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Category "Pets"

29May

SPCA promotes human-pet bond after dog stolen from Vancouver homeless man

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Dave M., a homeless man who didn’t want his last name used, says his Alaskan Eskimo dog Cutiepie was stolen on Granville Street. He’s holding a poster he is hoping will help him find his dog.


Mike Bell / PNG

The bond between humans and animals is so powerful that the mental and physical health of a pet owner can be lifted just by having their animal in their life, according to the SPCA.

Despite that, there is still some stigma toward pet ownership by people who are living on the streets, spokeswoman for the B.C. SPCA, Lorie Chortyk, said Wednesday.

The animal welfare organization is among the groups that work to support relationships between homeless people — many of whom have been through tough times in their lives — and their pets.

“Often for these individuals this is the first time they’ve ever experienced unconditional love,” Chortyk said.

“I think anyone who’s had a pet understands how powerful that bond is. But if you haven’t experienced that unconditional love, that bond is even stronger. And those individuals protect that animal and protect that bond even more.”


Dave M., a homeless man who didn’t want his last name used, says his Alaskan Eskimo dog Cutiepie was stolen on Granville Street. He’s holding a poster he is hoping will help him find his dog.

Mike Bell /

PNG

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Chortyk’s comments came a few days after a white American Eskimo dog named Cutiepie was stolen from a man living on the sidewalk out front of the Hudson’s Bay department store on Granville Street in Downtown Vancouver.

Dave M, who declined to give his full last name, said he had left Cutiepie with his belongings while he used the washroom around 2:30 p.m. Friday. When he returned, the dog was gone. A frantic search of the surrounding streets was fruitless.

Cutiepie has been in Dave’s life for about six years. He presumed the then-eight-year-old dog had been abandoned before she arrived at his house in Mission, he said.

Asked if he knew who might have taken his dog, Dave said: “I’ve heard a couple people say (to the dog) ‘we’re going to give you a good home’, like, maybe four walls and a roof. … but I spend 24 hours a day with my dog. I take care of her. She’s my baby.”


Dave M., a homeless man who didn’t want his last name used, says his Alaskan Eskimo dog Cutiepie was stolen on Granville Street.

Mike Bell /

PNG

Dave, who has lived on the street for the past eight months, described Cutiepie as looking like a polar bear, with white hair, short little legs, a small head and a fat body. She’s a calm dog who loved being petted and she would spend hours in his lap being groomed, he said.

Dave asked anyone who has seen Cutiepie to alert the SPCA or the VPD, with whom he said he has filed a police report.

The SPCA has a program to help people who live on the streets care for their pets, and in Chortyk’s experience, people in that situation tend to be “so dedicated” to that cause.

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“Certainly, we’ve met a lot of people who will go without food themselves in order to make sure that their pets are well taken care of,” she said.

Through its Charlie’s pet food bank initiative, the SPCA offers things like nail trims, training tips, veterinary care, surgeries and referrals, as well as food, toys, carriers and leashes. The program is open to donations.

If anyone is concerned about the well-being of any animal they can contact the SPCA at 1-855-622-7722, and the organization can send out a staff member to assess the situation. If needed, they can either take the animal into care or try to help the owner, Chortyk said.

Studies and surveys around the world have repeatedly shown the importance pets can have in the lives of street-involved people, according to a 2014 research review written by Emma Woolley in her capacity as a research assistant with the Canadian Observatory on Homelessness.

Woolley referenced a 2012 paper by Leslie Irvine, titled Animals as Lifechangers and Lifesavers: Pets in the Redemption Narratives of Homeless People, who conducted a series of interviews at pet clinics in the U.S. and found pets had led their owners to give up drugs, escape depression or even choose to continue living.

A Chihuahua was stolen from a panhandler around East Hastings and Nanaimo St. last year, according to CBC. The dog was later recovered by police after it was spotted by a good Samaritan.

Steve Addison, a VPD spokesman, encouraged anyone with information about a crime to call police. He said VPD did not have readily available data on the frequency of pets being stolen.

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9Mar

Canine counsellor Mac hits paws after 13 tail-blazing years of helping

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Mac enjoys his cake at his retirement party at the University of the Fraser Valley last week.


University of the Fraser Valley

After 13 years, Mac the golden retriever will no longer wear the blue-and-yellow vest that identified him as a working dog.

The canine counsellor — the Pacific Assistance Dog Society’s (PADS) longest-serving member — retired last week after a career that saw him become the first registered therapy dog in the world to work with a counsellor in a non-residential setting.

He was also the first to work full time in a hospice and the first to work as a therapy dog with students at the University of the Fraser Valley.

“He’s a trailblazer — or maybe we should say a tail-blazer,” said his owner Dawn Holt, a clinical counsellor who works in UFV’s counselling department. “I think some of those firsts are due to him doing it for so long.”

In addition to supporting students, Mac has helped dozens of people across B.C. through traumatic events, including some of the province’s biggest disasters. He received an “Above and Beyond” award for selflessness in service after the 2017 wildfires. He’s also supported police, consoling officers during funerals, and calmed victims in crisis.


Mac hard at work at UFV.

Submitted photo – University of the Fraser Valley /

PNG

Mac has always had a “calm, mellow, gentle, sweet nature,” said Holt. From his puppy days, he’s been able to detect stress and sadness. “In a room full of people, he’ll go to the person who needs him the most.”

PADS trainers noticed this trait when Mac was young and began to train him as a therapy dog. A volunteer with PADS at the time, Holt began her career as a clinical counsellor at the same time Mac did. The two have always been partners, working in hospice, at UFV and in private practice.

But while Mac is officially retired, he won’t disappear from campus or from his patients’ lives. He can still be seen at the university, albeit without his recognizable vest. Instead, he now wears a UFV T-shirt.

“He doesn’t have that mantle of responsibility anymore,” said Holt.

Students have been surprised to discover that without his vest, Mac is a little more goofy. He’s now allowed to roll around on the campus lawns and sniff bushes.

“I guess he’s been wanting to sniff those bushes for the last 13 years,” quipped Holt. “He knows the difference between the vest, which he wore when he was working, and the T-shirt. He knows the T-shirt is somewhere between full-on work and relaxing at home.”

Holt explained a therapy dog works in two ways. First, they create a physiological response in patients, offering unconditional friendship, which can slow breathing, calm the body and reduce stress hormones. They also work to “build a bridge” between counsellor and patient, calming fears and building trust so the counsellor can do her work.

Mac doesn’t take his work home with him. A good therapy dog can “shake off” a heavy session, literally shaking his coat like he’s just gotten out of a lake.

“I’m so proud of him and the work he’s done,” said Holt.


Mac as a puppy. The 15-year-old golden retriever is the Pacific Assistance Dog Society’s longest-serving member.

Submitted photo – University of the Fraser Valley /

PNG

 


Mac receives a hug from Margaret Trudeau. Over the course of his career, the canine counsellor made 1,792 drop-in visits, participated in 6,187 counselling sessions, and appeared in over 12,000 meet and greets at gyms, arenas, and events.

Submitted photo – University of the Fraser Valley /

PNG

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2Feb

Vancouver woman fights strata to keep emotional support dog

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Stephanie Kallstrom has filed a human rights complaint against her strata to keep her emotional service dog, Ember.


Francis Georgian / Postmedia News

A few months after adopting a border collie mix, Stephanie Kallstrom was able to stop using the anti-anxiety medications she had taken since her teens.

Now, the Vancouver woman is fighting to keep the dog — named Ember — despite her strata’s strict pet policy.

“She (Ember) changed my life,” Kallstrom said Saturday. “I assumed she’d be accommodated here because she’s been accommodated on airplanes, in hotels and at the hospital.”

Kallstrom’s downtown condo allows residents to keep up to two dogs, but she argues Ember shouldn’t be counted in that total because she acts as an emotional support animal (ESA). Kallstrom also has two small poodles.

In B.C., ESAs are not considered service dogs or guide dogs, which are legally allowed in strata properties. In January 2016, the Guide Dog and Service Dog Act came into effect, giving certified handlers “access rights equal to those enjoyed by all members of the public,” according to a provincial government press release.

It also provided a way for dog handlers whose dogs were not trained by an accredited school to apply for certification and have the animals tested by the Justice Institute.

But Kallstrom feels there should be some middle ground. While she plans to go through the process of getting Ember certified as a service dog, she’s concerned that other ESAs wouldn’t be able to pass the rigorous testing required.

“Many people need their ESAs as a vital part of their health, but they couldn’t pass,” she said. “There should be a specific certification for ESAs.”

A quick internet search brings up a host of sites claiming to certify ESAs. For less than $100 and the time it takes to answer a few questions, owners can obtain certificates, vests and collars to identify their animals.

“I realize there’s a lot of fake emotional support dogs out there,” said Kallstrom. “But there’s also a lot of legitimate ones, and there should be some way to tell the difference.”

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The Vancouver woman is open about her struggles with mental health, including post-traumatic stress, anxiety and depression, which have dogged her since she was 10 years of age. After adopting Ember in Abbotsford in 2014, she was able to stop taking medication, a milestone witnessed by her doctor, who provided her with a letter recognizing the dog’s assistance.

As a result, Ember has been allowed on flights, in hotels and department stores. When Kallstrom had surgery at a Vancouver hospital, the dog was permitted in her room during recovery.

“She uses tactile stimulation to avoid a crisis and keep me safe,” she said. “She can sense what I’m feeling, and she’s there with a lick or a nudge or a paw.”

On Saturday, Ember sat quietly on Kallstrom’s couch, her nose resting on her paws, her large brown eyes tracking movements. Later, on a noisy city street, she walked calmly beside her owner.

The use of ESAs has increased dramatically in the last decade. A 2015 study by researchers at the University of California found a tenfold increase in the number of animals used for psychiatric services registered by animal control facilities in California between 2000 and 2002 compared to 2010 and 2012.

ESAs have also been the subject of dozens of news stories and viral videos. Last week, a Pennsylvania man made headlines when he said his emotional support alligator helped him deal with his depression. In January 2018, airline staff stopped an emotional support peacock from flying with its owner.

In January, both United Airlines and Delta Air Lines tightened their rules around ESAs, saying they will no longer allow ESA puppies and kittens under four months old and barring them completely on longer flights. The airlines cited complaints about allergies, soiled cabins and aggressive animals for the change.

The blurring of the line between legitimate service dogs and emotional support dogs can cause problems for people with certified service dogs, Tara Doherty, spokeswoman for Pacific Assistance Dogs Society (PADs), told Postmedia News in a previous interview.

“We’ve had reports of businesses not being open to certified service dogs because of their experiences with an ill-behaved dog,” she said. “It’s a significant concern because it creates a bad reputation for legitimate service dogs.”

Kallstrom has filed a complaint with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal to argue her case.

With Postmedia files

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