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Published July 25 2013

Dr. Fox: Rescue dogs at risk

Dear Dr. Fox: I was disturbed by a CNN reporter’s statement concerning the search-and-rescue dogs working in the Moore, Okla., tornado wreckage: “The dogs, brave dogs going into these homes and buildings, some of them stepping on the nails and other dangerous debris here.” What are your thoughts on this? It seems like animal abuse to me. – W.M., Arlington, Va.

Dear W.M.: There is no excuse for not providing these dogs with protective boots and body wraps to help prevent injuries to their undersides and flanks. Military dogs are provided with such protective gear, and animals handled by civilian services should likewise be properly attired to help minimize injury and incapacitation. In his study of injuries and illnesses in search-and-rescue dogs, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Lon E. Gordon notes, “Federal Emergency Management Agency guidelines for training of search-and-rescue dogs stress the need for traction on rubble piles. It is plausible that searches in areas of little to no rubble, such as homes searched in response to Hurricane Katrina, could be safely conducted by dogs wearing booties.”

Susannah Charleson, canine search-and-rescue team member and author of the new and inspiring book “The Possibility Dogs,” sent me the following statement: “Safety for the search dogs is a serious concern for all of us who work with loved, respected K-9 partners. Operational gear for the dogs, like body wraps and boots, certainly needs to protect from puncture injuries, (while) at the same time it doesn’t raise the risk of heat stroke, entanglement and serious slip/fall accidents. Debris dogs often work ‘naked’ to lessen the risk of hanging or binding a dog, and disaster sites often present a tough call. There’s been quite a bit of research and development for this kind of gear, particularly since 9/11, and there are boots, vests, goggles and so on that some handlers swear by and others have had reason to mistrust. I think most of us would love to see protection available that really functions as it needs to, allowing the dog to do a strong, sure-footed job without compromising the ability to balance, maneuver and ventilate.”

So I appeal to all concerned to get some good gear designed for these dogs to be used with greater regularity when they are at work.

Dear Dr. Fox: I am hoping you can help me understand this cat behavior: I adopted two lovely female ragamuffin cats about 2½ years ago from a rescue site; they were about 8 months old. I was told they were sisters.

I noticed Leeza was the dominant one. Sissy would let Leeza eat some of her treats if Leeza finished first. Leeza did not want to be approached and was very skittish. Sissy would follow me around like a dog and was very vocal, greeting me when I came home and sitting on my lap when I watched TV. Leeza would stretch out on the floor with her legs in the air and mew quietly, but when I approached her, she would run off.

Recently, after reading an interesting a book about cat personalities, I decided that when Leeza stretched out, put her legs in the air and mewed, she probably wanted me to pet her. I crawled slowly toward her, and she allowed me to pet her and very much enjoyed it.

Now Sissy is not following me around, won’t greet me at the door, acts standoffish and hides in another room. She is eating less. Leeza has become my shadow and is the vocal one, constantly stretching out on the floor and mewing for attention while Sissy is off hiding somewhere. It is almost as though there was a shift in personalities.

I feel bad for Sissy. I have petted them both when they are near one another, but it is as though Sissy is a dejected cat. Tell me what more I can do to show both of them that they are loved equally. – B.L.C., Washington, D.C.

Dear B.L.C.: What you describe is something very feline in terms of how cats react to attention – you can call it jealousy, competitive social dominance or displacement. Encouraging your cats to interact playfully with a lure on a string or grooming them in turn may help bring the triangle of your two-cat family and you together. My e-book “Understanding Your Cat” may give you other helpful insights that cats have taught me over the years.

Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s Web site at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.