When six dogs died of heat stroke recently in the back of a Langley-based dog walker's truck, it was horribly distressing to hear about. The final indignity: she dumped the bodies in a ditch.
As antidote to this terrible incident, I contacted Whistler Animals Galore (WAG), the local no-kill shelter for cat and dogs where hope and promise are the bywords. Last year alone WAG found 166 lost or abandoned animals, and saw more than 200 surrendered. Happily, 272 found new homes. (See? I bet you're feeling better already.)
WAG was also on my radar because Dylan Jones works there, one of the most dedicated pet advocates on the planet. Since age eight Jones has been a big part of the shelter. He started as a volunteer dog walker, literally following in the footsteps of his mom, Wendy Ramsay, WAG's 2013 Volunteer of the Year.
When I first encountered Dylan years ago he was 12, and the only non-canine tasting judge in Whistler's Dog Cookie Bake-Off. The bake-off is long gone, but Dylan still merrily samples dog cookies. He's also now a paid staff member as WAG's volunteer coordinator, with about 30 core volunteers under his wing and thousands of happier cats and dogs to his credit.
"I really do have the best job in the world," he says. "It's always enjoyable and rewarding and you know that you're helping the animals, which is the best feeling you can get out of it. That's why I've always loved it and don't ever see myself leaving."
Animal care is No. 1 for every WAG volunteer and staff member. To that end, Dylan is also in charge of wet food, a top-up to the kibble provided generously by B.C.'s own FirstMate Pet Foods, a WAG sponsor for many years.
I asked Dylan what constitutes a genuinely healthy feeding regime.
"It totally depends on the [animal] that comes in. For each one we have a plan for its feeding based upon their weight and body type; what they need, depending on how active they are; and all the factors that go in to determining what their meals should be," he says.
The bottom line is, don't overfeed them.
"I'm not sure if it has something to do with culture but people seem to think that animals are skinny a lot of the time, and that's often not true," he says.
WAG operations manager Angie Fulton agrees. With a degree in animal science from the University of Pretoria, she fully supports the "less is more" approach.
"Definitely a high number of animals coming into the shelter are overweight," she says. "It's funny. If you go to the dog park or wherever, people seem to have a slightly warped idea of what a healthy dog looks like," says Angie.
Healthy means being able to feel the animal's ribs without exerting much pressure. Both dogs and cats should tuck in at the waist, like an hourglass figure, but cats can look a little straighter. If you can't feel their ribs easily, consider reducing their caloric intake.
"It's complicated," said Dr. David Lane of Coast Mountain Veterinary Services and Rojo Pez Ranch in Upper Squamish Valley (eatfreerange.ca) in a previous interview. "The food is geared toward a typical statistical dog, but each dog has its individual needs. Whatever you're feeding them, you have to stand back and evaluate how your dog is doing."
Besides their "figure," check out how dense and shiny their coat is, their mouth health, and their activity levels. While there's no simple formula for how much to feed your furry friend, since that varies so much with breed, age, activity levels and so on, there is one for the best kind of pet food. Go for a good, independent, quality brand with high-quality ingredients, says Fulton, one like FirstMate that WAG uses (it takes 80 kilograms a month to feed the seven dogs now there). Angie's own rescued sled dog, Nooner, also gets FirstMate.
Look for pet food where chicken meal or fish meal is high on the ingredients list. Beware of things like "chicken by-products" because that can be nothing but ground-up beaks, bones and tendons, which contain little bioavailable protein. As for grains, while the debate goes on, Angie says a lot of dogs have problems with oats, wheat, rice and, especially, corn.
Poor quality food can mean bad health and bad behaviour.
"Another big thing is a lot of people give their pets scraps, but the composition of human food is not complementary to what a dog or cat's dietary requirements are. You can easily be giving them something high in sugar, sodium or fats because of people's poor eating habits," says Angie.
Just because dogs will eat anything doesn't mean you should let them. If you want to do the right thing, invest in a visit to your favourite vet and get some sound advice on what to put in your dog's mouth.
As for those poor dogs that died of heat stroke in May, make sure your beloved pet doesn't suffer a similar fate.
If the outdoor temperature is more than 12º C, warns Angie, do not leave your dog in a vehicle, even for "a minute." The interior of a closed car can go from 25º C to 50º C in about 15 minutes.
When you're outside playing or rambling with Fido, watch for signs of stress; watch for heat stress when the temperature is over 20º C. And make sure your pet has clean fresh water available at all times — that includes outdoors, especially if your dog is working or running hard.
As for good, healthy doggie treats, here's Gayle Melanka's recipe from the WAG cookbook. After all these years they're still Dylan's favourites, fresh from the oven.
Gilbert's Peanut Butter Bites
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. white flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 c. peanut butter
3/4 c. milk
Mix dry ingredients. In a separate bowl mix peanut butter and milk. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add peanut butter mixture. Stir until well blended. Place dough on floured surface and knead until smooth. Roll out dough and cut into your favourite shapes. Bake at 400º for 15 minutes.
Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning journalist who encourages you to catch the best fundraiser in town in September: WAG's K9 Wine & Dine. You and your dog will dine like royalty, with Pinot Growlio for toasting.