How To Keep Your Pets Healthy During The Pandemic

Admittedly, this free advice is relevant all the time — not just during the pandemic. After all, you should always help your pet get some exercise each and every day. Cats and dogs have different needs, though, and so completing this task might be dependent on which type of pet you own. But if you notice the family furballs gaining weight during the coronavirus pandemic, here are a few boxes you might want to check off. 

You can absolutely train your cat to walk with a leash (start them young!), but dogs are far more likely to be taken for that much-needed walk. Don’t worry. It’s okay to keep your cat indoors. If you do try to leash train your cat, there could be resistance, or perhaps your feline friend will start acting up when confined indoors because he wants out — those are good reasons to keep him indoors. Especially since cats are natural serial killers once you let them out into the wild on their own. Be careful.

You can make your living space more cat-friendly, though. Purchase a few bookshelves (without the intention of putting books on them), and space them out evenly along the wall, creating a pathway for your cat to climb up platform by platform. The last should be very close to the ceiling, but with enough space for your cat to sit. Cats like to be high! Creating platforms (or even a hanging bed) will give them more space to act out their predatory fantasies. 

Cats and dogs only need to eat once a day, but if your pet continues to approach you for food throughout the day, then try splitting their meals into smaller portions doled out twice a day. And ignore them when they come to you. Half the time, cats will puke up one big portion anyway. But consult an animal care provider if you have doubts or questions.

Should Service Animals Be Funded Through SSDI?

We recently explored how to fund the adoption of a service animal. These animals are categorized as dogs that provide a needed service by the ADA, but they aren’t directly funded by any state, local, or federal organization. Disability benefits are dependent on a person’s needs, but requiring a service animal to perform day-to-day tasks doesn’t necessarily mean a bigger benefit share? …And isn’t it time we changed that?

Social Security Disability Insurance (or SSDI) pays for a person’s expenses when they cannot work or their ability to produce has been effectively reduced because of a disability.

There are other reasons that the government should pay to provide service animals to the disabled. Because the government doesn’t actually provide these animals, there isn’t much oversight. Anyone can train a service animal without a license or certification — and that means a breeder can sell a “trained” service animal without actually training the animal at all. This leads to lawsuits. Regulation would reduce unnecessary litigation. 

When private organizations help the disabled obtain service animals, other issues can arise. One Overland Park man sued Starfleet Service Dogs, Inc. when they took back his wife’s service dog when he was widowed. Starfleet told an Ohio court that they did take the dog, but argued that because they are now all in Maryland, the court should have no jurisdiction to rule on the case. The plaintiff has to wait for the decision, which has not yet been made.

Judge Brad McCall said that both parties would submit further evidence. Jamie Hunter represents the widowed man, and said, “After that time, the Court will decide (1) whether Iowa has jurisdiction; and (2) whether Tootsie should be returned to Paul while this matter is pending. Tootsie has never lived in Maryland. It is our position that, at a minimum, Tootsie should return to her home with Paul in Kansas while this court process plays out.”

Hunter argued, “Tootsie is not simply a piece of property that should be passed from person to person across the country.”

The widower stands a good chance to lose the case because his wife had paid Starfleet nearly $150 per month to train and care for the dog. And he didn’t immediately give Starfleet the dog, either. When the company said they were sending someone to pick up Tootsie, the man told the company’s representative they were locked down due to COVID-19 and not to come. 

When he was forced to bring Tootsie to a veterinarian because of ear problems, it was only an hour before someone from Starfleet arrived to take the dog — and the vet’s policy allowed it because Starfleet was named as the payer on the account. And Tootsie was taken. 

Putting service animals on SSDI could prevent litigation like this, ensuring that service animals could be retired when already placed in loving homes. Then again, the federal government could just do its job — and submit legislation to prevent instances like these.

Those With Pets Fared Better During Coronavirus Isolation

The coronavirus pandemic hit us all hard, but we often fail to recognize the toll taken by certain categories of people who weren’t “directly” affected. Namely, those who are single, live alone, and older. Those of us who live with family or friends already have a circle of support: people who are going through the same emotional distress that we feel ourselves. But there’s another category of people who are faring better than everyone else: pet owners.

There’s good news: even though the end of this pandemic is in sight and it doesn’t matter as  much anymore, you can still adopt a cat or dog for reliable companionship. These organizations are still open for business. Animal shelters will always be busy. They can also set up virtual meetings online.

Freya McMurray’s parents brought home their new puppy, Dolly, in February 2020 — and they were all locked down together less than a month later. But they used that time to bond with her and train her.

But not everyone needs a cat or a dog to feel that kind of a connection. Farmers who use cattle primarily for milk or chickens primarily for eggs know the feeling all too well: these animals can become like best friends if you let them. And there’s an extra benefit to befriending cows and chickens: they live outdoors, which means that’s where you go to visit. And being outdoors can release happy hormones in the brain which leave you feeling even better at the end of the day. The tiny bit of exercise you get by playing with animals doesn’t hurt either.

Although the pandemic is nearing its end, we might still be asked to remain socially distant for some time, and a COVID-19 diagnosis will still mean a two-week period of isolation at least. That means it’s the perfect time to pick up a new friend!

Will Social Security Disability Insurance Cover A Service Animal?

Starting in 2011, only dogs are recognized as service animals. According to ADA requirements, these dogs are trained to help perform tasks for the disabled in order to make life a little easier. These tasks might include leading the blind, helping alert others that a person is having a seizure, alerting the deaf, etc. State and local governments are required to make reasonable accommodations to those with disabilities — but does that same point require the federal government to provide service animals through benefits?

According to the website run by the Social Security Administration (SSA), “The Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Disability programs provide assistance to people with disabilities…The Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) program pays benefits to you and certain family members if you are “insured,” meaning that you worked long enough — and recently enough — and paid social security taxes on your earnings. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources.

Unfortunately, there are no state or federal benefits that cover service animals. Medicare, Medicaid, and SSDI do not provide benefits for those who require or would benefit from the aid of a service animal. It doesn’t matter which office you ask: There’s no difference between NYC SSDI or Los Angeles SSDI or a smaller office.

So how do the disabled afford one? The only way is by turning to organizations outside of the government. There are several that might help pay for these expenses: Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, Canine Companions for Independence, and the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners have been known to lend a helping hand.

Although SSDI, Medicare, or Medicare won’t directly support the adoption of a service animal, you can still use any monthly benefits that provide income in order to pay for them yourself. Because disability claims go through such a long wait period before final approval, there might be an initial “back benefit” payment to cover expenses that would have accrued from the time a person applied until the time the benefit was approved. This lump sum can also be used to pay for a service animal. 

Another uncommonly used strategy is to speak with a disability lawyer. Not every lawyer’s job is to sue someone else. A disability lawyer can help track down resources you wouldn’t think to look for on your own. There are other nonprofits and private organizations who might be willing to help, and attorneys are often affiliated with them.

Service dogs can be trained by private owners, and there isn’t much oversight from the government. Also, many people are turning toward “emotional support” dogs. That’s why some airlines are refusing to allow them onto flights. A recent ruling from the Department of Transportation (DOT) said that most categories of service animal would no longer be allowed to ride in the cabin uncaged — which provides airlines with more room to maneuver when drafting their own policies. When you get a service animal, remember that travel might become more difficult.

Is It Better To Adopt Or Buy A Pet?

To most people, there’s no difference between adopting or buying a pet dog or cat — after all, you still take a furry friend home at the end of the day. But to some of those furry friends, the difference between adopting and buying can make all the difference in the world. That’s especially true because for some, it’s their last chance to find a love home. Here are a few reasons to consider adoption over purchase.

Buying a pet means that the current owner likely bred with intent to sell. These are not often categorized as a group of animals who are at risk of being euthanized to curb stray dog and cat populations. Adoption means you’re taking on an animal who might be nearing the end of his or her stay at any particular shelter.

Adoption usually costs less because there are included procedures like spaying/neutering and vaccinations. 

Purchasing a puppy from any store means your animal most likely came from a “puppy mill,” which means he or she was bred in a factory-like facility in poor conditions. Would you want your next puppy raised in an Amazon warehouse? …No? Then adoption is likely the best option for you. The average consumer has no idea these mills even exist.

When you adopt an animal from the shelter, they have increased capacity for new ones that need caring for.  The money you spend when adopting a pet is funneled back into the shelter, making it easier to care for the animals who temporarily live inside.

The Shelter Pet Project allows anyone in need of a pet to search for a dog, cat, or shelter in the vicinity. Once you’ve found a pet, you can go meet them! You’ll speak with someone who works at the shelter and they’ll teach you how to take care of your new companion. Are you looking for an animal in need of a forever home?

How Many Animals Die In Road Accidents Each Year?

Vehicles are extremely dangerous. Chances are you or someone you know has been in a serious accident. In fact, chances are you know someone who died in a serious accident. You can imagine the toll that our roads have on wildlife (and pets) around the country. That’s because wildlife doesn’t know to look both ways before crossing the street, something we ingrained into our childrens’ brains from a very early age. But there are other tolls you might not know about. 

There are some stories that receive more attention than they’re worth. For example, one such story exaggerated car accidents Beverly Hills in which a driver lost control of his sports car and crashed into a Petco near the border with West Hollywood last year. The damage? A totaled car, and a dented building. Minor injuries for the driver. No one else was hurt — and no pets were killed. Most animals killed by traffic are wild, but not all. 

According to one report, around 1.2 million dogs are killed in traffic each year. This number should be troublesome for any pet owner who allows their fur-babies to play outside without supervision (would you let your child do the same?). But it doesn’t hold a candle to the number of overall wildlife deaths caused by cars. 

Estimates vary, but here are a few: Up to 27 million birds in Europe. In the United States, some “41 million squirrels, 26 million cats, 22 million rats, 19 million opossums, 15 million raccoons, 6 million dogs, and 350,000 deer” are killed every year. But as you’ll notice with two vastly different reports on dog deaths, estimates don’t tell the full story. But scientists don’t need numbers to measure the impact.

The building of our national interstate infrastructure was an economic boon for the United States, and one sorely needed at the time. But the environmental impact was devastating. Long ago, when the Native Americans were the only people living on the continent, billions of animals roamed about the land. Herds of wild buffalo. Millions of birds migrating in eyeshot all at once. Needless to say, the world has changed. But it wasn’t all due to overhunting. 

Part of the reason was the interruption of typical predation practices. Our introduction of roads — and fast cars — has put gaps in between ecological habitats, and animals can no longer travel from place to place as they once did. For example, a predation cycle once looked something like this: tens of thousands of buffalo would roam the open countryside to graze, fertilizing the land as they went. They were pushed along by natural predators, who would follow for the bountiful food source. But even if wild buffalo still roamed the countryside, they would only be able to go so far before an interstate barrier prevented them from going any farther.

This hasn’t just resulted in a drastic reduction in the animal population. Without a significant number of animals to fertilize the world’s landscape, much of it is undergoing the process of desertification — which is another big problem as the world undergoes climate change.

Pet Owners Urged To Beware Of Alleged Flea Collar Deaths

It’s not uncommon for veterinarians to recommend the purchase of a flea collar when an infestation occurs — which has opened them up to a barrage of perhaps misguided lawsuits after a spate of animal deaths related to some of the products. When Rhonda Bomwell’s veterinarian made one such recommendation, she took it to heart. But one day later, her dog had a seizure and died before he could receive treatment.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the popular Seresto brand tick and flea collar is a likely cause of thousands of pet deaths — but the EPA hasn’t informed the public of its findings. The Seresto brand remains on the market. The collars kill fleas and ticks because they are designed to release supposedly harmless amounts of pesticide over a period of several months. 

Although the pesticides are supposed to be present in concentrations that cannot harm humans or their pets, new documents and research show the opposite to be true. The EPA has received over 75,000 incident reports related to Seresto collars, and nearly 1,700 of those reports involved the death of an animal. Nearly 1,000 of the reports indicated harm to human pet owners.

Retired EPA employee Karen McCormack said, “The EPA appears to be turning a blind eye to this problem, and after seven years of an increasing number of incidents, they are telling the public that they are continuing to monitor the situation. But I think this is a significant problem that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.”

A Seresto spokesperson said, “No pesticide is completely without harm, but EPA ensures that there are measures on the product label that reduce risk. The product label is the law, and applicators must follow label directions. Some pets, however, like some humans, are more sensitive than others and may experience adverse symptoms after treatment.”

Will Your Divorce Affect The Fur-Babies?

Everyone talks about the consequences of divorce on children, positive or negative. What we never talk about is how prone our beloved pets are to changes in our emotional state — which makes them far more likely to respond to a divorce than even our children, who aren’t paying attention to what we do unless we throw a ceramic dish across the room during a heated argument with our soon-to-be ex-spouse. So how does divorce affect your pets?

Animal behaviorist Kate Mournement acknowledged that dogs, in particular, can suffer from anxiety and depression when parting from loved ones, even when they still retain companionship during the split. She said, “I do see quite a few cases of pets with behavior problems following separation or divorce….most commonly separation anxiety in dogs. Any big disruption to their normal routine or breaking of attachment bonds affects them a lot.”

But she also acknowledged that divorce can also have a positive impact on pets when the underlying human behavior those pets were witnessing is terrible. For example, the aforementioned arguments and plate throwing might make divorce a good thing for your pets over the long-term (or your kids).

Mornement said, “When couples do separate, it’s often a positive if there’s been any sort of verbal or physical abuse pets witness, like kids, that can cause some stress and anxiety.”

Changes in routine can be devastating for pets who grow accustomed to the daily grind. This is especially true for cats, whereas dogs will have more emotional problems during the divorce process. These changes in routine might include different living arrangements or constant moving around if the animal’s owners determine that shared custody is fairest. Keep in mind that pets treat their owners like family, too.

Couples with more than one pet will sometimes split them apart during a divorce, meaning they lose two of these family members — the “brother” or “sister” and the spouse who left. More pets can result in an even more problematic equation. Generally, it’s better for all pets to end up in one place (unless they didn’t get along). 

Pet owners sometimes decide to part ways with their fur babies because of behavioral problems that manifest during the divorce proceedings. Animals know that something’s going on, and they act out much in the way that a child might — except with different methods. Dogs and cats might urinate in the house or become more anxious and cause damage when owners are away for too long. Owners who have this problem might try collars that release pheromones over time.

Have you noticed changes in your pet’s behavior during divorce proceedings? They might be depressed. Symptoms might include sleeping too much, overeating or undereating, excessive licking, hiding, and sadness. Less common is overt aggression, but pet owners should note that some animals become hostile when they perceive hostility in the home. Remember: they don’t always know why you’re angry — or with whom you’re angry. 

Should You Take Your Pet On Long Trips?

When the coronavirus pandemic finally dies down and herd immunity is reached — through the new vaccines becoming widely available, we hope — it stands to reason that many people will decide to pack their bags and travel as much as possible before heading back home to the daily grind. That makes sense. We’re all tired. We’re all weary. But there are some things to consider before we get up to leave — especially for those of us who own pets.

First and foremost, the greatest concern is the mode of travel. Many people enjoy flying, as it can be quite economical and efficient these days. But that might not be the best way to get from point A to point B if you’re traveling with a beloved pet. If flying with a cat or dog, try to keep it with you (a veterinarian can help provide a means to sedate your pet) on the flight. Allowing the pet to be placed in the luggage compartment can be traumatic for a pet, especially when all they want is to be with you!

Road trips are a beloved mode of travel for many, but they also come with their own set of challenges — even if you have all the amenities, as those traveling in any kind of recreational vehicle might be accustomed to having. Pets thrive off of routine (especially cats, but dogs as well), and so they might become more and more stressed the longer you travel. This is especially true if you plan to move from one environment to the next.

Going on a road trip? Make sure you bring more water than you need. Pets can overheat and won’t necessarily make their needs known until it’s too late. Make sure you bring your pet’s veterinary records along for the ride, just in case you need to bring them to the vet. Make sure your pet has its own space. Most important? Let them out to use the bathroom as often as possible!

Keep Stray Animals Off The Streets And Out Of Shelters

Not all communities are created equal. Many aspects of life are different in the south. One of those revolves around treatment of, and care for, animals. Fewer cats and dogs are spayed or neutered in some southern states like Virginia, especially in or around rural communities. Cats are especially bad for the environment because they’re nature’s little serial killers. How can we keep stray animals off the streets and out of shelters?

One of the most obvious answers is through increased regulation. Spaying or neutering pets is the only way to ensure populations don’t skyrocket out of control, which is something already happening around the country. These pets are much more likely to belong to owners who also keep them outdoors the majority of the time, which means they’re also far more likely to reproduce. When pets multiply, they’re left behind. Spaying or neutering pets should be mandatory. 

Another way to help keep pets safe and secure in the loving hands of an actual pet owner is to create awareness about shelters and pet populations. Take Debra Griggs, for example, a resident of Norfolk, Virginia. When she found a small stray dog in 1998, her first instinct was to bring it to an animal shelter for safety. After speaking with the management at several, she realized this was tantamount to a likely death sentence.

Griggs said, “As I began to talk to shelters, I realized the chances of that dog getting out alive was less than 50 percent.”

She eventually found a home for the dog, but realized she couldn’t live with herself if she didn’t do something to help solve the problem.

“My heart opened up to the unconditional love that pets give us only later to find out the majority of them were losing their lives in public shelters. I had to go work on that,” she said.

Griggs went on to establish Animal Resources of Tidewater in 1999. Based in Norfolk, it provides many services to the community’s stray pet population, including one program that traps stray cats and dogs to safely spay or neuter before releasing them. The nonprofit also provides support to pet owners who can’t afford medical treatments for their ailing pets, which is one of the biggest reasons why pet owners send their animals to shelters. The rate of euthanasia for these pets is close to 100 percent.

Griggs added, “We provide veterinary care to pets whose owners could not afford it and would surrender their animal to a shelter. We believed if you paid for the care, the animal stayed in its home, which is better for the animal and the family and kept the animal out of the shelter….In [the] early days, we saved in excess of 2,000 dogs and cats.”

But she didn’t feel she was making an impact until much later down the road. But eventually, those programs paid off. In fact, the pet save rate rose from the aforementioned 50 percent to 71 percent by 2015. It had risen even further to 82 percent in 2019.