Welcome home, Sassy!

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On the left: Sassy (with Denise Theobald) during the Hurricane Harvey intake. On the right: Sassy prepares to chow down on her Gotcha Day cake.

Little Sassy was a Hurricane Harvey refugee flown up to Chicago by Wings of Rescue in early September. My husband Drew and I volunteered for the emergency intake at The Anti-Cruelty Society in our various capacities, and as the evening wound down one of the last dogs to be processed was a skinny white terrier mix with crazy hair.

We had been looking for a small dog for some time, and after a half dozen or so meet and greets through local rescues we were planning to take a bit of a breather before starting the process up again. We really didn’t plan to foster a dog (and in any case we thought all of the Hurricane Harvey dogs had already been set up with foster families). But suddenly, there was Sassy, with her kennel cough, pneumonia, hookworms, and heart worms – about the only thing she didn’t have was a foster family. 

It must have been fate. After weeks of medication and TLC, we made it official on Friday – welcome to the family, Sassy!

 

Jamie Sig Trans - First Only

 

 

Lucky Star

 

Star 2

By Chris Kreutz

We found Star when we were down in Texas bringing supplies for volunteers and survivors of Hurricane Harvey.

We had just dropped off our first load of supplies at the Cowboy Church in Orange, TX and were heading up to Alvarado to pick up a half dozen dogs (and a rabbit) being transported back with us to P.A.W.S. Tinley Park. These pets had been surrendered by their owners, and were being transported north to make room in Texas shelters for displaced animals waiting to be reunited with their people.

A few hours into our journey, I spotted something in the bushes on the side of the road. We quickly decided to turn around – but it took a bit of maneuvering, since we were hauling a horse trailer. By the time we got back to the spot, a little brown dog was in the middle of the other lane, pawing at some roadkill. We slammed on the brakes, but the car in the other direction was still gunning it hard. Terrified, we began honking our horn as I jumped out with a lead. The speed limit was 75 mph, so if the oncoming car didn’t stop, that little brown dog didn’t have a chance.

Luckily, the car slowed some at the last minute, and as soon as this sweet girl saw me, she scooted across the road, head and bum down, tail wagging furiously. She slammed into my body, so happy to see me as I burst into tears.

Right then and there I committed to making sure this girl has the best life possible.

You can follow Star’s story here. 

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Chris KreutzChris Kreutz lives in Chicago with her husband. Although their children are off in college, their home still bustles with an assortment of animals. She is a freelance animal handler for advertising and media, a program leader for Canine Therapy Corps, and teaches private lessons with AnimalSense Canine Training and Behavior. Chris is very involved in animal rescue, and donates her time transporting domestic and farm animals to new homes and sanctuaries around the country.

Disaster preparedness for pet professionals

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The summer of 2017 has been relentless with its storms. Unprecedented rain has been dumped on Texas and a category 5 hurricane is heading for Florida, after having laid waste to islands throughout the Caribbean.

Whether or not you live in or around a storm’s path, you should have an emergency action plan created, practiced, and ironed out.

This article will provide information to those pet care providers who may be affected, as well as measures for preparation that any pet care company should take to make certain you, your staff, and your client’s animals are safe.

Emergency action plan

An emergency action plan is an essential set of documents, policies, procedures, and delegations that need to be laid out immediately (ideally, before you open your doors or book your first client). This goes for boarding facilities, grooming salons, pet sitters, or any person with animals in their charge.

We can’t emphasize this enough: everyone needs an emergency plan. Tornados, hurricanes, flash floods, fires, fallen trees, and even acts of terrorism are real issues with a serious set of consequences.  Below are some guidelines to help you and your company be prepared for whatever natural or unnatural disasters come along.

Insurance coverage

Check your insurance coverage; many policies do not cover floods or “acts of God”. Go through this thoroughly so in the event a disaster does strike, you only have to deal with the preparation and not the rebuild.

Does it cover lost wages? You and your staff won’t be able to work if the roads are impassable or your clients have canceled.

Does your insurance cover losses not only to the building or property, but also the cost to transport and find alternative housing for any pets in your care? Are you still liable for paying rent to a landlord whether or not the building is habitable?

Have your insurance agent review your lease, preferably before you sign it, so that you can decide on additional coverage to take care of things your landlord won’t. Your insurance agent should also be able to direct you to the type of coverage or riders you will need for your geographic area and common natural disasters – fires, floods, earthquakes, etc.

Staff roles

Start with staff obligations. Assign your staff to very specific roles and timelines to be followed during a natural disaster.

Who will be in charge of contacting clients about the current plan, whether it’s shelter in place or evacuate?

Who will be watching the news for updates from local authorities dictating evacuation orders?

If you have a building or client homes in your care, who is responsible for making sure the structures are safe? Appoint someone to check that trees have not fallen on the building, electrical wires are not hanging, flooding is not occurring in the basement, etc. Be very clear in your service agreements about the extent of your responsibility for real estate or home goods. No one should be risking their lives to save family heirlooms or laptops.

Assign someone to create and maintain a disaster supply list. Either you or a member of your staff should be assigned the task of checking on quantities, expiration dates, and battery levels. This is a great quarterly assignment. Creating this list will also assist those of you not in the path of a natural disaster to know exactly what you can help provide to those who are.

Have client medical records and contacts stored securely on a cloud server, and provide access to a trusted person outside of your business area. In the event that the internet and power goes out, you will want a point person who knows what to do and who to contact.

Assign someone whose sole responsibility is the physical evacuation of staff and animals. They should know where to go if a flood, fire, or evacuation is ordered, and should plan for the greatest number of animals your company would ever have in your care.

Evacuation

Transportation is key. If you have five pets that you are pet sitting or a hundred dogs in your daycare, what plans do you have to transport them to safety?

Speak with car rental companies about cargo vans. Crates can be ratcheted down to the frame of the van for safer transportation. Beware of box trucks, as they do not have adequate airflow or temperature control – these will be great concerns.

Whatever vehicles you have access to, make certain they always have gas and are in working condition. If you know that a hurricane is heading in your direction, don’t wait until the last minute to rent a vehicle; even if you have to pay for an extra week to let a van sit in your parking lot, it’s a small price to pay if you have to get out in a hurry. This also gives you luxury of adequate preparation time, so that if you do need to evacuate all you’ll need to do is put the pets into the van and head out.

Once the animals are securely ready for transport, who’s driving and where are they going? Is there another boarding facility nearby that has a large training space you can use during an emergency? Is there a warehouse that someone you know owns that would allow you to shelter animals? If so, consider getting contracts signed and adding these locations to your insurance policy.

Shelter in place

The storm may not be a category 5 and your facility or client home may in fact be on high ground. Make a shelter in place plan that will have you prepped for power outages and multiple days and nights stuck on the premises; make certain food, water, cleaning supplies, etc. are all stocked and accounted for.

During winter storms, pipes can freeze, the power can go out, and the heating can stop. Always have plenty of blankets and insulating materials to keep you and the pets warm.

If the power goes out during a summer storm, that means the air conditioning goes out with it.  Make a plan to keep the animals cool and covered from the elements.

Supply list

Here is a recommended (but certainly not exhaustive) list of items to always have on hand. Store them in waterproof plastic bins, clearly labeled and easily accessible.

For items that need batteries (radios, fans, flashlights etc.), store the batteries in plastic bags taped to the device so they don’t corrode and render the item useless.

Generators and associated fuel should be stored outside of any areas where humans and animals will be. When generators are running, make certain the exhaust is pointed away from breathing beings. Carbon dioxide poisoning can be deadly.

Cleaning agents like bleach should be stored in watertight plastic bins, especially if flooding is a concern. You do not want chemicals leaching into the water that you and the animals may have to walk through or even drink.

  • Radios
  • Duct tape
  • Folding table
  • Portable 20” box fans
  • Collar bands to place on animals for identification
  • Storage containers
  • Laptop computer and charger
  • Flashlights
  • Batteries
  • Trash can
  • Trash bags
  • Slip leads
  • Muzzles in assorted sizes
  • Cable ties
  • Bed sheets
  • Binders with paper and pens for notes/documenting
  • Hand disinfectant
  • Flea spray
  • Paper towels
  • First aid kit (human)
  • First aid kit (animal)
  • Leashes
  • Latex gloves
  • Shop lights
  • Dog/puppy food
  • Cat/kitten food
  • Bleach
  • Dish soap
  • Generators
  • Electrical cords
  • Gas cans
  • Bug spray
  • Shovels
  • Water
  • Food for staff
Put your plan in writing

Email it to your staff, have it in your handbook, put it on your website, store it on a cloud server, laminate it and hang it on the walls of your facilities. You can even pass it out to your clients (after deleting any sensitive information) and suggest that they put on their fridges. Let people both inside and outside of your organization know what you will do and where you will go if disaster strikes.

If you already have a plan, we hope this serves as a good checklist to help you be as prepared as possible. Never forget that people are always there to help, so make certain part of your plan includes organizations, other companies, friends. or family you can rely on ffor help during an emergency.  

Not affected by the disaster?

Pet care professionals who are not in the path of the storm or directly affected by the disaster often have the resources to help you in your time of need. Even though we are all busy and don’t always budget for disasters, it’s a good policy to set aside some of your time and money to help others when they need it.

Always stay connected to, and network with, pet care businesses in your area and beyond. Competition doesn’t matter when human and animal lives are at stake.

Do you have a vehicle that can transport goods and bring pets back? Do you have supplies on the list above that you could send/ship or deliver to those in need?

Do you have a facility with space to foster pets that need to come out of the affected zone, or even just space in your home for one? Our founder Jamie Migdal is fostering a sweet little white dog named Sassy. Jamie met her while volunteering at the Hurricane Harvey animal intake at The Anti-Cruelty Society in Chicago. Sassy was fresh off the plane and still homeless, but with good fortune found her way into Jamie’s home.

Disasters are seemingly everywhere, but you should never feel helpless in the face of them. An emergency action plan doesn’t just have to cover you and yours when you are directly affected. Consider stepping into action when your fellow pet care professionals need assistance; we’re in this industry together and together, we can help thousands of people and pets get their lives back together.

Resources

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it became common for everyone from pet professionals to pet lovers to emergency response crews to help stranded pets in need. At FetchFind. we want to share our resources with anyone who will be helping animals to be as successful as possible in their efforts. The stranded animals depend on us for their very survival, but they can be fearful, shy, or aggressive (even when they know we’re trying to help). Please read and share this Disaster Relief graphic to help the humans and animals get connected and to safety as soon as possible.

Disaster Relief

 

How to choose the right turtle for you

red eared slider

By Mary Beth Miller

If you’ve decided to add a turtle to your family, congratulations to the reptile family!

But all joking aside, it’s important to know how to choose the best turtle for you. You can’t just choose a turtle based on their looks or availability. Turtles come in all shapes and sizes, with different living environments and dietary needs that you will need to be prepared to accommodate.

The best way you can pick the ideal turtle is by taking some time to learn about the different species of turtles. We have all the tips you need to know in order to choose the perfect turtle companion.

Considerations When Choosing A Turtle:

Before you add a turtle to your family (be sure to check out your local reptile rescues or adoptable animal apps like Petfinder), ask yourself the following questions:

  • What temperament would I like to see in my turtle?
  • How big would I like my turtle to get?
  • Is the appearance of my turtle important to me?
  • Do I have the means to accommodate the needs of my turtle?
  • Do I need a permit or license to keep a turtle in my location?
  • Am I prepared to provide a safe, high-quality, species-appropriate home for the lifespan of the turtle?

Once you have answered these questions, you can begin your search for the perfect turtle companion. The following turtles are perfect for turtle owner beginners (click on the links for more detailed information about each species):

Red Ear Slider Turtle  – The most popular species of turtle in the world! The red ear slider can grow up to be 11 inches in size and are omnivores, meaning they eat both plants and meat. The red ear slider is a sun bather and requires special lighting, as well as a place out of water to bask. 

Caspian Pond Turtle – The Caspian pond turtle or the striped neck terrapin, can grow to be nine inches in length and is perfect for owners over 12 years of age. These turtles are omnivores that require both plant vegetation and meat to fulfill their dietary needs. The Caspian is a semi-aquatic turtle, meaning that his enclosure will require both water and land.

Painted Turtle – The painted turtle is well named, displaying an array of colors. The painted turtle is medium sized, growing to about seven inches in length. This turtle is an omnivore, is semi-aquatic and is ideal for teenage to adult ownership.

Painted Wood Turtle – Not to be confused with the painted turtle, the painted wood turtle can be found in Central America—which is why it also referred to as the Central American wood turtle. This turtle is semi-aquatic, but can only swim in shallow water, and requires large sun basking areas in captivity. This species of turtle is an herbivore, meaning they eat plant based material. However, this turtle does eat the occasional worm or insect that enters his tank.

African Sideneck Turtle – The African aquatic sideneck turtle is primarily an aquatic turtle, but they do require a small land area to bask. These turtles can grow up to eight inches in length and are omnivores.

No matter which type of turtle you bring into your home, make sure to follow up with an exotic veterinarian who specializes in reptiles to ensure your turtle is getting everything he needs. The lifespan of the average captive turtle can be 20-50 years (or more!), and the quality of the living environment has a direct impact on their longevity. Turtles make excellent pets, with distinct and wonderful personalities; the more informed you are going into the relationship, the happier your turtle will be!

Resources

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mary-beth-miller-pawedinMary Beth Miller is a registered veterinary technician from southeast Iowa. She works in a large/small animal veterinary clinic and also volunteers at the local Humane Society, Emergency Animal Care Center, as well as the Iowa Parrot Rescue. Her passion lies in helping save the lives of animals. MaryBeth has three dogs, a Siberian husky named Rocky and two rescue dogs named Sambita and Nina.

5 reasons why you should adopt an older cat

 

By Emily Bruer

If you’re thinking about adding a new feline friend to the family, you’ve probably been tempted by the idea of getting a kitten. While kittens can be fun, they are also a Lot. Of. Work. Older cats are generally much easier to handle, and if you are considering adopting during the #CleartheShelters event this weekend, here are some great reasons to  welcome a more mature kitty into your home:

Personality

What most people don’t realize is that kittens are like babies (because they are!), and their true personalities won’t be fully developed until they reach maturity at about 2-3 years of age. When you adopt an older cat you pretty much know what you’re getting. If the cat is extremely friendly it will likely be that way the rest of its life (barring trauma or illness). 

However, it is good to keep in mind that many animals will not act themselves in the shelter environment. If a cat has lived with one family its entire life and suddenly finds itself in a loud, busy shelter, chances are they will be overwhelmed and either withdraw or lash out. Be sure to ask shelter staff about which cats they think would be the best fit for your home, and take their advice into consideration. Most staff members know the animals in their care very well and will be able to point you in the right direction.

Save a life

No matter what age the cat you adopt is, you will be saving a life. But if you adopt an older cat you know you are making a huge difference in that animal’s life. Kittens tend to get adopted quickly, while older cats are left waiting (sometimes for a year or more) for the right home to come along.

After they have been waiting a while cats tend to get depressed, and it’s a downhill battle from there for staff to keep them alive. A depressed cat will often stop eating and refuse any specialty foods offered to it. The sooner an adult cat can get out of the shelter and into a home the better.

Calm

Kittens are [adorable] maniacs. They are into everything, climbing everything they can, pouncing on your feet, and just enjoying exploring everything in the world. On the other hand, adult cats are much more laid back, and they’re more likely to sleep through the night instead of bouncing off your head like it’s a trampoline at 2am. They are more interested in napping at your feet than chasing the lights from passing cars across the room.

Better in pairs

If you are open to adopting two cats, ask shelter staff if they have any bonded pairs. Pairs of cats frequently enter the shelter together when their owners pass away or move. Pairs can be hard to adopt out together, but many of these cats will stop eating without their best friend around to keep them company. Two bonded cats are about the same amount of work as one, so you might as well go for it!

Grateful 

Adult cats tend to bond more closely with their new people than kittens. I believe this is because they are grateful to have a stable home and a loving environment. They felt the fear and uncertainty of the shelter, and when you came their life immediately improved. They will always associate you with their rescue, and will love you dearly for it.

Adopting an older cat is a great way to get an amazing kitty without all the work of kittenhood. Be sure to check around the shelters in your area to find a cat that speaks to you, and don’t be afraid to visit several times before making your final decision.

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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.

Clear the Shelters – how to adopt your just-right dog

 

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Saturday, August 19 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?
  • 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, August 19, 2017. You can find a list of participating shelters here.

 

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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Resources:

 

 

 

 

 

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?

turt-tort

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.