Welcome Yorkie lovers

As a Yorkie owner, Yorkie sitter and organizer of a Yorkie play group I'm often asked for tips and advice on Yorkie training and behavior - Is it possible to housebreak a Yorkie? Why does my Yorkie go nuts in the car? What do you do about a Yorkie Boy peeing on his long fur? How do I get my Yorkie to wear those cute little booties (you don't, in my opinion)?

Yorkshire Terriers are energetic, active, intelligent, beautiful, fun and lovable dogs. If you let them, they can be demanding, bossy, barky, "marky" and totally overwhelm and rule your life.

In this blog I'll talk about my experiences with my two rambunctious balls of fur named Sampson and Daisy and show some of the things that make our life better - and maybe your's too.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Crash-testing pet car restraint systems - It's a start!

The good news: Finally someone is testing pet vehicle safety products. The bad news: Most of them failed.

Safe car travel for dogs is a relatively new industry. There are no state laws requiring restraining pets in cars. There are no U.S. federal regulations for harness restraints, crates and booster seats for canine car safety. The makers can make claims of safety without ever strength testing or crash testing their products. Typically however, if you read their product descriptions, they do not claim that the product will protect the dog in the event of a crash. The description states that the product is designed to restrain the dog from having movement around the car, by which they can interfere with the driver and cause an accident or impact the driver in a crash.

Germany leads the way in enforcing a European Union law requiring pets to be restrained in vehicles. It's not surprising then that it's from Germany that I find the first non-partisan crash testing of pet restraints that I'm aware of. The ADAC, like AAA in the U.S., tested various pet seat-belt harnesses and crates secured in different locations in the vehicle. I encourage you to read the full report (with photos) and watch the video of one of the test scenarios.

ADAC Test Report - Securing Pets in Cars
ADAC Test Video - harness and crate scenario

The results are discouraging. Most systems failed. Some badly. The tests were done at 30 mph with a 48-pound test dog dummy and a 9-pound test cat dummy in a crate. Harness systems failed in two areas. The carbiner clips broke, releasing the test dog dummy to fly around the cabin, and the restraint tethers were too long or loose, allowing the test dog to hit the back of the front seat.

Most shocking to me is that the plastic crate strapped to the back seat was crushed by the force of the seat belt, freeing the pet to be thrown around the cabin. The crate door immediately popped off too. The testing did not test a harness system or booster seat with harness for a small dog, like a Yorkie.

The big question is whether the carbiner clips and harness clips would hold the force of a small dog in a crash. The force of a 7-lb object in a 30 mph impact is 210 pounds. So do you think your system would hold a 210 pound object? Or more in a crash with higher speeds?

The best results came when the test dog was using a harness system with two attachments. I've looked all over the internet and I can't find any such product, though it must be available in Germany. Other good results came from a crate set on the floor behind the front seat. In the testing the crate was not forced loose in the cab, but there was nothing restraining it. You'd have to scoot the seat back as far as possible and maybe lower the seat back to try to secure it. I drive a Honda Element and there's way too much room behind the seat to secure a crate. Another good method used a crate in the back of an SUV or hatchback and with a wire barrier to the passenger area, though it's not clear whether the crate was strapped down somehow.

I can't tell you from these results the best way to secure your Yorkie in the car. I can only offer suggestions.

Harness - A car safety harness that attaches to a seat buckle may be strong enough for a little dog. Make sure it's durable and has metal buckles and clips. Make sure the tether is short enough that the dog wouldn't hit the back of the seat. The downside is that on the seat your little dog can't see out. And that makes for an unhappy ride. Oh, and if you find a small dog harness with a two-point attachment to the seat, please let me know!

Crate - A metal crate belted to the seat is less likely to break apart. A crate on the floor behind the front seat may be the safest, if you can secure it.

Car booster seats - Though not tested, some of the guidelines apply. The buckles and clips should be metal and able to withstand 210 pounds of force. The car seat should be held tightly by the seatbelt, not allowing it to move forward on impact. The movement of the car seat along with the harness tether should be short enough to prevent the pet from impacting the back of the front seat. Note that most pet car booster seats and merely that - boosters. They are not designed or advertised for safety. They are designed to let your Yorkie see out.

While we may not have the best options for our Yorkies, any type of restraint is better than having a loose dog in the car. Never put your Yorkie in the front seat, restrained or otherwise. The impact of the air bag would certainly kill a small dog. And never attempt to secure them by a collar, which could strangle or break the neck.

Let's hope we see laws and regulations in the U.S. for pet car safety. With regulation we may someday have products that really work. For now, do the best you can. Car makers, including GMC, Volvo and Subaru are getting into the action, building in restraint system for our pets. Keep watch for my next blog topic, where I'll give these a closer look.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

New rapid rabies test. It's about time!

If you read my blog you know that those who use fear to push over-use of the rabies vaccine is one of my soap-boxes (see Fear-mongering isn't just for politicians, below). A new rapid rabies test may take away some of the fear pressure.

Current rabies testing requires the dog or other animal to be euthanized in order for the brain tissue to be tested. Typically this is only done when the animal has never been vaccinated for rabies, is believed to have been exposed to rabies, and has bitten a person. Rabies can be fatal in days once it has reached the brain tissue, so doctors can't wait if they need to admister rabies shots to a person. The shots are quite painful and expensive, so they don't want to do it unless they are sure of the exposure.

The new portable Rabies RAPID™ (Rapid Antibody Portable Immunodetection) Screen, by the Dyne Immune corporation, can detect the presence of rabies in an animal saliva sample within 30 minutes. The new test is sure to be hugely successful at animal shelters and especially in the Third World, where rabies in dogs is common. Canine rabies in the U.S. is rare, due to the prevalence of rabies vaccination. Most people who get rabies get it from other animals, like skunks, racoons and bats. The test is cheap, portable and can be used in the field. Quick test results greatly improve treatment, for animals and people. And long quarantines for animals suspected of rabies may be a thing of the past.

The RAPID screen will surely result in fewer dogs put down needlessly. As a side benefit, its availability may make it easier for animal advocacy groups supporting the Rabies Challenge Fund to pursuade regulatory agencies to lesson the frequency of mandatory rabies vaccination.

The test is available and beginning to be put to use.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Buckle up Bella and Bailey

This week I heard two reports of car crashes caused by potentially unrestrained dogs. One was fatal, for owner and dogs. Another was lucky.

In the mountains outside of Colorado Springs, James McLaughlin lost control of his car, ran off the road and plunged 300 feet down the mountain, after his Jack Russell terrier, Dexter, suddenly jumped onto his lap. Both McLaughlin and Dexter survived, after waiting 12 hours for rescue.

I hear these stories all the time, yet nearly every week I see drivers with their toy poodle on their lap or their Labrador retriever unrestrained in the back seat, nose out the window. You buckle yourself in and restrain your children. Why wouldn't you restrain your family dog? And if not for the life of your dog, what about for yourself and other people on the road?

Unrestrained dogs in cars are dangerous for many reasons.
  • An excited or nervous dog can interfere with the driver and lead to a crash.
  • In a crash a dog is thrown around the car and can injure passengers, as well as the driver.
  • In the event of an accident, the dog may get loose from the car or be released by rescuers opening the car door, then run away or into traffic, causing another accident.
  • A dog with his head out the window can easily get eye damage or be injured by debris.
  • Front and side air bags can injure a dog in the front seat.
  • Even if there is no crash, many a dog has been lost by bolting out the car door when opened.
Medium and large dogs can easily be restrained by a $20 pet safety harness that buckles to the car seat belt. Pet barriers that keep a dog from accessing the driver can also be helpful. Small dogs may be restrained by a safety harness, but typically these are not made in small enough sizes for toy breeds. Small dogs can ride safely in a crate strapped to the car seat belt.

If Bella or Bailey prefer to see where they are going, a car booster seat may do the trick. A booster seat allows the dog to see out the window, but also secures them via a good harness to a safety strap. The booster seat is secured by the car's seat belt.

Sampson and Daisy both have their own booster seats - the Pet Stow-Away by Global Pet (but also sold now by other makers as the Pet Stow-Away or Pet Stow & Go). Riding in their booster seats keeps them from getting jostled around a car, which makes a car ride much less stressful. And because they can see out, there's no jumping around or on my lap. They also have a comfy bed to lie down in on long trips.

My parents, Grandma and Grandpa to my Yorkies, can attest to the booster seat too. A couple years ago I left Sampson and Daisy with them while I went on vacation. I left the booster seat too and at that time both dogs rode in one seat, using a leash coupler to connect them to the buckle. My parents decided to bring them home for me and save me a trip. They thought, it's only 10 minutes away, we don't need to belt in the car seat. My Dad drove and my Mom held them - at least that was the plan. They got a few blocks away and Sampson was especially anxious, jumping all over the place and my Mom was unable to restrain him. Dad pulled over on the side of the road so they could buckle in the car seat. Once in their car seat, they rode calmly. I'm grateful there was no accident and neither dog ran out the car door.

While I often recommend a car booster seat for small dogs, not all seats are created equal. Also, there's no Federally regulated pet safety agency, testing products and requiring safety standards. I seriously doubt that any of the product manufacturers do any safety testing of their own. Many of the booster seats on the market are more about fashion and fun, than a safe ride and survivability in a crash. Until pet owners have better choices, you'll have to use your best judgment.

What to look for in a pet car booster seat:
  • Durable materials. Some of the worst are homemade from PVC pipe and fabric covers.
  • Be wary of over the seat styles, which may not be secured well and may fling off in a crash or sudden stop.
  • Check for a secure attachment method of the booster seat to the car seat belt. Make sure it will work with 3-point seat belts, which are common now in back seats.
  • Check for a secure attachment method for the dog's harness to the seat. Make sure the strap is secured well into the seat and not just sewn on to a fabric cover.
  • Never put your dog in a booster in the front seat. An air bag deployment would likely be fatal for them.
A well-secured crate is likely the safest option for your Yorkie. Look for a crate that is designed to be buckled in to a seat belt. Otherwise, place the crate sideways on the seat and pull a 3-point belt over the crate and tighten the buckle. You can also buy a special harness for securing a crate.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

When you're down and out, Man's Best Friend is the best. Just ask Mickey Rourke

As we dog lovers can attest, when you're really down, there's no better friend that your best friend - your dog. At the 2009 Golden Globe Awards held January 11 in Beverly Hills, Mickey Rourke included his dogs in his Best Actor Award acceptance speech, for his lead role in the movie, The Wrestler.

In what is surely a first for the award show, after thanking his agent, director, producers and co-stars, Rourke then said he'd like to thank his dogs, the ones that are still with him now, and those that had passed on.

"Sometimes when a man's alone, all you got is your dog and they meant the world to me."

It's not entirely clear what Rourke's problems have been during his 15 year hiatus from films, but it was certainly a dark period for him of depression, poverty and humiliation. He found solace rescuing Chihuahuas and states that one, named Beau Jack, is probably responsible for him still being here.

"He looked at me and it meant who's going to take care of him, if I'm not here." Rourke stated in an interview with Carole Cadwalladr with The Observer in 2008.

In 2007, activists joined Rourke to protest a South Florida pet store, claiming it sold him a puppy with Parvo, that he'd bought for a friend. He's been seen often at events with his Chihuahua companions at his side - Beau Jack, now deceased and Beau Jack's offspring, Loki, now 16 years old.

"She’s like a giant Xanax, you know? I’m not going to get religious on your ass, but I truly believe God created dogs for a cause. They are the greatest companions a man could ever have."

I understand completely. Getting my first Yorkie lifted my mood from years of mild depression and it never came back. It was like a switch going off in my brain. I don't know if it was having someone to take care of, his pheromones affecting me, or just that he's so dang cute, fun and makes me smile all the time.

When I think celebrities with Chihuahuas, Mickey Rourke is not what comes to mind. Congratulations Mickey on your comeback and your greatest win - the love of your little companions.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Health insurance, for my dog?

Would you spare no expense for the health and life of your dog? For me, as long as the treatment wouldn't put my dog through too much pain and discomfort. Do you have a savings account you could dip into for a huge vet bill? Uh, what savings? Would you have to put that bill on a credit card for which it would take years to pay off? Yep, that's me.

Almost two years ago I bought pet insurance for Sampson and Daisy. I read articles, went over my budget, reviewed insurance plans, and calculated how much I'd have in a few years if I put the premium amount into a dedicated savings account instead. I discovered that there were two types of pet insurance: old-style plans that pay off a Schedule of Benefits and reset every year and new-style plans that are designed for life-long coverage and cover a greater amount of claims. You'll pay more in premiums though. Here, I share with you my findings.

Savings account or not

I ended up with monthly premiums of $20 and $25, respectively for Daisy and Sampson (Sampson's older, so slightly higher premium). That $45 per month fit my budget and gave me peace of mind. Let's say I put that $45/month into a savings account, in 4 years I'd have a little over $2000 and in 10 years I'd have over $5000. These amounts would be somewhat higher than this because of interest in the savings account and the fact that the premiums would go up as the dogs age, but it's a ballpark figure. In 4 years, that $2000 would not be enough to cover a major surgery for one dog. And in 10 years, that $5000 would not be enough to cover, say, a cancer treatment, let alone all the other incidents and illnesses that may come up for two dogs in 10 years. And what about discipline? Would you continue to contribute dutifully to the account and not dip into it for other needs?

The bottomless pit of credit card debt

I'm not going to elaborate on this one much - it's a no brainer. Putting a $4,000 or more vet bill on a credit card would cost you an astronomical amount to pay off on a credit card due to the high interest, not to mention years to pay.

Choosing a pet insurance plan

As with your own health insurance, there are vast differences in pet insurance plans. Here's a guide to understanding them and what to look for - and look out for - in finding long-term, major accident and illness coverage.

Routine care
Coverage for routine care, like vaccinations and checkups, was too costly with every plan I researched. Meaning you'll pay more for the coverage of routine care than you would for the care on your own.

Reasonable and customary charges
Rule out any company (such as VPI) that pays claims based on a Schedule of Benefits, which is basically a list of how much they pay maximum for a condition, test, etc. Typically these are much lower than actual vet charges. So the insurer says that they pay 80%, but only up to the Schedule of Benefits amount. Look for companies paying out claims based on "reasonable and customary charges" just like your own HMO or PPO. I don't think pet insurance is worthwhile with companies using a Schedule of Benefits. The portion of the claim paid is too low, even though the premiums are low, to be worthwhile. You'd be better of with the savings account.

Read reviews online and rule out companies that have really poor ratings. A quick Google search will yield some review sites. You can also check the Better Business Bureau ratings. Make sure the company appears reputable and has a good insurance underwriter. I'd also say to make sure the company has been in business a long time, but that may be difficult. Pet insurance is a relatively new and growing field. There may be excellent new players.

Ideal coverage
Customarily, pet insurance providers have excluded genetic and hereditary conditions. However, competition has caused some providers to rethink that and I was able to locate a couple that cover genetic and hereditary conditions. None that I found cover pre-existing conditions, so enroll while your dogs are still healthy. Know that when you enroll, they'll get all your vet records and exclude any pre-existing conditions or potentially pre-existing conditions. I was also able to locate a company that covered alternative therapies, which could be really beneficial for treatment of your pet.

Long-term illness, lifetime coverage
Make sure that a major illness continues to be covered for the life of your pet. Believe it or not, many companies "reset" the policies every year at renewal. That means coverage ends for any illnesses that previous plan year and they become pre-existing conditions that will never be covered again.

Premium cost
Monthly premiums vary, depending on the level of coverage. You'll pay more for more thorough coverage and reimbursement. You might also want to get an idea of how much the premiums will increase at renewal each year as your dog ages. You should get a discount for insuring multiple pets.

Coverage limits
Most plans have yearly and lifetime coverage limits, as well as incident limits. Make sure you understand them. Since I was looking for major accident or illness coverage, I wanted a high per incident limit or high yearly limit.

My choice

I chose PetPlan USA pet insurance, with their Bronze plan. It came to $45 a month for Sampson (age 4 at time of purchase) and Daisy (age 1 at time of purchase). PetPlan USA has a novel approach, allowing you to choose your plan and customize the coverage percentage (coinsurance) and deductible. They have a handy wizard for quoting premiums. I went with a higher, $200 deductible per incident or illness and 100% coverage - I pay nothing after the $200. The premiums go up quite a bit when I reduce the deductible, but since I was wanting coverage for major incidents, this was acceptable. I've found PetPlan's customer service to be excellent, with U.S.-based agents, and processing claims to be very timely. The claim form is simple and I get email alerts of claims received and processed.

In the almost two years I've had pet insurance, I've only had small claims, so I've only gone over the $200 deductible once. I'm confident that over the life of my two lovely dogs I'll have some big claims and be grateful for the pet insurance.

Vet clinic decisions

Another bonus, having the insurance makes decisions at the vet's office easier. Deciding on that expensive blood panel or procedure, knowing that the portion over the deductible will be covered, is a relief. Pet insurance may just give you peace of mind.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Yorkies saved from Paris, Brittany and friends

Brittany and Paris will have to go elsewhere for their pocket pooches. Four ritzy LA and Beverly Hills pet stores that cater to high profile puppy buyers, have been successfully closed in recent months following a year-long campaign organized by Best Friends Animal Society.

The successful campaign packed and two-punch approach. Activists were able to trace puppies being sold at the stores to puppy mills, while the store clerks were telling buyers that the puppies did not come from puppy mills, resulting in allegations of fraud. And outside the stores, protesters garnered support from the neighborhoods and kept potential buyers away. Posh Puppy of Beverly Hills closed in May and Pet Love of Los Angeles, described as the Goliath of them all, closed in December.

I'm sure Paris and Brittany will just fly to New York for their new furry fashion accessory pooches, but this is a huge step in cleaning up the retail pet trade. And best of all Best Friends has defined an effective model that you can follow in your own community.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Fear-mongering isn't just for politicians

Veterinary care is big business. And whenever profits are involved, so is corruption. Yes, even when it comes to taking care of your best friend. Some of the best fear tactics come for your veterinarian and even from animal adoption organizations who provide veterinary services. Learn to recognize "fear-mongering," question their motives and make an educated decision for your Yorkie's health.

Distorted claims

Here's an example from the Boulder Humane Society's October 2008 newsletter, which greatly exaggerating the need for current rabies vaccinations, "Is Your Pet Protected From Rabies"

"If a pet isn’t current on this vaccination, that is required by law, then the animal must be quarantined at a veterinary hospital for six months. If the guardian cannot afford this expensive quarantine then the State will require that the pet be euthanized. Don’t let this happen to your pet!"


"Rabies is 100% preventable and yet 55,000 people worldwide die of rabies each year."

Actually, Section 6-1-24 of the Boulder municipal code states a 10-day quarantine. And that's if your dog bites someone and if the dog has never been vaccinated for rabies. Also, most quarantines, for dogs that have been vaccinated for rabies, though expired, are allowed to be in your own home, unless there's probable cause that the dog is a danger and you would not comply with the quarantine. A six-month quarantine is rare and extreme. And "euthanized"? The only time a dog would be euthanized is if it or the person it bit started showing symptoms of rabies, which is highly unlikely.

As far as the yearly death toll quoted of 55,000 people worldwide, that is true. However, the article fails to state that those are mostly in third world countries without our widespread vaccination programs. The average U.S. death toll for rabies yearly is 1, and those are individuals typically bitten by bats or racoons.

So what about your own veterinarian?

You get a card in the mail saying that vaccinations are due for your dog. You're a responsible dog owner and want to make sure you protect your dog, so you bring him in. In the lobby and everywhere you look are publications and posters professing the problems of fleas and ticks, the importance of vaccination boosters and the dangers of heartworm, complete with grotesque pictures of canine hearts infested with heartworms. These materials are nothing more than advertisements provided by the drug manufacturers. Your vet makes a steady profit administering heartworm "preventative," flea and tick control and all those vaccination boosters. And it gets you into the clinic for a checkup.

That's only the beginning. Next comes the veterinarian. I recall conversations such as "you're better off having them on heartworm preventative all year round" or "I'd hate to be treating them for heartworm next spring." And "well, yes, a three-year rabies booster is allowed now, but I recommend a yearly booster to make sure they're protected." More on these subjects later.

Breath of fresh air

My veterinarian's office is refreshing. The lobby is full of natural, healthy foods and chews, nutritional supplements and natural remedies for basic care. The posters are of happy, healthy pets. The only publications are reprints of articles about natural care, homemade feeding, and holistic approaches to vaccination and pest control. Nowhere are the advertisements from drug manufacturers. Absent are the usual fear-inducing photos of heartworm infestation and distorted statistics.

I'm not advocating not vaccinating your pets. I'm not advocating not putting your dogs on heartworm. Just do your research online before you go. The major veterinarian universities and the American Veterinary Medical Association now endorse three-year protocols for rabies and many other vaccinations, as opposed to yearly boosters. Those yearly boosters may very well do more harm than good. And if you don't live in an endemic area of the country, your dogs may not need heartworm preventative at all - or not year-round. Vaccinations, heartworm preventative and flea and tick control help your veterinarian to pad the bill. Heartworm preventative is not a preventative at all - it's a wormer. It's a poison that kills baby heartworms, if present, before they reach the adult stage. It's actually a small dose of heartworm treatment, but "preventative" sounds much less harmful.

How to beat the fear-tactics
  • Read publications, such as The Whole Dog Journal, which advocates natural care and has no advertisers to bow to. And check out blogs, such as Pet Connection, full of pet news and no nonsense.

  • If your vet's office is papered in drug manufacturer posters and publications, find a new vet. Otherwise you're probably helping send him on a trip to Hawaii from the drug company. They provide incentives for prescribing these meds, just as with your own doctor.

  • If your vet believes your dog needs yearly boosters for rabies (in states where a three-year vaccine is allowed by law), find one who isn't such an old fogey.

  • Learn to listen for those fear-mongering words and, if they are overwhelming and add a lot of charges to your bill, go elsewhere.

  • Ask questions regarding the necessity and safety of any prescribed medication. If you don't get satisfactory information to make an education decision, look it up online - then find a new vet.