Animals

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A PRAAT dog serves as a reading assistant at a local library. Photo from Dr. David Roy Hensen and Dr. Pamela Linden

By Lisa Steuer

It is quite obvious that people love their pets. In fact, 62 percent of U.S. households contain a pet, and about $45 billion is spent on pets annually, according to Pamela Linden LMSW, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor in the Occupational Therapy program at Stony Brook University.

But what many people may not realize is that these animals could be positively impacting the pet owner’s health, and that emerging research shows that therapy and comfort animals could have a place in therapeutic and trauma settings. Currently, a lot of the research on the health benefits of pet ownership has to do with the bond between the animal and its owner, Linden said.

“There’s a book by Meg Daley Olmert called ‘Made for Each Other’ and the whole book is about oxytocin — and that’s why we bond with others, including other mammals, like dogs,” said Linden. “A lot of it has to do with the gazing and the staring, so studies have been done, especially one interesting study that measured oxytocin levels in both the human and the dog after gazing— oxytocin levels raised for both of them,” resulting in good feelings not only for human, but for the dog, too.

Pella, of PRAAT, visits the children cancer ward at Stony Brook Hospital. Photo from Dr. David Roy Hensen and Dr. Pamela Linden
Pella, of PRAAT, visits the children cancer ward at Stony Brook Hospital. Photo from Dr. David Roy Hensen and Dr. Pamela Linden

Linden’s hope is that more people will be motivated to understand the role of pets in our lives. She developed the first social work internship with Patchogue Rotary Animal Assisted Therapy, a not-for-profit organization in Patchogue that screens, trains and supports human-dog teams that visit individuals in schools, hospitals and hospice facilities. Linden hopes to work with PRAAT to research the effect that comfort animals have on people who are already sick.

In addition, Linden is the faculty advisor for Stony Brook University’s first Animal Assisted Activity student club anticipated to begin in spring 2016. So far, more than 150 students have signed up for the club, which has goals to help provide education about animal -assisted therapy while partnering students with organizations like PRAAT and local shelters to help prepare dogs to become adoption-ready.

Linden pointed out that people often get confused between service animals, therapy dogs and comfort animals. Service dogs are protected by law, are allowed anywhere animals typically aren’t allowed and have been trained to perform special functions, like open doors, push buttons and retrieve objects for people with visual impairments, for instance. A comfort dog has been trained to visit hospitals, nursing homes and similar places to provide comfort to patients, and a therapy dog is an animal used by a licensed health professional to achieve a therapeutic outcome.

“I’ll give you an example [of a therapy dog],” said Linden. “As a social worker, I’m working with someone who is grieving. And they’re either too numb or too emotional to process the grief. I might bring in a dog with a therapeutic goal of bridging between the client and the therapist by doing those behaviors that we do— you can snuggle up to a dog, pet it, stare into the eyes and have your oxytocin kick in and relax.”

Physical, Psychological and Emotional Benefits

Although the research is limited, studies have demonstrated the healthy benefits of pet ownership and companionship. Linden shared the physical, psychological, and emotional benefits:

Hans, of PRAAT, provides comfort to students during college exams. Photo from Dr. David Roy Hensen and Dr. Pamela Linden
Hans, of PRAAT, provides comfort to students during college exams. Photo from Dr. David Roy Hensen and Dr. Pamela Linden

• Physical: Pet owners have fewer minor health complaints and have greater levels of exercises and physical fitness. Studies have found that pet owners had reductions in some common risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as lower systolic blood pressures, plasma cholesterol and triglyceride values.

“People experience a decrease of blood pressure talking to pets. Blood pressure decreases for people with normal pressures and those with hypertension when watching fish in a standard aquarium,” said Linden.

• Psychological: Studies have found that pet owners enjoy better well-being than non-owners, and that pet owners have greater self-esteem and tend to be less lonely.

“People find comfort in talking to their animals. People walking with their dog experience more social contact and longer conversations than when walking alone — pets stimulate conversations between people,” Linden said. “Companion animals can help people to laugh and maintain a sense of humor.”

She added that Children with ADHD and defiant disorders exhibit significantly less antisocial and violent behavior than a matched group that did not involve animals.

• Emotional: Companion animals have been shown to alleviate anxiety. Stony Brook brings dogs in during exam time to help relax the undergraduate students.

“Any discussion regarding pets should include the notion of responsible pet ownership — ensuring that their physical, medical and emotional needs are met. This requires adequate financial resources and time to devote to caring for the pet,” added Linden.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Flea allergic dermatitis was something that I used to only warn pet owners about in the summertime. However, with warm spells in the fall and winter, as well as the flea’s ability to set up shop in our homes, we really have a year-round problem.

Before we can address the problems fleas cause and how to treat/prevent them, we must understand the life cycle of the flea. The flea has four stages in its lifecycle: egg, larva, pupa, and adult.

An adult female flea can lay up to 2,000 eggs in a lifetime and eggs will usually hatch in one to six days. Once the eggs hatch, a slender, white, segmented flea larva forms; it looks similar to a maggot but, luckily, is too small to see with the naked eye. These larvae are not blood suckers, but rather feed on organic debris in the environment. The organic debris can be outside — leaves, dirt, etc. — or inside — carpet fibers and fibers from furniture or bedding.

After five to 11 days, the larvae will spin a whitish, loosely spun, silk-like cocoon, where they develop into pupae. The pupal stage, because of the outer cocoon, are very resistant to the environment and insecticides. The pupa is usually fully developed at seven to 14 days. However, the pupa can develop into an adult flea as quickly as a few days, or slowly, for many weeks, up to 180 days, depending on environmental conditions.

Once the adult flea emerges from the cocoon, it immediately starts looking for a host — our dogs and cats — for a blood meal. Fleas find hosts via various stimuli: body heat, movement, and exhaled carbon dioxide. Once a host is found, the flea feeds through a long, slender mouthpart called a proboscis. Before feeding, the flea pumps anticoagulant-containing saliva into the wound to prevent the blood from clotting. It is suspected that the anti-coagulant proteins in the saliva may be responsible for what is called Flea Allergic Dermatitis.

Luckily, fleas do not carry many parasites or organisms that cause significant disease in our pets. The most common parasite associated with fleas, in my experience, is tapeworm. This parasite is significant in younger pets but I will usually take tapeworms, seen on the fur, or in the stool, as a clue that there is an undiagnosed flea infestation in adult dogs and cats. More commonly, fleas lead to FAD.

Now, I understand that any dog or cat that has a flea infestation is going to be itchy. However, dogs or cats with FAD will break out with a rash that is much more severe from very few, or even a single, flea bites. More specifically, cut your pet in half — just kidding!

Actually, make an imaginary line dividing your pet into two halves: toward the head, and toward the tail. If the rash is primarily in the half of your pet towards his or her head, it is probably not FAD. If it is toward the tail, which would include the ventral (lower) abdomen, inguinal (groin), base of tail, and back legs, then one should put FAD at the top of the list.

Previously, we had to not only treat our pets with foul smelling, and even dangerous, shampoos, powders and dips, but also many times expose ourselves to noxious chemicals to treat the environment, like “flea bombs.” More recently, we found that although fleas need a host and will bite humans, they cannot live on us. More specifically, by treating our pets, we can treat the entire environment.

Nowadays, there is a large selection of flea preventatives that are much safer and treat the pet specifically. Some of the older products, and still best advertised, are now available over-the-counter. This is a double edged sword — the products are much safer and readily available without a prescription, but these products are ones in which I personally see significant failure and suspect resistance.

If you are seeing a specific rash that resembles FAD, even if you are using flea preventatives, see your veterinarian to not only get relief for your pet, but also to discuss alternative flea preventatives.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years.

The Northport Chamber of Commerce hosted the 14th annual Halloween Hayride in Northport Village Park on Sunday, Oct. 25. There was pumpkin-decorating, a petting zoo, Halloween treats and a costume contest. A hayride pulled by a Ford tractor took children on a ride through the park.

Accompanied by classic cars blasting out the Baha Men’s song, “Who Let the Dogs Out,” costumed dogs and their owners march in the 9th Annual “Howl-ween: Corky’s Canine Costume Parade Celebration” on Sunday, Oct. 25. The parade, created by Alyssa Nightingale, features dozens of dogs and humans parading down Main Street in Cold Spring Harbor and participating in costume contest, doggie party and sidewalk sale at Harbor Hounds.

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It was a howling good time at the Port Jefferson Harvest Festival on Sunday, Oct. 25. Dogs came out in their best costumes to celebrate Halloween a little early and there were woodcarving demonstrations and activities for kids.

This female bobcat, named Surabi, lives at Holtsville Wildlife and Ecology center. Photo from Brookhaven Town

Proceeds raised at a bowling event on Sunday will be used to feed and care for the more than 100 animals that live at Brookhaven Town’s Holtsville Wildlife and Ecology center.

Halloween Bowl for Animals will run from 4 to 7 p.m. at Bowl Long Island at Patchogue, and will cost $30 for adults, $20 for children and $10 for non-bowlers who attend. That price includes unlimited bowling, shoe rental, a buffet and dessert. Reservations are required.

“This is a great event for the entire family that will help to ensure the animals at the ecology site continue receiving the proper care,” Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro said in a statement.

The spooky bowling fundraiser will include a costume contest — children are encouraged to dress as their favorite animal — and a 50/50 raffle.

To reserve lanes, register online at www.brookhavenwildlifecenter.org or call 631-758-9664 x11.

The bowling alley is located at 138 West Ave., Patchogue.

A 28-foot female humpback whale was spotted floating in Lloyd Harbor on Saturday morning. Photo by A.J. Carter

A dead female 28-foot humpback whale was found floating in Lloyd Harbor over the weekend.It is the seventh large-sized whale to have washed up in New York this year — five of which were humpback whales, according to Rachel Bosworth, a spokesperson for the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation foundation. And it could have been one of several spotted swimming in Hempstead Harbor recently, she said. The foundation is a nonprofit that operates the New York State Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program.

The whale died of blunt force trauma, a necropsy performed by the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation revealed on Sunday.

“A cause of death has not been determined as of now but they’re going to continue an investigation to see if this is also one of the whales spotted swimming in Hempstead Harbor,” Bosworth said.

The animal was spotted 150 yards offshore Woodland Drive in Lloyd Harbor on Saturday morning. Town spokesman A.J. Carter said a resident called at about 10:30 to 11 a.m. reporting a “whale in distress.” The town harbormaster’s office responded and worked with the foundation, along with the U.S. Coast Guard Station in Eatons Neck.

Town officials towed the large animal over to the U.S. Coast Guard Station, where the necropsy was conducted. It’s general rule of thumb that a whale weighs a foot per ton, so the animal weighed about 28 tons, according to Bosworth.

“The biologists, interns, and volunteers from the Riverhead foundation completed an external and internal exam to document the whale, and also determine a possible cause of death,” Bosworth said in a statement describing the incident. “There is evidence of blunt force trauma on the right side of the whale’s body.”

By “blunt force trauma,” that could mean a large vessel that struck the whale, Bosworth said. But because of where the whale washed up, officials aren’t exactly sure that’s what caused the whale’s death — because the area it was spotted floating in doesn’t really have those kinds of vessels, she said.

Lately the foundation’s gotten calls, photos and videos from members of the public who’ve been spotting whales further west on Long Island — in the eastern Nassau/western Suffolk region, she said. The foundation had been monitoring reports of three humpback whales swimming in Hempstead Harbor and Bosworth said officials are looking into whether this female whale was one of them.

“We’ve been seeing a lot more activity and we think one of the main reasons is there’s a larger food source out here right now,” she said.

It’s not rare for whales to be in New York waters. It might just be that more people are out on the water and seeing them.

Last year’s whale figures pale in comparison to this year. Last year, two large whales were “stranded” in New York — meaning they washed up either dead or alive. There was a third in New Jersey that the foundation assisted with, but it doesn’t count towards New York numbers.

The foundation advises that it’s important for the public to remain at a minimum of 50 yards away from all marine animals, for the safety of the public and the animals. All sightings should be reported to the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation by calling the group’s 24-hour hotline at (631) 369-9829. Photos and videos are also very helpful for the foundation to identify and document animals, and can be emailed to [email protected].

Supervisor Ed Romaine, Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro and Suffolk SPCA Chief Roy Gross pose with a 32-inch female American alligator turned in on Amnesty Day. Photo from Brookhaven Town

Long Islanders turned in three American alligators and eight turtles at a recent animal amnesty event in Brookhaven Town, and all of the reptiles are shipping up to a Massachusetts sanctuary.

Brookhaven’s Holtsville Ecology Center hosted the event on Oct. 10 to allow residents to turn in any protected, endangered or threatened animals that require special New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permits without fear of penalties or questioning. It was the second annual event of its kind for the town, which operated with the help of those two agencies and the Suffolk County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

People with dangerous or illegal animals were able to turn them over to professionals, no questions asked.

Suffolk SPCA Chief Roy Gross called the recent amnesty event a success, saying the three alligators turned in “had the potential of ending up endangering the public.”

According to Brookhaven Town, the average length a fully grown female American alligator is a little more than 8 feet, and a fully grown male can be longer than 11 feet. Of the three alligators turned in, two were males, measuring 27 and 29 inches, and one was a 32-inch female.

“People should think twice before acquiring illegal reptiles or mammals,” Gross said in a statement from the town. “They do not make good pets and you are risking fines and possible jail time.”

At last year’s animal amnesty event, people turned in 25 animals, including a western diamondback rattlesnake, a green anaconda, four boa constrictors, an American alligator and two marmosets.

“These animals were turned in before the people harboring them as pets released them into the wild, creating a potentially dangerous situation in our local communities,” Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro said in a statement about the alligators and turtles turned over this year. “These animals will now receive proper care without posing a threat.”

Owners of potentially dangerous animals have dumped them in public places in the past, creating a public safety issue. In late August, a 25-pound alligator snapping turtle was discovered in a stream of the Nissequogue River opposite the Smithtown Bull on Route 25. The reptile is not indigenous to Long Island — it is a freshwater animal with enough power to bite off a human toe or finger, and is usually found in places from eastern Texas to the Florida panhandle.

“People need to understand that many exotic animals can be very dangerous if not handled properly or allowed to grow to their adult size,” Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said in a statement. “They are even more threatening if released into the wild, where they could harm people or other animals.”

An osprey with two chicks at West Meadow Beach. Photo by Jay Gammill

By Ernestine Franco

Like many sons, Jay Gammill has followed in his father’s footsteps, a U.S. Navy photographer during World War II. “My father had a tremendous amount of photographic experience. We even set up our own darkroom for processing pictures in our basement. Dad was always the guy with the camera,” said Gammill.

Jay Gammill photographs local birds.
Jay Gammill photographs local birds.

Born and raised in Long Island City, Queens, Gammill spent his entire life on Long Island, with the exception of his four years in the U.S. Air Force, 1968-1972. He met his wife Janet after returning home from the service. They married in 1976 and moved into their first home in Levittown. In 1999, they moved to their current home in East Setauket.

Gammill received his first camera, a Brownie Starflash, as a young boy. “Boy, was I happy! No one could turn around without a flashbulb going off in their face,”  he said. And so began a lifelong passion.

When Gammill entered high school at Rice High School in upper Manhattan, he was in the yearbook photography club, and his parents bought him his first 35mm camera. “That camera was glued to me; if there was any kind of school activity, you could be sure I was taking pictures. It was very gratifying to have many of my pictures published in my senior yearbook,” he said.

A Great Blue Heron at West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook. Photo by Jay Gammill
A Great Blue Heron at West Meadow Beach in Stony Brook. Photo by Jay Gammill

Gammill purchased his second 35mm camera while in the Air Force and used it for many years after returning home. “Friends always whined when I was taking pictures at parties and social events but those pictures are now filled with golden memories that can really make people smile.”

Retiring as the director of the maintenance training department of New York City Transit in 2009 gave him more time to pursue this unique hobby.

Sitting outside on the deck of his home, Gammill started taking pictures of birds. He found it wasn’t easy. “Then it became a challenge, and I knew I could do better,” he said. “I have an advanced digital camera now {a Nikon D610}, and birds have become my favorite subjects. My wife, who spent summers in Sound Beach growing up, and I go to parks, ponds, nature areas — anywhere birds may be feeding or nesting.”

A great egret at Nissequogue River State Park in Kings Park. Photo by Jay Gammill
A great egret at Nissequogue River State Park in Kings Park. Photo by Jay Gammill

Gammill has some advice for anyone interested in photography. “Taking photographs will expand your horizons. It is a very enjoyable hobby, getting you out of the house into the fresh air, not to mention some exercise, which I recommend to anyone.” For himself, he has lots of plans. “Now I want to increase my efforts into landscapes, sunsets, night photography and other areas,” he said.

Mimi Hodges, a resident of Sound Beach and long-time friend of Janet Gammill and her family, credits Jay Gammill with revitalizing her own enthusiasm for photography. At a family get-together last year, Gammill invited Hodges to join a closed Facebook photography group.

“The result is that, for the past year, my interest in photography has been revived and I am truly enjoying this renewed passion. I owe it all to Jay,” said Hodges.

Gammill has posted some of his own photographs on Facebook and was surprised that so many people enjoyed them. When asked by friends how he finds these birds, Gammill answers, “They are all around; you just have to look.” And when Gammill looks through his camera, what he sees is spectacular!

Figgy is one of the dogs up for adoption at the animal shelter. Photo from Brookhaven Town

Residents who visit the Brookhaven Town Animal Shelter on Oct. 17 can adopt a dog or a cat for free, as part of a Halloween-themed “Barktoberfest” event from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The family-friendly event also includes music, games and face painting.

While dog adoptions at the shelter typically cost $137 and cat adoptions cost $125, those fees will be waived. All animals have been spayed or neutered and microchipped, and received their vaccinations and licenses. They have also been tested for heartworm and fleas.

The shelter is located at 300 Horseblock Road in Brookhaven. For more information, call 631-451-6950 or visit www.brookhaven.org/animalshelter.