Adjusting to the days and the seasons

We’ve had several very hot days this week (which my Northern Hemisphere readers may be jealous of).  For a responsible dog owner, this means being aware of the changes in temperatures and adjusting the care routine accordingly.

Whereas in the winter our early morning walks are something that we often endure with the deep winter darkness and chilling cold, now we get to stroll in moderate temperatures and enjoy sunrises like these:

Sunrise in Christchurch, New Zealand Early morning in Papanui

Of course, it’s also a season when Izzy has to stay home rather than visiting clients because the car is simply too hot for her.  If we needed any further reminder of the dangers, a dog had to be rescued from a car in Dunedin on Thursday.

So my advice is to be aware of your dog’s tolerances for both heat and cold (too many dogs are left outside in harsh winter climates, when they should be cared for with warmth and shelter).  It’s part of being a responsible dog owner.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand


It’s just old age…

It happened again yesterday.

Someone asked me what I do for a living and I described my dog massage practice and how many of my clients are older dogs with varying degrees of arthritis and other orthopedic problems.

And then he said it.  “My friend has an old dog, he’s almost 10, and we’re pretty sure he’s got arthritis.  But then again, it’s just old age.

I tried to explain that there are many things we can do for dogs with arthritis which keeps them pain free and happy.  And because their pain is managed, they live longer.

Old Dog Buster

Buster, an older dog of 10+ is enjoying a new lease of life thanks to a combination of pain medication, massage, laser and weight loss

The message still wasn’t getting through…and then he described his friend’s dog:

  • he’s getting more aggressive; he even bit my friend one night when he went to feed him
  • he doesn’t run around much any more
  • he doesn’t come to greet me when I visit; he used to

I did my best to say that his friend needed to get his dog to a vet for an examination and that I would be too happy to see him for an assessment.  Behavior changes often occur when a dog is in pain.  And, just because the dog is older doesn’t mean the issue is arthritis.  We would need a working diagnosis from a qualified veterinarian.

He took my card; I hope his friend calls.  I can’t stand the thought of another dog who is in pain and doesn’t have to be.

It’s not about old age; it’s about the right care.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand


Jingle and Bell for the holidays

Jingle and Bell are plush/soft toys sold by Hallmark.  This year, Hallmark is donating the sum of $100,000 to Best Friends Animal Society to support animal adoption.

Jingle and Bell

When these toys are purchased from a Hallmark Gold Crown store, Hallmark will include information about Best Friends to help spread the word about the no-kill movement and the benefits of adoption.

Corporate sponsorship in the right direction, I say.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

The great escape – an example of dog intelligence

Any reader of my blog knows that I enjoy following research topics, and I’ve written a number of posts about dog cognition.

This video, of a German Short Haired Pointer, shows that dogs are smart and can work things out.

She’s working on her great escape…watch her as she works it out (don’t just jump to the end)

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Personality match

When I heard about Paws Like Me, a site with a personality quiz for matching prospective adopters with dogs up for adoption, I had to go look.

This site provides people who must re-home their dogs with a place to list them as available for adoption.  The site encourages shelters, through its partner program, to refer people to list their dog with them directly so that shelters have more room for other needy animals.

Sorry, this site is only for USA adoptions – not available in New Zealand.

I took the personality test, which took less than 5 minutes.  It seems pretty accurate based on the types of dogs I have had during my life:

Your ideal dog!

You are a very active person, but because the dog will be home for long hours alone you need a dog with less energy. High energy dogs do not do well with long periods of down-time and are likely to find their own outlet for their mental and physical energy. You like a dog that is fairly easy to train to basic commands and a few fun tricks. The dog should be able to focus his attention on something for a decent amount of time. You don’t mind a dog that is a bit reserved in new situations or around new people. You can be patient and take the time to teach him that there is nothing to fear. You like an affectionate dog that will snuggle with you, but you don’t want him to be in your face trying to get attention constantly.
Izzy the Greyhound riding in the car


I think Izzy would agree that we have been a good match!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Grieving for a pet

Don't weep for me gravestone

Today I have been thinking a lot about pet loss and grief.

It’s just been one of those weeks – a few older dogs who are clearly reaching the end of their lives and one client in particular who seems to be on the verge of needing to make an end-of-life decision for their aging dog….

Most pet owners have experienced grief at the loss of a beloved animal.  I know I have.  And even when you know that your dog is reaching the end of its life, the loss is still shocking when the end finally arrives.

And then I read this Wall Street Journal article, decidedly focused on US employment and employers, about the decisions employees face when grieving for a lost animal.  It’s a little shocking (but not surprising) to know that employers have asked employees who are euthanising their pets to report to work before/after the event.

When I used to be employed in a large public sector organisation as a senior manager, I commented on a proposed bereavement policy.  I suggested that managers should be able to use their discretion and grant a day of bereavement leave based on the loss of a pet.  Managers would know the circumstances of their employee and the role of their pet in their lives because they were expected to know their staff well.

I also saw it as a leadership issue – large employers have the ability to support staff with benefits that smaller firms may not.

The CEO declined (actually, he never declined he just ignored the submission). I found out later from someone in HR (because I asked) that the CEO felt he ‘had to draw the line somewhere.’

Despite the growing research-based evidence of the role our dogs play in our emotional and physical health, owners are not supported through the inevitable grieving process that follows their life-long commitment.

It’s sad.

I’m very proud that I support my clients in assessing quality of life and I follow up with them after their dog passes; many have stayed in touch as colleagues and friends long after their dog has gone.

My only hope is that our workplaces and their policies catch up on what it means to be truly family-friendly.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, Canine Catering Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

A device to help monitor guide dog health

Researchers at North Carolina State University have developed a device that allows people who are blind to monitor their guide dogs, in order to keep tabs on the health and well-being of their canine companions.

Guide dog and handler

Sean Mealin and Simba, using a traditional guide dog harness and handle. Photo credit: NC State University

“Dogs primarily communicate through their movements and posture, which makes it difficult or impossible for people who are blind to fully understand their dogs’ needs on a moment-to-moment basis,” says David Roberts, an assistant professor of computer science at NC State and co-author of a paper describing the new technology. “This challenge is particularly pronounced in guide dogs, who are bred and trained to be outwardly calm and avoid drawing attention to themselves in public.

To address this need, the researchers have developed a suite of technologies that monitor a dog’s breathing and heart rate and share the information with the dog’s handler.

“Our goal is to let guide dog handlers know when their dogs are stressed or anxious,” says Sean Mealin, a Ph.D. student at NC State and lead author of the paper. “This is important because it is widely believed that stress is a significant contributing factor to early retirement of guide dogs and other service animals. The technology may also be able to help handlers detect other health problems, such as symptoms of heat exhaustion.”

The issue is particularly important to Mealin, who is blind and works with his own guide dog, Simba.

The research team had previously developed monitoring technologies that are incorporated into a lightweight harness that can be worn by rescue or service dogs. The trick was to find a way to share that monitoring data with users who are blind – and to do so in a way that allows those users to act on the information.

So, the researchers developed a specialized handle that attaches to a guide dog’s harness.  The handle is equipped with two vibrating motors.

High tech dog harness

This guide-dog harness handle contains electronics that allow users to monitor the breathing and heart rate of their dogs. Photo credit: David Roberts

One motor is embedded in the handle by the handler’s thumb, and vibrates – or beats – in time with the dog’s heart rate. When the dog’s heart rate increases, so does the rate at which the motor beats.

The second motor is embedded in the handle near the handler’s pinky finger, and vibrates in synch with the dog’s breathing. The vibration increases and decreases in intensity, to simulate the dog breathing in and out.

“We’re refreshing the design and plan to do additional testing with guide-dog handlers,” Roberts says. “Our ultimate goal is to provide technology that can help both guide dogs and their people. That won’t be in the immediate future, but we’re optimistic that we’ll get there.”

Source:  NC State University media release