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Tom Shelby, who has trained dogs and their owners on Martha’s Vineyard and in New York City, answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather counsels Alex, who will soon be bringing home a new puppy to join their Shortybull, Angus, and the owners of Alby, who is entering her golden years.

Dear Dogfather,

My partner and I have a two-year-old Shortybull (Frenchy-Staffordshire bull terrier mix) who is fabulously friendly, calm, and loving. Angus is neutered and rarely is aggressive toward other dogs. We are planning on adding a new female pup to our home in September. What do we need to do for Angus and the new pup so that everyone is comfortable and happy?

Thanks!

Alex

Dear Alex,

Glad to hear that Angus is a nice guy and also glad to hear that the new pack member is going to be a female. Generally, opposite sexes get along better than same sex. In my experience the worst inter-family dog aggression is often between two sisters from the same litter — especially terriers. What often happens is the dominant sister is a bully, pushing her submissive sister to the point where she can’t and won’t take it anymore, with the result being a serious fight. Usually happens between one and two years of age, with a lousy prognosis. The bully won’t stop bullying and her sister won’t submit and your quality of life goes downhill as the constant anxiety of a serious fight erupting makes your life miserable. With about 800 training appointments per annum I’ve seen this scenario about once a year, with one of the dogs having to be re-homed because they weren’t going to work it out.

When you have a puppy in mind, I suggest you bring Angus to meet her and let them hang out together. If Angus thinks it’s great fun when the pup play-fights with him and you see two tails wagging a lot, you got a match. If Angus’s new sister isn’t coming home with you on the first meeting, take two dish towels and rub her all over with them. Then place one towel under Angus’s food bowl and the other under where he sleeps. The positive association of her scent with two of his favorite spots can’t hurt.

When it’s time to bring the new family member home, bring Angus with you. If that’s not feasible have them meet a block away from the house and then come home together. Meeting at a neutral location will go a long way in avoiding a territorial-aggressive response, which often applies to playdates, too.

Best of luck with your new pack member,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

What recommendation or advice do you have for the lucky owners of elderly dogs? I have been blessed with 14 wonderful years with my canine companion, and while I feel sure she will be the longest-lived dog in existence, I know the time will come when I will have to prepare both of us for her ” next great adventure.” My dog, let’s call her Alby, is a terrier mix of about 40 pounds. She has enjoyed robust good health her entire life and continues to be healthy and happy. I take her for daily walks, and if she is a bit less interested in squirrels than she used to be, she still frisks about. While this not a topic I like to think about, I do want to be able to make the best decisions I can when the end nears so as to be able to afford her a comfortable and dignified passing. Yours with respect.

Alby’s Loving Mother

Dear Alby’s Loving Mama,

The vibe I get from your question tells me that if there’s reincarnation I’d like to come back as your dog. One thing’s for sure. Whenever the end comes, you can be sure that Alby’s had as good a life as a dog can have.

Euthanizing a family member is truly one of the most painful hardships we humans can face. And it comes in three parts — knowing when to do it, making the decision, and doing it.

I think if there’s chronic pain and discomfort and she’s living in a haze of painkillers, it’s time. If she stops eating or drinking, it’s time. If her quality of life has totally deteriorated, make the decision.

But in all of this there’s something that I think is extremely important. NO PITY. Don’t share your sadness with him. Dogs are very aware and sensitive to your mood. ACT. Act as up as you can. Do not share your sadness with her. It will only frighten and depress her more. After it’s done, mourn till you’re out of tears. After it’s done.

My little Cavalier King Charles thought he was in heaven before he actually got there. He passed with his tail wagging furiously as he was devouring a chocolate bar when he got the sleep shot. I might also suggest that if possible, have the vet come to your house when it’s time. Alby will be much more comfortable and so probably will you.

Enjoy the time you have and good luck,

The Dogfather

0

If provoked, even normally calm dogs will snap at people they know.

Michelle-JasnyMichelle Gerhard Jasny, V.M.D. has been practicing veterinary medicine on the Vineyard since 1982 and writing the Visiting Vet column for more than 25 years. She lives and works in West Tisbury. She can be reached at: drjasny@comcast.net.

“Be careful,” the owner cautioned as we led Rita, the shepherd cross, into the living room. “She’s getting grouchier in her old age.” My assistant Elise and I were on a house call for Rita’s annual physical, heartworm test, Lyme booster, and toenail trim. Routine stuff. We have cared for Rita since her owner rescued her in 2003. As a young dog in Georgia, Rita had a litter of pups and was kept tied outside constantly. She may have been mistreated, judging by how she cowered when approached. Since then, Rita has had a long medical history. Treatment for heartworm infection acquired down south. Cruciate ligament surgery, first her right knee, then her left. She was a good patient, though nervous, but right from the start hated having her nails clipped. Many dogs feel that way. At first we used tranquilizers for pedicures, but over time Rita got used to us. We usually worked with her at home, where she was less anxious.

Elise coaxed Rita onto the couch, hugged her head with one arm, and held a front leg for me to draw blood with the other. Rita didn’t flinch as I poked in the needle. “Good girl,” I said, examining her front half, then moving around to examine the tail end. Since I was already behind her, I trimmed the nails on one hind paw. Rita didn’t flinch. “Good girl,” I said, reaching for the other hind foot tucked underneath her. Rita pulled her foot farther away. I reached deeper between the cushions and her tummy.

In a split second, without warning, Rita slid downward, rotated, and bit Elise’s face. Elise was still valiantly hugging the dog, so for a moment I thought she wasn’t hurt. Then I saw the wound on her chin. Dog bites are often just punctures where teeth penetrate skin. This was far worse. Had Elise jerked back as Rita snapped? Or maybe Rita bit, then yanked? It  happened so fast. Regardless, the result was several long, jagged gashes.

According to the Center for Disease Control, almost four and a half million Americans are bitten by dogs every year. Half are children. One in five requires medical attention. The majority occur in someone’s home. Most victims are owners, family members, friends, relatives, visitors, or babysitters. Between four and eight percent are work-related.  Around 30 Americans are killed by dogs annually. There is much controversy about breed statistics, but nowadays pit bulls and pit bull crosses appear responsible for the greatest number of severe injuries and lethal attacks. Other breeds often implicated include rottweilers, German shepherds, bull mastiffs, Akitas, dobermans, and chow chows, but any dog can bite, from feisty little Chihuahuas to big, goofy Newfies.

Who is responsible when a dog bite occurs? Many states still abide by the old common law “One Bite” rule that says “the first bite is free.” If you didn’t know Fido was prone to biting, then no one can really blame you when he nips the kid pulling his tail. But after that first freebie, if you let Fido run loose at the beach, on the bike path, even in your yard, then you are liable if he bites again. Ignoring local leash laws may legally constitute negligence. And really, you’re a responsible human being, right? You know your dog can bite? You restrain him. Period.

Because less-than-honest owners simply won’t mention Fido’s first bite, many states, including Massachusetts, have a “Strict Liability Law” that says unless the victim was trespassing, teasing, tormenting, or abusing the dog, the owner (or whoever is responsible for the animal, including pet sitters and, sometimes, landlords) is strictly liable. If the victim is under the age of seven, the child is generally presumed innocent of provocation. You really shouldn’t leave a young child alone with Fido anyway. As veterinarians, people often ask our advice after their dog bites. Most of us agree that after two unprovoked incidents, sadly, it’s time to consider euthanasia. Why not just confine the dog? You can try, but the reality is no matter what you do, mistakes happen. The gate doesn’t latch. Fido jumps the fence. Someone lets him slip out the door. And another person gets hurt.

Rita fled behind the couch. If it were me, I would have been wailing hysterically, but Elise just lay down, stoically applying pressure to her wound, blood running down her neck, while I rushed her to the emergency room. Stitches. Lots of stitches. Antibiotics. Pain medication. I was kicking myself mentally. The owner had mentioned earlier that when trying to clip Rita’s nails by herself recently, Rita had bitten her. Was that her One Free Bite? Or was it “provoked,” since it involved toenails? Was today’s bite reason to advise euthanasia? Liability laws may recognize circumstances in which a dog (or owner) is not considered at fault, such as when the victim is trespassing, committing a felony, provoking the dog, assisting police or military — or when the victim is a veterinarian or veterinary assistant. They actually call it “The Veterinarian’s Rule,” acknowledging that being treated by the doctor may be painful or make some dogs unusually scared or defensive. We routinely muzzle many patients, but we were just so used to Rita, we didn’t think it necessary.

Rita’s owner has taken the event very seriously. Though not considering euthanasia, she is confining Rita appropriately. We now use a muzzle, especially when handling Rita’s feet. A careful eye exam revealed cataracts and we suspect declining vision may be leading to her  increasing defensiveness. Another Island veterinary practice sent a nice Get Well fax, saying “It could have been any of us.” That’s the truth. A cautionary tale for everyone who works or lives with dogs. Any dog can bite, given the right circumstances. Use common sense. Use caution. We feel lucky everyone involved handled themselves with grace, compassion, and responsibility. Elise, most of all. She is one tough cookie, already back at work, fearlessly holding big dogs while I clip their nails.

1
Barking dogs housed in the kennel behind Animal Health Care on Airport Road have been a source of neighborhood disturbance.

West Tisbury selectmen, meeting Wednesday June 25, unanimously approved a plan designed to reduce the volume of sound from barking dogs boarded in the outside kennel space at veterinarian Steven Atwood’s Animal Health Care Associates (AHC) located adjacent to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.

Almost one year ago, a group of neighbors from the Coffin’s Field subdivision across nearby Edgartown-West Tisbury Road, represented by homeowner Elaine Friedman, asked the board for relief from the barking dogs. The Coffin’s Field group and AHC agreed to attempt to reach an agreement but differences in the data presented by each side’s audio experts lead to differing conclusions and no agreement.

Mr. Atwood’s attorney, Rosemary Haigazian, and an audio expert, Lawrence Copley, hired by Mr. Atwood, presented a plan at the Wednesday meeting to enclose the kennel wall facing the subdivision, hang a vinyl curtain across the longest open wall and apply sound damping material to an interior back wall and the kennel’s ceiling.

Ms. Haigazian said the project would cost between $5,000 and $8,000. She said AHC hoped to get some financial assistance from the neighbors. There were no offers of assistance at the meeting. At the selectmen’s meeting a week earlier, the Coffin’s Field group proposed that Mr. Atwood provide a 12-foot wall made of soundproofing material which AHC argued was too expensive.

Selectmen gave AHC 60 days to complete the work.

If your dog chases cars, read The Dogfather.
The Dogfather, with Paula.

The Dogfather, with Paula. —

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. Got a question for the Dogfather?Write him at dogsrshelby@msn.com.

Help!

poodle.JPGI have a 2-year-old female standard poodle. She was attacked (off leash) by a yellow Lab when she was 4 1/2 months old. She is wary and careful about approaching large dogs, especially Labs. She is defensive, a little fearful, and has exhibited territorial aggression toward other dogs if they approach her too quickly, even if they are friendly. She has never bitten any other dog, but does show her teeth if they are too forward or friendly.

Is there any way to help change her behavior and help her develop confidence when we go out to play (off leash) with other dogs?

Please advise!

Thank you so much for your time and consideration.

Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth,

It’s a lot easier to take the dog that looks in the mirror and sees God and make him realize that there may be a God — but it’s not him, it’s you — than it is to take a fearful dog and make him bolder. The concept is, how do you make a coward brave? Not that your dog is a coward: she’s been traumatized and is understandably nervous with dogs she doesn’t know.

The extremely high concentration of Labs on the Island makes it not surprising, but that much more unfortunate that it had to be a Lab that attacked your puppy. Why couldn’t it have been a Maremma (a breed you’re unlikely to ever see on the Vineyard) or a Komondor, instead of a Lab. But alas, it was a Lab, and your poodle girl is likely to meet plenty more.

A word about poodles in general, especially since I adopted a 1 1/2 year old female we named Paula about nine months ago. They’re usually quite smart, and sometimes sensitive to a fault. Mine is smarter than some of my friends.

I’ve seen a few cases where a friendly dog that was mauled by another dog became a consummate dog fighter. “The best defense is a good offense,” as they say. Fortunately that’s not the case with your poodle girl. She’s just wary.

So the first thing I’d suggest is that you get her a DAP collar. It stands for dog appeasing pheromone, and can be quite relaxing to dogs. The scent it gives off lasts for about a month, and one of my daughters can tell when she needs to get a new collar for her dog by the behavior of the dog. Put it on your poodle girl an hour or so before she goes out to socialize.

The only real solution to getting Poodle girl to relax in the company of other dogs is lots and lots of friendly dog encounters. So go out of your way to make sure as best you can that she has play dates with friendly dogs as often as possible.

Also, if the only time she ever gets pieces of chicken or steak is when she’s about to be taken off leash to play with other dogs, her attitude is likely to become more outgoing. However, be sure not to give her the special treats if she’s showing fear or teeth so as to avoid rewarding unwanted behavior. Once again, timing is critical. When poodle girl sees another dog, start loving her with your happy voice and giving her the treats, telling her what a great time she’s going to have as you unclip the leash.

One other thing. Remove her from the happy play date while she’s having a great time. Make her leave “wanting more” play time, as opposed to having had enough!

Good luck and keep those questions coming,

The Dogfather

Hello Dogfather,

My two-year-old Lab mix is awful on the leash. Instead of walkin, she would rather rip the leash out of my hands and play “catch me.” When she isn’t being chased by me she’s chasing squirrels or rabbits or anything that moves and gets especially excited to meet other dogs; so much so that she’s actually pulled me over. I’ve tried using a harness, but somehow she chews her way through them. We both need the exercise. but sprinting and wrestling are too much for me.

Thanks,

Marvin

Dear Marvin,

Sounds like your girl is in need of some serious parenting. Countless times I’ve told people that dogs are usually a lot smarter than you think, get away with what they can, and are very manipulative. Therefore, they need to be parented, given behavioral parameters.

When I’ve entered a house and found the six-year-old child sitting ON the kitchen table eating mashed potatoes with his fingers I usually guessed right that the dog wasn’t going to be very well mannered either.

Age two is about when brain wave patterns change and dogs enter adulthood, and it’s long overdue for Lab mix girl to grow up and become a well mannered, cooperative lady. This will require comprehensive obedience training from a pro. If you’re just interested in mitigating the pulling on the leash, I’d suggest a gentle leader, which uses the same principle that enables a rider to control a thousand-pound horse. Even though the bit is in a horse’s mouth, the leverage is derived from the pressure on the horse’s nose.

Marvin, if I pull you by your nose, what follows with little resistance is you! And so it is with a gentle leader. It goes around the dog’s snout with the leash attached below the mouth and eliminates 95 percent of the dog’s pulling. However, when you put a pair of sunglasses on your face, you know why they’re there. When you put something on a dog’s face, most of the time the attitude is, “Get this thing off my face!” often with the dog on his back pawing at it to remove it.

I’ve acclimated countless dogs to gentle leaders by introducing it with a treat, sizing it properly and immediately taking a 20-minute walk using treats when there’s no resistance. It’s also important that the gentle leader is used every time Lab mix girl takes a walk. If it’s used intermittently, she’s likely to fight it much longer.

Good luck and keep those questions coming,

The Dogfather

A Greyhound who gnaws and a jumping Golden.

Lena likes wooden tables for lunches, defiantly eyeing her owner while she munches.
The Dogfather, with Paula.

The Dogfather, with Paula. —

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. Got a question for the Dogfather?Write him at dogsrshelby@msn.com.

Dear Dogfather,

I have been adopting rescued greyhounds since 1992 and find they have a whole passel of idiosyncrasies. Vitesse, my first and longest lived so far, was typical of retired racers, as she was docile and sweet and never barked. She was The Only Dog until I was asked to foster Rhody, who arrived with a whole box of problems. And she barked. So Tesse learned to bark, too.

Of course, the foster part was short-lived, and full adoption came within the week.

Rhody had a bit more difficulty adjusting to life without a cage. When I had to be away for stretches of time, she amused herself by eating the corners of furniture and edges of windowsills. I attributed that to separation anxiety and was glad I owned very few wood items of any value.

She finally calmed down a bit and we regarded the damage as patina, or maybe just signs of a time gone by. When Rhody was joined by Annie, the dynamics changed again. Annie was super shy and Rhody was nuts. I will not go into details about adjusting to indoor living, as both dogs have now crossed the rainbow bridge and the floors no longer get washed daily.

Now we have Number Four, Lena. She is pretty nearly perfect, even though she had never seen the inside of a house or a basket of dog toys in all the five years she spent on the track.  She decided home was a good thing, and has never had an accident. She does have one flaw, though, sort of a variation on Rhody.  Rho pursued her wood fetish in private, leaving me to discover her latest project.

Lena looks right at me and begins to chew the corner of the coffee table. Or the end of the piano. Also, she managed to bite off a small strip of rushing on the only genuine antique in the house. She has a varied doggy diet, with lots of munchies and the occasional pretend toothbrushing gimmick from Milkbone, so I can’t think she lacks fiber. She bites wood whether we are alone or have company, so it doesn’t seem a bid for attention. Your thoughts?

Greyhound Friend,

Mary-Jean Miner

Dear Greyhound friend,

The greyhound world is lucky to have you in it. Lena’s not chewing wood because of a nutritional deficiency: she’s a wood chewer. Many destructive chewer dogs are quite specific in what they chew. Some only do plastic (beware TV clickers); some are strictly into cloth, (beware couches), and Lena’s into wood. From her perspective, rushing is an acceptable variation of wood. Lena needs two things: a “leave it” command, and redirection. Even if she learns not to touch wood in your presence, it’s not good enough. Lena needs to be introduced to the “Dog God,” the God of dogs who sees all, all the time. And she (dog God) doesn’t like it when Lena chews wood whether Greyhound friend is around to see or not. A vibration collar may be a fine dog God. Whenever her mouth touches wood you touch the remote button and Lena gets startled by the vibration, and associates her mild surprise to chewing wood, not you. You say nothing. If need be, set up a mirror so she can’t see you observing her.

In your absence apply bitter apple or some similar product to wood she favors. Also, when you leave, redirect her attention to “special” toys that she only gets when nobody’s home. Try three hollow marrow bones, one with a piece of meat wedged in it so she can’t get it, but will be very interested. The other two with cheese and peanut butter. Very important: remove them when you’re home or they will lose their “specialness.” As for the leave it command, it would be best taught by a pro.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

Tucker is good 99 percent of the time. During the other one percent, he insists on greeting visitors by jumping on them.

Tucker is good 99 percent of the time. During the other one percent, he insists on greeting visitors by jumping on them. — Photo Courtesy of Rebecca Cole

We have a two-year-old golden retriever, Tucker, who is the love of my life and such a good boy – 99 percent of the time. The other 1 percent is a big problem. When people come to visit he jumps up on them. He’s a very big boy, 65 pounds, to jump up on people. We’ve tried keeping the leash on him, but he still jumps up. So my question is “How can we teach Tucker not to jump when guests arrive at our door?”

Thank you.

Rebecca

Dear Rebecca,

Most of the “good boy- bad boy” percentages I hear are 90-0, not 99-1. So it sounds like Tucker is a real sweetheart, but has become habituated to jumping on people entering your home. Most of the time I need to ask a few questions before I answer one, and my question here is, does he jump on you, especially when you come home? As they say, “It starts at home.” Rebecca, you, and anybody who may live with you need to have a zero tolerance for Tucker’s jumping.

The “all rewards” trainers (does not include me) might tell you to have the visitors ignore the dog and turn away from him when he jumps, and you give him treats when he’s not jumping. However, Grandma may not be thrilled with Tucker’s paws raking her side as she tries to ignore him, not to mention the 45-pound five-year-old trying to stay upright as he’s being accosted by a 65-pound two-year-old with four legs.

By using the leash to hold Tucker back he’s not learning anything, he’s just being physically restricted. There needs to be a negative consequence the second his front feet leave the floor, with accompanying “contrast” the moment all four feet are back on the floor. By contrast I mean praise. Training a dog is very much based on timing — letting the dog know you like his behavior or you don’t, as the behavior is happening. So if the dog hears “Off” and something unpleasant happens the moment he’s jumping, then a quick “good boy” the moment all four feet are back on the floor, he’ll pick up quicker on the contrast between your happiness when he’s not jumping, and your unhappiness when he is.

So what to do? Well, there are a myriad of things to do depending on your capabilities and Tucker’s sensitivity. Let’s start with Tucker dragging a leash and assume that he may jump on you. Were you to step on the leash in just the right spot so that when Tucker jumps he runs out of leash on the way up as you say “Off”, and smile with a quick “good boy” when he’s down, he’d learn to stop jumping quickly. Easier said than done.

Instead, recruit a friend or family member. Then hold the leash in your hands (LOOSELY)  and let Tucker commit to the jump as your recruit enters the house. Snap and release the leash sharply to the side as Tucker is on his way up as you say “off.” There is a world of difference between a snap and release and a pull on the leash. A snap will not move his body, a pull will. It’s also best to do this with a collar that has a couple of metal tags on it so that it makes a chinking sound when you snap the leash. It may take several repetitions of the recruit entering until Tucker “gets it.”

Ideally, Tucker should be taught what I call the “Door Turmoil Routine,” the routine at the door to eliminate the turmoil. When someone comes to the door, Tucker gets praised for letting you know someone’s there. Then he’s told to go to his spot (in sight of the door but out of the way) and lie down and stay. Then the guest is let in and greeted, and then Tucker is told “okay” and allowed to come forward and greet the guest politely. This would probably need to be taught to Tucker by a pro.

Good luck and keep your questions coming!

The Dogfather

5

A rescued box turtle from the Cape has arrived to work with Max the dog to help protect her species.

Johnny Sue, a rehabilitated box turtle from the Cape, is now an Island resident, helping to save her species.

Johnny took off like a shot when she was first released from her carrier in a field behind the Sheriffs Meadow Foundation (SMF) offices at the Wakeman Center off Lambert’s Cove Road in Vineyard Haven. As close to a shot as a box turtle can move.

Max the turtle sniffing golden retriever.

Max the turtle sniffing golden retriever. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

“Keep your eye on her. I would not want to do a blind search with Max yet,” said Karen Ogden, whose golden retriever, Max, was waiting in her truck for his first turtle detecting field test.

Ms. Ogden, an experienced dog trainer specializing in search and rescue dogs, is volunteering her time and her considerable expertise to take part in an innovative turtle detection program that will help preserve the eastern box turtle population on Martha’s Vineyard. The program is the brainchild of Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank ecologist Julie Russell and Sheriffs Meadow director of stewardship Kristen Fauteux.

“We have a problem with trying to mow some of our woodlands like Waskosim’s, a field surrounded by woods, which is perfect box turtle habitat,” Ms. Russell said. “But we had to find a way to keep up with our in-season mowing. We have oaks, cherries, sumac that are taking over and we’re losing our field. The turtles require that habitat. That’s where they lay their eggs.”

“Here on the Island turtles tend to be older because there’s low road mortality,” Ms. Fauteux said. “There are box turtles walking around that are over 100 years old. The idea that you might run one over with a tractor is not acceptable.”

Ms. Russell and Ms. Fauteux have a long-standing collaborative relationship; they often finish each other’s sentences.

Sheriffs Meadow director of stewardship Kristen Fauteux (left) and Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank ecologist Julie Russell created the turtle sniffing dog program on the Island.

Sheriffs Meadow director of stewardship Kristen Fauteux (left) and Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank ecologist Julie Russell created the turtle sniffing dog program on the Island. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

“We tried goats and sheep, but they don’t eat all the vegetation we need to clear,” Ms. Russell said. “We felt like there had to be a better way.”

Inspiration struck after Ms. Russell saw a demonstration of a turtle detecting dog at a conference. “We called all the vets on the Island and asked about trainers,” Ms. Fauteux said. “Karen has a lot of experience training rescue dogs. She was the obvious choice. Once she jumped on board the project got going.

“The fact that Karen is here is amazing. Anyone else would have had to travel to another state to find someone with her expertise.”

“I started as a canine search and rescue handler in 1992,” Ms. Ogden said. “We started training dogs for scent to find a specific person, then expanded to wilderness scent, and eventually human remains detection.”

Ms. Ogden’s search and rescue dog, Ryan, was one of the first in the state to be certified for the grim task of cadaver work. This is the first time Ms. Ogden has trained a dog to sniff out box turtles, but she was confident it would work. “There are dogs trained to find Mojave Desert tortoises, endangered salamanders, even whale scat.”

“I’ve not seen this done,” Sheriff’s Meadow executive director Adam Moore said. “I’ve heard about dogs being used for conservation purposes. In this instance, this is Julie and Kristine’s idea. I’m very fond of our new turtle.”

Turtle search

Finding live test turtles for Max was, somewhat appropriately, a slow process. Tom French, Assistant Director of Natural Heritage Endangered Species Program (NHESP) for the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW), required that Ms. Fauteux and Ms. Russell employ more than one turtle, since the scent of just one wouldn’t make for an effective search and rescue dog. But they couldn’t use turtles found in the wilderness.

“Turtles have very strong homing instincts and they’ll keep trying to find their way home, which is when they get run over,” Ms. Russell said. Protocol dictates that once a rescued turtle is restored to health, it’s kept for educational purposes. “The only box turtle in captivity on the Island is at Felix Neck,” Ms. Russell said. “It’s been there 40 years. We had to book the turtle through Susan Bellincampi, [director of the Mass Audubon Society’s Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary], and it had a pretty busy schedule.”

While they waited for their new turtle, Ms. Ogden went off Island to the Cape Cod Wildlife Center in Barnstable, a wildlife rehabilitation facility, and got the scent from five “hospitalized” box turtles by rubbing their skin with gauze, and she began training Max.

“We could only get so far with that method,” Ms. Ogden said. “There’s a big difference between residual odor and live odor,” Ms. Ogden said. “We don’t want to know where the turtle was, we want to know where it is.”

Here’s Johnny

Working through Natural Heritage, Ms. Fauteux and Ms. Russell finally secured the services of Johnny, one of the five turtles Ms. Ogden had sampled at the Cape Cod Wildlife Center three months prior.

“It took a while to get all the permits in place to get Johnny here,” Ms. Fauteux said. “Kevin Clayton, the environmental police officer assigned to the Island, lives on the Cape, so he brought Johnny over. We went to the West Tisbury police station and signed the papers and I brought her home.”

While giving Johnny “his” physical, Ms. Fauteux realized Johnny was a female. “She was named before they sexed her. So we call her Johnny Sue,” Ms. Fauteux said, gingerly carrying Johnny Sue to her customized box, as the nervous terrapin emptied her bladder on the Sheriff’s Meadow office floor.

Ms. Fauteux hid Johnny Sue, in her carrier, beneath a few inches of leaf cover, just off a trail.  Anticipation was high as Ms. Ogden let Max out of her truck. “Max knows when I put on the vest it’s time to go to work,” she said, suiting up Max with a yellow vest. “Dogs have the same finesse detecting smells as humans have detecting color,” she said. “This area around here is like a high-definition TV for Max. You have animal smells, people smells, plant smells. His behavior will look very different when he’s on target odor. There’s a difference between “that smells interesting” and “that smells really interesting. Hopefully, he’ll pick up his pace about 10 yards away.”

Ms. Ogden leashed Max, and with a quick voice command set him to work. Tail wagging, Max started sniffing along the trail. “Over time, the odor of the box turtle will be the cue for Max to lie down,Ms. Ogden said.

It didn’t take long for Max to sniff out Johnny Sue on his first trial run. He was rewarded with a lick of dog food in a small cup, and by applause of a handful of spectators. Max passed two more tests with flying colors.

Although they’re not able to determine Johnny Sue’s age, it’s quite possible she was alive when the first world war was raging and Charlie Chaplin was the biggest star on the (silent) screen. According to a Harvard University study, the box turtle most likely colonized the East Coast after the retreat of the glaciers after the Pleistocene ice age. Turtles as a species have seen dinosaurs come and go.

Thanks to Max, Johnny Sue, and some talented and dedicated humans, the future looks a bit brighter for box turtles on the Island. They might even be around when there’s a new Stop & Shop.

Caution needed

June is nesting time for box turtles and they are particularly mobile, so wildlife officials ask that people pay extra attention when driving, particularly in West Tisbury and Chilmark, where there is the highest concentration of box turtles, according to Mass Wildlife.

Wildlife officials advise that turtles should not be handled unless they are in danger of being mowed or hit by traffic. If you see a turtle crossing the road, put it on the other side of the road in the direction it was headed.

If you see a box turtle, on the move or nesting, report the location to Kristen Fauteux at Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation at 508-693-5207.

Females nest in fields or residential yards, areas where the nest will get sunlight throughout the day to incubate the eggs, so check before you mow.

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We may never have a definitive answer. We’re just glad she’s back on her feet and hope she stays that way.

Michelle-JasnyMichelle Gerhard Jasny, V.M.D. has been practicing veterinary medicine on the Vineyard since 1982 and writing the Visiting Vet column for more than 25 years. She lives and works in West Tisbury. She can be reached at drjasny@comcast.net.

Stormy is an Australian shepherd in the prime of her life. Last winter at her annual physical examination, her owner mentioned she had been limping recently. Watching her walk, she was a little gimpy on her right front leg, but I couldn’t find any obvious explanation. “Probably a strain or sprain,” I said. Stormy was also significantly overweight, an extra stress on her joints and muscles. “Try to get a few pounds off her,” I advised, sending home pain medication and instructions to rest.

The foreleg lameness resolved quickly, but three months later, Stormy returned. She  had lost three pounds (though still more than pleasantly plump) but there was another issue. She had suddenly developed marked weakness in her hind end. “She just flops over while she’s walking,” her owner said.

Stormy was bright, alert, and responsive. She’d pull herself to her feet and walk willingly, but then her caboose would start swaying and finally she’d drop to the floor. Her temperature was normal and other than the gait abnormality everything looked fine.

“She seems a little tender here,” I said tentatively, palpating her lower back, but it wasn’t definitive. Could be fibrocartilaginous embolism ( a neurological deficit caused by a little plug of stuff occluding the blood supply to the spinal cord) or intervertebral disk disease (a disease in which the little shock absorber between two vertebrae protrudes and presses on the spinal cord.) “She seems stable,” I concluded. “Let’s try rest and anti-inflammatories.”

Two days later, Stormy’s mom called. The dog was no better. Should we be doing something more?

“We can take X-rays,” I offered, though neither of the two diseases on our differential would necessarily show up on radiographs. “Really an MRI would be the next best test, but maybe she just needs a little more time,” I suggested.

I was wrong. Stormy’s condition continued to deteriorate. By the next day she could barely stand, her front legs now almost as weak as her hind.  She spent most of her time lying flat on her side unless her owner hoisted her up with a sling, then she would try to ambulate. Stormy came for a recheck. Dr. Buck did a careful neurologic exam. Stormy could still move all four legs, but that was the only good news. Some of her reflexes were exaggerated while others were diminished. She was trembling all over and had severe neck pain. It was now clear the location of the lesion was not in her lower back. It had to be either in her neck, or even her brain. It was time to consult a neurologist.

Up at VCA South Shore Animal Hospital, Stormy underwent a battery of tests. Blood work, urinalysis, chest X-rays, abdominal ultrasound, then finally MRI and a spinal tap under anesthesia. The MRI confirmed meningomyelitis in her neck. This means there was  inflammation of the spinal cord and surrounding membranes, but it does not identify the cause. She was started on corticosteroids, called prednisone.

Many readers may have taken prednisone yourselves if you’ve ever had a bad allergic reaction, like to poison ivy, or any significant inflammatory disease or auto-immune issues.

She also got gabapentin, a medication currently in vogue for animals with “neuropathic” pain.  But what was causing the problem? The specialists listed possible diagnoses including Steroid-Responsive Meningitis Arteritis (SRMA) and Granulomatous Meningioencephalomyelitis (GME.) Wow. Those are some big words.

Let’s start with SRMA, a disease of unknown cause, thought to be immune-mediated. In other words, for some reason Stormy’s immune system starts attacking her own nervous system. There are two reported forms, acute and chronic. The acute form comes on fast with a stiff neck, pain, fever, and characteristic changes found in the cerebral spinal fluid. The chronic form has a more protracted course with more neurological deficits.

SRMA strikes young adult dogs, like Stormy. Breeds thought to be predisposed to the condition include Bernese mountain dogs, boxers, German short-hair pointers, Norwegian duck tolling retrievers, and beagles. In fact another name for SRMA is Beagle Pain Syndrome.   There is no way to make a definitive diagnosis in a living dog. Basically, if an individual fits the clinical picture and no other explanation can be found, then it’s time to try corticosteroids. If the dog gets better, Bingo! It’s “steroid-responsive.”

GME is an “aseptic inflammatory disease of the central nervous system.” Just like SRMA, the cause is unknown, it can be acute or chronic, and definitive diagnosis is only made on postmortem, although MRI and CSF taps can be helpful in ruling out other disorders. GME has three forms — focal ( affecting one location in the nervous system), disseminated (involving many locations in the nervous system), and ophthalmic (affecting the optic nerve and eye). Symptoms vary depending on location and severity of lesions. Progressive loss of use of the legs is frequently seen. Other signs may include seizures, head tilt, lethargy, blindness, facial abnormalities, walking in circles, and balance disorders. Middle-aged,small breeds, especially terriers and toy poodles, are most commonly affected. GME also may respond to corticosteroids, but sadly, most dogs do not survive more than one to five months, even with treatment.

The neurologists admitted that Stormy did not exactly fit the picture for any one disease. Her CSF tap did not show the changes typically seen with SRMA. On the other hand, she is not a breed in which GME is usually reported. Another possibility was cancer lurking somewhere in the central nervous system, but none could be found on any of the tests. We know so little about these types of progressive neurological diseases, that it can be both frustrating and heartbreaking for owners, but Stormy responded well to the prednisone and within a few weeks was walking almost completely normally. She will be on steroids for several months, gradually weaning down the dose and watching closely for signs of relapse.

We may never have a definitive answer. We’re just glad she’s back on her feet and hope she stays that way.

This week, the dogfather advises Dylan, whose dog digs at the floor.

Pit bulls are always on the lookout for vermin to chase down.
The Dogfather, with Paula.

The Dogfather, with Paula. —

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. Got a question for the Dogfather? Contact him here.

Dear Dogfather,

My dog is a pit bull and keeps digging at the same general area of sheet rock and floor, for no reason at all. The area had to be repaired twice and my parents are threatening to get rid of him. His name is Billy and he’s perfect except for the digging. What should I do?

Dylan

Dear Dylan,

Keep the faith. I’m pretty sure Billy will be staying with you. First of all, you’re saying he’s digging “for no reason at all.” THERE’S ALWAYS A REASON. We just have to figure it out. I had a client with a 4-year-old pug that they had since a puppy that was perfectly fine in all respects, and then, suddenly, started urinating in the apartment and becoming more and more fearful of more and more things.

The first order of business was a thorough physical at the vet to rule out disease or something physiological. Then I questioned the owners at length to see what, if any real changes may have occurred in the vibrations of the house. Lots of fighting with an impending divorce, a job loss, a serious medical diagnosis – any of these things can dramatically change the atmosphere of the house. Dogs are extremely sensitive to any change in the vibe of the house.

My questioning brought me no closer to an answer, so I had the client leave a noise activated tape recorder on the table. There’s always a reason!! Did I mention that they also had an African Grey parrot? African Greys are smarter than dogs. The tape recorder picked up the parrot imitating the the sound of the bell and then, sounding like the husband, screaming at the poor dog for responding to the bell. The bird was having a great time manipulating and terrorizing the dog. There’s always a reason.

As for Billy, he’s a terrier, a pit bull terrier, and terriers are bred to get rid of the vermin in the barn. There’s probably a nest of mice near where he’s digging. Have your parents call an exterminator and perhaps even ask them to thank Billy for the alert upon finding the offending mice or insects. Also, since dogs are great creatures of habit, try spraying

the digging area with one of the many “stay away” products, and more importantly, don’t let him access that spot unless there’s supervision. Good luck.

Elvis the elderly Shitzu, and Mollie’s fear of airplanes

Cats can be good companions for aging dogs, but the parents of the elderly Elvis were still worried.

The Dogfather, with Paula. —

Tom Shelby, dog trainer to MV and NYC celebrities (and their dogs), answers readers’ questions about their problematic pooches. This week, the dogfather counsels “Loving parents” who wonder what they can do to make their elderly Shitzu “Elvis” less lonely during the day, and Cynthia in West Tisbury, whose dog Mollie is afraid of jets in the sky. Got a question for the Dogfather? Contact him here.

Dear Dogfather,

My wife and I are “parents ” of an adopted rescued dog from a hurricane situation many years ago. He, Elvis, an 11-year old Shitzu, is now going deaf and blind. Because of our work schedules and situations we cannot bring him to work as we used to. He is fine at home during the day as we manage to be able to make midday visits for walks, snacks and water.

He has a “sister” cat that often cuddles, grooms him and stays with him during the day; they have a lot of interaction, as we have seen it on time off, lunch check-ins, etc. But we wonder if there is anything we can do for him to make sure he is as happy as he used to be before he started to lose these senses. We feel badly that his days with or without us (weekends etc.) he seems to just want to sleep. He does not seem distressed, but any advice on how to keep a deaf, blind and good friend happy and more active would be great.

Thank you,

Loving dog parents

Dear Loving Dog Parents,

Years ago a vet called to tell me that one of her patients, a 6-year old Shih-Tzu, went blind from sudden retinal degeneration. She said the dog’s owner was “turning the poor thing into a basket case from smothering it in pity.”

On my first visit I made an analogy, reversing the situation. I said to the lady, “Let’s say you go blind at age 30 and get a seeing-eye dog to be your eyes. Is that dog going to show you any pity? Not a drop! That dog’s attitude is going to be, ‘You’re blind, that’s why I’m here; Let’s get started making you more independent and self sufficient.’”

So it must be with you. Pity never helps, it only weakens! Loving Dog Parents, I suggest you get carpet runners (1 to 3 ft. wide) and lay them so that they connect all of Elvis’ favorite places; from his bed to the spots where he likes to hang out, to where he eats and drinks, to where he exits the house. Then place a drop of vanilla extract along the edges of the runners every few feet. This scented path throughout the house safely leads to all the safe zones and will make him more confident and relaxed.

Then place a drop of lemon extract on the danger zones, table and chair legs, furniture and wall corners, etc. If there are stairs I would suggest a third scent on the edge of the risers. If you don’t want to carry him on the stairs he has to be taught, “Going up and Going down” with a leash and harness, probably best taught by a pro.

If Elvis is not totally deaf there are high frequency devices that he can be taught to respond to. A vibration collar can be very effective in teaching a deaf dog several responses. Again, probably best taught by a pro. Thumping a particular item on the floor a certain amount of times can be an effective teaching method. For example, the vibration of hitting a wooden floor with a broomstick three times might indicate time to go out, or twice for dinner, etc. Elvis is lucky to have you guys, so remember, plenty of love, but no pity.

Good luck,

The Dogfather

Dear Dogfather,

I have a lab-mix dog named Mollie who becomes very anxious when jets fly way overhead.  The jets are silent until they are more than half way across the sky, but their contrails are obvious. My dog seems anxious (whines and comes to me for comfort) even in the house.  Outside, she stares at the sky and then runs in the house whining.  What is going on?   Cynthia in West Tisbury

Dear Cynthia in West Tisbury,

Imagine you have a cat that’s been using the litter box for five years and then suddenly, for no apparent reason, refuses to use it, resulting in your having to clean a lot of unwanted pees and poops. Now imagine that the whole house is under constant video and sound surveillance and when you check the video you see exactly what happened. Just as pussy was in the litter box squatting to pee a truck outside backfires very loudly and startles the cat so severely that she leaps from the box, never to return. She associated the sound of the explosion with the litter box, and it’s a done deal.

Now lets get real. Most people don’t have their whole house, never mind the litter box under surveillance. So in this case, one day pussy stops using her proper WC and you’ll never really know why.

Cynthia, I understand that you got this lab mix from the pound (makes you one of the good guys in my eyes) and that her name is Mollie, and you have no real history on her. The likelihood is that something traumatized her when she happened to hear and or see a jet flying overhead. It could have been anything from stepping on a nail just as she became aware of the plane to being attacked by another dog just at that moment, whatever.

So what to do? Let’s start with what not to do. Please do not comfort her with love and petting and telling her it’s OK. You may actually be rewarding the fear response, exacerbating the problem. Look upwards a lot and hopefully you see the plane first, at which point you start praising her with great enthusiasm and feeding her people food treats (the only time she gets chicken or steak or bologna is when planes are overhead) giving her a new,  positive association with the metal birds. Be aware that she may hear them when you don’t, as a dog’s hearing is far more acute than ours. Also, be very aware of your timing. If Molly starts showing fear, don’t keep giving her treats, rather continue walking while being upbeat and enthusiastic. “Wow Molly, aren’t those planes cool? Don’t you wish you could fly too!?”

Good Luck

The Dogfather

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Choosing to do “nothing” can be tough, but sometimes it may be the right thing to do.

Michelle Gerhard Jasny, V.M.D. has been practicing veterinary medicine on the Vineyard since 1982 and writing the Visiting Vet column for more than 25 years. She lives and works in West Tisbury. She can be reached at drjasny@comcast.net.

 

At 11 years old, Nana, the beagle, has been through a lot in her life. A skin condition from demodectic mange mites. A difficult pregnancy with only two of six puppies surviving. A mammary gland infection called mastitis while nursing. A painful infection behind her eye called a retrobulbar abscess. Tick-borne disease. But Nana is a survivor, taking each challenge in stride, still cheerful, still wagging her tail. Then a few years back she developed a lump on her hip.

“It doesn’t feel like a lipoma,” I said, referring to a type of benign fatty growth frequently seen in older dogs. Her owners consented to a “fine needle aspirate,” a quick diagnostic  procedure done in the exam room without anesthesia. Although rarely sufficient for definitive diagnosis, a pathologist can often give a general idea of what we are dealing with from an aspirate like this — in Nana’s case, possibly a malignant tumor.

“The pathologist says it’s probably a kind that doesn’t tend to metastasize,” I reported.  Cancers with high metastatic potential often spread from their original location to distant sites in the body, such as lungs, lymph nodes, or bones. Those with low metastatic rates tend to stay in one place but can be locally invasive and aggressive, causing serious damage. I still advised X-rays prior to surgery, just to be sure there was no evidence the cancer had spread. Her films looked fine so we proceeded to surgery.

Removing the growth, it was hard to tell where tumor ended and normal tissue began. Some masses are well-encapsulated, shelling out easily, but not this one. We cut as wide as possible, and sent it for biopsy. The final diagnosis was nerve sheath tumor, a low-grade malignancy with minimal risk of spread but significant chance of eventual recurrence.

“They can’t say for sure that we got it all,” I explained. “It may never come back, or it may regrow.” I offered options. More surgery. Referral to an oncologist. Radiation therapy.

“Let’s wait and see if it comes back,” Nana’s owners decided.

Time passed. Nana ate rat poison and was treated on emergency. She was okay. Nana binged on a stash of snack food, eating them bags and all — Fritos, Cheetos, Smartfood popcorn. Everything eventually passed. She was okay. Two years after her surgery, Nana started having a series of minor complaints. A swollen eye. Dental tartar. A fatty lump on her chest. A small lump reappearing on her hip. A cough. Addressing one concern after another, we eventually got to the cough. Her heart sounded fine, so not cardiac disease. Her lungs were clear, her temperature normal, so pneumonia was unlikely. Perhaps she had caught an upper respiratory infection, like kennel cough. We prescribed antibiotics, advising a recheck if the cough didn’t improve.

A few weeks later, the cough was better but not gone. A chest X-ray looked normal, and we made a presumptive diagnosis of allergic bronchitis, a common problem in older dogs.

“It’s worse in the mornings,” her mom shared. “Maybe the wood stove is bothering her.”

A logical theory, I agreed. We tried cough suppressants. We tried corticosteroids. The lump on her hip was growing slowly. We wanted to pursue a second surgery, but preferred to wait until the cough resolved.

“I think she’ll improve once spring comes, and we stop using the wood stove,” her mom said. Months passed. April arrived. Nana’s cough did seem better, though not 100 percent.

“It may never clear up entirely,” I sighed, suggesting we start preparing for surgery with preoperative blood tests. We offer two “levels” of screening. Her mom opted for the more comprehensive one. Good call. Everything came back completely normal, except one test. Nana’s calcium levels were elevated.

“It’s called hypercalcemia,” I explained, “but very often it is a spurious finding caused by lab error.” We repeated the test, this time fasting Nana overnight before the blood draw, and sending it to the big reference lab instead of running it here on our little machine. But the retest came back with the same results, confirming the hypercalcemia was real.

“Hypercalcemia of malignancy” is a condition in which a cancer produces a substance similar to the hormone normally responsible for regulating calcium levels. The body gets fooled, thinking it’s supposed to release calcium from the bones into the blood, thus causing the hypercalcemia. Lymphosarcoma and anal gland carcinomas are the most common tumors associated with this problem, not nerve sheath tumors. I checked Nana again. Her anal glands were fine. Maybe we were missing something? Although we had taken X-rays five months previously, we decided to snap more before proceeding with surgery.

There it was. A mass in her chest, just above and in front of her heart in an area called the cranial mediastinum. It was a really large mass, the size of a hefty avocado, compressing her wind pipe and bronchi. Without a biopsy, we couldn’t determine exactly what kind of cancer, but the radiologist doubted it was related to the nerve sheath tumor on her hip. Most likely it was a heart base tumor arising from the aorta or pulmonary artery, hemangiosarcoma, lymphosarcoma, or even a thyroid tumor. The radiologist was frank. “Masses in this location are often quite vascular making successful sampling both difficult and risky. CT or MRI . . . would be very informative but would require anesthesia and is more expensive.”

Definitive treatment requires definitive diagnosis, but was putting Nana through risky and painful procedures in her best interests when the long-term prognosis is very guarded?  We had followed a long trail, through the many maladies of her youth to a tumor on her hip, from a cough to hypercalcemia to a second, far more serious tumor. For now, Nana is still wagging that tail. We are trying various medications in hopes of controlling her cough and keeping her comfortable. Her owners have some difficult decisions to make. Choosing to do “nothing” can be tough, but sometimes it may be the right thing to do.