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June 2018

Why Your Dog Should Be Your New Workout Buddy

(contributed by freelance writer Jane Wadsworth)

At present, over a third of Americans are categorized as overweight or obese according to CDC data.  The trend is even more alarming for dogs, with 56% of dogs classed as obese according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.  It’s time to team up. A study by the University of Western Australia found that dogs make great workout buddies as they provide a clear motivation for exercising, are strong walking companions, and provide good social support. Having chosen the perfect pet companion to match your lifestyle, it’s now time to get the most out of this special relationship and boost your health and theirs.

Get active

The American Heart Association has backed data which shows a link between pet ownership and lower blood pressure. This is partly due to the health benefits of walking regularly.  Walking can also help you and your canine companion to lose weight, which in turn reduces the pressure on bones and joints and can alleviate painful conditions such as arthritis.  You can also try other activities together; some dog breeds are able to swim (ask your vet for advice if you’re unsure) and there are also Frisbee competitions or dog and owner obstacle races for good muddy fun together.

Get outdoors

One of the huge benefits of working out together is that you can enjoy time outside.  Exercising in nature can boost mental health, reduce injury risks and improve your immune system.  Exposure to sunlight triggers the body’s production of Vitamin D, also known as ‘the sunshine vitamin’.  This helps protect against inflammation, lowering blood pressure and improving brain function.

Both of you will need to eat well to fuel your bodies’ efforts and keep up energy levels.  Without the right nutrition you will both quickly feel tired, and may do yourselves more harm than good.  Dogs need good protein and a little fat, rather than some of the human energy boosts we tend to think of.  You can maximize your workout with effective nutrition by eating lean proteins such as chicken, seafood and eggs, with whole grain carbohydrates to rebuild muscles and replace energy lost.  You should also make sure you both stay well hydrated; water is ideal for both of you.

Working out with your dog can be a hugely rewarding experience for both of you.  As well as helping you both to maintain a healthy weight and improve your long term health, it can simply be a lot of fun.  Spending time in nature each day brings numerous physical and mental health benefits, and can strengthen your bond, reducing stress and anxiety.  Enjoy your fitness adventure with your new four legged workout buddy.

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Animals on the Inside: AAT and Prison Systems

Working with animals is life changing for people in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and even prisons. Building and maintaining relationships with animals can provide countless physical, emotional and social benefits. Many prisons have adopted programs that pair dogs with inmates, and the results have been exceptional.




Incarceration can be extremely stressful for inmates due to the fear of attack from other inmates, separation from friends and family, and guilt over not providing for their children. In this situation, the unconditional love of a pet can be life changing. Studies show that inmates who go through animal assisted therapy are often calmer, more relaxed, and get along better with fellow inmates.


Many prison dogs receive special training to function in an institutional setting. This makes them the perfect companion for inmates who are used to the strict environment of a prison. Inmates are able to interact with and care for their dogs on a daily basis. This provides a loving, caring relationship in the midst of an environment that can feel hopeless.




In addition to therapy animals specifically trained for this task, some animal shelters allow inmates to work with the animals that they take in. These inmates have the opportunity to care for a pet by brushing, cleaning and training the animal. This benefits the animals as well, as having such a close relationship allows them to begin to trust humans again and ultimately be adopted permanently.


Unlike animal assisted therapy programs for the elderly and other populations, prison-based animal programs (PAPs) often do not involve inmates interacting with a clinician. Instead, the focus is on interaction with the animals, and building a relationship between dog and human. Read more about programs like this here.


Evidence shows that inmates who take care of animals gain life enhancing skills, and are able to develop more positive coping mechanisms. By working with dogs and other animals, many prisoners are able to heal and rehabilitate so that they are less likely to return to prison after they are released.


Some studies suggest that dog training gives prisoners a sense of responsibility outside of themselves, and a new set of skills that may even be helpful in employment opportunities once they are released from prison.




Interaction with pets provides many physiological and psychological benefits, and evidence of such is well documented in research on the elderly and ill patients. Animals have a calming effect, and the ability to encourage socialization. Some prisoners experience psychological issues leading to antisocial behavior, and working with dogs can be extremely helpful in coping with these issues.


Ultimately, animal assisted therapy in prisons is extremely beneficial to both humans and animals. While humans find a loving relationship amidst an extremely stressful situation, animals, particularly those from animal shelters, can gain trust in humans and the ability to be adopted to a permanent home.


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Toxic Toads

What can go wrong when a new animal enters an ecosystem? The short answer is: a lot. Like the animals in the children’s movie Madagascar, the Asian common toad was unintentionally shipped off to the island of Madagascar, and proceeded to wreak havoc. This seemingly innocent little toad arrived as recently as 2011 as a stowaway on a ship, but already has authorities concerned.




While it is home to a rich array of biodiversity, Madagascar has no native toad species, and the introduction of these creatures was quite a shock to the existing animals on the island. The reason these toads were so damaging is because of their poisonous slime.


Like many toads, the Asian common toad uses poison as a defense mechanism against predators who try to take a bite. Predators in Asia have adapted to either withstand the animal’s poisonous skin, or learn to avoid it. However, the animals in Madagascar were completely unprepared for the nasty surprise and it has taken an enormous toll.


Unfortunately, the Asian common toad’s slime is deadly to most predators on the island of Madagascar, including the endangered lemur. By spreading rapidly, the toads have unintentionally been wiping out these populations and leaving them with no defense.


In only a few years, the Asian common toad has multiplied and spread throughout the island. This has upset the balance of local diversity and has caused many problems for native animals. While animals that habitually eat toxic creatures often evolve resistance to their poison, there are no animals in Madagascar that have had any time to adapt in this way. These predators have never encountered a toxic animal like the Asian common toad before and are exceptionally vulnerable.


Though there are some Madagascar species that eat other poisonous animals, there is little evidence to show that they have evolved any protection or resistance. One study gathered data from 77 species native to Madagascar that would be likely to eat the poisonous toads. They observed 28 birds, 27 snakes, 12 frogs, eight mammals and two lizards. Except for one type of rodent, every single species lacked the genetic mutations associated with resistance to the toad’s poison.



Another report has stated that there is a diminishing window of opportunity to completely eradicate the Asian common toad. Because the toad has been so successful, it has spread rapidly and may be extremely difficult to eliminate.


In fact, this is not the first time an invasive toad has caused chaos in an island’s ecosystem. Australia saw the invasion of the cane toad when these toads were released in the 1930s to control the cane beetles. This plan immediately backfired when the toads reproduced wildly and spread across the island, to the detriment of other animals who attempted to eat them.


Although the Asian common toad has been causing problems in Madagascar to say the least, there is hope that the animal can be eliminated before it completely destroys the ecosystem and rich biodiversity on the island. Authorities are taking steps to eradicate the Asian common toad and restore normalcy to the ecosystem of Madagascar.


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Top Five Unique Animal Defense Mechanisms

1. The Blue Tongued Skink’s Ultra-Violet Tongue

When the blue tongued skink is under attack, its last resort is a surprise gesture meant to shock the predator into backing off. The skink will open its mouth as wide as possible to reveal its bright blue tongue. To an unsuspecting bird or snake, this sudden shock of fluorescent color can be disorienting and allow the skink to get away.




Not only that, but the blue tongued skink’s tongue is actually much more UV-intensive and luminous in the back than the front. In the final stages of an imminent attack, the blue tongued skink will reveal the very back section of its tongue with an even more intense display of UV light.


2. The Cuttlefish's Camouflage


Cuttlefish are extremely well known for their amazing camouflaging skills. They can rapidly change their skin color in order to blend in seamlessly in almost any environment. They can even change the shape of their entire bodies to match the texture of their environment. In fact, in the movie Jurassic World, the infamous Indominus Rex is part cuttlefish, which allows it to blend into its surroundings and be completely undetected. Read more about cuttlefish and their amazing ability here.




3. The Texas Horned Lizard


Straight out of a horror movie, the Texas Horned Lizard has another shocking and horrifying defense mechanism to surprise its predators before they attack. When threatened, the texas horned lizard pressures its sinus cavities until the blood vessels in its eyes burst. This causes the lizard to literally shoot its attacker with a steady stream of blood from its eyes! Even Stephen King would be impressed.




4. The Eurasian Roller Bird


Eurasian Roller Birds use a very unique defense mechanism when they are young. Offspring have the ability to vomit a nasty smelling orange liquid at predators when they feel threatened. This makes them much less appealing to eat because of the foul smell, but the smell serves the dual purpose of alerting their parents that they are under attack. This tactic not only scares off the threat, but also makes sure that help is on the way.


5. The Hagfish


Though these eel-shaped marine animals do not seem very appealing to eat, they do have to defend themselves from predators on a regular basis. To help in this endeavor, they have the ability to slime their enemies. When threatened, they emit a slime from their pores that expands into a gelatinous goo that can either trap predators or suffocate them by clogging their gills. This creative method is extremely effective and helps the hagfish live to see another day.


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