Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

DOGGONE BUSY

WESTMINSTER ENTRANTS LEAD VARIED AND ACTIVE LIVES

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Have you ever wondered what show dogs do in their down time? Well, they're not lolling around on the sofa and eating doggie bonbons. They're out there making therapy visits, helping kids learn to read, keeping an eye on their owners' health, and doing brain research. For real. Take a look at how some of this year's Westminster competitors spend their off days.

Trooper, whose registered name is Grand Champion Loral's Trooper, is a therapy dog who lives in Bolivia, N.C., with owners Lorretta and Allen Pyeatt. He makes regular visits to area nursing homes, where he spreads his own special brand of rottweiler cheer. He's also involved in the Bark for Reading program at a local elementary school. Reading to dogs such as Trooper helps children improve their vocabularies, comprehension and confidence.

Scientists at Emory University in Atlanta are using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore what dogs are thinking. The new and harmless methodology scans the brains of alert dogs to see how they respond to hand signals given by their people. One of their test subjects is Eli (Grand Champion Aislinn's RR Elite Edition), a vizsla owned by dog trainer Lindsay Fetters of Decatur, Ga. Eli's job is to lie perfectly still in the MRI machine while researchers measure his neural activity. When he's not contributing to science, Eli trains for agility and field work and auditions for acting roles with Atlanta Dogworks.

When children are victims of or witnesses to crimes, having a dog to snuggle with can help them deal with the trauma. That's where border terrier Ticket (Champion Otley's No Parking) comes in. The victim/crime witness dog, owned by attorney D'Arcy Downs-Vollbracht of Golden Valley, Ariz., logs many hours at crime scenes and in court, serving as a steadying influence for children who have been caught up in crimes or must testify. Ticket's work carries over to local junior high schools, where she participates in an annual domestic-violence education program. She also makes therapy visits to hospitals, hospice wards and schools.

Kenzie doesn't have an M.D., but her keen senses allow her to sense when owner Alicia Moore of Chesapeake Beach, Md., has low blood sugar. The rough collie, formally known as Moore's Alainn Aoife, will be competing in Westminster's first agility trial, but her most important job is serving as Moore's diabetic-alert dog. "I have to be certain that my blood sugar is not low or going low, or she won't run with me," Moore says.

"Crime" does pay -- at least for Debra Lazaro of Jackson, N.J., who owns and handles Westminster agility competitor OnTargets Prison Break. The striking mixed breed with the humorous personality has landed many show-biz roles, including appearances with Jennifer Aniston and Tim Robbins in the 2013 flick "Life of Crime" and with Willem Dafoe and Keanu Reeves in 2014's "John Wick." Crime also participates in herding events -- fleecing the competition, no doubt.

Grant (Grand Champion Starfield's Army Strong V Bulkley), a German shorthaired pointer owned by Steve Herman of Baltimore, Md., likes to take a long jump off a short bridge. His dock-diving record is 21 feet, 11 inches. Not content with making a splash in canine aquatics, Grant also holds Junior Hunter and Novice Retrieving Dog titles. You can't say that dog don't hunt.

The Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is televised live Monday, Feb. 10, on CNBC, from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Eastern time. On Tuesday, Feb. 11, the telecast will be on USA Network from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET. For the first time, Tuesday's telecast will also be seen live in the Pacific time zone from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Q&A

Ask questions when seeking

complementary care

Q: My cat has cancer, and I'd like to find a holistic veterinarian who offers acupuncture and herbal treatments. I've heard that these therapies might help with her poor appetite and maybe improve her quality of life. What should I look for? -- via email

A: Veterinarians who describe themselves as "holistic" usually mean that they look at everything in an animal's life that might affect his health, such as diet, home environment and social situation. Most of us would say that we do that, but what you are looking for is a veterinarian who practices complementary, or alternative, medicine.

My friend and colleague Dr. Robin Downing, whose veterinary practice in Windsor, Colo., treats patients with both conventional and complementary medicine, believes that complementary therapies can help influence a patient's recovery time and quality of life. To make sure your cat gets the best care, ask the following questions:

-- How can alternative therapies complement the treatment my cat is already receiving?

-- Do these therapies have any potential risks?

-- Where did you receive your training in acupuncture and herbal medicine?

Dr. Downing notes that the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine in Fort Collins is the only program that teaches medical acupuncture grounded in neuroanatomy and neurophysiology. She also warns that little is known about the safety of herbal treatments for cats, so be doubly cautious.

Watch for red flags, too. Be concerned if the veterinarian pooh-poohs conventional treatment, claims that his or her approach is the only valid one, or suggests that you stop seeing your cat's primary-care veterinarian. I think I can safely say that when it comes to veterinary medicine, one size definitely does not fit all.

To find a veterinarian in your area who offers complementary care, search the website of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (www.ahvma.org). -- Dr. Marty Becker

THE BUZZ

Cat's loud meow rescues

owner after stroke

-- When 75-year-old Erna Pratt suffered a stroke in her kitchen, she was unable to move or call for help. Luckily, her 13-year-old cat, Trigger, witnessed Pratt falling. The elderly cat usually spends her time in front of the living room window lying in a patch of sunlight, but when Pratt was in trouble, she hurried down the hall, meowing loudly enough to wake Pratt's daughter and get her attention. Thanks to Trigger's quick action, Pratt was treated in time and was able to return home after a two-week hospital stay. She credits Trigger with saving her life.

-- Researchers at Britain's Cambridge University have traced the existence of a rare sexually transmitted canine cancer back more than 11,000 years. Each case of canine transmissible venereal tumor retains genetic signatures of the first host, giving researchers a better understanding of early canine biology as well as insight into the evolution of a cancer over a long period of time. The cancer is found primarily among feral dog populations in tropical climates. The genes indicate that the dog in which the cancer originated probably had short, dark fur and resembled an Alaskan malamute.

-- A study of how dogs swim floats the discovery that rather than making a trotting motion underwater, their movement is more akin to running, using a complex stroke that is consistent from breed to breed. Researcher Frank Fish of West Chester University in Pennsylvania donned scuba gear to study just how dogs paddle in water. His subjects included a German shepherd, a Labrador retriever, a Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, a Yorkshire terrier and two other breeds. Underwater video showed that dogs extend their legs to propel themselves, sweeping down and back. As the leg comes forward again, dogs tuck it close to the body, reducing drag. -- Kim Campbell Thornton

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are joined by professional dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.