BY CHERESE COBB

Whether your companion animal suddenly passes away or you’ve had time to brace yourself, nothing can truly prepare you to lose the pet that you love. Every animal’s life is important, and each family chooses to celebrate it differently. Some pet owners throw euthanasia or celebration of life parties. Others put their pet’s photos in a scrapbook or light a memorial candle. Still, some turn their pet’s ashes into a vinyl record or diamond. From the commonplace to the unusual, here are 11 beautiful ways to honor your deceased pet.

1. Plan Your Pet’s Last Moments
Euthanasia can be painful and difficult for you, your family and your pet. But turning it into a spiritual sendoff can make it easier. “I’ve had families that hosted euthanasia parties, complete with family and friends dressed formally, drinking cocktails and eating gourmet food. I’ve done euthanasias outside on a beautiful day, under the pet’s favorite tree, or on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan,” says Elisa Horsch, D.M.V., founder of Ozaukee Home Vet LLC. “I’ve had families that have sobbed uncontrollably the entire time, and I’ve had families that shared funny stories and laughed joyfully through their tears. I’ve read Bible passages and poems, played all sorts of music, lit candles, and sang songs with owners as we prepared for euthanasia.”

2. Take Last Day Photos
Hire a professional photographer to take photos of your pet at the end of their life. “Cats mostly want to be snuggled or loved. If they still have an appetite, giving them their favorite food is a nice thing to do. If dogs are still mobile, take them on their favorite walk, then spoil them with their favorite human food. A lot of pet owners go through the McDonald’s drive-through and get cheeseburgers and ice cream cones. Others make a full steak dinner,” Horsch says. “If they’re not mobile or don’t have an appetite, have their favorite people gather around and share favorite memories. Dogs are extremely intuitive and will understand the beautiful feelings that accompany recognition of a life well-lived.” Photos of your last happy moments together can be used to create a memorial video, scrapbook or quilt.

3. Start New Traditions
On your pet’s adoption anniversary, bake birthday cake treats and take them to a local animal shelter. On their death anniversary, light a memorial candle, or write a personalized message on a balloon or paper lantern. During the holiday season, write a pet-related memory on each ring of a paper garland. Then read one each day as you countdown to Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa.

4. Have An Item of Jewelry Made
Several companies can turn your pet’s ashes into a lab-created diamond by extracting carbon and heating it to 2,500°F. In most cases, you can choose the cut, color and size. The memorial diamond can be incorporated into rings, necklaces or earrings. Likewise, Precious Metal Prints will let you take an impression of your pet’s nose and will turn it into a handcrafted necklace.

5. Create a Memorial Garden
Planting flowers or trees with special meanings in your garden to signify your pet’s life is a heart-warming daily reminder of the happy times you shared. Whether your pet lounged in a sunny spot in the yard or cooled off under a particular bush, choose a significant spot to plant something new. Instead of a traditional headstone, you can also use an animal-shaped statue, garden marker or birdbath.

6. Rescue Another Animal
When it comes to adopting another pet, there’s no right or wrong answer. “I know people who’ve gotten a pet the next day or committed to adopting another pet. Still, others have decided that they were going to move out of their house because they couldn’t be there anymore,” says Mental Health Therapist Amanda Fellerer, M.S., LPC-IT. The new pet isn’t a replacement. Every companion animal is different, so you’re not disrespecting the honor of your deceased pet by getting another one. “Grief is love with no place to go, so you’re just refocusing your love. In my own personal experience, the new pet has often brought up stories of the one that we lost, and sometimes, that’s a very helpful part of the grieving process.”

7. Donate Your Time to an Animal Shelter
Volunteering at a local animal shelter and giving your love to homeless dogs and cats is a healthy way to mourn the loss of your deceased pet. If you volunteer at an animal rescue organization, you may be able to help with administrative or creative tasks like photography, web design, accounting or writing. You can also help with cleaning, socializing or walking the animals. Other options include donating pet supplies, giving an honorary gift, sponsoring an animal or starting a memorial fundraiser.

8. Get a Pet Memorial Tattoo
Tattoo artists can create memorial tattoos by mixing less than a tablespoon of your pet’s ashes into the ink. Whether you choose to get a life-size paw print or a symbol that represents what your pet meant to you, it’s a lovely way to keep their legacy alive.

9. Have Your Pet’s Ashes Pressed Into a Record
And Vinyly is a U.K.-based company that will press one tablespoon of your pet’s ashes into a 7-or 12-inch vinyl record. It can also paint the sleeve with your four-legged friend’s cremated remains. Side A and Side B hold 18-22 minutes of audio, so you can recite the personalized poem that you wrote for your pet or record your Spotify pet playlist.

10. Turn Your Pet’s Hair Into a Keepsake Clothing Item
Crafters can knit your companion animal’s hair into keepsake sweaters, gloves, and purses. If your dog or cat has a short, coarse coat or if you haven’t been able to collect several ounces of fur during grooming, they can blend it with alpaca or wool. Already know how to knit? Etsy sellers (like SimplyHandspunYarn and PetHair2KnitWear) will process your pet’s fur into yarn for you, so you make your own snuggly momentos.

11. Turn Your Pet’s Ashes Into Fireworks
Some companies, like Angels Flight, will turn your pet’s ashes into fireworks. Every memorial fireworks display is designed to your specific requirements whether you want to personalize each firework with a brief farewell message or choreograph it to your favorite songs. If you choose self-fire fireworks and apply for a fireworks permit, you can also have your own memorial fireworks display at home or your pet’s favorite location.

How to Handle Your Pet’s Remains

Deciding how to handle your pet’s remains is a difficult decision. It depends on your financial situation, your religious beliefs and how you want your beloved animal to be remembered. Here are some of your options:

Cremation
There are three types of cremation: individual, semi-private and group. In an individual cremation, your pet is placed in the oven alone. It makes sure the ashes you get back aren’t mixed with the remains of other pets. During a semi-private cremation, your pet is placed into its own cremation tray and incinerated with 4-6 other animals at the same time. Because there’s a shared space above the animals, the ashes of other pets might be mingled with yours. In group cremation, pets from different families are cremated together and then scattered on private cemetery grounds or taken to the local landfill.

Aquamation
Aquamation (sometimes referred to as water cremation) is a gentle and eco-friendly way to handle your pet’s remains. It uses 90 percent less energy than cremation and has 1/10th of the carbon footprint. With aquamation, your pet’s body is respectfully placed in a biodegradable bag and then lowered in a stainless steel cradle. Sodium, potassium hydroxide and 202°F water are used to speed up the natural way your pet’s body breaks down. It results in powdery, white-to-tan ash that contains 20 percent more remains than cremation.

Home Burial
With a backyard pet burial, you avoid the cost of having a service provider make arrangements, and you’re near your beloved pet so that you can visit and take care of the grave. If you decide an at-home burial is right for your family, wrap your pet in a pillowcase, t-shirt or small blanket. Avoid plastic containers because they slow down the natural decaying process. Dig a hole that’s at least 3 feet deep in an area that doesn’t flood or get soggy. Also, keep the gravesite far away from underground utility lines and natural water sources like ponds and streams. Pet burial isn’t allowed in some Wisconsin counties, so it’s best to check with local authorities and your homeowner’s association before laying your pet to rest.

Cemetery Burial
Pet cemeteries let you honor your pets without worrying about what will happen to their graves if you have to move or pass away. They can help transport your pet’s body from a veterinarian’s office or your home to their facilities. Full-service pet cemeteries allow you to choose a plot, casket, vault and grave marker. They also offer memorials, visitations and graveside burials for an additional fee. Unlike human cemeteries, most pet cemeteries aren’t deeded in perpetuity. That means your pet’s gravesite can be closed or sold and used for other purposes.

Body Donation
It’s possible to donate your pet’s body to an Educational Memorial Program. Modeled after human cadaver donation programs, it accepts pets that have died from natural causes or were euthanized for medical reasons. They’re used to study anatomy and in place of live animals during non-recovery surgeries. In non-recovery surgeries, animals are euthanized before recovering from anesthesia. Currently, four veterinary schools have Educational Memorial Programs: Oregon State University, Tufts University, Western University and the University of Pennsylvania.

5 Ways To Heal After the Loss of a Pet

“People treat their pets differently, and that needs to be respected,” Fellerer says. “They’re so ingrained in our everyday routines that their loss can make a much bigger impact than anyone realizes.” How do you cope with the loss of a pet? These five expert tips will help you work through your grief.

1. Take Time to Grieve
When we lose our pets, grief can strike us all at once. Or it may surface weeks, months or even years after our pets’ deaths. Fellerer shared an analogy that explains how grief unfolds over time and why we still experience aftershocks when we hit milestones. Think of your life as a box. Your grief is a ball inside of it. At the bottom of the box, there’s a pain button. In the beginning, the grief ball slams into the pain button every time you move the box. Over time, it shrinks and slams into the pain button less often, giving you more time to heal between hits. For most people, the grief ball never disappears. Every now and then, it pounds the pain button, and the loss can be as overwhelming as it was in the beginning.

2. Express Your Emotions
Shock, anger, guilt, bargaining, denial and depression are like bubbles in a glass of champagne or soda. If you let them float to the surface, they’ll eventually pop and evaporate into thin air. If you bottle up your grief, you’ll explode if you’re shaken, and that, in turn, will impact you physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually. But you’ll also flatten more positive emotions like love, joy and peace.

3. Accept Feelings of Guilt
It’s normal to feel guilty about your pet’s death, but it’s also important to keep in mind that death is a natural part of life. “Our pets can communicate with us in a sense, but we can never really know exactly how they’re feeling,” Fellerer says. You may ask yourself: “Did I euthanize my pet too late or too soon?” If you’re having nagging thoughts like these, Horsch suggests telling yourself, “I loved my pet, and I did the best I could for him. His life was meaningful, and he’ll be remembered.”

4. Realize You Did the Best for Your Pet
“Euthanasia means “good death”. Pets that are allowed to pass at home do so in their most comfortable environment surrounded by their family,” Horsch says. “It’s also easier on pet owners to be at home for euthanasia—it’s private and quiet. Because pets are intuitive, if the people are more comfortable, so are the animals.” Regardless of whether your pet is put to sleep or naturally dies at home, remind yourself that you did the best that you could for your four-legged friend with the information you had at the time.

5. Get the Right Kind of Support
There’s no shame in pet grief. “In my experience, people want to talk about their pets. They want to remember the good times and need you to listen and truly care. They want to be reminded that they gave their pet a beautiful life,” Horsch says. Need someone to lean on? Consider free pet loss support groups in the area and national pet loss hotlines like Cornell University’s Pet Loss Support Hotline (607-253-3932) or Tufts University’s Pet Loss Support Hotline (508-839-7966).

BY KRISTIN CATALANO, FREELANCER

Ten months have passed since my soulmate has left me. I don’t believe in anything anymore. I don’t trust anyone anymore. I feel as alone as I did the day of his diagnosis. Even more so now that he is gone.

Otis was my first dog. I never even planned on getting a dog. He came into my life because a privacy fence that I put up in my yard offended my neighbors. I remedied the situation by getting a 12-week-old puppy. It sounds ridiculous, but it’s true. The first week was filled with sleep deprivation and Google searches on “puppy training.” By the second week, Otis and I were joined at the heart.

The Bond
Wherever I went, Otis went. And if Otis wasn’t invited, I would show up very briefly or not at all. As one of my friends put it, “Otis got to experience more in his life than most children.” He went on three road trips where he saw half of the country with his head out the window, ate cheeseburgers, stayed in fancy hotels, got to swim in the Atlantic Ocean and ran free on sandy beaches. I took him to friends’ houses, restaurant patios, coffee shops, bars and festivals. His wagging tail would swirl around in a circle while he would do a two-step walk-dance followed by a gymnastics routine each time he encountered a person in his path. He just couldn’t believe that everywhere he went, people were always throwing a party—just for him!

It’s hard to say if Otis liked people or dogs more. He would lie down and wait to say hello to doggy strangers on walks and would play “chase me, chase me, catch me if you can, my name is Otis” when his friends came over. When I would dog sit or foster, Otis was so patient and kind always offering up his beds and toys and even his bones to our guests. And when we were alone together, we did the simple things—multiple walks, “treat game,” sniffing and swimming at our lake cottage in the summer and sniffing and exploring in the snow at the Seminary Woods in the winter.

My dad always told me that Otis never took his eyes off of me. Ever since he was a puppy, he would follow me with his eyes. When I was on the computer, I would get startled when I’d turn and see him just staring at me. He would just appear, staring at me, like a ghost. When I’d leave the house, he would watch me out of the window like an abandoned child. When I left him at a friend’s house, he would watch me drive away with a look of horror. Otis’s eyes always looked so familiar to me like I knew him from somewhere…but I could never figure out how. I thought maybe his eyes looked like a famous person like Barack Obama or George Clooney, but they weren’t. They were just his. And I knew them. I remember one of my cousins telling me that Otis would live a very long time because of the deep bond we shared. I believed her. But it was a lie.

The Diagnosis
Ten years. That’s all I got. Ten years. What did I do wrong? Was he absorbing the stress from my unhealthy relationships? Did he die to get me unstuck—to get me to move on with my life? I don’t understand. Why do most people get 14 years or even longer? He didn’t have hip problems, eyesight issues or bad hearing. He wasn’t overweight. He was spry and limber. He was a 5-year-old dog in a 10-year-old dog’s body. I gave him vitamins. I avoided unhealthy treats. I bought him the best food. I avoided pesticides. I sparingly gave him flea and tick medicines. I brushed his teeth. He got plenty of exercise. I let him be himself. I never forced him to do anything he didn’t want to do (besides a bath and the vet). If I treated people the way that I treated Otis, with zero judgment and total acceptance of who they were, everyone in the world would want to be my best friend. I remember having a thought once, as we ventured out of the house together, that I would never feel guilty about how I cared for Otis. Now, all I feel is guilt.

In March, Otis started using his front legs to get up more…but my friend said her dog was the same age and was also having joint issues. In April, Otis threw-up once, was acting scared and his gums were pale. But then a few hours later, he was totally fine and eating and playing. In May, Otis had a limp for a half a day. When the vet checked him out she said his joints looked great. And what about the time even way before that in October when his legs were shaky and he laid down after playing chase at the dog park? But the vet said it was probably just a pinched nerve that resolved itself. “Humans get those too,” she told me.

On July 10, I made a same day appointment for Otis to go to the vet because he didn’t get up for breakfast. That was extremely abnormal for him. For two weeks, he was intermittently acting lethargic, was breathing heavy at times and was sometimes being finicky about his food. But I had just changed his food, there was a heat wave in Milwaukee and he drank the lake water when I took him swimming. Everyone I told chalked it up to the 100-degree weather or swimming in the lake because their dogs were also panting from the heat or got sick after swimming.

That morning, before I took Otis to the vet, I took him for a little walk. We got three houses down when a neighbor dog darted out onto the sidewalk and attacked him. This was the second time this same dog attacked Otis. This time the injury was more than just a puncture wound. It was a deep bite wound that needed stitches. These were strict COVID times, and I couldn’t go inside the vet office with Otis. I tried explaining over the phone to the vet what was going on with him for the past couple weeks, but the vet was more concerned about the dog bite and just gave him an antibiotic. He said the antibiotic “should clear up anything else that was going on with him.” I wasn’t satisfied with that answer because Otis was also running a 104-degree fever, so I requested a blood panel and a fecal exam. The fecal test was clear of parasites, but the vet didn’t take the time to evaluate the blood panel, and he didn’t take the time to feel on Otis’s abdomen. All he told me was that Otis was anemic and “let’s just wait and see if the antibiotic clears everything up.” Otis was so sick over that weekend. I stayed up with him putting a cold washcloth on his paws, trying to bring his fever down.

So much needless suffering.

On Monday morning, when I was able to get a copy of the blood test, I sent it to my friend who is a vet. She said that the results pointed to internal bleeding and that I should bring him to see her right away. She felt something on palpation, so she did an ultrasound. She found a grapefruit-sized mass attached to Otis’s spleen. The dog attack ruptured the tumor, and he was bleeding internally. The following morning, Otis had the mass removed. I prayed and prayed and prayed that it would be benign. But God didn’t listen. Does the power of prayer really work? If I would have blasted Otis’s disease on social media and asked everyone to pray for him, would he still be alive? I’ve seen people do that. Does it really work? Is that what I did wrong?

The Silent Killer
Hemangiosarcoma is a cancer of the blood vessels, and because the symptoms are never obvious, it is also called “the silent killer.” I call it the silent killer because it crept into my heart and stole the love of my life. The survival rate for hemangiosarcoma with surgery alone is 1-3 months. With chemotherapy it is 5-7 months. Only 10 percent of dogs will survive for one year. I wanted to try oral chemotherapy, but I had to wait three weeks for an appointment with an oncologist, and within that time frame of frantic internet searches, I got sucked into hemangiosarcoma support groups on Facebook. At the time, I felt blessed to find these groups, since veterinarians view hemangiosarcoma as a death sentence. I didn’t have anyone supportive in my personal life to help me navigate.

I was soon brainwashed into believing that chemo doesn’t work…but herbs and supplements and an immunotherapy vaccine might. When I hear my thoughts, it sounds like I am pushing blame, but I was so overwhelmed with vulnerability and desperation. I lost 20 lbs. within a few weeks, and my body would physically shake when sitting perfectly still. My mind was like a pendulum. I would go from staring at the computer searching for a cure for Otis’s cancer to staring at Otis to make sure he was still breathing. Back and forth. I was obsessed. I was a zombie. I was unable to figure out anything on my own. All I wanted was for someone to say, “Kristin. Let me help you. Let’s look at all of this medical information together, read everything we can and come up with a plan.” And that’s what a bunch of strangers on irresponsible Facebook pages did. I listened to bad advice because nobody else was speaking.

Two weeks before Otis passed away, he had a clear ultrasound. No sign of cancer anywhere. The day before he passed away, an ultrasound showed that his liver was covered in tumors. He was bleeding to death internally. I tried so hard to save him. I was on the phone with the Facebook people who were telling me to try other remedies. It’s asinine looking back. He couldn’t breathe. He had no oxygen. I couldn’t let him suffer like that. I begged my vet to come over in the middle of the night to help him pass. He died in my arms. I was not able to hold it together. He was so scared, and I couldn’t be strong for him. Three months and one day after getting his spleen removed, Otis was gone. It was like we both died on October 15, 2020.

The Present
I am a shell of a person now. My soul has left with his. And yet, I am told to move on. I am told to move forward and to just get over it. I am trying and failing miserably. I cried for six months non-stop. I discovered that biting down on the insides of my cheeks until I tasted blood helped to hold back the tears when I was in public. I hit “pause” on certain friendships and relationships. I came to realize that the type of friends that I wanted and needed were those who knew how to “listen” rather than those who preferred to tell me what to do, tell me what to feel, flood my inbox with pictures of their living dogs, or tell me that they understood what I was going through. But how could they? What nobody seemed to understand was that I didn’t have children. I didn’t have a husband. All I had was Otis. When I say that he was my everything, I truly mean that. He was my everything. A lot of people talk about how their dog was their heart dog or soul mate, but it’s not the same. It’s not even close to what I had with Otis.

I tried coping creatively. I wrote a screenplay, I started a novel, I even created a meditation so that I could talk with Otis. And it did help, but my environment was tormenting me. I couldn’t be in my house surrounded by Otis anymore when he wasn’t there. Everything was a reminder. I couldn’t live a few houses away from the dog that attacked Otis and see him happily walking past my window with his owner. It gave me PTSD.

I had to remove myself from what was once “ours.” In a matter of two weeks, I made a decision to leave. I moved across the country, I got a new job, I rented out my house, and I broke up with my boyfriend. I even got a puppy to see if what everyone said is true. “Just get another dog and that will ease the pain.” But, if anything, it made it worse because I am unable to love him the same.

Someone told me once that we have chapters in our life, to keep on moving through, and I’ll find love again. But I am trying and it’s not working. The only thing that will fix this hole is having Otis back. And with that, I wait. I wait to see those familiar eyes. If reincarnation is real, then I will see him again.

“Goodnight Oatsie. Mama loves you the most.” Is what I said to Otis every night before bed. I would press my forehead against his and say, “Sleep good. Have lots of dreams about squirrels and other fun things, OK? I’ll see you tomorrow. I love you.” I’d end our ritual by giving him a bunch of kisses and then asking him for a kiss in return. I wrote that identical message on his urn. I still say the same thing to him every night before bed. Only now, I can’t feel his kisses.

I always thought the phrase “life is short” was odd. It’s not short. It’s long. And it’s excruciatingly long when you have to live it without your best friend.

BY MICHELLE PELLETIER, WIGGLE BUTTS OWNER

Who knew! 2020 certainly wasn’t on my to do list; not as an individual, business owner or pet parent. Like many of you I felt like I was punched in the gut. Lockdowns, shelter in place orders, essential workers, and the new normal were pushed into our vocabulary. But gratefully, we survived.

Like many of you, and 3.2 million other families in the U.S., I added a new member to my furry family. We can all agree those wonderful adoptions equaled a lot more food, and then even more poop!

Many of us faced financial hardships and limited our outings by making shopping changes. People started buying pet food at the grocery store, so they could combine shopping trips or save money. Instacart was my friend!

These new habits changed what many dogs were fed. We saw big changes in what people were buying or not buying. A lot more toys and chews sold for all the new “family time” that was created by working from home, and also changes in which foods people were buying. Grocery food came with some unwanted side effects like a little more itching here, a little more shedding there, or an extra dirty ear in this one, and strange poop from that one. As people found their new normal, they came searching for higher quality pet foods, in their new budget, that helped reduce those pesky side effects.

Did you know that feeding one of the most well-known and top selling grocery foods is actually MORE expensive than a comparable food sold at independent pet food stores? Trying to compare 25-pound bags with 28-pound bags or the 33-pound bags with the 40-pound bags is nearly impossible. That’s what the dog food companies want. If it’s hard, they think we just keep buying blindly, but we are all smarter than that. Let me show you.

You should ask two things when looking at pet food when all other things are equal.

1.What is the price per POUND?
2.What are the calories per CUP?

The unnamed grocery store food costs about $63.99 for 47 pounds. That is $1.36 per pound. Each cup has 353 calories and includes ingredients that we recommend avoiding, including some scary stuff

The comparable food found at independent pet supply stores is $64.99 for 44 pounds. That is $1.47 per pound, which sounds more expensive I know, but each cup has 468 calories, so you get more meals per bag from the good guys.

The other benefit for shopping at small pet food stores is they know all the stuff that is in the food and where the ingredients come from. No scary stuff here!

This magic can be seen in all types of food we carry: grain-free, with grain, high protein, refrigerated fresh foods and complete raw foods.

You don’t have to sacrifice the quality of your pet’s food, and potentially their health, to save money. In addition, nearly all the independent pet stores offer curbside pickup and home delivery services. You can even find them on Instacart.

BY ERIN HENNEN, GROOMER

With so many people working from home, now is the perfect time to practice keeping up on your pup’s grooming needs at home! Not only does regular brushing and grooming help your pup avoid tangles, but it can also help with excess shedding, dander and smell. With just a few well-purchased tools, you can use your spare time bonding with your pup over grooming.

1 First thing to remember is that the goal is to make grooming as positive as possible. If your pup isn’t a huge fan of the brush, start with short increments and slowly build up. Even a few minutes of well-rewarded grooming can be a game changer. Start with a small section of your dogs back using a slicker brush, which is a brush with bent, metal pins. The size of the brush really doesn’t matter. Just focus on a small section at a time. Part the hair to the skin and brush a section working from the back of the dog towards the front or from the bottom of the leg working up. Holding the hair slightly parted so that you can see the skin as you work ensures that you are brushing all the way through and that the brush is not skipping any tangles or clumps of dead hair. If this isn’t your dog’s favorite pastime, try rewarding them for sitting still for a few minutes at a time, or have a partner offer a tasty treat such as a toy filled with peanut butter.

2 Once you have a section brushed out, go back over the area with a comb. While a brush may skip over a section, the comb will make sure to catch anything you’ve missed. Any metal comb is great for this job; no matter the size! A smaller-toothed comb will help in tight areas like around the eyes.

3 Key areas to focus on are the areas that tend to matte (tangle) up first or shed excessively. On longer-coated dogs, try to focus on the head, ears, tail and legs. Since we pet our pups most frequently on their back, you’re more likely to notice a spot that needs extra attention during a snuggle session. If you have a shedding dog, focus on the neck/chest and the back of the legs.

4 If you have a smooth or short-coated dog, the slicker brush is still a great tool, but I love using a curry brush to finish up and help with shedding. These are rubber brushes and can double as a great tool to suds up your pup in the bath!

If you need assistance or an in-person demo, ask your local groomer to help! We’re always happy to show you the best way to keep up on your pup at home or to recommend the right tools for you!

 

BY CHERESE COBB, FREELANCER

These gunsniffing K-9s are patrolling Mayfair Mall with security officers to find firearms,which aren’t allowed in the shopping center, even with a permit.

Mayfair Mall launched the Vapor Wake Public Safety Canine Detection Program (VWK9) after a 15-year-old male shot 17 rounds that left eight people injured. He faces eight counts of first-degree reckless injury and one count of possessing a firearm while under age 18. FETCH isn’t naming the suspect because he’s being charged as a juvenile.

The VWK9 is in partnership with Auburn University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Auburn, Ala. Dr. Paul Waggoner, co-director of the college’s Canine Performance Sciences program (CPS), and a team of researchers began developing Vapor Wake technology nearly two decades ago to search people and baggage for dangerous chemicals.

Since 2004, it’s produced more than 165 Vapor Wake K-9s. They’re most widely recognized for their participation in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City and in the 2012 Presidential Inauguration. However, they also work with Amtrak, Disney, Major League Baseball, the National Football League and the U.S. Capitol Police. They’re trained to check the air for thermal “plumes” that may contain explosive particles. Thermal plumes are produced by body heat and are invisible to the naked eye. When people stand still, they go upward. If people begin moving, they trail behind them. It’s like how a boat or a flock of geese leave a wake pattern in the water.

Auburn University breeds 60 Vapor Wake K-9s per year. Labrador Retrievers make up 95 percent of its dogs. The other 5 percent are floppy-eared, sporty breeds, such as the German Shorthair. Once a litter is born, the puppies’ training begins. For the first six months, they’re introduced to different people, sounds and surfaces. Then they enter a four-month canine program in federal prison systems in Georgia and Florida. When the K-9s are a year old, they’re sent to VWK9 in Anniston, Ala. They’re trained for 15 to 18 months, compared to only two to four months for standard explosive detection dogs.

While traditional bomb-sniffing K-9s can only detect statically placed explosives, Vapor Wake K-9s can pinpoint explosives on a moving target. That’s why they cost around $50,000 each. Their certification is only good for a year. Then they need to be recertified with their handler to test their operational skills. Dan Ryan, senior vice president of Security at Brookfield Properties, says that Mayfair Mall didn’t receive any private or public grants for the VWK9 program. Its K-9s are provided by Allied Universal Services.

“For operational purposes, we aren’t able to discuss the number of dogs involved in the program, their work schedules or their names. The dogs range from 1 to 7 years of age,” Ryan says. “Security officers are responsible for their assigned canine partners 24/7. They’re paid through a happy life filled with food, water, friendship and the occasional game of tug of war or fetch with a tennis ball.”

Instead of being obedient to their handlers, they’re only obedient to the odor of a gun or bomb. Security officers are trained to walk behind their K-9s through a crowd of people who are screened without physical contact. The K-9s nostrils move independently allowing them to determine the direction of an odor. They also smell one drop of Kool-Aid in 10 Olympic-size swimming pools.

“The Vapor Wake K-9s could accidentally hit on a customer who’d recently come from a range or someone who’d been out hunting earlier in the day,” Ryan says. That’s because their sense of smell is almost 40 times greater than ours. They even can separate aromas into individual scents, no matter how nuanced. “This is why our approach is customer-friendly. Once a patron is identified as a potential firearm carrier, mall security officers use handheld metal detectors to verify that a weapon is or isn’t present,” Ryan says.

If the customer is cooperative and the hit is positive, they’re asked to remove the weapon from the property. If the patron is uncooperative, they’re asked to leave. Depending on the circumstance, the police also may intervene. When firearm detections occur, they’re brought to the attention of the police officers that patrol Mayfair Mall, so they can be ready to assist if needed.

“At Mayfair Mall, our highest priority is the safety of everyone that walks through our doors. The VWK9 helps keep guns out of the mall by focusing only on those that may have violated our ‘no firearms’ rule,” Ryan says. “While many of our safety protocols happen behind the scenes, this one is visible to the public. Our hope is that the presence of the dogs will not only aid in the detection of firearms but bring an additional sense of security to our guests and employees.”

BY CHERESE COBB, FREELANCER

You thought Marco Polo was well-traveled? You ain’t seen nothin’ yet. From Caracas to Tasmania, these Instafamous pets capture the spirit of adventure—follow them now.

1. [email protected]_traveller_dog

Miami is one of the world’s most jet-setting pets. “He’s an unusual Chihuahua because he’s sweet and friendly with everyone,” says owner Marianna Chiaraluce. She adopted him when he was 7 months old. He was unsuitable for canine competitions because of a minor health issue. “But this made me love him even more,” she says. Their very first adventure was a three-month road trip from Chicago to Los Angeles. Since then, Miami has visited President Lincoln’s house in Springfield, Ill.; Elvis’ birthplace in Memphis, Tenn.; and the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, Mo. He’s also the Pet General Manager at The Box in Riccione, one of the best-known seaside resorts in Northern Italy.

2. [email protected]

Photographer Hunter Lawrence shares Aspen with 284K followers on Instagram. He adopted the Golden Retriever from a small coastal town near Houston, Texas. On Thanksgiving morning in 2012, he saw a listing for a new litter of puppies posted online. He immediately ran out the door to go check them out. Aspen loves getting buried in the snow, even if he sometimes eats snowballs, and diving into icy water. He’s visited eight different states and Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada—one of the prestigious stops on the World Cup skiing circuit. The 8-year-old currently lives in Santa Barbara, Calif. Whether he’s basking in the sunshine or in an ice cream coma, he always has the biggest smile on his face. “He’s genuinely happy…if we’re near him, he just lights up,” Lawrence says.

3. [email protected]_z_pazurem

Snupi (which means sweet in Dutch) is undoubtedly the most famous dog in Poland. He has his own comic book called “Travels with Claw.” “We know very little about his past,” says owner Izabella Miklaszewski. “He was adopted by a family but returned after a week, possibly because of the cost of treating his kennel cough.” The 12-year-old mongrel has visited 36 countries on five continents. He’s also traveled over 3,200 nautical miles crossing the Amazon River and the Atlantic Ocean from Morocco to Brazil. Snupi has also conquered the 13,123-foot peak of Toubkal in Morocco. His record altitude is 19,101 feet above sea level at the Misti Volcano in Peru. He’s also trekked through the Cordillera Huayhuash, an 81-mile trail with an elevation between 10,826 and 18,012 feet.

4. Rio and [email protected]

Best friends Rio and Bruce have been to eight states and nine national parks. Rio is a 3-year-old gray and white domestic longhair. She didn’t instantly warm up to her 1.5-year-old dog sidekick. “It took a little while for them to really become friends. But Rio is a very brave kitty and quickly figured out that Bruce is a great play buddy,” says owner Maria Roper. “When we go hiking Rio normally follows Bruce’s lead. When we’re exploring a campsite, it’s the opposite. Rio explores and Bruce follows her around, and they’re just so cute together.” Last summer, the traveling cat and dog duo camped in the Black Hills. They napped on rocks together whenever they got tired. Then Rio and Bruce visited Sequoia National Forest and the Pacific coast, where they saw the ocean for the first time.

5. [email protected]

Unhappy after 10 years in the corporate world, Rich East sold his house and all of his possessions. Then he quit his job to travel with his rescue cat Willow in a campervan. Since leaving their hometown of Hobart, Tasmania, they’ve covered more than 31,000 miles. “Willow spends most of her time off leash with supervision. She rarely wanders more than 100 yards from the van, but when she does, I can find her with her tracking collar,” East says. “She’s made my van a home and the whole of Australia her backyard.” The 6-year-old has visited New South Wales, Queensland, Northern Territory, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory.

6. [email protected]

An Iraqi war vet with post-traumatic stress disorder and depression, Stephen Simmons was homeless. For five years, he lived out of his Jeep with his military service dog Puppi. In April 2013, he was sitting outside a grocery in Grants Pass having a sandwich when a homeless girl came up with a box of free kittens. Simmons held Burma and couldn’t resist him. The black cat spent the first eight weeks of his life in a damp tent during the cold, rainy Oregon winter. Burma, who has 73K Instagram fans, has traveled to 31 states with Simmons and his girlfriend, Nicole Rienzie. She and her two Instafamous cats, Monk and Bean, have also joined the trio, becoming a blended family of six. “Although Burma grew up on the go…he’s made me believe in something much bigger than us and this world again,” Simmons says.

7. Max and [email protected]_et_louise

Thiago Ferreira documents the adventures of Parson Russell Terriers Max and Louise who have 68K Instagram followers. Max arrived in 2009 for Christmas. He was only 49 days old. Louise was Max’s Christmas gift a few years later. Before she was adopted in Caracas, Venezuela, Max used to sleep most of the time. But since that day, he’s had his own partner in crime. Max and Louise have lived with the photographer in Paris and Lisbon and accompany him every year when he visits Rio de Janeiro for Christmas. “They love to jump off boats for a dip in the water,” Ferreira says. They’ve visited the French Alps, Las Vegas, the Greek island of Mykonos, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Miami Beach.

8. [email protected]_lilo

Lilo is a 4-year-old Pembroke Welsh corgi from Calgary, Alberta. Wearing bandanas and Corgi goggles (or “coggles”), she’s been adventuring in the Canadian Rockies since 2016. “We started Lilo on short hikes with barely any elevation first, then slowly built up her endurance and stamina to longer and harder hikes,” says owner Aiko Dolatre. “Even with that, we still have to be mindful of her health, not letting her jump down from high places on the trail and keeping a closer eye on her in hot weather conditions.” Lilo has ridden a wooden horse in the Enchanted Forest and braved the Capilano Suspension Bridge. She’s also visited Prairie Mountain, Sunwapta Falls, Johnston Canyon and Moraine Lake.

9. [email protected]

Born and raised in Dallas, Texas, Stephen Martin joined the Army in 2005. Seven years later, he moved from his duty station at NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium to Colorado Springs. That’s where he adopted Ollie, a Wirehaired Fox Terrier mix, who’s climbed 37 of Colorado’s 14ers. Ollie, who has 21K Instagram followers, loves drinking out of creeks and lying down in them. Martin and Ollie start hiking at 3 a.m. and sit on the peak for an hour or two before sunrise. Because dogs see in dichromatic color, Martin doesn’t really know what a gorgeous sunrise looks like to Ollie.“But he’ll sit there on the rock next to me…and I watch him enjoy it,” he says. “I feel like he knows when we reach the top.”

4 Hidden Travel Dangers for Pets
Want to live with no excuses and no regrets?
Here are 4 dangers to watch out for.

BY CHERESE COBB, FREELANCER

Anxiety: According to “Scientific Reports”—an online multidisciplinary open-access journal—50 percent of dogs are afraid of loud noises, heights and walking on metal grids. Cats are commonly stressed by another person or pet. “So let your pets sniff all the things they want to sniff. Let them hide if something spooks them—in your arms or a backpack, so you become their safe space,” Roper says. “They’ll gradually build more and more confidence and learn to love new experiences.”

Fishing Gear: Keep them away from your tackle boxes and bait buckets. Dogs often get fishing hooks stuck in their nose and tongue. It’s not rare to see dogs that have swallowed, well…hook, line and sinker. If you’ve got any lead sinkers or jigheads lying around, be careful. If your dogs are naughty enough to swallow one (or several), they can cause lead poisoning.

Pressure-Treated Wood: Pressure-treated wood is coated with chromate copper arsenate (CCA) that protects it from insects and rot. Because it lasts 20 years or more, it’s been used to build 90 percent of all outdoor wooden structures in the US, says the Environmental Working Group. CCA is dangerous because it’s made with arsenic. It can seep into the soil and pool on wooden surfaces. Whether you’re picnicking or fly fishing on an arsenic-treated deck, keep an eye on your pets. Don’t let them lap up puddles or play in dirt that could have ashes from a CCA wood fire. One tablespoon contains a fatal dose of arsenic.

Snakes: According to a new study published in “Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology,” cats are twice as likely to survive venomous snake bites than dogs. That’s because they often swat at snakes with their paws while dogs investigate them with their nose and mouth. Venom acts faster on dog plasma than cats or humans. Without snakebite first aid, dogs will quickly bleed to death. “Dogs are usually more active than cats, which isn’t great after a bite has taken place,” writes Lead Researcher Bryan Fry. “The best practice is to remain as still as possible to slow the spread of venom through the body.”

BY JESSICA PAIRRETT, COPY EDITOR

Who among us doesn’t think our precious pups are smart? Well, okay, maybe not all of us do. While our dogs are smart in their own ways, not every pooch out there is born to earn an A on every task he or she is asked to do. But some dogs are simply smarter, right?

There’s no cut-and-dry answer to that. In looking at a dog’s intellect, we need to take a step back and consider just how is a dog’s intelligence determined. Is it by the number of tricks he does or the number of words he knows? What about if your dog is savvy out on the agility course? That’s not a feat all dogs are built to master. Then there are dog breeds we may consider highly intelligent war heroes, those who put their lives on the line and display bravery as they sniff out dangerous battlefields. And we cannot forget to include how well dogs can pick up on our emotions, often referred to in the human workplace as emotional intelligence. Let’s take a look at how dogs have varying degrees of intellectual and emotional intelligence.

Intelligence by Breed

So who is the expert on this issue? One of the places we often turn to is the American Kennel Club (AKC). As one of the authorities on all things dog, would it surprise you to learn that the AKC currently does not have a list of so-called smart breeds? Wisely, the AKC takes the stance that dogs are individuals, and to answer the intelligence question, we need to look at breeds and how they are classified. For example, working breeds have instincts and natural abilities that allow them to quickly perform jobs while other breeds are highly driven to please their people.

In short, the AKC views a dog’s intelligence based on breed, training and natural traits. Clear as mud, right? We can thankfully refer to the work of famed canine psychologist Stanley Coren, who had once educated us about different types of intelligence (see sidebar). He has provided us with one metric—working intelligence—with which to compare our dog’s smarts to others.

In Coren’s book “The Intelligence of Dogs,” he took a dive into the working intelligence of dog breeds. His research included lengthy surveys from about 200 dog obedience judges. Numerous breeds were rated on how well they obeyed commands and how quickly they learned new tricks. Those deemed the brightest breeds were the dogs that could obey a command 95 percent of the time and learn a command in five or fewer tries. And then, ta-da! The 10 reportedly smartest dog breeds list was born.

Top 10 in Working Intelligence

1) Border Collie: The quintessential agility dog, Border Collies are full of energy and smarts. Also recognized as a herding dog, this breed is a true workaholic and an athlete who also loves to cuddle with its people.

You might be familiar with the famous Chaser, a Border Collie who knew more than 1,000 words. Chaser’s person, John Pilley, trained her to learn and retain words much greater than “ball” and “toy,” said Karen B. London, PhD, a certified applied animal behaviorist and certified professional dog trainer. Chaser could even distinguish between nouns and verbs! Pilley remained modest about Chaser’s depth of knowledge, though. He maintained that other dogs could also learn just as Chaser did, that is, as long as other dogs were taught like Chaser: sometimes many hours a day and in a methodical and extensive manner that also included fun and play.

2) Poodle: How does this froufrou dog come in at second place? It’s easy! The Poodle (all breed sizes) is a friendly, active breed with a reputation as one of the most trainable out there. Regular exercising and training are musts to keep their extremely intelligent brains busy and out of any sassy behaviors. For these reasons, Poodles also make great hunting buddies helping you track and retrieve.

3) German Shepherd: All hail the police (and military) hero! The list of these brave dogs in history is long. With a strong work ethic, they require a job to do so they can burn off energy. This is a loyal friend of the family and a wonderful guard dog. Their affection and intellect also serves them well in roles as guide dogs or in other forms of service to their humans.

4) Golden Retriever: The sweet, lovable Golden can have impeccable manners with help from your obedience training and socialization with other pups and people. Goldens love to be active, whether it’s swimming, running, fetching, hunting or hiking with his family. You’ve likely heard of Goldens doing search-and-rescue or other service work.

5) Doberman Pinscher: Hailing from Germany, these brave dogs are proven guards. But their working intelligence also makes them ideal therapy, rescue, military and police dogs. The Dobie’s strength, speed and endurance has also led to their solid reputation as protectors.

6) Shetland Sheepdog: Having intelligence with a sense of humor, Shelties have an abundance of energy that’s made for a long history of herding and keeping watch over its flock and family. They also are very affectionate and playful, enjoying playtime with children and learning new tricks.

7) Labrador Retriever: There’s a reason Labs have topped the list of lovable dogs. If you have one in your home, you know their affectionate, playful natures are top Lab qualities. The breed is also an active one that makes for a great running companion. Being gentle, people-pleasing and easy to train also make the breed ideal for search and rescue and other service work.

8) Papillon: The smallest breed on the list is the butterfly dog, nicknamed for their unique ear shape. These intelligent dogs are as beautiful as they are happy and friendly. While small in stature, the Papillon is fast and quite the little athlete up for whatever training you’re ready to offer.

9) Rottweiler: Solidly built, Rotties have made excellent working dogs since their Germany origins. This herding breed also falls into the military and police dog bucket. Rotties, devoted companions that they are, are great service and therapy dogs. And they take on the obedience circuit, too!

10) Australian Cattle Dog: This working dog of Blue Heeler origin is full of energy—physical and mental! ACD parents should have energy to expend as this breed needs to work, whether it’s in agility, herding, tracking or general obedience.

So, there you have it: the top 10 smartest breeds as measured by working intelligence. But don’t forget: Breed isn’t the only factor influencing intelligence. You also have to consider their personality traits and the amount and type of training you’ve done together.

My Dog Didn’t Make the List!

Worried your dog’s smarts might not be up to par? Don’t be! First, remember that this data was gathered from obedience judges, which could have been subjective. Ever had a bad experience with a certain breed of dog? Think of your bias (good or bad) around that particular breed, and recognize that is your opinion. And that’s perfectly okay!

But if you want to bond with your dog while upping their working intelligence, Petfinder.com offers some great tips.

First, remember that all dogs are trainable. Find what motivates him and watch him excel. Second, make sure to use positive reinforcements whether that includes food, lots of pets, a short game of fetch, bubbles to pop or another activity that is super motivating.

Build your dog’s intelligence through interactive games, sports and agility, food puzzles or snuffle mats. Remember that motivation works wonders. Remember that smarter breeds require more of something (stimulation, activity or attention) that keeps their minds sharp and their bodies physically active, according to Petfinder.com. Bond through regular walks, other exercise and play sessions and behavior training.

Finally, make sure that no matter what you do, get up and interact with your dog. Just as a child learns and grows as their mom or dad spends quality time with them, so dogs do with you. And besides, do you really need a specific reason to spend time with your furry companions?

Intelligence in Many Forms

We’ve talked a lot about a dog’s working intelligence. But what if one of these dog breeds isn’t for you? Remember that all dogs are individuals and there are so many kinds of intelligence that can be paired with your dog’s style. Find the one that best suits her or him. After all, the best kind of dog is the one perfectly fitting for your lifestyle.

I remember how I once compared my now-senior dog’s intelligence to that of his prior packmate’s. Buddy was a rule-breaker, not a rule-follower, and truly would not have ranked high on working intelligence. Lucky, however, ranks way up there in interpersonal intelligence. His communication skills often amaze me, including his many appropriately timed sighs (huffs)—even when I don’t think he’s listening! Lucky’s other pack member, Taco, ranks up there in adaptive intelligence. He’s a sneaky one for sure!

No matter the breed of dog we keep, we should all take the time to figure out our dog’s true intellect. Find out what makes your dog happy and feed that. Let them explore their interests, said London. And as Pilley believed, you’ll find better communication—and happiness—with your dog because of it.

What do you think? What type of intelligence does your dog show?
Are we missing a type of intelligence your dog displays?
Let us know at our Facebook page!

BY MICHELLE SEROCKI, FREELANCER

What a strange time we’re living in. Imagine how strange your pets must think it is too. They feel your unsettled energy. If their routine has been upended, they’re likely feeling unsettled too. It’s been a long end to winter with even more isolation than our Wisconsin hibernation typically includes. Spring brings new hope with rising temperatures, buds sprouting and the pandemic on the decline. Experts say that fresh air is crucial to sustain good mental health, and this applies to our dogs as well. But with people flocking to limited public outdoor outlets, it can seem like there’s nowhere safe to go with your favorite Fido.

Pit Bull Advocates of America (PBAOA) has Southeastern Wisconsin’s only private dog park open year-round. In exchange for a modest donation, the Dog Days program allows pet parents the opportunity to reserve over an acre of fenced-in yard space for their dog to play, explore and relax in a completely private and safe environment. All dogs benefit from a change in scenery, new smells and fun exploration. Relax and bond with your dog, play fetch, work on training or tackle the agility course. Watch your dog light up and be free at the Rescue Retreat.

When the Rescue Retreat became a reality for PBAOA in 2016, they had no idea it held so many unknown possibilities. The nonprofit was ultra-focused on programs they were already running and excited to have the new location to expand in. As volunteers sat in the breathtaking and secure space watching their rescue dogs run freely, explore vigorously and relax effortlessly, the concept of Dog Days was born. A vision for dogs that had nowhere to freely and safely explore the world… until now. A vision of dog play dates and parties. A vision of dogs doing what they should be free to do best. Just. Be. Dogs.

There are no unknown humans or animals to be concerned with during your scheduled play time. It’s your choice if anyone joins you and who those people and/or pets will be. The folks at the Rescue Retreat have a special spot in their hearts for reactive rovers, and Dog Days is an ideal offering for animals that can’t be around other dogs and/or people. No judgement. No scrutiny. All 30-minute play times must be scheduled. No walk-ins will be accommodated. All breeds are always welcome.

Your private play session will not involve any unfamiliar dogs or people. There are no volunteers present. You will need to monitor your own scheduled play time. This means you must arrive and leave on time. Others are relying on you to make this safe for their dogs.

Scheduled play time is always in 30-minute increments. If you arrive 15 minutes late for a 30-minute play session, you cannot stay an extra 15 minutes. Play sessions are scheduled and are often booked up. Please be on time, and be kind to others using this service for their dogs by leaving at your scheduled end time.

If you arrive early and there’s still another dog playing, you must stay in your car with your dog until they exit the yard and are back in their car. As mentioned, many of the dogs that have used the private park for years do so because they can’t be around other dogs and/or humans. It’s so important that players are respectful of other players limitations and challenges.

During the pandemic, the folks at the Rescue Retreat have taken extra precautions to remain open while not contributing to the spread of COVID-19. We have hand sanitizer at the gate and Clorox wipes onsite. We encourage all players to wash their hands as soon as possible once they’ve left.

Treat yourself and your dog to some safe, socially distant outside time at the Rescue Retreat. You can find more information on the Dog Days program as well as the schedule on the PBAOA website: https://pitbulladvocates.org/owner-support/dog-days/

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