How dogs identify friend and foe by Ed Boks

According to a study reported in the journal Current Biology, dogs pick up emotional cues from other dogs by watching the direction of their wagging tail.

In a series of lab experiments, dogs became anxious when they saw an image of a dog wagging its tail to its left side. But when they saw a dog wagging its tail to its right side, they remained relaxed.   Continue reading “How dogs identify friend and foe by Ed Boks”

Do Cats Need Us? by Ed Boks

It appears Rudyard Kipling may have been correct when he suggested cats walk by themselves and don’t need us to feel secure.

A study released by the University of Lincoln concluded that cats, unlike dogs, do not need humans to feel safe, preferring to look after themselves.

Earlier research had suggested cats show signs of separation anxiety when left alone by their owners, in the same way dogs do, but the results of this study found they are much more independent than canine companions – and what we had interpreted as separation anxiety might actually be signs of frustration. Continue reading “Do Cats Need Us? by Ed Boks”

Know when the human/dog bond can bite you in the face by Ed Boks

A study conducted jointly from Monash University in Australia and Pedigree Petfoods found that the bond between a human and a dog may actually cause their heartbeats to sync with one another.

The researchers connected three pairs of dogs and their owners to heart rate monitors. After separating the dogs from their owners for a period of time they brought the pairs together again and observed their heartbeats. They found that within a minute both heartbeats dropped significantly and “even appeared to mirror each other.” Continue reading “Know when the human/dog bond can bite you in the face by Ed Boks”

Is your pet suffering? by Ed Boks

Is your pet lonely?

The New York Times recently ran a piece by Jessica Pierce asking the provocative question “Is your pet lonely and bored?” Today there are as many pets in the United States as there are people; and in most homes pets are family — and not just dogs and cats, but rabbits, rats, bearded dragons and snakes.

According to many veterinarians and psychologists this phenomenon is evidence of a deepening “human-animal bond.” Scientists studying animal cognition and emotion are continually peeling back the mysteries of animal minds, revealing an incredible and often surprising richness in the thoughts and feelings of other creatures. Continue reading “Is your pet suffering? by Ed Boks”

Consider the snail by Ed Boks

Consider the snail

In my last blog I discussed what we can learn from the ant regarding the benefits of collaboration and cooperation in the development of society.

Today I want to examine what we can learn from the snail regarding the detriments of social isolation.

In a recent article in the Independent, Sarah Dalesman explains that while stress negatively impacts the cognitive ability of numerous species, including their ability to learn and remember, the problems arising from stress are personal, and blanket statements regarding species may be misguided.  Like humans, Dalesman explains that “not all individuals of a particular species are equally good at cognitive tasks to begin with, and they respond to the effects of stress in different ways.” Continue reading “Consider the snail by Ed Boks”

Does your dog suffer from ADHD? by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and dog
Hyperactivity is sometimes mistaken for normal breed characteristics

Do you sometimes wonder if your dog suffers from ADHD (attention deficit/hyperactive disorder)?  Although this term is often bandied about, hyperactivity is actually very rare in canines.

According to Clinician’s Brief, a publication of the North American Veterinary Conference (NAVC), “hyperactivity” is defined as “over-activity, attention deficits, impulsivity, high testing physiologic parameters with a paradoxical calming response to amphetamines.” Continue reading “Does your dog suffer from ADHD? by Ed Boks”

Your dog and the great outdoors by Ed Boks

Take your best friend hiking

The sun is shining, the temps are rising, and it’s time to put on our hiking boots and appreciate the beautiful outdoors.  But don’t head out without your four-legged friend; they’re itching to enjoy the spring air with you!

Outdoor opportunities you can enjoy with your dog abound. When taking Fido with you to explore, be aware of trail etiquette, safety factors and leash laws.

Most communities require dogs to be on a leash not to exceed six feet in length. The leash law keeps your dog safe from run-ins with wildlife and vegetation. In addition, it helps others feel safe on the trail who may not know that your dog is friendly or, worse yet, may have an unfriendly or timid dog with them.

Train you dog to walk with loose leash for enjoyable experience

If your dog isn’t trained to walk calmly and politely on a leash—don’t leave them at home; practice makes perfect!  There are many techniques to teach your dog “loose leash” walking. Here are a few tips to help you get started:

• The more exercise a dog gets, the easier leash training will be.

• Positively reinforce your dog walking close to you by being generous with high value rewards (like good treats).

• Play red light/green light: If the dog begins to pull, stop and wait. If they stop and loosen up, reward with a treat and then proceed.

• Before your dog gets to the end of the leash to pull, lower your leash and move backward a step or two. Reward your dog when he comes back to you.  If repeated enough times, dogs will learn that any tension on the leash will only delay them from getting to what they want.

I mentioned run-ins with defensive wildlife and one concern on nearly every pet owner’s mind when they put on their hiking boots is the rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes are particularly active in the springtime and it’s important to be attentive.

Rattlesnake Avoidance Training and vaccine helps protect your dog

There are some helpful precautions you can take for your four-legged hiking buddy, one of which is a rattlesnake vaccine. While the canine rattlesnake vaccine won’t make your pet immune to all effects of a rattlesnake’s venom, it can give you extra time to seek medical attention for your dog and may lessen the need for antivenin. That’s a big benefit, for your pet and your pocketbook. Call your veterinarian to learn more about the canine rattlesnake vaccine.

Another safety measure you can take is rattlesnake avoidance training.  Rattlesnake avoidance trains your dog to recognize and avoid the sight, smell and sound of a rattlesnake, which can be a lifesaving skill that can protect not only your dog but for you as well.  Ask your local Pet Emergency Hospital if they know who is offering a community class on Rattlesnake Avoidance Training.

Be sure to also keep the temperatures in mind and provide plenty of water for your dog.

Benefits to exercising with your four-legged best friend by Ed Boks

Research shows dogs are the perfect workout companion

Are you having trouble sticking to your new year’s resolution to exercise more?  Maybe you need a good physical trainer to help meet your fitness goals.  Have you considered your best friend?   Research shows that dogs are actually nature’s perfect personal trainers.  Dogs are naturally loyal, hardworking, energetic and enthusiastic…basically the perfect work-out partner. And, unlike human workout partners who may skip an exercise session because of appointments, extra chores or bad weather, dogs never give you an excuse to skip exercising.

Many people don’t realize that taking your dog out for a walk at least two times a day can create significant benefits for both themselves and their four-footed friend. According to a number of recent studies conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Geriatrics Society and others: Continue reading “Benefits to exercising with your four-legged best friend by Ed Boks”

No-Kill Ethic gives every dog a chance by Ed Boks

Ed Boks and Xena
Behavior rehabilitation saves lives! Visit: Bound Angels for more information.

There are moments on this job that make all the heartbreak and disappointment worthwhile. Recently Sandy Nelson, who had adopted one of our shelter animals a few months ago, called me to say, “Thank you for believing Xena (pronounced Zeena) deserved a chance to live.” That was one of those moments.

When I first arrived at the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) in July, I found Xena on the euthanasia list. Alone in her kennel, surrounded by barking dogs and abandoned by her family, she was understandably frightened. She responded to her new surroundings the only way she knew how – by demonstrating a behavior known as “fear-based aggression,” which is not uncommon in shelter dogs when they first arrive.

Although we knew she was acting out her fear, her behavior was so fearsome that our most experienced animal handlers were unable to handle her. One of them admitted that, in all his years at YHS, Xena was the only dog that actually scared him. By the time I arrived that first week in July, it had already been determined that there was no chance Xena would ever be adopted. She was marked for euthanasia.

Public safety is the primary focus when evaluating dogs for adoption. With nearly 30 years experience in animal control and welfare, I understand better than most that there are dogs who are dangerously aggressive – dogs who should never be adopted out. Was Xena such a dog?

Imagine what must go on in the mind of a dog abandoned by her guardian. You wake up as you do every morning at the foot of your master’s bed – but tonight you inexplicably find yourself alone in a cold concrete cell surrounded by excited barking dogs and strange people. Wouldn’t you lash out in fear to defend yourself?

How do you discern a truly dangerous dog from an estranged pet?

Ed Boks and Robert Cabral
Robert Cabral (Bound Angels) provides the training shelter staff and volunteers need to save the lives of behaviorally challenged dogs.

Fortunately for Xena, renowned Malibu-based dog trainer and behaviorist Robert Cabral came to the rescue. Waiving his $250 per hour fee and all the expenses he incurred from driving himself and his two dogs, Silly and Goofy, to Prescott, he came to help staff and volunteers learn his life-saving techniques.

Cabral is not your typical dog trainer. His focus is not training beloved pets how to sit and stay in your backyard. His expertise is rehabilitating behaviorally challenged shelter dogs. He has been called upon to rehabilitate dogs adjudicated as “vicious” by city magistrates – dogs most of us wouldn’t want to be in the same town with, much less on the same leash.

Believing that even these dogs deserve a chance at life is the essence of the no-kill ethic. These dogs do not come by this behavior naturally; they are trained directly or through neglect to be aggressive. The no-kill ethic asserts that every shelter animal deserves a chance at life. That means YHS will strive to treat animals in need of medical care as well as animals in need of behavioral rehabilitation in the effort to find each animal a loving home.

It was this ethic that saved Xena. The no-kill ethic created a way for the Nelsons and Xena to meet and fall in love. Today, Xena is in dog obedience classes, she happily sits for treats and she devotedly follows the Nelsons around their beautiful ranch in Chino Valley.

Cabral has a slogan: “You can’t save all the dogs in the world, but you can save one. Join the revolution.” Xena is one of many dogs benefiting from Cabral’s life-saving training. YHS staff applied what we learned and Xena responded. She overcame her fear, was removed from the euthanasia list and was adopted by the Nelsons in July.

Isn’t it time you joined the life-saving revolution? Adopt a shelter animal today.

What “transparency” looks like by Ed Boks

LA Animal Services is one of the few, if not the only, animal control program in the United States that posts and updates a comprehensive set of statistics every month.

In fact, LA Animal Services was recognized by The Maddie’s Fund, the well known pet rescue foundation established in 1999 to help fund the creation of a no-kill nation, for our “transparency,” (i.e., the ready availability of information to the public). Of the over 5200 animal control programs in the United States and the tens of thousands humane societies and other animal welfare organizations, Maddie’s identified only five organizations for their transparency. LA Animal Services was at the top of this list and was the only municipal animal control program recognized.

Over the past six years, LA Animal Services has been able to boast one of the most impressive records for reducing pet euthanasia as a methodology for controlling pet overpopulation in the nation.

However, the first quarter statistics for 2008 have recently been posted, and they are disappointing. Despite the fact that live placements (adoptions, New Hope placements, and redemption’s) continue to rise to unprecedented levels historically and unequaled levels nationally (27,565 in the past 12 months for a 59% live release rate [70% for dogs and 44% for cats]) the euthanasia level also rose.

There are many possible reasons for this increase, and it is important that we understand all of them if we are to address and correct this anomaly as a community going forward.

Preface

1. I want to preface this discussion by reminding everyone that LA Animal Services’ statistics showing increased euthanasia and animal intakes during the first quarter of 2008 demonstrates that the department does not “fudge the data” or “manipulate the process to spin the numbers” as some critic’s suggest.

2. A second preface is to acknowledge that we at LA Animal Services are as disappointed with these results as are our critics. To have both the intake and kill rates drift upward in four of our shelters over the past quarter is not acceptable and we are taking steps to reverse this disturbing trend.

To be fair, it should be understood that when you normalize* the statistics and compare the intake statistics to the euthanasia rates in the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2007 there was only a 1.49% increase in euthanasia.

But no matter how you assess the numbers, everyone agrees that no increase in euthanasia is desirable, and we will continue to do everything we can to return to our long standing trend of reducing the killing. As was explained in my last message, we have hit the proverbial “wall” and will need the help of the entire animal loving community going forward.

(* Normalization is the process of removing statistical error in repeated measured data. For us, that means comparing the euthanasia rate relative to a fluctuating intake rate.)

3. Statistics do not exist in a vacuum and there are reasons why things are as they are, some reasons are more subject to department control than are others. The bottom line, however, is that there is a lot of work to do and hysteria, hand-wringing and finger pointing does not save lives.

Operational Circumstances

4. The department recently completed a major shelter management reassignment that has impacted almost every shelter. This was done to match the abilities of some of our most experienced managers with jobs we feel they can do well. These changes bring with them adjustment periods as managers learn about their newly assigned, and in some cases, newly opened facilities. These managers must determine how they want to tackle the many challenges they face in their respective shelters. I will soon announce the selection of a new Assistant General Manager of Operations who will work directly with them on these challenges. In the meantime, we started posting statistics by shelter in the hope this information will help the community better target its resources to help the animals most at risk.

LA Animal Services opened three new facilities in the last ten months and we are scheduled to open two more in the next three months. This is the fastest and largest increase of any City Department in LA City history and represents a significant learning curve during a time of intense scrutiny and fiscal instability.

5. Center managers are responsible for determining the optimal animal capacity for their shelter. This is a delicate balance between wanting to save lives and not wanting to be perceived as “warehousing” animals. If a shelter experiences a short-term surge in new arrivals, it could lead to an urgent need to move more animals out of the shelter one way or another. Unfortunately, when that doesn’t happen via adoption, New Hope rescue, or transfer of animals within our shelter system or partnering shelter systems, it’s likely to happen via euthanasia.

Adoptions and Rescues

6. There is a spirited national debate going on about whether shelters can “adopt their way” to No-Kill status. Perhaps we can, but it takes the whole community working together. As noted earlier, adoptions at LAAS shelters were also up during the first quarter of 2008 and, on a month-over-month basis, has been up for 12 consecutive months by a range of from 10-30% depending on the month. That is encouraging.

7. The numbers of dogs and cats placed by our wonderful New Hope rescue partners during the first quarter of ‘08 is up by about 5% over last year. This is also encouraging coming after a year in which New Hope rescue placements were down. Our New Hope partners do all they can to help save animals but sometimes they run out of capacity too, so any month when they are able to increase the number of transfers that is a plus.

8. Increasing animal adoptions can be a challenge when the most easy-to-adopt animals, such as puppies, kittens and purebreds, are scooped up almost immediately after they come into the shelters. That leaves the harder to adopt big and older dogs, so-called aggressive breeds and injured or sick animals that place a larger burden on the casual would-be adopter.

These animals must be marketed more aggressively and creatively, and the simple fact is that marketing is not our strong suit at the moment. We don’t have a public relations staff, nor do we have a volunteer coordinator at the moment to run our mobile adoption program. These tasks are being done on an ad hoc basis by extraordinary employees whose primary responsibilities lie elsewhere.

We’ve been struggling to find a new PR person and volunteer coordinator through the City’s civil service system and have yet to turn up a suitable candidate with the requisite experience and skills. We’ll keep trying to rectify that as soon as we can, and under the new pressures of a deficit-driven City hiring freeze. But in the meantime, getting the word out about our shelter animals, and getting those animals out to a wider public, remains a challenge. The importance of doing so, however, was made very clear by the 52% jump in adoptions at our shelters in the week following Oprah Winfrey’s April 4 show on puppy mills which featured our South LA Animal Care Center.

Ed Boks and Riester Advertising Agency
Riester Advertising Agency generously donated creative ads to Ed Boks in Maricopa County, NYC and LA

Riester Ad Agency has generously donated a series of adoption campaign ads that are downloadable from our website. LA Animal Services asks everyone with access to a neighborhood newspaper, LA animal blog, local or business bulletin board to help us get the word out by posting these ads.

Intakes

9. Some have pointed to the first quarter upsurge in intakes as indicative of some systemic failure on the department’s part, though they offer no logical explanation for this allegation. It is impossible at this point to know if this increase in intakes is a reversal of a long standing trend or if it is a short term reaction to the recent housing market collapse.

To be sure, we are dealing with a unique phenomenon this year – widely documented in the media – and that is the unprecedented upsurge in pet relinquishment’s resulting from families losing their homes to foreclosures or evictions. Many are finding that they are unable to afford to keep their pets or, alternately, to find a new home they can afford where pets are allowed. Intakes system wide were up by 447 animals in March 2008 over March 2007, and it makes sense that housing and economic displacement contributed substantially to that increase. People leaving their pets at our shelters have made that clear.  The solution: A House is not a Home without a Pet program.

10. Spring and early summer is traditionally a problem for every animal shelter, as kitten and puppy season brings more neonates through our doors. Hundreds of orphaned neonate kittens are taken in every month at this time of year, and they are the primary focus of our life saving efforts. They require careful around-the-clock care that no shelter is equipped to provide, either in terms of facilities or available staff. Dozens of staff members have, however, stepped up to take on the challenge of fostering litters of kittens, as have more than 100 volunteers, but if a dedicated caregiver can’t be found for an orphaned litter of neonate kittens, they will probably be euthanized. We don’t make excuses for this, and we welcome every new volunteer foster caregiver we can recruit.

It should be understood that LA Animal Services is not the only organization in the greater LA region facing this crisis. All our sister jurisdictions and rescue partners are inundated with hundreds of neonate kittens at the same time. We are all exhausting our limited resources as we take in, care for, and try to place these animals.

11. Apart from a regularization of the real estate market which is probably a number of months away, one thing that must be done to arrest this trend is to create more opportunities for people to keep their pets when they have to move. The local humane community has been discussing this issue and is working on ideas that might help, including providing landlords with financial indemnification against pet-related damage, and/or other incentives that would motivate them to allow pets in the units they own and manage. In a city where 62% of the residents are tenants, increasing the availability of pet-friendly rental units is an issue that deserves much more attention than it is getting.

Spay/Neuter

12. Some blame the upsurge in intakes on the department’s alleged failure to spay and neuter everything in sight, as if that were possible. But LA Animal Services is doing what it can, and may well lead the nation’s shelters in our commitment to provide spay/neuter as a tool for reducing pet overpopulation.

With the generous support of the Mayor and City Council, we’re able to fund upwards of 40,000 surgeries a year, using our two currently operational spay/neuter clinics, the Amanda Foundation and Sam Simon Foundation mobile clinics, and the network of private veterinarians who take our discount vouchers.

As this is written, we have a Request for Proposals (RFP) soliciting operators for the five new spay/neuter clinics nearing completion in our new shelters. Additionally, others in the humane community who have an interest in spay/neuter are preparing to launch new community-based spay/neuter efforts in and around Los Angeles.

The City’s pioneering spay/neuter ordinance that became law on April 8th is already generating a surge in voluntary compliance at various clinics. We have begun to gear up the information and enforcement efforts that will be needed to make the ordinance effective and we expect it to generate results that will become clear in our statistics over the next few years.

13. All that being said, we definitely have not been able to sterilize all the feral and stray cats we want. This is because of a lawsuit threat from an environmental group opposed to the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) methodology used to control feral and stray cat populations in many locales, including cities contiguous to Los Angeles. This has forced LA Animal Services to undertake a lengthy environmental study process before trying to establish a formal TNR program here. This could take up to another year to accomplish.

In the meantime, valiant community TNR volunteers do what they can to manage the problem in various locations, but untended, unsterilized stray cats can undo much of the progress these diligent volunteers achieve. Many of the neonate litters we see come from this source and, absent the ability for the department to legally conduct TNR, unadoptable feral adults and their kittens will continue to account for hundreds, if not thousands, of the unfortunate cats who are euthanized every year.

Finally…

14. I don’t offer these explanations as excuses for what we have experienced in our shelters so far in 2008. We share the frustrations of the entire humane community when statistics don’t trend positive, and we should be held accountable when all is said and done. But our larger job is to bring the community together to find solutions, to seek new resources when the City budget can’t provide them, and find new ways to overcome the challenges few communities have ever had to face on the scale we see in Los Angeles.

We hope to soon gather the community together to try to do just that. We will continue to work on identifying new resources to help us meet the challenges posed by the spay/neuter law, make more homes welcoming to pets, get the word out that big, older dogs and neonate kittens make lovable pets, and provide adopters with the support they need to ensure that is the case.

If you would like to help, please consider joining our Volunteer Program or make a donation towards one of our many life saving programs.