Category Archives: special dogs and awards

Scat sniffer dogs help tell the story of endangered lizards

Dogs can be trained to find almost anything (people, drugs, weapons, poached ivory) but one York University researcher had them detect something a little unusual – the scat of endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizards.

The scat detection dogs helped biology PhD student Alex Filazzola discover not only scat, but the importance of shrubs in preserving lizard populations in the face of climate change.

“The loss of these lizards would likely have a cascade effect on other species,” said Filazzola, the study lead.

The research team geo-tagged 700 Ephedra californica shrubs in a 32.3-hectare area of the Panoche Hills Management Area in San Joaquin Valley, California. They then took two scat detection dogs from Working Dogs for Conservation on the hunt for lizard scat in 2013 and 2014.

In 2014, there was a drought during which time lizard scat was found more frequently under shrubs, especially those with dense canopy cover, than out in the open. The shrubs proved instrumental in providing critical micro-environments for the blunt-nosed leopard lizards, in particular, shady places to regulate their body temperature in extreme heat, as well as refuge from predators. The lizards use rodent burrows, most often found under shrubs, to escape predators.

“As the climate warms and lizards find it more difficult to regulate their body temperatures in the heat, these findings could help preserve them not only in California, but globally,” said Filazzola of York U’s Faculty of Science. “It demonstrates how much animals rely on plants for survival that goes beyond that of simply eating them. Positive plant-animal interactions could further support animal populations that are already threatened.”

The research, “Non-trophic interactions in deserts: Facilitation, interference, and an endangered lizard species,” was published in the journal Basic and Applied Ecology.

Once abundant in the San Joaquin Valley, agriculture and industrialization has reduced the lizards’ range by close to 85 per cent. Predictions of increased drought in the area put the lizards at a high risk of being wiped out. The study also pointed out that management techniques used over the past 50 years have done little to change the endangered status of the lizards.

“Planting shrubs, such as the Ephedra californica, could prove critical in managing and preserving endangered species in high-stress or arid ecosystems, such as a desert,” said Filazzola. “Continuing to remove these shrubs to install solar panels, however, further endangers this species.”

In addition, the study found that invasive grasses in the desert were not beneficial. They interfered with the lizards’ ability to move around and limited available habitat by reducing the variety of rodent species which create burrows. The invasive grasses also competed for space with shrubs and caused diminished shrub growth. Managing invasive plant species is therefore crucial in these ecosystems.

The research was funded by the Central Coast Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior, a Discovery Grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and York University.

Source: York University media release

Heroes Wear Fur

Retailer Orvis has published a very useful infographic concerning Working Military Dogs (WMDs).  Deployment of these dogs has increased 400% in the United States since the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Orvis Military Working Dogs Infographic

A girl and her service dog head to the Supreme Court

Ehlena Fry, a girl born with cerebral palsy, has had her Goldendoodle service dog named Wonder since 2009.  When it was time for her to go to school, the school refused to allow Wonder onto school grounds.

ehlena-and-wonder-2

The case has gone to the US Supreme Court – so that other parents won’t face the same hurdles.

Listen to and read the full story here.

Sniffing out UTIs

Urinary tract infections, or UTIs, are a real problem in people with mobility and neurological disorders. Often, a bacterial infection is well-advanced before the person shows symptoms.  And the consequences for a vulnerable patient like someone who is elderly can be dire.

Knowing that dogs have been trained to sniff out cancers, Assistance Dogs of Hawaii thought they could be put to use in detecting UTIs at an early stage.

urinary-tract-infection-and-dogs

They were right.

All dogs in a controlled study detected samples with between 90 and 94% accuracy, even in very diluted samples.

Read the full journal article here.

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

Southwest Airlines teams up with Canine Companions

Southwest Airlines has committed its support to Canine Companions for Independence by allowing volunteer puppy raisers and their puppies to travel at no additional charge (a savings of $95 per puppy per trip).

The company has instituted this benefit as a standard policy after a very successful six-month trial.  The puppy raisers were professional and the puppies were well-behaved.

The puppies gain valuable experience with commercial flying even before they are fully trained and graduate.  So the Airline is supporting the Canine Companions’ training program with practical skills.

Founded in 1975, CCI is a non-profit organization that enhances the lives of people with disabilities by providing highly-trained assistance dogs and ongoing support to ensure quality partnerships. CCI is the largest non-profit provider of assistance dogs, and is recognized worldwide for the excellence of its dogs, and the quality and longevity of the matches it makes between dogs and people. CCI trains four types of assistance dogs: Service dogs, Hearing dogs, Skilled Companion dogs, and Facility dogs—all of which provide specialized assistance to those in need.

Well done to Southwest Airlines!

Puppy raisers pre-board each aircraft at the same time that passengers with disabilities are given the opportunity to board.  The dogs must have a valid vaccination record and CCI identification must also be produced.

canine-companions-for-independence

Source:  The Companion, Northeast Region, Summer 2016

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

Pet therapy can combat homesickness

The expression dog is man’s best friend might have more weight in the case of first-year university students suffering from homesickness, according to a new UBC study.

The study shows that animal-assisted therapy can help students combat homesickness and could be a useful tool in lowering post-secondary drop-out rates.

homesickness-research-photo

John Tyler Binfet, seen with his dog Frances, conducted a study on the effect of pet therapy on homesickness. Binfet runs the Building Academic Retention Through K’9s (B.A.R.K.) program at UBC’s Okanagan campus. Credit: UBC

“Transitioning from high school to university can prove to be a challenge for many first-year students,” says Assistant Professor John Tyler Binfet of UBC’s Okanagan campus.

“Given that students who experience homesickness are more likely than their non-homesick cohorts to drop out of university, universities have a vested interest in supporting students during their first-year transition.”

In the study, 44 first-year university students who self-identified as homesick were given a survey to measure levels of homesickness, satisfaction with life and connectedness with campus. Half of the students completed eight weeks of dog therapy, while the other half were informed that their sessions would begin in eight weeks’ time. Dog therapy included 45-minute weekly sessions involving small group interactions with the dogs and handlers, and engagement with other first-year students participating in the study.

Following the initial eight-week session, participants in both the treatment group and the non-treatment group completed the survey again.

Participants who completed the eight-week program experienced significant reductions in homesickness and greater increase in satisfaction with life. Participants reported that sessions “felt like they were at home chatting with friends who brought their puppies.” While the non-treatment group reported an increase in their feelings of homesickness.

According to a 2009 report conducted for B.C. Stats, students who left post-secondary happy were almost twice as likely to have felt a sense of belonging compared to students who left unhappy. Students who left university unhappy were almost twice as likely to say they did not feel a sense of belonging on campus.

A total of 29 per cent of students who dropped out cited more interactions and friendships with other students as a factor that would have influenced their decision to stay longer.

While further study is needed, a university’s ability to influence campus connections could be a useful tool in lowering drop-out rates in first-year students, says Binfet.

“Many first-year university students face the challenge of integrating into their new campus community,” says Binfet. “Homesick students are three times more likely than those who manage their homesickness to disengage and drop out of university.”

“Moving to a new city, I did not know anyone at the university and became very homesick and depressed,” says UBC Okanagan student Varenka Kim. “I was mainly secluded in my dorm room and did not feel like I belonged here. Coming to animal assisted therapy sessions every Friday gave me a sense of purpose and kept me enthusiastic about life.”

Source:  University of British Columbia media release

The seagull dog at the Australian National Maritime Museum

A former working dog left in foster care secured a job at the Australian National Maritime Museum three months ago.  Dog and employer are very happy with the results.

Meet Bailey, a Border Collie.

Bailey the seagull dog

Photo credit: 702 ABC Sydney, Robbie Buck

Bailey’s job is to scare away the seagulls that soil the Pyrmont Wharf and the vessels that are docked at the museum.  He’s very enthusiastic about his work and, since he’s officially an employee, he’s wears a flotation jacket for safety.

When Bailey isn’t on duty, he sleeps in the Museum’s security control room.

Another dog with a job!

Source:  ABC News