Steroids and eight legs?

You know, I was thinking today about Trinity and how dog rescue is not always the stuff you expect. We all have stories about abused dogs and chained dogs and stuff but get a load of this.

Trinity is a Yellow Labrador-ish.

A seeing eye dog?
What were they thinking?

When she crossed my radar Trinity was being surrendered by her owner.

Not much weird about that, you say, happens all the time.

This owner adored Trinity and was her constant companion 24/7. She was in tears as she explained her predicament, so before you rush to judge her, here is Trinity’s story.

Unfortunately she has a skin infection, inflammation, redness almost all over the body and in her armpits, belly and groin, black staining.

The vet had diagnosed atopic dermatitis.

Atopic Dermatitis is an allergic skin disease, atopy is defined as a hypersensitivity reaction, dermatitis means inflammation of the skin, a bit like eczema, brought on by seasonal pollen and other airborne allergens.

The vet had prescribed and the owner had treated her with various meds, antibiotics and such and there seemed to be little or no improvement.

Next on the agenda he recommended starting Trinity on Atopica (cyclosporin) a systemic immunosuppressant, and suggested to the distraught owner that with environmental allergies there is often a genetic component and, just like a person who has hay fever for example, Trinity may be susceptible and on this medication for life.

Now here is the thing, Trinity was a seeing eye dog and her owner was blind and on a limited income. Atopica has just come down in price but is still a premium prescription and is $6 + each pill on the internet, probably more at your friendly neighborhood vet!

For an 80lb dog, two pills a day for thirty days then maybe a reduced maintenance dosage for the rest of her life. Not easy to find $360 a month extra!

She had only had Trinity for six months. Trinity started showing signs and being treated within a week of her arriving from the Non Profit supplier in the mid west.

Trinity arrived as a “trained dog”.

As a dog trainer I have a strong opinion about the standard that I would require to place a dog as a seeing eye dog and Trinity, while a delightful personality, would not have made it, or even been on the selection choice!

“Goofy”, “Distracted” and “Hilarious” were the first words that come to mind, not a problem for your average family dog but I would have thought a definite liability for a seeing eye dog.

Apparently she had been a donated dog as a puppy and raised in a woman’s prison as a rehabilitation project for the inmates.

Not what I would have prescribed as a normal and varied upbringing for a well-adjusted dog. (Or person, but that is a whole other soapbox!)

The weird thing is that the supplying non-profit would not consider supporting the owner with the ever-increasing veterinary fees or the medications or even, get this, talk to the vet on the telephone!

In fact what they did was offer to supply a replacement dog and told the upset owner:

“If you bring Trinity back to the center she would be euthanised.”

Now even if she kept Trinity, found a way to pay for the meds and the meds worked to suppress the skin reaction it was impossible to treat her and leave the seeing eye body harness off, and the build up of bacteria on the harness could easily prevent the healing.

So this poor girl was so upset, Trinity was her first seeing eye dog and she bonded so quickly to her that it was heart wrenching to think of this future.

Anyway, long story short, we worked out a plan and the girl went back to the midwest to collect her new dog which, it turns out, is an awesome, calm, kind and wonderful seeing eye dog and a perfect match emotionally and physically.

Guess who ended up with Trinity?

Yup, yours truly.


People ask me that all the time and honestly if I have to explain it to you then you probably wouldn’t understand. The closest I can get is that I can, I am physically capable and I have a gift, knowledge and experience that I can use. I want to, I feel a moral responsibility to help another person or animal when I can relieve suffering and most of all:

Because she deserves better!

She did not choose this life, humans bred her, moved her, used her and now discard her.

She does not deserve to die.

I believe and feel very strongly that we have a moral responsibility to do everything in our power to give her the best life she can have and never give up!

Someone do something!

Well apparently that someone is me.

So the first thing in dog rescue, this applies to every dog I meet, is don’t assume anything. Don’t believe anything you hear is truth. It might be or it might not be. Stay open to learning and test and prove your hypotheses.

Start from today.

How can I take the dog from where it is today to where I want it to be?

Mentally, physically and emotionally.

Was it possible that the owner was not as consistent with medications, or bathing?

It did occur to me that if the reaction was stress related then could it be that the responsibility of being a seeing eye dog did not match Trinity’s personality so that every day was stressful?

Might it be food related? There are some allergic reactions to food that result in inflammation. Sometimes people change food or give poor quality treats. Allergic reactions are often not isolated, people get hay fever and asthma, sometimes have skin irritation from grass or weeds, the immune system is a complex and fascinating topic to study.

Was it possible that a slight modification, a trial with an alternative antibiotic, might resolve the issues? We spent several weeks starting from scratch ( ha ha rescue joke) both with the diagnosis and the medications.

Trinity undergoing emotional therapy – whatever the problem but especially where the immune system is concerned, always reduce stress as a priority

We had scraping skin tests routinely and found a combination of both bacterial infections and yeast infections, both of which were recurring and were consistent with the initial diagnosis of allergies causing the inflammation and the bacterial and yeast were both secondary infections. After eight weeks of tests and trials where we changed her diet to test for food allergies and carefully following the prescribed protocol we saw improvements with antibiotics, antifungal and prednisone, an anti-inflammatory steroid, but it seemed that as soon as we faded the medications the inflammation returned. Next on the agenda was seven core skin samples for examination for a type of skin cancer. Nope, not that.

So off we went to the consultant dermatologist for a visit.

More tests, more reviews of treatment protocols, and a guardedly optimistic prognosis, maybe it was not allergies!

It turns out that what probably happened was she arrived on the west coast with a stress related increase in her skin population of demodectic mites. These are mites that live in the hair follicles and the sebaceous glands and have eight legs.

Many vets believe that all dogs have small numbers of these mites residing in the skin and that having a few mites is common – it is when immune related or nutritional or environmental stresses impact the dog that mite infestations blossom.

This population is normally present and in a healthy animal maintains a balance where the effects of their presence are not visible. When there is an outbreak, which often happens in the stress of a shelter environment, most frequently the effects are very visible. The dog loses all or most of its hair, the skin goes crusty or scaly and they resemble burn victims because the skin literally oozes.  This is a relatively easy diagnosis, however in Trinity’s case it was a very low-level infection, enough to cause the secondary infections but not enough to be easily diagnosed. After several further months of treatment, antibiotics and antifungal to control the secondary infections and an intense systemic insecticide every day until the skin tests were clear. It took a while but eventually we had the all clear.

During this process as part of the rehabilitation we always pay special attention to her emotional and physical well-being.

Exercise, companionship, play, runs on the beach, it all helps Trinity’s immune system strengthen and her health return into balance.

This is the takeaway for me, get to the root cause. The root cause in this instance was stress, then demodex, then bacterial and yeast infections on the skin. Treating the secondary infections made it look as if we were making progress. Treating with steroid immunosuppressants was a really bad idea because the whole balance at the skin level was being disturbed and it made it worse! If she had been put on cyclosporin is it possible that the symptoms would have subsided somewhat? Yes quite possible, but she would have been on it for life! Whenever you taper her off there would likely have been a recurrence of the inflammation. Normally the immune system destroys new colonies of demodex, by suppressing the immune response, the natural defense mechanism was unable to react and the colony exploded. The secondary infections clouded the issue.

IVERMECTIN IS CONTRA INDICATED FOR USE IN COLLIES, BORDER COLLIES, AUSSIES, GERMAN SHEPHERDS, McNAB, OLD ENGLISH SHEEPDOGS and other similar breeds. Check for MDR1 gene mutations in mixed breeds resembling any of these breeds. There is a test available.

The other thing is that Ivermectin, the insecticide, is quite powerful at the concentration necessary to treat demodex and it is imperative that you test your dog for heartworm prior to starting the treatment. The concentration could easily cause death in a heartworm positive dog. Fortunately Trinity tolerated it quite well. However it is imperative that the duration of treatment extends well past the cessation of inflammation. The first portion of the population of demodex to die would be the weaker ones, the less resistant. You really don’t want to be killing only the weaker ones and leaving the stronger, more resistant ones to repopulate the skin! There is no back up plan! You need to get every last one in one continuous treatment!!!

Trinity is now adopted and happy and healthy in her forever home. The icing on the cake is she was adopted by the original vet and his family. ( I struggled a bit with that one, it seemed a bit weird at first but it is a good deal for Trinity) So Trinity has her own personal vet for life!

Another winner!

Thanks for reading!

Got Lassie?

Most dogs who come through shelters are at least somewhat neglected, socially, physically and spiritually in their previous life.

They may have been stray, living on the streets living off what they could scavenge from trash bins and dumpsters if they were lucky, trying to catch voles, lizards and eating horse poop if they were not.

” Before”
Ellie came in from a rescued scenario and this is how she was living. She will probably always be somewhat shy but after some rehabilitation Ellie is now in her forever home and feels loved, goes on hikes in the Sierras off leash and enjoys playing with friends at the beach

So one of the things you may find is a certain possessiveness over food, toys or treats. This sometimes makes it unwise initially to be using food as a reward in training, you really don’t want to be refreshing those behaviors on a daily basis while the dog is anxious in its new environment. This is especially important if you have other animals or children in the home and food scraps are a factor in your daily life.

As the dog becomes calmer and starts to be sure of its food being available at the same time every day, preferably twice a day, then the neediness will fade in most dogs. It might then be appropriate to undertake a structured and supervised desensitization and counterconditioning program to change the habit. Whatever you do, do NOT start working the dog by teasing it with food too soon in the rehabilitation process. Giving it and taking it away. You might read somewhere that this will make the dog better. What it will do is get you or your children bitten! Food sensitivity is a huge trigger in dog bites and fights, ignore it at your peril.

If they were not scarred when they arrived, many dogs are traumatized by spending a couple of hours, days or weeks in a shelter. It is well known in shelters that the reason we kill so many is that the environment is so toxic most dogs go kennel crazy within three weeks anyway and can be labelled un adoptable.

Please don’t overwhelm the dog!

When your shelter dog arrives the biggest gift you can give is calmness, a loving environment and some rest and recuperation.

A consistent structure , timetable of regular exercise, feeding and settle down time will help the dog heal.

Some simple rules, timing of meals and quality of food will often see the dog looking completely different within a week or three.

Sometimes it takes longer, much longer, but it is imperative that you allow nature to do the healing. Remember that your expectations are not relevant to the process, in fact unrealistic expectations can sabotage the healing process. Healing is what needs to happen first.

If a dog is feeling scared, insecure and emotionally or physically injured, it is really hard for them to behave normally. They may be reactive or closed down.

Most of the behavior issues are anxiety related. Reduce the anxiety first, then wait. The behaviors will probably fade.

If the behavior persists then it may have become a habit. Habits can be modified with appropriate training. However if you try to modify a behavior using training but the behavior is the result of anxiety that is still present, first of all you will probably not be successful. You may see some initial change, the novelty value of the new attention, but the cause of the behavior, the anxiety, is still there and you will almost always get very strong regression as the anxiety re asserts itself.

Most of these behaviors are rewarding for the dog in some way, whether you like it or not or whether you believe it or not.

Future blog: How to teach your dog to say “Timmy is down the well”

After rehabilitation, you can see the spring in her step as she is on her way to become all she can be. Ellie is now in her forever home.

Common Sense for Adopting a Rescued or Shelter Dog

This blog aims to educate, inform and entertain!

Many people come across habits and behaviors in their newly adopted dog that concern or frustrate them and they just don’t know where to turn. Their expectations are not met, patience runs out and the dog goes back. I want to change that. The dogs can’t speak, so I aim to be the voice that says give them a chance to be the best dog they can be and this is how you do it!

My goal is to help new families and their newly adopted dogs get sticky!

So sticky that they become part of the family and their new home is their forever home.

I will share my experiences of rescuing and fostering shelter dogs in my own home, works in progress, on their way to their forever home.

Kato, named after the manservant in Inspector Cluseau’s epic film The Pink Panther who hides and jumps out of closets!

Clemmy teaches Kato and Jack
The importance of exercise and play
in a healthy dog.
Kato is from Silver Springs, NV.
Jack is from Shafter, CA.

Death Row dogs.

All my shelter dogs are shelter rejects, they were considered unadoptable and were all on the daily kill list, most of them on their last day. One or two on their last hour on this earth.

Their crimes varied from being homeless, to just being old, from being wild, to just being big and black or even just because they resemble a less popular breed.

Although labelled “unadoptable” by the shelter, and I will have more to say about that in due course, none of them are “bad” dogs or “dangerous” dogs.

Mostly they were just being dogs and we failed them.

I tell you this not to impress you, but to impress upon you that whatever the behaviors that are troubling you and your rescued dog I have already seen worse, sometimes much worse, and have turned the dog around.

500,000 dogs a year are killed in the name of humane society protocol just here in California. One every minute. Day and night. Every day, every month, every year.

It is just not right.

It is my opinion that we humans have a moral obligation to find a better way of living where dogs are not disposable just because they may be temporarily socially inconvenient or not quite perfect yet.

Dog Training and behavior specialist.

I will cover topics that come up repeatedly in my dog training and behavior modification programs (

I am fortunate in that I also meet dogs every day in my dog training business. I take dogs into my home to quickly resolve behavior concerns in a matter of days. I also deal one on one with behavior issues, visiting clients in their home, evaluating behaviors and observing family dynamics in action. I know what works and how even with the best of intentions people can sometimes, unwittingly, sabotage their own success. I specialize in behavior modification, not just telling you what to do but showing you personally the what, why and how of behavior change. You will see the change.

I am passionate about rescuing shelter dogs and giving them a second chance.

If I can share my knowledge and help you have a successful adoption I can make a difference in your life and the life of your dog. I like feeling I am making a difference.

In my experience most shelters are so overwhelmed by the volume of dogs that they rarely have time to hold your hand as you start on your journey with a new shelter dog.

I intend to bridge that gap.

Because of my experience I think of it as common sense, but clearly a lot of these things are just not part of most peoples life experiences.

For the dog’s sake and yours ASK ME

Ask me any questions at any time, add comments or criticism, suggest a topic you would like covered. I want to make a difference, I want to make the dogs sticky and set everyone up for success.

Beware! I can be opinionated, sometimes feel angry and frustrated and have a reputation for being blunt. Just like some of my dogs!

You will hear my truth, I might not sugar coat it but what you hear will work.

Most of the problems I see are not dog problems, the dog is just being a dog trying to make its way in an alien culture!

Yes, I am talking about you, your home and family!

To a dog who may have never been allowed in the house, fed intermittently, never taken out in public, taught what a leash was, or had children over to the house, kept in a cage in the yard, never thrown a ball or fetched a stick or run off leash along the beach in and out of the water, you might just as well be aliens!