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A romantic moment, interrupted


You came here to read about dogs, not to eaves-drop on a tender moment I recently experienced with my patient wife. But play along for a paragraph or two. I promise there are dogs herein.

We were walking hand-in-hand at dusk. Walking, as it happened, along a beautiful sidewalk called Zattere in the world’s most beautiful city, Venice, Italy. On one side of the walk, historic churches and old mansions. On the other side, the Outer Canal that separates the central part of Venice from the island of Giudecca. In the gathering darkness, a few faint lamps began to assert themselves. We were on our way to another one of those magnificent dinners that all the restaurants in Venice seem to delight in serving.

That was the tender moment. And now here’s the reason it only lasted a moment: My wife’s eagle eye spotted yet another impressive deposit on the large cobblestones. Her voice sounded out as loud and clear as that of a lookout on the crow’s nest of an old merchant schooner: “DOGGIE DOOOoooo!”

Yes, Venice is beautiful. Yes, Venice is romantic. And yes, you’d better watch where you step, because Venice is littered with piles of dog poop. Like all civilized people everywhere, Venetians love their dogs and proudly lead them around on their daily pedestrian errands. Unlike other dog owners, however, Venetians have nowhere to curb their pets. A single cbig customerentimeter off the sidewalk puts one at risk of a four-foot drop into a canal full of quite unsavory water. There is simply no place for a self-respecting dog to answer a call of nature. It’s right out there on the sidewalk or nowhere at all.

I know I should have been thinking about the big bronze horses high in the balcony of St. Mark’s Basilica. Or the marvelous craftsmen making artworks from molten glass over on the island of Murano. Or the staggering collection of Venetian paintings in the Galleria Accademia. But I kept thinking about the complications of dog ownership in Venice.

For instance, I believe there are some strictly enforced laws against dumping garbage in the canals. Which means that a super-fastidious owner with a little shovel couldn’t just scoop up and fling the offending material into the canal. And I can’t recall seeing anything like a fountain or a hose connection anywhere in Venice. I’m sure they’re around, but I didn’t see any.

And here’s the biggest mystery of all: Even though there was no shortage of freshly minted poop piles, I never saw any old, dried up doogie doo. Like the shoemaker’s elves, mythical creatures must come along in the wee hours of the morning and somehow attend to the situation. Venice is fraught with mystery!

Anyhow, I finally came up with my personal submission for the best way to deal with the end products of canine metabolism. I think every dog owner should get a big bundle of those long, slender bamboo skewers they sell in Asian grocery stores, and a good supply of day-glo tinted stick-up notes. It wouldn’t take more than a quarter of an hour to assemble a hundred or so warning flags.

Then, when Fido decorates a canalside walk, the owner can stick a warning flag in the deposit to prevent tourists from stepping in it.

Just ask me. I’m full of helpful suggestions. Next week I may even figure out how to enjoy a $100 dinner in a fancy restaurant in Paris while staring into the eyes of a German Shepherd sitting beneath the neighboring table.

Dick Molay is a free-lance advertising and television writer in Temple Terrace, Florida.

Dog Days


For purposeful procrastination, nothing tops a dog. Take this morning, for example — it’s ten o’clock and, for hours, I’ve managed to put off writing .

First, Gambit and I had to take a three-mile walk. A Terrier, after all, requires exercise. How else can he convert high energy into the calm companionship I need by my side when I finally, as my mother used to say, “buckle down to work?”

Next, I took our elderly Standard Schnauzer for his walk, shorter in length, but about as long in time, given the pace that Tycho’s ancient dignity requires. When we returned, it was time to serve them breakfast.

Since I was engaged in dog duties anyway, I decided to treat them to a little brushing before depositing them on the lawn, where Tycho stretched out to warm his old bones in the sunshine, and Gambit stood Squirrel Watch in his exercise pen.

Eventually, I brought them back inside for a morning nap, which they’re enjoying now, while I try to “buckle down to work” — until I’m summoned for my next walk.

Last week, I saw a T-shirt with a message that read “Agenda for the day: Let the dog in. Let the dog out. Let the dog in. Let the dog out … ” It’s something I wish I were wearing now!

Dogless people who procrastinate enjoy fewer options than those of us with canines. They can watch television, check e-mail, use the telephone, or track down goodies in the refrigerator. But they know they’re wasting time, which is why they often feel guilty.

I, on the other hand, know that when I’m playing fetch, keep away, or tear-up-the-toy with Gambit, I’m actually strengthening the human-canine bond and the economic future of the dog toy industry. No guilt for me.

As dog lovers, our options for avoiding the onerous are unlimited. We can go on hikes with our canines, attend classes and dog shows, and take trips to tracking, agility, and water dog events. If we enjoy challenge, there are always obedience commands to teach, practice and proof. For Gambit, this means taking time to drive him into town, because he prefers to do his proofing at the local bank, where friendly tellers hand out dog biscuits.

To really procrastinate, however, it helps if your dog has a job. I get to spend time with Gambit at a local nursing home where he works as a pet therapy volunteer. Other Terrier people dig tunnels and teach dogs to go to ground in search of prey. My brother and his Brittanies hunt birds. Our neighbor throws objects for his Lab to retrieve. Our house painter’s Collie likes to herd children and other moving things. And old Tycho is proudest when he’s busy guarding, especially when I’m close enough to praise him for protecting me.

The Dog Days of the year, the period between July and September when Sirius, the Dog Star, rises early with the sun, are past. But a little procrastination can turn these autumn days of contracting light into dog days, when “buckling down” must wait until after I take Tycho for a swim to limber up his old joints … bounce a ball a few times for Gambit to catch … and call to find out how her pup did yesterday in flyball.

And if I’m lucky, I’ll find a way to make these dog days last all year. Because the days we spend with dogs are the best days of all.

The Guide Dog Chronicles: My Graces


It was with fear and trepidation that I returned to Guiding Eyes for the Blind for the October/November 1998 class. I was to train with my third guide dog.

I trained with my first guide dog, Future Grace, a Golden Retriever, in September, 1989 and had a wonderful experience — not only at the training center, but for the next 8 years. She was retired in September, 1997 because of cancer and died three months later.

I then trained with Wheaton Grace, A lovable black Lab, in February, 1998. She retired in June, 1998 because of seizures.

I felt anxious about being able to commit to another dog after such a disappointment. I had neither the naivete of the first-time trainee, nor the high expectations I had prior to training with my second dog.

Living in a dormitory with eleven men and women you’ve never met can cause some stress. A mutual friend put me in touch with another woman several weeks before class when he realized we’d both be at GEB at the same time. Pat and I had several phone visits and looked forward to training together. I was pleased to find we were roommates. That was one worry gone.

My February class supervisor, Lynn Robertson, was teamed up with Melinda Angstrom and Andrea Martine. These three high-energy women were professional, enthusiastic and excellent dog trainers. They warmly welcomed me back and helped me settle into the routine. I liked them immediately. Another worry gone.

During the first few days, they talked with each of us and got to know us as individuals. They learned what our personal needs were, how fast we walked and where we’d be living, working and traveling.

The previous four months, each trainer worked with ten dogs. They were trying to make the best match of canine and human in order to create a successful team. As a classmates said, “We come with two legs and leave with six legs and a tail.”

I was matched with an 85-pound, black, female Labrador Retriever named Finch. We trained in White Plains — walking on sidewalks, stopping at curbs, crossing six-lane highways and going through a revolving door.

In Manhattan, we rode the subway, took a bus, walked in Central Park and had lunch at a restaurant. I knew I’d accepted this new dog into my heart when I started thinking of her as “my Finchlee Grace.”

I planned and plotted exactly how I would introduce my new guide dog to my retired dog, Wheaton. Although they’re both female, black Labs about the same size and weight, I wanted to be as sure as possible that they would be friends.

Wheaton’s puppy raiser wasn’t able to take her back and I couldn’t find a good retirement home for her. I knew that Guiding Eyes for the Blind would take her back and find her a home, and yet, our bonds were strong and I wanted to keep her.

It was about 10:00 p.m. when we arrived home from Yorktown Heights, New York following graduation. My son, Paul, stayed in the van with Finchlee, as my husband, Dave, guided me into our house. Wheaton couldn’t wag her tail fast enough or rub against me enough, just like a cat. There was no sign of reproach for being gone three weeks. Is there any other reunion more open and joyful than a dog greeting her master?

I then went back to the van and put Finchlee on lead. My son guided me down the driveway and onto the street. Finchlee piddled at our mailbox and we went for a short walk.

Meanwhile, my husband leashed Wheaton and walked down the driveway, stopping at the mailbox. The dogs saw each other across the street as I headed back south and they headed north. We stopped and talked for a moment before Dave brought Wheaton across the road to us.

I talked softly to the girls as they sniffed each other. Before they started to get frisky, we walked up the driveway together and into the house.

The rest of the night, Wheaton slept at Dave’s side of the bed where she’d been during my absence. Finchlee was on my side, curled up on a small rug.

On Sunday, as Dave and I held hands, we went for a walk — with the girls on-lead — along the street that would become my routine walk. It was a calm time for the girls to do something together and for Finchlee to get familiar with my neighborhood route. In the house, we kept each dog on-leash, letting them occasionally sniff each other. I didn’t feel comfortable about letting them have free play; not just yet.

Monday, after Dave left for work, I sat at the breakfast table for a long time. Finchlee lay on my left and Wheaton on my right. What in heaven’s name was I going to do with two 85-pound dogs?

Take it slowly, my trainer’s words came back to me. “Do obedience everyday.” And that’s what I did. Each dog has a tie-down in our “training room,” formerly the game room. Each, in her turn, is put through sit-stays, sit-downs, sit-recalls and several other exercises. If one barks, she hears my stern “Quiet!” After grooming and a piddle break, they get to watch me do my exercises on the floor and treadmill.

At first, I tried to heel them, holding both leashes, and going from room to room. But I found it difficult to walk when wound up like a May Pole. I soon realized that I couldn’t handle this. Wheaton is so very laid-back, I tried voice commands on her and it worked.

At the top of the stairs, I say “sit” and they both sit. After “Wheaton wait,” I say “Finchlee heel” and go down. At the bottom, we stop and I call “Wheaton, come,” and she does. It’s like choreographing a ballet. The more we work together, the more graceful we get.

Each dog seems to know her role and willingly does what is asked of her. Wheaton Grace is content to be an at-home friend and companion, while Finchlee Grace enjoys being in harness and going out in the world.

It will take six months to a year to become a really smooth working team. You can help me train Finchlee by remembering not to pet her or talk to her or otherwise distract her when she’s in harness. But, I’d find it helpful if you were to tell me things about my environment, such as, “You’re approaching the stairs up (or down).” “There’s a loose dog on your left.” “I’m holding the door open for you.”

So, do hail us and introduce yourself — but don’t let her pleading “pet me” eyes get you into trouble!

Kate Chamberlin is a vivacious guest lecturer for all age groups. Contact her at [email protected]. She is the author of a children’s print/braille book, “The Night Search.”

Barking Edge of Medicine: New Vision Test for PRCD


Scientific investigators from Cornell University have developed a genetic test to identify dogs who are normal, carriers, or are affected by progressive rod-cone degeneration (PRCD). PRCD is a form of progressive retinal atrophy known to cause blindness in many dog breeds. This study — as well as others leading to the test development — is funded by Morris Animal Foundation and The Seeing Eye, Inc.

The marker-based test, which was patented in September 1998, allows scientists to determine whether dogs are genetically normal. The test also identifies dogs that have PRCD or are carriers of the gene by identifying markers in the dogs’ DNA. The original diagnostic test was exclusively applicable to Portuguese Water Dogs. The test is now available for determining PRCD in English Cocker Spaniels and Chesapeake Bay Retrievers. Investigators hope to have a test available soon for use in Poodles and Labrador Retrievers, the latter being the most prevalent canine breed in the United States.

“The purpose of our study, which began six years ago, was to identify PRCD in dogs,” says Dr. Gustavo Aguirre. Aguirre is the principal investigator for the study entitled “Molecular Genetic Studies of Canine Progressive Rod-Cone Degeneration” at the Baker Institute for Animal Health, Cornell University. “The approach we took was to look for the genes causing this devastating disease. With more than 100,000 genes to study and new retinal disease-causing genes identified every day, it turned out to be a more complex task than we originally thought.”

Scientists determined that it was first necessary to develop a canine genetic map. A two-year effort by the Cornell team in collaboration with Dr. Elaine Ostrander’s group at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center yielded the first available genetic linkage map of canines. Although the map is not yet complete, the preliminary version gave scientists the tools they needed to look for the disease, and the PRCD defect in canines was located in March 1998. The scientists were now able to develop the vital test for the PRCD gene.

“From here, we are perfecting the marker-based test, and we are working on the development of a gene/mutation-based test,” says Dr. Aguirre who is working with co-investigator Dr. Gregory Acland.

Many of the 60 or more breeds of dogs that can develop Progressive Retinal Atrophy are suspected of having PRCD. The disease progresses in dogs born with normal vision. They begin suffering from night blindness and then, finally, become totally blind. PRCD only becomes evident in dogs after they reach reproductive age.

A genetics testing laboratory, OptiGen, was established in Ithaca, NY by the Cornell scientists and Dr. Jeanette Felix, formerly with the Foundation Fighting Blindness, to conduct tests for genetic disorders including PRCD. Blood samples are sent to the lab by veterinarians, breeders, and owners of breeds suspected of inheriting PRCD or at risk for the disease. The lab is run by Dr. Felix, now President of OptiGen, and other dedicated scientists.

Dr. Aguirre and his colleagues have made additional significant findings resulting from these studies. The investigation has identified genes and mutations responsible for congenital stationary night-blindness (csnb) in Briards, and rod-cone dysplasia 1 (rcd1), a form of Progressive Retinal Atrophy in Irish Setters. This work was a direct result of the Morris Animal Foundation-sponsored project. Tests are now available for the disease in these breeds.

Additional breeds suspected of inheriting PRCD that may also benefit from the discovery are Nova Scotia Duck-Tolling Retrievers, Australian Cattle Dogs, Basenjis, English Mastiffs, Italian Greyhounds, Papillons, and others. The canine genetic map will also be useful to scientists investigating other canine disorders.

“We are proud to be funding this vital investigation with additional support from The Seeing Eye, Inc.,” states Kristin Benjamin, Grants Manager for Morris Animal Foundation. “The Foundation has been committed to this study from the beginning, and we are extremely pleased that the investigation has resulted in DNA-based tests for PRCD, rcd1, and csnb. These resources will improve the health and well-being of dogs,” adds Benjamin.

Morris Animal Foundation ensures a healthier tomorrow for companion animals and wildlife by funding humane health studies throughout the world. Foundation-funded studies provide veterinarians with advances in diagnostic procedures, improved understanding of disease transmission and progression, and new treatment methods for an extensive list of health conditions.

Rob Hilsenroth, DVM, is Executive Director of Morris Animal Foundation. This nonprofit organization sponsors animal health studies at veterinary schools and institutions throughout the U.S. and in other parts of the world. All annual unrestricted contributions to the Foundation support health programs — not the cost of administration or fund-raising.

If you’d like to make a contribution, write Morris Animal Foundation, 45 Inverness Drive East, Englewood CO 80112. For more information, call 800-243-2345, or visit the website at www.MorrisAnimalFoundation.org.

Hip Dysplasia: How It Develops


Most dog owners are aware of hip dysplasia, possibly because their own dogs have experienced it. The term hip dysplasia refers to a process of abnormal development of the hip joint. The hips are ball-and-socket joints; these joints develop so that the pelvis cradles the end of the thigh bone much like a catcher’s mitt cradles a baseball.

This design allows for maximum range of motion; the thigh bone can pivot forward, backward, and from inside to outside. It is critical that the pelvis “socket” (called the cup or acetabulum) and the thigh bone “ball” (femur head) fit precisely as young pups undergo their major growth phase. If the joint has any degree of looseness or laxity, hip dysplasia is present and arthritis will ultimately develop. The problem is particularly prevalent in large dogs which show clinical signs more frequently than small breeds. Before puppies reach skeletal maturity, their bones need to grow. In the process of bone growth and development, cartilage is laid down, and bone forms on the cartilage scaffolding. As the cartilage continues to grow, it is replaced by bone until the bone achieves its ultimate size.

Investigators hypothesize that a defect in this process is what leads to a poorly formed ball and socket, which in turn results in laxity of the hip joint or hip dysplasia. Joint laxity, in itself, is not the cause of lameness; rather, it is the degeneration of the joint, or arthritis, which causes the pain associated with hip dysplasia. Genetics are at least partly responsible for the development of hip dysplasia, and certain dog breeds are more prone to develop hip dysplasia than others. Scientists have uncovered evidence that the diet of growing pups also plays a major role in the development of hip dysplasia. (See July/August 1994 Good Dog!, “New Hip Dysplasia Research Shows Diet is Important.”) A definitive diagnosis of hip dysplasia requires radiographic (X-ray) images. The image must be taken with the dog in very specific positions, with the dog sedated or anesthetized to avoid discomfort.

The positioning allows the veterinary radiologist to see exactly how the hip joints fit together. Dogs with advanced hip dysplasia also have evidence of ragged bony accumulations in and around the joint, representing areas of arthritis. A common practice among dog breeders is to check their breeding dogs for evidence of hip joint subluxation once the dogs are mature, but before they have a chance to pass on any potentially faulty genes. At two years of age, dogs are eligible for these X-ray tests, and the images are reviewed by veterinary radiologists at the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. The radiographs are rated from excellent to the worst hips, depending on the tightness of the joint. This does not guarantee that a dog or any of its offspring will be totally free of dysplastic changes.

However, it does allow for more careful breeding practices that have reduced the incidence of hip dysplasia in many lines of purebred dogs. Alternatively, the PennHIP procedure is a method for measuring the amount of laxity in a dog’s hip joint. Dogs with low hip laxity are very unlikely to be dysplastic and most suitable for breeding. (See July/August 1997 Good Dog!, “Detecting Hip Dysplasia.”) Hip dysplasia can be treated medically or surgically depending on severity, the activity level of the affected dog, and how old the dog is when the dysplasia is diagnosed. Conservative medical treatment options consist of anti-inflammatory drugs, cartilage-protecting medication to control the pain, weight control, and physical therapy such as swimming.

Several surgical options also are available. For young dogs that have evidence of hip dysplasia before they reach skeletal maturity, a surgical procedure called a triple pelvic osteotomy (TPO) can be performed. The prognosis is best if there is no evidence of arthritis. Dogs with severe dysplasia that are too old, or have severe arthritic changes that would preclude the use of the TPO procedure, may be candidates for a surgery called femoral head and neck excision. In this procedure, the top of the thigh bone (femoral head and neck) near the joint is surgically removed and a false joint is allowed to form. This surgery alleviates pain and improves function. Another surgical option for a dog with severe arthritis as a result of hip dysplasia is total hip replacement. In most cases, this surgery returns the patient to normal function.

The success rates for these surgeries depend on the dog, the severity of the condition, and on the compliance of care and therapy following the surgery. Most dogs regain the ability to lead an active and pain-free lifestyle. Morris Animal Foundation is supporting a study by Dr. Rory Todhunter at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. This study, entitled “Endochondral Ossification and Canine Hip Dysplasia,” is designed to carefully scrutinize the biomedical and microscopic process that occurs during the formation of the canine hip joint.

Dr. Todhunter and his colleagues hope to uncover clues about the developmental changes that go wrong when canine hip dysplasia occurs. There is evidence that the bony development of the hip is delayed in many dogs with hip dysplasia, and this may have an underlying biochemical basis. This work has led to a new imaging method to diagnose subluxation of hip joints which lends itself to both radiography and ultrasound to assess the onset of ossification and the amount of subluxation in dogs’ hip joints. It is hoped that this method, called the Dorsolateral Subluxation Test, will be used in conjunction with the radiographic views offered by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals and the PennHIP organization.

Dr. Todhunter’s study will continue to provide more facts about the causes behind the development of canine hip dysplasia, and will allow prevention to play an even larger role to eliminate this painful condition from our pets’ lives. + + + Rob Hilsenroth, DVM, is Executive Director of Morris Animal Foundation. This nonprofit organization sponsors animal health studies at veterinary schools and institutions throughout the U.S. and in other parts of the world. All annual unrestricted contributions to the foundation support health programs — not the cost of administration or fund-raising. If you’d like to make a contribution, write Morris Animal Foundation, 45 Inverness Drive East, Englewood CO 80112. For more information, call (800) 243-2345 or visit http://www.morrisanimalfoundation.org.