Call it an “aha” moment for the AHA: The American Heart Association has finally, officially, recognized that dogs are good for the ticker.
Last week, the organization issued a statement saying enough evidence now exists to make that assertion, and it didn’t even recommend dogs be taken in moderation, or consulting your doctor first.
Heartening as the news release was, the statement was overdue, or at least a few beats behind the thinking of those of us who already knew, and didn’t need studies to tell us, that our dogs are good for the heart, by which I mean the organ and more.
Dog owners are more likely to get exercise. Stroking a dog lowers blood pressure. Stress is handled better by dog owners — even when their dog isn’t with them. Studies have proven all those things.
But the mysteries of what dogs do for the heart, and the soul, have only begun to be unraveled. And on top of all the benefits to humans that can be scientifically confirmed and quantified, there’s much more dogs do for us — much of it undetectable by microscopes and double-blind studies, and part of me hopes it always will be.
Being humans, we can sometimes get so wrapped in measuring something that it interferes with treasuring that something. We can get so intent on delving into something’s complexities that we fail to savor its simplicity.
Dogs, could they speak, would tell us that, and they’d likely advise to look for the simple answer first.
How important, heart-wise, is the simple fact that a dog can give us reason to live, and love? While I am not a medical professional, or even a medical amateur, I think a heart that’s engaged and occupied is more likely to keep running smoothly than one sitting empty in the garage, getting dusty.
“Perhaps when one owns a pet one tends to be happier,” said Dr. Glenn Levine of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who led the committee that wrote the statement. “Pet owners might be more likely to take their medications and eat healthier meals.”
Pharmaceuticals and spinach, important as they may be, don’t make you happy to be alive, though, and want to continue in that state.
The AHA isn’t saying everyone should go out and adopt a dog to lower their risk of heart disease. The statement emphasizes there’s much more involved in keeping your heart healthy, according to an NBC Today report.
“We did not want people to see this article and just go out and adopt or rescue or buy a dog …while they continue to just sit on the couch and smoke cigarettes,” said Levine, himself a dog owner.
In one study cited by the committee, researchers signed up 30 people with borderline high blood pressure who were about to adopt dogs from a shelter.
Then they persuaded half of them to wait — in the best interest of the study, if not the dogs.
Those allowed to adopt dogs right away had lower blood pressure two and five months later than those who had not adopted.
And once all the study participants had adopted dogs, systolic blood pressure was found to be lowered in the deferred-adoption group as well.
The study didn’t say whether those that adopted had lower blood pressure than those who bought dogs. Nevertheless, and even though I’m not a doctor, that’s what I’d prescribe.
Posted by jwoestendiek May 13th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aha, aha moment, american heart association, animals, benefits, blood pressure, doctors, dogs, exercise, health, heart, medicine, official, pets, research, science, statement, stress, studies
There’s a new counselor on the staff at Loyola University in Chicago, and he’s helping students cope with everything from homesickness to the stress of final exams.
He’s a 5-year-old black Labrador retriever, named Tivo, and he’s on duty every day at the university’s Wellness Center.
Seeing a need for a therapy dog, Loyola last year asked Tops Kennels in Grayslake to help find a candidate. The kennel suggested Tivo, who, after some additional training, became a certified therapy dog.
He’s on duty from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m, and lives with the Rev. Justin Daffron, Loyola’s associate provost for academic services.
Already immensely popular with students, college officials expect Tivo to stay busy in the week ahead, the Chicago Tribune reports. Final exams start today at Loyola, and Tivo has a way of helpling students, at least for a moment, shed some of the stress that builds up.
“They’ll come in, pet him, he’ll wag his tail, lick their faces, if they want their faces licked,” said Joan Holden, associate director of the center. “If you’re a dog lover, being with a dog makes you feel better. He’ll show his tummy, wag his tail — all the things to make you feel good.”
But Tivo doesn’t just sit in an office all day, according to an article about him in Inside Loyola.
“We use Tivo with patients for calming, for outreach in the residence halls, and to be sent out with a human counselor in hopes that students can come and pet the dog as a way to connect with the Wellness Center outside the office,” says Diane Asaro, the center’s director. “It is our first time trying it, and he has already gotten such a positive and wonderful response.”
Tivo also serves as a surrogate pet to the many students who are missing the dogs they left behind, noted David deBoer, associate director and clinical psychologist at the Wellness Center.
“Tivo really serves as a comfort, pleasure, and joy for college students; a friendly reminder of the comforts of home,” he said.
Students can keep track of where “Talk With Tivo” sessions are being held through his Facebook page.
(Photo: Tivo gives some counseling to student Marc Rosenbaum; by Mark Beane / Loyola University Chicago)
Posted by jwoestendiek April 29th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, chicago, colleges, counseling, dog, dogs, exams, final, homesickness, labrador, loyola, pets, retriever, stress, students, talk with tivo, therapy, therapy dogs, tivo, universities, university, wellness center
That advice may not be applicable to every situation, but it’s what Ace and I did over the weekend when we departed from what turned out to be the final stop on our year-long trip around the country — the apartment of my birth.
In September of 2010, 50 years to the day after John Steinbeck and his poodle started the journey that would become “Travels with Charley,” Ace and I left the author’s former driveway in Sag Harbor to duplicate, more or less, his route.
We circled the country, stopping at places of dog significance, Steinbeck significance, or no significance at all, traveling more than 20,000 miles before we returned to Baltimore.
There, having moved out of our home before the trip, we squatted and mooched off friends for a little while, and then rode a little more.
We backtracked to North Carolina, where, planning to linger a few months, we lived in the basement of a mansion in Winston-Salem. After little more than a month, Ace developed back issues and, on our vet’s advice, we started seeking a place to stay that didn’t have stairs.
I was on an outing with my mother when I asked her to show me my birthplace — the tiny apartment she, my father, and sister shared in what’s known as College Village.
Just about the time I was wrapping that up — except for the pesky getting-it-published part — the landlord who owned my unit told me he was selling it, and that I was required to leave my birthplace.
It was a little sad — in part because of the sentimental value of the place; in part because of leaving the friends, dog and human (and one cat) we’d made; in part because it would mean lifting numerous heavy objects.
With little spring in our steps, Ace and I went looking at apartment complexes, only to be turned off by their cookie-cutter sameness, and their silly pet rules — from arbitrary weight limits and breed restrictions to ridiculously high, non-refundable pet fees.
Even when they had swimming pools, we couldn’t manage to get very excited about any of them.
It had a green tin roof, a working fireplace, a shed out back and a front porch that seemed to be crying out for two rocking chairs.
It’s outside of town, but also inside of town, which we’ll explain tomorrow. In any event, we moved in over the weekend.
Friends in College Village held a goodbye party before we left — not a surprise party, but pretty surprising. That four women in their 20s would hold a get-together for a man all-too-rapidly approaching 60 says a lot about them, and possibly even more, I think, about that man’s dog.
Ace got a giant bone, an azalea bush that, once planted, he will be allowed to pee on, and a bandana that says “I’m smarter than your honor student.” Everyone at the party agreed that, in addition to being funny, it is probably also true.
Even before I started packing, Ace realized something was up and got stressed. Ace loves to hit the road, but he also loves having a familiar routine. He became extra needy, extra clingy and followed me around the house, except when I was making too much noise. Then he’d seek refuge in the bed, or ask to go outside.
There, he seemed even more eager to see the friends he was always excited to see, run to and lean on.
Perhaps, too, he was sensing the nostalgia swelling up in me. Even though I’d only lived in the apartment for my first year of life, and had no clear memories of it, it was where I was conceived, where my parents lived when I was born and the subject of much of my mother’s reminiscing.
The only thing that came close to seeming familiar to me was the door ringer — a hand cranked brass bell that, whenever it rang, gave Ace a thrill (because it meant company) and me a vague sense of déjà vu. Either I remembered it from infancy or it reminded me of a school bell.
When I left, I asked the new owner if I could take it, and he said okay, so I unscrewed it from the door and threw it in a box.
In a way, we’re not closing any doors, just opening — and perhaps modifying – some new ones.
I’d like to install the old bell on my new front door. It would be a way of bringing some of the sentimental value of the old place into the new one. It would make my mother’s eyes light up when she saw it.
And every time it rang, it would startle Ace, make him bark once, and lead him to stand at the door, tail wagging in anticipation over who — old friend or new one — might be on the other side.
(Tomorrow: The new place, disclosing our undisclosed location)
Posted by jwoestendiek April 4th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, animals, blog, book, college village, dogs, door, door bell, friends, john steinbeck, moving, north carolina, ohmidog!, packing, pets, ringer, stress, travel, travels with ace, travels with charley, website, winston-salem
We’re all getting a little tired of the “win-win.” For one thing, it’s a cliche. For another, with so many “win-wins” being pointed out these days, two wins just no longer seem enough.
So how about a win-win-win-win?
Last Friday, the PreVet Association at Illinois State University brought a dozen dogs to campus, accomplishing, by my count, four wins:
First, students, stressed out by exams, had an additional – and far healthier than some other alternatives – way to unwind.
Second — with students paying $1 to walk, pet and play with rescue dogs — the event raised a little money for Wish Bone Canine Rescue, which brought the dogs to school.
Third, dogs in need of homes got a chance to show off, increasing the chances of getting adopted or fostered.
And fourth, the dogs got gobs of attention and a chance to socialize during what organizers call “Dog Days on the Quad.”
“This is a good chance for stress relief,” said Erin Mortimer, ISU Student PreVet Association vice president. “A lot of students miss their dogs from home and enjoy taking these dogs for a walk.”
The dogs benefit at least as much as the young humans do. On top of getting some attention and learning socialization skills, it’s an opportunity for them to find a future forever home, or a temporary foster one.
“We try to let students know that they are also able to foster for Wish Bone,” said Kim Bill, volunteer coordinator for Wish Bone. “It is a great way for them to have a dog on their own schedule. On top of that, everything is provided by Wish Bone — food, toys, medical care, and support.”
You can see a slideshow of it all at Stateside, the school’s alumni magazine.
Half the proceeds from the event went to Wish Bone for food, shelter, and medical treatment. The other half went to the ISU Student PreVet Association to allow students to participate in symposiums and special lectures.
Adding up, actually, to five wins.
(Photo: Stateside magazine, Illinois State University)
Posted by jwoestendiek March 25th, 2013 under Muttsblog.
Tags: adopt, adoption, animals, attention, campus, college, dogs, exams, foster, fundraiser, fundraising, illinois state university, mental health, pets, play, pre vet, pre vet association, rescue, shelter, socialization, stress, unwind, veterinary, walk, wish bone canine rescue
Here’s another silly app my dog and I can live without.
Fujitsu Ltd., a Japanese company, is launching a “pet management service” that allows dog owners to monitor on their cellphones their dogs’ every step, their stress levels, and even the surrounding temperature.
The electronics company calls the product Wandant — a combination of “wan wan” (a Japanese term for dog) and the word “pendant,” which is what the monitored dog wears around its neck to transmit the information via the Internet.
It’s about half an ounce and the size of a business card.
According to the Wall Street Journal, “the service is another step in Japan’s long-running fascination in better understanding their pets.”
Though not quite as far-fetched as “Bowlingual,” touted by toy company Takara as a dog-to-human translation device, Wandant, claims it can provide dog owners with a series of graphs showing everything from how many steps a dog has taken to when he’s feeling itchy.
“Consumers can also manually add information such as how much food the dog ate or when it went to the bathroom to help manage its weight, while also keeping a daily diary of that day’s activities,” according to the WSJ report.
Customers can use their Android smartphones — its’ not yet available as an iPhone app — to check their dog’s up-to-the-minute profile.
The company described the motivations for making product in a press release:
“Given the demographic shifts in modern Japan, where there are fewer children and more people living longer, as well as a growing number of single-member households, pets have become increasingly important as family members and companions … The aging of pets and their care, as well as problems such as obesity, are becoming increasingly prominent issues. In response, Fujitsu developed the Wandant-based cloud service to support health monitoring in dogs.”
It went on the market Wednesday, but only in Japan.
(Photos: From Fujitsu’s website)
Posted by jwoestendiek November 30th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: android, animals, app, apps, cloud, collar, conditions, device, dog, dogs, fujitsu, graphs, internet, iphone, itchy, japan, japanese, monitor, owners, pedometer, pendant, pets, smartphone, steps, stress, technology, temperature, wandant, worn
A Colorado State University study suggests classical music might be the best way to calm an anxious dog, and that heavy metal — no big surprise — seems to do the opposite.
The study, reported in the latest Journal of Veterinary Behavior, found that classical music was more soothing than any other music, even “psychoacoustic” music and pet CDs designed to calm animals.
Dogs listening to classical music — whether they were rescued dogs being sheltered, or pets being kenneled — barked and shook less often, slept more and had slower heartbeats.
The authors of the study say playing classical music may help mitigate some of the stress inherent for dogs being kenneled as well as those awaiting adoption in stressful shelter environments.
Their research analyzed the behavior of 117 dogs of various breeds, all at one kennel in northern Colorado. Of the group, 83 were boarders of different breeds and 34 were rescued dachshunds. Lead author Lori Kogan and her researchers did thousands of behavioral assessments over a period of four months.
The dogs were exposed to 45 minutes of three different genres of music while their behavior was recorded every five minutes.
Classical music was linked to more relaxed and restful behavior, while heavy metal was linked to greater anxiety and unrest.
Dogs listening to heavy metal had speeded up heartbeats: Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” led to 140 beats a minute, while “Turbo Lover,” by Judas Priest, resulted in 151. In contrast to that, Beethoven’s “Für Elise” produced average heart rates of 111 and Bach’s “Air on a G String” a relatively mellowed out 100.
In addition to heartbeats, researchers recorded the amount of time the canine listeners spent sleeping, barking, shaking, and whining.
Both boarded and rescue dogs responded to all the classical music selections by sleeping more. The dogs were most silent while listening to classical music, and noisiest when no music was playing at all.
Researchers said the results are consistent with human studies showing music can reduce agitation, promote sleep, improve mood and lower stress and anxiety.
“It is suggested that shelters play classical music as a cost-efficient, practical way to enhance the environment and, therefore, the welfare of shelter dogs. Classical music can reduce dogs’ stress levels and potentially increase the likelihood of adoption.”
Posted by jwoestendiek November 6th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, anxiety, bach, background, behavior, boarding, calm, classical, colorado state university, dogs, heavy metal, judas priest, kennels, listening, motorhead, mozart, music, pets, rescues, shelters, slayer, soothing, strauss, stress, study
Dogs that survived the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan show symptoms not unlike those experienced by humans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, a new study by a Japanese university says.
The research compared abandoned dogs rescued from Fukushima, site of the nuclear disaster, and Kanagawa, with non-disaster affected dogs abandoned in 2009 and 2010, before the earthquake.
The dogs that lived through the disaster had stress hormone levels five to 10 times higher than the dogs that were simply abandoned or found as strays, the researchers reported in the journal Scientific Reports.
Researchers at Azabu University in Japan took in eight dogs from shelters in Kanagawa Prefecture, where the 2011 earthquake and tsunami led to thousands of refugees being forced to abandon their dogs. The team took in 17 more dogs collected at shelters and rescue centers in Fukushima.
They measured their levels of physical stress by daily monitoring of the hormone cortisol in the dogs’ urine. All the dogs were later adopted by new owners.
The disaster-affected dogs had five to 10 times the cortisol levels of dogs not touched by disaster. When compared with the Kanagawa dogs, the Fukushima dogs were less aggressive toward unfamiliar people but also less attached to caregivers and more difficult to train.
They suggested that, in addition to showing similar syptoms, similar brain chemicals could be at play in dogs and humans trauma survivors.
“Humans affected by the disaster are already recovering and gradually returning to normal life,” the researchers wrote. “However, our results suggest the possibility that stress can induce excessive, deep psychosomatic impacts with implicit behavioral manifestations, such as deficits in attachment and learning ability also in dogs.”
(Photo: Shane was separated from his owner, Kamata-San,during the tsunami, but later showed up at the shelter where Kamata-san was staying. Credit: JEARS)
Posted by jwoestendiek October 12th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: aggression, animals, azabu university, brain, chemicals, cortisol, detached, dogs, earthquake, family dogs, fukushima, hormone, humans, japan, kanagawa, nuclear disaster, pets, post traumatic stress disorder, ptsd, rescues, shelters, stress, symptoms, trainability, trauma, tsunami
A killer whale poops. It floats to the surface (and we don’t mean the whale.) A dog on a boat sniffs it out. Humans gather it up, and take it to the lab for analysis.
It’s not an entirely natural cycle of nature — but when all is said and done, or sniffed out and scrutinized, researchers in the Puget Sound hope it may help explain what’s killing off our killer whales, and maybe hold some clues to how our planet is doing as well.
Scientists aren’t certain why Orcas, placed on the endangered species list in 2005, aren’t recovering. Some suspect it’s a lack of food, or that boat traffic and pollution are to blame. But they think an answer maybe found in whale poop, and have turned to a dog to help find samples for analysis.
“It looks kind of like a combination of algae and snot. It varies in color, but it’s very mucusy,” Sam Wasser, the director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington, explained on NPR’s All Things Considered.
Via the feces, Wasser says, “we can measure the diet of the animal. We can get toxins from the feces, DNA so we can tell the individual’s identity, its species, its sex — and all of this is in feces.
He describes whale poop as “literally a treasure trove of information.”
Wasser, who has turned to “scat detection” dogs for help with other projects, is being helped out on this one by Tucker, an 8-year-old black Lab mix.
They are focused on San Juan Island’s Snug Harbor, and as they cruise out on their research boat, Tucker stands at the bow. If there’s whale poop around — even in the distance — he lets his trainer, Liz Seely, know by acting excited.
“…He’ll start standing up on the bow, wagging his tail, getting really animated,” she said.
His reward for accurately detecting floating whale feces? A game of fetch.
The research team will collect samples from killer whales through the summer. Already, they’ve been able to show that during periods of high traffic, like around he 4th of July, the whales have higher levels of stress hormones in their feces.
They can also tell when the whales are undernourished and study how that might affect fertility rates.
Killer whales are believed to have the highest concentrations of toxic substances of any creature on the planet.
Given how we humans are responsible for that, scooping their poop seems truly the least we can do. And finding some answers within it, with help from a dog, could turn out not just to help the whales, but us as well.
(Photo: Ashley Ahearn / KUOW)
Posted by jwoestendiek January 9th, 2012 under Muttsblog.
Tags: all things considered, analysis, animals, boat, center for conservation biology, dog, dogs, endangered, feces, fertility, food, killer whales, liz seely, orcas, pets, poop, project, puget sound, research, sam wasser, scat-detecting, species, stress, testing, toxins, trainer, tucker, university of washington, washington, waste
I am not strictly opposed to dressing dogs up for Halloween.
But I wonder whether we’ve gone overboard. I question how much dogs enjoy it, and why and how, with the economy we have, Americans were willing and able to fork over an estimated $310 million to decorate their dogs for the holiday.
As noted in The Village Voice:
According to the National Retail Federation, Americans are expected to spend $6.68 billion on Halloween this year. Included in that sum is an astounding $310 million spent on costumes for people’s pets. Give Americans credit: We can suffer through a recession, gross economic turmoil, a foreclosure epidemic, and a tepid stock market, but we sure as shit aren’t skimping on the dog costumes.
What if, even just for one year, we declared a moratorium on doggie costumes and instead used that $310 million to make America, or the world, a better place for dogs — used it on dog parks, or spaying and neutering, or emergency veterinary treatment, or furthering adoptions, or more humane alternatives to the gas chambers many animal control departments are still using for euthanasia?
“Halloween is my favorite holiday because it makes me infinitely happy to see dogs in costumes,” Nikki Moustaki writes on her blog, MUTTerings. “It’s the time of year when passionate dog owners let their dogs’ inner ballerina, bumblebee, or princess shine.”
Nikki’s infinite happiness aside — and on top of the hazards some costumes can pose – there’s something to be said for letting a dog be a dog, even on Halloween, as opposed to ballerina or bumblebee.
Much as it makes us smile, chuckle and go awwwwww, Humans should not get their kicks at the expense of a dog’s suffering, or even discomfort.
I’m sure most responsible pet owners are careful, ensuring that what they’re dressing their dog in/as is a safe costume that won’t constrict their pet’s breathing, or contain little pieces that can be chewed off or choked on.
But the increasing trendiness of dog costuming ensures that there will be an increasing number of pet owners who aren’t thinking things through.
And physical hazards aside, there’s also the stress factor. Some dogs may relish the attention, and happily tolerate a costume, but many only get stressed out when festooned with an elaborate get-up.
Ironically, one of the biggest promoters of costuming dogs — after the companies that sell costumes, and the websites that thrive on presenting pictures of dogs as something other than dogs — are local shelters and humane societies.
Rare is the fundraising event that doesn’t feature a doggie costume contest, which is understandable, given they are such crowd pleasers.
I’m not a total party pooper. Putting a dog who doesn’t stress out about it in a simple and safe costume, for a short while — long enough to get your laughs, snap your pictures and post them on Facebook — is fine.
But leaving them in it for hours, leaving them in it unattended, leaving them in it when they are clearly upset about it? That’s where it all enters the arena of, maybe not animal cruelty, but animal disrespect.
The hazards of Halloween, for dogs, go beyond the costuming. It, like the 4th of July, is a prime times for dogs to get loose and run away. In Rochester, N.Y., police fatally shot a Rottweiler who was scaring trick-or-treaters.
And then there are the treats. Chocolate, as we all should know by now, can be toxic to dogs, and xylitol — an ingredient found in gum and other treats — can sicken and kill them as well.
Other than all that, Happy Halloween!
Posted by jwoestendiek November 2nd, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: 310 million, animal welfare, animals, chocolate, comfort, contests, costume, costumes, discomfort, dog, dog blogs, dogs, dressing, fad, halloween, happy halloween, hazards, humane societies, killed, letting dogs be dogs, moratorium, pets, police, popularity, rottweiler, run away, safety, shelters, shot, spending, stress, trending, trick or treat, xylitol
At the Yale University Law Library, you can check out ”Legal Alchemy: The Use and Misuse of Science in the Law.” You can check out “The Supreme Court A to Z: A Ready Reference Encyclopedia.”
Or, you can check out Monty, a terrier mix whose mission, in an experimental program started this month, is to de-stress, during final exam time, the litigators of tomorrow.
You’d think a genius farm like Yale University would have figured out sooner — as some smaller and lesser known colleges have — that dogs can, physically and emotionally, help students through troubled or stressful times.
But, for the school whose mascot is an English bulldog named Handsome Dan, it’s better late than never.
In the pilot program, students can check out Monty – a 21-pound “certified library therapy dog” who provides 30-minute sessions of what ABCNews describes as “unconditional, stress-busting puppy love.”
“The interest in available slots has been high,” said Jan Conroy, a spokeswoman for Yale Law School.
In a March 10 memo, law librarian Blair Kauffman said she hoped the free, three-day pilot pet therapy program would be “a positive addition to current services offered by the library … It is well documented that visits from therapy dogs have resulted in increased happiness, calmness and overall emotional well-being.” The memo directed students to the website of Therapy Dogs International for more information.
The school has yet to decide if the program will be ongoing. Likely, it being Yale Law School, there are liability concerns — the type that are known to paralyze bureaucracies and often limit the good dogs can do, based on mostly baseless fears.
Monty, for example, though he is said to be hypoallergenic, will hold his visits in a “designated non-public space” in the library to eliminate “potential adverse reactions from any library user who might have dog-related concerns.”
Concerns have also been expressed about the sign-up list for Monty being in a visible spot. That, the overly fearful fear, results in students having to expose their need for a mental health session — or at least some time with a dog — in public.
Monty — whose full name is General Montgomery – belongs to librarian Julian Aiken. And the pilot program got started after a Yale legal blog jokingly suggested making Monty available for checkout.
Therapy dogs have been introduced at Tufts University in Massachusetts, Oberlin College in Ohio and UC San Diego to help students get through the pressures of mid-terms and finals.
Posted by jwoestendiek March 25th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, dog, exams, experimental, final, general montgomery, julian aiken, law school, law students, lawyers, legal, liability, librarian, library, mental health, mid term, monty, oberlin, pets, pilot, program, relief, stress, students, therapy, therapy dogs, tufts, university, yale