Everyone please be careful if you are walking your dogs in Hong Kong’s beautiful Country Parks, especially in Sai Kung in the hot summer months. There have been 2 reported python attacks on domestic dogs in Sai Kung in May 2014 alone. The snakes are waking up after a long winter hibernation and are hungry. The heavy monsoon rains are also flushing some out of hiding (one was found in North Point recently). The heat and humidity are rising too, so cases of heatstroke (in dogs and their owners) are also on the rise.
At this time of year everyone needs to be more diligent about avoiding heat exposure, snakes and other venomous creatures. HK has a number of dangerous snakes (on land and in the sea) and other wee beasties and they are in abundance at this time of year. Educate yourself on the difference between pythons and other snakes, which could be venomous or not (eg. cobras & rat snakes are very similar looking – cobras are venomous and rat snakes are not – even snake experts have trouble telling them apart when they are not reared up to strike). Do research on the internet and watch some of the many snake programs on Animal Planet & National Geographic channel.
Even with over 52 different indigenous species of snakes living peacefully in HK’s country sides, snake bites are extremely rare. Saying that, you still need to be aware of your surroundings, as a number of snakes in HK (especially the King Cobra, Chinese Cobra, white lipped “Bamboo” pit viper, mountain pit viper, banded Krait, many banded Krait, coral snake, red necked keel back and banded sea snake) are extremely venomous and can easily kill humans and dogs alike. If you see a snake, do not confront it. It does not want an altercation with you but it will attack if it feels threatened (or hungry in the case of a python). Some snake venom kills quickly, some takes time (you will see an immediate reaction to a King Cobra bite but may not see symptoms from a red necked keel back bite for up to twelve hours). Reactions also vary in different people. Symptoms can include severe pain and swelling in the region of the bite, paralysis, muscle weakening, shortness of breath, to uncontrollable bleeding. If you, your friends, family or your pets get bitten by a snake, spider or other beasties – stay calm, keep your heart rate low and get to a vet or doctor immediately.
If you come across a snake:
· Stay calm and do not create any sudden movements.
· Back right away from the snake and avoid direct eye contact or interaction with the snake. This will show the snake that you are not a threat. Once the snake feels safe it should just slither away.
· If the snake is in a contained area on your property, then please call the Police on 999 and they will arranged to have it removed. If you have any enquires about snakes, please call Dave Willott on 9677-0470.
· Where possible take a photo of the snake from a safe distance and make a mental note of its colouring. If the snake bites you or your dog, then the doctor/ vet need to know what kind of snake it was before they can administer the correct type of anti-venom. There are 2 main types of venom produced by different venomous snakes: Neurotoxins (which affect the nervous system) - and hemotoxins (which affect the blood) and each requires a different anti-venom). Make sure they know what kind of snake it was that bit you and that they have the right type of anti-venom in stock and enough of it. FYI, SPCA stock both types of anti-venom in their Wan Chai and Sai Kung Centres but their stock is limited.
· If both you and your dog get bitten by the snake keep calm, but prioritise yourself; call friends to help you with your dog.
· NB. Not all snakes are venomous and not all venomous snakes will inject venom when they bite you, but to be safe, seek urgent medical attention ASAP.
· In any emergency situation: call ahead to your nearest vet (or doctor if you too are bitten) to tell then you are bringing the dog (yourself) in and the weight of your dog (you). The amount of anti-venom administered is based on your weight. Make sure they can see you right away, have time to prepare the anti-venom for you and that they have enough of it.
· Keep you and your dog calm (increased heart rate and movement will increase the speed the venom moves through the body) and (if your dog has been bitten) carry your dog in a way that the bite stays below the level of the heart (as this slows down the speed that the venom will move around the body) . If the snake bites a limb, then the dog has a higher rate of survival than if it bites it in the neck, heart or abdomen.
· Do Not: put ice on a venomous snake bite.
· Do Not apply any type of tourniquet following a venomous snake bite.
· Do Not attempt to suck or cut out the venom.
· Do not attempt to capture a live snake.
· If the snake is dead, then bring the body with you.
· If the bite occurs on your own property and there is a shed snake skin (from the snake that bit you) nearby that is safe to get to – bring it with you (as it could help to identify the snake).
· This vital information (some of which was taken from the SPCA’s Pawprint magazine – issue 93, some from the internet, some from snake programs on the TV and some from snake enthusiast Dave Willott) could help to save you and your dog’s lives.
If you want to protect you and your property from snakes/ harmful spiders:
· Always go walking with a fully charged mobile phone (i.e. with enough charge for the length of time you will be out) and do not walk on remote trails alone.
· Wear wellies or thick boots and trousers when out walking, especially at night.
· If walking at night, wear a headlamp or carry a torch, so that you can see what you are standing on and what is around you. NB. Headlamps are better than torches as they allow you to keep your hands free to carry a stick/ hold a dog leash etc.
· When trail walking watch what you are standing on or walking close to but also be careful over overhanging spider webs. Avoid using your phone (except in the case of an emergency).
· Bang the floor with a stick or walk heavily if you are near anywhere that a snake could hide. This will warn them that you are coming and they will not be startled.
· Avoid walking close to thick undergrowth and in thick forest.
· Reduce the clutter in your garden/ number of places the snake could hide and cut back any low lying undergrowth in and around your garden and on your local dog walk and sweep up any piles of leaves and throw them out. Snakes like to hide (unless they are sunbathing/ basking - Snakes are ectothermic reptiles that do not need to use their own energy to warm up, instead they sunbathe and lie on hot roads and rocks to absorb heat for energy). If you are driving your car and see a snake on the road (quite common in rural areas), try not to run over it. Stop and let it slither by. You don’t want to kill it and you don’t want it to wrap itself around the undercarriage of your car and surprise you later!
· Sulphur is (in Dave Willott’s opinion) a complete waste of time. Nothing exists like that to deter snakes and it is harmful to other things around the house too.
· Check all your drains and doors (including sliding doors) for gaps. Do the finger test - if you can get a couple through, then seal it up. In the next couple of months we will be seeing more snakes, and by September the baby ones will be coming out. They will be the ones to try and get inside (quite common with baby cobras). NB. Baby snakes can often inject more venom than adult snakes as they haven’t yet learnt how to control the amount of venom injected, so treat them as you would an adult snake.
· Snake season in HK is generally from March to December with most being sighted between May and September.
· Open drainage around your house doesn't help. But covering it up means you will have drainage problems, so you need to consider that. Just cover all the ones leading INto the house.
· Do not leave rubbish or food around that will attract prey like rats (that snakes like to eat).
· Do not leave your car door, window or roof open whilst it is parked.
· Do not leave your windows and doors open if you live close to thick shrubbery. A couple from Che Keng Tuk recently left their French doors open to air their house and when they came to sit on their sofa later that evening, they noticed that a venomous red necked keel back had slithered under the sofa. Luckily no one was harmed.
· If you see that the bush areas close to your road and favourite trails are becoming overgrown then please call up 1823 and report this, so that the Government can send someone to cut it back. You may need to stress the threat of snakes to get them to act quickly.
Pythons: Burmese Pythons are not venomous but have around 100 razor sharp teeth in their mouth and are extremely strong. They crush their victims by putting their mouth over the animal's mouth (to stop it biting them and to asphyxiate them) and constricting around them until they can no longer breathe in and out. Once dead, they swallow them whole. If one wraps around a person or a dog, you need to loosen their constricting grip as quickly as possible by unraveling them from the tail up, grab the last foot of the tail with 2 hands with one hand firmly on the very end. Do not move your hand up the tail, as this will allow the snake the opportunity to wrap its tail around your wrist (definitely not what you want!). Hold on tight, move backwards and straighten and lift the tail whilst pulling it back firmly and forcibly (not an easy task as these snakes are heavy and strong). The adrenaline will kick into to help you! Watch where you are standing, as you don’t want to injure yourself in this process. Move the tail around from side to side and keep pulling it back until the snake has let go of your dog. Pythons use their tails as an anchor, so when you unsettle their anchor, they feel unsettled and will try to get away, leaving their prey behind. You could also try bending the end of the tail into a U shape (as this could stop them constricting further) and (if they still have hold of you or your dog and you have someone to help you) squirt ethanol type alcohol (if you have some available) directly into their mouth, preferably directly into the trachea (which will extend out to help the snake breathe in an attack). Pythons do not like alcohol in their throats so the aim of this is to get them to release their grip. DO NOT try this if the python does not have prey in its mouth or it will most likely bite you. If the trachea is not visible then try squirting the ethanol as best you can into the mouth through its teeth. Hitting pythons is useless, as their bodies are one big and extremely strong muscle. Their jaws are also extremely strong and difficult to prize open when they are gripping prey. As soon as you/ your dog are free, get yourself and your dogs away from the snake (especially its head) as quickly as possible and go straight to your vet/ doctor. NB. You can buy ethanol from your local pharmacy and keep it in a squeezy bottle in your pocket when you are out hiking in the hot summer months in rural areas. Try to avoid (where possible) injuring the python (as it is a protected species in HK) and make sure you report the incident to the Police and AFCD afterwards (so that they can try and capture the snake to prevent the same thing happening to someone else).
Recent Python attacks: The snakes in these incidents were just trying to survive by finding food. The owners were just trying to enjoy spending time in the country park with their dogs, who all need exercise. Dogs are allowed to be off leash in country parks, so long as they are under control and not causing a nuisance. Thousands of people walk their dogs off leash on a daily basis in HK's Country parks without incident. Python attacks are rare. It is just coincidence that these two, sad and unfortunate incidents happened so close together. The dogs’ owners are not irresponsible; the pythons could just have easily have attacked the dogs if they were on leashes, or even the children. Just because python attacks have happened in the Pak Tam Chung location before (a number of years ago) does not mean that these dog owners were aware of these attacks (HK is a very transient place), nor does it mean that they were aware that pythons still live there. It certainly does not mean that people should never walk in these locations again, just that they should be more aware of the natural dangers around them and keep their children and dogs close to them when near thick undergrowth.
There are a number of negative comments on SCMP’s online articles about the recent python attacks (http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/article/1515080/pet-dog-crushed-death-python-second-attack-two-weeks) in relation to the responsibility of the dogs’ owners (some are just plain nasty and some are from people who clearly do not like dogs or who rarely walk their dogs); I am not sure what these people are trying to gain by throwing salt into the wounds of these dog owners; there is no point in trying to blame anyone. In my opinion, if people have nothing positive to say then they should keep their comments to themselves. There is enough negative energy in the world without adding more.
If large pythons are attacking dogs on popular hiking trails and next to camp sites then the AFCD should cut back the vegetation close to these places and the snakes should be caught and relocated to more remote areas with a suitable food source not associated with humans. But then again, how many remote areas do we have left when the HK Government are allowing our beautiful country parks to be developed by greedy developers.
It is recommended that you never let your dogs off leash during the summer months, as this will increase their chances of survival. However, this is not always practical when you have multiple dogs that need a lot of exercise. My own male dogs were born in Ma On Shan Country Park and have run off leash in the woods (where I am sure there are many snakes and other beasties) several times every day all year round since they were born in 2008 without incident. A dog’s natural instinct is to survive, so (like snakes) they will avoid potential dangers when necessary and will protect themselves when they feel threatened. It is a risk that something will happen to them, but a small one. They love running in the woods, so I let them enjoy it. Yes, we could all keep our dogs locked up inside our homes forever to minimize potential dangers, but what quality of life would they have? It is like saying you would never let your child cross a road or get on a bus on his/ her own because they might get run over or the bus might crash. One day (once you have taught them road safety and how to be independent) you have to let the apron strings go and let them live their own lives. It would be very sad if an accident was to occur, but you can’t stop them living life in case some dreadful thing might happen one day. You just need to make them aware of the potential dangers around them and teach them as best you can how to survive in this world; then let them live life. Yes, there will be times when they are a bit late coming back and you will worry about what might have happened to them, but that is all part of being a caring parent/ dog owner. You can avoid taking them to areas known to have serious potential dangers, but please don’t stop taking them out and giving them the opportunity to play and run safely. They not only need exercise, but they also need the mental stimulation of experiencing different sights and smells.
To avoid meeting snakes in the summer months, try taking your dogs to ungazetted beaches (gazetted beaches in HK have a lot of restrictions and have life guards to patrol them). If your dogs have 100% recall, are friendly, you can control them and you can ensure that they will not cause a nuisance to others, then feel free to let them run off leash and have a good play and run around. If you have multiple dogs and there are other people and dogs around, do not let them all off leash in one go as that can be very intimidating to other people and other dogs and pack mentality can occur. When they get hot on beaches then they can always cool down in the sea, but please remember to take lots of fresh water for them to drink and provide some shade from the sun for them (dogs can easily get heat-stroke in summer months, which quickly leads to massive organ failure and death in dogs – if not treated in time). Avoid taking them to unshaded areas for long periods in the middle of the day and do not dress your dog up in clothes or put shoes on it. If your dog has long hair, then you can have it trimmed in the summer but do not shave it or cut it too short, as the hair can protect them against sunburn and overheating. Early mornings/ late afternoons or evenings are best for summer beach walks. There are also areas in some country parks with wide open spaces with little undergrowth for snakes to hide. These areas are also good for dogs to play and run around. If you are someone who doesn’t like dogs, then feel free to go to a gazetted beach where dogs are not allowed and do not try and spoil things for the millions of dog owners in HK who want to enjoy spending time at ungazetted beaches with their dogs.
If your dog does get heat-stroke, then you need to cool it down ASAP and get it to a vet immediately. Dogs sweat through their paws and also pant to release heat. They will usually try to lie down in water if they need to cool down but generally don’t like to get their heads wet. Make sure they have lots of fresh, cold water to drink and douse their feet and tummies in cold water or place cold packs on them whilst rushing them to the vet. If you are hiking and you see your dog constantly look for shade and trying to hide under a bush, then it is overheating and you need to get to a cool place and give it lots of cold water ASAP.
Incidents happen: I was hospitalised for three days in August 2012 from a Golden Orb spider jumping on me and biting my eyelid whilst I was out with my dogs in Ma On Shan Country Park. These spider bites are not normally lethal but I had a severe reaction to the bite I received. My neighbour's son was hospitalised when he accidentally disturbed a wasp's nest whilst playing in the same country park and was badly stung by a large number of wasps. This doesn't mean that we no longer go out and enjoy the natural beauty HK's country parks offer us, it just means we are more aware of the potential dangers of living so close to nature and respect that. Snakes, spiders, centipedes, hairy caterpillars and other wee beasties are an important part of our natural ecosystem. Cobras eat rats and other snakes, which is all natural and a good thing, caterpillars turn into butterflies. Please don’t try and kill them, please just learn to live along side them and respect them; they were here long before us!
Hazel Black - Qualified Dog Behaviourist and Founder, Chairman and CEO of HK Rescue Puppies.
People often ask why certain dogs and people are constantly bullied/ intimidated by other dogs and other dogs and people are left alone. It is because of the natural rank of the dog or person and the signals and energy that dog or person gives off, combined with the level of energy of the dogs doing the bullying. Dogs sense weak, negative energy and want to correct it. It all boils down to survival of the pack and keeping strength in the pack (hence why only the alphas are allowed to mate in a wolf pack). If you study the natural behaviour in wolf packs, you will often see the higher ranking dogs bullying the weak Omega dog when they all have heightened energy (eg. playtime/ the hunt). If you always maintain a calm but assertive energy around dogs, then they will most likely leave you alone. If you show weakness and/ or let your energy be heightened by jumping up and down, running, squealing etc. around dogs, then you are more likely to be given a warning nip by the dogs to calm you down.
In HK our local Asiatic dogs are direct descendants from the Chinese wolf, so their natural instincts are more prevalent than in certain breed dogs. I often see this bullying behaviour amongst them, especially in village settings, where the villager’s dogs are let out and left to roam around the village without supervision or any form of mental or physical stimulation. It either happens immediately (i.e. when they are first let out with heightened energy) or when they seem to get bored and look for things to stimulate them (chase cyclists, joggers, cats, cars, the Pizza Hut delivery guy etc.). If they can't find anything (or the thing they found to chase has gone away) and their energy levels have increased, then they often turn on the weakest member of the pack and bully them. If they are supervised by an effective human pack leader and their energy is channeled into walking or playing games, then this is less likely to happen.
If you make sure that the energy level of your dog is always very low before you take them out for walks and you always stay calm and assertive and keep your dogs energy levels low throughout the walk, then bullying or protective/ aggressive behaviour by your dogs is less likely to happen (but may still occur, as at the end of the day, dogs are predatory animals). As soon as you see any unwanted behaviour, you need to correct it by calling the dog to you and calming it down. The important thing is to be a good pack leader, stay calm and assertive and keep your dogs and the people/ other animals around you safe. If you have a nervous or fearful dog then other dogs may want to bully it, so you need to stay calm and assertive, protect your dog and try to avoid walking your dog in areas where there are unsupervised and/ or unleashed dogs. Always remember that Lassie does not exist and dogs act instinctively to situations. You need to learn to manage your dog’s individual personality traits calmly and safely and try to avoid situations/ places/ other dogs/ people that cause/ increase unwanted behaviour in your dog or other dogs.
As “time outs” are not an option on walks/ outings, I find a “calm hold” helps to calm the dog down. Get the dog to sit and hold it calmly and firmly by the collar at the back of it’s neck (make sure the collar is not too tight or too lose; so that the dog cannot get away but it is comfortable and can breathe easily). It is often one dog in the pack that is winding the others up, so if you calmly hold that dog in a calm hold and lower its energy level, then the other dogs’ energy levels will follow. It is vital that you stay calm and assertive throughout this process, as your energy will be reflected to the dog.
If you are in a dog park/ country park/ ungazetted beach setting, then you should not let your dog off leash with heightened energy. You need to wait until their energy level is low before you let them off (and only if the area is safe and you have already established 100% recall with that particular dog). If you have more than one dog, then you should never let all the dogs off at the same time (i.e. in one go). You can let one dog off leash at a time but only when each dog’s energy level is low, there is an obvious gap since you let the last one off and all dogs’ energy levels are low before you let the next one off. You can then do things (like play ball and practicing recall/ sit/ stay/ come/ heal/ leave it etc.) to channel your dogs energy into something positive and to keep them focused. If you have a dog that needs a lot of mental and physical stimulation, then perhaps you could try doing agility courses with them.
If you have a pack of dogs, then you need to be extra careful that your dogs do not pack up against individual dogs or other packs. It is a fine line (that takes experience to see) between allowing your dogs good playtime with other dogs and letting their energy levels increase to the point that you and/ or the other dog owners cannot control them. If in doubt, do not let your dog(s) off leash. A safe and a stress free environment is what will really help you (and others) to enjoy spending quality time with our four legged friend(s) .
Lead or No Lead?
It seems in HK that certain dog owners (especially owners of small breed dogs) seem to think they have a right to always have their dogs running around off leash, which often causes a nuisance for other dog owners, whose dogs are leashed.
I was recently walking 5 rescue dogs on leads on the road where I live. All of the dogs are very friendly and well socialised; 1 is a 4 month old puppy, 1 is blind, 1 is old (and a big girl’s blouse) but 2 of my boys are rather territorial on a certain section of the road close to my home and the woods, where they were born. This territorial behaviour and a hard wired prey instinct, are their issues and something I manage by always keeping them on leads in this area (trying to keep them calm and far enough away from unfamiliar dogs, dogs they don’t like, joggers and cyclists).
As we were all walking along calmly, the dogs suddenly turned and their heckles started to rise, A small breed, terrier cross dog was running fast towards us (from behind) with his teeth bared, his heckles up and he was growling at my dogs. I called to the dog’s owner (who was some way behind) to please call his dog back and put him on a lead. The owner ignored me and allowed his dog to keep coming at my dogs. I was holding my dogs back on shortened leashes at the side of the road when the owner and his dog came up close to us and the owner shouted at me to control my dogs. I tried my best to stay calm and told the man that if my dogs were not under control, his dog would probably not be with us. He shouted at me that my dogs were aggressive and obviously not well socialised (most of my friends laugh when I tell them this, as my dogs are extremely well socialised). I didn’t want to get into an argument with him, so I let him march off with his dog muttering away.
As the man was approaching a dead end, he turned the corner and then came back towards us a few minutes later with his dog on a lead (at least something had sunk in). I tried to smooth things over with him and apologised to him that my dogs had been barking and tried to explain to him that it was natural, territorial behaviour and that it was not safe to let his small dog off lead close to unfamiliar dogs and in Sai Kung villages, especially close to my village (as there are a number of local village dogs off leash that occasionally attack other dogs, cyclists, joggers, hikers etc. who encroach on - what they see as - “their turf”). The owner was indignant and refused to stop and talk to me; he marched off, shouting to me that his dog was small breed and allowed to be off lead. Sadly this kind of irresponsible and self righteous attitude is commonplace in HK and can easily result in people getting nipped or bitten and can result in serious injuries or death for some dogs.
HK Law states that no dog owner is allowed to let their dog (of any size) off leash anywhere unless it is under control and not causing a nuisance to anyone. Dogs over 20 kg without AFCD exemption certificates, can only be let off leash (under the same terms above) in country park areas. Dogs with exemption certificates can be let off lead anywhere, so long as they are under control and not causing a nuisance. Exemption certificate exams take place twice per year and involve a number of obedience and temperament tests; dog owners must book their dogs in advance and can re-sit the exam at a later date (if the dog fails). For more details please check out: http://www.pets.gov.hk/en_dog_1_5_2.php#btop.
At the end of the day, dogs are not humans and will instinctively and quickly react in a natural, hard wired way when faced with a potential threat in their territory. This particular small dog had ran at my dogs in a challenging, hostile way, off lead on their turf. This is bad doggy etiquette in the dog world and dogs will correct it in an instant (given half a chance). The fact that the other dog was small breed and running fast, would probably have sparked my dogs’ hard wired prey instincts too. My dogs were just doing their job by barking to protect their pack. I was doing my job by holding them back, calming them down and keeping them and the other dog safe.
The same etiquette applies to joggers and cyclists that run or ride close to dogs. Dogs do not understand the concept of just going for a run or a bike ride, so when they see someone or something coming at them fast they will react in a protective way, which will normally result in the jogger or cyclist getting chased or lunged at and given a warning nip (often painful with broken skin and bruising, but not to be confused with a dog bite, which will always involve stitches). If you are out for a run or bike ride and you see a dog or pack of dogs (with or without their owner), then please stop, project a calm (but assertive) energy, avoid direct eye contact, give them a wide berth and walk calmly past them or in the opposite direction.
People should never run or ride at/ or close to dogs. People should never approach unfamiliar dogs or try and touch a dog that is sleeping or avoiding eye contact with them. People should know that Lassie does not exist. Although mankind has domesticated dogs to live alongside us, at the end of the day, dogs are predatory animals and, like people, have individual personalities and most have issues of one sort of another. These issues come from their natural instincts competing with trying to fit into a “human world” and (if not health related) can be managed by a good pack leader. Understanding and respect for human and canine etiquette alike, can result in us all living in harmony with our 4 legged friends.
Hazel Black a qualified dog behaviourist who teaches dog owners how to become effective pack leaders in a non-confrontational, reward based way using methods that work with the basic nature of the dog. She has successfully rescued/ rehabilitated/ homed well over 200 dogs in HK in the past 7 years and is the founder and Chairman of HK Rescue Puppies (www.hkrescuepuppies.com). Facebook – HK Rescue Puppies.
A few months ago I was extremely sad to find out that my beloved doggy Zoë suddenly went blind from an incurable and unfortunately under-researched disease called SARDS (Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome). Being a qualified dog behaviourist, dog rescuer and founder of HK Rescue Puppies (I have fostered/ rescued/ homed well over 200 puppies & dogs in HK in the past 7 years), I was amazed that I had never heard of this disease before (the Optimologist from Peace Avenue, Dr. Derek Chow told me that he diagnoses 1 to 2 dogs a month with the disease in HK and I researched on the internet that over 4,000 dogs a year contract the disease in the USA alone). It is apparently more prevalent in female, spayed dogs over 6 years old and can be associated with Cushings disease (although not in Zoë’s case). Another theory is that it is caused by over exertion of the Adrenal gland, resulting in a deficiency of the natural steroid, Cortisol, which somehow affects the retina and stops it from functioning permanently.
Zoë exhibited all of the symptoms of SARDS over the 2 months preceding her diagnosis: increased water consumption and urination, increased appetite, weight gain, bed wetting, confusion, restlessness, heavy breathing/ snoring, behavioural changes (she cried when I was not with her & stood still, staring into space for extended periods) and lethargy; none of which I would have ever associated with blindness. As Zoë is still fairly young (she turned 6 on 26 April 2013) and had never had any eye injury or eye infection, it never even occurred to me that she was going blind. Looking back, I think she had short periods of loss or partial loss of vision for about 2 months and it slowly got worse.
I took Zoë to the vet on 4 February 2013 because she was exhibiting the above symptoms and throwing up as well. As my beloved Zara (RIP) had shown some of the same symptoms prior to her dying of liver cancer in 2012, I thought Zoë might have a kidney or liver problem. Her urine was tested and she was given a full blood test. Everything was normal apart from she had low potassium levels (which the vet said would indicate that she was sick from something she ate or drank – a dead barking dear was found the next day in the river that she drinks from, so I assumed she got sick from that). She was put on antibiotics and Potassium tablets & I brought her home.
I waited until the course of antibiotics was finished, but she still wasn’t back to normal. She stopped throwing up and seemed slightly more lively at times but was still exhibiting most of the above SARDS symptoms. On walks in the woods she was taking longer to come back to me than usual and was extremely lethargic on the way home. On 14 February 2013 I brought her to the vet again and he said that he couldn’t find anything medically wrong with her but suggested that I put her on anti-inflammatories for a few days to see if that helped (in case it was something that hadn’t show up on the blood and urine tests). He also suggested that it might be behavioural (this was feasible, as my parents, helper and 2 foster pups had just left, so I thought she might have been upset that our pack had suddenly decreased in size).
She seemed slightly better for about a week or so but then the bed-wetting increased and at times she looked really dazed, confused and dizzy. She also started drooling heavily and staring into space a lot more. Then one evening I got out her favourite treats and held one in front of her. She could smell it but didn’t appear to be able to see it. A few seconds later she looked like she could see again and took the treat. She may have gone in and out of blindness or I may have been reading her eyes and head following my movements, as her being able to see me (when in fact she was probably using her sound and smell sensors to follow my movements). Even in the weeks following her diagnosis, it looked like there were moments that she could see, but then she would stumble or walk into something. For a while it looked like she may have been be able to see shadows during bright periods of daylight, but Dr. Derek said that (if that was the case) then it would soon go, (as would the other symptoms in a few months.
On Monday 4 March 2013 Zoë walked into a drain wall when we were outdoors and then into one of my dining chairs when I got home. I was shocked and upset and immediately called the vet and said I thought she had gone blind; he referred me to Dr. Derek and I drove her to Peace Avenue Animal Hospital in Mong Kok. Dr. Derek was very nice and did a full retinal examination and diagnosed SARDS. He said it was a very sudden and permanent condition with no known cause or approved cure. He was very sorry that he couldn’t offer me a cure but he kindly gave me some advice on how to adapt my lifestyle to living with a blind dog. He said there was nothing I could have done earlier to stop it progressing and nothing I could do to make the eyesight come back. Needless to say I was devastated and there were a lot of tears in the following few weeks. I subsequently did a lot of reading up on the internet and found it very sad that more is not known about this dreadful disease and that nothing could be done to save her sight. I have taken things one day at a time and have adapted my life accordingly to give Zoë the best life possible. Some people asked if I would put her down and I asked them if they would put their children down if they went blind! Such a thing is inconceivable to me. Her life will not be as adventurous as it once was, but she can still lead a great life and has actually adapted to her situation better than me!
Some of the following tips about “Living with a Blind Dog” were given to me by the Optimologist, some I got from asking around, some from the internet and some from trial and error. I hope they will be useful to any other dogs owners who find themselves living with a blind dog:
· Put an easy to grab type harness on your dog (like the one in the photo of Zoe) instead of a collar and use a wide, extendable lead (not the thin, wire type) to walk your dog. Lock the lead at a safe length when walking on/ near roads and unlock the lead in safe areas to let your dog sniff and move around. Hook the lead to the back of the harness (not the front) so that you can easily pull your dog back from any potential dangers. Never let your dog off lead outdoors in unsecured areas or in areas with potential dangers.
· When you are walking your dog or moving around your home, talk calmly, gently and frequently to your dog to let them know where you are.
· Use set words to tell your dog that there is an obstacle in their path and to guide them (like “Step”, “Stop”, “Jump” “Left”, “Right” etc.). When using “Left” or “Right” pull the lead gently in that direction to help guide them in the correct direction.
· If you have other dogs or cats, then tie a small bell to each of their collars so that your blind dog can hear where they are too.
· If you have furniture that could be bumped into that would cause something on top of it to fall down from a height (picture frames/ statues etc.), then move those objects to a safer location so that nothing can fall on your dog’s head if it bumps into something.
· If you live in a house with stairs, then you need to be extra careful to keep your dog safe from falling down the stairs. Stick 2” wide non-slip floor tape to the entire front length of each step & place a non-slip carpet at the top, the bottom and the corner sections of each set of stairs. If necessary, place a child gate at the top and bottom of each set of stairs. Accompany your dog up and down the stairs whilst holding their harness (If they are a small dog, then you can add a short lead to the harness). Do not let your dog negotiate stairs on their own in your home until they have shown that they can navigate them safely every time. If you need to go out and leave your dog(s) alone then make sure you have a closed stair gate to keep them on one level. I have found that Zoë needs help going down the stairs first thing in the morning, but now she seems to be able to get up and down them fine (on her own) for the rest of the day. I have a spiral staircase to the roof and when she hears me open the roof door she can get up the stairs on her own (she likes sunbathing on the day bed on my roof) but needs help every time coming down them (she just stands and waits for me at the top of the stairs until I come to get her to help her down – she also never tries to go up the stairs unless she hears me open the roof door).
· Do not move the furniture around in your home and do not leave any potential obstacles in areas that are normally free of obstruction (shopping, the vacuum cleaner etc.).
· When feeding your dog, make a noise by tapping the dog bowl when you put it down, so that they can easily find it (I have found that Zoe’s sense of smell has gotten worse since she went blind; she can smell there is food in the room but has trouble finding it and gets stressed when she can’t. The tapping helps – hopefully her sense of smell will improve with time).
· Stimulate your dogs mind with playtime and training. If your dog likes to play, buy toys with noises in them, I found a great ball with bells inside it (I think it was designed for cats) that I can roll around for Zoë to find. If you have a dog with a better sense of smell who likes a challenge, then you can also use Kong type toys filled with something yummy and place them somewhere that your dog can search for them and find them without bumping into anything. You can also teach them requests and tricks through sound and touch. Use pats and words of praise or small, strong smelling treats to further entice their senses of smell and taste. Until her sense of smell improves, I have found that I sometimes need to gently touch Zoe’s mouth with the treat (when she has trouble finding it).
· It is very stressful for your dog when they first go blind. The action of chewing releases endorphins that calm stress, so it is best to provide your dog with an adequate amount of safe chew toys or flat, raw hide chew bones to help relieve the stress.
· Your dog will probably not be able to get as much exercise, so you will need to reduce their food intake accordingly so that they do not become overweight. Do not try to overcompensate the blindness by giving them too many treats.
· The vet recommended that I stick with the same walk every time, so that Zoe knows where she is, but she soon got bored with this, so I started to vary the walks and she was much happier having different smells to sniff. I am lucky that I have a number of great walking options from where I live, so I have about 6 different walks that I stick to. This gives her variety throughout the day and the confidence to know where she is in an area close to home.
· All dogs (especially blind ones) need a calm and assertive pack leader, someone they can trust to make all the important survival decisions for them. Being a good pack leader is not about domination or control, it is about respect and understanding. You need to be able to communicate with your dogs in a way they understand.
· We are all human, so there are times in our lives when we get upset. If you really need to cry or vent then try (where possible) to do so away from your dogs (out of sight and out of earshot), then take a deep breath and go pack to being the pack leader that they need. In the beginning I found it very difficult not to burst into tears when I saw Zoë struggling with something. I live opposite a 10 foot storm drain and a few days after her diagnosis, Zoë was meandering along on a walk beside my other dogs and I, when she suddenly and quickly made a 90 degree turn and ran straight into the drain. I was so shocked! Luckily it had some water and wet leaves in it to soften the fall and I pulled her straight up with the extendable lead and harness. I burst into tears at the thought of her possibly being hurt, but she just came out, had a shake and walked over to her favourite bush and started eating her daily veggies (she is like a goat). It was as if nothing had happened! I went from tears to laughter in an instant. Dogs are so resilient and adaptable; we can learn so much from them!
Hazel Black - Chairman of HK Rescue Puppies & a qualified dog behaviourist.
When working and interacting with dogs and people, having the right energy is vital. I am talking about the “Reiki” type of energy as opposed to the “get up and go” type of energy. We, humans, can learn so much from just observing and absorbing the energy and body language of animals, especially humans and dogs.
I like to think of reactive energy in the form of an energy mirror; our energy is reflected in whoever we are interacting with, be it a dog or a human. If we are calm, our dogs and the people around us will more likely be calm. If we get excited, our dogs and the people around us will more likely get excited. If we get angry and shout, then our dogs or the people around us could get aggressive and shout (bark) or they could become fearful and scared. Negative energy attracts negative energy, be it in the form of fear or aggression. This is why we should never get into an argument with another dog owner. Even if we think they are in the wrong, we should stay calm and project positive energy and (where possible) walk away from any potentially dangerous and/ or negative situations.
We instinctively do things that we may not be aware of when we are reacting to the energy of others. If someone projects or comes at us with negative energy, we will instinctively react in a negative way and vice versa. If we see someone we know and like from a distance, we will wave to get their attention and say hello in a friendly way. This positive energy will hopefully attractive positive energy from the other party. If for some reason this other person is upset with us about something, they may react with negative energy which would probably result in us then having negative energy towards them. If we try and keep our energy positive, even when we are faced with negative energy, then there is a higher chance that the energy between both parties will become positive and everyone will be much happier. We are human after all, so this is all easier said than done, but if we are conscious of how our energy affects others, then we will be more likely to make the appropriate changes from negative to positive energy when necessary and in a timely fashion.
In a dog pack, there are different forms of energy amongst the pack members which can change significantly in different situations; it is important to be aware of this energy:
When walking dogs, it is important that their energy levels are calm, low and submissive before you leave your home. Many people make the mistake of heightening the energy of their dogs before a walk and then wonder why their dogs misbehave on the walk. Once their energy is lowered and they are calm, you can attach the leads and lead them outside, always making sure that you walk through the doorway first. Never take them outside with heightened energy. You must start the walk in a calm, confident way with the dogs close to you, acting in a calm submissive way and not pulling on the leads. If they try to pull you and control the walk you must stop and silently project a calm assertive energy, which should cause them to have a calm submissive energy. Once you all have the correct energy, you can start the walk again. If you are not able to get them into a calm, submissive state then you need to abandon the walk, take them home and calm them down there (where they feel more comfortable). It is important when holding the dog leads to be relaxed and in control, as your energy will be passed down the leads to the dogs and this will affect their behaviour.
If you are in a situation whereby you cannot project a calm assertive energy (if you are sick or grieving and feeling weak or if you are stressed, angry or upset about something) then you would need to make sure the dogs are safely and securely at home and remove yourself from the pack (which could mean leaving your home or simply going into another room) until such time that you can project the correct energy and reassert yourself as the pack leader (please do not leave you dogs alone for more than a few hours at a time though).
It is important that you allow both yourself and your dogs the opportunity to get the right amount of exercise, nutrition, sleep and relaxation that your bodies need on a daily basis to be able to stay healthy and to project the right kind of energy. Try to stay away from negative energy (where possible), avoid confrontations and always remember that a genuine, happy, calm and confident smile can do wonders to project positive energy in both yourself and others.
Dog Behaviourist & Chairman of HKRP