Sunday, November 5, 2017

Challenges of a Prison Pet Program

"Wally" Miner graduated from the ACI PETS Program 8 years ago

A Prison Pets program provides undeniable benefits for both dogs and their handlers.  But it also provides some interesting challenges.  The benefits are obvious.  Dogs who might never have had a chance at finding a home receive training and affection and escape euthanasia.  Inmate handlers learn a skill and have the humanizing companionship of a dog.  

The dogs bond to their handlers – and for many dogs this is the first bond they have ever experienced.  The handlers take on the important responsibility of keeping that trust strong while molding good behavior.   

There are a host of differences between training a dog on the “outside” and training a dog in a prison setting.  Prison dogs can be with their handlers almost 100 percent of the time, but their freedom is quite limited.  They don’t have a house and yard to roam around; their home turf is a small cell shared by two men, the dog’s equipment, and the men’s belongings.  This may cause a few dogs to become quite territorial about their space, partly because it’s small and easily defensible. 

 Routine checks by corrections officers with their flashlights and jangling keys can be intimidating.  The large number of men and lack of privacy and quiet can be an issue with some of the more fearful or mistrustful dogs. 
Cleanliness can be a problem.  A single exercise yard is provided for all of the dogs and it can be deep in mud or dust, depending on the weather.  The dogs get dirty quickly.  Their bedding and towels must be washed frequently, and the dogs need frequent cleanups as well.  The program relies on donations of laundry detergent and dog shampoo to keep man, beast, and home reasonably clean.  Without these donated products, proper cleaning is impossible. Housetraining is done quickly to avoid problems.  
 Potty times are strictly regulated because the men cannot come and go to the dog exercise area as they please.  Some accommodations can be made for sick or older dogs that may need more frequent bathroom visits, but these are rare.  
Feeding the program dogs is also a challenge.  We ourselves may be able to find a food that works well for our dogs and continue feeding it, but in the prison program the brand and type of food changes frequently.  Food is donated to the program, and there is no way to stick to any one brand or type.   This can result in gastrointestinal upsets and discomfort for dogs with food allergies.  Food sensitivities can add to both cleanliness and housetraining issues.
Keeping the dogs healthy is important.  Attempts are made to keep a small supply of mostly over-the-counter medicines for the animals in the program, but at times the needed item isn’t available.   Theoretically the shelters provide these needed items, but often it is the instructors or supervising staff that purchase over-the-counter supplies out of their own pockets. 

Prescribed medicines must come from a veterinarian, and that often means that a sick or injured dog must be taken to the veterinarian’s office for examination.  If a shelter person isn’t available to transport the dog, it may delay needed medical attention.  In an emergency, especially after hours, the program manager or instructors may be required to step in to transport the animal in need to the vet.
Most of us shower our pets with toys and treats, and the program handlers would like to be able to do this as well.  But this depends solely on donations.  This also applies to needed equipment and training supplies.  If needed supplies aren’t available, the program goes without.  To make things more difficult, some commonly used supplies are not permitted inside because of ingredients or materials. 

In spite of the challenges, the P.E.T.S. Program survives.  The dogs are happy and do well and in the end, the benefits far outweigh the difficulties. 

If you would like to help out a bit, consider making donations of treats, toys, or laundry detergent to the Ohio SPCA, the Auglaize County Humane Society, or Deb’s Dogs and ask that they be used for the AOCI PETS Program.

Dorothy Miner is a long-time dog obedience and tracking instructor, judge of canine events, and author.  She teaches weekly classes for the Allen Oakwood Correctional Institution’s PETS Program and provides training and consultation under the banner of “Sidekicks” and “Training for Dogs and Their People.”

A Tale of Two Kitties

The Jones Boys - "Stevie" & "Opie"
             He was the best of cats. He was the worst of cats. Quite the varied opinions regarding one small cat. But that's the nature of some felines... and their people.

            We have a new kitten addition to our family. His name is "Opie." He is about seven months old, and is, in my humble opinion, quite a cat. At times, though, he's been a little too much cat for Dr. Bonnie Jones.

            So you can imagine my surprise a couple of months ago when I peaked over her shoulder to see what she was typing, and saw she titled her column, "A New Kid In Town." Suddenly, a real feeling of warmth and goodness enveloped me. "Oh, my gosh! She does like Opie. She even wrote a column about him!"

            And then I read it. The column doesn't mention him at all. It's all about her love affairs with black and white cats. First Porky, then Jobey, and now "the new kid in town," Stevie Wonder. Except, he's not new. Heck, I wrote a column about him last January. Opie is the "new," new kid in town!

            Opie isn't black and white, either. He is a handsome shade of orange. And not just your ordinary tiger pattern. He's got swirls!

            I must confess to having a certain fondness for orange cats. I was fortunate to have a previous fifteen year relationship with a tiny, five pound marvel named Watson, the greatest cat who ever lived. This is coming from someone who has a serious case of " rodentophobia."

            Watson was my protector, my bodyguard of sorts from all things rodent. All it would take was an admittedly girly "EEK!" from yours truly, and he would be by my side in a flash to eliminate the threat. He really was amazing. I don't know how he did it.

            Thus it wasn't hard for me to take a shine to this gangly kitten who seemed to possess a certain "Watsonesque" gleam in his eye. In fact, the first night we allowed him to sleep on our bed, which was his idea by the way, I awoke at two o'clock to find him sleeping with his head on top of mine, like two skulls stacked one on top of the other. I thought that was kind of weird, yet kind of nice. What better way to bond.

            Opie was also into head-butting and face rubbing. I thought this meant he wanted to be my cat. It wasn't until I read my wife's column last week did I learn this behavior is called head-bunting. As it turns out, Opie didn't want to be my cat. He wanted me to be his.

            Although a people-oriented kitten, he enjoyed engaging our other pets, as well. He especially liked to wrestle with Betsy, our Corgi, and the aforementioned Stevie Wonder. Wrestling with Stevie, however, often  led to trouble for Opie. Even though he was younger and smaller than Stevie, their friendly bouts would usually escalate to the point where Stevie would cry out for his mommy, Bonnie. Needless to say, repeated offenses landed Opie on a certain type of list kept by their said mom. Well, that, and the Santa incident.

            My wife is not a big collector of things, except for Irish Santas. A hutch in our kitchen holds five levels of them. I always knew this would be Opie's litmus test. And one morning, he failed. I heard the scream!

            Fortunately, he just made it to level one, and only a few of the jolly old elves were knocked over. He did, however, proceed to make snowballs out of their artificial snow. Knowing that Opie wasn't alone in being in trouble, I did what needed to be done. I scooped up my orange friend and we headed to the barn.

            I feel sorry for cat owners who don't have a barn. Barns can fix a multitude of cat mistakes. Whether the issue is aggressive behavior or inappropriate elimination, time spent in the barn can have positive effects. And it doesn't have to be a permanent move.

            Opie spent the entire day there, but after the evening chores, he followed the dogs and me back to the house. And you know what?  After  twelve hours of exploration and exercise, exhaustion brought peace back to the household. Apparently, a tired kitten is a good kitten!     
Dr. John Jones practices at Delphos Animal Hospital with his wife, Dr. Bonnie Jones.

"Walk Like An Egyptian"


                                Cat Lovers unite! Did you know that October 29 is National Cat Day, a day founded to encourage cat adoption and to celebrate cats for their love and companionship? Domestication of cats dates back 4000 years to a time when Ancient Egyptians kept  cats to control pests that invaded food supplies.

                                Cats were not only revered as  hunters by Ancient Egyptians---they were also believed to be "magical," and capable of bringing good luck. So much so, that wealthy families adorned cats with jewels and fed them treats fit for royalty. Cats were also mummified when they died. Ancient Egyptians in mourning would then shave off their eye brows and mourn the loss of the cat until their brows grew back.

                                In Greek mythology, Egyptian goddess, Bastet, fulfilled many roles, including goddess of the home, domesticity, women's secrets, fertility, childbirth...and, yes, cats. First represented as a woman with the head of a lioness, Bastet's images softened over time, with later depictions showing her with a cat's head and a litter of kittens at her feet. Bastet was also believed to be able to morph into a cat at times!

                                While cats may have been the preferred companion of Ancient Egyptians, they are also commonly associated with witches and villains (think the proverbial black cat at Halloween!). I prefer to think of my feline family members and patients as masters of disguise with wicked intelligence, instead of representatives of evil.

                                To comprehend the allure of cats, one must first understand their behaviors---some have been developed out of necessity, others are just plain intriguing. Part of the delight of being a veterinarian is having the privilege of witnessing varied feline behaviors...the good, the bad, and the ugly!

                                If you have watched your cat play, you have likely seen it in a low crouch with its tail swishing, followed by a pounce on an object of its desire. In nature, this behavior will precede an attack on prey, or be carried out in response to a perceived threat. Therefore, it is not uncommon to observe this same tail-switching behavior in the veterinary setting when a feline patient's discontent is escalating. If this "tick-tock tail" is not heeded, cats will often follow through by lashing out at the nearest target.

                                Veterinary professionals heed another forewarning given by cat patients:  ears that are laid back on the head. This is a posture that precedes a conflict between cats and definitely sends the message "Back off!" Speaking from experience, you should!

                                On the contrary, "head bunting," often mistakenly labeled "head-butting," and facial rubbing, are social behaviors practiced by cat colonies to make all colony members smell alike. Cats recognize each other by scent first, so when your cat rubs its head, chin or face on you, you become your cat's possession and a member of its "club." Head bunting also indicates social rank, as dominant cats usually do the bunting. Your cat may roll over on the floor a few times before bunting YOU as a way of showing affection!

                                Have you ever witnessed your cat with its ears pricked and its mouth slightly open?  This depicts a cat using its "vomeronasal organ," an accessory scent organ, that sits forward on the roof of the mouth. When a scent is collected in the mouth, cats use their tongues to flick the scent up to the vomeronasal organ. This information processing is called a "flehmen response" and is practiced by domestic and wild animals including horses, ungulates and large felines. You may notice your cat "flehming" when it detects a new or different aroma in its environment.

                                Does your cat seem to occasionally get a case of the "zoomies" and suddenly race about? This behavior is  likely a throwback to kittenhood when your cat was learning to hunt. "Zooming" kittens will bounce sideways  with their backs arched as they fine tune their balance, speed, timing and agility. Older cats may zoom because it's just plain fun, especially if they have pent up energy. My advice is to sit back, laugh, and enjoy... unless the zooming is nocturnal. The solution to unwanted zooming at night is to engage your cat in play during the day, and feed its biggest meal at bedtime, as most cats will sleep after a meal (or big hunt).

                                These are just a few of the numerous, intriguing behaviors cats demonstrate. If, like me, you enjoy the company of cats, singular or (preferably) plural, why not "walk like an Egyptian" to your nearest shelter or cat rescue and adopt a cat in need. You may just find the "purr-fect" pet. 

Dr. Bonnie Jones practices at Delphos Animal Hospital. She celebrates National Cat Day every day with her cats, "Diane," "Stevie Wonder," and "Opie," and several, beloved barn cats.