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Animals

Program aims to make dogs more adoptable

Dogs Playing for Life, a socialization program for dogs, is now being implemented at the town shelter. Photo from A.J. Carter

Dogs at the Huntington Animal Shelter will get the chance to participate in playgroups that will help them burn energy and counteract the stresses of shelter life.

The town shelter has begun implementing Dogs Playing for Life, a socialization program for shelter dogs. In addition to playgroups for the dogs, the program also helps provide better indicators for shelter staff in classifying dogs for adoption.

“Huntington is proud of our shelter and our efforts to stay at the forefront of current trends in caring for the physical and emotional needs of the dogs in our care,” Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) said in a statement. “We are excited about the potential of the Dogs Playing for Life program to stimulate dogs at the shelter and prepare them for their lives when they find new homes.”

This week, the founder of Dogs Playing for Life, Aimee Sadler and her team, began training shelter workers and volunteers in the program, according to a town statement. The training includes a classroom session and training with some of the shelter dogs. There is also a classroom presentation and demonstration for safe handling techniques during group experiences.

The Dogs Playing for Life program has its roots on Long Island, beginning at the Southampton Town Animal Shelter 17 years ago.

“Play is good for animals and people,” Sadler said in a statement. “Letting shelter dogs get together to socialize daily helps them to cope with the stressful kennel environment while waiting for someone to take them home.”

The benefits of the program include critical dog-to-dog social skills that can help postadoption in developing positive relationships, along with exercise that will help relax the dogs in their kennels when meeting people. Also, shelter staff will gain a better understanding of each dog by observing its state of play and social skills of the leash — information that can be used to make better decisions about potential adoption matches.

The program, which costs approximately $6,000, is being funded at a cost share by the town and the Huntington League for Animal Protection, whose volunteers have worked with the shelter dogs for many years.

Jane Barbato, who runs the volunteer program at the shelter for the League for Animal Protection, said, “The shelter staff and LAP volunteers already know that we have the most wonderful dogs in the world. Playing for Life gives the public the opportunity to see for themselves just how magnificent they really are — in all their glory, just doing what dogs do, reveling in their connection with each other.”

Dogs Playing for Life is the latest program implemented at the shelter in an effort to help dogs find new homes and help with basic socialization training.

The town is planning on chronicling the progress of the program in online videos told through the eyes of Dixie, a pit bull mix at the shelter.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I recently read an article in Time magazine entitled, “The Mystery of Animal Grief” and found it fascinating. The author, Jeffrey Kluger, referenced evidence that crows and elephants hold “wakes” for their fallen mates, and female chimpanzees have been known to carry their dead young sometimes as long as two months. This forced me to ponder the fact that as much as I know how people feel about their pets dying, how do pets in the household feel? And how can we get them through the grief?

Yes, it is proven that dogs and cats grieve after the loss of both another pet and a human owner. However, dogs and cats see this loss as more of a change in the dynamic of the pack or pride. If we can understand that concept, it will make it not only easier to tolerate their behavior but help them through this difficult time as well. Remember, we are grieving also; behaviors that do not make sense to us might make us less patient during these stressful times, as well as create lifelong behavioral issues for our pets.

The biggest mistake made in interpreting (or misinterpreting) any animal behavior is anthropomorphizing. Anthropomorphizing refers to giving human characteristics to things not human. Dogs and cats are not furry little humans, and we should not expect them to act as such. When dogs and cats grieve, it is usually for a much shorter period of time (sometimes as little as 3 to 5 days), and, in some cases, they do not grieve at all. If the pet that has passed was the dominant partner, the surviving pet may have been repressed (and now suddenly thrives). Do not resent this lack of remorse but rather realize what stress this pet was going through up until this time. Also, the more dominant pet may show no grief and this is normal also.

What to do? In the immediate aftermath, let the pet grieve. If your dog or cat is still eating/drinking normally and somewhat active, give him or her 3 to 5 days to adjust to the change in the “family” dynamic. In cases of severe grief, positive training may be the release he or she needs.

Positive training is really just setting aside some time for activity or interaction at the same time every day either with the guidance of a certified trainer or just the two of you. Positive training could be long walks, trips to the park for off-leash exercise, playing with toys (if your pet is more active),  short walks to the mailbox or grooming/massage (if your pet is less active). In rare cases, medications like anti-depressants are necessary.

What about adding a new pet? It is recommended to not replace a deceased pet immediately. Many dogs and cats are just as happy to live out the rest of their lives with just humans, so it may not be necessary to get a new pet. If you do decide to get a new dog or cat, make sure that you know the new pet will get along with the existing one. Consider getting a new pet of opposite gender even if the previous one was of the same. This will help to reduce the risk of fighting.

It is never easy to lose a member of the family, but I hope this article gives some general information on both the way that pets grieve as well as how to help them through this difficult process. Remember, each case is different, so consult your veterinarian for specific questions or concerns.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 17 years.

The Huntington Historical Society hosted its annual Sheep to Shawl Festival on May 3, giving locals a fun and fascinating look at colonial life. It featured real sheep-shearing and had demonstrators in colonial costume sharing their knowledge and assisting visitors in carding, spinning, knitting and weaving. There was also live music and colonial-era games. Children experienced different aspects of colonial life, including the process of how sheep wool goes from the animals to fabric — from sheep to shawl.

Tommy the chimp looks through his cage upstate. Photo from Nonhuman Rights Project

A state judge is ordering Stony Brook University to give its two lab chimpanzees a chance at freedom.

State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Jaffe called on the university to appear in court on May 27 and justify why it should not have to release its laboratory apes Hercules and Leo to a Florida sanctuary. The decision came 16 months after the Florida-based Nonhuman Rights Project filed a lawsuit in Suffolk County seeking to declare chimps as legal persons.

The judge ordered the school to show cause on behalf of the animals, to which SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. and the university must respond with legally sufficient reasons for detaining them. The order did not necessarily declare the chimpanzees were legal persons, but did open the door for that possibility if the university does not convince the court otherwise.

“The university does not comment on the specifics of litigation, and awaits the court’s full consideration on this matter,” said Lauren Sheprow, spokeswoman for Stony Brook University.

The Nonhuman Rights Project welcomed the move in a press release issued last Monday.

“These cases are novel and this is the first time that an order to show cause has [been] issued,” the group said in a statement. “We are grateful for an opportunity to litigate the issue of the freedom of the chimpanzees, Hercules and Leo, at the ordered May hearing.”

The project had asked the court that Hercules and Leo be freed and released into the care of Save the Chimps, a Florida sanctuary in Ft. Pierce. There, they would spend the rest of their lives primarily on one of 13 artificial islands on a large lake along with 250 other chimpanzees in an environment as close to that of their natural home in Africa as can be found in North America, the group said.

The court first ordered the school to show cause and writ of habeas corpus  — a command to produce the captive person and justify their detention — but struck out the latter on April 21, one day after releasing the initial order, making it a more administrative move simply prompting the university to defend why it detains the animals.

In an earlier press release from 2013, the Nonhuman Rights Project said the chimpanzee plaintiffs are “self-aware” and “autonomous” and therefore should have the same rights as humans. The two plaintiffs, Hercules and Leo, are currently being used in a locomotion research experiment in the Department of Anatomical Sciences at Stony Brook University.

Sheprow confirmed in 2013 that researchers in the Department of Anatomical Sciences were studying the chimpanzees at the Stony Brook Division of Laboratory Animal Resources, which is accredited by the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care International and overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The project’s initial lawsuit also defended another set of chimpanzees from upstate New York, Tommy and Kiko. State Supreme Court Justice W. Gerard Asher of Riverhead initially declined to sign the project’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus in 2013, which the group unsuccessfully appealed soon after.

The pups at Comsewogue Public Library’s inaugural Pet Adoption Fair couldn’t stop wagging their tails on April 25. Community members came out to pet their soft fur and get some kisses on a beautiful spring Saturday.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

In our previous article we discussed predisposing factors to obesity such as breed, spay/neuter status, age and underlying disease. This article will focus on a brief overview of tackling the obesity problem. The short answer here is there is no magic bullet for weight loss, but rather the same answer there is for humans: diet and exercise. With that said let’s take a closer look at that and give some more specific recommendations.
Diet:    In a veterinary article I recently read, management of obesity in dogs and cats is as easy as following the three A’s: awareness, accurate accounting and assessment.

Awareness refers not only to coming to terms with obesity in your pet but also certain risks as well (breed, spay/neuter status, etc.). How does one identify obesity in a pet? Usually it’s a vet (the bad guy) that hints at the fact that Spike has gotten a little husky or Fifi a little fluffy. However, you can actually assess your own pet at home. Just go online and look up “Body Conditioning Score,” or “BCS” for short. If, after reviewing information online you are still unsure, I would recommend scheduling an appointment to consult with your veterinarian.

Accurate accounting may be the hardest thing (for us as pet owners) to face.  Food can be an act of bonding not only with other people but also with our pets.  We had one pet owner at our clinic with an obese dog she swore was only getting its food and no extra snacks or table food. After a bit of investigation I found out that the owner loved to cook and the dog was the “official taster” for every meal.  No table food meant no food directly from the table. This was a smart woman, but she felt that the dog would no longer love her if she took this bonding moment away. Unfortunately, this also meant the dog would soon have to be rolled into the clinic and not walk in under its own power.

To make life a little easier, there is a way to actually calculate calorie requirements by using a calculation called the Resting Energy Requirements, or RER for short. The RER is a starting point, and then in conjunction with your veterinarian or a veterinary nutritionist you can calculate how much food to give at each meal. After accurately calculating how much food your dog needs for the whole day, you can break that up into as many meals as you’d like. It has been found that it is more effective to feed at least two and up to four smaller meals a day to lose weight than to free feed (fill up the bowl).

Treats also have calories and should not exceed 10 percent of the diet. There are now low-calorie treats available both commercially and as prescription low-calorie treats through your veterinarian.

Lastly, in terms of assessment, it is important to either weigh your pet at home or bring your pet to your veterinarian’s office for a weight (this helps with consistency especially for larger pets). We encourage pet owners with obese pets trying to lose weight to bring their pets in (at no charge) to be weighed.

Exercise: Exercise is key to good health for many reasons: It helps to maintain and strengthen muscle, it promotes cardiovascular health, it provides mental stimulation, and it increases energy expenditure and fat oxidation.

Obese dogs should be given low-impact cardiovascular exercise (a longer walk or swimming rather than chasing a ball) to avoid heat stroke or injury.

Obese indoor-only cats should have their play geared toward outdoor hunting and playing behaviors (climbing, balancing, scratching). Toys work well for some cats, while others prefer cat trees or play stations.  Interactive toys with the owner are best (especially for single-cat households) to lose weight, as well as promote bonding with the owner.

I hope that this series of articles will help to make our pets the healthiest and happiest pets ever this summer.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years.

File photo

Suffolk County Police arrested two men and charged them with aggravated animal cruelty after retrieving a pair of badly injured dogs from a Huntington yard in “squalid” condition last Thursday, police said.

The men, Errol James, 55, of Denmark Court in Huntington and Derrick Simon, 54, of Nostrand Avenue in Central Islip, were arrested and charged with torturing and injuring animals. Police said the two dogs were kept at James’ home in “squalid and unsanitary conditions with no food or water,” and in a kennel “contaminated with feces and debris.”

When Huntington Town Animal Shelter Director Jerry Mosca got to the scene, he said he observed the two dogs, a female German shepherd and a male black and white pit bull, “killing each other in the backyard.” Shelter officials took the dogs to an animal hospital in Northport.

“I don’t know how you can come home, no matter who you are as a human being, to see the shape these dogs are in and actually live with yourself,” Mosca said. “I just don’t. I don’t get it.”

The pit bull’s ear was torn off, and an eye was punctured, and it had lacerations all over its face and body, Mosca said. The German shepherd had puncture wounds all over its legs and torso, severe ear infections and was “bleeding profusely,” he said.

“Just both of them were in very poor shape, dirty, feces on them.” Mosca said.

As of Wednesday, the dogs were back in the shelter and were doing much better and are showing signs of being friendly with humans, he said.

“They’re healing up great. They’re really showing signs of being healthy.”

The two men were arraigned on Friday. Larry Flowers, a Huntington attorney representing James, had no comment. Attorney information for Simon was not available.

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Councilwoman Lynne Nowick is the town board liaison to the Smithtown Animal Shelter. File photo

Their calls for change helped spark the formation of an expert-led animal shelter advisory board, but Smithtown residents still said they felt excluded from the process.

Several residents have flanked each town board meeting over the last several months with aggressive calls for change at the Smithtown Animal Shelter. In response, Town Councilwoman Lynne Nowick (R) announced a new advisory board back in February, soon after taking on the shelter liaison role from Councilman Bob Creighton (R), which included the shelter’s 30-year Director George Beatty, animal welfare experts Lucille DeFina and Diane Madden, and animal welfare attorney Elizabeth Stein. But residents still confronted Nowick at last Thursday’s town board meeting demanding answers as to why there was no Smithtown-based spokesperson involved.

Angela Cano, a Smithtown resident, was only one of several residents to call on Nowick to give Smithtown natives a seat at the advisory table to help shape the shelter’s future. She thanked Nowick for assembling the board, but spoke as a member of a Smithtown mothers’ Facebook group in saying she and her neighbors felt shut out of the process.

“They feel very strongly that while we are thankful for the women on the advisory board, we feel at least one resident should be more involved in what is going on in the shelter,” she said. “There are thousands of people backing that up.”

Nowick defended the advisory board and said they were already making great strides toward addressing accusations and concerns over animal neglect and institutional failure under Beatty’s watch.

“There is a Smithtown resident on the board,” Nowick said, causing a brief moment of confusion throughout the room. “I am a lifetime resident of Smithtown. I believe I have an advisory board that is working.”

Nowick said the board was looking to meet every two weeks until tangible changes are enacted, and each step of the decision-making process would be done publicly.

Liz Downey, a volunteer Humane Society district leader in the state’s 1st Congressional District, defended the advisory group as proof that Smithtown and its elected leaders were serious about shelter reform. She asked the residents of the community to embrace the board and stand behind Nowick rather than challenge her.

“The Smithtown Animal Shelter has already taken the unprecedented step of appointing an advisory council comprised of known animal advocates,” she said. “This is a step that other shelters do not take, proving that the Smithtown Animal Shelter is serious about making changes. Now is the time for advocates who brought the issue to light to roll up their sleeves and work with the council as it reviews, recommends and institutes a plan that better serves the animal[s] moving forward.”

Town Councilman Tom McCarthy (R) also stood behind his colleague and said the town was doing whatever it needed to do to make sure the shelter stepped up its game to the satisfaction of its own animal advocates.
“Everyone on this board is committed to make it a state-of-the-art, best animal shelter on Long Island,” he said.

Currently, Nowick said the town’s Parks Department was working with the town board and Supervisor Patrick Vecchio (R) to help shelter volunteers keep the space clean. She also said any residents who felt they were being disenfranchised from the process could give her office a call at any time to brainstorm potential ideas, or check in on the progress of her advisory board.

“When the board was formed, I didn’t say, ‘Where do you live?’” Nowick said. “I said, ‘What is your background?’ I have faith in the board. They’re doing the job.”

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Suffolk County Legislator Rob Trotta with his dog Buddy. Photo from Susan Eckert

By Jenni Culkin

Suffolk County Legislator Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) will be holding a food drive for pet food in his office from now until Thursday, April 30.

Donations will be accepted during the normal business hours of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on the normal business days of Monday through Friday.

The drive is going to bring pet food to the Harry Chapin Food Bank so that those who are assisted by the food bank can feed their pets as well as themselves.

Trotta also said he believes that pets can be an extremely important part of people’s lives, especially when they’re down on their luck.

“Pets keep many people going, giving them comfort and a reason to survive in difficult times,” said Trotta.
Trotta himself has a dog named Buddy.

The office is currently accepting donations of canned and dry cat or dog food, dog treats, birdseed, fish food, kitty litter and small toys that are unused.

According to Long Island Cares, the organization that runs the food bank, dog and cat food are items with high demand because the costs of heating a home, buying medications, paying the bills, and putting food on the table prevent some people with financial hardships from properly caring for their pets without assistance.

Long Island Cares has been providing pet food for its clients since 2009. There is hope that the people of Suffolk County can continue the pet food donation trend well into this frigid winter over five years later.

Donations can be dropped off at 59 Landing Ave. in Smithtown throughout the duration of the drive, Trotta said.