There is Something Beyond Barking

by Diane Blankenburg

I recently read an article about an interesting project at Georgia Institute of Technology called FIDO which stands for Facilitating Interactions for Dogs with Occupations. The general idea is to create a wearable device, like a harness or backpack, which contains both sensors and tools that a dog can operate with his nose, mouth, or paw.

I immediately thought of a question that was once asked by Richard Dawson on an old Family Feud episode—if your dog could speak English, what would you ask him to do? My spontaneous responses were rather egocentric—“bring me a beer,” “answer my phone,” “scratch my back,” “let your brother out to potty,” and so on.

Then my more rational, less self-absorbed side kicked in and I read the article with fascination, realizing the altruistic potential for this kind of device. It is being developed by associate professor of interactive computing Melody Jackson, research scientist Clint Zeagler, and contextual computing professor Thad Starner. Their goal is to better communication between dogs and humans, but the specific applications for service dogs are amazing. FIDO will make it easier for animals to communicate more clearly with their handlers (whether a disabled person or a police officer) by activating a sensor on their vest or collar that transmits a verbal command the handler can hear through an earpiece or see on a head-mounted display.

Many service dogs do their jobs by alerting humans to specific things or situations. A hearing assistance dog might alert a deaf person to important sounds by touching them to get their attention, then leading them to the appropriate place or out of harm’s way. A guide dog is trained to keep its owner from walking into obstacles so will stop if there’s something unexpected in the way. In many situations, it would be very valuable if an animal could communicate more specifically with his person. In addition to helping disabled people, FIDO could enable bomb-sniffing dogs to communicate with handlers remotely about what specific type of bomb they’ve encountered and rescue dogs could remotely alert a team that they’ve found an injured person.

Early studies have already shown that dogs can quickly learn to activate the device by biting, tugging, or putting their mouths nearby. But this is not surprising to those of us who have lived with dogs our whole live. We have always known that they were much more capable and adaptable than many give them credit. And once they have more of a voice, maybe they will be asking us for their version of a beer or a scratch.

Events that Help Animals

There’s a Cat for That Adoption Promotion  at Nevada Humane Society. Just like there is an “app” for everything, there is a “cat” for everyone. Through September 1, adopt an adult cat for free. Adult dogs are $40, kittens $35 (or two for $60), and rabbits $19. Shelter located at 2825 Longley Lane, Reno. Open 11:00am to 6:30pm daily and 10:00am to 6:30pm Saturdays.


Do Dogs Experience Guilt?

by Bonney Brown

It’s now widely accepted that dogs experience many of the same emotions we do. People who love animals are only surprised that scientists ever doubted this obvious fact.

“Dogs have all of the same brain structures that produce emotions in humans. Dogs even have the hormone oxytocin which is involved with feeling love and affection. It seems reasonable to suggest that dogs also have emotions that are similar to ours,” writes Dr. Stanley Coren, psychologist and author of many books about dogs. But he also cautions that we should not make the assumption that because dogs have emotions, they experience all of the same emotions we do.

When we come home to see that the trash can has been raided and trash strewn across the floor, we may turn to our dog with a stern face and tone of voice and see the dog react. One of our family dogs, Benji, was especially good at looking guilty —he would lower his head and lick his lips while nervous eyes looked away and glanced back. Everything about him seemed to say “I am SO sorry! Please forgive me!” It certainly looked like he felt guilt.

However, research shows that dogs’ minds are similar to that of a two-and-a-half-year-old child. At that age, children feel many emotions, including excitement, contentment, fear, suspicion and love, but the capacity to feel guilt, shame and pride develop later.

The behavior we interpret as guilt is a more basic emotion of stress or fear. The dog has either learned that when trash is on the floor and you come home you get upset or your dog may simply sense that you are angry and that it is directed at him. So a dog uses the same postures he or she would use with another dog to avoid a confrontation. Animal behaviorists call these behaviors appeasement or calming behaviors. Since your dog is not feeling guilty about the trash on the floor but simply trying to calm you down, any punishment is meaningless as far as preventing the problem behavior in the future.

Understanding this about our dogs can help us recognize when it’s time to take a step back and consider how we can best manage the environment to minimize the likelihood of them getting into trash in the future. It can also deepen the bond of love that we cherish with our dogs.

Events that Help Animals

The Great Bunny Ranch Rescue featuring dozens of bunnies for adoption as well as  adult cats for $10, adult dogs for $50, and kittens two for $60 or one for $35. All pets are spayed or neutered. At Nevada Humane Society, 2825 Longley Ln, Reno. 11:00am to 6:30pm daily and 10:00am to 6:30pm Saturdays.

Duck Race & Festival August 25, 11 am to 5 pm at Wingfield Park. Adopt a rubber duck for $5, help homeless pets at Nevada Humane Society. You may win a Las Vegas Vacation, Sierra Golf Getaway, Dine around Reno-Tahoe Package, and a chance to win a $400,000 cash prize! Visit

You Never Know What Your Pet Might Eat

by Diane Blankenburg

It all started for me with the Great Sock Caper. One winter evening, as usual, my day’s clothes were in a pile waiting to join my other dirty clothes. The next morning I went to pick them up and one black sock was missing. I really thought nothing of it. Then another one went missing—still not alarming. But then I got major a clue when I found whole socks in various places (in and out of the house) that had been expelled from a dog’s body in multiple ways. I became much more protective of my socks and then one day actually caught Boomer (my four-year-old yellow lab) stealing clean ones off of the top of my washing machine. The mystery was solved but the crime was the just the tip of the iceberg.

Turns out that Boomer loves to eat anything and everything, but especially clothes and sometimes actually swallows them whole (even items much larger than socks). But it doesn’t stop with clothes—it could be grass, plants, wood, leaves, charcoal (including partially charred logs from my fireplace), paper, rubber, plastic, and string (to name a few). My worries are big enough just hoping that things will pass (so to speak), but there is the added scare of what might be inside some of the things he eats—items that might be poisonous.

I am now very guarded about what is within reach of the Boom but no matter how cautious we are, there is always that chance that a beloved pet might get into something that could make them very sick. If they are severely distressed, you definitely want to get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. But if you are not sure what to do, the ASPCA has a hotline available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

If you think that your pet may have ingested a potentially poisonous substance, call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. The call is toll-free, but a $65 consultation fee may be applied to your credit card. With experience in more than two million cases involving pesticides, drugs, plants, metals and other potentially hazardous items, the organization’s specially trained staff of veterinary toxicologists has access to an extensive database, which they can use to quickly diagnose problems and give treatment advice.

Your pet’s ingestion habits may not be as extreme as my Boomer’s, but most pets are curious. So it’s very comforting to know that there is a place to call that will tell you what to do to when that curiosity goes a little too far. (Note: Visit this website for preventative tips–

Events that Help Animals

Duck Race & Festival August 25, 11 am to 5 pm at Wingfield Park. Adopt a rubber duck for $5, help homeless pets at Nevada Humane Society. You may win a Las Vegas Vacation, Sierra Golf Getaway, Dine around Reno-Tahoe Package, and a chance to win a $400,000 cash prize! Visit

The Healing Power of a Cat’s Purr

by Bonney Brown

There is nothing quite like the sound of a contented cat purring. Their unique and beautiful music has always seemed soothing to me, dating back to when I was a little girl and I would put my ear against our tolerant cat’s side to enjoy the sound up close.

Most cats purr when they are happy, when they are relaxing or while they are being stroked by their special person—some purr while they are enjoying a meal. Veterinarians will tell you that cats may also purr when they are distressed, perhaps as a way to soothe themselves.  Mother cats often purr while nursing their kittens, which must be a calming sound for the babies.

People who love cats  often feel that their companionship provides emotional support. This week, I came across some interesting information about the physical benefits of a cat’s purr. It turns out that their purring vibrations have a therapeutic effect on nearby humans as well as other cats. 

Cats purr in the range of 20-140 hertz (the measurement we use for sound wave frequencies) which reduces stress responses in humans. Stress is harmful to our immune system and makes us more susceptible to a variety of health problems. The vibration of a cat’s purr has other specific health benefits too, including decreasing symptoms of dyspnea (shortness of breath), reducing swelling and promoting healing in soft tissue and bones.  Frequencies of 25 to 50 hertz are optimal for strengthening bones and 100 to 200 hertz is the second most beneficial range.

A recent study at the University of Minnesota Stroke Research Center followed 4,435 people for a decade to look at the medical benefits of cats. The study showed that people without cats and those who never had cats were at a 40 percent greater risk of dying from a heart attack and at a 30 percent greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

In addition to the proven health benefits, the companionship of a cat is just plain enjoyable—from their delightful, amusing play to their calm blood-pressure-lowering presence as they nap nearby.

So please consider going down to your local shelter this weekend to adopt.  Not only will you feel especially good about giving a loving home to a cat in need,  you’ll be adding your very own little purring, healing companion to your life – medical therapy at a bargain price.

Events that Help Animals

Hot August Pets Adoption Promotion through August 11 at Nevada Humane Society.  $5 for adult cats and $50 for adult dogs. Kittens are $35 or two for $60. 2825 Longley Ln, Reno. 11:00am to 6:30pm daily and 10:00am to 6:30pm Saturdays.

Duck Race & Festival August 25, 11 am to 5 pm at Wingfield Park. Adopt a rubber duck for $5, help homeless pets at Nevada Humane Society. You may win a Las Vegas Vacation, Sierra Golf Getaway, Dine around Reno-Tahoe Package, and a chance to win a $400,000 cash prize! Visit

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