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A 16-pound bichon frisé is the therapist of choice for some kids in Washington. By John Scarpinato
Psychologist Darlene Atkins says her dog, Murphy, connects with kids who feel alone. Photograph by Andrew Propp.

It’s been more than a year since Zac had to visit Children’s National eating-disorder clinic in DC’s Spring Valley. But psychologist Darlene Atkins is certain that her bichon frisé, Murphy, will remember the former patient.

A knock on the office door rouses the therapy dog from his favorite napping spot under Atkins’s desk. His fluffy body breaks into a wiggle when Zac walks in. At first, the teenager doesn’t show much interest in talking to the humans in the room, but he begins to laugh and warm up as he scratches behind Murphy’s ears.

Zac, now 16, was diagnosed with anorexia when he was 11. He says the physical remedies—trips to the hospital to stabilize vital signs and get rehydrated—were easy compared with the work it took to diminish the disease’s psychological hold on him. “A lot of times, therapy sucks and I would dread going,” he says. “When you have an eating disorder like I did, there’s the physical side and then there’s the emotional side, and the emotional side is 10 billion times worse.”

When Zac cried in a session, Murphy climbed into his lap: “It was cool that he could sense that and comfort me.” When Zac’s younger sisters complained about having to tag along—adding to the list of things he felt bad about—Murphy became the solution. “My sisters loved him. They always wanted to come in and say hi.”

Atkins, director of the clinic, got Murphy four years ago after hearing from a colleague about the benefits of using dogs to get through to kids in distress. For eating-disorder patients, who often feel isolated and misunderstood, Atkins says, “Murphy serves as a way to engage and connect.”

When she told the Richmond breeder she wanted a dog that could work with adolescents, the woman pointed to Murphy, who she said seemed to comfort his siblings when they were upset. Atkins won a grant that helped launch the pet-therapy program, and Murphy underwent training to become a certified therapy dog.

Murphy’s diplomas hang on the office wall. He calmly greets patients when they arrive for appointments. If they show interest, he takes his place on the chair beside them. If not, he curls up under the desk. “There was one patient who told me they were able to trust me more simply by watching the way I interacted with Murphy,” says Atkins. Another one’s parents warned that their daughter was so deeply opposed to counseling that her first session would almost certainly be her last. After an hour with Murphy, the girl wasn’t sure she could wait a full week to see the dog again.

Such experiences aren’t unique to Atkins’s office. Studies show that incorporating dogs into therapy lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety, and contributes to patients’ social development. More surprising is the effect Murphy has had on office culture. Lisa Ezidinma, a medical technician, had an extreme fear of dogs since getting chased by one as a child. But Murphy’s friendly personality won her over to the point that she decided to get a dog of her own. “My friends can’t believe it,” she says.

And Murphy is no longer the only four-legged staffer at the outpatient center. Down the hall, another dog makes his rounds in the diabetes department. Inspired by Atkins and Murphy, Dr. Fran Cogen got her own bichon frisé, Knickers, from the same Richmond breeder to help soothe her patients.

Before he says goodbye to Murphy, Zac takes a minute to consider the significance of his visit. Today he’s a healthy high-school student, active in soccer and theater. That he’s back at the clinic not because of a relapse but to see Murphy and share how the dog has helped him is something of a personal victory. “It’s a happy ending,” he says.


This article appears in the January 2015 issue of Washingtonian.

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Posted at 01:15 PM/ET, 01/23/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Looking for a furry friend? One of these cuties—all available at Washington-area rescues—might be your match.

Gracie (above) is a Chihuahua who's about eight years old. Her owner loved her very much, but unfortunately passed away, and no one in the family was able to take care of her. Gracie is scared and not sure what to make of the shelter environment. She would really like to find a new family to love. You can meet her at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.

Pollyanna is a five-year-old boxer/hound-mix. Her adoption fee has been generously sponsored, so all she needs now is a loving home. Polly is an easygoing dog that will fit right in to her new home. She's a marathon girl, but not the running kind; we're talking Law and Order on the couch. She would be a great choice for a family looking to have just one pet to love. You can meet her at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.

Olive is an adorable five-month-old puppy that resembles a mountain cur mix. Olive was rescued with her two siblings who have both found homes, but Olive knows her perfect family is still out there. Even though she was the smallest of the puppies, she is the leader of the pack. To find out more about adopting Olive, please visit the Rural Dog Rescue website.

Charlie Brown is a gorgeous plott hound who appears to be around two years old. He loves cuddling up and laying his head on your lap for pets. True to plott hound form, he can be a bit vocal when he gets excited, so would probably do better in a house rather than an apartment. He gets along well with other dogs and is a goofy, lovable guy. To find out more about adopting Charlie Brown, please visit the Rural Dog Rescue website.

Adler is a lab/boxer mix who is about two years old and weighs 55 pounds. He is an easygoing dog with medium energy and is very gentle. He loves kids and other dogs. He is very smart and is a quick learner—he already knows sit and stay. He is not a jumper, but is a happy and excited boy. He doesn't engage much with people he doesn't know well, but once he knows you're a friend, he's a big ham. You can meet him through K-9 Lifesavers.

Zoey is a two-year-old, 29-pound beagle-mix. She is playful, agile, and affectionate, but she's a little shy and unsure. She would be happiest in the suburbs, as she does best in a quieter home. She is house- and crate-trained, and she walks very well on a leash. Zoey loves other dogs, is respectful of cats, and is afraid of her foster family's bird. She is not possessive of food, toys, or her crate and has never shown aggression. She is a bit shy and nervous though, so she would do best in a home with another dog. You can meet her through K-9 Lifesavers.

Seiko is a six-year-old, 13-pound, domestic shorthair cat. She was surrendered to the Washington Humane Society on January 3, 2015 after her owner had to move and could not take her along. Seiko is the friendliest cat, and has a way of making everyone feel special. Even if you have only left the room for a moment, she will come to cuddle you like she hasn’t seen you in years. You can meet her at the Washington Humane Society's New York Avenue shelter.

Rosie, a three-year-old husky mix, arrived at the Washington Animal Rescue League recently because her owner was moving to a place where pets aren’t allowed. Rosie is obviously confused about her current situation, but she's hopeful that someone will love her again. She's past the destructive puppy stage but still energetic and playful. She likes people and other dogs and would like nothing better than a home where someone will give her attention, affection, and exercise. You can meet her at the Washington Animal Rescue League.

Oberlin is a three-year-old gray tabby cat, and is as friendly as he is handsome. He’s social and affectionate with people and loves curling up in laps. He also likes other cats and would do well in a home with or without a feline friend. You can meet him at the Washington Animal Rescue League, where Oberlin and other shelter cats will be available for a special adoption fee of $14 during the annual Catapalooza celebration on Sunday, February 15.

Posted at 10:23 AM/ET, 01/23/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Head to one of the few Virginia wineries that allows dogs indoors. By Gwyn Donohue
Image via Shutterstock.

Cana Vineyards in Middleburg is one of the few Virginia wineries that welcomes dogs indoors as well as out, making it a great destination during the colder months. Situated on a picturesque 43-acre hillside overlooking the Bull Run Mountains between Aldie and Middleburg, the vineyard allows you to bring your leashed dog into the first-floor tasting room, onto the porch and patio, and throughout the grounds. The second-floor tasting area, deck, and gazebo are for adults only—no two- or four-legged children allowed.

My dogs particularly enjoyed lying flat out on the cool concrete porch floor while the humans bellied up to the tasting bar. And the staff just laughed when the pups put their front paws on the counter to see if any treats were being served along with the wine.

Another draw is that Cana features live music every weekend. You can be social in the tasting room, but then get some privacy at one of the many picnic tables spread around the grounds or on the wide porch that spans the entire front of the building—while listening to acoustic guitar music on Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

Cana is open Thursday through Monday, with a $10 tasting fee and plenty of free on-site parking.

Gwyn Donohue is the author of the blog Two Dog Tales. Head there to read about more events, activities, and news for Washington dog owners.

Posted at 09:12 AM/ET, 01/22/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
We let a standard poodle take us for a walk around the Lincoln Memorial. By Chris Campbell
Photographs by Oliver (with the help of Chris Campbell).

You know what you see when you walk your dog on the Mall—famous monuments, blue skies, a gorgeous expanse of city. But what does your companion see?

To find out, we strapped a GoPro camera to Oliver, a curious standard poodle, and let him lead us on walks through the National Mall, and down Logan Circle's 14th Street, NW.

Posted at 11:13 AM/ET, 01/21/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
There’s virtually no risk of tumors, a vet says.
Image via Shutterstock.

Have a question you'd like to ask a vet? Send your query to pets@washingtonian.com with the subject line "Vet Q."

Q: We're debating having our new dog microchipped, but we've read some stuff online about negative side effects of microchipping. What do you tell your patients?

Dr. Chris Miller, AtlasVet DC: Oh, the internet. It’s such a wonderful source of information. Most veterinarians and doctors will tell you that they can’t stand it when their clients begin doing research on their own, and I used to be one of them. The trick is knowing where to look and how to differentiate legitimate sources from unreliable ones. When it comes to medicine, there is a website for everything covering every topic imaginable. This is certainly the case with microchips.

I tell clients the truth is that microchips are incredibly helpful and have revolutionized pet safety. They are small, inexpensive, and simple to administer, and more than double the chance of you getting your pet back if it gets lost. When an unknown pet arrives at a hospital or shelter, scanning for a microchip is one of the first things done to help identify the animal and locate its owners.

But what about all those negative side effects listed on the internet? Maybe you’ve heard the biggest rumor, which is that microchips cause tumors. It is probably best to stick with the American Veterinarian Medical Association’s website on this one. While it is actually true that there have been cases of tumors affiliated with microchip implantation, the numbers should clear things up. Of the 3.7 million pets that were microchipped in a British study, two tumors were reported. Two! I don’t have enough room for the zeroes required to show you how tiny of a percentage that is. Out of the hundreds and hundreds of microchips I’ve placed, I’ve never seen a tumor form at the site. Neither has any doctor I’ve ever spoken to about the topic.

Other things you might have read on the internet about microchips include that they migrate from the area at the shoulder blades where they are implanted to other parts of the body, or that they don’t work. While migration can happen, it is extremely infrequent, and the newer microchips are less likely to move. Microchips are manmade objects and occasionally can fail to read, but this, too, is extremely rare. This is why it is a good idea to get your vet to check the microchip at the annual visit. The most common cause of a microchip failing to reunite pets with their loved ones is that it wasn’t registered or the owner’s information is inaccurate. There are several types and brands of microchips, and each one has a database that syncs the microchip number with the owner’s information.

If you are still skeptical of the safety of microchips, ask your veterinarian if he or she has ever seen a significant complication with them. I’m confident they most likely will not have anything negative to say. The biggest issues with microchips are usually due to human error, such as improper implantation, inaccurate reading techniques, and inaccurate or absent registration information. The good news: As microchips become more and more commonplace, these issues are becoming less and less frequent. The benefit-to-risk ratio of microchipping your pet is a no-brainer—get it done.

Find Dr. Chris Miller on Twitter at @DCVet.

Posted at 10:30 AM/ET, 01/14/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
They were once destined for dinner plates—now they're looking for homes. By Marisa M. Kashino
Photos courtesy of the Washington Animal Rescue League.

Nearly two dozen dogs once destined for dinner plates in South Korea are now in Washington, and will soon be ready to find their forever homes.

The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International rescued the 23 dogs from a meat farm in Seoul that was shut down. According to a press release from Humane Society International, the organization "secured an agreement with [the farmer] to stop raising dogs for food and move permanently to growing crops as a more humane way to make a living."

The dogs arrived in the Washington area this week and have been staying at the Animal Welfare League of Alexandria. Some remain at that shelter, while the rest were transferred Friday to five other local rescue groups. Five went to the Washington Animal Rescue League, including the dogs pictured here. Others went to the Fairfax County Animal Shelter, Loudoun County Animal Services, City of Manassas Animal Control and Adoption Shelter, and the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.

Though the animals will need time to adjust and recuperate, all six shelters will work to find them loving families. Hopefully that won't be too hard, because come on, just look at these faces!

Posted at 03:05 PM/ET, 01/09/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Looking for a fury friend? One of these cuties—all available at Washington-area rescues—might be your match.

Sebastian (above) is a six-year-old cat who was surrendered because his owners' work schedules prevented them from properly caring for him. He is friendly, playful, and affectionate, and has a personality that's more like a dog's. You can meet him at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.

Gigi is a two-year-old rabbit who likes to run and play, but will also cuddle up and give you lots of affection. She lived briefly in a home with other rabbits, and their presence seemed to upset her, so she might do best as the only bunny resident in her new home. You can meet her at the Animal Welfare League of Arlington.

Falcor is a four-year-old cat who was surrendered because his owner got new dogs. He loves belly rubs, chin scratches, and napping in the sun. He is great with kids and loves to be the center of attention. You can meet him at the Washington Humane Society's New York Avenue shelter.

Mimi is a three-year-old mutt who looks like she might be a chow or shepherd mixed with a Dachshund. She weighs 39 pounds, loves attention, and is very sweet and eager to please. She is available for adoption through K-9 Lifesavers.

Hopper is a shepherd/Carolina dog mix who is approximately two years old. He weighs 51 pounds and is great with everyone. He is very smart, curious, and eager to play. He is extremely friendly and would likely do well with kids. He gets along great with other dogs. He is available for adoption through K-9 Lifesavers.

Brad is an American Staffordshire-terrier mix who arrived at the Washington Animal Rescue League with his littermates in early December. Now three months old, all with a clean bill of health, Brad and his siblings are are looking to for loving homes. Like most puppies, Brad has lots of energy and will do best with a family willing and able to give him plenty of exercise, guidance, and training (WARL offers a six-week puppy class for $75).

Betty Boop is a three-year-old female calico. She arrived at the Washington Animal Rescue League in late November, rescued from the streets by a good samaritan. When no one came to claim her, she was made available for adoption. Betty is a bit bashful, but once she gets to know you, she’s very affectionate and adores having her head and ears scratched. Stop by the Washington Animal Rescue League to meet Betty Boop.

Connor is a Lab/husky mix who is between one and two years old. He's a sweet boy who gets along well with other dogs. He has gorgeous blue eyes and, like any husky mix, loved playing in this week's snow. He is high energy and would do best with an active family who has a fenced in yard where he can run and play. To find out more about Connor, please visit the Rural Dog Rescue website.

Opie is a hound mix, likely between six and seven years old. He seems to have had a pretty tough life before coming to Rural Dog Rescue. He was very thin and had a sore leg, but now he's happy and healthy. He loves dogs, cats, and people, and just wants to lounge around the house all day. He's house and crate trained and would make a wonderful, easy going, family dog. For more information on Opie and other adoptable dogs, please visit the Rural Dog Rescue website.

Posted at 12:03 PM/ET, 01/09/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Yep, dogs are allowed there. Here are a few dos and don'ts to keep in mind. By Gwyn Donohue
Photograph by Gwyn Donohue.

Believe it or not, 624-acre Arlington National Cemetery is dog-friendly. The cemetery’s paved roads and gentle hills are ideal if the winter weather isn't exactly motivating you to tackle the uneven terrain and mud of a traditional park hike.

Dogs can go anywhere on the outdoor grounds that people are allowed. Keep them on the sidewalk in places where there are fences or chains to protect the grass, such as around the Kennedy family gravesites. You can also visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Memorial Amphitheater, and more than 30 other monuments and memorials. Dogs must be leashed at all times, and they aren’t allowed in the visitors’ center or other buildings.

Of course, remember to be respectful, and mindful of other visitors, particularly if you’re hiking with a human pal. Recently bereaved families may not appreciate a dog’s greeting or a loud debate over the latest nail-biter on Scandal. This is especially true if you go near Section 60 in the southeast part of the cemetery, where the casualties of the Iraq War and the War in Afghanistan are buried.

You can download the ANC Explorer app on Apple or Google beforehand if you’d like to locate specific gravesites or other points of interest throughout the cemetery. Arlington Cemetery opens at 8 AM year-round. Parking is plentiful and costs $1.75 for the first three hours.

Gwyn Donohue is the author of the blog Two Dog Tales. Head there to read about more events, activities, and news for Washington dog owners.

Posted at 01:03 PM/ET, 01/08/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Want to kick off 2015 with a new furry friend? One of these cuties—all available at Washington-area rescues—might be your match.

Ricky (above) is a four-year-old Catahoula mix who, until recently, had a family who adored him. Unfortunately, a change in circumstances means he is now looking for a new home. Ricky enjoys meeting people and happily greets them if approached. He loves to take walks and is unfazed by city noises such as construction, trucks or ambulances; he’s far too busy sniffing the grass, leaves, and lamp posts. Ricky knows such basic commands as sit, down, and wait, and is eager to learn more. You can meet Ricky at the Washington Animal Rescue League.

Simon is a friendly, two-year-old American Staffordshire terrier mix who likes nothing better than curling up next to you (or on you!) on the couch. Simon is past the puppy stage but is still playful and enjoys short bouts of tug-of-war or chewing on a toy. He knows how to "sit," is house-trained, and has excellent manners when riding in a car. Simon was born with deformities in his front legs—you might not notice just by looking at him, but it makes walking a little more difficult than it is for other dogs. Simon certainly doesn't seem to notice, though, and he makes his way up and down stairs without a problem. He loves short walks but can't go running or hiking like your average dog. For longer walks, he has his own stroller that he loves to sit in. Simon was rescued by the Washington Humane Society in March 2014 after he was found suffering from multiple injuries. Nearly a year later, he's really ready to find a forever home. Arrange to meet him through his foster mom by e-mailing courtney.zinter@gmail.com.

Nantucket is a two-year-old American Staffordshire terrier mix who loves to cuddle. She gets plenty of exercise as a regular participant in the Washington Humane Society's People and Animal Cardio Klub (PACK) runs. She's always ready for an adventure, and though Nantucket gets excited about everything, especially meeting people, she calms down once she burns off some energy. Meet her at the Humane Society's New York Avenue Adoption Center.

Thor is an approximately three-year-old Rottweiler mix. He weighs about 55 pounds, but has very cute, short legs. Thor gets along with other dogs of all sizes and is fine with kids. He's an active boy and loves to be included in family outings. He loves belly rubs more than anything. Find out more about Thor and other adoptable pets on the Rural Dog Rescue website.

Army is a beautiful Bluetick Coonhound. He gets along well with dogs of all sizes, but needs a home without cats. He's most likely around five years old and thinks he's a giant lap dog. He's very laid back and generally naps all day in between walks and trips to the dog park. He's house- and crate- trained and would make a great family pet. Find out more about Army and other adoptable pets on the Rural Dog Rescue website.

Posted at 01:23 PM/ET, 01/02/2015 | Permalink | Comments ()
Looking for a furry friend? One of these cuties—all available at Washington-area rescues—might be your match.

Tali (above) is a one-and-a-half-year-old hound mix. She loves to play, already knows how to sit on command, and is very food-motivated, so learning other manners should be a breeze. Tali thrives in the company of people and enjoys playing with some dogs, but she's not a fan of cats. She’s looking for a cat-free home with one or more active human companions who can give her the exercise and guidance she needs and the love and attention she deserves. You can meet Tali at the Washington Animal Rescue League.

Reese is a four-year-old female available for adoption through the Washington Animal Rescue League. She has medium-long hair, loves to be brushed, and is affectionate with people. She would like to be the only cat in her forever home. To arrange a meeting, contact adopt@warl.org.

As you can tell, Daisy (who met Santa last weekend) loves people. She's the perfect size for the city—about 30 pounds—and gets along well with other dogs, too. She loves kids and lights up when she sees them at adoption events. To find out more about Daisy Mae or other adoptable dogs, please visit the Rural Dog Rescue website.

Wendy is happy dog who's eager to please her new family. Though she was very timid when she first arrived to Washington, after only two weeks with Rural Dog Rescue, she's already become a more confident girl. She loves people and gets along well with cats, too. To find out more about Wendy or other adoptable dogs, please visit the Rural Dog Rescue website.

Kojack is a chow/shepherd/collie mix. He is about seven years old and weighs about 60 pounds. He is a friendly, affectionate, and low- to medium-energy dog. He's a very sweet guy who would be an excellent family dog. He gets along very well with other dogs, too. Find out how to foster or adopt him through K-9 Lifesavers.

Lima Bean is a one- to two-year-old plott hound/boxer/terrier mix. She weighs about 35 pounds and was brought to the Washington area from a rural shelter in Virginia. She's affectionate, great with other dogs, and has a lot of personality. Lima Bean loves people but would do best in a home without children younger than 12. She's fully housebroken and knows basic commands and manners. Meet her through K-9 Lifesavers.

Quinn is a five-year-old, nine-pound domestic shorthair cat. He's very friendly, but his owner moved away and left him behind. Quinn has previously lived with other cats and would likely do well with kids since he's so easygoing. He's available for adoption through the Washington Humane Society and is currently in foster care at Pet Valu in Silver Spring, where you can meet him.

Posted at 01:25 PM/ET, 12/19/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()