A little giving goes a long way for dogs at Kent Co. Animal Shelter

Mindy Smith Pierman isn’t much different from the rest of us when it comes to shelter pets. When she walks in a shelter, she wants to take every animal home and give them the love they deserve. But the reality is, she can’t adopt them all.

Mindy Smith Pierman showed off the various sizes of Thundershirts donated to KCAS.

Mindy Smith Pierman showed off the various sizes of Thundershirts donated to KCAS.

Still, Pierman was able to make a difference for the dogs at the Kent County Animal Shelter. Tuesday morning, she delivered 55 Thundershirts to KCAS in hopes of relieving the dogs in their care from a bit of the stress and anxiety they face every day.

If you’re unfamiliar with Thundershirts, they’re the snug-fitting wraps that many dog owners have sworn by. It’s based in part on the work and research of Temple Grandin, that constant gentle hugging pressure can calm an anxious pet’s nervous system.

Side note: If you’re not familiar with Temple Grandin, you should read up about this amazing woman. And if you get a chance to see the HBO movie on her life, for which Claire Daines won a Golden Globe, do it!

Pierman’s own dog, a golden retriever named Murphy, was adopted from a shelter. Murphy, like many dogs, gets anxious around loud noises and thunderstorms.

“Last Fourth of July, my neighborhood sounded like Kabul,” Pierman said. “My golden retriever has storm anxiety and noise anxiety and she will literally pace around where I keep her Thundershirt if she feels a storm coming on. I get the shirt and put it on her, and she calms right down.

Mocha 1

“On Fourth of July it was so loud and so bad, and all I could think of was all the dogs here (in the shelter). They’re already under stress and they’re already scared, and there isn’t anybody to comfort them. So, I thought, they need Thundershirts.”

Because the animal shelter is a government organization, it can’t solicit funds like rescue groups. So Pierman solicited some help via Facebook and email and got friends to donate items for a garage sale.The proceeds would go to purchase Thundershirts for dogs at KCAS. Once her neighbors found out what the mission was, they brought items to put in the sale, too.

In all, Pierman raised $1,300 that weekend. And with help from Pet Supplies Plus on Alpine NW and Chow Hound at Breton and Burton, who ordered and sold the shirts to Pierman for a discounted price, it was enough to buy seven Thundershirts in every size to outfit the shelter dogs.

“It was just one long weekend, and this was a girlfriends’ kind of effort. It wasn’t a singular effort… I might have had the idea, but it took a whole lot of people to make it happen.”

Mocha was rewarded for her modeling efforts with a spoonful of peanut butter and cream cheese.

Mocha was rewarded for her modeling efforts with a spoonful of peanut butter and cream cheese.

Pierman points out that Thundershirts aren’t just for thunderstorms, and she hopes they go beyond keeping the dogs at KCAS calm and relaxed.

“They’re for anxiety … separation anxiety, barking issues, thunderstorms, loud noises, that kind of thing,” she said. “And it’s just a stressful situation for these dogs, just the fact that they’re here. Some have been abused or neglected or are in a bad situation. I kind of hope in the end that they may be a little more adoptable because they won’t be acting out and barking and jumping because of stress and anxiety. That’s where this kind of took us on this journey.”

Adam London,  Administrative Health Officer of the Kent County Health Department, was on hand for the delivery Tuesday.

“The shelter really is a community shelter,” London said. “The animals here belong to us and it’s our responsibility to do everything we can to take care of them and do what we can to give them a forever home and a second chance. This sort of thoughfulness is important to us because we can provide for basic care and do what we can to make their time with us as enjoyable as possible, however we also know this is stressful for them.

“This helps get them that second chance … when people come in here they are seeing dogs as relaxed and calm as possible.”



Freaked over fireworks? Here’s a natural alternative to keep your canine calm

We’ve all seen the posts from our Facebook friends:

“Fido is shaking and panting! He hates thunderstorms!”

“Boo Boo won’t come out from under the bed. She hates thunderstorms!”

“Our neighbors lit off fireworks. Our Lab, Murphy, went berserk and tore up our couch!”

Courtesy image

Many friends swear by Thundershirt, which uses gentle, constant pressure to calm your dog. Others say it doesn’t have much effect on their dog.

I discovered an alternative while surfing online, just in time to order some for the July 4 fireworks (Stuart, our Jack Russell, is quite anxious when it comes to fireworks and thunderstorms).

The product is called Canine Calm, and it’s a spray mist made of all natural ingredients, including pure essential oils such as lavender, tangerine and geranium.

The maker of Canine Calm, Earth Heart, is running a “buy one get one free” special right now. Those ordering via earthheartinc.com/ by July 1 can type ShareTheCalm into the promotion code area and get a second bottle free. The idea is to give the second bottle to  a friend with a fireworks-phobic dog. (I know a few).

Vicki Rae Thorne, Earth Heart founder, assured me those ordering by July 1 will receive it in time for the fireworks. I ordered Monday and it was shipped out the same day. I plan to give it a try with Stuart since we’re expecting thunderstorms later this week.

Thorne, based in Dundee, Ill., recommends misting your fingertips with Canine Calm and then applying it to your dog’s ear tips. One or both ear tips is fine, she said.

“There are a lot of blood vessels in the ears, and applying the mist there allows you to get it into the bloodstream quickly,” Thorne said in a phone interview. “It also keeps you from overwhelming their sense of smell. It’s a very diluted solution so as not to overwhelm a dog and it can be applied as often as needed to any size dog.”

It also can be sprayed into your car or dog crate for traveling, even if you’re only headed to the vet or the groomer’s. Thorne told me her product has a 90 percent-plus success rate. She said the reason it may not appear to work on some dogs is simply because the owner isn’t using enough, or isn’t using it often enough.

“Sometimes a little dog might need just one spray, or it might need four,” she said. “Sometimes, a big dog might need one spray, or it might need six or eight. It depends on the individual dog — the size, the age, the health, the level of anxiety.”

Thorne also recommends spraying a bit of the mist on yourself (it won’t stain or leave a residue) and being around your dog during a normal, calm period when first trying it.

“Spritz your shirt or your hand and hang out with your dog,” Thorne said. “You can then see how your dog responds to the scent. If your dog starts to relax even more in a calm non-stressful situation, you’ll have an indication of how long it takes to take effect. You’ll also bond the dog with the scent. It will be a comforting scent to them when you go to use it again.”

She said it typically takes 10 to 20 minutes for Canine Calm to have an effect. Try using it  the moment your dog starts behaving anxiously because of an impending thunderstorm, Thorne said.

“Your dog’s behavior changes when there’s a thunderstorm coming,” she said. “They might pant, pace, whimper or hide. You can apply it right at that moment, and they’ll quiet down before the storm hits.”

Because it’s made of essential oils, Canine Calm is safe for you and your dog.

“I started my company working in aroma therapy in 1992,” she said. “At the time, I had a 5-year-old and I was pregnant with my second child. I started working with pure essential oils, which are very concentrated, and I needed to be sure they were safe, with me being pregnant and with a 5-year-old.  Our main goal since the beginning is that everything has to be family friendly.”

Canine Calm may not be for everyone wearing fur, Thorne said.

“It can be used in limited capacity with cats,” she said. “A cat’s skin is different from a dog’s. It’s physiology is different. It is OK for occasional use with extremely diluted products. If a cat freaks out when you’re trying to put it in a cage to take to the vet once or twice a year, spraying Canine Calm on a blanket in the cat carrier will help reduce stress. One spritz is going to help a cat a lot more than stressing it out. I don’t recommend it for cats on a daily basis, but it doesn’t hurt them to be around it or to use it with them a couple times a year.”

Thorne said she has had customers who told her Canine Calm did nothing to ease their dog’s anxiety.

“Some people use it in combination with a Thundershirt or herbal remedy,” Thorne said. “Some say it didn’t work at all. At $11.98 a bottle, that’s about two cents per spray, so it can be one of the least expensive things you do for your dog. If it works for you, it’s a very low investment.”

Canine Calm is in about 200 retail stores now, although none in Michigan at the moment. Thorne didn’t even take it to the retail market until a few years ago, and said it’s “flying off the shelves” in the Chicago area.

“I have been working with aromatherapy, massage oils and body care products since 1992,” Thorne said. “About 12 years ago, a kennel owner took a class from me and asked if I could help in calming down her dogs. That’s when Canine Calm was born, to use in her kennels. After about two years she came in and said her customers wanted to take it home with them, that they loved how calm their dogs were when they picked them up from the kennel.

“So, we came up with the mist, and it started selling locally and was spreading by word of mouth. It got picked up by a distributor and I bought my first ad about 2 1/2 years ago. It has started to take off.”