Tagged Dogs

Got a Pandemic Puppy? Learn How to Prevent Dog Bites

The Checkup

Got a Pandemic Puppy? Learn How to Prevent Dog Bites

With new puppies and kids at home, doctors are worried about treating more children for dog bites.

Credit…Manon Cezaro

  • Feb. 23, 2021, 2:33 p.m. ET

The surge in pet adoptions during the pandemic brought much-needed joy to many families, but doctors are worrying about a downside as well: more dog bites.

A commentary published in October in The Journal of Pediatrics noted an almost threefold increase in children with dog bites coming into the pediatric emergency room at Children’s Hospital Colorado after the stay-at-home order went into effect.

The lead author, Dr. Cinnamon Dixon, a medical officer in the Pediatric Trauma and Critical Illness Branch of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said: “If someone were to tell me they were going to get a new dog during Covid, I would first and foremost want to make sure that family is prepared to have a new entity in their household, a new family member.”

Dr. Dixon said that as a pediatric emergency room doctor, taking care of children who get bitten had been a priority for her. Still, she said, from the stories she heard, she often felt “that dogs are victims in this as well.”

Brooke Goff, a partner in the personal-injury law firm the Goff Law Group in Hartford, Conn., said, “We’re definitely seeing a huge uptick in dog bite cases.”

Ms. Goff said that dog bites harm children in ways that go well beyond the physical damage. “It creates major emotional issues and PTSD,” she said. “If you’ve ever spoken to a dog bite victim as an adult that was bitten as a child, they are deathly afraid of dogs.”

Dog bites are “an underrepresented public health problem” in the United States, said Dr. Dixon, the daughter of a veterinarian who grew up around animals. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s best estimates from old research put the number of dog bites at 4.5 million a year. There are over 300,000 nonfatal emergency department visits a year related to dog bites, and among children, the greatest incidence is in school age children, aged 5 to 9, but the most severe injuries are among infants and young children, presumably because they are less mobile, and lower to the ground, with their heads and faces closer to the dogs.

Dr. Robert McLoughlin, a general surgery resident at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester, was the first author on a 2020 study of hospitalizations for pediatric dog bite injuries in the United States. He said that his research grew out of an interest in pediatric surgery and pediatric injury prevention. “I had seen a lot of cases of toddlers with head and neck injuries,” he said.

The study showed that younger children, ages 1 to 4 and 5 to 10, were much more likely to need hospitalization than those over 11. In the youngest children, most injuries are to the head and neck, and beyond the age of 6, extremity wounds (arms, legs, hands) become increasingly prevalent and predominate after the age of 11, Dr. McLoughlin said.

The bites that require hospitalization and surgical repair are the most serious injuries, such as toddlers bitten in the face and neck, where many critical structures can be damaged, including eyes and ears, and there can be devastating cosmetic damage done as well. But hand injuries can also have a very lasting impact and need expert repair.

For dog bite prevention, Dr. Dixon said, “the No. 1 strategy remains supervision.” Children should learn to leave dogs alone when they are eating, when they are sleeping with a favorite toy, when they are caring for their puppies. They should not reach out to unfamiliar dogs. And dog owners should keep their dogs healthy and should socialize and train them from an early age.

“It’s important we take responsibility for our animals,” said Ms. Goff, who has a dog named Daisy that she brings with her to the office. “Most dogs don’t bite to attack, they bite because they’re scared or provoked.”

Ms. Goff also emphasized that from the point of view of liability, anyone who owns a dog should have insurance coverage. In her state, Connecticut, a strict liability state, “I don’t have to prove anybody was at fault,” she said, and the dog owner is responsible for the damages. “If you can afford the dog, you can afford the insurance,” she said.

She said that it’s important as well that dog bites be reported because of the need to track dogs who bite multiple times, but reassured those who were worried that a dog might be destroyed that, at least in Connecticut, unless there is a catastrophic or fatal injury, “our forgiveness about animals extends quite heavily.”

When dogs do show aggressive behavior, Dr. Dixon said, owners should seek expert help from a veterinarian or “a behavioral expert in canine aggression — ideally before something bad happens.”

Dr. Judy Schaechter, a professor of pediatrics and public health at the University of Miami, said that given the increase in puppy buying during the Covid epidemic, “We’re now a year into this; puppies may be big, strong dogs at this point.” And with many parents juggling work from home with their children’s school issues, it can be difficult for them to supervise all the children (and pets) all the time.

Bites often occur, Dr. Schaechter said, “around playing and feeding behaviors.” Small children are particularly at risk, in part because they may be close to the dog’s food dish, or on the ground when food falls, and the dog may see the child as competition. “Any dog can bite, any breed can bite, and that can be horrific,” she said, but a medium or large dog, or a dog with a very strong jaw, “can quickly do a lot more damage.”

When Dr. Dixon saw children who had been bitten in the emergency room, “the most common story I would hear over and over,” she said, involved “resource guarding,” in which the child seemed to be encroaching on something that belonged to the dog. “The child was next to the dog’s food or had gone next to a dog’s toy or was playing with the dog and the dog jumped up and grabbed the arm instead of the bone,” she said.

Dr. McLoughlin sees opportunities for programs to address dog bite prevention, perhaps drawing lessons from programs that discuss “stranger danger.” It’s important to teach children not to approach strange dogs, he said, but also to help them interpret dogs’ behavior, “to identify when a dog is saying leave me alone, give me some space.” He is interested in the possibility of taking dogs into schools in order to educate children about dogs they may encounter outside their homes, but emphasized that parents should be teaching even very young children about how to approach a dog — including that they should always ask the owner first.

Dr. Schaechter pointed to research on the benefits of having a dog in the family, from the joys of companionship and the lessons children learn from caring for a pet to the medical evidence that children may be at lower risk of allergy and asthma if they are exposed early to animals. The bond between children and their pets is the substance of so many books and movies, Dr. Schaechter said. “It’s real — but don’t let that be so romantic that a child ends up being hurt or scarred.”

[Get the C.D.C.’s advice on dogs, the A.A.P.’s advice on dog bite prevention, and more tips from the American Veterinary Medical Association]

The People Who Got Puppies Were in Over Their Heads

Credit…Evan Jenkins for The New York Times

The People Who Got Puppies Were in Over Their Heads

Now professional dog trainers are all booked up. While you wait, they have some advice to share.

Credit…Evan Jenkins for The New York Times

  • Feb. 19, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Ann Becnel, a dog trainer in New Orleans, is busier than ever these days.

“I am getting so many requests for training that I can barely keep up,” said Ms. Becnel, who got into the business 35 years ago. “It’s overwhelming.”

April Chillari, the owner of Core Canine in Northern Virginia, is in a similar position. “Prior to the pandemic I would book up three to five weeks in advance,” she said. “Now I have a 10-week waiting list.”

Dog trainers are in high demand, thanks to a boom in adoptions from shelters and sales from breeders, spurred last spring by widespread work-from-home policies and profound social isolation. Approximately 12.6 million households took in pets between March and December, according to the American Pet Products Association.

In just the first month of the pandemic, Petfinder.com saw more than twice as many adoption inquiries as in the previous four weeks, and anyone who tried to foster a dog in the spring or summer knows how competitive it was.

Many new dog owners and foster caretakers have found that the pets complement their homebound lifestyles. Before the pandemic, they would have needed to hire daytime walkers or find pet-friendly workplaces. Under current circumstances, they are getting time to bond, and the dogs are helping to ensure that their humans get outside at least a few times a day.

Of course, the relationship is not always so symbiotic. Training a dog takes work — more work than most people expect. Which is why many of them are calling in the professionals for help.

Jesus San Miguel training Magglio, an English Mini Goldendoodle, at Canine Perspective, Inc., in Chicago.
Jesus San Miguel training Magglio, an English Mini Goldendoodle, at Canine Perspective, Inc., in Chicago.Credit…Evan Jenkins for The New York Times

Puppy Problems

Danene Brown and Darryl Powell thought adding a third dog to their home in Richmond, Va., would be easy; the first two were a cinch to train. But when the couple picked up Hopper, a French bulldog puppy, last February, that assumption was almost immediately challenged.

“The pandemic made it nearly impossible to socialize him,” said Ms. Brown, a physical therapist, and Hopper developed a “Napoleon complex.” “Any time that we would try to introduce him to another dog on a walk, he was aggressive and protective of us and didn’t know how to play well with others,” she said.

Ms. Brown and Mr. Powell met with Melanie Benware, a local trainer and the president of the International Association of Canine Professionals. “People are going out less,” Ms. Benware said, “therefore their dogs are not being exposed to as many people, dogs, sights and sounds.” She taught the couple how to train Hopper to respond calmly to other dogs. “He’s gotten better, but he’s still a work in progress,” Ms. Brown said.

The issue of limited social interaction is pervasive right now. “I find that my clients are struggling to find socialization opportunities for their puppies,” said Kim Roche, a dog trainer and behavioral consultant in Austin, Texas. “The length of a standard leash is exactly six feet, and this discourages Covid-cautious people from allowing their puppies to greet strangers in public places.” Ms. Benware recommends buying a 20-foot leash for this very purpose.

Other puppy-specific problems have emerged. “It’s difficult to pay attention to a Zoom meeting when there is a puppy trying to climb into one’s lap,” Ms. Roche said. She teaches puppies to retreat to a designated place on command — say, an exercise pen, a mat or a bed — where they can settle down with a toy.

Crate training is key, too, said Jesus San Miguel, the owner of Canine Perspective, Inc., in Chicago. “Owners are not utilizing a kennel, thinking since they’re home all the time it’s not needed, but it is critical to both the potty training process and for the puppy to have a safe space when left unattended,” he said.

Finally, it’s important to make sure puppies get enough sleep: 18 to 20 hours, according to Ms. Chillari. “Puppies get grumpier when they’re tired, just like children, and I think people assume the training isn’t working because the puppies really just need to sleep,” she said.

Socialization has been a particular pain point for new puppy parents.Credit…Evan Jenkins for The New York Times
Trainers offer an environment where dogs can play together off-leash.Credit…Evan Jenkins for The New York Times

The Downside of All That Bonding Time

It’s not just puppies, though. Pets of all ages have become far more aware of their owners’ presence — and absence — these days. Mark Forrest Patrick, a dog trainer in Rochester, N.Y., said he’s seen a number of dogs who joined homes at the beginning of the pandemic and have since developed separation anxiety. They have become so attached to their owners that they show distress and anxiety when left alone.

“Because people are at home more, they’re not leaving their dogs alone, and dogs aren’t learning how to be independent,” Ms. Chillari said. “That’s a problem, because the reality is when life gets back to normal, you’re going to be spending time away from your dog, and your dog needs to learn that you aren’t going to be there all the time.”

There are steps that owners can take to address and even prevent separation anxiety. Ms. Roche, a trainer who specializes in separation anxiety, recommends gradual exposure therapy. “You don’t want to start off by leaving your puppy alone for two hours,” she said. “You could start with leaving your dog alone for 30 seconds, and then increase the interval based on how well your dog is doing.”

Monitoring the dog’s behavior during these times is crucial, Ms. Roche said, especially if one has already observed signs of separation anxiety. She suggests setting up a camera that feeds video to a smartphone app, the way modern baby monitors do.

“Owners are not utilizing a kennel, thinking since they’re home all the time it’s not needed, but it is critical,” Mr. San Miguel said.Credit…Evan Jenkins for The New York Times

Virtual Training

“My business has changed drastically,” Ms. Roche said. “I used to do a lot of group classes, and now I’ve discontinued those completely.”

Being able to train dogs over Zoom has enabled some trainers to expand their business. “It’s amazing that I now have clients in California, Florida and Kansas City, who just found me online,” said Mr. Patrick, who is also the board chair for the Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

Virtual training sessions often cost less than in-person training. For example, Mr. Patrick charges $85 for a one-hour virtual training session and $105 for a one-hour in-home training session. “Some of my clients are two hours away, so the price difference covers my commute time and gas expenses,” Mr. Patrick said.

Ms. Chillari also charges less for virtual training, but she said she prefers doing in-person sessions. “When I meet with dog owners, I teach them how to make adjustments to their behavior, and that’s harder to do over Zoom,” she said.

Many dog trainers have resumed in-person sessions but have modified their routines. Some offer no-contact training, where they give the dog owners instructions while wearing masks and staying six feet apart — allowing owners to take a more hands-on role in training their pet.

That’s how Melissa and Drew Herman trained Nash, their 4-year-old, 70-pound Aussimo (an Australian cattle dog and American Eskimo mix), when the couple met last April with Mr. San Miguel in Chicago. “Nash had broken my husband’s shoulder when he yanked hard on his leash while on a walk,” said Ms. Herman, an executive assistant at a management consulting firm in Chicago.

In a six-week obedience training course with Mr. San Miguel, Nash learned how to walk calmly on a leash and follow basic commands. “It’s changed our lives,” Ms. Herman said. “We can even let Nash off his leash when we’re at the dog park, and other owners have complimented us on how well trained he is.”

An Unleashed Dog, Sentenced to Death After an Attack

An Unleashed Dog, Sentenced to Death After an Attack

Part of the allure of country life is space where pets can run free. I’ve learned the hard way the importance of a leash.

Credit…Susanne Craig
Susanne Craig

  • Jan. 26, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

Jasper bit down into Chloe’s neck as if it were a jelly doughnut. My sweet senior dog did not stand a chance against the pit bull, half her age and holding a grudge.

Chloe, whom I rescued from a shelter in New Jersey more than a decade ago, has been my best friend and constant companion ever since. I am a reporter at The New York Times. Over the last five years, as I was holed up working on investigations about Donald Trump’s finances, Chloe’s job was to guard the president’s tax return information. She kept me sane. I kept her safe. Until now.

Chloe and I live in a cabin in the Catskill Mountains. My exercise is hers, long walks together, through fields, forests and often country lanes in our neighborhood. On the morning of the attack we were on one of those roads, with my friend Shawna Richer and her dog, Scout.

Jasper’s frenzied barking began as we approached his house. I looked over at Shawna. Silently we calculated the possibility of passing with Chloe and Scout, both leashed, as swiftly and softly as possible. Jasper had other ideas. He shot off the porch and across the sprawling front yard as if launched from a slingshot.

Then he stopped at the edge of the property. He sized all of us up and his eyes locked on Chloe, a solid 60-pound Labrador-basset hound mix who is 12 years old. Suddenly a woman emerged from the house, screaming for Jasper to come back. Instead he advanced toward Chloe until they were nose to nose. Then he lunged, locking his jaw around her neck.

A few days later, one of the dogs was on death row and the other recovering from deep puncture wounds to her neck and abdomen. One person was in the hospital.

Chloe first encountered Jasper two summers ago. She was on a walk, on leash, with my brother, David. They met the wayward pit bull alone on a road. Jasper came at Chloe but David kicked him. Jasper went running. Chloe escaped without harm. We did not report the incident, something I now regret.

For many dog owners, part of the allure of country life is wide-open spaces where their pets can run free. I used to be one of these people, but over the years I learned the hard way the importance of a leash.

The author with Chloe, a solid 60-pound Labrador-basset hound mix who is 12 years old.
The author with Chloe, a solid 60-pound Labrador-basset hound mix who is 12 years old.Credit…Susanne Craig

I have encountered a few dogs like Jasper, the unsupervised ones that can turn violent in an instant. Jasper had quite a history I learned about anecdotally only after it was too late. Another neighbor’s dog had been attacked. Animal control had a record of it. A few years back Jasper had bitten one of his owners, the police told me.

I held onto Chloe as we all fought to separate the dogs. Jasper’s teeth were deep in Chloe’s neck and her fur was flecked with blood. Shawna kicked Jasper in the chest and tried to wedge herself between the dogs’ muzzles, while at the same time trying to keep Scout out of the fight.

The woman fought hopelessly to gain control over Jasper. As she grasped at his collar, he bit her hard.

On our walks we see all sorts of dogs, and owners. There are the off-leash dogs who come bounding toward me. The owner is always nearby, assuring me their pet is friendly. This drives me crazy. These people are taking a huge risk, blindly betting their dog will mix with mine.

Then there are dogs like Jasper, dangerous and often roaming around alone. After Chloe’s first brush with Jasper I bought pepper spray. But when he came for her this time, I wasn’t carrying it.

In the days after the attack I heard from friends who felt that Jasper’s being a pit bull was to blame. I fault only the owners, who failed to leash Jasper. After Chloe was attacked I watched “The Champions,” a documentary about the fate of the pit bulls abused by Michael Vick, the professional football player who served time in federal prison for operating an illegal dogfighting operation. Dozens of pit bulls were seized and rehomed. The movie is a testament to the idea that many dogs, regardless of breed or the conditions they were raised in, can be rehabilitated with proper attention, training and love.

In the right home, with informed, responsible owners, even Jasper could have had a safe, happy life. But in that home, on that morning, he was only dangerous.

As his grip tightened on Chloe’s neck and I saw her blood on my jeans, the reality that she could well die on this road overcame me. Through tears I said goodbye to her. I told her I was sorry.

The bloody assault continued. At one point Chloe’s big brown paws covered Jasper’s face as if to say, “Please, please stop.” Finally the woman’s shouts raised her father, who came running. He snapped a leash to Jasper’s collar, and pried his jaws from Chloe. They retreated to the house.

Shawna and I collapsed to our knees on the blood-spattered road. Fight or flight had overwhelmed us. We couldn’t catch our breath. Our lungs burned. Our jackets and jeans were covered in blood.

I looked over at Chloe. Bitten, bleeding, but alive. Scout, who remarkably had stayed out of the fight, pressed her body against Shawna. We trudged the short distance home in silence.

My vet treated Chloe’s puncture wounds, two on the neck, one on her side. She said we were lucky. Chloe’s thick neck rolls and collar had absorbed some of the attack and probably saved her life. She got a rabies booster and antibiotics.

The woman went to the hospital with a hand injury. A few days later, I received an email from her father.

He said he had rescued Jasper as a puppy. “I wish you could see him with his family. He was a kind, loving pet, but not so with strangers and other dogs,” he wrote. “I turned my back and he slipped away. I can only say I wish it never happened. Our family is devastated.”

The local animal control officer told me the family had to surrender Jasper to quarantine because his rabies shots were out of date. Initially there was talk that Jasper would be returned to the owner. Later I learned he would have to be put down.

“It’s for the best and we all know it,” the father wrote.

As I read the email, sitting in my car in the parking lot of a local Home Depot, I began to sob. I was devastated for Jasper and his family. I believed they loved their dog. I wanted to find him another home, a pit bull sanctuary, something. I imagined their goodbye at the humane society. I wished we’d never walked by their house that morning. I wished Jasper had been leashed.

Chloe is recovering from her injuries. For weeks after the attack my body was covered in bruises from holding Chloe tight to me as Jasper attacked her. Shawna is anxious on walks now and carries a large stick. I do not leave the house without pepper spray.

A few nights later I saw a post about Jasper on Instagram. He looked peaceful and sweet in the photograph. “Rest in peace Jasper, my heart is breaking,” the caption read.

It made me sad for everything that didn’t have to happen.

Grieving for a Friend by Embracing Her Daughter


Saving a Cactus, and Its Prickly Owner

I didn’t think I’d ever get over the loss of my best friend. Then her daughter came to live with me.

Credit…Lucy Jones

  • Dec. 11, 2020, 5:00 a.m. ET

“Will you accept a new tenant and a puppy?” Ceece texted.

A pretty, smart blonde with a lean, athletic build and a degree in finance, Ceece was the kind of 23-year-old you might hate, since she seemed a little too blessed. Unless you knew the truth.

“Why does the dog need to come?” my husband asked.

“It’s a therapy dog,” I explained. “She got him when Barb died.”

Barb, Ceece’s mom, was my best friend. We met when I was Ceece’s age, working in the publicity department of Bantam Books.

It was the worst time of my life. My father had gone to jail, I was sick with an eating disorder and I’d just lost my mom. I was cold and angry and a liar. Most people would have given up on me. Not Barb. At 6 feet tall, she towered over my 5-foot-2 self, fixed her piercing blue eyes on my hazel ones, and told me she really wanted to be my friend, but there were certain rules I had to follow for that to happen. The main one was I had to always tell her the truth.

For almost three decades after that, while she rose in the publishing world in New York and I built a TV career in Los Angeles, we maintained a long-distance friendship based on this pledge of honesty and trust. We could and did tell each other everything, first writing epic letters, then epic emails. My husband once walked in and stared at the pages of writing on my screen and asked if I was writing a screenplay. “No,” I said. “It’s a letter to Barb.”

We ended up celebrating all our monumental milestones together. We got married the same year and joked that we had married the same man. Both our husbands shared an unflappable temperament and, weirdly, both were managers at consumer banks. We bought similar first houses: Barb’s was an adorable 19th-century farmhouse, mine an adorable 1920s Spanish style.

Then we both bought the same second house, newer and in a more kid-friendly location, when the first one turned out to be totally impractical. We both got pregnant and had a baby the same year. We both ended up having two kids, a boy and a girl, and we would both tell you we couldn’t have survived the dark days when they were little without our amazing “Super Dad” men. Whatever it was we were going through, we were there for each other, and it helped that so often we were going through the same things. But if I had to name the greatest thing Barb gave me, it was that she believed in me, even when I couldn’t believe in myself.

Then one day she was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given three months to a year to live. When she made it past one year, I thought we were home free. Until suddenly, she was gone. For months after, I’d wake up in the middle of the night sobbing. I’d lost my oar and my rudder, the person who had taught me unconditional love.

In February 2019, my daughter was in college, my son had just moved out, and I was mere days into my new life as an empty-nester when Ceece texted. She’d gotten a job offer in Los Angeles. Could she stay with us? Of course I said yes.

Weeks later, after she’d spent $1,500 to ship her car, all her stuff and a giant 10-foot cactus out West, she arrived to find out the position she’d been offered was not guaranteed. The woman who hired her said her boss wanted two candidates to choose from.

“What if I don’t get the job?” she asked me, her eyes blinking back terror.

If I told you she didn’t get the job, the cactus arrived brown and droopy and the groomer found a lump under her dog’s fur, maybe you’d think I was being dramatic. But that’s what happened.

“It’s not cancer,” I said, waving the idea away with my hand.

“Actually, the vet said it could be cancer,” she told me. “He’s going to take it off.”

Ceece seemed cold and angry, shutting me out. It wasn’t lost on me that I was the same way at her age after l’d lost my mother, and that her mother was the one who had saved me. It was also a lot of pressure. I worried she was not OK, but I didn’t know how to help.

Ceece sent out resumes, watered her cactus and took her dog in for surgery. Sometimes she didn’t come out of her room all day.

Then came the time we went for a walk around Lake Hollywood. It was a perfect Los Angeles day, after the rain, crisp air, a turquoise blue sky. Suddenly the Hollywood sign came into view.

“The first time your mom came to L.A., I took her to see the sign,” I told her. “You know how she was. Loved celebrities. Called them ‘stars.’”

“She was a great person,” I said. “She changed my life.”

At first Ceece rolled her eyes. Then she asked me to tell her about her mom. So I did. After that day we explored the city together. We went to the farmers’ market, the county museum, Home Goods to shop for throw pillows. I learned she really loved plants, purses and quesadillas. Sometimes, we laughed really hard. Sometimes, we cried. As it turned out, I didn’t need to save her after all. She just needed a friend. So did I, since I’d lost the best one I’d ever had.

The production company ended up not liking the candidate they hired and asked Ceece if she was still open to the job. When she moved across town to her own apartment six months later, I was heartbroken. But I knew how to handle it. After all, her mother had taught me how to have a long-distance friendship. And both the dog and the cactus lived.

Gayle Abrams is a television writer and producer.

Pandemic Pets Are Giving Times Journalists a Boost

Times Insider explains who we are and what we do, and delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how our journalism comes together.

Judging from their appearances together during work videoconferences, Andrea Zagata and her puppy, Rosalie, can seem inseparable. Ms. Zagata, a staff editor for the Print Hub, which produces the print edition of The New York Times, adopted the dog from a Manhattan rescue organization in September. Since then, Rosalie, with her big brown eyes and an ear that sits permanently perked up, has been a constant presence at Ms. Zagata’s side (or in her lap).

Ms. Zagata and her husband, Josh Crutchmer, the print planning editor for the Print Hub, had been casually looking for a new companion since losing their beloved dog, Abby, earlier in the year. “I was so sad after we lost Abby,” Ms. Zagata said. “It was hard to make myself go outside. There wasn’t a reason. I did not realize that I’m the kind of person who really just needs to have a dog.”

Rosalie, part Rottweiler and part chow chow, among a multitude of other breeds, is one of many pets who have found homes this year, part of a surge in animal adoptions all over the country during the pandemic. And staff members at The Times seem to have contributed in their own way to this increase, with employees from all parts of the newsroom bringing home their own fluffy (or scaled or feathered) friends in recent months.

Rosalie, part Rottweiler and part chow chow, has been a calming presence, and not just to her owner. 
Rosalie, part Rottweiler and part chow chow, has been a calming presence, and not just to her owner. Credit…Andrea Zagata

These additions have brought comfort in an anxiety-filled year and company in a time when office colleagues are visible only on a screen.

Some staff members, like the sports reporter Sopan Deb, had never prioritized having a pet, but ample time at home (and his fiancée’s birthday) provided the perfect opportunity for Mr. Deb to finally start searching for one. Within a day, the couple had found and fallen in love with Koko, a cavalier King Charles spaniel and bichon frisé mix. Her name was inspired by Kolkata, the Indian city formerly known as Calcutta, where Mr. Deb’s family is from.

“I adore her in a way that is incalculable to me,” Mr. Deb said. “This dog is part of our family.”

Not only have these pets quickly become a part of their households — Mr. Deb likens himself to a “pushover parent” — but in some ways, they have also been like new co-workers, frequently emerging as guests, whether intentional or not, during meetings.

Lana Porter, the creative director for the research and development team, has had her pandemic puppy, a miniature Australian shepherd named Stevie, make multiple appearances during videoconferences. When another employee on her team acquired a pet, meetings resembled a virtual dog park.

“At one point we had his dog on the feed, my dog was on the feed, and everyone was watching our dogs,” Ms. Porter said. “We’ve almost created a whole new type of event where people just watch each other’s pets.”

Several staff members also take to Slack, the messaging platform, to share photos of their four-legged friends, either in a channel designated specially for pet picture swapping or among their own teams. Sara Bonisteel, a senior staff editor on the Food desk, made a family announcement to colleagues on Slack when she adopted two tuxedo cats named Astra and Diomedes.

Sara Bonisteel said that adopting two tuxedo cats, which are now like family, helped her break out of a pandemic rut. Credit…Sara Bonisteel

“We’re so far into this pandemic that I feel like you get set in your pandemic ways,” Ms. Bonisteel said, adding of the adjustment to her new cats: “It will break up that structure, and that’s a good thing. It provides a little lift.”

And in a year filled with sadness and physical and emotional distance, seeing a cute creature onscreen can help bring co-workers just a little bit closer.

“Sometimes we have a little bit of a rough close on Saturday mornings, especially when news is happening,” Ms. Zagata said of meeting the Print Hub deadlines on that day. “Every now and again, someone will say, ‘Hey, can you put that puppy on?’ She’s been kind of a reward.”

Why Thunder and Fireworks Make Dogs Anxious


Allene Anderson said her foster dog, Wrigley, a golden retriever, quaked for hours after a storm.

Allene Anderson said her foster dog, Wrigley, a golden retriever, quaked for hours after a storm.Credit NYTCREDIT: Whitten Sabbatini for The New York Times

It is entirely possible that no one dreads the dog days of summer more than dogs themselves.

Sodden heat gathers itself into sudden barrages of pounding thunder, crackling lightning and pane-rattling rain. Drives dogs crazy, all that noise.

And then, on the Fourth of July: fireworks.

By some estimates, at least 40 percent of dogs experience noise anxiety, which is most pronounced in the summer. Animal shelters report that their busiest day for taking in runaway dogs is July 5.

Veterinarians tell of dogs who took refuge in hiding places so tight that they got stuck, who gnawed on door handles, who crashed through windows or raced into traffic — all desperate efforts to escape inexplicable collisions of noise and flashing light. Ernie, a wired-hair pointer, was so terrified by thunderstorms that he would vault fences at his Maryland farm and run in a straight line for miles.

“It’s very serious,” said Dr. Melissa Bain, an associate professor of clinical animal behavior at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine. “It’s a true panic disorder with a complete flight response.”

Over the years, a mishmash of remedies for noise anxiety have sprung up: homeopathic blends; a calming pheromone; CDs of thunderstorms mixed with Beethoven; swaddling jackets ; even Prozac and Valium. But this month, the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration for canine noise aversion (a term encompassing mild discomfort to phobia) came on the market. The drug, Sileo, inhibits norepinephrine, a brain chemical associated with anxiety and fear response.

In the coming days, the annual onslaught of calls will pour into vets: “‘The fireworks are happening and my dog will freak out, so I need something to stop that, and I need it right now!’” Dr. Bain said.

Some vets prescribe strong sedatives, but even if the immediate crisis is averted, the underlying phobia remains untreated.

Being startled by a loud noise is normal, for dogs as well as humans. But these dogs cannot settle back down. Even if most reactions are not as extreme as the dog who tears out its nails while frantically scratching a door, many dogs will cower, pace and defecate indoors.

Cats can have noise aversion, though reports are less common. Animal behavior experts say cats often seem more self-reliant and understated than dogs, so when they hide under beds during storms, owners may not read that response as unusual.


Storms frighten Stella, a miniature breed.

Storms frighten Stella, a miniature breed.Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

Veterinary behaviorists say that as years pass, dogs with noise aversion may associate one sensation with another: storm-phobic tremors can be set off merely by dark clouds.

And thunderstorms are complicated beasts. “There are significant pressure changes, frantic winds, massive electrical discharges, concussive sounds: Dogs can hear above and below our auditory range,” said Dr. Peter H. Eeg, a veterinarian in Poolesville, Md., who has been reporting Sileo results in patients to Zoetis, the company that distributes the drug.

Wrigley, a 10-year-old golden retriever in Naperville, Ill., started trembling three hours before a recent storm, said Allene Anderson, a foster caretaker of abandoned dogs.

“She was desperate to climb down my throat,” Ms. Anderson said. “I got down on the floor with her, and she clawed me. She couldn’t get close enough.” After the storm passed, Wrigley quaked for hours.

“If owners don’t understand what’s going through the dog’s mind,” Ms. Anderson said, “they shout and throw them in the basement. That just makes it worse.”

Countless other noises set off dogs: jackhammers, lawn mowers, coffee grinders. One vet said that even garments designed to cocoon dogs in a secured wrap can irritate some by the sound of Velcro flaps being ripped apart. A toddler’s shrieks freaked out Winnie, an Indiana bulldog; her owner, Dr. Sara L. Bennett, a veterinary behaviorist, taught Winnie to relax with yoga breaths.

During a thunderstorm two years ago, Rebecca Roach was awakened at 3 a.m. by Stella, her 6-year-old miniature Australian shepherd, clambering on her chest, panting, whining and shaking.

“My instinct was to comfort her,” said Ms. Roach, who lives in Boyds, Md. “so I held her until the storm passed.”

But behavior specialists disagree about whether owners should comfort animals. Dr. Daniel S. Mills, a veterinarian at the University of Lincoln in England who is an expert on canine noise aversion, suggests that owners “acknowledge the dog but not fuss over it. Then show that the environment is safe and not compatible with threat, by playing around and seeing if the dog wants to join you. But don’t force it. Let it make a choice.”

Other experts say that soothing a spooked animal, bred to seek safety with its human, is just fine. “You can’t reinforce anxiety by comforting a dog,” Dr. Bain said. “You won’t make the fear worse. Do what you need to do to help your dog.”

Other tips include muffling noise with quiet music and, if possible, staying with the dog in a windowless, interior room. Because a dog’s flight response is on overload, it is seeking a haven.

For years, veterinarians treated noise phobia with acepromazine, a tranquilizer. It sedates the dog but is not an anti-anxiety medication. During a thunderstorm, the dog can still see and hear everything. But like someone having a nightmare in which he or she cannot run from danger, the frightened dog can’t move to escape. So veterinary behaviorists say that acepromazine can exacerbate noise aversion.

Some dogs function better with Prozac, but as with humans, the daily medicine takes four to six weeks to become effective.

Stella was impervious to prescriptions. During thunderstorm season, she and Ms. Roach lost hours of sleep. Ms. Roach tried positive reinforcement: When Stella’s symptoms would begin, she would be given treats from the night stand.

“Then Stella started climbing on my chest at 3 a.m., whimpering, whining and looking at the night stand,” Ms. Roach said. “And no thunderstorm! That was the end of that.”

The new canine noise aversion drug, Sileo, is actually a micro-amount of a medication approved as a sedative for minor veterinary procedures —- a flavorless gel, measured in a syringe, that is squeezed between the dog’s cheek and gum and absorbed within 30 minutes.

Orion, the Finnish company that developed it, tested it on several hundred noise-averse dogs during two years of New Year’s fireworks. Three-quarters of the owners rated the dogs’ response as good to excellent; their pets remained unperturbed. The drug lasts several hours, after which another dose can be administered.

A syringe costs about $30 and holds several weight-dependent doses. Sileo’s main side effect, in 4.5 percent of dogs, is vomiting.

“I’m not naïve enough to think this is the miracle cure,” said Dr. Emily Levine, a veterinary behaviorist in Fairfield, N.J. But she considered it a worthy option.

The optimal solution, vets say, is catching the response early, and desensitizing the dog with calibrated recordings of the offending noise, and positive conditioning.

But training takes time, patience and consistency.

“And humans,” Dr. Eeg said, “are one of the most inconsistent species on the planet.”

A Truce With My Aging Stepdog


Credit Giselle Potter

There’s one good thing about my old dog’s fading memory: He seems to have forgotten he hates me.

Our dog, Eddie, is 15 years old and generally in good health, but he’s showing his age. His hearing is about gone, and he can no longer jump on sofas or navigate a long flight of stairs. And he’s losing his memory. Either because of that or perhaps because he just doesn’t have the energy to bully me anymore, our geriatric dog is no longer the jealous creature who had been my nemesis over 10 years of marriage.

Eddie, a 40-pound Blue Heeler mix, was prone to possessive impulses and aggressive behavior with other dogs, and that didn’t change after he was adopted by the man who would become my husband and his two young children. He had settled into his new home from a rescue foundation barely four months before my husband and I met. The children were shy and polite to me, but the dog didn’t bother with manners. He sized me up from a distance and, on the first night I slept over, he peed in front of the closed bedroom door.

Eddie stayed on message through courtship and marriage. He barked when I came down the stairs to the kitchen in the morning, when I came home from work and whenever I tried to approach my husband. One move, one kiss, one dance, and my stepdog would work himself up into such hysterics that I was afraid he would bite me (he never did).

When Eddie wasn’t expressing hostility, he showered me with indifference. He came to me only when called repeatedly and tolerated petting just for a few seconds, offering tepid tail wagging. I grew up with dogs and I was hurt by his rejection. Some research suggests that dogs are capable of jealousy, but I never found a study that would tell me how long it took them to get over it.

On bad days, Eddie got under my skin and I wished he’d escape — successfully. No matter how much I jogged with him, fed him biscuits or took care of him when my husband traveled, my attempts at bonding were rebuffed or only temporarily welcomed. To him I was forever the intruder, the attention hog, the competitor who kicked him out of his daddy’s bedroom and — maybe as unforgivably — no longer let him lick the dirty dishes in the dishwasher.

Over time the children grew up, wedding anniversaries came and went, the household moved to New York from California, but through every milestone our dog remained resolute in his allegiance to only one master.

Friends were used to my complaints. One suggested therapy. My sister occasionally asked — jokingly — if I had poisoned the dog yet. On the contrary, we all took such good care of Eddie that he seemed indestructible.

But Eddie was aging faster than we were and the thaw in our contentious relationship came, unexpectedly, as he began showing his mortality.

With time, dogs, much as humans do, will have mobility problems, lose learned behavior, slow down, forget. We first noticed that Eddie limped slightly after long walks. His veterinarian diagnosed arthritis in his front legs. One day, he could no longer propel himself into a cushioned chair or onto our beds. Eventually, Eddie had trouble rising from his own bed and could only do it tentatively, legs splayed like a newborn foal touching ground for the first time.

Other physiological changes came in spurts. He stopped greeting us at the door because he could no longer hear us coming in. He sometimes couldn’t or wouldn’t wait for his walks, so he marked a corner of the living room as his indoor territory to relieve himself.

Our fearless junkyard dog, the one we were afraid to take to dog parks and who was expelled from more than one kennel for brawling, grew clingy and afraid to roam. He’s constantly underfoot in the kitchen no matter how often we tell him to sit. He licks himself noisily in front of guests. He refuses to pose for selfies.

But as the canine equivalent of a centenarian, Eddie finally has eased up on me. He lets me caress him and lingers under my touch. He follows me around and seems to enjoy my company. The barking is long gone. Through his aging, Eddie became a normal pet to me.

I’ve aged and changed too. I had already softened a couple of years earlier when Eddie almost died from a major blockage in his bowels. As I lay awake while the animal hospital kept him on an IV, I pondered a dog-less life and was overcome with regret. Eddie had been the relentless companion and protector, the fixture in our home once the kids had grown and gone. He had brought out to me my husband’s tender side. He was the safe topic of conversation at a tense dinner table. In my stepfamily, I realized, Eddie was a unifier.

But true affection, and yes, love, didn’t come until this last phase, when Eddie sleeps most of the day and we have to clap to get his attention. Every day I enter our home clapping, holding my breath until I hear the click-click of paws on the wood floor and dreading the day I will not.

As if we needed reminding, the owner of his longtime kennel recently told us that Eddie was getting too old for weeklong stays while we traveled. He explained that he didn’t want to make a life-or-death decision on his own if he couldn’t reach us.

For the time being, Eddie has a healthy appetite and all his choppers. He still demands his walks and gets excited at the sight of the leash. He still greets my husband — and only my husband — like it’s midnight on New Year’s Eve.

But there’s no going back to the sour personality that clashed with mine and once made me dream of “Lost Dog” ads. I wonder if Eddie realizes that neither of us ever posed a threat to the other’s relationship with the love of our lives. Does he appreciate that we both succeeded in carving out roles in our ready-made family?

Rivals no more, we are finally able to simply be members of the same pack.

Mireya Navarro is a reporter for The New York Times and the author of the memoir “Stepdog.”


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Turning Your Pet Into a Therapy Dog


Credit Paul Rogers

It did not take long for me to recognize the therapeutic potential of Max, the hypoallergenic 5-month-old Havanese puppy I adopted in March 2014. He neither barked nor growled and seemed to like everyone, especially the many children that come up and down our block.

When I asked if a crying child passing by would like to pet a puppy, the tears nearly always stopped as fluffy little Max approached, ready to be caressed.

So I signed us up for therapy dog training with the Good Dog Foundation, which met conveniently in my neighborhood. If we passed the six-week course, we would be certified to visit patients in hospitals and nursing homes, children in schools, and people in other venues that recognize the therapeutic potential of well-behaved animals.

Training involves a joint effort of dog and owner, usually in groups of four to eight pairs. The dog can be any size, any breed, but must be housebroken; nonaggressive; not fearful of strangers, loud or strange noises, wheelchairs or elevators, and able to learn basic commands like sit, lie down and leave it. Good temperament is critical; a dog that barks incessantly, nips or jumps on people uninvited would hardly be therapeutic.

During our first visit to patients at my local hospital, a woman who said she’d had a “terrible morning” invited Max onto her bed, showered him with affection and, crying with pleasure, thanked me profusely for bringing him around to cheer her up.

Moments later, on the pediatrics ward, a preverbal toddler hospitalized with croup spotted Max and came charging down the hall squealing with delight. The two met eye-to-eye; Max even appeared to smile, and she giggled as she patted his head.

I don’t know about Max, but I was hooked. I agreed to bring him for monthly patient visits, with a promise to do more if my schedule permitted, and I was able to do the required pre-visit bath.

A therapy dog need not be small and fluffy. A neighbor with a “mush” of a 90-pound American pit bull named Pootie has had similar experiences at the Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Healthcare System’s Brooklyn campus. During the first visit, one patient told him repeatedly, “You made my day.”

But while a hospital’s voluntary pet therapy program is designed to aid patients, in my experience the chronically-stressed hospital staff benefits as much if not more from pet visits. “Can I pick him up?” is the typical request from hospital personnel I encounter, and some don’t even wait for me to say yes.

Therapy pets differ from service animals like those that guide the blind, detect impending health crises for people with epilepsy or diabetes, or stimulate learning for children with autism or cerebral palsy.

Pet therapy most often involves privately owned animals – usually dogs, but also cats, rabbits, even kangaroos, birds, fish and reptiles – that their owners take to facilities to enhance the well-being of temporary or permanent residents. Thus, in addition to relieving the monotony of a hospital stay or entertaining residents in a nursing home, Max might visit a school where young children wary of reading aloud will happily read to a dog that does not care about mistakes.

At my local hospital, therapy dogs often attend group sessions for psychiatry patients. Cynthia Chandler, a counseling professor at the University of North Texas and author of “Animal Assisted Therapy in Counseling,” reports that visits by her dog Bailey increased patient participation in group therapy and improved hygiene and self-care among those with severe mental illness.

At Veterans Affairs hospitals, not only therapy dogs but also parrots have reduced anxiety and other symptoms among patients being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Valerie Abel, a psychologist who coordinates the pet therapy program at the Brooklyn Veterans Affairs hospital, said, “The presence of therapy dogs makes such a difference. Many ask when they’ll next be back. A big dog can put its head on patients’ beds and you can actually see them relax.”

Studies have shown that after just 20 minutes with a therapy dog, patients’ levels of stress hormones drop and levels of pain-reducing endorphins rise. Endorphins are the brain’s natural narcotic, the substance responsible for the runner’s high that helps injured athletes ignore pain.

In elderly patients with dementia, depression declines after they interact with a therapy animal. And researchers at the University of Southern Maine showed that therapy dog visits can calm agitation in patients with severe dementia.

In a controlled study of therapy dog visits among patients with heart disease, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found a significant reduction in anxiety levels and blood pressure in the heart and lungs in those who spent 12 minutes with a visiting animal, but no such effect occurred among comparable patients not visited by a dog.

Therapy dogs are often described as better than any medicine. They know instinctively when someone needs loving attention. Last winter, when I was felled by the flu (despite my annual shot), 1-year-old Max lay at the foot of my bed for hours on end, making none of his usual demands for attention and play.

In an intriguing pet therapy program, sometimes called pets behind bars, benefits accrue to both the animals and the humans with whom they interact. Shelter dogs considered unadoptable and living on “death row” are assigned to be cared for and trained by selected prison inmates, including convicted killers and rapists, many of whom have serious anger issues.

The inmates work to socialize the dogs, teaching them to trust people, behave appropriately and obey simple commands. In turn, violence and depression among the inmates is lessened; they learn compassionate behavior, gain a sense of purpose, and experience unconditional love from the dogs in their care.

At the completion of training, rehabilitated dogs are offered to people who want to give a shelter animal a permanent home. Through the Safe Harbor Prison Dog Program at Lansing Correctional Facility in Lansing, Kansas, for example, some 1,200 dogs have been adopted as pets.

In a related program, veterans back from service in Iraq and Afghanistan are giving basic obedience training to shelter dogs, a project that helps the vets readjust to being home and offers the dogs a chance to gain a home of their own.

Before signing up for therapy dog training, you’d be wise to find out first what the program involves and its cost and what will be required of you by the facilities you hope to visit. I’ve had to provide annual documentation of Max’s vaccinations and freedom from intestinal parasites, which typically requires a visit to the vet. I too had to show I was immune to multiple infectious diseases and free of H.I.V., and the hospital had to test me for drug abuse.

Still, the rewards Max and I have accrued as hospital volunteers more than compensate for these requirements.


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