Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Halloween Story

In the spirit of the Halloween season I decided to relate a story from my childhood and how assumptions about people can turn out to be unfortunately the furthest thing from the truth.

I lived in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago until I was around eight years old. Because of the close proximity to Saint Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, which was the "anchor" of the area, the neighborhood was predominantly made up of Greeks. We lived in a three flat, on the third floor, and my grandparents lived on the first floor with my uncle. My uncle eventually married a girl a few doors down the block. Two blocks away were my other set of grandparents living in an apartment building with another aunt, uncle and cousins. Across the street from them were my godparents. In addition, there were other assorted sets of relatives in the immediate vicinity. It was a close knit neighborhood, by blood and friendships.

One of the common sights in our neighborhood were the older Greek widows who would wear black dresses (this was pretty common with many ethnic groups in that era). Recall the movie "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" and visualize Nia Vardalos' grandmother and you have the picture. Quite often you would see them walking along the alleys or vacant areas picking dandelion greens. They would boil the greens and then serve them with olive oil  and lemon or vinegar (one of my favorites, although I use endive). They would save the water from boiling the greens, refrigerate it and drink it as a cure-all for whatever ailed you. ( That old Greek mentality was represented in "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" by the Windex as a cure for my family it was this "horta water.")

Nonetheless, there was one of these Greek widows who was different from the rest. Our neighborhood was a hodgepodge of three flats dotted with occasional single family homes and she lived in one of these homes. It was almost directly across the street from our apartment and it was set well back off the street, partially obscured by trees and bushes. She lived alone and seemed to be perpetually annoyed with the neighborhood kids, who would be running on her lawn and just doing the typical sort of things rambunctious young kids would do. She would holler at us in heavily Greek-accented English and, being young kids, she would frighten us. We began to call her "the witch" because of her demeanor and also that she was always dressed in black. We were afraid to venture too close to her house for fear of being snatched up by the "witch" and facing a horrific fate.

 I was seven years old and it was Halloween. Little did I know that it would be my last in the old neighborhood, as we would move to the suburbs the following April. We got our little band of friends together and prepared to do our typical systematic canvassing of the neighborhood for trick or treating. We worked our way down one side of the street, crossed it and were working our way back down the other side. We then realized the next house was the "witch's house." It was bad enough being around her house any other time, but with it being Halloween, we were really frightened that the danger would be heightened beyond what we could even imagine. We looked down the long driveway back to the house and we decided to skip her house. I thought I caught a glimpse of her peering through her curtains right at us. I quickened my steps and was trying to get away as fast as I could.

Suddenly her front door opened and she hurriedly moved down the driveway calling to us in her thick accent asking us to stop. She had something in her hands and we all became even more nervous, trying to move away. But there was something different in her calling to us this time and I was compelled to stop. I stood on the sidewalk as she approached me. My friends stopped, turned to watch and felt sure something bad was going to happen. As she approached me she held out her hands and she was holding a number of large Hershey's bars, much larger than the ones we would typically get for trick or treating. She said, "This candy is for you kids." She had an unusually warm smile for her but her eyes had a touch of sadness in them. My friends returned and gladly accepted the candy from her, thanking her profusely. We had a friendly conversation with her and she then returned back down the driveway to her home. From that moment on, she was no longer "the witch."

Following that experience, we would always say hello to her and if the situation would allow it we would spend some time talking to her. I learned a great deal about her life and background from the stories she would tell me. She never did yell at us anymore and seemed pretty happy whenever we were around. When we moved away, she was one little piece of our neighborhood that I would miss.

This story is an example of how we can make judgements of people and unfortunately adversely impact our relationships with them. If you take a little time to get to know someone, where you can really get to know the person inside, it will end up being beneficial for both of you. We have so much we can offer each other. In this experience from a Halloween long ago, a simple act of kindness by a "witch" blossomed into a beautiful relationship between an elderly woman and some neighborhood children from which we all learned a valuable lesson.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Happy Halloween!

Here are two animal/pet/children related videos I had created for our animal hospital web site, I hope you enjoy these fun slideshows! Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Release of Two Bald Eaglets

Witness the release of two bald eaglets back to the wild. These were the birds from Batavia, whose nest had blown down in high winds and although the nest was replaced the parents did not return to care for them. They were then raised in captivity at Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. This event is the culmination of a concerted effort to provide for them with a wonderful resolution and now they are ready to be set free!

The release will be held at Starved Rock State Park, Saturday, November 12th from 11:00 AM until 1:00 PM. It will be a once in a lifetime opportunity. There will be a minimum suggested tax-deductible donation of $10 per person, to help Flint Creek Wildlife defray the cost of raising these eaglets and building their flight chamber.

For further details:
visit or call (888)FLINTCREEK

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Importance of Cleaning Fruit and Vegetables for Your Birds (and You)

With the recent Listeria outbreak caused by contaminated cantaloupes, it is a good idea to talk about the importance of cleaning fruits and vegetables. It is obviously important for you and your family, but even moreso for your pet birds. The discussion below was for a Q & A section I did for a local bird club newsletter.

The Importance of Cleaning Fruit and Vegetables for Your Birds (and YOU!)
Peter S. Sakas DVM, MS
Niles Animal Hospital and Bird Medical Center
7278 N. Milwaukee Ave. Niles, IL 60714
Ph 847-647-9325   FAX 847-647-8498

Maintaining our avian companions in an environment that protects them from illness and potential hazards is a great responsibility. We must be vigilant to recognize disease symptoms and strive to keep them free from disease through good husbandry practices. There are disease organisms everywhere and hazards lurking in seemingly innocent places.

Our focus in this article is that of fresh foods provided to your birds and the associated problems that exist. It is well recognized that a variety of nutritious foods is essential to maintain good health and longevity. However, there are certain considerations when feeding a bird fresh foods. Of course, we all know the dangers of certain foods, such as avocado, chocolate and caffeine, and their effect on pet birds. But other less obvious dangers exist as well.

I cannot emphasize enough that, when giving your bird fresh fruits and vegetables, you must clean/wash these foods even better than you would for yourselves. Agricultural techniques, transport, storage of these foods and display in the stores provide ample opportunity for the introduction of disease causing organisms or dangerous chemicals. Due to their metabolism and small size, in comparison to us, birds are much more subject to poisonings and illness from foods that were contaminated but would have no apparent effect on a person.

One big concern, and a topic that is regularly in the news, is bacterial contamination, particularly E. Coli. There are countless other bacteria that can be present in food that can cause disease as well, so we are not just limited to E. coli, but E. coli seems to be the prominent organism in the news and implicated in outbreaks that have sickened people. E. coli is a Gram negative bacillus which is normal in the GI tract of man and most animals, with the exception of birds. Not all strains of E. coli are pathogenic and cause no problems in the GI tract. However, there are strains that can cause severe disease and sicken people. E. coli or other Gram negative bacteria are abnormal in the digestive tract of pet birds.

The presence of E. coli in food and water indicate fecal contamination. I am sure you recall when a beach has been closed due to a high coliform count, indicating contamination of the water with sewage. E. coli can also be found on produce as manure (feces) can be used as fertilizer in some parts of the world. There can also be contamination of the produce from feces of other animals on the farm. When there was the E. coli outbreak in bagged spinach in 2008, the source was believed to be cow (or possibly swine) feces. In addition, if the workers who are harvesting the produce do not practice proper hygiene there can be E. coli (fecal) contamination as they handle the crops. If the food is not stored properly there can also be E. coli contamination from exposure to rodents and their waste products. Even in the food stores, if proper safeguards are not taken contamination can occur at this level as well.

I am sure you are all probably a bit “grossed out” by this discussion, but that is my purpose. You have to consider the potential hazards of consuming produce that is inadequately cleaned for your own consumption, but the danger is heightened in pet birds. Always be certain to deal with quality sources of produce and be certain it is clean and fresh. Make sure you clean it thoroughly, even better for your bird than you would for yourself and of course store it properly.

Recently, people have been sickened by bacterial contamination in cantaloupes. The culprit here was not E. coli, but rather Listeria. Numerous deaths have been reported and the fear is that more people will become sickened as the effects of the bacteria seem to take some time to become evident. This recent outbreak shows the importance of being cautious when selecting produce and the importance of cleaning it thoroughly.

Contamination with chemicals is also a significant risk. Pesticides are more prevalent on foods than you would think. The Environmental Working Group released a list of pesticide levels in common fruits, ranking from 1 (lowest pesticide load) to 100 (highest load). These rankings were based on nearly 43,000 tests for pesticides conducted by the USDA. Onions had the lowest level, but avocados (BAD for birds) and asparagus were also low. The highest rankings were peaches (100), apples (89) and strawberries (82). Pears (65) made the top ten dirtiest, grapes (43) and oranges (42) had still elevated levels. Low levels were in blueberries (24), bananas (16) and pineapple (7). I included this information (from Eat This, Not That. Supermarket Survival Guide by David Zinczenko) for your personal benefit so you can be an informed consumer but also to alert you to the risks that exist for you and your bird when you feed these fruits.

Other contaminants to consider include fertilizers that would be used, be they manure or chemical fertilizers. Certain food producers have solutions or chemical sanitizers to wash the produce after it is harvested, which at low levels may not be harmful to a person, but toxic to pet birds. Diligent cleaning of these foods is essential.

If you want to avoid many of these risks, consider feeding your birds organic produce. These foods are supposedly raised without fertilizers, pesticides or other chemicals. However, that does not mean that you should not clean organic foods thoroughly as well. Cleaning and proper storage are still excellent practices that should be followed with organics, as you do not really know what was involved in the raising of the food, processing, transport and storage

After reading all this you may decide to raise your own produce to feed your family and birds. You can control all aspects and raise the food in true organic fashion and have no worries, right? Well, no. The risks are definitely reduced but contaminants can still get in the foods as it is a “germy” world out there. There is environmental bacteria, contamination with feces from various varmints traipsing through your garden, Histoplasma (a disease organism carried in wild bird feces), parasite eggs that may end up in the garden, the list goes on. So even though you raise the food organically yourself, vigorous cleaning and proper storage is crucial. You should do it for yourself and your family’s safety, but even more thoroughly for your bird.

It is truly a shame when a bird suffers from a disease condition which could have easily been avoided by simple, good husbandry practices. There are many potential disease causing organisms and chemical contaminants which may be found on fresh produce, eliminate them so your bird can enjoy the benefits of a healthy diet without the risk of illness.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Yard Sale Sunday!

Just a reminder that the Yard Sale to benefit Chicago Pet Rescue is this upcoming Sunday from 10 AM until 3 PM in the Niles Animal Hospital Parking Lot. There is ample parking in the surrounding parking lots and side streets. Come by and check out the "treasures" available. You may find a great bargain and at the same time be helping out a worthwhile not-for-profit pet charity.

In addition, if you want to clear out your clutter, bring it over to the Niles Animal Hospital during regular business hours so we can have your items in the yard sale. We are storing the material in the back of the hospital. It is a clear out your house, get a tax deduction for the donated items and Chicago Pet Rescue is able to generate funds for their organization.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Halloween Hazards for Your Pets

Halloween is fast approaching and associated with it are many hazards for your pets. Here is an informational handout I had created discussing some of those potential hazards for your pets.


Halloween Hazards for Your Pets

Peter S. Sakas DVM, MS


Halloween is a holiday that is great fun and through the years more and more people have really got involved with extensive decorations in and around the house. In addition, there is the candy and trick or treating. Candy is around the house in bowls ready for the trick or treaters as well as the candy collected by your own kids as they canvas the neighborhood with their own trick or treating. If you have Halloween parties for kids or adults there will be food and drink around as well. With all this food, decorations and activities it can be a time of great danger for your pet. They will be attracted by the tempting smells and may eat what they should not. They may be intrigued by the shimmering, attractive decorations and begin to chew on objects that could cause severe medical problems. During the holiday you must take steps to be certain that your pets will be safe from potential harm.

Almost everyone knows that chocolate is toxic for pets. Theobromine, a chemical found in chocolate is the cause of the poisoning, which can be deadly in dogs (especially) and other pets. They actually have an allergic reaction to the theobromine which can be quite severe. Some dogs may not have as severe of a response but it is not worth taking a chance with your pets. Chocolate should be avoided, so do not think a little bit is not going to hurt! If your pet is sensitive to the theobromine it does not take much to cause a toxic reaction.

Depending on the amount ingested, chocolate (bakers, semi sweet, milk and dark) can be potentially poisonous to many animals. Theobromine levels are especially high in dark chocolates. In general, the less sweet the chocolate, the more toxic it could be. In fact, unsweetened baking chocolate contains almost seven times more theobromine than milk chocolate. Vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, hyperactivity and increased thirst, urination and heart rate can be seen with the ingestion of as little as 1/4 ounce of baking chocolate by a 10-pound dog. Halloween treats with chocolate are not appropriate for pets.

Artificial Sweeteners
Other chemicals found in certain candies can also be toxic to your pets. Xylitol, a sweetener found in some candies and gum can be toxic to pets if taken in large amounts. Ingestion of significant quantities can produce a fairly sudden drop in blood sugar, resulting in depression, incoordination and seizures. Foods containing Xylitol should be kept well out of reach of your pets. Do not take any chances with you pets. As stated before, do not think that a little bit is not going to hurt. You should have plenty of treats around the house that are appropriate for your pets and use them instead of candies.

Holiday Food 
Avoid the temptation to feed your pets leftovers from your holiday meals. Your pet should be kept on its normal diet. Any change of diet, even for one meal, may give your dog or cat severe indigestion and diarrhea. This is particularly true for older animals that have more delicate digestive systems and nutritional requirements. Many of these foods are rich; especially those that are high in fat, and can often cause severe gastrointestinal disturbances in pets which could prove fatal. Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) is a very common disease of dogs and is frequently caused by the eating of table scraps. The pancreas plays a role in digestion of food but when an animal eats a rich or fatty meal, the pancreas is 'overstimulated' and the organ oversecretes enzymes leading to inflammation of the pancreas and surrounding tissues. Signs of pancreatitis include vomiting and abdominal pain, sometimes quite severe. The condition is very uncomfortable for the pet and sometimes can be fatal. If you notice these type of symptoms seek veterinary care.

Although some people may think it is humorous, never offer or allow your pets to access alcoholic beverages. Due to Halloween parties there may be alcoholic drinks carelessly left in areas where pets may be able to reach them. Place these unattended drinks in a safe location where pets cannot reach them. If enough alcohol is ingested, the animal could become very ill and weak. In severe cases they may go into a coma, possibly resulting in death due to respiratory failure.

Halloween Decorations
Animals are attracted to unusual or shiny objects which may be found around the house during Halloween used for decorations or wrapping. Dogs and cats cannot see in color so it is the shiny, shimmering or unusual appearance that attracts them. Birds can see in color, so color may definitely be a source of attraction to them. Keep aluminum foil and cellophane candy wrappers away from pets. Pets may swallow such material, leading to gastrointestinal irritation, causing vomiting or may even pass into the intestinal tract producing an intestinal blockage. Cats are quite often attracted to ribbons, bows, strings and other decorations which they may chew, swallow and develop intestinal blockage. In addition, twinkling lights or other interesting electrical decorations may prove attractive to your pets. They may chew on the cords which may lead to severe electrical shocks.

Keep the decorations out of the reach of your pets to avoid potential danger. If you notice that your pet is very interested in the decorations and may be chewing on them, be certain to relocate the objects in a safe place where you pet cannot get to them.

During Halloween decorative plants, such as pumpkins or decorative foods, such as corn and gourds are placed around the home to provide a festive holiday setting. These plants and foods though considered to be relatively non-toxic, can potentially cause gastrointestinal upset and may even result in intestinal blockage if large pieces are ingested.

Potpourri/Scented Candles
Liquid potpourri, commonly used to add pleasant scent to the home during certain holidays, can be hazardous to pets. Potentially severe damage to the mouth, skin and eyes could result from exposure to both heated and cool liquid product. Birds are especially sensitive to fumes or airborne toxins and caution must be exercised whenever you are using materials that produce fumes or odors. Use them in areas with good ventilation and keep your birds away from them. If you notice your bird is in respiratory distress move your bird into an area away from the fumes, get good clean air flow in the area and seek veterinary assistance. Airborne toxins can be fatal to birds.

If you suspect your pet may have become exposed to a potentially toxic product or substance, contact your local veterinarian, a veterinary emergency clinic (if it is after hours for your regular veterinarian) or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center immediately for assistance.
Referenced from an informational flyer provided by the Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, Urbana, IL

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Stolen German Shepherd

Got this from a canine police officer friend of mine. I have been trying to spread the word. Police officers and their working dogs have a tremendous bond with each other. We all owe a debt of gratitude to these dogs and their handlers who help to protect us and keep us safe.

Obviously, contact Al Govednik or local authorities if you have any information or suspect  that you have seen this dog.

PLEASE HELP! The President of the American Working Dog Federation, Al Govednik, had his working German Shepherd Dog stolen out of his fenced yard yesterday morning (9/27/11).
(Yes he WAS stolen, Al saw the WHITE VAN drive away). Hex is a beloved GSD who won the USA National FH (advanced tracking) Title a couple years ago. HEX IS PICTURED HERE and on the GSD Pedigree Database page.

Hex is an 85 lb. Sable male intact German Shepherd Dog. He was stolen from an address on Illinois Highway 17, in Alpha Illinois.
Please Share, especially with law enforcement friends and everyone in Illinois and neighboring states.

PLEASE SHARE. Al's phone number: (309)351-9093, email:
...See More

Although there is no picture visible click on the empty picture box and a link will appear so you can see this beautiful animal. (I am a bit biased because we have two sable German Shepherds ourselves). I hope they find Hex.

Hex Aites Bohemia             

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Why Dogs Don't Live as long as Humans (A Young Boy's Perspective)

This is a touching story.....I do not know who the author is as I received this in an email from a friend of mine. I personally have found children to be quite insightful and spiritual when it comes to the euthanasia of a beloved pet. For example, when my son was quite young he had asked me why little dogs live longer than big dogs but little birds do not live as long as big birds. I thought that was a keen observation and I had no explanation other than "That's the way God planned it."

I always encourage the family to be present for the procedure (unless the children are very young or too traumatized by the event). I will tranquilize the dog or cat before administering the euthanasia solution. In that way, while the pet is slipping into sedation, the family is petting and interacting helping to calm it. So by the time the pet is adequately sedate enough when I can administer the intravenous injection, all it has felt was the loving caresses of the family. I administer the injection in a vein (usually the hind leg) so the family can continue with their goodbyes uninterrupted. I find this is the best way to handle what is a very emotional and heart wrenching experience. 

People always ask me how do I deal with euthanasia. It is something that still causes heartache after all the years I have been in practice as you get to know the clients and their pets quite well, so obviously I too feel the sense of loss. However, euthanasia is an advantage veterinarians have over physicians, as we are able to help an animal which is terminally ill and suffering with no hope of recovering. If I was euthanizing healthy animals that would be another issue entirely and if I was doing that I would be in therapy by now. I look upon euthanasia as the kindest act we can engage in for an animal in dire need of the easing of suffering. Although it is never easy, as you recognize the circumstances which have led to the final decision, you feel the justification in your heart and do appreciate that you can help these pets. It is also difficult for pet owners to know when it is time to make that decision. If you do have a strong human-animal bond with your pet you will know. When the good days are infrequent in relation to the bad days or they go off their feed and just hide all the time then euthanasia may be the choice. Speak to the family and your veterinarian to help with this decision.Some people hang on in the face of their pet truly suffering from chronic illnesses such as kidney failure, severe degenerative arthritis or cancer. As I tell our clients when they are struggling with this decision, "You have to care enough to let them go." Which essentially is saying put their needs and feelings ahead of yours.

Why Dogs Don’t Live as Long as Humans
A four year old child’s wisdom
(From the internet….author unknown)

Being a veterinarian, I had been called to examine a ten year old Irish wolfhound, named Belker. The dog’s owners, Ron, his wife Lisa and their little boy Shane were all very attached to Belker and they were hoping for a miracle. I examined Belker and found he was dying of cancer.

I told the family there were no miracles left for Belker and offered to perform the euthanasia procedure for the old dog. Ron and Lisa told me that they thought it would be good for the four year old Shane to observe the procedure. They felt as though Shane might learn something from the experience.

I felt the familiar catch in my throat as Belker’s family surrounded him. Shane seemed so calm, petting the old dog for the last time, that I wondered if he understood what was going on. Within a few moments, Belker slipped away peacefully. The little boy seemed to accept Belker’s transition without any difficulty or confusion.

We sat together for a while after Belker’s death, wondering aloud about the sad fact that animal lives are shorter than human lives. Shane, who had been listening quietly, piped up, “I know why.” Startled, we all turned to him. What came out of his mouth next stunned me. I never had heard a more comforting explanation.

He said, “People are born so that they learn how to live a good life – like loving everybody all the time and being nice, right?” The four year old continued, “Well, dogs already know how to do that, so they don’t have to stay as long.”