Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A Second Arrest in Miami Horse Slaughter Case

Some good news out of Miami: a second person has recently been arrested in a case of horse slaughter. The presumed criminal has been charged with multiple felonies including animal cruelty.

The black market for horse meat has prompted the slaughter of about 20 horses in the Miami-Dade area. This particular criminal and his accomplices slit the horse's throat and legs and had planned to sell the meat. He was arrested near a horse pasture with a duffle bag stuffed with a butcher knife, a rope and garbage bags. He is eighteen years old.

Horse owners in the Miami area have been on tenterhooks regarding the safety of their steeds since many horses have been butchered literally in their pastures or not far from their homes. "I'm delighted--so happy, so pleased, so proud that the police nabbed the guy," said Jeanette Jordan, president of the South Florida SPCA, which has joined with the Florida police to lend their expertise to these investigations.

The arrest was actually made as a result of a community effort. The suspect asked one of his neighbors for a ride to a nearby pasture where he said he was going to slaughter two horses. He also asked the neighbor if he was interested in buying any horse meat.

The neighbor played along and then called the police. They put a wire on him and then followed him to a cafeteria where an undercover officer, pretending to be the neighbor's uncle, negotiated the illegal sale of horse meat. Then police moved in and nabbed the suspect.

"This typifies what can happen when the community gets involved," said Captain Scott Andress, of the Miami-Dade Police Agricultural Patrol.

While many are breathing a sigh of relief, police continue to warn horse owners to remain vigilant and take precautions to secure their horses with tamper proof locks and consider installing video surveillance cameras.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Please No Comeback Kid

Word has come that Lava Man, the eight year old gelding, who retired last summer, is back in training. For all the reasons that this is not a good decision, I refer you to Jeremy Plonk's wonderful article on and will try to para-phase his very valid points.

For starters, a comeback would be a good story but highly unlikely. Plonk gives the example of George Washington, the horse that the Jacksons bred, who was un-retired from the breeding shed and subsequently broke down and was euthanized on the track during the 2007 Breeder's Cup classic.

While a tragic ending is only conjecture, it is not too far from reality since Lava Man has a history of "bad" feet, as Plonk points out. It is difficult to believe that this decision was based on money since racing is such a precarious source of income. Plonk bases the decision on emotion on the part of the owners and it is sad if this is the case. Because, as Plonk so eloquently puts it: "this is about the horses."

Bravo Jeremy Plonk! You've said it all and I can't say it any better. The spirits of Barbaro, Eight Belles, Pine Island, George Washington and Ruffian, whom he invokes in the article, are smiling.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Seven Deadly Sins

Remember Oscar the seagull who used to steal the remains of diner's outdoor meals at our summer get-away in Maine? Well, he has met his match in the gulls that populate Jamie Wyeth's new series of paintings entitled the Seven Deadly Sins. Wyeth, who spends his summers on Monhegan Island in Maine, portrays each of the deadly sins acted out with the seagulls who share his island retreat. They are currently on view at the Brandywine River Museum in Chadds Ford, PA. where Wyeth spends the rest of the year.

The exhibit is striking not only because of its realism (there is a tape playing that provides background noise of squawking gulls) but also because of the ferocity of the images. Seagulls are true scavengers and Wyeth has done nothing to romanticize their dispositions. There is a video that accompanies the show in which he remarks that many painters portray seagulls as white doves. To him, nothing could be farther from the truth. These are angry, nasty, mean scavengers and all the years he has spend observing them has made him a true scholar of seagulls. He knows his subjects inside and out probably better than they know themselves.

My only complaint with the show is that many of the paintings could represent more than one vice. Anger, pride, envy, and gluttony are close cousins since in these depictions they involve food--the driving force in a seagull's life. It is hard to discern whether or not the seagull chowing down on the lobster above is proud of his accomplishment or merely feeling ravenous. And the spectators could just as easily have been angry or envious of his accomplishments. The painting, by the way, is titled Pride.

Which may be the point. These vices are inches away from each other and very primal in nature--although I am not sure the need for food is as omnipresent in human existence as it is in the gulls' world. Nonetheless, by placing these seagulls within the larger context of a well established subject, long associated with Christian art, Wyeth has taken the gulls out of their natural habitat and made us look at them for what they truly are.

If you get a chance to see this exhibit--it does tour--I highly recommend it. Art that makes you think is always worth seeing.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Dogfighting Remains in the News

I know you are tired of the topic of dogfighting, but apparently all the publicity surrounding the Eagles' hiring of Michael Vick has done little to up the ante in terms of punishment for others convicted of the same crime. Michael Vick spent 18 months in federal prison for operating an illegal dogfighting operation. A man accused of running a smaller, yet significant, operation in Philadelphia was given house arrest.

Dogfighting is illegal in all 50 states but sentencing guidelines vary state by state. In Pennsylvania, for example, the crime is considered a third-degree felony, punishable by 3 1/2 to 7 years in prison. But sentencing guidelines take into account prior convictions, which means that first time offenders usually get a token punishment.

Vick was running a multi-state operation--the highest level of offense involving thousands of dollars being wagered--and therefore received a stiff penalty. Local, smaller operations, in which dog owners stage fights, apparently happen more than the average dog lover might want to believe. Those perpetrators, however, are rarely caught and even more rarely punished.

In Philadelphia, as in many cities, it is often a question of manpower. According to George Bengal, the Pennsylvania SPCA's director of law enforcement, "I just don't have the bodies and the resources to address all of these the way they should be. I could have a full-time police force working 24 hours a day and still have calls waiting."

Finding fighting dogs is not hard, according to Nicole Larocco, the PSPCA's director of animal training. What is hard is penetrating the underground world that surrounds the behavior and arresting the individuals behind the operation. Dogfighters often house their paraphernalia in a different location from where they stage their fights.

Dogfighters, however, don't have to be caught in the act to face charges. Cases are often built around the equipment seized in raids in which dogs may not be present. This includes chains, veterinary steroids, cages, and rape stands on which female dogs are restrained during breeding.

Dogfighting is almost always linked to illegal drugs. And chances are that if a dogfighter is actually caught with drugs, he will get a stiffer penalty.

For the time being, dogfighting remains a high priority of both the SPCA and the Humane Society of the United States, for the simple reason that it is so prevalent. Which means that regardless of whether or not we are sick of hearing about Michael Vick, the message still has a long way to travel.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Who Gets the Dog?

Superior Court Judge John Tomasello couldn't wait to flee the bench and return to the business of deciding what he considered to be more significant matters. But to Eric Dare and Doreen Houseman, owners of Dexter the six year old pug, Tomasello's decision could not have been more important.

You see, Tomasello decided the first case of dog custody in New Jersey. And according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, the decision to split custody of Dexter was hardly inconsequential to Dare, who considers himself to be Dexter's "rightful" owner. His lawyer, James Carter, put it this way: Dare "purchased [Dexter], paid for his food, and took him to the vet. What she [Houseman] did was dress him up in goofy outfits."

Ask Houseman, however, and you will learn that she is "very happy, very relieved." In fact, she couldn't wait until she could "have him [Dexter] in [her] hands again." Since the couple split up over two and a half years ago, Dexter has lived with Dare and Houseman has not seen him.

Her turn, however, commenced yesterday and will last for five weeks. At the conclusion of which, Dexter will be returned to Hare who lives nearby. The judge said the visitation schedule could not be modified and that the drop-offs could be handled through a third party.

It is no wonder that Tomasello couldn't wait for this case to be over. In the Spring of 2007, he decided in favor of Hare and ordered him to pay Houseman the $1500, Dexter's price tag, to satisfy her claim. But Houseman appealed to a three-judge panel who ordered Tomasello to retry the case.

After seven hours of testimony focused on Dexter, Tomasello agreed that both parties loved the dog, even though he was technically still considered property. He asked both lawyers for guidance in the form of official briefs on Dexter's fate.

In ruling that Dexter should shuttle between owners, Tomasello remarked once again that the dog, "although cute and furry" is still property. He expressed his hope that the split custody should continue until Dexter goes to the "Great Kennel in the sky" at which point he fervently hoped that the owners could amicably split his ashes and leave the matter out of court.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Keeneland Yearling Sales Down

The results from the Keeneland September yearling sales are extremely disappointing. According to the Louisville Courier Journal, "During the first four days of the 14 day sale--a period when the finest horses are usually auctioned--buyers spent 42.52 percent less on yearlings than last year." Many feel that this trend is indicative of a doomsday scenario being played out across the entire industry.

"We're going to see farms close," said Keeneland sales director Geoffrey Russell. Others are predicting lower stud fees across the board and the ripple effect will mean lower state sales taxes collected on stud fees. Last year, those fees fell 14 percent. The money from those fees is pumped into a fund for breeder incentives, so that, too, will continue to suffer. In addition, businesses that supply hay and feed to horse farms may face hard times along with smaller boarding operations.

It is a crash that many saw coming. Like many other industries, the horse industry had become infatuated with making big money, fast. Horses sold for big bucks, stud fees were astronomical and too many foals were being born. Investors popped in and out of syndicate deals where big bucks could be raked in, quickly.

"The speculators, two years ago, they were here," noted Case Clay, president of Three Chimneys Farm. "We're not hearing that much from them right now."

Many are at risk and none more so than breeders who sold yearlings way under the cost of their stud fees as well as investors who may have borrowed money to pay those stud fees.

The bright side may be that if the industry learns its lessons, breeds fewer foals (ideally mating the best to the best) at reduced stud fees, the correction will ultimately result in fewer, stronger horses selling for realistic prices. The other point to note is that there are bargains to be had if you have the cast to spend on horses, a luxury in any economy.

Dare I say it is no different from what happened on Wall Street? The big question will be who wises up going forward to prevent this from happening again and again.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Exit, Stage Left

At various times during my children's scholastic careers, they would participate in musical productions that included a dog. And at various times, they would volunteer one of ours. Luckily, no one made the cut because I don't think any of our dogs, past or present, would have the patience to be a "stage" dog. Trust me. It is not as easy as it looks.

I know this because who do you think had the job of "babysitting" the dog who did get the role in a middle school production of Oliver? Of course, none other that yours truly, who got a glimpse into the life of a canine thespian.

First of all, the entire time that the dog is not on the stage, he or she needs to be in a crate, and not always a crate safely sheltered from all other distractions. It might be a crate in an empty office or then again it might be a crate in the middle of a room of other "off-stage" actors, in this case, kids, who are not exactly quiet or disinterested in the dog.

In the case of my charge, she was a model dog. Nothing fazed her and she was just as happy in her crate as on the stage--which she was for all of three minutes in one scene towards the end of the play. At that point, she would have to walk on a leash, pay attention to her "owner" and look adorable, all of which this dog did beautifully and without much rehearsal. As I said before, model dog even though she was not the breed specified in the play. In a wise move, the director went with substance over style.

I was reminded of all of this by a recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer about canine auditions for a local production of Oliver. In this case, the dog had to look and act the part of a bulldog.

About a dozen dogs tried out for the part, some of whom had prior acting experience (commercials) and some of whom had show credentials. Ultimately two dogs will be chosen and no word yet on who got the part.

I'm wondering if I should volunteer my talents as a dog-minder. After all, I have experience....

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Watch For Endal, Hopefully Coming Soon

In the "How could I have missed this book?" department, comes word of a new dog movie being adapted from the book Endal: How One Extraordinary Dog Brought A Family Back From the Brink by Allen Parton. The book is a true story of how Parton, a Gulf War veteran finds his salvation in the guise of a Labrador retriever named Endal.

Parton, an officer in the British Royal navy, suffers serious head injuries during his deployment. When he returns home, he finds life unbearable until he acquires Endal, a dog trained and provided by The Canine Partners organization. Endal is a service dog and is able to assist Parton with such tasks as taking money out of an ATM machine as well as routine chores.

I won't give it away but Endal does save his owner's life literally as well as figuratively. British producer Simon Brooks decided to adapt the book after he read about Endal's death in march 2009. "I was immediately attracted to this inspirational and uplifting story of a man and his family who had been dragged through hell and back before an extraordinary dog called Endal 'adopted' them and changed their lives for ever."

The movie is expected to begin filming this summer. Sounds like a great story and hopefully it will make it not only to the big screen but across the pond. In the meantime, you might want to check out the book.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Benefits of Therapeutic Riding

Winston Churchill is believed to have said, "There's something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." Well it appears that the benefits of riding extend to men, women and children, including those with challenging medical conditions.

Therapeutic riding has long been known to settle children with autism and Asperger's syndrome as well as provide balance and motor control for those with physical disabilities. A recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer profiles Jessica Moore, a former commercial mortgage lender, who left finance to become a certified horse rehabilitation specialist and subsequently the director of the Banbury Cross Therapeutic Equestrian Center in Oxford, Michigan.

"I'm never going to be a millionaire doing it," she said. "But I'm always happy to be at work."

According to the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, more than 42,00 people participate in therapeutic riding at their accredited facilities around the country. The movement of the horse helps stimulate muscles as well as areas of the brain associated with movement.

Moore has seen her share of break-throughs including numerous Autism patients who say their first word while on horseback. A six year old boy, whose first word, "Go" was uttered while riding is still one of Moore's patients and "he talks like crazy now," she says.

In addition to the rhythmic motion of the horse that induces better muscle control, many patients develop emotional bonds with their steeds that often surpass those they are able to maintain with others. "Very often you will have people who have various learning or emotional challenges, who, in partnership with a horse, seem to go farther in some of their relationships," remarks Barbara Yost, spokesperson for the national association.

In our neck of the woods, we have a very fine therapeutic riding academy, Thorncroft, that does amazing work. If you are ever short on inspiration or feeling sorry for yourself, I recommend a visit to your local therapeutic riding academy to see just what Winston Churchill was talking about.

Monday, September 21, 2009

You Smell Great!

When I watch my dogs in the park, the differences between them is striking, especially when it comes to their senses of smell. Most often, Sam and Phoebe will pause mid-run, lift their noses to the air and take in a whiff of some exotic animal who has recently been in the neighborhood. They literally sniff the air although they often sniff bushes, twigs and the ground. Amos, on the other hand, is all about sight. He can see the white of a deer's tail long before the other two and while they are busy running circles picking up the scent, he takes off in a bee-line for the beast.

Alexandra Horowitz, in her new book, Inside of a Dog, (reviewed here in the New York Times Book Review), explains these cognitive behaviors and takes us on a tour of the world according to a dog's senses. It is fascinating and helps explain a lot of behaviors we often interpret as being more "human-like" than they actually are. In many ways, everything in a dog's world is related to sight or smell.

To begin with, dogs do not have to exhale before they inhale again as we do. They can actually take in more air while they are still inhaling. In this way, reviewer Cathleen Schine points out, "dogs not only hold more scent in at once than we can, but can also continuously refresh what they smell without interruption..." Dogs interpret their world through smell. As Horowitz writes: "Smell tells time. . .Odors are less strong over time, so strength indicates newness; weakness, age. The future is smelled on the breeze that brings air from the place you're headed."

I love that description because it is the essence of dog-ness--very different from the essence of what humans think dogs think. My father has long contended that dogs don't tell time--that they don't know how long you are gone when you leave them, but Horowitz reveals that dogs do indeed tell time--it is just based on smells associated with where they are and where they are going, regardless of whether or not these smells include you.

As for Amos' uncanny sight, well Horowitz explains that dogs with long noses have what is known as a visual streak: a cluster of photo-receptors along a horizontal band across the middle of the eye. These dogs "have better panoramic, high-quality vision, and much more peripheral vision than humans."

If you are interested in truly understanding the world from your dog's perspective this sounds like a great read. And for those who favor the owner as member of the pack mentality, Horowitz notes that "dogs seem to learn from each other not by punishing each other but by observing each other."

Sunday, September 20, 2009


So a German shepherd went into a Western Union office, took out a blank form and wrote: "Woof..woof..woof..woof..woof..woof..woof..woof..woof."

The clerk exmained the paper and told the dog, "There are only nine words here. You could send another 'woof' for the same price."

"But," replied the dog. "It wouldn't make any sense."

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Muppets Take Doylestown

I had a wonderful afternoon earlier this week when I visited the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, where the exhibit entitled Jim Henson's Fantastic World is on view until November 29, 2009. I heard his youngest daughter, Heather, speak about growing up Henson and the entire day was magical.

What is absolutely apparent, especially after viewing the exhibit, is the fact that the man was a genius. The Smithsonian has mounted this touring exhibit that features his old sketch books, story boards for commercials that he did early in his career, posters he designed while in college and even the scripts for the first Sesame Street Counting films. You can see that the ideas for many of the muppets and other creatures had their origins very early in his career.

What many do not know is that Henson was an accomplished cartoonist, painter, and graphic designer--his grandmother also was quite artistic--and his gift for story-telling originated from family gatherings where, as a kid, everyone would try and outdo each other with a story. Also he credits his love of music to sing-alongs around his grandmother's piano.

All of his five children are artists and his wife Jane, who was also there, was his earliest collaborator. In fact the two met while in puppetry class at the University of Maryland. She said he was taking the course when he already had a show on television (he accomplished this while still in high school) and he knew more than anybody else. By the end, she admits, he was basically teaching the course.

As for growing up Henson, well it was a charmed life, for sure. There were mosaic projects designed by Jim and created by the kids on the bathroom ceiling, beautiful hand painted cabinets and incredible Easter Eggs, Christmas trees and Halloween decorations. Heather is an accomplished puppeteer in her own right as are all her siblings and she even had a cameo role in The Muppets Take Manhattan.

Two things struck home. The first is that it took many, many years for many of Henson's ideas to come to fruition. I believe he sketched the opening scene of the Muppet show while in college and there are many scripts in which he pitched the concept to various television stations to no avail. I think it took fifteen years to become a reality, but he kept plugging.

"You can't take no for an answer. You can't take no for an answer. You can't take no for an answer. No, no, no," says Dr. Teeth in the Muppets Take Manhattan.

The second was his incredible optimism. Jim Henson truly was Kermit the frog in many ways, according to his daughter. He was the one who calmed everyone down, gathered them all together and put order into what she calls a "house full of crazies." There are many times when I find that to me my role as well.

So I leave you with these words of wisdom from Kermit the frog:

"Here's one simple advice: Always be yourself. Never take yourself seriously. And be aware of advice from experts, pigs and members of Parliament."

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Flip Side of Floods

All of our rain has been very good for my flowers. Just look at the size of the impatiens in pots on my back terrace. The vines in each pot are sweet potato vines and when I empty the pots for the winter, we should have quite a crop!

Just goes to show you that every cloud really does have a silver lining!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

I'll Take Mine Without Penicillin, Please

Readers of this blog know that one of my pet peeves is the lack of safety in our food supply chain. A recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer confirms that I am not the only one with this beef (pun intended). According to the piece, Temple University Hospital's Chief of Infectious Disease, Thomas Fekete, believes that antibiotics, being routinely added to animal feed, "speed up the process by which disease-causing microbes become resistant to these drugs."

In fact, there is a new bill floating around Congress, the preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act, that would do just what its name implies: limit the use of antibiotics on farms to therapeutic treatment.

What a concept--remarkably similar to the one human doctors have been advised to follow: only prescribe antibiotics when they are truly needed. And yet, farmers are deeply opposed to the bill, believing that the animals on their farms would get sicker without prophylactic antibiotics and then end up needing even more drugs in higher doses.

Of course there is a logical cure for all of this: abolish factory farming in which animals are kept so closely together that disease spreads like wildfire, but that would mean less profit for the farmers. It also might mean slower development of antibiotic resistant infections, like MRSA.

While the farmers are arguing with the doctors, I might point out that we are the ones who are reaping the benefits of their standoff: namely the rise of antibiotic resistant infections in people. In the Philadelphia are alone, the "number of hospitalized patients with drug resistant infections of all kinds quadrupled over the last decade, from 1,673 in 1998 to 7.012 in 2007" according to the Inquirer's analysis.

This bill has been introduced in Congress three times since 2003, and never once made it to a vote. Meanwhile, some food suppliers and restaurant chains, including McDonalds and Chipolte, have voluntarily placed a ban on non-therapeutic antibiotic use, but it is only the proverbial drop in the bucket.

Shelley Hearne, managing Director of the Pew Health Group puts it this way: "Government action is really needed to protect public health."

In the meantime, please buy and eat local and/or organic so you know what you are putting into your body.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Drought in Kenya

News about climate change is nothing new. The weather has been playing tricks on us all around the world and regardless of whether or not you believe global warming is to blame, there is no doubt that things are not as they used to be.

The latest area to be especially hard hit by the fickle ways of Mother Nature is Kenya, where a fierce drought has been slowly killing off crops, cattle and now elephants. People, of course, are equally at risk and according to the United Nations' World Food program, 3.8 million Kenyans need emergency food aid.

Elephants, which are a big drawing card for tourists, are also at risk since the huge beasts need as much as 52 gallons of water a day to survive. They also need 660 pounds of grass and twigs, all of which are in short supply. The shortage has hit the young and old especially hard.

Zoologist, Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who founded Save the Elephants thought the drought was the worse he had seen in twelve years. "When they do not have enough food, they also seem to be vulnerable to disease, their immune system weakens and they catch all kinds of disease," he observed.

At the moment, one of the only sources of food is the tall limbs of trees (see photo above), which are, of course, too tall for the youngest elephants to reach. While there are 23,000 elephants in Kenya, and so far fewer than 100 have died from the drought, experts still remain concerned especially as competition for the remaining forage grows even more competitive.

If you are so inclined, send your rain vibes to Kenya (and away from my basement, please) with hopes that the seasonal rains expected in October and November will remain true to form.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Porsche the Fire Arson Dog

This is Porsche an arson sniffing dog that has helped Philadelphia fire fighters determine the cause of suspicious fires by sniffing out certain known flammable materials. As you will see, she sits when she detects one of the odors planted by her handler but she also exhibits behavior of a very typical dog!

Just one of the many ways in which dogs continue to play an important part in crime prevention and detection.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Racetrack Safety Has a Long Way to Go

According to a recent report release by the AP, safety reforms at racetracks have done little to reduce the number of deaths at American racetracks. A national count of the number of fatalities in 2008 (1,217) showed little change from 2007 (1,247)--3% fewer deaths overall.

"If it were that easy to change, we would have flipped that switch a long time ago," said Mary Scollay, DVM, Equine Medical Director for the state of Kentucky. Scollay is in the process of collating a data base of breakdowns across the industry and the figures have yet to be released.

The racing industry has taken numerous steps to improve the safety of their sport including the banning of steroids, which many believe are weakening the breed. In addition, many states have replaced whips with softer crops, banned toe grabbing shoes, padded the starting gates and installed synthetic surfaces. Yet overall, the impact of these reforms has been low.

State by state, however, the results have been more dramatic especially in Louisiana, which reported 18 fewer deaths in 2008 (40) than in 2007 (68). Many attribute this to the implementation of a pre-race medical exam and the state of Arizona is hoping to implement a similar requirement this year if its state budgets permit it.

The jury is most definitely still out on the role of synthetic racing surfaces in eliminating fatalities. Turfway Park had no fatal breakdowns for the first 69 days of racing after they installed a synthetic surface. Then, last December, 8 horses died within a month--twice as many as in 2007.

It is clear that there are many factors that are involved in improving safety in horse racing and it may be that not all of them have been corrected. Or then again, it may be that correcting all of them may not eliminate accidents from happening.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

How Acupuncture Works Neurophysically

Regular readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of acupuncture, veterinary as well as human. My dogs have all benefited from it as have my feet. I even wrote an article about veterinary acupuncture for a local magazine. But in all my research, I never truly understood how it worked. Probably because the doctors who were administering the treatment didn't either.

Enter one Narda G. Robinson, DO, DVM, MS, who recently wrote an report on the practice that was published in the August 2009 issue of The Journal of Equine Veterinary Science. "We shouldn't be selling mysticism as medicine," says Robinson who set out to describe, in scientific terms, exactly how acupuncture works.

According to Robinson: "Acupuncture appears to work because it dampens pain transmission in the nervous system, which means it turns down the 'volume' of painful impulses entering the spinal cord and brain, and changes our emotional state and reaction to painful stimuli." In other words, placement of thin needles along key nerve receptors actually interrupt the transmission of painful sensations. We feel better because the pain subsides.

In fact, brain imaging has documented which parts of the brain are responding to acupuncture. There is actual, factual proof that acupuncture does indeed, work.

When it comes to choosing a practitioner, however, Robinson recommends finding one who can explain the science behind the traditional Chinese practice, not one who relies on "mystic" or "spiritual" explanations.

"Gain a feel for what's 'hype' and what's real," she concluded, "Find a practitioner who can explain how the treatments work whether acupuncture, massage, herbs, or dietary supplements, so that you understand, in plain language, and find out the relative risks and benefit of various treatments first."

All of which means that doctors must learn to be better communicators about treatment options, especially if they are dabbling in holistic medicine. And this applies to vets as well as medical doctors or osteopaths.

And the best piece of advice: if you are not comfortable with their explanation, go elsewhere.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Holdiay Movie Preview

Tissue alert! Opening December 18, 2009 this movie about Hachiko, the Akita who waited for his master at the train station each day, is sure to be a tear-jerker, but the kind that cleanses the soul. Based on a true story about the Akita who belonged to a Japanese professor, the movie features Richard Gere in the starring role.

The loyal dog accompanied his owner each morning to the train station and waited patiently for his return. When the professor became ill one day and died before returning home, the dog continued to wait for ten years until he died in the last spot from which he saw his owner.

Hachiko is a hero in Japan; there is a statue of him in Tokyo's Shibuya train station and millions of Japanese have been meeting there since it was erected in 1934. A colorful mural of Akitas decorates another wall in the station. The dog has come to symbolize loyalty, friendship and devotion and is without a doubt Japan's most famous dog.

He soon may become equally famous in the U.S. Move over Lassie!

Friday, September 11, 2009

New Uses for Pet Fur

On the topic of grooming (see yesterday's post), one enterprising woman has found a unique use for all that dog hair. Check out the web site for some interesting uses of dog fur. N'ann Harp has found a way to turn one person's dust bunnies into anothers blanket!

The company began when Harp herself was besieged by cat hair dust bunnies. She decided to collect them to see if then could be spun into wool. The technique is tricky but doable. And since then she has developed quite a loyal following.

Some people like to memorialize their pets by creating blankets out of their fur. Others just like the feel. Apparently golden retriever fur is very soft when spun into wool.

I'm not sure I'm ready to sleep under dog hair as well as being surrounded by it. For now, I'll just leave the hair for the birds to use in their nests. But you might be inclined to check it out.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Anything You Can Do...

Clearly this is the year of the woman. First Rachel Alexandra beats the boys on the track and then Linda Rice becomes the first woman to win a training title at Saratoga. Rice defeated Todd Pletcher for the distinction, 20-19.

Pletcher, who is known for training barns full of horses, won with 19 of his 134 starters. Rice, by contrast, won 20 of her 75 starters, with eighteen of her victories coming on the turf.

"This is as good as I've ever felt," Rice told the New York Times. "It's an absolute thrill. This took a lot of years and a lot of hard work." Not to mention, a lot of patience. Rice has been training since 1987 and slowly but steadily racking up victories. Her current stable consists of 50 horses compared to Pletcher's 250.

To give trainers like Pletcher serious competition required creative planning on Rice's part. She admits she took "a lot of chances" and "entered as many horses" as she could to give herself a chance, but was still worried that Pletcher could come from behind and catch her at the wire.

"The last couple of days had me concerned," she said. "You're so close and you don't know if you'll ever get that close again...It came down to the last couple of races. We made it exciting."

Pletcher almost caught her on the final day of the meet when Eskendereya, one of his six starters that day, finished second. In the Hopeful Stakes, Pletcher's last chance to catch Rice, his two starters, One Note Samba and Aikenite, were never serious contenders.

"To walk in the winner's circle and get awarded with the leading trainer title and be the first woman to do that at a major race meet just makes it that much more special," Rice remarked.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Criteria For Greatness

How do you compare greatness with greatness? That seems to be the biggest question surrounding Rachel Alexandra's Woodward triumph on Saturday in which she became the first filly to win the 55 year old Grade I race. There is no doubt that Rachel's triumph has catapulted her not only into the record books but also into the front spot for Horse of the Year. But the question remains, who's greater: Ruffian or Rachel?

Bill Finley wrote an interesting article in the New York Times on the Friday before the race comparing the two great female horses of modern times and was unable to reach a conclusion about who was "greater." For the record, D. Wayne Lukas chose Rachel over Ruffian while track announcer Dave Johnson went with the same pick.

Having never seen Ruffian race, I can't make a fair selection, but I do think the question may be one of apples to oranges. There is no doubt that these two horses were and are the greatest female contenders in the sport.

The bigger question, I believe, is the concept of greatness itself. If we are comparing the two horses strictly on their racing records, I think the jury is still out. But if we are comparing the horses based on their "legend" then I believe Ruffian is the winner. Ruffian went from "great" to "heroic" the moment she broke her leg. That is what catapulted her from the sports pages to the front pages. And while she may have been a legend before she hurt herself, the audience for her legendary feats remained within the confines of the racing community until she broke down.

At the moment, Rachel's greatness, thank heaven, is still being discussed on the sports pages. And while she is a truly great athlete, I don't think she has the name recognition of Billie Jean King who also beat the boys at their own game.

For now, let us fervently pray that Rachel's exploits remain within the confines of the sports pages, even though that may never be enough to propel her to heroic status.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Shared Brushes Might Mean Shared Infections

This has been the summer of floods here in the Northeast as well as the summer of extreme skin conditions for my dogs. Amos usually has allergies around this time of the year as evidenced by rough, scaly, red patches of itchy skin that emit a distinctive odor probably detectable only to me because I have learned to recognize it. The culprit is seasonal allergies and the remedy involves lot of medicated baths and use of a long term antibiotic--usually until the first frost.

So when Amos started itching a few weeks ago, I checked his skin and found no evidence of infection--just redness that seemed to respond well to lots of medicated baths.
When Phoebe, however, started to itch--she of the never having had skin conditions in her life--I began to wonder. About a bottle of prescription shampoo later (and yes, my back was very sore), I lugged them to the vet.

Sure enough both dogs had bacterial skin infections and Phoebe was covered. She was shedding lesions which is why I could not see them because she was scratching so much. Delightful. Both dogs are on long term antibiotics and pro-biotics to ward off stomach distress. And yes, both seem remarkably more comfortable after just a few days of medication.

But here's the catch that I had never considered. There is the possibility that I may have transmitted the infection from Amos to Phoebe by using the same brush to groom them. Why Sammy never got it (at least not yet) remains a mystery but my vet suggested I wipe off the brush with clorox between dogs.

So consider that your tip for the day: remember to sterilize your brushes if you groom more than one pet.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Warning About Chemicals Worth Repeating

The following article is from the web, courtesy of It is worth repeating because of its important message. Remember our pets are exposed to our chemically-laced world at lower "altitudes" than the rest of us. Think before you spray that weed killer, please.

Dogs and cats may be the proverbial canaries in the coal mine
by Dr. Donna Spector

High levels of industrial chemicals are showing up in American pets. A fairly recent study performed by the Environmental Working Group ( has documented that pets were positive for 48 of the 70 chemicals tested. On average, dogs had 40% higher and cats had 96% higher levels of these chemicals than were found in people. These chemicals are known carcinogens or toxic to the reproductive, endocrine, or neurologic systems.

This study did not prove that these chemicals were causing illness in pets, however, these chemicals have been linked to serious human health problems. The numbers are even more alarming given that pets have much higher cancer rates and endocrine disorders than people.

This study documents that dogs and cats are exposed to a complex mixture of industrial chemicals. Since pets breathe in, ingest or absorb the same chemicals that are in our environment, exposures that pose risks for pets pose risks for human health as well. This is a wake-up call that stronger safety standards for industrial chemicals are needed to protect ALL members of American families.

Help decrease your pet's exposure to chemicals:
• Bathe your pet more frequently (with a natural herbal oil grooming product) to remove chemicals that may be airborne and deposit on their fur. Avoid grooming products with ingredients such as "paraben", "-eth", and "fragrance" as these are chemicals which can be absorbed through the skin.
• Wipe down your pets coat, feet and legs every time they come in from outdoors. This will decrease their chance of ingesting chemicals during their normal daily grooming.
• Remove your shoes at the door to avoid tracking in harmful chemicals. Dust and vacuum (with a HEPA-filter system) frequently to remove dirt and dust which has been documented to be contaminated with fire-retardant chemicals, heavy metals and pesticides.
• Wash your pet's bedding frequently and select bedding that is not treated with flame-retardant chemicals.
• Avoid stain-proofing furniture, carpets and car upholstery. The chemicals used in stain-proofing contain high levels of dangerous perfluorochemicals.
• When cleaning surfaces that pets walk or sleep on, rinse off or remove any cleaners to avoid skin absorption.
• Minimize usage of lawn or garden chemicals and pesticides.
• Avoid the use of Teflon (non-stick) cooking pans as the fumes contain toxic and dangerous chemicals
• Avoid drinking water contaminants by removing them with a reverse osmosis filter system.
• Avoid plastic containers or chew toys. Plastic products may contain chemicals (called phthalates) which raise the risk for cancer. Replace plastic toys with fabric or natural materials. Food and water bowls should be made of glass, steel or ceramic.
• Choose a natural pet food to limit your pet's exposure to synthetic dyes, colorings, preservatives and other potentially harmful additives.
• Many cat owners feed strictly fish diets and I would recommend alternating between fish and other meats as a cat's protein source to avoid potentially dangerous mercury exposure.

Donna Spector, DVM, DACVIM, is a renowned, board-certified Veterinary Internal Medicine Specialist who has practiced at the Animal Medical Center in New York City and other leading institutions. She is an active member of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association. Dr. Spector has written and lectured extensively on topics including nutrition, diabetes, gastrointestinal disorders, kidney failure and respiratory disease. She is widely recognized for her role as consulting veterinarian to HALO, Purely for Pets, her TV appearances with Ellen DeGeneres and her widely-quoted pet health advice in print and on radio. She currently works in Chicago, performing independent internal medicine consultations for dogs and cats.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Notes For the Pet Sitter

We have been fortunate this summer to have landed some great pet sitters, one of whom happens to be my vet's daughter. The other is a recent Master's grad between jobs who loves nothing more than running or swimming with my pack. And boy do they love him.

It occurs to me, however, especially over this Labor Day Weekend, that taking care of my dogs requires vigilance not only on the part of the pet sitter, but also on my part. For some reason, I always end up lugging all three canines to the vet before I take off, even for a weekend, just to make sure all medicines are refilled and still necessary, and the dogs are in good health.

It is a major pain, as you can well imagine to haul nearly 300 pounds of dog (yup, that's about right considering 2 are about 96 and Phoebe is tipping the scales at a mere 80 plus) on this trek but it always leaves me with peace of mind. Not to mention, enough pharmaceutical goods to break the bank.

Next comes the detailed list of instructions--one for general care and one for food. I leave color coded food cards for each dog (one for AM and one for PM) so feeding my pack is truly like Dog Food For Dummies. Not to insult anyone, but I try to make it as easy as possible because on the surface it can be overwhelming.

As for the medications, well since we discovered Pill Pockets (which manage to fool even the most discriminating Miss Phoebe), life is much simpler since the offending meds. can simply be smuggled into the respective food dishes.

And I always leave my cell phone number and a contact number for a friend or neighbor as well as the number for the local 24 hour veterinary emergency center.

Sometimes by the time I get where I am going, my head is so full of details, it takes me a day to unwind, but if you do your homework before you walk out the door, it truly is a vacation...

Saturday, September 5, 2009

How Bo Obama Got His Curls

I have written about this before: the link between human genes and canine ones, especially when it comes to unlocking those that may carry the genetic causes of cancer and heart disease. Well, it turns out that Bo, the presidential pooch is quite a genetically diverse dog....

According to research done by Gordon Lark, an emeritus biology professor at the University of Utah, variations in just three genes are responsible for seven types of canine coats, including the curly (reputably hypo-allergenic) one that Bo sports. An article in the Philadelphia Inquirer highlighting Lark's research, notes that complex traits can arise from just a small number of canine genes, perhaps providing a clue into how similar ones work in humans.

The three genes investigated are RSP02, which is associated with mustaches and bushy eyebrows; FGF5, which determines the length of a dog's coat and KRT71 in which variations create curls. Short hair is the inherited form of all the genes, derived from wolf ancestors.

Dogs such as the bearded collie have variations on the FGF5 and RSP02 gene while curly haired dogs have variations on the FGF5 and KRT71 genes.

And some Portugese water dogs, including Bo Obama, have variations on all three genes, which makes him quite a genetic melting pot. Fitting don't you think?

Friday, September 4, 2009

A Picture is Worth.....

From the Internet (complete with caption below):

Dear Lord:

Thank you for taking me to Timmy's house and not to Michael Vick's.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Fall Racing Season Could Feature Lentenor's Debut

With the 2009 Travers officially in the books, summer is truly coming to an end. The leaves around here are starting to turn and and all eyes are beginning to focus on a certain young colt in the Fair Hill barn of Michael Matz.

I am speaking, of course, of Lentenor and a recent interview with Peter Brette, Michael's assistant, got me thinking about when and where he might make his racing debut. It was on October 4, 2005 that Barbaro broke his maiden at Delaware Park--on the turf--and I think it is fair to say that Lentenor will be following a similar trajectory.

Brette had the following to say about Barbaro's younger brother, affectionately known as Len: "The way he's going he will definitely start this year--he's a lot stronger than Nicanor was, both mentally and physically."

Brette's comments pertain to the typical offspring of Dynaformer. They are known to be late bloomers. Brette described Nicanor this way: "When he first came to us he was big and he was backward and very immature. . . He was a beautiful horse to sit on, but when he started to jog, he didn't fit together."

Time, patience and the right surface, turf, seemed to make all the difference for Nick. He won his third start, his turf debut, by fifteen lengths. Len, by contrast, seems to resemble his oldest brother in his physical as well as mental maturity--he should be ready to run in the near future and the question will be how Matz paces him. There is, of course, something to be said for doing what worked the first time, but it is also important for Len to establish his own identity.

Rumor has it, however, that Lentenor is more like Barbaro than Nick so stay tuned. We could be in for a very exciting fall racing season. . .

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Retiring with Dignity

While it is a dangerous pastime, I must admit that I have been mentally spending the "small advance" that my hopefully, soon-to-be publisher (unnamed until the deal is sealed), has spoken about. One of my expenses is going to be a trip to Kentucky to both Louisville and Lexington, with very specific destinations.

For starters, I want to see the Barbaro exhibit currently at the Kentucky Derby Museum in Louisville as well as the Barbaro statue that is right outside. Hopefully, the artifacts in the exhibit have dried out since the horrendous flooding there earlier this summer.

Then I will go to Lexington to spend some time at the wonderful library at Keeneland and to pay a visit to the Kentucky Horse Park as well as Old Friends, the well known retirement home for thoroughbreds founded and run by Michael Blowen.

The New York Times recently ran an article about the newest retiree to join the turned out residents at Best Friends, Tour of the Cat, a multiple-graded stakes winner, who, at the age of 11, was entered in a claiming race at Presque Isle Downs. Luckily for Tour of the Cat, his presence was noted by track veterinarians who scratched him from his previous two races at Aqueduct and Finger Lakes. The second of these vets contacted a sympathetic horse owner who put up the $5000 to claim him and ship him to Old Friends. The owner was ultimately reimbursed by Internet supporters who had been following his plight on horse rescue message boards.

"It was like finding Babe Ruth sleeping under a bridge," said Blowen. "They breed 36,00 every year and three years later only one of them is going to win the Kentucky Derby. The question is 'What happens to the rest of them?'"

Unfortunately, for many, the fall from grace is often rapid and ugly. Some end up running injured, usually doped up on painkillers or worse, having been passed from trainer to trainer and track to track. Some end up as riding horses. Some end up on dinner plates in Europe. And some just waste away.

Despite claims by the industry to do better, horses like Tour of the Cat continue to slip through the cracks. Kudos to Michael Blowen for the work he is doing to give grace and dignity to these retired thoroughbreds who have given their all to the sport.

"Without them, there's nothing," he notes. "There is none of this bluegrass, no racing, no jockeys, there's nothing. There's no feed people or veterinarians or anything. It's because of them that everyone's here. And at the end of the day, we can't just treat them like trash and throw them to the side of the road."

Like I said, its pay back time and I've been mentally spending some of mine.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dog Dayz in Boulder

Here is why I would love to be in Boulder COlorado at the Scott Carpenter pool at the end of August, where they let dogs go swimming!!!

Mine would be in heaven although I seriously doubt any would go off the diving board....