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Tag: elderly

How to stay young? How to grow old? Dogs show us the way to both

foghat

Dogs have a knack for helping us accomplish our goals. Somehow, they seem to know what those goals are without ever being told. Maybe, they know our goals better than we do.

With no apparent effort, they can help us accomplish our missions … whatever the mission … even missions that are completely opposite from one another.

Dogs, for instance, can help us stick to a routine, or get us out of a rut. (Ace has done both for me.)

They can enlarge our circles of friends, and — at those times solitude might be best — keep it from getting too lonely. (Ace has done both of those, too.)

And they can both keep us young and show us how to grow old.

That last trick, I think, is particularly impressive.

Dogs, when you think about it, show us how to live our lives (in the moment, with abandon), cope with our maladies (with brave perseverance) and die our deaths (with grace and dignity).

Between the examples they offer, the similarities between our species and the uncovered secrets dogs may still hold, it’s no surprise that science and medicine and more than a few other fields of study are increasingly turning to them for answers.

What dogs have to teach us about living a healthy life — some of it obvious (if we pay attention), some of it suspected and undergoing research — was the subject of an article last month in AARP Magazine.

As it noted, dogs, as they continue to evolve alongside us, are increasingly mirroring us, right down to getting the same diseases and disorders.

“… This evolution is ongoing, a process scientists call convergence: Human and canine genes, shaped by the environment we share, are evolving in lockstep. Today, along with home security and leftover disposal, dogs confer a host of wellness benefits, especially to kids and older people,” the article’s author, David Dudley, wrote. “People with dogs sleep better, weigh less and get more exercise than dog-free peers.”

“And there are the less tangible perks, the ones cataloged in Marley & Me–style books. This burgeoning “dogoir” literary genre revolves around the reductive but basically correct idea that a dog is foremost an instrument of personal growth: It exists to ease your existential anxieties, impart lessons about love and friendship, and teach you how to be a better person.”

But as noted by Dudley, who weaves the lessons his dog Foghat taught him into the article, that’s just the beginning of what dogs might have to share.

He cites a couple of research projects as examples of the possible answers dogs may hold when it comes to aging.

Neuroscientist Elizabeth Head is studying elderly beagles at the University of Kentucky in an attempt to determine why, by age 6 or 7, they start showing signs of the microscopic beta-amyloid plaques that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease.

About a third of the beagles will succumb to canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome, about the same percentage of Americans over 85 who will get Alzheimer’s.

“It could be that living in our environment — our food, our water, our homes — has made dogs more vulnerable,” she says.

Head thinks dogs might hold the key to defeating it. Past studies, she notes, have demonstrated that an antioxidant-rich diet and “behavioral enrichment” — a course of memory drills and new-skills training — can significantly delay or diminish plaque development and memory impairments.

At the University of Washington, Daniel Promislow, an aging researcher (in both meanings of the phrase), has assembled a team to join in a Canine Longevity Consortium. Through a a grant from the National Institute on Aging, they’re working on the first national longitudinal study on aging in dogs, which will include looking at how dogs stay so seemingly happy and carefree as they advance in years.

On the downside, as we all know, they can relatively suddenly become frail, forgetful and sick — as was the case with Dudley’s dog, Foghat.

“…He entered his dotage in roaring good health. Around his 18th birthday, I Googled “oldest dog in the world,” because I started to wonder if he was closing in on a record. He was what gerontologists would call a successful ager.

“And then, seemingly overnight, he wasn’t. If you have to go — and you do — a swift slide into decrepitude is the preferred way. The phrase is “compression of morbidity,” when the infirmities of age are delayed until the bitter end. Still, it’s no picnic. The joints went first. He started limping after a vigorous bouncing-a-soccer-ball-off-his-nose session. Then he needed help climbing into the car or crawling under the bed, his favorite sleeping spot.”

As Foghat declined, Dudley wrote, his “senescence appeared as both a comfort and a warning of what awaits: Some fears and eccentricities will lift with the years; others will only deepen. One by one, the things you love to do become too difficult and slip out of your life.”

With his death, Dudley says, “I was struck by the strange new stillness — the foreign silence of a household without a dog. It was as if a machine that had been humming in the background for a long time had suddenly been switched off.”

Amid that silence, Dudley, like many other grieving dog owners, started quantifying what he learned from Foghat.

” …And now that I’m no longer young, and he’s dead, I’ll do my best to follow the path Foghat blazed into my life’s last half…” he wrote.

“So eat the best food you can afford. Go for a walk, even if it’s raining. Take a lot of naps. Keep your teeth clean and your breath fresh, so that the people you lick will not flinch. And when someone you love walks in through the door, even if it happens five times a day, go totally insane with joy.”

(Photo: Foghat, the author’s dog, in 1995 at age 1, left, and in 2012 at age 18; courtesy of David Dudley / AARP Magazine)

Worst in show: Pair stole from elderly sisters to pay their dog show expenses, police say

ashleyTo pay for their dog show habit, two Pennsylvania women stole thousands of dollars from the life savings of two elderly sisters, state police say.

Jessica S. Skacel, 30, of Derry, and Ashley M. Giovannagelo, 22, of Greensburg, were charged with criminal conspiracy and theft, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported yesterday.

According to court documents, Skacel was hired as a caretaker for the sisters, now ages 85 and 83, in their home in Derry Township in 2011. Giovannagelo later assisted her in those duties.

Police say they started stealing from the sisters — both from their bank accounts and money the sisters had squirreled away in hiding places around the house — in early 2012.

Police began an investigation after a man who has power of attorney for the sisters noticed their bank accounts, both of which exceeded $100,000, ” were basically empty,” according to court documents.

“The bank records showed that both victims were making regular, large cash withdrawals from their accounts in amounts such as $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 and even $20,000 at a time,” an investigating officer stated.

Police say the money was used to cover travel expenses to dog shows. Skacel’s former husband, Kyle Squib, told police she purchased two trailers for more than $5,000 to transport dogs to shows.

Police say Skacel admitted to stealing an estimated $40,000-$50,000 from the sisters.

Skacel is a dog groomer and Giovannagelo shows dogs regularly, according to their Facebook pages.

Skacel and Giovannagelo were fired as caretakers for the sisters in September 2013, shortly after the investigation began, police said.

Both face preliminary hearings Sept. 3 before a district judge.

(Photo: Ashley Giovannagelo shows a St. Bernard at a dog show in a photo posted on her Facebook page)

Dog works in mysterious ways

Charles Sasser has Alzheimer’s, and over the past year he has all but stopped talking, according to his daughter.

The Albuquerque man will make some sounds when he’s with his two dogs, but he rarely utters more than a word or phrase.

So when he started talking — in full sentences — to his daughter’s dog, she made a video.

Abeyta, who writes often about her family’s struggles with Alzheimer’s on her blog, posted the video last week on YouTube — showing the moment Sasser, a Korean war veteran, began to speak to her dog, Roscoe.

Within a few days, it was nearing a million views, and generating comments — actual kind, caring, non-stupid and rational comments, many from strangers sharing their own stories.

Abeyta says her father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s,  a degenerative disease affecting memory, about four or five years ago. In the past year, he started to lose his ability to speak in sentences.

“I’m touched by the response to the video … They talked about how having a pet or connecting with music really gave them back a loved one with Alzheimer’s,” Abeyta told ABC News.

On her own blog, she wrote, “I had no idea the video would touch so many people or be shared so many times. The comments and emails – for the most part – have been a wonderfully moving procession of individuals sharing their own journey through Alzheimer’s or dementia. It is a cruel disease, and the kind words of others who have faced similar experiences has left me feeling not quite so alone in it all.”

“Harley” (and owners) get second chance

ottoThe elderly couple that abandoned their dog at a Los Angeles County shelter, asking that the sickly 13-year-old dachshund be put down because they couldn’t afford his medical care, has been identified.

But only loosely.

Apparently they are down-on-their-luck traveling ministers, currently out of town, and they say that they’d gladly reclaim  their dog — once they get enough money to buy new tires for their car and get back home to California.

The dachshund was left tied to a basket at the Baldwin Park Animal Shelter on March 6, along with a note asking he be put to sleep because his anonymous elderly owners could no longer afford to care for him.

Before euthanizing the dog as requested, the shelter called Leave No Paws Behind, a rescue organization. It took the dog in, named him Harley, and got him the veterinary care he needed — primarily treatment for mange.

The organization’s founder and CEO, Toby Wisneski, sought to track down the owners to reunite them with the dog, and she offered to pay for Harley’s medical care and dog food for the rest of his life.

This week she made contact with the couple and learned Harley’s real name — Otto Wolfgang Maximus. A reunion is tentatively scheduled after the couple returns to California around March 28.

“We thought he was dead, but he lives,” the dog’s owner told a KTLA reporter. “He’s being well taken care of and, boy, we’re just so extremely grateful.”

“We just are living week to week,” one of the owners said in the phone interview. “We can’t even go to the hospital to get our treatment.”

The dog was left at the shelter with a hand-written note that said he had recently gotten sick, was vomiting and had bloody stools.

“We are both seniors, sick with no money,” the note said. “We cannot pay for vet bills, or to put him to sleep. He has never been away from us in all those years, he cannot function without us, please put him to sleep.”

That note, that face, and then what happened

harleyharley-note

The note said it all.

But the face said more.

A 13-year-old dachshund was left outside the Baldwin Park Animal Shelter last week, tied to a basket, along with the note seen above.

His unidentified owners, an elderly couple who said they could no longer afford to care for the sickly dog, asked that he be put down:

“We are both seniors, sick with no money. We cannot pay for vet bills, or to put him to sleep. He has never been away from us in all those years, he cannot function without us, please put him to sleep.”

The Los Angeles County-operated shelter, before carrying out that wish, contacted Leave No Paws Behind, a nonprofit rescue, which picked the dachshund up, named him Harley and took him to East Valley Veterinary Clinic in Sun Valley, according to KTLA.

He tested positive for noncontagious demodectic mange, but his blood work came back fine, according to Toby Wisneski, head of the rescue group.

“He is as cute as can be, he had a bath, he has been started on medication, he is eating, he is as happy as can be,” Wisneski posted on the Leave No Paws Behind Facebook page.

Wisneski said if she can can identify and locate the owners, she’d like to try and have Harley return to his home. If the couple is able to care for him, Leave No Paws Behind would pay for Harley’s medical expenses, she said.

If she can’t locate them, she plans to finding Harley a foster home, and put him up for adoption.

If you’re interested, contact Leave No Paws Behind at info@leavenopawsbehind.com.

The poodle who pays for my Obama Care

lily 086

Oftentimes, when to pursue your own dreams and interests you stop working for “THE Man” — as I did six years ago — you end up, unfortunately, without “THE Salary” and without “THE Benefits.”

That — the no more health insurance part — is why I haven’t seen a doctor in six years.

That — the no more salary part — is why, in addition to being an author, freelance writer, photographer and blogger, I recently became a bartender and, even more recently, a dog walker.

lily 047And that brings us to Lily, the poodle who pays for my Obama Care.

I suppose I should be thanking our President for finally being able to get myself some health insurance. He’s the one who made it possible. But Lily, sweet Lily, made it doable.

If being paid to spend time with Lily makes me a gigolo, then call me a gigolo. True, I come calling on her twice a day, three times a week. I knock on her door, give her a hug when it opens, and then wrap her coat snugly around her, making sure her fluffy white ears don’t get caught inside.

We ride the elevator down to the first floor of the assisted living center in which she and her owner live and go outside for a 20-minute stroll — during most of which she walks daintily along the top of the curb, like a tightrope walker. She fastidiously poops in the same spot each time, in the woods on a vacant lot. She stops when I stop, goes when I go, and has never once caused the slightest tug on her retractable leash.

After the walk — and I’ve never met a dog who’s easier to walk — we go back inside. Then we sit in the lounge area and snuggle for maybe five minutes. That is my favorite part and, though it may be vain of me to think so, her’s too.

My other favorite part is seeing the reaction of residents when a dog comes into the room, the smiles that instantly appear and the hands that reach out. It’s amazing the change in atmosphere one dog’s presence can produce.

lily 094I’ve often thought it would be great to run some kind of program that not only brought dogs into facilities for the elderly, but found them homes there, and provided support and help to residents who wanted dogs of their own, but had concerns about whether they could manage it.

That would be fun, and noble, and help homeless dogs, and assist in bringing immeasurable joy to people.

But it wouldn’t pay my bills — much less provide health insurance for me.

I charge Lily $6.50 for  each session.

In  a month, that earns me enough to pay my $137.67 monthly health insurance premium, as determined by the Affordable Health Care Act, based on my income.

That income pales in comparison to what I made as a newspaper reporter, back when I worked for THE Man. I left my last newspaper job in 2008 to write a book, but also because, amid continued shrinkage and cutbacks, it had become nearly impossible to do a story justice and give it the attention it deserved. After that my dog and I traveled the country, and I tinkered with another book, while continuing to write this blog.

We ended up in North Carolina, and last year moved to the little town of Bethania.

A few months ago I started working the bar and grill at a golf course down the street from my rented house. Not to bore you with my finances, but that two-day-a-week job, coupled with my newspaper reporter pension, makes it possible to pay my rent, bills and other debts. I wasn’t bringing in enough for health insurance, though, and — after countless hours wandering around healthcare.gov — I had pretty much decided I would continue do without, pay the penalty fee, and treat any diseases or disorders that arose with chicken soup and ibuprofen.

One afternoon, at the golf course, the aunt of another employee visited and told me about her dog-walking business — business maybe not being the right word. It’s sort of more in between a business and volunteering. She helps residents of an assisted living center with chores, ranging from shopping trips to dog walking, charging a rate that does little more than pay for her gas.

lily 066She, like me, feels strongly that dogs can improve the lives of elderly people, especially those who live alone. I told her if she was ever in a pinch, and in need of a fill-in dog walker, I’d be glad to help out.

A few weeks later she called, and I began walking Miss Lily — at first temporarily, then regularly.

The insurance plan Lily has enabled me to get is not the kind that pays for everything.

It’s more, as I understand it, the type that, after I spend $3,000 or so I don’t have on doctors, will kick in and pay 60 percent or so of my qualifying medical expenses. Even with it, one good medical crisis will probably still send me into financial ruin. But at least it’s something, and I’m abiding by the law, and it might make me more likely to visit a doctor.

And even if I don’t, I’ll still be reaping some health benefits – between all the dog cuddling, which is good for the heart, and all the dog walking, which is good for the heart.

I’m sure there will be much confusion, red tape and arguing ahead when it comes to my health insurance. There always is. And with my income being of the fluctuating variety — depending on the stories I sell, the dogs I walk, the beers I serve — I don’t understand how we will determine the premium I should pay in the future. Is it  based on last year’s income? Or this year’s income, which I won’t know until the year is finished?

Just last month, two more dogs showed up at the assisted living facility.  First came a Boston terrier named Punkin. I take him for three walks a day, three days a week. Then came Gretel, a miniature schnauzer who is 13, and the fastest walker of the bunch.

lily 064That means more income, which means the amount I have to pay for my Obama Care will go up.

For the record, Republican leaders, that doesn’t sap me of any incentive. I still want to have as much money as you. I’d still like to have the kind of health insurance you have.

But at least I can take a rebellious sort of pride in the fact that I’m not working for THE Man.

No. Not me. I’m working for a kind and gentle, polite and refined, sweet and loving curbwalker. I’m working for THE Poodle.

(Story and photos by John Woestendiek)

Three nuns and a pit bull

remy

When three elderly nuns who live together in New York lost their dog, they mourned for a week before heading to an animal shelter, determined to pick a dog that needed them as much as they needed her.

They adopted one that fit the bill —  a 9-year-old pit bull who’d been at the shelter for three months.

“As soon as I saw the sign that said ’9 years,’ I said, ‘This is the one,’” said Sister Veronica Mendez, 71. “No one is going to want this one.”

Being old, and being a pit bull, Remy hadn’t been getting much attention from potential adopters during her stay at the Hi Tor Animal Care Center in Pomona, N.Y.

That all changed when the sisters — Mendez, Virginia Johnson and Alice Goldsmith, all of whom live together in Nyack, N.Y — walked in.

A grey and docile old girl, Remy made an immediate connection, leaning her head into Sister Virginia’s chest and sighing.

“She just got right up there,” said Sister Virginia, 79. “She said, ‘This must be my new family.’”

As reported by Today.com, the nuns had spent the previous week grieving the loss of their beloved Kate, a 7-year-old mutt who died suddenly from apparent lymphoma.

“I was furious. I was so angry. I cried!” Sister Veronica said. “Oh, how we loved that creature.”

At the end of last month they drove to the shelter and told the director they were seeking a dog that nobody else wanted.

He introduced the sisters — who between them have served 179 years as nuns — to Remy.

“It just worked out so well,” shelter director West Artope said. “We did a follow-up with them and went to the house, and the dog is so comfortable in that environment, you wouldn’t believe it. It was like a match made in heaven.”

“Our feelings were that she was in danger of being euthanized, and we wanted to give her the best three of four years she has left,” Sister Veronica said.

“Here we are, three senior sisters, so we adopted a senior pet!”

(Photo: Remy with Sister Virginia Johnson; by Pauline Jarney / Hi Tor Animal Care Center via Facebook)


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