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Service dogs and “disarming”

There are two very interesting dog items in the news this morning.  First, new U.S. Senator Al Franken (yes, the former Saturday Night Live comedian) has introduced a bill that would provide service dogs to veterans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan.  There’s been an experimental Veterans Administration program with dogs helping vets with PTSD and depression and now Sen. Franken would like to take the program live so it can help all Iraq and Afghanistan vets who need dogs.

Research with the VA is showing that specially trained dogs can help psychologically wounded veterans.

The dogs’ companionship, Franken said, provides invaluable health benefits — both physical and emotional — to veterans suffering from debilitating injuries and psychological disorders.

The service dogs will help “reduce the suicide rate among veterans, decrease the number of hospitalizations and lower the cost of medications and human care,” he said.

That sounds wonderful!  However, the program would only provide service dogs to new vets.  It would not provide dogs to older vets — vets who experienced PTSD or depression from previous conflicts.

The Daily Kos blog would like to have the legislation expanded to provide a service dog to any veteran who needs one:

So I ask you to support this great idea, but help veterans of all eras in having Senator Franken’s noble proposal expanded to include all veterans alive who are wounded in the spirit.  If this seems to be a good idea to you, please support Senator Franken but let him know that there are more US combat veterans than just from the two most recent wars that could use his help.

Senator Al Franken

Democrat – Minnesota

320 HART SENATE OFFICE BUILDING

WASHINGTON DC 20510

DC Phone: 202-224-5641

E-mail: info@franken.senate.gov

Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times How had the 35-pound bouncing ball of fluff become a public menace? Krieger says it wasn't apathy on her part. She enrolled Cotton in puppy classes and basic training at the neighborhood PetSmart. She bought a library of self-help books and videos. Nothing worked.

Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times How had the 35-pound bouncing ball of fluff become a public menace? Krieger says it wasn't apathy on her part. She enrolled Cotton in puppy classes and basic training at the neighborhood PetSmart. She bought a library of self-help books and videos. Nothing worked.

There’s another interesting story today in the L.A. Times:  “When “Dog Whisperer” Can’t Help” by Diane R. Krieger.  Ms. Krieger describes her dog Cotton, an American Eskimo dog, who had a serious problem with biting.  The Kriegers had tried everything — classes, muzzles, even appearing on Cesar Millan’s television program and working with private trainers.  Cotton was still a biter and a dangerous dog who would try to bite anyone who came on their property.  The Kriegers were at the point where they were considering having Cotton put to sleep.  That’s when Ms. Krieger heard about a procedure — a controversial procedure — called “disarming.”

Here’s the description:

One day while channel surfing, I happened upon an Animal Planet special counting down the world’s top 10 “extreme biters.” The domesticated dog came in at No. 4. (Hippos and Komodo dragons took the No. 3 and No. 2 spots, with the cookie-cutter shark the undisputed champion.) There, to my delight, was Dr. David Nielsen, a veterinary dentist based in Manhattan Beach, talking about a miracle fix: “canine disarming.”

Instead of extracting the four canines, Nielsen cuts away 4 millimeters of tooth using a CO2 laser. He acid-etches the live pulp within, fashions a bell-shaped cavity that he packs with two kinds of human-grade composite, and light-cures the top for a smooth, flat finish. He also blunts the extra set of pointy incisors.

Disarming isn’t a new idea, but Nielsen’s technique is one he pioneered, though he shares credit with his now-departed pet whippet. The small greyhound had “played Frisbee so much and chewed so hard trying to get out of cages” that he’d busted off all four canines right above the 4-millimeter level, Nielsen says. One day the whippet cornered a technician in Nielsen’s office and flew at her face. Instead of tearing flesh, he merely pinched her cheek. The blunted canines blocked even the incisors from their shearing action.

A metaphorical light bulb came on above Nielsen’s head.Now he figures he has disarmed some 300 animals in the last dozen years, not all of them dogs. A short while ago, he treated a kitty whose love bites had turned a little too intense. He’s also used the procedure, for various reasons, on wolves and a tiger.

Nielsen may be something of a maverick. Dr. Gail Golab, head of the American Veterinary Medical Assn., says that disarming dogs was once fairly common, but that it fell out of favor several years ago as behavioral modification techniques improved. The association is opposed to either tooth removal or disarming, primarily on the grounds that neither addresses the underlying cause of aggression and may lull owners into a false confidence that the animal can no longer inflict injury.

The American Veterinary Dental College agrees that disarming is controversial, but in a position statement adopted in 2005 it endorsed the procedure in “selected cases.”

In June, I signed Cotton up. It would cost a pretty penny: $1,600. But it’s easy to see why. Nielsen uses state-of-the-art human dental and surgical techniques. Cotton would be sedated before full intubation under general anesthesia. He would receive an IV drip of fluid potassium, and technicians would hook him up to a battery of machines monitoring his oxygen level, heart rate and blood pressure. The doctor would consult digital X-rays taken just before the procedure and track his progress with more X-rays along the way. Cotton would get deep scaling before the procedure and a foamy fluoride treatment after. And he would go home with enough antibiotics and pain relievers to last a week. Once he recovered from the surgery, there would be no lasting side effects: Cotton would be able to eat, chew and play normally.

For all the technology, Nielsen says the most profound effect of canine disarming is psychological. “You can see it in their eyes almost the moment they wake up from the anesthesia,” he says. “It’s like they’re wondering, ‘who took away my knives?’ ” An epiphany that humbles and subdues them for all time. The Bumble from “Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” comes to mind. Remember how sweet the ferocious yeti becomes after Hermey, the misfit elf-turned-dentist, does his handiwork?

Cotton was successfully “disarmed.”  Now when he tries to bite things he only succeeds in barely scratching them.  But, as you can see, this is a controversial — and expensive — procedure.  Disarming is only used in very selective cases.  It’s always best to try to address the reasons why a dog is biting and to try to train the dog to quit the biting.  But, when faced with either putting the dog to sleep or finding another solution, disarming can offer an owner a way to save the dog.

July 27, 2009 Posted by | dogs, Pets | , , , , , , | Leave a comment