POSTED ON JUNE 2, 2010:
Who's the Pet?
Animals aren't just to be fed and let out in the morning; they've got expectations
Who could forget the little dog who stole the show in 2001's girl-power blockbuster Legally Blonde?
Brusier dressed in pink leather and boleros to match his fashion-major-turned-law-student owner Elle Woods (Reese Witherspoon). Bruiser went everywhere with Elle -- from the nail salon to the dress boutique and from Harvard Law School to the courtroom of a murder trial. A bit reminiscent of the real-life Hilton heiress, Paris Hilton, and her pooch, Tinkerbell.
For all of Brusier's popularity, and for all the attention the media gave Paris and Tinkerbell, one might think that it was just overindulged blondes and their Chihuahuas who bond and get fantastic services at their beck and call. That's quite the contrary. Even in the reddest of states.
Services and amenities for pets might not be waiting on hand and feet for everyone, but they are available to regular folks, especially in a town as animal-loving as Tulsa.
From doggy day cares to pet chiropractors, Tulsans have an abundance of opportunities to treat their "children" to the best services that money can buy but affordably.
Hilton could always be spotted traveling the world with her famous dog, whether in her arms or some type of designer pet carrier, but traveling with pets is not so unusual these days.
Increasingly, hotels are making it easier for people to travel with their pets, even if they are not tote-bag-sized pooches.
Susanne Pickering, who works in advisement at the TCC Southeast campus, and her husband Millard are involved in the Elks club, and frequently travel to various conferences across the country. They also have a 6-year-old black lab named Zack.
Recently, they began taking Zack with them on trips when they discovered that while they were traveling, and with Zack left behind, he would go on a kind of hunger strike.
"It used to be when we would travel and leave him at home, he wouldn't eat," Pickering said. "We would leave out enough food, ask people to come by," but Zack's separation anxiety was so bad that he would leave the food uneaten.
"Neighbors told me that when I'm gone, he goes by the fence, and he just sort of howls," she said. "He's the only dog I've known who would rather be with me than to eat."
Choosing a boarding location hasn't proven fruitful, either, as Pickering said, "He doesn't do so good with boarding. He reacts to some of the chemicals they use in the floors or the cleaning. He'd rather have his backyard."
So far, traveling with Zack has proved to be rewarding for the couple. "It's a fun diversion from being with people," Pickering said. "It's a nice break to be able to go to my hotel room and get some dog therapy."
Most appropriately, Hilton hotels are a few of the hotels that the Pickerings have used in the past that welcome pets such as Zack.
Having a dog around can be an advantage in various social situations as well.
"He's a good conversation piece," Pickering said, but additionally, "It gets me out of a lot of things. I can just say, 'Excuse me, I have to go check on my dog.'"
The Pickerings have decided to not take their dog on trips that would require flying (even though, most airlines do have policies for transporting pets), they have taken Zack as far as Texas and New Mexico and have found traveling with him easy.
"Hotels are becoming much more accommodating to people who travel with their pets," Pickering said. "The whole first floor of the Hilton in Santa Fe had pets; we were definitely not the only ones." She said the most they have been asked to do is pay $50 extra for a hotel deposit.
Tulsa's Hotel Ambassador is an example of a hotel that has implemented a friendly pet policy.
Jann Hill, the hotel's Regional Director of Sales, calls the Ambassador "pet inclusive."
"We allow pets in all our rooms with no additional fees or deposits," she said. "We even provide complimentary amenities such as beds, bowls and snacks.
"The advantage to allowing pets is that we are able to accommodate guests who travel with their pets and don't desire to be separated from them . . . Our traveler tends to be affluent and frequently, a pet is an irreplaceable companion," Hill said. "As the trend to include our pets more fully in our lives has taken hold, so has the hospitality industry's accommodation of pets."
A decade ago, a traveler would have been hard-pressed to find a hotel that did not charge a significant fee or deposit for the presence of an animal companion.
Hill credits websites dedicated to providing travelers, such as the Pickerings, with information about pet-friendly hotels with encouraging relaxed pet policies. These make information about hotels' policies easy to access and have made consideration of animals a factor of competition.
Overall, however, Pickering said, "It's working out; we're really liking it." They are currently searching for accessories such as doggie hammocks that can hang in the car and portable water dishes.
"I don't like to be gone from home, so (bringing Zack) is like taking a little piece of home with me," Pickering said. "That's probably the biggest reason I like traveling with him.
"He's very content. He pretty much just relaxes and sleeps in the back of the car. He'd rather be with us ... even if it's more boring," she said.
On the Couch
While Zack seemed to exhibit a bit of anxiety about his owners' leaving, some pets' anxiety issues might not simply go away with a tummy rub or back scratch.
For some animals, these behavioral problems could require a little extra help. (Elle would certainly have gotten Bruiser on something stronger than regular manicures had his tenure at Harvard stressed him out too much.)
Dr. Greg Daubney, D.V.M., practices veterinary medicine in Tulsa at Edgewood Veterinary Clinic. He said that there are several common behavioral problems that have to be treated with medication to try to correct the behavior.
In cats, Daubney said, "The only problem that people are primarily interested in correcting is house soiling."
Often, the source of a cat's anxiety might be the presence of other cats in a home or unfamiliar odors, which will induce the cat to spray. Daubney said that there are a number of drugs that can be used to discourage this behavior.
These include "plain old valium" and a product called Feliway, which is a synthetic pheromone that relieves anxiety by giving a particular area a familiar scent (it has an effect similar to a cat rubbing its face on a surface).
"In dogs," Daubney said, "the main issues are separation anxiety and also thunderstorm phobia" as well as other phobias.
"Some of the dogs are so frightened that they become destructive of themselves or their environment," he said.
For thunderstorms, Dr. Daubney said, "My favorite drug is alprazolam, which is Xanax." He tells his patients' owners to administer the dose about two hours before storms, so they need to pay close attention to the weather.
Non-prescription treatment for separation anxiety can simply be training, or can include the calming pheromone D.A.P. (Dog Appeasing Pheromone), which makes dogs less anxious.
Other treatments might include sedatives or antidepressants like amitriptyline. "There are other vets doing various things for behavioral problems," Daubney said.
One problem with confronting animal behavioral problems, Daubney said, is "if it doesn't bother the owner, it doesn't get treated. (Something) may be a serious problem for the dog, but for the owner, if they don't see it, it doesn't get treated."
One over the top example is excessive barking, which only neighbors would notice if a dog's owner is gone to work all day.
Behavior modification in animals is a tricky science, but one that can be integral to a pet's home life. The website for the Animal Behavior Society states, "Behavior problems are the most common reason given for the surrender of companion dogs and cats to animal shelters in the United States."
"All vets tend to struggle with this," Daubney said. "We do what we can to help the owner to work through it."
There are professionals who are certified by the Animal Behavior Society as Applied Animal Behaviorists, but there are none who practice in Oklahoma. Specialists like that, Dr. Daubney said, are more common in places such as New York, where more behavioral problems may arise from dogs being in a big city, apartment-style living environment.
For those pets and owners for whom medication is not enough or is not an option, what is there to do?
There are not pet elementary schools, but in Tulsa at least, we come pretty close with pet day care, where dogs can go to play with their friends and learn basic obedience, all without their owners having to worry about them destroying the house or the yard while at work.
Dog lovers Lawanna Smith and Nancy Werhane have owned Pooches, a dog day care center, for four and a half years. Their primary service is day care, but they also offer boarding, training and grooming services.
In day care, the dogs are divided into groups based on size and how they play. Each group is supervised by a Pooches employee, and the dogs get breaks to go outside -- or to recess like a normal school child -- as a group about every half hour.
Smith said many of her patrons are dogs who get dropped off when their owner goes to work.
Some pet owners use the service for the benefit of their dog. "A lot of people only have one dog," Smith said, "but they want the dog to be able to get out and have friends and play.
"Some have social problems or separation anxiety. They find it very safe here. It can really help a dog come out of its shell if they have problems being shy," Smith said.
The Pooches day care has plenty of toys for the dogs to play with, but mostly, "They play with each other a lot," Smith said, "just like you'll see dogs at the dog park."
The Pooches staff includes four certified trainers, and they offer both private and group training.
Training can be basic or can address specific issues such as jumping, running out the door or not coming when called.
"We also have an option for day care training," Smith said, for those who would like to take advantage of both services.
"Day care had been done on the east and west coasts for many years," Smith said. With so many people living in high rises, day care is "a real necessity."
Although Tulsa does not have quite that kind of problem, "There's a need that exists here," Smith said.
Problems often arise with dogs who stay at home while their families go to work during the day. A dog with nothing to do during the day will become too active in the evening for owners who are tired out from a day of work. By sending their dog to day care where it will wear itself out playing, owners will "have a nice chilled out pet (when they come home). They can take them for walks, but (the dogs) are not crazed."
Pooches has a presence in the Tulsa community outside of its day care and boarding services. "We try to work with rescue groups here in town," Smith said. "We try to help them do promotions."
Pooches occasionally hosts adoption days, for which it helps local rescue organizations publicize and for which it offers its space as a venue. (For more on a particular group that's doing their part in the community, See the sidebar to the right.)
In addition, Smith said, "We're always glad to give rescue groups advice." If an organization is having trouble with a dog, especially in interaction with other dogs, Pooches will bring the dog in and try to help sort out the problem.
Day care is priced at $17 per day for a full day (more than five hours of care). This runs neck-in-neck with Oklahoma's child daycare costs, which averages $6,029 per year (or $502 per month), according to Oklahoma Child Care, where pets would cost an average of $510 per month. On the other hand, pet owners may purchase packages for weeks or months or day care at a discount rate.
Smith said the service Pooches offers is important because sometimes a dog's behavior is such a problem that "it is (at) the breaking point of whether the dog stays in the home or not." Learning to socialize with other dogs and having playmates during those times when a dog's owner is away can help to correct these issues.
"Pets that come here are loved pets," Smith said.
Behavioral problems are not the only issues that pets may have that may need treatment -- and behavior is not the only field in which alternatives are springing up. More and more pet owners these days are turning to treatment outside of traditional veterinary medicine.
Dr. Willa Duree, D.C., received her Doctor of Chiropractic from Palmer College in Davenport, Iowa. That degree was for human chiropractic medicine. She also earned her certification in animal chiropractic from Parker College of Chiropractic in Dallas.
Today, Dr. Duree practices out of Shawnee. "I have a mixed practice, so I treat humans and animals both," she said.
Essentially, animal chiropractic is to veterinary medicine as human chiropractic is to human medicine.
So, if Paris and Tinkerbell both get leg cramps from walking around in all those shopping malls (or riding around in a handbag), they still don't have to be separated from their owner for a chiropractic appointment; they can go together to get their problems examined.
"What we do is apply what we do as chiropractors to animals," Duree said. "We address spinal conditions, primarily." These include problems in "older dogs having difficulty arising from laying and sitting," as well as injuries in dogs who have been active herding, competing in agility, playing frisbee, etc.
When injuries from these activities are left to heal on their own, "it is common to see a more severe episode of the same injury weeks, months or years later," Duree said.
One challenge associated with animal chiropractic treatment is that animals cannot verbalize what is wrong or what hurts. Duree said that this occasionally works to the advantage of the pet owners: "My human patients say that 'If the doc is able to figure out what's wrong with an animal, I'm sure she will be able to figure out what's wrong with me.'"
Duree's animal patients are mostly dogs, cats and horses, but she also treats goats, sheep and calves.
Duree sees several reasons that people bring in their pets for chiropractic treatment.
"I've had referrals directly from vets," she said, but added that she also sees people who have tried treating their pets with traditional veterinary medicine but still see problems.
In addition, she finds that "people in general are becoming more aware of a holistic type approach" to medical treatment. "A lot of people use both the vet and chiropractor," she said.
"A conservative approach can save (people) a lot of money ... or can save a dog or cat from surgery."
She credits this growing awareness about alternative treatment methods with encouraging the growth of animal chiropractic. She believes that people are looking for treatments involving "less interference with drugs and chemicals and trying to go for more natural (solutions).
"MDs and vets alike are getting more and more questions from folks that are very interested in avoiding drugs and surgery," Duree said. "These questions are requiring the MDs and vets to become more knowledgeable about alternatives to drugs and surgery -- utilizing more conservative, less potentially harmful approaches to resolve these back, shoulder and neck pain issues."
The omnipresence of the Internet contributes heavily to the increase in interest in alternative approaches to treatment. People might be able to answer their own questions before asking a professional, and are becoming "more independent because of that knowledge."
Duree said that Oklahoma only has about nine or 10 animal chiropracters who, like her, are certified by the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.
Despite the small number of animal chiropractors, especially in this state, "It is a growing profession," she said.
Doctors who are looking to expand their practices will get into animal chiropractic as well, Duree said.
She sees people who bring their pets in for treatment and end up getting interested in treatment for themselves as well.
"It's a family thing," she said. "Many, many people see their animals as their children. We see (pets) as being part of the family."
Playing Dress Up
Families with kids know that a big part of raising them involves getting them dressed. As Tinkerbell's extensive wardrobe certainly reveals, that is a part of being a pet owner, too.
Again, however, it is not necessary to purchase $100 dollar designer dresses for pets these days as Tulsa accommodates animal wardrobes.
Tulsa pharmacist Aimee Mirzaian has three dogs that she dresses in clothes on a regular basis.
The reason Mirzaian gives for dressing up her three dogs is, "They are like my children, and they are really cute when they're dressed up."
Veda and Cosmo often are the two that Mirzaian dresses up, while the third, Samantha, is able to escape it -- sometimes.
"I dress up the little ones all the time, pretty much," Mirzaian said. "The big one (Samantha) we only dress up for fun," she said. "I think it's kind of embarrassing for her."
"In the winter the little ones really like to wear clothes," Mirzaian said because of the cold weather.
Her dogs' wardrobe standards are T-shirts and sweaters. "We do have a lot of turtleneck sweaters," she said, as well as raincoats and hooded winter coats.
Mirzaian said the two little dogs have differing feelings about being dressed up.
"Veda likes it," she said. "I think she feels pretty."
"Cosmo doesn't really like it, but he can't do much about it," Mirzaian said. He pouts for about five minutes, she said, then he gets over it and accepts it. "I think he feels silly," Mirzaian said.
Mirzaian said that there are many places around town where she is able to find dog's clothes, such as Target, WalMart, Petsmart and Petco, and the Internet is always a ready source.
For the most part, Mirzaian said, when guests visit her house, they are amused by her dogs' donning clothes.
"I think that they think that my dogs are maybe a little spoiled ... Usually, they think it's pretty cute."
She added, "Some people don't really like dogs in clothes, but we try not to have those kind of people at our house."
But No Where to Go
As many pet owners and professionals alike have seen throughout the past few years, pets are family members. And when family members die, the mourning process can be extensively painful. Recently, people have begun to think about mourning their pets with the same kind of formalities that they would a family member.
Delana Taylor McNac formerly practiced veterinary medicine but is now the program manager for Banfield Charitable Trust. She is also a Methodist deacon and a hospice chaplain.
She is disturbed by the often blasé treatment of pets' death.
"There's never been any public opportunity to recognize pet loss grief," she said. And often, people either do not know how to deal with their own grief or don't know how to support or validate that grief in others, she said.
In light of that absence, McNac, in cooperation with the Oklahoma Animal Alliance, recently organized Paws to Remember, a pet memorial service, which was held at Centennial Park in Tulsa on May 8.
The idea was "to bring pet owners together to remember (their animals)," McNac said.
The event featured a visual presentation set to music of pictures people submitted of their pets, grief counselors on hand, opportunities to donate in the name of a beloved pet and therapeutic dogs, "four legged furry support," McNac described.
Jamee Suarez, President of the Oklahoma Animal Alliance, spoke during the event about what she called "the pets that don't belong to anybody," those that die on the streets, in shelters, in puppy mills or other such lonely places.
There are plans in the process to make the event annual here in Tulsa or to try and take it nationwide.
OAA may sponsor the event, but as Suarez said, the event is down to McNac: "It's her dream and her vision."
McNac called the event a way "to stand up and say as a group that pets matter; it's not just a cat or a dog," but a family member.
And that is what seems to be the verdict with those involved with animals in whatever way, whether they are owners who dress them up and take them on trips or the professionals who recognize and nurture these bonds.
So maybe Elle refering to her chihuahua as "Bruiser Woods" instead of by just his first name is not so ridiculous after all.
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