Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Brain scans may soon tell us what our dogs are thinking

See Hope's Story Below
What does your dog see when he gazes at you adoringly? A best friend? A pack leader? A can opener? While many of us draw countless inferences regarding what our dog may be thinking about us, no one has actually captured images of the canine thought process - until now.

Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta have developed a new methodology for scanning the brains of alert dogs. The Public Library of Science will soon publish their results, which will show how the brains of dogs reacted to hand signals given by their owners.

The technique uses harmless functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), the same tool that is unlocking the secrets of the human brain.

"It was amazing to see the first brain images of a fully awake, unrestrained dog," said Gregory Berns, a neuroeconomist and director of the Emory Center for Neuropolicy, and lead researcher of the dog project.

It is hoped this research will open new understanding into canine cognition and inter-species communication. The research is innovative in that it is exploring the dog-human relationship from the dog's perspective.

Two dogs are involved in the project. Callie is a 2-year-old Feist, which is a squirrel-hunting dog developed from crossbreeding various hunting breeds in the rural southern United States. Berns adopted Callie when she was 9 months old from an animal shelter.

McKenzie is a 3-year-old border collie, who was already well trained in agility competition by her owner, Melissa Cate.

Both dogs were trained to walk into an fMRI scanner and hold completely still while researchers measured their neural activity.

The researchers are attempting to decode the mental processes of dogs by recording which areas of their brains are activated by various stimuli. Ultimately, they hope to answer questions like: Do dogs have empathy? Do they know when their owners are happy or sad? How much language do they really understand?

The dogs were trained to respond to hand signals. One signal meant the dogs would receive a treat; another meant they would not. The caudate region of the brain, associated with rewards in humans, showed activation in both dogs when they saw the signal for a treat, but there was no such activity for the no-treat signal.

These findings support the Yavapai Humane Society's philosophy that dogs respond better to positive stimuli (rewards) than they do to negative (punishment).

"These results indicate dogs pay very close attention to human signals. And these signals may have a direct line to the dog's reward system," Berns says.

Dog lovers have always been aware that there is something special about our bond with dogs. No other animal loves us in quite the same way. Over thousands of years, a collective domestication has occurred in which humans formed an intense bond with dogs - and the admiration is almost always reciprocal. It is a love that only dogs and humans possess; begging the question - was the human capacity for love, sympathy, empathy, and compassion for nature and other species sparked by this unique bond?

Beginning Monday, June 4, the Yavapai Humane Society is launching a new brain-stimulating Enrichment Program. This program is designed to help improve the lives of the animals in our care. Effective June 4 YHS will open at 11 a.m., allowing us to dedicate a full hour (10-11 a.m.) each day to enrichment training and activities intended to help make our animals happier and more adoptable.

If you would like to help support YHS's many life-saving programs, please send a donation to 1625 Sundog Ranch Road, Prescott AZ 86301, or make a donation online at

The dog in the picture above is Hope - a true pit bull ambassador.  Hope was recently rescued from Best Friend's LA who had sent her to a high kill shelter.  Hope represents everything that is good about the breed. She is an affectionate and loyal 9-month-old puppy wanting only to please. She is spayed, vaccinated and microchipped and ready to be adopted at the Yavapa Humane Society today.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Yavapai Humane Society needs your help to sustain "No-Kill" status

In July 2010, the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) embraced a principle called "no-kill."

More than a policy and statistical objective, no-kill is an ethic, and once applied the practical consequences immediately fell into place. In less than two years, YHS decreased killing by 88 percent and is maintaining a 95 percent live release rate. That means 95 percent of the animals rescued by YHS are ultimately placed into loving homes. This life affirming revolution has made our community the safest for pets in the entire Mountain Region, which includes Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah.

YHS defines no-kill as applying the same criteria for deciding a shelter animal's fate that a loving pet guardian or conscientious veterinarian would apply to an owned pet. That is, healthy and treatable animals are not killed simply because of a lack of room or resources to care for them.

The practice of killing animals has never been anyone's idea of a perfect solution - let alone anyone's idea of giving "shelter" to creatures in need. The willful elimination of healthy animals with good years left is enough to move the hardest heart. That is why YHS has made this commitment: No animal that comes through our doors will be killed out of convenience or a lack of space. For every one of them there is a kind and loving person or family - and it is our mission to bring them together.

Since swearing off euthanasia as a solution to pet overpopulation, YHS has received tremendous public support. This support made possible a $75,000 state of the art cattery, an $80,000 enrichment program which includes many facility and staff enhancements, a $45,000 X-ray machine, $20,000 in commercial laundry equipment, a $3,000 grooming station, $50,000 worth of solar energy equipment and many other amenities.

YHS is thankful to those who financially helped transform our agency into a modern, effective humane society through these purchases. But we also need help meeting the daily needs of our animals. These needs are more basic and more expensive; they include food, water, utilities, medicine and sufficient staff to care for the thousands of animals YHS rescues each year.

Many think local government helps pay for these services. In fact, the governments of Prescott, Prescott Valley and Yavapai County combined make up only 9 percent of the YHS budget. This means YHS depends on you to help us provide for the health, safety and welfare of homeless pets in our community.

How can you help? By becoming a monthly P.A.W.S. donor! When you join P.A.W.S. (Planned Automatic Withdrawal Service) an automatic monthly donation of your choice is sent to YHS without the hassle of writing and mailing in a check. Each month our secure system automatically processes your donation. You can sign up with Visa, MasterCard or Discover and choose the amount that feels comfortable to you. You can also change or cancel your participation at any time.

If everyone reading this article donated $1 a day - 30 bucks a month - YHS could confidently continue to save animals' lives, fight cruelty and rescue homeless animals in need. Participating in this program also entitles you to many YHS membership benefits.

Participation in P.A.W.S. is easy. Just go to and choose a pre-set amount or designate your own monthly gift. Then check the box that says, "Repeat this donation every month" and enter how many months you want to repeat your gift. If you have any questions about P.A.W.S., give us call at 445-2666 ext. 21.

Together we can continue to make our community the safest for pets in all the Mountain Region!

Patches, Buttons, Popper and Topper are 3-month-old female kittens ready for adoption for just $40 each. Adoption includes spay surgery, vaccinations and a microchip. This foursome is featured on the YHS Kitty Cam, which you can view 24 hours a day at
Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Yavapai Humane Society puts cats to work - to save their lives

YHS puts feral cats to work!
The Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) is fond of letting the cat out of the bag. I'm referring of course to the feral cats that roam residential neighborhoods, lurking about office buildings and commercial garages scavenging for food.

Unlike cats that rub up against you hoping for a treat or a pat on the head, these felines are so unaccustomed to human contact that they dart away when people approach. Feral cats are wild and cannot be turned into house pets. When they end up in shelters they have little hope of coming out alive.

So last year YHS launched a Barn Cat program to help save their lives - by putting them to work.

In a perfect world, all cats would have a loving home. Unfortunately, unaltered cats permitted to roam freely either become feral or produce feral offspring. Rather than kill feral cats, YHS promotes reducing their population through a process called TNR (trap/neuter/return).

Through the Barn Cat program, spayed and neutered feral cats are released into areas where they can do what they do best: prevent an overpopulation of rodents. Their reputation as stealthy and successful exterminators is well known and many homeowners and businesses rely on cats as a "green" rat abatement program.

Benefits of the Barn Cat program include: 1) alleviating pressure on overcrowded shelters; 2) keeping rodents in check without pest control chemicals that are toxic to the environment and dangerous to pets, wildlife and children; and 3) reducing public health risks in our community.

Rodents carry many diseases including plague, leptospirosis, hantavirus, murine typhus, rat bite fever, salmonella enterica serovar typhimurium, and eosinophilic meningitis.

"With so many rodents, why do cats go hungry?" Rodents are not dumb - they flee when cats make their presence known. These sleek legends of grace and beauty give off an odor through their paws as they prowl. Once rodents get a whiff of feline, they vacate the premises.

Less grisly and more effective than glue traps, cats go about their "work" naturally. They prowl, they eat, and they sit in the sun; although they prefer to spend much of their time hiding.

Feral cats participating in the Barn Cat program are spayed or neutered, vaccinated, microchipped and ear-tipped (under anesthesia while the cats are being altered, veterinarians notch an ear tip, the widely recognized sign that a feral cat is altered). All this for just $30 per cat; a minimum of two cats is recommended per location.

When these cats are "employed" they are transported in large wire cages and housed for about a month at their new location. This process is called recolonizing. It takes about 30 days for a feral cat to be comfortable enough to consider their new environs home. YHS will help you colonize your cats and teach you how to care for them.

Barn cats can be put in any safe area -- businesses, hotels, industrial parks, residences, and of course, barns. If you are interested in participating in this cost-effective, humane rat abatement program, call YHS to be added to the barn cat list. You will be contacted when your cats are ready for you.

If you don't have a rat problem but love cats and would like to help fund this non-lethal and humane feral cat program, please make a donation to YHS and specify "Barn Cat program".

For more information on feral cats, visit For more information on the YHS Barn Cat program or to place an order for your very own feral cats call 445-2666.

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Your pet has a deadly enemy lurking in the tall grass

See Drummer Boy's story below
Its that time of year again when your pet has a deadly enemy lurking in the tall grass. This enemy, known as “foxtail”, comes in the form of several species of grassy weeds found throughout Arizona.  These weeds grow rapidly during the winter/spring rains, and then dry out in the summer months. As foxtail grasses mature, a seed forms at the top of the stalk. The seed resembles a fox's tail, hence the name.

When pet owners talk about "foxtails," they are speaking of the seed portion of the foxtail grass. Once foxtail grasses dry out, the seed detaches easily and sticks readily to clothing and fur. Foxtail seeds can enter a dog's body in a variety of ways and once in they act like an animated fishhook: the seed continues to move inward through the dog’s body, and because of tiny barbs, it cannot back out on its own.

It's most common for a foxtail to enter a dog's body through the skin, nose, ears, paws, genitals, and eyes. One veterinarian reported that a foxtail found in a dog's lung initially entered through the dog's paw. Foxtails are tenacious and deadly.

Foxtail seeds are relatively small, so detecting them after they enter a dog's body can be difficult. Veterinarians usually rely on telltale symptoms such as head-shaking, paw licking, swellings on the body, or sudden and continuous sneezing. Foxtails in the ears, nose, and eyes are serious and can ultimately be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

When a foxtail is inhaled and lodged in the nasal cavity, the dog will sneeze repeatedly and violently, sometimes even banging his nose on the floor with each sneeze in a futile attempt to dislodge the seed. It is often possible for a veterinarian to sedate the animal, locate the seed with an otoscope, and remove it using special forceps if the animal is brought in when symptoms first appear.

If a foxtail is lodged in the paw or under the coat, a lump will usually form that is painful to touch. Depending on how deep the foxtail has traveled it can usually be removed surgically.

When a foxtail gets into a dog's eye, the dog will usually paw at the eye and the eye will water. When you see a foxtail under the eyelid don't try to remove it yourself. There's a good chance you may not get it all. Keep your dog from pawing the eye and get him to a veterinarian immediately, preferably a veterinary opthomologist.

When your dog gets a foxtail in an ear, he will usually shake his head violently. When you suspect a foxtail, get your dog to a veterinarian immediately. The best way to handle foxtail problems is to prevent them or treat them early.

Whenever possible avoid foxtail infested areas – especially during the dry season. But after a romp through tall, mature grass follow these steps:

• Thoroughly brush and inspect your dog's coat. Run your hands over his coat looking for foxtails. Dogs with long hair are particularly susceptible to foxtails.

• Look into your dog's ears. If your dog has floppy ears, lift each ear and inspect.

• Examine your dog’s paws (in-between toes and paw pads), neck (under the collar), tail/anus, and under leg areas after walks in areas with foxtails. Remove any foxtails sitting on the fur.

• If you believe your dog has a foxtail seed lodged somewhere in its body, get him to a veterinarian immediately. The longer you wait, the deeper the foxtail will travel and the more damage it will do, and the more difficult it will be to treat.

Learn to recognize foxtails and avoid them! Foxtail danger in our parks can be greatly reduced by simply mowing the grass regularly, especially in the late spring. Mowing cuts off the foxtail grass before the deadly seed forms.

The dog pictured above is Drummer Boy who is helping YHS launch its Memorial Day Adoptathon. YHS is waiving all adoption fees for veterans and active-duty soldiers for the rest of May, and we are reducing adoption fees by 50 percent for anyone who mentions the name of a veteran they know. Come on down to YHS today and reconnoiter with Drummer Boy, a free-spirited shepherd mix who wants to wear your dog tag!

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21.

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Adopt your party animal at Cinco de Meow/Bow Wow

See Cameo's bio below
This week's column is a roundup of exciting information and announcements:

Cinco de Meow and Bow Wow: This Saturday is Cinco de Mayo and YHS is paying tribute by celebrating its own Cinco de Meow and Bow Wow Adoptathon. On Saturday and Sunday you can pick your own price for any cat or dog six months or older. The only exception is animals that more than one party is interested in; those animals are available through the YHS auction process.

YHS Annual Meeting: You are invited to learn more about how YHS is effectively promoting and protecting the health, safety and welfare of lost and homeless pets than ever before - and how you can help - at the YHS annual meeting at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, May 5, at the Yavapai Title Company located at 1235 East Gurley Street in Prescott. There will be lots of topics discussed and staff will be available to answer your questions about our many life-saving programs.

Thrift Shop Half Off Sale: From clothing and household items to jewelry and more, the YHS Thrift Shop is loaded with great deals for every bargain hound! Every first Saturday is a 50 percent off sale and this Saturday Sale is in sync with our Cinco de Meow and Bow Wow celebration. So come on down to our Thrift Shop located at 1046 Willow Creek Road between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. for the best thrifting deals in town.

Big Fix Expanded: The YHS Big Fix program already provides low-cost spay/neuter services to low-income pet owners who meet specific criteria. One of the donors who generously donated towards the X-ray machine (mentioned below) also gave an additional gift to be used to spay/neuter pets belonging to veterans and active military.

If you are a veteran wanting to have your pet altered, contact the YHS Spay/Neuter Clinic at 771-0547 to schedule an appointment. There is only a $25 co-pay for Big Fix participants.

The Kitty Cams are Live: Can anything be more fun than watching a room full of cats at play? Well now you can do that any time of day or night. Just go to the YHS website and you will be in for some of the best entertainment you can find anywhere in Prescott. All the cats you see are up for adoption.

X-ray Goal Achieved: In my Feb. 8 column, I expressed the Yavapai Humane Society's desire to celebrate our 40th anniversary this year by raising $40,000 to obtain a life-saving X-ray machine. Thanks to the generosity of a handful of individuals the funding needed to purchase this precious equipment has been raised. Having the capacity to take X-rays on-site will enhance YHS' ability to quickly diagnose and treat animals in serious need of medical treatment. Our special thanks to those who made this incredible gift a reality!

Schedule Change: Starting Monday, June 4, YHS will open for business at 11 a.m. This change enables YHS staff to devote an undistracted hour to enrichment activities with all the animals in our effort to help make them even more adoptable.

Events: The YHS Walk for the Animals was wildly successful, surpassing our wildest expectations, and raising over $29,000. Thank you to everyone who participated!

We are preparing for the 40th Anniversary Reigning Cats and Dogs Gala. This event is scheduled the evening of Saturday, Sept. 8, at the Prescott Resort. Please save the date. Contact us (445-2666 ext. 12) if you have something you would like to donate (art, jewelry, unused timeshares, etc) for the Silent Auction or if your business would like to help sponsor the event.

The cat pictured above is Cameo.  Cameo is a loveable train wreck in need of some TLC. He is a neutered 2-3 year old cat rescued from the side of the road after being hit by a car. He has recovered from a fractured jaw and a “blown pupil.”  His unkempt appearance is due to his inability to groom himself because of the fractured jaw.  Otherwise, he has healed well and adjusted to the loss of vision in his left eye. He is also FIV positive. Cameo is very friendly and wants nothing more than to be home safe and sound with you!

Ed Boks is the executive director of the Yavapai Humane Society. He can be reached at or by calling 445-2666, ext. 21.