VA-certified service dogs receive unlimited access to veterinary care

service dogsThe U.S. Veteran Service Dog Program and Trupanion will cover 100 percent of veterinary bills for eligible dogs.

Jan 23, 2014
By: Julie Scheidegger

The Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), in conjunction with Trupanion, will launch the U.S. Veteran Service Dog Program Jan. 27. The program will allow U.S. veterans with certified service dogs unlimited access to veterinary care. The program enables Trupanion to pay 100 percent of veterans’ certified service dogs’ veterinary bills.

The VA hopes the program will ease the financial stress veterans experience providing veterinary care for their animals. Trupanion says it’s a “win-win-win” opportunity for dogs, veterans and veterinarians. “Veterans and veterinarians no longer have to worry about the cost of the treatment, giving veterinarians the ability to do what they do best—care for pets,” a Trupanion release states.

A spokesman for Trupanion says execution of the program will be simple: “All veterinarians have to do is send us the bill.” Veterinarians can opt to be paid up front as well.

“Whether it’s a regular veterinary practice or an emergency hospital in the middle of the night—they can call us at any time,” the spokesperson says. “They then just need to e-mail or fax the bill to us and we can pay them directly through Vet Direct Pay, a system that allows them to receive direct payment. They can also request reimbursement. … In that case they send us the bill and let us know how and when they want to be paid. We can even pay them over the phone if they wish as soon as the treatment is over and before the veteran walks out of the building.”

The VA will provide a list of the certified service dogs eligible for the program to Trupanion. Each dog will have a tag with a policy number created by Trupanion similar to the ones current policyholders wear. “All [veterans] have to do is show that to their veterinarian and the veterinarian can rest assured Trupanion will pay the bill,” Trupanion’s spokesperson says.

Veterans who request a service dog and qualify according to a VA evaluation do not pay for the dog or the associated training. For more information on the Veterans Health Administration’s guide and service dog benefits, go to Trupanion has a two-year contract with the VA for the U.S. Veteran Service Dog Program. For more information or if you have questions about the program, call Trupanion at (855) 482-0163.

Man transforms room into feline obstacle course

cat-playgroundWhen his cats grew bored with scratching posts and turned their attention to his furniture and drapes, carpenter Stefan Hofmann created a feline wonderland of bridges and shelves on the walls of a room in his home. “I kept thinking, what would be exciting if I were a cat? Maybe a big risky leap from one shelf to another, or a little cove for them to snuggle into when they get tired,” said Hofmann of the design and building project. Hofmann says the cats are constantly at play in their new obstacle course. Daily News (New York)/Caters News Agency (U.K.)


Zoos team up with pediatric hospitals to connect children with animals

Zoos and aquariums across the U.S. are joining forces with pediatric hospitals to introduce young patients to footage of animals playing, training and being treated by veterinarians and zoo staff. Children watch clips of animals being fed, having their teeth brushed and undergoing treatments such as receiving antibiotics and vitamins. “It is a perfect match, an opportunity for us to bring the zoo to children who can’t come to the zoo because they are in the hospital,” said Rick Schwartz, who hosts the San Diego Zoo Kids show and is also the zoo’s national ambassador. The Miami Herald (tiered subscription model)/The Associated Press (1/29)

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — The sight of an exotic animal can be a welcome distraction, even a temporary antidote, for a sick child. But you can’t simply slap a leash and surgical mask on a rhino and march it through the front door of a hospital for a visit.

That’s why more than 14 accredited zoos and aquariums across the country have teamed up with local pediatric hospitals to beam in footage of sea otters getting their teeth brushed, baby tiger cubs getting belly rubs and pandas munching on bamboo, said Jennifer Fields of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in Baltimore.

For kids with cancer, kidney problems or just a broken leg, temporarily forgetting why they are stuck in a hospital can be a step toward recovery. Videos show animals like sharks, meerkats and gorillas eating, romping or receiving care while educators provide fun facts for kids and maps show the animal’s natural environment. The footage supplements popular show-and-tell sessions where trainers introduce hospitalized kids to smaller — and less ferocious — animals like snakes, anteaters, jellyfish and crabs. But not all children can attend those visits because of germs, surgery or rehab.

Zoos and aquariums from California to New Jersey have established video projects to give every kid a chance to see out-of-the-ordinary wildlife. One of the largest is the month-old San Diego Zoo Kids, which is beamed to every room, waiting area and clinic at Rady Children’s Hospital San Diego.

Tino Pepe, 4, who sat surrounded by stuffed animals on his hospital bed, is a huge fan. He is well-versed in the San Diego Zoo’s exhibits, being a frequent visitor. When Tino and his mom go to the hospital for blood work, they’ll often stop at the zoo afterward as a reward.

Tino was born without kidney function and spent the first half of his life on a dialysis machine. Two years ago, his mom, Yvette, gave him one of her kidneys. This January trip to the hospital was to clear up an infection.

“He will always have stuff to deal with. It’s just part of his life, our lives,” said his dad, John Pepe.

Tino relates to a part of a video featuring a baby orangutan that had open heart surgery. Staffers are following the small ape through its recovery.

Tino, whose favorite animals right now are the rhino and zebra, has learned heaps of facts about animals from his trips to the zoo and bedtime stories with Mom and Dad.

“He’ll remember facts like which continent they live on and what they eat,” John Pepe said. “He knows the difference between an herbivore and a carnivore.”

San Diego Zoo Kids’ four-hour loop running now at Rady Children’s Hospital features footage of the zoo’s panda exhibit and lots of information from Rick Schwartz, the zoo’s national ambassador and show host.

“It is a perfect match, an opportunity for us to bring the zoo to children who can’t come to the zoo because they are in the hospital,” he said.

Schwartz is working on new content, including incorporating archive footage. For years, the zoo has broadcast live Internet streams from cameras trained on the zoo’s panda, elephant, polar bear, ape, condor and koala bear exhibits.

It will take some work to get that footage ready for prime time. “A koala sleeps 20 hours a day,” Schwartz said. “That would be pretty boring to watch.”

The TV network will be offered to every children’s hospital in the country, Dr. Donald B. Kearns, acting president of Rady’s, said during a kickoff news conference in December. The hospital already has two commitments: Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and Sanford Children’s Hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Businessman and philanthropist Denny Sanford donated the money to launch the network.

Another program in California has been underway for a year. The Aquarium of the Pacific and Miller Children’s Hospital in Long Beach have teamed up, and aquarium education director Dave Bader said there are two big benefits. Distraction, interaction and fun comes in first, but the second is selfish, he said.

“We get to feel good by providing something for the patients,” Bader said. “We benefit from this interaction, too.”

The aquarium show airs in each hospital room every other Tuesday afternoon.

Children can watch as veterinarians at Molina Animal Health Center weigh animals or give them vitamins or antibiotics, Bader said.

He says the questions he gets at show-and-tells prove the animals are helping the kids forget their sicknesses for a bit.

After seeing that sea otters get their teeth brushed at the aquarium, one child asked Bader about the penguins. No teeth, no problem, he said.

Schwartz also sees quizzical kids momentarily engrossed in the animal world. He was showing a boa constrictor to a group of young patients when a little girl asked, “Do snakes yawn?”

“To this day, hands down, no question about it, that was the best question I ever got, and the only time I ever got it,” he said.

And, yes, snakes do yawn.

Read more here:




Snowy owl treated after bus injury in D.C.

snowy owlA snowy owl that has been spotted lately around Washington, D.C., is recovering after being hit by a bus. National Zoo veterinarians examined the bird, and it is not believed to have head trauma. The owl had a broken toe, and officials have tested whether it was exposed to rat poison. The bird was treated with antibiotics, fluids and pain medication and is recuperating at the City Wildlife and Rehabilitation Center. WRC-TV (Washington, D.C.) (1/30), National Journal (1/30)

A snowy owl that has captivated D.C. this winter was apparently met with an all-too-urban mishap: It is being treated for injuries sustained from being hit by a bus.

The owl was reportedly injured by the bus in the vicinity of 15th and I streets. It was found by Metropolitan police, who reported the owl’s injury to the National Zoological Police.

The owl was taken to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo earlier today for treatment. It’s now in the care of the City Wildlife and Rehabilitation Center, which announced late Thursday night the owl is in stable condition.

A zoo press release described the owl’s initial condition as “responsive but subdued.” Though there were no obvious physical injuries on the bird, a further examination found blood in her mouth, a symptom consistent with head trauma.

Abby Hehmeyer, a city wildlife biologist, said the Zoo will give the owl X-rays in order to check for any missed injuries.

“Our team made sure the bird was comfortable and in a quiet atmosphere while waiting for it to be picked up by City Wildlife for rehabilitation,” zoo officials said in the press release.

City Wildlife plans to release her back into the wild as soon as possible, as per standard protocol.

Zoo veterinarians determined the owl was a female based on its size and color (female snowy owls tend to be a little larger and darker than males).

The owl has become a minor D.C. celebrity, even spawning her own Twitter account, @DCSnowyOwl. She currently has 480 followers and has been tweeting throughout the real owl’s ordeal.

Snowy owls are generally found much farther north than D.C., ranging from the Arctic tundra to parts of Canada, Alaska and Eurasia. But the birds sometimes find their ways as far south as Texas and Georgia.


Service dog recovering after surgery; veteran anxiously awaiting her return

CTService dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and one pint-sized Chihuahua mix is deeply missed by her owner as she convalesces at Integrative Pet Care in Homer Glen, Ill., after back surgery. The dog, named Belle, developed a spinal disc extrusion that left her hind legs paralyzed on Thanksgiving, but she is slowly regaining the use of her legs after surgery. Her owner, Vietnam veteran Gary Jordan, says he misses Belle and hopes to have her home soon because she comforts him and helps him relate better to people. Chicago Tribune (tiered subscription model)

By Taylor W. Anderson, Chicago Tribune reporterJanuary 15, 2014

Vietnam veteran Gary Jordan is missing one of his most important troops: she’s a 3-year-old Chihuahua mix named Belle who’s trained to help him deal with his severe post-traumatic stress disorder.

The 69-year-old is coping while Belle — a service dog trained through a Chicago non-profit that since 2010 has paired dogs with vets with post-traumatic stress disorder and other combat-related brain injuries — rehabilitates from a spine injury that paralyzed her on Thanksgiving Day.

“How am I doing without her? Not well,” Jordan said. “Because she’s my service dog, and we’ve been with each other since February.”

Jordan has been driving several times a week from his apartment in Markham to Integrative Pet Care in Homer Glen to see Belle, who is learning to use her back legs again at the clinic after surgery. Typically, the two spend every moment of every day together.

Jordan and Belle are a team put together by War Dogs Making It Home, a charity that rescues dogs from animal shelters and matches them with veterans who need help.

“We save two lives at a time: one dog and one veteran,” said Eva Braverman, the agency’s president.

The dogs are trained to sense when its owner is stressed and comfort them.

Braverman said Jordan called her on Thanksgiving when she was cooking dinner for her family to tell her Belle wasn’t well. One of the dog’s spinal discs was extruding, and she became paralyzed. “I literally put $4,000 on two different credit cards to pay for the surgery,” she said.

Jordan is one of about 25 teams in the War Dogs program, where veterans bring their companions for training twice weekly for the first year and once a week the second. Veterans in the program have served in almost every major foreign combat since Vietnam, Braverman said. She said about half of the owners are Vietnam veterans.

The dogs learn the behavior of their veterans, moving into action when vets show signs of anger or stress. “I have to tell her, ‘Belle, I’m all right,'” Jordan said. “If it doesn’t look like it to her, she’ll just stay there (in my arms). She don’t leave.”

Dr. Amber Ihrke works at Integrative Pet Care in Homer Glen, where Belle has been resting after her surgery. The site, which opened in 2013, is the third in the group, which also has locations in Chicago and Hanover Park.

“In three weeks, she’s gone from essentially paralyzed to walking around the room,” Ihrke said as Belle tried to stand on her hind legs in an IPC room in Homer Glen.

Jordan chokes back tears while getting ready to see Belle again. Doctors say they want Belle to get back to Jordan’s home so the two can help each other, but she still has a ways to go before being able to jump into Jordan’s arms.

“She helps me stay calm where I can actually deal with people better,” Jordan said. “It just helps me be more grounded.”

Integrative Pet Care is hosting an open house Feb. 8 to showcase the new partnership with War Dogs. | Twitter: @TaylorWAnderson

Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC

Angel Fund Helps Save Sheba, ‘Best Friend’ of MS Patient

SHEBA 1.2014In December, 2012, Linda Leek was grooming her “best friend,” Sheba, a beautiful white and gray cat with streaks of brown, when she found a lump.

”When I touched it she would kind of flinch,” Linda said. “Every time I would touch her in that area she would not bite me but put her mouth on me like ‘if you do it I will bite you’ – a warning sign.”

Linda took Sheba to Beverly Virgil Animal Hospital, which is not far from her apartment in Los Angeles’ Koreatown.  Dr. Seong K. Kim examined Sheba and determined that she needed surgery. He performed the operation and spayed Sheba. Sheba was in the hospital two days. “He just took really good care of her,” Linda said. “The surgery had to be done. I found out later that the tumor was malignant.”

Linda, who has multiple sclerosis, lives on Social Security disability benefits and has little extra money to spend. A friend paid the cost of the initial office visit and Angel Fund and the hospital took care of the rest. Linda is grateful for the help she received.

Since her surgery, Sheba has resumed her role as Linda’s best friend.  The two expect to have many more years together. “She has her good days and her bad days,” Linda said, “just like me.” A couple of months ago, Sheba added another member to the household.

“Somebody in the building threw a kitten out in the street outside our apartment and Sheba went out and brought it in,”Linda said. “It was really surprising because it’s just been me and her for 12 years. And she didn’t allow other cats around. She went out and rescued that kitten and I’m like, ‘well o.k., I guess we have another cat.’”

The black and white kitten looks like Figaro, the kitten from Pinochio, and that is what Linda named him.



Glaucoma: A rapid, painful condition for pets

Glaucoma, a condition in which the fluid within in the eye doesn’t drain properly, leads to painful pressure within the eye and can cause blindness within hours without treatment, according to veterinary ophthalmologists Paul Scherlie and Susan Kirschner. Symptoms in pets usually include signs of eye pain, such as rubbing the eye or exposure of the usually hidden third eyelid. Treatment varies and may not always be able to save the dog’s vision. The Oregonian (Portland)

One night in November of 2012, Silverton residents Shelly Brown and longtime partner Jim Sears noticed their German shorthaired pointer, Greta, acting strangely.

Greta was accustomed to staying in her kennel at night, but on this particular evening she kept scratching repeatedly to get out, which was very unlike her.

“She was acting really disoriented and confused, like she didn’t know where she was,” Brown says.

Then Brown noticed that a membrane in the inner corner of Greta’s eye, known as the “third eyelid,” was extended over her eyeball.

Brown and Sears took Greta to Dr. Paul Scherlie, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist at VCA Northwest Veterinary Specialists in Clackamas, who treated Greta for glaucoma.

What is glaucoma?

Fluid inside the eye, called the aqueous humor, typically flows through the pupil and drains through a sieve-like network located where the cornea and iris meet. In a healthy eye, the fluid is produced and drains at the same rate, creating a stable pressure.

Glaucoma occurs when the fluid cannot drain properly, causing pressure to build up and damaging the sensitive optic nerve.

In humans, glaucoma is a slow, progressive condition that can be caught with regular screenings. January happens to be National Glaucoma Awareness Month, established by a group of eye health organizations to promote more awareness of the disease.

For canines, the condition can come on suddenly and cause blindness within hours.

The rapid pressure change is extremely painful, resembling an intense sinus pressure or throbbing pain, says Dr. Susan Kirschner, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist at Animal Eye Doctor in Beaverton.

There aren’t many ways to screen for or prevent the disease in dogs.

Some are more genetically prone to the condition, including American cocker spaniels, Basset hounds, Chow Chows and Siberian huskies. Locally, Scherlie has also seen it in Labradors.

The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals offers a database of animals certified to be free of any signs of ophthalmic disease that might be genetic.

Secondary glaucoma can be caused by disease or trauma, such as cancer in the eye or inflammation due to uveitis or cataracts.

Cats typically get this kind of glaucoma, usually a result of uveitis.

Symptoms of glaucoma

The most common sign that something is wrong with your dog’s eye is what’s called an elevated third eyelid.

“It almost looks like the eye is rolling up and out,” Kirschner says. “It’s not; it’s an optical illusion, but it’s almost always a sign of pain in the eye.”

The dog’s third eyelid, also known as the nictitating membrane, is a thin piece of tissue that acts as “windshield wiper” across the cornea. It’s usually not visible, but when the eye is irritated from glaucoma or a corneal ulcer, it may become elevated and cover the eye.

This is likely what Brown saw when she noticed something was wrong with Greta.

Dogs may also squint or paw at their eye, or the eyeball may become enlarged and bulge forward.


If Fido gets glaucoma in one eye, it’s only a matter of time before it develops in the other eye.

There is an eye drop that can help delay onset in the healthy eye for up to two years, but your pet will develop glaucoma eventually.

There are lots of treatment options, although Scherlie’s preferred method is simply to remove the eye and stitch the skin shut.

“The benefit to that is immediate pain relief, the stitches are out in seven to 10 days, and there’s no eye to have any future problems,” he says.

For older dogs like Greta, who aren’t good candidates for surgery, there’s the option of injecting an antibiotic into the eye. This procedure kills off the cells producing excess fluid.

Another technique is removing the eye and putting in a silicone implant to keep the eye’s shape, but the dog can still contract other diseases that affect the surface of the eye.

Helping pets adjust

Dogs that have lost most or all of their vision adjust pretty quickly, but there are some adjustments you can make at home that can help.

Stairs, decks and swimming pools pose the biggest threats for dogs that have recently lost their vision.

One thing you can do is put duct tape at the edge of a ledge, such as the bottom stair.

“It can be helpful to have some kind of sensory clue to let them know they reached the edge,” Kirschner says, “so when the dog touches that, it knows there’s a transition.”

Hillsboro resident Heather Blackwell’s Chihuahua, Teddy Bear, had his left eye removed at the Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter because of glaucoma.

Teddy Bear lost an eye to glaucoma, but he doesn’t let that stop him.Bonnie L. Hays Small Animal Shelter

Blackwell has done a few things to help him adjust, such as leaving a nightlight on to make sure he doesn’t tumble down the stairs at night.

“He’s very athletic, but his depth perception is not so great,” she says.

When he approaches the sliding glass door to go outside, Blackwell puts a sticker on the glass when it’s closed so he doesn’t run into it.

Like many blind dogs, Teddy Bear doesn’t seem to notice that he’s missing an eye.

He’s very friendly – Blackwell says he “doesn’t know a stranger” – and since people are often curious about him, he’s become sort of an advocate for blind dogs.

“He’s just a little clown,” Blackwell says. “You wouldn’t know anything is wrong with him.”

Tips Box: How to help a blind pet adjust

  • Don’t treat your pet differently once it’s lost vision
  • Make sure to seal off decks, banisters, swimming pools or anything else a pet can slide through or fall down.
  • Don’t let your dog get bored. Blind dogs still want to have fun, and they no longer have the option of watching “dog TV” by gazing out the window at squirrels and passersby.
  • Dogs can memorize the layout of your home, yard and daily walk, but make sure to take them on the same route every day so they can become confident.
  • For walks, try passing a thin leash through a short length of PVC pipe. This creates a stiff leash that can help you keep your pet from running into trees or lampposts.
  • Don’t hesitate to use more verbal cues. Dogs can learn up to 200 or 300 words, so you can use language to help them navigate where to step.

–Sources: Dr. Susan Kirschner; Dr. Paul Scherlie


Cataracts occur when the lens becomes cloudy and the pupil appears white or gray. They can be caused by aging, as well as trauma or diseases like diabetes.

When severe, cataracts can generate inflammation that can lead to glaucoma. About 80 percent of untreated cataracts develop glaucoma, retinal detachment or luxated lens. These conditions usually only occur as a result of untreated cataract-associated inflammation.

Cataracts can be removed with surgery; about 90 percent of dogs that undergo cataract surgery can return to good vision.

Owners may notice gradual signs that their pet has cataracts, such as a dog having trouble seeing its ball, says Dr. Susan Kirschner, a board-certified veterinary ophthalmologist at Animal Eye Doctor in Beaverton.

Elizabeth Olson of Rabbit Advocates discovered that her bunny, Amelia, had cataracts after noticing the animal’s eyes looked more pearly pink as opposed to their normal red color.

Olson and her husband are trying to modify Amelia’s so she doesn’t bump into things as often, and devise ways to keep her busy, such as building cardboard tunnels and putting treats at the end.

“So far, it has probably been more difficult for us to watch then for her to experience,” she says.


AHF Walk a Hound, Lose a Pound – March 30, 2014 – JOIN US

Walk FlyerREGISTER for the Animal Health Foundation walk at the Irvine Regional Park in Orange, CA and enjoy vendors, disc dog demos, agility demos, silent auction, raffle prizes, goody bags and more!

All funds raised will help the AHF improve the health and welfare of pets through our veterinary care assistance, disaster relief, pet partner and wildlife in need programs!

Go to to register and for information

Thanks to our sponsors: 

Frontline Plus         VPI Pet Insurance           VCA All-Care

Red Cross and Penn veterinary school develop pet first aid app

Animal Health AppUniversity of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine veterinarian Deborah C. Mandell collaborated with the Red Cross to create a first aid application for pet owners to use during animal health emergencies. Dr. Mandell has written books on animal medical emergencies but says the app includes just the right amount of information for owners during an emergency. The app, available for 99 cents, separates cat and dog information, and it also helps owners find the nearest veterinarian or pet-friendly hotel.
By Robert Moran, Philadelphia Inquirer Staff Writer

Is your cat breathing normally?

There’s an app for that – for knowing what’s normal, that is.

Is your dog not breathing?

Hopefully you will have watched the dog CPR video on the American Red Cross’ new mobile app called “Pet First Aid.”

The app, available for 99 cents on Apple and Android mobile devices, went on sale in December, but the Red Cross launched its awareness campaign on Thursday in Philadelphia.

The Philly connection comes from the humanitarian agency’s collaboration with University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine.

Since 2006, Deborah C. Mandell, a staff veterinarian and adjunct associate professor at the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, has served as a pet care advisor to the Red Cross, writing separate books on first aid for cats and dogs, and developing Red Cross instructional courses for pet owners around the country.

Mandell said the app gives users information “right at your fingertips when you need it,” such as knowing “what’s normal so they can know what’s abnormal much sooner.”

For anybody who wants in-depth information about pet first aid, however, “the app is certainly not a replacement for our first aid books,” Mandell said.

Several pet first aid apps have been available since 2009, when Jive Media launched an app.

Red Cross officials said its organization’s reputation, and its association with Penn Vet, should be an advantage in the marketplace.

Unlike the Jive Media app, which costs $3.99 and hasn’t been updated since 2010, the Red Cross app separates information about cats and dogs

“You could look at it as two apps in one,” said Paul Munn, who helped develop the app for the Red Cross.

The app also uses GPS to locate the nearest veterinary hospital or pet-friendly hotel during emergencies.

Users can enter information about their pets that can be stored in app and emailed to a veterinarian ahead of a visit.

There also are quizzes to test if users remember what they’ve learned.

“They’ve done an excellent job,” said Mary Kury, a certified veterinary technician supervisor at the Quakertown Veterinary Clinic, who downloaded the app this week.

“They went through the most common emergencies we see on a daily basis,” Kury said.

She also praised the app for providing “enough information without giving too much information,” so a pet owner is not overwhelmed or confused.

The Red Cross has been offering apps since June 2012, when it launched its first aid app for humans, and has tallied 3.9 million downloads for all its mobile apps.

They also have been offered for free.

Don Lauritzen, a Red Cross spokesman in Washington, said the pet app was a bit outside the main mission of the organization.

The Red Cross decided users would feel that 99 cents is worth the cost for the specialized information and peace of mind, Lauritzen said.