You Had Me At WOOF

You Had Me At WOOF: Micaela Myers

Five years after losing our dog, Omega, I could still give myself a panic attack thinking about it. I was wracked by guilt over how it all went down, and I was haunted by the 24 hours of suffering I witnessed during her last day on earth.

My parents are both psychologists, and I had read about EMDR’s effectiveness in treating trauma. In fact, the creator, Francine Shapiro, went to graduate school where my father was president. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s a psychotherapy treatment that helps people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences. According to the EMDR Institute: “More than 30 positive controlled outcome studies have been done on EMDR therapy. Some of the studies show that 84%-90% of single-trauma victims no longer have post-traumatic stress disorder after only three 90-minute sessions.”

I realize losing a dog doesn’t compare to coming back from a war zone, childhood violence or other things we commonly associate with trauma. But if you’re like me and think of your pets as family, and you find a technique that could help you process their passing, then why not try it?

We adopted our Omega from Pit Bull Rescue San Diego in 2008 at the age of 4. She was, simply put, the best dog ever. She was highly trainable, cuddly, smart, easy going and loved people and other dogs. I thought she would make a good therapy dog, and she ended up passing her Canine Good Citizen test twice and becoming double certified through two different organizations. She visited nursing homes and a children’s home, bringing love and joy to all she met.

In the late winter of 2012, when she was 7 years old, Omega had a seizure. The vet said we could do more testing at thousands of dollars, or we could try her on epilepsy medication. Rocky, our older dog, had ran us nearly $30,000 in veterinary bills, and we didn’t have a lot of money to spare, so we tried the medication. She didn’t have any more seizures.

But in July, I came home from work, and she was bumping into things. She quickly got worse as the evening progressed. She seemed to be losing control of her right side. We took her to the emergency vet, and they said we should take her to our vet and get a specialist referral the next day. The emergency vet thought it was a brain tumor/brain cancer. Omega was paralyzed on one side by that point. I had never heard a dog scream, but I swear to God she screamed and writhed all night long. It was the worse night of my life. She was suffering so badly that we made the decision we should have her put to sleep the next morning.

When I saw our vet, he wanted to do bloodwork. He said if it were his dog, he’d never forgive himself for not doing bloodwork first. This was in part to see if the seizure medication was at too high a level, though he admitted that couldn’t be the full cause of her symptoms. He said he could keep her comfortable until the results were in the next day. He was wrong. She screamed and suffered the entire day, no matter what medication they gave her.

When we picked her up that evening, she was worse than ever. I tried to feed her wet food, and she wanted it, but she had no control of her body, and it went everywhere as she bit her tongue. The night turned into a repeat of the night before, with her screaming and writhing. Around 10, we took her back to the emergency vet and had her put to sleep.

The whole downturn was so sudden and unexpected, and I regretted so many things. I regretted not getting the expensive diagnosis originally so that we would have known if it were cancer/brain tumor; I regretted not doing my research so I would have known that at her age it likely wasn’t epilepsy; and I regretted not sticking to my decision to have her put down that first morning, which could have avoided another day of suffering. I felt I had failed this sweet angel big time. The guilt was overwhelming.

While time helped me think of it less, when I did think of it, it was still awful. That’s when I decided to try EMDR with a trained counselor. (You can read more about the process at The technique includes bilateral stimulation, and for that my counselor used tiny hand-held devices with a small vibration that switches from left to right. The process also involved identifying my upsetting belief about myself—that I had failed her—and what I wanted to believe: that I had done my very best. You go back into the incident repeatedly. Going to the heart of the trauma and spending time processing it in this way helped shift my thinking and move the weight of the trauma.

I can now think of Omega and miss her but without the horrible guilt and pain. This opens my heart to the positive memories and to more fully loving my current rescue dogs. It even helped me to better process my grief when her “brother” Rocky passed away at the grand age of 15 this past summer.

I’ve heard of people who don’t want to get another dog because it’s so hard when they leave us. Dogs bring so much joy to our lives, and I’m glad I found a way to amplify that while letting go of the pain their shorter life spans can bring. I’ve gone on to use EMDR for other traumatic memories. I hope that by sharing my story I can help others on their journey.

R.I.P Omega

breed discrimination · Dog Safety · Human-Canine Bond

Opinions Are Not Facts; Editorial Boards Are Not Experts

RE: “Pit Bull” Bans Are Still Justified

Dear Denver Post Editorial Board,

What exactly is the job function of an Editorial Board? Is it to express opinions based on well researched facts? Or, is it to continue sensationalizing a tired, nonsensical storyline in the name of clicks? We want to know.

And, what qualifications must one possess to be on such a privileged committee designated to be the official voice of the news organization, who are handed over the task to make strong, compelling arguments about complex issues and affect the mindsets of their audience? We’d also like to know.

On Monday, January 29, 2018, the Denver Post Editorial Board released an opinion piece titled “Pit Bull Bans Are Still Justified“, due to a nearby community, Castle Rock, considering a repeal of their 26 year old ban on “pit bull” dogs.

The article begins by casually sympathizing with those residents who live throughout the Denver Metropolitan area, affected by laws called Breed Specific Legislation (BSL), which target certain types or breeds of dog – in this case, “pit bull” dogs, by restricting or prohibiting ownership within a municipalities jurisdiction, causing hardships for responsible families with good family dogs who have done nothing wrong.

By the time we get to the third paragraph, your position is quite clear in response to the repeal initiative in Castle Rock – “we must revisit why these breed-specific bans are justifiable rules in urban areas.

Not only have the leading experts weighed in repeatedly against this type of ideology on numerous occasions, it’s become an increasingly unpopular opinion to have, as well. The reality is, there is no justifiable or rational reason in favor of Breed Specific Legislation. None. Nada. Zero. Zilch…none that wouldn’t apply to community safety with all dogs of all shapes, sizes, types and looks…that is, if we’re talking about actual undesirable behavior by an animal. But, oftentimes, the dogs are not even what this is all about…

By the fourth paragraph, you proudly pat yourselves on the back for actively supporting a proven failed concept, and applauded Aurora voters in 2014 for upholding their ban while it was on the ballot. It’s no wonder several communities in Denver metro still enforce BSL and attempts to repeal such legislation have fallen short, since the region’s largest news source – YOU, the Denver Post, have the mistaken point of view you publicly share, which starts at the top of the organization. You helped create this irrational fear.

There’s been a number of studies performed about the mass media’s power to shape public perception, especially about controversial topics. With attention spans seemingly getting shorter, and the advancements in technology with how ours news is delivered in bits, pieces and soundbites, it’s the primary way people get their information. But, the general public, for the most part, are impressionable to what they see and hear on the news, and you take full advantage of that with incomplete and careless journalism and editorials, ensuring we don’t take huge strides forward in public safety matters with dogs. It always starts with education, not legislation.

We must revisit why these breed-specific bans are justifiable rules in urban areas.
– Denver Post Editorial Board, 01/29/2018

During the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, the term “Fake News” was introduced into our everyday vocabularies, and used back and forth by supporters of both political parties, in an effort to downplay the significance or credibility of the information (or propaganda) the opposition shares. That election, as well as the subsequent following year, the political climate is unlike anything we’ve seen before in American politics. And, in many ways, there was this side war being waged against many of these news outlets, deservingly so.

We remind dog advocates and those who fight this political war targeting certain breeds, historically one of our biggest challenges has been media bias, where attention on “pit bull” dogs (for example) outweighed similar stories with other types of dogs. We put together an example of this very bias several years ago on our former blog project: DogsByte.Org

We can sympathize with the demanding job a journalist has. They are required to find interesting stories to report on that appeal to their demographic, and aren’t given the proper time necessary to thoroughly investigate and decipher what is factual and what is not. But, that should no longer be an excuse, especially as highly publicized this ongoing debate has been for several decades, and how quickly its evolved and flipped in recent years. We know better now. And we have the majority of scientific proof to back it.

Along the way, the media has helped move the needle incrementally in the right direction, but some still hang on to outdated and poorly researched propaganda, and that has handicapped those more skeptical and unwilling to entertain the overwhelming amount of modern day science that exists today. Part of it is due to what the media has shown, which psychologists say, fuels that irrational fear, and can impact the way people view certain dogs, even if they never personally met one that they were aware of. The public’s perception and acceptance of “pit bull” dogs have done a near 180, but instead of channeling the available time and resources into more education programs that could potentially prevent an unfortunate mishap happening by any dog, those efforts have to be made proving archaic policies and legislation such as BSL wrong and reckless, and the primary perpetuator of this is your profession.

You actually state a scientific fact in paragraph five, which completely contradicts much of the rest of the editorial. Yes, behavior of an individual animal – which includes humans, is heavily influenced by their environment. And, all individuals will respond to said environment in their own individual ways. The question that probably should have been asked –  Is it nature, or is it nurture? And the answer to that – It’s both! Across the board.

Immediately following some common sense, you revert back to unsubstantiated claims that border myth in paragraph six, while also acknowledging one of the many reasons Breed Specific Legislation is severely flawed by defining your definition of what constitutes a “pit bull”. Literally, ask ten people, and you’ll likely get around ten different answers of what a “pit bull” is to them.

Breed identification has always been the number one issue pertaining to the real life individual dogs affected by these draconian laws. They’re incredibly subjective, as they are usually first identified through visual identification, by someone who is not qualified to make those determinations or is not a breed expert of any kind. Animal control officers and other law enforcement aren’t trained in breed identification, because it’s simply not relevant to the actual job function of keeping their community’s safe. Nor do they possess a special power that tells them the genetic ancestry of a dog by looking at him or her. No magic crystal balls to predict how an individual dog will behave in the future, either.

The primary problem with the two studies in paragraphs seven and eight are breed identification! Without getting too in-depth about the meaning of the term “breed”, we will pretend we are all talking about the same thing when we play this game and we will conform to your definition for this purpose; The generic term, as you state, “pit bulls”, are American Staffordshire Terriers, American Pit Bull Terriers, and Staffordshire Bull Terriers. So, we admittedly aren’t talking about just one breed then, are we? Those are three separate breeds, recognized by different kennel clubs. If we agree on that, each deserves to be looked at individually, and not lumped together with a generic (your word, not ours) label of “pit bull”. And then, what about mixes? Where do they fit in this charade? Where is the cutoff in a mixed-breed dog, where the “pit bull” percentage doesn’t matter? What dogs are we talking about that are inherently guilty of birth?

One of the most glaring problems with breed labeling is, many households obtain dogs through shelter or rescue organizations, where there are no papers or documented lineage of the dog from a reputable breeder, and the dogs arrive with completely unknown histories. The person(s) doing the identifying is usually someone on the shelter staff, the rescue, and/or the adopter.

There has been studies done about the reliability, or lack thereof, with visual identification. One such study was done by Maddie’s Fund, where animal industry professionals guessed the predominant breed(s) from images of shelter dogs DNA tested at a miserable success rate of 27%. These are people who are in the animal field as their profession, and that’s their combined accuracy. What do you think yours would be?:

Maddie’s Fund Breed Identification Study.

Paragraph nine – more baseless claims with no scientific facts to back it up. Please show us what you have.

Paragraph ten – We actually want to thank you for bringing up the infamous CDC study, because – as you mention to begin the paragraph, they have verbiage at the conclusion which explains exactly why their position on breed specific regulations are a waste of time and resources – reverting back to the difficulties of breed identification, and the rarity of fatal attacks by all dogs. Additionally, the CDC stopped tracking data years ago pertaining to breed/type involved in dog attacks and Dog Bite-Related Fatalities (DBRFs), because of its irrelevance in the equation. Our time would be more wisely spent, dissecting the environmental factors to see if there are the same consistencies usually present in investigations where dogs have behaved badly (family dog-vs-resident dog, for example). Dogs generally do not attack out-of-the blue. There is always a reason, even if it cannot be explained in a “rational” way to human beings.

CDC Study: Conclusion

Your eleventh paragraph, you lean towards logic and common sense once again, by discussing the realities of dog related incidents, and the rarity of those fatal ones. If you think about it, this is pretty remarkable, considering how many people and dogs there are on this planet, living in close proximity to each other, and more times than not – Nothing. Ever. Happens.

We push dogs into situations where they are routinely forced in uncomfortable settings and they attempt to tell us with their body language (tongue flicks, yawns, position of ears and tails, etc), but nothing happens. Dogs deserve a lot of credit, more than we give them. Dogs are extremely resilient, and do more than their fair share of compromising in this relationship. And it’s time we start acknowledging that fact, so we can move this conversation to productive grounds that truly have a level playing field for all – dog and human. We can have equality and safety. One doesn’t cancel out the other.

Now repeat after us – There is no logical, rational and/or justifiable reason for BSL.


Media Bias –