Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Big Dogs Need Love, Too!

In the course of rescuing dogs of different breeds, sizes and shapes, we discovered that large dogs often spend longer than other pets in shelter or foster care. We interviewed Kara Fike, CPDT-KA, and Hannah Senadenos, CPDT-KA, owners of Underdog Academy Dog Training, to find out why — and how we can help these dogs blossom, realize their potential and find the perfect forever family. This is the second blog in our two-part series. The first is published here.

I know we’ve been talking about the challenges of adopting large dogs. How can training make a difference? 

"Training" can encompass numerous techniques to address a wide variety of issues. In our field, we commonly find owners need help on specific behavioral challenges such as fear related issues (w/ new people, other animals, environmental factors, etc.), reactivity, impulse control, rowdy or mouthy behaviors, isolation distress, resource guarding, and beyond. Some people want to incorporate foundational training for basic manners and obedience. Many who recently adopted a large dog want guidance in acclimation into the home, while others need help with managing or improving the relationship of existing pets. Large dog owners especially want their dogs to be good canine citizens as managing a large dog with behavior challenges can be difficult and less accepted in today’s society. 

The common theme in our training is establishing a communication system. Many issues stem from owners simply misinterpreting why a dog is behaving a certain way. We help owners understand what their dog is trying to communicate by educating on body language and finding individual motivators such as treats, toys, or praise. Once they better understand how their dog learns and what motivates them, they can work to resolve issues and more effectively teach them new skills. 

It's important to know that not all training is created equal. While we fully support individualizing training to a dog's specific needs and owner’s overall goals, there are several factors that can impact the success of training. Training is the most impactful when there is consistency and motivation. We guide owners on reward-based training which focuses on identifying desirable behaviors from your dog and rewarding those behaviors so they are more likely to occur. 

Do you focus on the underdog, as your name implies?  Why?

Yes! We spent many years dedicated to improving the lives of shelter animals. As animals came into our care, we saw the same behaviors emerge in different dogs from different homes, and knew it wasn't a coincidence. We quickly recognized a huge need to proactively help owners who were struggling with their pets. We developed a great passion for dogs at risk for being surrendered.  We saw underdogs. An underdog is someone you see as a longshot at being successful. The fearful, the reactive, the rowdy, and the misunderstood. It's our goal to help those dogs thrive in a home. It's our goal to help owners see the light at the end of the tunnel and learn to love their dogs for who they are, imperfect and all.

We’ve talked about some of the challenges of big dogs.  What are some of the joys?

Some of our most favorite, affectionate, goofy, intelligent, endearing dogs we have ever known in our personal and professional lives were large dogs. They are certainly more dog to love! Big dogs make great exercise and activity companions! One of our favorite hobbies is jogging with dogs, and we even trained for a half-marathon with a shelter resident shepherd named Violet. It can be very rewarding and super fun to train and do dog sports with a big pup. They are also sturdy and can make AMAZING cuddlers. Our other favorite activity is helping facilitate dog to dog relationships, and big dogs playing together is more entertaining than watching Monday night football! Beyond that, most large breed dogs are purpose-bred and come with unique qualities and astounding physical capabilities that we encourage owners to explore to really tap into their full potential. 

Blogger Karen Zamel is a long-time SVPP volunteer and a member of the communications team.


Monday, January 10, 2022

In Rescue and Adoption, are Big Dogs the Underdog?

You might have been hearing about large dogs, like Mamba, who come to our organization needing care, support, love and, yes, training!  Even with sweet temperaments, smarts and immense potential, these beautiful dogs can stay in shelters or foster care longer than other pets. But why? We talked with Kara Fike, CPDT-KA, and Hannah Senadenos, CPDT-KA, owners of Underdog Academy Dog Training to find out.

Mamba with Hannah is a good boy!
This is the first in a two-part series. The information is so important that we are publishing it in two blogs, rather than editing for brevity. A huge thank you to Kara and Hannah for their insight and help.

I understand that when we rescue big dogs, it’s harder to find them forever families. Why is that?

There are a variety of reasons that can contribute to why large dogs tend to have a longer length of stay in shelters and rescues. Any challenge a dog may display can be compounded by size. A 10-pound-dog that pulls on leash or is fearful with new people may be easier to manage than a 75-pound-dog with the same issues.While not always the case, smaller dogs are sometimes thought of as being easier to care for, needing less space, needing less exercise, and challenging behaviors that can be more easily ignored. Housing restrictions can also limit certain large size dogs and breeds which may deter adopters. 

Dogs in rescues and shelters do not always have the benefit of coming from circumstances that gave them training, whether that is basic manners, obedience, potty training, etc. Large dogs that may not have this training need more time and commitment to helping them learn. 

What are some of the challenges big dogs and their owners face? What do you do to help them?
All dogs face the risk of being misunderstood. Many people don’t understand how dogs communicate or how they learn. We love for owners to educate themselves on basic body language, warning signs of discomfort, and vocalizations to avoid misinterpreting their own dog. 

People also have high expectations for how a dog should behave based on their own experiences or what they have seen in movies or tv, and when a dog acts differently, they think their dog is "bad" or "broken". The fact is, a lot of natural dog behaviors are often considered nuisance or deviant behavior which can set dogs up to fail. We task owners with resetting their expectations, being flexible, and finding outlets for their dog to be a dog.

It is easy for a big dogs' physical and mental needs to be underestimated. Most large dogs have a higher need for regular cardio outlets and daily mental engagement in the form of chewing, foraging, problem solving, basic training, and more. Owners should consider their schedule, their goals, their availability and how it will balance with the dog's needs when exploring a big dog adoption. Truly the best step any person can take to make large dog ownership successful is preparation and considerate matchmaking before bringing a dog into the home. 

Phantom shakes Kara's paw.

When owners seek out support, they are inundated with a plethora of information on dog behavior and training from social media, friends, family, internet, tv, etc. It can be difficult to determine what advice to follow and what methods will help their dog be successful. As it stands today, dog training is an unregulated business. That is to say, any person can claim to be, and operate as, a dog trainer with no credentials or oversight. This is why we encourage owners to find trainers who adhere to certain standards of practice, a code of ethics, completed educational courses in animal behavior, and have a stated commitment to reward-based training. Organizations such as CPDT, IAABC, KPA, and ADT, to name a few, provide certification programs and resource centers for finding reputable trainers.

Can you tell us more about Underdog Academy and how you came to be involved with SVPP? 
We formed Underdog Academy Dog Training to meet the increasing need of positive reinforcement training for common yet challenging dog behaviors. We wanted to get ahead of the issues that often land dogs in shelters. Through our local shelter-rescue connections and a wonderful trainer named Jessica Char (Canine Engineering), we were referred to SVPP to help with in-person training. We not only provide behavioral advice to the rescue group, we also meet with foster parents, potential adopters, and recent adopters to help guide them on basic training as well as addressing behavioral concerns. We’ve worked with many SVPP dogs, including Mamba. He is an active, smart, exuberant, and super affectionate dog. He needs time to warm up to new people as he can be nervous so we have worked with SVPP to build his confidence and put together a game plan for how to best introduce him so he can make new friends.

Karen Zamel is a long-time SVPP volunteer and member of the communications team.  She interviewed Kara and Hannah of Underdog Academy for this blog.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

The Season of Giving to Save Lives

As a long-time communications volunteer for SVPP, I’ve watched the organization grow and change in the most powerful way.  Since its inception in 2015, SVPP has evolved from a fledgling rescue group with an amazing rescue vision to a professional-level team with professional-level processes run by volunteers — who take seriously the value of every life.  I am proud every day to be part of this team.

SVPP rescues pets that sometimes don’t have any other option.  Without the extra medical and foster care, rehabilitation and recovery — and even behavioral support, many of these pets wouldn’t have survived.  The examples are numerous and heartfelt.  You can see some of them on our websites (SVPP and Pup Plaza), in our blogsFacebook and Instagram pages, and other social media.  I am awed when I see the commitment SVPP makes to each of its dogs, cats, puppies, and kittens.

The success stories are numerous and joyful. They are made possible by our dedicated volunteers and patient fosters, our skillful vets and rescue partners, and of course, our generous donors.  It is you and the very community that we serve who make this life-saving possible.

As you plan your holiday, year-end and charitable giving, we hope that donating to SVPP can be part of your joy.

Karen Zamel is a long-time SVPP volunteer and a member of the communication team.






Thursday, September 30, 2021

Do Cats Really Need Enrichment? Don’t They Sleep All of the Time?

Lefty laying out out on the stack of scratchers
in the catio.
A few years ago, my husband showed me a photo of his manager’s catio — a small, enclosed wooden structure attached to the door of his house in Chicago. It kept his cat safe and provided some enrichment — a world beyond the walls of the house. 

When I proposed that we buy one (in spite of a crazy price tag), my husband proposed that we build one. And we did. It's one of the things I love most about our house.

It turns out that keeping cats interested, entertained and even a little challenged is good for their mental and physical health. Since we built the catio, we’ve added cat trees, platforms, scratching furniture and even a chair (for us and them). We change it up from time to time — even moving cat trees gives our two boys a chance to rethink how to climb to the right place for a snooze.  We have bird and squirrel feeders nearby, a small fountain and plenty of "outdoor" action to keep them curious. We have an insert in our sliding glass door that allows them to go in and out independently. 

Oreo in the foreground and
Lefty in the background.
While our cats would maybe call the catio "icing on the cake," we have plenty of simple climbing, scratching and feeding activities inside the house. We discovered cat puzzles for use with dry food (which help slow down two really fast eaters!) and a treat toy for Greenies. We have cat trees by several windows, water fountains from which they love drinking, a huge kid’s tube that they love to hide and run in, and more than their fair share of catnip toys. Peacock feathers are a fan favorite. 

I would have liked to run a cat highway down the hall, around the office, guest room and living room, but, alas, that didn’t turn out to be the perfect fit for our small house. We don’t have Jackson Galaxy “Catification” nirvana, but we try our best to make and keep our family happy. 

My mother-in-law, Eva, recently adopted a cat and we had that discussion. “Do cats really need enrichment? Don’t they sleep all of the time?” We have worked hard to share our experience with Eva and her new cat. We have — to her delight — dropped in with a fabulous cat tree, vertical and horizontal scratchers, toys, a bed, and even, yes, the beloved peacock
Oreo mastering his skill at the food puzzle.

feathers! “Tinky” has an active and happy life. 

You can learn more about Cat Needs and Basics — including Play and Enrichment — on our website

Karen Zamel is a long-time SVPP volunteer and a member of the communications team.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Barking Happily About Adopting a Senior Pet

We’ve been barking about the importance of rescuing, fostering and adopting senior pets for a while now — in recent SVPP and Pup Plaza blogs. Found as a stray, abandoned or surrendered to the shelter, senior pets can be the ideal companion...low key, sweet, and often undemanding, happy with a bit of time, love, attention, and a warm bed.

Initially though, these pets can require more support — veterinary and dental care and longer time in foster to find the right forever family. This can be an expensive endeavor, but these dogs and cats are worth every penny and deserving of our embrace.  In 2020, in the midst of the pandemic, SVPP rescued more than 300 pets including 83 dogs, 20 of which were senior.

The Lieb family recently added 10-year old Emma to their Senior Doxie party!
The Lieb family recently added 10-year old Emma
to their Senior Doxie party!

We have some good news to share on this front. The Grey Muzzle Organization has awarded SVPP a grant to help care for these senior pooches. With its vision of “a world where no old dog dies alone and afraid,” this national nonprofit has provided more than $3.1 million in grants to organizations that help achieve this vision.

“Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we’re delighted to help deserving organizations like SVPP make a difference in the lives of dogs and people in their communities,” Grey Muzzle’s Executive Director Lisa Lunghofer said. “Many senior dogs are enjoying their golden years in loving homes thanks to the wonderful work of SVPP.”

SVPP is one of 77 animal welfare groups chosen from 266 applicants to receive a grant to help local senior dogs. The winning groups received a total of more than $616,000 in grants to help save or improve the lives of at-risk old dogs in their communities.

As you ponder fostering or adopting a dog — or cat, think of the joy you can bring a senior and the love he or she can bring you.

For more information about adoptable dogs and cats and/or fostering, please visit our website.

Karen Zamel is a long-time SVPP volunteer and is a member of the communications team.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

I Found an Orphan Kitten! Now What?

Spring is kitten season – and we’re proud to report that this year, SVPP has already rescued 100 kittens! This life-saving work wouldn’t be possible without the unwavering passion and commitment of our volunteers, our community supporters, and our rescue partners, the San Jose Animal Care Center and Tri-City Animal Shelter in Fremont, who share in our mission of saving homeless and at-risk cats and dogs. 

It’s critical we do our part to help save the lives of these tiny felines. Because they’re small, they’re more prone to miss cars coming their way, take shelter inside car engines, and find themselves in confrontations with larger predators from which they can’t escape. 

If you have cats or kittens visiting your yard, they need your help! There are more than 150,000 stray and feral cats in Santa Clara County alone. Want to learn more about how you can play a direct role in helping give kittens a second chance at life? You’re in luck! We’ve created a handy cheat sheet that lays out the steps you should take if you find an orphan kitten in San Jose (and surrounding areas). Check it out below and click on the image to visit our kitten season page

For ‘getting started’ tips on trapping kittens, and trap rentals in case you find an orphaned kitten and need to safely and quickly trap them so you can then take them to a shelter, visit this resource page on Bay Area Cats, a site created by our very own SVPP volunteer and cat trapping expert Vanessa Forney.

Purchasing items from our kitten wish list on Amazon is another way to make a big difference from afar, with just a click of a couple buttons. We are so appreciative of our community’s continued support! Thank you for all that you do to help save our local at-risk kittens. 

Alandea Muñoz is an SVPP volunteer and guest blogger.

Monday, May 31, 2021

The Best Shelter is a Compassionate Community – and Our Amazing Fosters!

A recent quote from Julie Castle, CEO of Best Friends Animal Society, resonated with me. She said, "Best Friends has been championing the belief that the best shelter is a compassionate community."  We agree! Our rescue model works because of the amazing foster families who support our mission.  Please meet one here.  We interviewed Kim Hadley, a kitten foster who has been fostering kittens as part of a healing journey after the loss her cat, Jack.  

Kim Hadley's triplets times two!

How did you become connected with SVPP?
I found SVPP on Facebook when I was looking into adopting a cat in early 2020. I was immediately attracted to this particular rescue group because all of the animals had a story. SVPP did a great job of being transparent and honest about each animal's health history, challenges, triumphs, and a team behind them that cared – a lot.

What inspired you to start fostering?

I became particularly interested in fostering after we lost our 7-year-old cat, Jack, to cancer earlier this year.  He was an exceptional member of our family, and I found joy in the idea of fostering kittens while I was knee-deep in the grief and sadness that followed after losing him. I have four young children, and there is no doubt that they were deeply affected by Jack's passing as well. It is important to me to give them healthy ways to cope with big emotions, and I thought being a part of raising kittens and getting them ready for their forever homes would be a positive and healing experience.


What was your first fostering experience like?
We got our first litter of three kittens when they were just 8-days-old. I knew that I would be taking on weeks of bottle feeding, including the middle of the night feeds – and it was both exciting and scary! They were so helpless but adorable, and it didn't take long for my kids and me to fall in love entirely.  I quickly learned that there is much more to fostering than just feeding and cuddling sweet, tiny kittens. You'll be scheduling supply pick-ups, monitoring weight gain, trimming tiny nails, driving to veterinary appointments, doing extra laundry, dishes, and so much more. It is a commitment, but it is so worth it. You not only get to enjoy the babies, but you get to meet wonderful, passionate, kind people. You get to give these kittens a great start to life so that they can become amazing companions – a best friend, a source of joy and happiness to someone, like Jack was to us.


What’s been the most challenging and most joyful?
The most challenging part has been seeing how many cats (and other animals) come into our county shelter – how many need foster and forever homes. It's hard not to want to help them all; to want to do more, take in more, make a bigger difference. It's an emotional roller coaster; I think it's important to know the reality, even if it's harsh. At the same time, the most joyful part, besides the kitten cuddles, purrs, and shenanigans, seeing their personalities blossom and become healthy, well-adjusted cats, has been knowing that I am helping in some small way. Even if it's just a few litters or a couple of adults per year, a few weeks of my life can change the course of their entire life.

Is fostering something you would recommend to others?
Absolutely, and without hesitation. I truly believe it is one of the greatest experiences you can have. The more people who can show how doable it is, the more foster homes there will be. I'm a mom to 3-year-old triplets and a 6-year-old and have found it to not only be manageable, but a fantastic experience for our whole family.  The people you will meet have big hearts and want you to be successful, so don't be afraid to ask questions or help. There will likely be some difficult losses, but there will be many more big wins. Remember, a few weeks of your life can mean the difference for the rest of theirs.

Karen Zamel is a long-time SVPP volunteer and a member of the communications team.