You have to take care of yourself, too

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By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

The tragic suicide of Dr. Sophia Yin in 2014 brought the issue of compassion fatigue to the front and center of the animal-related professional and volunteer communities. When I ran a suburban shelter in the early 90s, it was not uncommon to have both volunteers and employees suddenly drop out of sight for extended periods of time. Nobody really talked about it back then, but everyone who worked there knew about that breaking point, and we all did our best to support and encourage people to take care of themselves.

Now, of course, it’s much easier to have a discussion about compassion fatigue in the animal care community. But that increased openness often doesn’t benefit the many advocates and professionals who feel the weight of all of those innocent lives on their shoulders and are compelled to work far beyond the boundaries of their own emotional and physical well-being.

If you work with animals, you should get into the habit of checking in with yourself to see if you’re feeling any of the symptoms of compassion fatigue (also known as “secondary traumatic stress disorder”, or STSD), including apathy, poor self-care, repressed emotions, isolation, substance abuse, nightmares, and difficulty concentrating. If you are a business owner or supervisor, be on the lookout for absenteeism, lack of teamwork, increased aggression, and high levels of negativity. (You can see a more comprehensive list of symptoms on the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project website.)

Self-compassion is imperative. As Jessica Dolce says, “We need to be well to do good,” and it’s important to give yourself permission to take a break when you need it. Subscribe to a meditation program or follow guided meditations and exercises to help keep yourself on a more even keel on a day-to-day basis.

If you feel like you are spiraling out of control in spite of regular self-caretaking practices, PLEASE SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP!

If you don’t have a regular therapist or counselor, call the University of Tennessee-Knoxville veterinary social work helpline at 865-755-8839 Monday through Friday 10am-5pm eastern time, and they can help connect you to resources in your area. You may also email them at vetsocialwork@utk.edu.

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Give your rescue dog a sound beginning

old yellow lab

By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

A lot of people wait until summer officially kicks off to bring home a new dog, because the kids are out of school, vacation time is coming, and it’s so much nicer to potty train a new pup when the weather is warm. 

Taking some time off to help get your dog acclimated is a great idea, but many newly adopted dogs need more, and that’s where A Sound Beginning comes in. The goal of this truly excellent program is to reduce the stress that is normally part of the transition period from shelter/rescue to living in a home. It not only helps dogs to become adoptable, but also helps to keep them from being returned.   

This isn’t basic obedience training, but rather a comprehensive program that focuses on creating a trusting relationship between a dog and his new human(s). The classes teach essential life skills to both ends of the leash – the humans learn how to prevent, manage, and train, and the dogs learn good behavior, polite manners, and how to cope with unfamiliar situations.

A side note to anyone who plans on bringing home a rescue pet this weekend – have your summer barbecues at someone else’s house for a couple of months.  All the noise and strangers and tempting foods can be difficult even for long-time resident dogs to handle with equanimity, let alone one that has recently experienced major life changes.

One of the many great things about this program is that the support continues outside of class, via books, videos, phone consultations, handouts, sound therapy, and optional in-home training. In-person classes are open admission, and are available throughout the Chicago area. If you’re out of state or can’t travel, you can order the book + CD for step-by-step instructions or sign up for a webinar package.

So if you’re planning on bringing home a new canine companion this summer, sign up for A Sound Beginning. It’s the best way to set the right tone for your newly adopted friend.

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Many thanks to the wonderful Terri Klimek for her work with A Sound Beginning and her help writing this post. In addition to owning Training Tails with Terri, she is an instructor for FetchFind Academy and has worked with As Good As Gold Golden Retriever Rescue of Illinois. 

That time I hit the rescue dog jackpot

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The Amazing Sitka will be turning 13 this summer and just got an A+ on his recent vet checkup, so we decided to re-share his awesomeness all over again. He’s the best dog ever. – The FetchFind Team

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By Paulette Solinski, CPDT-KA

From the time I was a small child I would get the AKC Book of Dog Breeds from the library and fantasize about what dogs I would have as an adult. When I became an adult and was able to actually get a dog on my own, I realized life was more complicated. – should I get the dog of my dreams or rescue a dog in need of a home? What I decided to do was get one of each – a dog from a breeder and a rescue dog. It has always worked out, although there have been challenges along the way. But, what I really learned is that picking a dog is always somewhat of a gamble, no matter where you get him.

On the other hand, sometimes that gamble pays out a jackpot. Enter Sitka, my rescue dog, also known as the Best Dog in the World. I know what you’re thinking – but it’s not me who says it, it’s everyone else! I found Sitka online at Petfinder.com.  I had a Newfoundland and was looking for a Newfoundland rescue or a Newfie mix, so I put that in the search. Cimarron, as he was known at the time, popped up. He was gorgeous, with a beautiful coat of red and gold with just a hint of brown but, at least to my  eyes, no trace of Newfoundland. His write up also commented on how huge he was, several times. The rescue estimated that he was about one year old. Since he was already one hundred pounds they wanted to be sure that the prospective owner knew that “huge” could become “GIGANTIC.” 

My family and I, including the Newfoundland, went to Michigan to check him out. We all fell in love and he came home with us. At the time, I had no idea what to do. I now know that I should have taken it slowly – keep the dogs separated for awhile, watch for certain signs from the new dog, feed them separately. Stuff like that. Of course I did none of these things. However,  every time I tested the newly named Sitka to see whether he knew a command, he did. Sit, down, stay, come, walking on a leash – he knew all of these and more. He was also extremely appropriate with his audience. If a child approached him (while he was leashed and under control, of course) he would lay down and stay nicely for petting. He kept getting better with age. In fact, Sitka worked for many years as part of an animal-assisted therapy team with Pet Partners. 

Sitka isn’t a pup anymore, and he’s a little cranky due to age, but he’s still amazing and still loved by everyone who meets him. So if you’re thinking about a rescue dog, do your research –  but take a chance and hope for a big payoff.

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logo-pet-partnersDo you think your pup has what it takes to be a Pet Partners therapy dog like Sitka? (Your cat, bird, horse, pig, and even llama can become part of an animal-assisted therapy team as well!) Check out their free courses here. 

Turtle vs. tortoise: what’s the difference?

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By Emily Bruer

For many people in the world, the term “turtle” encompasses every reptile with a shell on its back, but it’s not quite that simple. While there are many similarities between turtles and tortoises they are actually very different creatures!

Let’s start with the shells.

Both turtles and tortoises have similar shells. These shells are made up of a carapace (the top) and a plastron (the bottom) which are connected on the sides. These two pieces of shell are actually made up of the animal’s ribs and spine, and they keep him protected from predators that would normally prey on slow moving creatures.

As an added bit of protection, turtles and tortoises also have scutes on the top of their carapace. These scutes are made of keratin and are basically like a skin covering the bones of the animal. While some turtles may shed their scutes over time, tortoises do not – theirs just continue to grow as they do!

It’s a common misconception that the shell of a turtle or tortoise is simply that; but, unlike hermit crabs, it is impossible for a turtle or tortoise to live without his shell.

The shell of a turtle or tortoise is a good indicator of its health.

While wild animals’ shells are usually in great condition – unless they have been involved in an accident like a narrow escape from an alligator or a hit and run by a car, those in captivity can experience quite a few more issues.

Shell rot is one of those issues. Found almost exclusively in captive turtles and tortoises this disease is caused by poor husbandry and results in ulcers on the shell. If you notice ulcers on your pet’s shell be sure to get him to a vet immediately as this condition must be treated with antibiotics and if left unchecked can be life threatening!

Pyramiding is another disease, found mostly with captive turtles and tortoises, that causes the shell to grow unevenly into a pyramid shape.

Caused by a poor diet, a lack of certain vitamins, minerals, or sunlight, or too little or too much humidity, this disease can be life threatening if the causes are not discovered and rectified. Unfortunately, once pyramiding has occurred there is no way to reverse it, but you can make changes to the animal’s diet and environment to prevent further incorrect growth.

Now on to the differences!

One of the main differences between turtles and tortoises is that of habitat. Tortoises are terrestrial, while turtles spend the majority of their time in the water.

Another is their anatomy. Most turtles have webbed feet to help them move around in the water with ease, while tortoises have thicker, stockier feet that allow them to carry their heavy bodies and move around on land.

For the most part, turtles have much lighter shells than that of their terrestrial cousin, the tortoise. This is to keep them aerodynamic, help them swim faster, and make it easier on their thinner legs when they come onto land for short amounts of time.

While most tortoises are almost exclusively herbivores due to their slow moving speeds, turtles are omnivores and will eat just about anything they can find from fish, to plants and bugs.

Due to habitat loss, other environmental changes, and the illegal pet trade, many turtles and tortoises have found themselves on the endangered species list.

What exactly is the difference between captive born and captive bred? “Captive born” simply means that the animal was born in captivity; while the animal may have been born in captivity, his mother may have been wild caught while gravid (pregnant).

This is why, if you choose to purchase rather than rescue, you need to make sure every animal we purchase is from a line of animals that has been in captivity for several generations – “captive bred”. While it can be hard to be sure that pet store animals were responsibly sourced, it is very easy to find a local breeder that can help you find the perfect pet. Many cities hold reptile shows where you can meet breeders in the area and see a wide variety of reptiles and amphibians.

Be sure any animal you bring home looks healthy, avoid any animals that have discharge coming from their eyes or nose, or have tiny black dots on their scales, as these can be mites.

The best way to help our reptile friends is by volunteering, fostering or adopting from a local reptile rescue. There are an overwhelming number of unwanted reptiles and amphibians, and many rescues are underfunded and understaffed. If your locality doesn’t have a rescue, be sure to check with your local wildlife center, as they may actually be the rescue for your area!

Always remember to do your research! Whether you simply love admiring turtles and tortoises in the wild or you want to have one as a pet, keep in mind that knowledge is power. You can never know too much about the creatures around you, and if you are considering getting a turtle or a tortoise as a pet, he will thank you for doing your research before bringing him home!

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emily-bruer-pawedinEmily Bruer has been penning the adventures of her imagination since she was old enough to hold a pencil. Working at animal shelters for the last five years, she learned an incredible amount about animal care and behavior. She is currently employed at a vet clinic where she continues her animal education. Emily’s love of animals is evident when you step into her home, which she shares with six dogs and six cats, all of whom were rescues.

 

 

What a month!

 

josh-feeney-pit-bullBy Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

I’ve just finished writing out a check to Best Friends Animal Society from our #DonationDecember promotion, and it was such a good feeling that we’ve decided to extend the promotion through January.

Get our Behavior Fundamentals Online program for only $49, and half of the purchase price goes to Best Friends! Click here to register.

And, thinking beyond January, we’ve decided to continue the “Get Something, Give Something” program, with a new shelter/rescue featured each month. If your rescue or shelter is 501c3, it can be eligible as one of our upcoming beneficiaries.

If you’d like more information on how you can become part of this program, send us an email at hello@fetchfind.com, and we’ll fill you in on the details.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Volunteering: a win-win proposition

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By Jamie Migdal, CEO of FetchFind

Lots of people want pets but can’t have them for a variety of reasons – building restrictions, finances, career, allergies – but the good news is that you can get your puppy-kitten-bird-rabbit-reptile fix by volunteering at a local animal shelter or rescue. Not only will you meet some great people, but you can also make a huge difference in the lives of dozens of animals. (Did we mention that you can cuddle sleepy puppies on your shoulder? That’s an activity with no downside, as far as we’re concerned.)

When you sign up to be a volunteer at an animal shelter or rescue, be prepared for the following:

  • Be willing to wait a while before being accepted as a volunteer. Many shelters have a backlog of applicants, and it can take a few months before you can schedule an orientation.
  • Be comfortable with a fairly extensive application process, reference checks, and – in some cases – fingerprinting.
  • Be able to commit to a certain number of hours per month (this will vary by organization).
  • Be willing to follow the rules and procedures as determined by that particular organization. Those rules are there for everyone’s safety, including the animals in your care.
  • Be willing to work in lower-level programs before moving into higher-level or different types of programs. (For example, you might have to do basic dog care for a certain number of hours before moving up a level to dog training, or being allowed to cross-train in cat care or the low-cost clinic.)
  • Be willing to purchase a volunteer shirt and adhere to a minimal dress code (for safety purposes) – long pants, volunteer shirt, sensible shoes, etc.

Volunteering can have additional benefits beyond helping pets. If you have an employment gap or are looking to make a career switch, a history of increasing involvement and responsibility at a non-for-profit organization can be as valuable as paid employment on your resume.

The bottom line: every time you volunteer you have the chance to change, or even save, an animal’s life. You may not think that your half hour of dog or cat socialization after work matters much in the grand scheme of things, but taken together with everyone else’s half hours throughout the days and weeks, it can make a huge difference in the well-being of any given pet, as well as in the overall quality of care the shelter provides. Everybody wins!

 

 

 

Thinking of rescuing a dog? Here are 5 ways to make the process a win-win all around.

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By Paulette Solinski, CPDT-KA

So you’re thinking of rescuing a dog. That is a wonderful idea, but here are some things that may help you with the process.

Do your homework. The most common way to find a dog these days is via the internet. It’s pretty easy to focus on a picture of an adorable dog and go to the shelter planning to take her home. It’s not usually that simple. You want to learn as much as possible about the dog, so be prepared to ask a lot of questions. For example, does this dog have a bite history? Why is she in the shelter? Does she have any known health problems?  These may or may not disqualify a dog in your eyes, but you will be more prepared for what you are getting. (However, it’s never a good idea to get a reactive dog when you have children). If you have time and are a single person or a childless couple you may be interested in a dog who might be more of a project. If you’re looking for a dog that’s had some training, keep looking and wait for her to come along.

Keep an open mind. Sometimes just looking at dogs in person in shelters can help you find your dog soul mate. While you may have practical considerations – maybe your apartment building doesn’t allow dogs over a certain size – be as flexible as possible. You may go in looking for a puppy who is female and white and fluffy but walk out with a 30 pound male beagle mix because when you looked at him he gave you that special look and stole your heart.

Have everyone in the family meet the potential pet, especially the dog currently living with you. Once you have found a dog that you think is suitable for your family, make sure everyone who lives in the house comes together to visit. It’s very important to see how your new dog will interact with the whole family. For dog to dog meetings, someone at the shelter should help you with the introductions, and tell you what to watch for. You want the process to be as peaceful as possible.

Be patient. Once you adopt a dog it may take awhile for the dog to fully settle into your house. It’s estimated that a dog doesn’t become fully at home for about three months. It may take even longer if there’s has been a lot of disruption in the dog’s life. Don’t just open the door and expect perfection. You may have some issues with eliminating inside or chewing things. Your new dog just needs to be shown what to do, so start training your dog. Group classes can be really helpful.

Finally, don’t beat yourself up. Sometimes adoptions don’t work out. While this can be traumatizing for you, if it’s not working and you’ve given it your all, surrendering your dog may be the only solution. Reputable shelters will always accept a dog back, and just because it didn’t work out for you, that doesn’t mean the dog isn’t a great fit for someone else.

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What’s it like when you hit the rescue dog jackpot? Click here to find out. 

 

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Why I decided to become a dog trainer

Sunday night. Oh yeah.
This goofball is Chester. He’s part of the reason I want to train dogs.

By Bill Mayeroff

I was never “supposed” to be a dog trainer.

I studied political journalism. I spent my first five years after college as a newspaper reporter covering a host of different beats. After leaving the paper, I came back to Chicago and tried to do journalism in a bunch of different ways. I freelanced. I worked as an editor at two different magazines. I really tried to make it.

But no matter how much I tried, the journalism game kept chewing me up and spitting me out. I wasn’t happy with it anymore. I’d spent so much of my life trying to do one thing and that thing was no longer what I wanted.

One of the jobs I did for extra cash while freelancing was walking dogs. And I realized something: It was perfect. I got to spend my days walking around with some of the coolest dogs in Chicago. I got to get paid for doing that. And it hit me:

Dogs. I had to work with dogs.

I’d never actually WORKED with dogs before. I’d had family dogs my whole life and adopted a dog of my own in late 2011. But I’d never done anything with dogs in a professional capacity.

Now, anyone who’s worked as a dog walker knows that making a living that way is not easy. And I knew that if I just walked dogs, I’d probably get bored after a while. So what to do? 

A friend of mine – a FetchFind alumna, in fact (though it was CanineLink back then) – named Sarah inadvertently provided the answer. She would tell me all the time about the cool things she was learning in her classes and how much she loved training dogs. 

I’d taken my dog, Chester, to obedience classes and knew that it was fun and a great bonding experience for us. But again, I’d never thought about doing it professionally. But the more I thought about it, the more I felt like it was perfect. 

So I picked Sarah’s brain and eventually set up a meeting with the fine folks at FetchFind (alliteration for the win). The day after that meeting, I signed up for my first FetchFind Academy class. 

And as a host of FetchFind people can tell you, I drank the Kool-Aid on day 1.

I felt like I was home. These were people who were taking their love of dogs and truly using it for the benefit of dogs and people alike. That’s what I wanted. And that’s what I’m getting. 

Beyond the people, the work is awesome. A big part of the Academy experience is observing training classes. I was lucky enough that in a couple of the classes I observed, the trainers actually let me participate and help and I discovered that not only was it insanely fun, I also had a knack for it. 

So here I am. I’ve got two classes under my belt and I’m about to start a third. When that class ends, I’ll be a dog trainer. And I can safely say I’m more excited by that prospect than I ever was about being a journalist, even when I was still excited by it. 

A lot of people ask me why I decided to be a dog trainer. When I really think about it, it’s simple: Training dogs makes me happy. It makes me happy in a way I never was in any of my traditional jobs. 

Bottom line: It just feels right. So I think I’ll stick with it. 

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Look at these two handsome gents.

After five years as a newspaper reporter in western Illinois and two more as a freelancer in Chicago, Bill’s life has gone to the dogs in the best way possible. These days, Bill lives in Chicago with his terrier mix, Chester, and works at a small, no-kill animal shelter while he studies to be a professional dog trainer at FetchFind Academy. Bill also blogs about his two favorite things – dogs and beer – at Pints and Pups. 

Age is just a number

 

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By Sarah Gaziano, CPDT-KA

We have this joke at the shelter where I volunteer. Every dog that comes in is one of the following ages:

  • 10 months
  • 1.5 years
  • 5 years

Always. Never fails. Every dog that comes in gets labeled with one of these age groups. So every time a potential adopter asks how old the dogs are, we chuckle a little, because we obviously have no idea.

August 1st is the universal birthdate we give shelter and rescue dogs, and it got me thinking about these arbitrary labels we give to dogs. We rarely know their stories and human nature says we must make it up. I think that’s fantastic.

It got me thinking about why we apply these three age groups to dogs. Here’s my very, very humble opinion.

10 months – Statistically, this is the most common age for dogs to be returned to the shelter. Dogs start their adolescent period around this time. Imagine having an unruly teenager in your house who doesn’t speak your language. That’s hard for a lot of people to handle, so they are often relinquished. Vets and shelters know this, so when they don’t have any other guesses, this becomes the best estimate.

1.5 years – Often you can determine the age of a dog by looking at its teeth. Newly adult dogs usually have all their full-grown molars, and they are super white. They don’t stay white very long, thus 1.5 years. When a dog is past adolescence and still has white teeth, this is a pretty good guess. However, you could easily be off by 6 months depending on the actual dog, breed, and any other circumstance that might come up.

5 years – It’s incredibly hard to get the age of an adult correct, especially if you know nothing about the dog. From an adopter’s perspective, 5 is a great age. The dog has enough years to no longer act like a puppy, but it’s still young enough to get a good, long life with its new family. The only downfall is the potential to be multiple years off target.

But in the long run, who really cares? After all, age is just a number.

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Photo courtesy of Josh Feeney Photography. 

Clear the Shelters – How to Adopt Your Just-Right Dog

 

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This Saturday, July 23 is the nationwide Clear the Shelters event, when participating organizations will be lowering or even eliminating adoption fees for many of their available pets.

If you’re planning to look for a new buddy this weekend, it’s important that you don’t get caught up in the mindset of “if I don’t adopt this dog right now someone else will take him!” Adopting a dog is a big step, and you owe it to yourself, your family, and the dog to make sure that you do it in a mindful and informed way.

Are you thinking about adding a cat to your all-dog household? Read this first. 

Everybody has their own tastes in dogs – some people like laid-back couch potatoes, some like dogs who can go on daily runs, and some like smarter-than-you border collies. Individual preferences aside, the primary thing you should be looking for when evaluating a potential dog is sociability with humans. The quality of the adopter-dog interaction is a significant predictor of whether the dog will get (and stay) adopted or not, and there is a simple reason for that – dogs who are sociable with humans make better pets and family members.

A shelter environment is very stressful and can make an accurate behavioral assessment very difficult (even for trained professionals), but there are certain behaviors that should send up red flags immediately. Keep this list in mind when you’re looking:

  • Is the dog approaching you voluntarily, and, if so, how is he approaching?
  • Is the dog staying in the back of the kennel and not approaching anyone at all?
  • Does the dog body slam the kennel door when approaching?
  • Is the dog spinning or engaging in other repetitive behaviors?
  • Is the dog staring with a hard eye, and/or barking, and/or showing teeth?
  • Does the dog have a known history of separation anxiety?
  • Has the dog been returned more than twice by other adopters?

Need help decoding those dog barks? Check out this handy chart from canine behavior experts Stanley Coren and Sarah Hodgson!

If you see any of these things, either on the kennel card or with your own eyes, you should think long and hard before signing those adoption papers. All of the above are indicative of larger behavioral issues than the average dog owner is prepared to deal with. Talk to the in-house behavior and training experts about what the information on the kennel cards really means; quite often the volunteers who work in the dog adoption area will have valuable insights about the dog’s real temperament as well. Even better – take an experienced third party or dog trainer with you to help you make the right choice. That unbiased, informed opinion can help you from succumbing to sentimentality. Be honest with yourself and with the adoption counselor – an unrealistic view of what you are capable of handling does everyone a huge disservice (perhaps the dog most of all).

And a last bit of advice – don’t rush headlong into adoption just because of a reduced fee. Sadly, there will always be an overabundance of dogs available for adoption; the shelters won’t be clear for very long. Even a full adoption fee is a good deal, any way you look at it. If you don’t find the right dog this weekend, you can look again next week, or the week after, or the week after that. You deserve a just-right dog, and the dog deserves a just-right home – take the time to make the just-right decision.

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The annual Clear the Shelters event, sponsored by NBC Owned Television Stations and the Telemundo Station Group, is on Saturday, July 23, 2016. You can find a list of participating shelters here.