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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

I thought it a good time to recycle an article that is appropriate for this time of year. Here are a few tips to make sure this and every Halloween is a safe and happy one.

Candy and chocolate poisoning

Chocolate is dangerous for two reasons. The first is that it contains two chemicals — caffeine and theobromine, which are stimulants in the methylxanthine class. White chocolate contains almost none of these compounds and baking chocolate has the highest concentrations. 

Symptoms begin within 6 to 12 hours after ingestion and include panting, hyperactivity, increased thirst and urination. High concentrations lead to irregular heart rhythms, seizures, coma and death. There are specific toxic levels for all pets but, just like people, some dogs and cats can be very sensitive to chocolate and show signs of poisoning from much lesser amounts.  

Chocolate is also very high in sugar and fat. Minimally this could cause some mild diarrhea, but I have personally seen a few cases of serious gastroenteritis, pancreatitis and liver disease from ingestion of large amounts of chocolate and other candy.

Unfortunately, dogs and cats (especially young ones) will be more interested in eating their costume than wearing it. I have both experienced, as well as heard from colleagues, stories of pulling out portions of a witch’s nose, small scarecrow teddy bears, etc. The wrappers from candy can sometimes get wadded up in the stomach or small intestines and either cause intense pain or unavoidable (and expensive) surgery. Corn cobs used as decorations should also be out of reach of curious (and hungry pets). As much as you want the house to look festival, make sure to keep all holiday items out of reach of pets. 

Fears and phobias

Talk to your veterinarian if your pet is afraid of loud noises or large numbers of people coming to the door. Many times a calming supplement or mild tranquilizer sedative is all that is needed to get through Halloween, but always have your pet examined by the veterinarian (especially older pets) before administering these medications. Tranquilizers will cause a drop in blood pressure, which in healthy pets is not a problem but in older or diseased pets can be dangerous (even life-threatening in some cases).  

Malicious injuries

Be aware (especially with cats that go outside) that they are in for the night early. Unfortunately, we do see malicious acts toward animals increase on this particular holiday.  

I hope this information is helpful in providing a safe Halloween environment for our pets.  

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

A popular Sound Beach event for a good cause took place Sept. 22, but this year it was renamed to honor a late friend and participant.

For the sixth time, the Sound Beach Civic Association hosted its pet adopt-a-thon in the parking lot of the Hartlin Inn on New York Avenue, during which representatives from local animal groups and shelters set up shop and push for the adoption of dogs, cats and more looking for permanent homes. During adopt-a-thons past, Sound Beach father-daughter duo Sal and Gina Mingoia provided the musical accompaniment to the event, singing and playing instruments throughout the day. This year, Gina had to perform without her dad, who died after a battle with cancer in 2017. This year and going forward, the event will be known as The Sal Mingoia Pet Adopt-A-Thon.

“Sal loved animals, and everybody loved Sal,” said Bea Ruberto, Sound Beach Civic Association president and organizer of the event. “So we checked with the family to see if it was OK with them. They said great, they loved it, so that’s why we changed the name. And that’s what it’s going to be named from now on.”

Sal Mingoia was described as a gentle, caring soul by civic association member and Sound Beach resident Ernestine Franco.

“Although he’s gone, Sal’s kindness and generosity are not forgotten,” she said.

The event always leads to the adoption of quite a few animals, according to Ruberto, who said this year four cats, three dogs and a guinea pig were adopted, though applications are pending for the adoption of eight more cats and six other dogs. More than $1,100 was raised through donations and auction items, as well as from the sale of digital pet caricatures done on-site at the event by 19-year-old Sound Beach resident Brianna Florio using a drawing tablet. Funds raised were distributed to the animal organizations in attendance.

Ruberto credited volunteers and civic members for helping to set up and execute the event and gave special thanks to Boy Scout Troop 244 for helping to set up. A local band called Random Notes even showed up unexpectedly and offered to take turns with Gina providing music for the event, Ruberto said.

“Over the time that I’ve been involved with this event, I’ve never had to really go looking for people to step up and help — they just show up and offer their time and talent,” Ruberto said.

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They are a surprise to behold, the wildlife in the suburbs. When I was growing up in New York City, the extent of the animal population consisted of pigeons and squirrels in the park. So I marvel at Long Island’s Canadian geese, rabbits, squirrels, ducks, swans, seagulls, ospreys, raccoons and deer going about their business alongside us as we humans go about ours.

Sometimes they are beautiful to watch.

On one road I frequently use, the geese will cross to the other side, holding up traffic as they do. Drivers slow to a stop and watch as the geese unhurriedly walk single file before them. Interestingly one of the geese stands in the middle of the road in front of the line of march, a sentinel protecting the rest. Only after the last one crosses does the lookout then join on the end. These geese are definitely traffic savvy, patiently waiting on the edge of the grass and avoiding the cars as they speed by, awaiting an opening before they start to cross.

My son likes to watch the ducks swimming along, one behind the other, and wonders aloud if there is a pecking order to the line. We also marvel at the birds in strict formation when they begin to migrate.

We have a wacky rabbit that lives on our property and races the car down the driveway as we arrive home. One of these days, we are going to have rabbit stew if it isn’t careful. There are gorgeous butterflies occasionally, rising together like an umbrella of color when startled, and the buzzing bees encourage the likelihood of pollination.

The other day, as I was driving along a waterside road, two deer, one in front of the other, rushed out of the wetland grass in front of my car, crossed the road, gracefully jumped the post-and-rail fence on the opposite side and raced up the hill until they were hidden in some trees. It was a heart-stopping moment because they had come close. They were also so lyrical in their movements, their russet bodies glistening in the sunlight, that they took my breath away.

We have a woodpile that is visible from the windows on one side of the house, and early each day, it seems, there is a squirrel that runs back and forth, bushy tail held high, across the chopped logs. We have named him Jack and conjectured that he is doing his morning exercises. Later, he can be seen leaping from limb to limb among the lush trees, the ultimate gymnast gathering nuts, I suppose, for his meals.

Early in our lives here, we used to see an occasional red fox and sometimes plump pheasants, but I haven’t seen those in a long while. I do know when there is a skunk nearby, and should we just once leave the garbage cans unfastened, we are aware we would be visited by raccoons.

The variety of songbirds is lovely. In addition to the mockingbird, the cardinal and the blue jay, those little brown birds are loud and numerous. A pair of ospreys apparently have made a huge nest nearby because we can see them soaring high above. Ditto for the seagulls, crying out to each other as they glide on an air current looking for dinner.

It surprises me that the dogs in the neighborhood coexist so peacefully with the rest of the animal kingdom here. Yes, they will occasionally chase a rabbit, almost as a duty, but not for long. And they will bark at a chipmunk as it scurries along but not in any sort of vicious way. I suppose that means they are well fed by their owners. The cats, however, are a different story. We’ve got one on the block that’s a real hunter, a lion in miniature.

The cliché is that the suburbs are sterile places, but they certainly are more interesting for their variety of natural life than the pigeons I used to be thrilled by as they landed on the fire escapes and city windowsills. To take just a few moments from an otherwise busy day, draw a deep breath, and enjoy the beauty of living beings around us this summer is a pleasure we should allow ourselves.

Chelsea Brownridge, co-founder of DogSpot, demonstrates the unit with her dog. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

By Sara-Megan Walsh

Travelers are used to parking their car, but few have likely thought about parking their dog.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum in Centerport will be the first place on Long Island to host a DogSpot, a smart dog house where pet owners can make sure man’s best friend has a comfortable place to rest while they take in the museum’s exhibits.

“I’ve always felt bad turning away people who weren’t aware they couldn’t bring a dog onto the property even though we have 43 acres,” said Lance Reinheimer, executive director of the Vanderbilt Museum.

In recent years, Reinheimer said he has seen a growing number of visitors who want to bring their canine companions with them while traveling. Unfortunately, this poses a number of issues for the museum, according to the executive director, due to the delicate nature of its exhibits, the Vanderbilt mansion and the potential issues that could arise between dogs and other guests.

A look inside DogSpot’s smart dog house. Photo by Sara-Megan Walsh

Chelsea Brownridge, co-founder of DogSpot, said her smart dog house was designed to offer businesses an alternative to turning away potential customers, or guests, and their four-legged friends.

“We started this company with the mission of giving people a safe way to lead active lives with their dogs,” she said. “They now have a safe alternative to tying them up, as you see in walkable communities, or leaving them in the car.”

Brownridge said a DogSpot modular dog house is made of veterinarian-grade, nonporous plastic fully ventilated with air conditioning to control the temperature. Pet owners can call the museum in advance to reserve the kennel for up to 90 minutes at a time.

“The summer months are a great time to start doing this, as this time of year it gets more dangerous to leave your dog in the car,” she said.

The housing units also contain an ultraviolet sanitation light, built into the roof, that zaps the unit between uses to eliminate any germs or bacteria, according to Brownridge, to prevent the spread of communicable diseases like kennel cough. It is also serviced once per day, cleaned inside and out by hand to remove any muddy paw prints or dog hair.

Reinheimer said the smart dog house will be installed near the museum’s gatehouse, adjacent to the parking lot, as the building is manned round the clock by personnel. That way, if a dog needs help or is in distress,
museum staff will have a way to access the unit and help the animal.

I think it would probably do well in Northport and give people in town something to talk about.”
– Flemming Hansen

Pet owners can download the DogSpot app on their smartphone, allowing them to view their dog through the dog house’s webcam to check in. There is a 24/7 hotline where users can report any problems, such as a malfunctioning air conditioner or a lost key card.

“Each house is internet connected, so we can handle a number of issues remotely including checking the temperature and unlocking it if necessary,” Brownridge said.

There have been 50 DogSpot houses deployed across Brooklyn outside grocery stores, restaurants and coffee shops as part of a pilot program for the last two years. The company’s co-founder said it went well, but they have temporarily been pulled as they work with city officials to figure out long-term rules and regulations.

“We are currently expanding on Long Island and other places on private properties,” Brownridge said.

One Northport business owner, Flemming Hansen of Copenhagen Bakery & Café, said he already has an interest in having a unit outside his shop. Hansen said he gets a lot of customers who come by with dogs, that cannot be allowed to enter the bakery.

“A lot of people are very protective of their dogs and treat them like a child, they are part of the family,” he said. “I think it would probably do well in Northport and give people in town something to talk about.”

Aging isn’t for sissies. We’ve all heard that line before and it also applies to our pets, our cats and dogs, our horses and so forth. Teddy is our only pet, a golden retriever with a square head, a pug nose, expressive brown eyes and an affable disposition. He has lived with us since he was 8 weeks, and in June he will turn 12.

It’s hard for us to see him getting old. He is totally deaf now and only knows we are there when we touch him. Then he will be startled as he whips his head around to see us and slowly wags his tail as if to say, “Oh, I know you, I’m safe with you.” He has serious cataracts that interfere with his vision, and he is beginning to bump into the corners of furniture. He’s gone white around his muzzle, although the changeover from light blond isn’t so dramatic. And while he still can find his way back to the front door after he’s gone out, he occasionally wanders aimlessly inside the house. Sometimes he just sits and stares at a wall. Yet most of the time, he is his usual self, putting his head in each of our laps in turn as we sit in the living room and nuzzling us with love.

Worst of all, for no reason we can discern, he will begin a chorus of howling. It’s a curious chain of sounds, starting at a high pitch and dropping down until it is wolverine, coming from deep in his throat. He throws his head back when he howls, much like the wolves I saw in the Oregon Zoo in Portland. Maybe it’s the equivalent of a primordial scream, or maybe he is communing with his ancestors, telling them he is on his way. It brings us to tears.

My sons tell me we should have cataract surgery for him on one eye to enable him at least to see better.

“You’d be howling, too, if you couldn’t see or hear,” they argue. Of course they have a point. But I am afraid, afraid of what Teddy’s reaction to the anesthetic might be, afraid to send him to a place of unfamiliarity, afraid to subject him to invasive procedure.

To further complicate the picture, he has had a seizure. We saw the whole thing. It happened only 10 minutes after the last of our dinner company had left a few weeks ago. He was laying down on his side in his familiar station near the front door when suddenly his legs started flailing at the air, he began panting and saliva started to bubble from his mouth. All we could do was look on in horror for the short time that it lasted. When it was over he became uncharacteristically aggressive for a couple of minutes. Then his breathing slowly returned to normal, and he started walking from room to room. After perhaps 15 more minutes, while we watched with concern, he sauntered over to his food bowl as if nothing had happened and began eating all his dinner, finishing up with a noisy slug of water. Finally he spun around, plopped down and looked at us as if to say, “Why are you following me?”

We called the vet, who seemed much more sanguine than we were and assured us that this sometimes happens to pets, although it had not happened to any of our preceding three dogs. She put him on meds to prevent another seizure.

What followed was a trial-and-error course of medication that alternately left Teddy so wobbly that he could barely step off the porch and caused him to sleep constantly, or wound him up so that he howled intermittently through the night, needing reassurance each time that we were there. It was like having a newborn baby in the house demanding multiple feedings.

We’ve finally gotten the right medicines to the right level and life is almost back to normal, but the questions remain: What to do next, and when to do it?

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There are several boarding options for pets during the holidays.

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

No matter which holiday you celebrate this time of year there is one thing common to us all: travel. Whether we travel for a day or for over a week, this means figuring out what to do with the four-legged family members.

Bringing your pet with you

This can be as easy as loading Fluffy or Fido in the car or as complicated as figuring out how to travel by air. If traveling by air, make sure to contact the airline you plan to use first. Certain requirements include: cost of travel (do you have to pay for a full seat or just a small additional fee), health certificate (usually within two weeks of travel), vaccines and whether the airline allows you to sedate your pet for travel.

Getting a pet sitter

This can be a touchy subject as I’ve heard stories of dream pet sitters, stories of nightmare pet sitters and everything in between. Most times using a family member, friend or neighbor is the best choice. If you decide to look for a pet sitter online, make sure to set up an interview beforehand to check if the pet sitter is associated with any pet sitter associations or any state or local trade associations. An interview also gives you a chance to ask for references.

Boarding facilities

There are many boarding choices nowadays, and it can be difficult to choose which is best for you and your pet. One hopes that nothing bad will happen to our pets, but it is good to know how the facility will handle an emergency if it happens. It is best to visit the boarding facility ahead of time to check for cleanliness and orderliness, as well as find out what kind of relationship the boarding facility has with a veterinarian. 

Our boarding facility is literally attached to the animal hospital, so we have a veterinarian on premises every day (including Sundays). Other boarding facilities have a veterinarian that visits every day, and some only have a relationship with a veterinarian if your pet is injured or showing symptoms of illness. 

Additionally, when boarding at any facility, there are certain vaccines that are required by law including distemper, Bordatella (kennel cough) and rabies for dogs and distemper and rabies for cats. This may mean making an appointment with your veterinarian before dropping your pet off at the boarding facility.

Dr. Kearns and his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.
Dr. Kearns and his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.

I hope that this information is helpful and remember to start early in making arrangements for either a pet sitter or boarding.  The end of year holidays are the busiest time for pet boarding.

I want to wish all of the readers of this column both a safe and joyous holiday season and happy 2017. I also want to thank both Heidi Sutton and the staff of the Arts and Lifestyles section, as well as all the staff of the Times Beacon Record and affiliates for another great year.

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

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Halloween is a fun time of dressing up in costumes and getting a whole bunch of free candy. I’ve even taken to dressing up Jasmine, our Labrador retriever, in new costumes every year. Here are a few tips to make sure this and every Halloween is a safe and happy one for your pets.

Candy and chocolate poisoning

Chocolate is more poisonous to pets than any other candy.
Chocolate is more poisonous to pets than any other candy.

Chocolate is dangerous for two reasons. First, it contains the chemicals caffeine and theobromine. Both of these are stimulants in the methylxanthine class. Halloween is one of the few times a large bowl of candies, many containing chocolate, would be left out. Signs usually begin within 6 to 12 hours after ingestion and include panting, hyperactivity, increased thirst and urination. Severe cases lead to irregular heart rhythms, seizures, coma and death. Second, chocolate is very high in sugar and fat. Most cases will only give your pet a tummy ache. However, I have personally seen a few cases of serious gastroenteritis (vomiting and diarrhea), pancreatitis and liver disease from ingestion of large amounts of chocolate and other candy.

Stomach and intestinal obstructions

Dogs and cats (especially young ones) are more likely to eat a costume than wear it. I have both seen and heard from colleagues pulling out portions of a witch’s nose, small scarecrow teddy bears, etc. Anything with stringy attachments or tinsel are potential obstructions for cats. Candy wrappers and packaging can become wadded up in the stomach or small intestines. Any of these items will cause intense pain and vomiting or avoidable (and expensive) surgery. As much as we want to make ourselves or the house look scary, please make sure to keep all things out of reach of curious pets.

Fears and phobias

Consult with your veterinarian if your pet is afraid of loud noises or many people coming to the door. There are a few cases where we have instituted anti-anxiety medications weeks before Halloween. However, many times a mild tranquilizer is all that is needed for the single holiday. Always have your pet examined by the veterinarian (especially older pets) before administering these medications.

Malicious injuries

Make sure your pets (especially with cats that go outside) are in for the night early. Unfortunately, we do see malicious acts toward animals increase on this particular holiday. I hope this information is helpful in providing a safe Halloween environment for our pets.

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office.

Nunu wants a home outside the town animal shelter. Photo from Brookhaven Town

The town animal shelter is now open every day as part of an effort to get more dogs and cats adopted.

Supervisor Ed Romaine said the expanded hours would make it more convenient for people to visit the shelter in Brookhaven hamlet, which is located on Horseblock Road.

The Brookhaven Town Animal Shelter and Adoption Center is now open Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-451-6950 or visit www.brookhaven.org/animalshelter.

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The Comsewogue Public Library held its second Pet Adoption Fair on April 23, showcasing several animals from local shelters who are looking for adoptive homes.

Save-A-Pet Animal Rescue and Adoption Center, Brookhaven Animal Shelter, Grateful Paw Cat Shelter, Live Love Bark, the Long Island Parrot Society and other animal organizations brought some of their furry friends to the fair.

There were dogs of different ages and breeds greeting people inside the library, bringing light to a rainy day.

Harborfields students Kaylee Perkowski, Alissa Barber, Allison Walkley, Ariella Walker and Emma Riley pose with donations they collected for local animal shelters. Photo from Daniel Barrett

Students at Harborfields High School believe ’tis the season to show your furry friends some extra love.

Pascal is a Pointer mix that the students of Harborfields are sponsoring. Photo from Little Shelter
Pascal is a Pointer mix that the students of Harborfields are sponsoring. Photo from Little Shelter

Members of the Global Justice Club and the Forensics Club are working together to raise money and collect donations for Little Shelter, Huntington Animal Shelter and Grateful Paw Cat Shelter, as well as spread the word on why adopting is better than shopping for a new pet.

Students collected pet supplies including food, treats, toys, litter, blankets and more. They have also raised about $200 by selling “opt to adopt” bracelets and pens, and plan to use the money to sponsor animals at the shelters, including Pascal from Little Shelter, a 12-year-old Pointer mix who needs a home.

“There are so many pets bought this time of year for the holidays, and while it’s true that a dog or cat make a great gift and provide so much joy to a family, there are lots of homeless pets waiting in our local shelters that would love to become part of a forever home,” Daniel Barrett, advisor of the Forensics Club, said in an email.

Pascal is a Pointer mix that the students of Harborfields are sponsoring. Photo from Little Shelter
Pascal is a Pointer mix that the students of Harborfields are sponsoring. Photo from Little Shelter

Students Allison Walkley and Ariella Walker said it’s necessary for kids within the community to educate themselves about the importance of supporting their local shelters.

“Animals play a huge part in so many of our lives,” the girls said in a shared email statement on Monday morning. “They’re our companions and our family, but some animals out there don’t have a loving home. They’ve been thrown out on streets or they’ve been abused and neglected. The shelters are the orphanages for these animals, but so many don’t have enough funding or supplies to take in all the helpless dogs and cats.”

The Harborfields students will be collecting donations until Saturday, Dec. 19, when they will bring all the donations and money collected to the shelters.

Little Shelter is a no-kill, nonprofit animal shelter located on Warner Road in Huntington. It was established in 1927.

According to its website, it is Long Island’s oldest humane organization.

Huntington Animal Shelter and Grateful Paw Cat Shelter share a location on Deposit Road in East Northport, and both work with the Town of Huntington and the League for Animal Protection, Inc. LAP is a nonprofit organization established in 1973. Grateful Paw focuses on cat and kitten adoptions and has a spaying/neutering program.

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