Animals

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

This time of year (actually throughout the summer and fall) we have an uptick in ear infections. To call every dog or cat that comes in with itchy ears an ear infection is misleading. Otitis externa means “inflammation” (not infection) of the external ear canal. The bacteria and yeast we treat with medications fall into the category of “normal flora,” or organisms found in low numbers in healthy ear canals. 

Usually some other trigger is involved and the normal flora overgrow. Parasitic infections (ear mites), pets that swim a lot/get water in their ears, or ear trauma (plucking hair, etc.) are triggers for acute, or nonrecurring problems that are easy to treat. 

Chronic, recurrent infections are almost always secondary to allergies. I actually consulted with a veterinary dermatologist and she estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of all recurrent otitis externa in dogs is related to allergies.    

The anatomy of the ear plays a role in predisposing patients to ear infections. The normal canine and feline external ear canal have and “L” shape, with both a vertical and horizontal component to it leading to a greater distance from the opening of the ear canal to the ear drum. Additionally, clearing the healthy ear canal occurs through a slow process called migration. 

The ear canal contains epithelial cells (those similar to skin), ceruminous cells and apocrine cells (cells that produce earwax). Epithelial cells will turn over, or be replaced every few days and, along with a small amount of earwax, migrate toward the entrance of the canal. Once at the entrance a good shake of the head sends it out to the world. If the lining of the ear canal becomes inflamed, it narrows due to swelling (most likely due to some sort of food or environmental/seasonal allergy) and excessive ear wax is produced. This combination not only overwhelms the ear’s ability to clear the wax, it also leads to a warm, dark and moist environment and allows the normal bacteria and yeast to go crazy.

Certain breeds such as Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, cocker spaniels, shar-peis and mixed breeds of this type have predisposing factors such as hair in the ears, floppy ears, narrow ear canals or a combination. 

Now, this does not mean that every member of these breeds is guaranteed to have chronic ear infections, rather it means that if you have a member of these breeds and they have even low-grade allergies, the ears can spiral out of control quickly. We are also starting to encounter antibiotic strains of bacteria (such as Staphylococcus) in chronic recurrent otitis in veterinary medicine.  

The main point of all of this is if your pet has chronic, recurrent ear infections, it is important to look for an underlying allergy and treat the allergy. Sometimes it can be a veterinary-approved prescription diet or sometimes the newer, safer allergy medications. Remember to discuss this with your veterinarian.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

RENAISSANCE DOG Long Island Museum educators, from left, Lisa Unander, Emma Backfish, Beth Chiarelli, Kristin Cuomo and Jessica Pastore, pose with artist and star of the day, Dagger II, aka DogVinci, at the Stony Brook museum’s Summer Thursday event on Aug. 16. Dagger painted a work of art and then attendees created their own masterpieces to take home. Join the museum for its final Summer Thursday event of the year, a free outdoor screening of “Back to the Future,” on Sept. 6. For more information, call 631-751-0066 or visit www.longislandmuseum.org.

By Kyle Barr

Fallen U.S. Airman Christopher Raguso, who perished in a March 15 helicopter crash, promised his Commack family he would get them a dog upon his return. Although he never came home, a local organization has stepped in to fulfill his pledge.

Paws of War, a Nesconset-based nonprofit that helps connect dogs with veterans and retired law
enforcement as companion animals or to be trained as service dogs, gifted a 4-month-old black Labrador named Calvin to the family Aug. 24.

“I didn’t sleep at all last night I was so excited,” Raguso’s wife, Carmela, said. “We needed this — we’re wounded, our dad was a warrior, our hearts are broken and maybe this dog can help us.”

Carmela Raguso told her two daughters, Eva, 5, and Mila,7, when the truck rolled up it was just their family friend, Joe Bachert, a retired member of the New York City Fire Department, bringing his own dogs for them to play with. Instead, Bachert came out of the vehicle with Calvin cradled in his arms.

Eva ran forward with her arms outstretched, screaming with delight, and started to hug and kiss the young pooch. Mila asked her mother if the dog was theirs, who responded that of course he was. 

“I’ve been dreaming about this,” Eva said, as she held Calvin’s head close to hers. “I like him so much.”

Raguso’s wife said Eva took the death of her father hard. The couple’s youngest had taken to sleeping in bed with her, “to keep her father’s side of the bed warm.” Now, with the addition of Calvin, Eva said she will be sleeping in her own bed with Calvin always at her side.

“To have this dog be her buddy and especially be her sleeping buddy, maybe she’ll sleep well,” Raguso’s wife said. “It’s been tough, but we put one foot in front of the other — we honor the dead by living.”

Raguso was one of seven members of New York’s 106th Rescue Wing killed in the line of duty when a H-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed while carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. 

“One can’t even imagine what the family is going through, and we hope that this adds a little sunlight to their lives because they’ve been in darkness for some time,” said Smithtown resident Robert Misseri, a co-founder of Paws of War.

The black Lab was just one of a litter of 11 puppies that Paws of War’s sister organization and nonprofit rescue group Guardians of Rescue saved from a high-kill shelter in Louisiana, days before they would have been put down, according to Misseri. The rest of the dogs will be given to other veterans and veterans’ families either as a companion animal or be fully trained as a service dog.

The Nesconset nonprofit provided the Raguso family with a puppy starter kit that included everything from food to toys, and even a cage. Calvin is already leash trained and housebroken, and Misseri said the rest of the dog’s training will be provided for free.

“The goal is just to make their lives better and put smiles on their faces,” said Bachert, who is a member of Paws of War and served as Raguso’s drill instructor in the Commack firefighter academy.

By all accounts, Calvin was excited to be with his new family, but he was still nervous of new places. As the family tried to bring him into the house the young puppy shied away from the door. 

It was only when Eva went inside, suddenly upset by a rush of emotions, that Calvin darted after her. He instinctively knew his role with the family, to comfort them in their continued grief.

Photo courtesy of Kent Animal Shelter

MEET MACY!

Forget what you heard about Torties because there is no tortitude here! Macy is a friendly and sweet 11-month-old domestic short hair currently waiting at Kent Animal Shelter for her furever home. Folklore says that tortoise shell cats bring good luck and we certainly believe that any home with a tortie is a lucky one! Macy comes spayed, microchipped and as up to date as possible on vaccines.

Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. The adoption center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. For more information on Macy and other adoptable pets at Kent, call 631-727-5731. 

By Beverly C. Tyler

Telling stories about the men and women of the Culper Spy Ring and portraying Setauket spy leader Abraham Woodhull has been one way for me to bring local history to life for both residents and visitors to this area. Reading about the Culper spies is also important, so I have written a number of articles and recommended books that tell the story. I have recently read and enthusiastically recommend “Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” for children of all ages.

The cover of Dana Lynn Zotter’s first children’s book.

Written and illustrated by Dana Lynn Zotter, this 174-page soft-cover book tells the story of two children, Kayleigh and Connor, who spend their last week of summer vacation visiting their great-grandparents in Stony Brook who live in a historic house that holds all kinds of secrets. 

When the children find a gravestone with the name KING engraved on it in the roots of an old tree, their great-grandfather tells them that there was once a legendary spy dog named King in the area who has appeared as a ghost. The siblings meet a local boy and, as detailed on the back cover, “Three children search for the truth about ghosts, legends, and Long Island’s Culper Spies.”

Zotter has woven a delightful tale of a family and their experiences in the Long Island communities of Stony Brook, Setauket and Port Jefferson together with an accurate portrayal of the men and women involved in the Revolutionary War Culper Spy Ring. This well-crafted story vividly transports the reader to the historic hamlet of Stony Brook where the children explore their great-grandparents’ Colonial-era home and the shoreline of this picturesque community.

As Kayleigh and Connor explore, they discover mysteries connected with the house and the community, including an appearing and disappearing black dog named King. Agreeing to become detectives and follow the clues, the children discover how the Culper spies operated and how King the spy dog became an important member of the Culper Spy Ring.

Their travels take them along West Meadow Creek and as far as the Village of Port Jefferson where they meet General Lafayette on a recreated 18th-century French warship, which actually visited Greenport in 2015. At one point the children are mysteriously transported back to the Revolutionary War and join the Culper spies and King the spy dog on a brief spy adventure.

The Setauket Presbyterian Church and cemetery

“Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” features 22 illustrations, including a recipe for invisible ink and a spy code, along with a list of historic places to visit. The drawings, including one of the Setauket Presbyterian Church and cemetery, help bring the story to life without taking away from the writing, allowing readers full use of their imaginations. I enjoyed the story and easily identified with the characters. 

Dana Lynn Zotter, who describes herself as a gardener, poet, artist and finder of four-leaf clovers, has crafted a wonderful story that will delight children and make historians smile.

“Kayleigh & Conner Detectives Inc. and King The Spy Dog” is available at the Three Village Historical Society’s gift shop, 93 North Country Road, Setauket. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-751-3730 or visit www.tvhs.org.

Author Beverly C. Tyler is the Three Village Historical Society historian and pens a biweekly column in the Village Times Herald titled History Close at Hand. 

Photo courtesy of Kent Animal Shelter

This handsome man is Spencer, a 7-year-young poodle mix currently waiting to be adopted at Kent Animal Shelter. Rescued from a kill shelter in South Carolina, this friendly pup dreams of the day he will finally have a home and family of his own. Could that be with you? Spencer comes neutered, microchipped and as up to date as possible on vaccines.

Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. The adoption center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. For more information on Spencer and other adoptable pets at Kent, visit www.kentanimalshelter.com or call 631-727-5731. 

A feral cat in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

Along a right-of-way in Mount Sinai, the exact location volunteers preferred not to publicize, a number of cats stalk through the cover of tall grass on silent paws. Upon hearing human sounds, they scatter deeper into the weeds.

“Babies, babies, momma’s here,” Miller Place resident Rita Miszuk called to the wild felines as she refilled water and food trays. She said she didn’t want to give away too many specifics of the location out of fear more cats will be dropped there and left in need of care.

Miszuk is the president of Volunteers for Animal Welfare Inc., a nonprofit that aids feral cat colonies across Long Island. Her group tries to infiltrate cat communities, taking the animals to places where they can be vaccinated, spayed and neutered, often on the organization’s own dime. Miszuk said she sometimes spends thousands of dollars to humanely control the number of wild cats roaming free.

Rita Muszik, a Miller Place resident and president of Volunteers for Animal Welfare Inc. cares for feral cat communities. Photo by Kyle Barr

“There were 50 here, but we’ve gotten them down to 11 — they’re all healthy and they’re all taken care of,” Miszuk said. “This is what typical rescuers do.”

They’re not her cats, in fact they’re nobody’s cats. They’re considered “feral,” but that word belies the terrorized nature of these animals left in the wild. They’re shy, they’re alone, and there are more and more every year.

Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Chief Roy Gross estimated, using the organization’s own metrics, approximately 322,000 cats live in Suffolk County, including both feral and domesticated cats. For every four people in the county, there is approximately one cat.

The number of rescue groups, along with the amount of trap, neuter and release programs that attempt to capture these animals, care for them and sterilize them before releasing them back into their original environment, has gone up of late. Still, Gross said the problem only continues to grow as cats continue to breed and people leave unneutered cats in homes as they move away.

“The population is out of control,” Gross said. “[Rescue groups] put a dent in them, but there are just so many cats out there.”

One female cat can give birth to three litters in a year with an average litter of five. Multiply that by their offspring and one cat can become 225 in a year. Erica Kutzing, vice president of Sound Beach-based Strong Island Animal Rescue League, suggested the problem is exacerbated by the warming climate. Where cats used to become pregnant only in the summer months, she said she is now seeing pregnant cats give birth as early as March or February as they get pregnant later in the year.

“A lot of people like to say, ‘It’s not my cat,’” Kutzing said. “It’s fine that it’s not your cat, it’s not our cat either; however, if we don’t fix the problem you’re going to have a lot more ‘not my cats’ on your property.”

A number of animal shelters exist across the North Shore, and many of them host TNR programs. Kent Animal Shelter in Calverton provides spaying and neutering for $50 per cat. Sometimes if the shelter is able to secure a grant, the price can drop to $20.

“A lot of people like to say, ‘It’s not my cat. It’s fine that it’s not your cat, it’s not our cat either; however, if we don’t fix the problem you’re going to have a lot more ‘not my cats’ on your property.”

— Erica Kutzing

Some shelters are expanding their TNR capabilities. In June, the Town of Smithtown accepted a grant to build a new TNR building at the Smithtown Animal Shelter that will expand the town’s capturing capacity, as representatives of the shelter said they estimated Smithtown hosts around 30 to 40 different cat colonies. The town plans to start construction after it receives the funds in 2019, according to Smithtown spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo.

David Ceely, the executive director of Little Shelter Animal Adoption Center, which is also the managing organization for the Town of Huntington Cat Shelter, said it offers residents free TNR services to deal with feral cat communities. Still, the problem is so large Little Shelter often relies on volunteers and community members to manage cat populations.

“We’re one shelter, so to go out there and take care of all of them physically we wouldn’t be able to do it,” Ceely said. “But thankfully there are people in the community who want to do the right thing, and we want to support that.”

Otherwise getting a cat spayed and neutered could cost up to hundreds of dollars per cat, depending on the animal shelter or veterinarian. It means doing TNR on an entire colony could create an incredibly restrictive cost barrier.

“We just did 24 cats in Stony Brook and the final price was about $1,400,” Kutzing said. “That came from our own funds.”

Frankie Floridia, the president of Strong Island Animal Rescue League, said small rescue groups are not large enough to combat the problem, and there is a need for community members to get involved with their own local feral cat communities.

“We get at least 20 calls a month, such as about kittens under a deck or cats with an upper respiratory infection,” Floridia said. “We handle what we can but we’re a small organization.”

Worse still is the proliferation of cats has made the population start to seem like an infestation or a blight. This mindset has fostered an environment in which some commit horrendous crimes against cats, including maiming and torturing the animals. All cats, not just domestic cats, are considered a “companion animal” by the state.

Harming them is a Class E felony punishable with a $5,000 fine and up to two years in jail. Taking a cat to another location is considered abandonment and is a misdemeanor punishable by one year in jail or a fine up to $1,000.

Feral cats in a wooded area in Mount Sinai eyes humans entering its habitat. Photo by Kyle Barr

“There are people out there who are sadistic criminals who go out and find easy prey, generally the kittens,” Gross said. “We have had people in the past drive spikes through them, behead them, impale them, poison them — just horrible acts of animal cruelty. Some of those people are just sadistic, but in cases like poison some people just don’t like these cats roaming around on their property.”

Beyond acts of violence, many residents either don’t know what to do or don’t feel it’s their concern. If people do not interact with these community cats by either taking them to a TNR program or by feeding them, then either the cats numbers grow exponentially or they will start to die.

“Without these people who take care of the cat colonies, we would have cats starving to death,” Kutzing said. “There would just be cat bodies littered everywhere.”

Many groups and shelters like Strong Island or Little Shelter offer local residents opportunities to use their cages to trap the animals so they can later be spayed and neutered. Kutzing said if the cost prohibits a resident from acting on a cat population, they should try and get their neighbors involved and make it a community fund. After all, the community cat problem is a community issue.

“If everyone gets involved, this problem will be drastically cut,” she said.

Miszuk said while her group does what it can, she needs local businesses, residents and especially local government to step in and help, otherwise the problem will only get worse.

“This problem has been swept under the carpet,” Miszuk said. “We need support to say that we are legitimate first responders.”

Photo courtesy of Kent Animal Shelter

MEET PITA!

This handsome ball of fluff is Pita, a domestic long-hair adult cat waiting at Kent Animal Shelter for his furever home.  A staff favorite, this feisty feline has paws of gold and a sweet disposition. Pita loves to sleep in the sunny spots on the screened-in porch at the shelter and will fight any toy that crosses his path. He promises to be your furry partner in crime and a snuggle buddy on cold rainy days. Pita is looking for someone he can give all his love and affection to. Could that be you? Pita comes neutered, microchipped and as up to date as possible on vaccines.

Kent Animal Shelter is located at 2259 River Road in Calverton. The adoption center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day. For more information on Pita and other adoptable pets at Kent, visit www.kentanimalshelter.com or call 631-727-5731. 

Update: Pita has been adopted!

‘No, you ask him to refill the bird feeder ...’ Photo by Jay Gao

Jay Gao of Stony Brook captured this photo in his backyard on July 15 using a Nikon D5500. He writes, “It was in the late afternoon when we noticed these two squirrels were playing around on the  ground. Had just enough time to grab my camera and to take a couple shots before they disappeared into pine trees.”

Share your best caption for this adorable photo at leisure@tbrnewspapers.com. The reader with the most original title will be announced in the Aug. 16 issue and win a family four-pack to the children’s production of “Shrek The Musical,” now playing at the John W. Engeman Theater through Sept. 2. Open to all ages. Deadline to enter is Aug. 11. Good luck!

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