November 2014 Newsletter
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November 2014

Teacher's Pet - Animals in the Classroom

Many of us may have had animals in our classroom when we were children. Some played passive roles while others were more active participants. Here's what math teacher Vin Fiordalis had to say about his dog Misty and what she brought to his classroom.

Misty was a valuable and important member of our sixth grade classes for all eight years she was alive. She seldom missed a day of school and looked forward to the trip in each morning. She provided all with her unconditional attention and caring love. Nothing seemed to calm down a distressed sixth grader as well as a session with Misty. Many temporarily troubled preadolescents found quick and complete relief after visiting Misty and sharing some time together. After a busy recess, I often came into the room, only to find a gaggle of twelve-year-old children huddled around her on the floor reading. She often would wander about the classroom visiting each and every one and supplying a bit of invaluable attention. Each student had a personal relationship with this "golden" friend. She was a very special member of our classes and the overall school community.”

Although bringing animals into an education setting may seem strange, many studies have shown the multitude of benefits dogs and other animals can provide to students. Dogs can comfort students that are dealing with problems, and encourage students to take chances such as reading out loud for the first time. They have been proven to calm fears, relieve anxiety and teach lessons.

Dogs are often used to get children to behave well. One dog, Lucky, has a variety of lessons she teaches to students grades K-6 such as “I listen with my ears, eyes, and heart” and “Growl less, smile more.” Dogs improve teaching conditions as well. In the presence of a dog, students pay more attention and become less hyperactive. Dogs comfort anxious kids and make the classroom environment much more focused. In one Davenport school, having a dog on faculty motivates students to come to class so they can pet or even walk him. This dog sees more people and goes to more places than a normal therapy dog, the school claims. She has quickly become a part of the family, as was the case with Fiodarlis’ dog.

Special Education students benefit immensely from having dogs in their learning environment. These students can connect with dogs, which allows them to talk more freely than they would otherwise. Because of their special bond with the animal, they will tell dogs or dog handlers things that they are afraid to tell authority figures. Some guidance counselors will have children talk to dogs instead of counselors because of the ease with which children talk to and confide in animals. Many therapy dogs are even trained to sense when a student is stressed or angry. Upon recognizing this, the dog will go over to the student and put their head on the student’s lap. These dogs are like teddy bears that students can hug for physical and emotional comfort.

Dogs are excellent reading companions because they won’t correct or interrupt. Young children learning to read are much more comfortable reading to them than anyone else. Dogs can also be taught to “read” flash cards with words such as “paw,” “wag” or “sit,” which motivates children to read themselves. Sometimes, students can develop insecurity and fear of reading out loud, or reading in general. These particular cases are when dogs are perfect to ease the anxiety and get a child excited about learning. For example, Roxy Reading in Danboro, PA is a well-known organization that uses dogs for various programs including bringing them to schools to comfort children. They use teams of volunteers to cater to the specific needs of the children they are visiting. Then they visit the class every week to address a wide variety of reading challenges and “build strong supporting relationships, trust, a sense of calm and self-confidence.” They have even started an exciting new program, Courthouse Therapy Dogs, for children that have been victimized or that are involved in lengthy courthouse proceedings. Read more about this innovative program at Times Publishing.

There are a multitude of programs like Roxy Reading that bring animals into learning environments and make a true difference in the life of a child. Perhaps you’ll participate or even start one of your own one day. [back to top]

 


 

Pets & Children - a Positive Impact

Jet had been a Seeing Eye dog for five years, so it was just another day walking through the park with her owner, Jessica, and her one-year-old son, Jacob, until a car came speeding at the dog and her family. Jet acted quickly, pushing the baby stroller out of the way and saving the life of baby Jacob. While your dog may not necessarily save your life someday (but who knows?) they are truly wonderful companions. Studies have shown that having a pet can have a positive influence on your child’s development. Pets can help children to be more responsible, more social and help develop character. Children who are particularly attached to a pet will have enhanced emotional functioning and self-esteem.

When children are given the responsibility of taking care of a pet, or even a small role in pet care such as giving the dog water, they feel more competent. By interacting with an animal, children can begin to understand the feelings and needs of animals, which help them translate this understanding to human beings. Pets can also give social and emotional support. Children regularly nominate pets as someone they would go to with a problem. This sort of support is important in a child’s development and can be superior to human support in some ways; pets make people feel unconditionally accepted without judgment or criticism. Affection is one of the most important ways that pets take care of children.

Pets can also facilitate language acquisition and verbal skills in young children. Kids will often babble at their pets, giving them praise, orders, encouragement or punishment. Pets elicit a number of responses and are patient listeners, the perfect tool to help a child practice verbal skills. When they are old enough to speak coherently, children often confide in their pets, telling them about their fears or feelings. These children often read to their pets, asking them questions, showing them pictures and even reassuring them during scary parts of the story. This encourages reading from a young age and helps children to think about what they are reading and how it affects readers.

Having a pet has also been proven to increase the amount of time families spend together, and the happiness they feel together. Pets cause people to interact more and share the experience of loving and caring for them, creating a better home environment for the entire family. Pets give the family a sense of comfort, community and organization in their home. In addition, children can have valuable nurturing skills from taking care of pets. Often, girls may have ample opportunities to nurture by babysitting, playing house or playing with dolls, but boys do not have this opportunity. Taking care of pets involves both genders equally and gives them experience that they will need in their adult lives.

Evidence also suggests that pets can help people with autism or those that may have difficulty with human social interactions. They may be challenged in this area yet they can still form deep bonds with a dog or cat. These animals can teach empathy and communication skills that then may be translated to human interactions. In addition, dogs have long been used to comfort children in stressful situations, particularly in courtrooms (see the enclosed newsletter article on Pets in the Classroom).

In a time of increasing childhood obesity, dog walking can be a great motivator for exercise. This activity gets them moving while giving them an important responsibility. Playing with dogs and their toys or running around the house and backyard is also fantastic exercise for both the child and the pet. Authors have even speculated that living with a pet benefits a child’s immune system and may decrease the likelihood of a child developing allergies.

Obviously, taking on a pet is a huge responsibility and not one to be taken lightly. But the relationship that a child and pet have together extends beyond simple playmates. The two take care of each other in different ways. While the child may bring the pet food and attention, the pet gives the child many vital tools he or she needs in development. In the right environment, pets can be great partners for parents in creating a loving, nurturing environment for “their” children. [back to top]

 


How to Treat (and live with) Animal Allergies (Part 2)

You may recall that in the October Newsletter we discussed how allergies develop in cats and dogs (as well as other animals) and the signs that your pet may be struggling with this challenge. Now we’ll continue the discussion with Part 2: How to treat (and live with) animal allergies.

If your pet has itchy or irritated skin it’s important to see a veterinary dermatologist for an allergy test. They will make a preliminary diagnosis and treatment plan based on the season of the year when the animal has the most symptoms, what body locations are most affected, and the response of the itch to medications. The only way to diagnose a food allergy is to feed your pet a prescription or hydrolyzed protein diet exclusively for 12 weeks. This means no flavored medications or treats. The diet will be free of potential allergy-causing ingredients and will ideally have ingredients your pet has never been exposed to before. Your pet will remain on the diet until its symptoms go away, at which time you’ll begin to reintroduce old foods to see which ones might be causing the allergic reaction.

If the initial treatment does not give your pet relief, your veterinarian may recommend more specific "allergy testing". Allergy testing is done by either taking a blood test or performing intradermal skin testing. The blood tests are reasonably reliable for detecting airborne allergies but not as good for food or contact allergies. Skin testing is considered more accurate and involves shaving a patch of hair on your pet’s side and then injecting small amounts of allergens under the skin. A positive test is diagnosed if there is a reddening or welting of the skin after injection. Those offending allergens can be mixed together by a laboratory and very small injections given weekly at home over several months to help your pet become less sensitive to them. Up to 75% of cats that receive allergy shots will have improvement in their signs—but it can take several months (up to one year) to see the full effect.

Although desensitization is the ideal way to treat inhalant allergy, it does have drawbacks and may not be the best choice in some circumstances. For one thing, it is the most expensive form of treatment. Because many cats and dogs develop additional allergies as they get older, young animals may need to be retested one to three years later. About 50% of cats will have an excellent response. About 25% get partial to good response. About 25% get little or no response. The same statistics are true for people undergoing desensitization. The time until apparent response may be two to five months, or longer. Animals must not receive oral steroids for two weeks or injectable steroids for six to twelve weeks prior to testing. These drugs will interfere with the test results.

In the case of airborne allergens, your dog may benefit from allergy injections. These will help your pet develop resistance to the offending agent, instead of just masking the itch. Antihistamines such as Benadryl can be used, but may only benefit a small percentage of dogs with allergies. An immune modulating drug may also be helpful. If the problem is severe, you may have to resort to cortisone to control the allergy. However these drugs are strong and should be used with caution and only under the guidance of your veterinarian.

In addition, your veterinarian may recommend medicated shampoo, anti-inflammatory medications, or antibiotics to provide your pet relief. To minimize the itchiness of your pet at home, you can feed them high quality natural food with proper pet supplements to make sure they have no dietary deficiencies. A supplement with fatty acids can provide anti-inflammatory properties and improve the quality of your pet’s skin and coat. Using stainless steel or glass feeding dishes that are cleaned regularly can help as well, and brushing your pet’s hair can help distribute the natural oils and prevent mats that can further itchy skin. Finally, washing your pet’s bedding with hypoallergenic detergent in hot water can prove beneficial as well.

The best way to treat allergies is to remove the offending allergens from the environment. The importance of prevention is perhaps most evident in allergies caused by fleas. Start a flea control program for all of your pets before the season starts. Remember, outdoor pets can carry fleas inside to indoor pets. See your veterinarian for advice about the best flea control products for your dog and the environment. If dust is the problem, clean your pet's bedding once a week and vacuum at least twice weekly. This includes rugs, curtains and any other materials that gather dust. You never thought you’d be a maid for a dog or cat, did you? Allergies can be hard to deal with for both the pet and the owner, but with proper care and attention, symptoms can be treated and your pet can return to a happy, comfortable life.  [back to top]

 


 

Treats for the Holidays

turkey dog

You take out the cutting board and knife, lay down the beautiful piece of beef, begin to make the first careful slice – and then the inevitable whine comes from about ankle-height. You look down and are faced with two tennis ball sized eyes gazing up at you. Your pet is sitting inches from the counter, anxiously awaiting the first scrap of food to fall.

If this situation is familiar to you, consider making a special holiday treat for your cat or dog this year so that they can celebrate with the rest of the family. The following recipes are perfect for a holiday surprise that will make your pet love you forever.  Imagine your pet’s reaction when the dish they’ve been so attentively watching you prepare is lowered to the ground for them to eat!

Breath Busters
Chances are, if the scene at the beginning sounded like your home, you know how bad a dog’s breath can be. Especially after he or she gets into the trash and who-knows-what-else. These dog treats might be just the thing to add a sweeter smell to your dog’s breath to make her closeness a little more enjoyable for you and the family.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup rice flour
  • 1/2 cup dried mint
  • 1/2 cup dried parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
  • 3/4 cup water

Directions:

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Combine all ingredients and mix until a dough forms.
      1. Roll into small balls (about 1 inch) and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes.
        1. Remove from oven and let cool. Makes about two dozen breath busters.


          Allergen-Free Dog Treats
          Many dogs experience allergies to various foods (see the related article in this newsletter on animal allergies). Your pet may experience itchiness or more extreme symptoms that make it hard for you to give him or her a special treat. However, these dog treats are intended to be allergen free and ensure your dog has a safe, pleasant snack. If you know your dog is allergic to any of the ingredients, you can replace them with similar foods.

          Ingredients:

          • 1 cup oat flour (makes the biscuits wheat-free)
          • 1/2 cup oats
          • 3 tablespoons olive oil
          • 2 tablespoons molasses
          • 1/2 cup water
          • 1 egg

          Directions:

            1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. and lightly spray a baking sheet with nonstick spray.
              1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir until a dough forms. Either roll out the dough and cut it into pieces or drop teaspoonfuls onto a baking sheet.
                1. Bake for about 15 minutes to get a nice, crisp dog biscuit. If your pup prefers a "chewier" treat, then bake the treats at 300 degrees F. for 10 minutes.
                  1. Cool before serving, makes about two dozen treats.


                    Cats Need Treats Too!
                    Let your cat experience the finer things in life. These treats include some seasonal foods to keep you and your pet in the holiday mood, as well as delicious turkey, a cat’s delicacy. This recipe is simple and easy to make, and will keep your cat meowing to the last lick!

                    Ingredients:

                    • 1/2 cup cooked turkey; shredded finely
                    • 1 tablespoon finely grated carrots
                    • 3 tablespoons unseasoned canned pumpkin

                    Directions:

                    1. Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Puree for 20 seconds.
                    2. No cooking needed! Give your adult cat a tablespoon or a teaspoonful to your kitten.
                    3. Store in refrigerator for up to a week.
                    4. Variation: If your cat is hesitant to try new things, add a tablespoon or two of the water from canned tuna fish packed in water to the mixture before you puree it.

                     


                    Pumpkin Pie Stuffing for Cats or Dogs
                    In the holiday mood? For Thanksgiving, or even just the fall season, Pumpkin Pie Stuffing is perfect for any animal. This looks so good you might want to eat it yourself. (But save some for your pet!)

                    Ingredients:

                    • ½ cup canned or freshly cooked pureed pumpkin
                    • ½ cup yogurt or cottage cheese (only use plain)
                    • ½ cup cooked oatmeal
                    • 2 tablespoons low-fat graham cracker

                    Directions:

                    1. Put a spoonful of cooked oatmeal at the bottom of a Kong or other toy to seal the small hole.
                    2. Put two spoonfuls of pumpkin into the toy. Follow with a spoonful of yogurt or cottage cheese.
                    3. Repeat, layering the pumpkin and yogurt or cottage cheese until the toy is almost full. Then cram a few pieces of graham cracker into the end of the toy. Serve warm or frozen.



                    Pumpkin Pie Cookies for Cats
                    Most people spoil their cats, but this recipe will get you cat owner of the year. If you love cats, baking and fall, this is your recipe.

                    Ingredients:

                    • 2 cups rice flour
                    • 1/2 cup oatmeal
                    • 1 cup canned pumpkin
                    • 1 cup grated carrots
                    • 1/2 cup unsweetened plain applesauce
                    • 1/4 flour for rolling

                    Directions:

                    1. In a food processor blend carrots, applesauce and pumpkin until smooth.
                    2. Add wet ingredients to the dry and mix gently until dough forms.
                    3. On a floured breadboard place dough and roll out to about 1/4 inch in thickness.
                    4. Use cookie cutter to cut out little cookies.
                    5. Place cookies on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for seven minutes.
                    6. Flip treats over and cook for five more minutes. Remove from oven and cool thoroughly.

                     

                    Making fun and delicious recipes like these can add a playful touch to your hectic Thanksgiving preparations. As family members pour through the door and you’re just about ready to take the turkey out of the oven, you can relax knowing your pet is one guest who won’t complain about the food!  [back to top]

                     


                     

                     

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