Entries in Animals (6)


Relationship Ranch: Horses Help Couples Heal Broken Hearts

Horses are being used in an unconventional form of couples counseling at a Colorado ranch. (ABC News)(LOUISVILLE, Colo.) -- It's fascinating to watch a man trying to win back the love of his life by talking to a horse.

Horse therapy has been used for decades to help treat people with physical disabilities or learning disorders, but now they are also being used in an unconventional form of couples counseling.

Nancy Hamilton and Lottie Grimes are marriage therapists who run Relationship Ranch in Louisville, Colo. They are convinced that horses can help feuding couples make peace.

"You wouldn't think they would have any role in marriage therapy," Hamilton said. "But because horses are so exquisitely sensitive, they can help us determine what a couple is actually, really feeling."

For three weekends, "Nightline" followed one couple's last-ditch effort to save their crumbling relationship and attended their equine therapy sessions.

Justin and Lyz, both 30 and never married, have been together for nine years and have two sons. But lately, they said, the bickering and fighting at home got so bad that Justin reluctantly agreed to move out.

"We have piled problem on top of problem on top of problem for years," Lyz said. "Who knows what's at the bottom of that?"

Although he was skeptical about the healing powers of horses, he said he was willing to try just about anything to make his family whole again.

On their first day of therapy, the couple was introduced to the ranch's herd of horses. Justin was magnetically drawn to the newest and most aggressive horse, Danny, who came to the ranch after surviving a grizzly bear attack. Danny wasn't fitting in with the other horses, which hit home for Justin, who felt exiled from his own herd. Hamilton said horses can sense and read people's emotions.

"They're almost like a Rorschach projective test with a mane and a tail, where people can project onto them their feelings, their thoughts and their fears," she said.

Hamilton said she believes those fears can stem from what she called unresolved childhood wounds, which plague adult relationships. That was the case with Justin. When he was 9-years-old, his sister was brutally murdered by an ex-boyfriend and young Justin saw the murder scene.

"He chased her down and cut her throat," he said. "We went back several days later and they hadn't cleaned anything up."

After working with Justin and Lyz, Hamilton said Lyz saw Justin as controlling, but those tendencies are rooted in his childhood trauma.

"Trauma survivors are very concerned with being able to control their present environment because they were not able to control their environment when they were traumatized," she said.

Hamilton had Justin go through a blind trust exercise with Danny to force Justin to surrender control to his partner. The goal was to expose Justin's old wounds. Hamilton instructed him to talk to Danny about what had happened when his sister was killed. Danny, the trauma-surviving horse, set the stage for a major breakthrough.

"It seemed so stupid at first, and then it was actually helpful," Justin said. "Therapeutic."

Watching Justin talk to the horse, Lyz said she never saw him so vulnerable. After the session, the two apologized for hurting each other.

Two weeks later, Justin went through a final exercise to fully cope with his past. In a pen, surrounded by the herd, Justin became 9-years-old-again. He was instructed to confront his absent father through a role-playing exercise, while Lyz acted as a stand-in for his dad.

"You abandoned all of us," he said aloud. "I had to be the man of the family and I think that you're a coward."

During a crucial and emotional moment, Danny, the horse, seemed to sense that his new friend needed him, and he put his head into Justin's hands. Then, in a rare sign of trust, some of the other horses lay down behind Justin, while others joined him by his side.

"That was the big 'ah-ha' moment for Lyz," Hamilton said. "She said, 'Justin, I realize that I am abandoning you over and over again just like your dad did.'"

At that point, Hamilton told the couple to re-commit to each other exclusively. Suddenly, the horses started kicking and running. Hamilton said she believes they were reacting to Lyz's fear of commitment and Justin's fear of abandonment.

For now, the future of Justin and Lyz's relationship is still uncertain. Lyz said she needed more time to decide whether to continue the relationship. They haven't solved all of their problems, but at least for now, they have found some guidance for the long road ahead.

"If you truly want help you're going to do whatever it takes to get that, even if it's talking to a horse," Justin said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Max the Dog Survives Sandy's Wrath and Death of Owner

Jessie Streich-Kest was walking her dog when a tree fell and killed Jessie on Oct. 29, 2012. (Courtesy NYCCommunities)(NEW YORK) -- Max, a friendly pit-bull-pointer-shepherd mix, was saved by a good Samaritan Tuesday, after he was found trapped under a fallen tree with the bodies of his owner Jessie Streich-Kest, and her friend Jacob Vogelman.

Max, a shoo-in for the Target dog with a brown patch over his eye, was taken to Verg South, an emergency veterinary hospital in Brooklyn, where he is expected to recover from head injuries, a broken jaw and some lacerations to the mouth.

For him, it was a second rescue -- he was a shelter dog. And now, Verg South will take care of him pro-bono until he can go home to live with his owner's family.

"It's just a testament to Max's spirit that he pulled through this tragedy," said veterinarian Brett Levitzke, who is treating the dog.

"It's also a testament to his owner that she went to a local shelter and saved putting him to sleep," he said. "That's why the whole story is really heartbreaking, but hopefully it will have a happy ending for Max."

He, like hundreds of pets up and down the East Coast, were separated from their owners or killed as hurricane-force winds and flooding took down everything in their path.

NYCVert, which since 9/11 has worked with the city's Office of Emergency Management to develop disaster planning for pets, estimated about 100 animals pets have been rescued and taken to shelters in New York City during superstorm Sandy.

"And that's not counting those that ended up in hospitals or were stranded," said Levitzke, 41.

The hospital, with generators, has been operational 24/7 since the storm. One dog had salt water toxicity from being stuck in flood waters, causing his brain to swell. Others have suffered from stress that causes vomiting.

"It runs the gamut," he said of the injuries. The hospital also takes in abandoned pets.

Max was found alive Tuesday when a neighbor went outside in the Ditmas Park section of Brooklyn to take pictures of the fallen tree.

"He was mentally very dull because of head trauma," said Levitzke. The dog will likely need jaw surgery after his head injuries subside.

He described Max as a large "Brooklyn garden variety mutt," with a "sweet face and a sweet disposition."

Max had been adopted by Streich-Kest, a special education teacher at the Buschwick High School for Social Justice, from the ASPCA. She was an activist who championed the homeless and even the carriage horses in Central Park.

"Jessie was a wonderful, amazing human being and they were a perfect match, so I am happy he is surviving," Barbara Gross, a friend of the family, said of Max. "They were inseparable."

Her parents, Jon Kest and Fran Streich, both community organizers, were devasted by their daughter's death and plan to keep the dog, according to Gross, 54.

Streich-Kest got Max from the ASPCA when she moved into her first apartment about two years ago, according to Gross.

"He was a real comfort and anchor for her," she said. "Everyone said the dog thought he was human."

At Verg South, Max has been "definitely critical for the past few days, but over the past 24 hours, he has taken quite a turn for the better in terms of his neurological status," said Levitzke.

As of Friday, Max was out of his cage and eating. "He's a ton better," he said. "The fact is, Max is a real trooper."

Levitzke said the city had done a "good job" of looking after pets, informing them how to make preparations for evacuations and even providing accommodation for family pets at evacuation shelters.

"For all those reasons, the numbers aren't going to be as staggering as Katrina," he said, where an estimated 600,000 animals were lost or perished.

For future weather emergency preparedness, Levitzke advises families to pack "go bags" for animals, with food, blankets, carriers and leashes, and most importantly ID for your pet and even a photo taken with you in case you are separated.

"Everyone is dealing with the aftereffects of Sandy," said Levitzke. "Max is welcome to stay with us as long as he needs. And while they get their feet on the ground. We will take care of his injuries."

"The family has lost everything," he said. "But pets are family and now they have one less thing to worry about."

For questions and to help reunite pets and their owners, call the city's Pet Hotline at (347) 573-1561.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


'Zoobiquity': 7 Diseases Animals Share With Humans

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz is a sort of modern day Dr. Dolittle.

For the past six years, the UCLA cardiologist has been consulting with the Los Angeles Zoo to help treat diseases found in animals. Natterson-Horowitz said she was surprised to learn how much human and veterinary medicine have in common.

"Animals suffer from almost all of the diseases that human beings do, but veterinarians and physicians never talk about this," she said. "Physicians have not typically, traditionally, seen veterinarians as their clinical peers and that's unfortunate."

Her work became the focus of her new book, Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us about Health and the Science of Healing, which she co-wrote with science writer Kathryn Bowers. The book calls for an approach to medicine that crosses the species barrier. It argues that studying diseases found in both a human and an animal could save both lives.

Natterson-Horowitz's work at the zoo began after she attended a sleepover at the LA Zoo with her young daughter. She struck up a conversation with some of the veterinarians who ended up enlisting her help in cardiac cases.

Here are just seven examples of diseases shared by humans and animals:

1. Heart Disease

One of her first experiences dealing with animal patients came when she examined Cookie the lioness. The big cat had been diagnosed with fluid in the sac around heart -- a potentially fatal condition.

Natterson-Horowitz said what amazed her most was that the zoo veterinarians made Cookie's diagnosis not with a battery of expensive tests -- as they would at UCLA. Instead it was old-fashioned observation, like they used to teach in medical school.

Veterinarians, she said, are the ultimate general practitioners,dealing with a wide range of species including mammals, reptiles and insects. Also, unlike human patients, the animals can't describe their symptoms to their doctors. The vets have to be keen observers.

After that experience, Natterson-Horowitz said she began looking at her human patients differently.

In Zoobiquity, the authors note that animals can experience heart attacks and many species can be frightened to death. Sudden cardiac death, a leading cause of death in humans, can also have "a fear trigger," Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers wrote. However, they also acknowledged that physicians have been "skeptical of linking high emotion and cardiac death in humans."

2. Breast Cancer

According to Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers, certain types of breast cancer have been found a number of mammals.

Their list includes jaguars, cougars, tigers, sea lions, kangaroos, wallabies, beluga whales, alpacas and llamas.

Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers note that the only group of mammals in which breast cancer is rarely found are with the "professional lactators," meaning dairy cows and goats.

3. Skin Cancer

Dr. Curtis Eng, the Los Angeles Zoo's chief veterinarian, said the zoo has come to rely on human specialists like Natterson to help treat its animals.

"There are a lot of medical conditions that we just don't know enough about to treat the animal fully," he told ABC'S Nightline.

So when Rhonda the rhino was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a common type of skin cancer, on her horn, the zoo brought in one of UCLA's top oncologists. Rhonda even underwent surgery to remove it and is now cancer free.

4. Osteosarcoma

Osteosarcoma, a common type of bone cancer that forced Ted Kennedy Jr. to undergo a leg amputation in 1973, is the leading cause of death in golden retrievers, Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers wrote in their book Zoobiquity.

This disease has also been found in the bones of wolves, grizzly bears, camels, polar bears, some reptiles, fish and birds, according to the authors.

5. Obesity and Diabetes

Zoo animals not only can suffer from obesity, but diabetes is fairly common, in part because the animals eat food that has been genetically modified for human consumption.

In their book, Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers wrote that various animals in the wild will experience binge-eating, secret-eating, nocturnal-eating and food-hoarding, which could suggest a link between humans and "ancestral eating strategies."

6. STDs

Atlantic bottlenose dolphins suffer genital warts, baboons can get herpes, syphilis is rampant among rabbits, just to name a few sexually-transmitted diseases affecting animals that Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers note in their book.

"Wild animals don't practice safe sex," Natterson-Horowitz said. "Of course they get STDs."

In fact, an epidemic of sexually transmitted Chlamydia has devastated koala populations in Australia. Wildlife biologists Down Under are so concerned about it, they are working on a vaccine for Chlamydia in koalas. There is currently no Chlamydia vaccine for humans.

At the same time, Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers wrote that 1 in 4 humans worldwide will die of an STD.

7. Erectile Dysfunction

Horses can experience erectile dysfunction, the authors said. But there's no Viagra for them. Instead vets take a more holistic approach.

"I found that veterinarians are more comfortable talking about the sexuality of their animals then physicians sometimes are," Natterson said. "We are told in medical school to talk with our patients about their sexuality, but sometimes it's easier to talk to a patient about whether they have chest pain walking up a flight of stairs or not, then immediately getting into their sexual life."

Through her research, Natterson-Horowitz said stallions not only have been found to experience erectile dysfunction, they can have sexual dysfunction if they were bred too young or have an upsetting first sexual experience with a mare.

But acknowledging the similarities between humans and animals from a medical perspective does have bigger implications. How does the Zoobiquity approach apply, for instance, to the controversial issue of animal testing?

One could argue Zoobiquity is an argument for more animal testing, because of the similarities among different species, or Zoobiquity could be the basis for a moral argument against animal testing, because we share more in common than we think with the animal kingdom.

Should the Hippocratic Oath -- to do no harm -- apply to hippos? Natterson-Horowitz couldn't say.

"I can't give you a simple answer," she said, "because it's a very complicated, nuanced question."

But, she argued, doctors and veterinarians should have a lot to teach each other.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Therapy Dog 'Spirit', Once Abused, Eases Pain for Sick, Dying

Goodshoot/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For the last week, Archibald Downer—a 65-year-old on dialysis—has been painfully poked and prodded with needles as doctors try to figure out why his fever and blood pressure won't go down.

He is bedridden among others who are sick and dying in the palliative care unit at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, where the days and sometimes the pain seem endless.

But once a week, a warm and loving spirit sweeps through the stressful New York City hospital, and is greeted like a breath of fresh air—Spirit, the therapy dog, that is.

With his sparkling blue eyes and friendly demeanor, the 6-year-old mutt is certified to work with patients, lifting spirits, lowering anxiety levels and easing pain—both psychological and physical.

"He jumps on my bed and lays on my legs, getting comfortable," said Downer, a retired plumber. "It's a nice way to help those who are crying from pain. The dog makes a whole lot of difference. My arm was stinging [for repeated blood draws] but it don't bother me no more."

Animals have provided emotional comfort to humans for thousands of years. According to the American Humane Society, animal-assisted therapy can help children who have suffered abuse or neglect and patients undergoing cancer treatments. Pets have also forged strong bonds with veterans' families who are coping with the effects of wartime military service.

A 2011 study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants reveals that patients report "feeling better" when they interact with an animal.

"It brings us closer not only to the patient, but to their family, as well," said Dr. Rose Guilbe, medical director of the palliative care unit and a family physician. "It creates a nicer working environment and takes away from the stiffness of medicine."

Spirit must follow strict hospital guidelines. His paws are disinfected before he enters the unit, he is on a leash and he wears a photo ID. And he only visits those patients who have given their consent. All people don't love dogs, and the staff understands that.

"It brings out a part of the patient we don't usually see—some joy in their personality that we don't get with opioids and other medical treatments," she said. "It also increases the communication among us in the medical community."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Can Animals Sense Earthquakes First?

JupiterImages/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Do you want an early earthquake detection system? You might be best off adopting an ape, lemur, or flamingo for a pet.

It seems some animals at the National Zoo sensed that the 5.8 magnitude earthquake that rocked the East Coast on Tuesday was coming.

The Smithsonian National Zoological Park in Washington, D.C., said the vibrations from the earthquake were “keenly felt” by the animals, staff and visitors.  But more interesting is how some of those animals reacted before the earth started shaking below them, showing a sense that these zoo animals knew something we didn’t.

The National Zoo has catalogued changes in animal behavior recognized before, during and after the big East Coast quake.

The Great Apes knew it was coming apparently -- about five to ten seconds before the earthquake hit, many of the apes, such as Kyle, an orangutan, and Kojo, a western lowland gorilla, left their food during afternoon feeding time and climbed to the top of the tree-like structure in their exhibit.  Another ape, a gorilla named Mandara, let out what an animal care taker described as a “shriek” and instinctively collected her baby and joined the other apes at the top of the tree structure as well. An orangutan, Iris, started “belch vocalizing” before and after the quake hit which the zoo keepers describe as a sound only used for “extreme irritation.”

Other animals serving as an early warning system? Small mammals. The red ruffed lemurs called out a whole fifteen minutes before the quake.  Zookeepers reported that the black and rufous giant elephant shrew hid in his habitat and “refused to come out for afternoon feeding,” before the quake hit.

The flamingos too sensed the start of the quake. Just before the quake, the zoo’s flock of 64 flamingos rushed and grouped themselves together where they remained huddled during the quake, the zoo says.

Many animals reacted to the shakes of the earthquake -- but did not start acting up beforehand, indicating they likely did not sense the earthquake coming.

Other zoos on the East Coast report similar animal activity both before and after the quake.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Third Medical Procedure for Lost Penguin 'Happy Feet'

File photo. Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(WELLINGTON, New Zealand) -- With a third medical procedure under its, er, flipper, the emperor penguin that found itself on the sandy beaches of New Zealand last week, thousands of miles from its snowy home in Antarctica, is now recovering at the Wellington Zoo.

The penguin, nicknamed "Happy Feet," had eaten twigs of driftwood and lots of sand, which experts said it likely mistook for the snow it consumes for hydration in Antarctica. Though an X-ray was planned for Wednesday, hospital staff said it hoped the rest of the debris would pass naturally.

The penguin, whose sex had yet to be determined by DNA tests, was found last Monday and had been left to fend for itself until conservationists monitoring its condition stepped in Friday.

Dyan deNapoli, a penguin expert and author of The Great Penguin Rescue, told ABC News that the penguin would likely need another surgery and months of rehabilitation before it was released.

"It sounds pretty tenuous," she said of the penguin's condition. But "there is some hope. Maybe it'll be fine."

On Saturday, New Zealand investment adviser Gareth Morgan offered "Happy Feet" a seat on a Russian icebreaker to Antarctica, where he planned to lead an expedition.

DeNapoli said that although releasing an animal back into the wild was ideal, zoo staff would have to test the penguin carefully and clear it of any diseases and parasites it might have picked up during its travels.

"It's a tremendous risk you don't want to take," she said about possibly introducing foreign pathogens to the isolated Antarctica colony of emperor penguins.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio