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posted November 4th, 2014 by
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by Ruth Steinberger



Pet overpopulation is a serious problem in most communities, but in small towns and rural areas where people have little or no access to veterinary care, the costs can be staggering. Unsterilized pets are not only predisposed to health problems, taxpayers also bear the burden due to the large number of unwanted pets that find their way into shelters.


But long-time animal activist Ruth Steinberger is addressing this growing problem head on through her organization SpayFIRST!

Steinberger founded Spay FIRST! in November 2010 to reach out directly to those on the forefront of controlling the pet population, including pet owners, communities and veterinarians. Through education and coordinated efforts that enable communities to provide sterilization services, Steinberger hopes to lessen the burden of unwanted animals.

The statistics are staggering. According to Steinberger, approximately $2 billion is spent annually in the U.S. just to shelter unwanted dogs, yet less than 3 percent of that amount is spent on prevention.

Steinberger brings years of experience and firsthand knowledge of the cost these unwanted litters heap onto communities, and she is making strides by teaching pet owners the importance of sterilization by working with communities and animal professionals.

Below, Steinberger explains to OKC Pets Magazine the importance of pet sterilization and how SpayFIRST! is making a difference.

You have a long history of involvement in animal advocacy. What led you to become so active in this area and start your organization Spay FIRST?

About 30 years ago, my home became an “accidental rescue,” as happens to others. You know, people realize that you care  about animals, they bring them to you, and suddenly you’re a safety net for unwanted animals.

Through my mentor, activist and artist Carol Hoge, I came to realize that not only could we prevent litters, but that the threat of litters was why many people “get rid of” female pets. Being spayed or neutered is a huge factor in keeping pets in their homes. In rural areas, that security means life and death.

Why is spaying and neutering pets so important, not only for the animals, but for communities?

People and the animals that live with them are not separate; we affect each other. If animals “mark” their adoptive homes, get into fights, roam or have litters, they will not remain welcome. Dog bites, maulings and characteristic male dog behaviors overwhelmingly come from intact male dogs.

These disproportionately affect low-income communities where access to spay/ neuter is limited. When we talk about the importance of compassion instead of killing, spay/neuter is absolutely at the center of that discussion. A litter of puppies may be cute, but many children realize that the puppies were eventually abandoned, otherwise killed, or they simply die from disease and neglect. Is this good? Witnessing neglect does not teach compassion.

A lot of pet owners say they want their dog or cat to have a litter before they are spayed or neutered, or they would like their children to experience the birth process with their pet. Explain why letting a dog or cat become sexually mature before spaying or neutering is harmful to their health.

First, there are significant health benefits to avoiding a first estrus or “heat” cycle. Research shows that preventing the hormonal changes during even one heat cycle has a tremendous impact on reducing incidents of mammary cancer in dogs. That’s no small thing.

Dogs are nine times more likely than people to get mammary cancer, and the preventive value is lost with successive heat cycles. Characteristic male dog behavior, like marking furniture, is much easier to prevent than to stop later on.

There is no “miracle” to the birth of surplus pets. It teaches kids that it’s OK to produce surplus animals on a self-centered whim. It teaches irresponsibility.

Historically, veterinarians recommended pets be sterilized at about 6 months of age, but that is changing. Pets can now be sterilized much earlier. At what age is this safe?

The age approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) is             8 weeks or two pounds, and in a shelter setting, all pets should be spayed or neutered before release. Many private clinics recommend that kittens or puppies finish their juvenile wellness vaccinations and be altered shortly thereafter. Some offer kitten or puppy wellness packages that facilitate that timeline.

There is some controversy about the impact of early sterilization on giant breeds, and there is controversy about the quality of the studies that supposedly support that controversy. However, the fact remains that the single leading cause of death of dogs and cats in the U.S. is euthanization in shelters… because an unwanted litter is born in the U.S. every 20 seconds.

Is surgery the only option?

No. There are other options and more are being explored by both public agencies and private entities. And we need all of the tools available to stop litters.

Worldwide, 75 percent of dogs, and about the same percentage of cats, are unwanted. That is over 600 million animals! Knocking the numbers down humanely is the first step to stopping suffering, and it cannot be done without non-surgical methods.

In many places across the globe, basic medical care for people is a luxury; children still get polio, and tens of thousands of people die of rabies from dog bites in developing nations. Sadly, in these circumstances, the resources needed to provide surgery is decades away from being available for millions of street animals.

Because of the potential to work in the poorest of regions, our most important work is in the field of non-surgical sterilization. Spay FIRST! has partnered with Pueblo Animal Health Services,   Native American Veterinary Services and an organization in Lahore, Pakistan, called Vets Care Organization, to promote the use of a non-surgical option for neutering male dogs and cats.

We are working with two Oklahoma veterinarians to closely monitor colony cats on a feed-through contraceptive and under the leadership of SpayFIRST! founding board member Dr. Charles Helwig and our advisory board member Dr. Billy Clay, we have partnered with the USDA on research of an injectable contraceptive that will hopefully be proven effective in dogs.

Your organization focuses a lot of its outreach in poor or underserved com-munities, especially those with little or no access to veterinary services, with your MASH unit. Can you explain what this is?

MASH, or Mobile Animal Surgical Hospital, refers to programs in which surgical equipment is brought onsite to a remote location in order to set up temporary spay/neuter services.

This is a program often used to provide services on Native American lands. It is a labor intensive program, but it’s a great way to get a lot done. It is the most cost-effective model there is.

If someone said to you they don’t think it matters if their pet is sterilized, what would be the most important thing they need to know about their decision?

They need to know that their decision does not support the best care for their own pet, and if unwanted litters are born, they are contributing to the world in a terribly negative way. I’ve heard people say they found good homes for the offspring. If indeed they did, some other kitten or puppy died.

One way or the other, for better or for worse, the decision that each one of us makes has an impact. According to American Pet Products Manufacturers, 38 percent of dogs and 75 percent of cats are obtained from family, friends or other incidental sources. That’s how many incidental, unplanned animals are never even counted in the shelter numbers… Staggering.

For more information about Spay FIRST! or to donate, visit Follow Spay FIRST! on Facebook and Twitter or follow Steinberger’s blog at

Project Breathe

posted October 28th, 2014 by
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Invisible Fence Brand providing pets a breath of fresh air.

Invisible Fence

By Anna Holton-Dean


An estimated 40,000 to 150,000 pets die each year in fires, according to industry sources, most succumbing to smoke inhalation. In many states, emergency responders are unequipped to deal with the crisis. The loss is devastating for families and heart-wrenching for firefighters also.  Because human oxygen masks do not fit pets, there’s not much first responders can do to reverse the effects of smoke inhalation.

But thanks to Invisible Fence Brand, providers of the original electronic pet containment system, 120 pets have been saved as of February 2014, through their Project Breathe campaign. Because the pet oxygen mask kits fit just right, animals can take advantage of oxygen flow, saving their lives.

Invisible Fence Brand has donated over 10,000 pet oxygen masks to fire stations throughout the U.S. and Canada. Locally, Invisible Fence of Oklahoma has donated animal oxygen masks to fire stations in Moore, Nichols Hill and The Village. They are now in the process of obtaining a kit for Mustang with Edmond as their next target area. And many of the masks given have already saved local pets’ lives.

Emily Shanbour, manager/operator of Invisible Fence of Oklahoma, says the Project Breathe campaign is a logical way for the company to help the local community.

“Invisible Fence’s motto is ‘keeping dogs safe at home.’ This takes what we are already doing one step further,” she says. “Anything that any corporation can do for a local community at no additional cost to that community is a good thing.”

The program not only saves the lives of pets, but eases the overall painful experience for their owners as well. “When a family suffers the tragedy of a fire, lives are turned upside down,” Albert Lee, director of Invisible Fence Brand, says. “Pets are valued family members, so we want families to know that their pets can be cared for if tragedy strikes.

“We realize that humans are the first priority, but in many cases, pets can be saved if firefighters have the right equipment. Our Project Breathe program is simply a way of giving firefighters the tools necessary to save pets’ lives, and we celebrate with the families and the emergency personnel each and every time a pet is rescued and saved.”

For more information on the Invisible Fence Brand Project Breathe donation program, visit or check out  .

Creature Comforts

posted October 21st, 2014 by
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Penny Nichols and her team of volunteers bring therapy animals to those in need across the Metro through the non-profit Creatures and Kids, Inc.

Creature Comforts

By Kayte Spillman


Penny Nichols took a professional calling to train animals and turned it into a passion to connect those animals with at-risk kids and others who would benefit from the kind touch of a gentle animal.


In 2001, Nichols began the work of starting the nonprofit Creatures and Kids, Inc., which trains animals and handlers to interact with children, youth and even adults in therapy settings. Now, nearly 13 years later, Nichols, who serves as director of operations , works with about 30 teams of animals and handlers in training and certifying dogs, cats and other animals to conduct therapy work.

She and her team of volunteers and animals also work with various other organizations to provide therapy animals for different programs.

“I wanted to see what animals could do for people,” Nichols said. “I wanted to see how utilizing therapy animals could help develop positive character qualities in youth.”

She wanted to start a training program in the community where she lives to impact the lives around her. And she is certainly accomplishing that goal. Recently, she took trained therapy dogs to a juvenile detention center to work with young men involved in the system. Purposefully, she took a dog that was a little shy and nervous to be around all the young people.

“I asked them what they thought about the dog, and they all said, ‘She looks scared,’” Nichols said. “And, I said, ‘You’re right; she is.’”

Nichols then proceeded to show the boys how to touch the dog and properly handle her, and before the session was over, the dog was happy and confident to be part of the group.

“And the young men were proud that they were able to help her,” she said. “She walked in with her tail down, but she left with her tail up. Any time you can have the animals help children by giving them that confidence, hope or a purpose like that, it is really something meaningful to them—and to me—to watch.”

The nonprofit supplies animals and trainers to different groups and events around town such as the VA hospital, schools, individual counseling and the Oklahoma City Metropolitan Library System’s Reading with Dogs programs. She says she sees the animals making an impact in every area they are able to serve.

“I see differences all the time,” she said.

Kenny and LuGene Jones, along with their 2-and-a-half year-old Golden Retriever Maddy, went through Creatures and Kids training starting when Maddy was just 9 months old. Now, and for the last year and a half, they take their certified pooch to the VA hospital every Friday.

“It’s good for us; it’s good for her,” Kenny said. “We’ve had some emotional times with some of the vets. Maddy is very close to some of them. They love her, and they thank us for bringing her down and letting them see her. The whole back half of her starts wagging when they start talking to her.”

Every Tuesday, the team visits the Midwest City Library, and Maddy participates in their Reading with Dogs program.

“When the kids are reading to Maddy, she will just sit there for a little bit and then just lay down,” Kenny said. “Sometimes, she will get up close to them and nudge them if they aren’t petting her enough.”

Nichols said she sees the most change when children or adults with autism interact with therapy animals. She says it gives them a way to connect with people and the world around them that they didn’t know they could do before the animal arrived.

“It is amazing to see them grow because they are able to communicate in ways they’ve never been able to do,” Nichols said.

Marla Galbraith, who is the director at Speech Therapy Professionals in Edmond, works with Penny and Creatures and Kids and agrees that therapy animals can greatly impact special needs individuals. She, along with Josephine, a 10-year-old Bassett Hound, conducts therapy with a wide spectrum of children and adults, many with autism.

“I don’t know how they do it, but somehow these dogs know how to calm these kids down,” Galbraith said. “They will be having a meltdown, and Josephine will go and just lay by their tummy or foot or head, and she will bring them out of their meltdown. They will start to calm down and then begin to smile and pet her.”

She said she had a young boy who was    a client and, because of his autism, was terrified of dogs to the point of being a danger to himself if presented with an animal. Through therapy with Josephine—first through photos, then seeing her from a distance and finally through actual physical contact—the boy is so confident around dogs now that he has a dog of his own.

Creatures and Kids works to train and create certified Therapeutic Animal Interaction/Intervention teams, and they train more than just dogs. The group has had many different types of therapy animals—dogs, cats, miniature horses, llamas and alpacas, rabbits and even ducks.

“We’ve even got a chicken,” Kenny said.

Nichols said the training ensures both animal and handler are up to the challenge of therapy work.

“Training gets the human in the right mind and the dog in the right mind,” Nichols said. “It is a learning process for both of them.”

And it doesn’t take long for volunteers to see the benefits of their time.

“When you see that smile and see those changes that the people are making by spending time with your animal, it’s pretty rewarding,” Nichols said.

The need for therapy animals is great, she says, and Creatures and Kids is always looking for people interested in getting involved, whether they have an animal to train or not.

“If you have an animal or you have an interest, give us a call,” she said. “That’s what we need. If we don’t have the people and the animals, we don’t have anything we need to serve the people we serve.”

Even as popular as Josephine is with her clients—she has her own Facebook page—Galbraith is quick to clarify what is making Creatures and Kids so successful.

“If it wasn’t for Penny, none of this would be possible,” Galbraith said. “It just wouldn’t happen.”

Rover to the Rescue at OSU

posted October 20th, 2014 by
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Pete's Pet Posse

Pete’s Pet Posse is bringing health to the OSU campus

by Kiley Roberson

College life can be full of ups and downs. The excitement of new adventures packed with the stress of exams and loneliness of missing home. But at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, four-legged ambassadors are saving the day one student at a time.

These rescue rovers are members of the University’s new pet therapy program called Pete’s Pet Posse, named after OSU’s infamous cowboy mascot Pistol Pete, of course. The goal of the program is to positively enhance physical and emotional health throughout the campus and is spearheaded by the University’s First Cowgirl, Ann Hargis.

“At OSU, wellness is a big priority, and we have very robust programs in physical activity and nutrition,” explains Ann. “Pete’s Pet Posse is part of an increased wellness focus on the emotional health of our campus population.”

OSU’s President Burns Hargis and his wife Ann are true animal lovers. So it made sense when Ann invited a famous therapy dog, Rossi the Approval Poodle, for a campus visit last year. Droves of students lined up to visit with Rossi.

The response was so positive that Ann decided to explore a pet therapy program at OSU. Oklahoma State University is known for its outstanding veterinary school, so the program seemed like a natural fit. After extensive planning, the program began to take shape, and today the University has accepted eight pups into the posse.

“I have already seen these animals make a difference on campus,” says Ann. “The way the dogs interact with students, faculty and staff leaves everyone with a smile.”

And on a busy college campus, a smile can go a long way toward positive mental health. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pets can decrease blood pressure, cholesterol levels, triglyceride levels and feelings of loneliness. They can also provide greater opportunities for exercise and outdoor activities.

Dr. Lara Sypniewski is an OSU veterinarian and helped develop the Pet Posse Program. She says the benefits of pet therapy are clear.

“Research into student retention, wellness and academic progress has repeatedly shown that interaction with therapy dogs has positive effects on these parameters during the college experience,” explains Sypniewski.

“With mounting pressure on students, staff and faculty for ever greater achievement with smaller budgets and less time, college campuses have developed a ‘culture of stress.’ This culture has created an epidemic of anxiety, relationship and family problems, substance abuse, suicide and violence.

“Research has demonstrated that programs like Pete’s Pet Posse have the potential to lessen this anxiety epidemic and improve the quality of life of our campus family.”

Sypniewski is one of the veterinarians that works directly with the Pet Posse. She says becoming a certified therapy animal isn’t just a walk in the dog park.   

Each member of Pete’s Pet Posse must go through a veterinary exam and interview, a trainer disposition and behavior evaluation, and the owner has to be interviewed by   the advisory committee. The pets also enter into a training program and can only be approved after they graduate.

All of the dogs involved in the program live with their owners full-time and are simply volunteers for the University. After they have completed their training and are accepted into the posse, the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital (with the support of Merial and Purina) provides the pets’ food and wellness care, such as vaccinations, heartworm treatment and flea and tick preventative. The pets must also be reevaluated each year to stay in the program.

It’s a rigorous process, but owners like Kendria Cost say it’s worth it. Cost is the executive assistant to the First Lady and helped create the program. She’s also the proud owner of Pet Posse member Charlie, an 18-month-old German Shepherd rescue.

“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive,” says Cost.” The Office of Campus Life has a treat drawer for the dogs that visit. Several of the dogs have been on campus long enough that people call them by name and run to greet them.”

One of those people is OSU student Alex Miller, a freshman from Fort Worth, Texas, double majoring in music education and clinical child psychology. Just a few weeks into her first semester, homesickness   struck. She missed her family back home, especially her two Labradors that always knew how to cheer her up. Feeling blue after class, Miller decided to stop by the Student Union for a coffee where she met Cost, and most importantly, Charlie.

“I stepped into the Student Union and right at the front desk was this big ball of fur, tongue out, tail wagging. I asked to pet him, and as I got down to his level to give him some love, I just started crying,” explains Miller. “All the stress of moving somewhere new and starting completely over   with friends and living and so on was removed, and I felt more at home than ever. I was able to vicariously love my dogs through him that day.”

Visiting with Charlie made a huge impact on Miller. Pete’s Pet Posse gave her an outlet in which to get involved, and now she promotes it to everyone.

“I think this program is a perfect asset to have at a University, especially for the students who    are living a long way away from their homes, like I am. You’re really able to have that kind of connection, and it helps with settling down in a place that is brand new,” says Miller. “Now I’m involved in the program and also volunteer at the Stillwater Humane Society. I feel more at home than ever at OSU, and I see Charlie every chance I get.”

Changing lives like Miller’s is what Pete’s Pet Posse is all about. But it helps that the pets benefit too.

“I am especially proud that most of these animals are rescues, and in true Cowboy spirit are giving back to others,” says Ann. “This program reaches across all campus boundaries and is truly multidisciplinary in the approach to wellness. I look forward to continued successes and can’t wait to see where these pups take us on our journey of becoming America’s healthiest campus.” 

Ask The Doc

posted October 14th, 2014 by
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Tracei Holder, DVM/Medical Director, VCA Kickingbird Animal Hospital


Q: Why do dogs lick their feet?



A: Dogs most commonly lick their feet secondary to allergies. The inciting cause can vary, from a sensitivity to grass to the wool fabric from carpets. Inhaled molds and pollens can result in the skin on their feet becoming inflamed and then itchy.

The dog begins to lick and secondary bacterial and yeast infections may arise, which leads to more licking of the feet. Management of the allergy, as well as secondary infections that develop, is necessary to control the foot licking.

If a dog suddenly begins to lick at one foot in particular, we look for something stuck on the foot or between the foot pads, an acute injury to a toe or nail, development of arthritis in a joint in the foot or the presence of a growth. Growths can be either malignant or benign and should be evaluated by your veterinarian to determine the best course of treatment.

We do on occasion see dogs that have an obsessive compulsive disorder, and they may lick at their feet in order to soothe themselves. It may involve one foot or more and may be managed by use of anti-anxiety medications.


Q: Why do some dogs’ feet smell like Fritos?


A: This is commonly reported by owners, and most times a yeast infection is found as the underlying cause. If there is no obvious redness of skin or sores on the feet, the smell can be managed by washing the feet in a shampoo containing ketoconazole or 2 percent chlorhexidine.



Q: What is bloat?


A: Bloat is a very serious, potentially life-threatening situation that can develop without much warning. The term refers to a medical condition—gastric dilatation and volvulus/GDV—where the stomach becomes filled with gas and/or food and stretches to many times its normal size. It then twists, blocking outflow and the normal blood supply. This results in an extreme amount of pain and can be fatal within hours.

Large, deep-chested breeds, such as Great Danes, St. Bernards and Weimaraners, are at increased risk. Some factors that can reduce the risks are eating two or more meals per day including some canned food in the diet and  feeding a dry food containing a calcium-rich meat meal listed in the first four ingredients—such as lamb meat meal, fish meal, chicken by-product meal or bone meal. Dogs that have a more relaxed or happy temperament are less likely to bloat.

Paw Law

posted October 13th, 2014 by
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Paw Law

Dani Weaver / President, Paw Law

This year, Oklahoma legislators will consider two new proposals that will greatly impact animal welfare in our state. House Bills 2553 and 2764 were introduced to our representatives earlier in the year and are currently up for vote. It is imperative that we contact our legislators and voice our support for these two measures.

Oklahoma HB 2553 would mandate an animal abuse registry in Oklahoma, requiring any person over the age of 18 who has been convicted of a felony animal cruelty violation, specifically §1680-1700 of Title 21 of the Oklahoma Statutes, to register with the sheriff of the county in which he or she lives. Registration would be required each year for 15 years and would include those individuals who have been convicted of similar crimes in other states who move to Oklahoma.

During that 15-year period of registration, the animal abuser cannot have any animal in his or her care, custody, control or management.This registry would be maintained by each county sheriff and would be public knowledge.

Suffolk County, New York, was the first community to pass an animal abuse registry in 2010, and since then, many have followed in their footsteps. A registry would help Oklahoma prevent animal abuse as well as other crimes which are closely related to animal abuse.

According to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, animal abusers are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against people and four times more likely to commit property crimes than those who do not have a history of animal abuse. In addition, the recidivism rate in animal abuse is extremely high, and in some types of abuse, like animal hoarding, it is nearly 100 percent.

Implementing an animal abuse registry would give our law enforcement officers and animal welfare advocates a way to keep these abusers away from animals that may become future victims and may help to reduce other potential crimes in our communities.

SB1729 would prohibit the use of carbon monoxide gas chambers for animal euthanasia. This bill applies to any dog, cat or other animal kept for pleasure rather than utility, in any household, animal shelter or agency.

The language of the bill allows for euthanasia by any method approved by the Animal Industries Services Division of the State Department of Agriculture other than curariform derivative drugs and carbon monoxide chambers.

It specifies measures that must be taken to ensure that euthanasia of the animal is humane and physically safe for the personnel responsible for euthanizing. Some counties in Oklahoma still use carbon monoxide gas chambers, and this law would prohibit that practice across the state.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, all inhaled methods of euthanasia have the potential to negatively affect the animal. This is because the onset of unconsciousness is not immediate. There is concern among professionals that too many variables are involved with delivering carbon monoxide euthanasia to ensure that the animal does not experience pain and suffering.

Often the animal does not lose consciousness for 45 to 60 seconds, and research suggests that many are in distress during this time. In addition, standard procedures used for administration of gas are not uniformly effective for kittens and puppies, older animals or those that have physical impairments. More detailed information on this process can be found in the 2013 Edition of the AVMA Guidelines for the Euthanasia of Animals.

While it is disheartening for us to be forced to choose a method of euthanasia, until we get animal population under control, there is no alternative. For now, the most compassionate choice available is to make sure that the method and process of euthanizing animals is done in    the most humane way possible to prevent any suffering  or distress that the animal may experience in those last moments.

As Oklahomans, we have a responsibility to live up to our reputation as kind, caring people, and we can do that by speaking out for those who have no voice. Please contact your legislatures and show support for these measures. Go to to find your legislators and their contact information.