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Izzy – the Deaf Dalmatian

posted July 15th, 2007 by
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Story by Sherri Goodall

The first time I met Izzy, a deaf Dalmatian, he was sitting in rapt attention behind the counter at Pooches. He and his owner, Nancy Werhane, were deep in conversation—via sign language. 
 Izzy’s kennel name is HiJinks Hear no Evil. Knowing that many Dalmatians are deaf, people would often ask Nancy “Is he deaf?”  Thus, the name Izzy.

For years, the Dalmatian Club of America has recommended humane euthanasia of deaf puppies. The thought was that deaf puppies are very difficult to raise and socialize. Nancy knew this simply was not true. Given a sound temperament and a dedicated owner, deaf puppies could be socialized and trained as well as hearing puppies. This is true for hearing dogs as well. If they are not socialized, no matter the method, they will tend to be unpredictable and unmanageable.

For the last 20 years, Nancy has owned Dalmatians and has trained and showed dogs in conformation, agility and obedience. One of Nancy’s show Dalmatians sired Izzy. His breeder tested him when he was just a few weeks old and knew he was deaf, but Nancy wanted to keep him and raise him herself. So, she devised a plan and began with Izzy when he was seven weeks old.

Puppies are born blind (their eye slits are not open yet) and deaf, (their ear canals do not open for three weeks). Their strongest sense organ is their nose. Sight and auditory come next. Dogs communicate primarily by body language not solely, but it’s a great part of their language. Low growls and barking do come into play, but body language is primary. Flattened ears, crouching, baring teeth, wagging tails, panting, are all doggy language for “go away” to “let’s play” and most interactions in between. Nancy feels it’s almost more natural to sign to a dog than to speak.

Nancy decided to train Izzy with the “clicker” method, except she didn’t use a clicker. With the clicker, a dog’s desired behavior is immediately “clicked” and rewarded with a treat. Nancy replaced the clicker with a “thumbs up” sign.

The first thing Nancy did, and one of the most important, was to give Izzy a sign for his name. She draws a “Z” in the air with her pinky. Izzy comes running; he knows his name. 

Nancy devised some of her own signs for come, sit, stay, heel, eat, etc., always rewarded with a “thumbs up” and a treat. One of Izzy’s favorite people is Lawanna, Nancy’s partner at Pooches. Nancy makes a “V” sign with her fingers over her eyes (see) and an “L” (Lawanna) over her heart (love). “Do you want to see your love, Lawanna?” Izzy gets dizzy! He jumps up on the door and wags his tail madly.

Putting her fingers to her mouth means, “Do you want a treat, or let’s eat.” If Izzy does something bad, which is rare, the sign is the flat of one hand across the palm of the other hand.

 Nancy interacts with Izzy constantly, just as we do with our dogs. We stimulate them by talking or singing when we’re nearby. Nancy does this with Izzy by signing so he feels connected too. Just as our dogs don’t understand every word we say, Nancy throws in lots of signs that Izzy doesn’t know, but he gets the drift. She studied sign language in high school, so she is familiar with the language.

The top level of obedience training is hand signals only. The dogs must pay attention and keep their eyes on their trainer. Izzy never takes his eyes off Nancy.  When he’s out in the yard, he’ll see other dogs running to Nancy when she calls, so he comes too. At night, she uses a flashing light to call Izzy. He must touch the light with his nose to get a treat. 

There are certain rules to follow with deaf dogs: 

Do not startle. (Dogs must be approached gently with touch, never from the back). 

Do not let the dogs run wild; they do not hear cars, or other dangerous moving objects. (Nancy can vacuum right up to Izzy’s nose in a thunderstorm, and he won’t react). They do not hear another dog growling, or a kid screaming, but they can tell by body language what is going on. 

Training Izzy was a life-changing experience for Nancy. She now trains owners of deaf dogs and works with rescue groups who place deaf dogs.

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posted July 15th, 2007 by
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Story by Camille Hulen

It was love at first sight when Jean saw the picture of the Maine Coon with his quizzical face.   Then, as soon as Bentley met Jean, he began talking to her, and she fell further in love.  He had such a unique way of expressing himself, not with purrs, but with squeaks and grunts.   “He has issues,” the counselor warned her as she filled out the adoption papers.  (It seems that Bentley had been adopted twice before and returned.)   However, Jean felt that every cat deserves a loving home, and this cat was special.
Bentley investigated every corner of his new home immediately.  Soon he became very active, tearing from one end of the house to the other.   “Don’t you think I’m adorable?” he said, as he jumped from chair to sofa to bookcase. “Who said you should walk on the floor?  It’s much more fun up here!” And then he would come and whisper to his new owner, endearing himself further, “You didn’t really like that antique vase, did you?”

A week later when the adoption center called, they did so with trepidation, afraid that he would be coming back again.  They breathed a sigh of relief when they learned that he had a permanent home.  You see, his new owner was willing to work with him, in spite of his “issues.”  She had made a commitment, and it was for life.  Besides, Bentley made her laugh! 

Everyday held new surprises.  Sometimes Bentley would take a mad dash across the room, climb the door jamb, then slide down like a fireman on a pole. Over and over, just for fun, of course!  The other cat in the household just watched in amazement at this unruly fellow. 

One never knew where you might find him.  One day he was lost for hours.  Where was Bentley?  Aha, in the cupboard over the refrigerator.  Of course, when feeding time came, he was in the refrigerator.  Bentley was always hungry, for a cat with this much energy needed lots of  food.  He was not at all fat, for he burned off the calories with all of his antics.

At home, Bentley could watch his food being prepared, but when he went to board at the kennel, it was done in an adjacent room.  When he heard action in the food prep area, he would repeatedly bounce three feet in the air, as if on a pogo stick, to look through the window.  The other cats waited patiently, but not Bentley.

At the kennel, he refused to be caged.  He would first trash the cage, then manipulate the latch until he got out.  This is not unusual behavior for a Maine Coon, but Bentley was better at it than most.   Next, Bentley deftly demonstrated how to open the screen door separating two sections of the kennel, earning the nickname Houdini.

When the owners adopted a black Lab who showed up on their doorstep, this was more entertainment for Bentley: another animal to tease.  Why not deposit cat toys in front of the dog, let him eat them, and then watch him throw up?  Why not sit on top of the dog’s crate and drop things on him?  Why not shred papers for the dog to eat?  (Bentley had already been outlawed from the office for unnecessary paper-shredding.) 

As you can see, there is never a dull moment with Bentley around.  So, how does one describe Bentley?  

Words from “The Sound of Music” come to mind.  Like Maria, Bentley makes you laugh.  As the song says, he truly is “A flibbertijibbet! A will-o’-the wisp! A clown!”

A Study of Animal Shelters in Oklahoma: What are the Numbers?

posted July 15th, 2007 by
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By Ruth Steinberger
 The fate of animals in shelters across Oklahoma remains a hot topic, with euthanasia rates, rescues,
 A 2006 survey of all Oklahoma counties, Focus Oklahoma, revealed that the collection, handling, release and disposal of unwanted animals disparate from one area of the state to the next, humane concerns often fall through the cracks and laws intended to protect unwanted animals, including the 1986 Dog and Cat Sterilization Act, are completely ignored throughout much of the state.
Yet, few Oklahomans realize that much of our state is not served by any animal shelter at all. That fact, combined with a lack of record keeping many shelters that do exist, renders a vague and disturbing picture for unwanted animals across much of Oklahoma.

quality of care and methods of euthanasia open to discussion. The issue is an emotionally charged one.

Oklahoma law allows counties with populations over 200,000 to establish an animal shelter. However, currently only five of the 77 Oklahoma counties have a public animal shelter for residents of the entire county. These five include Tulsa, Oklahoma, Washington (Bartlesville), Carter (Ardmore) and Pittsburg (McAllister).

In the remaining 72 counties, some towns have animal control and a shelter, others contract with other towns or private entities to collect unwanted dogs and some simply do nothing. Alfalfa, Dewey, Grant and Harper Counties have no towns or cities with animal shelters within their borders.

However, while roughly 150 cities and towns throughout Oklahoma operate city pounds, residents who live outside of the city limits have noplace at which to release an unwanted dog or cat.  

While it is difficult to get a picture of the accurate number of animals entering Oklahoma shelters, it is impossible to get the numbers of those that fall through these cracks. Limited accurate euthanasia records may be available (based on method, or combination of methods, and therefore payment), but records of animals entering the shelters are actually rare outside of larger municipalities.

Additionally, a 1981 Oklahoma State Court decision exempted cities with populations under 10,000 from the state euthanasia law, essentially upholding the right of these cities to use shooting as a method of killing unwanted dogs, deeming it to be humane. Strong public opinion, and a lack of mandated record keeping, means that many cities simply do not reveal the method they use to dispose of dogs and how many dogs are involved.

The fate of unwanted pets in rural Oklahoma is largely unknown, and often tragic. Jamee Suarez Howard, President of Oklahoma Alliance for Animals said, “We have some idea of the numbers entering shelters. And some idea of how much of the state has no access to shelters. Combined, these numbers show the size of the issue. It is a terrible thing any time that animals are suffering.”

Animal disposal in places without shelters (which includes over half of rural Oklahoma) includesabandonment, shooting, giveaways and drowning. A limited number of “adoptable,” animals go,into private shelters. However, for older, large, sick, or ugly dogs, there is little refuge.  Dogs, and even some cats, are collected by dealers for sale at flea markets or to research labs or animal fighting rings.

Additionally, Focus Oklahoma found that between one third and one half of the estimated 150 municipal facilities collect strays only, refusing owner surrenders.  Outside of large shelters, relatively few public shelters in Oklahoma accept cats.  Without any continuity, people needing to release an unwanted animal call around in desperation, leading to a windfall for some fraudulent organizations that offer inadequate care to the animals in their custody and again, ignore the sterilization mandate for Oklahoma animal shelters.  Additionally, the lack of facilities has caused some public officials to actually rely on unacceptable “rescue” channels, an issue tied to some largescale animal removals in rural Oklahoma in recent years, including notorious ones in Stigler and Vici, Oklahoma.

Disturbingly, Focus Oklahoma research revealed that an estimated less than one fifth of rural shelters comply with the 1986 state law requiring sterilization of animals released from shelters.  Animals are released without mandatory contracts and deposits, without sterilization and with no follow up.

Currently, outside of Tulsa and Oklahoma counties, roughly 51% of Oklahomans live in areas in which public services are provided by the county.

The percentage of people served by municipal animal control facilities varies from one portion of Oklahoma to the next. Southeast Oklahoma has the highest rural population, and the lowest is in the Oklahoma City metro area.

Roughly 64% of households in southeast Oklahoma have no place at which to release an unwanted animal. According to Animal Control Officers in rural areas, county residents typically abandon unwanted pets within town limits at night. Although this activity is against the law in Oklahoma, it is nearly impossible to catch the perpetrator.  According to Mark Harman, Animal Control Officer of Bristow, OK, “Unwanted animals in rural areas never even enter the discussion about shelter animals in our state. They are conveniently invisible. No one is speaking up for them.”

Harman gets calls daily from county residents who have a dog they no longer want or that is a stray. He is not permitted to accept the dogs and advises callers to complain to their county commissioners. He said, “These dogs just disappear from the radar screen and everyone seems to be comfortable with that. Obviously, this has to involve tens of thousands of dogs each year because this lack of services involves half the population of Oklahoma.”

Harman added, “These animals are literally ignored by officials, rescues, humane societies, everyone. If a dog is cute and an adoption fee can change hands, someone will find a place for it. But for the ones that are not cute or small, and that involves most of the calls I get, there is a big blind eye turned toward them. It is unconscionable that our county officials refuse to face this issue.”

In August 2005, Harman received a call from a Creek County woman. An injured stray dog lay in a ditch in front of her home; the temperature was over 100 degrees. Unable to leave city limits Harman tried unsuccessfully for hours to get the sheriff’s office to send out an officer or to locate someone able to euthanize the dog. No one was authorized to go; the dog ultimately remained in the ditch until it died.

Harman pointed out this issue leads to terrible animal suffering or people takingmatters into their own hands and killing animals by inhumane methods. He said, “This is not just an animal control or taxpayer issue;the lack of county wide animal sheltering is a very, very serious humane problem.”

Vets and their Own Pets

posted April 15th, 2007 by
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Story by Pat Atkinson

 Area veterinarians share open homes, open hearts, and wide open spaces with a variety of four-footed family members.

Horses, dogs, and cats are most numerous, and there’s a scattering of rodents, reptiles, birds, and fish making themselves right at home among the vets’ pets.

And much of the time, special pets of yesteryear guided their humans to the path to veterinary medicine. 

We thought you’d like to hear some personal pet talk about these furred, feathered, finned family members.


Dr. Melissa Montgomery
Head Vet at the Big and Tiny Zoo

Dr. Montgomery says senior citizen Wellington, a Morgan, "seems to know what I'm thinking" during their 23-year relationship.

There should be a sign in front of the rolling acreage south of Jenks welcoming all visitors to “The Big and Tiny Zoo,” which is what Dr. Melissa Montgomery’s daughter calls the family home.

That figures.  In residence are five cats, three dogs (from a big Mastiff to a little Pomeranian mix), four Morgan horses (all big!), and various smaller species including birds, rodents, and latest arrival Mr. Fishy, a red Beta.

Dr. Montgomery, in private practice for about 20 years, is now the Tulsa SPCA’s veterinarian where there’s no shortage of dogs and cats in need of a foster (or permanent) home.  And, yes, a few have “followed” her home.

The group’s longest-timer is Morgan horse Wellington, age 27, who moved into Dr. Montgomery’s life 23 years ago.  “He seems to know what I am thinking,” she says. “He takes care of our (3) children when they ride him, so he has a special place in our hearts.  And now he goes into his stall and looks around as if to say, ‘Why did I come in here?’ just like I do in the house!”

Other “special” furry friends include Gwyneth, an unforgettable English Mastiff rescued from death row at a municipal shelter (her name means “love and happiness”) who shares 125 pounds of unconditional canine love, and Owen, a most “Garfield-like” cat who once kissed Dr. Montgomery just above the left eyebrow, the exact spot where she kisses him.

Another equine, a pony named Beauty, was this young country girl’s first pet, shared with her brother and sister.  “Beauty was old and kind of lame, but she and I explored the county together.  As I got older, I would take off on her and be gone all afternoon.  I am profoundly grateful to my parents for allowing me that independence.”

After leaving for college, she missed the many family farm animals and soon found that majoring in veterinary medicine “became attractive as a way to be in contact with many animals, but not necessarily have to support them!  So, I guess all the dogs, cats, horses, cows and other animals that I grew up with brought me to my life’s work.”  

And about that “Big and Tiny Zoo” name.  When daughter Bonnie was 3, she had a plan to charge admission to the “Zoo,” but Mom would get in free since her job was to vet the animals! 

Dr. Montgomery, formerly in private practice, is veterinarian for the Tulsa SPCA.

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So this is How You Spoil YOUR Tulsa Pet?

posted April 15th, 2007 by
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Story by Marilyn King

In our Winter issue we asked you to send in the ways in which you spoil your pet.   Okay, here are some of the better responses we received.   We’ve just included first names to avoid any embarrassments!

Besides spoiling our adopted St. Bernard in the usual ways, ice cream with dad, scrambled eggs, sleeping on the sofa, etc., we actually bought two vans in two months to accommodate her love of riding in cars.  We first purchased a van from a local Chevrolet dealer telling them we needed rear heat and air (for the dog of course).  Turns out the van did not come with that option even though we had specified it.  We then stopped in at our local Chrysler dealer and came away with a new van with heat and air in the rear.  Now I know that seems a little excessive, but we are definite dog people.  So when you see us driving down the street and the large St. Bernard head in the back window you’ll know how we came to be driving that van.

Carol and Ken, Tulsa

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Spay Oklahoma’s Don’t Litter Campaign

posted April 15th, 2007 by
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Story by Pat Atkinson

It’s half-way through the day at Spay Oklahoma, the veterinarian just finishing spay and neuter surgery on 15 dogs.  Next on the table: 23 cats. 

Today is a bit slow at the clinic with 38 pets in for surgery (the average is 40-45), but all the animals and their people count toward Spay Oklahoma’s goal of making life better for people and pets in the Tulsa area.

Just before lunch, staff members again check the dogs waking up from anesthesia, looking in on Moose, a 99-pound German shepherd who wants to be hugged, and Bear, a fluffy chow mix puppy being cuddled in a warm blanket.

The “doggie serenade” of woofs, howls, arfs and yips is winding down. The kittys are quiet in their carriers except for Rosealee, a gray tabby mom of six kittens who hasn’t stopped talking since early morning arrival.

After a quick take-out deli lunch, the veterinarian of the day, Dr. Terry Yunker, and four staff members will prep the cats, do surgery, and call families, letting them know when  Moose, Bear, Rosealee and the other patients are ready to go home.

At the end of today, all 38 are “fixed,” rabies and other immunizations given, worming medicine dispensed.

But, what really happens every day at Spay Oklahoma is what will not happen later – the birth of thousands of unwanted puppies and kittens, who usually end up homeless and hungry, neglected, injured, diseased – another statistic to die on the streets or be “put down” at the Tulsa Animal Control facility.  Last year about 12,000 were euthanized, an average of 30 a day.

Spay Oklahoma, a non-profit organization, opened its clinic doors almost three years ago offering low cost spay and neuter surgery for pets of low income residents. It’s the only of its kind in Oklahoma and one of only about 30 in the nation.

Unlike full service veterinarian offices, SpayOK offers only spay and neuter surgery, only for pets of low income families who could not afford to have their animals “fixed,” and partners with area animal rescue/humane groups and shelters – non-profit and city-operated to reach the people and pets in need.

Why create a program that depends on volunteers, a few staff members, and donations from individuals, groups, foundations, and friends to operate?

Judy Kishner, Spay Oklahoma board of directors president, explains:  “Because we have too many dogs and cats and not enough homes, thousands are put to sleep every year at the City shelter.  The only way to reduce that number is spaying and neutering to prevent the birth of unwanted puppies and kittens.”

Eventually, she says, the pet overpopulation will decrease and animals in shelters will have better chances of successfully finding good homes.  And, “fixed” animals have fewer behavioral and health problems, enhancing their chances of remaining in their homes.

Spay Oklahoma board members Nancy Atwater and Ruth Steinberger recently visited a long-standing low fee clinic in North Carolina looking for better ways to do more.  That clinic averages 20,000 surgeries annually.

Last year, Spay Oklahoma did 5,000-plus surgeries estimated to prevent the birth of some 50,000 unwanted animals. The goal for 2007 is 6,500-7,000.

Plans are being explored for a retro-fitted transport truck program working with area groups for same-day pick up, surgery and return to area locations. 

Meanwhile, today’s a wrap at the clinic, scrubbed and sterilized for tomorrow’s expected 45 “pet projects.”

Pat Atkinson is a board member of Spay Oklahoma.

Info Box
Spay Oklahoma
501 E. 36th St. North
918.728.3144 for appointment 

Fees:  Cats $25, Sm. & Med. Dogs $35, Large Dogs, $45
Rabies, other immunizations, $5 each
Callers are screened for income qualifications