Not Every Pet Enjoys Living in a Classroom: Here’s What You Should Know

This post first appeared on

Certified Humane Educator Doriane Lucia has fond memories of caring for pets in the classroom. In fact, she credits classroom fish and a caring fifth-grade teacher with fostering her love and compassion for animals.

“This experience was huge for me. I didn’t know years later this would become my life’s mission, but even if it hadn’t, it would still have taught me responsibility,” said Lucia, who received her Master’s degree in Humane Education from Cambridge College in Boston, Mass. and The Institute for Humane Education, and is a member of the Association of Professional Humane Educators.

When the Pet Care Trust began offering Pets in the Classroom grants in 2011, more than 500 teachers nationwide applied. Today, the grant program has issued close to 40,000 grants with an average of 50 students being impacted per grant. The grants are offered to public school, kindergarten through sixth-grade classes, and are intended to support pets or aquariums in the classroom.

A classroom pet can be fun and exciting for schoolchildren, but it also has real educational, leadership and character-building value, according to a 2015 studypublished by the American Humane Association (AHA). According to the AHA study, the most popular classroom pets were fish followed by guinea pigs, hamsters, bearded dragons and leopard geckos. Several teachers who responded to the survey said that they had more than one classroom pet, such as a “rabbit, hamster, fish, two turtles,” “fish and lizards,” and “Beta Fish and Dwarf Frogs.”

Bearded dragons made the list of popular classroom pets in an American Humane Association study.

Image credit: milkfactory via Flickr

Shelter Dogs and Special Needs Kids: A Match Made in Heaven

This post first appeared on

Brook, a Rhodesian Ridgeback mix, was sitting in a high-kill shelter in Arizona with just two days to live when she was rescued by Janice Wolfe, founder, and CEO of Merlin’s Kids. The nonprofit organization rescues, rehabilitates, and trains shelter dogs to work as service dogs for children with autism and special needs, as well as to assist disabled veterans. After extensive training Brook returned Wolfe’s kindness by transforming the life of Julie, 21, who is developmentally delayed due to a premature birth.

Wolfe describes Brook as a “rock star,” a calm sweet dog with the perfect temperament for working as an emotional support service dog. Julie’s mom, Ellen, couldn’t agree more.

“Brook has given Julie a greater sense of confidence,” Ellen said. “They are always together and Brook definitely knows that it’s her responsibility to take care of Julie.”

Before being paired with Brook, Julie was afraid to go outside the house on her own. Now she and Brook take walks down the block or sit together in the yard. Julie has become more outgoing and enjoys speaking or singing in front of people.

“Brook has become an emotional support for all of us,” Ellen said. “I can’t believe that they almost put her to sleep. She is the love of our lives!”

Julie takes a selfie with Brook as he smothers her with kisses.

Continue reading “Shelter Dogs and Special Needs Kids: A Match Made in Heaven”

It Takes a Community to Support Feral Cats: Here’s How You Can Help

This post first appeared on

Twenty-six years ago the definition of feral cats wasn’t part of the national consciousness in the United States. Today, hundreds of nonprofit organizations across the country are managing feral cat colonies using the Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) method of control. Among them is Donna Moussa who runs the TNR program for Save the Animals Rescue Team II (STARTII) in Bergen County, NJ. Moussa got involved with the program after following a mother cat and her kitten into a neighbor’s backyard where she discovered more than 40 ferals lounging around the pool and hanging out in flower pots.

“I thought I would trap these cats and have them spayed and neutered and that would take care of the problem,” Moussa said. “Little did I know there were thousands of feral cats living in communities all over the county.”

Twelve years later Moussa and her team have trapped more than 3,000 feral cats, transported them to the spay/neuter clinic, and cared for them during recovery before returning them to their colonies. Feral cat advocates nationwide hail this method as the most humane way of managing colonies. According to numerous scientific studies—many conducted while monitoring feral cat colonies on college campuses—TNR improves the lives of cats, improves the relationship between feral cats and the people who live near them and over time decreases the number of cats in a colony.

Continue reading “It Takes a Community to Support Feral Cats: Here’s How You Can Help”

What Experts Have to Say About Invisible Fences for Dogs

This blog first appeared on

When walking around suburban neighborhoods in upstate, NY, I am struck at just how many dogs are confined by invisible fences.

There are many reasons dog owners choose to install electronic fences. For some it’s a financial decision—electronic fences tend to be a cheaper option. In other cases, homeowners associations or neighbors prohibit the installation of physical fencing. Whatever the reasons, dog owners install the fencing because they want their dogs to have the freedom to run and play in their yards.

Since positive motivation training and behavioral experts say it’s impossible to predict how any dog will react to electronic confinement, I wonder why so many families are willing to take a chance on their dog’s wellbeing. Positive Motivation Trainer Jenn Michaelis, the owner of SassyT Canine Academy in Westchester County, NY, believes that there is not enough information available about the negative impacts of electronic fencing on dogs. She discourages her clients from using electronic fencing and is happy to discuss alternatives with them. Sara Reusche, who is also a positive motivation trainer, and owner of Paws Abilities Dog Training, LLC in Rochester County, MN, also steers her clients away from invisible fencing.

Both trainers above help rehabilitate dogs who have been negatively impacted by electronic fences. In fact, Reusche said that “…sadly these cases make up a sizable chunk of her business.” And in most instances, the owners never connect their dogs’ out-of-the-ordinary behavioral problems with the recently-installed electronic fences. Some of these behavioral issues include dogs who have accidents in the house because they are terrified to go outside for fear of being shocked; dogs who are afraid to wear collars; previously friendly dogs who become aggressive toward people and other dogs; dogs who are afraid to go for walks and dogs who are afraid of any sound that resembles the warning beep on the shock collar. For example the beep from the microwave or the ping on a cell phone.

Continue reading “What Experts Have to Say About Invisible Fences for Dogs”

Declawing Cats: Not Equal to Trimming Your Fingernails

This blog first appeared on

At a recent party, I was struck at how flippantly one of the guests spoke about declawing her cat. Her explanation was that the cat was scratching her furniture and since she could never part with her beloved companion, the only option left was to have her cat declawed. Then a few weeks later while waiting for a hair appointment, the topic came up again when the woman sitting next to me was telling her companion that she had adopted a cat and was going to have her declawed so that she wouldn’t destroy the furniture or scratch her children.

Stories like this make Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary Executive Director Becky Tegze cringe. In the Cat House at the no-kill animal sanctuary located in Middletown, NY, residents roam freely in rooms that simulate a home environment. There are scratching posts in every room and rarely do the feline residents scratch on the furniture. If they do, staff and volunteers immediately get to work redirecting them to the scratching posts.

Mr. Meowgi enjoys using the scratching post in the Cat House at Pets Alive Animal Sanctuary in Middletown, NY

Experts at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) say that, too often, people seek declawing surgery for their cats because they believe it is a simple procedure—the equivalent of trimming your fingernails. In reality, declawing involves the amputation of the last bone of each toe. If performed on a human being, it would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle. Cats scratch and use their claws to mark their territory, condition their nails, defend themselves, capture prey and play. They also use their claws to stretch their backs. These are all natural behaviors.

Continue reading “Declawing Cats: Not Equal to Trimming Your Fingernails”

Have Respect for Others When Hiking with Your Dog

It was 7 a.m. and I had just stepped onto the trail in Goosepond Mountain State Park, NY, when a German shepherd came barreling over the brow of a hill and headed straight for my leashed dogs. Bella, our foxhound, is typically low key and didn’t seem phased by this assault. Jason, our husky mix, is insecure and leash aggressive and began to lunge at the shepherd as he circled us. I yelled at the dog to “go away” and kicked out at him but he just kept getting into Jason’s face. Eventually, the owner sauntered over the brow and shouted, “Don’t worry, he gets along with everyone.”

It didn’t matter to this man that my dog was obviously distressed and I was struggling to try to prevent his dog from getting tangled in the leashes. I can’t begin to tell you how many times this used to happen with my previous dog, Lucy, a Rottweiler mix who was dog aggressive. She was always on a leash. I would shout at the owners of the loose dog to please keep their dog away from Lucy because she was aggressive. And I would always get the “Oh, don’t worry my dog gets along with all dogs” or “my dog is friendly” response.

It’s a Privilege to Hike in State Parks with Dogs

Didn’t they hear me say that my dog was aggressive? It was so infuriating and still bothers me today when I see this type of disrespect for other dog owners and hikers. It’s a privilege to be allowed to take our dogs hiking in public and state parks. Everyone can enjoy the experience if dog owners exercise common courtesy.

Continue reading “Have Respect for Others When Hiking with Your Dog”

Thinking about Bringing Home a Pocket Pet? Here’s What You Need to Know.

Did you know that guinea pigs can be extremely friendly and talkative? They squeak in delight at mealtimes and have been known to purr when petted. Hamsters are equally as entertaining and enjoy nesting, storing food and running around inside a ball. And while each hamster has a unique personality, they are all curious and share a love of exploring.

These two species top the list of the most popular small pets commonly referred to as pocket pets. Other animals that fall into this category are gerbils, mice, rats, and chinchillas. While the ancestors of these species were wild, animal welfare groups work hard to remind families that pocket pets are captive bred and cannot survive on their own in the wild. They are completely dependent on humans for food, care, company, and protection.

Experts at the North Jersey Guinea Pig and Hamster Rescue Inc., say that prior to adopting a small pet, families need to do lots of research. For instance, it’s important to know that guinea pigs can get sick if their diet doesn’t include fresh vegetables and Vitamin C. And hamsters are nocturnal and will need exercise and interaction at night.

Continue reading “Thinking about Bringing Home a Pocket Pet? Here’s What You Need to Know.”

How to Take Your Fish Hobby Outdoors

Keeping and breeding tropical fish outdoors in the warmer months is a practice as old as the 100-year-old tropical fish hobby itself, according to experts at the North Jersey Aquarium Society (NJAS). Homeowners interested in breaking into the hobby should start small with tubs on their decks or patios.

Once the tub is in place and the climate is right it’s time to begin introducing plants such as dwarf water lilies, iris cattails, water hyacinth, and pickerels. In June families can start adding white cloud mountain minnows, rosy barbs and zebra fish to the tub. If you want fish to breed in your container include livebearers such as platies and guppies.

Continue reading “How to Take Your Fish Hobby Outdoors”

The Joys of Living with a Foxhound

bellaandstream-smallIt’s been two years since we adopted our American foxhound, Bella.  As I watch her sleeping in the shadow of the Christmas tree, I can’t help thinking back on how she came into our lives. It was about six months after we said goodbye to Lucy, our 15-year-old Rottweiler/shepherd mix. Our hearts were broken, but we wanted to make a loving home for another shelter dog. Also, we were worried about Jason, our huskie/corgie mix, who was pining away after his “sister.” I would come home from work and find him lying on the floor facing the corner. He just seemed so depressed. We knew that he was lonely and needed a canine companion.

As the coordinator of the Adopt a Pet features in The Record newspaper, I am frequently on the pet profile web pages of shelters and rescue groups in Northern New Jersey. That’s how I came upon the photo of Bella on the Save the Animals Rescue Team II page. I would scroll through the images and kept stopping at her photo. Those soulful eyes just kept calling to me. There was also a nostalgic pull as I grew up with hounds in Ireland.

Continue reading “The Joys of Living with a Foxhound”

How to Create a Pet First Aid Kit



One night I got a call from my friend asking if I had styptic powder. She had cut her dog’s nail too close to the quick and now the nail was bleeding profusely. I pulled out our pet first-aid kit to find that not only were we all out of styptic powder, but we were short on many other medical supplies as well. It was time to head to the store.

Experts at the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) recommend that anyone who shares a home with a pet should keep a pet first-aid kit on hand. You can purchase a first-aid kit designed for people and add pet-specific items to that, or you can purchase a specialized kit at a pet store or from a catalog. Alternately, you can start your own kit from scratch.

Continue reading “How to Create a Pet First Aid Kit”