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Service Dogs Receive Valuable Training During Recently Held Theater Performance

Jess

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A typical audience for the performance of a popular musical tends to feature young and old people alike with varying levels of experience with the medium. Some may know lyrics to all the songs while others may just be trying to keep up with the happenings.

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Still, you don’t usually expect to see dogs taking part in the festivities, but for one recently held show, that turned out to be the case.

Via Little Things, a performance of the acclaimed musical “Billy Elliot” at the Festival Theatre in Ontario, Canada was attended by numerous dogs. It was a unique audience to say the least, but there was a good reason behind why the dogs were asked to be present for the performance.

These were not ordinary dogs catching a show. They are from K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs.

The performance itself was not of the usual variety. On the aforementioned occasion, the theater company put on a “relaxed performance.”

Per the Stratford Festival’s website, relaxed performances differ from the regular performances in that they are meant for attendees who will feel more comfortable being a part of a “less restricted audience environment.”

To further differentiate the relaxed performances from their more conventional counterparts and to also make them more accommodating, they also feature reduced lighting and sounds so as to prevent any audience members from being startled during the performance itself.

The relaxed performance of “Billy Elliot” was not just for the sake of entertaining the service dogs as it was also intended more to provide training for the hounds. The dogs who were present for the show were asked to sit along theater seats and they were taught how to properly behave as the show progressed.

Speaking to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Laura Mackenzie, the owner and head trainer at K-9 Country Inn Working Service Dogs, said that the training was “important” for the dogs as it can prepare them to act accordingly in the future when the time comes for their handler to attend their preferred activities.

Mackenzie also pointed out that the dogs being at the performance was beneficial because it gave them an opportunity to be exposed to different kinds of lights and noises.

The theater company was also complimentary of the service dogs who were on hand for the relaxed performance of “Billy Elliot.” Stratford Festival spokesperson Ann Swerdfager said that the dogs were “extremely well-behaved” during the performance. Swerdfager also highlighted the way in which the dogs moved about the theater, saying that they acted just like people would for a performance.

It’s not just the service dogs and their potential future handlers who benefited from the recent relaxed performance. Swerdfager said that the dogs being in the audience also helped the performers. Thanks to the experience, the performers were able to get a sense of what it’s like to put on a show for an audience made up of people as well as some service dogs.

The hope here is that the training will make it possible for more people to attend theater shows.

More service dogs could also be heading to the theater sometime soon. Mackenzie already has plans to bring new service dogs to future performances.

While nothing is set in stone just yet, it’s possible that more service dogs could get a taste of the theater when a relaxed performance of “The Neverending Story” takes place in October. To be more specific, a relaxed performance of “The Neverending Story” is expected to take place on Oct. 2 at the Avon Theatre.

For those eager to see the service dogs as they were attending the show, K-9 Country Inn Service Dogs has an Instagram account featuring them.

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Culture

Doctors Debate a New Study That Puts Kids’ Screen TIme in a Positive Light

Kelly Taylor

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Is Screen Time A Common Sense Issue, Or Is There More To Learn From A Recent Study?

Children glued to their phones and tablets may give parents a break, but is the overall, long-term effect of “screen time” actually positive? On TV, the show “The Doctors” took on this question in response to a controversial study that seemed to claim that kids benefit from screen time more than they are harmed. Ironically, parents can go online and spend some screen time of their own catching up on this segment of “The Doctors” along with videos from well-known medical sources such as Kaiser Permanente and even the U.S. Government‘s NIH. Why did these doctors get heated about the results of the study?

The Potential Dangers of Children Spending Significant Screen Time

Mental development of children involves diverse sensory inputs, problem-solving, interaction with others and managing of emotions. Screen time may help educate and entertain kids, but overall the brain and personality development of the child could be at risk if they spend too much time face-to-screen.

Is Erosion of Family Life Another Concern?

While studies often focus on screen time as a negative factor in children’s school and developmental progress, the effect on family life as a whole is sometimes omitted. Kids who spend so many hours alone, not interacting with their families when they are at home, would in the past have been cause for concern. They might be depressed, have a developmental issue, or be holding in feelings about some difficult issue in their lives. Screen time is a distraction that could serve to mask these and other concerns. When kids participate in the family, physicians note, they not only grow but they have better access to interactive parenting.

Dr. Judy Ho And Her Analysis Of A Controversial “Study”

On “The Doctors,” the team considered the positive spin on kids and screen time of a new but controversial study. Clinical psychologist Dr. Judy Ho, who had strong opinions on the subject, played the “bad guy” and asked tough questions, offering her own well-developed views. She noted that the study they were discussing was missing several key elements of a well-designed piece of research, and so the conclusions were unlikely to be useful as information for parents. The data simply served as an informal survey of interested parents, and the results were a compilation of general comments about kids’ characteristics. There wasn’t really any direct and scientific way to see cause and effect.

Boiling Down The Issue Of Screen Time For Kids

Parents may use decisions about gadget use as a teachable moment in their children’s lives, but as always peer pressure is going to be a powerful force. Kids who aren’t connected tend to miss out, as previous generations of TV-watching kids did, on social interactions with other kids which revolve around common media experiences.

Teaching Your Children to Grow into Adulthood

Parents have to weigh social “coolness” against developmental, family, and educational concerns. In the end, though it may be difficult for some parents, Dr. Patty’s suggestions are a great starting point: have no-screen zones like the dining room with a basket by the door, have concrete limits for screen time — typically less than two hours a day — and try to make screen time a parent-child experience rather than a media consumption moment. Talk about screen-based experiences, think about them together, laugh at the funny stuff and ask questions about the serious stuff. Use screen time to help your child’s mind grow.

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Advice for Teaching Toddlers How to Be Kind to Pets

Kevin Wells

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Raising children can be an enjoyable and rewarding experience; however, it can be hard for children to learn how to interact with animals. When it comes to sharing kindness with pets, this is often a task that toddlers struggle with. This can leave parents wondering what they are going to do. After all, having a pet is a great way to teach a child responsibility in addition to welcoming another member of the family. It is important for parents to teach their children how to be kind to pets. For parents who are having trouble getting their toddlers to empathize with pets, there are a few pieces of advice to keep in mind.

Lead by Example

The first tip to keep in mind is to lead by example. Instead of telling kids how they should interact with animals, take steps to demonstrate this to them by example. Take kids out to petting zoos and show kindness to animals. Feed the animals. Pet the animals. Say kind things. Kids want to do what their parents are doing. If they see their parents being kind to animals, they are going to follow in those important footsteps.

Read About Animals

Toddlers are not intentionally mean to animals; however, they are going to be hesitant to open up to something that is unfamiliar to them. Therefore, when teaching toddlers how to read, take the time to read a few books and stories about animals. There are countless books that are meant for children that discuss animals, the various types, why they are important, and how to interact with them. Pick a few of these books out. The books will teach children about animals and, as toddlers become more familiar with them, they will show them kindness.

Use a Pretend Pet

One of the first steps that parents can take to get their toddlers more comfortable around pets is to come up with a pretend example. These take the form of stuffed animals. Many kids come home from the hospital with stuffed animals and end up being a kid’s first friend. Go through the store and pick out a few pretend pets from the stuffed animal aisle. The kids will open up to them and often give their new pretend friend a name. This will help toddlers learn how to empathize with real-life pets that look like their stuffed animals.

Use Positive Reinforcement

A lot of parents are hesitant to heap praise on their child for doing something they are supposed to do. After all, children are supposed to be kind to animals. Why reward them for doing something that they should already be doing? The answer is because it works. Positive reinforcement works on everyone, including children. Toddlers want to please their parents. If they receive praise for being nice to the family pet, they are going to continue with this behavior in the future. Use positive reinforcement to teach toddlers how to be kind to pets.

Ensure there is a Safe Space in the Home for the Pet

In order for toddlers to be kind to pets, they need to feel comfortable around them. This means that the pet needs to be nice to the toddler as well. Pets are going to be irritated if toddlers are constantly picking on them. Eventually, they are going to fight back. This will make it hard for a toddler to become friendly with the family pet. Prevent this by providing the pet with a safe space to hide when they need a break. This will help both the pet and the toddler.

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Pet Adoption Event Leads to Family Reunion

Renee Yates

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The Jacksonville Humane Society, a non-profit, no-kill animal shelter, is a member of No Kill Jacksonville. The shelter provides adoption and veterinary services to homeless pets in the area in an attempt to reduce suffering and create a community where no adoptable pet is killed simply because there isn’t a space for it.

In 2018 alone, over 500 volunteers sacrificed over 27,000 hours to help meet those goals. A labor of love, the shelter helps keep families together and reunites pets with their families. 397 pets were returned to their owners in 2018, thanks to the hard work of the shelter workers.

Special Adoption Events

Shelters like the Jacksonville Humane Society have special events where the adoption fees are reduced or waived, and where families can come out to see if they are interested in adopting an available pet for their own family. One such event was called Generosity Breeds Joy, a day chosen to celebrate the shelter’s one year anniversary in its new and innovative building.

For the November 9 event, adoption fees were free, and some local restaurants offered to donate a percentage of proceeds to the shelter, as long as the diners asked on the special day. The special event also offered face painting, arts and crafts, and a special presentation for yoga with cats. There was even a special day camp for on November 12 for kids in grades kindergarten to 8th.

Surprise Reunion

On that special day, a family showed up at the PetSmart that was hosting the event in hopes of adopting a kitten. While they were waiting in line, they happened to notice a dog that was being readied for a walk. The brown-and-white dog looked very familiar to the family, who had lost a similar-looking dog in August.

The dad shouted loud enough to be heard throughout the store, “That’s my Dopey!” The dog was so excited he ran over to see his dad, only to find that his whole family was there excited to see him again. 

At that time, Dopey had been with the Jacksonville Humane Society for over a month. A kind stranger brought him in on October 1, believing he was a stray who needed to find a home. The shelter took good care of him and then brought him to the Generosity Breeds Joy event to try to find a forever home.

More and More Reunions

Just a few days later, the shelter reunited another family. A kitten was brought in during a big spay and neuter event, and she turned out to have a microchip. She was quickly reunited with her family.

One lucky lady in Florida was reunited with her dog who escaped a fence in 2007. She kept searching, looking in shelters and searching the streets when she was out. After 12 years, her Duchess was found living under a man’s home in Pennsylvania, and she got to go home.

How You Can Help

You never know who you might be helping when you give to a shelter. You may find a new family member or help a pet that belongs to a friend. While many people are already overextended, there are a lot of ways you can help your local shelter. 

If you have food your pet doesn’t like, you can donate it instead of throwing it away. Let others in your community know so the shelter can receive assistance, and even if you can’t volunteer, suggest it to teenage friends as a great way to get some work experience. It takes the whole community to make miracles like this happen.

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How to Travel with a Pet During the Holiday Season

Renee Yates

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The holiday season is coming up quickly and there are lots of people who plan on taking their pets with them. After all, the holidays are meant to be spent with family and pets are members of the family. On the other hand, the holidays are also stressful. One of the reasons why the holidays might be stressful is because people are uncomfortable traveling with their pets. With this in mind, there are a few tips that everyone should remember that can make traveling with pets a breeze.

Make an Appointment with the Vet

First, make sure that pets are okay to travel. One of the things that can make traveling with pets even more stressful is having a pet that gets sick during the trip. Try to get ahead of any illnesses that might develop. Make sure that pets are up to date on shots. Bring a copy of the pet’s medical record on the trip just in case anything happens while everyone is out of town.

Make Sure the Animal’s Home is Clear on the Collar

Sometimes, pets and owners can become separated during the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. To plan for any problems, make sure the pet has an ID tag that has all of the information clearly printed on the collar. Some of the information that should go on these ID tags include the owner’s name, cell phone number, and address. During the holiday season, try to include information on where the family will be staying as well. This can help families avoid a disaster if they get separated from their furry friend.

Pack Well and Plan for Everything

While human counterparts may pack for themselves, there is no such luck with pets. Make sure that there is plenty of food and water for all family pets. This means using a collapsible bowl (as this will save space) and bringing plenty of water. Depending on what kind of pet a family has, it might also be a good idea to bring something that can keep your pet warm or cool. This may take the form of a sweater or cooling vest.

Think About the Pet’s Stress Level

Traveling is stressful for humans; however, it is far more stressful for pets who are heading to an unfamiliar place and have no idea what is happening. Therefore, bring items that can help keep pets calm during this adventure. This may take the form of toys from home, which can create a sense of familiarity for pets. Other options include treats, blankets, and even lavender oil, which may have calming properties that can help out animals during the trip.

Pre-Travel Meals are Helpful

One of the ways that owners can keep their pets calm is to feed them a few hours before the trip. Feeding them ahead of time will not only calm their emotions but can also prevent motion sickness from setting in. Motion sickness can be a problem for both people and animals. Eating several hours before any travel takes place can help prevent pets from getting sick.

Think About the Travel Plans

With all of the focus on the pets, it is easy to overlook the regulations of traveling. Those who are traveling by plane need to think about the rules and regulations about flying with a pet. Each airline handles pets differently, so be sure to think about how this is handled. Furthermore, those who are traveling by car need to plan in advance as well. Think about space, crates, and seat belts. 

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Culture

Stella the Dog Can Talk!

Renee Yates

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Christina Hunger is a speech pathologist who works with young children around two years old to enhance their ability to communicate with adults. Christina has always wondered if she could teach a puppy to use the word buttons, too. Several years ago, Christina adopted a dog named Stella.  She decided to try and see if the same methods she uses for her therapy would also help her puppy to learn to communicate.  Many dog owners would like to really understand what their pets are thinking about.  Stella uses buttons to communicate her wishes to her owners.  Christina can talk with her dog.

Christina set up a group of buttons for Stella to push with her paws.  Each button was introduced singularly, and over time Stella learned the meaning of a variety of buttons. The buttons were also grouped by color.  Each color represents a particular group of words.  Stella can press “walk” or “beach” with her paws to indicate what she wants to do.  She can also press buttons for Christina or Jake, her other owner.  Stella will walk on the board of 26 buttons as she looks for the one she wants.  Stella took the longest to learn her first button.  After that, it was much easier to introduce more buttons to the dog.

When Stella began to learn to use the buttons, she would only use one paw.  Over time, Stella began using both paws to press the buttons. Using both paws makes it easier for Stella to put more than one button together.  At this point, she can put a series of five or less words together such as “Christina walk”  or “Want Jake Come.”  Christina feels that the dog showed relief when she finally learned how to punch the buttons for her needs.  Stella barks when she hits the buttons, and is able to repeat requests if Christina does not understand her or does not see the dog punch all of her buttons.

Christina has started a blog entitled Hunger for Words where visitors can see the progress of Stella and her buttons. The blog has a number of cool videos of Stella’s day.  Christina is hoping to teach this method to other dogs and hopes that this method will improve the communication between owners and pets.  She also feels that having the board made a recent move easier for Stella to understand.  Moves often make pets anxious, but Stella was very calm about their recent move to the beach.  Stella intends to introduce more words for Stella to learn.

Stella has been featured in People magazine, which is following the story of Stella from time to time for its readers.  For more on Stella, go here to reach Christina’s blog.  Christina is currently looking for another dog that can learn to push buttons.  She is hoping to organize a class of animals and show their owners how to make both of their lives easier.

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