How These Individuals are Changing the World for the Human-Animal Bond

Have you ever had an experience so memorable that it changed your entire life?

Have you been so impacted by the human-animal bond that you thought about starting a new chapter in your life?

Introducing two wonderful people that I met at BlogPaws 2015 in Nashville, TN:  Buzz Miller (PACT founder) and Christina Lisk (author and avid cat-lover).  I met Christina during one of the lectures, where I easily spotted her in her cat ears headband and animal-print clothing.  I noted to myself - "I must talk to her!".  A few hours later, I so happened to sit next to Buzz during lunch, where we had a uplifting and enlightening conversation.  Both of these lovely people agreed to be interviewed to highlight how their life has been drastically improved by the human-animal bond.  Full interview of each person is in audio format in links below.

PACT stands for People plus Animals Equals Companions Together (how awesome is that?!).   PACT has a network of long-term animal foster families whose humans are serving a military tour, a long-term patient in a hospital or even those who are homeless.  They do AMAZING work in this organization!

On the left, Buzz Miller and Judy are posing with a dog (formerly in the care of Michael Vick) who was rehabbed.  On the right, Christina Lisk is posing with one of the cats from PACT.

Christina Lisk on How Cats Changed Her Life (and Her Hearing):

(I’ve had) a life of chronic ear infections (I started out as being half-deaf). I’ve had so much trouble with them (ears) since I was 6 months old. They put me into 10 surgeries over the course of my life time, (and) there were times when the infections were so bad I couldn’t hear a cat purr... That changed when I was 12, when I had ear drum repair surgery...the one (sound) that struck me the most was hearing Greta’s purr for the first time...They (cats) have always been my touchstone. Anytime my world is spinning out of control, if there is a cat around, I am instantly grounded.
— Christina Lisk, Author at PACT
I came to work with a migraine...Baby (cat) jumped up on the back of my chair and instantly held his head to my chest...the pain went away. ...Changes in blood pressure can contribute to migraine headaches, and cat purrs actually lower blood pressure.
— Christina Lisk, Author at PACT
They (cats) provide therapy for me. The cats...comfort me the whole time...I thought...’I don’t know what I would do without you (Lucas, the cat).’
— Christina Lisk, Author at PACT
Buzz and a PACT family

Buzz and a PACT family

Buzz on How it All Started:

‘We are going to Afghanistan or we are going to the middle east... We have no one we know among relatives, family and friends who will take care of this animal for a year.’

I said to myself...I can’t believe young people are going to horrible places...they are risking their lives...and they have to give up an animal that these people truly truly love as a member of the family. I can’t believe...there are not provisions to help these young people...
— Buzz Miller, Founder of PACT

Buzz on the Human-Animal Bond with his Cat:

We had lost one of my favorite dogs of all time at 19 1/2... About 6 months later, I was sitting in the den with a couple cats...(I said to my wife) ‘It really bothers me, that he (my dog) slept on my bed for years, and now...I don’t have that dog touching me (anymore)’... It shocked me unbelievably (because) from that night on, until this cat went to heaven...he got in the bed and crawled up into my arms every night (from then on until his death)... He obviously picked up on something (I) said.”
— Buzz Miller, Founder of PACT

Buzz on Where PACT is Going:

In five years, I’d like to have a satellite in every major city... The first need is to enable the rest of the country (to know) that we will put (your animals) into long-term foster for a couple months up to a year.
— Buzz Miller, Founder of PACT

If you'd like a warm and fuzzy feeling, just watch this video below where a soldier is welcomed home by her cats.




Bark It Out: Fresh Dog Tips You Don't Want to Miss

What do you get when 7 animal behavior experts in one room with animal-lovers?  You get PAWSOME.  Ohhh yes, I said that.  Thanks to the IAABC, The Anti-Cruelty Society of Chicago, and the hard work of many individuals, this event was successful.   I was extremely impressed with the quality and integrity of the presenters.  Most tips are either specifically for dogs or can be applied across many different species.  Many of the suggestions I plan to try right away on my somewhat-willing domestic felines.  Enjoy the highlights below!

Chicago selfie

Chicago selfie

Human Animal Bond by Steve Dale

  • It is a misconception that stray animals are the largest reason that our shelters are busting at the seams.  The largest problem is the relinquished animals crowding shelters.
  • 1 cat or dog is euthanized every 11 seconds in a U.S. shelter.  7 out of 10 dogs make it out of a shelter alive.  4 out of 10 cats make it out of a shelter alive.
Steve Dale presented to us all when we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Saturday morning.

Steve Dale presented to us all when we were bright-eyed and bushy-tailed on Saturday morning.

Fear Based Aggression by Dr. John Ciribassi

  • If submissive behavior signs are ignored by the dominant animal (humans included), dog will resort to aggression.
  • If the dog looks like it's giving you a very large toothy smile, the dog is showing fear.  If the dog only shows its front teeth and canines, the dog is showing confidence.
  • Any uncontrolled environment (yes, your friend's kids coming over does count!) with a fearful dog is an extremely bad and dangerous idea.  Ask yourself, "Does this dog perceive this situation as threatening?"
  • Ever heard someone say, "The dog is trying to protect me."  Wrong.  The dog is hoping you will protect him/her.
  • An easy way to differentiate counter-conditioning:
    • Classical Conditioning = good things happen when _____ happens (no treats or rewards)
    • Operant Conditioning = positive reinforcement for desired behavior (with treats or rewards)

Possessive Aggression aka Resource Guarding by Dr. John Ciribassi

  • Not all resources are equal to that individual dog.
  • Dog A can be dominant over Dog B in Room 1, but Dog B may be dominant over Dog A in Room 2.  Dominance is relative.
  • Don't give the dog a reason to feel like its resource is being threatened.

Separation Anxiety by Dr. John Ciribassi

  • Hypersalivation symptom is only seen in dog separation anxiety.
  • Separation anxiety is not a result of boredom.
  • Most solutions are complex and time-consuming, but possible.

Exotic to Domestic Animals: Lessons Learned That Come Full Circle by Laura Monaco Torelli

  • Always give the animal a choice to participate in training.
  • Go on happy vet visits to promote fear-free outings.
  • Play ping pong with your clicker cues to "hide" cue that includes medication.
Laura describing the excitement for a successful foot up cue!

Laura describing the excitement for a successful foot up cue!

Panel Discussion on What is a Veterinary Behaviorist, What is a Behavior Consultant, What is a Trainer? by Dr. John Ciribassi, Steve Dale, Michael Shikashio, Ruth Crisler

  • A veterinary behaviorist is a veterinarian with board certification in animal behavior.  Their names are followed with the abbreviations DVM DVACB.  They can diagnose and medicate, if needed.  A parallel to the human world would make a veterinary behaviorist, a psychiatrist.
  • A certified behavior consultant is not a veterinarian, but can guide and advise on behavior modification.  A parallel to the human world would make a certified behavior consultant, a psychologist.  The main difference is that a psychologist must have a degree, where a certified behavior consultant is a result of documented peer-reviewed proven-effective work experience, not a degree.
  • The consensus was that all animal behavior professionals need to work together as a team towards the big picture, which is to reduce the number of animals relinquished to shelters or euthanized due to behavioral issues.  All behavior professionals should be communicating closely to provide the best care for the animal.
  • More awareness of identifying behavior issues, fear-free behavior modification methods and successful results should be the end goal for all animal behavior professionals.
From Left to Right: Marjie Alonso, Michael Shikashio, Ruth Crisler, Steve Dale and Dr. John Ciribassi

From Left to Right: Marjie Alonso, Michael Shikashio, Ruth Crisler, Steve Dale and Dr. John Ciribassi

Living With and Loving a Pet with Behavior Problems: The Impact on Pet Owners by Kristin Buller and Dr. Kelly Ballantyne

  • 87% of pet owners consider pets part of the family
  • Animal behavior professionals need to realize that each of us cannot wear all the hats, otherwise each of us may fall into compassion fatigue.  This is unhealthy and can lead to depression.  It is important for all parties to work as a team and support one another.

Introducing Highly Reactive & Aggressive Dogs - An Experiment by Ken Ramirez

  • Lips sealed regarding this research until the company that supplied the grant gives permission to share.  I will say that it was quite fascinating what Ken and his team of expert trainers were able to do with a highly aggressive dog that was confiscated from a dog fighting community.
Ken just finished his presentation which I cannot share the details of yet.

Ken just finished his presentation which I cannot share the details of yet.

Complex Tools by Ken Ramirez

  • Ken covered the varied cues that can be used in exotic animal training, as well as domestic animals.
    • Keep Going Signal aka Bridge - Usually not needed but does work.
    • Jackpot - Works if used very sparingly and delivered quickly.  
    • No Reinforcement Marker - Rarely works due to being a conditioned punishment.
    • Time Out - Only effective if animal leaves you, then you leave, so when the animal returns, it finds the positive reinforcement (you) is no longer available.  The animal will wish it never left.
    • Least Reinforcing Scenario - Works if neutral response is correctly executed.
    • Redirection Strategies - Definitely works.
    • Recall Signal - Works and should always be reinforced no matter the context.  Its purpose is to use during a crisis. Think of a house fire and you want your animal to come IMMEDIATELY.
    • End of Session - Large debate over usage.  Doesn't make or break a training program.
  • Every person utilizing them needs to understand each specialized use and the practical application of it.
Selfie infront of the entrace to the shelter.

Selfie infront of the entrace to the shelter.

I did squeeze in dinner time Saturday night with two of my college friends who now live in Chicago.  So fun!

I did squeeze in dinner time Saturday night with two of my college friends who now live in Chicago.  So fun!

Gino's East was down the street from the shelter.  They had this life-size horse statue outside of the restaurant, so of course, what did I do? II took a selfie.

Gino's East was down the street from the shelter.  They had this life-size horse statue outside of the restaurant, so of course, what did I do? II took a selfie.