About pressunleashed

I am a veteran journalist who recently became a casualty of the newspaper industry's downturn. I found myself out of a job, but not without material. My passion is pets, and I've written stories and blogs for the Grand Rapids Press as well as the website The Rapidian. My goal is to share news, opinions and events related to pets and to educate, inform and entertain readers through pressunleashed.com.

Dogs in Grand Rapids neglect case deserve a better life

Many of the dogs in Kimberly Savino's care were kept in small crates normally used for transport purposes.

Many of the dogs in Kimberly Savino’s care were kept in small crates normally used for transport purposes.

It is likely I’ll lose some Facebook friends over this blog post. I can’t be too concerned about that. Many of my friends on Facebook are mere acquaintances, people I’ve never met. Others already were my friends long before Facebook, or have become true friends the past several years. Those friends are the people with whom I surround myself.

Kimberly Savino, one of my friends on Facebook, falls into the “acquaintance” category. She is among a group of hundreds of Corgi owners to which I belong. Like many “friends” on Facebook, I have never spoken with her, never met her. I hadn’t seen her in person until Tuesday.

That’s when I sat in the courtroom in Grand Rapids listening to testimony at the hearing to determine whether dogs owned by Savino would have to be forfeited to Kent County. Savino has been criminally charged with neglect in a case involving 39 dogs seized from her home (or, more precisely, Sue and Ryen Strotheide’s home) by Kent County Animal Control. Kent County was seeking to have the dogs forfeited to them.

Savino, the defendant, wants the dogs returned to her. Savino testified she has, for many years, rescued dogs she said “other people didn’t want to deal with,” including those with special needs and medical issues. She moved to Grand Rapids from Massachusetts into the Strotheide home, in part because the city has no limit on the number of dogs allowed in a residence. She moved to their home in May 2013 as a temporary move. In June 2013, she said, she moved her permanently, but said the housing situation was temporary.

Yet the “temporary” arrangement had not changed by June 27, 2014, when animal control seized the dogs (including two dogs belonging to the Strotheides). Photos entered into evidence showed dog crates, the smaller plastic type in which animals are usually transported, stacked on top of one another in a room in the house. More dogs were in another room, also in crates. Yet more dogs were kept in the basement.

Animal control officer Joe Dainelis, who led the seizure, said many of the dogs could not turn around or stand up properly in their too-small crates. The house smelled of urine and feces and many of the crates (and dogs) also contained urine and feces, he said. Dainelis had visited the residence on previous occasions and had not filed any complaints, he testified.

Savino didn’t bring all her rescue dogs from Massachusetts at once. Some were rescued here in Michigan, from a Barry County shelter a few months ago. Savino’s own veterinarian who testified Tuesday said she saw only 10 dogs on an occasion in November 2013 and two more in December. The vet said she wasn’t aware Savino had 39 dogs until the news story came out and she was called to testify.

Kent County Animal Shelter veterinarian Laurie Wright was called to the stand and detailed the condition of each dog as they arrived at the shelter on June 27. She went through 37 dogs (the two dogs owned by the Strotheides are not included in this forfeiture), by name, and described their breed (or mix), sex, age (or approximate) and then condition. A video shown prior to her testimony showed the dogs upon intake and supported her testimony.

The majority of dogs were underweight and had dental diseases, overgrown toenails, ear infections and skin disorders. One tested positive for heartworm. Several had chronic eye problems. Most of the issues, Wright said, were to such a degree that the problems would have been easily recognized and are treatable.

Wright explained the dental health issues are rated on a grading scale of 1 to 4, with 1 being healthy and 4 on the other end of the spectrum. Of the 37 dogs presented (the Strotheide’s dogs were not included) into evidence, 11 had Grade 2 dental disease, 10 had Grade 3 and 10 had Grade 4. Five puppies were not included, nor was a Great Pyrenees who would not tolerate an oral exam because of pain and nervousness, Wright said.

Some dogs were missing teeth, including one with no teeth except the lower molars and another with exposed tooth roots and bone. Aside from the dental issues, Wright noted many of the dogs had feces matted in their coats (including one who needed a sanitary-area shaving in order to eliminate normally), urine soaked and stained feet, discharge from the eyes, and debris and hair in the ears, some of which were inflamed. A few had heart murmurs.

Savino testified the dogs were in fine condition before she and Sue Strotheide left for a trip to Massachusetts in late May. They were gone five days; Ryen Strotheide was in charge of the dogs. Savino said she found the dogs in distress and having seizures upon her return. They had not been fed or watered properly, she said. A door to the “dog room” was to be left open to allow for proper ventilation. Ryen had closed the door and opened blinds, causing overheating, Savino testified. Two dogs died within a couple of days of her return, despite her efforts to save them by rushing them to the emergency vet and performing CPR.

Shortly after the incident, and after he was served with divorce papers, Ryen Strotheide filed a neglect complaint against Savino. When asked why he hadn’t filed a complaint earlier, Ryen Strotheide said, “I thought things would get better. I thought we would develop a system. We were promised help and it never materialized.”

Wright said the condition of the dogs she witnessed was not a result of four or five days of neglect by Ryen Strotheide, but neglect that had built up over time. Judge James Robert Redford, in his ruling, agreed.

“I find the defendant’s testimony incredible,” Redford said. He said Savino’s claim that the conditions resulted from four days of neglect by Ryen Strotheide “is illogical and unsupported.”

“The defendant failed to provide adequate care and the manner in which the defendant chose to warehouse these animals (in transport crates) was completely inappropriate,” Redford said.

He offered two photos admitted into evidence, of the same room inside the home. One, admitted by the defense, showed the room in “perfect” condition, with a minimal number of crates, fresh paint, clean.

“I don’t know when exhibit G was taken,” Redford said, regarding the photo admitted by the defense. “But exhibit 7 (the peoples’ photo) was 24 days after Ryen (Strotheide’s) complaint and it is absolutely disgusting, the filth these animals were required to live in. “Thankfully, the dogs were taken out of the home.”

Redford ruled the county acted appropriately in seizing the dogs from the home. Savino was ordered to pay $106,430 by 4:45 p.m. Friday or forfeit the dogs. If she pays, the dogs will remain in the Kent County Animal Shelter until Nov. 30, at which point Savino’s criminal trial should be finished (a probable cause hearing is Aug. 28 in Grand Rapids District Court).

If she does not pay, the dogs will be turned over the animal shelter and eventually made available for adoption. It is likely west Michigan rescue organizations such as the Humane Society of West Michigan will offer assistance, as has been the case in the past with animals seized in puppy mill or hoarding cases.

After hearing testimony and watching the intake video, I couldn’t agree more with Judge Redford. These dogs deserve individual attention and love, not the kind of attention (or time) one person can give to 39 dogs under one roof. They need medical attention. They need to be free to run in their own yard, sleep in their own bed, eat outside their crates and drink water whenever they want.

They need to be dogs.

If Kimberly Savino truly loves these dogs, as she says, she will give them their freedom and not fight to keep them in the shelter until after her criminal trial for neglect.

It has been my experience that they will get that chance to be dogs once they are made available for adoption. West Michigan animal lovers certainly will line up with applications, ready to give the dogs the happy and loving homes they deserve.

BISSELL Blocktail Party continues to set records

Among the activities at this year's Blocktail Party was a temporary color treatment that turned dogs into walking works of art. (Photo courtesy of Grumpy Pups Pet Photography)

Among the activities at this year’s Blocktail Party was a temporary color treatment that turned dogs into walking works of art. (Photo courtesy of Grumpy Pups Pet Photography)

The numbers are in, and the annual BISSELL Blocktail Party once again has broken its previous fundraising records.

The annual event celebrated its ninth anniversary on June 11 on the lawn at Mangiamo! restaurant in Grand Rapids. Despite rainy weather much of the day, the party drew nearly 700 guests, many of whom were accompanied by their dogs.

Armed with a new silent auction app in which guests – and even those who couldn’t make it to the party – could wander about the event and make bids on items via their mobile device, this year’s BISSELL Blocktail party raised more than $250,000 to help West Michigan animal advocacy organizations.

Bidders were able to make and track their bids via their devices without having to circle back to crowded auction tables. The convenient app also meant non-party goers could get in on the bidding for great auction items or simply make a donation for the event.

While we weren’t able to attend this year – our Jack Russell terrier, who is deathly afraid of thunderstorms, kept us at home – we were able to make a donation to Blocktail from home thanks to the new system. Since we usually come home from Blocktail armed with artwork, local services or other goodies we “won” in the silent auction (including the computer on which this blog is written), we figured we would at least donate an amount we’d normally spend at Blocktail. It was our way of contributing to such a wonderful event from 25 miles away!

And we know our contribution will be well spent. Monday, the event’s committee announced the recipients of Blocktail grants through the BISSELL Pet Foundation. The organizations help West Michigan pets in a variety of ways, from spay/neuter programs to microchipping, adoption and rescue, care for senior pets and medical care of victims of cruelty and neglect.

“The BISSELL Pet Foundation exists to provide support to shelters and rescues so that they can ultimately find a loving family for the millions of homeless pets in our country,” Cathy Bissell, founder of the BISSELL Pet Foundation, said in a news release. “We are very proud to support these 14 local organizations with funds from this year’s party and have been thrilled to see how collaboration between many of these groups is changing the face of animal welfare in our community. I am so thankful that through the BISSELL Blocktail Party our community can show their support for these progressive and compassionate groups. Together, we are working to save lives!”

We’ll be back for next year’s Blocktail Party – we missed seeing all the dogs and people and, of course, the food. And we can take comfort in knowing we were able to contribute to this year’s event and help those who help animals in our community.

A list of the BISSELL Blocktail grant recipients from this year’s event (“Blocktail Buddies” each received an additional $1,000 gift earlier in 2014 to recognize their dedication to animal welfare):

• Community Spay Neuter Initiative Partnership (C-SNIP): $45,000
• Humane Society of West Michigan: $40,000
• Vicky’s Pet Connection: $27,000
• Pound Buddies (Volunteers for Muskegon County Animal Control): $19,500
• Kent County Animal Shelter: $18,845
• West Michigan Spay & Neuter Clinic: $18,000
• Crash’s Landing & Big Sid’s Sanctuary: $12,500
• Safe Haven Humane Society: $10,000
• Lake Haven Rescue: $10,000
• Reuben’s Room Cat Rescue: $6,750
• Carol’s Ferals: $5,000
• Kelley’s Heart to Heart: $5,000
• Focus on Ferals: $5,000

DaVinci Foundation food drive nets two tons for Detroit-area pets in need

"Big D" DaVinci, spokesdog of the DaVinci Foundation for Animals. (Candilynn and Michael Lockhart photo)

“Big D” DaVinci, spokesdog of the DaVinci Foundation for Animals. (Candilynn and Michael Lockhart photo)

By Mary Ullmer

I’ve never met Candilynn and Michael Lockhart, yet we’ve formed a bond. That bond is based in our love of pets, and in efforts to help pets in need.

The Lockharts, who write and shoot photos for the “Doggy Destination” stories in Dogs Unleashed magazine (a product of U.S. Retail Inc.’s Pet Supplies Plus franchises), are co-founders of the non-profit DaVinci Foundation for Animals.

Together with their dog, Big D DaVinci, they’ve raised funds for pets in need in the Detroit area. Their latest effort, a food drive that ran through the month of April, resulted in two tons of pet food being donated to Detroit area rescues, shelters and low-income families to ensure pets do not go hungry.

The foundation teamed up with DogTipper.com, BringFido.com and Pedigree for the DaVinci’s Detroit Initiative Food Drive.

Through the AAAR Paws for Life program, the food will be distributed throughout Detroit to any family or person with pets in need of assistance as well as to several rescues, shelters and food banks. Because of the success of  the food drive, Paws for Life, Detroit’s second largest food bank, will have food available to assist families and help feed homeless dogs in Detroit throughout the summer.

“We believe that no dog should to go hungry, all we need to do is band together,”  Candilynn and Michael said in a press release.

If you live in Michigan, you’ve no doubt been made aware of the stray pet population in Detroit, and the organizations working to do something about it. Candilynn and Michael are just getting started, and they’ve already done a world of good for pets in need in the Detroit area. Their organization’s motto is “Creating a better world for animals one city at a time.” I encourage you to learn more about the DaVinci Foundation for Animals by checking out their website, TheDavinciFoundation.org.

The organization’s official mascot, DaVinci (aka Big D) also has a Facebook page to keep supporters up to date on their many activities aimed toward helping pets in the Detroit area.

Mary Ullmer is editor and creator of Dogs Unleashed magazine. To subscribe to Dogs Unleashed, go to getdogsunleashed.com or visit the website, dogsunleashedmag.com. Be sure to “like” the magazine’s Facebook page!

Zeus, world’s tallest dog, and other Supersize Pets featured tonight on Nat Geo Wild

The world's tallest dog, Zeus, is among the Supersized Pets featured on a NatGeo Wild special tonight. (Photo by Jennifer N. Waters)

The world’s tallest dog, Zeus, is among the Supersized Pets featured on a NatGeo Wild special tonight. (Photo by Jennifer N. Waters)

Tune in tonight (Friday, April 11), or set your DVR, to Nat Geo Wild’s special, “Supersize Pets.” Featured in the show is Zeus, the world’s tallest dog.

Our January/February 2013 issue featured Zeus.

Our January/February 2013 issue featured Zeus.

We featured Zeus in Dogs Unleashed magazine, a product of Pet Supplies Plus, in our January 2013 issue. Zeus, a Great Dane from Plainwell, Mich., was declared the world’s tallest dog back in November 2012 by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Shortly after our Dogs Unleashed issue came out, we were contacted by National Geographic asking about using photos from Jennifer Waters, owner of Grumpy Pups Pet Photography, for their special. Jennifer photographed Zeus for our story and had plenty of shots for National Geographic to use. She certainly wasn’t going to turn down an opportunity to collaborate with Nat Geo!!

Producers also asked if they could use a shot of the cover of our issue, and we of course obliged.

Be sure to catch the special and learn about pets livin’ large! It is scheduled to air at 10 p.m. Eastern Time on Nat Geo Wild channel. (Check your local listings).





These fancy abodes have gone to the dogs


Are dog houses a thing of the past? For most of us, our furry family members spend their days in our house, not in a structure sitting in our back yards.

But for those whose dogs do spend a good deal of time outdoors, secured in their fenced-in yard, a dog house is great protection from the elements. It’s a place to cool off on a hot summer day, or seek shelter on a cold rainy (or snowy) one.

And more and more, dog houses are becoming sophisticated domiciles for our best friends. That was evident at the recent Home & Garden Show at DeVos Place in Grand Rapids, Mich. The annual event included Bark Prize, a contest voted on by the public to select the best themed dog house.

West Michigan companies submitted entries that were on display at the show. The event, in its second year, raised $4,000 for the BISSELL Pet Foundation as people bid to purchase the houses.

More than 7,300 people cast a vote for their favorite, with “Ye Old Paw Mill,” a replica of an old style saw mill built by Out On A Limb Playhouses, taking Best In Show.

Here’s a look at each of the five entrants for Bark Prize, now an annual event at the Home & Garden Show. The photos are courtesy of Grumpy Pups Pet Photography, on hand for the event.

For the second year in a row, Out On A Limb Playhouses won Best In Show. This year's entry was Ye Old Paw-Mill, themed after an old-fashioned saw mill, complete with a working water wheel.

For the second year in a row, Out On A Limb Playhouses won Best In Show. This year’s entry was Ye Old Paw-Mill, themed after an old-fashioned saw mill, complete with a working water wheel.

Gratitude, from Montell Construction.

Gratitude, from Montell Construction.

Canine Cabin, from Pioneer Construction.

Canine Cabin, from Pioneer Construction.

The Mutt Hutt, from J. Visser Design/Scott Christopher Homes.

The Mutt Hutt, from J. Visser Design/Scott Christopher Homes.

New Hounding Brew House, from New Holland Brewing Co.

New Hounding Brew House, from New Holland Brewing Co.





At last, the saga of little Foxy has a happy ending (or beginning)

A little dog who went through a very strange odyssey has found her forever home.

The story of the Chihuahua mix is a sad and bizarre one, but alas, it has a happy ending (so far). At just eight weeks old, Foxy was “found” in a trash can by a young woman in  Grand Rapids. The woman said her family couldn’t keep the puppy, and did the right thing by bringing it to the Kent County Animal Shelter.

Foxy had a badly injured eye that required surgery, which was performed the day after she was brought in. The eye couldn’t be saved, but the veterinarian at Blue Pearl Veterinary Partners in Grand Rapids said because of her age, she should have no problems adjusting to life with one eye.

After the surgery, applications began pouring in from people interested in adopting Foxy.

This is where the story took a strange turn. Upon investigation, it was discovered that Foxy wasn’t “found” by the young woman… she had Foxy for a few weeks before turning her over to the animal shelter. The woman, who is 18, said she didn’t want to be perceived as a “bad person” for leaving an injured puppy at the animal shelter, so she made up the story of finding Foxy in the trash can.

In late February, while she was still recovering from surgery and awaiting adoption, Foxy had to be quarantined after she bit someone who came to visit her. It’s not unusual for a puppy to bite, nor is it unusual for an injured (or recovering) dog to bite. And while she didn’t have rabies or any other disease that would endanger a human, the quarantine was standard procedure at the animal shelter.

Finally, on Thursday, it was announced Foxy had found her forever home. Erin Fisher, a 28-year-old from Oceana County (just north of Muskegon County) is taking little Foxy home. Erin’s family had previously rescued a Yorkie that was missing an eye and has seen first-hand how well a dog can adapt. The fact that Erin also is familiar with smaller dog breeds bodes well for Foxy.

Here’s to a long and happy life for Foxy, and congratulations to Erin on the new addition to her family.

Raise the Woof! Bark Prize doghouse design contest returns to Home & Garden Show

Headed to the  West Michigan Home & Garden Show at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids this weekend? If you’re going (the show runs March 6-9), a MUST-SEE at the annual event is Bark Prize, a designer dog house competition.

The 2013 Best in Show winner at Bark Prize was a pirate ship design, complete with a "poop deck."

The 2013 Best in Show winner at Bark Prize was a pirate ship design, complete with a “poop deck.”

Five custom dog houses, designed and built by west Michigan companies, will be available to the public via silent auction. If you checked out the houses last year, you know your dog would be the envy of the neighborhood if you were to score one of these fabulous abodes.

And the best part is, 100 percent of the proceeds from the silent auction benefit the BISSELL Pet Foundation. Last year, $2,000 was raised for BPF, a non-profit started right here in west Michigan by Cathy Bissell.

The organization’s mission is to help reduce the number of animals in shelters, and to support organizations dedicated to the humane care and treatment of animals through pet adoption, spay and neuter programs, micro-chipping and foster care. BPF has given nearly $1.2 million to support homeless pets across the country in less than two years of existence.

Last year’s Bark Prize winner (the public can vote for “Best in Show”) was “Scally’wag,” a dog house designed like a pirate ship. It even included a “poop deck.” It was built by Mike Fraser of Out On A Limb Playhouses. Fraser will back this year with “Ye Olde Paw Mill,” a dog house resembling a saw mill, complete with a fully functioning water wheel.

“Last year’s Bark Prize custom dog houses were so unique and so fun and raised $2,000 for homeless pets, so we knew we had to make this an annual event,” Cathy Bissell said in a news release about this year’s event.  “The idea behind Bark Prize came from Mike Fraser, who owns Out on a Limb Playhouses. We are so thankful for that idea, and to the Home & Garden Show for welcoming the fundraiser and to all the builders giving time and materials to create the custom dog houses. The West Michigan community is very supportive and giving toward our animal welfare organizations, and this is a great opportunity to raise even more awareness.”

 The featured dog houses range in value from $250 to $4,000, so there’s something for everyone. They’ll be on display in the Grand Foyer at DeVos Place, outside the Expo Halls.

Whether you bid on a custom dog house or not, you need to stop by the exhibit and appreciate the creativity of these designers and builders. And don’t forget to add your vote to “Best in Show.”



Senior dogs hold a special place in our hearts

RIP, Buddy

RIP, Buddy

When we decided to dedicate the March/April issue of Dogs Unleashed magazine to senior dogs, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. We sent out a call to senior dog owners to have portraits of their elderly canines shot for this special issue, and ended up with 27 dogs for our “Senior Portraits” gallery.

The owners braved the bitter January cold here in Michigan to attend two photo sessions, and we met some pretty special dogs, ranging in age from 6 to 16. As you’ll read in this issue, age is relative when it comes to labeling a dog “senior,” depending on the breed and size of the dog.

March April final cover
One of our favorites was Buddy, a 15-year-old mixed breed. Buddy had been rescued a few years ago from an abandoned home, where he survived for two weeks with no food or water. Nicole Notario-Risk, who adopted Buddy, is featured in a story about people who go out of their way to adopt senior dogs, giving them a loving home in their last years of life.

Sadly, Buddy passed away just a couple days ago. We’re so thankful to have met him and grateful to people like Nicole who find a way to open their hearts to make sure these special dogs have a few great years before the inevitable happens.

Be sure to pick up a copy of our special senior issue at Pet Supplies Plus stores in West Michigan, Dallas/Fort Worth, Birmingham, Ala., area and Appleton, Wis. It will be available in West Michigan later today and in our out-of-state stores early next week.

If you’d like the magazine delivered to your home, go to getdogsunleashed.com to subscribe.

When you glance through the pages and see the wonderful photography by Jennifer Waters, be sure to remember Buddy and know that he got what every dog deserves — although for him it came later in life — a home filled with love.

Puppy rescued from trash can faces surgery

Foxy, an 8-week-old Chihuahua mix, was found in a trash can in Grand Rapids on Monday night. She will undergo surgery for her injured eye on Wednesday.

Foxy, an 8-week-old Chihuahua mix, was found in a trash can in Grand Rapids on Monday night. She will undergo surgery for her injured eye on Wednesday.

Foxy is a survivor. And because of that, there’s no doubt she’ll wind up in a great home, surrounded by the love she deserves.

The 8-week-old Chihuahua mix was discovered discarded in a garbage can in Grand Rapids’ southeast side Monday night. A woman heard the puppy crying and pulled out the injured and cold Foxy. The woman took Foxy in for the night and contacted Kent County Animal Control on Tuesday.

Foxy, who weighs just 3.4 pounds, has an injured eye and will require surgery, scheduled for Wednesday.

“We noticed right away that the dog had issues with her left eye,”  Dr. Laurie Wright, Kent County Animal Shelter veterinarian, said in a news release. “It appears that she can see, but we could not tell how bad the damage to her eye was, and I knew it was something that needed a specialist’s attention.”

Wright contacted Dr. Cassandra Bliss of BluePearl Veterinary Partners, a board certified ophthalmologist who has assisted the KCAS with injured or impaired pets. Bliss is hopeful the eye can be repaired, but it may be necessary to remove it. She said she isn’t certain at this point if the eye injury was caused by trauma or is a birth defect, and won’t know until the surgery, or even after.

It’s likely the little dog will adjust whether she keeps the eye or not, said Lisa LaPlante, Marketing and Communications Manager for the Kent County Health Department, which oversees the animal shelter.

“With younger dogs who lose an eye or a limb, they don’t seem to realize it’s gone … they adjust that quickly,” LaPlante said.  “We’ve had quite a few successes with animals who lost an eye or a limb when they’re really young.”

LaPlante said it’s unlikely the animal shelter will investigate the incident as a cruelty case. She said because of the cold temperatures, it’s likely no one was around to see how Foxy was discarded in the trash.

“It’s going to be hard to prove anything at this point,” LaPlante said. “Given the fact there was all sorts of snow and it was cold out, no one saw anything. There’s not much to investigate.

“Our primary concern at this point is she gets healthy and gets adopted.”

There’s no doubt Foxy will find a loving home. Once LaPlante posted her story on IC Pawz, the animal shelter’s Facebook page, comments and phone calls began pouring in.

LaPlante said anyone interested in adopting Foxy, who also will undergo spaying during her surgery Wednesday, should visit the animal shelter at 700 Fuller NE in Grand Rapids, to fill out an application.  Having her spayed in necessary before the shelter can adopt out Foxy – or any other dog in their facility.

“They need to go through the (adoption) process,” LaPlante said. “All kinds of people might want to open up their hearts and homes to this dog, but can’t adopt her out to the first person who gets in line. We need to make sure they can give her a good loving home and know the expectations of adopting and owning a dog.”

Information on adopting pets from the Kent County Animal Shelter is available at icpawz.com. Adoption fees are $50, plus $12 for a one-year dog license. Cats from KCAS can be adopted for just $5.

Dental cleaning, surgery for older dogs fine — with proper testing beforehand

Editor’s note: With pet dental health month upon us, we turned to Dr. Wendy Swift,  Associate Veterinarian at Ottawa Animal Hospital in Michigan and owner of Affinity For Nature LLC, to help answer a reader’s question regarding getting her senior dog’s teeth professionally cleaned.    

Dear Dr. Swift,

My veterinarian has recommended a growth removal and dental cleaning for my 14-year-old Shih Tzu.  I do not think my dog can safely have surgery, and why should a dental cleaning be performed if all she really needs is a growth removal?

Dear Reader,

Your pet’s age should not dictate whether or not surgery and a dental cleaning should be considered.  At 14, your dog should have pre-anesthetic bloodwork performed, including liver, kidney, and blood sugar tests, to ensure that there are no systemic organ concerns.  A complete physical exam also is essential, along with a specially tailored anesthetic protocol to fit your dog’s age, breed and current condition.

The growth removal should be considered if the mass is growing rapidly, if it bothers your dog or if it is ulcerated. Surgery should be performed immediately as your dog most likely has a mass that is potentially cancerous.  If the mass is slow growing and not changing in shape and feels soft, an aspirate of the mass should be performed and a cytology can indicate whether there is a concern for cancer or not.

Location of the mass may also play a part in whether it should be removed. Masses on the lower part of the legs are difficult to close surgically and should be excised when they are small.  Masses in the armpit and inguinal areas are also areas of concern as masses here can impede your dog’s ability to move. Even fatty masses in these areas should be removed.

The "cone of shame" has come a long way, with more streamlined collars available (such as this inflatable one) to keep your dog from licking incisions without banging into everything in sight.

The “cone of shame” has come a long way, with more streamlined collars available (such as this inflatable one) to keep your dog from licking incisions without banging into everything in sight.

Pet oral care is an essential part of maintaining a healthy dog.  At 14, your small breed dog most likely has signs of dental disease.  It is very important that a dental prophylactic cleaning be performed as directed by your veterinarian to prevent bacteria from spreading from the mouth to the rest of the organs of the body.  Routine dental cleanings can prevent kidney, liver and heart disease.

Check out some exciting information on National Pet Dental Health Month that is occurring in February at the AVMA website.  Share your oral health success stories and learn more on how to properly care for your pet’s oral health.

There are always risks when placing a pet under anesthesia, but if all concerns are addressed before hand, age is not a determining factor in performing a much-needed surgery or dental cleaning.  Speak with your veterinarian about any questions you may have before the procedure, including recovery time and any possible complications. Ask if any medications or special foods will be necessary after surgery.  It is always better to plan ahead for pain management, including canned food if needed after tooth extractions.

An e-collar, otherwise referred to as “the cone of shame,” may need to be worn if there is concern with incision licking. New streamlined e-collars are available that are a ring shape and are worn with your dog’s collar. These provide the anti-licking protection you are looking for without the awkward cone shape bumping into walls and doors or knocking items off the coffee table. Make sure you have a crate or quiet room available if your dog’s activity has to be restricted after surgery.

Overall, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so follow all discharge instructions and your dog will soon be on the road to recovery and have wonderful kissable puppy breath!