To my chagrin, I am facing 2011 with an all too familiar New Year’s resolution to lose weight. Mind you, this is the same New Year’s resolution that I have proclaimed every year since I became a wheelchair user at age six. As a sedentary individual with a love for food, weight is always an ongoing issue for me.
As the old year ended this weekend and I pondered my New Year’s resolutions, I received a large brown envelope in the mail from my service dog provider agency, Paws With A Cause.
You can imagine my surprise when I perused the official correspondence from PAWS declaring that Whistle must be within HIS target weight or it could jeopardize his recertification process. PAWS requires each service dog team to renew its public access certification every 18-24 months throughout the working life of an assistance dog. Although during each recertification process, I have to report Whistle’s weight, this is the first time that PAWS has declared a target weight policy. This new policy states:
The health, well-being and longevity of your Assistance Dog are dependent on keeping your dog within its target weight. Even a slight increase in weight can dramatically impact the working life of your Assistance Dog! PAWS and your veterinarian will help you monitor this for the lifetime of your dog. Certification and recertification will include verification that your dog is within their approved weight range.
Certification/recertification will be delayed if your dog is 15-20% above its target weight. Certification along with your dog’s harnesses and ID card will be removed if your dog is 20% or more over their target weight.
Whistle’s target weight is 68 pounds. 15% over would be 78 pounds and 20% would be 82 pounds. Yikes, I guess this means that Whistle has a date with the scale at our vet’s office and he will be joining me with a New Year’s weight loss resolution of his own!
I know weight is a serious issue for all beings, including humans and canines. However, this is the first time, as far as I know, that my service dog agency has declared weight management as a policy much less instituted consequences for noncompliance with this policy.
If your dog is more than 15% over its target weight, please seek veterinary counsel in determining a safe weight reduction plan. Monthly weigh-ins must be initialed by a staff member at your veterinary hospital, and the veterinary staff should scan and email or fax this form to PAWS.
Whistle is definitely not the sleek 2-year-old golden/lab that arrived almost 4 years ago. He will be six years old on April 1, 2011 and I have noticed he is not as spry as he was a year ago. He has also gained a few pounds over the years. This new policy will definitely motivate me to be more cognizant of his weight which in turn, will hopefully help me to be more cognizant of my own weight loss issues. Whistle and I both have some serious work to do to reach and maintain our target weight goals in 2011!
Hats off to the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO) and Merial® for conducting the 3rd annual National Service Dog Eye Exam Event throughout the month of May 2010. Through this event, more than 170 board certified veterinary ophthalmologists in the U.S. and Canada will provide free sight-saving eye exams to thousands of service dogs including guide dogs, assistance dogs, detection dogs and search and rescue dogs who selflessly serve the public.
The ACVO website indicates that to qualify, dogs must be active “working dogs” that were certified by a formal training program or organization or currently enrolled in a formal training program. The certifying organization could be national, regional or local in nature. Specific service groups are listed on the website at www.ACVOeyeexam.org.
Owners/agents for the dog(s) must FIRST register the animal via an online registration form beginning April 1, at www.ACVOeyeexam.org. Registration ends May 16th. Once registered online, the owner/agent can locate a participating ophthalmologist in their area and contact that doctor to schedule an appointment, during the month of May. Appointment dates and times may vary depending on the facility and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis. To learn more about and to register for the ACVO®/Merial® National Service Dog Eye Exam Event, visit www.ACVOeyeexam.org.
This event has a special place in my heart because it directly impacted my, now retired service dog, Morgan. About three years ago, Morgan developed severe problems with his eyes. I took him to see Dr. Kennard with Eye Care for Animals in Albuquerque, NM. Dr. Kennard quickly diagnosed Morgan’s degenerative condition and literally saved his eye sight.
Without Dr. Kennard’s rapid response, Morgan would have completely lost his eye sight. If that wasn’t enough, when I checked out of the clinic, I was presented with information about Morgan’s condition and medication to treat his eyes. What I did not receive was a bill for their services.
When I asked about the bill, the staff proudly told me about the National Service Dog Eye Exam Event. I can never thank Dr. Kennard enough for what he did and continues to do for Morgan and for the work he and so many other ophthalmologists are doing every day to protect and save the eyes of our devoted canine partners. I am forever grateful and I am now acutely aware of the importance of regular eye exams.
I had the opportunity to visit with veterinarian and pet behavior specialist Dr. Jeff Nichol (www.drjeffnichol.com) this week on our radio show, Working Like Dogs at www.petliferadio.com. Dr. Nichol brought up some interesting points about behavioral issues that working dogs can exhibit. Some of these hit really close to home for my current service dog, Whistle and past service dogs, Morgan and Ramona.
One of the issues that Whistle shows is excessive digging. Whistle loves to dig a huge hole in our yard. However, quite frankly, my husband and I are not too thrilled with this behavior.
I asked Dr. Nichol what his thoughts were on excessive digging in working dogs. He said that Whistle could be communicating a couple of things with his digging.
Perhaps one issue might be that he isn’t getting enough social interaction with other dogs. I found that really interesting because Whistle is on the go with me all the time and from my perspective, he gets plenty of social interaction. But, this is something I need to pay attention to. Dr. Nichol suggested taking Whistle to a dog park for some extra exercise and interaction with other dogs.
Secondly, he said that Whistle might not be getting enough exercise. Once again, from my perspective, he is on the go all the time and seems to get lots of physical activity throughout the day. Plus, he’s lean and is always full of energy.
I think energy might be the key here. Whistle is definitely a high energy dog. He is always ready to go to work and ready to play. I need to be more aware of his social needs to interact with other dogs and to get enough free, play time.
Dr. Nichol also talked about unruly barking and fearful behaviors such as aggression. Keeping Whistle healthy and happy is my priority. I learned a lot from my visit with Dr. Nichol and I look forward to future discussions with him about the behavioral issues that working dogs develop as they age.
We woke up this past Sunday as usual and followed our morning routine. Morgan and Whistle went out in the back yard for their usual bathroom time. However when they returned, Franz noticed Morgan looked a little odd. He was holding his body in an unusual way that seemed to tell us he was in pain.
We tried to assess Morgan’s condition and decided this was strange enough behavior that warranted a trip to the emergency vet. After arriving at the emergency vet, the receptionist greeted us and immediately began to triage Morgan. He was whisked back into the back for further assessment while we completed the necessary paperwork.
Fortunately or unfortunately, we have been to this emergency vet clinic several times and they had all of our information and they knew Morgan from previous visits. After a quick triage, they determined that Morgan was not in any immediate danger and they placed us in an examination room to await the vet.
The vet came in and examined Morgan. Morgan is almost 12 and he has a host of medical issues including chronic intestinal disease. As the vet examined Morgan’s body, he turned Morgan’s head from side to side. Morgan winced and then let out a cry.
The vet recommended getting some x-rays of Morgan’s neck and abdomen based on his medical history. After these tests were completed, Morgan was returned to us with some medication to help ease his neck pain. The vet recommended having a radiologist to review the x-rays just to be safe and we were able to return home.
Thank goodness this emergency clinic is open on nights and weekends. We were so appreciative of the excellent and immediate care that Morgan was able to receive. This care was more costly that our regular vet but for us, it was worth every cent to know that nothing more serious was happening to Morgan.
After returning home and breathing a sigh of relief that Morgan’s episode wasn’t more serious. I started thinking about what could I have done differently that would have helped me in this time of crisis?
- I keep a file folder prepared and readily available that houses Morgan and Whistle’s most recent medical information including bloodwork, shots, list of medications and their regular vet’s contact information.
- Knowing where the emergency vet is located and paying them a visit when your service dog isn’t in crisis and in need of their services is a good idea. Fortunately, I was very familiar with the emergency vet clinic and they are familiar with me. I also keep their business card posted on my refrigerator where I can easily find it.
- Having advanced knowledge of how you can pay for such medical services in advance is helpful or having a back-up plan of who you could call for financial assistance. Emergency vet care can be costly. And for me, I keep one credit card available that I know I can use for such emergency situations.
- As a person with a disability, it can be hard for me to get dressed quickly in such an emergency situation. I identify a couple of outfits that are easy for me to put on in case I am dressing in the middle of the night or early in the morning which includes a hat so that I don’t worry about my hair. I also try to make sure that I keep my van with enough gas to get me to my vet or the emergency vet. Likewise, I try to make sure my cell phone is charged in case I need to let the emergency vet know I am on my way and require assistance. I used that when Morgan’s stomach turned a couple of years ago and it meant the difference between life and death when we arrived at the emergency vet clinic.
- I also keep an extra leash and blanket in my van just in case I am in a hurry and forget their leash or need a blanket for someone to carry my dog into the clinic.
When we are in a crisis situation, it can be difficult to think clearly and function normally. These are a few tips that I rely on and will continue to practice. I hope these tips will help you if you ever find yourself in need of an emergency vet.
We took an adventurous trip to the vet today to introduce our new kitty to our vet and to get Morgan checked. Morgan has been exhibiting some issues with his anal area and we thought he might need his anal glands expelled. As we packed up the kitties, I called Morgan to put on his harness in preparation for the 30 minute drive to the vet’s office. I use his harness to seat belt him safely into my van. He was thrilled that I was calling his name as I was going through my ritual preparing to leave the house.
It was as if he was having flashbacks to his working days. Whistle, on the other hand, was noticing my departure rituals and he got into place to accompany me. He seemed confused and disappointed that I did not dress him. Morgan followed me to the door as he does many mornings. He paused as if I would be saying good-bye and leaving him behind once again. Instead, I held the door open for him and called him to come. He sprinted through the door and into the open door of my van with a huge smile on his face. I clicked his seatbelt and closed the van door. He seemed to realize that Whistle was staying behind. His chest swelled with pride and he perched himself on the backseat of my van.
Morgan has horrific allergies that cause him to lick himself insatiably. As a result, he has to wear an Elizabethan collar 24 hours a day. For those of you who have seen the movie, Up, you know this collar is referred to as “the cone of shame”. Morgan is such a good sport about wearing it, but I can only imagine how uncomfortable and frustrating it is for him. Unfortunately, he has to wear it or he would cause serious harm to himself.
However, today Franz removed the collar when he put the harness on Morgan. Morgan was perched on my seat with his harness and seatbelt, cone free. He was a service dog again if only for a little while and he was behaving like a service dog. No licking, no thoughts to illnesses or retirement. He was working and it felt really good.
Morgan went with us to the vet and he performed as a perfect service dog. He proudly waltzed into the vet’s clinic and conducted himself with the utmost professionalism as his kitty brothers received their check-ups and as he endured his check-up and gland expulsion. It was so heartwarming to see my retired guy feel so good about himself. The ultimate thrill was to see him without the Elizabethan collar.
I wish being dressed and being in public was the answer. Unfortunately, this phenomenon will be short lived. I know Morgan will once again begin uncontrollable licking and he will have to put the collar back on.
But for today, for this moment, he was young again. He was working and he was my service dog. I am thankful for today and for having the opportunity to see Morgan by my side. When we got home, Whistle was waiting at the door. His entire body was wiggling with excitement that we were home and things went back to normal. Morgan is resting on the couch again, but I can still see a twinkle in his eyes as if he is remembering that he got to go to work today. He was the working service dog and Whistle had to take the day off.