Authors Posts by Matthew Kearns

Matthew Kearns


Poor air quality can be dangerous for pets too. Pixabay photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

The Canadian Forest fires are still burning and there are recommendations to stay inside. The good news is that the smoke associated with forest fires do not contain harmful gases and compounds in high concentrations as compared to a housefire. This does not mean that the smoke is not harmful, just less harmful. How does smoke and poor air quality affect our pets? Let’s use this article to explore this.

Fine particulates associated with forest fires can damage the airway starting at the larynx (voicebox) all the way down to the lungs. These particles (especially if they contained chemicals like plastics, etc) can cause inflammation that will decrease clearance, cause tissue sloughing, promote small clot formation, and lead to edema. Edema is a diffuse accumulation of fluid within the tissue itself. This edema can narrow the diameter of trachea, or windpipe, as well as cause fluid to settle in the lung tissue itself. 

A secondary complication to this tissue damage and edema is the risk of secondary infections. Bacteria will take advantage of this temporary breakdown in the immune system and cause bacterial bronchitis and pneumonia.

 The first gas to consider in any fire is carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is in higher concentration in any fire. Carbon monoxide is such a dangerous compound because it competes with oxygen to bind with hemoglobin on red blood cells. As a matter of fact, hemoglobin has an affinity of 200-300 times more for carbon monoxide than oxygen. This means red blood cells can carry less oxygen and, when red blood cells can carry less oxygen, less oxygen gets to vital tissues. At the cellular level low oxygen levels leads to cell death and the release of all sorts of cytokines, or inflammatory chemicals. This leads to more cell death and entire organ systems shut down. This happens very, very quickly.

The treatment of choice with any airway injury secondary to smoke inhalation is to move our pets out of contact with the smoke. If breathing is labored then oxygen is either just as important, or a close second. Other treatments are what are called symptomatic, or based on symptoms if they present themselves. If there is coughing, cough suppressants are used. If there is wheezing, anti-inflammatories and antibiotics are used.

Once again, the good news is the poor air quality secondary to these fires presents less dangerous symptoms. However, try to keep your pets inside during these poor air quality days and bring your pet immediately to your veterinarian if any symptoms of respiratory distress occur.

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

METRO photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

The first week of May is National Pet Week and it reminds us to spend a little more time with our pets. While my sister, Jenevieve, was spending time with her cats and talking to me on the phone she used the word “zoomies.” It was the first time I heard the word and she was describing a brief burst of energy. Her cat, Saulie, was running around the room chasing who knows what. My sister was very amused. 

Turns out that zoomies are not only fun to watch, but also could be good for our pet’s health. A study from the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that just 75 minutes of moderate exercise per week, or 11 minutes per day can help all sorts of medical conditions in humans including depression, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. The same is true for our pets.

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Pet obesity in America is a problem. It is estimated that 35-50% of pets are considered obese. Obesity has been linked to arthritis, respiratory issues, diabetes and other diseases. Exercise reduces weight, increases ranges of motion, and improves pet mental health acting as a bonding experience. In one study, exercising your dog 30 minutes per day has been shown to decrease compulsive disorders such as tail chasing, excessive licking, and spinning behavior. This reveals exercise addresses both physical and mental health of pets to not only extend their quantity of lives, but also improve their quality of life.

Exercise can be a variety of walks, runs, playing with other dogs, or chasing a ball or toy. 

Keep in mind that some precautions should be taken. Remember dogs have a permanent winter coat on and regulate their body temperature by panting. The coat and obesity increase the risk of heat stroke. Certain breeds called the brachycephalic breeds (a smooshed in face) can naturally have difficulty breathing and regulating body temperature. 

First do not try to lose the weight all in one day. Consider a short, brisk walk around the block, rather than a five-mile run and slowly increase the duration of your walk. Throwing a ball in the backyard involves a lot of changing direction and rapid rise in body temperature. This could possibly lead to orthopedic injuries or heat stroke. Start by throwing for a shorter period of time and consider shorter exercise times more often staggered throughout the day. 

Cats instinctively stalk and “kill” their toys so feathers on a string or stuffed toys one can drag around are great exercise (especially for indoor only cats). 

Let’s all enjoy National Pet Week by exercising with our pets and zoom, zoom, ZOOM all around!!! 

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

Keep a collar with ID tags on your pets when they are outside. METRO photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

The weather is finally warming!!!!! That means more time outside with our pets, as well as some things that we should be aware of to make sure our pets are safe while enjoying the beautiful weather.

Open Windows: The warmer weather allows us to open the windows to let the house air out but make sure that those open windows have screens in place to avoid our pets (especially cats) from jumping out.

Spring Cleaning and Home Improvement: I know I like to give a good clean to the house when the weather warms but I always make sure that all cleaning products are out of reach from pets. All cleaners (even natural ones) have chemicals in them that are irritating.  This can lead to rashes or sores on the skin, as well as gastrointestinal symptoms like sores in the mouth, vomiting, diarrhea. Home improvement products such as paints, mineral spirits and solvents are extremely irritating leading to the same symptoms as home cleaners. Also make sure to clean up sharp objects like nails and blades, as well as keep pets away from insulation.

Flowers: Flowers such as lilies, azaleas, rhododendrons, and daffodils can cause gastrointestinal signs which can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. Lilies are also extremely toxic to cats and can lead to irreversible kidney damage.

Parasites: Dogs and cats are protected from common intestinal parasites such as roundworms, hookworms, and whipworms by heartworm preventative. Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes and will be a problem in late spring when the weather is warmer. Many products combine heartworm protection with a flea and tick preventative. If you do not use one remember to use a topical flea and tick preventative or a flea and tick collar.

Puddles: During the spring there is more rain than usual and that means more puddles. Puddles come from runoff and that means whatever is in the runoff is in the puddle. In these puddles could be bacteria, parasites, and chemicals. If you are walking your dog do not let them drink from puddles. This is easier said than done (especially if you have the opportunity to allow your dog for some off leash activity) so make sure to vaccinate your dog for Leptospirosis.

Pet Identification: Make sure your pet is properly identified with either an identification tag on the collar, or a microchip (or both). Even if you have a fenced backyard, invisible fence, or walk on a leash I would recommend some sort of identification tag or microchip to be prepared for the unthinkable.

I hope this article helps us to not only enjoy spring, but also enjoy spring safely.

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

METRO photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

Groundhog day has passed. Holtsville Hal and Malverne Mel have conflicting predictions as to whether we will have more winter or not. Either way, it’s time to get ready to plant and that includes the use of pesticides. 

Certain pesticides can affect our four-legged family members. Organophosphates and carbamates are pesticides that are commonly used in the United States. Newer pesticides do not contain these chemicals but there are still plenty of them that do and some households may still contain older products that they will still use. 

We see exposure to these compounds more in outdoor cats than dogs because they tend to wander through our (and sometimes the neighbor’s) gardens and properties. 

These chemicals affect the central nervous system. Both chemicals can be absorbed through the membranes of the mouth or sinuses and can also be absorbed transdermal (through the skin). Therefore, it is very important to keep pets inside if you are spraying and check the label to make sure none of the components are organophosphates or carbamates. If you are not sure, the internet is a great source to check.

If the chemical is inhaled or ingested in lower amounts your pet will have what is called the classic “SLUDE” symptoms (Salivation, Lacrimation, Urination, Diarrhea, Emesis). Larger doses can lead to bronchospasm (spasm of the airway) and seizures. These are life threatening and potentially fatal complications.

Treatment is usually supportative however; if you notice symptoms early, decontamination (which includes inducing vomiting and administering activated charcoal) can be started. If your pet is very subdued or seizuring the risk of aspiration is very high, then decontamination will not be pursued. Also, if your pet vomits before arrival at the veterinarian’s office decontamination will not be started. Instead IV fluids, medications to help with tremors, help with secretions, prevent vomiting, etc are used until the compounds clear the system.

In summary, check your supply of pesticides’ ingredients online to see if they are in the organophosphate or carbamate in origin. If they contain any, do not use or get rid of the product entirely. Also, if your pet is showing any of the signs I have described, get it to your veterinarian or a veterinary emergency clinic as soon as possible.

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

METRO photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

There has been a lot of media attention about outbreaks of the canine influenza virus (CIV), but very little known about how to predict it’s spread. 

Dr. J. Scott Weese of the University of Guelph, Ontario hopes to put an end to that. CIV strain H2N8 was first reported in racing greyhounds in Florida in 2004. Milder cases only cause coughing and transient fever. However, more severe cases can lead to severe pneumonia. Approximately 2% of cases are fatal. Fatalities are usually limited to older dogs or dogs with preexisting health conditions.

In April, 2015, an outbreak of the CIV occurred in the Chicago area that affected more than 1,000 dogs and led to eight deaths. Another outbreak shortly after the Chicago incident occurred in the Atlanta area affecting approximately 80 dogs (no deaths). 

In December 2015, another outbreak occurred in the Seattle area affecting approximately 80 dogs (again, no deaths). Interestingly, none of the cases in 2015 were caused by the CIV H3N8 strain, but rather an H3N2 strain. The H3N2 strain was previously only seen in Asia (first diagnosed in 2006-2007). It is believed that this Asian strain gained entrance to the United States through Chicago’s O’Hare Airport inside a dog from Korea.

Fast forward to today and Dr. Weese: between August of 2022 and January of 2023, 200 veterinarians reported cases in Alabama, Arizona, California, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.

What Dr. Weese has concluded from the initial information is that CIV differs from human influenza virus in one distinct way. Where the human influenza virus is seasonal based on changes in behavior (people spending more time indoors in closer proximity to each other). CIV spread is more sporadic and year-round. 

CIV is passed from dog to dog via aerosolized respiratory secretions from coughing, barking, sneezing, contaminated objects (food and water bowls, kennel surfaces) and people moving between infected and uninfected dogs. Dogs that stay at kennels, groomers, doggy day care, parks etc. are more at risk. This also explains why CIV outbreaks are sporadic and occur year-round.

Vaccines for both known strains (H3N8 and H3N2) are available for dogs at this time. The goal of the vaccine is to expose the host (in this case dogs) to a weakened or inactivated form of the virus and stimulate the immune system to produce antibodies against it. This will prevent severe forms of the disease but will not prevent infection, nor prevent shedding of the virus.

We hope that as Dr. Weese gets more data a better map of the spread of this disease. Until that time please consult with your veterinarian as to whether your dog is at risk for the CIV virus (H3N8 or H3N2 strain) and whether a vaccine is warranted.

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

Pexels photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

The winter holidays. Time to enjoy family and friends, eat good food, drink good drink, and celebrate. The holidays also present potential hazards for our pets. Here is a  short list of potential holiday hazards.

Candy and Chocolate Poisoning: First, chocolate contains two chemicals (caffeine and theobromine) which are powerful stimulants. Mild symptoms usually begin within 6-12 hours after ingestion and include panting, hyperactivity, increased thirst and urination. Severe cases include 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.  

Second, chocolate is very high in sugar and fat. Minimally, this will give your pet a tummy ache but I have personally seen a few cases of serious gastroenteritis, pancreatitis, liver disease from ingestion of chocolate.

Macadamia Nuts: The exact portion of the nut that is toxic to dogs is unknown at this time but veterinary toxicologists (poison experts) suspect that it has to do with something in the oil. Signs include tremors, seizures, and irregular heart rhythms. Be careful about leaving macadamia nuts or nut mixes with macadamia nuts in them within the reach of your dogs.

Medications: Both prescription and over the counter medications can do great harm to our pets. A single ibuprofen or acetaminophen tablet could be potentially fatal to a small dog or cat and could cause serious illness even in a larger dog.

Poisonous Plants: Winter Lillies, Poinsettas, Mistletoe, Holly, and other seasonal plants can lead to an upset stomach in some cases, but in others can potentially cause irregular heart rhythms, kidney failure, ulcers of the mouth, etc. Best to keep these plants away from your pets or consider not decorating your house with them if you are concerned that your pet may chew or ingest them. 

Hazards Around the Christmas Tree: Christmas tree water can contain fertilizers or other chemicals can make your pet severely ill if ingested. Electric cords, tinsel, ribbons, glass ornaments, etc should either be secured away from curious pets or possibly removed to prevent electrocution, intestinal obstructions, or other internal organ damage.

Alcohol and Old (spoiled) Food: Curious pets will take advantage of a late-night party and get into these items after you go to bed. Make sure to clean up so that you do not have to worry about your pet ingesting leftover cocktails and treats that may have mold or bacteria growing on it.

Yeast Dough: The same yeast that helps the dough to rise can lead to problems in our pets. The yeast itself is potentially poisonous and the dough can continue to rise in the pet’s stomach causing painful and potentially harmful consequences.

If you know of a poisonous exposure or potential poisonous exposure call the National Animal Poison Control Center (NAPCC) at (888) 426-4435. This hotline is staffed with experts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

I hope everyone has a happy and safe holiday season, as well as a prosperous 2023. I also want to thank Heidi Sutton and all the staff at Times Beacon Record News Media 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

Dr. Matthew Kearns

As Thanksgiving and the winter holidays approach, I thought this would be a good time to discuss a disease that affects both dogs and cats: pancreatitis. 

Pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas, is a serious disease with potential fatal consequences.  The pancreas is an organ that sits just behind the stomach and has two functions: an exocrine (digestive) function, as well as an endocrine (glandular) function. The exocrine portion of the pancreas produces bicarbonate (to neutralize acid as food leaves the stomach) and digestive enzymes (to breakdown protein, starch, and fat into molecules small enough to be absorbed by the small intestine).  

We will focus more on the exocrine portion when describing pancreatitis. During normal digestion the exocrine pancreas is stimulated to secrete its bicarbonate and enzymes through small tubes called pancreatic ducts into the duodenum, or first section of small intestine. In the case of pancreatitis, these same enzymes are overproduced and begin to digest the pancreas itself.  This pathology is referred to as autodigestion.  

Risk factors include: hypertriglyceridemia (excessive fatty acids in the bloodstream) is the most common cause, obesity, glandular diseases (such as diabetes, Cushing’s Disease, and an underactive thyroid) medications (such as cortisone derivatives, certain antibiotics, and many chemotherapies), certain breeds (Miniature Schnauzers, Yorkshire Terriers, and many other toy breeds), and any trauma to the abdomen (hit by a car or an attack by another animal) can trigger inflammation of the pancreas. We tend to see an increased number of acute pancreatitis cases around the holidays. Usually guests were sneaking the pet extra treats and table scraps. 

Symptoms of pancreatitis include lethargy, vomiting, and splinting (this refers to a hunched up appearance due to abdominal pain). Some patients will become jaundice, or yellow because the bile duct, gall bladder and liver are located just next to the pancreas. Mess with one and there can also be complications to the other as well.  

Treatment usually consists of intravenous (IV) fluids, IV medications for nausea, pain management, and antibiotics.  Severe cases require transfusions of plasma or blood.  Surgery to treat pancreatitis is indicated if there are abscesses or dead tissue but usually a last resort because surgery for pancreatitis is so risky. Some cases are so acute and severe that the patient may not improve. These cases are very sad because the patient either passes on their own, or owners are forced to euthanize for humane reasons.  

Long term complications of pancreatitis include diabetes and exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI).  EPI refers to when the pancreas no longer produces enough enzymes to digest food so commercially made synthetic enzymes have to be added to the food. Diabetes requires daily injections of insulin. Both are expensive and time consuming. 

The best way to treat pancreatitis is to prevent it altogether. Therefore, when Fluffy is giving you the sad eyes this holiday season, do not give in. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving.

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

Photo from Unsplash

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

As Halloween approaches, we usually worry about chocolate toxicity, but let’s not forget about grape and raisin toxicity. Grapes and their dehydrated form, raisins, have been implicated in kidney damage (sometimes severe irreversible damage). There is also still debate as to how many grapes or raisins are toxic to pets. Let’s take a closer look at grape and raisin toxicity to see if we can shed some light on what we do know about this nebulous topic.   

Unfortunately, the exact toxic substance to dogs in grapes and raisins is still not completely known and neither the color of the grape, nor seeded versus seedless makes a difference. However, although this has not been completely verified, there has been somewhat of a breakthrough recently. 

A compound in grapes called tartaric acid has been speculated as the toxic culprit. Previously, experts felt that high concentration of a type of sugar component called monosaccharides was to blame, whereas others blamed a compound called tannins. Additional theories do not implicate anything in the grape itself, but rather the growth of certain fungi on the grape and toxins produced called aflatoxins, or pesticides sprayed on grapes.  

The toxic dose or quantity of grapes and raisins is also up for debate. There does seem to be a genetic component associated with which individual dogs are more sensitive grapes or raisins. An article published in 2009 reviewed the charts of almost 200 dogs over a 13-year period. The study found some dogs ate over two pounds of raisins without developing any signs of poisoning, whereas others developed irreversible kidney failure with as little as three grams of grapes or raisins. 

Just to give you some perspective as to what three grams is: your average grape weighs 5 grams, and a raisin weighs about 0.5 grams. As little as one grape or six raisins could be toxic to your dog. However, some dogs will not get sick, or require large amounts of grapes/raisins before any damage is done. A good rule of thumb is 1 grape/raisin per 10 pounds should be a concern.

There is no antidote once the patient starts showing symptoms so this is truly an example of, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Symptoms of toxicity include lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, and increase in thirst/urination. These patients were less likely to make a full recovery. Some were euthanized before discharge. The patients that did better in the same 2009 study were those in which the owners witnessed the ingestion and brought to a veterinary clinic immediately where veterinarians were able to induce emesis (force vomiting) and give activated charcoal ASAP. 

In conclusion, although veterinarians are closer to determining the toxic component (tartaric acid), we are not sure why some dogs are more sensitive than others and what is a toxic dose. Therefore, keep grapes and raisins away from your dog when possible and, if you witness your dog eating grapes or raisins, bring him or her immediately to your veterinarian’s office or an emergency clinic for treatment.  

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

METRO photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

Working in a general practice for many years now, I am commonly asked the question of whether or not a growth under the skin is something to worry about or not. The good news is the majority of subcutaneous (under the skin) lumps are benign, or non-cancerous. They are usually lipomas (benign tumors made up of fat cells), or cysts. Some, however, can be cancerous and are better off being removed before they get too big or invade the surrounding tissues making it more difficult or impossible to remove completely. How are we to tell?

It is always good to bring any new growths to your veterinarian’s attention as soon as possible. When I evaluate any new subcutaneous growths I was taught to look for three characteristics:

Is it hard or is it soft? A growth that is hard is not always malignant, and a growth that is soft is not always benign. However, in my book, a growth that is hard is more concerning than a growth that is soft.

Is it freely movable or well attached to underlying tissues? Growths that are soft and freely movable are more likely to be benign than growths that are hard and well attached.

Is it painful, or non-painful? subcutaneous growths that are non-painful to palpation are less likely to be malignant.

I like to have the three criteria in combination to feel confident in telling a pet owner that the growth is something just to be monitored. Therefore soft, freely movable, non-painful is good, and firm, well-attached, and painful is concerning. 

I also like to recommend owners monitor these growths closely for change. The two changes I look for is a rapid change in size, and/or a change in character. If a growth doubles in size in a month or less, or a change in character (soft to hard, freely movable to well attached, non-painful to painful) then please have your pet seen again immediately.

There are different ways to test these growths. My favorite first test is a fine needle aspirate and cytology. This test involves inserting a needle into the growth and aspirating a sample of cells. The sample is then sprayed onto a microscope slide, allowed to dry and sent to the lab for evaluation by a pathologist. 

Cytology is the evaluation of individual cells so it is not as accurate as a biopsy but one can get a lot of information from individual cells. A fine needle aspirate is something that is well tolerated by most patients so sedation or anesthesia is not usually required to perform this procedure. 

There are cases where the fine needle aspirate and cytology are inconclusive and a biopsy is needed. However, I feel a fine needle aspirate and cytology is an excellent first step. I hope this information helps.

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

METRO photo

By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

The summer is not over and what better way to spend a hot day than to go to the beach and there is no better friend to bring than your happy canine. Just be aware that there are also hazards at the beach for your dog. 

Saltwater/Seawater: Saltwater is a hyperosmotic. Hyperosmotic means the large amount of salt in seawater pulls fluid to it. Pulling fluid from the body into the gastrointestinal tract not only causes severe vomiting and diarrhea and secondary dehydration, but also can pull water from the tissues surrounding the brain. This will cause a secondary cerebral edema, or brain swelling and neurologic signs like seizures. 

The second concern are the microscopic creatures living in the water. Seawater contains increased levels of bacteria from runoff, as well as cyanobacteria (blue green algae). These microorganisms can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms, potential sepsis, and neurologic symptoms. If the beach is closed to humans, it is probably not a good day to walk with your dog on the beach even if they want to go into the water.

Cuts/lacerations/burns to feet: Cuts on dogs footpads are quite common on the beaches of the north shore of long island. We usually get 4-5 cases at our clinic alone each summer and we are not even an emergency clinic. Shells, sharp rocks, broken glass can all cut deeply into a dog’s pad. Sand, bacteria and other debris can then get into these open wounds. Also remember that the asphalt in the parking lot can become very hot leading to burning of the pads. 

It is best to purchase some protective booties (if your dog will leave them on) to protect their feet from these sharp objects and excessive heat.

Toxicity: Not long ago this summer a couple brought their 5-month-old puppy into the clinic disoriented and difficulty walking. They had been walking on the beach that evening and the puppy was off leash. He did not return and, when they found him, he was in the condition I described above. 

When the owners arrived, I was not sure what had happened but I knew the puppy needed to be monitored overnight. We immediately transferred this puppy to the emergency clinic and, at the emergency clinic, the puppy was diagnosed with marijuana toxicity. Rotten food and other sharp objects such as bones, etc are a concern for toxicity, intestinal obstructions, or perforations. Therefore, be careful with your dog off leash that they don’t get into anything that may have been discarded. 

Heat stroke/sunburn: There really isn’t any shade at the beach unless you bring a beach umbrella with you. Remember that affects our dogs as well. Make sure to provide them with shade, do not let them run around excessively during the hottest time of the day, and apply sunscreen protection to hairless areas if you will be at the beach all day with your dog.

Please enjoy a day at the beach with your dog, but also take certain precautions to make sure the day is enjoyable for you both. 

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