March/April 2014 |$3.00
Adopting older dogs has its challenges â€” and rewards
Old dogs, new pics
Senior dogs portrait gallery
Doggy Destination dogsunleashedmag.com Vol.2, No.4
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Animal Clinic Caring for your pets is what we do best! 4011 Remembrance Road, Walker, MI 49535 • (616) 453-7422 • Kelleysanimalclinic.com • 2 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
Kelley’s Animal Clinic
Subscribe Publisher: Pet Supplies Plus U.S.R. Services 18000 Cove St., Suite 201 Spring Lake, MI 49456 Editor: Mary Ullmer dogsunleashedmag.com Creative Director: Kevin Kyser kyserdesignwerks.com Dogs Unleashed is a bi-monthly magazine especially for dog lovers. It is available at Pet Supplies Plus stores in west Michigan; Dallas/Fort Worth; Birmingham and Mobile, Ala., and Appleton, Wis. It also can be purchased via mail-order subscription. To advertise in Dogs Unleashed, contact Mary Ullmer at: email@example.com All material published in Dogs Unleashed is copyrighted © 2013 by Dogs Unleashed. All rights reserved. Reproduction of material presented in Dogs Unleashed is prohibited without written permission. Contents are for entertainment only. Publisher assumes no responsibility for the accuracy, safety, or performance of the information or products presented. The opinions presented are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or judgment of the publisher or advertisers. Send photos, questions or comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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dogsunleashedmag.com Vol.2, No.2
Also available at your local
6 Canine Calendar 8 Fetch! 10 Paws-Abililty 11 Veterinary Vibe 13 The Groom Room 15 Good Grief 16 The Doctor is In 19 Senior Portraits 31 Feature Story: Senior Dogs 35 Feature Story: A Cut Above 38 Destination: Vermont 42 The Tail End
on the cover
photo by jennifer waters
We fell in love with ALL the dogs who showed up for our mini portrait session from Grumpy Pups Pet Photography and Dogs Unleashed. Whiskers University kindly loaned out space for us to photograph 27 dogs who braved the bitter cold weather, including our cover dog, Riley. To see our special gallery, turn to page 19.
March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 3
contributors Writers: Judith DeCosta (Getting Personal),Susan Harrison-Wolfiss (A Whole Lot of Gray, The Tail End), Dr. Donna L. Harris (Veterinary Vibe), Candilynn and Michael Lockhart (Doggy Destination: Vermont), Ginny Mikita (Good Grief), Linda Odette (Fetch), Ron Rop (From Pet Supplies Plus), Kristie Swan (Paws-abililty), Dr. Shane Thellman (The Doctor is In), Melissa VerPlank (The Groom Room), Tricia Woolfenden (A Perfect Fit). Photographers: Katy Batdorff (A Perfect Fit), Candilynn and Michael Lockhart (Doggy Destination: Vermont) Cartoonist: Jonny Hawkins Copy editors: Linda Odette, Amy SnowBuckner
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who we are Mary Ullmer (Editor), is a former manager, editor, reporter and blogger who previously worked for the Grand Rapids Press, Chicago Tribune, South Florida Sun-Sentinel, Springfield NewsLeader and Muskegon Chronicle. Email her at email@example.com Kevin Kyser (Creative Director), owns Kyser Design Werks, (ad on p. 34) a full-service branding and marketing firm. Kevin and his wife Jody have four children: Courtney, Cameron, Collin and Caden. They also have three cats and a 150-pound Lab/Rottweiler/ Newfoundland mix named Gus. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jennifer Waters (Photographer), is a professional pet photographer at Grumpy Pups Pet Photography, (ad on p. 29) She also is a freelance writer and volunteer photographer at Harbor Humane Society. She credits her three boxers — the original “grumpy pups” — for her love of working with animals. View her work at grumpypups.com or contact Jennifer at email@example.com.
MARCH 29 & 30
MARCH 29 & 30
. 2500 Turner Ave. Nw . Grand Rapids
For Vendor Information Contact Us At
@ Deltaplex 2500 Turner Ave. Nw facebook.com/thepetexpo
. Grand Rapids
For Vendor Information Contact Us At facebook.com/thepetexpo
4 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
from pet supplies plus
photo by jennifer waters
Pay attention to special needs of senior dogs By Ron Rop
It should come as no surprise that senior dogs have different needs than puppies. So much so that Erin Webster, a pet expert at Pet Supplies Plus in Plano, Texas, says 20 percent of her time with customers is spent dealing with the unique issues of senior dogs. Some dog breeds age faster than others. Giant breed dogs can show signs of aging as early as 5, while a smaller breed may not show those same signs until they are closer to 10. There is no standard for which certain breeds are considered senior dogs. Nutrition, genetics and a dog’s environment all are contributing factors to how a dog ages. “A Great Dane can be as early as 5, but a Chihuahua is a senior later, like at age 9, 10 or 11,” Webster said. “We do see a good amount of senior dogs (in our store). Not as many as puppies, but we do have a lot of senior dogs come in with their owner.” Most owners of older dogs seek recommendations regarding joint health, weight, dental health and issues with an aging dog’s coat, Webster said. She discussed each issue further. Joints: This, by far, is the most popular concern for senior dogs. Arthritis and other degenerative diseases can cause an older dog to slow down. If you see your dog is reluctant
to do some of the things he used to do (run, walk long distances, climb stairs and even get out of bed), you might be seeing the start of senior dog symptoms. “There are definitely glucosamine supplements and some fish oil supplements for the joints,” Webster said. Glucosamine can be delivered in biscuits, pills, chews and even by sprinkling it on a dog’s food. Webster said chewable pills are the most popular because they are easiest to deliver to your pet. However, sprinkling the supplement and even the dog chews are effective. Weight: Just like people, dogs can become couch potatoes as they get older. And if your older dog is carrying too much weight, it can lead to serious joint issues. “We want our dogs at the correct weight as the dog ages,” Webster said. “The calories need to decline, and feeding that animal at age 4 or 5 is not the same as when they are 8 or 10.” Dog foods that contain 20 percent fewer calories are a good place to start, she said. Older dogs should be served a high-quality diet. Dental health: “Make sure you keep up with the dental,” Webster said. “The first thing is the bacteria on the teeth. And make sure they are free of plaque.” Regular tooth brushing is a must, but
you also might want to consider a water additive. If proper care isn’t given to dogs, tooth loss can be a serious matter by the time your dog reaches its senior years. Dental disease is very painful and causes dogs to have difficulty eating. That leads to unwanted weight loss and causes issues with the coat. Coat: As a dog ages, its coat can lose its shine and become brittle. In addition, the dog’s skin can become flaky. “Just like people, our skin dries out faster as we age,” Webster said. Salmon oil can help restore essential oils to the dog’s skin, and shampoos, conditioners and detangling sprays can help as well. Nails and paws: An older dog is a slower dog. “Keep the nails trimmed up because they are not walking as much,” Webster said. “You don’t want those nails growing too long or growing into the pad.” Webster suggests owners of older dogs rely on the expert advice available at Pet Supplies Plus but also urges owners to schedule appointments with their pet’s veterinarian on a regular basis. “They just need more overall general care,” Webster said. “Visit your vet … they are older dogs and they need to be seen more frequently.” March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 5
CANINE CALENDAR n MICHIGAN
estate plan. Pre-register by contacting Jen Self-Aulgur (616) 791-8066 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Paws 2 Remember, 7 p.m., Scolnik Healing Center, 888 Terrace St., Muskegon. Pet loss grief support group presented by Clock Timeless Pets. Free. For information, call (231) 722-3721 or (616) 844-4200. Also April 21.
Companion Animal Grief Support, 6-7 p.m., Humane Society of West Michigan, 3077 Wilson Drive NW, Grand Rapids. Group sessions offer a safe, confidential, structured environment. Please pre-register by noon on the day of the meetings with facilitator Ginny Mikita (616) 460-0373 or Jen SelfAulgur (616) 791-8066 or jaulgur@ hswestmi.org. Also April 15.
Teen Series: Pet Sitting 101, 9:30-11:30 a.m., Humane Society of West Michigan, 3077 Wilson Drive NW, Grand Rapids. Teens 13-17 are invited to attend the second seminar in the three-part series. Learn how to provide outstanding pet-sitting services as well as basic first aid for animals, personal safety and more. Class size is limited. Cost is $15. To register, contact Jen Self-Aulgur (616) 791-8066 or email@example.com. Baby Ready Pets, noon-2 p.m., Humane Society of West Michigan, 3077 Wilson Drive NW, Grand Rapids. A workshop to help prepare your pet for the arrival of your bundle of joy. Contact Jen Self-Aulgur (616) 791-8066 or jaulgur@hswestmi. org.
Paws 2 Remember, 6 p.m., Hospice of North Ottawa, 1061 S. Beacon, Suite 100, Grand Haven. Pet loss grief support group presented by Clock Timeless Pets. Free. For information, call (231) 7223721 or (616) 844-4200. Also April 1.
Furry Friday Films, 5:309:30 p.m., Humane Society of West Michigan, 3077 Wilson Drive NW, Grand Rapids. Kids in grades K-5 are invited to join HSWM for animal time, games, crafts and an animal movie. Pizza, pop and popcorn provided. Cost is $25 per child with a $10 sibling discount. Contact Jen SelfAulgur (616) 791-8066 or jaulgur@ hswestmi.org.
Toddler Tails, 10-10:45 a.m., Humane Society of West Michigan, 3077 Wilson Drive NW, Grand Rapids. Designed for ages 2-4 and includes stories, activities, crafts and animal interactions. Cost is $5 per family. Contact Jen Self-Aulgur (616) 7918066 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also April 8.
Paws, Claws & Corks, 6 p.m., Steelcase Ballroom at DeVos Place. The extravagant event, a fund-raiser for Humane Society of West Michigan, will feature the hottest restaurants, breweries and wineries in West Michigan. Silent and live auction items include adventures, trips, wine, sports memorabilia and more. Cost is $100 per person ($50 is tax deductible), $1,000 for corporate tables (seats 10). Contact Tammy Hagedorn (616) 7918138 or email@example.com.
Companion Animal End of Life Seminar: Exploring hospice, euthanasia and grief, 10 a.m.- noon, Humane Society of West Michigan, 3077 Wilson Drive NW, Grand Rapids. Topics include in-home caregiving for ill companion animals, palliative care when the focus has shifted from cure to comfort, remembering your beloved companion and post-death options, grief before and after the death of a beloved furry friend, and making sure your wishes for your pet are outlined in your
6 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
Frosty Dog Follies, 10:15 a.m., Well Mannered Dog Center, 5949 Clay Ave. SW, Grand Rapids. Humans and canines are paired up in freestyle dancing competition, featuring teams from Michigan and other Great Lakes states. Free to the public.
What: Pet-related vendors, animalrelated entertainment, informative seminars, adoptions area and more for the ninth annual event, sponsored by Pet Supplies Plus. When: March 29-30 Where: The DeltaPlex Arena and Conference Center, 2500 Turner NW, Grand Rapids Hours: Saturday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Admission: $10 for adults, $5 for children 5-12 and free for children ages 4 and under. Save $2 per ticket by showing your Pet Supplies â€œPlusâ€? Preferred Pet Club card, available free at any of the six Pet Supplies Plus locations in West Michigan. Purchase tickets at the door or in advance at the DeltaPlex box office.
Spring Break Mini Camp, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m., Humane Society of West Michigan, 3077 Wilson Drive NW, Grand Rapids. Three days of animal fun for kids in grades K-5. Cost is $50 and includes T-shirt. Contact Jen SelfAulgur (616) 791-8066 or jaulgur@ hswestmi.org.
AKC Dog Show, Shelby County Exhibition Center, 1 Argo Road, Columbiana. Entrants must be registered by March 19. Call (405) 427-8181 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Event listings Submit canine-related events, including date, location, time, cost and a brief description to: info@ dogsunleashedmag.com. Send items at least 30 days before publication date.
Mardi Gras Dog Parade and Festival, 12:30-4 p.m., Mitchell Park, 300 W. Louisiana St., McKinney. Owners and their canine companions dress according to the theme each year. Children may enter “Barkus Goes Back in Time” floats and join in the parade. For information, call (972) 547-2660.
Woofstock, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., Royse City High School, 700 Fm 2642 Road, Royse City. The 5K “Mutt Strut” race begins at 8 a.m. at City Park and the festival begins at 9 a.m. at the football stadium parking lot. Features games, live music, food and craft vendors and demonstrations. Email melanie@ woofstocktexas.org.
Deep Ellum Arts Festival Pet Parade, 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Main Street between Good Latimer and Hall Street, Dallas. Hundreds of pet owners will be taking their best friends on a promenade down Main. Register at Bark Park starting at 11 a.m.; parade begins at noon. For a $10 donation, payable by cash or check only, receive one Bark Park T-shirt and a goody bag. Call (214) 747-3337 or email cecelia@ deepellumfoundation.org.
Prosper Pooch Party, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., American Bank of Texas, 100 N. Preston Road, Prosper. Free event features more than 30 vendors with pet-related items, a fun photo shoot for you and your pooch and 10 contest categories. Donations of dog food are encouraged and can be dropped off at the event’s Donation Station (for a free T-shirt while supplies last). Call (800) 567-1817 or email carinne.brewer@ abtexas.com.
Adoptapalooza, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m., Fox Valley Humane Association, N115 Two Mile Road, Appleton. All are invited to take advantage of great adoption discounts and enjoy snacks, fun activities and more. Call (920) 733-1717 or visit www.foxvalleypets.org.
Easter Egg Hunt, 1-3 p.m., Fox Valley Humane Association, N115 Two Mile Road, Appleton. Dogs and their families are invited to search for treatfilled eggs. Goodies are available for both people and pets. Call (920) 7331717 or visit www.foxvalleypets.org.
Shelter Open House, 4-7 p.m., Fox Valley Humane Association, N115 Two Mile Road, Appleton. FVHA invites the community to learn more about the shelter, programs, opportunities and pets. Call (920) 733-1717 or visit www.foxvalleypets.org.
March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 7
PRODUCTS FOR YOUR POOCH
What it is: Dogs need jerseys on game day, too. You can get one for pooches who are Detroit Tigers, Lions and Red Wings fans as well as those who cheer for Michigan State and University of Michigan. Heck, you can find items for about every team in every sport. But wait, there’s more: You can get nice leashes and collars with your favorite team’s logo if you think the jersey is going overboard. Fetch it: We found them at Legends, a store at Woodland Mall in Grand Rapids, Mich. Prices vary from $14.99 for collars and leashes to $24.99 for dog jerseys. For those rooting for teams outside of Michigan, check out fanimalhouse.com for licensed apparel and other goodies.
Make Me a Batch of Biscuits, pronto
What it is: Have fun whipping up a batch of dog biscuits with this electric dog biscuit treat maker kit. But wait, there’s more: It comes with six biscuit cutters in the shapes of a bone, fire hydrant, dog, dog house and cat, and makes 10 to 15 treats at a time. Fetch it: We found them on clearance at Bed Bath & Beyond for $8.99. If they’re out of stock there, search for them on amazon.com.
Adorable, just adorable
What it is: We fell in love with these cuddly stuffed life-size dogs when we saw them. The soft and cozy creatures would make great gifts. But wait, there’s more: Numerous breeds are available, including Jack Russell Terrier, Boston Terrier, Shih Tzu, Bichon Frise, English Bulldog, Pug, Huskie, black and yellow Labs, Rottweiler, Poodle, Dalmatian, German Shepherd, Border Collie, Dachshund and more. Fetch it: Find them at The Toy Shelf in Grand Rapids’ Woodland Mall or at melissaanddoug.com.
8 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
What it is: Ditch that cabin fever from this ridiculously long, cold winter with a good dog book. • The Second Chance Dog: A Love Story by Jon Katz. This best-selling author of dog books and more tells how he became friends with a Rottweiler/shepherd who had lived in the wild. It’s a love story that will teach you a thing or two. • Welcome Home Mama and Boris: How a Sister’s Love Saved a Fallen Soldier’s Beloved Dogs by Carey Neesley. A sister (from Grosse Pointe, Mich.) whose brother dies in Iraq, where he had befriended a dog and her puppies, gets two of the dogs back to the U.S. and starts helping other soldiers do the same. • Weekends with Daisy by Sharron Kahn Luttrell tells the story of a woman who raises a service dog after her own dies. It’s a book that gives lessons about family, letting go and how dogs make us better people. But wait, there’s more: All of these books have received excellent reviews. Fetch it: Find them at your local bookstore or online.
Life and Dogs are Good
What it is: Life is Good products, which feature a crudely drawn, very fun character named Jake and his dog, Rocket. But wait, there’s more: In addition to T-shirts, hats and mugs, they make dog toys, coffee mugs, baby clothing and stationery that feature the happy pair. Two brothers started the company and were ready to quit until they started making Jake and Rocket items, which rocketed them to fame and fortune. Fetch it: Find them at lifeisgood.com.
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Mind games can enrich your senior dog’s life The idea that it’s impossible to teach an old dog new tricks has been around since the 1500s. The earliest known reference is in John Fitzherbert’s book on husbandry from 1534. He stated that if the dog hadn’t learned a behavior as a very small puppy there was little to no chance of them learning later on. Anyone who has adopted an older dog can tell you this is rubbish! Researchers set out to determine the cognitive abilities of aging dogs and found Fitzherbert’s assumption to be inaccurate. Nine researchers from around the world collaborated on the 2004 study, which spanned two years. What they found is that behavioral enrichment, combined with antioxidant supplementation, enhanced learning in older dogs. In other words, “use it or lose it” applies to canine learning abilities. Baseline testing was used to select four groups of cognitively equivalent dogs. One group of dogs received standard food and no behavior enrichment. A second group received standard food and behavior enrichment exercises. The third group received enhanced food but no behavior enrichment, and the final group received enhanced food and behavior enrichment exercises. At 1 and 2 years, the dogs receiving antioxidant enhanced food and behavior enrichment showed more accurate learning than the other groups. Discrimination learning (they used size variants) was significantly more accurate in the group with standard food and behavior enrichment. Reversal learning was improved by both behavioral enrichment and antioxidant fortification. To sum it up, without behavior enrichment, learning remained stagnate. Behavior enrichment is necessary to 10 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
keep a dog mentally fit. Discrimination learning was done with size and color and then reversed. For instance, a black ball and a white ball were presented at the same time. The dog was rewarded for choosing the black ball and therefore learned to discriminate between the two. After a history of reinforcement, the evaluator then reversed the task by rewarding the dog for choosing the white ball. The same could be accomplished with a small and large object. This type of testing has been done to gauge cognitive aging across species from humans to mice. A much less scientific test was done on the popular television show MythBusters. Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage found a pair of 7-year-old sibling Malamutes. Bobo and Cece had no training and exhibited no known behaviors on cue. While accounts of Malamute life expectancy range from 12 to 15 years, the 7-year-olds could easily be
considered middle-aged or older. The “seven human years to one dog year” is an average, but this pair would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 in human years. After four days of training, each could perform heel, sit, lie down, stay and shake on cue. The hosts considered the “old dog, new tricks” myth BUSTED. While your dog isn’t going to grab a crossword or Sudoku puzzle, there are many ways to keep the mind active. Enjoy outings in new areas – scent is a powerful re-enforcer for dogs of all ages. Take on new activities to help keep your dog’s mind active and viable. It’s time to do away with old clichés. You can teach an old dog new tricks. Kristie Swan, a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, is head trainer and manager at Whiskers University in Grand Rapids. Contact her at (616) 575-5660 or email her at email@example.com.
donna L. harris, DVM
Help our senior dogs age gracefully Our most special pets often are our senior ones. They’ve helped us through the ups and downs of life and listened to our daily woes. We form a special bond with these furry family members, so we should pay extra attention to their needs as they get older. With advances in veterinary care and pet nutrition, our pets are staying healthy and living longer. As our pets age, they sometimes can experience changes in behavior. It might be difficult to determine if these changes are from normal aging or are caused by disease or injury. Even some normal
aging signs are actually signs of pain. Let’s examine some of the changes that occur as our pets get older and how we can help them with the aging process. First, let’s determine when our pet might be considered a senior. It’s a commonly asked question with different answers. Large dogs tend to age faster than smaller dogs. The American Veterinary Medicine Association has a wonderful chart on its website that can help us determine a human equivalent age for our pets. Consider two dogs, both about 10 years old. The first dog is small, 20 pounds or less. This dog’s age in human years would be in its late 50s to mid60s. A very large dog weighing more than 90 pounds at 10 years old would be considered in its mid- to late 70s in human years. When determining if your
dog has become a senior, it’s important to consider its size. Senior pets especially need regular veterinary health examinations. These visits often include drawing a small blood sample for testing, which determines whether some of the internal organs are still functioning as they should. Common aliments in older pets are similar to humans: cancer, kidney and liver disease, diabetes, heart disease and others. Blood tests can’t pick up every disease, but they are a great place to start. The veterinarian also will conduct a thorough exam of the body and listen to the pet’s heart and lungs. The vet also might test a small stool sample to be sure there are no internal parasites. Weight on older pets tends to creep up, just as it does in people as we age. It’s important to monitor weight
purchase of $40 or more
purchase of $40 or more
(Good for anything in the store)
(Good for anything in the store)
Offer only Valid at any West Michigan Pet Supplies Plus location - Grandville, Kentwood, Holland, Woodland, Walker, or Wyoming, and Dallas/Ft. Worth, Alabama, and Appleton, WI markets. Offer good April 1 - April 30, 2014
Offer only Valid at any West Michigan Pet Supplies Plus location - Grandville, Kentwood, Holland, Woodland, Walker, or Wyoming, and Dallas/Ft. Worth, Alabama, and Appleton, WI markets. Offer good May 1 - May 31, 2014 March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 11
“They tell me ten is the new five!”
Specializing in the rescue and forever-home placement of senior shelter dogs
Dental care is vitally important as the bacteria that accumulate around bad teeth can act as a source of infection for the rest of the body. because it can contribute to arthritis and joint pain. As pets age, they might need some changes in their home to keep them comfortable. Maneuvering stairs or jumping up on furniture might be more difficult. And while putting cat food on a counter keeps the dog from snacking on it, it becomes more difficult for the older cat to jump up to its food and water. Adequate water consumption is very important for kidney health as animals age. So if a senior kitty is not drinking enough water, it might suffer kidney or other internal organ damage. Another consideration as pets age is food. Older pets might need food that is more easily digested or has different calorie counts and nutritional ingredients. Dental care is vitally important as the bacteria that accumulate around bad teeth can act as a source of infection for the rest of the body. A veterinarian’s exam will determine if a pet needs a dental
cleaning to keep its teeth and gums healthy. Common behavioral changes can occur in senior pets and can be disturbing to owners. Some behavioral changes are increased anxiety and pacing, confusion, irritability and house soiling. These can be signs of pain, senility or infection and should be addressed by a veterinarian and not assumed to be just the result of normal aging. Advances in medicine can provide diets and medications to improve and extend pets’ quality of life. Our pets provide us with many years of companionship and fun. It’s important that we pay attention to signs of aging so we can help them age gracefully. Donna L. Harris, DVM, MBA, has practiced small animal medicine for more than 20 years and teaches business and career development at the Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
If we had thumbs, they’d be up.
Dog tested. Dog approved.™
Delta Subaru | Grand Rapids, MI | 888.44.DELTA | DeltaSubaru.com 12 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
the groom room
Tips to finding a qualified groomer Does your pet share your life? Your home? Your bed? If so, grooming is a necessary part of social doggy etiquette. If your pets share your life, they need to be clean. Ideally, a pet should be bathed and groomed weekly to every six weeks depending on lifestyle. If bathing your uncooperative family pet makes you groan with displeasure, maybe it’s time to look for a professional pet groomer. Most have the tools, training and equipment to make the grooming process easy – for you and your pet. However, finding the right groomer can be as difficult as finding the right hairdresser. You want your pet to look and smell wonderful. But more importantly, you want them to be safe. There are countless dangers lurking around every corner of a grooming salon if the shop is not run in a professional manner. Unfortunately in the pet grooming world, there is no formal licensing for this vocation. Unlike a hairstylist, almost anyone can come off the street, pick up a pair of clippers and call themselves a professional pet groomer. It’s up to pet owners to do their research to find a qualified salon. There is very little mandatory licensing for pet groomers nationwide. Yet, there are many ways professionals can stay on top of their game. Stateaccredited schools teach professional pet grooming. Many skilled groomers learn on the job or through apprenticeship programs. Even if a groomer has not gone through formal training, there is a wealth of knowledge available to them. So how do you find a great groomer? Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Ask friends, neighbors and family who they like. If you’re new to an area, the local veterinarian, dog park, dog trainer or even pet supply company would be good starting points to seek referrals. Once you gather a couple of names, go check them out personally before you book an appointment.
The salon should be cheerful, clean, well organized, temperature-controlled and smell unspoiled. The staff should present a professional image. You need to ask yourself, “If they can’t take care of themselves, how are they going to care for my pet?” The salon has less than 30 seconds to make a positive impression on you. Trust your gut with what you see, hear and smell.
KEY MARKETING WORDS
There are a few key words you can listen and look for when reviewing a grooming salon. These trigger words would indicate you are reviewing a highquality facility: • hypoallergenic bathing • spa treatments • hand scissoring • hand stripping • hand blow drying or fluff drying • breed standard trimming • creative mix breed styling
Even though there is no mandatory licensing, there are lots of opportunities to build a wealth of strong credentials. Look for qualifications once you are in the salon or reviewing its marketing materials. Photos: Photos are worth a thousand words. Is the salon proud of its work? If it is, it will have a photo album or online gallery. Make sure you look at the
Photo courtesy OF melissa verplank
Staff in a qualified grooming salon should be cheerful and professional. March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 13
salon’s website and Facebook page, if it has them. Formal education: Are salon workers graduates of a state-approved grooming school? Look for a diploma or reference to the school they attended on display. Certification: Many groomers advance their careers through voluntary testing. There are four organizations that do an excellent job with skill training and testing across the U.S. (See list below). Professional groomers may earn certificates or titles in one or more organization, and NCMG, CMG, CPS or FCMG generally follows their name. If the groomer is active with any of the associations, the organization’s logo normally is displayed in the salon or its marketing materials. If a pet groomer is in the process of becoming certified through any of these organizations, you are dealing with a pet professional who takes pride in his or her work.
• National Dog Groomers Association of America (NDGAA) • International Professional Groomers Inc. (IPG) • International Society of Canine
Cosmetologists (ISCC) • National Cat Groomers Institute of America (NCGIA) Continuing education: Opportunities abound with continuing education. Do the groomers have any certificates that prove they have attended advanced training workshops and seminars? Do they attend trade shows to stay current on products, tools and pet styling trends? Do they have books and magazines on the art and business of pet grooming? Do they have access to quality video lessons on individual breed styling and techniques? Before you leave your dog (or cat) at any grooming establishment, you need to feel confident your pet is in experienced hands. Do research before you book an appointment. Melissa Verplank has more than 30 years of experience in the pet industry. She has won numerous national and international awards for her mastery of grooming and is author of the award-winning books “Notes From the Grooming Table” and “Theory of Five.” She also is creator of Learn2GroomDogs. com, an online educational video library
Photo courtesy OF melissa verplank
Find a groomer who has had formal education in dog grooming.
for pet grooming, and has owned multiple West Michigan pet companies, including the Paragon School of Pet Grooming and Whiskers Pet Resort and Spa.
Building success at both ends of the leash. Training for all stages of your dog’s development, plus a variety of sports and activities. Day and Evening Classes Available
any six week class or private session during March and April 2014 Classes ideal for your Senior Dog: rally senior agility stretch and strengthen have a ball! freestyle *One per dog. Must mention DOGS UNLEASHED during signup. Grand Rapids, MI • 616.575.5660 • whiskersuniversity.com 14 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
The opposite of old is new … not young Edward is blind. After six years of gently guiding Graham, the blind man for whom he had served, Edward’s cataract-ridden eyes had to be removed. Opal, another golden Labrador Retriever who looks like she could be Edward’s younger sister, now serves as eyes to the world for both Edward and Graham. Dogs in their old age, just as with humans, are uniquely beautiful. Their outward appearance reflects lifetimes of being. Their muzzles get grayer. Their fur gets coarser. Their trunks often get lumpier. Their physical bodies change, and senses lessen. Greetings at the door may be slower — as moving their old bones becomes more difficult — or not at all as their hearing declines. Adopting a senior dog extends the life of that dog. Many senior dogs are euthanized or live out their remaining days alone in a metal and concrete kennel in one of our nation’s shelters. Families generally prefer puppies or comfortably housebroken companions, turning a blind eye to those in their sunset years who already are housetrained and generally better behaved. Many people are concerned about increased medical expenses associated with aging companions, unaware there are organizations that subsidize medical expenses for those who adopt senior pets. Many are unwilling to risk having their hearts broken by outliving older pets. This can be especially true for families with young children. In a recent story by Today, Los Angeles photographer Lori Fusaro shared, “I didn’t think my heart could take it, so I wasn’t willing to open myself up.” Arriving at a photo shoot at a local shelter to promote “adoptable” dogs, she was shocked to witness the
number of senior dogs languishing in kennels. Many senior dogs spend most of their lives with families only to be relinquished to a shelter amid a major life event in the family: divorce, foreclosure, military deployment or serious illness. And, in one of the most ironic and tragic twists of fate, many senior citizens are forced to leave their beloved senior pets behind when the assisted living facility or nursing home they are moving into does not allow pets. Inspired by her heart-wrenching experience at the shelter, Fusaro now directs her gaze and camera lens almost exclusively toward senior dogs in a project dubbed Silver Hearts. Not surprisingly, her family includes 17-yearold Sunny, a sweet-natured dog whose lifelong family took her to a shelter when she developed a cancerous tumor on her leg. “I always come back to the idea that no dog should have to die alone,” Fusaro told Today. “Even if she got just two months of a joyous, happy life, it’s worth it for my heartbreak.” Life is uncertain. There are no guarantees with any companion animal. Opening our homes to senior dogs, just as with puppies, necessarily exposes our
hearts to the possibility of loving and losing. And yet, we regularly enter into loving relationships with other humans — spouses and partners, children and friends. Several years ago, Tony Arata penned these lyrics made famous by Garth Brooks: “Our lives are better left to chance/I could have missed the pain/ but I’d have had to miss the dance.” Sharing in a senior dog’s final steps is an act of courage allowing both them and us to fully embrace the dance of our lives. One of my favorite authors, SARK, writes in Glad No Matter What, “The opposite of old is not young. The opposite of old is new. As long as we continue to experience the new, we will gloriously inhabit all of the ages that we are.” Dogs exemplify graceful presence in the world, often until their last days. They endure pain with stoicism. They beautifully inhabit their aging bodies. They serve as gentle reminders to those of us whose lives they touch of the joy of simply being in the here and now, one moment at a time. Ginny Mikita is a certified candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church and owner of Mikita Kruse Law Center, specializing in animal protection law. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HELP FOR SENIOR DOGS Grey Muzzle Organization (greymuzzle.org): Improves the lives of at-risk senior dogs by providing funding and resources to animal shelters, rescue organizations, sanctuaries and other nonprofit groups nationwide. It’s not a shelter or rescue group but instead funds programs such as hospice care, senior dog adoption, medical screening and other special programs to help senior dogs at animal welfare organizations across the country. The Senior Dogs Project (srdogs.com): Helps connect senior dogs available for adoption with individuals and/or rescue groups. It also features a database of available senior dogs and organizations by state. Seniors for seniors: Many programs throughout the country connect senior citizens with senior dogs, and most offer a reduced adoption fee or waive the fee. Search for “Senior dogs for seniors” online to learn more about these programs.
March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 15
THE DOCTOR IS IN
SHANE THELLMAN, DVM
Photo by Jennifer waters
Recognizing and treating signs of aging No matter how hard we try, we can’t reverse aging. Rather than fight the natural order of things, we need to accept that our dogs get older with one major caveat: Our canine friends age at a much faster rate than we do. It might be difficult for us to realize that our healthy 7-yearold hunting Labrador is equivalent to a 50- to 55-yearold person in the woods chasing a bird. After all, he is only 7. How can he be a senior pet and be so active? Aging happens at a different rate for each dog. The general rule is smaller breed dogs tend to live longer than larger breeds. There are no exact reference points from which to determine age in a dog as there are in humans. Middle age in humans is defined as 45 to 59. In dogs, old age generally is referred to as the last 25 percent of their
16 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
lifespan. For example, a dog less than 20 pounds is considered a senior around 9 years old, while a giant breed dog weighing more than 91 pounds enters the senior category around 6 years old. If you have an older dog, you might start to notice mental changes associated with aging. Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) is simply brain aging. Behavior changes often are the first sign of CDS. Changes in behavior might include increased anxiety, decreased response to stimuli, urinating and defecating in the home, disorientation, changes in sleep patterns and changes in family interaction. The overall effects of an aging brain are insidious and might present as a gradual decline versus a sudden change. Early detection by your pet’s veterinarian often can help delay brain aging. If you notice one or more of the behavioral changes, contact the veterinarian for advice on how to determine how CDS can be treated. Maintaining mental stimulation via exercise and toy enrichment, diet changes to a high antioxidant-fortified
blend and medications all have proven beneficial in slowing the progression of brain aging. Offering new smells, such as an old fishing towel, or using a treatstuffed ball for play – making him roll it around to release the good stuff inside – can provide much-needed mental stimulation. The physical part of aging usually is more easily noticeable: a change in fur quality or weight or a small limp. Many older dogs will have a subtle loss of sight and hearing, which can render previously safe activities such as climbing stairs and playing fetch in the woods dangerous. Care must be taken to not startle a sleeping, relaxed older dog. Consider clapping loudly to wake a sleeping dog or using a small pillow to wake them from a deep sleep. Limping and decreased activity can be signs associated with muscle and joint pain. It is easy to use over-thecounter pain medications for temporary relief, but they are unpredictable in our canine companions. Often by the time an issue is noticed, damage of internal organs might be severe.
THE DOCTOR IS IN JOINT PAIN Arthritis is a chronic, progressive
and permanent joint issue that requires lifelong treatment and regular veterinary monitoring to maximize success, resulting in reduced pain and increased activity. The diagnosis often can be made with a physical exam, but the severity of arthritis also should include X-rays. As with many chronic conditions, diet plays a major role in the management of arthritis. Weight reduction should be paramount with an older arthritic dog, resulting in less stress on arthritic joints. Diets high in glucosamine, chondroitin, omega-3 and omega-6 are a mainstay in many senior diets and should be offered as soon as arthritis is diagnosed. Keeping nails short helps your dog’s joints move in a more natural motion and provides greater stability while walking on hard surfaces. Skin is the largest organ of most animals, and dogs are no exception. Skin comprises 10 to 12 percent of a
dog’s total weight. It also serves as an important barrier against infectious agents, trauma, allergens, parasites and toxic substances. Open sores can provide portals into the body for an array of bacteria, resulting in deep skin infections. Skin care for senior dogs should revolve around constant monitoring and touch. Small lumps and bumps can be big problems if left unchecked by a veterinarian. Sometimes, it’s not what is on the surface that is the issue but what lies within. Just as in people, skin gets thinner and more susceptible to everyday damage from scrapes, cuts, wind and sun as dogs age. Vitamins A and E are important in maintaining healthy skin and coat. Most commercially available diets provide a sufficient amount of vitamins to maintain a healthy skin. However, some dogs with medical conditions might benefit from additional skin support. Cool and cold weather climates also wreak havoc on a dog’s skin. Consider
SHANE THELLMAN, DVM
adding a wind barrier jacket on those morning walks for protection. Even if your dog has plenty of fur on its back, many dogs have a very sensitive underside that is exposed to these harsh winters. And remember their feet when walking in the cooler climates. Snow, salt and chemical ice-removing agents can irritate the delicate skin between the toes. INTERNAL ISSUES
What about the internal things we can’t easily observe, such as issues with the liver, kidney and stomach and intestinal and cardiovascular disease? Every organ system is affected by aging, and detecting internal organ disease is best done by routine blood testing and veterinarian physical exams. Blood testing for liver, kidney, immune function, pancreatitis and some endocrine diseases should be done at least annually. Some would suggest twice a year for accurate monitoring. Diabetes, pancreatitis, colitis and thyroid disease are easier detected and
Modern Health Veterinary Hospital is a fully equipped pet care center utilizing the latest techniques and technology for the complete care of your dog or exotic pets. Dr. Shane Thellman is an experienced surgeon who, with his staff of pet health professionals, provides the animals you love with the finest, most advanced care available. Young or old, paws or claws... the experience and care you need is waiting for you here at Modern Health Veterinary Hospital.
b, I go to on the we - woof! ’m I n e h W om ealthvet.c modernh
1971 E. Beltline NE in Knapp’s Corner • (616) 551-3901 March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 17
Photo by Jennifer waters
managed with semiannual blood testing before problems occur. Early detection with prompt treatment of medical issues improves the chances aging pets will live longer, happier and more fulfilled lives during those wonderful golden years. Oral and dental care should not change with age. Daily brushing and dental treats should continue as our
dogs age, and it is never too late to start. Brushing your dog’s teeth helps to keep bad breath at bay and decreases the frequency of professional dental cleanings. Dental disease can lead to blood infections if left untreated. Yearly dental cleanings done at the veterinary office under anesthesia are recommended to help remove plaque and tartar from under the gum line, where regular brushing can’t reach. Veterinary checkups should be done every six months to aid in early detection. Many veterinarians have early detection programs to help offset the cost of increased visits and testing for senior dogs. Long-term medications, including over-the-counter supplements and pain relievers, must be evaluated by a veterinarian to ensure they are needed and safe. No amount of blood work or X-rays will replace a full physical exam by a skilled veterinarian. Another important aspect of senior care that I, as a veterinarian and dog owner, am faced with is the elusive answer of when is it “time.” My goal as a veterinarian is to provide a long-lasting, pain-free relationship between you
and your dog. That pain-free goal can be difficult to attain and assess when discussing quality-of-life issues. There are a few aspects I personally like to assess when considering quality of life. Movement and activity is an integral part of daily function. Lack of movement might signify pain, decreased muscle mass or mental dullness and depression. Appetite is another area that must be addressed. Is your dog eating enough on its own or is handfeeding required? Does your dog have more good days than bad? Does your dog have a feeling of self-worth – does he appear happy on a daily basis? Few owners are ever fully prepared to make such a serious decision without discussing it with their pet’s veterinarian. Once a decision has been reached, the final gift we can give our aging friend is a good passing. Shane Thellman, DVM, owns Modern Health Veterinary Hospital in Grand Rapids with his wife, Nikki, who also is a veterinarian. Contact Dr. Thellman at email@example.com
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Senior Portraits special photo gallery
When it comes to dogs, “senior” is a relative term — their size often determines at which age they cross that senior status threshold. We proudly present the following portraits, a variety of aging dogs considered senior citizens.
J e n n i f e r W at e r s
March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 19
Napoleon, 11 Breed: Pug | Owners: Nicole Notario-Risk & Shad Risk, Grand Rapids | About: Napoleon, adopted from a pug rescue in 2006, loves to eat bananas. No wonder his favorite toy is “Mr. Monkey.”
Buddy, 15 Breed: Collie/Shepherd mix | Owners: Nicole Notario-Risk & Shad Risk, Grand Rapids | About: Buddy was adopted in 2012 after he was rescued from an abandoned house, where he20 spent more than two March/April weeks with no food or water. Dogs Unleashed 2014
Breed: Pug | Owners: Nicole Notario-Risk & Shad Risk, Grand Rapids About: In her younger days, Beatrice helped special needs children as a volunteer for the Humane Society of West Michigan’s Barks & Books reading program.
Breed: Cattle dog mix | Owner: Linda Cloud, Grand Rapids About: Annie, who has had surgeries on both of her back legs, is the diva of the household. But don’t be fooled … she’s a good girl who has passed her Canine Good Citizen test.
Breed: Boxer/pit bull mix | Owner: Mary Marcellino, Wyoming About: While Bozley, who was adopted in 2006, loves agility running with tennis balls, he hates fireworks, thunder and rain. He hides in the basement at the first sound of a raindrop.
Breed: Mixed breed Owner: Linda Cloud, Grand Rapids About: Despite two eye surgeries, knee surgery and medications for thyroid issues, Riley still runs and plays as if he were 4 years old, his owner says.
Riley, 12 March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 21
Lola, 13 Breed: Pit bull mix | Owners: Sara Ybema and Ben Williams, Grand Rapids | About: As the dog of two veterinary professionals, Lola has been used to train many new veterinary assistants and veterinary technicians. Her personality and demeanor with children also has helped quell public perception about pit bulls.
Khane, 9 Breed: Bullmastiff | Owner: Terri Napier, Grand Rapids About: Although he is now deaf, is losing his vision, and has Cushing’s disease, (a thyroid and neurological disease that makes him a bit unsteady), Max still loves to chase squirrels. 22 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
Breed: Great Dane/Bullmastiff mix | Owner: Terri Napier, Grand Rapids About: Khane loves to play — indoors and outdoors — with any toy that squeaks. Of course, his squeaky toys tend to drive the humans in the household a bit crazy.
Breed: Rottweiler | Owner: Julie Utu, Grand Rapids About: Don’t be confused by the name … Charity is a boy! He’s a retired service dog who has won several prizes, treats and ribbons in various doggy contests.
Breed: German Shepherd | Owner: Julie Utu, Grand Rapids About: Canis suffered from allergies when he was adopted, but a strict diet and supplements has kept him active and feeling young. His favorite toy is unquestionably a tennis ball.
Lucky, 10 Breed: Black Labrador Retriever | Owner: Amari Brenner Kumar, Grand Rapids | About: When he’s not enjoying his favorite treats of cheese puffs, Lucky, a rescue, loves to cuddle and never leaves his owner’s side.
March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 23
Samantha, 11 Breed: American Cocker Spaniel Owner: Amanda Schelling, Grand Rapids About: A former champion show dog, Samantha had a laminectomy when she was 3 and there was no guarantee she’d walk again. Eight years later, she’s not only walking, but running the household.
D.J., 11 Sydney, 9
Breed: Boxer | Owner: Kathy Ransom, Grant About: Sydney loves to ride, and her favorite “trick” is slipping out the door after she’s told she has to stay home and jumping into the truck or to go for a ride.March/April 2014 24 car Dogs Unleashed
Breed: American Cocker Spaniel | Owner: Amanda Schelling, Grand Rapids | About: Perhaps D.J. needs a job at a golf course. His favorite activity is finding and retrieving golf balls in the yard, which he gladly exchanges for treats.
Breed: Silver Labrador Retriever | Owners: Neil & Ashley Hauk, Grand Rapids | About: Despite arthritis and bad knees, Bella loves to go for walks. She doesnâ€™t love the vacuum cleaner, however, and is terrified of it.
Breed: Pug mix | Owner: Melanie Berry, Coopersville About: Ernie, who has six dog siblings, suffered from paralysis six years ago. But thanks to modern medicine, veterinarians had him up and walking just three days later.
Chance, 10 Breed: Golden Retriever Owners: Cindy & Dan Pilczuk, Conklin About: Chance was adopted by the Pilczukâ€™s at 9 months. His previous owner had terminal cancer and Cindy Pilczuk understood all too well. She is a cancer survivor.
March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 25
Breed: Maltese/Bichon Frise mix | Owner: Julie Stroven, Coopersville | About: Tweedle D. and two siblings were adopted from a rescue group one Christmas Eve after they had been saved from a puppy mill.
Tweedle D., 14
Breed: Black Labrador Retriever Owners: Cathy & Mark Bissell, Grand Rapids About: Nothing much frightens or bothers DJ, a “laid-back dude” who celebrated his 15th birthday in January. Growing up in the Bissell family, DJ is a rarity among dogs: He LOVES the vacuum.
26 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
Breed: Keeshond | Owner: Yvonne Reames, Coopersville About: Tugger is a typical Keeshond in that he is vocal when a strange car pulls into the driveway or when he is “tattling” on his mischievous sibling dogs, a Jack Russell and a Corgi.
Breed: Pomeranian Owner: Eric & Megan Krummen, Grand Rapids About: Cooper, who is often mistaken for a puppy, loves to do the “cheese dance.” He’ll stand on his hind legs — his record is nearly a minute — and twirl around for a cheese treat.
Cinnamon, 12 Suki, 12
Breed: Shepherd/Beagle mix | Owner: David & Shandra Amon, Coopersville | About: Suki is deaf, something her owners discovered after putting their 10-year-old Anatolian Shepherd down in November. Suki had cued off the older dog and is a bit lost without him.
Breed: Lab/Shepherd/Chow/Mastiff mix | Owner: Dennis & Sherri Nietering, Grand Haven | About: Cinnamon is losing her vision and has arthritis, which makes walking a chore, but she loves toMarch/April roll in the grass go for car rides.27 2014and Dogs Unleashed
Breed: Boxer | Owner: Jennifer Waters & Jason Umfleet, Jenison About: Tyler is the original “Grumpy Pup” in Waters’ Grumpy Pups Pet Photography business. He has a unique skill of blowing bubbles when tempted by cheese.
Breed: Scottish Terrier | Owner: Thomas Pierce, Muskegon About: Scottie has the ability to jump on a chair to reach the table, steal food off a plate and make it back to the floor in the time it takes his owner to grab a fork.
Hudson, 11 Breed: Whippet Owner: Tonya Christiansen, Grand Haven About: People who walk into Must Love Dogs Boutique in downtown Grand Haven are familiar with Hudson, who “works” there. His favorite trick: Suckering customers into giving him treats while they’re in the store.
28 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
German Shepherd’s age, epilepsy didn’t stop me from adopting By JUDITH DeCOSTA
Congratulate me … I’m the worst foster dog parent ever. Fostering relies on one simple principle: It is a temporary arrangement. You get involved with the rescue organization, get screened, bring the dog home for awhile and look after her as the rescue group works frantically to find her a forever home. Only, not too many people lined up to get an old, epileptic German Shepherd who otherwise appeared to be in excellent health, barring some dental and, um, personality issues. Her original owner took her to three different vets to have her put down and got turned away. The last one relieved the woman of the dog and called a rescue organization. Enter Sammy, aged 6, who actually smiled for her online profile picture. Not too cut up about being given up, it seemed. I thought it would be a good idea to take in a foster dog to keep my other
dog company. So we went to meet Sammy in her current foster setup. A big-hearted couple in a small apartment were getting regular warning letters from their building manager demanding they get rid of their dogs -- they had four, including Sammy. It was only meant to be a meet-and-greet, but I still showed up with a crate in the back of my tiny car. Whereas my dog was calm personified, Sammy was almost cartoonish in her aggressive mannerisms. She lunged, growled, bared her sad teeth, pawed at the air, strained at the flimsy leash and barked up a storm ... all before I even brought the other dog over for an introduction. She put up an impressive show but somehow I wasn’t buying it. She got the crazy out of her system and then played in the snow with my dog, Stella, so she was allowed to come home with us. Sammy’s first day was a crash course in Yours vs. Mine, as administered by Stella. While I kept a close eye for
epileptic seizures and rationed out meds with the kibble, Stella established territory and the house rules as she knew them. Her one concession: an arm chair, which Sammy clambered onto and claimed as her corner in the world. It was too quiet. I came in from the kitchen and saw her then, with her chin perched on the armrest. I knew it then: This dog wasn’t going anywhere ever again. She was home. After ferociously fending off a few half-hearted inquiries from interested parties, I made it official and adopted Sammy a few months later. She never had a single epileptic episode and was completely med-free for two years. She offered her belly for rubs at every chance afforded and allowed small children as tall as her to throw their arms around her neck, while their ashen-faced parents laughed nervously and called them away. Samantha’s life came to a sudden but peaceful end 10 days before this past Christmas. She moved in two gears:
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neutral and 4H. When she lay quiet and disinterested in the kitchen one morning, instead of the usual “What’s for breakfast?” prance, I decided to bring her in to the vet for a checkup. Within half an hour, I was told that she had heart cancer and there was a tumor that had erupted. Emergency surgery was performed, euthanasia proposed — and declined — the bill settled and no follow-up appointment made. She was sent home so we could say our goodbyes. She was her old, spirited self almost instantly, but I was told it could be days or weeks before her heart seized. It turned out to be days and Samantha died peacefully on a Sunday afternoon at home with me and Stella at her side. She was 10. Now, she’s out of her pain while mine ebbs and flows and stops my heart with shock from time to time. Too soon, but she ran her course at full speed and rests at the finish line now.
Photo courtesy Judith DeCosta
Samantha claimed her chair almost immediately after entering Judith DeCosta’s home.
Judy DeCosta is a freelance writer currently living in Milton, Ontario with her German Shepherd Dog, Stella. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Why adopt a Silver Paws Society Pet? What you see is what you get Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks? Senior pets are easy to train! They’re super loving They’re not a 24-7 job
They’re house-trained so fewer messes They enjoy easy livin’
They’re often overlooked so by adopting a senior pet you’re truly saving a life!
Silver Paws Society is our program for senior pets (ages 7 and older). All members of the Silver Paws Society have their adoption fee waived thanks to the: 3077 Wilson Dr NW, Grand Rapids, MI 49534
SAVE THE DATE: March 24th
For further information or to get involved, please contact: email@example.com | (616) 791-8138 30 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
“Dogs have a way of finding the people who need them, filling an emptiness we didn’t even know we have.”
—Thom Jones, American writer
A whole lot of gray In senior dogs – just as in life – there is more than just black and white Story by SUSAN HARRISON-WOLFFIS Photos by JENNIFER WATERS
t Jan and Jim Johnson’s house, where three geriatric dogs are deliberately and lovingly in residence, they keep the lights on all night; the better for aging eyes to see. Dog beds are heated against the cold, a balm for arthritic joints. Handbuilt ramps make it easier for senior canines to climb into favorite chairs and laps or up stairs too steep for old bones to navigate with ease. And in the corner, placed ever so discreetly, there is a pee pad to accommodate an ancient Miniature Pinscher’s leaky bladder. Such are the necessities of life when old dogs are in the house. Although, one certainly could argue they also are welldeserved niceties at their age. “But, of course, they’re part of
the family,” Jan Johnson says. “This is a lifetime commitment. Our job (as owners) is to make them as comfortable as possible.” Most days, the Johnson home — in an historic neighborhood in downtown Muskegon, Mich. — resembles a geriatric ward or, at the very least, an assisted living center for old pooches. The leaders of the pack are Samwise “Sami” Gangee, the aforementioned Miniature Pinscher, 16; Maggie Mae Baggins, a Chihuahua/Min Pin mix, 12; and Gandalf the Beige, a Cockapoo, 10. There are others in the house: Rory, a Lab mix who clocks in somewhere around 4 years old and is a special-needs guy who was heartworm positive when the Johnsons adopted him, and four cats (two tottering with age and two more catching up quickly).
What makes the Johnsons’ story — and those of Nicole Notario-Risk and Shannon Reincke, two Grand Rapidsarea women you’ll soon meet along with their dogs — special is they all adopted older pets, some of whom were surrendered by their families for various reasons and others who were lost or stray. Don’t call it a sacrifice on the new owners’ part to take on a new pet at an advanced age when veterinary bills and day-to-day care typically increase. The Rev. Jan Johnson, a palliative care chaplain at Mercy Health Muskegon, and her husband, the Rev. Jim Johnson, the hospital system’s lead chaplain, say it is a privilege to tend to a dog in its final years. “We want to make them as comfortable and as happy as we can,” Jan Johnson says. ���They’ve given their lives for someone. They deserve to have
March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 31
Jim and Jan Johnson with their senior pack (from left): Gandalf the Beige, Maggie Mae Baggins and Samwise “Sami” Gangee.
the last few years be really wonderful.” Sami, whose nickname is “Miss Fabulous,” came to live with the Johnsons upon an aunt’s death. Maggie arrived bereft and grieving the loss of her owner, who died of cancer. And Gandalf? He was a “dog of the week” they adopted from the Noah Project, a local shelter, afraid he wouldn’t have a second chance because of his advancing age. “Older dogs are wonderful,” Jan Johnson says. “With them, what you see is what you get. You don’t have to worry about them chewing up the rug or destroying your furniture.” By this age, they’ve calmed down, mellowed out of the puppy phase.
“Life slows down when you have older dogs,” Jim Johnson says. Usually, they come with pretty good manners and, he adds, they are so grateful to be in a place where they are loved, safe and secure. On the other hand, they can leak a little. During an interview with the Johnsons and their gang, Sami piddled on the floor, no doubt unaware of her action in the excitement of the moment. Before anyone had a chance to say a word, it was cleaned up and explained. “You wouldn’t shout at grandma, would you?” Jan Johnson says. “That’s how you have to think of it.” Once a week, the dogs go to “day care” at Dog Star Ranch, a 48-acre facility north of Muskegon where they hang out with other senior dogs and serve on the “welcome team” in the office. Dog Star Ranch owner Carol Yarnold, who has four senior pets, calls them “gems.” “Sometimes, they have what I call ‘the old man syndrome’ — they do what they want to do when they want to do it,” Yarnold says, “But boy, are they a lot of fun.” Nicole Notario-Risk knows about The Johnson’s youngest dog, Rory the 4-year-old black Lab, leads a family walk at Dog Star Ranch. meeting her dogs right where they are,
32 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
special needs, extra work and all. She and her husband, Shad Risk, have three senior dogs and a goldfish Notario-Risk bought as a 20-cent “feeder” fish 14 years ago. Six years ago, Notario-Risk knew she needed a dog. Her father had just died, she and her husband were settling into a new marriage — a new rhythm of life — so she went to the Kent County Animal Shelter in Grand Rapids, Mich., to find a pet. She was curious about Pugs with their distinctive wrinkly faces but opento any breed. She looked at puppies and younger dogs. Then, she saw Beatrice, a black Pug whose chin was gray and her eyes surrounded by white. Beatrice was a stray and considered hard to adopt because of her age, estimated around 9 years old. No surprise, Beatrice went home with Notario-Risk. The little dog is nearly 16 years old. “I was sold after that,” NotarioRisk says. “Sold on senior dogs. I guess I just have a soft spot for white faces.” After Beatrice, she adopted Napoleon, another black Pug she got from a Pug rescue organization. He’s now 11. A year ago, she and her husband took in Buddy, a 15-year-old Collie-Shepherd mix whose story will break any dog lover’s heart. Buddy was abandoned in a house after his owner was evicted, alone for at least two weeks with no food or water, finally rescued by the landlord and sent to a shelter. “Best decision I ever made was adopting him,” Notario-Risk says. “He solidified our family.” There are those who suggest Notario-Risk is setting herself up for heartbreak, bringing in senior dogs whose life spans are certain to be short and whose needs can be so great. At this age, Buddy is besieged by arthritic hips and needs help walking and a ramp to get in and out of the house. Beatrice is numb in her “back end” and rides in a stroller when they go for walks. None of that fazes Notario-Risk, an independent consultant for nonprofit organizations. “The amount of joy overwhelmingly outweighs the negative. It’s totally
Nicole Notario-Risk uses a small blanket to help support Buddy’s weight as he walks. The 15-year-old has arthritic hips.
worth it,” she says, adding quietly, “I feel like I’m supposed to do this.” So does Shannon Reincke, who founded the Golden Paws program at Vicky’s Pet Connection, a nonprofit organization in Ada, Mich., dedicated to rescuing, caring for and placing homeless and abandoned cats and dogs in the community. Her mission came out of personal experience. Eight years ago, Reincke was working as a volunteer for Vicky’s picking up puppies from a shelter to transport to foster homes. In the midst of her efforts, she saw “this gray face” peering through the bars of his cage. And her heart melted. She was there for puppies, but Reincke left with a geriatric beagle already 10 years old she took home and loved for another six years. She named him Dickens and, because of him, she found her niche in life.
In the past five years, 120 senior dogs have found new homes through Golden Paws. Reincke says the old dogs usually come to her because their owners have died or are too ill to care for them, or their families have taken in a younger dog or have children and the old dogs no longer fit in, or the families can’t afford the veterinary bills that often come with older dogs. Reincke acknowledges old dogs usually have to make more trips to the vet but notes the advantages to adopting a senior are many. “You can expect a quieter, more laid-back dog,” she says. “They are more predictable. ... More often than not, they have better manners (than puppies) and they can learn just as quickly without that crazy energy puppies have.” And, she adds, these old dogs pass along a most important lesson in life. “They live in the present,” Reincke says. “It’s unbelievable what these old
Shad Risk and Nicole Notario-Risk mix special meals for their seniors, complete with medications and supplements.
March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 33
Photo courtesy Shannon Reincke
Dickens came into Shannon Reincke’s life when he was 10 and lived to be 16.
guys give back ... and teach you.” After she brought Dickens home, she discovered he had been used, as she puts it, “for target practice.” Scores of BBs were lodged under his skin, and
yet, she says, “he was the most gentle, loving, introspective soul you could ever imagine.” Since Dickens, Reincke has adopted three other senior dogs, pets who are a bit of a mystery because their history often is unknown and their future unpredictable. “I take consolation in they didn’t live their last moments in a cold shelter,” she says. Notario-Risk adds: “I wish so much that people would give it (senior adoption) a chance. I wish they’d open their hearts to it.” Every night, Jan Johnson says a little thank you prayer for another day with her old dogs. She asks for their protection and their comfort. And when the inevitable happens, when one of her beloved creatures dies, she kisses them good-bye. “We tell them thank you for coming to our house. We say thank you and we’ll see you. And then, they go straight to God like all dogs do,” she says.
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• Slowing down • Graying around the face and muzzle • Reduced hearing • Cloudy or “bluish” eyes • Muscle atrophy • Incontinence • Memory loss • Sleep disturbance Sources: About.com Veterinary Medicine and American Veterinary Medical Association
GOLDEN PAWS For more information about the Golden Paws program at Vicky’s Pet Connection — which matches senior dogs with loving families — visit www.vickyspetconnection. com, call (616) 897-9943 or send a letter to P.O. Box 624, Ada, MI 49301. The adoption fee for senior dogs is $75, rather than the regular $150.
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GROWING OLD What to expect as your dog ages
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A cut above
Why older dogs benefit from regular grooming Story by Tricia Woolfenden Photos by KATY BATDORFF
There is something of a dilemma in the matter of grooming geriatric dogs. Once an older dog shows signs of aging — sore hips, vision problems, increased anxiety — an owner may be tempted to dial back on frequent visits to the groomer. The inclination comes from a place of love: Owners simply wish to spare their senior pet from the perceived stress and physical discomfort involved in the grooming process. Big mistake, say groomers who routinely work with older dogs. It’s the older pups who most benefit from a regular grooming schedule. Additionally, a well-trained groomer can offer observations about a dog’s condition and point out potential warning signs that even the most diligent owner could overlook.
A SECOND SET OF EYES
“We can offer insights on what we see and if there are any problem areas,” groomer Marian Ward said as she demonstrated proper blow-drying technique on Rylee, a 12-year-old toy poodle with arthritis in her lower back, knees and hindquarters. Rylee is a frequent visitor to The Paw Place, a dog daycare, grooming and training facility in Grandville, Mich. There, she is treated to a bathing facility with senior-friendly accommodations, like a ramp leading to the washtub and a special harness intended to reduce strain on the neck and shoulders. Owner Auston Gross said The Paw Place has focused on grooming senior and other challenging dogs since opening in December 2005. Ward, a graduate of the Paragon School of Pet Grooming’s 600-hour program,
Marian Ward of The Paw Place entered the grooming profession to meet the needs of her own senior dog. March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 35
chose to enter the pet grooming field precisely so she could better care for her own senior dog. She now uses that knowledge to help other people’s pets. Gross and Ward advocate regular grooming as a way to support an older dog’s health and also monitor trouble areas. For instance, Ward can alert owners to dramatic weight loss/gain, skin ulcerations, growths and other age-related maladies. In this way, the groomer can act as an objective, trained observer. They cannot diagnose or treat an ailment, but they can point out potential concerns and suggest a call or visit to the veterinarian. Leah Bell, a groomer working out of Eastown Veterinary Clinic in Grand Rapids, Mich., echoes the sentiment and likens a groomer’s role to acting as the “first set of eyeballs.” She says her close contact with the dogs allows her to give owners a heads-up on everything from skin issues and new bumps and lumps to parasites. “I find a lot of ear infections (owners) don’t know about,” Bell said, as she evaluated the inside of Rio’s — an older Husky-mix — ears. “I can find stuff going on under the fur. … I find all the ticks and fleas.” The other obvious advantage of routine grooming is good pet hygiene. Matted fur and overgrown nails can easily turn into complications like skin infections or foot and leg problems. “Geriatric dogs have a harder time cleaning themselves,” Bell said. She added that a decrease in hip and knee flexibility makes it more difficult for an older dog to get a deep squat when relieving itself. This, in turn, exacerbates sanitary and matting issues as feces
Regular grooming can aid in pet hygiene, particularly for geriatric dogs.
36 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
Leah Bell, a groomer at Eastown Veterinary Clinic, says her close contact with dogs can give owners a heads-up on potential physical problems.
accumulates in fur — something both dogs and humans would rather avoid. A GENTLE APPROACH
Conscientious pet groomers can take steps to adapt their tools and techniques to the needs of older dogs. There are some universally implemented “tricks of the trade,” such as stuffing a dog’s ears with cotton to muffle the sound of the dryer, or simply giving an older dog a few minutes to sit and rest during a grooming session. A well-trained groomer also knows to avoid bumps and lumps when using the clippers or a comb. Individual groomers may also develop their own habits. Ward, for instance, approaches dogs “as if they were horses” to help ease them into the routine and earn their trust. She shuns the use of muzzles except in cases where it is absolutely necessary. Movements are kept to a minimum to reduce stress and strain on a dog’s body. Bell takes special care with dogs that have suffered hearing or vision loss. When working with such a dog, she will place a hand on its back or rear so it always knows where she is in the room. When trimming nails on a large dog, she’ll use her own leg to prop up and stabilize the dog’s midsection. It isn’t just senior dogs that require special care and attention. A groomer
also should have the right touch when connecting with owners. Gross said part of her and Ward’s job is finding diplomatic ways to alert a dog owner that it may be time to say good-bye. This may mean gently telling a client that it is no longer safe or humane to groom a dog due to its frailty and health decline, or encouraging a family to talk to its vet about a dog’s potential suffering.
The Paw Palace has equipment especially for seniors, like this ramp to the tub.
Caring for an Older Dog Senior dogs need special attention. Here are tips for caring for older dogs, particularly when it comes to grooming. • Frequent grooming is a must: Prevent fur matting, skin infections and other ailments by establishing a regular grooming schedule. • Check out the groomer ahead of time: Ask a prospective groomer if you can do a non-grooming meet and greet.This allows your dog an opportunity to get a feel (and smell) of the place before returning for a session. Select a groomer that has the patience and know-how to deal with the special concerns presented by an older dog. • Talk to your groomer: Alert a groomer to
all known physical or medical conditions, such as bumps, “hot spots,” seizures, arthritis, hearing or vision problems, anxiety issues and so on. • Be open to shorter haircuts: The de-matting process can be intense for an older dog — even with a skilled groomer at hand. Your groomer may suggest going with a short haircut to avoid the process altogether and save your dog the strain and potential pain. • Allow more time per grooming session: Older dogs may need more breaks during the process. Plan for this when scheduling a grooming appointment. • Keep nails short: Promote better foot and toe health (and alignment) by keeping nails neatly trimmed.
Old friends are the
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March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 37
What’s not to love? Vermont is famous for maple syrup, ice cream, quaint inns, scenic beauty … and dog-friendly locales
The grounds of Dog Mountain, located in St. Johnsbury, Vt. Stories and Photos by Candilynn & Michael Lockhart
cross the U.S., “dog friendly” is becoming more popular. People search for areas and activities they can share with their four-legged friends. There are dog parks, dog beaches, dog walking trails. And then there are those hidden gems that, when discovered, dog lovers just can’t pass up. Vermont does not disappoint when it comes to unique dog-friendly experiences. The state (the 14th to join the union, FYI) may be small at only 9,614 square miles, but it is huge when it comes to activities to share with dogs. Vermont offers a mountain devoted to dogs, luxury bed-and-breakfast spots, world-famous ice cream and even a brewery tour on which visitors may bring their dogs.
38 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
A must-do list for every dog lover should include a visit to Dog Mountain. It’s set on 150 acres of a private mountaintop in St. Johnsbury. The grounds were built and developed in 2000 by artist and visionary Stephen Huneck. Huneck’s dream for Dog Mountain was to offer a place where hundreds of dogs and their people could find joy, love and friendship by hiking the miles of trails, enjoying the swimming ponds and taking in the fresh mountain air and breathtaking views. After creating his vision, Huneck went one step further by building Dog Chapel. It’s a special place that celebrates the spiritual bond we have with our dogs and is open to all people and dogs of any faith and belief system. The chapel was styled in the manner of a small 1820s Vermont village church. At the entrance is a sign that reads,
“Welcome all creeds, all breeds, no dogmas allowed.” Atop the chapel’s white steeple sits a Labrador with wings that turns in the wind and proclaims this place has a special affinity for dogs. Walking inside the chapel, visitors are surrounded by stained glass windows, wood carvings of dogs and music to reaffirm the connection between art, nature, spirituality and the human-canine bond. Dog Chapel
Dog wood carvings grace the end of the pews at Dog Chapel, located on Dog Mountain.
“Dogs are not just welcome here, they are cherished! Dogs are free to run, play, swim and, best of all, meet other dogs.” is a beautiful and moving place, its interior walls lined with pictures and messages of enduring love to those who have passed on. It’s a place where people can pause and reaffirm their dedication to each other and to their dogs. Dog Chapel even hosts wedding celebrations throughout the spring and summer. There’s no leash law at Dog Mountain, a point made clear on its website (also the website for Huneck’s art gallery): “Dogs are not just welcome here, they are cherished! Dogs are free to run, play, swim and, best of all, meet other dogs.” LET SLEEPING DOGS LIE
If you’re worried about a place to stay while visiting Dog Mountain or any other part of Vermont, fear not. The state has plenty of bed-andbreakfast places that allow dogs. Phineas Swann Bed & Breakfast Inn, nestled in the Green Mountains on Montgomery Center’s historic Main Street in northern Vermont, was rated one of the world’s 12 most dog-friendly hotels by CNN. The inn offers a true pet-friendly vacation experience. Dogfriendly rooms are named after specific breeds, such as the Bulldog Suite, and offer custom dog beds complete with treats and turn-down service. If you’re in the mood to pamper your pooch even more, there’s the Deluxe Dog Spa Package, perfect for even the most distinguished of canines. It includes a massage, grooming and prestige pampering with bed-sleeping permission. The Pet Perfect Ski Package features tons of TLC and spoiling for your dog while you ski the nearby slopes. In central Vermont’s Killington valley, steps from the Green Mountain
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You’re welcome At Tun-Dra Kennels, we welcome all breeds and varieties to our clean, serene country setting. We offer: Personal service. The owners of Tun-Dra Kennels live on site and deliver hands-on care to each dog. Experience. Tun-Dra has been family owned and operated since 1964, and has cared for dogs in West Michigan for more than 50 years. A Happy, Healthy Environment: Our large indoor/outdoor kennels are designed to promote physical and mental well-being. Each dog has territory to call his own.
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What’s a trip to Vermont without Ben & Jerry’s?
National Forest, is a grand 18th Century farmhouse B&B. Paw House Inn was created by Mitch Frankenburg and Jen Fredrick, who had encountered many of their own frustrations as dog lovers on vacation. In 2001, the couple left their jobs in New York City, packed up their two Labs, disregarded everyone’s warnings and created their own “dog centric” Vermont getaway with all the comforts of home, including dogs. Paw House Inn’s mottos: “No dog left behind” and “Some places accept dogs. Other places tolerate dogs. We cater to dog owners and their dogs.” To prove that point, Paw House Inn has a $10 upcharge for any room booked without a dog. The inn features custom doggy beds, homemade treats and a journal in each room that encourages guests to share their “silly dog antics and muddy paw stories.” Included with a stay is Mario’s Playhouse, a 1,200-square-foot custombuilt dog house equipped with all a dog needs while human guests are away visiting local attractions. The self-serve facility is available 24/7 to Paw House Inn guests. Paw House Inn also has its own off-leash park and dog walking path through the surrounding countryside, state parks, local trails and swimming holes. There also are Doggie Mystery Weekends and Saturday night Dog-In Theater from June to August, weather permitting. Guests, with their dogs, can enjoy movies shown on a 14-foot screen complete with surround sound and in a relaxed environment that includes Tiki torches, comfortable seating and plenty of treats for people and pooches. 40 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
What’s a trip to Vermont without visiting the Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop in Waterbury? While dogs are not allowed on the factory tour, they are welcome to join you at the Scoop Shop’s nearby picnic area to enjoy an out-of-this-world flavored cone. After enjoying your frozen treat, take some time and tour the Flavor Graveyard, where headstones commemorate dearly departed ice cream flavors of the past. If it’s something more substantial you’re after, head over to Gracie’s in
Stowe. In 1991, restaurant owners Paul “Archie” and Sue Archdeacon were out of ideas when it came to naming their new restaurant. They opted to name it Gracie’s, after their lovable new shelter rescue, a yellow Lab/Airedale mix who had won their hearts. Gracie’s serves up steaks, burgers, salads, seafood and comfort foods, and uses local fresh produce and meat. The restaurant’s dog theme is carried throughout with the menu featuring items named after breeds. The Chihuahua, for instance, is a half-pound
The walls of Dog Chapel (top) are adorned with photos and notes of love for dogs who have passed. Paw House Inn (bottom) features a popular “Dog Mystery Weekend.”
If you’re looking for a great destination to bring your dog, Vermont lives by its motto: “Share the love, and experience it in Vermont.” burger served with lettuce, tomato and guacamole on the side. Gracie’s invites dogs to share your dining experience on the patio during spring, summer and fall, weather permitting. Archie Archdeacon said the restaurant has had as many as 17 dogs on its patio at one time. In South Burlington, the Magic Hat Brewing Company offers free ale samples to people and complimentary biscuits for dogs. Dogs can join owners on the main floor of the brewery for a self-guided tour of the production line and in the tasting room for a unique bonding experience. The brewery loves doggy visitors and sells logo-branded dog leashes and dog bowls in its store. It also has a Doggy Hydration Station so no one leaves thirsty. Be sure to stop by the photo booth on your way out for a commemorative photo of your visit with your best friend. If you’re looking for a great destination to bring your dog, Vermont lives by its motto: “Share the love, and experience it in Vermont.”
Some of the items available at Magic Hat Brewing Company.
Candilynn and Michael Lockhart are cofounders of The DaVinci Foundation for Animals, a nonprofit organization that helps animals in need. Their love of travel and having a dog companion on every trip inspired them to find the best travel options to ensure their furry family member is never left at home. Cadilynn also is executive editorial photographer for Bringfido.com’s “Ruff Guide to the United States: 365 of the best places to stay and play with your dog in all 50 states.”
IF YOU GO Dog Mountain Website: dogmt.com Address: 143 Parks Road, St. Johnsbury, VT 05819 Phone: (802) 748-2700 Cost: Free, but donations are appreciated and help pay for upkeep of the grounds. Phineas Swann Bed and Breakfast Inn Website: phineasswann.com Address: 195 Main St., Montgomery Center, VT 05471 Phone: (802) 326-4306 Cost: $159 (no pet fee) and up, depending on season and availability.
Phineas Swann B&B features rooms named after various dog breeds.
Paw House Inn Website: pawhouse.com Address: 1376 Clarendon Ave., West Rutland, VT 05777 Phone: (802) 558-2661 Cost: $125 (no pet fee) and up, depending on season and availability. Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop Website: benjerry.com/scoopshops/factory-tours/ Address: 1281 Waterbury Stowe Road, Waterbury, VT 05676 Phone: (802) 882-1240 Cost: Tours are $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and free for kids 12 and younger. A $20 package includes a T-shirt and tour admission. Gracie’s Restaurant Website: gracies.com Address: 18 Edson Hill Road, Stowe, VT 05672 Phone: (802) 253-8741 Cost: Children’s menu $4.95 and up; adult burgers and fries are $11 and up; entrees range from $12.95 to $34.95. Magic Hat Brewing Company Website: magichat.net Address: 5 Bartlett Bay Road, South Burlington, VT 05403 Phone: (802) 658-2739 Cost: Tours and samples are free.
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www.grandrapidspetagree.com March/April 2014 Dogs Unleashed 41
the tail end
Where there’s fire, there’s Chief They call him Chief. No other name would do. He has been hanging out at the North Muskegon Fire Department since he was 6 weeks old, all puppy feet, fuzzy ears and a tail that swings constant with joy. Of course in the movies and story books, Dalmatians are the traditional firehouse dog, long and lean, fast enough to run alongside the carriages of old when horses were the main transportation. But here in North Muskegon, the department’s official mascot, goodwill ambassador and first responder to anyone walking through the door is Chief — as handsome a Golden Retriever as you’ll ever want to meet. “Isn’t he cool?” asks the department’s real chief, Steve Lague. “He’s wonderful to have around. There’s just something about having a dog in a firehouse. It fits. It’s nice.” Chief — the dog — isn’t on the premises every day. But whenever his owner, Lt. David Ogren Jr., is on duty or called to a fire or emergency, so is his dog — sitting in the passenger seat of Ogren’s rescue truck or one of the department’s emergency vehicles, keeping vigil, there if needed. Now 8 years old, Chief isn’t trained officially as a rescue or therapy dog, and he never leaves the truck — or “squad,” in the language of today’s firefighters — while at the scene of a fire, accident or medical call. But Ogren says the community’s first responders know Chief ’s always with him, and he’s never surprised when they seek his dog out for a quick handshake or hug: paramedics, police officers, firefighters — paid and volunteer — at the center of the worst tragedies and most-dramatic rescues.
42 Dogs Unleashed March/April 2014
What better way to let go of some of the day’s emotions than rubbing Chief ’s ears, looking into those happy Golden Retriever eyes of his or wrapping weary arms around his beautiful 65-pound furry body? “He’s like any family dog, and that’s what the fire service is: a family. Chief just has this calming effect when he’s around,” Lague says. And there’s also this: Who can resist a good dog who looks like he’s smiling all the time, even with his tongue out? Not the kids of North Muskegon, who visit the firehouse or come with their class during Fire Prevention Week for a tour or stop by on Halloween to trick-or-treat. “It’s a huge hit for them to see the ‘firedog,’ ” Ogren says. “The kids love him more than they do the candy.” Speaking of food, Chief is Johnny-onthe-spot when it comes to lunchtime at the firehouse, where the guys from the Department of Public Works eat their sandwiches at noon with the firefighters. The day I met Chief — and, I might add, fell instantly in love — he was munching on someone’s leftover Doritos and retrieving any and every empty plastic pop bottle thrown down the hall, dropping it at a different person’s feet each time.
Photo COURTESY OF David Ogren Jr.
Chief, a Golden Retriever, serves as mascot for the North Muskegon Fire Department.
“He’s amazing,” Ogren says. “So smart.” Maybe it’s because Ogren started bringing his pup to the firehouse at such a young age that, unlike so many other dogs, Chief doesn’t howl when he hears sirens. And he doesn’t run and hide like a big scaredy-cat when the loud tone designated for North Muskegon firefighters goes over police scanners and pagers. “He knows we’re going,” Ogren says. “He’s ready. Nine times out of 10, he beats me to the door.” “He knows we’re going,” Ogren says. “He’s ready. Nine times out of 10, he beats me to the door.” A paid-on-call firefighter with North Muskegon, Ogren, 33, works full time as a paramedic for White Lake Ambulance Authority. He was 18 when he signed up with the fire department, a secondgeneration firefighter affectionately nicknamed “Junior” by the guys with whom he serves. The senior Ogren, who was the department’s captain, recently retired. “(Firefighting) is in our blood,” young Ogren says. His blood and Chief ’s. Ogren has another dog at home, Leyla, a black Lab/Pug mix (“Go figure,” Ogren quips.). But she’s not cut out as a firedog because, left to her own devices, she wanders away. Not like Chief, who stays put no matter how chaotic the scene or how long the call takes. When he was a wee puppy, Chief rode alongside Ogren on the engine cover, commonly called the “doghouse” by firefighters. Ever since, Chief has been at Ogren’s side, seldom out of sight, always in the passenger’s seat. “It’s like, he thinks: ‘Yup, this is my job, too,’ ” Ogren says. “Incredible.” Susan Harrison-Wolffis is an award-winning journalist, retired from newspaper work after more than 40 years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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