Blog: In the blink of an eye…

Cancer is a disease that affects thousands of Canadian families each year. While it’s a disease that attacks humans, many animals, including family pets, will face the fight as well. This new blog by Leanne Sillers, the Saskatchewan SPCA’s Animal Safekeeping Coordinator, will document what her family experiences as Jack, their beloved golden retriever, begins treatment for a mast cell tumour.

Follow Leanne and Jack’s journey as they navigate their way through a life-changing situation.

In the blink of an eye….

By Leanne Sillers, BSW, RSW
Animal Safekeeping Coordinator
Saskatchewan SPCA

Leanne Sillers and her golden retriever, Jack.

It amazes me, still at my age, how things can still catch me off guard. What started out as a routine physical for my 3-year-old golden retriever, Jack (Jackpot as some of you may know him), has begun a journey that I was not expecting. On Tuesday [Oct. 10], Jack had his regularly scheduled yearly exam. We attend the vet college here in Saskatoon; they take such good care of him. As they were asking me about him, I mentioned how he had a small lump on the right side of his back leg. It had been there a few months, sometimes it was big but then it would shrink. They proceeded to go through the options as to what it might be – a lymphoma, a cyst, or a small chance of a mast cell tumor. Of course the mere thought of a tumor got me upset, but I figured he is young and healthy; it’s probably nothing. They proceeded to insert a small needle into the lump to take a sample.

Fast forward to Wednesday [Oct. 11] at 3 pm. The phone rings from the vet college with results of his blood work and the sample. The vet says “all the blood work is good, but now for the bad news: the lump, is in fact, a mast cell tumor.” She explains that she has made an appointment for Jack and me to see the oncologist next week to discuss treatment options.

I was in complete disbelief – Jack is 3, he exercises every day, he eats a raw food diet with supplements, I don’t over vaccinate; how can this be?! Immediately I googled mast cell tumor. So much information and I was not able to process it at the moment.

When I arrived home and saw my handsome golden – I burst into tears. I found myself looking at him, not as a healthy happy dog, but now ill and lethargic. I tried to remember his every move from the last six months to try figure how this could happen. It was a long night.

I know he is not a child who is seriously ill and am certainly not comparing this to any parent that has gone through that. Some people will say “he is just a dog.” But he is a member of my family, and an important one at that. He adds laughter and fun into my life. He provides unconditional love and acceptance. As a therapy dog, he does something with clients that I can’t even begin to explain, but he somehow makes them feel better for a short while.

Although I have only worked at the Saskatchewan SPCA since March, my co-workers and supervisors have been so kind and supportive. I am lucky to have that. They understand “he is not just a dog, he is my dog.” They understand the strength and importance of the human-animal bond.

What is Pet Therapy?

By Allison Bokitch, BA., M.A. — Psych
Owner/Operator KENRO Dog Training Services & Registered Golden Retrievers
www.kenrodogtraining.com

St. John’s Ambulance defines pet therapy as “… bringing comfort, joy and companionship to members of the community who are sick, lonely or reside in full-time care facilities. Residents reap the therapeutic benefits of the unconditional love of a four-legged friend.” Along with this explanation, it is also a proven fact documented by the medical profession that the patting and stroking of a dog has a calming effect and can result in lower blood pressure and can ease tension (St. John’s Ambulance Therapy Dog brochure, 2005).

Allison Bokitch and her golden retrievers

What is a good therapy dog? What qualities and characteristics must my dog have in order to be a good therapy dog? Is there a specific breed used as a therapy dog? These are all questions that seem to arise when talking about potential therapy dogs. When it comes to pet therapy, there is no one breed of dog that is only allowed to participate. I have seen many breeds participate in therapy work; everything from Yorkshire terriers to Irish wolfhounds. I must share my bias now as I’m partial to thinking that golden retrievers are THE best therapy breed choice but I know that is not true. Having a dog that is well suited for therapy work goes well beyond knowing some obedience commands and being able to comply. Therapy work is for the dog that wants to do this work. When I was going through my testing there was a sheltie that was very obedient and listened and responded to every word her owner said; however she was reluctant around people and you could tell she did not enjoy herself at all. It was purely another task she was being told to do. Your dog has to want to be around people all the time. Your dog has to want to be constantly touched and sometimes roughly. Your dog has to thrive on being in the limelight so to speak!

Therapy dogs must not startle easily. In health care facilities, schools or prisons there is a lot of activity going on regularly. Your dog will be exposed to people moving very quickly. For this reason, you do not warn your dog to chase them or get extremely excited if this happens. Things bang and fall and if your dog startles and does not recover extremely quickly, it will hinder your work. You will encounter people that look different, they maybe don’t respond to your dog at all, or they might be wearing something different. Exposing animals to medical equipment is also very beneficial. Equipment that makes funny noises like an oxygen machine that has long hoses and attached equipment also makes some dogs either too curious or afraid. Socialization is the key when it comes to thinking about therapy work.

A dog you choose to do therapy work has to be calm and gentle. They do need to know some commands such as the basics like sit, down, and stay. Knowing how to walk on a loose leash is also very important. I always like to suggest that the dogs doing this work know a few other things as well. Teaching the command “leave it” is extremely important as there have been situations where Mr. Jones has spilled his lunch or Mrs. Smith has dropped her medication on the floor. I also use the command “paws up,” which means the dog is permitted to put his front paws on the side of the patient’s bed. Even if you have trained your dog to do this, please ask the patients if they would like you to do this as some individuals would not like a dog on their beds. This is particularly useful when you have a patient who is bedridden but still wants to interact with your dog. Many people think that if they want to participate in therapy work with their dog they will just get a breed that is usually friendly and that is it! Well, I can speak from experience that that is not always the case. You can not always predict that your animal is going to have what it takes to do this work, or more importantly, enjoy it. We have to remember that doing this work can be very stressful for dogs. Having a dog that is stressed can lead to many situations that you would want to avoid. Many dogs have great temperaments, are very obedient and listen well but you have to truly see a sparkle in their eye, or their eyes light up, or they smile when it’s time to go work. I am going to take that as my cue to retire them when I no longer see that sparkle when we get ready to go.

Visiting pets, therapy dogs, and therapy pets are just some of the names given to describe programs in which animals help people just by visiting with them. As participation in such programs grows so does the vocabulary describing different aspects of pet visiting. For example, the preferred use for the term Animal Assisted Therapy is for formal treatment programs, usually involving one particular animal and handler assigned to one particular client. The handler and the health care provider consult on specific goals to be accomplished and planning on how to accomplish those goals. The preferred use for more informal programs is Animal Assisted Activities. You will see a great variety of terms as groups struggle to find terms that are descriptive without being confusing. The most commonly used term for a dog visiting in residential care facilities is therapy dog.

Visiting with animals can help people feel less lonely and less depressed. Visits from dogs can provide a welcome change from routine or the renewal of old friendships. People become more active and responsive both during and after visiting with animals. An animal visit can offer entertainment or a welcome distraction from pain and infirmity. People often talk to the dogs and share with them their thoughts, feelings, and memories. Animal visits provide something to look forward to. Stroking a dog or cat can reduce a person’s blood pressure. Petting encourages the use of hands and arms, stretching, and turning. The pet makes it easier for two strangers to talk. It gives people a common interest and provides a focus for conversation. Many people in hospitals or group homes have had to give up pet ownership and they miss the casual acceptance a pet gives them. A dog pays little attention to age or physical ability but accepts people as they are. The benefits continue even after the visit. The visit leaves behind memories, not only of the visit, but of past experiences. It offers something for people to share.

First and foremost, we must acknowledge that a therapy dog is not a service dog. A therapy animal has no special rights to go into a building unless he is invited. There are certain documents that must be produced for the facility in order for you to be allowed entry with your dog. Please be aware that since pet therapy has not been around for long, there are still some facilities that have difficulty with allowing animals into a clean hospital. When you are allowed entry into a facility with your canine companion, please respond with a sincere thank you because you will be getting thanked in the end. Many think that they are doing you a favour by letting you come with your furry friend, but not long after they will realize that you are providing something to the residents of the facility that is almost unexplainable.

Providing pet therapy is merely allowing individuals who are sick, mentally challenged, lonely, or incapacitated in some way an outlet to receive some unconditional love and attention. Through this, it has been medically proven to lower blood pressure, ease tension and anxiety, foster communication, inspire a willingness to continue to live despite their medical condition, and to instill hope in whatever they may be clinging to.

In my experience, pet therapy can help a whole range of people. In the past we have worked with Alzheimer’s patients, shut-ins, blind people, physically and mentally challenged people, and people who are just plain lonely. The benefits to these people are immeasurable and the animals reach them in ways that we are not even able to realize. We must appreciate that even though we have documented medical evidence that shows us the physical things dogs and other animals can do for these people, we have to remember that sometimes we don’t really see anything with our eyes. When we think that we wasted our visit with Mr. Jones today, please stop and think about what you did for Mr. Jones. Maybe Mr. Jones had not talked for quite some time. Maybe he hadn’t sat up in his chair for even longer. Or maybe he hadn’t shown any emotion for a long time, and today he smiled. We must remember to notice the little things, because you probably have just made Mr. Jones’ day and you never even knew it! We also have to remember that when we visit with these people, our dogs see them as just another person. Our dogs don’t care if they are blind, drool a little, cannot speak properly, or tell the same story over and over again. Our dogs also provide them with unconditional love and non-judgmental interaction so that these patients can just be themselves; and for a moment they can forget about their disability.

Web exclusive content from Allison Bokitch:

Hopefully by this point you are now getting a better idea about how pet therapy can help so many people, no matter the situation. I wish to leave you with a story that helped me to learn that sometimes we don’t need theories and psychological testing to measure success. Sometimes it is just seeing an individual thrive because of their spirits being lifted, even if it is only for a moment.

My dog and I went on one of our weekly visits to one of the hospitals we visit frequently and, as usual, my dog was very excited and eager to go to work. As we entered the building many were around wanting to pet my dog, of course, he didn’t mind at all — He is a true golden, of course! As we started making our rounds we noticed one of my dog’s favorite little ladies just sitting in her room. He always seemed to sense when he needed to go and see somebody, so off we went. Like always, I asked if she wanted us to come in and she did. She was a fine looking lady with silver hair and a very tiny stature. She always sat in her wheelchair and never said much. Although she never really said much to me, she was always very fixated on my dog. She would ask the same questions of me – like what my name was, what my dog’s name was, and what the weather was like. She, at times, seemed shy or nervous as my dog was a big boy but she never missed the opportunity for us to stop by. Gradually, as time went on, she did remember my dog but not his name. She would repeatedly ask me the same questions. She was much more comfortable with giving him treats as she would always comment on how gentle he was. After visiting her on many occasions, I began to question what we were really doing. Were we making a difference?

Every now and then a nurse would say “It’s so nice of you to come out,” or “Our residents really like your dog.” I was looking more for the psychological aspect of things, as that stems from my work. I guess I wasn’t sure how I was going to measure that until one day when my dog and I arrived at the hospital. All of sudden our “little, old, tiny lady” was excited. She never really showed any emotion or talked much before we started to come for visits. As I approached her she called over to her husband and daughter, who had been visiting, to see the dog that comes to visit. This is the most emotion or noise that I ever heard from this woman. She showed her relatives how she gave my dog a treat and patted him, and the best thing ever? She smiled! At the end of our visit that day this lady’s daughter came up to me and thanked me for doing what I do, as her mother has Alzheimer’s and doesn’t often show emotion or talk. The daughter told me that they have noticed a change in her mother since we started visiting. At this point I didn’t need to know any more psychological theories or ways to figure out our progress. Pet therapy is something that is very different to everybody and it’s measured in different ways, depending on who you talk to. When we are looking for some great revelation or earth shattering experience, we must think about the little old lady with the silver hair in her wheel chair showing no emotion. This is what pet therapy is all about – improving the quality of life of others around us.

Notice of 2017 AGM

The Saskatchewan SPCA Annual General Meeting will be held:

Date: Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017
Time: 11:00 a.m.
Place: Saskatchewan SPCA Office, 519 45th Street West, Saskatoon

Everyone is welcome. The AGM is open to the public.

Questions? 1.877.382.7722 or info@sspca.ca

Animal Rescue Groups: Submit Your Contact Information

The Saskatchewan SPCA is gathering contact information for animal rescue groups in Saskatchewan. This information will be used to provide details on the Animal Rescue Registration and Certification Program Stakeholder’s Meeting that is scheduled for Saturday, October 21, 2017 in Saskatoon.

If you belong to a rescue organization and would like to be placed on this contact list, please visit this link: https://saskspca.typeform.com/to/orhiRK.

Please share this post so we can compile complete list of Saskatchewan animal rescue groups.

For more information on this program: www.sspca.ca/programs

From CBC Saskatoon: Sask. domestic violence victims staying to protect their pets

Leanne Sillers, the Saskatchewan SPCA’s Animal Safekeeping Coordinator was recently interviewed by CBC Saskatoon. During the interview, Sillers discussed the Society’s work on the link between interpersonal violence and animal abuse. Below is an excerpt from the interview.

“Some domestic violence victims are staying in abusive homes because they fear for the safety of their pets if they leave, according to a study by the SPCA.

Between 2014 and 2016, the animal welfare service led a study into the extent of the problem in Saskatchewan.

Saskatchewan SPCA animal safekeeping co-ordinator Leanne Sillers said the study asked workers at “human services”, including women’s shelters and victim services, if they knew of victims whose pets had stopped them from fleeing domestic violence.”

Click here to read the full article.

Leaving An Abusive Situation is Hard… Especially When There Are Animals Involved

Animal Safekeeping

Animals are also exposed to and affected by violence in the home. Not only can animals be abused, they can be used as tool for the abuser to control and punish the victim. Pets are seen as part of the family, making it hard for many victims of abuse to leave the home knowing their pet is left behind.

If someone punches, kicks, throws, or hurts an animal in any way, that person has demonstrated the capacity for violence. You cannot assume that the violence will stop there. If the person has harmed or seriously threatened your animal, you and your children may also be in danger.

What effect does animal abuse have on my children?

Some victims of domestic violence have reported that their children have become more aggressive after witnessing animal cruelty in the home. Children sometimes behave more cruelly to animals, and often become more hurtful to others (for example, bullying) or withdrawn and emotional. It’s important when talking to a counsellor that you mention any animal abuse that has occurred.

What steps can I take to protect my animals?

Try to remove the animals from the situation as soon as possible.

Gather supplies that might be useful if you have to leave quickly with your pet: a carrier, a collar and leash, medications.

Ask friends or trusted family members to care for your pet/pets temporarily.

Contact a kennel to make arrangements to have your pet boarded. Kennels will require proof of vaccinations so remember to bring a recent veterinary invoice with you. (Your veterinarian may be able to supply a full vaccination record directly to the boarding kennel, upon request.)

If you are applying for an Emergency Protective Order, protect your animals by including them in it.

Some animal shelters may be able to provide temporary pet care or help arrange for foster care. Talk with your nearest SPCA or Humane Society to see if they can assist.

If you live in Regina …

The Regina Humane Society Safe Places Program accepts family pets when a victim of domestic violence is leaving, or has already left the home to enter a shelter environment. Pets are picked up directly from the safe house and taken directly to an approved foster family for care. If a pickup is needed outside of the Society’s normal operating hours, contact Regina City Police at 306.777.6500. For further information on the Safe Places Program, please contact 306.543.6363 Ext. 244.

If you live in Saskatoon …

The Saskatoon SPCA Pet Safekeeping Program assists the victims of domestic violence with the short-term care of companion animals. Pet care is provided at no charge for up to one month. Caseworkers at emergency shelters and transition houses are able to provide referrals to this program.

Other things to keep in mind

If your animal is being threatened, keep any evidence you may have (such as photos, emails, or voice mail messages) to hand over to police.

Any receipts or paperwork you have related to the purchase or care of your pet can be useful if you have to prove ownership.

What can I do if my pet has been abused?

Report animal abuse to one of the organizations listed below or to your local RCMP or municipal police. They will investigate the situation and take appropriate action. You can make an anonymous complaint.

The Saskatchewan Animal Protection Act makes it illegal for a person to cause or allow an animal to continue to be in “distress.” Distress is defined as:

  • deprived of food, water, or adequate shelter;
  • injured, sick, in pain, or suffering; or
  • abused or neglected.

To report the neglect or abuse of: 

Pets: 

Regina Humane Society – 306.543.6363

Saskatoon SPCA – 306.374.7387

Moose Jaw Humane Society – 306.692.1517

Prince Albert SPCA – 306.763.6110

Pets in all other locations or livestock anywhere in the province: 

Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan – 1.844.382.0002

For emergencies and after-hours assistance:

Contact your local RCMP or municipal police.

Adapted from http://www.albertaspca.org/neglect-abuse/cruelty-connection/victims.html

Call for Critter Classic Planning Committee Members

The Saskatchewan SPCA is currently looking for individuals interested in joining a volunteer planning committee to help with coordination of the Critter Classic Golf Tournament. Activities for committee members would include seeking event sponsorships, prizes and silent auction items, representing the Saskatchewan SPCA in media interviews, and participating in monthly conference calls.

If this sounds like an opportunity that interests you, please contact Josh by phone at 306-382-7726 or email josh@sspca.ca to learn more about the Critter Classic and how you can get involved. The Critter Classic will be held in Regina in September 2017.

Progress Made On New Registration Program

The Working Group continues to meet to discuss the new voluntary Registration and Certification Program for Animal Rescues.

The Working Group includes representatives from rescue groups, SPCAs and Humane Societies, the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Protection Services of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Veterinary Medical Association, as well as the Saskatchewan SPCA.

The Working Group has drafted a decision making framework for the program as well as a code of ethics and conflict of interest guidelines.

The certification and registration program will offer practical guidelines for the care of rescue animals. Care guidelines will be based on the Association of Shelter Vets Guidelines for Standards of Care in Animal Shelters (2010) and the ASCPA Shelter Care Checklists: Putting ASV Guidelines into Action.

Once the program is finalized, it will be administered by the Saskatchewan SPCA, with a separate oversight committee.

A meeting for stakeholder groups in the animal welfare sector will be held in October 2017. The meeting will provide the opportunity for rescue groups to learn more about the program and how they can get involved.