Category Archives: animal welfare

Reducing stress in shelter dogs

Editor’s Note from DoggyMom:  This research endorses the approach used by Best Friends Animal Society at its Kanab, Utah sanctuary which allows behavior-tested dogs to go on ‘sleepovers’ with volunteers and guests.  I have hosted many sleepover dogs in my 3 visits to Kanab (and planning to do it again on my 4th visit).  It is heartening to know that science has backed up the practice – showing that it helps the dogs relieve stress from living in a the kennel environment


“Who’s a good dog? You are, aren’t you? Yes, you’re the best dog that ever was.”

But is he really a good dog? Can you really tell when you’re doing a meet-and-greet in the shelter? Is that how he’s going to be when you take him home? Are you getting Lassie or the Hound of the Baskervilles?

These were the sorts of questions that led to a study done by an Arizona State University researcher.

Lisa Gunter, a doctoral candidate studying behavioral neuroscience at the Canine Science Collaboratory in the Department of Psychology, began the project as a pilot study at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, the largest no-kill shelter in the country. About 1,600 dogs and cats live there, visited by about 30,000 people per year. It’s a popular vacation destination for pet lovers. People come and take weeklong “volunteer vacations.”

Gunter looked at the sleepover program offered by Best Friends, where visitors can take a dog back to their hotel room for the night.

The question she had was this: Is their behavior on the sleepover predictive?

Shelter dog research

Credit: Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Lisa Gunter plays with her 11-year-old rescued border collie Sonya outside the Psychology building on ASU’s Tempe campus. Gunter, a doctoral candidate studying behavioral neuroscience at the Canine Science Collaboratory in the Department of Psychology, found that shelter dogs benefit from sleepover programs like the one offered at at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, the USA’s largest no-kill animal shelter.

“We wanted to see how one night out of the shelter would impact the dogs,” Gunter said. “Is that what someone will see in their house? … That has been a challenge in sheltering.”

Gunter measured levels of cortisol, a diurnal hormone that is a measure of stress. She also took a behavioral snapshot of each dog, asking such questions as: What’s he like on a leash? What’s he like when he sees another dog? What’s he like when you come into his kennel?

“We saw one night out significantly reduced their cortisol,” Gunter said. “When they returned the next day, it was the same. We knew it at least dropped for one night.”

Lowered stress levels could allow the dog to behave more naturally, giving people a better view of the dog’s true personality.

The researchers took cortisol samples at three time points: the dog at the shelter, the dog at the sleepover and the dog back at the shelter.

“We’re trying to get more at the dog’s welfare, how they’re feeling on a larger timescale, not just 10 or 15 minutes,” Gunter said. “When we saw the cortisol had significantly reduced on just one overnight, that was pretty exciting. We didn’t imagine that just one night out would make a difference.”

Anecdotally, people who took a dog home for a sleepover reported that after the dog settled down, it would immediately go for a long sleep.

“Is sleep potentially a component to their welfare?” she said. “Getting good, uninterrupted sleep could benefit them as well. That could be one mechanism by which we’re seeing this reduction in cortisol. The dogs are getting a good night’s sleep. That’s something they can’t get at the shelter because they have a lot of noisy neighbors.”

Gunter has been carrying out the study in collaboration with a researcher at Carroll College in Helena, Montana. They were recently awarded a grant to carry out this study at four shelters across the U.S. Instead of a one-day baseline, they’ll be collecting a two-day sample.

Shelters are constantly looking for ways to get animals into homes.

“For a long time in sheltering it was thought dogs would be more adoptable if you just taught them to sit, if you just taught them to be well-behaved,” Gunter said. “That’s not necessarily the case. That’s not what our lab has found. There are behaviors related to companionship of people in a meet-and-greet setting when the person is getting to know the dog.”

They’ve found two behaviors that people respond to: when the dog lies down next to the person and whether the dog responded to an invitation to play.

“We’re a behavior and cognition lab, so we really try to understand what the animal is experiencing by looking at its behavior,” Gunter said. “Until the time we can have a conversation with them, for now we’re left with observing their behavior. We’re essentially detectives, trying to gather the information to have our best understanding of what the dog is experiencing. It’s the best we can do, without being dogs.”

Source:  Newswise

Mutual Rescue™ – Tracy and Jack

I blogged about Mutual Rescue™ last year; it’s a a trademarked initiative of the Humane Society Silicon Valley.  Aimed at changing the way people think of animal welfare and adoption, each year the Society asks for submissions from people to share their story about a special connection they have made with an animal.

The first story of 2017 has been released.  Meet Tracy and Jack.  Note that Jack is a tripod as well as having only one eye.  It doesn’t stop him from living a full life.

Note:  Tripods benefit from regular massage which helps to retain full range of motion in the remaining limbs.   Stretching and relieving tension in hard-working muscles helps to keep these special needs dogs moving.   I love working with tripods (I don’t live near Jack, so can’t work with him)!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

Tax implications for fostering

Americans resident in the United States have to file their taxes by 15th April each year – it’s a busy time for accountants and bookkeepers.

Second Hand Dogs

But I came across a tax decision,  VanDusen vs IRS Commissioner, which is very promising for volunteers who foster dogs for designated 501(c)(3) not-for-profit animal rescue organizations.  If the foster carer incurs unreimbursed expenses directly related to fostering, they can claim these on their tax returns as charitable deductions.  Things like food, veterinary care, and mileage are included; so too are utility costs for the portion of the home’s space that is used for care of the foster animal.

Careful record-keeping is important to ensure against audit troubles later on, of course.

Wish we had something like that in the tax code in New Zealand!

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand

Saving the whole family

As the Northern Hemisphere enters its hurricane season, it’s a useful time to review your plans for disaster preparedness regardless of your location in the world.

In New Zealand, as our seismic activity continues to make the news, it’s important to be ready regardless of season.  Things like refreshing your stored water supply, for example.  And if you don’t have a bottled water supply, get one!  This includes storing enough water for 3 days for you and your animals.

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) distributed this video last year.  It outlines the things you need as a pet parent and not just things for dogs.  I have clients on lifestyle blocks with horses, for example.  Although I don’t know much about horse care, I can certainly understand the need to have harnesses and a trailer ready for evacuation.

The video mentions how to make a temporary dog tag out of a luggage tag. This may work for larger dogs, but is impractical for small breed dogs.

What I prefer is to have an old dog registration tag in my emergency kit.    It’s been covered with a blank label and I have a pen in the kit.

If we had to evacuate to a temporary location, I will write our contact details on this temporary tag.

I’m also a supporter of micro chipping, which is compulsory for dogs in New Zealand.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

‘No-kill’ what’s in a name?

I personally have no issues with the term ‘no-kill’ as in ‘no-kill animal shelter’.   Traditionally, this term has been used to mean an animal shelter that does not kill healthy or treatable animals even when the shelter is full.

No kill image

Euthanasia would only be an option for terminally ill animals or those that were considered too dangerous for public safety ever to be re-homed. 

In the case of the latter circumstance, it probably was easy for some shelters to bend the rules and still claim no-kill status.  If you believe that all pit bulls, for example, are inherently dangerous – or your local laws deem them to be and you are running a municipal shelter – then yes – you could claim no-kill status under the definition while killing those breeds of dog as a matter of course.

Others would claim that shelters would shift adoptable animals into their shelter and ship out animals that were less adoptable to achieve their no-kill status.

Ideologically, some people state that they would rather be ‘for’ something than against it.  So names are popping up such as “Humane City” or “Humane Rescue.” Some quote Mother Theresa who said “I was once asked why I don’t participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I’ll be there.”.

In other words, promote what you want and not what you don’t want.

Approximately two years ago, for example, Best Friends Animal Society changed its mission statement from “No More Homeless Pets” to “Save Them All.”

Do these changes make a difference?  I don’t know; I don’t have the data on this.  Presumably marketers and public relations experts have data to show increasing levels of support.

All I know is that New Zealand is definitely NOT a no-kill nation or a save-them-all nation.  We have a way to go to require responsible husbandry, pet ownership and the acceptability of adopting animals of all ages who end up homeless.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

The Pet Box Project

An online retailer in Turkey, n11.com, has found a novel way to combine environmental sustainability with animal welfare needs.

n11 pet box

When customers order pet food products from their site, the corrugated delivery box can be converted into a waterproof home for homeless pets.  The idea is to make the shelters available to stray and homeless animals in the customer’s neighborhood, particularly during the winter months.

I haven’t found any details yet about how this project is tracking, and its success rates, but it is surely worth thinking about on a wider scale because many of us now use the internet as a preferred source of purchasing our pet supplies.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand

How shelters can use the Pokemon Go craze to their advantage

I heard a business report recently that local shops can benefit from people using Pokemon Go by promoting themselves to people who are out and about playing the game.  For example, local cafes can offer specials for thirsty players to take a break.

And then the animal shelters got involved…

The animal shelter in Muncie, Indiana noticed that a lot of people were  walking around playing Pokemon Go.  Always in need of dog walkers, the shelter staff came up with the idea – play Pokemon and walk a shelter dog at the same time.

Pokemon Go poster

To take a Pokemon Dog, you have to sign a waiver form and you are reminded to watch where you are going for the sake of both you and the dog.

Walking is great exercise for dogs and humans.  If this Pokemon Go craze can help animals in shelters and rescues, I’m all for it.

Kathleen Crisley, specialist in dog massage, rehabilitation and nutrition/food therapy, The Balanced Dog, Christchurch, New Zealand