Pets improve owners’ health and well-being By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and pet therapyDid you know that the presence of a cat or dog in a counseling office can speed the therapeutic process for some patients? Animal-assisted therapy (AAT) was introduced by psychologist Boris Levinson in the 1950s when he discovered that his dog Jingles was able to connect with autistic children in a way humans had not.

Since then, AAT has continued to develop as a therapeutic science. Although dogs are the most frequently used therapy animals, cats, birds, rabbits, horses, donkeys, llamas and even pigs and snakes participate in different programs.

According to research, when people hold and stroke an animal, many positive physical and psychological transitions occur, including lowered blood pressure, a feeling of calm, the ability to be more extroverted and verbal, decreased loneliness and increased self-esteem.

Susan Lee Bady, a clinical social worker who uses cats in her practice, says the cats serve a number of different functions, including facilitating emotional expression and touching; encouraging spontaneity and fun; and providing the kind of unconditional love seldom found in human relationships.

Bady’s patients report feelings of peacefulness and serenity when they watch cats cuddle and groom each other. This feeling is enhanced when a cat jumps into a patient’s lap. Some patients speak more freely while holding or petting a cat. Patients out of touch with their emotions are sometimes able to identify and understand their emotions by watching the behavior of the cats.

Patients with trust issues learn to trust Bady by watching her with her cats. Bady’s cats, like all pets, are independent souls. This independence and lack of predictability helps needy or insecure patients cope better with what they perceive as personal slights in everyday life. For example, when patients feel a cat doesn’t like them because he or she won’t sit in their lap, Bady uses that reaction to open a discussion about their neediness and the problems it might be creating in their lives.

There’s a plethora of literature amassed on the many different ways animals help children and adults with psychiatric illness, mood disorders, developmental and learning disabilities, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other mental and emotional challenges.

One study of hospitalized psychiatric patients concluded that animal-assisted therapy significantly reduced anxiety for patients with psychotic, mood and other disorders.

Another study published in the Journals of Gerontology showed that animal-assisted therapy reduced loneliness in residents of long-term care facilities – especially for those folks who previously owned pets.

A study conducted at the College of Veterinary Medicine at Washington State University concluded children with pervasive development disorders (PDD) who lack social communication abilities “exhibited a more playful mood, were more focused, and were more aware of their social environments when in the presence of a therapy dog.”

In a report titled “Animal-Assisted Therapy in Psychiatric Rehabilitation,” researchers studied the effect of AAT on a group of male and female psychiatric inpatients. By the fourth week of the study, “patients in the AAT group were significantly more interactive with other patients, scored higher on measures of smiles and pleasure, were more sociable and helpful with others and were more active and responsive to surroundings.”

Aaron Katcher, M.D., a psychiatrist and professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania, claims there is tremendous evidence for the success of animal-assisted therapy in controlled studies, such as depressed patients had increased socialization and decreased depression; children with severe ADHD and conduct disorder had decreased aggressive behavior and improved attention; patients with autism or developmental disabilities had increased socialization and improved attention; and patients with Alzheimer’s had improved attention and decreased aggression and anger.

According to Katcher, there is also clinical and anecdotal evidence that patients with dissociative disorders and agoraphobia are able to decrease anxiety and increase social skills when they have companion animals.

With all the benefits pets provide, shouldn’t you consider bringing one of these little miracle workers home today?

A Tribute to Dogs

Ed Boks and George Graham Vest
George Graham Vest

George Graham Vest (1830-1904) served as a United States Senator from Missouri from 1879 to 1903, and became one of the leading orators and debaters of his time. This delightful speech is from an earlier period in his life when he practiced law in a small Missouri town. It was given in court in 1855 while representing a man who sued another for the killing of his dog.

During the trial, Vest ignored the testimony, but when his turn came to present a summation to the jury, he made the following speech and won the case.
* * * * *
Gentlemen of the Jury:

The best friend a man has in the world may turn against him and become his enemy.  His son or daughter that he has reared with loving care may prove ungrateful.  Those who are nearest and dearest to us, those whom we trust with our happiness and our good name may become traitors to their faith.  The money that a man has, he may lose.  It flies away from him, perhaps when he needs it most.  A man’s reputation may be sacrificed in a moment of ill-considered action.  The people who are prone to fall on their knees to do us honor when success is with us, may be the first to throw the stone of malice when failure settles its cloud upon our heads.

The one absolutely unselfish friend that man can have in this selfish world, the one that never deserts him, the one that never proves ungrateful or treacherous is his dog.  A man’s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness.  He will sleep on the cold ground, where the wintry winds blow and the snow drives fiercely, if only he may be near his master’s side.  He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer.  He will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounters with the roughness of the world.  He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.  When all other friends desert, he remains.  When riches take wings, and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the sun in its journey through the heavens.

Ed Boks and dog on graveIf fortune drives the master forth, an outcast in the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies.  And when the last scene of all comes, and death takes his master in its embrace and his body is laid away in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends pursue their way, there by the graveside will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws, his eyes sad, but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true even in death.

What does a government shutdown mean to our nation’s animals? by Ed Boks

There has been a lot of talk concerning a government shutdown in Washington- which begs the question, how would such a shut down affect our nation’s animals?

Here is a brief outline describing how the following animal welfare-related duties would be affected during a government shutdown:

Puppy Mills: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) would not be able to perform all of its duties under the Animal Welfare Act. Specifically, it could not inspect puppy mills or pet dealers. During this break in oversight, untold harm could be done to commercially bred animals simply because no one is empowered to monitor their safety. The puppy mill industry is notorious for egregious animal abuse and neglect; the mind reels at what these animals would suffer without any oversight.

Horse Soring: Soring involves the intentional infliction of pain to a horse’s legs or hooves to force the horse to perform an artificial, exaggerated gait. Caustic chemicals and blistering agents like mustard oil, diesel fuel and kerosene are applied to the horse’s limbs, causing extreme pain.

Another form of soring, known as pressure shoeing, involves cutting a horse’s hoof almost to the quick and tightly nailing on a shoe, or standing a horse for hours with the sensitive part of his soles on a block or other raised object. This causes excruciating pressure and pain whenever the horse puts weight on the hoof.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is charged with enforcing the Horse Protection Act to combat the abusive practice of horse soring. APHIS oversees the inspection of at-risk show horses to ensure they have not been sored and assesses penalties for violations. Suspension of the APHIS program will allow unscrupulous trainers to take advantage of this lapse in oversight.

Animal Slaughter: The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) uphold the requirements of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act related to the treatment of animals prior to and during slaughter. This has been deemed a necessary function, so FSIS inspectors will continue to monitor food safety and humane treatment of animals in slaughterhouses during a shutdown.

Wild Horses: Federal agencies periodically round up and remove large numbers of free-roaming wild equines on public rangelands. This policy often results in tens of thousands of wild horses languishing in holding facilities. Roundups would suspended during the shutdown, and caretakers for the horses already confined will remain on the job.

Zoos/Circuses: Exotic animal exhibitors are regulated by the Animal Welfare Act; unfortunately, the welfare of these animals would be suspended during a government shut down.

Animals in Laboratories: The USDA enforces the AWA to ensure minimum standards of care for animals in laboratories. While employees are on the job maintaining the animals, there would be no USDA watchdog ensuring that minimum standards of care are met. This is another industry whose history is seriously tainted by egregious animal abuse and neglect. The temporary lack of oversight would put these animals at great risk.

Here’s hoping a shut down is avoided.

Business-savvy landlords allow pets By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and landlordsOne of the biggest challenges communities face in achieving “no-kill” comes from landlords who refuse pets despite hearing from their own colleagues and professional journals that permitting pets makes good business sense. In fact, a survey conducted by The Foundation for Interdisciplinary Research and Education Promoting Animal Welfare found:

• Fifty percent of all rentals nationally prohibit pets;

• Thirty-five percent of tenants without pets would own a pet if permitted;

• Tenants in pet-friendly housing stay an average of 46 months compared to 18 months in rentals prohibiting pets;

• The vacancy rate for pet-friendly housing is lower (10 percent) than “no pets allowed” rentals (14 percent); and

• Twenty-five percent of applicants inquiring about rentals in non-pet-friendly housing are seeking pet-friendly rentals.

With such a sizable potential tenant pool it seems there should be enough pet-friendly housing to meet demand. According to economic theory, in perfectly functioning markets (where people make rational, profit-maximizing decisions, with full information and no significant transaction costs) pet-friendly housing should always be available to renters willing to pay a premium to cover any extra costs to landlords.

Why then do so many landlords overlook opportunities to increase profits by providing pet-friendly housing? With nearly 70 percent of American households having companion animals and over half of renters who do not have a pet wanting one, why are so few pet-friendly rental units available?

The report found that among landlords who do not allow pets, damage was the greatest concern (64.7 percent), followed by noise (52.9 percent), complaints/tenant conflicts (41.2 percent) and insurance issues (41.2 percent). Concerns about people leaving their pet or not cleaning common areas were rarely cited (5.9 percent).

Although 85 percent of landlords permitting pets reported pet-related damage at some time, the worst damage averaged only $430. This is less than the typical rent or pet deposit. In most cases, landlords could simply subtract the damage from a pet deposit and experience no real loss. In fact, the report finds landlords experience no substantive loss. There is little, if any, difference in damage between tenants with and without pets.

Other pet-related issues (e.g., noise, tenant conflicts concerning animals or common area upkeep) required slightly less than one hour per year of landlord time. This is less time than landlords spend for child-related problems and other issues. Whatever time landlords spend addressing pet-related problems is offset by spending less marketing time on pet-friendly units by a margin of 8 hours per unit.

The study found problems arising from allowing pets to be minimal; and benefits outweigh the problems. Landlords stand to profit from allowing pets because, on average, tenants with pets are willing and able to pay more for the ability to live with their pets.

YHS receives many wonderful pets because of this unnecessary housing shortage. Imagine if all Yavapai County landlords permitted pets. That would create a demand far greater than the number of pets dying in our shelters, allowing our community to maintain its status among the safest communities in the United States for pets.

Unfortunately, too many landlords overlook the opportunity to increase revenue, tenant pools and market size by allowing pets. While the benefits to landlords are easily quantified in a profit/loss statement, the benefit to our community’s homeless pets is incalculable. Landlords can make a profitable, life-saving choice by simply permitting pets.

Compassion is not a finite commodity By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and strategic planningIn many communities, decisions regarding animal welfare are complicated by a host of competing priorities. When evaluating competing priorities it’s easy to look to the bottom line. When that happens, the questions of conscience concerning animal welfare can be overlooked.

There will always be enough injustice and human suffering in the world to make animal welfare seem less important. But compassion is not a finite commodity. We demonstrated the power of compassion in 2012 by ending euthanasia as our community’s method for controlling pet overpopulation. That is no small achievement; indeed, it places us among the nation’s most humane communities.

Still it’s not difficult to understand how decision makers can feel strongly that human need and wants are more important than animal needs and wants. When this happens, animal welfare can be reduced to a simple equation of what’s affordable, profitable or expedient. We can almost fool ourselves into thinking we’re dealing with widgets rather than lives. It’s at this point that our moral fiber emerges.

German philosopher Immanuel Kant opined that “We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.” Indian Prime Minister Mahatma Gandhi expanded on this truism stating the moral progress of an entire community “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” No less than Abraham Lincoln said he considered animal welfare as important as human welfare for “that is the way of a whole human being.”

Ed Boks and Matthew Scully
Ed Boks and Matthew Scully

Matthew Scully, senior speech writer for President George W. Bush and author of the book Dominion, put it this way: “We are called upon to treat animals with kindness, not because they have rights or power or some claim to equality, but because they don’t; because they all stand unequal and powerless before us. Animals are easily overlooked, their interests easily brushed aside.”

The danger now is that we return to thinking there is only enough compassion in our community for our elderly but not for our children; or just enough love for our children but not for our mentally ill; or just enough kindness for our human populations but not for our animals. St. Francis of Assisi taught that to regard the lives of animals as worthless is one small step away from regarding some human lives as worthless.

We compound community wrongs when wrongs done to animals are excused by saying there are more important wrongs done to humans and we must concentrate on those alone. A wrong is a wrong, and when we shrug off these little wrongs we do grave harm to ourselves and others.

“When we wince at the suffering of animals, that feeling speaks well of us… and those who dismiss love for our fellow creatures as mere sentimentality overlook a good and important part of our humanity.” (Scully: Dominion)

As 2012 comes to a close, I want to thank the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors, the Prescott City Council and the Prescott Valley Town Council for their support in 2012 and ask them to kindly remember animal welfare as they begin to build their 2013/14 budgets.

If you want to live in a community where the circle of compassion includes animals, let your elected officials know how important their support of the local shelter is to you. You can also help this humane initiative directly by making a yearend donation; including your shelter in your will; joining their volunteer program; or adopting a pet from them. Together we transformed our community into a showcase for “that good and important part of our humanity.” This can continue into 2013 and beyond – but only with your help, involvement and support.

Achieving No-Kill by the numbers By Ed Boks

Ed Boks and No KillEarly in my animal welfare career I developed a “no-kill” ethic.  I trained shelter staff to apply this “ethic” by using the same criteria for deciding a homeless animal’s fate that a compassionate owner or conscientious veterinarian would apply to a beloved pet.  That is, healthy and treatable animals are not killed simply because we lack the room or resources to care for them.

The “no-kill” ethic embodies a commitment that for every animal who comes through a shelter’s doors there is a kind and loving person or family – and it is our mission to bring them together.

There are three statistics animal shelters can use to measure their success, or failure, in reducing pet euthanasia (or killing). To rely on any one or two of these numbers tells only a partial, and possibly obfuscated, story.  When you compare all three of these numbers you are better able to tell your organization and your community’s whole story:

The Live Release Rate (LRR) refers to the number of animals who get out of a shelter alive.  I call this “heartbeats in/heartbeats out”.  It includes adoptions, transfers to rescue organizations, and lost pets returned to owners. Some shelter experts claim a 90 percent LRR is the threshold to “no-kill.”  During my tenure at the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) in Arizona, I maintained a 97 percent LRR for several years.  This is a good internal measurement.

The Euthanasia Rate reports the actual number of animals euthanized.  In the first year implementing the no-kill ethic, YHS achieved a 63 percent reduction in killing, followed by a 64 percent reduction in year two, and a 40 percent reduction in year three; for an overall reduction of 92 percent.  This too is an important internal measure of success or progress.

The Per Capita Kill Rate refers to the number of animals killed per 1,000 residents.  Prior to implementing the no-kill ethic, YHS was killing 17.25 animals per 1,000 residents.  This was one of the worst kill rates in Arizona. However, at the end of my tenure we had reduced the YHS kill rate to 0.2; the lowest in the nation for several consecutive years!  This number is the best for comparing your community with other communities in your state or across the nation.