquaintance was given a dog she did not want by her boyfriend for her birthday. She dumped the boyfriend the next day. The dog sleeps in her bed.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Special needs dog failed by rescue, needs special trainer before her time is up!

Time is about up for “Monkey Girl,” but in a way, time never really started for her.

She is in a rescue that is closing its doors next week.  The many dogs and cats there who are still not adopted will go to San Antonio Animal Care Services.  They kill 75% of the animals they receive; and with Monkey Girl’s ill luck and problem behavior, she will certainly be one of those killed.  Our area rescues are overflowing, but even if they were not – this dog needs more than extra attention.

Monkey Girl has been in the rescue for so long, the story of how she got there is lost, but she seems to have come as a puppy, perhaps eight years ago.  From her recent photos, she has now gone gray.

Why is she still there?  She has not been evaluated and like the history of how she came there, the facts are in dispute.  The following is what is claimed.

  • She was warehoused and ignored.

  • She was worked with repeatedly and unsuccessfully.

  • She is dog aggressive.

  • She is afraid of everything and everyone, and only does well with people she knows providing it is quiet and there are no dogs around (two conditions she has never experienced.)

  • She is an escape artist (wouldn’t you be?)

Her PetFinder description is:  “Finally able to pose for pictures, she wishes someone will see her inner beauty and give her a chance. She is very playful and loving, and kind of picky about her friends. She is very smart and willing to please; this sweet girl will be the best friend you could ever have.”

Hmmm, maybe not so much . . .

People who know the dog say:

Fitting her photo is from behind bars. . .
“When we would walk her we would have to start running before we hit the door so that she would not realize she was going outside. She will not make eye contact except when she is in a cage. She only feels safe in a cage.”
“She bonds with people quickly, and out of that environment to a place where she has structure and exercise, she very well may blossom quickly.”

“She only wants to be in a kennel.  She will be a project for anyone as she has been in a small cage for 8 years. . . . She would just lay down and refuse to walk.  She wanted back in her kennel.  I think with work she could turn around but it is a big project.”

Here is how this reporter learned of Maggie - let’s call her by her real name, as does her only friend, and give her that respect for what may be her last week.  Here is what her friend wrote:

“I am desperately trying to help a dog who has never truly seen the outside of a kennel from what I understand. She has since become terrified of anything and anyone outside of her kennel doors. It is a shame when a dog has to be tricked into taking a walk. She is a heartbreaking example of too many dogs and not enough attention to go around. Maggie (her real name) deserves to know love. She deserves to know that there is a world outside that will keep her safe. Maggie deserves a life outside of a kennel and inside someone’s heart. According to the folks at the shelter, she is currently considered unadoptable. Unless we can find someone with a lot of experience to work with Maggie, she will most likely be euthanized. “

This woman, Carrie, is so concerned that she found a trainer who would donate two weeks in the hope that might bring Maggie around so Carrie could take her.  However, Carrie and her husband Alan have an in home rescue with their own pack, two recent rescue dogs, a rescue litter, and zero experience when it comes to a dog like Maggie.  The reality is this might only buy Maggie two more weeks.

Carrie is hoping that someone reading this article will be able to help long term.  Carrie has watched Maggie on PetFinder for awhile, but thought Maggie had a better chance where she was of finding a home, rather than coming to her small rescue.  She had no idea that Maggie had been there for so long or had gone "cage crazy."

Maggie needs a rescue with a trainer on staff who can commit to hours a day with this dog or a home with someone who has a proven record of rehabilitating hopeless cases.  Because San Antonio Animal Care Services is overcrowded and rescues are being asked to make space due to this rescue closing – it is unlikely that Maggie will find what she needs close to home.  That’s OK.  It is not like home has been good to her.  So if you can share this article outside San Antonio, that would help Maggie's slim chances

No comments below on the rescue or Maggie’s sad history.  That is why I have not named the rescue.  Venting will not help now.  The comment space is reserved for brainstorming on how we can give Maggie a future and also find homes or rescues to take the adoptable animals.  You may contact this writer directly marilyn at marilynlitt dot com.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Danger number one for dogs and cats during the holidays

Duffy, available for adoption from
Hound.haven AT gmail DOT com
Stop what you are doing right now and make sure your dog has tags and your cat has a tear-away collar.  The cat’s collar is to let someone know that cat has a home.  They should be micro-chipped with up-to-date registration information.  


The upcoming holiday season is hazardous to your dogs and cats.  They are at an increased risk of loss.  You have people coming in and out, to visit, to party, or to deliver packages.  This is the number one time of year for animals to get lost.

Your favorite aunt from the East Coast may casually say, “Your cat wanted out, so I let him out.”

That’s right, your inside cat who you battle to keep inside has just been ushered out!

And then there are the fireworks on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. . . .

Some rescuers say that New Year’s Day they see the most lost animals.  Several years in a row, this reporter got calls on Christmas Day from people who had found lapdogs.  Those dogs were all visiting with their families and so were really lost in that they did not know the neighborhood. When visiting with your animal, you can always put tape on their collar with a local phone number -especially if you have no tag or the tag has your landline home phone on it.

How can you diminish the possibility of an animal getting out? 

Make sure your guests know which animals are allowed out and through which doors.  Lock your gates so children don’t leave them open.  (It also helps keep track of visiting children if  to leave your yard, they have to go through the house.)
Your friends may want to greet your animals when they arrive at your home, but it is better to keep the dogs and cats in another room until the initial commotion of greetings and carrying in luggage subsides. 

Maybe your dog or cat is a party animal, but many are more comfortable not being underfoot and seeing strangers. So if you have a party, consider confining the animals where they can doze instead of stealing holiday cookies.

Follow the same restrictions for nights there are fireworks.  Some dogs will go over, under or through a fence that ordinarily is an impassible barrier.  If your dog hates explosions, put him inside in an interior room.  Turn on some music.  Consider giving him Benadryl.  (Consult your vet for the proper dosage.)  Many people swear by Thunder Shirts which calm a dog by wrapping him tightly about the chest.  Apparently that is a comforting sensation. 

Do not try to soothe him, but just act normally.  If you soothe a dog when he is frightened, he thinks there is a reason to be scared.  Better to carry on as if nothing is unusual.

I hope you won’t spend your Thanksgiving driving around looking and hanging up signs, but if you do lose or find an animal, check for tips on  It has special tips for San Antonio, but there are pointers anyone can use.

Even when you take precautions, dogs and cats are always dreaming of what is beyond their boundaries – so don’t beat yourself up if an animal goes on walk-about.  We can only do the best we can.  But do make sure that when your lost animal is found, he has ID so you can be found too!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Last Katrina Dog goes Home

Getting Sammy home was a group effort and his story probably has as many perspectives as there were Good Samaritans.  In fact, so many stepped up to help, that Sammy’s story can only be told by condensing it and necessarily leaving out many who helped selflessly, only wanting to save Sammy and help him to a home.

Let’s start by introducing Sammy, an 80 pound, 9 year old, heart worm positive purebred black lab who had the misfortune and the good fortune to be impounded by San Antonio Animal Care Services.  (ACS)  Misfortune to be impounded where 75% of the animals were killed last year, but good fortune to be noticed there by someone working with a local rescue.

See, Sammy couldn’t know it, but he carried a golden ticket under his skin – in the form of a pre-Katrina microchip.  That chip, leading back to St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana was a clue that Sammy was part of the great diaspora of animals from the New Orleans area after Katrina.  And it meant that a dedicated army of volunteers would try to see that he made a return trip.

That volunteer for a local rescue (SNIPSA) found out about the chip.  She traced it back to the St. Bernard Parish Animal Shelter.  They had records showing who had adopted a black lab named Sammy.  Ironically these were records recovered from a previously submerged hard drive reconstructed a year after Katrina.  At the time of the storm, the computer records and most of the paper records for the shelter were destroyed.  So the chip could not have gotten Sammy home at the time of his rescue and evacuation - but now the information was available.

But if a search was to be made for Sammy’s family, who no longer were at their pre-Katrina address – then Sammy had to be alive to go home.  The head of the rescue called the director of ACS and requested a hold be placed on the dog.  A foster home was found in San Antonio.  (Disclosure!  It was my home.)  ACS set Sammy safely aside, gave him his shots and waived the adoption fee.

So Sammy went to his temporary home while a search was conducted for Sammy’s pre-Katrina family and his post-Katrina San Antonio family.  It is very hard to find a lost dog in San Antonio.  Sammy had clearly been well cared for and loved, but the family never saw any of the many “FOUND: Strong Older Black Lab” notices online and elsewhere.

Amazingly, Sammy’s family from St. Bernard Parish was located.   A volunteer who  worked to locate families of found animals after Katrina, showed she had not lost her touch.  Sammy’s family knew he was rescued, but they were unable to find him after the storm.

The perfect ending would be one last Katrina reunion, but as happened with about half of the families after Katrina – who lost their homes, their neighborhoods, and their jobs –their dog had a place in their hearts, but not their new home.  In this case, the family had broken up and moved and moved again recently.  An 80 pound lab was not a good fit, for them or for him.

Sammy was doing well in his San Antonio foster home.  He had manners, except on a leash, which made him pull as if he were a sled dog! He was making the most at having more lives than a cat, but, he needed a foster who could hold his own on the other end of a leash.  That foster now stepped up in Louisiana.

A friend, who helped after Katrina to reunite families and animals, now donated airfare to get Sammy to the new foster home. After Sammy deplaned in New Orleans, his new foster was breaking down the crate to put it in the trunk.  Sammy, determined to stick with whoever had liberated him from that crate, hopped into the open trunk. 

You can follow Sammy’s further adventures on the St. Bernard Parish Animal Shelter FaceBook page where he is interviewing applicants for a forever home.  (Families with cats need not apply.)

This would be sufficient for a happy ending; but at the San Antonio airport cargo counter, the ex-Marine who handled animals for Continental, looked wistfully at Sammy.  He said he would love a dog like that, but could not afford one.  Well, he made that wish to the right person. 

The next day he was offered two affordable and adoptable animals, a gorgeous purebred lab puppy at a no kill shelter and a nine month-old lab/Great Dane mix, described as goofy, with about 24 hours left at ACS. 

Which would you take if you had dreamed of owning a purebred lab and were offered the puppy of your dreams?  The lab mix has a new home. Semper Fi! 

Happy Birthday to all Marines and THANK YOU to all our veterans.