Pets as Soul Mates

by Diane Blankenburg

Last month, the Reno Gazette-Journal featured a question in the Faith section of its Sunday edition: Do animals have heavenly souls? I found the question very intriguing and the range of answers even more intriguing—answers that came from local representatives of major religious groups, as well as from a UNR professor of philosophy and religion.

Some believed that animals did not have souls, others that they did and would be right beside their fellow humans in the afterlife, and the Buddhist’s belief was that life itself is soul—life that includes all living beings. This dialogue really made me ponder my own beliefs and understanding of a more basic question: What is a soul? One theory says it is “the principle of life, feeling, thought, and action in humans, regarded as a distinct entity separate from the body. . . the spiritual part of humans as distinct from the physical part.”

I have fondly referred to Lady, my dear black lab who passed away three years ago, as my soul mate—the literal definition of soul mate being a person with whom one has a strong affinity. But for me, the term represents a connection with another being (animal or human) that goes far deeper than the superficial, physical connection that comes from spending time and sharing activities together. It is a bond that transcends time and space—a feeling like it has always existed, always will exist, and its very existence makes me complete.

Animals certainly experience “life, feelings, thoughts, and actions.” So if one believes in human souls, it doesn’t seem like a huge leap to the conclusion that animals have souls. Our community’s religious leaders did not necessarily agree on the specific answer to the question posed but there was a common theme among them—one that made it clear that animals hold a special place amidst humanity. One leader stated that they are sacred and should be respected while another said that “humans will be accountable for their treatment of animals in the world.”

Soul or no soul, I do believe we are stewards of the animals on earth and am dedicated to a career of helping our society live up to that responsibility. And whether souls are real or not, I know that the deep connection I have with my pets is very soulful. The bond is fulfilling, rewarding, and ever so real—no matter what it is called.

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Give Black Pets a Chance

by Diane Blankenburg

Throughout my life, I have had many black dogs and cats in my animal family. I always thought they possessed an extra beauty with an exotic touch. Two of the three dogs that currently share my life are, in fact, black.

It wasn’t until I entered the animal welfare world that I realized how much at risk these beauties are. Studies have shown that shelter adoption rates for black dogs and cats (especially cats) are a lot lower than for other animals. With so many healthy animals still being euthanized across the country, sadly, black cats and dogs are more likely to be at the top of the euthanasia list.

At Nevada Humane Society, over one third of the dogs and cats in the shelter at this time are black or partially black. This is very typical in shelters across the country and there are no scientific reasons why other than the belief by some that the black gene is dominant. But there are many theories and myths on why they are no adopted as often as others.

  • Black pets blend into the background. Colorful animals may stand out more and catch one’s attention easier. Light-colored animals’ facial characteristics are easier to see, which may lead adopters to think they have more personality.
  • It is hard to catch black animals on film. Since adoptable pets are often promoted with photographs, black cats and dogs are at a disadvantage.
  • Black cats have been associated with witchcraft and bad luck. These are superstitions that were born hundreds of years ago.
  • Black dogs have also been given a bad rap. According to ancient folklore, black dogs were believed to be ghosts of wicked souls.
  • A majority of black dogs at shelters are of larger breeds. Smaller dogs tend to be more popular and easier to care for in certain living situations. Some think that large black dogs are scary and this is how they are often portrayed in movies.
  • Black pets are thought to shed more hair. This is untrue, but may be believed since black hair is more visible on light surfaces.
  • Black animals might appear older. Even when they’re young, they have bits of facial hair that may be white or gray.

The truth is that black cats and dogs have the same characteristics as pets of other colors—calm or energetic, cuddly or independent, goofy or sophisticated, old or young. Regardless of color, all pets have unique personalities and all have the same amount of unconditional love to give. Many owners have found that once you adopt a black pet you can never go back. Take a look at Johnny (featured here) or the many other wonderful black pets in our area shelters. You too may get hooked!

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.

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– http://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control.)

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 NevadaHumaneSociety.org.

Facebook Isn’t Just for People

by Diane Blankenburg

I consider myself a “techie” person and rather computer savvy. I minored in computer science and my first professional job was as a software engineer. That said, I have not been a huge fan of Facebook—I just cannot imagine that anyone would care about what I had for dinner and I’m a bit reserved when it comes to posting the details of my life online. But social media is now a way of life and to be successful in any venture, it is a necessity. In my work in animal welfare, it has become a powerful tool in so many ways, ultimately even saving lives.

At Nevada Humane Society (NHS), social media has helped find foster caregivers for kittens who need to be bottle fed with no time to spare. It has helped raise funds for emergency veterinary care. It has been a source of sharing ideas that have made programs better or helped animals get adopted faster. It has rallied the troops for legislative hearings. And it has even reunited lost pets with their families.

Samson, a young tabby cat, accidently escaped while his family was moving from Reno to Pennsylvania. They could not find him even after postponing their move. After reaching their destination and notifying NHS, they sent a shirt from a family member and a tape recording with their voices calling his name. After the shirt was placed in a humane trap and the recording was played nearby, he was caught—six weeks after he went missing. Unfortunately, Samson was a bit underweight and suffered from a kitty cold and also a broken leg endured from living on the streets. After surgery and TLC, he was finally ready to fly home.

NHS asked for help on Facebook and a Southwest Airlines employee offered her employee credits to cover the cost of the flight. Earlier this week, she flew from Oklahoma City to Reno, met an NHS staff person with Samson in tow, and flew with Samson to Pittsburgh, before flying back to her home in Oklahoma. The Southwest crew said he was the most well-behaved kitty they’ve ever transported and now he is happily reunited with his family.

So if you are a reluctant Facebook person like I was, I hope this encourages you to reconsider. Please visit and “like” Nevada Humane Society’s Facebook page and stay in touch with how you can help save lives. Even though Facebook participation is not a natural activity for me, I truly understand its value—especially when it comes to making lifesaving differences for animal welfare groups and the homeless pets that are in their care. 

Events that Help Animals

Adopt your very own Dog Vinci, Cattisse or Petcasso during the Reno is Petown Adoption Promotion at Nevada Humane Society. Cats: $10; dogs: $50; kittens (under 4 mos.): $35 or two for $60. 2825 Longley Lane in Reno. Open Sunday – Friday, 11:00 am – 6:30 pm and Saturday, 10:00 am – 6:30 pm. More info at NevadaHumaneSociety.org.

You Can Help Tide the Kitten Storm

Spring is known as “kitten season” at Nevada Humane Society as it is prime time for homeless, unspayed cats to have kittens. Summer should be called “kitten typhoon” as litters are storming into Nevada Humane Society. On average, the shelter is taking in eight litters (15-30 kittens) each day.

Kittens arriving at the shelter are a bit like children attending kindergarten for the first time; their immune systems are not yet fully developed making them especially vulnerable to colds and other infections. Foster homes give tiny kittens the best possible start in life, helping them to stay healthy and teaching them how to live in a home with people and other pets until they are old enough to be spayed/neutered and adopted.

Little Orange Dude and his siblings were just four weeks old when someone scooped them up and brought them into the shelter without their mother. Foster mom Lisa Smith volunteered to take them. She acknowledged that taking care of a litter of kittens is a lot of work, but “more rewarding than words can express. After I feed them, they climb into my lap and go to sleep purring. In that moment, they are completely content and all is right in their world. And as I look down on them sleeping in my lap, all is right in my world, too.”

Foster caregivers like Roz Zimmerman not only care for these helpless adorable critters, but they often get the word out themselves to promote their charges’ speedy adoption. Here is one of her recent pleas: “Well, kitten season is far from over for Nevada Humane Society and I am fostering this wonderful, huggable ball of fur. He is all alone and really lonely for that perfect home. He weighs about a pound now and when his is two pounds, he will get fixed, microchipped, vaccinated and be ready to go home. Please see if you have a place for him in your heart and home or forward this so we can get him adopted soon. Many thanks for your help and loving support.”

Foster homes free up limited space at the shelter so that more homeless animals can be saved—ones that are ready for adoption. The need for new foster homes during the busy summer months can really strain the very dedicated volunteer corps of caregivers. Although there are also foster needs for puppies and special-needs adult animals, the greatest need lies with kittens. There is no fee involved and a starter kit of supplies is provided as needed. Please consider becoming a foster caregiver today, have a fun and rewarding experience, and take a personal role in saving lives!

For more information about fostering, please call Nevada Humane Society at 775-856-2000 ext. 321.

Upcoming Events that Help Animals

Adopt your very own Dog Vinci, Cattisse or Petcasso during the Reno is Petown Adoption Promotion at Nevada Humane Society. Cats: $10, dogs: $50, kittens (under 4 mos.) $35 or two for $60. 2825 Longley Lane in Reno. Open Sunday – Friday, 11:00 am – 6:30 pm and Saturday, 10:00 am – 6:30 pm. More info at NevadaHumaneSociety.org.

How to Avoid Leaving your Dog in Your Car

by Diane Blankenburg

Last Friday was the official first day of summer. It’s very exciting to me as I love our summers—the dry heat of the day, the refreshing afternoon breezes, and the perfect cool evenings. But with three big dogs who love to go anywhere and everywhere, the warm weather makes me pause and rethink my doggie car trips.

Most people just don’t realize how fast the inside of a car can heat up, even on relatively cool days. And in the summer, the internal temperature can reach 120 degrees in a matter of minutes, even with the windows partially open. This escalation—combined with the fact that dogs have a higher internal body temperature than humans—is enough to cause serious medical problems and even death.

Keys and leashes are immediate stimuli for my canine clan and the drooling, whining, and full-body wags are non-stop. It’s very hard to resist outings that obviously give them so much pleasure, but I also want to keep them safe. I recently read a set of interesting alternatives for safe dog outings published by Petfinder.com; so next time your dog starts the “I wanna go” dance, consider these:

  1. Use the drive-through options for errands whenever available.
  2. Bring a friend along who can play with your dog outside while you run your errands.
  3. Shop at pet-friendly stores where your dog is welcome to browse with you.
  4. Eat at an outdoor café where you dog can sit with you.
  5. Leave your dog at home where it’s cool and safe.

A good rule of thumb is to never leave your dog in a car for even a short period of time. But this becomes even more critical as we maneuver the Reno hot summer months—with record breaking temperatures predicted in the coming days, reaching as high as 104 degrees.

Reno is a very dog-friendly kind of town and I think you can find many ways to accommodate your dogs without having to leave them in your car. On the other hand, I know that my dogs so live in the moment that they will quickly forgive me if I decide it is best to leave them at home.

Upcoming Events that Help Animals

Pets and More Arts & Craft Fest,  July 6, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Scolari’s Shopping Center, Pyramid Hwy/Holman Way, Sparks. 20% of proceeds will benefit Nevada Humane Society.

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