Human-Animal Interaction

Book Club Selection Speaks to Paws & Effect Mission

The Paws & Effect Book Club selection for September 2015 is "Alex & Me: How a Scientist and a Parrot Discovered a Hidden World of Animal Intelligence--and Formed a Deep Bond in the Process" by Irene Pepperberg.

Pepperberg, a scientist who studies animal cognition, tells the story of Alex—short for "Avian Learning Experiment"—an African Grey parrot who mastered a vocabulary of more than 100 words, and was able to answer questions about colors, shapes, and objects.

In her research, Pepperberg indicated that Alex's language abilities were comparable to those of dolphins and great apes. In the book, she also tells of other avian examples of intelligence and understanding.

"Paws & Effect is deeply committed to celebrating and contributing to research about the human-animal bond, and the roles that animals can play in our lives," says Executive Director Nicole Shumate. "That's why our book club uses titles like 'Alex & Me' as foundations for discussion. That's why we're partnering with brain researchers at Des Moines University. And that's why our latest litter of future service dogs is named to honor individuals such as co-founder of Pet Partners Leo Bustad; primatologist Jane Goodall; and animal scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin. In addition to 'Leo,' 'Goodall,' and 'Grandin,' we have our own 'Alex'!"

The book club discussion will take place 6:30 to 8 p.m., Thurs., Sept. 17, 2015 at the Grand View University main campus library, Des Moines, Iowa.

The library is located on East 14th Street, between Grandview and Morton Avenues. For directions to campus and maps, click here.

The book is also available available on Kindle format.

Winners Named in 'One Heart, Four Paws' Writing Contest

Paws & Effect is pleased to announce the winners of the first-ever national writing and art contest, conducted as part of its annual "One Heart, Four Paws" gala event," a celebration of the connections among humans and animals. Awards of $100 each were presented in non-fiction and fiction writing. Additional and special awards were presented in non-fiction, poetry, and youth categories.

Established in 2006, Paws & Effect is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that raises, trains, and places service dogs with military veterans and children diagnosed with medical needs. The Central Iowa organization also registers therapy animals through Pet Partners, and hosts community dog-agility trials as fund-raising events.

 "The many bonds among humans and animals—how we live with and help each other—are the tools we use daily at Paws & Effect, the stories we tell," says Executive Director Nicole Shumate. "This contest created an opportunity to explore and express those narratives in new ways."

The contest was administered by Middle West Press, Johnston, Iowa. "This was an experiment, and we didn't quite know what to expect," says Randy Brown, who facilitated the judges' discussions. "We were gratified to hear so many voices, telling stories that were often inspiring, sometimes touching, and always heartfelt."

Winner of the non-fiction essay category is Terri Crisp of Somerset, Calif., for her essay regarding the rescue of Atiti, a dog from Northern Iraq. The female dog was partially paralyzed when children threw rocks at her, but a sympathetic soldier intervened and assist Crisp in the animal's rescue. "In addition to being an inspiration, this dog is an effective teacher," Crisp writes ...

Amazingly, she managed to wiggle her way into the heart of one Kurdish soldier and eventually the people from the village of Atiti, giving them the opportunity to do something kind for a dog instead. Hopefully, that lifesaving lesson stuck and other dogs in Iraq are now benefiting from their kindness because of what one dog taught them.

Atiti calls Virginia home. With the assistance of a custom-made cart, she goes where she wants and does what she wants, continuing to overcome any obstacles that try to get in her way. That’s why Atiti is alive today.

Judges awarded an additional recognition to the non-fiction work of Barry J. Holcomb, for his essay regarding the challenge and reward of retraining Karma, a Siberian Husky, while participating in a corrections-based vocational program. Holcomb's essay reads, in part:

That night, when we got back to the cell, she sat down for me to remove the leash, and there was no biting my hand when I reached for her collar. Believe me when I tell you this was a great relief. Later that night, Karma was laying on her pace staring at me with her icy blue eyes. 

I reached down to pet her, and, rather than immediately wrapping her teeth around my hand and working her way up my arm, she rolled over and gave me her belly. I laid down on the floor and she nuzzled her head against my chest and let me pet her for quite a while. I believe Karma felt my pain and she realized I cared for her and wanted the best for her, so she lowered her guard and let me in. We made a connection.

Winner of the fiction category is Donna B. Crisler of Lakewood, Colo., for her work "Goldie's First Assignment." The work excerpts Crisler's current writing project, a children's mystery book written in "first-person"—from a service-dog's perspective!

While no outright winner was presented in the poetry category, select finalists were each awarded a copy of Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver's 2013 collection "Dog Songs."

Incorporating their writing into a "service"-themed curricula, nearly 50 fifth-graders from Lone Tree Elementary, Lone Tree, Iowa, entered the contest's youth category with stories both imaginative and creative.

Six Awards for Writing Excellence were presented to Lone Tree students, in recognition of exemplary work. In alphabetical order, they are:

  • Kyle Andersen, 10, wrote a short story about a veteran whose life is made better by a service dog named Sniper.
  • Xavier Hayes, 11, wrote a story of an Air Force veteran who adopts three puppies: Clumsy, Naughty, and Charger.
  • Alivia Hemsted, 11, told of a Labrador named Hazel, who can practically talk, and whose human friend is a Nashville girl named Carly Clementine.
  • Alyssa Knock, 10, told a story about a disabled veteran who rescues a dog.
  • Tyler Randlett, 10, wrote of Smokey, his grandfather's bomb dog in World War II.
  • Rafael Villarreal III, 11, wrote and illustrated a tribute to his late dog, Palomo.

Paws & Effect to Support DMU Canine Brain Research

PHOTO: Des Moines University, Des Moines, Iowa

Paws & Effect greets the new year with the announcement of three developments related to increasing awareness, study, and appreciation of human-animal interactions.

In addition to the organization's induction into memberships into the International Society for Anthrozoology (ISAZ) and the International Association of Human-Animal Interaction Organizations (IAHAIO), the Central Iowa non-profit recently formalized its support of a Des Moines University medical research program that resources study of canine brain anatomy.

Established in 2006, Paws & Effect is a Des Moines, Iowa-based 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that raises, trains, and places service dogs with military veterans and children diagnosed with medical needs. The group also registers therapy animals through Pet Partners, and regularly hosts NADAC-sanctioned dog-agility events for fun and fund raising.

"Paws & Effect's involvement in the research community is a reflection of our commitment to the human-animal bond," says Paws & Effect Executive Director Nicole Shumate. "There are many questions yet to be answered and we seek to be involved in research that can bring a more clear understanding to what we witness every day. As we approach our 10-year anniversary, we are increasingly able to be supportive of the therapy and service dog industry in significant and meaningful ways."

Muhammad Spocter, a biologist and anthropologist who is an assistant professor in university's department of anatomy, will lead the effort to collect tissue samples and document variations in canine brains. "The establishment of a Canine Dog Brain Registry and accompanying Biospecimen Repository will serve as valuable resource for researchers interested in canine mental health, cognition and brain variation," he writes. "This resource will be used to inform ongoing studies of behavioral disorders in canines, as well as studies of mental health disorders in humans (e.g., PTSD)."

"Tissue from the collection will be made freely available to researchers within the region (based on scientific merit of project proposals), and will be annotated with relevant clinical and behavioral data," he continues. "Research outcomes and imaging resources generated from this data will be made freely available through an online portal to help foster ongoing interest from the public and help educators interested in using some of this data in their classes."