Archive for January, 2011

Recently I posted a comment on Facebook about a couple of rescue groups and shelters being in need of donations.  A friend immediately replied that she would be happy to help, but didn’t know what kind of help they needed.

Well, let me help you with that!

What shelters and rescues need:

Adopters and fosters

Every animal adopted from a shelter or rescue makes room for one more incoming animal to have a chance at life.  It’s that basic. 

Animals have to come out of the shelters and rescues in order to make room for the new ones (who arrive every single day).  This is why county and municipal shelters often have no choice but to have maximum times for animals in residence; animals that have been there for “too long” have to be euthanized to make room for the incoming ones.  If one goes home with you, that’s one less that dies.

Not in a position to adopt?  Shelters and rescues also desperately need foster homes.  Foster homes provide a safe place for homeless pets to live, often while they recover from injury, illness, abuse, or neglect.  Foster families will tell you that it can be a lot of work, but the reward of returning an animal to physical and emotional health so that he can find a forever home is just immense.  

Puppy and kitten season will be upon us directly, and shelters will be begging for people to take extra young babies home to foster; in the shelters, their young immune systems are too vulnerable to disease, which even further reduces their chances of survival. 

Money 

Shelters and rescues have tremendous expenses.  Animals have to be fed, veterinarians have to be paid, shelter employees have to be paid.  Shelter facilities, in particular, have very high overhead; think of what they must spend in electricity alone!  Rescues spend most of their money in the vet’s office, because rescues usually take the animals with illness or injury that wouldn’t survive the shelter system.

One rescue of my acquaintance just posted that their current vet bill has topped $7000, just to give you an idea of how expensive rescue can be.  Adoption fees almost never even cover the cost of basic neutering, vaccination, and maintenance care, let alone any extra care for illness or injury.

As a matter of practicality, cash donations to shelters and rescues are generally tax deductible.  Just ask for a receipt.  And the majority of groups I am acquainted with have handy Paypal donation buttons on their websites.

Stuff

Shelters and rescues also love donations of stuff.  What kind of stuff, you ask?  Beds (washable), towels, blankets, collars, harnesses, leashes, crates, baby gates, playpens, pet safe cleaning supplies, toys, food – these are the most common requests.   

A note about the food: while shelters will take what they can get, please, donate decent quality food, not the stuff soaked in red dye to make it look pretty.  These animals often come in malnourished and their fragile digestive systems need decent food; the red dye can cause nasty gastric upsets, which in a shelter environment might be the deciding factor between which dog lives or dies at the end of the day.  A sick dog, out of necessity, will be put down before a healthy one, to avoid spreading disease in the kennels.

Services

Don’t have money to donate?  Donate time.  Please.  As an example, Montgomery County Animal Shelter (Conroe, Texas) is currently in desperate need of dog walkers.  A couple of their best ones are out of town, and that means they are even more short-handed than usual.  Dogs who get walked and have regular play time tolerate the shelter environment much better than dogs who spend too much time in cages.

Other services needed: people to wash dogs, answer phones, transport dogs, arrange donations of vet services, do fundraisers, wash the endless loads of towels, feed animals, clean kennels, work at adoption events.

The list of needs is endless.  All of these needs have one thing in common.  It takes people – lots of people – to help meet these needs, which in turn makes it possible for shelters and rescues to save lives.

How will you help?

Just for your information, these are a few reputable Montgomery County, Texas, groups in need of help:

www.smartpetz.org

www.e-rescue-houston.org

www.bbrtx.org

www.mcaspets.org

http://www.lonestarboxerrescue.com/

As January comes to a close, I decided to wrap up the Month of Special Needs Dogs with two older dogs.  I have a real soft spot for older special needs dogs, perhaps because I live with Bumble, the poster child for special needs.

First comes Lucille. 

Lucille is an older Beagle girl who came into the shelter as a stray with badly infected ears, for which she is currently being treated.  Lucille is a low maintenance old lady – she carries her chew bone around with her, wags a lot, and naps.  I suspect the napping is her body recovering from the neglect of her previous life and the pain of the infected ears.  This girl is so sweet and loving that her foster mom named her for her own grandmother.

Lucille is friendly to all, but loves people much more than animals.  She doesn’t seem to pay much attention to other dogs, because she’d much rather be petted and brushed.  Her age is estimated at around 12 years old, but with older rescue dogs, it can be very hard to tell.  She has cataracts, but they don’t seem to slow her down any.  Like most older dogs, she takes arthritis medication.

Lucille is looking for a loving home to supply her companionship, regular brushing, and chew bones – her three favorite things.

Now we come to Gramps Elliott.

Gramps (his kennel name) has just been re-named Elliott by his doting foster mom.  She said he deserved a real name in his old age!  Elliott came into the shelter as a stray in bad shape.  The tips of his long ears have cauliflowered from untreated injuries, and like Lucille, he has a nasty ear infection that is now being treated.  His overlong nails had grown into the pads of his feet.  They left holes in his pads when they were cut back. 

Gramps Elliott is painfully underweight, and just underwent massive dental surgery.  His teeth were so awful that they ended up removing 23 teeth!  The teeth had fused into the bones from years of untreated infections.  He is estimated to be around 10 years old, and was also covered up with a flea infestation, which was immediately dealt with.  Don’t let his white face fool you – he still has plenty of love to give, and deserves a wonderful home to make up for the criminal neglect that brought him here.

His foster mom says he was delighted to eat scrambled eggs for breakfast, even as sore as his mouth must be.  His tail wags continuously, even when the vet was doing uncomfortable things.  Even when the techs were bathing him!  Once his mouth and ears heal, he should not be medically high maintenance.

It never ceases to amaze me how forgiving these neglected senior dogs are.  And every rescuer knows that the older ones are incredibly grateful for kindness and loyal to a fault to their new people.  Don’t be afraid of their age – the reward for adopting older pets is tremendous.

Might you have room in your heart for one of these sweet older dogs? If you are not able to adopt them, you could also donate toward their ongoing care.

For Lucille, contact me@shannonlhill.com, and I will put you in touch with her foster mom.

For Gramps Elliott, go to www.bbrtx.org.  He may not be on the website yet, but you can email to inquire about him, or use the paypal button and indicate in the message that donations go to him.

I started today with two pieces of really good news.  Gabby, the blind Shih Tzu, and Kiah, the blind and hearing impaired Aussie, have BOTH been adopted!  And even better, both went to people accustomed to handling animals with their particular special needs.

Just goes to show what can happen when people work together to help animals.  Both of these dogs came from shelters; one arrived with a terrible eye injury, and the other was dumped at a shelter with a litter of unwanted puppies.  In many shelters, an elderly blind dog or a congenitally blind and deaf dog would have been deemed unadoptable and euthanized.

These two girls had the good fortune to land in shelters with directors willing to go the extra mile to help the animals in their care.  Both girls went to excellent foster homes, where their needs were addressed and evaluated, and where their foster families put in the effort to find them the right adopters.  The shelter directors, the rescue groups, and the individual volunteers all worked together to get to the happy ending we’re celebrating for these girls today.

And working together is what it takes.

I have worked in rescue for years, as have many of my closest friends and family.  And in that time, I’ve seen rescuers insult the hell out of shelter employees because they assume – or have been taught to assume – that shelter workers either don’t know or don’t care.  I’ve seen shelter workers refuse to release dogs to good rescues because at some point they had a disagreement with a volunteer from that rescue.  Ego has no place in rescue – it just gets in the way.

I’ve also seen rescuers and shelter workers work their butts off for the good of the animals, going far above what could reasonably be asked of them.  I’ve seen shelter employees use personal time and funds to transport animals to rescue, and rescue volunteers open their homes to an endless parade of homeless animals, many in need of veterinary treatment or behavioral remediation.  I’ve seen rescuers risk their personal safety to save an animal, and I’ve seen the toughest of animal control officers heartbroken over losing one.  We are at our best and most authentic when working to care for the animals we love.

When I first got into rescue work, I was appalled by how little formal training material is available for people who want to learn about animal rescue.  No one teaches rescuers how to work with first response agencies, what their legal obligations and liabilities are, or even about the proper handling of animals.  And that lack of training produces bad practices, friction between first response agencies and rescue groups, and a corresponding negative impact on the very animals both groups want to help.

And people kept telling me that I needed to write a book about it. 

Rescuers, this one is for you!  The Rescuer’s Handbook© will be available as an e-book through this website in just a few weeks.

The Rescuer’s Handbook: An Insider’s Analysis of the Animal Welfare System will offer detailed information on how the first response agencies work, so that rescue groups will understand better how to work with them effectively, as well as detailed information on good management practices for rescue groups.  This comprehensive guide covers working with other agencies, managing the health and safety of the animals, recruiting and training volunteers, vetting adopters, and a wealth of other urgently needed information, compiled all in one place.

Interested in reviewing an advance copy?  Email me at me@shannonlhill.com.

As part of my January campaign to encourage people to consider adopting special needs pets, I’ve been sending out weekly invitations to my friends in the rescue world to send me pictures and information of the special needs adoptable dogs they would like me to write about.

Meet Kiah.  Kiah is a young Australian shepherd, perhaps two years old, who is almost completely blind and has limited hearing.  She can see shadows, and she has enough hearing that clicker training would be a good option for her.  She was almost certainly born this way; note the one blue eye, which indicates recessive genetics at work.  Her name, I’m told, is an Australian word meaning “from the beautiful place”.  What a great name for a rescue dog!

Kiah doesn’t know she has a problem; for her, this is how it’s always been.  Her world is just different from ours.  She experiences the world through touch, smell, vibration, and some sound, with a few vague visual images thrown in.

Because of Kiah’s visual and auditory impairments, she will need to be an inside dog for her own safety.  She is housetrained, and does very well in a crate.  Kiah has to learn her environment through touch, smell, and practice; it is important for her to be in a stable environment where she doesn’t have to worry about the furniture being rearranged weekly.  Whenever her environment changes, she has to re-learn where everything is.

Kiah came into the shelter with puppies who have since been adopted.  Kiah is now in a foster home, where it took her about a week to learn her new environment and figure out the new routine.  She walks well on a leash, which means that she trusts people to keep her safe in unknown spaces.  Given her throw-away past, that speaks volumes for her forgiving nature.

This pretty girl would be fine in a home with older kids who understand how to treat a blind and hearing impaired dog.  She is definitely dog friendly, but would need to be with a calmer dog.  A really bouncy Jack Russell, for example, might be overwhelming for her in terms of environmental uproar.  Likewise, a home with energetic young children is not the best place for her; small children run, and play, and squeal, and wouldn’t understand why they couldn’t throw themselves upon their new playmate without warning.  It’s unfair to put a blind or deaf dog in a situation in which she might be accidentally startled into bad behavior.

She recently got to meet her foster dad’s cat, and while she didn’t show any aggression, she got really excited.  She was so astonished by the kitty that it may even have been the first one she’s had contact with.  If she were to go to a home with cats, her new people would have to teach her appropriate “don’t break the kitty” boundaries so that she doesn’t play too rough.

Dealing with Kiah is a little different than dealing with a dog that lost sight due to trauma.  She is well-adjusted and has good coping skills; she already knows how to live as a blind and hearing impaired dog.  Her person’s job will be to provide her with a safe and loving environment. 

In the house, everything at her level or below needs to be “child-proofed” so that there are no dangerous projections or obstacles on which she might injure herself.  Her bed, food, and water must always be in the exact same place.  Her yard needs to be securely fenced and free of hazards.  A swimming pool, for example, might be terribly dangerous to a dog like Kiah; she could easily fall in and not be able to get out.

How, then, do you bond with an animal with Kiah’s special needs?  By voice and touch.  She does hear some things, so use your voice to help her learn the boundaries of her new world.  Spend plenty of time sitting in the floor with her.  Pet her, brush her, play with her.  Dogs – especially blind and deaf ones – are incredibly sensitive to atmosphere and body language; if you are relaxed and affectionate with her, she will respond in kind.

We classify Kiah as a special needs dog due to her blindness and diminished hearing.  But really she needs what every dog needs: love, patience, kindness, stability, human contact, and physical safety.

If you think your home might be the right one for Kiah, please email larry@offsite-adoptions.org and put “Kiah blog” in the subject line.

This is Hope.  She arrived at the shelter last week, taken into county custody as a victim of extreme neglect.  She’s at least twenty pounds underweight, has obviously had many litters of puppies, had a tremendous untreated abscess under her jaw, and at the moment is basically naked, due to a very advanced case of sarcoptic mange.

It’s painful to think about this sick, malnourished, naked dog outside in the coldest weather Montgomery County has seen all year.  One might expect a dog this mistreated to be unfriendly to humans, but as is so often the case with rescued dogs, this big girl is very grateful and very loving. 

In a few weeks, her hair will grow in, and the lanced and treated abscess is healing quickly.  With a little basic veterinary attention, a warm bed, good food, and some affection, she will soon be a healthy, happy pet looking for her permanent home.

As I monitored the conversation online about her care, I realized how much even dog people don’t know about mange.  So I’m taking the opportunity to share an excerpt from the veterinary chapter of my upcoming book, The Rescuer’s Handbook©.

“Many people are unaware that there are actually two types of mange: demodectic and sarcoptic.  Both are caused by invasive little mites that cause the dog to itch miserably and cause the dog’s hair to fall out. 

Demodectic mange is congenital; it is not contagious.  All dogs are born with demodex mites on their skin, but some animals, due to a weakened immune system , or stress, or simply a higher than normal number of mites, will actually become ill.  The pattern of hair loss is fairly consistent.  Most demodex dogs begin to lose their hair on the face first, particularly along the bridge of the muzzle and around the eyes and ears.

The good news is that it is not contagious and cannot affect the other animals in your home or facility.  The bad news is that it is more challenging to treat and may well flair up again during the course of the animal’s life.  This does NOT mean that you should give up on the animal, nor does it render the animal unadoptable.  It does, however, mean that potential adopters should be well-informed of the animal’s medical history so that they can present their veterinarian with a complete medical history of their new pet.

Because demodectic mange seems to be associated with a weaker immune system, many demodex dogs also react poorly to vaccinations, cannot take steroids, and have allergies to be dealt with.  Others, once they get healthy, go through the rest of their lives without any additional complications; with these dogs, the flare up was probably induced by stress or malnutrition, and keeping the dog well-fed and secure is enough to avoid stressing the dog’s system into a recurrence.

Sarcoptic mange, on the other hand, is easily and quickly treatable but highly contagious to other animals.  (NOTE: This is what Hope is being treated for.) Because the sarcops mite spreads readily to other dogs, if a contagious animal has contact with the other pets in your home or facility, be prepared to treat them all as a precaution.  You will also need to wash all bedding, collars, and harnesses.    

Once a sarcops dog has undergone treatment, the condition is cured.  It will not flare up again.  Then you just have to wait for his hair to grow in.  (Please note that if he are exposed to sarcops again later in life, he is as likely to get it as any other animal.  But it would count as a separate episode, not a flare up, much as a child who gets the flu once at age 8 and again at age 10 has had two separate illnesses.)…

The two most common treatments for demodex and sarcops are a drug called Ivermectin, which is administered orally, and a dip called Mitaban.  Both must be prescribed by a veterinarian.  There are also several drugs which are considered Ivermectin derivatives that may be safer for some animals; your vet will make a recommendation according the severity of the infestation and the health of the animal.  Be aware that very young puppies cannot be treated until they are old enough to handle the medications, and that some animals may react to either treatment, in which case your veterinarian will suggest alternative therapies.”

 Hope got her name because her foster mom hoped she would recover.  She will – she is already much better after just a few days. But how many dogs like Hope will not have a chance because some ignorant moron like Hope’s former owner wouldn’t spend a few minutes and a few dollars to take care of an animal in need?

Since I decided to feature special needs dogs up for adoption in the month of January, I have been inundated with special needs dogs everywhere I look.

There’s the elderly couple, both in failing health, who need to find a safe home for their pair of eleven year old Bichon Frises.  No one in their family or among their friends are in a position to take these boys, and since one of the dogs is very dependent on the other, they need to stay together.  (Interested?  Email me.) 

There’s the naked dog at Montgomery County with advanced mange that a rescuer took home to care for just today.  Poor sweet dog was desperately grateful that someone was being kind to her, probably for the first time in her life. 

There is Gabby, the blind Tzu, and Mandy, the deaf terrier, who at least are safe and well cared while the rescue groups find them the right forever homes. 

Another rescuer suggested that since I had featured a blind dog and a deaf dog, I should perhaps feature a dog with three legs as the next specials needs pet.  Got me to thinking about what constitutes special needs. 

There are the obvious physical handicaps: blindness, deafness, lameness.  And the less obvious ones: diabetes, kidney problems, epilepsy, allergies, joint problems, heart problems.

Many dogs with serious physical problems never make it to rescue.  Some shelters, overwhelmed with hundreds of more adoptable pets, may make the decision to classify these special needs animals as unadoptable, and they put these dogs to sleep.  The ones that make it to rescue often end up in long term foster, or even in permanent placement with rescuers who know how to care for their special needs, because many people are afraid to adopt animals with issues.

Then there are the emotional special needs: abuse, neglect, lack of socialization, fear.  Most so-called aggressive dogs are reacting out of fear because of what some human has done to them.  Puppy mill dogs who have never had any affection, abandoned dogs who are frightened and confused by the change in their circumstances, dogs seized by the authorities from abusive owners…these are dogs who qualify as emotional special needs.

Again, many dogs from these circumstances never make it to rescue.  Out of fear, they growl at the wrong person, or even snap at someone, and some shelters may have no choice (per their charter, their insurance companies, or their board of directors) but to put them down because they are not “safe” to handle.  Mercifully, more and more shelters are willing to give these traumatized animals to rescue, where people can love them back to health. 

It takes time to teach an unsocialized or abused dog to trust again.  They have to learn basic “dog skills”: wag tail when happy, go potty outside, walk on a leash, allow humans to pet them, don’t cower under the sofa, don’t growl at people while eating, play with toys.  And the vast, vast majority of dogs recover from mistreatment with astonishing speed to become wonderful, happy pets.

I saw one of these dogs today – the very special needs “before” version.  Painfully thin, no collar, not much hair, no discernable breed, foraging for food and water along the edge of the golf course on my route home.  Obviously frightened – walking low to the ground, head down, body curled in, hoping to go unnoticed, like an abused street kid hoping the cops won’t see her rummaging for food in dumpsters. 

Traffic was such that I couldn’t safely get to her, and I had no equipment with me to catch her or transport her.  And even as I say it, I feel so guilty that I didn’t try.  I did call the director of the local shelter to send someone for the poor dog, and I am hoping that Minda’s people will have caught her.  If not, and if this pitiful dog shows herself again, I’ll be going after her, because I can’t live with leaving her alone in the cold.

Caring for special needs dogs is like the story of the little girl who finds the beach covered in hundreds of starfish washed ashore.  She immediately begins throwing them back into the water to save them.  Someone stops to watch, and then points out that there are so many that she can’t possibly save them all, so why bother?

The little girl holds up the starfish in her hand and says simply, “I can save this one.”

Last week, The Houston SPCA took in 29 Chihuahuas and other small breed mixes from California.  I was amazed by the negative commentary on local media outlets, which made it clear once again that the general public doesn’t really get how animal welfare organizations function.

The comments on local news websites all circled around the same theme.  With so many homeless pets here in the Greater Houston Metropolitan area, what the hell was the HSPCA doing importing more?

It’s a valid question, if you don’t really know how all this works.

Yes, there are literally thousands of homeless dogs in the Greater Houston Metropolitan area.  And yes, far too many of them will be euthanized for no reason except that they have no home. 

Many of the commenters complained that the HSPCA should be helping BARC or other local organizations place their dogs, if they had so much extra time and space.  It just doesn’t work like that.  Many agencies are so busy fighting fires in-house, so to speak, that they never reach out to other groups to make the connections that would allow for this kind of mutual assistance. 

The whole point of the Great Chihuahua Airlift was to move the dogs from a “market” overloaded with little cute dogs to one in which the dogs would be readily adoptable.  If the HSPCA took animals from other local organizations, it would not change the market dynamics; it would be the same pets up for adoption to the same constituency.

I admire the creativity and determination of the shelter in California for reaching out to other groups for help to save dogs that they KNEW were adoptable in other places.  And I wholeheartedly approve of the HSPCA’s openness to helping other agencies – they did the same thing for shelters in Louisiana during the oil spill.

The hard truth is that in a system containing this many animals, 29 Chihuahuas will make absolutely zero difference.  The HSPCA has the space and the facilities to handle them without compromising their standard of care for the other animals in their custody.  And let’s be honest – the publicity generated by these 29 little dogs will bring dozens of potential adopters into the HSPCA, where they may adopt from this group, or they may find their new pet among the “local” residents.  It’s a smart move.

As the HSPCA explained, these cute little dogs are highly adoptable in this area.  In California, there is a serious population glut of these little guys, which means that is very difficult to get them adopted.  Groups of small dogs were also sent from California to shelters in Colorado – same reason.

But here’s the real kicker.  We do the same thing.  Most people don’t know about Project Save A Lab, which takes Labrador retrievers from the shelter system here and relocates them up north, where they are in demand and thus highly adoptable.  Here in Texas, shelters are overflowing with Labs; many, many good dogs get put to sleep because there are more Labs than homes. 

How can we criticize any program that takes dogs out of danger and puts them where they stand a much better chance of finding permanent homes?

I’m featuring older and special needs pets up for adoption on my blog this month, for the very urgent reason that many heartless people abandon pets in December and January in favor of “Christmas puppies”.  Older pets and those with special needs are “less adoptable” in the shelter system, and there are more of them than usual in need of homes this time of year.  For example…

Meet Mandy.  She can’t hear you, but she’d love to be your friend.

Mandy came from a shelter in rural Texas, where she was turned in as a stray.  The shelter placed her with a rescue group in the Houston area, where her foster mom immediately recognized that she was deaf.  The rescue group’s vet also learned that she has been completely de-barked, probably because as a deaf terrier, she was very noisy.

Other than her deafness and surgical silence, Mandy is a happy, healthy West Highland terrier mix, estimated to be about two and a half years old.  She has been in foster care for about a year, and her foster mom tells me that she is a charming and funny little dog.  She’s housetrained, does fine with other dogs and gets along with children.  She does not love cats.

Deaf animals often adapt so thoroughly that it takes people a while to realize that they can’t hear.  Mandy is very responsive to humans and very attuned to her surroundings; she picks up on the household routine very quickly. 

A deaf dog does do things a little differently than a pet with normal hearing.  They rely more on spatial awareness, visual cues, and often appear to hear when in reality they are responding to vibrations, perhaps from someone walking across the floor or from a ball bouncing. 

Want to get a deaf dog’s attention?  Instead of calling their name or whistling, you might flip the light switch or stomp your foot on the floor.  If you’re in a deaf dog’s line of sight, hand gestures work well.  My own deaf dog, the infamous Bumble, was thought to be stubborn and untrainable.  Once I realized he was deaf, I started teaching him hand signals – he’s still stubborn, and I love him that way, but now I can tell him what I want him to do.

If you have a deaf dog, be extra aware of dangers outside the house.  A deaf dog may not realize that a car is coming.  And in Mandy’s case, when you take her outside, she must always be on a leash or in a fenced yard, because she loves to run and play, and won’t hear you calling her to come back. 

With a few minor adaptations in methodology, life with a deaf dog is basically the same as life with a hearing dog.  Mandy doesn’t know she has a “disability”, so she is definitely not suffering. 

Have room in your heart and home for a happy little girl with years and years of love to give?  All it takes is a little information on how a deaf dog functions, and a little extra patience in training.  You can see her profile and apply to adopt Mandy at http://www.smartpetz.com.

Please consider adopting an older or special needs pet when you’re ready to add a new member to your family.

Most of us spent yesterday declaring resolutions we have no intention of keeping: lose weight, stop smoking, get a better job, pay off the credit cards, get along better with your kids or in-laws, stay more organized, and so forth.

How about resolving to be the best pet owner you can be?

A few suggestions…

Resolve to keep your pet clean and well-groomed.

 A clean, brushed, well-groomed pet is happier and healthier.  Regular brushing and bathing helps keep their skin healthy.  Keeping your pet’s nails trimmed keeps his feet sitting properly on the ground, which reduces stress on the feet and legs.  Overlong nails can break painfully, or even become so overgrown that they dig back into the feet.  Use grooming as an opportunity to check your dog for lumps, bumps, or growths that might be dangerous; if you find one, get it checked out.

 Resolve to maintain your dog’s dental health.

Ideally, pet owners should brush their pet’s teeth regularly to help prevent disease.  Encourage your pet to chew on “dental” toys to keep the tartar down.  February is Dental Month; plan on having your dog’s teeth cleaned by your veterinarian.  The bacteria on a dog’s teeth can develop into serious problems.  Some of the side effects of dental disease in dogs: inability to eat comfortably, truly heinous dog breath, infections of the teeth and gums, loss of teeth.  The bacteria can even travel through the body to attack the kidneys and heart.

Resolve to take care of your dog’s mental and emotional health.

Dogs need interaction – with other dogs, with people, with toys.  Obviously your pet’s needs will vary according to his age, breed, physical condition, and environment.  But most dogs love to go for walks, play with toys, and interact with their humans.  Take your dog for a walk; the exercise will be good for pet and human.  Got a bored and busy dog?  Try puzzle toys, which you fill with food; the dog has to manipulate the toy to get the treat out.

Resolve to make your pet’s environment safe.

Many much-loved pets disappear, die, or get injured each year because of oversights by well-meaning owners.  Check your fences.  Are there any gaps or loose boards?  Is your gate secure?  Do your meter readers or other service people come into your yard when your pet is outside?  Don’t allow it.  Meter readers most places can read the meter without coming into the yard; all it takes is a call to your utility companies to arrange it.  It’s not worth the risk of an excited pet escaping because someone doesn’t close a gate properly.

Do you have a pool?  Can your dog swim?  (Mine can’t.)  Does your dog know how to get out of the pool if he falls in?  If your dog doesn’t know how to navigate the pool steps, there are floating safety ramps for dogs.  There are also safety alarms marketed for small children; if you have a dog that can’t swim, attaching such an alarm to his collar might save his life.

What about inside your house?  A home with pets should be child-proofed much like a house with toddlers.  Potentially toxic plants, chemicals, and other substances should be kept out of reach, electrical cords should be secured, lamps and other objects that could fall on pets should be placed out of harm’s way.  Use baby gates to keep older or less coordinated pets off stairs and out of other potentially unsafe areas.

One final resolution…

Make sure your pet has proper identification in the form of name tag and microchip, with up to date contact information for both you and your veterinarian on both.  My special needs dog’s tags also include his medical conditions, just in case.

Happy New Year!  Let’s make 2011 a great year for our pets.