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Published July 20, 2012, 12:00 AM

Pet Care: Is it cruel to crate dogs?

Dear Dr. Fox: In a recent column, you stated that crating a dog is mean and cruel. I have a 2-year-old Maltese-mix whom I adopted from an animal shelter about a year ago. She has extreme separation anxiety and chews, scratches and barks uncontrollably when she’s left at home alone, indoors or out.

By: By Dr. Michael Fox, INFORUM

Dear Dr. Fox: In a recent column, you stated that crating a dog is mean and cruel. I have a 2-year-old Maltese-mix whom I adopted from an animal shelter about a year ago. She has extreme separation anxiety and chews, scratches and barks uncontrollably when she’s left at home alone, indoors or out.

Her vet recommended crating her with a pillow from my bed, the TV on and her Kong toy filled with peanut butter while I go to work. She spends six hours a day in her crate. We occasionally monitor her behavior with a webcam, and, judging by her behavior, this has been successful.

She is calm, quiet and appears comfortable in her crate. Yes, I could have gotten her doggie Prozac (as you suggest in your column), but I believe that natural, humane ways of treating anxiety are better options than medicating an animal.

My doggie had a rough life before coming to us and had been in several shelters. She has a happy life now with a family who loves her and makes sure she is comfortable when we have to be away from her. The fact that you say crating is mistreatment is downright offensive. As a veterinarian, I would hope you realize that, for some dogs, crating is a healthier and safer way of treating separation anxiety than medicating or rehoming an animal.

Your column on crating was rude, small-minded and lacked professionalism. I am sending a copy of this letter to my local paper – which carries your column – in hopes that it will no longer. – A.R.

Dear A.R.: You took offense at what I consider an offense to dogs – crating all day (for six or more hours) is inhumane treatment. It sets up a condition of learned helplessness. For puppies and older dogs who must drink more water because of kidney problems and then need to urinate more frequently, prolonged caging can be extremely stressful.

Clearly you are not a frequent reader of my column; otherwise you would not feel such discomfort over my concerns about this issue and blow up with self-righteous indignation! I have often stated that crate training to help dogs become house-trained and feel secure is a useful practice, but pups should be taken out periodically to be fed and walked and should not be confined all day.

Once dogs get used to being crated and no longer fight to get out, the door can be left open so they can come and go as they wish. This gives them control over their environment and greater self-confidence, and it serves as a den for security, which helps them cope with separation anxiety. I would advise you try this for your dog and let me know how she responds. You should place a pee pad a few feet from her open crate (preferably scented with a little of her urine) so she can relieve herself when she needs to. Leave a radio or TV on since the sound of the human voice is reassuring for many home-alone dogs.

Dear Dr. Fox: I have read your support for animal hospice. How does someone get involved in that? Over the years, I have had wonderful veterinarians who are willing to teach me certain things for my “hands-on” care of a terminally and/or elderly pet, saving stressful trips to the veterinarian and adding additional important time with the family. I know not every pet owner is comfortable with some things, so hospice should be available, with someone to go into the home and help care for a pet during his last days, keeping him as comfortable as possible. – G.W.

Dear G.W: I appreciate your interest in helping provide hospice care for dying animals. Often the veterinary profession leads the way for the human medical profession, especially in the domains of euthanasia, controlling zoonotic (animal-to-human) diseases and promoting the One Health concept. But I am glad to say that in many states, human medical services now include in-home hospice care – my family being one participant with my late father-in-law. It did not take long before some enterprising veterinarians started offering similar in-home services for people who were able to provide the care needed for their end-of-life pets.

If you want to help in some way, call veterinary hospitals and your local animal shelter. Preferential selection for an assistant who has a human nursing background or veterinary nurse/technician qualifications, plus considerable experience working with people helping them cope with the pending death of their loved ones, would be expected. Just having a sympathetic heart for this kind of work is not an acceptable qualification for a job on the cutting edge of responsible medical care and human emotion. Additional details about hospice care for animals is posted on my website, www.DrFoxVet.com.

Buyer beware

The Universities Federation of Animal Welfare, a science-based organization in the U.K., has developed an excellent website profiling the most prevalent genetic defects in pets, which can impact their welfare and health. The website, www.ufaw.org.uk, currently contains descriptions of more than 70 conditions in some 90 varieties of domestic animals sold as pets, including dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, guinea pigs, pigeons and goldfish. More than 50 conditions in 47 breeds of dog are included. This will be a useful resource for people looking to purchase a specially bred animal, and it should help serve as a resource to facilitate the elimination of genetic disorders from animals whose health and welfare could be in jeopardy.

Send your questions to Dr. Fox in care of The Forum, Box 2020, Fargo, ND 58107. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s Web site at www.twobitdog.com/DrFox.