Don’t get angry at a guide dog user

Should someone draw near with a guide dog, speak up and presume good intent — especially during the pandemic, according to some experts.


The dogs have never been taught the 6-foot social-distancing rule required during these difficult times. Nor have they been trained to wait in line outside stores, let alone stand on marks, or only walk in one direction in the aisles.


Instead, they have been taught to bring their partner right to the door — and go in.


And they are expected to bring their handler to the nearest empty seat on a train or bus, though that might be right next to someone.


Right now, “It’s a little stressful for our clients to go out,” said Cameron McLendon, 28, of Kings Park, a mobility instructor at the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind. “One of the biggest problems is that the dogs don’t understand social distancing.”


Diplomacy, patience helps


Like so much else, battling the coronavirus has exposed divisions between people.


Misunderstandings that might have been brushed off now can flare into conflicts as they grapple with a multitude of fears and anxieties, from succumbing to the virus to waiting outside grocery stores only to find empty shelves when you get inside.


As is often the case in any situation, a little bit of diplomacy and patience can make all the difference. “I think it’s a great thing for people to do all the time — to let people know you are approaching” a guide dog and their handler, said Lauren Berglund, 23, of Kings Park.


Berglund, a coordinator for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind and America’s VetDogs in Smithtown, has had a guide dog since she was 18.


“If someone is getting too close, simply remarking ‘Hey, I’m off to your left,’” is a help, she said.


And it’s likely far easier for the person who can see to avoid the team than vice versa.


Some of the nonprofit’s graduates said they have been yelled at for passing too near other people, Berglund said.


Guide dogs are taught to skirt other people by adding their own width to that of their handlers, explained Heidi Vandewinckel, a total almost certainly less than 6 feet.


“Please just ask me and let me know — and perhaps anticipate” a problem, said Vandewinckel, 62, of East Northport, and a foundation board member who has relied on a guide dog since she was 14.


“It can be kind of daunting for a guide dog to maneuver . . . it’s kind of a give-and-take,” said Cristina Mirabile, 31, of Centereach, one of the foundation’s mobility instructors.


Unexpected problems have arisen, the experts said.


One client, for instance, found a physician’s clinic had nowhere for him and his dog to wait except the line outside. Yet not all dogs understand what to do when the line moves.


And some patients in line or in the office might be allergic or fearful of dogs.


Some tips and advice


So take the risk of a possibly awkward interchange and help a dog and its handler navigate social distancing rules, the experts said, especially in crowds, or lines, or on mass transit.


Realize people whose guide dogs give them the gifts of freedom and independence must go to stores if online services are overloaded or unwieldy, they said.


Aiding these teams — even during the stressful times of the outbreak — really just requires a little thoughtfulness.


Anyone walking their own dog should let the team know, because the guide dog is not allowed to meet-and-greet.


Never make eye contact with a guide dog while it’s working, offer a treat, ooh and ah, or try to pet it — those are all behaviors that could cause their partner a mishap, like a fall, Mirabile said.


And, the trainers said, ask if the team would like help, particularly if there are hazards, like figuring out if a traffic light has changed.


Let them know if there is a line outside a store — and perhaps help them find where it ends, when it moves — and where to wait to check out.


“It’s never wrong to ask a question,” McLendon said.


Remember, however, that these teams have earned their independence. Don’t be offended if they decline an offer of help.


But if they would like you to guide them around obstacles, offer your arm — though not the way one does in a wedding procession. Instead, the handler has been taught to hold your upper arm to follow you safely, the trainers said.


And never grab the guide dog’s harness, Vandewinckel said.


“Just be kind and patient with people, especially now — it’s a difficult time for everybody,” Berglund said.

Questions to ask before adopting a dog from a shelter

6 Questions Adoptive Pet Parents Need to Ask

1.Has the dog you’re considering been behavior-tested? — Most large shelters and rescue organizations perform basic behavior testing as part of their assessment of the adoptability of the animals they take in. Knowing what types of tests were conducted on your future dog and her results will help you fill in the gaps in her training if you decide to take her home.

Some shelters conduct very thorough behavior assessments that go far beyond determining adoptability and can provide insight into whether a particular dog is a good fit for your lifestyle. For example, if a dog you’re interested in is very active and you’re looking for a lower energy lapdog, this dog is probably better suited to someone else’s home.

A comprehensive behavior and temperament assessment can determine a dog’s level of sociability with other pets, his degree of independence, and whether he’s suited for a home with children or an adult-only home.

2.What is the dog’s history? — How did he wind up at the shelter? Was he picked up as a stray, or did a previous owner turn him in? Generally speaking, the behavior of street dog will be markedly different from that of a relinquished family pet.

This is good information to have for a better understanding of your new dog’s behavior and training needs.

3.What veterinary care has your prospective dog received? — Most animal adoption organizations arrange to have pets’ health checked by a veterinarian before they are put up for adoption. Adoptive owners typically receive paperwork detailing the medical care the animal received while at the shelter.

It’s not unusual for large shelters to err on the side of overtreating dogs with an unknown medical history, so your new pet could come home with a fresh spay or neuter incision, dewormed, and/or heavily vaccinated.

Many shelters recommend that new owners take their pet to a veterinarian for an exam within a specified number of days from the date of adoption. Sometimes local veterinarians contract with shelters to provide the exams at no charge.

4.Does the dog have a known history of being abused? — If you know or suspect an adult dog was abused before she came to you, it’s important to keep two things in mind: you shouldn’t expect an overnight change in her, and you shouldn’t count on a complete turnaround in her trust level or behavior.

It takes time to help an abused animal learn to be less fearful and develop trust in humans again. With knowledge, hard work, and commitment, a previously abused pet can be transformed into a much-loved member of your family, but she can’t be reborn. It’s important to always remember that.

Here are some general guidelines for creating a safe environment for a previously abused dog:

Make her feel welcome and loved, and communicate clearly with her; I highly recommend the program A Sound Beginning, which is designed to help rescue dogs and adoptive guardians learn to communicate effectively and form an unbreakable bond

Don’t force anything on her — allow her to adapt to her new family and life at her own pace; provide her with a safe place where she can be alone when she feels like it

Protect her from whatever she fears

Create opportunities for her to be successful and build her confidence

Feed her a nutritionally optimal, species-specific diet and make sure she gets plenty of physical activity

Rehabilitating an abused pet presents a significant challenge, because these animals have been exposed to negative things they can’t unlearn despite your best efforts. But it’s important to feel hopeful, because life-changing progress can be made and there’s nothing more rewarding.

5.What are the steps involved in the adoption? — Shelters and rescue groups vary widely when it comes to vetting prospective adoptive families. For example, some shelters allow adopters to take a new pet home immediately. Others require you to wait until the animal has been spayed or neutered, dewormed, and/or vaccinated at the shelter.

Some organizations require home inspections before releasing a pet; others require potential adopters to bring other pets in the household and family members for a meet-and-greet before the adoption is finalized.

6.What food has your new dog been eating? — Some shelters send newly adopted pets home with a supply of the food they’ve been eating, but if this isn’t the case with your prospective dog, ask what the shelter is feeding and continue that diet for at least a week or two once he’s home.

It’s likely you’ll want to transition him to a different food, preferably a nutritionally optimal, biologically appropriate raw or gently cooked diet, but it doesn’t need to happen on day one. Everything in your furry companion’s new life with you will be a bit overwhelming and stressful for him in the beginning, so it’s best not to add a dietary change to the mix right away.

Recognizing emergencies in pets

Earlier this week, the USDAN Institute for Animal Health Education (part of NYC’s Animal Medical Center( held another event entitled Recognizing Medical Emergencies in Pets.  A recording of this event hosted by Dr. Carly Fox is now available to watch on YouTube.  The link is:

The best dogs for allergy sufferersby Dr. Becker

          • If you or a family member loves dogs but is allergic to them, you’ve probably at least considered that a “hypoallergenic” dog might make sense for you
  • According to the science, there’s no truly hypoallergenic dog, however, there are certain breeds that are considered better for allergy sufferers than others
  • Dog lovers with allergies can consider a less allergenic breed, or a female or neutered male dog if their sensitivity is to an allergen only intact males produce
  • There are many things you can do minimize pet allergens in your home for the comfort of sensitive family members

If you have asthma or allergies to airborne irritants such as dust or pollen, you’re at higher than average risk for pet allergies as well. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA), 3 in 10 people with any allergy will also be allergic to cats and/or dogs.1

If you love dogs but know or suspect you have an allergy to them, chances are you’ve looked into the possibility of getting a “hypoallergenic” dog. As the story goes, these are breeds that trigger less sneezing, itchy or watery eyes, and other allergic symptoms in sensitive people.

The reality is that the existence of hypoallergenic dogs is mostly a myth, and no one seems to know how it got started, since researchers have yet to uncover scientific evidence to prove the theory.

A 2011 study published in The American Journal of Rhinology and Allergy concluded that the amount of dog allergens found in households with dogs does not vary depending on the breed. In other words, families with so called “hypoallergenic” dogs are living with the same level of allergens in their homes as people with non-hypoallergenic pets.

Study researchers measured the level of the most common dog allergen, Canis familiaris 1, or Can f 1, found in the homes of 173 families that owned one dog. Out of the 173 samples, only 10 had less than measurable amounts of Can f 1. No matter what type of dog was in the home, there was no significant difference in the level of allergens measured. The researchers concluded:

“There was no evidence for differential shedding of allergen by dogs grouped as hypoallergenic. Clinicians should advise patients that they cannot rely on breeds deemed to be ‘hypoallergenic’ to in fact disperse less allergen in their environment. Additional scientific investigation into dog-specific factors and whether hypoallergenic breeds truly exist is warranted.”2

AKC’s List of ‘Less-Allergenic’ Dog Breeds

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC):

“While no dog is 100% hypoallergenic, it’s possible to find less-allergenic dog breeds that are better suited for allergy-sufferers. These dogs have a predictable, non-shedding coat that produces less dander.

Dander, which clings to pet hair, is what causes most pet allergies in people. Even though dogs that are hypoallergenic don’t truly exist, many breeds make it possible to enjoy the companionship of a dog, even if you suffer from allergies.”3

The following are the best breeds for allergy sufferers, according to the AKC:

Afghan hound Lagotto romagnolo American hairless terrier
Maltese Bedlington terrier Peruvian inca orchid (hairless)
Bichon frise Poodle (all 3 sizes) Chinese crested
Portuguese water dog Coton de tulear Soft-coated Wheaten terrier
Schnauzer (all 3 sizes) Spanish water dog Irish water spaniel
Xoloitzcuintli Kerry blue terrier