Therapy Cat Series: New Therapy Adventures for Rainy and Me

Since Rainy became a certified therapy cat in May, we’ve continued to expand our training, visits, and related activities.

This past June, I attended an eight-hour hospice training session at Tabitha Health Care Services. The training introduced me to the histories of Tabitha and hospice. I also learned about other topics including: regulations, client care, communication, death and dying, bereavement, and volunteer services. Andy brought Rainy in the afternoon so that she could meet members of the hospice team.

The idea of hospice can be traced back to the fourth century AD, when religious orders opened their doors to pilgrims, the elderly, and the seriously ill. The word “hospice” itself comes from the Latin word “hospis” (meaning “host” and “guest”), and the word used to refer to a place of shelter and rest for the hungry or weary traveler.

The modern hospice movement, which focuses instead on providing specialized care to dying patients, was founded by Dame Cicely Saunders. She created the first modern hospice, St. Christopher’s Hospice, in London. Later, during a visit to Yale University in 1963, her lectures launched the development of hospice care in the U.S. The first modern hospice in the U.S. was founded in 1974. Currently, more than 1.65 million Americans and their families are in hospice care.

Tabitha Health Care began in 1886 as an orphanage. In 1907 it became a hospital in 1907. Then in the early 1960s, under the direction of Martha Maseman, Tabitha began to expand to home-based services that would eventually include hospice. Volunteers are an integral part of the latter, including animal therapy teams.

Animals have been used for therapy as far back as the 9th century. One of the first records of an established animal therapy program is of a farm in Belgium, which treated people with disabilities in part by having them work with farm animals. In the 1700s, an asylum in England recorded positive results from encouraging its residents to work on a farm on the asylum’s property. Later, in the 1800s, Florence Nightingale observed that animal companionship reduced anxiety and stress for both child and adult psychiatric patients. While her findings opened the door to the use of animals for therapy, Boris Levinson is considered the father of pet therapy. In 1964, after discovering that the presence of his dog had a positive effect on helping his young patients communicate, he coined the term “pet therapy” and brought the concept to the attention of the international medical community.

Today a wide variety of animals provide comfort and companionship to hospice clients. Rainy and I are proud to help meet that need, especially after hearing the statistic that 50% of people in nursing homes never have visitors.

This past July, Rainy and I started our hospice visits at Tabitha. It’s been a learning experience. Patients can interact with a therapy animal by watching the animal play with toys and perform tricks, interact with an animal by feeding and grooming it, or simply enjoy the animal’s presence while talking with a visitor or watching television.

Some patients have wanted Rainy to sit on their lap. Unfortunately, despite Rainy’s friendly personality, here’s where she struggles. Rainy loves to rub against patient as a greeting but sitting laps is another story.

Cat therapy handlers have offered me ideas for encouraging Rainy to sit on a resident’s lap. One suggestion was to use a basket, but Rainy showed no interest in the basket I bought her; it’s now been claimed by her oldest sister. Another suggestion was a cat bed. Cat therapy handlers noted that a bed would have additional perks such as extra comfort and protection. Unfortunately, the bed hasn’t increased her lap time either. A third suggestion was a blanket, and it’s with this we’ve had the greatest success. I’ve trained Rainy to stay on a blanket on the floor, and at times she’s generalized that to stay on the blanket when it’s placed on a patient’s lap. Sprinkling catnip on the blanket has helped too.

In the meantime, Rainy has learned to sit beside a patient. In this position, she’s at times been so comfortable she’s fallen asleep!

Another experience that’s been new to our therapy visits is that of meeting family members. While the patient’s happiness and comfort is the primary goal of hospice care, caring for the patient’s loved ones is also important. Sometimes family members are just as much in need of the comfort of a therapy animal as are the patients. A therapy animal can also lower anxiety levels, reduce feelings of sadness, and improve family members’ overall outlook on life. On one visit, I invited members of the patient’s to work on tricks with Rainy. They got a delight out of interacting with Rainy and watching her perform. On another visit, I encouraged family members to feed and groom Rainy. They were interested to know what I fed her and how she reacted to having her teeth cleaned and her nails trimmed. It thrilled me that Rainy was able to bring a little happiness to people who were going through such a stressful time.

This past July, I attended an afternoon R.E.A.D. training session given by Healing Hearts Therapy Dogs. R.E.A.D. stands for Reading Education Assistance Dogs. The goal of the program is to improve the literacy skills of children by having them read to dogs—or, in Rainy’s case, a cat Three other handlers were in attendance. None of us brought our pets, although maybe we should have, because at the end we were all required to take an exam and could have benefited from the comforting presence of our pets. Thankfully, we all passed!

One in four American children grow up without learning to read, and this is one reason that the R.E.A.D. program began in 1999. Sandy Martin, a registered nurse and board member of the Intermountain Therapy Animals, was motivated to create R.E.A.D. when she learned that 21% of children who can’t read by the end of fourth grade will end up on welfare or in prison. Research shows that children with low self-esteem are more willing to interact with animals than people. Children of course find it more fun to read to animals, and animals don’t laugh at or correct a child’s mistakes The R.E.A.D. program uses registered therapy animals that have been trained and tested for health, safety, skills, and temperament. Teams work with children in libraries, schools, and many other settings . Although the R.E.A.D. program started with dogs, it now includes cats and other companion animals.

Rainy and I are proud to be one of the 3,000 R.E.A.D pet therapy teams throughout the world. As a book lover myself, I’m excited for us to have the opportunity to encourage children to discover a love of literature. As additional perks, the program will allow me to draw on both my graphic design and education background, as the R.E.A.D manual recommends that handlers create booklets and other materials such as bookmarks that feature their pets. In addition, even though the idea of the program is for the children to read to animals, the handler might still offer reading support, except to phrase it as if the animal needs help. For example, I could say, “Rainy was confused by that word. She’d like you to explain it to her.”

This past spring, Rainy and I undertook one more therapy-related venture: We created an Instagram account for her, which now as over 50 followers. Her account description says: “Follow my adventures in therapy, agility, and other fun stuff that my mom and I do together. See photos of my sisters too.” https://www.instagram.com/rainythetherapycat/

As you can tell, I’m a proud pet mom of Rainy. This is one reason that my husband designed two cat therapy shirts for my birthday gift. Another reason is that the shirts can serve as walking advertisements for cat therapy in general, and Rainy specifically. Even though cats are the most requested therapy animal after dogs, only 3% of all therapy animals are cats, and therefore more are needed. If your cat likes people and could be trained to use a leash and visit new places, and if you can spare time to bring happiness to others who need it, please contact me at allisontalkspetsATgmailDOTcom or I-CAT.

Husker Dogfest A Success

About 400 people and 200 dogs attended Husker DogFest on Saturday, August 11, in the greenspace immediately south of Manter Hall on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. The event’s organizer, Associate Professor of Psychology Jeffrey Stevens proclaimed the event a success. “I think it was terrific!  We had a great turn out for visitors, and fabulous demonstrations, vendors, and games.”

The purpose of the festival was to showcase UNL’s new Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab, and to recruit dog owners to participate in its upcoming research studies.

The free, open-to-the-public event included lab tours, professional dog demonstrations, dog activities, pet-related vendors, and food vendors.

Registrants had the opportunity to sign their dog up for the fall studies, which will focus on dog psychology and dog-human interactions, and were also entered into a raffle to win a gift basket valued at $50.

The lab brings together associate professor of psychology Stevens’ interests in both human and animal cognition. Tours were given every thirty minutes. A mini-lab, where owners could test their dog’s smarts, was also offered at the festival.

When research begins in September, dogs will be brought in to play games for treats while researchers record data about their decision-making and cognition. The second part of the research will have participants interact with dogs to see how they influence people.

There were four dog-related demonstrators. Prairie Skies, Kansas City Disc Dogs, and UNL and Nebraska State Patrol police dogs each gave two demonstrations. Prairie Skies, operated by Jill Morstad, who has been teaching people to train their dogs since 1985, showed off obedience. Kansas City Disc Dogs is a group of owners and their dogs that enjoy playing frisbee for fun and competition and have performed for sporting events. The UNL police dogs demonstrated bomb detection work, and were tweeted about at https://twitter.com/k9_layla.

The festival also featured 15 other dog-related organizations including Norland Pure, which provided a watering station for dogs, and three food vendors.

Given the event’s success of this year, Stevens said he’d definitely hold another festival. He credited the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with its wonderful support of Husker DogFest and said that he couldn’t have done the event without UNL and the event’s sponsors. “I want to thank the university, sponsors, volunteers, demonstration groups, and vendors for helping create an outstanding event!” Stevens said. He added that if anyone is interested in enrolling their dog in his studies, go to UNL’s Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab website.

Why Pets Are Good for Children

According to the magazine Scientific American, people overwhelmingly believe that having pets is good for children. Three local parents I interviewed bought their family’s pets for this reason.

Amy and her husband grew up with pets. The couple have always had a wide variety of animals. “They usually found us/needed homes and it was meant to be,” Amy said.

When it came time for introductions, the couple brought home a blanket that had been used with their newborn in the hospital so that their dog and cat could smell it. “Once we got home,” Amy said, “we introduced our dog and cat to the baby sleeping in the car seat, so that they could safely sniff and explore without too much commotion.”

Cinder
Cinder

Lisa and her husband also grew up with pets, and continued the tradition to own pets when they married. Although they already had two cats, they opted for a dog when they decided to introduce their children to pets, and involved their children by allowing them to choose their new puppy from a litter.

One reason Tanya believes children should have pets is that animals teach us to show compassion. Tanya bought the family’s female pit bull, Marley, three years ago through Craig’s list. She met Marley’s owners in a Walmart parking lot, where Tanya said the couple had Marley sit so that Tanya could see that Marley was well-trained. “She did a great tail wagging, wanting to greet everyone, and was super friendly.” Then Tanya introduced Marley to her daughter and was pleased with how gentle she was.

In its discussion about whether pets are good for children, Scientific American referred to a 2003 paper by developmental psychologist Gail Melson which reports that most parents acquire their family pets for the children. The three local parents I interviewed all said that they wanted their children to have the experience of owning and caring for pets.

In these three families, the children have designated responsibilities. Amy said that the couple’s five-year-old daughter lets the family dogs she lets the family dogs outside to go potty and helps put out food and water for both the dogs and cat. Lisa noted that although she’s the one responsible for taking Cinder for walks, the children “take her out as well, clean up after her, brush her, feed her, etc.” Tanya said that her daughter brushes, feeds, and helps take Marley for walks.

The Scientific American article cited other benefits of pets for families, such as a better understanding of animals, increased empathy and social adaptability, and aiding in the development of leadership roles. Much of the article’s scientific wording boils down to this: pets are great companions. Perhaps this is why 90 percent of us live with a pet at some point during our childhood. Four local parents offered examples of their pets making great companions for their kids.

Marley

Jill owns Malamutes, Pomeranians, and cats. Although she bought these pets for herself, and therefore assumes most responsibility for them, Jill does allow her daughter to feed them. Both she and her daughter enjoy when the dogs play with and snuggle with them and when the cats agree to be held and petted.

Amy said, “Watching how gentle our Rottweiler is with the kids is always a joy. Our Rottweiler is never more relaxed or calm than when she’s watching her babies.” Another special moment for Amy is when their daughter takes their Chihuahuas for a walk.

Lisa told me that there are many special moments between Cinder, the cats, and their children. She shared that after a busy day at school, the children find it relaxing to just sit and pet Cinder and cats. “It’s good stress reliever!” she explained. In addition, their son loves to play fetch with Cinder and the children love taking Cinder on vacations.

Tanya has discovered Marley is good for the whole family. She loves the pit bull temperament, goofy smile, and playful nature. “I have anxiety and depression and Marley helps me a lot with that,” said Tanya.

Marley

Finally, Tanya offered what may be the best summary of the benefit of pets to families: “In the end, [Marley] rescued us and brought us closer as a family. I don’t know what [we] would do without her.”

Cinder’s Advice: The Right Cat Toy

In December 2013, my husband and I adopted a one-year-old tortoiseshell cat from Hearts United for Animals. Cinder has taught us so much about cats that it seemed proper for her to have her own advice column.

QUESTION: My cat doesn’t play with toys. Is something wrong?

“Cinder, have you lost your mouse again?” Allison asked.

I was sitting beside the front closet door, waiting for my pet parents to fetch my mouse for me. I’ve more than a dozen toys to choose from, but will only play with my leopard-spotted gray mouse. It’s my favorite mouse of all time.

When Allison found it, she didn’t just hand it back to me. She walked over to a round wooden puzzle toy and dropped my mouse into it.

I hid behind our recliner. When Allison left the living room, I ran and pounced on the puzzle. Then I started digging into puzzle’s holes. I pushed plastic balls and other mice to the side until I found my mouse. I hooked it with my claws and pulled it out. Victory!

One of my sisters peered into the room. I gripped the mouse in my jaws and, with my head low, I growled at her and scared her away. This is my mouse!

Back and forth, I batted my mouse. It slid under a woven basket in the living room and I pulled it out by its nose. Back and forth, I batted my mouse again. It slipped underneath the recliner and I dragged it back out by its tail.

When Allison returned to the living room, she laughed at me rolling around on the floor with my mouse I was rolling around on the floor with my mouse. I stopped in mid-roll to look at Allison, and she laughed at me. Harumph. I went back to playing. I tossed the mouse in the air. I shoved it under a pillow. And then I lost it again under the front closet door. “It’s nice to see you enjoying toys again,” Allison said.

You might think your cat doesn’t like to play, but you just might need to find the right toy.

  • Some of us like plush toys that we can sink our teeth into, instead of hard plastic toys; others prefer balls that roll and can be chased.
  • Some of us like small toys because remind us of smaller prey like mice; others prefer larger toys that remind us of larger prey or other cats
  • Some of us like toys that sound or feel like real animals; there are some that making a rustling sound like a squirrel, whereas others might be made with feathers or fur.
  • Finally, while some of us don’t care what type of toy you offer as long as it’s in motion, others might be pickier because of being less mobile due to older age.

Cat toys can be divided into two broad categories: self-play and interactive.

  • Self-play toys are good if you need to leave us alone. The cheapest ones are plastic rings from milk jugs and empty toilet paper rolls. Other low-cost toys are furry mice and crinkle balls. These can be made more challenging by placing them in objects such as empty tissue boxes or by hiding them around the house.
  • Interactive toys are great for strengthening the bond between you and your cats, because they require your involvement. When using a dangler or wand with your cat, be sure to try different kinds of actions to keep your cat from getting bored. Hide the lure, make it quiver, slide it across the floor, and whip it through the air. Be creative. Your cat will appreciate the chance to practice its hunting skills. And you may find that your cat prefers some actions to others.

The year that my parents adopted me, they bought me all kinds of toys. A wand toy shaped like a snake quickly became my favorite. My parents bought three more like it and put them in storage as backups, because danglers can break.

The problem with that toy is that I can only play with it when my parents have time to play with me. They don’t leave it out because if I play with it on my own the string could become wrapped around my neck and strangle me.

I love my puzzle toy, because I don’t need my pet parents around when I’m in the mood to play. I just dig through the puzzle toy or throw around my polka-dotted play mouse.

My mouse is now so worn that the eyes are gone, the nose is faded, and the fabric is worn. But it won’t last forever. I hope my parents can get me some more.

Dear Miss Behavior: How Can I Teach My Dog to Retrieve?

Dear Miss Behavior, We adopted a Labrador Retriever from rescue. He’s three-years-old and has great house manners. The only problem is he doesn’t retrieve! We toss a toy but he grabs it and runs off. Someone said try two toys and trade one toy for another, but he just hides the first toy and then runs and gets the second. We really love the idea of playing fetch in the back yard. How do we teach him how to retrieve?

missbehavior

Some dogs never learn the idea of playing fetch when they’re a puppy. They don’t realize the game lasts
much longer if you bring the toy back to the human.

It’s not difficult to train dogs to retrieve. They have the instinct to chase and pick up; They just need to be taught that giving the toy back is more important that hiding it.

Start with him on leash in the house and have handy a toy that doesn’t roll away too easily and a small dish of tasty treats. Offer him the toy and let him grab it out of your hand and then present him with a treat. Most likely he’ll drop the toy for the treat.

Pick up the toy and repeat several times. Then hand him the toy and say “Give” or “Drop”. If he drops the toy, tell him what a good dog he is and give him a treat. If he doesn’t drop it, put the food on his nose so he does drop it and go back to step one for a few more repetitions.

Once he’s giving up the toy on command, gently toss the toy away from you. Remember he’s on a leash so only toss it a foot or so.

Allow him to run out and get the toy, and call him back. Use the leash to gently guide him back to you if he won’t come willingly.

Again have him give you the toy and reward him. Keep practicing this way throwing the toy a little farther and eventually dropping the leash.

If at any time he starts to run away with the toy, grab the leash and gently guide him back to you. Make sure the treats are really tasty!

Once he’s doing very well inside. Move outside. Keep him on leash until he understands he needs to
bring the toy back and get a reward. Once he’s reliably bringing the toy back for a treat, begin only
rewarding every other toss, or every third toss.

Eventually you won’t have to reward him with a treat because the game will be his reward.

marcygraybillAfter Marcy adopted her first dog in 1988, she began to research about dog care. Research took the form of checking out books and videos to learn how to train Lady. Eventually, Marcy and her sister began taking their dogs to the dog run and taking formal dog classes. For about six years, Marcy volunteered for the Capital Humane Society, where she performed a variety of jobs, and took time to watch the dogs and learn about their behaviors. Currently, she’s an obedience instructor at GLOC. “I think the most important is to keep up to date on what’s going on in the field.  I try to read articles, blogs and  new books that come out, and watch any DVDs that are available.”

UNL’s New Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab

Dog lovers take note. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln now has a Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab.

The lab is part of the Department of Psychology and Center for Brain, Biology and Behavior, and will focus on understanding both dog psychology and how interaction with dogs influences human behavior and psychology. Researchers will study dog psychology by playing games with dogs, and will study dog-human interactions by having human participants take cognitive tests before and after interacting with dogs, and comparing their results to participants who are given a different “intervention” between tests. Studies are expected to start in the fall.

Anyone interested in learning more is encouraged to attend UNL DogFest from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, August 11th on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus. The event is free to attend. Attendees and their well-behaved leashed dogs will be able to tour the new Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab, participate in and watch demonstrations of dog activities, and learn about dog-related products and services.

Jeff Stevens is the director of the Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab. In this role, Jeff’s duties include designing the research ideas, recruiting students to help conduct the research, writing grant proposals, soliciting private donations to help fund the lab, and reporting the lab’s research to both the scientific community and the general public. I recently talked to Jeff about his dog cognition research.

ALLISON: What interests you about psychology?

JEFF: I’m interested in understanding why humans and other animal behave the way they do. Understanding the psychology of behavior can help us improve the lives of people and animals.

ALLISON: Tell me about your background in psychology.

JEFF: My background is in animal behavior, and I began getting interested in animal cognition (understanding how animals ‘think’). I’ve studied this in birds, primates, fish, humans, and now dogs. I received my PhD at the University of Minnesota, completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Harvard University, and was a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, Germany before joining the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

ALLISON: Why did you start studying decision-making in humans and other animals?

JEFF: I started studying decision-making in other animals by applying what we know about human decision-making to them. There has been a surge recently in testing the ideas about human decision-making in other animals. Surprisingly to some (but not me!), many of the same principles of decision-making apply across humans and other animals. I started studying humans when a student I was working with completed a study on chimpanzee patience. She didn’t think that people would be as patient as the chimpanzees, so we designed a study to test people. She was right!

ALLISON: How did the Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab come about?

JEFF: I have a number of colleagues who study cognition in dogs. On my sabbatical this last fall, I visited one of them (Friederike Range) who co-directs the Clever Dog Lab in Vienna, Austria. This convinced me that I wanted to open a dog cognition lab. In developing ideas for this lab, it became clear that I could combine the study of dog psychology with human psychology by studying how interacting with dogs influences human cognition. This lab brings together my interest in both human and animal cognition.

ALLISON: Why study dog psychology?

JEFF: Dogs are fascinating for several reasons. First, they evolved to interact with humans, which makes their cognition super interesting. Second, they live in millions of households, so understanding them can have direct impacts on millions of people. Third, they are used extensively as working animals, so understanding their psychology can help police officers, military personnel, farmers, cancer doctors (they can detect cancer!), and hotels/dorms (they can detect bedbugs!).

ALLISON: Why study dog-human interactions?

JEFF: Dogs can have a calming effect on people, where they decrease our stress levels. Stress is a key part of human life that can influence our emotions, cognition, and decision-making. So if interacting with dogs can reduce stress, that might improve our decision-making. Surprisingly, there is not a lot of strong evidence regarding the positive effect of dogs on human cognition.

ALLISON: How will those studies be conducted?

JEFF: For the dog cognition studies, owners will bring their dogs into the lab for an hour or so. We’ll take them in to the testing room and basically play games with them for treats. We’ll design the games in a way to ask questions about their cognition and decision-making. Owners will be able to watch the testing on a video monitor in an adjacent room.

For the dog-human interaction studies, we will have human participants experience standard cognitive tests, and, for some of the participants, we will bring in a dog for them to pet and interact with. Other participants will receive other ‘interventions’ that don’t involve interacting with a dog. Then everyone will experience the cognitive tests again. We will compare the dog interaction groups to the other groups.

ALLISON: How will results be reported to the public?

JEFF: First of all, I want to make clear that science is a slow process. It often takes 2 or more years from when data are first collected to when the final scientific article is published (I had one project that took almost 10 years!). Also, sometimes the studies just don’t work out and never get published. So don’t expect quick answers!

The primary way scientists make their work ‘public’ is by publishing scientific articles. But I will also report my work to the non-academic world by posting short summaries of the scientific articles on the CCHIL website: dogcog.unl.edu. Also, I will present our results at future DogFests, so the public can see what we’re finding out in the lab.

ALLISON: What are the long-term goals for the Canine Cognition and Human Interaction Lab?

JEFF: The long-term goals of CCHIL are to better understand the psychology of dogs and how dogs influence human psychology to improve their lives and their experience with and usefulness for humans.

ALLISON: What preparations are being/have been made for DogFest?

JEFF: I must say that I was not expecting the preparation for DogFest to take up as much time as it has. I have been in contact with probably 6-8 different groups within the university to get permission and organize this event. But the university has been absolutely fantastic and fully supportive of DogFest! I’ve organized sponsors, demonstrations, dog-related vendors, food vendors, volunteers, and advertising. Arnie’s Pet Food Store is our primary sponsor, and they have been fantastic in funding DogFest and getting the word out. With most of the logistics in place, I can now focus on the fun stuff for the visitors.

ALLISON: What can attendees expect to see and do?

JEFF: I think that we’re going to have a great set of events and activities. When everyone arrives, if they have a dog with them, they’ll need to sign a waiver of liability and they will receive a dog waste bag compliments of Adamz K9 Waste Removal. One of the key aims of DogFest is to recruit dog subjects, so visitors can enroll their dogs in our database, so we can contact them about being in our dog psychology studies.

Also, we’ll have a demonstration area featuring dog/handler pairs from Prairie Skies demonstrating obedience training, the Kansas City DiscDogs showing off frisbee tricks, and the UNL and Nebraska State Patrol canine units demonstrating their police dogs. We’ll have tours of the new lab, the Norland Pure watering station, dog activities (TBA), and a raffle for a gift basket generously donated by Raising Cane’s. We’ll have vendors with different pet-related products, services, and information, along with food vendors. Check out the details at dogfest.unl.edu and hope to see you at Husker DogFest!

The Many Places You’ll Find Lincoln Animal Ambassadors This Fall!

Lincoln Animal Ambassadors is gearing up for a slew of tabling events and fundraisers between August and October.

Tabling events will include Dog Bowl, Streets Alive, Christ United Methodist Church Blessing of the Animals, and Project Homeless Connect. Fundraiser events will include Ivanna Cone Community Cones Care and Meow and Chow.

DOG BOWL: Sunday, Sept. 2, 5-9:00 p.m., Pinewood Bowl in Pioneers Park
Dog Bowl will offer food trucks, craft beer, dog activities, live music, and vendors. Proceeds benefit Lincoln’s three new public dog runs and improvements at the popular Rickman’s Run.

STREETS ALIVE: Sunday, Sept. 23, 1-4:30 p.m., Belmont Neighborhood
Partnership for a Healthy Lincoln brought Streets Alive! to Lincoln starting in 2010 as an annual event. The 2018 Streets Alive! Festival route will be a part of the NE150 Challenge. Participants can walk, bike, run, or skate their way through the route as a NE150 Challenge event. Sponsored by the Nebraska Sports Council, the challenge is an event-centric wellness program that tracks and rewards participation in local events.

BLESSING OF THE ANIMALS: Sunday, Sept. 30, 3 p.m. cats and 4 p.m. dogs, Christ United Methodist Church
Blessing of the Animals is a brief worship service that celebrates God’s love for all creation, reminds people to care for the animals in their lives, and offers a special time when pastors will bless the pets. It is traditionally celebrated near the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi (October 4), who is the patron saint of animals. Many pet-friendly businesses and non-profits in the Lincoln community will be in attendance, including Lincoln Animal Ambassadors, with informational materials.

PROJECT HOMELESS CONNECT: Tuesday, Oct. 16, Pinnacle Bank Arena
Project Homeless Connect is a one-day, one-stop event that unites local organizations, businesses, and community volunteers who provide health and human services for the homeless. Volunteers from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors will supply vouchers for low-cost spay/neuter, pet treats, Pet Food Bank information, and assist in minor pet care.

COMMUNITY CONE CARES: starts August 3 and runs throughout the month, Ivanna Cone
As part of its community outreach, Ivanna Cone will create a new ice-cream flavor just for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors: Animal Chow, a powdered sugar ice cream with birthday cake puppy chow (Chex cereal coated in white chocolate), white-cake mix, and sprinkles. The first batch was available Friday, August 3rd, and sold out within a day. A new batch will be available again starting August 10. LAA will receive a percentage of the proceeds from all Animal Chow cones sold. On August 28th, Ivanna Cone will donate a percentage of everything sold that day to LAA.

MEOW & CHOW: Saturday, Oct. 27, Center for People in Need
Meow and Chow is a major annual fund-raiser event for Lincoln Animal Ambassadors and The Cat House, featuring bingo, prizes, raffles, and food. Soup is all you can eat. Bread, dessert, and beverages also provided. Food is donated by local restaurants. Doors open at 5 p.m. doors, bingo starts at 6:30 p.m., and the event ends at 10 p.m. Tickets are $25 at the door.

Lincoln Animal Ambassadors is a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization funded entirely by donations and fundraisers. It addresses the root causes of animal homelessness in the Lancaster County by helping pets and their people through a voucher-based low-cost spay/neuter program and an income-based pet food bank. The group also offers pet care information through LAA Pet Talk, its quarterly newsletter, and community events.

Guest Post: Ensuring Your Dog is a Good Neighbor

Stock photo, Pexels
Stock photo, Pexels

Written by Aurora James for LAA Pet Talk. Aurora believes there are no bad dogs. She created DogEtiquette.info to share her dog training tips and advice to dog owners everywhere. DogEtiquette.info welcomes and encourages anyone to use its infographics in their writing. It simply ask that you please cite and link to them as the source.

Dog etiquette is important. As of 2012, 36 percent of U.S. households owned dogs. That’s 43 million households, with a grand total of 69.9 million dogs. So, there’s a strong likelihood that you own a dog or have a neighbor who owns a dog. If that’s the case, here some etiquette tips for all the dog owners who are also trying to be good neighbors.

Installing a Fence

 A good first step is to install a fence around your yard. According to Home Advisor, the average cost of installing a fence runs between $1,643 and $3,857. However, you’ll probably find that it’s worth the money. A good fence ensures that your dog won’t run away or trample through your neighbors’ lawns. Additionally, it gives your dog a sense of order and place, allowing it to roam while also keeping it safe from thieves, or (especially for small dogs) predators like hawks or coyotes. Make sure to install a doggie door to let your pooch access the backyard whenever it wants. Just like us, dogs need exercise to lose weight and not feel cooped up or depressed.

Picking Up After Your Dog

Another etiquette tip is to pick up after your dog. Leaving your dog’s waste on the sidewalk or the grass is unsightly. Of course, this courtesy is more than just cosmetic. Feces can attract rats or drop into the sewer system, contaminating the waterways. Some of the diseases that fester in dog poop include E. coli, giardia, salmonella, and roundworms. Left out in the open, they have a way of getting into the digestive tracts of other animals, or other people’s dogs, and then into their homes. So keep a doggie bag handy whenever you and your dog pop out for a stroll.

Keep It Down!

For centuries, people have kept dogs because they act as our sentries, pricking up their ears and barking if a trespasser approaches. They can also bay at the moon, howl for no reason, or yap at other dogs. Try to keep the decibel level down, especially at night. Maintain a household schedule to minimize the chance that your dog will yowl out of confusion. Then keep that schedule going into the evening hours, which will calm it down because it’s used to your bedtime pattern. Pet it and play with it throughout the day so that it doesn’t feel like it has to raise a ruckus to get your attention–and wake the whole neighborhood in the process.

Public Places

Perhaps the cornerstone of being a good dog-owning neighbor is teaching your dog how to behave in public. A lot of that education starts with you. Be a considerate dog walker. Always keep your dog on a leash, and pay attention to where you’re going so that your dog doesn’t bump into a child or dash across someone’s yard. Also, be mindful of where you let it urinate. (Avoid parked cars or someone’s lawn or mailbox.) Regularly visit the vet, keep your vaccinations current, and make sure your address and phone number are engraved onto your dog’s collar. Finally, introduce it to the dog park, so it can play with other dogs.

Balancing the roles of good neighbor and good dog-owner isn’t impossible. Just make sure your dog is as well-mannered in public as it is in your house. You’ll know you’ve done a good job if your neighbors bend down and ruffle your dog’s ears when they pass you on the sidewalk.

If you’re a pet owner with writing skills, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors would love to hear from you! We’re especially looking for content about birds, exotic animals, and horses. Content may take the form of an advice column or how-to articles. You may even simply wish to act as an expert consultant. If you’re interested, please post in the comments and we’ll be in touch.

A Love for Horses

Carol Miller’s passion for horses recently led her to adopt a rescued horse through Hooves and Paws.

Her love began as a young person. At 14 years of age, Carol received her first horse as a gift from her dad. She learned how to ride and show jump on Hurry Sundown, a quarter horse and American Saddlebred mix, and has fond memories of her time with him.

One particular moment stands out to Carol. “My dad would haul our horses up to Chimney Rock to ride. On one ride, we were heading up the ridge and Sundown stopped. He wouldn’t move. My dad rode over to me and said there was a nest of rattlesnakes ahead. Thankfully, Sundown had sensed it and knew better than to walk straight into the snake pit.”

I love the gaited horses. I own a Tennessee Walking Horse and a Missouri Fox Trotter.  Their gaits are super smooth and they’re awesome to ride.

As an adult, Carol now owns three horses, and much of her life is dedicated to them. “Every morning I go to the barn, put my boys in their turnout pasture, clean the stalls, put clean shavings in the stalls, empty and clean the water buckets, refill the water buckets, put alfalfa pellets in the buckets, put hay in their stalls for the evening and hay outside their stalls for the morning.” In the evening, Carol places alfalfa pellets and apples in “the horse’s stalls before retrieving them from the pasture. She then brushes them and cleans their feet. If time allows, she’ll also do some training with her colt. Carol follows this routine every day, seven days a week, year to year.

I love going to the barn and hearing the horses whinny at me when they see me. They’re very loving animals and get attached to their human quickly.

One of her horses is a rescue from Hooves and Paws, a rescue group which works to rehabilitate abused, starved, neglected, or unwanted horses and other animals. It was one of 30 malnourished horses rescued from a Seward County farm in Nebraska. The horses were brought to a foster barn west of Lincoln, which happens to be the facility where Carol boards her horses.

“Six yearlings were part of the group that came in,” Carol shared, “and none of them had ever been handled by humans.” Right then, she decided her heart had room for one of the stud colts, and she chose to adopt one with an infected hole in his neck. According to Carol, “The vet suspected he had run into a pole and it sliced into his neck.”

On September 24, 2017, Carol adopted D’artagna. She reports that he’s been growing and putting on weight since the adoption. “He is beautiful, healthy, smart, sweet, and very loving.  He is my baby and my heart!”

In this article is a photo of what D’artagna looked like the day that Carol adopted him and a second photo that showed what he looks like in 2018. About the photos, she said, “It’s amazing what a little care can do!”

Because of Carol’s love for D’artagna, she now encourages others to support horse rescue organizations with their donations. Many horses would be doomed to slow, unpleasant deaths without these organizations, Carol said, as horses are often abandoned or allowed to starve to death when their owners can no longer afford to care for them.

“Rescues need funds to save horses’ lives,” Carol said.  “D’artagnan is living proof of that. I’m thankful for the Hooves & Paws rescue.  Without them, D’artagnan wouldn’t have survived this winter, and I wouldn’t have had the privilege to become part of his life.”

KCC Adventure Cats

There is a movement afoot, one known as adventure cats, which is composed of cat owners who are exploring the great outdoors with their feline friends. The group KCC Adventure Cats is part of that movement, and Emily Odum Hall is the host of the group.

Emily didn’t start out with adventure cats. When she started blogging, she wanted to share online about life with her cats. As her life changed, so did her blog. At first, it expanded into a means to raise awareness for cats with cerebellar hypoplasia and other special-needs animals. Now although she still writes on those topics, she also focuses on adventure cats as well.

ALLISON: Share a little about your background with pets.

EMILY: I’ve had pets in my family since I was a kid. Growing up, we had three cats and three dogs, so I’ve always lived with a house full of animals. Right now, I have seven cats, one dog, and two sugar gliders.

ALLISON: What sparked your interest in having outdoor adventures with your cats?

EMILY: My cat, Sophie, is my original adventure cat. She has cerebellar hypoplasia, and as a result can’t run very fast. I decided to take her out in the backyard one day because I knew I wouldn’t have to worry about her getting away. She enjoyed it so much that I eventually started taking her out on bigger adventures. Her laid-back personality has made her the perfect candidate for adventuring.

ALLISON: Do all of your cats like to have outdoor adventures? Why or why not?

EMILY: No, only three of my seven cats enjoy outdoor adventures. When we adopted Kylo Ren as a kitten, I knew he would be an adventure cat. We just started taking him out with Sophie right from the beginning and so adventuring has always been normal for him. We started training Caster later. Due to his very rambunctious and wild personality, I thought getting outside would be good for him. For the most part, my other cats have some fear issues and aren’t into going outdoors.

ALLISON: What has been the most fun adventure?

EMILY: That’s a hard one. For me, I enjoy adventures the most when I can see how much fun my cats are having. Kylo Ren loves hiking, while Sophie loves meandering through the park and socializing with everyone she meets. I haven’t figured out Caster’ favorite adventure yet. I will say that our most recent adventure down in Florida was tons of fun. Caster and Kylo Ren went on several boat rides down the St. John’s River, and Kylo even went swimming.

ALLISON: What has been the most scariest adventure?

EMILY: On one of Kylo’s first adventures, he managed to wiggle out of his harness. That was pretty scary. Thankfully my husband was able to catch him.

ALLISON: How about a funny or embarrassing moment?

EMILY: Well, one time Sophie pooped in her carrier on our way to an adventure and made a mess of herself. We had to stop at the first gas station we came to and ask to use their hose and hand soap to give her a bath. They obliged, but it was a rather ridiculous scene–my husband and I bathing a poop-covered cat in a gas station parking lot while people stared at us. It wasn’t very funny at the time, but looking back at it, it’s pretty hilarious. We learned a valuable lesson that day: Always bring cat shampoo and a towel with you on adventures because you never know what kind of messes your cat is going to get into!

ALLISON: For the cats that don’t like to have outdoor adventures, how do you enrich their lives?

EMILY: We have multiple cat trees and tons of toys scattered around the house. We also have a “Cat Wall”–a wall in our living room that has wall-mounted ledges, beds, and scratches for the cats to enjoy. I always make sure to have play time with my cats on a daily basis too, as well as clicker training sessions with a few of them.

ALLISON: What other social media do you use to promote adventure cats and why?

EMILY: I have accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Vero that are associated with my blog. I share about adventure cats and other cat-related topics on those channels. The only social media thing I have that is strictly for adventure cats is my group on Facebook, KCC Adventure Cats.

ALLISON: For others who aspire to change stereotypes about cats, what advice would you give?

EMILY: Try taking your cat out on adventures. Start small. It seems obvious, but some people try to move too quickly and think their cat will immediately go from house cat to adventure cat. Except in rare cases, your cat will need to slowly acclimate to going outside. Start by having your cat wear a harness inside. Then graduate to taking them out in your yard. Then maybe for a walk down the street. Always pay attention to your cat’s body language too. They will tell you when they are overwhelmed or have had enough. Listen to them and follow their lead.