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“Dog Flu” aka Canine Influenza… Is your Pet at risk?

Friday, July 21st, 2017

Recently, we’ve been receiving questions from some of our pet owners about dog flu. They were concerned about stories they had seen or read in the news about outbreaks. In answering their questions, we realized that all of our dog owners may have similar questions and concerns. So, we’re writing to tell you about dog flu, what puts dogs at risk and what can be done to protect them.

Dog flu is a relatively new disease and can be caused by two different canine influenza virus strains, H3N8 and H3N2. Both strains of dog flu virus cause respiratory disease in dogs. Affected dogs may develop coughing, nasal discharge, fever, lethargy and loss of appetite. The signs of infection are similar to those of other respiratory diseases in dogs. With proper medical attention, most dogs will recover. However, in some cases, dog flu can progress to a more severe or even life-threatening condition, such as pneumonia.

Dog flu is highly contagious, so visiting places where dogs socialize or congregate, such as doggie day cares, dog parks, groomers, boarding facilities, dog shows, and urban locations, places dogs at higher risk for becoming infected. Making the situation even more difficult to control is that dogs can spread the virus before signs of illness appear.

The best way to protect your dog from dog flu is through vaccination. Fortunately, there is a vaccine now available for both dog flu strains. The initial vaccination requires two doses, given 2 to 4 weeks apart. Thereafter, an annual booster is recommended for continued protection.

Protect Your Pet against Dog Flu

We recommend vaccinating dogs against dog flu. Please call us to discuss any questions you might have and to set up an appointment.

To learn more about dog flu, you can also visit

Unlocking Canine Memory For A Happier Pet How Do Dogs Remember? By Victoria Stilwell

Friday, September 23rd, 2016

photo15In her new book, The Secret Language of Dogs, trainer and Animal Planet star Victoria Stilwell explores the ways recent canine studies show us how to better understand the hidden language of dogs.

Memory is crucial for problem solving, hunting of prey, smell recognition, facial recognition, and general learning. Dogs need to memorize environmental landmarks so they can find their way around as well as construct mental maps of where these landmarks are located. Although dogs use visual markers to navigate their surroundings, they rely more heavily on how things smell. This mental mapping is important for remembering territory and territorial boundaries as well as being able to reach a food source or an area of comfort and safety.

Dogs also need to have a good working memory if they have to find food for themselves. They have to remember that if the prey they are chasing goes behind a rock and disappears, it might still be there even though they can’t see it.

It’s believed not only that dogs have good olfactory memory and can remember smells for years afterward, but also that smell is linked to their emotional memory, just as it is in humans. The smell of a veterinary hospital may always elicit negative emotions, whereas the odor of a favored person triggers happiness and joy. Auditory memory is also important and is especially useful when it comes to remembering the sound, tone, and pitch of a human vocal signal that is linked to a certain action or behavior.

Dogs can not only recognize the voices of people they know but also learn and remember that different vocal pitches and tones mean different things. Their physical reading skills can help them determine what human vocalizations mean, and because people tend to speak in higher pitches when they are being affectionate and lower pitches when they are upset or angry, it is easy for dogs to learn the difference and respond accordingly. You can help your dog learn by being consistent with your vocal pitch as well as being aware of how to use tone when talking to your dog or giving cues. In general, the type of cue will determine the type of tone and pitch you use. You can use high energy vocalizations to excite your dog into playing, for example, or to get your dog to come back to you when you call; use medium tones for everyday cues such as “wait” by the food bowl or “stay” by the front door when a guest is entering. You can use lower tones to tell your dog how you feel about a certain behavior, but take care not to frighten him into compliance. The canine memory is so good that he will truly remember and recognize the difference! Dogs that have been raised in positive, stimulating environments tend to have better memory function than dogs that have been raised in social isolation, because the more pleasant experiences a dog has in early life, the more chances its brain has to develop.

Reprinted from THE SECRET LANGUAGE OF DOGS Copyright © 2016 by Victoria Stilwell. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC.

Victoria Stilwell, star of Animal Planet’s popular “It’s Me or the Dog,” is the author of two books and active with international rescue groups.

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Dog Flu 101

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Dog FluIt’s flu season, and not just for humans!  According to the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), Canine Influenza Virus (H3N8) or “Dog Flu” is a contagious respiratory disease that is easily transmitted through our dogs.  Because Canine Influenza Virus is a relatively new virus, most dogs have not been exposed to it before.

A small percentage of dogs can experience very serious complications such as pneumonia, just like the humans infected with influenza.

Dr. Jeff Werber is an Emmy Awarding winning veterinarian and cares for the pets of some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. He answered our questions about the Dog Flu and if you should be worried.

What is Dog Flu? 

Dog flu or Canine Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease in dogs caused by a specific Type A influenza virus (H3N8).  The “canine influenza virus” was originally an equine (horse) influenza virus that spread to dogs in 2004 and can now spread between dogs.

It is similar to the swine flu that affects humans. It’s not a new flu, but has been around for about 10 years.

Is there a risk to humans?

To date, there is no evidence of transmission of canine influenza virus from dogs to humans. However, the CDC explains that influenza viruses are “constantly changing and it is possible for a virus to change so that it could infect humans and spread easily between humans. Such a virus could represent a pandemic influenza threat. For this reason, CDC and its partners are monitoring the H3N8 influenza virus (as well as other animal influenza viruses) very closely. In general, however, canine influenza viruses are considered to pose a low threat to humans.” As mentioned earlier, while these viruses are well established in horse and dog populations, there is no evidence of infection among humans with this virus.”

How high is the risk to dogs?

There have been outbreaks of “canine flu” since 2004. One of the vaccine companies offered free influenza testing to veterinarians. I must have sent in 25-30 swabs to be checked and had no positive results. Most respiratory cases are going to be para influenza or other bacterial infections but not the influenza virus, the “canine flu.”

How is it Spread?

Canine influenza virus can be spread to other dogs by direct contact with aerosolized respiratory secretions (sputum and saliva) from infected dogs, by uninfected dogs coming into contact with contaminated objects, and by moving contaminated objects or materials between infected and uninfected dogs. Therefore, dog owners whose dogs are coughing or showing other signs of respiratory disease should not expose other dogs to the virus. Clothing, equipment, surfaces, and hands should be cleaned and disinfected after exposure to dogs showing signs of respiratory disease.  Some dogs are asymptomatic (show no signs of the disease) so it may difficult to take precautions.

It does seem to attack where dogs are either housed together like in boarding/kennel situation, or congregate, such as a dog park.

Is there a vaccine?

There is available a canine influenza virus vaccine, Nobivac® Canine Flu H3N8, but it does not prevent the virus, rather it minimizes the severity of its impact and its spread. There are few side effects reported.

What is the treatment?

About 80% of the dogs with the flu will have a mild form of the disease characterized by cough, nasal discharge and fever that will resolve over time with appropriate therapy.  A small proportion of dogs can develop severe disease.  These dogs experience complications such as pneumonia, just like the humans infected with influenza.

If contracted, there is no specific anti-viral medication; the dog is treated with supportive care which often includes antibiotics to treat secondary bacterial infections. High quality nutrition and a stress free environment is also recommended. Treatment largely consists of supportive care. This helps the dog mount an immune response. In the milder form of the disease, this care may include medication to make your dog more comfortable and fluids to ensure that your dog remains well-hydrated.

The goal is to support the body to maximize its effectiveness in fighting the virus.


If your dog exhibits respiratory symptoms, coughing, runny nose, fever, lethargy, see your veterinarian. Most likely, your dog just has a regular cold or maybe Kennel Cough. Even so, they will feel better quicker with a vet’s help.

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Questions and Answers about Ebola & Pets

Wednesday, October 15th, 2014


The ongoing epidemic of Ebola in West Africa has raised several questions about how the disease affects the animal population, and in particular, the risk to household pets. While the information available suggests that the virus may be found in several kinds of animals, CDC, the US Department of Agriculture, and the American Veterinary Medical Association do not believe that pets are at significant risk for Ebola in the United States.

How are animals involved in Ebola outbreaks?

Because the natural reservoir host of Ebola has not yet been confirmed, the way in which the virus first appears in a human at the start of an outbreak is unknown. However, scientists believe that the first patient becomes infected through contact with an infected animal, such as a fruit bat or primate (apes and monkeys), which is called a spillover event. Person-to-person transmission follows and can lead to large numbers of affected persons. In some past Ebola outbreaks, primates were also affected by Ebola, and multiple spillover events occurred when people touched or ate infected primates. In the current West African epidemic, animals have not been found to be a factor in ongoing Ebola transmission.

How does Ebola spread?

When infection occurs in humans, the virus can be spread in several ways to others. Ebola is spread through direct contact (through broken skin or mucous membranes in, for example, the eyes, nose, or mouth) with

  • blood or body fluids (including but not limited to urine, saliva, sweat, feces, vomit, breast milk, and semen) of a person who is sick with Ebola
  • objects (like needles and syringes) that have been contaminated with the virus
  • Ebola is not spread through the air or by water, or in general, by food. However, in Africa, Ebola may be spread as a result of handling bushmeat (wild animals hunted for food) and contact with infected bats.
  • Only a few species of mammals (for example, humans, monkeys, and apes) have shown the ability to become infected with and spread Ebola virus. There is no evidence that mosquitos or other insects can transmit Ebola virus.

Can dogs get infected or sick with Ebola?

At this time, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or other animals. Even in areas in Africa where Ebola is present, there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola. There is limited evidence that dogs become infected with Ebola virus, but there is no evidence that they develop disease.

Here in the United States, are our dogs and cats at risk of becoming sick with Ebola?

The risk of an Ebola outbreak affecting multiple people in the United States is very low. Therefore, the risk to pets is also very low, as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a person with Ebola. Even in areas in Africa where Ebola is present, there have been no reports of dogs and cats becoming sick with Ebola.

Can I get Ebola from my dog or cat?

At this time, there have been no reports of dogs or cats becoming sick with Ebola or of being able to spread Ebola to people or animals. The chances of a dog or cat being exposed to Ebola virus in the United States is very low as they would have to come into contact with blood and body fluids of a symptomatic person sick with Ebola.

Can my pet’s body, fur, or paws spread Ebola to a person?

We do not yet know whether or not a pet’s body, paws, or fur can pick up and spread Ebola to people or other animals. It is important to keep people and animals away from blood or body fluids of a person with symptoms of Ebola infection.

What if there is a pet in the home of an Ebola patient?

CDC recommends that public health officials in collaboration with a veterinarian evaluate the pet’s risk of exposure to the virus (close contact or exposure to blood or body fluids of an Ebola patient). Based on this evaluation as well as the specific situation, local and state human and animal health officials will determine how the pet should be handled.

Can I get my dog or cat tested for Ebola?

There would not be any reason to test a dog or cat for Ebola if there was no exposure to a person infected with Ebola. Currently, routine testing for Ebola is not available for pets.

What are the requirements for bringing pets or other animals into the United States from West Africa?

CDC regulations require that dogs and cats imported into the United States be healthy. Dogs must be vaccinated against rabies before arrival into the United States. Monkeys and African rodents are not allowed to be imported as pets under any circumstances.

Each state and U.S. Territory has its own rules for pet ownership and importation, and these rules may be different from federal regulations. Airlines may have additional requirements.

Can monkeys spread Ebola?

Yes, monkeys are at risk for Ebola. Symptoms of Ebola infection in monkeys include fever, decreased appetite, and sudden death. Monkeys should not be allowed to have contact with anyone who may have Ebola. Healthy monkeys already living in the United States and without exposure to a person infected with Ebola are not at risk for spreading Ebola.

Can bats spread Ebola?

Fruit bats in Africa are considered to be a natural reservoir for Ebola. Bats in North America are not known to carry Ebola and so CDC considers the risk of an Ebola outbreak from bats occurring in the United States to be very low. However, bats are known to carry rabies and other diseases here in the United States. To reduce the risk of disease transmission, never attempt to touch a bat, living or dead.

Where can I find more information about Ebola and pet dogs and cats?

CDC is currently working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and many other partners to develop additional guidance for the U.S. pet population. Additional information and guidance will be posted on this website as well as partner websites as soon as it becomes available.

For additional information on Ebola visit ( 

Is Your New Puppy from a Puppy Mill?

Monday, October 6th, 2014

So you are looking for a puppy, maybe you’re a first time dog owner. You have heard about puppy mills and know they are bad. But what you don’t know is how to make sure you don’t accidentally buy from one. Here are 10 signs to help you determine if the puppy you are looking at is from a puppy mill or not as listed in site.

Puppy mill

#1 – Out-of-State

You really should just stay away from pet stores when buying a puppy. Be especially worried if those puppies are coming from out-of-state, particularly Midwest states (Missouri and Illinois are two of the biggest).

#2 – No Parents

If the breeder cannot let you meet the parents, you should walk away. Not meeting the parents is like buying a car without knowing the make. Don’t do it. For all you know, these people did not even breed the puppy, but are selling him secondhand for unknown reasons.

#3 – Let’s Meet

If you call a breeder and they say “let’s meet somewhere” when you ask to visit their kennel, it’s a puppy mill. Usually they will try to get you to meet in a store parking lot or a park. Unless there are extreme circumstances, there is no reason why should not see where your puppy was born..

Puppy Blog 2

#4 – Several Breeds

Reputable breeders focus on one breed, maybe two, MAX. If you find a site offering five different breeds (and their mixes!), it’s a puppy mill.

#5 – Multiple Litters

When you call the breeder and ask if they have puppies, do they respond with “I have one litter coming, but there is already a waiting list” or “oh yes, I have 3 litters on the ground and 2 more on the way”? If the breeder has 30 puppies, that is definitely a puppy mill.

#6 – Vaccinations

Puppy mills don’t like to spend money, it deters from profits. So the parents may not be vaccinated (you should ask!) and the puppies probably are not. Or, conversely, they have so many puppies they lost track and your pup got vaccinated twice.

Puppy Blog

#7 – Extreme Promises

Dr. Kathryn Primm DVM, owner and chief veterinarian of Applebrook A.H., says to be wary about the breeder promising a certain size, temperament, or characteristic that seems extreme. For example, a dog came into her clinic that was supposed to be a Pomeranian and Husky mix that the breeder had promised would never grow lover than 7 pounds. She was 42 pounds!

#8 – Cleanliness

This goes for the dog and the breeder’s home or kennel. Dr. Primm says puppies from puppy mills are more likely to smell like a kennel and have poor coat quality.

#9 – Contract

Your breeder should care enough about what happens to the puppy that she has a contract protecting both you and her. Reputable breeders have a spay/neuter agreement, breed papers, health contract, and a request that you return the dog to them if it doesn’t work out (rather than dumping him at the shelter.)

#10 – Too Young

Another way they can cut their costs is by giving you the puppy early, because they do not have to feed them, give them shots, etc. Question any breeder wanting to give you the puppy before they are eight weeks old. This is the minimum age you should be taking a puppy from their mother and litter-mates.

Our Doctors at Town & Country A.H. can give you plenty of information about breeds, maintenance, nutrition, training and much more. If you are in the market for a new four legged addition to your family, know we can assist in helping you choose the right breed and help you avoid puppy mills!

We are available anytime at or contact us at (305) 238-2222.

Bob’s Journals Continued…

Tuesday, July 1st, 2014


Oh! Geez! Here we goooooo…. Bob is still sick with the coughing, sneezing, snorting, and blowing snot everywhere. Too vivid? You should be here to see and hear it. I had to make a second trip to the vet because he had gotten worse. Again it was confirmed that he has Rhinitis, but now has asthma on top of that. Dr. Kesseru took a look at his nostrils and said (paraphrased), Yuck! There it is…It was a good sized buggar. It was Dr. Kesseru’s thought that it is the litter (which confirmed what I was thinking), so (after much research) I changed it to a litter that is made from wheat. Both me and Bob should benefit from the change.

Well, Bob has to be given, in liquid form, a steroid, and an antibiotic. I cannot express the joy that I had in knowing that I had to do this TO BOB on a daily basis. The battle is on. Again I have battle wounds…but I figured it out. A towel is my secret weapon, along with a harness and leash so that I could pull him out, from where he hides, and grasp him. I got the harness on Bob at the vet’s office. I remembered that the nurse had him wrapped in a towel when she brought Bob back to me after his exam, x-ray, and blood work. Voila! I wrapped him up so tight that the only thing he could do is scratch himself. OH….then there are his teeth  and getting him to open wide (HA!) while I insert the syringes filled with medication. Well, I won’t go into that.

What a fete! However, the battle went better today than it did yesterday.

I got more of the medicine in him today than in the previous days. And, oh! The vet stated that cats do not like the taste of the steroid medication. I checked it out and YUCK! I can understand why they do not like it. YUCKIE, YUCK! Both Bob and I will benefit from the change of litter type.

Bob ate all of his food last night. He had not, really, eaten since Monday. I was happy to see his bowl empty. He had even refused to eat his snacks. A co-worker at summer camp gave me treats to give him after our battles. Thank you Betty: from Bob.

I have several more days to go. Please be sure to contact me if any of my readers would like to take my place in giving Bob his medication. Nah! Bob and I are bonding. I am letting him know that I am the alpha feline in the house, I think.

In thinking about the Bob battles, from the time I started this writing, I think about the battles that we fight on a daily basis. We often need to be reminded who our Alpha and Omega is and that He has already won the battle for us. We fight the enemy tooth and nail and wear our battle wounds proudly when we should be displaying that we are victors over every circumstance in Christ despite ourselves and the obstacle courses that we go through. Though it may not seem so during the times that we are going through trials we are over-comers in Christ Jesus our Savior and Lord.

The children of Israel did not see a resolution to the problem that troops were at their heals to kill them. But God already had the solution planned. The Israelites crossed over the sea on dry land. Moses sang (Ex. 15:1-2 NIV) “I will sing to the Lord, for He is highly exalted. The Horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation. He is my God, and I will praise Him, my father’s God, and I will exalt Him.” Are we licking our wounds in frustration of what the enemy has done or are we reflecting that a victorious God will bring us through because of the wounds that His son, Jesus, bore for us.

I am home from my afternoon shift at summer camp. Bob had been hiding from me since Monday. Guess what! Bob met me at the door. He walked into the kitchen and looked at me and his food dish. I got the hint. Bob quickly pounced on his bowl of food. He was a little skittish, but he is improving by the minute. Bob has been out and about since my arrival home (dragging his leash behind him) . I think that he senses that I won’t try anything at night, since I have been giving him his medication between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. It seems that every time we tussle he gets closer. Hmmmm.

Good night all.

How to Handle a Territorial Dog

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

How to Handle a Territorial Dog


A Territorial Dog Bit My Cousin

Dear Cesar,

I would like to know how to properly handle a situation in which a territorial dog came after me when I was walking in my neighborhood. This situation arose yesterday when my cousin and I were walking. A dog who is usually confined behind a fence suddenly charged across the yard at us.

The territorial dog nipped my cousin on the back of her leg and then proceeded to circle around us. The owner was nowhere in sight. I knew from watching your show that I should remain calm and assertive, but my cousin was terrified. As the dog circled around us trying to get at my cousin, I kept turning to face the territorial dog and would periodically make the “shh” noise I’ve heard you make. I wanted to keep him in sight, but I thought I shouldn’t be making eye contact either. I just imagined a bubble around me and in my mind said, “This is my space.” Eventually, the dog left us alone and wandered off. Even though the dog backed off, I’m not sure I handled the situation the best way. My question is, what are the proper steps to take when faced with a territorial dog off its leash?

Thanks for your help,

Trena Cox

Cesar’s Advice on How to Handle a Territorial Dog

Dear Trena,

First of all I want to tell you what you did was exactly what I would have done in a situation like that with a territorial dog. I couldn’t be more proud of a person who I don’t know, I’ve never seen, and to whom I’ve never given a personal consultation! And you didn’t do anything wrong. Here’s what you did right: you controlled the environment; you controlled the momentum; you controlled yourself; you controlled the dog, and you took over for your frightened cousin. You actually controlled your cousin with your stronger energy. If you had been by yourself, you would have accomplished the exercise in a much shorter period of time. Because of your cousin’s weak energy, it took a little longer for you to make the territorial dog understand that you were not going to back away.

The great thing is that the dog did back away—and that means you won; that means you are the pack leader; that means that you should hold on to that moment for the rest of your life and feel like you just won a purple heart or some kind of medal. I am very proud and if you keep it up – keep the pack leader mentality and stay calm and assertive no matter what, which I always teach on the show—you will always succeed. I’ll say it again: I am very, very, very proud of you.

Stay calm and assertive,

Ceaser Milan

SOURCE: Ceaser Millan

Dogs Mourning Dogs

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

Dogs Mourning Dogs


By Shawna Kenney

How do dogs experience the death of fellow dogs? Corey Kooken, the human companion of Lobo and Wrigley, two border collies adopted from separate rescue shelters, says she’s witnessed this first-hand.sad-dog3

“They got to know one another and tolerate each other,” she told us. “I always said Lobo was the brains and Wrigley was the brawn.” Lobo passed away from cancer at the age of twelve, and when Corey and her husband returned from the vet without him, Wrigley searched the house, looking confused. She said this happened for weeks and they wondered whether Wrigley was going to be able to function without his alpha dog.

Dog lover Karen Mandall recalls a similar story from her childhood. After their mini-dachshund Punkin escaped the yard and was hit by a car, Blue, their Great Dane, stood over her in the middle of the street until the family found them.

“Blue had never jumped the fence before and never did it again, but somehow he managed to check on her.” Karen recalls comforting the big dog through days of whimpering after his canine companion passed away.

Susie Dvorak says her long-haired Chihuahua Annie was different after Clyde, the Labradoodle she loved, died. “She used to play with him all the time but since then she doesn’t play with other dogs, no matter who, what, (or) where they are.”

Many people have such painful anecdotes, and scientists and animal behaviorists agree that dogs feel emotion. One US News & World Report story suggests dogs may mourn as deeply as humans do. In it, Barbara King, a professor of anthropology at the College of William and Mary, says her research shows that the above behavior of a “surviving dog looking for his companion” shows that dogs “are thinking and feeling creatures, and that sets the stage for grief.”

Grief is a pack issue. It requires us to be the pack leaders, more than ever — even while grieving our own losses. Books like Jon Katz’s “Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die examine the human aspect of grief and mourning, but little has been written on how the animals themselves react and recover.

In the case of Lobo and Wrigley, Corey shares that, at first, Wrigley “didn’t eat with voraciousness and didn’t seem confident of things he’d normally done without a problem.” They tried introducing him to new dogs, taking him to his favorite places, giving him new toys, offering new food and showering him with all the attention he could handle.

But he needed time, she says. She is happy to share that after a while, Wrigley gained the confidence of a dog higher up in the pecking order and today self-assuredly leads his younger ‘brother’ Quincy around. “Thankfully he came through it and may be a stronger dog for it.”

Source: Ceaser Millan


Monday, April 7th, 2014


Elizabeth Oreck

Every year at this time, families across the country look forward to the tradition of enjoying that timeless holiday classic, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. And while we revel in this heartwarming tale of human compassion and salvation, we are likely not thinking about the plight of the hundreds of thousands of dogs in puppy mills. But at no other time of year should these dogs be more top of mind. After all, ’tis the season of the often-requested Christmas gift of a puppy.

And yet, for that puppy under the tree to materialize, we must consider the countless dogs at any given moment living in cramped and often filthy cages, breeding continuously in order to produce as many puppies as possible for the retail pet trade. While Americans dig deep into their pockets to purchase new toys, treats, sweaters or cozy pet beds as holiday gifts for their beloved furry companions, dogs living in mills receive no such gifts. Not even the opportunity to go for a walk or experience a kind human touch.

Puppy mills are in business to supply pet stores and online retailers, and, as is the case with most retail, the holidays are the most profitable time of year. Puppy sellers capitalize on parents’ anticipation of the joy on their child’s face when he or she receives that adorable puppy wrapped in a big red bow on Christmas morning. But that gift comes at a cost that far exceeds the dollar amount on the price tag, and it is a price paid every day by breeder dogs on the puppy production line.

A puppy mill is a high-volume commercial dog-breeding operation in which profit and maximum production take priority over the health and welfare of the animals. Puppies bred in these factory-like settings are regarded as nothing more than a cash crop commodity, and despite the poor conditions in which the breeder dogs are forced to live, puppy mills are still legal in every state.

Although commercial dog breeders who sell puppies wholesale to pet stores and distributors are licensed and regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the minimum required standards of care do little to protect dogs and nothing to ensure responsible, quality breeding. The dogs can be confined for years at a time, reduced to lives of constant breeding in dirty, stacked, wirebottomed cages that are required to be only six inches larger than the dog on all sides, and with few, if any, opportunities to play, be walked, or receive basic grooming or veterinary care. There is no requirement that the dogs ever be let out of those cages, even for a moment, to stand on solid ground or experience the sun on their backs. When they are no longer able to produce, they are usually discarded or destroyed.

These are the parents of the puppies who are sold online or shipped to pet stores, where unsuspecting buyers are not informed of the backgrounds of these animals, nor the conditions under which they were bred. There are frequent reports of these puppies having congenital or communicable diseases, which cause heartache and expense for those who purchased them with the mistaken belief that they were buying a healthy pet from the best source possible. So, this is not just an animal welfare issue; it’s a consumer protection issue, too.

Tragically, when the cost of caring for a sick puppy becomes more than the buyer can manage, it is not uncommon for that puppy to be surrendered to an overcrowded, taxpayer-subsidized shelter. Not all communities have puppy mills, but nearly every community has some byproduct of puppy mills — either a pet store that imports puppies from out-of-state mills or a shelter that takes in more dogs than they can adopt out. In short, the puppy mill problem impacts all of us.

It is believed that there are approximately 10,000 licensed and unlicensed puppy mills in the U.S., mostly concentrated in the Midwest, which combined produce an estimated two million puppies per year. It’s profoundly ironic that the number of puppies born in mills is roughly equal to the number of dogs being killed in U.S. shelters each year. And it begs the question: Why do we continue to manufacture dogs in mills when so many dogs who already exist are being destroyed every day, simply because there aren’t enough people adopting them? The answer, of course, is profit. And those who typically make the largest profit are the retailers, who buy puppies at a low cost and then resell them at a high markup.

Pet stores purchase puppies from mills and wholesale brokers because no responsible breeder would ever sell to a pet store. This basic tenet can be found in every reputable breeder’s code of ethics, including those of the parent breed clubs of the American Kennel Club. And even if they were inclined to sell to pet stores, the high cost of breeding responsibly means that a pet store could never afford to buy puppies from a reputable breeder, because the profit margin would be significantly less than it is when they buy from mills or brokers. The retail reality is that the less it costs to manufacture a product, the greater the opportunity for markup — and profit.

With all that we know about the terrible conditions of these facilities and the unethical breeding that occurs to produce a substandard quality of dog purely for profit, why do we still have puppy mills in this country? Because people are buying what the mills are producing. It is the most fundamental of economic principles: supply and demand. As long as there is a market for a product, that product will continue to be produced, no matter how oversaturated the market becomes.

There is, however, reason to be optimistic. When Best Friends launched its puppy mill initiatives in 2008, there were more than 6,000 USDA-licensed commercial dog breeders. Today, that number is closer to 2,000. One of the reasons for the decline is that the traditional puppy mill industry is becoming more prohibitive and less profitable, due to increased state and local regulations, greater media exposure and public awareness, and a struggling national economy that makes it more difficult for consumers to pay top dollar for a new puppy.

This doesn’t mean, however, that substandard breeding is necessarily in decline. Backyard breeding is still a prevailing problem, dogs are being imported into the U.S. legally and illegally, many breeders are simply continuing to breed without a USDA license, and a lot of selling is now being conducted online.

Internet puppy buying and selling is a relatively recent phenomenon. And despite the obvious risks that come with purchasing anything online — let alone a living, sentient being — there is no denying that we’ve evolved into a point-and-click culture. Unfortunately, that form of convenient consumerism is how more and more people are bringing pets into their homes.

Unscrupulous puppy sellers exploit the opportunity to hide behind attractive websites and slick catalogs that feature stock photos of adorable puppies frolicking in fields or napping in wicker baskets. Consumers who receive these puppies shipped directly to their door never see the true conditions of the breeding facilities. They also have no way of knowing whether the puppy they purchase will be healthy, or anything like what they thought they were buying, thus elevating the risk of consumer fraud. It’s a game of retail Russian roulette, in which the odds favor the seller.

As an organization committed to reaching a day when every pet will have a loving home, it goes without saying that Best Friends encourages everyone who is looking to bring a pet into the family to choose adoption over purchase. Although we recognize that there are caring and reputable private breeders who breed responsibly and ethically, it’s difficult for us to endorse any kind of breeding while so many animals are dying in shelters.

There are adoptable dogs of every breed, age, size and personality available throughout the U.S. Breed-specific rescue groups and online adoption databases like make it easy to find exactly what you’re looking for. Adopting may require a little more effort, but what it lacks in convenience it makes up for in the knowledge that you’ve saved a life. And for parents set on the idea of giving a puppy as a gift, why not consider the gift of a promise to adopt? Making the adoption of a new pet a family decision gives every family member a part in the process and ensures that it will be the best match for all.

We’ve made a lot of progress in the fight against puppy mills, but we still have more work to do, as puppies continue to be mass-produced in a manner that most animal-loving, compassionate individuals find abhorrent. The solution to the problem is simple: If we stop buying what the mills are producing, there will be no reason for them to continue producing, and eventually they will cease to exist. We need to stop supporting pet retailers that sell commercially bred puppies, because any money spent in those stores contributes to perpetuating the cycle of puppy mill cruelty.

Fortunately, there is a more humane alternative. Pet stores that offer animals for adoption relieve the burden on shelters and rescue groups by getting homeless pets into retail settings, where they have a greater chance of being seen by the public. It’s an increasingly popular model and a win-win for both the community and the animals. Several commercial property-management companies have recently embraced this concept by implementing policies to lease space only to pet stores that operate under the adoption model.
Cities throughout North Amer ica (e.g., Los Angeles, San Diego and Toronto) are also getting on board by passing ordinances to ban the sale of commercially bred dogs, cats and rabbits in pet stores, unless they come from shelters or rescue groups. By cutting off the supply of milled puppies being imported into the community, they are addressing the puppy mill problem from the retail end, while increasing adoption opportunities for pets in local shelters. And, since many dogs in shelters are cast-offs from people who purchased them in pet stores or online, banning retail sales helps reduce the number of animals who enter shelters and, consequently, the number being killed (currently more than 9,000 per day) in our nation’s shelters.

So, we’re heading in the right direction. We are witnessing a cultural shift in the way that we think about companion animals and how we choose to bring them into our homes. Adoption is becoming much more common, legislators are recognizing the need to pass better regulations for dog breeders and retailers, and there is more awareness than ever about the harsh realities of puppy mills. As people share their knowledge and take action in their own communities, we are steadily moving the needle in a more compassionate direction.

What it comes down to is this: The puppy mill problem belongs to all of us, and so does the solution. The ability to put this cruel industry in the past is in our collective hands. We have the power to set positive examples through our consumer decisions. We have the power to teach our kids — and each other — compassion for animals. We have the power to create changes for the better. We have the power to save lives. Working together, we can reach a time when puppies will no longer be mass-produced, adoption will be the first choice for those looking to bring a pet into the family, and there will be no more homeless pets. We’re on the right track. We can save them all. After all, every dog deserves a wonderful life.



Who’s really saving who?

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014
Returning the favor Who’s really saving who?
Kelli Harmon

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When Barbara Bowman went to the Best Friends Pet Adoption and Spay/Neuter Center in Los Angeles last year, she thought she knew what she was going to leave with. “I was looking for a black cat, and I already had a name picked out: Jack,” she says. Who she found, however, was Leo. And, looking back a little over a year after she first met Leo, she couldn’t be happier that Jack the black cat ultimately didn’t materialize on that fateful day.

After all, Leo saved her life.

While Barbara and her daughter, Chakiyah, initially set out to locate and adopt a black cat who would be named Jack, Chakiyah was drawn to a large, long-haired white cat instead.

“I was walking by his cage and felt him grab at my sweater,” she recalls. She liked his playfulness and his aquamarine eyes, and knew right away that this was to be their cat. Barbara says, “I have a soft heart. I couldn’t say no.” When she held the white cat, Barbara fell for him, too. They decided to take him home, naming him Leo for his lion-like hair.

Barbara, who lives with her husband, children, two other cats and two dogs, admits it’s a busy household. “Leo didn’t know what to do in the beginning,” she says. “But by the second week, he started to come around.” It turns out he’s a lap cat, and Barbara’s was his favorite lap. As he began to sit with her more often, Barbara noticed that Leo would start kneading her lap and then moved up toward her chest. She says, “At first, I felt special because I was the only one he was doing this with. He did this every day for a week.” But then he started doing it with greater frequency. He continued to gravitate to the same area of one of her breasts — so much so that his strange behavior prompted her to do a self-exam. She felt a lump. She called her doctor and, after a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy, it was confirmed: She had an aggressive form of stagethree breast cancer.

In February of last year, Barbara had a partial mastectomy. Not only did doctors remove the cancerous growth, but 14 lymph nodes — eight of them cancerous — as well. She began a treatment of eight rounds of chemotherapy, which will be followed by radiation. Despite all this, Barbara is incredibly positive. She explains, “I feel good. Sometimes tired, but what makes it worth living (through) is my children. It really helps knowing how much you are loved.” She credits Leo with saving her life, saying, “I never would have noticed the lump if it weren’t for Leo.”
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At first blush, it could seem that Leo finding Barbara’s cancer was a fluke, a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. Even a coincidence. But as it turns out, there are numerous stories similar to theirs. Many people have reported anecdotally that their pets alerted them to the fact that something was not quite right. Like Ricky Hatfield of Williamson County, Illinois, whose normally well-behaved retriever head-butted his groin. Or the U.K.’s Sharon Rawlinson, who is grateful to her Cavalier King Charles spaniel for pawing at and standing on her chest. In both cases, tests confirmed what the pets already knew: cancer.

In 1989, the possibility that an animal’s nose knows gained global attention when a letter to the editor from two dermatologists was published in the medical journal The Lancet. The letter stated that their patient’s dog wouldn’t leave alone a small mole on the patient’s leg. The dog continued to fuss at the mole until, one day, she pounced and bit at it. The dog ignored other moles on the patient’s arms and legs and had never bitten her before, so the behavior was strange enough that the woman insisted on having the mole biopsied. It turned out to be malignant melanoma. The untrained, mixed-breed dog sensed something. In the years since, the media has been peppered with stories just like this one.

And all the stories have certain similarities; the pets are acutely interested in a small, targeted area of their human’s body. They tend to sniff and paw or dig at an area, sometimes relentlessly, returning to the same place again and again over time. Dina Zaphiris, a dog trainer and medical scent detection expert based in Los Angeles, has seen this behavior thousands of times in the 20-plus years of her professional life, which includes training search and rescue dogs. This phenomenon is not surprising to her at all. She knows that dogs can smell cancer. In fact, she has trained them to do it.


Enthusiastic about her work, Dina can talk at length about dogs’ abilities, especially their unique connection to helping people. “Dogs and humans co-evolved, and very few other species have done that,” she says. “Our survival depended on each other.” For centuries, humans have relied on dogs’ extraordinary scenting capabilities to do things we can’t. Dina says, “Dogs can smell things in parts per trillion. An example of that would be (smelling) one drop of blood diluted into 20 Olympic-size swimming pools.” It’s the equivalent of finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Training dogs to find people, drugs and bombs has been going on successfully for decades. But training dogs to sniff for medical purposes is relatively new. Dina says, “Medical sensitivity is very, very different (from) what most scent detection trainers have been trained to do.”

In 2003, Dina participated in her first study with the Pine Street Foundation, a California nonprofit dedicated to cancer research and education. The purpose of the study was to determine how accurately dogs could detect lung and breast cancer in human breath samples. Evidence already existed that there were biochemical markers in exhaled breath from lung and breast cancer patients, but no technology was able to analyze chemicals in the breath to accurately detect cancer’s presence.

Dina tapped her many dog trainer contacts, including police officers and search and rescue dog handlers, to gather enough dogs to try out for the study. Since 2003, she has helped select and train dogs for multiple medical studies. “Each time we do a study, we pick a team of five to nine dogs,” Dina says. “We have hundreds of dogs trying out; it’s super competitive because everybody wants their dog to learn how to do it, but not every dog is right.”
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Dogs who do make the cut, Dina says, “have tremendous drive for their work and for their reward.” A dog’s reward is based on what he or she likes best — a ball for a ballcrazy dog or a treat for a food-driven dog — as recognition for finding the target odor. Dogs of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds are welcome. Dina says, “Mutts can be great, small dogs can be great. In the last study audition, we had a dog from death row named Schatzi; she made the team. It doesn’t really matter where the dog comes from.” All that matters is that they’re able to sniff out whether a breath sample comes from a person who has cancer, or one who doesn’t.

The dogs have shown that they excel at it. In the initial study Dina participated in, dogs were able to detect with 99 percent accuracy if a breath sample came from a patient with lung or breast cancer. Dina says, “There’s nothing in medicine that even approaches those numbers.” They also tested how accurate the dogs were at indicating that a breath sample was not indicative of cancer. Dina explains, “So of course we have to give them healthy samples and we track their ability to ignore, or not alert, on a healthy sample.” The dogs were 88 percent accurate in detecting cancerfree samples for lung and breast cancer.

While Dina was initially interested in medical scent detection as another form of dog training, in 2010 it became personal, when she lost her mother to breast cancer. That year, she started InSitu Foundation, which is dedicated to training dogs to detect cancer in humans. In their most recent study, Dina says, “We trained nine dogs to detect early-stage ovarian cancer. We haven’t published the results yet, but during training, the dogs’ accuracy levels were up in the high nineties — and that’s for ovarian cancer, for which there are (currently) no detection methods.”

Dina’s goal is to see a day when dogs’ scent abilities are accepted and used for routine cancer screening. She hopes that someday it will be standard procedure for doctors to take breath samples from patients and send them to a lab to be tested — by dogs. Dina says, “(This method) provides a noninvasive, low-cost, really accurate method of finding cancer early. We need more studies and we need to get this standardized. We could be saving lives. Within five years, we’re going to have a breath-screening kit for cancer. We will do it.”
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It has been a year of doctors, tests, surgeries and treatments for Barbara, but she’s grateful for Leo and what he knew that she didn’t. Doctors still aren’t sure exactly what trained scent dogs or pet dogs and cats smell that indicates cancer, and there’s still no answer to the question of why some pets alert us to cancer and others don’t. While Dina works with well-trained dogs in cancer detection studies, she agrees that untrained household pets may sense cancer in their people. She says, “If your dog has a moment when he sniffs your breast once, I wouldn’t worry. But if day after day he’s coming up to the same spot and really kind of pushing, almost as if he’s trying to find something, you don’t need to be alarmed, but you definitely need to investigate.”

So far, no cancer detection studies have used cats as scent detectors. And there are fewer anecdotal stories in the media about cats detecting cancer. That’s another reason that Barbara feels certain that when she got Leo, she adopted a very special cat. She says, “He follows me everywhere I go; I’m so happy to have him. To me, he’s almost human.” She admits that she still wants a black cat someday, but for now, Leo is her constant companion. “I wouldn’t trade Leo for anything,” she says. Not even a black cat called Jack.


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