ANIMAL RADIO® | November 3rd 2005 Newsletter
Programming with a Purpose
In this issue:
& REBUILDING - Post Katrina Plans for the ASPCA
Ed Sayres speaks to Animal Radio.
AVIAN FLU - A lot of hype....or not?
DOG DANCING, America's Weirdest Pet Hobby - Emily Yoffe
PRODUCT REVIEW Peanut Butter Softies.
LASER SURGERY FOR YOUR PET.
Coming Up This Weekend:
Captain John Smathers returned from Iraq with a broken arm, a wrecked knee and a chest full of medals. He is one of the most decorated soldiers involved in removing Saddam from power. During his tour he thwarted a bank robbery and recovered stolen artwork. When he returned to the United States in March, he was determined to complete one final mission; to rescue Scout, a dog he met in Baghdad a year prior. You might think bringing the loyal dog back to the U.S. might be easy for a soldier that fought so diligently in the name of America. Not so. Hear this emotionally moving story as it unfolds on Animal Radio live this weekend.
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Radio's Katrina Covertage is brought to you by Bissell,
a proud sponsor of Petfinder.com. Go to Petfinder.com to get the latest information
on how you can help the animals affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Hal: Hi Ed, tell the listeners where you are.
Ed: I'm on a cell phone at the New Orleans Airport on my way back. I just spent the day with Laura Maloney, the Director of the Louisiana ASPCA, just looking at the new temporary Algiers site for animal control. I got to visit the former Louisiana SPCA, which was completely destroyed, and just talking with Laura about what our next steps are in rebuilding down here.
Hal: That's great. The temporary site, Algiers, how long will animals be housed there?
Ed: Well, it's a large warehouse. They can house probably 300 or 400 animals there, and they're going to be there for quite a while, a year or more. We purchased about $350,000 worth of kenneling units, and they're being installed in a few weeks. Right now, they are in temporary kennels, but really clean and well housed, and it's a spacious area, and they're going to have to work out of there for quite a while.
Judy Francis: How many animals are there?
Ed: There are about 200 there now, dogs and cats. Because, they are basically resuming animal control services as well as doing the last amount of recovery. Their assessment is that 90-95% of the recovery phase is done, but any animals recovered by their agents are coming into that facility.
Judy: So there are still animals out there that are roaming loose or perhaps still in homes?
Ed: Well probably still strays. There was, unlike other American cities, New Orleans really did have a stray dog, kind of packing problem that is unusual today in this country. And some of them didn't survive the storm, but some of them did. So it's a combination of strays and maybe still some homed animals that are getting rescued out of homes.
Hal: I understand that there are about 4,000 pets that need to be reunited. What amount of this number that we've received are homeless animals, or animals that probably were stray or feral to being with?
Ed: Well, you probably could say half stray and half owned. I mean, realize that Laura and the Louisiana ASPCA got the shelter animals evacuated before Katrina hit. So all the population that was in the SPCA pre-Katrina, were all sent basically around the country, Texas, California, Michigan, before the storm hit, and so this new population was a combination of owned and stray. So yes, about 4,000 animals out in probably about 100 or more agencies in the country, and we're providing enough funding for the agencies to incur the cost of their care but also incentives the agencies to do any kind of reuniting that's possible or hold them as long as possible so that people can have a greater chance to get them reunited.
Hal: There's been about 13 million dollars raised from all kinds of caring people. How is that disbursed and where will that go?
Ed: We have disbursed about 2 and 1/2 million to date, in terms of grants to agencies, separate from what we've done with supplies and equipment. We felt it was an important function for us, because we have a large donor base and we had a lot of response that we would be probably one of the primary granting organizations. These organizations, when all is said and done, are going to need financial resources today, a year from now, two years from now.
Hal: They need to rebuild.
Ed: They need to rebuild. So, we look at this recovery, reuniting and rebuilding as kind of our mantra. And right now we are into the reuniting phase, but there's going to be a rebuilding phase that's going to be pretty costly. So we have committed about 2 and 1/2 million to capital projects, about 2 and 1/2 million has already been distributed in grants to agencies impacted as well as agencies that have taken animals from the Katrina area, and beginning to look at formulas for distributing the rest of the funds. The ASPCA does not have a disaster department per se. We have 40 veterinarians, 50 vet-techs, law enforcement people, adoption people, shelter managers, so we wound up having a lot of the skill steps that they needed personnel wise, but our board was very emphatic about, you know these funds were raised for Katrina and Rita and not for a disaster department or a disaster fund for future disasters. 100% is going to go out to these areas. So we're going to work with these agencies to figure out what is the best way to rebuild them.
Judy: After this big disaster, are you going to install a new disaster program and department?
Ed: I don't think we'll do that. We have the shelter network and the hands-on skill sets in our day-to-day operations, and with the point that we discussed with the board, and kind of the core ethics with the board, was that if something like this happens again, the public will respond. We'll have the dollars to deal with it, but the main thing is our normal day-to-day operations. We have a high competency and the skills needed for both the recovery piece and the rescue piece, as well as you know, what you saw at the Lamar-Dixon and the other sites is that they're basically large shelters and we probably have 10 executive directors of the Humane Society on our national outreach staff. So, we have the kind of people that can mange those situations and did very well with it.
Hal: Many people said that the animal organizations looked more coordinated than FEMA. Would you say that there would be anything you would do differently?
Ed: What I found, and we'll probably talk about it in the assessment phase when we have our industry conferences, is the communication command centerpiece. You know we had just the coordination of who's getting which animal when, how to coordinate the six primary groups United Animal Nations, HSUS, Best Friends, AHA, ourselves, how do we really get a data base going quickly, get a single chain of command, I mean those pieces took a while to coordinate, mostly because the capacity, just like no one had ever dealt with this on the human side, no one had ever dealt with something of this scale on the animal side. We had the sheltering piece good, we had the animal care stuff, but the communication and just the scope of managing the chain of command and communication was a huge challenge.
Judy: People also rely on cell phones nowadays, which I understand there wasn't great coverage down there. So, you have to come up with an alternate?
Ed: Yeah, the first 48 hours if you didn't have a true satellite phone, communication was very, very difficult.
Hal: We're talking with Ed Sayres of the ASPCA in New York, really an organization who has fore fronted rescue attempts and very great reunion stories, many of which you've heard on Animal Radio. Ed, you have, when you go to a shelter, you particularly Ed Sayres, you have a way of changing things, bringing things above the bar. You did that in San Francisco. You did that in New York. My question is, are you helping with the rebuilding in what was something that was a little bit below the bar, part of our country where it was a little bit below the bar, is there going to be upgrading as you rebuild?
Ed: Well, that's really my concept. I mean, a lot of the time I spent with Laura Maloney today was about that. That this is a tragedy beyond all comprehension, but at the same time we've been given an opportunity to bring Louisiana and the services of the SPCA up to a more modern level. And so how can we direct our funding so that we have visible accessible spay/neuter programs, and more outreach and adoption and more education? I mean, can we really take a sample of the best practices that we see around the country and inject them into this new model as it's going to be rebuilt. She was very receptive to this, and I think our board will be. So yes, there is an opportunity here to really tackle some of the educational issues and literally increase the saved rate of the animals they are handling, but also tackle some of the tough issues down here. There is a big dog fighting culture down here and things like that, if we had more resources, we could prevent some of that.
Hal: Before we let you go, many of our Animal Radio listeners know you as a great storyteller. Are there any reunion stories, any heartwarming stories coming out of this that you've heard?
Ed: Well, there are a couple. As you know, I was on Delta Society Board for many years, and there were two or three reuniting stories with guide dogs and service dogs that I can't give you the details at this very moment, but when you imagine the regular companion animal relationship of being separated from your animal, but when you truly rely on that animal to provide you with mobility, and again, not being allowed to take your animal with you and not being able to negotiate that, the anxiety of that separation, and then when we did some of those reuniting moments with two or three of them, it was just tears all around with everyone. You just can't imagine the emotions that people feel over this, and with all that's happened to them, whether its children with their pets, or a family or a single person with their pet, just the emotion of having lost everything, and then this one constant unconditional love relationship gets put back in your arms, it was just amazing. So hundreds, and hopefully going to be thousands, of those stories are going to come your way.
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LOST CAT FOUND ACROSS THE POND
Whenever I hear someone complaining,
"My boss is working me like a dog," I simply ask the
question, "Oh, really? Have you ever taken a moment to notice
how your dog actually does spend her day? Today would be your
lucky day if you were working like your dog!" Dogs don't
make a distinction between work and play. Everything is fun to
them, and every situation is a new one, full of infinite possibilities
for joy and connection. We humans surely would be more successful
in our jobs if we approached our work with the enthusiasm, dedication,
sensitivity, and in general the wonderful attitude
towards life of a good working dog.
Dogs demonstrate that we don't
have to wait for a special day, the annual company retreat, or
the occasional retirement party in order to celebrate. Dogs are
ready every moment of their lives in an instant to
throw a celebration. For a dog, no event in life is too small
to celebrate. My dogs, for example, eat the same meal at approximately
the same time every night. The way my dogs celebrate this impending
meal would make one think that it was the greatest feast day
of the year!
Our dog's capacity for listening
is one of the most appealing things about them. They way our
dogs cock their heads to the side and stare at us with deep concentration
as they hang on our every word is enough to make them friends
for life. One of the reasons that we appreciate the quality of
deep listening in our dogs is that we don't get enough of it
from other people. We all know that being listened to is one
of the greatest gifts we can receive, but one that doesn't happen
My dogs are happy to match
their moods to mine. Whenever I get an exciting phone call, the
dogs gets excited, too. As my voice gets louder and more enthusiastic,
the dog's can't sit still. They run around in circles and start
barking their own excitement. They don't have to understand the
subject matter. If I'm excited, they're excited. Buddhist teachers
have a word for this quality "Mudita," which
means, "Joy in the joy of others."
Dogs don't choose their friends,
associates, or lovers on the basis of breed, color, or culture.
When dogs don't like someone,
they have the good sense to stay away from him or her. On the
other hand, when they need people to share their love, they find
them. Seek out the good and take care to avoid the bad is the
way a dog lives out his day. Not a bad way, I say, to approach
Show me a dog, and I'll show
you a picture of happiness. Think about it. Have you ever heard
anyone say of a dog, "Well, he's very successful and lives
in a beautiful house, but he's not very happy"? One reason
most dogs are much happier than most people is that dogs aren't
affected by external circumstances the way we are.
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Surprisingly, Laxis thinks it's the fault of the owner, who he envisioned would place the condom on the dog before intercourse and supervise the act.
In his words, "People were not anticipating the dogs' needs. Create a doggy date situation where no one gets hurt."
While Laxis admits parental pooch supervision might not create the ideal romantic situation, he asks, "Do you see the romance in genital mutilation?"
The self-professed dog lover says he's not giving up on safe sex for schnauzers, and is now working on a female dog condom using "some sort of harness mechanism."
Top 10 ways you know that Martha has been at your horse stable:
10. There's a potpourri pomander
hanging from each halter.
MELISSA of Houston PA wrote:
Editors Note: There are several organizations that can assist you in low-cost spay and neuter. Our first suggestion is to visit the SPAY/USA website (http://www.spayusa.org). SPAY/USA, a program of The Pet Savers Foundation, is a nationwide network and referral service for affordable spay/neuter services. These great folks can point you in the right direction. Thank you for fixing your pets. It means so much to so many!
DOG DANCING, AMERICA'S WEIRDEST PET HOBBY by Emily Yoffee
My beagle, Sasha, and I were going to try the sport of "canine freestyle." (You could call it "dog dancing" but just not in front of anyone who does it.) The materials from the Canine Freestyle Federation suggested that when our performance came together, Sasha and I would flow to the music in a pairing of such joy that we would experience the kind of transcendent unity that used to be described in the final chapter of marriage manuals.
Things looked unpromising from the start. The thorough instructor, Mary Sullivan, called me the night before the first class to assess Sasha's level of preparedness. I suggested it might be best if Sasha just audited, since it's not clear she knows what her name is. I was also worried about us as a dancing team. You could say I have two left feet, but Sasha actually does.
Mary assured me there would be dogs and owners at all levels of ability, and she was excited by the challenge of a beagle doing canine freestyle, since beagles are a notoriously difficult breed. She asked if Sasha had had any training.
"She can sit," I
Not only that, one of the earliest, and still continuing, venues for freestyle instruction was the Capital Dog Training Club in Silver Spring, Md., about 20 minutes from my home. Freestyle, which began in the early 1990s, has not caught on with dog owners like "agility" and "fly ball." Watching a video of freestyle highlights, I understood why. I had imagined I could just pick up Sasha's front paws and we would box-step to victory. In freestyle the dogs aren't doing four-legged versions of human dances, but a complicated choreography of twists and side steps and pirouettes-think of it as Balanchine for bichons. I was strangely moved by the menacing sexuality of a Doberman dancing to "Goldfinger."
This is in contrast to the World Canine Freestyle Organization, which has a more Las Vegas approach to the sport and even uses the term "dog dancing." Under WCFO rules, both canine and human can be covered in sequins and engage in flamboyant displays of jumping and rolling. The Canine Freestyle Federation regards the WCFO much as the National Collegiate Wrestling Association views the World Wrestling Entertainment.
About eight of us-seven women-and our dogs had signed up for Mary Sullivan's beginner class, but within minutes it was clear that only Sasha and I were true novices. I was immediately intimidated by the showmanship of Edgar Allan Poo, an 8-year-old miniature poodle, and Joell Silverman, his 75-year-old owner. I watched, while Sasha whined and pulled at her leash, as Edgar and Joell, to a polka tune, worked on a routine full of twirls and passes and changes of direction. Edgar concentrated on Joell's face with the same intensity that North Koreans are supposed to have when they gaze upon their Dear Leader.
When I talked to Joell I found
out I wasn't the only reporter to have been taken with Edgar's
charms. The poodle had already been profiled on the front page
of the Wall Street Journal for his prowess in his previous
sport, fly ball.
Mary wanted an idea of what Sasha and I could do, so she called us up in front of class. I felt like a mother who had bullied her child into a gifted and talented program, only to have to confront the truth that what her kid really needed was special ed. I suggested we just continue watching, but Mary and the other humans insisted we get up. I hadn't exactly lied when I said Sasha knew "sit," it's just that she doesn't sit in response to my saying it.
Mary asked me just to walk along with Sasha beside me. At first Sasha resisted, then she decided to pull me. Mary had me reposition Sasha on my side and get her to obey by feeding her a stream of treats.
Sasha responded erratically and Mary asked to see my treats-a bag of her regular dry food. Mary explained that for training purposes I needed something better. Sasha wasn't going to participate in a canine version of A Chorus Line by being bribed with kibble. Mary suggested I bake a pan of "tuna fish brownies." Then Mary stood in front of Sasha, held a chunk of hot dog near her face, and started peeling off bits of it, giving her the command "watch" as she moved backward. Sasha followed brilliantly-obviously I was on to something with the idea of a frankfurter up the nose. Mary was impressed with Sasha's level of food motivation and said that would really help with training.
"Soon you can put food in your mouth and feed her from your mouth like the rest of us," Mary explained. "Then she'll maintain eye contact on your face."
I felt like I was in some dystopian
fantasy. I came to do a little cha-cha with my pooch, and the
next thing I know I'm regurgitating tuna fish brownies into her
mouth. I vowed to resist-both out of prudery and self-preservation.
I imagined as soon as Sasha realized my mouth was a source of
fish brownies, she would go into a frenzy and chew my lips off.
Over a month, as the lessons
progressed, despite her improved attention, Sasha and I fell
ever further behind. One problem was that we never made it though
an entire two-and-a-half-hour class. After 45 minutes Sasha would
be glassy-eyed and near collapse-like the first competitor eliminated
in a dance marathon. There was also so much to learn. While we
were in a corner of the studio practicing walking back and forth,
the other dogs were doing amazing moves called serpentines, scallops,
spirals, and thunders. I tried to draw diagrams, but they involved
the owner and the dog moving around each other in some pattern
I found impossible to follow. Mary taught everyone a "tugger-a
type of pivot named after the dog that first did it. I thought
having a move named after your dog would be a great honor. What
would a "sasha" be? Perhaps eating the judges' shoes.
During one class, we were supposed to work on staying within the cones that delineated the competition floor. A substitute instructor had us each get up, stand in the upper left corner, cross to the middle of the floor on the diagonal, and cross back to the lower left corner. To Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass everyone did their triangular move. Then it was my turn. I explained that Sasha and I didn't really participate, but the class erupted with encouragement. I had to do it, everyone insisted-what was I there for? As Sasha and I got to the corner I felt as if I was in that recurring dream where you show up for your final exam and realize you've neglected ever to attend class.
Herb's trumpet sounded and I tried to get Sasha to follow my cheese cubes and get to the middle of the room. A stream of advice poured forth: "Loosen the leash," "No!" "Turn the other way!" "Use your voice!" "Loosen the leash!" I realized my classmates were right-what was I there for?
Sasha is an adorable, sweet pet who is wonderful with children. All she wants out of life is to eat until she explodes, to sniff repulsive things, and to poop on newly cleaned rugs. She is no Edgar Allan Poo because I am no Joell. Sure, I could make fun of Sasha for her inability to simply walk in two diagonal lines, but whose fault was that? It turned out dog dancing had brought us closer as I realized how well-matched we were. I was as lazy and uninterested in turning her into a champion as she was in becoming one.
Emily Yoffe is the author of What the Dog Did:
Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner. She'a also a columnist for SLATE http://www.slate.com. You can reach her
You can also hear her this weekend on Animal
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As the temperatures turn colder, homeowners-and many wild animals-are preparing to weather the long winter months. By taking a little extra care in winterizing your home, you'll not only save money on your heating and cooling bills, but you'll also keep your wild neighbors from becoming seasonal house guests. Here are ten tips for preventing wild animals from moving in.
1. Inspect! Inventory holes or cracks larger than
one inch around could allow animals to enter.
Hear Dr. John Hadidian this weekend on Animal Radio's full-time channel
If a virulent strain of avian influenza ever struck the U.S. poultry industry, this country probably would fare better than many other nations due to careful biosecurity procedures in force.
But if the virus develops an ability to pass from one human to another, the United States would have far less protection as the world possibly faces one of the worst flu pandemics in history.
For now, the United States, like the rest of the Western world, can only watch and prepare. Since January 2004, the known human cases of avian flu have all struck in Southeast Asia -- out of 120 patients requiring treatment, about half have died. All of these infections were contracted from chickens, with the exception of a few cases in Vietnam where the source is unclear.
A natural reservoir for the avian flu virus is migratory waterfowl, and infected birds have been found in Mongolia, Kazakhstan and Russia, raising concern in the U.S. as the disease moves west. Although waterfowl do not appear to be playing a big role in poultry and human transmissions right now, they are being closely monitored.
But in Asian poultry farms
that use modern biosecurity practices, like those in the United
States that prevent infectious diseases from spreading through
flocks, the disease has not spread. U.S. biosecurity regulations
serve to minimize contact between poultry and outside materials
that could bring disease. For example, measures can require poultry
farm workers to take showers upon entering a production facility
and when they move between birdhouses on the farm, and restricts
them from owning pet birds at home and from hunting ducks and
Animal People's Merritt Clifton joins Animal Radio this weekend to
uncover the real truth behind the Avian Flu. He feels it poses
little threat to those in the US...at least as of now. Hear it
as it happens on Animal Radio. Check your local schedule for airtimes and dates.
Requiem for a Pet by Dr. Dennis Patrick Slattery, Ph.D.
When I left her that morning early in January she was fine: well-fed and looking forward to another sunny warm day in Southern California hunting field mice across the street along the creek's high grass and later sun bathing on top of the blue tarp that covers our pop-up camper sitting in the driveway.
That is where I heard her moaning in a very strange tone when I arrived home that afternoon. BJ, our cat of 10 years and named by our son, Steve, she had outlasted four other cats both in San Antonio where we got her, and now here. But today she was lying alongside the camper and moaning. Not normal behavior. Her moans sounded just this side of a growl, and it had an urgency about it. She was, I knew, calling for help.
As soon as I looked at her, I saw that her body was not aligned as it should be. I knew from her posture we were in trouble. Her back legs, lying side by side with no life in them, seemed strangely detached from the rest of her. I thought for an instant that the back part of her was dead, while the front part, with front paws stretched out and supporting her, and her head, were all that remained alive. She could not get up. Clearly she had been hit.
An outdoor cat by day, BJ slept in the garage at night on an old red-checkered flannel sleeping bag draped across the back of my Ford pick-up truck. Or if I had just arrived home, she loved to climb on to the hood to enjoy the engine's heat until it cooled. These were her comfort zones each night. Ever since we had moved to California 5 years ago, we'd performed this nightly bedding ritual. Picked from a litter of 5 by my wife when we lived in San Antonio, she was advertised, along with her 4 siblings, on a piece of cardboard nailed quickly to a telephone pole with one bent nail on a Saturday morning, right up there with 2 garage sales signs; scrawled in two words with a magic marker were: "Kittens Free" and a telephone number. We chose the black one with yellow eyes and a funny habit which she maintained until her last days, of rocking back and forth on her front paws right in your face as if teasing us lying in bed to get up and dance. That sold her to us.
Ten years later and 1600 miles farther west, this same cat now lay gasping against the wheel of the camper. I saw that she was terribly broken and in great pain. A call to the local vet and I had her in the truck heading into Goleta. When I picked her up to lay her on the towel that I had put over the seat, she moaned louder but did not fight me. Her eyes looked other worldly, as if she were already leaving this climate and galaxy. Blood and bits of stool clung to her thick long coat, now very dirty. When I put her down in the seat, she curled into a ball and stared fixedly at her back end. She never moved for the entire journey.
The vet, a kindly man, finished giving two dogs their shots and then came out to the truck with me. Not prone to allowing strangers touching her, BJ did not resist when he took her up and carried her, like a small rug, into the office and placed her on an aluminum examining table, one that reminded me more of a site for autopsies than for examining live things. I also decided not to resist. He felt her backside as blood began to smear the clean aluminum finish. Soon, parts of bloody stools, hair and grime began to coat it. The right rear leg seemed to his touch, to be broken and detached. "Yes," he said, "she's been hit by a car or something." He checked her mouth and told me by the condition of the gums being so white that she was in extreme shock.
I could not decide what to do so I told him I would talk to my wife and get back to him. He offered to give her a sedative and make up a small cage for her. I patted BJ on the head; she looked bewildered and very different, staring at her back quarters. Her yellow eyes I no longer recognized.
We called the vet after an hour and he said she was fading now. He advised putting her down. We agreed and decided not to go back. I couldn't and Sandy wouldn't, not wanting to see BJ in this condition. I called the next morning and the vet informed me that he had gone back to her cage after we spoke and put her down. He said we made the right decision and that she should not suffer more.
Like any person, BJ had likes and dislikes, a fact any pet owner or people working with animals knows. She liked her hard cat food mixed with the mush in the can: tuna, thank you. She liked to sleep on a heating pad we kept on "low" and under the quilt of our bed. She could leap on the bed and land directly on that pad 9 times out of 10. She liked to be scratched on the left side of her face and behind the right ear. She liked to be up, off the ground, for surveillance and safety purposes. She had two cat acquaintances in the neighborhood. One she liked and let her eat from the bowl of cat food; the other she despised and would leap from the camper on to his matted grey back if he came too close. What she did not like? Being left alone when we took a trip of 2 or 3 days. She saw the suitcases come out and she freaked, hiding everywhere to forestall our departure. When we came home the sign of her anger would be measured in the amount of hair we found on the carpet and couch.
Pets are powerful presences in our lives. I wept when I called my wife to say BJ had been put down by the vet. That surprised me. Animals, especially pets of long standing, really complete part of us. Perhaps they give some expression to our own animal nature. They are an other-world presence that is much a part of us. Pets accommodate themselves so beautifully to us and I think we become a little like them over time. Witness the great success of the film, Best in Show.
The house is much emptier now
with her passing. Funny, though. As I rise from my chair I hear
her crying in the garage to be let in. Time to eat. I better
prepare her bowl, just in case. Mix it up good; she is very fussy.
"Here BJ; C'mon girl."
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|SAN DIEGO PET EXPO - DEC. 11, 2005|
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Lasers Lead Surgery to the Cutting Edge
Veterinarians have gone high-tech to heal dogs more quickly and with less pain.
If your dog sounds like it's snoring when it's wide awake, a common occurrence if it's brachycephalic (short-faced like a Pug or Bulldog), it probably has an elongated soft palate. Although the condition has the potential to lead to pulmonary and/or cardiovascular problems, most owners simply have come to accept the sound as part of owning a short-faced breed.
Now, with the advent of laser surgery, the soft palate (the structure at the back of the throat) can be shortened with very little trauma, alleviating the condition. This is just one of the many exciting applications of the laser in medicine. Although lasers have been in use in human medicine for some time, they are now at the cutting edge of veterinary technology.
The Lure of Laser
"Applications of laser energy in dogs have included vaporization of oral and skin tumors, and other techniques where the laser can be used as a virtual bloodless scalpel," Bartels says.
Other techniques in canines include the use of laser energy to eliminate intervertebral discs in dogs with back problems, perform selective treatment of cancer using a technique called Photodynamic Therapy, and the breakdown, or lithotripsy, of urologic calculi, or stones.
Bartels describes laser light as monochromatic, or one color, and it is collimated--in other words, extremely focused--into powerful beams.
"The color of laser light
or wavelength determines how it reacts with tissue," Bartels
explains. "Lasers are made of components that can be very
different from each other. One type of laser may react most with
water in tissues while another may 'see through' the water and
concentrate its energy in the hemoglobin of blood. Laser energy
usually creates a photothermal, or heat, reaction with tissues.
It can virtually vaporize tissue at the speed of light and at
the same time, seal blood vessels, lymphatics and nerves."
The biomedical laser first
was used in veterinary medicine in the late 1970s. During the
mid-1980s, a small group of vets began to meet and discuss applications
of lasers in veterinary medicine. Early users of the laser included
veterinarians from North Carolina State University, the University
of Pennsylvania, the Universities of California at Irvine and
Davis, and Oklahoma State University.
"In addition, a few private practitioners were on the leading edge of the technology," Bartels says. "The surprising fact is that veterinary practitioners have become very involved in the transfer of this new technology to their clinics. With the combined interest of a few companies [ESC Medical Systems/Luxar and Ceramoptec] that have produced and marketed smaller and relatively economical devices, over 700 lasers are currently in use in private practices." Although most colleges of veterinary medicine now have access to the technology, some have not yet acquired lasers for clinical use.
William Young, D.V.M., owner of Chevington Animal Hospital in Pickerington, Ohio, strives to offer his patients the highest level of technology available. He has been interested in laser surgery for about five years but intensified his interest over the last three years.
"I utilize my CO2 surgical laser whenever it is appropriate," Young says. "This may mean that I turn it on several times a day. The CO2 laser has its limitations and should be used only for thee benefit of the patient. It is not appropriate for use in every case." Young tends to shy away from using the CO2 laser in invasive or particularly bloody procedures because it takes longer for laser incisions to heal.
Tumor removal is the most commonly performed canine laser procedure in Young's practice. "[The laser] eliminates much of the post-surgical swelling and pain," Young says. "I use the laser in many other procedures such as castrations, periodontics, oral surgery, ear surgery, ophthalmic surgery, rectal surgery and many other cases that benefit from the inherent characteristics of the CO2 laser."
Rick Wall, D.V.M., who owns the Animal Clinic at Alden Bridge in The Woodlands, Texas, is another veterinarian who, wanting to maintain a progressive practice, began performing laser surgery three years ago. Wall does approximately 25 anesthetic procedures every week, using the laser in as many as 30 percent of them.
He also uses it for removing small tumors, masses, dermal warts and cysts. With older patients in whom there is a concern about anesthesia, Wall finds he can remove small warts or cysts using the laser and a local anesthetic, sometimes adding a little sedative, while the owner holds the dog.
Malignant tumors that often occur underneath the skin or in subcutaneous tissues, or tumors in which malignancy is suspected, not only can be removed with the laser but the surgeon also may use the laser to treat the surrounding tissue.
Going Under the Light
"It takes me about five minutes to perform the procedure, and these dogs go home the same day," Wall says. "We've not had any dogs bother these incision sites. It is sometimes difficult to see where we did the incision. It's just so quick and less painful."
Bartels agrees. "Laser surgery does offer some benefits in reducing hemorrhage at the surgical site and by sealing lymphatics and some nerves," he explains. "This means there may be less inflammation and pain. Laser incisions heal a bit slower than do conventional scalpel incisions. However, by 14 to 21 days, the laser incisions are healed and just as strong as are scalpel incisions."
The laser also is effective in oral surgeries, removing rather large tumors or masses.
"The CO2 surgical laser allows the surgeon to successfully work routinely in areas that are normally very difficult to operate in," Young says. "For instance, I have removed several large tumors from the tongue and pharyngeal areas that normally could not be removed without great risk to the patient. These turned out to be bloodless surgeries. The use of 'cold steel' [scalpels] surgery in these areas is historically difficult and fraught with the complications of bleeding and swelling."
Some oral tumors are extremely aggressive and don't respond very well to traditional therapy or surgery. "By no means am I saying that [laser surgery] is a cure, but some of these patients will present not eating well, they can't breathe well and when you can debulk or remove the majority of the tumor with the laser, you improve the quality of their life for at least some period of time," Wall explains.
The procedure also can be utilized to perform debarking. Although Wall doesn't promote the surgery, if an owner has tried everything to curtail barking and it has reached the point where either the dog is debarked or the owner will get rid of the pet, he will debark the animal using the laser, going into the throat through a laryngotomy incision and removing the vocal cords, as opposed to performing the conventional devocalization through the mouth.
Another advantage of using the laser is that it limits the amount of trauma to the tissue being operated on. Wall likes using the laser to remove anal sacs for this reason. After using the laser to make a small incision over the sac, it then can be removed easily or vaporized. These are very sensitive tissues, and using the laser lowers the amount of post-operative pain medication and virtually eliminates the need for an Elizabethan collar.
In all of the anal sac surgeries he's done, only one dog required an Elizabethan collar to prevent it from bothering the surgical site. "For five days after [conventional] surgery, the client sometimes wished they hadn't had it done. We just don't see that with the laser," Wall explains.
"The inherent characteristics of the CO2 laser allow the laser surgeon to work more comfortably in highly vascular tissues," Young says. "The CO2 laser is exceedingly tissue-friendly. It works by vaporizing cells that are exposed to its high-energy beam. The CO2 laser beam is almost entirely absorbed by the intracellular water matrix. These molecules of water that absorb the energy of laser beam become highly excited. As the energy level of the water molecules increases, they begin to change their state of matter from a liquid to a gaseous form. When this change occurs the cellular architecture is rapidly expanded and the cell membrane explodes." The water becomes steam and is vaporized along with the rest of the contents of the cell.
"Collateral tissue damage
is minimal due to the narrowly focused beam," Young adds.
"The depth of penetration is shallow, about .5mm. Small
blood and lymphatic vessels are sealed, minimizing bleeding and
the release of noxious vasoactive agents that cause swelling
and pain. Nerves are cut in the same manner further decreasing
"This is both good and bad because an animal that has surgery needs to protect its surgery site," Bartels explains. "Animals usually do this by limiting their activity due to some postoperative pain. If there is minimal postoperative pain, the dog or cat may overdo their exercise and traumatize their surgery site."
Laser surgery also offers advantages to some surgical procedures that easily could be performed using a scalpel or an electrosurgery unit. "You can be very precise with a laser and minimize injury to adjacent tissues," Bartels explains. "In essence, you can be a bit more gentle when using a laser than with more conventional surgical techniques. The laser is still a surgical tool, however. It is not the answer to every surgical problem but can help the surgeon in many instances."
Aside from the reduction of pain and swelling, time is another factor: "If the surgery would normally have been time-consuming due to the amount of bleeding incurred, the laser actually may reduce surgical time and hence, reduces anesthetic risk," Young says.
Opening More Options
Young tells of an instance
in which he removed a marble-sized sarcoma from the pharynx of
a 6-pound Papillon. The tumor was blocking the dog's trachea,
and surgery would have been virtually impossible to perform with
conventional methods without putting the patient in danger. The
laser not only allowed the complete removal of the sarcoma, but
the patient suffered no adverse effects.
"I had talked to some other people who had been using the laser a little bit in the eye for corneal ulcerations," Wall says, "so we did a topical local anesthetic and lightly restrained him. Then I treated his eye with the laser." Wall debrided dead tissue from the cornea of the eye, and it healed quickly.
Despite his success with the Bulldog, Wall would like to see a university or an ophthalmologist do a study of laser use on the cornea because there are complications with using the CO2 laser in the canine eye. But in this particular case, the recommended procedure would have been having an ophthalmologist perform a conjunctival flap requiring anesthesia, which the dog couldn't have handled. The dog since has died, but its eye was fine for the last year of its life.
Wall is quick to point out that he's not promoting laser use on corneal ulcers: "We don't use it every time we have an ulceration in the eye. But I think in this particular case it made a difference when I couldn't have done anything otherwise."
Wall is always looking for new applications for his laser. He recently employed the endoscope method with a 12-year-old Shetland Sheepdog that has transitional cell carcinoma of the bladder. Generally, by the time a dog presents with symptoms of this form of cancer, the prognosis isn't good. The Sheltie couldn't urinate, and an ultrasound revealed a huge tumor in the bladder.
The owners wanted to do everything possible to save the dog, so Wall resectioned the bladder and removed the entire tumor and as much of the margins as he could, then put the dog on chemotherapy. The dog was able to urinate again but began getting sick after three chemotherapy treatments. The owners decided to stop the chemotherapy. Follow-up ultrasounds showed the tumor beginning to grow back, but Wall didn't want to do another radical surgery on the bladder.
Previous biopsies did not show the tumor to be very invasive in the deeper structures of the bladder; it primarily was in the lining of the organ. So a decision was made to treat the inner lining of the bladder surgically. Making a small incision, he inserted a laproscope and then put a laser into the bladder. "We inflated the bladder with carbon dioxide and inserted the laser and scope, and we were able to vaporize that tumor with the laser without radical surgery," Wall says. "The dog went home that day and is doing great. We're following it along." Although there has been some regrowth of the tumor, Wall plans on performing the procedure again as needed.
"I wouldn't want to promote that we're curing transitional cell carcinoma," he adds. "It's just something that I can offer because of having the laser and some of the other equipment that I have, that I couldn't have offered without it."
The owners are happy because debulking the tumor improves the quality of the pet's life and is a better option than putting the dog to sleep. Wall rationalizes that there's no mental aspect to diseases such as this in animals--when the pain is removed, so is the discomfort, and the dog is happy.
According to Bartels, most lasers on the market for veterinarians cost between $20,000 to $50,000. "To pay for this technology, most practitioners will add a certain amount to each procedure for laser surgery," he says. "If both the veterinarian and the client can recognize the benefits of laser surgery, it's probably worth the additional cost per procedure. Today most veterinarians will add an additional $20 to $200 per procedure for laser surgery. Again, the amount depends on the procedure."
Wall hasn't raised his fee
on some procedures, such as spay/neuter. "There's a minimal
fee for what we call the laser prep, which is the little instrumentation
tips and things like that," Wall says. "I think for
the most part, most laser surgeries are going to be anywhere
from 15 to 30 percent more expensive. But you also have to understand
that there's some procedures that I don't think we can do without
it, so it's not that the laser's more expensive, it's just that
in my practice there are some that I wouldn't be doing."
"Although it's relatively easy to learn the techniques necessary to perform laser surgery, the safety aspects are essential for both the patient and doctor," Bartels points out.
"Veterinarians do take
this seriously, and most obtain the necessary training to use
lasers safely and appropriately. They do not practice a 'burn
and learn' technique."
"Contrary to popular belief, tissue exposed to a laser beam does not heal as fast as tissue cut by a scalpel," Young says. "There is a small thermal component exerted upon the tissues by a laser beam. This small thermal injury to the margins of the incision actually delays healing on a cellular level by about three days. We usually do not notice this because of the reduced swelling and inflammation at the surgical site."
Young admits there have been
no comparative studies to support his claim. His conclusion,
however, is based on his clinical observation of some 1,500 laser
"Nothing is without problems, and [lasers] shouldn't be promoted as such," Wall says. "We need a lot more education on the procedure. I think if there's any downside at all, it's probably the fact that as veterinarians we don't have the economical situation to have every piece of equipment we sometimes need, so we have to work around that."
Bartels even envisions a future in which lasers will be able to perform noninvasive diagnostic procedures such as determining values for kidney functions or blood sugar, and for determining whether a tissue is benign or malignant.
"I expect, as we become more proficient with its use and the technology continually improves, that the laser will be utilized more frequently," Young says. "This opens up a whole new field of noninvasive surgery. It could have applications as far-ranging as gastrointestinal and arthroscopic surgery."
According to Wall, the future is unlimited. "All [veterinarians] have to do is follow what they're doing in human medicine," he says. "It's just a matter of making it economical for us to do it, and making it feasible for us to do it. It's just a matter of when it gets to the point of where we can afford the equipment, the technology. And are the people willing to pay for it? I think in a lot of instances they are."
Wall says he is excited about the newer lasers that will allow for minimally invasive procedures and envisions himself purchasing more lasers in the future.
"I believe that with the objective use of lasers, the benefits reported will outweigh the perceived disadvantages [cost/safety issues]," Bartels says. "Within five years, most larger veterinary practices will acquire or have access to a surgical laser.
"It's important we look
at this technology in an objective manner," Bartels adds.
"It's not a gimmick or a marketing tool. Lasers can benefit
veterinary medicine greatly if this wonderful tool is used to
enhance our skill and knowledge."
To this end, the Veterinary Surgical Laser Society was founded to enhance the understanding of lasers in veterinary medicine. The VSLS conducts meetings, discussions, video sessions and workshops to keep its members informed of the latest news and technologies available regarding lasers for veterinary medical and surgical applications.
Just a few short years ago, laser surgery sounded like something out of a science fiction movie. But it has quickly become a reality. Laser surgery has proved to be a viable, successful option for many procedures. This article is written, in fact, by someone who no longer needs to wear eyeglasses thanks to laser surgery, and who can attest to the singular lack of real post-surgical pain.
It's comforting to know that our beloved pets can enjoy the same sort of recovery. And procedures not previously available now also are a reality. If this is any indication--and it certainly should be--the future of lasers in veterinary medicine looks very bright indeed.
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