With spring upon us and summer around the corner, many of us know the problems associated with allergies. A few of us even know the heartbreak of discovering someone in the family is allergic to the household pet. A large number of people give up the beloved dog or cat, while others take steps to delineate the allergens – from thorough cleanings and keeping the pet from the bedroom to taking allergy shots. Animal dander is not the only allergy from which people suffer – pollen, dust, and other allergens impact our bodies. Did you know our dogs and cats can also be affected by allergens? And, it’s not always a food allergy.
Many pet owners are concerned about corn in pet food products; some even stay away from all grain products. “Grain-free” pet foods are popular around the country, but it may not be rice, wheat, or corn to which your pet is allergic. Environmental allergens, such as pollen, fungus, even bugs can cause your dog or cat problems.
When Greg and I adopted Mary a few months ago, we were told she most likely had an allergy. Her foster mom, to be proactive, fed her a grain-free, salmon dog food. Mary didn’t seem fond of the food so when we brought her home, we put her on a grain-free venison product. However, her allergy situation didn’t abate, so our vet recommended we test Mary to be sure as to what she’s allergic to, so that we weren’t guessing as to the type of food to feed her.
We received the results of her allergy test in April. To our delight, Mary has only four food allergies (one being salmon – the others are corn, white potatoes, and flax). To our dismay, her primary problems are environmental. Among MANY other things, Mary is allergic to five types of grasses, a plethora of weeds (such as ragweed and lambs quarter), several trees (including elm and maple), mosquitoes, feathers, and cotton (is there a towel or blanket NOT made of cotton?!) So, Mary, like many people, undergoes allergy shots. We recently started her second series.
I am so glad we listened to our vet and pursued the discovery to what she’s allergic – we also received a results booklet explaining her allergies in greater depth. I never would have guessed my dog would be allergic to our elm tree in the back yard and the cotton towels used for bathing. Knowing we can treat her allergy problems for, in essence, less than $20 per month is a relief ($195 for the first year and $160 thereafter). Greg and I are committed to helping Mary endure these goofy allergies. Though we won’t cut down our elm tree, I found some non-cotton towels (which I even take to the groomer)!
Just like people can experience and then solve their allergy problems, so, too, can we discover and solve our pet’s discomfort. Some experts estimate more than 30 percent of pets’ skin irritations can be attributed to allergies.
As pet owners, we are responsible for the health of our dogs and cats. If your pet’s feet are discolored, they scratch their ears a lot, or have bald spots on the skin, talk with your vet and consider having an allergy test run. The initial outlay can be a bit overwhelming, but when you break down as I did a per month cost, it’s in essence a Starbucks a week; I can give up gourmet coffee to keep my pet healthy and happy – I’ll enjoy an extra cup at home with my beloved animals instead!
It’s Children's Book Week, a time to celebrate children's books and children’s authors. Three of my four current published works are written for children (but adults seem to enjoy them as well!) -- I've been fortunate to visit a few classrooms recently in preparation and celebration of this special literary recognition.
As both a writer and a reader I've been influenced by many authors, most notably Laura Ingalls Wilder. She was my inspiration during my youth – I read all her “Little House” books, and I've read her works several times during my adult years as well. Since I grew up in southeastern Iowa, I related to Mrs. Wilder’s farm life, particularly in Missouri where she spent her later years. That home is located near Mansfield, MO – my maiden name is Mansfield -- combining those factors, I was thrilled when, while I was in high school, my parents took me to visit Laura's farmstead as we traveled through Missouri one summer. I visited again in 2007 when my husband and I traveled through the area on our way back to Wyoming from visiting his parents in North Carolina. Our blind dog, Sage, was with us then; the weather that December in southern Missouri was stunning, and as we walked the grounds of Rocky Ridge Farm, I reflected the impact Mrs. Wilder has had on children, youth, and adults since her first book was published in 1931 when she was 65 years old. My first book had been published earlier in 2007, and I had started visiting schools and sharing both my blind dog and the book I’d written about her. My career as an author began the year I was able to again visit my author heroine's property.
As you read my stories of long ago I hope you will remember that things truly worthwhile and that will give you happiness are the same now as they were then. It is not the things you have that make you happy. It is love and kindness and helping each other and just plain being good. - Laura Ingalls Wilder
There are many great childeren's books about a wide variety of topics and in a multitude of genres, some splashed with important life lessons. I write about dogs and weave positive lessons in my stories. I also discover valuable nuggets in others' works. Some of my favorite dogs books for kids (besides my own) are A Dog's Life: The Autobiography of a Stray by Ann Martin; Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo; and The Tale of Two Bobbies by Kirby Larson. Ms. Larsen also writes historical fiction for kids – her Hattie Big Sky series is delightful! I've had the pleasure of meeting and talking with Ms. Larson, and, like Mrs. Wilder, I look up to Kirby for her accomplishments and her craft.
Though I'm not on the same level as the two women authors I most admire, I recently shared some of my stories at an event for families. We used the timing as a way to honor Moms, Kids and Dogs (for Mother's Day, Children's Book Week, and Be Kind to Animals Week). The event exposed youngsters and their families to a local author (me), someone who composes stories for them. I love sharing my writing with families in such settings, and I think it's great when authors go to libraries and schools – how I would have enjoyed meeting a real author, like Mrs. Wilder or Ms. Larson, when I was a kid!
So, this week, during Children's Book Week, expose your kids (or grandkids, nieces or nephews) to some great books – perhaps even take them to an author event. Sharing the gift of reading with children today positively impacts their future.
Happy Children's Book Week!
Children are made readers on the laps of their parents. - Emilie Buchwald, author
It's Be Kind to Animals Week, a time set aside by the American Humane Association and other organizations to promote kindness to animals. This is a great time to reinforce to children the importance of kindness, not only to animals, but also to other people.
In this day and age of bullying, child neglect, anger, violence and other issues, re-inforcing the concept of kindness is critical. Children are vulnerable, children are teachable – they often emulate what they witness in adults within the sphere of influence.
Therefore, we adults need to take stock not only in how we treat our kids, but also how we treat other adults and how we interact with pets in our own household, as well as within our community.
The ASPCA (American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) offers some tips for celebrating Be Kind to Animals Week with children. For example, you and your kids can volunteer together at a local shelter or rescue. Although you may not be able to walk dogs, you can hold a bake sale or a collection drive, taking in donations of money and items necessary to run the shelter. Inquire at your local humane society or animal shelter (1) what their volunteer guidelines are and/or (2) what items they currently need. Another idea: spend time together as a family with your own pet – take a walk, play in the park, or toss a ball in your backyard for awhile. Pets need social interaction with their human families; remember to take good care of your pets and involve your children in that care. Your children may want to start a Kind Club with their friends and develop projects to help the homeless animals of your community.
Every year, nearly 7 million animals enter shelters across this nation. What can you and your family do to help these homeless creatures and the people who care for them? You and your children can positively impact your community, and therefore, the nation, by showing kindness to animals, and to other people.
Find some other tips for teaching and sharing kindness at http://behumane.org/component/content/article/2-uncategorised/82-be-kind-to-animals
“Teach your children well,” are part of the lyrics of a Crosby, Stills and Nash song. Those are words we can all live by, so let's teach our children, and ourselves, to be kind to others, both animals and people – when we do, we can all live in a better world.
In the game show “Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?” which ran on FOX several years ago, Jeff Foxworthy quizzed contestants with material taken from elementary school textbooks. Though they may not be quite as smart as fifth graders, many pets are very intelligent, including our dogs.
I recently took an adult education class at the local college about canine intelligence, and I learned some very fascinating facts; one of which is that scientists have determined dogs are as smart as most toddlers. In the book “The Intelligence of Dogs”, author Stanley Coren defines three aspects of dog intelligence: instinctive intelligence, adaptive intelligence, and working and obedience intelligence. Instinctive intelligence refers to a dog's ability to perform the tasks it was bred for, such as herding, pointing, fetching, or guarding. Adaptive intelligence is a dog's ability to solve problems on its own, and working and obedience intelligence refers to a dog's ability to learn from humans.
Through the eons of cohabitation between dogs and humans, canines have served in many capacities: herding livestock; guarding property and people; keeping vermin at bay; hunting; hauling; policing; rescuing those who are lost or trapped; and serving as military, guide and assistance animals. All of these “jobs” require intelligence, some even involve deductive reasoning.
Dogs can learn, on average, 165 words and signals. Some dogs exceed that. Rico, for example, a border collie featured on a German game show in 2001, knew nearly 250 words, and several other border collies over the years have been studied that knew even more. Chaser, a border collie from South Carolina, reportedly has learned more than 1,000 words, including names of objects. An interesting story and video about Chaser can be found here: http://newsfeed.time.com/2011/01/05/chaser-the-border-collie-the-smartest-dog-in-the-world/
So, which dog breeds are the most intelligent? According to Coren and other dog experts, the top ten smartest canine breeds are:
No matter what type of dog you have, no matter if your dog is smarter than a fifth grader – or a two-year-old – (or not), as the quote goes, “He is your friend, your partner, your defender, your dog. You are his life, his love, his leader. He will be yours, faithful and true, to the last beat of his heart. You owe it to him to be worthy of such devotion.”
Discover how smart your dog is with an IQ test based on Coren's book. Visit http://pets1st.com/articles/00025adoggieiqtest.asp. Then, consider providing more stimulation for your special furry friend with agility events, pet therapy training, or other types of activity suitable for your dog and your schedule. Encourage your dog's intelligence and create an even stronger bond between you and your canine companion. Remember, your dog is not just “a dumb animal” – he may be smarter than your fifth grader!
Gayle M. Irwin is a writer and public relations professional who volunteers with various animal rescue groups. She enjoys sharing her books and her passion for pets and the environment with others.