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Tag: volunteers

Kiss me, you dog (I need the probiotics)

Before you wipe off that next dog kiss — not that too many ohmidog! readers are the sort that do that — you might want to think about this:

Some of those doggy bacteria that dog-disliking alarmists and hand-wringing medical types are always warning us about might actually be good for you.

As with Greek yogurt and kimchee, some of the microbes lurking in a dog’s gut could have a probiotic effect on the owners’ body, aiding in both digestion and overall health.

Researchers at the University of Arizona are now seeking volunteers to take part in a study to prove just that — and here’s the coolest part: Volunteers, if they want, can keep the shelter dog assigned to them when the study is done.

The “Dogs as Probiotics” study will focus specifically on the effect dogs have on the health of older people — in terms of physical well-being, mental well-being and cognitive functioning.

kelly“We already know that dogs make us happier and in some ways healthier. The main point of this study is to try and understand whether or not there is an actual biological component behind this,” Kim Kelly, a UA doctoral student in medical anthropology, and one of the study’s primary investigators,
told the Arizona Daily Star.

“This has the potential to change the field in terms of how we understand, think about and use microbes to improve our health,” she said.

The study team is recruiting adults over the age of 50 and asking them to live with a dog from the Humane Society of Southern Arizona for three months.

Both the human and canine subjects will undergo tests of an non-invasive sort during the study to determine whether or not the positive microbes in the humans increase, and whether it correlates with improved immune measures in older adults.

Probiotics are often referred as “good” or “helpful” bacteria. They can help keep the intestines healthy, assist in digesting food, and are believed to help the immune system.

Kelly, along with researchers at the University of San Diego and the University of Colorado, will explore whether living with a dog encourages the growth of positive micro organisms in the human gut.

“We essentially want to find out, is a dog acting like yogurt in having a probiotic effect,” she said.

In addition, researchers will monitor participants for any changes in the mental health and emotional well-being.

Once the scientists are done, human participants will have the option of keeping the dog they kept in their home during the study.

We’re guessing that — whether their digestion has improved or not — most of them will.

Who wouldn’t want someone who has been kissing them for three months to hang around?

(Video: Attendees at the SPCA of Maryland’s March for the Animals, 2009, receiving some free probiotics from my dog Ace; photo: Kim Kelly and her cocker spaniel Katie, courtesy of Kim Kelly)

Changes vowed at Baltimore County shelter

animal-shelter

Some long called for changes may be coming at Baltimore County’s animal shelter.

After more than a year of pressure by animal advocates for improvements, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz announced yesterday that  the shelter in Baldwin, Md., will be shifting from the “narrow view” of it being a place for dangerous animals and focusing more on caring for animals and getting them adopted.

That’s exactly the sort of change we called for in yesterday’s ohmidog! post — the one suggesting local governments ditch their use of the term “animal control” and become animal protection departments.

Baltimore County hasn’t announced any formal plans to do that (maybe it’s not too late to work that in), but the county executive did outline future steps to add more employees, expand low-cost spaying and neutering services, cooperate with a program aimed at neutering feral cats and increase the shelter’s focus on getting animals adopted.

Kevin KamenetzKamenetz said he’ll hire a volunteer coordinator and a foster care coordinator at the shelter – two areas animal advocates have been critical of. He also announced that  a new Facebook page will be set up devoted to promoting adoptable animals, and that the shelter will be receiving guidance from the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter, commonly known as BARCS.

The changes will be included in his next budget for Animal Services — a division of the county health department — and would go into effect at the start of the next budget year on July 1, the Baltimore Sun reported.

“We think we’re moving in the proper direction in a deliberative manner,” Kamenetz said.

Animal advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland complained to the county last fall that shelter volunteers were banned from taking pictures, in violation of their First Amendment rights. The county has been working with the ACLU on training shelter employees on the rights of volunteers.

Earlier this month, the County Council passed a bill creating an animal services advisory commission to review the shelter’s operations. The 11-member commission has yet to be appointed.

In a statement released by the county executive’s office, Council Chairwoman Cathy Bevins praised the proposals as “bold steps to upgrade animal services in Baltimore County.”

The county already is building a new shelter on its current site,  scheduled to open in August.

Our hope would be — in accordance with the proposal we put forth yesterday, and in accordance with the new focus Kamenetz spoke of — that the sign in front of it reads Animal Protection, or Animal Services …  anything but Animal Control.

(Photos: Protest sign from WJZ; Kamenetz from Baltimore Sun)

Ace goes to school for a lesson in love

Ace made a big impression on pre-k and kindergarten students at Baltimore’s Lakewood Elementary School yesterday, dazzling them with tricks, soaking up their pats and hugs and swearing in two classrooms whose students took the “Oath of Kindness,” a pledge to be kind to animals.

How this latest stop in our continuing travels came to pass was actually pretty simple, and amazingly bureaucracy-free.

A teacher friend asked if we’d visit. We said yes. She got the necessary clearances and, before you know it, a 130-pound Rottweiler-Akita-chow-pit bull mix was being snuggled, stroked and hugged by a bunch of children half his size.

Karma Dogs, the therapy dog organization of which Ace is a member, came up with two more volunteers who visited the school along with Ace and me –  Janet Shepherd and her dog Tami, and Kathryn Corrigan and her dog Puddy.

Together, we covered six classrooms in just over an hour, administering the oath, passing along some basic dog safety tips and stressing the importance of treating animals kindly.

Karma Dogs developed the ”Oath of Kindness” after the death of Phoenix, a pit bull puppy who was set on fire by Baltimore teenagers in the summer of 2009 — not the first, or last, case of its type in the city.

The oath reads: “I … pledge always to be kind to animals. I promise never to hurt an animal, be it dog or cat, furry or fat. I promise to tell my friends to be kind to animals and if I see an animal that is being hurt I will tell an adult right away. Scaly or slimy, feathered or blue, to this promise I will be true.”

After reciting the pledge, the children receive a certificate,which is “pawtographed” by the dog, in this case, Ace. The hope is that children who have openly declared they will not be violent towards animals will remember that, tell their friends and inform adults when they see an animal being taunted or abused.

Of the students Ace and I appeared before, about a dozen raised their hands when I asked who was afraid of dogs. But only one declined a chance to pet Ace. Several more had some trepidations, but those seemed to melt away as they watched the other children interact with him.

They were eager to ask questions, and talk about their own pets. One girl spent three minutes talking about her Chihuahua, which she said had the same name she did. Not until the end of her dissertation did she reveal that her dog was a stuffed toy.

I cautioned them against  approaching stray dogs, told them to always to ask the owner before approaching a dog, showed them how to let dogs sniff their hands as an introduction and encouraged them to treat dogs as they’d like to be treated — calmly, kindly and lovingly.

Ace made an impression on the children in several ways, I think –through his size alone, his gentleness and his back story: a stray adopted from the shelter, like most of the other Karma Dogs, who went on to try and help humans.

He also made an impression with his pawprint, stamped on each of the certificates that was handed out.

The teacher behind the event (who also took these photos) was Marite Edwards, a longtime friend of Ace’s. When she took the idea to her principal, she learned that the school and district were looking at ways to add dog safety and kindness to animals to the curriculum.

That another case of animal abuse surfaced in Baltimore over the weekend — that of a cat set on fire by two teenagers — confirmed just how much those lessons are needed.

You can find more information about Karma Dogs at its website.

(Photos by Marite Edwards)

Giving, and getting, at Best Friends

It’s probably the closest thing there is to heaven on earth for dogs (and a lot of other animals, too), a place where — despite abusive pasts, ill health or handicaps — dogs, cats, birds, horses, pigs and more can be rehabilitated enough to find new homes, or, if not, spend the rest of their days in the tranquil, sun-dappled canyons of southern Utah.

A lot of humans are coming to see Best Friends Animal Sanctuary as pretty close to paradise, too – they’re showing up in droves, not just for tours or visits, but to roll up their sleeves and do some work.

There’s something about Best Friends that seems to bring people who have visited once back again — myself included – and, refreshingly, they often return asking not what the animals can do for them, but what they can do for the animals.

My first visit to Best Friends was two years ago, and both the sanctuary and the terrain of southern Utah stuck with me — the way that few things, Mexican food included, do. Photos taken during that visit — while I was still a reporter for the Baltimore Sun –, helped inspire the look and color scheme of ohmidog!, the website I started after leaving the newspaper.

And the mission and staff of Best Friends inspired me as well, as they have millions of others — first with their response during Hurricane Katrina, more recently through the National Geographic Channel’s series, “Dogtown.”

Given that debt, it was only right that I — as about 100 people do every day — showed up at the sanctuary to work as a volunteer.

I was one of about 10 new volunteers going through orientation Tuesday, after making arrangements to do so — a simple matter — on the volunteer section of the Best Friends website.

I’d planned to spend one day, but I’m returning today. Most people spend longer — building a vacation around volunteering at Best Friends, or making it their entire vacation.

Such was the case with Kenzie Wolff, an 11-year-old California girl who, when offered a trip to the location of her choice by her parents as a birthday present, chose to do volunteer work at Best Friends.

She and her parents were staying at one of the guest cottages available at Best Friends (there’s an RV park, too), and she and her mom showed up bright and early to go through the quick orientation.

Kenzie said she got the urge to visit and volunteer after watching “Dogtown.”

“We were watching Dogtown and it seemed really cool, and I went on their website a lot, and all the dogs and animals were really cool. I just really like animals.”

Kenzie, who has a 12-year-old Belgian Malinois named Sophie back home in Laguna Beach — and a cat named Gypsy — was scheduled for a full day of dog duty Tuesday, planned to work with cats today, and to work with dogs and bunnies on Thursday.

She was hoping to invite two animals back to the cottage for sleepovers. Permitting volunteers to take dogs and cats overnight, on trips through the canyon, or even into town, is another unusual aspect of Best Friends volunteer program — a massive operation that seems to run amazingly smoothly and without heavy layers of bureaucracy or bossiness.

For us new volunteers, we were equipped with nametags and orange whistles to blow in case of emergency — such as a dog we’re walking getting loose – and treated to a 10-minute safety video.

The video informed us of the color-coded collar system — green ones for safe and approachable dogs, purple ones for those requiring some caution and red ones for those dogs that staff only can handle.

We were provided with some common sense basics — don’t shout or run around the dogs, don’t throw toys without permission, or engage in tug of war games. Let the dogs approach you, sniff you and get to know you.

A brief talk followed in which we warned to watch out for, and back away from, rattlesnakes, and that, it being lizard season, to make sure to hold tight to leashes, because some dogs are prone to chasing them.

After the briefing, Kenzie and her mom, Peggy, headed for puppy class, where trainer Don Bain uses the volunteers to help socialize newly arrived puppies — generally at 12 weeks of age.

The session takes place in a room set up like a house — complete with refrigerator, dishwasher, microwave and a doorbell. The setting helps increase the chances that the puppies, once adopted, will feel more at home, and decrease the chances of them being returned.

Bain says as many as one in five pups were being returned at one point, but in the past two years, only two have been. “We’re sending out very well-adjusted, socialized puppies now.”

“We try to throw as many people in their puppy faces as we possibly can,” Bain said. In the class, volunteers worked with seven puppies, picking them up, poking and prodding them and getting them used to having humans play with their paws, mouths and ears.

The pups are taught their names, and to sit and lay down. Treats and consistency are the key. “If a puppy wins once, he wins forever,” Bain says.

Kenzie worked with a chocolate ball of fluff named Nike, who came from a rescue in Page, Arizona, and probably from an Indian reservation before that. A birth defect left him without the tip of one of his front paws. It had pads, but no toes or claws. None of which seemed to slow him down a bit.

Kenzie spent the rest of the morning walking dogs, including one with a neurological problem that caused him to go in circles.

After a vegetarian buffet in a dining hall that overlooks the canyons — sweet and sour sesame tofu was the entree — Kenzie spent some time with the old dogs.

When the battery on the family’s rental car died, Best Friends maintenance staff responded within minutes, charging it up and allowing Kenzie and her mom to get to their next assignment.

It’s astounding how so many volunteers can be so calmly and smoothly dispatched to their duties — even amid the pounding of a jackhammer in the front office (more expansion was underway). And it’s all done with kindness and flexibility. Volunteers can come and go from the sanctuary as they please and pursue their individual interests as long as they sign in and out and follow a few simple rules.

As with Kenzie, and as with me (more on my experiences tomorrow), volunteers get far more than they give. I hate to use the phrase “win-win,” but that’s exactly what the situation is. Dogs can grow more social, humans can grow more compassionate. Sure, poop gets scooped and dog bowls get washed, but in Best Friends’ volunteer program, far more than daily chores are getting accomplished.

(Tomorrow: More from Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.)

(To read all of “Dog’s Country, from the beginning, click here.)

Baltimore Humane Society seeking help

The Baltimore Humane Society is looking for a few good men, women and appliances.

Andrew S. Levine, executive director of the society, has issued a plea for cash donations and other items needed to upgrade the facility in Reisterstown.

Those items include:

- A propane boiler to heat the main shelter building

– A  5 ton 13 S.E.E.R Air Conditioning System for the dog kennel, where temperatures can rise to 110 degrees in the summer

– A washer and dryer

– A refrigerator to keep medications cool

– A backup power generator to keep shelter heat on in the winter when power goes out and to keep power on during surgeries

– An x-ray machine for pets that are dropped off at the shelter after being injured in accidents

– Painting services to repaint buildings, inside and out

– Updated fencing for kennels

– Roof and gutter repairs

– Construction labor

–Landscaping supplies and labor

Levine asked that anyone that can help contact him at (410) 561-7666

BARCS set new adoption record in 2009

Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS) had its busiest adoption year ever in 2009, placing 2,869 animals in new homes — a 47 percent increase over last year’s figures.

To keep those numbers up, BARCS will hold a “Winter Wonderland Special,” from Jan. 15 through Jan. 31, during which time adoption fees for selected animals will be only $1. (That’ s in addition to the  $10 fee for an animal license for Baltimore City residents).

Adoption fees include spaying and neutering, rabies vaccination, DHLPP vaccination, bordatella, de-wormer, flea preventative, a general examination, an animal license for Baltimore City residents, a food sample, Felv testing for cats and kittens, and a free month of health insurance.

BARCS, located at 301 Stockholm Street, across from M&T Bank Stadium, is open for adoptions Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The shelter will be closed on January 18 for the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday.

BARCS is also looking for volunteers to help provide care for dogs and cats in the shelter, to provide foster homes for animals too young to be adopted, to assist with adoptions, and to help with events and fund raising. Special training classes are offered for volunteers at the following times: Monday, January 11, at 1 p.m.; Thursday, January 14 at 1 p.m.; Saturday, January 16, at 11:30 a.m.; Thursday, January 21 at 3 p.m.; Saturday, January 23, at 11:30 a.m.; Monday, January 25 at 1 p.m.; Thursday, January 28, at 1 p.m. and Saturday, January 30, at 11:30 a.m.

To register for an orientation, e-mail Frank.Branchini@baltimorecity.gov.

Katrina documentary begins 80-city tour

An American Opera “Jane’s Trailer”

Tom McPhee and his award-winning documentary about pets during Hurricane Katrina — “An American Opera: The Greatest Pet Rescue Ever!” — are hitting the road on a year-long 80-city tour.

“The Rescue Party Tour” starts this month and will highlight local animal organizations in each city it visits (Baltimore’s not on the list yet).

The documentary is described as a “visceral, operatic vision of what happened to the pet owners of New Orleans who were forced to evacuate after Hurricane Katrina without their beloved pets, and the volunteers who came from all over the world to help.

“America suffered its worst domestic animal crisis in history when tens of thousands of animals were left to perish in neighborhoods all across the gulf. This heartfelt story follows the pets, vets, owners, officials, rescuers, and adopters of animals as they work through the chaos to do what is right, only to discover not everyone is working toward the same goal.”

For more information about the movie, visit its website.

For more information about the tour, see www.RescuePartyTour.com.

Local animal groups interested in showcasing the movie and their work in the community, can email rescuepartyinfo@mansmilingmovingpictures.com