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SF SPCA Endures Major Cuts

This summer, the San Francisco SPCA announced plans to make substantial program cuts, the San Francisco Chronicle reported recently.

The nonprofit animal welfare agency said it would make major reductions in its training and animal adoption programs, scaling them back to the tune of $1.6 million, the Chron reported. While the organization said the cuts were necessary to maintain its focus and reach, another factor may have been the financial burden of turning many independent contractors, particularly dog trainers, into employees with benefits, the newspaper reported.

SF SPCA president Jennifer Scarlett, a veterinarian, said the cost of doing business was a contributor but predated a California supreme court decision on independent contractors as employees as well as legislation (the so-called gig work bill) under consideration. She said the restructuring was part of the nonprofit’s Vision 2030 initiative to improve the health and welfare of animals, including the pets of those who cannot afford basic veterinary services.

The SPCA is closing an adoption center in Pacific Heights, cutting hours at the Maddie’s Pet Adoption Center in the Inner Mission, ending youth and summer camp programs, and stopping puppy socials. Classes for new puppy owners and hard-to-handle or reactive dogs will continue. The organization will continue to receive found dogs and surrendered pets but will stop sheltering dogs from faraway cities.

“We have cried over it. We’ve wrestled with it. And, yeah, I’m nervous because I known how much these classes mean to folks,” Scarlett told the Chron. 

Some private SF Bay Area businesses, including SF Puppy Prep and Prime Paw, are increasing efforts to offer more training classes. 

Courtroom Canine

The Contra Costa County district attorney’s office has a new staff member, Bear, a dog, whose job is to comfort and de-stress crime victims and witnesses, according to the East Bay Times and the San Francisco Chronicle.

The 2-year-old dog, a black Labrador retriever, has undergone $50,000 in training from Canine Companions for Independence and knows about 40 commands, apparently in English and Spanish. 

Contra Costa District Attorney Diana Becton swore in Bear and partner Janet Era, an assistant investigator, in Martinez in August. Bear is the new therapy dog that will soothe children who are survivors of sexual assault or have to testify in court. According to the Courthouse Dogs Foundation, 95 courthouse facility dogs work in 29 states, and California has nine such programs.

Courtroom Canines, II

 On Wednesdays, a Maryland courtroom goes to the dogs, according to the Altoona Mirror in Frederick.

Magistrate Hearing Room 1 is where the Frederick County Courthouse schedules Children in Need of Assistance cases, and these days some therapy pups — Giuseppe, Welton, Zeke, and Zoey — are bringing comfort and smiles to the foster children or neglected kids awaiting proceedings.

The pooches provide emotional support and are friendly, nonjudgmental companions to children facing stressful court hearings or proceedings. The dogs are trained by the nonprofit Go Team Therapy Dogs organization. Their presence, while brief, reportedly has had a positive effect on the kids and courthouse lawyers and staffers.

Blue-Green Algae Alert

Alarming reports have recently surfaced of blue-green algae intoxications in pets, prompting the ASPCA to issue a safety alert. 

Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, thrives in fresh water when the weather is over 75 degrees and sunny, so mostly in summer. These organisms are incredibly toxic and are known to cause poisoning in dogs, cats, livestock, wildlife, birds, fish, and humans. Water containing toxic algae blooms often looks like pea-green paint or appears to have slime on the water surface. With some wind conditions, it concentrate along shorelines where animals may drink or swim.

Dogs can develop poisoning from drinking or swimming in such contaminated water. If blue-green algae is ingested, it can cause severe neurologic or liver damage.

Signs of blue-green algae toxicity include: seizures, panting, excessive drooling, respiratory failure, diarrhea, disorientation, vomiting, and liver failure. It can cause death. If your dog experiences symptoms, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Don’t let your pets drink from or swim in stagnant ponds, lakes, or other bodies of water that have bluish-green scum on the surface or around the edges. Watch for posted signs warning of the problem. If you think your pet has ingested something that could be toxic, immediately call your veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.

An Audience of Dogs

An adorable photo of a group of service dogs sitting in a Canadian theater in August watching a production of Billy Elliot went viral, Fox News reported

The dogs, mostly Poodles and Golden retrievers, sat in four rows watching the stage during the Stratford Festival in Ontario in an exercise for the pups to learn how to help their handlers navigate a theater.

“It’s important to prepare the dogs for any activity the handler may like to attend,” Laura Mackenzie, owner of K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs and the event organizer, told CBC radio. The theater gives us the opportunity to expose the dogs to different stimuli such as lights, loud noises, and movement of varying degrees. The dogs must remain relaxed in tight quarters for an extended period of time.”

 “They were all extremely well-behaved,” Stratford Festival spokesperson Ann Swerdfager told the radio station. “I was in the lobby when they came in, then they took their seats, then got out of their seats at intermission and went back — all of the things we learn as humans when we start going to the theater.”

Swerdfager said cast and audience members were thrilled to see the four-legged attendees. Service dogs are accepted at the theater several times a week 

“All of the dogs were fantastic and remained relaxed throughout the performance. Some even watched through the cracks of the seats,” said Mackenzie. “The dogs loved the show almost as much as their handlers.”

The Cure for Loneliness

 In North America, the number of people aged 65 years or older now outnumbers the number of individuals aged 14 years or less, and many in this older group are living alone —widowed, divorced, married but living separated from their spouse, single. Such people are at risk for loneliness, social isolation, and clinical levels of depression, reported Psychology Today recently.

So which is more likely to cure their loneliness, a dog or cat? 

New research by André Hajek and Hans-Helmut König at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, in Hamburg, Germany, reported individuals who did not own pets and those who owned cats were found to be the most socially isolated, and there also appeared to be no psychological benefit from cat ownership. It also turned out that living with a dog is a good thing: Researchers found that dog ownership provided a significant reduction in the sense of social isolation when compared to those who did not own pets or only had cats. Theses effects were much stronger among women.

ESAs and Service Animals

For your pet to be an “emotional support animal,” or ESA, all you need is a therapist’s letter asserting the animal contributes to your psychological well-being, The Guardian reported

Ryan Honick, 33, whose service Labrador, Pico, helps him with daily tasks, wants people to know the difference between ESAs and service animals. He advocates for Canine Companions for Independence, a not-for-profit group that assists people who require service animals to offset physical disability limitations.

A service dog is a $20,000 super-animal that can smell oncoming seizures or lead the blind, while an ESA is more like a pet that supports well-being. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, only service animals have legal protections and the right to be with their owners in any space. Service animals are highly trained dogs or miniature horses capable of performing specific tasks. Emotional support animals can be any species or breed and need no training.

You are legally only allowed to ask someone with a service animal two questions: “Is that a service animal?” and “What task is it trained to perform?” For business owners wary of incurring a discrimination suit, it’s probably easier to accommodate all assistance animals as the number of ESAs proliferate.  

Heartwarming Tale

In early August, a woma walked into North Carolina’s Asheville Humane Society and adopted the two dogs who had been there the longest and had the greatest special needs, People reported.

The woman took home Sam and Brutus. Sam had extensive medical issues and lived at the shelter for six months after being adopted and returned. Brutus had severe separation anxiety, had been the shelter for fives months, and was surrendered to be euthanized at 13 years old. Now they are living in a new three-story house surrounded by 2 acres of fenced-in yard.

The woman has cared for 40 to 50 senior dogs in her life in an effort to provide older pets comfort as they age. After adopting Sam and Brutus, the woman decided she had room in her home for one more dog. She returned to shelter and adopted a 13-year-old canine, Lily, taking her home from the Asheville Humane Society. All three pets were adjusting well.

Boston Pup Names 

A peek at the Boston’s data on dogs registered in Beantown has some surprising reveals about popular canine names, Boston Magazine reported.

Dating back to 2016, the information includes dogs registered with the city, which numbered 7,325 that year. Here’s the dope: The most popular dog name in Boston is Bella with Lucy a closer runner-up. Other names that popped up often were Fenway, Papi, Wally, Bruins, Tuukkas, Boston, Dunkin, Spencer, Teddy, and Brady.

New Thinking on Spay/Neuter

New research suggests that spaying and neutering dogs — especially in some large breeds when very young — are linked to certain disorders later in life, the Atlantic recently reported.

“Vets are starting to question the wisdom,” Missy Simpson, a veterinary epidemiologist with the Morris Animal Foundation, told the Atlantic. The foundation published a study that found higher rates of obesity and orthopedic injury in fixed Golden Retrievers. Other studies have linked early spaying and neutering to certain cancers, joint disorders, and urinary incontinence. The maladies vary by sex, breed, and living circumstances. 

The thinking has prompted the American Veterinary Medical Association to say in its guide for veterinarians: “There is no single recommendation that would be appropriate for all dogs.”

 Most rescue and shelter organizations or animal welfare groups remain fans of the procedures, saying their benefits — behavioral changes, fewer uterine infections, and a decreased risk of certain cancers — out weigh the other findings. 

“We got pushback,” says Benjamin Hart, a professor emeritus at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. In 2013, a team led by Hart and his wife and collaborator, Lynette Hart, published a study that found higher rates of joint disorders in Golden retrievers spayed or neutered before being 1 year old and of certain cancers in female Golden Retrievers spayed early.

They also looked at Labrador Retrievers and German Shepherds and found an elevated risk of joint disorders but not of cancers after early spaying and neutering. They recently competed another study, on 35 different dog breeds and mixed breeds, but the risks of cancers and joint disorders appeared to vary significantly by breed and sex, and small dogs were generally less affected by early neutering. Hart said when to spay or neuter should be a case-by-case decision.  

About a quarter to a third of pets in the United States are obese. The link between obesity and spaying or neutering is related to hormones. Removing a dog’s testicles or ovaries disrupts its hormonal balance, making it hungrier but slowing its metabolism. 

Main article photo by: Photo by Scott Beckner-Creative Commons