Guest Post: The Most Important Things Horses Have Taught Me

National Day of the Horse falls on the second Saturday of December. The holiday encourages people of the United States to be mindful of the contribution of horses to American economy, history, and character. Thanks to Heather Wallace for writing the following tribute to horses.

There is a unique relationship between humans and horses that go back potentially 6,000 years. Our relationship has changed our manner of transport, farming, warfare, and art. During the industrial revolution horses were numerous and were depended upon by many people for their strength and dependability. They were the backs upon which our modern world was founded.

Of course, technology relegated horses unnecessary and they became a luxury once more. Yes, financially horses may be a luxury. But what they teach us is priceless.

Teamwork

Equestrians work with horses as partners. Different horses teach us different things about our riding, about ourselves. They can and should challenge us to become better.

My eldest daughter has perhaps learned this best of all. She rides therapy horses for her cerebral palsy. As a result of her pediatric stroke, one side of her body is tight and weaker, especially in her right hand.

Copyright Heather Wallace, Bridle & Bone
Copyright Heather Wallace, Bridle & Bone

Balance is incredibly important when riding. Any shift in weight or pressure results in different movements. So for my daughter, riding has taught her to use her body successfully in a more balanced way. No one wants to spin in circles right? Her horses have taught her to confidently communicate with her body on both sides. More than that, she’s learned to work in tandem with an animal that is much, much larger than she is. Communicating with her body, she works as a team with her horses.

Patience

Working with any animal can teach us patience. Patience with them and with ourselves. Our approach does not always work for every horse. Sometimes we have to step back and recognize why our horses are behaving in a certain manner, and why we are not effectively communicating.

Copyright Jordan Wicks Photography
Copyright Jordan Wicks Photography

Australian equestrian and dressage rider, Andrea Parker, has learned a lot about patience through horsemanship.

Horses have taught me so many valuable lessons over the course of my life so it’s difficult to pin it down to just one.

Possibly one of the biggest lessons that I have learnt from horses is actually about learning! It is a lesson which I have learnt and refined over a number of years. Through working with horses and riding I have come to understand that there is a fine balance which must be struck between remaining patient and persistent and knowing when to try something new. Riding horses is all about consistency, but when something is clearly not working, it is time to try a different strategy. The greatest insanity is to continue doing the same thing expecting a different outcome.–Andrea Parker, Sand Arena Ballerina

Confidence

Horses are flight animals and their natural instinct is to run. But somehow for thousands of years humans and horses have depended on each other. Through understanding their needs and behaviors we can build their confidence and in turn they can build ours.

Returning to horseback riding as an adult brought a different kind of fear than I’d ever known. I knew what I wanted, but I had not physically been on a horse in more than a decade. I had a small child at home that depended on me for everything. I tried to balance my passion with keeping myself safe.

So I rode horses that were forgiving of my mistakes and knew their job well. Their goal was to teach their rider it was okay to make mistakes and how to grow in confidence. These horses became my babysitters. They took care of me. At the same time, they taught me how to keep on the outside without cutting corners; how to transition perfectly to a canter on the correct lead; and how to be comfortable again communicating with an animal.

Humility

While horses build confidence in many ways, they also have an uncanny ability to teach you humility. Something I learned again recently. Delight and I have come far in our work together. We had gotten to the point where we were transitioning to canter beautifully and getting our leads.

Something he had trouble with for a long time due to muscle imbalance from horse racing. Knowing he was feeling high strung I should have taken the time to lunge him. But I didn’t and he was perfect at the walk/ trot. Canter was another story and he bucked trying to get his lead up a small incline. I flew through the air superman style and landed badly.

Just goes to show you, everyone has a bad day. Sometimes you just have to wipe the dirt off and get back on.

Perseverance

Horses can be stubborn, sure. But earn their loyalty and they will try their hardest for you. We need to try our hardest for them as well, even when we feel like giving up.

Mathilde Kvernland
Mathilde Kvernland

My Norwegian friend, Mathilde Kvernland, shares her story.

Personally, my horse taught me to never give up no matter how dark everything seems at the time. If I ever gave up on Baldur, we would never have come this far!

When I started riding Baldur, he didn’t trust me and he was constantly stressed. As the Icelandic he is, he would prefer the tölt. But here we are talking about four MONTHS of only tölt because he refused to trot. I was in the middle of writing a text to his current owner, saying I wanted to stop the lease, but I caught myself and thought I had to try at least for another day. So I had to think completely different from what I had earlier. I went back to the basics, took off ALL the tack and jumped up in a round corral. And we would just trot as if nothing was wrong. So that is what we did, and slowly with time, I started adding more tack until we could trot with a full set of tack. I also learned myself the difference in asking for trot and asking for tölt at this point. And now, 2 years later, we have never had a problem again.–Mathilde Kvernland, Passion for Horse

Trust

Most of us humans, equestrians or otherwise, have trouble giving up control and trusting. We feel safer if we are calling the shots, sometimes to our own detriment. Horses have a way of encouraging us to trust. Their trust and faith in us inspires us to do the same. Wellington Florida trainer Melissa Wanstreet shares her story.

Melissa Wanstreet
Melissa Wanstreet

My horses have taught me you have to lose control in order to gain control. Many of us, in our early years of riding, will try to control a horse with force. Force it to stop, force it to go, force it to jump, force it to bend. I was especially guilty of this, being rather strong both mentally and physically–as well as spoiled, I thought I could muscle or scare anything into doing what I want.

But my whole world changed when I finally figured out how to ‘Let Go.’ Let go of the reins. Give the horse a chance to relax, then ask them to slow down. Let go with my leg. How fast would you run if you had someone squeezing your ribs every step of the way? Give the horse a chance to make a mistake, so I can be clear about what I don’t want, then reward when I get the correct answer. The result was happy, confident and relaxed partners.

Control is really about fear and when we let go of fear, we are allowed more opportunities to grow.–Melissa Wanstreet, Starbound Equine

Love

More than anything, equestrians have a huge place in their hearts for horses. We spend our days with them. They fill our thoughts or dreams. Many of us have been working with horses since we were young, or at least dreamed about working with horses. At the root is a deep love. A sweet tale of love from Australia.

People have different personality traits, as do horses, not one is alike. When I rescued my horse Buddy from the meat yards in Feb, I had no idea what I was in for. Buddy is much different than my older horse Charlie. Charlie is cheeky but reliable, nothing bothers Charlie. Buddy was scared of everything; I had never had to deal with a horse I couldn’t catch, or a horse that was scared of 90% of things.

In the months since, Buddy has learnt to trust me, the process of this has been one of the best experiences of my life. I am so proud of him and how far he has come. I had never owned a horse that everyday tested my patience. My horses have taught me patience, trust but above all my horses teach and show me love in every aspect of their interactions with me. Buddy has become such an incredible mount and the first one to run over when he hears me, sometimes not everything goes right, but his trust and love for me has been my favorite love story.–Kiera Burrows, Aussie Urban Huntress

On the ground or in the saddle, working with horses is a gift. To them, I want to say thank you. Thank you for making me laugh when you are silly. Thank you for making me smile when I am crying. Thank you for testing me and teaching me patience. Thank you for teaching my daughter confidence. Thank you for teaching me that giving up control is what I need to become a better rider. Thank you for everything you have given me.

Thank you for being a horse.

 
Heather Wallace is a certified equine and canine sports massage therapist, co-owner of Bridle & Bone Wellness LLC, and equestrian & canine blogger at Bridle & Bone. She is an adult amateur equestrian in unrequited loved with an OTTB and has two rescue dogs always up to no good. You can follow her on social media @bridleandbone or bridleandbone.com.

If you are 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 are interested, please post in the comments and we’ll be in touch.

November 1: National Cook For Your Pets Day

cookforyourpetCookforyourpets.com encourages pet owners to use National Cook for Your Pets Day as an opportunity to learn how to prepare homemade meals for pets. After all, when you as the owner are in charge of making the food, then you as the owner can ensure carbohydrates, additives, and preservatives are avoided. In addition, you can ensure that you pick the right amount and types of meats and vegetables to include.

Designed with owners of dogs in mind, Cookforyourpets.com suggests that an ordinary bowl of cooked chicken, vegetables and rice, perhaps with a little gravy, would make a good start for novice cooks. Furthermore, the site notes that if you add fresh fruit and vegetable snacks, feeding home-cooked food to your dog might seem like a doable venture. However, Cookforyourpets does caution to introduce new foods gradually and to avoid seasonings. Also, you should always check with a vet before dramatically changing your dog’s diet.

If you decide after November 1 to continue to experiment with your dog’s menu, be sure that your meals contain the right nutritional balance and don’t include any harmful ingredients. See LAA’s article on What Should You Feed Dogs? for further information. If you have a cat you must keep in mind that they have high carnivore needs and if you have guinea pigs you must keep in mind that they have strict herbivore needs. To find out more, read What Should Your Feed Cats and What Should You Feed Guinea Pigs. After that, the internet offers many recipes to try. Just keep in mind these 14 Foods NOT to Give Your Pets.

Our pets give us so much, and would probably appreciate a home-cooked meal as much as we do, and so I can see the attraction of this day. For the record though, I’ve never been a terribly ambitious about cooking for our pets. When my guinea pigs became seniors, I did attempt baking some treats for them. They promptly trampled over them without actually eating them. Should you decide to pursue your own culinary adventures, I’d love to hear what you come up with.

October 29: National Cat Day

nationalcatdayCat lovers of the world, unite! National Cat Day, held annually on October 29, was created in 2005 to pay tribute to our wonderful feline companions. It’s also intended to draw attention to the plight of over 2 million homeless cats that are euthanized every year. Shortly after Colleen Paige created National Cat Day, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals embraced it for the above reasons and to highlight also the growing problem of and possible solutions to feral cat colonies.

All year long, the large group of organizers behind National Cat Day dedicate their energies to educating the public about the wonders of cats. They encourage all of us cat owners to go crazy on October 29 about spoiling our beloved companions. We could offer them extra treats and sprinkle cat nip on their beds. We could also splurge on some new toys and use them to wake up our sleepy friends. If they refuse to be disturbed, we could simply spend the day watching cat videos!  If you can afford it , the Internet Cat Video Festival, launched in 2012 and held this year in Boston, is a live showing of a collection of about 100 cat clips. Alternatively, and this would be more up my alley, you could lounge about reading cat books. Whatever your tastes, find a way on October 29 to honor the most popular house pet in the United States.

All year long, National Cat Day organizers regularly dedicate their efforts to helping homeless cats find forever homes. To help with this goal, they encourage cat lovers to make a donation to local shelters. Monetary donations are certainly welcome, but shelters also often have a wish list of supplies. Food and blankets are commonly requested items. Alternatively, if you can spare the room, you could foster or adopt a cat. They’re typically plenty of kittens available, or you could adopt an older cat. Senior felines might not be the prettiest or most active, but they can make for adoring and loving partners. Finally, you could volunteer to help with a Trap-Neuter-Release program through The Cat HouseHusker Cats, or Joining Forces Saving Lives. These programs help to slowly reduce the number of homeless cats while still letting them live full lives.

There are so many reasons to honor our feline friends. From early days to now, domesticated cats have been responsible for keeping homes free of mice and other rodents. They also offer unconditional love, lots of laughs, and great companionship. Just like dogs, they can lower blood pressure and perform heroic deeds. So, before October ends, kick back your feet and raise a glass of milk to your cat.

National Pit Bull Awareness Day

As reports continue to air of dog attacks attributed to pit bulls (even when the breed has not been proven), there is no better time to honor National Pit Bull Awareness Day (NPBAD). Now more now than ever, we need to educate the public about faulty stereotypes and bring positive attention to the pit bull.

nationalpitbullawarenessdayNational Pit Bull Awareness Day was started in 2007 by Jodi Preis of Bless the Bullys, a pit bull rescue group in Tennessee. An annual event that takes place on the last Saturday in October (unless Halloween falls on the last Saturday and then another date is chosen), the day is designed to restore a favorable image of the American Pit Bull Terrier. According to the NPBAD website, despite an overall enthusiastic reception, Preis initially received criticism for using the generic term “pit bull” in naming the nationwide event. The website goes on to explain that the term was deliberately chosen, recognizing that “pit bull” is the name most familiar to the public and has a negative connotation. Other than this criticism, National Pit Bull Awareness Day was eagerly embraced as an opportunity to “educate, change minds, and bring positive media attention to pit bulls across the country all on one day”.

Granted, the initiative has an obvious bias. And so one of the first ways you can best pay tribute to National Pit Bull Awareness Day is to educate yourself about the breed that prior to the 1900’s was not only considered “one of the most popular breeds, highly prized by a wide variety of people” but was even labeled as “America’s sweetheart breed, admired, respected and loved”. Now many communities have bans against pit bulls on the grounds that the breed is too dangerous. How did pit bulls go from beloved to reviled? Is that a fair or unfair reputation? You can find out by reading LAA’s articles on the topic.

Once you’ve informed yourself, below are several ways that you can help restore a favorable reputation and save thousands of pit bulls and pit bull look-alikes (medium-sized dogs with blocky heads are often labeled as pit bulls by default) who are euthanized in our shelters for no other reason than their appearance.

Volunteer with Pit Bulls: At many shelters, pit bulls and pit bull mixes make up the overwhelming majority of the canine population. You can visit the shelter to help exercise and socialize the dogs, which will not only make their lives more bearable while at the shelter but also make them more adoptable to visitors.

Educate Others about Pit Bulls: Inform the public about the breed’s rise to fame and unwarranted fall from glory and explain the inaccurate myths about them. Just as importantly, share stories about famous figures who owned pit bulls and current videos of young people with heroic pit bulls. Be cautious, however, that as part of elevating pit bulls the perception of another breed doesn’t get soiled. There’s abundant and sound research to suggest that owners who build a caring relationship with their dog, treat them as pets instead of using them to guard or fight, avail of spaying or neutering themselves, and invest time into training their dog will ensure their dog is confident, gentle, and trustworthy. No matter the breed!

Combat Damaging Media and Legislation: The media thrives on sensational stories, but pit bills are being mistreated and dying daily because of their bully reputation. Make a difference in their lives by putting the truth out there instead. Reach out to politicians too, by letting them know you care about animals and want to educate people about the misinformation that exists. Take specific action by signing petitions to show support for pit bulls and by protesting against dog fighting and breed-specific legislation. The ASPCA recommends its Advocacy Brigade.

Help Pit Bulls find Homes. A simple gesture would be to add an adoptable Pit Bull search widget to your online presence. Should you talents lay on the creative side, you could also photograph and write bios for dogs needing homes, and thereby gain them much-needed favorable attention.

Foster or Adopt a Pit Bull: A study by Animal People reports that there is only a 1 in 600 chance that a pit bull who even manages to find its way to a shelter will find a forever home. Obviously, the pit bull needs our help. According to the United Kennel Club, the American Pit Bull Terrier has a lengthy history as an active, agile, and muscular breed. Its essential characteristics are confidence, strength, and enthusiasm for life. In addition, UKC notes that American Pit Bull Terriers make excellent family companions and have been well-noted for their love of children. Of course, as when deciding on any pet, research is needed to determine the best fit.

Make your Pit Bull an Ambassador: The ASPCA notes that the best way to combat negative stereotypes is to set a positive example. You should take your well-trained dog for walks to show people the calm and gentle side of pit bulls. In addition, having your dog earn an AKC Canine Good Citizen certificate may come in handy when facing breed bias from people who don’t understand the good that pit bulls can do. Finally, ambassadors can predispose younger generations to positive pit bull images so that their future interactions can be positive ones.

Knowledge is power, and with education and advocacy, the truth will save lives in terms of negating the fear and bias generated by the media, circumvent knee-jerk reactions such as breed bans, and the truth will result in fewer pit bulls ending up in animal shelters.—NBDA

What will you do today to help the pit bull?

Global Cat Day: A Tale of Two Cats

Just in time for Global Cat Day (previously known as Feral Cat Day) on October 16, I’d like to present you with a tale of two cats. The first tale is about Gypsy, an eight-week-old kitten, whose mother brought her to the right place. Little Mama brought her kitten to the home of Donna Kavanagh and Ron Stow, who both knew that Gypsy would have a better life with them.

We chose to work within the programs sponsored by Lincoln Animal Ambassadors rather than involve ourselves directly in animal rescue, since we do already have a “full house” of pets.

Donna and Ron are not your typical animal rescuers. Like my husband and I, instead of trying to regularly find homes for animals, they’re animal lovers who chose to adopt. They adopted a dog from the Capital Humane Society. Another of their dogs and two of their cats they inherited from their parents. They’ve also taken in animals who friends were unable to keep. Like my husband andme, they also help outdoor cats. Not only do they put out food, but Ron built a shelter. Just as importantly, they spay/neuter any strays or ferals that show up at their house. In this way, they prevent more unwanted kittens from being born into the world.

Gypsy was so little and vulnerable that we knew she’d probably do well indoors, where she’d be safe and loved. We wanted to provide that loving home for her.

Gypsy before TNR, Photo copyright Donna Kavanaugh
Gypsy before TNR
Photo copyright Donna Kavanaugh

Feral cats can lead reasonably healthy lives if they have a regular source of food and water. In extreme climates, shelter is equally important. Although Gypsy was receiving all these, she remained at risk to predators, traffic, and disease. Donna and Ron didn’t know of any feeding stations around the neighborhood. They didn’t have any way of knowing if anyone else would take on the responsibility of caring for Gypsy. Instead of waiting for someone else to step forward, they decided to become her caretakers.

Gypsy’s rescue is, to me, a personal victory.  I set out to “win” Gypsy over, and she is the sweetest kitten.

One day, while Gypsy ate outside their home, Donna simply picked her up. Gypsy was a little alarmed, and so Donna set Gypsy back down but also continued to do this each day to get Gypsy used to being handled. “Then one day, I picked her up and brought her into the house. It was as simple as that.” Donna and Ron quarantined her in an unoccupied bedroom to give her time to adjust and to protect their other cats until she could be checked out by a vet

The personal satisfaction I get when Gypsy snuggles up next to me and purrs contentedly, or tears through the house on some unknown feline mission, lets me know that rescuing her was worth the time and effort. I’d do it again.

Once Gypsy had been cleared health-wise, Donna and Ron started integrating her into their household. They played with her and got her used to being with them. They introduced her to the litter box, which she took to using right away. They let the other cats ‘visit’ her so she could get used to them too. After a time, Donna and Ron also gave her free access to the rest of the house. “Being so young when we brought her indoors, Gypsy adapted amazingly well and quickly, very seamlessly. She had no fear of our 85-pound dog; he was probably more scared of her. She now walks through the house as if she owns the place.”

We’ve been successful in rescuing Little Mama as well.  She’s become our pet, but it took a little longer and was a little more involved than Gypsy’s rescue.

Gypsy & Mama before TNR, Photo copyright Donna Kavanaugh
Gypsy & Mama before TNR
Photo copyright Donna Kavanaugh

My second tale is about Little Mama, who proved far more difficult to capture. Donna and Ron worked with Little Mama for several months, allowing her to lead the way. She’d come to them to eat about 10 pm each night, and they’d sit outside near her but far enough away so that she felt safe. Sometimes Little Mama would come onto the porch and she’d lie down next to Donna and play with the ties on her coat. Eventually, Little Mama let Donna and Ron got closer, and she’d rub against their legs. One amazing day, Little Mama let Donna pet her.

It was getting colder. I dreaded the thought of her being outside when it was winter.

When petting time became routine, Donna and Ron decided to try to capture Little Mama. Using a trap borrowed from The Cat House through their Trap-Neuter-Release program, they quickly captured Little Mama. But not for long. “Ron made the mistake of trying to open the cage in the garage so he could remove the food bowl before transporting her to the vet, and she escaped. Now he had a feral, scared cat running amok in the garage. On top of that, she had bit him. He went to the doctor; they did not stitch it, but he got antibiotics.” The two tried trapping Little Mama again two weeks later, and this time they were successful. They took her to the vet and got her spayed.

Although Little Mama wasn’t quite ready at that point to live with humans, Donna and Ron clearly had made a connection with her because Little Mama hung around after being released. Excited about their progress, the two patiently continued with the feeding and playing routine. “One night, I set a bowl of food just inside the front door, propped the door open, and waited for her to come in. She did but was very nervous, and so I let her back out.” A few days later, Donna tried again. This time, she successfully coaxed Little Mama farther into the house.

After Donna had managed to draw Little Mama into the spare bedroom, she and Ron repeated all the steps previously taken with Gypsy. They let her get used to them, the litter box, and the other cats. As for the giving her access to the rest of the house, “we let her take the lead in how far she wanted to go with ‘visiting’ outside the room. She slowly but surely started exploring, and has become very comfortable in most of the house.”

Every morning, she makes a beeline to jump in bed with Ron.  We do have to watch our toes as she will try to reach out and grab you if you aren’t diligent. It’s very rewarding to watch her and Gypsy, and know that they’re together, safe and loved.”

Donna says that Little Mama has come a long way, but she remains nervous of the family’s dogs, and so will typically stay in one of the bedrooms. At times, though, she does venture into the living room and Donna is confident that Little Mama will eventually be 100% at home. “We can pick her up and pet her. She purrs and is affectionate.”

Gypsy & Mama after TNR, Photo copyright Donna Kavanaugh
Gypsy & Mama after TNR
Photo copyright Donna Kavanaugh

Donna’s posts on Facebook last year about her two feral cat rescues immediately caught my interest. After all, I’m a caretaker with Husker Cats, a volunteer group who work to ensure a high-quality life for community cats on campus. I’m also myself the owner of a former feral cat. After I interviewed Donna about her two cat feral cat rescues, she also shared with me her experience in providing general care for homeless cats.

There unfortunately seems to be a never-ending population of feral cats. This is a huge issue and one that drives my passion for spay/neutering to prevent unwanted kittens from being born and ending up homeless. You wouldn’t know there are several homeless cats around, but set a bowl of food out at night and you’d be surprised at how many come to eat. It’s an issue that is so preventable with diligence in spaying/neutering, and adopting from shelters rather than breeding.

Donna pointed out that even if a person doesn’t want to turn outdoor cats into pets, one can help feral cats live as more comfortably outdoors. For example, there are many options for shelter. “Ron built the one we have out of a wood pallet, so it is raised off the ground and has Styrofoam-insulated walls and a shingled roof.  It has two levels, so that at least two to three cats can easily sleep in it. We purchased a bale of straw for added insulation and bedding. There was little cost except the straw and time.”

Should one decide to turn an outdoor cat into a pet, in Donna’s experience, feral cats are more afraid than anything. “They haven’t had the love and attention that they should have, so they react out of fear. They’re not trying to hurt anyone, but are simply trying to protect themselves from being hurt and preyed upon by others.” As any owner of a feral cat knows, they require more patience and persistence than non-ferals. Some of them may never learn to trust, but many eventually develop strong bonds with their owners.

Feral Cat Day was initiated in 2001 by Alley Cat Allies and this year has been renamed Global Cat Day. Little Mama and Gypsy are representative of just two of hundreds of homeless cats in communities across the world. Alley Cat Allies calls for “compassionate people around the world come together to stand up for policies that protect the cats in their communities”. On October 16, take the Kindness for Cats Pledge and advocate for cats everywhere.

There are few greater rewards than receiving a pet’s affection and knowing they are happy and healthy.  My personal belief is that humans are supposed to care for the animals of this earth.  I see it as our duty to be good stewards for animals, especially companion animals that have been domesticated by humans and have come to rely upon us for their existence.  If you are unable to help care for them, at least do them no harm.  It costs nothing to be nice to animals, but they payoff is huge in terms of the love and enjoyment received from them.

October 11: Pet Obesity Awareness Day

You may be aware that almost 70% of adult Americans are overweight, but you may not know that an estimated 54% of dogs and 58% of cats in the United States also have a weight issue. Pet Obesity Awareness Day, celebrated on the second Wednesday of October, brings awareness to this health issue and promotes more  balanced diets and active lifestyles for our pets.

The reality is that our pets become overweight or obese in the same ways that people do. When our pets have a ravenous appetite, we too often give them as much canned or dry food as they can eat. Then there are the snacks. It’s fun to see the eagerness on the faces of our pets when we rattle the treat bag or drop table scraps. But before you know it, those oversized portions and abundant treats have enlarged their bellies. And unless we’re diligent about ensuring our pets have ample play time and walks, two things we often neglect in our own lives, those bellies will keep increasing over time.

The problem is that excess weight reduces our pets’ overall quality of life. It lessens their interest in and ability to perform daily activities. The play time that they used to enjoy might now feel like a chore, and those walks that are so good for them will become a struggle. In all likelihood, because eating may now serve as their biggest pleasure, they’ll start to become obnoxious about demanding food. In addition, the weight increase will put stress on their body, leading to various joint and bone related problems. They may also start to develop breathing issues. Just as serious, excess weight can increase the risk of disease. According to Pet Obesity Prevention, here are some ailments that can develop:

  • Osteoarthritis
  • Insulin Resistance and Type 2 Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Heart and Respiratory Disease
  • Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury
  • Kidney Disease
  • Cancer

Finally, the excess weight can reduce the life expectancy of a pet dog or cat by up to three years.

Did you realize a 12 pound Yorkie is the same as an average female weighing 218 pounds and a 14 pound cat is equivalent to a 237 pound man? Did you consider that a 90 pound female Labrador retriever is equal to a 186 pound 5’ 4” female or 217 pound 5’ 9” male or a fluffy feline that weighs 15 pounds (DSH) is equal to a 218 pound 5’ 4” female or 254 pound 5’ 9” male?—Pet Obesity Prevention

How do you know if your pet is overweight?. Awareness is the first step. The general rule is you should be able to feel your pet’s ribs but not see them. If you place your hands on the sides of your pet’s chest and still can’t see your pet’s ribs, your pet is overweight. If you have any concerns, follow-up by using a bathroom scale (or a kitchen scale for small pets) to determine your pet’s actual weight. Next, determine the ideal weight of your pet’s specific breed by using one of many available online tools, including those at Pet Obesity Prevention. Third, check out one of the many online sites to figure out the amount of calories that are appropriate for your pet. You can match that against your pet’s food and how much your pet eats. (Don’t forget to include between-meal treats and table scraps.) If your pet’s weight needs to change, follow these tips from Pet Safe:

  • Talk to your vet. Your veterinarian is the best resource for helping you create a healthy plan to control, monitor, and improve your pet’s weight.
  • Control the calories of your pet’s meals. When available, check nutrition labels for high quality ingredients instead of fillers.
  • Limit the number of treats and avoid giving table scraps. When your pet looks at you with sad eyes, choose a healthy alternatives like carrots or broccoli.
  • Stay consistent. Keep a measuring cup with your pet’s food–and use it. You might even consider using an automatic feeder, which ensures your pet is fed on the same schedule each day.
  • Get out and play! Just be sure to cater it to your specific pet’s needs. A short walk around the block may be most appropriate for those older and/or disabled animals, while a romp in the park may be better suited the needs of those younger and more-abled animals.

There’s nothing wrong with giving pets an occasional treat. Nor does it hurt to let your pets have some lazy days. But doing these on a regular basis will result in more harm than good. Our pets love and depend on us for their welfare. By making their health a priority, we give them the best opportunity for a long and wonderful life.

September 28: World Rabies Day

worldrabiesdayWorld Rabies Day? Who wants to celebrate rabies? Well, some ‘holidays’ are about awareness rather than celebration. Although only a few people die annually in the United States of rabies, there were more than 6,000 reported case of animal rabies in 2014. Moreover, rabies kills over 55,000 people worldwide each year.

What is rabies? It’s a viral disease that attacks the nervous system. Most often transmitted through saliva, there have been cases where it’s been passed through infected nervous tissue coming into contact with wounds in the skin or even through corneal and internal organ transplants.

Rabies is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can pass between different species. Ninety percent of human cases are caused by exposure to an infected dog, but the disease can also be transmitted to people by other animals such as bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes. Other examples of zoonotic diseases are bird flu and swine flu.

Rabies is considered the deadliest disease on earth with a 99.9% fatality rate. Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) can stops the rabies virus before clinical symptoms appear, if given immediately after exposure. PEP consists of antibodies injected into the wound (these are antibodies against the rabies virus), and a series of rabies vaccinations. Once clinical symptoms appear, rabies is always fatal.

Who does rabies affect? Rabies is found on every continent except Antarctica, but it’s well-controlled in most developed countries through ongoing public health measures. Those most at risk of the disease today are young people living in underdeveloped countries.

First co-sponsored by CDC and the Alliance for Rabies Control (ARC) to raise awareness about the public health impact of human and animal rabies, World Rabies Day is now a global event. 2016 marks the 10th World Rabies Day. The top way you can help is to vaccinate your pets and keep them away from wildlife that can spread the disease. You can also donate to groups fighting to eliminate rabies.

Remember, rabies is 100% preventable but also has a 99.99% fatality rate. Do your small part to keep your pets, your neighbors, and your world safe.

September 23: Dogs in Politics Day

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The most unusual origin of a September calendar date is that of Dogs in Politics. On September 23, 1952, vice president candidate Richard Nixon gave a televised and radio-broadcast speech to refute charges that he had used campaign funds for personal use. In what’s known as the “Checkers Speech,” Nixon stated that he intended to keep one gift, a donation that had been sent to his family as a personal gift: a black-and-white dog that had been named Checkers by the Nixon children, thus giving the speech its popular name.

“A man down in Texas heard Pat [Nixon’s wife] on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was?

“It was a little Cocker Spaniel dog in a crate that he’d sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl — Tricia, the six-year old — named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we’re gonna keep it.”

Link to the Checkers part of the speech: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EqjwBDH-vhY&feature=youtu.be&t=17m47s

The “Checkers Speech” was seen or heard by about 60 million Americans, amounting to the largest television audience of that time. The dog, Checkers, died in 1964, and was buried in Bide-a-Wee Pet Cemetery, located in Long Island, NY. As to how to best celebrate this day, how about educating yourself about political pets? President Adams’ Alligator and Other White House Pets is a good children’s book to start with, and there are many other books on the topic.

September 22: Responsible Dog Ownership Day

Observed annually on the third Saturday in September, Responsible Dog Ownership Day encourages owners to make a promise of loyalty to their pet. As part of doing so, owners should educate themselves about pet care. They should know how to handle the size, temperament, and energy level of their pet. They should also know how to provide for their pet’s general well-being and for their pet’s medical care. Pets bring many benefits to our lives but also depend on people for their care. This makes us responsible for them.

Since at least September 2003, on the 119th anniversary of the American Kennel Club (AKC), Responsible Dog Ownership Day has been encouraging dog owners to take the loyalty pledge. The AKC Responsible Dog Owner Pet Promise has been adapted from the AKC Canine Good Citizen Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge and is pasted below. You can sign the petition at the AKC website to show your commitment to providing the best care for your dog.

AKC RESPONSIBLE DOG OWNER PET PROMISE

As a dog owner, I do solemnly swear:

  • I will never overlook my responsibilities for this living being and recognize that my dog’s welfare is totally dependent on me.
  • I will always provide fresh water and quality food for my dog.
  • I will socialize my dog via exposure to new people, places and other dogs.
  • I will take pride in my dog’s appearance with regular grooming.
  • I will recognize the necessity of basic training by teaching my dog to reliably sit, stay and come when called.
  • I will take my dog to the vet regularly and keep all vaccinations current.
  • I will pick-up and properly dispose of my dog’s waste.
  • I will make sure my dog is regarded as an AKC Canine Good Citizen® by being aware of my responsibilities to my neighbors and to the community.
  • I will ensure that the proper amount of exercise and mental stimulation appropriate for my dog’s age, breed and energy level is provided.
  • I will ensure that my dog has some form of identification (which may include collar tags, tattoo or microchip ID.)
  • I will adhere to local leash laws.

The American Kennel Club provides a number of animal welfare reproducibles on its website, including a Responsible Dog Ownership Coloring Book and a Responsible Dog Owner’s Checklist for young people.  The latter can be printed as a bookmark and is below for your convenience. The educational materials can be used as handouts in classrooms and also posted  in appropriate community areas such as grocery store bulletin boards or pet-supply stores. How will you celebrate Responsible Dog Ownership Day?

September 22: Puppy Mill Awareness Day

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The goal behind Puppy Mill Awareness Day is to draw attention to the poor conditions found at many commercial breeding facilities: overcrowded kennels, inadequate supply of clean water and healthy food, and the lack of veterinarian care. On the Puppy Mill Awareness Day site, you can find a list of ways to help animals in this condition including:

  1. Educate family and friends by informing them that adoption is a better option than buying a pet from a store.
  2. Hold a fund-raiser to contribute towards the medical bills of puppy mill rescues.
  3. Donate regularly-needed pet supplies, such as blankets, towels, food, and treats, to groups such as Hearts United for Animals that specializes in rescuing puppy mills dogs.
  4. Get involved at a local shelter or rescue.

For more local information, read these two articles: