Happy Anniversary to the Scottsdale Police Department’s Crisis Response Canine Fozzie

Happy Anniversary Fozzie!

On February 25th, 2009 Scottsdale Police Department’s Crisis Response Canine Fozzie celebrated his first anniversary.  As a trained therapy dog, Fozzie provides comfort and unconditional love to people in Scottsdale during times of tragedy.  
He is a ‘Golden’ ray of sunshine in times of trouble. 

Did you know that petting an animal will reduce your blood pressure and stress?  Animals also decrease feelings of loneliness and isolation.  In 2003 an eighth grader named Jeff Luttrell conducted a study for the Pueblo Middle School Fair.  He wanted to see if the presence of a dog would help relieve pain and anxiety in children undergoing chemotherapy.  The results proved what Jeff already knew from personal experience.  The children who played with animals felt better and recovered more quickly than those who did not.  A rabbit named Thumper helped Jeff during his own treatments for leukemia.  

As we learn more about the human-animal bond, a growing number of organizations are using animal assisted therapy to help people cope with stressful events.  In addition to Scottsdale, the Glendale Fire Department has a Crisis Response canine named Topaz.  Another therapy dog named Hannah works with the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections.  She helps troubled youth deal with anger and grief.  In 2008, the military sent their first therapy dogs into battle.  Sergeants First Class Boe and Budge are serving in Iraq with the combat stress units.  Their presence helps our military personnel deal with the stress of combat and living away from home.   

So again, I want to congratulate Fozzie and his handler Anthony Pagliuca on their first anniversary.  I would also like to thank Michigan based Paws With A Cause for donating Fozzie to the people of Scottsdale.  And a big thank you to all the therapy animals who toil to help us humans.  Keep up the great work!

From left to right:  Hannah, Topaz and the guest of honor, Fozzie at the Vista del Camino Community Center. 
(Photo courtesy of James Vail, volunteer with the Scottsdale Police Department.)

Prevention of Separation Anxiety

Here are some suggestions to prevent separation anxiety in your pet. 
1)  Establish a routine for feeding, exercising and training your pet.  Include several quiet periods during the day when the pet will relax in their favorite spot.  It is essential that this be done away from you.  Once you establish the routine, stick with it!  That means weekends as well as on weekdays.  The regular schedule comforts the pet because they know what to expect.
2)  Teach your dog to enjoy their time away from you.  Give them a treat or reward them with a favorite toy that they can only have during their quiet time.
3)  Reward your pet for good behavior.  When they are resting quietly away from you, give them a cookie or shower them with praise. 
4)  Ignore attention getting behaviors.  If the pet crawls into your lap and demands attention, calmly place them on the floor.  Tell them to sit and reward them once they obey.  Follow the ‘nothing in life is free’ mantra. 
5)  Most importantly, leave the pet alone for at least two hours a day.  Even if you are home, place them in their safe area (crate, kennel, room, backyard, etc.,) where they cannot interact with you.  This teaches the pet not to expect 24/7 attention from you.

In practice, I see the most separation anxiety every Fall when children return to school.  During summer break, the pet gets used to having their human family around all the time.  I also see a lot of separation anxiety in pets owned by pilots, flight attendants and other professionals with similar schedules, i.e., gone for several days then home for several days. 

We also need to be conscious of the current trends of either bringing your pet to work or of working from home.   Both of these scenarios may create an environment conducive to separation anxiety.  As you might imagine, pets may panic when they cannot go with or their owner leaves them alone.

I submit that all living creatures need some time by themselves.  We must insure our pets are taught to accept and even enjoy some time without us.  Then, when we are with them, it will be all the more special as we celebrate the wondrous human-animal bond.  

First Aid For Birds

There are three points to keep in mind when working with birds.  First, birds are masters at hinding illness and injury until a problem becomes severe.  Therefore, a sick bird should be taken to a veterinarian immediately.  The advice given here should be initiated on the way to the hospital.  It is not meant to replace professional care.  Second, birds do not possess a diaphragm.  In order to breathe, a bird must raise their keel.  This draws air into the air sacs and lungs.  Do not compress or restrict the keel (chest bone) when handling.  Third, some birds will die from the stress of handling.  Acclimate your bird to restraint as soon as possible to prevent this tragic occurrence.

1)  Provide a warm environment (approximately 85 degrees fahrenheit).  A bird’s temperature is much higher than ours.  Most birds maintain their body temperature around 104 F (40 C).  Wrap the cage with a towel.  Place a heating pad under the cage or hang one on the outside of the cage near the bird’s favorite perch.  CAUTION, keep all wires and cords away from the bird to prevent electrocution. 

2)  If the bird is conscious but not eating, administer a dilute sugar solution directly into their mouths.  The amount will depend on the size of the bird.  Never try to force a bird to eat as aspiration may occur.

3)  Control bleeding with gentle pressure.  Apply a styptic powder to torn nails.  Bleeding feathers should be removed.  The base of the feather is grasped with a hemostat or pliers and pulled with gentle traction.  Wing fractures may occur if the wing is not properly supported so I caution owners against trying this at home. 

4)  Due to their curious personalities, toxicities are a common avian emergency.  Watch your bird’s droppings for a change in color or consistency.  Other signs of toxicity include lethargy, vomiting, regurgitation and weakness.  Seek medical attention immediately if any of these signs are observed.

5)  Cat saliva contains bacteria that may harm your bird.  If a cat bites your bird, seek medical attention right away.  If a your bird’s feathers are contaminated with cat saliva, bathe immediately.  Dry the bird and place in a warm environment.    

Treatment of Separation Anxiety

The treatment of separation anxiety requires patience, consistency and understanding.  Remember, the animal acts like this because it loves you too much!  When you leave their presence, they worry you will never come back.  It is important for us humans to understand that they are motivated by fear and not by spite.

The following guidelines are general recommendations for treating this problem.  Please consult with your veterinarian to set-up a plan for your pet.  In my experience, each animal requires a treatment plan tailored just for them.


Break the vicious cycle by taking the pet to doggy daycare, hiring a pet sitter and/or altering the family schedule.  This insures that your animal is never alone during the therapy program.  Obviously, stopping the cycle is critical on the road to success.  


Step 1:  Make sure the pet gets plenty of exercise.  In veterinary school they taught us, ‘A tired animal does not get into trouble’.  While boredom or lack of exercise is not the cause of separation anxiety, giving the pet an outlet for exercise will make the rest of the training much better.

Step 2:  Make your dog work for attention.  This principle is also called “Nothing in life is free”.  For example, the dog jumps in your lap and demands attention.  Put it on the ground without any emotional display.  Tell it to sit and stay.  After a minute of waiting, reward the dog with attention.  This is a great way to brush-up on obedience skills.  If your dog is not crate-trained, you might want to consider this approach.  Though please keep in mind that crates do not cure separation anxiety.  They just limit the damage.  Some dogs will actually get worse when confined.

Step 3:  Once the dog will sit and stay on command, establish a ‘safe’ zone and have them stay there.  The safe zone might be a crate, a small room or a special doggy bed in a corner of the room.  Choose a quiet spot away from windows and doors.  At first, keep in visual contact with the dog and ask them to stay for only a minute or so.  If the dog remains calm, slowly increase the time before rewarding them with attention.  Remember what I said at the outset about patience, consistency and understanding.  This process of “reprogramming” your dog’s perception can take months.

Step 4:  Start to decondition your dog to departure cues.  Pick up your keys, put on a jacket, grab your purse or briefcase and act like you are getting ready to leave without actually leaving.  In the dog’s mind, these cues are signals that mean a bad thing is coming, i.e. you are leaving.  Repeat them until the dog no longer associates these cues with leaving.  Usually 20 to 40 times a day for a few days will do the trick (yes, only 20 to 40 times/day, that is all). 

Step 5A:  Once the pet is comfortable with each of the above steps, start to actually leave for a few minutes at a time.  Place the pet in their safe area.  Give them a toy, turn on the radio or TV, use an air freshener or some other thing as a signal that everything is going to be okay.  Think of it as a pacifier for the dog.  If the pet exhibits any signs of anxiety, work on the first four steps again.  The biggest mistake people make is progressing too quickly.  Go slow!  Let me say that again – go slow . . . Gradually increase from a few minutes up to a few hours.  Vary the times you are gone so the dog can not predict when you will return.

Step 5B:  Teach all family members how to interact with your dog before departure and upon arrival.  Act like the entire episode was just an ordinary part of the day.  Do not immediately run to the dog and shower it with praise!  Ignore them upon arrival for a few minutes and then casually take them outside.  Keep your emotions in check, you must be calm and collected.   


Anti-Anxiety Medication:  In my experience, dogs with moderate or severe separation anxiety require pharmaceutical intervention (and their owners would like some too).  This may extend through the duration of the behavior protocol.  The two drugs I prescribe most commonly are Clomipramine and Fluoxetine.  While a given animal will only receive one or the other of these drugs, both work by increasing a neurotransmitter called serotonin.  Before, during and after using either of these drugs, I recommend blood work to monitor organ function.  A word of caution, these drugs will not work by themselves.  They must be combined with behavior modification techniques to successfully treat separation anxiety.    

DAP Collars and Diffusers: DAP stands for dog appeasing pheromone.  This chemical is found in the skin between the mammary glands of nursing females (bitches).  When puppies smell this pheromone, they seem to relax.  The pheromone is commercially available in a collar dispenser or a diffuser.  I prefer the collar because the DAP travels with the dog wherever they roam.

So to recap, separation anxiety is one of the most challenging situations pet owners may face.  A good outcome is possible but only with a deep commitment from the owner.  You must try and understand the animal’s perspective and then have the patience of a saint.  Go slow.  Celebrate the baby steps your pet makes along the way and stay committed.  It will be worth it in the end and wonderfully gratifying.   

Litter Box Basics

Indoor domestic cats usually urinate twice per day and defecate once per day.  In my experience, there are two golden rules when it comes to litter boxes.  First, it is important to have at least one box per cat.  More is better, but one box per cat is the absolute minimum.    Ideally, it is best to have one box more than the number of cats in the house.  Second, cleanliness is next to Godliness.  Some fastidious cats consider a box dirty after one use.  It is important to recognize that each cat will have their own litter box standards just like people do with rest rooms.  It does not matter if you think the box is clean enough.  It is the cat’s opinion that counts (isn’t that always the way with cats).  Remember they have a much better sense of smell than we do.

After the two golden rules, everything else is based upon the cat’s and owner’s preferences.  Here are a few other points to consider:

1)  In general, I recommend a soft clumping unscented litter.  In my experience, this type of litter satisfies the needs and desires of most of my patients.  Having said that, I know some cats who prefer the traditional clay litter and others who like the pelleted variety made out of recycled newspaper.  If your cat seems unhappy with their existing litter, experiment to see what they truly want.  
2)  For older cats or one with an orthopedic problem keep one side of the box low to make it easy to enter and exit. 
3)  Shy cats seem to prefer covered litter boxes or a box tucked out of sight. 
4)  Make sure the box is the right size for the cat.  Some cats walk straight in and go.  If the box is too short, the feces or urine end up on the rug in front of the box.
5)  Use an unscented, dust-free litter for cats who suffer from allergies or asthma.
6)  If your home has multiple levels, keep a box on each level for easy access. 
7)  Following declaws, use shredded paper until the incisions are well healed.  This is usually two full weeks.