National Specially-Abled Pets Day

Today’s holiday was created by animal advocate Colleen Page to educate the public about the importance of caring for disabled pets. Animals of all kinds can become disabled from injury or illness, or they may be born with a disability. This does not make them any less lovable or less deserving of their forever home!

Photo courtesy of Neatorama

Thanks to advances in veterinary medicine and new technologies, these animals can use support slings, dog carts, and other aids so that they can live their best lives! There is also plenty of useful information, advice, and support available for pets with any number of disabilities.

Check out this YouTube video of an owner using Australian Sign Language (Auslan) to communicate with his deaf dog Flop!

Remember that a disabled pet is more likely to be overlooked at a shelter. They need loving homes just as much as pets that hear, see, and walk with four paws.

Photo courtesy of Bored Panda

Meet Zeus! He is a blind Western Screen Owl that now lives at the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar, California. Aren’t his eyes amazing? You can also check out Zeus on Instagram!

National Purebred Dog Day

Growing up, my family’s pets were Miniature Schnauzers. My parents elected for the breed because, among other factors, they wanted a small dog that did not shed and got along well with children. Our Schnauzers made excellent family companions, jogging partners, foot watermers, house guardians, and general bundles of exuberance and bed beards. Over many years, we had four: Murphy, Mimi, Rabita, and Dottie.

We bred Rabita (Spanish for “little tail”, Rabi for short) once, resulting in six puppies, one of which we kept (Dottie). Although Rabi certainly chose my mother as her designated person, I have incredible fondness for her because she was such a character. Imagine a prim, fussy, utilitarian, uptight, and old-fashioned British nanny and put it in a Schnauzer. Basically Rabi was the canine version of Dame Maggie Smith as Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham from Downton Abbey (and I mean that in a good way). She positively brimmed with vibrant personality, especially when she scolded us in Schnauzerese when she caught anyone out of bed past what she considered bedtime. Plus she had Flying Nun ears and an incredibly smoochable head.

Photo courtesy of The Daily Shep

Dottie was a happy-go-lucky mama’s girl who thrived on being in the center of the action. She hopped (my family called it “bing-binging”) in the middle of a run and liked flaunting her belly to the world as she napped. One of Dottie’s favorite pastimes was charging into an enormous pile of leaves and temporarily hiding in the heap, smelling everything and having a grand adventure while doing so.

Photo courtesy of Greenfield Puppies

On National Purebred Dog Day, we should celebrate all dog breeds: herding, hunting, bird, gun, companion, hounds, pointers, scenthounds, setters, sighthounds, sled dogs, spaniels, spitz, terriers…the list goes on. The development of these breeds have fascinating histories. If you would prefer to adopt rather than purchase one from a reputable breeder, you can find many purebreds needing a home in animal shelters or through rescue groups.
How can you celebrate this holiday? Spend some quality time with your dog, whether it is a round of fetch, a long walk, a thorough belly rub, or kissysnuggles on the couch!

International Guide Dog Day

Today is International Guide Dog Day! To all guide and other assistance dogs out there, thank you for your service and life-changing work!
Guide or seeing-eye dogs are trained service animals that provide invaluable assistance to the blind and visually impaired. For example, they are trained to avoid obstacles, signal changes in elevation, retrieve dropped objects, and locate objects on command. These are just some of the many tasks a guide dog may do for his or her handler. There are formal training facilities, such as the Guide Dogs for the Blind, just for this purpose. Keep in mind that the handler and dog comprise a team. Be courteous and don’t distract the dog or the handler!

Photo courtesy of Southeastern Guide Dogs

There are many types of service dogs in addition to guide dogs. These include hearing, psychiatric, medical assistance, and mobility assistance. Here are some of the numerous tasks these marvelous animals are trained to do.

Photo courtesy of the American Kennel Club

Remember that the Americans with Disabilities Act distinguishes between service or assistance dogs, therapy dogs, and emotional support dogs. They are not the same thing, and only service dogs are protected by the ADA. If you have questions, check out these FAQs and handy infographic:

Infographic courtesy of Care2

Want to know more about guide dogs and how amazing they are? Check out Growing Up Guide Pup (website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel) and Zoe the Seeing Eye Dog!

Here are a few stories describing the astonishingly cool things that guide dog teams have accomplished! Guide dogs are true heroes!

Dog Spotlight: Seeing Eye Anniversary

On January 29, 1929, Morris Frank founded The Seeing Eye, the oldest guide dog school in the United States. This school is the founding member of the US Council of Guide Dog School as well as a fully accredited member of the International Guide Dog Federation. Today we celebrate the anniversary of the school’s founding and the importance of guide dogs everywhere (and by extension, service dogs in general).

What is a guide dog, or more generally a service animal? The Americans with Disabilities Act defines it as: any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Service animals are not the same as therapy animals or emotional support animals. Only service animals are protected by the ADA.

You may see service animals (dogs are the most common) working with their handlers. Remember that these dogs are working and must concentrate on what they need to do on behalf of their handlers. Don’t distract them. I know it’s tempting to want to pet such a well-behaved dog but be considerate. Some handlers are OK with people petting their dogs if their permission is asked for first; other handlers will decline and that’s fine too. Here are some additional etiquette guidelines as well as a few things that handlers want you to know.

If you’d like to learn more about service dogs, especially those assisting the blind, check out Growing Up Guide Pup and Zoe the Seeing Eye Dog.

One more thing to note: FAKE service dogs. Sometimes people try to pass off their pets, including emotional support animals, as service dogs so they can take their pet anywhere with them, enable their pet to fly for free, and avoid having to pay a pet deposit. This is a serious issue for service dogs and their handlers. Untrained pets in public areas, like planes and restaurants, can pose a big risk to those around them. Being able to spot a fake service dog and differentiate such from legitimate service animals is important. Most importantly, DO NOT misrepresent pets as service dogs. Don’t be that person. It’s not cool. Moreover, your actions can have significant consequences for those around you, especially working service dogs and their handlers.

Dog Spotlight: Training

I’m sure a few reading this might wonder, “Your blog is about cats so why are you talking about dogs?” Fair question. One, I love both cats and dogs. (I also think rats, chinchillas, and many other pets are cool too.) Two, it’s important. Three, it ties in with shelters, which is another topic I frequently discuss on Purry Home Companion. So there you go.

January, among other things, is National Train Your Dog Month, which was created and sponsored by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT). One crucial aspect of responsible pet ownership is ensuring that you teach your pet (whether it is a cat or a dog) house manners. For a cat, it is using a litter box, not to scratch (destructive clawing), and not to bite (bite inhibition), for example. For a dog, manners can include basic commands like “sit” and “stay,” emergency recall, and how to walk properly on a leash. On a walk, your dog should walk right next to you, not in front and not pulling. (Incidentally, January is also Walk Your Pet Month.) Naturally, APDT developed a program called CLASS, or Canine Life and Social Skills, which you can read about on their website (linked above). Another training test is the Canine Good Citizen program through the American Kennel Club. Therapy dogs, for example, have to go through this training, or something similar, in order to be adequately prepared to perform therapy work.

While I volunteer in the cat room at my animal shelter, I am very pleased to know the volunteers that work with the dogs do teach them basic manners and how to walk on a leash nicely. Many dogs are surrendered to shelters because they are not trained and owners find them too energetic or that they do not want to put the effort and time into training their pet. This is most unfair to the dog, who may be adopted more than once before finding the right owner. By teaching the dogs manners, the shelter has increased the chances of their animals being adopted, dramatically shortened the dogs’ stay in the facility, and reduced the likelihood of those animals being returned–a win-win for everyone. The shelter has also had great success in placing dogs with Starmark Academy, and at least two dogs have since graduated to working animals in K-9 units. How exciting is that?

The point I am trying to make here is that it is vitally important to teach your dog manners so that your pet behaves well in private and in public. This is part of being a responsible dog owner. Do not expect to receive a dog (from a shelter or a breeder) already trained. You must put effort into working with and training your dog. Do you have questions, lack questions, or are you running into issues making progress with your pet? You may want to consider enlisting the help of a professional. Yes, training takes time, patience, work, and even a bit of money, but it does pay off in the long run.

Does anyone really want to have an ill-mannered, untrained dog? An out of control animal can pose a danger to you, your loved ones, and to others, and that is a matter of public safety. A dog that has never received any training poses great risks, even if that dog is not aggressive. For example, a large, unrestrained, hyperactive dog bounding across a yard and into the street can run in front of a car, posing a real driving hazard. This same animal can crash into pedestrians on the sidewalk or children playing next door. An uncontrolled dog poses a very real hazard to working service animals and their handlers, who may be injured or traumatized by this experience. A negative experience with another dog can seriously impair a service animal’s ability to work or even compel early retirement. It’s very serious.

As always, demonstrate your love for your pet by being responsible and doing the right thing. By doing so, you’ll have a happy, well-mannered canine companion that can comfortably interact with others in and out of your home. I, for one, enjoy having upstanding canine citizens! How about you?