There Came Along A Kitty

Like Deadly Ties, the first in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, there are multiple scenes in book #2 (Dangerous Deeds) that were inspired by real events. One of those is the scene in which Maggie Porter’s dog Sweet Pea rescues an injured stray kitten she finds beneath the dock. Although Maggie’s initial assessment is “not much more than bones and fur” the kitten turns out to have a tiger-sized attitude and, after a brief stay at the vet, claims the kennel—and Sweet Pea—as his own.

The roots of that story go back to the mid-1990s when my own beloved spaniel Alix found a raggedy bundle of fur in our yard and dropped it at my feet with a “Fix this!” look. Beneath the raggedy coat was a near-starved Calico we promptly named Katie. We nursed her back to health under the watchful eyes of the dog Alix and Amy, our Silver Tabby (another rescue). The three of them immediately became collaborators, conspirators, and loyal-to-the-end friends.

About six months before we lost Katie—the last of the three—in 2012, Buddy the Wonder Cat came to us as a feral kitten weighing just 2½ pounds. One of the reasons he’s called the Wonder Cat is because it’s a wonder he’s still alive. On one terrifyingly memorable occasion he injured his foot, fracturing or dislocating most of the bones and mangling one of his claws. In the fear and pain that followed, Buddy’s feral instincts came roaring back and nobody escaped unscathed before the vet managed to get him sufficiently sedated to examine. If the vet clinic keeps a “Look out for…” list, there’s probably a picture of Buddy with the warning “don raptor gloves before handling.”

Thanks to the fabulous skill of our veterinarian and the clinic crew, our only reminder of that experience is one razor-like claw which to this day does not retract. I channeled a good bit of Buddy the Wonder Cat into the fictional feline you’ll meet in Dangerous Deeds. (That probably explains why he tends to sprawl on the desk when I’m writing.) In celebration of life ongoing, here’s a slideshow of the best of Buddy the Wonder Cat through the years.

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At the Crossroads (Again) of Fact & Fiction

In a previous post I mentioned the issue of breed-specific legislation is a key part of the plot in  Dangerous Deeds (#2 in the Waterside Kennels mystery series).  In that fictional world, community members take sides over a proposed “dangerous dog” ordinance to ban specific breeds, and the kennel staff is caught in the crossfire. For the record, my protagonist Maggie Porter agrees with the AKC that breed-specific legislation (BLS) is not a viable solution.

In the real world, breed bans and similar dog control measures continue to cause controversy in many communities and countries. The latest  comes from Ireland following the death of a woman attacked by dogs.  (You can read the entire article here.) Whatever your personal opinion of dog control laws might be, we can all benefit by being informed about the issue.

In The Irish Times article, correspondent Tim O’Brien reports increased interest in a review of current legislation concerning control of dogs. He cites Professor Ó Súilleabháin with the National University of Ireland at Galway (NUIG) who notes breed-specific legislation is falling out of favor in some areas of the United States as well as Europe. According to the professor, “This is because there is evidence to show that dog breed is not a factor in what caused dogs to attack.” Summarizing the professor’s remarks, O’Brien writes:

Dr Ó Súilleabháin said there was substantial peer-review research available that showed any type of dog could show aggression. The animal’s behaviour and training were closely connected with the behaviour of their owners.

However, he did not think a law requiring owner and dog training to be undertaken before a dog licence was issued was a good idea. Instead, he called for measures to create a community where dog owners would act responsibly and where those who did not educate themselves and train their dogs would be targeted by enforcement officers.

He said it should be possible for an individual to report a dog behaving aggressively, leading to a visit from a dog warden who could order the owner and animal to undertake education and training. The media had some responsibility in creating misguided calls for a ban on specific breeds, when a dog mauls someone, he added.

Some research suggests that legislation controlling dangerous breeds may actually make the problem worse. If you’re interested in a historical overview of this issue in the UK, check out https://www.bluecross.org.uk/if-looks-couldnt-killHere in the United States, the American Kennel Club published an issue analysis in 2013 and contends BSL is ineffective; you can read that online at: http://www.akc.org/content/news/articles/issue-analysis-breed-specific-legislation/.  And more recently, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior published a position statement opposing breed-specific legislation. The policy statement includes statistics and evidence from myriad countries, including the United States, Canada, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands. Key points from the position statement:

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) is concerned about the propensity of various communities’ reliance on breed-specific legislation as a tool to decrease the risk and incidence of dog bites to humans. The AVSAB’s position is that such legislation—often called breed-specific legislation (BSL)−is ineffective, and can lead to a false sense of community safety as well as welfare concerns for dogs identified (often incorrectly) as belonging to specific breeds.

The importance of the reduction of dog bites is critical; however, the AVSAB’s view is that matching pet dogs to appropriate households, adequate early socialization and appropriate  training, and owner and community education are most effective in preventing dog bites. Therefore, the AVSAB does support appropriate legislation regarding dangerous dogs, provided that it is education based and not breed specific.

….

Results of Breed-Specific Legislation Breed-specific legislation can have unintended adverse effects. Owners of a banned breed may avoid veterinary visits and therefore vaccinations (including rabies) to elude seizure of the dog by authorities and/or euthanasia. This negatively impacts both the welfare of dogs and public health. Similarly, owners may forego socializing or training their puppies, which increases the risk of behavior problems, including fear and aggression in adulthood.

….

Aggression is a context dependent behavior and is associated with many different motivations. Most dogs that show aggression do so to eliminate a perceived threat, either to their safety or to the possession of a resource. In other words, most aggression is fear-based.

 

The narrative is well-supported by reasoned evidence and information from nearly 40 sources and concludes with this compelling statement:

The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior invites you to share this position statement on breed-specific legislation to discount common fallacies of “easy fixes” that are often based on myths, and instead promote awareness that will reduce the prevalence of aggression toward people and promote better care, understanding, and welfare of our canine companions.

In the book Dangerous Deeds, myths and falsehoods abound. What’s true is that, just as in the real world,  community members’ opinions vary widely on the subject, and the resulting tensions can escalate quickly and may ultimately set the scene for murder.

 

At the Crossroads of Fact and Fiction

In Dangerous Deeds (#2 in the series), Waterside Kennels owner and amateur sleuth Maggie Porter finds herself caught in the crossfire when community members take sides over a proposed “dangerous dog” ordinance to ban specific breeds. For the record, Maggie agrees with the AKC that breed-specific legislation (BLS) is not the way to go. Her refusal to support the ban leads to a smear campaign and a boycott organized by a few who want to seize Maggie’s property for their own. When one of those nefarious characters turns up dead on Maggie’s property, everyone at Waterside comes under suspicion.  Sheriff Lucas Johnson is forced to step aside because of his close ties to Maggie and her employees, and the lead investigator doesn’t seem inclined to look beyond the kennel to find the killer.

As you might expect, it’s a struggle to keep the kennel running amid a boycott and murder investigation. Fortunately, there’s a loyal group of customers who want to see Waterside Kennels stay in business. They ask Maggie to lead training classes as part of a “Good Dog!” campaign intended to promote responsible dog ownership. Maggie agrees, and preparation for the AKC Canine Good Citizen test is soon underway.

***

At this point in the publishing timeline, I’m feeling a bit disjointed. While all ten items in the CGC test are in the book, Sasha and I are still working to master several of the items. (You and your dog must pass all ten to earn the title.) If you have a reactive dog, #8 might be the most challenging:

Test Item #8: Reaction to Another Dog. This test demonstrates that the dog can behave politely around other dogs. Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries.

Sasha generally ignores other dogs when we’re at Lowes, PetSmart, or other dog-friendly businesses. Outside? That’s a different story. Sasha’s been charged by off-leash dogs on three different occasions, and it’s been a struggle to regain her confidence when another dog comes into view. If you have a reactive dog, here are a few ideas that may help reduce anxiety and boost confidence. “May” is the key word here, because what works for one dog might not work for another. And sometimes what works one day won’t work the next! When that happens, remind yourself that Every Day is Training Day #1, and go from there.

“Are you sure those dogs are friendly?”

Socialize. Since those encounters with unleashed aggressive dogs, Sasha tends to freeze and bark. LOUDLY.  To help rebuild her confidence, I joined a Pack Walk group to give her time around other leashed dogs. True to recent form, Sasha reacted to all the dogs who came anywhere close but no major panic outbursts, thankfully. She barked off and on (more on than off) as we followed the pack, with treats dispensed during every quiet lull. It occurred to me that she didn’t like to bring up the rear; when we reached a spot with a wide grassy verge we moved off and up so we were parallel. More quiet than bark, so of course TREATS!

After a few pack walks in April we took the plunge and went to the Dogwood WalkWith 450+ in the crowd, I admit to being nervous but Sasha clearly enjoyed the day. We started by taking some time to stroll across the open meadow so she could get a good look around.  She had quite a bit to say to a few of the smaller dogs who ventured too close, but otherwise seemed content to wander quietly along the booths. We stood in the shade next to a BIG retriever and she ignored her. Ditto the handsome Sheltie and adorable Pomeranian when their mom stopped to visit. And she was gracious in allowing some folks to offer her treats (provided by me) and to pet her. I adored the children who asked to pet her–and kudos to the parents who taught their children how to approach strange dogs and ask politely for permission to visit!

Train. There’s just no substitute for regular training.  I like to mix it up with quiet indoor training time (handy in April when the rain fell in torrents and flooding kept us home) and varied outdoor activities. There are a few places–and dogs–that seem to trigger Sasha’s nervous reaction, so I work hard to capture her attention and keep her focused on me when we hit those trigger spots. If I see neighbors approaching with leashed dogs, I’ll move to the other side of the street whenever possible, or at least get to the side and 10 feet away. I first tried following a trainers advice to put Sasha in a sit-stay with her back to the dog and to keep her focused on me, but quickly found greater success if she can see the other dog while in a safe position. What’s working for us: I put Sasha in a down-stay and we wait while the others pass us by. She rarely barks from that position (unless she’s very excited or stressed) and is more likely to carry on what I think of Sheltie-speak while she watches the dogs pass by.  I keep the ZiwiPeak air-dried venison treats  (expensive but worth it, and recommended by top trainer Dr. Ian Dunbar) as her special reward for being good around other dogs. The rest of the time I train using Pet Botanics Mini Training Rewards; they’re a soft low-calorie treat that’s easy to split into two.

Dr. Dunbar, by the way, has some wonderful material online. Check out http://www.dunbaracademy.com/ or this TED Talk, or connect with like-minded folks via his Facebook page.

Be happy. Dogs are downright brilliant when it comes to sensing emotions. Emotions travel up and down the leash! Let your dog know you’re happy to spend time together, and celebrate all the good things that happen. When I’m praising Sasha–particularly when she’s managed something difficult and done it well–I’ll laugh and dance and praise lavishly. She knows when she’s done A Good Thing, and she’s clearly pleased with herself and my reaction.

We’re starting agility training this month. That’s just one more opportunity to socialize, to train, and to be happy. If she enjoys herself there as much as she did in obedience class, we’ll continue. Stay tuned for news!