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 This Week From The Redbarn Studios

Animal Radio for January 8, 2022  

Opossum Rescue Group Helps The Misunderstood Marsupial
Beth Sparks, The Opossum's Pouch Rescue

The Opossum's Pouch Rescue LogoThere are 'opossums' and then there are 'possums.' Opossums have long, pointy noses and a hairless tail. Possums have more of a round face and have a furry tail. Opossums are found in North America, while possums are found in Australia. However, they are both marsupials, with the opossums being the only marsupial in North America.

Beth Sparks heads up The Opossum's Pouch Rescue. This seems a little strange, as most people think of an opossum as a pest and sometimes just road kill.

It's a big world for opossums out there, according to Beth. She takes in the orphans that either fall off mom's back or rescues them when mom gets killed in the road. When a mother opossum passes, the babies are still in her pouch and are in need of rescue. They also go on rescues after receiving phone calls from some people who think they have a giant rat in their garage and they want it removed.

A lot of these opossums are also injured in dog attacks. This happens because they go in looking for a morsel of food left out by the owners for their dogs. Beth also offers medical attention to those that are injured by cars. Fortunately the state of South Carolina, where Beth's rescue is located, allows for non-releasables. Beth explains that all laws are different depending on what state you are located in. Beth has even received opossum as far away as Washington State, with the proper paperwork. So they rescue them from everywhere. She says no one else will take them, so she makes the proper arrangements to get them to South Carolina.

An opossum's pregnancy lasts 13 days. After the babies are born, they make their way into the pouch just like a kangaroo. This is where they will stay for an average of two and a half months. When their eyes open, they start coming out of the pouch a little bit while mom sleeps in. As they get older, they no longer fit in the pouch and it's their instinct that they then ride on her back.

Beth explains that the average size of a litter, if you have a small female, is going to be about 7 to 8. But when you have a larger female, she can have up to 13. However, the average litter is going to be around 9 to 10. She tells us she once saw a litter of 14. She explains that there are only 14 teats on a mom, so that's all she can have. Their teats are also in a circle. They're not like your dog or cat that have them in a row. The little baby puts a sort of vapor lock on the mom and they stay fully attached until they're old enough to where they can break loose their suckle and then they start riding on the mother's back.

Opossum with BabiesRemoving them from the pouch can be a little bit difficult, according to Beth. It's almost like kicking an 18-year-old out of the house!

An opossum reaches maturity at around 6 months of age. In the wild they may live only 12 to 18 months, which is an incredibly short amount of time of less than two years. In captivity, they can live up to four years.

Beth's goal is to rehabilitate them and get them ready to be released back into the wild. But why release them back into the wild if they will have a shorter lifespan? Beth explains that the only other have option is to just let them die, which is not an option in her world. Beth explains that if you rescued squirrels, that might live 12 to 14 years, the numbers would start mounting up because they liver longer, which would makes it a lot harder. But opossums have a short life span and have a very, very hard life in the wild. Beth feels that out of all the wildlife there is, they're at the bottom of the totem pole.

While there are not a lot of opossum rescues in the country, there are a lot of rehabbers who specialize in only opossums, Beth explains. She originally started out with another rescue and they rescued a little bit of everything. But she states that opossums get in your blood. They're the underdog and she's always been one for the underdog.

Beth doesn't believe that people should take in wild animals and state laws don't allow it in many places. However, she had an older opossum that came in as a rescue that found in a man's garage. This opossum was blind. She explains that they take to cages quite well, because they're so happy to get out of the elements and the hard lifestyle. If they have a hammock, or a bed and a bowl of food and a place to go potty, they're great. Only because Beth was running short on cages, this opossum took up residence in her kitty bed in a closet. When he came out, he used a stand up shower to go to the bathroom. This made Beth's life very simple. Opossums like to relieve themselves in water. So training them to go potty in a stand up shower or your bathtub is very simple to do. They will take to litter training very easily. Opossums are nocturnal. Even if they are hand raised since a baby, they tend to get on a nocturnal cycle. They also love running on a wheel. They don't play like other mammals but they love an exercise wheel. Because of this, Beth keeps an oilcan handy with some Wesson Oil just to keep her wheels oiled so she can sleep at night.

According to Beth, opossums are quite lovely pets and they're either your thing or they're not. Currently there are about probably eight to ten Facebook groups consisting of nothing but people who have an opossum as a pet or opossum rehabbers, and they're growing daily.

OpossumDr. Debbie wants to clarify that Beth is not advocating people to run out bring opossums into their homes so that they can live a longer life span. They are wild animals and they do live outdoors. You wouldn't do this, just like you're not going to start bringing raccoons and wild horses into your home. You can admire and respect them, but Dr. Debbie cautions folks against bringing in wild animals that they aren't prepared to care for and leave that up to the rehabilitators.

Surprisingly, there are actually breeders of opossums. Beth is against this, and states that there's a very big breeding farm in Pennsylvania who adopts these little guys out. She's very much against that, because not a lot of information goes out with them.

An opossum's diet is totally different than any other animal. Their medical needs are also different from other animals. They don't get viruses and it's very unlikely will you ever see them with rabies. But they do get bacterial infections. They are also many up for adoption in Florida, where you can actually get a license to have one as a pet. So Beth tries to do a lot of education, because if you're going to have one for whatever reason, she just wants to make sure the little guys are taken care of properly.

Beth tells us that you can train an opossum, but she associates their behavior very similar to a cat. They can be taught different things. They certainly learn where the treat box is located. But for the most part it needs to be their idea, as they are much like a cat.

The Opossum Pouch Rescue is a non-profit organization and has a great Facebook page for their rescue. They accept donations, and not always cash donations. They get a lot of donations of food and supplies. She tells us they have a freezer and a refrigerator that was donated for extra food and formula.

Beth reaches out to people all over the world and also does educational outreach for the opossum.

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The Healing Power of the Paw
Shannon, Kopp, Soul Paws Recovery

Shannon Kopp with DogShannon Kopp is no stranger to Animal Radio. In 2015, she told us about her eating disorder, Bulimia. She was throwing up 20 times a day. It was killing her. No doctor or therapist could help her. Things didn't change until she met a special dog. Now, she's advocating the use of animals to help others suffering from eating disorders.

Things changed when Shannon got a job working with the shelter dogs in San Diego and was their marketing coordinator. Essentially her job was to get to know the homeless dogs. These included lots of Pit bulls and Chihuahuas, as well as mixed breeds and some other purebreds too.

Part of her job was to take them on local news stations, radio stations and to fairs to introduce them to the world. Her job essentially was to spend eight hours a day with these loving shelter dogs. She got this job right out of treatment. She had been hospitalized and went to rehab. This was her eighth year with bulimia. She was really beginning to think that she was a hopeless case. She continued to work with a therapist whose recommendations were nothing Shannon could ever follow through with. She tells us it's a hard thing to explain, but the urges to binge and to purge were so strong that she could never do any other coping mechanism than that.

One day while working at the San Diego Humane Society, Shannon was bingeing in the break room on a bunch of sweets the volunteers had made. In her head, she said she could hear her therapist's voice say, "Can you commit to going to see a shelter dog?" Shannon states it was the first time ever in eight years a thought like that interrupted her binge. She immediately walked out of that break room. To the right was the bathroom and to the left the dog kennels. She went right to the dog kennels and sat with this big dog named Paloma. They had nicknamed her Kim K, because she had a really big butt. She had been hit by a car and she was doing great. However, one of her back legs was shorter than the other so she had this adorable little strut when she walked. She's was a big white loving pit bull.

Shannon went into that that kennel feeling horrible and full, uncomfortable and hopeless. That dog, completely unaware of her size, sat on Shannon's lap for 30 minutes and grounded her. Shannon held on to the dog, stroked her fur and looked into her eyes. Shannon let Paloma kiss and slobber all over her. She didn't get up and leave that kennel until she was confident she wasn't going to purge. That was the beginning of Shannon's recovery.

Soul Paws LogoShannon learned to turn to these animals who would never judge her; who would never give her a lecture; that had no expectations and didn't care what she did the night before. They just loved her and they were so happy to see her. Shannon couldn't believe this, because at that point she was so convinced she was unlovable but these animals accepted her in the most profound way.

Shannon began turning to them when she was having purging urges and it worked. She is now in full recovery from bulimia. Shannon continues to work with shelter dogs and even has her own rescue dog, Bella, who continues to help her.

When we last spoke to Shannon, her book, "Pound for Pound" had just come out, which was such an incredible experience for her. She connected with people all over the world about the healing power of the paw. She also founded a non-profit called Soul Paws Recovery Project. Essentially they offer free animal assisted therapy to people impacted by eating disorders in San Diego. So every month they have miniature horses, dogs, puppies, rabbits, guinea pigs and even rats sometimes in their workshop, available to anyone that's struggling with food and body issues.

The beginning of every New Year is hard, explains Shannon, especially when everyone is bombarded by messages about changing their body and becoming a new improved version of themselves. The message at Soul Paws is that animals love us just as we are. We are perfect just as we are. They offer different exercises with these animals that have had a really profound impact on people of all ages.

Shannon tells us about one woman came to them in her 50s and said she'd never asked for help for her eating disorder before. However, the idea of coming to a room filled with therapy dogs was a lot easier than going into a therapist's office. So sometimes it's easier to start with the animals telling them the truth and practicing truth telling. This makes it easier to get rid of the shame and then to build up to speaking perhaps with a therapist or maybe even going into treatment. You might even find a treatment center that incorporates animal assisted therapy.

Shannon said it took a long time for her to even admit that she had an eating disorder, which she calls "food and body issues." If you're struggling with accepting your body, if your mind is focused and stressed out over food, then Soul Paws is a good place for you. You may even have your own animal that can help you through therapy. However, most of the people that came to Shannon were actually coming from treatment centers. So they were being hospitalized or were currently in a treatment center. Sometimes this can be for a long time, like weeks or month, some even years. So they're away from their family pets; they're away from those animals that they love so much. These animals are really important and special for them. Some people are just in the situation that she was in. The first year she worked at the San Diego Humane Society, she thought she was the only person there that did not have a pet. This wasn't because she wasn't dying to have one, but she could barely take care of herself. So she did not want to put another life at risk. Her life was already at risk.

Soul Paws is a part of the treatment process for people, in addition to their outpatient therapy and treatment. So they're not in a place yet where they can adopt a dog of their own. They come to Soul Paws for healing and companionship. And then of course there are those that have animals at home. What they can do at Soul Paws is to learn different meditation practices and different therapeutic exercises that they can then take home with them and practice with their own pets.

One success story that Shannon tells us about is someone she met when she was in treatment. This woman told Shannon she struggled with bulimia, exercise addiction and substance use. She told Shannon that she was thinking about leaving treatment. She was in her early 30s and had just checked in when the resident therapy dog climbed into her lap and convinced her to stay. She ended up staying and completed her treatment, making incredible progress. And then when she was discharged, she was really frightened. She was terrified that she was going to relapse without that structure and support. So she adopted a dog of her own and started coming to Soul Paws. She did great in her recovery and claims that Soul Paws is a really important part of that.

Soul Paws TreatmentShe also tells us about another woman who struggled with a binge eating disorder and went to treatment. This woman claims that there's not a place in the world she felt safer than when she was at Soul Paws with the animals and with other people who really understand what she's going through.

There are a lot of different stories and Shannon is just so excited to be a part of it. She's so excited to share what she discovered at the San Diego Humane Society with others and to watch animals do their magic, which is really lovely. The way they love us, the way they make us feel, is so unconditional and it saves lives.

Shannon thinks that when you're dealing with eating disorders, there's so much shame, there's so much compulsive obsessive thinking, that it's really a healing experience to be with an animal that will not trigger your shame. Even if you have loving people in your life, like Shannon's therapist was with her, she still struggled to be honest with her about her eating disorder. Shannon would have never admitted to her therapist, as great as she was, and they worked together for 10 years, that she was struggling and throwing up 20 times a day. Shannon never told her because she was so ashamed. However, she could tell a dog and that was the bridge for her. Eventually she would go on and tell her therapist. But the shame was almost palpable. It was something that really prevented her recovery. And so it makes sense to her that animals are going to love us no matter what, particularly shelter dogs that are just desperate for love. It's a really powerful thing.

Shannon also joined forces with the Eating Recovery Center. They have treatment centers all across the country treating anorexia, bulimia and binge eating disorders. She's been sharing her message of hope and recovery and obviously talking a lot about the healing power of the paw, which is a big part of her story.

This has been an incredible journey and Shannon is looking to expand Soul Paws.

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Pheromones In Puppy Training - Dr. Debbie

Dr. Debbie WhiteSo you just got a new puppy and you have all your training tools at the ready, the collar, leash and dog crate. But beyond that, do you have the one thing that can make your training tasks easier all around? Tap into your puppy's own sense of smell using canine pheromones, and ease your new pup's training and transition into the home.

Pheromones are scent signals emitted by all animal species, including humans. Various pheromones work under the radar to influence the perceptions and behaviors of others within a species.

Shortly after whelping, a pheromone is emitted from the bitch's sebaceous (oil) glands located between the mammary glands. The pheromone, dubbed the canine appeasing pheromone, reassures the puppies, calms them and facilitates nursing. The bitch stops emitting this pheromone as the pups mature, but all dogs retain the ability to "read" this pheromone. Not only do older dogs recognize this pheromone, but it continues to have a natural calming effect on canines of all ages.

In veterinary behavior cases, the dog appeasing pheromone is used for dogs with noise phobias, car travel anxiety, separation anxiety, and other fearful situations. Various forms are available including pheromone collars, plug in diffusers and sprays. The canine appeasing pheromone doesn't sedate the dog; rather it decreases fear and excitability.

The dog appeasing pheromone is also helpful for newly adopted puppies. Those first few days to weeks in a new home are full of changes for the pup faced with novel environments far from the comfort of mother and siblings. The dog appeasing pheromone has been shown to ease the transition of the pup into new home and improve sociability and training during a pup's critical socialization period.

Pheromone Research
For skeptics that need to see the proof in the studies, veterinary behavior studies have examined the positive influence of the dog appeasing pheromone. When comparing treatment responses for dogs with separation anxiety, the use of the dog appeasing pheromone equaled the benefit of the anti-anxiety medication, amitriptyline.

One study looked at 66 puppies as they settled into new homes after adoption. Approximately half of the puppies wore a pheromone collar and half wore a placebo. The study found that puppies wearing a pheromone collar displayed significantly fewer nuisance behaviors like vocalizations or scratching within 3 days of adoption. Pups wearing the pheromone collar woke their owner's less during the night and displayed fewer signs of distress and vocalizations throughout the course of the study.

The researchers concluded that pheromone collars helped both the pup and family. Pups were less stressed and adapted easier. By decreasing the pup's stress and fearful behaviors, the pet owners found a more enjoyable bonding experience with the new pup and faced less frustration through the training process.

NikkiIn another study, puppies 8 to 15 weeks were enrolled in an eight-week long puppy socialization and training class. Half wore a pheromone collar and the other half wore a placebo collar. The pups wearing the collar were calmer in the face of novel experiences and displayed less fear, anxiety, and aggression. In the end, the pups with pheromone collar not only were less nervous, but had fewer behavioral problems and learned better. And a long-term effect on sociability was recognized in dogs up to one year after the class and study was completed.

Pheromones and My Pup
As the new owner of a nine-week old Bouvier puppy named Nikki, I used both the pheromone collar and diffuser upon welcoming my new pup home. One day before bringing Nikki home, I placed a pheromone diffuser close to the puppy crate, where it would have maximum benefit during her first nights in the kennel away from mother and siblings. Immediately upon leaving the breeder's home, Nikki was fitted with a pheromone collar to serve as a source of reassuring pheromones that went everywhere she did. The pheromone collar has become a tool in Nikki's socialization. It's on her when she meets new people or animals, when she explores new environments, and during puppy kindergarten class.

Did pheromones help in my pup's transition and training? The four hour drive home from the breeders was a dream, no crying or whining the entire trip. Now three weeks later from acquiring my pup, and Nikki never soiled in her kennel during the day or night. I'll admit I had my share of interrupted sleep in the first two weeks, but most of Nikki's night time wakes were for genuine elimination needs. Overall her transition into the home was smooth and lacked the wailing, inconsolable cries of a stressed pup.

The canine appeasing pheromone isn't a magic bullet though. Nothing matches a quality pup obtained from a reputable breeder who focuses on health, genetics, and early socialization. Likewise pheromones do not replace the hard work and consistent training efforts that any new pet owner must provide. However, by adding the the canine appeasing pheromone to your new puppy training, you can help your pup become the best he or she possibly can.

For more information on the DAP products, visit CEVA.

Featured veterinarian known as "Dr. Debbie" on national pet radio program, Animal Radio. Ebook author of "Yorkshire Terriers: How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend"; "Pugs: How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend"; "Mini Schnauzers: How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend"; and "Shih Tzu: How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend." Dr. Debbie's books.

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Animal Radio News - Lori Brooks

Lori and Flo BearFake Service Dogs
According to an attorney with the Arizona Center for Disability Law, previous federal law says business owners are only allowed to ask people with service animals two questions: 1. Is your animal a service animal that's required for your disability? 2. What task or work has your service animal been trained to do? Those business owners cannot ask people for proof that an animal is in fact a certified service animal. Business owners are also not allowed to force or request pet owners to demonstrate their pet's skills. However, those business owners are allowed to ask people to leave if their service animal is behaving in a threatening way, going to the bathroom inside the establishment, or causing an unnecessary distraction for other patrons, which a real service animal would never do.

Off-Leash Park For Pets of Homeless Women
A non-profit group called Fences for Fido built an off-leash dog park for pets that belong to homeless women. Volunteers put up the fencing at a church in Washington State. The church runs a "Safe Parking" program, allowing 40-50 women and families to stay in cars in the church parking lot. The Portland based Fences for Fido says it was important for them to step up to help the women keep their pets, since the church was already allowing them to use their kitchen and Wi-Fi.

Goldfish Survive CA FiresGoldfish Survived California Fires
The 2017 fires in California affected a lot of pets and people, but what a group of young men found in the scorched remains of a neighborhood wasn't a photo album, wedding ring or even a skittish cat separated from its family. What Logan Hertel and a few of his friends discovered were goldfish. Somehow the fish had survived a fire in a bathtub in someone's backyard. That fire had wiped out many homes in the neighborhood so for now, the 21-year-old student has set up an aquarium for them at his father's home and his mother has helped and posted signs of Hertel with the fish around the burned out neighborhood.

Cats Kill Millions of Birds Every Day
In Australia, it's estimated that cats kill more than 1 million birds every single day. In one research project, scientists did a review of 100 previous studies that were conducted across the continent. They found that 316 million birds are killed by feral cats every year in Australia and another 61 million birds are killed by pet cats. The worst part is that more than 300 species of birds are impacted and 71 of those are bird species, which are already threatened. It's not just the small birds that are the targets either. Scientists say medium sized birds are most likely to be killed by feral cats.

Who Gets The Dog?  Judges Decide Pet Custody
Divorcing couples in Illinois who can't agree on who keeps the pets will have a judge decide custody. Usually companion animals are treated like property to be divided up between the couple, because in most states pets are still classified as property. But now with the rise of two-income families opting not to have children, the issue of pet custody is gaining more attention. Illinois judges now have clear guidance when they must decide whether to award sole custody to one pet parent or rule that they must share custody. Factors will include things like who takes care of the pet on a day-to-day basis and who spends more money on things like food health care.

Denver Banned Cat Declawing
Denver became the first city in Colorado to ban elective cat declawing. The city now prohibits veterinarians from performing the procedure unless it's medically necessary. However, the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association opposed the measure saying the decision to declaw a cat or not should be left up to a veterinarian and the pet owner. But, like many veterinarians around the country, most simply do not offer the surgery any longer.

EarListen to the entire Podcast of this show (#1153)

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