Archive for December, 2012

Israeli company trains mice to sniff out contraband

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Mice are effective at sniffing out explosives, drugs and other contraband, and they’re faster to train than dogs, according to Israel-based BioExplorers. The company has devised a system that directs a blast of air at a person and then into a chamber containing eight mice, who move into a second chamber when they smell contraband.

TEL AVIV — Israel has been using mice to detect explosives.

An Israeli company has developed a method that uses mice to detect hidden contraband at airports and other facilities. The company, BioExplorers, said the mice could identify anything from explosives, drugs and even cash.

Israeli researchers claim mice are more accurate than dogs or x-ray machines at detecting explosives.

“The mice can also be easily trained, and thanks to their small size, you can use a small group of them and have multiple sensors,” BioExplorers chief technology officer Eran Lumbroso said.

The system was unveiled at the Israel Homeland Security exhibition in Tel Aviv in mid-November 2012. Executives said BioExplorers was briefing governments, police and companies on the technology.

Executives said the portable system directs a blast of air toward somebody suspected of carrying contraband. The air that strikes the person is directed into a chamber of eight mice, who sniff and move into another compartment if they detect contraband.

Lumbroso, who also founded BioExplorers, said the technology stemmed from his service in the Israel Army in 2000. At the time, the Army sought to use small animals rather than dogs to detect and foil the numerous suicide bombings by such Palestinian groups as Fatah and Hamas.

Executives said the system envisions the mice working in shifts of four hours. They said the mice can be trained much quicker than dogs.

Research may provide support for horse therapy

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

New software may capture the data needed to support claims that horse therapy provides tangible therapeutic benefits to children with developmental and cognitive disorders, according to the makers of the Orbis Biomechanical System Integration Suite. Research that quantifies the benefits of horse therapy may help convince insurance companies to cover the treatment, said senior research engineer Cameron Nott. Longview News-Journal (Texas)

By Glenn Evans gevans@news-journal.comLongview News-Journal

Insurance companies live by numbers, so it’s not enough to hear from an army of parents saying their children with developmental or cognitive disorders are helped by horse therapy.

That might change if research that’s in a high gait at Windridge Equestrian Therapeutic Center of East Texas pans out. Executive Director Margo Dewkett has long said the movements of a walking horse stimulate muscle groups the rider would use while walking if his or her brain were more in control.

This past week, a researcher for a company that developed software to quantify Dewkett’s claim was at the therapy ranch west of the Diana area to train the staff on how to complete that mission.

“Quantifying the improvements in the riders over a period of time while exposed to this therapy will validate it,” said Cameron Nott, senior research engineer for Orbis, maker of the Orbis Biomechanical System Integration Suite.

OBSIS, as researchers call it, uses motion-capture sensors on the horse and rider to produce a digital image of what’s going on with both.

“Our software takes that information and calculates different biomechanical measures,” said Nott, a doctor of mechanical engineering from South Africa. “We calculate the joint angles. We calculate the joint power, and then our software collects the data and processes the data. And then it generates a report on the data.”

It’s the kind of hard data that the growing hippotherapy movement can show insurers who typically deny customer requests they cover sessions of horse therapy. (The “hippo” comes from Greek roots of the word “horse,” but that probably hasn’t kept insurance claims officers from scratching their heads).

“It has not been accepted as a formalized form of therapy that insurance companies are willing to pay out,” Nott said. “We need to show that it works. They say it works, but you really need to show scientific improvement, that there is improvement in the mobility and performance of the subject.”

A second goal of quantifying the horse and rider relationship is it will set measurable marks that horses must achieve to get their own certification.

“This is sound research, and people are doing it — we are not the only ones,” Nott said. “But, Margo has the equipment and facilities to be at the forefront of hippotherapy research. We’ll keep working with them in the future, but they are training themselves to be completely independent and do this thing.”

Abused children find comfort in furry friend

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

At the Snohomish County Courthouse, child interview specialist Gina Coslett of Dawson Place shows off Harper Lea, a 2-year-old lab trained to comfort children who are being asked to talk about crimes, or testify in a trial. Harper is a new addition to Dawson Place, which is the county's child advocacy center.

Harper is there as young victims of abuse talk about what happened

By Diana Hefley, Herald Writer
Harper is a dainty blonde with a heart for service — and chew toys.
Last month, the 2-year-old Labrador retriever started working at Dawson Place, the county’s child advocacy center that serves more than 1,000 abused children a year.
Harper is a special pooch whose job is to offer kids comfort at times when they may be scared, confused and uncomfortable.
She snuggles with children who are asked to recount horrific crimes committed against them. Her coat often soaks up their tears. Harper senses when kids need to be nuzzled or when a good dog trick will chase away the hurt.
Children often leave her side, saying, “I think she loves me. I think she’s going to miss me.”
Since she was a puppy, Harper has been raised to be a service dog. She received extensive training through the California-based Canine Companions for Independence.
Her handler, child interview specialist Gina Coslett had been waiting almost a year to be paired with Harper. Coslett was convinced that she wanted a canine partner after working with another service dog named Stilson.
Stilson, a stocky black Labrador, works in the Snohomish County Prosecutor’s Office and has helped out at Dawson Place.
When he came to the office in 2006, Stilson was only the second service dog in the nation used by prosecutors.
He was so good at his job that people were convinced that Dawson Place also should use a service dog to help child victims.
The center offers centralized assistance for physically and sexually abused children. Medical personnel, counselors, advocates, state caseworkers, prosecutors and police are available in the same building to help streamline assistance to children and their families.
Children and teens receive free medical exams, mental health assessments and counseling. The center also houses detectives and prosecutors who investigate crimes against children.
Now through a partnership, the county’s law enforcement agencies all pay for Coslett’s salary and Harper’s expenses, said Mary Wahl, the executive director at Dawson Place.
Harper lives with Coslett and has become a part of the family. She’s even teaching Coslett’s other dog, Duca, a miniature Pinscher and rat terrier mix, some much-needed manners.
“They really are best friends,” Coslett said.
Harper loves to play, chase balls and buddy around with other dogs, but when her work vest is on she’s all business.
As a forensic interview specialist, it’s Coslett’s job to ask children about alleged crimes, either committed against them or witnessed by them. She must remain neutral and disconnected from the emotions that often fill the room during these interviews. She can’t hug the child or offer them any comforting words. There is no parent with the child and Coslett isn’t a therapist. That’s not her role.
“It’s so hard not to reach out, whether I believe them or not,” said Coslett, a mom and grandmother.
That’s where Harper comes in.
The friendly pooch greets the children and sits next to them while Coslett asks questions. She lays her head in their laps. Small hands pet her shiny coat. Sometimes it is easier for children to talk to her about their hurt than to the adult in the room. Harper won’t leave their side until Coslett gives the command.
Coslett said it is remarkable to see the dog follow a child’s cues. She senses when to get closer without being told. Harper can smell stress and fear.
“She knows she’s there to comfort,” Coslett said. “She takes over and knows what to do.”
The kids also like her tricks. She can turn off lights, give a high-five and carry her own leash. It’s heartening to hear a child’s laugh or see him smile after hearing about his pain in such detail, Coslett said. Harper provides some of that healing.
The Labrador was named after Harper Lee, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”
The book reflects on justice, doing the right thing and love, Coslett said. Harper seemed like a fitting name for a dog with so much heart.

Antifreeze manufacturers agree to add bittering agent to make products unpalatable to animals and humans

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Bittering agent will be applied to products manufactured in all 50 states.

Antifreeze and engine coolant manufactured in the United States will now contain a bitter flavoring agent to prevent animals and children from being poisoned by the sweet-tasting liquid. Although legislation has been passed in several states, the Consumer Specialty Products Association (CSPA) and the Humane Society Legislative Fund jointly announced Dec. 13 that the industry would now voluntarily add the flavoring agent to products for sale on the consumer market in all 50 states.

“Poisoning occurs because animals are attracted to the sweetness of antifreeze and engine coolant, which inadvertently spills in our driveways or is left in open containers in garages,” the joint release says. HSLF says estimates range from 10,000 to 90,000 animals poisoned each year from ingesting ethylene glycol, the toxic substance used in antifreeze. The release claims that one teaspoon of antifreeze or engine coolant can kill an average-sized cat.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry says ethylene glycol is rapidly absorbed following ingestion, leading to systemic toxicity beginning with effects on the central nervous system, followed by cardiopulmonary effects and, finally, renal failure. Clinical signs may be more subtle in animals than humans.

Veterinary school offers chemotherapy for pets

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Dr. Shawna Klahn (left) and Dr. Nick Dervisis (right) have begun a new oncology program. “Bootsie” (left) of Blacksburg, Va., and “Josie” (right), a West Virginia native, are in treatment for cancer

Veterinarians at Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine have administered chemotherapy to about 70 animals since launching an oncology program six weeks ago. Four-year-old Burmese mountain dog Dylan’s lymph nodes are back to normal after chemotherapy to treat his lymphoma, says veterinary oncologist Shawna Klahn. “What we have done is bring in a closed or a needless system and updated the safe way of giving chemotherapy,” she said. WSLS-TV (Roanoke, Va.)


Dylan is a Bernese Mountain Dog getting chemotherapy at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in Blacksburg.

The school is offering a new service with the help of Doctor Shawna Klahn and Dr. Nick Dervisis.  A biopsy showed cancer in Dylan’s lymph nodes.

“It came back as lymphoma,” Dr. Klahn explained.  “He came into oncology and we started chemotherapy, and his lymph nodes are all down to normal as of today.”

Dylan is only four years old and the treatment he is getting, is expected to give him a better quality of life.

“There are no hopeless cases for us,” Dr. Dervisis says.

Doc is getting chemotherapy for a rare spleen cancer in cats.  He is one of more than 70 patients that have gotten chemotherapy in the six weeks it has been offered.

Safety in administering the chemo drugs is extremely important.

“What we have done is bring in a closed or a needless system and updated the safe way of giving chemotherapy,” Dr. Klahn says.  “It is safe for our staff, pets and our clients.”

From custom fitted face masks to gloves that are more durable than the typical latex everyone in the oncology department is working toward the same goal.

“Providing hope by improving their quality of life slowing down most of the cancer,” Dr. Dervisis says.

Link to Virginia Tech Veterinary Medical School.

How to handle a dog with OCD tendencies

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Up to 3% of dogs have obsessive-compulsive disorder, an anxiety disorder seen more frequently in some purebred dogs and exacerbated by stress, writes veterinarian Francine Rattner. Dogs that exhibit behaviors such as tail chasing or constant licking may have the condition, although Dr. Rattner says it’s important to have the animal evaluated to ensure there is not an underlying medical issue. Exercising the dog and removing the sources of stress may help, according to Dr. Rattner. The Capital (Annapolis, Md.)

Can dogs have OCD? I have a Shetland sheepdog who is constantly chasing his tail. We try to distract him and tell him no and eventually he stops. Is there anything else we should do?

Unfortunately, our canine friends can suffer from repetitive activities that seem very similar to people with obsessive-compulsive disorder.

 Since dogs can’t tell us what they are feeling, we don’t know why they are doing these activities. Perhaps they become addicted to the behavior because it stimulates the release of endorphins or soothing chemicals from the brain.

We have to also make sure that there is not an underlying pain issue that is causing the abnormal behavior. This is more likely in a case where a dog constantly licks at a spot on his leg. Whatever the cause, obsessive behaviors often require modification for the dog’s sake and for yours.

OCD is a type of anxiety disorder with as many as three percent of dogs affected. As it is found more often in certain purebred dogs, we believe there is a genetic component involved. Herding dogs like yours may spin or chase their tails, Doberman Pinschers may suck the skin of their flank or lick a leg until it is raw, Labrador retrievers can be obsessive about carrying a ball around, or eating nonfood items.

While dogs may be born with this tendency, they generally don’t show signs until at least 6 months of age. It is important to act quickly if you start to see these types of behaviors emerging. Since stress can make the obsessive behavior worse, reducing stress can help keep them from becoming ingrained habits.

A dog that seems to engage in these types of behaviors when a neighbor’s “bully” dog is barking through the fence is stressed. A dog that starts doing more obsessive behaviors when he is crated is stressed. Do what you can to change your dog’s environment to reduce stresses that you can recognize.

Make sure you give your dog plenty of exercise. Especially for hunting and herding dogs — they are generally not content to be kept indoors all the time with just a bathroom break a couple times a day. They need to be taken on long walks or runs, or engaged in activities that they are genetically programmed to perform.

In addition, behavior modification will help reduce the frequency of the unwanted behavior. The first step is to make sure you are not reinforcing the tail chasing. Dogs can regard yelling as a form of attention and think of it as positive response. This will serve to encourage them to engage in the behavior more often. Instead, catch your dog in the act of sitting calmly and not chasing his tail and lavish praise on him. Train him to do other behaviors at your request and reward him for those. Lying down quietly and staying until you give the signal is another calm behavior to reward.

In some cases, all the work you can do at home isn’t enough to help relieve a dog of his compulsive behaviors. In those cases, the same types of anti-anxiety medications that are prescribed for humans may be needed to help him live a calmer, more comfortable life.

Dr. Francine K. Rattner is a veterinarian at South Arundel Veterinary Hospital in Edgewater. Please send questions to or to

Pet hospice increases options for pets and owners

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Veterinary at-home hospice services provide end-of-life care for ill pets, improving quality of life for animals and potentially extending life, albeit only for a few days in some cases. Hospice care must be administered by a veterinarian who works in conjunction with the pet’s regular veterinarian to provide palliative treatment such as pain management and catheter placement. San Francisco Chronicle

Shea  Cox has spent her 11-year career as a veterinarian fighting to save  animals’ lives.

Now, as a provider of pet hospice, she shepherds her patients through death,  tending to their needs and those of their guardians, relieving animals’ pain so  they can live out their final days surrounded by loved ones, not in the sterile  confines of a veterinary clinic.

Modeled on human hospice, the growing field of pet hospice offers palliative  care to animals in their homes. It ushers in a profound shift in how people care  for dying and elderly pets, providing an option that falls between aggressive  medical intervention and immediate euthanasia.

For pet owners, in-home care gives solace as they make painful  end-of-life decisions.

Jeff  Aoki of Oakland was in Colorado for his father’s funeral when he got a call  that would only deepen his grief. His yellow Labrador, Sunny, had cancer that  had spread throughout her body.

“I was devastated,” Aoki said. “Sunny was my rock, my best friend and  constant companion.”

Aoki and his fiance, Sandy  Wong, arranged for Sunny to receive pet hospice care from Cox. The care,  which included a urinary catheter (a tumor had made it impossible for her to  urinate), gave her a few extra days at home.

Aoki flew home, and for several days the couple showered Sunny with love,  trips to the beach and park – and filet mignon.

When it was time to say goodbye, Cox put her to sleep in their backyard. “It  was a sad, sad time but this made it so much easier,” Aoki said.

Missing plans

Cox – who was a human hospice nurse before becoming a vet – got the  inspiration for her newly launched Bridge  Veterinary Services while working as an ER/critical care vet at Pet  Emergency Treatment and Specialty Referral Center, a Berkeley  animal hospital.

“Working in that setting, I kept seeing nothing about making a plan if a  patient had an incurable disease,” she said. “The choice was between either  being in the hospital to get better or having to euthanize. It seemed like a  disconnect; there had to be a way to offer something in between.”

With almost two-thirds of American households owning pets, it’s not  surprising that attitudes toward animals’ final days have evolved from the rural  past, when they were unceremoniously put down. The overwhelming majority of pet  owners consider their companion animals to be family members, according to a  2011 Harris poll. At the same time, more and more people have witnessed their  loved ones using human hospice.

Extending care

“We’ve decided as a culture to support human passing as compassionately as  we’re able to, with hospice and palliative care,” said Oakland resident Erika  Macs. As a hospital chaplain, she is intimately familiar with end-of-life  issues. “It’s a natural progression that we would extend that to the animals in  our lives that we’re caretakers for.”

When her 17-year-old cat, Mittens, became critically ill last year, Macs  turned to Dr. Anthony  Smith, a Hercules vet whose Rainbow  Bridge Vet Services has offered hospice and home euthanasia for a  dozen years.

“Dr. Smith was able to bring both a medical model and a sense of respectful,  compassionate presence,” Macs said.

“The beauty of human hospice is it gives time to have (final)  conversations,” Macs said. “With pets, it also gives time to say goodbye. The  better the closure, the more quickly a person is able to heal and  move on.”

Medical supervision

Pet hospice must be provided by a veterinarian because it involves medical  assessments and pain medicines. Pet hospice vets coordinate with the animal’s  regular vet. As in human hospice, if pets get better, they can transition back  to regular medical treatment.

The costs pencil out to be more than regular check-ups but much less than  invasive medical intervention. Bridge Veterinary Services, for instance, charges  $250 for an initial appointment that includes a two- or three-hour at-home  assessment and such initial care as inserting IV tubes or catheters.

Read more:

Microchip reunites owner with cat who helped her cope with cancer

Monday, December 24th, 2012

Loni Fitzgerald was reunited with her cat, Clair, after the cat went missing a year ago, thanks to a microchip implanted in the pet. “I wish she could tell me what she’s been through,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m definitely not going to be letting her outside for a very long time.” Fitzgerald was being treated for cancer when she adopted Clair. Experts say it’s essential that microchip contact information be kept up to date. HeraldNet (Everett, Wash.)


Loni Fitzgerald didn’t expect to see her cat ever again.
The female tabby mix named Clair was only a year old when she disappeared last December. Loni, 30, and her husband, Trevor, searched their Everett neighborhood but couldn’t find their beloved pet. Weeks and months went by without any sign of her.
Then came the phone call on Sunday that caught Fitzgerald completely off-guard.
An Everett Animal Shelter staff member had found Clair standing in the rain near Pacific Avenue and Grand Avenue. The cat’s microchip, implanted under its skin, helped the shelter locate Fitzgerald, who at the time was packing to return home from a family trip to Hawaii.
“I was in shock, I seriously started bawling my eyes out,” Fitzgerald said. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
Fitzgerald, her husband and their 1-year-old daughter, Faith Olivia, were reunited with their cat Monday afternoon at the Everett Animal Shelter.
“Look at how big she is,” she said. “She has the same black stripe and that face.”
Clair, nestled safely in Fitzgerald’s arms, leaned into her owner’s touch and briefly closed her eyes. Fitzgerald gave her a couple quick kisses.
She was undergoing treatment for cervical cancer in 2010 when she adopted the young cat, Fitzgerald said. The two quickly became friends.
“She was like my baby,” Fitzgerald said. “I just loved her.”
Her cancer has been in remission for a year, Fitzgerald added. In October, she and her husband decided to get another cat for their daughter to grow up with. They planned to slowly introduce Clair to their new kitten, Boots. He’ll get a microchip in January, Fitzgerald said.
When a stray cat or dog is brought into the Everett Animal Shelter a staff member will scan the animal for a microchip, said Kate Reardon, city spokeswoman. The information on the microchip often helps to locate pet owners. Four of six lost cats with microchips turned in to the Everett Animal Shelter in the past week were reunited with their owners, Reardon added.
“The good news is when the phone call matches the real pet owner,” she said. “It’s always really important that people update their information.”
Fitzgerald said she’s grateful that Clair is healthy after being discovered about seven miles away from her home.
“I wish she could tell me what she’s been through,” she said. “I’m definitely not going to be letting her outside for a very long time.”
Amy Daybert:425-339-3491;

Liz and Angel still making smiles after moving away

Monday, December 24th, 2012

I wanted to give AHF an update on Angel and I since moving from Orange County.  We started as a pet partner team in 2009 with Delta Society/ AHF.  We are still current with AHF and visit through Valley Humane Society in Pleasanton, CA and ARF Pet Hug Pack in Walnut Creek, CA.

We visit the Pleasanton Library for the Paws to Read program and Marilyn Ave Elementary School Library for VHS.

We visit Hope Hospice and the Kaleidoscope After School Program for children with disabilities – Easter Seals in Dublin, CA.

I feel so blessed and honored to be able to represent AHF and bring happiness to children in all of these programs with my beautiful Rhodesian Ridgeback pet partner, Angel.


Liz Stewart

Washington, D.C.’s most powerful dog can be trusted

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s golden retriever, Bravo, has been privy to top-secret information, including the details of the raid that led to the death of Osama bin Laden. Bravo “sat in on almost all of the meetings involving the operations against bin Laden,” Panetta told the National Press Club. The Atlantic Wire



Defense Secretary Leon Panetta owns a golden retriever — code name: Bravo; real name: Bravo — who, besides witnessing first-paw the CIA’s plans to hunt down Osama bin Laden, is way better at keeping secrets than disgraced former CIA chief David Petraeus, reports Bloomberg.

Long known as “the most powerful dog in DC” (as opposed to the most powerful dog in the world, which would be Bo Obama), Bravo was privy to precise details of the Navy SEAL’s 2011 raid in Abbottabad. The auburn-furred dog, Panetta remarked at the National Press Club today, freely darted in and out of offices, including Panetta’s, where the raid was being planned, and “sat in on almost all of the meetings involving the operations against bin Laden.”

Although actual human beings are responsible for leaking the details of Osama bin Laden’s capture and death to the makers of Zero Dark Thirty (which comes out today), blame has never, ever fallen on Bravo’s air-tight muzzle. Panetta: “To this day, [Bravo] hasn’t told a damn soul what happened.”

That’s not just because Bravo can’t speak because Bravo is a dog. Indeed, Bravo is capable of literally sniffing out other leakers.

Speaking of leaks, a touchy subject here at the Pentagon, Panetta joked that Bravo was there to sniff them out.

In fact, Bravo did take a moment to study the shoes of CBS’ esteemed Pentagon reporter David Martin.

Nothing to see, or smell here.