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TheraPETics Service Dogs of Oklahoma

posted January 15th, 2007 by
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Story by Sherri Goodall

Along with a devoted, specially trained, four-legged helpmate, people who are partnered with a TheraPETic’s canine are given the invaluable gift of INDEPENDENCE.

Under the watchful eye of Lisa Bycroft, Executive Director and Diane Hutchins, Administrative Assistant, magic transpires on East 21st Street at TheraPETics. Adorable balls of fur—golden, black, brindle, apricot, chocolate and many hues in between— are transformed into superbly trained service dogs.

Golden Retrievers and Labradors are excellent service breeds; they love to retrieve and they love to please. The newest breed is the Labradoodle (Standard Poodle/Labrador)—the uber breed of service dog. Labradoodles combine the best of both worlds: non-allergenic coats, retrieving instincts, love of service and superior intelligence.

David Skaggs and his black lab, Martin, greeted us at TheraPETics. Martin demonstrated his talents soon enough. Martin, like many of his TheraPETics peers, functions as the body and legs of Skaggs, who is paralyzed from the waist down. Martin deftly removed Skaggs’ long-sleeved jacket on command. He also will remove Skaggs’ pants. Doodle, a young Labradoodle demonstrated her talent of undoing Skaggs’ Velcro shoes. Buster, Doodle’s brother, was the ace light switch operator. He entertained us with a frenzy of light switching— on, off, on, off, until we were dizzy.

Skaggs says Martin not only gives him the confidence and freedom to pursue his life and work; but also gives his wife the opportunity to pursue her life without worry. Martin retrieves tools for Skaggs, brings the telephone to him and can go to a neighbor for help.

Buster belongs to Diane Hutchins and alerts her when her sugar drops. Dogs cannot be trained to alert a human to seizures or other body changes, like sugar swings. This ability is due to the canine’s uncanny sense of smell. When sugar drops, or a seizure is about to begin, the dogs smell the changes inthe human’s body chemistry. Once the dog is rewarded for this behavior, it will repeat it when appropriate (Pavlov). Buster, also “braces” to help Diane stand.

What we consider simple tasks; dressing and undressing, opening and closing doors and cabinets, retrieving items dropped on the floor, sitting up, standing, turning on lights, answering a telephone, ringing a doorbell, unloading a washer or dryer—are monumental, if not impossible tasks for the physically limited. TheraPETics dogs perform all these tasks and more.

Children face the most difficult challenges with their disabilities… both emotional and physical. Once a service dog comes into their lives, typical social barriers are broken. The dogs become the bridge between “abled” and “disabled.” More than just physical doors are opened.

It takes tremendous trust and confidence for a physically challenged human, who has known only hardship, to turn him or herself over to a dog. This is where the training begins.

Lisa begins with 7-8 week-old puppies. Haikey Creek Kennels donate the Goldens. Labradors come from Wyngmaster and Glen-Mar Kennels. Sommer’s Doodles in OKC supply the Labradoodles.

Before being accepted, the puppies must take the Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test, which measures their retrieval drive and temperament (whether too dominant or submissive). Only those that measure up, make the cut.

From here, volunteers take over. First, the puppies go to a puppy raiser for one year. They come to class (raisers and puppies) once a week where they work with Mary Green, the official trainer. They learn basic obedience behavior, socialization, and patience. Their instincts of pulling and retrieving are honed and rewarded. The puppies learn to associate desired behavior with praise and reward. As important as their “schoolwork” is their socialization in their raiser’s home, where there might be children and other pets.

After a year with the puppy raisers, the dogs graduate to a trainer home. This is where the specific task- training begins. The trainer and dog go to work in the real world, whether it’s to a job, classroom or errands around the city. Once a week they go to class at TheraPETics, where they learn and practice desired behaviors. There are wheelchairs to pull and push, doors to open and close, refrigerators with items to be fetched, washers and dryers to be emptied, directions to be learned, tasks upon tasks to be mastered. Then they go home and practice some more. The dogs visit malls, ride escalators and elevators, visit restaurants, retail stores, museums, grocery stores, health centers, hospitals, doctors—all the service and entertainment establishments necessary to our lives. They travel on public transportation, through airports, on airplanes, in taxis, stay in hotels…just as we do.

Each dog costs about $14,000 to train. TheraPETics places the dogs with their partners at no cost. This is due to the volunteers that give so generously of their time, many of the in-kind services donated by vendors and veterinarians, corporations, and the fund raising efforts of TheraPETics.

At last… THE BIG DAY! GRADUATION. The hours, days, weeks and months of training culminate when the dogs are paired with their humans…the bond is formed. Team Training begins. The specific needs of each disabled person are added to the dog’s repertoire. The human/dog team train together for 100 hours, usually at the person’s home, so that the dogs can train to a specific environment.

It’s a beautiful merger. People gain their freedom and independence and the dogs get to do what they love best.

Each year, TheraPETics has two fundraisers: A K9K Race (a 5.5 mile sponsored race benefiting TheraPETics), and DOGFEST where all canines can strut their stuff. Silly contests abound, including Best Trick, Owner/Dog look-alike, Doggie Cross-Dressing Races, and agility races. Many vendors and rescue groups are on hand displaying their services and products. Of course, the TheraPETics dogs demonstrate their talents.

A special fund, The Dolly Fund, honors Dolly Carter, the famous black lab who dived into dryers. Its purpose is to fund extraordinary veterinary bills for service dogs.

These funding opportunities and much more can be found at

Mustang Sally

posted January 15th, 2007 by
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The little black kitten had found a home at last! It wasn’t fancy, but she had a roof over her head and food to eat. And children to play with her!

However, as she grew up, the children played with her less and less, so she spent more time outside, finding her own entertainment in the form of mice and birds. There were other cats, too, and, in time, she had kittens of her own. The family still fed her, but she spent most of her time under the house. And then one day the family moved. What was a cat to do? They had moved without her.

She was hungry so she ventured into the car lot next door. Soon, the owner of the car lot saw her and fed her. However, the black kitten, which was now a cat, was afraid. Could she ever trust humans again?


Her plight grew worse. They bulldozed her house! “To expand the car lot,” they said. The nice lady still fed her, but then told her that she could not stay there. “Cars and antifreeze are dangerous,” she said. The lady said that she might be able to move into her home, so she took her to a veterinarian for a check-up and vaccinations, spaying her so that she would never have kittens again.

However, the black cat could not adjust to life in a home. She had become a feral cat, wary of humans, and preferring the freedom of outdoors. Another dilemma….

But there was a solution! Someone mentioned a ranch, where horses lived in a nice warm barn. Other cats lived there, too, where the owner protected them, fed them, and gave them medical care.

So they moved her, and she now has both freedom and friends. She has become known as “Mustang Sally”: the cat that formerly lived with cars, now lives with horses. Life is good!

Story by Camille Hulen

The Dilemma of Homeless Cats

posted January 15th, 2007 by
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Free-roaming cats without owners have recently become the center of a national controversy. Some groups see these animals as victims that should be provided with food and shelter, while others see them as villains that should be eliminated by humane euthanasia. Many of these cats are feral or “wild,” the descendants of unaltered tame cats that were abandoned and gave birth to kittens that never had contact with humans. Although ferals are fearful of humans, they are still domesticated and ill-equipped to live on their own. Feral cats do not die of “old age.” They fall victim to disease, starvation, poisons, attacks by other animals, mistreatment by humans or are hit by cars.

It is estimated that the number of free roaming abandoned and feral cats in the United States may be as high as owned cats (about 73 million). Since most owned cats are sterilized, these unowned cats are the primary source of cat overpopulation. Many people who encounter feral cats start feeding them, but feeding alone can actually make the situation worse by increasing the birth rate of kittens. Animal shelters nationwide receive several million unwanted cats each year. Due to a shortage of available homes, approximately 75% of these cats are euthanized. Locally, the cat euthanasia rate at animal shelters is about 90% and less than 1% of these cats are ever claimed by owners.

The impact of both owned and unowned freeroaming cats upon the environment is an ongoing subject of debate. Even well-fed cats will hunt and kill prey. These predations cause a significant and preventable loss of birds, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians.

Free-roaming cats pose a small but important threat to human health. They can carry and transmit to humans such diseases as rabies, cat scratch fever, plague, tularemia and ringworm. Also, serious injuries can occur if feral cats are handled without precautions or experience.

Historically, communities have responded to feral cat colonies by capturing and euthanizing these unowned animals. In areas where there is a natural food source (mice), this resulted in the influx of more cats as the resident feral cats were removed. As long as there was a food source, the feral cats would repopulate the area. In areas where feral cats are fed by humans, a strong bond is created with these cats and usually the feral cat feeders will not cooperate with control strategies that involve euthanasia.

Most veterinarians and animal welfare groups now support managing these colonies by trapping, neutering, releasing and monitoring feral cats. The goal is to eventually reduce the feral cat population; however, eliminating the colony may not be possible due to immigration of new cats. Ideally, these colonies should be located in an area where the cats do not pose a threat to wildlife. The location should be inconspicuous so as not to encourage abandonment of pet cats. All cats within the colony are humanely trapped and receive a health exam, tested for feline leukemia and feline AIDS, neutered/spayed and vaccinated against rabies. Socialized adult cats and kittens should be adopted out to permanent homes and those that cannot be adopted should be returned to the colony. Most importantly, a monitoring program must be in place to identify new cats joining the colony, as well as cats requiring medical attention.

Stitch in Time is a local spay/neuter program for feral cats run by Street Cats, a local non-profit organization. Vouchers are issued that will cover a spay or neuter and a rabies vaccination. Over 50 vouchers are issued each month and once issued are good for three months. To receive a voucher call 918-298- 0104 and leave a message for Stitch in Time. Other local organizations that offer feral spay/neuter programs are Spay Oklahoma (918) 728-3144 and PAWS (Pet Assistance and Welfare Society) 918-376-2397.

- Dr. Judy Zinn

Arthritis in Our Older Pets

posted January 15th, 2007 by
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By Erin Reed, DVM 15th Street Veterinary Group, Tulsa

How do you feel as the weather gets colder? Do you feel stiff and sore when the temperatures drop? Many of our pets experience the same changes.

As our family pets get older, they also exhibit signs of arthritis. We have to rely on changes that we see, since they are unable to communicate with us. Decreased activity, increased difficulty getting up and down, limping and behavioral changes are some of the signs that are suggestive of arthritis.

Both dogs and cats get degenerative joint disease (DJD, also known as arthritis). There are many factors that predispose an animal to DJD. Genetics, obesity and injury are the most common causes of arthritis.

Genetics play an important role, especially with large breed dogs. When possible, it is recommended to research familial and breed problems before purchasing a puppy. Many breeders have breeding dogs OFA (Orthopedic Foundation for Animals) certified to decrease the chance of elbow and hip dysplasia being passed on to their offspring.

Obesity is a significant problem in both dogs and cats. By preventing obesity we are able to decrease a significant amount of wear and tear on the joints, therefore decreasing arthritis as pets age.

Previous injuries can also cause arthritis to occur at an increased rate. Many dogs experience torn cruciate ligaments, intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) and traumatic injuries that lead to arthritis.

There are many signs that suggest a diagnosis of arthritis, but your veterinarian will usually recommend a thorough examination and laboratory work to rule out any metabolic problems that may initially mimic the vague signs of arthritis, such as Hypothyroidism and Addison’s disease. Once a tentative diagnosis of arthritis is determined, trial therapies may be started. Radiographs are needed to definitively diagnose arthritis, but many times a patient’s response to treatment is also used. Radiographs are needed to rule out any other problems, such as infection or tumors.

Treatment of arthritis has many components. Glucosamine-chondroitin is often started at first signs of arthritis or following injury or surgery to decrease arthritis. Glucosamine helps stimulate synovial fluid, slow down destruction and improve healing of the joint’s cartilage. There are both oral and injectable products that can be used.

Many veterinarians recommend weight loss diets and increasing exercise to battle obesity in all stages of arthritis.

As arthritis becomes more pronounced, NSAID’s (non steroidal anti-inflammatories) are often used to help control pain and inflammation. Even though there are many products obtained from drug stores, never administer any medications without checking with your veterinarian. For example, aspirin can cause stomach ulcers and other medications, like ibuprofen cause kidney damage, even at very low doses. Most dogs respond very well to anti-inflamm atories. Each patient’s response will determine if they need to stay on medication daily or if the medicine can be decreased and given when needed. Before starting any ongoing medication, your veterinarian will usually recommend laboratory tests to check kidney and liver function and then repeat this every 6 months.

Seeing our pets get older is difficult, but in many cases there are preventative measures that can be used to improve and lengthen their quality of life.

Story by Erin Reed

Good and Bad Behavior

posted January 15th, 2007 by
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Q. We have a Labrador retriever, almost a year old, who jumps up on us all the time. We can hardly walk outside without him jumping all over us. He knocks down the kids, and is impossible to pet because he’s so wild. Will he outgrow this?

A. The short answer is, no, he will not outgrow this. He is jumping on you to get attention, and if he spends a lot of time outdoors alone, he is lonely! You can, however, teach him how you would like him to greet people. The first step is to prevent him from practicing this behavior, especially when children are present. The goal is for him to sit as an alternative to jumping up on people. You can accomplish this without using harsh methods such as kneeing the dog in the chest, which are ineffective and potentially dangerous to dogs and people.

To begin, set aside 15 minutes that you can spend working with your dog without any other people or animals around. Practice in the area where he is used to greeting people. Have a good supply of really yummy dog treats in your pocket, or fanny pack. With a treat in your hand, step toward the dog, into his space, and while he has four feet on the ground, give him the treat. Keep the treats coming as long as he has four feet on the ground. You can step into the dog’s space or you can turn away from the dog, but you must only reward when he has four feet on the ground.

To teach sit, you will let the dog sniff and lick the treat in your hand, but don’t let him eat it. Lure the dog using the treat so that while he is licking, you cause his nose to point upward. While his nose follows the treat, his knees will bend and his rump will touch the ground. At that exact moment, give him the treat, say, “Sit,” and follow with a “Good Boy!” Lure him with the food only a few more times, then wait for him to sit voluntarily. He will, and then you will reward him with treats and praise. Again, wait for him to sit voluntarily and reward him.

Practice a few times alone with the dog, and then recruit an adult volunteer. Now the praise and reward will come from the other person. The dog will anticipate getting food, and will try what worked before…the sit!

As your dog learns to sit when a person approaches, he will also be learning to sit to accept petting. As he sits, and you praise him, pet him with long strokes. If he gets up, you will say “anh anh” and remind him again to sit.

Q. I’m the proud owner of a 10 week old puppy. He’s doing really great in most areas, but he bites at our hands all the time and even draws blood. How do we stop him when he bites?

A. Congratulations on your new addition! I suspect he is really mouthing rather than biting you. All puppies go through a process of learning bite inhibition. They begin using their teeth on their mother and their littermates in play, to get resources, when they’re mad, or when they’re excited. We must teach them that humans are not tough like their siblings nor do we like to be treated like chew toys. It takes lots of patience on your part and lots and lots of practice to help him learn to use his teeth appropriately.

The first step is to“yelp” like a puppy would when his sibling bites hard. When you receive a “bite” that is particularly sharp, make a high-pitched “ouch” sound, and stop petting or playing. You may see the puppy retreat slightly, which is a good sign. You should act offended, and he should act sorry. You will probably repeat this process several times in a row, and if he persists, just end the interaction. Walk away, do not continue giving him attention.

Offer him a toy to chew on instead of your hands. As you are petting, grooming, or playing with your puppy and he puts his teeth on you, firmly say, “No Bite.” As you say this, rest his chin in the palm of one hand, so that your fingers curl upward and gently around his lips (not over the top of his muzzle), and place your other hand on his collar. Hold him very gently, as if you were holding a bird in your hands. You should see his tongue quickly flick out and lick his lips. That’s his way of apologizing. When you see this, remove your hands, pet him gently and tell him that he is a good boy.

Never discipline a puppy by shaking him, spanking him, or clamping down on his muzzle. Never tease him with your hand gestures. Play with toys with him rather than your body!

Mary Green, Certified Pet Dog Trainer, is the owner of K9 Manners & More in Broken Arrow. She is a consultant for the Tulsa SPCA, trainer for TheraPetics Service Dogs of OK, and is a monthly guest on the KOTV Noon News.

Story by Mary Green


posted January 15th, 2007 by
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This issue’s participating veterinarian: Stephanie Ensley, DVM

Q. My seven-year old cat has developed feline diabetes. Is there any chance that it could disappear as quickly as it developed? Also, will this disease affect the longevity of my cat’s life? D. Blackburn, Tulsa

A. 24 TulsaPets Winter 2007 Diabetes, a metabolic disease diagnosed in an estimated one out of two-hundred feline patients, can sometimes seem to develop overnight. Many owners can look back (good old hind sight) and recognize early indications of the illness that were not alarming initially. Examples might include increased litter box use, change in appetite and/or water consumption, change in activity level, vomiting, diarrhea and weight changes.

Feline diabetes is managed in most patients with diet and insulin. Some cats are able to be managed without insulin, or with decreased doses over time. Cats that develop diabetes following steroid treatment for other medical conditions may revert to a non-insulin dependent state if steroid use can be discontinued. I never consider diabetes to “disappear” but rather to be controlled. A big part of diabetes management is monitoring glucose levels and clinical signs. In a case where a cat reaches a point of no longer needing insulin I continue a supportive diet with regular monitoring and caution owners that the cat has shown us the predisposition to the disease and can at any time become ill from diabetes again.

Diabetic cats, if well managed, may live a fairly long life. Unfortunately some diabetics have other disease processes affecting their bodies that make glucose control difficult or they are not presented to the veterinarian for evaluation until they are deathly ill from the effects of diabetes, making the prognosis poor. Additionally, diabetics must be treated early and aggressively for any illness that develops. In many cases periodontal disease or a urinary tract infection can precipitate loss of glucose control in the diabetic patient. To help your diabetic cat live a long and healthy life it is essential to work closely with your veterinarian to set up monitoring guidelines, treatment plans and regular medical evaluations. Home management takes dedication on your part, but the reward…your feline friend…is worth it!

Q. I live near a location where the emergency sirens blow every Wednesday at noon. My lab puppy, who has never heard this sound before, has started running outside and howling when he hears the noise. Why does he do this and are the sirens hurting his hearing? S. Kirkpatrick, Tulsa

A. Dogs tend to bark and howl with sirens in chorus…sort of an instinctual pack behavior. The good news is the sirens are not harmful to your dog’s hearing at the level and duration they are used in a testing mode. The greatest problem with barking at sirens is that dogs build a habit of the behavior and cannot discern between barking at the noon test sirens and emergency vehicle sirens in the wee morning hours…an activity not many neighbors appreciate

Test sirens at a set time afford you a great training opportunity. If you are available at the times the sirens blow you can train your dog to go to a specific location and do a ‘sit’ or ‘down’ at the appointed place and then reward him as he stays put till the sirens stop. Since we live in an area of severe storms it is better to have dogs under control and in a predetermined location than out howling at sirens should a true emergency situation exist. In addition to having treats handy at this location you should also have leashes (or crates) as needed for your pets so that you can control them should you need to seek shelter with them. This training method may also be applied when doing monthly testing of your in-home smoke detectors.

That said, civil defense sirens at close range (100 feet) or for extended periods that would occur during a disaster can be damaging to the ear drum due to the high decibel (sound pressure) level required for the warning sirens. If your dog is particularly sensitive, agitated by the sirens, or they are activated for more than test duration you can place a cotton ball in the ear canals (gently…. don’t push it too far in) to muffle the noise and make your dog more comfortable.

Q. I have a very old dog who sleeps mostly all day in one favorite spot in the living room. She has started developing a strange habit of getting up and scratching furiously on the carpet where she has been sleeping. It’s almost like she is in a trance-like state when she’s doing this. In addition to saving my carpet, I’d like her to stop. Why has she started to develop this behavior? What can I do to help her stop it?

A. Older dogs do sleep more than young ones and can develop new, and not always desirable, habits. In some cases these new behaviors are due to underlying disease, pain or a dementia-like illness called canine cognitive dysfunction. I encourage you to take your dog for a thorough physical examination and blood work to look for related problems that can be addressed. Evaluation may reveal a problem that can be treated with a special diet and/or medication.

If you have a video camera it would help for you to record the described activity once without disturbing your dog, letting her cycle through her entire routine. Get someone to help you record it a second time and try to get your dog’s attention during the event to see how she reacts. I like to keep a written log of episodes observed including time, date, duration of episode and feeding time or other activities on the days you observe the event. In the meantime I recommend you take a cutting of carpet remnant to a carpet store where it can be finished off on the edges….you can place this in your old gal’s favorite spot so she will not further damage your carpet but will