Whitney and her dog Pete started their volunteer journey in Cincinnati, where they lived and volunteered together at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for a year. Whitney describes Pete as a calm and loving dog who enjoys everyone he meets, so after moving to Indianapolis, she knew she wanted to find a way for she and Pete to get involved with the community. They found Paws & Think after contacting Riley Children’s Hospital to learn about their therapy dog volunteer opportunities. Whitney was impressed with Paws & Think’s mission: “I love that Paws & Think helps in many different venues and is constantly trying to educate the community on the many ways dogs and humans help each other.”
Together Whitney and Pete passed their therapy team evaluation with Paws & Think in June of this year and went on to complete the additional training to become part of the Paws to Heal program at St. Vincent’s. They visit St. Vincent’s every other week, and the Peyton Manning Children’s Hospital is their favorite place to volunteer together. Whitney reflects on a recent visit there, where they encountered a young girl in the hallway outside her room. The girl sat down next to Pete, and Pete wiggled close to her and laid his head in her lap. The girl was so small that Pete’s head barely fit in her lap, but they sat together for five minutes or more, content with each other’s company. “That interaction just reminded how lucky I am to have Pete and how lucky we all are to have dogs that know just what to do to make the most of a moment,” Whitney says.
Pete is a Golden Retriever who will be turning four in March, and when he is not volunteering with Paws & Think he loves to play fetch and go swimming in any water that he can get to. Pete has a younger brother, Eddie, who is also a Golden Retriever and just turned one year old. Together they enjoy visiting local parks to walk the trails, and Whitney is training Eddie so that he can become a therapy dog with Paws & Think someday, too. Whitney looks forward to being able to volunteer with Eddie and is happy that she is able to share Pete’s gifts with others. “I get asked all the time how I trained Pete to be a therapy dog,” she says. “While there is a lot of work and training that goes into it, it is so much more than just obedience. Some dogs just have that special personality!”
Over this past year there has been growing evidence of a possible link between certain types of dog food and the development of heart disease in dogs. When attention was first brought to this issue it appeared that grain-free diets may be contributing to dogs developing dilated cardiomyopathy. Dilated cardiomyopathy is a heart condition in which the heart wall gets thin, weak, and can’t pump blood efficiently throughout the body. It was thought that the grain-free diets were either deficient in an amino acid, called taurine, or that they changed the way taurine was metabolized in the body. This is important because taurine deficiency is known to cause dilated cardiomyopathy in both cats and dogs.
After more investigation, however, the food in question has been expanded to include not only grain-free diets, but also diets from boutique companies and diets that contain exotic ingredients (kangaroo meat, for example). Currently “BEG” diets (boutique, exotic ingredients, grain-free) are being examined as a culprit for the increase in heart disease cases in dogs throughout the US. There is not a definitive answer as of yet as to why these diets may be linked to heart disease in dogs (or even if they are truly the cause), but suspect they may just not be as nutritionally balanced as they should be. Investigations are still under way.
The current recommendation by veterinary cardiologists is to feed a commercial pet food made by a well-established manufacturer (Hill’s, Purina, Royal Canin, etc.) that contains common ingredients such as chicken, beef, and even grains. For the most part, dogs do just fine eating grains and they are a good source of energy. There is actually only just a small percentage of dogs that may develop a true grain allergy (Wheaten Terriers are the main breed affected). Usually food allergies in dogs are due to the protein source, not the grain.
If a dog needs a special diet for a medical condition, consulting with their veterinarian or even seeking out a diet plan from a Board-Certified Veterinary Nutritionist (acvn.org) is the best way to go.
Updated Information about Grain-Free Diets & Cardiomyopathy: