Thursday, May 28, 2009

An A-typical Typical Day in Humane Education

Yesterday was a very busy day for our education department (that means me!) In the morning I spent time in Watertown with meter readers for WE Energies talking about how to read canine body language and things they can do to keep themselves safe from dogs they encounter while on the job.

In the afternoon I visited Richmond School in Sussex to speak to an assembly of 200 children from grades 5-8 about careers with animals. After the assembly I met with two groups of 7th graders who are working on a service project for HAWS. Because it's near the end of the school year they intend to continue their work next semester.

In the morning it was my pleasure to greet visitors from Phyllis Wheatley Elementary School in Milwaukee. The children were 4, 5 and 6 year old from the early childhood program. Initially their teacher had wanted me to visit there with some animals. Because we primarily serve Waukesha County I wasn't able to accomodate this request. Luckily they were able to bring the children to HAWS.

The children had a tremendously fun visit. They got to learn about what we do here at HAWS, went on a mini-tour, and met many of our adoptable animals.

They were fascinated by the domestic rats, enthralled by the guinea pig and delighted by the cats I brought out for them to visit with. As usual I saved the best for last, and Mystic entertained them with his many tricks.

There is something very satisfying about educating such a vast range of ages. One of the things I truly love about my job is that no two days are ever the same, and that I get to interact with people from ages 2 on up.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Dog Safety

It's National Dog Bite Prevention Week, and so I thought I'd post an article that I wrote some time ago about keeping kids and dog's safe.

“I have the greatest dog in the world; my 2 year old son can lie on top of her, pull her tail or grab her lips and she’s just fine!”

As a dog trainer and Humane Educator, I shudder when I hear stories like this. While a dog like that is amazing and good for a family of small children, I find a number of problems with these stories.

First of all – most likely the dog isn’t fine with it all of the time. She may be giving off subtle communication missed by Mom such as lip licking, whale eye (where the whites of the dog’s eye show), yawning, or even freezing. These are examples of signals given off when dogs are uncomfortable or stressed. Someday she may stop giving off these subtle signals and simply bite the child out of self-defense.

Just because the dog puts up with it doesn’t mean that she should have to. This mother would most likely not allow the child to behave this way with another human. (Substitute the word “grandma” for “dog” in the first sentence of this article!) So why should the dog have to put up with harassment?

What is this child learning about interacting with dogs? Children assume that because they can behave in a particular way with one dog, it means they can behave the same with another. And this child will eventually meet a different dog who may be less tolerant of his actions.

I give dog safety programs to children of all ages, but it is not enough. Children need to hear the message many times before they really start to change their behavior. Parents are in the best position to educate their children about interacting with dogs.

A lot of what I teach children in my presentation is respect. If you don’t like something, then most likely your dog won’t either. Below is a summary of some of the things I discuss when educating children:

While people hug out of friendship, a dog walking up to another dog and throwing his paw over the back of the second dog is far from friendly. That is a status seeking gesture which can result in a dog fight!

Our dogs put up with our hugs because we have a relationship with them. And although I hug my dogs regularly, it would be rude on my part to do that to a dog that wasn’t mine, and it would also be dangerous. If the dog didn’t like it I could get bit in the face.

Unfortunately this is a very difficult message to teach children. Many times I’ll no sooner tell the children not to hug my dog, when they come up and do exactly that. Hugging is a natural behavior for humans, and especially for children. This is something that a parent will repeatedly need to remind their children not to do with dogs.

Some dogs will guard their food bowls, chew toys, or even random items from humans by growling, snapping or even biting. Children should leave dogs alone when they are eating or chewing, and call an adult if the dog has something in his mouth he shouldn’t.

Sometimes dogs don’t want interaction with children. Children should allow the dog to initiate interactions. If the dog doesn’t come out, children should respect him and not chase after him.

Many times kids think that only large, scary looking dogs will bite. But ANY dog will bite – even small and cute dogs, if he is afraid or is guarding something.

Dogs are predators, and children who are running and screaming can cause a dog to kick into predator mode. Some dogs can become over-excited and rambunctious and some can become dangerous. If in doubt, put the dog away from the kids when they are running and screaming.

And here are some things that parents should know about their responsibilities when it comes to dogs and children:
Small children need to be constantly supervised. If you aren’t in the room, then the dog and child should not be together – no matter how wonderful your dog is.

Just because the dog is safe around your kids doesn’t mean he’s safe with all kids. Dogs come to learn the behavior of kids living in their home and know what to expect. Visiting children may behave in a different way, or the dog may be less tolerant of behavior by strangers. Make sure visiting children and your dog are always supervised. If you can’t supervise, put the dog someplace away from the children.

There’s a reason reality TV shows with professional dog trainers have disclaimers. These methods may not be safe for someone without a training background. If you are having problems with child-canine interactions, don’t attempt to solve this yourself. You’ll have a better and safer outcome if you seek out a professional who can come up with a training program specifically tailored for you and your family.

For more information about children and dog interactions, I highly recommend the book “Living with Kids and Dogs…Without Losing Your Mind” by Colleen Pelar, CPDT.

Final note…Having your kids grow up with a family dog is priceless. There is so much to learn about love, responsibility, and respect when living with the canine variety. The way you interact and treat your dog is absorbed like a sponge by your children, just like anything else you do in front of them. Observing signs of canine frustration and learning when fido needs a break from the action will undoubtedly help ensure everyone stays BFF. (If you don’t know what that means…ask your kids.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009


One Monday last January I was walking out to my car in the parking lot here at HAWS, and I saw something moving behind my wheel. It was small and initially I thought it was a cat. As I got closer I realized it was a puppy.

She tentatively came out from behind the wheel of my car and I picked her up. The temperature that day was only 17 degrees and she was shivering. I shoved her under my jacket and ran her back inside. We ended up calling her Roo -- short for Subaru.

Roo was lucky that I happened to go out to my car at 3:30 in the afternoon while it was still light out, rather than 5:30 when I would leave for the day. Had she been able to survive for another two hours it's likely that I would have either run her over with my car, or just plain never noticed her, leaving her to freeze to death. She ended up being adopted by a family -- a very lucky puppy indeed.

A few weeks ago someone brought in two boxes of rabbits that she found at a local park. There were 6 adult rabbits, and 2 babies -- so tiny that they looked like blind, hairless mice. The two babies didn't survive.

Recently several cages of rats were brought in. A guy came back from vacation only to find that his roommate had moved out but hadn't bothered to take his pets with him.

Last week we got a call from a local store -- there was a domestic rabbit running around their parking lot, and they were afraid it would get hit by a car. They requested that HAWS come out to get it.

All of these animals were abandoned by the very people who were supposed to be taking care of them. And these are probably the lucky animals. We really don't know how many abandoned pets DON'T survive.

Animals who have been raised to rely on humans for their every need generally don't have the survival skills to make it in our world. They risk starvation, getting hit by cars, attacked by other animals or succumbing to the weather or illness. I would guess that most die a horrible death.

One of the reasons HAWS was created was to provide a sancturary for animals who had no place else to go. I'm always in awe at the professional demeanor of our adoption staff; when taking in adopted animals they are very non-judgemental and try to make it as easy as possible for people who can longer take care of their pets, or just plain no longer want them. No matter what the reason for surrender, I have never heard them berate someone giving up their pet.

While giving up an animal may be emotionally difficult, or just plain embarressing -- the best thing for the animal is to ensure that they are given to someone who can care for them properly and keep them safe. If the only options are abandonment or facing your fears by bring them to a shelter, then please do the right thing for your pet and bring them to the shelter. Not only can you give your pet the final gift by doing the right thing, you can also give us information that will allow us to find the right home.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Pet Myths: "Bunnies belong outside!"

I hear this quite often -- usually from adults; "Rabbits are kept as outdoor pets, right?"

Just as a cat or a dog can be an outdoor pet, they really don't have to be. Here at HAWS we won't adopt out a rabbit if the adopter's intention is to house it outside.

Years ago it was common for pets to be kept outside. I suspect it had a lot to do with parasites such as fleas and ticks and the lack of an easy method for keeping them away from our furry friends. Now that we have ways to not only remove these pests, but to prevent them from ever hitching a ride on our furry friends, it has become the norm to keep a dog or cat inside. While no one raises an eyebrow when told that my dogs live inside with me, many people still express suprise that people keep their rabbits in the house.

One of our functions at HAWS is to adopt out companion animals that we hope will come to be considered members of the family. It's easier to form a connection with a family member when they're sharing your life with you indoors, then if they are removed from the family in an outdoor enclosure.

Additionally -- rabbits are prone to all sorts of nasty parasites such as fleas, lice and ticks. The worst is something called "Fly Strike" in which flys lay their eggs in living tissue and the hatching maggots live off the animal. We have gotten a number of stray and outdoor pets that come in requiring removal of these maggots.

Well-cared for, indoor rabbits are much less likely to get these parasites and are over-all healthier.

Another concern for the outdoor rabbit is having to deal with predators. Even a well secured hutch may be broken into by a determined racoon or fox. And if the predator cannot get in, rabbits can actually die from the shock of the fright they experience.

We've come a long way from the days when rabbits were domesticated as live-stock, or as a novelty pet. Many people share their homes with them as loving members of their families.

If you'd like to learn more about what rabbits are like as pets check out the website of the House Rabbit Society. If after you learn more about them and decide you might like to add a bunny as a member of your family stop by HAWS and check out the many rabbits we have waiting for a home.

Monday, May 4, 2009


Up until Saturday morning I could have told you that the weather in Waukesha the first Saturday in May would be cold and/or wet and rainy. That's the way it's been for the last 5 years that I've worked at HAWS. I know this because our Annual Walk is always held on this date.

Five years ago the walk had to be downright cancelled -- the grounds at Minooka Park were so flooded that we were unable to hold the event.

Last year it was raining so hard that we were forced to end our walk early. Of course as we were taking the tents down the sun decided to make an appearance.

However, Saturday, May 2, 2009 was a beautiful day -- we really couldn't have hoped for better weather. The temperature was in the mid 60's, the sun was out and while there were spots of mud on the trail, overall everything else was dry.

The Walk is HAWS biggest fun-raiser. There have been 26 years of them and they are run by a group of HAWS volunteers called The Friends of HAWS.

This year we had a great turn-out. Apparently not everyone is staying at home trying to avoid catching the Swine Flu!

The top photo is of Mystic meeting his fans! I had two girls tell me that they knew Mystic -- he had come to their school. Alas -- they didn't remember me -- even after I told them that I had come too, since I'm Mystic's driver.

Mystic also met HAWS Mascot Lucky -- although Mystic was very unimpressed.

The dog with the blue "do" was a huge hit at the walk.

And among the many contests held on Saturday was the dog-owner look-alike contest. Marilyn Mee from WKLH (a huge HAWS supporter) was our MC and is interviewing the little girl and her basenji. They DO look a bit a like, don't you think?