Pet Dental Health is the focus for February

February 11, 2022
February is National Pet Dental Health Month. But, of course, your pet’s dental health is essential every day of the year, just like it is for us.

Periodontal disease is prevalent in pets, even though it’s often preventable. We can see tartar buildup on the tooth; however, often the worst damage is going on below the gumline. We cannot see the health of the tooth root without X-rays, which is why it’s important to have your veterinarian regularly check your pet’s teeth and get regular dental cleanings.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, 80% of dogs and 70% of cats have some form of periodontal disease by age 3. Periodontal disease doesn’t just affect your pet’s teeth; it can cause health problems with their kidney, liver, and heart.

Signs of a severe dental problem include bad breath, tartar buildup, abnormal chewing or drooling, reduced appetite, pain or bleeding from the mouth, change in behavior and weight loss. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your veterinarian.

The most effective way to prevent or reduce periodontal disease is daily brushing. While daily brushing is ideal, it may not be realistic, so even brushing a few times a week will help keep your pet’s oral health in good condition.

Dr. Katelyn Bagg demonstrates how to brush your cat’s teeth. She is using a pet-safe toothpaste in chicken flavor. Courtesy of Emily Friedland

In addition to brushing, your veterinarian can recommend other dental products such as dental-specific diets, treats, chew toys, or water additives. Taking these preventive measures may reduce the number of professional dental cleanings your pet needs throughout their life.

Human toothpaste is toxic to pets because of the amount of fluoride. Pet-safe toothpaste comes in a variety of flavors that are enticing to your pet and help make the brushing process easier. You can get pet-safe toothpaste through your veterinarian or local pet store. There are a variety of toothbrush options available as well. Similar to nail trims and ear cleaning, it helps to make teeth brushing a positive experience, so give lots of praise and treats and ease into the process so you don’t overwhelm your pet.

Veterinarians perform dental cleanings while your pet is under anesthesia. It should include X-rays, scaling and polishing of the teeth. Tooth extraction may be necessary if X-rays show that the tooth root is rotting or damaged. Some pet owners are averse to putting their pet under anesthesia for a dental cleaning; however, it is the only way your pet can receive a thorough cleaning and is necessary if any extractions are needed. The process is safer and less stressful for your pet and veterinary staff. Going under anesthesia always has risks associated with it. Still, with technology and monitoring, it is safer than ever, and the oral health benefits far outweigh the risks.

Most of what I’ve talked about so far relates to oral health for cats and dogs. But let’s not forget about good oral health for our small animals. Rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, rats, mice and chinchillas have teeth that continuously grow, so they must be worn down or trimmed to prevent overgrowth.

Brushing isn’t necessary for most small animal species; however, a proper diet is essential. For example, rabbits and guinea pigs need a high-fiber diet of hay and leafy greens to promote chewing and wear of their teeth and access to sunlight, which helps them produce vitamin D for strong bones and teeth. Small animals must have access to chew toys to help wear down their teeth and provide enrichment.

The root of what I’m saying here is don’t put off dental care for your pet. We see pets all the time coming into our clinic with severe dental disease and multiple extractions required because their owners have delayed care.

Yes, dental cleanings are expensive, but delaying proper care almost always leads to an urgent situation that is far more painful for your pet and more costly for you.

Lacy Shirey is executive director of the Chesapeake Humane Society. She can be reached at

Chesapeake Humane Society Recognized as a Model River Start Business

CHS is committed to creating a pollution-free environment for the wellbeing of our community and local wildlife. Once again, CHS was recognized as a River Star Business by the Elizabeth River Project. We are proud to announce that in 2022, we advanced to a Model Level River Star Business! Watch the video below learn more about how CHS (17 minute mark) and other businesses in our community are making efforts to decrease and prevent pollution and enhance wildlife habitats.

General Assembly set to decide on animal welfare bills

The 2022 General Assembly session convened recently on Jan. 12. There are several bills related to animal welfare being introduced this year.

I’m outlining three proposed bills addressing significant issues, all of which we are asking legislators to support.

Ban Wildlife Killing Contests

One priority issue this year is a bill to end wildlife killing contests. These inhumane contests allow participants to compete for cash and prizes for killing the most, the largest or the smallest of a particular species. Coyotes, foxes and bobcats are the most often targeted species in Virginia.

This measure is not intended to affect responsible hunters; in fact, many hunters support a ban on these cruel contests. Participants of wildlife killing contests kill solely for winnings, and the animals are typically not used for their meat or fur.

This past summer, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources proposed a rule banning wildlife killing contests. Despite majority support from the public, the department’s board declined to take action, so now the issue is going before our state legislators, and we are asking them to step up to end wildlife killing contests.

Protect Animals Bred for Research Purposes

The second priority issue is protecting dogs and cats bred for research purposes. Virginia has been home to a massive breeding facility, Envigo, located in Cumberland, since about 1961. Each year, Envigo breeds thousands of dogs and sells them for research purposes worldwide.

A coyote in the wild. Coyotes are often the target of cruel wildlife killing contests where animals are killed for cash and prizes and not for their meat or fur. 2022 proposed legislation would ban wildlife killing contests. Courtesy of Wendy Keefover, The HSUS

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently cited multiple direct and critical violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including abuse and neglect of the animals in its care. Routine inspections uncovered evidence that, during a six-month time period, hundreds of puppies died of “unknown causes,” dogs were denied veterinary care and suffered from treatable medical issues, and were kept in dangerous and inadequate housing.

The Animal Welfare Act was signed into law in 1966. It is the only U.S. federal law that regulates the treatment of animals used for research and exhibition. The AWA defines the minimum acceptable standard for animals used in research. Proposed legislation at the state level would build off the AWA and create better standards.

So far, there are three bills filed, SB 87SB 88 and SB 90. SB 87 and SB 88 are aimed at raising standards for animal care and increasing transparency and accountability in breeding facilities for research animals. Similar to the bill passed in 2021 for animal testing facilities, SB 90 would require breeders to offer dogs and cats no longer needed to a releasing agency such as an animal shelter for adoption prior to being euthanized.

Prohibit Sexual Abuse of Animals

Research shows that sexual abuse of an animal is the strongest predictor of child sexual abuse. Virginia’s current law on animal sexual abuse is vague, outdated and does not adequately address all instances of sexual abuse endured by animals.

Current law only applies in cases where physical evidence of injury to an animal is present. Many acts of sexual abuse to animals are filmed but are inadmissible without evidence of physical harm. Our current law doesn’t explicitly address the trafficking of animals for sex, and it fails to penalize individuals who aren’t the abuser themselves but solicit or allow their pets to be sexually abused.

The proposed legislation would strengthen the current laws on sexual abuse and create clear language to reduce loopholes currently seen. Stronger laws for animals would potentially help protect children who are at high risk of being sexually abused.

The legislation would likely prohibit engaging in sexual contact with animals with any part of the body or an object; prohibit promoting, advertising, offering or soliciting animals for sex and ban the creation and distribution of animal pornography. It could place restrictions on a convicted person’s contact with animals and require psychological assessment and counseling. This legislation would exempt veterinary procedures, artificial insemination, accepted animal husbandry and animal care, and conformation judging.

We expect more animal-related bills to be introduced, but these are the top priorities right now.

Your voice is powerful to legislators. If you feel strongly about proposed legislation, it’s vital that you reach out to your legislators. They were elected to represent their community, so they need to hear from you. You can quickly look up your legislator and their contact information online at The General Assembly session moves fast, so an email or a phone call asking them to support a measure is most effective.

Lacy Shirey is executive director of the Chesapeake Humane Society. She can be reached at

Maintaining healthy weight helps pets avoid litany of health issues

Animal Connections
Published by the Virginian Pilot on 8-5-2021
Written by Lacy S. Shirey, Chesapeake Humane Society Executive Director

An essential part of your pet’s health and well-being is diet and maintaining ideal body weight. Obesity puts your pet at a greater risk for developing certain diseases and can shorten their life or, at the very least, lessen their quality of life.

Mrs. Patmore

The 2018 Association for Pet Obesity Prevention survey estimates that 60% of cats and 56% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese. These pets are at greater risk for developing heart disease, diabetes, orthopedic diseases such as osteoarthritis and cranial cruciate tears (dogs), and high blood pressure.

Overweight cats are more likely to suffer from dermatological issues if they cannot properly groom themselves. Obesity also puts pets at greater risk for surgical and anesthetic complications should they need routine or emergency surgery.

For many people, it’s difficult to hear your pet is overweight. Some folks deny it, become offended, or even upset and argumentative when a veterinarian addresses their pet’s weight and how much they need to lose to be at their ideal body weight.

Pet owners need to remember that this is a health issue, not a cosmetic issue. Your pet cannot make lifestyle decisions for themselves — that’s your responsibility as a pet owner.

You may think your pet is always hungry outside of mealtime, looking at you with those pleading eyes that are just so hard to resist. Each time you give in and give them a treat or table food, you are reinforcing this behavior and potentially doing a disservice to your beloved pet. Essentially, they are training YOU to feed them at their insistence.

Instead of rewarding with food, focus on redirecting and engaging your pet with activities that they find rewarding such as a walk, playing with their favorite squeaky toy, nose games or a quick game of fetch.

Some pets are truly finicky eaters, and if they have trouble maintaining a proper weight, it might be necessary to entice them with something special like boiled chicken or wet food.

However, suppose your pet is an ideal weight or overweight, and they don’t finish all their food or seem uninterested in a single meal. In that case, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong with them, so don’t immediately reach for the extra enticements.

If they skip a couple of meals and this is out of character for them, then it’s a good idea to talk to your veterinarian about your concerns, as a sudden change in appetite could indicate underlying health issues.

If you are giving treats throughout the day, you should reduce the amount of food you offer at mealtime to offset their calorie intake. If your pet seems unsatiated throughout the day, you can try healthy but filling treats like green beans or carrots.

You can also make a meal last longer by feeding with a slow-feeder bowl or putting their dry food in a puzzle toy to make them work for it and provide mental enrichment.

Table food is frowned upon by most, if not all, veterinary professionals and trainers. Human food isn’t a nutritionally balanced diet for pets. It is often high in sodium or might contain an ingredient that is toxic to pets, leading to pancreatitis and other health issues. Feeding table scraps can also reinforce unwanted begging behaviors, so it’s good to avoid it altogether.

When we talk about pet obesity, we often think about cats and dogs; however, healthy weight is vital for our small animals and livestock pets, too. Rabbits are prone to being overweight, especially if their diet consists of an improper ratio of pellet food to hay.

The Chesapeake Humane Society is currently caring for a 4-year-old severely obese cat, Mrs. Patmore. She was adopted from the shelter eight months ago and was already overweight at 18 pounds. She was surrendered back to the shelter recently and weighed in at an alarming 27 pounds. Our animal care team put her on a weight loss prescription diet canned food along with the amount of kibble appropriate for her ideal weight.

CHS’ shelter manager, Cat Daniels, states that in addition to her diet, “she’s also on a daily exercise plan that includes incentives to get her moving such as play, catnip and other enrichment activities.”

In her four weeks back with us, she has already lost 3 pounds under her new daily regimen. She is available for adoption, and the shelter team will ensure her new home is committed to her weight loss program so she can live a long healthy life.

If your pet is severely obese like Mrs. Patmore, you may want to involve a health professional such as your veterinarian. Losing weight too quickly can be dangerous for your pet’s health, so creating a health plan and tracking progress is essential.

Being active with your pet can have the added benefit of living a healthier lifestyle for yourself, too, so get out and walk your dog or have a vigorous play session with your cat!

With proper care, rabbits can make great pets

Animal Connections
Published by the Virginian Pilot on 7-7-2021
Written by Lacy Shirey, Chesapeake Humane Society Executive Director

In the past two decades, rabbits have become the third most popular companion animal, after cats and dogs.

They can make great pets. However, they are a big commitment, so do your research beforehand to make sure it’s a good fit for your household.

Lola, a Double-maned Lionhead rabbit, enjoys the company of a kitten. If carefully socialized, rabbits can be a great addition to a multi-pet household. Courtesy of Kimberly Sherlaw

Rabbits are intelligent, inquisitive and social creatures, but they require daily interaction, a specific diet and regular veterinarian checkups. The Rabbit Welfare Association is an excellent resource for rabbit owners; it succinctly sums up the commitment required with its slogan, “A hutch is not enough.”

Kimberly Sherlaw, executive director of the Norfolk SPCA, has shared her home with rabbits for the past 16 years. She adopted her first companion rabbit in 2005 just as she entered the field of animal welfare.

“I was exposed to the number of unwanted and neglected rabbits surrendered to shelters,” she said. “It was apparent that there was a lack of knowledge about their care and behaviors. Both concerned and curious about this challenge in sheltering, I decided to adopt my first rabbit, a Holland Lop, fondly named William, and this is where my love for rabbits began.”

Sherlaw advises first-time rabbit owners do thorough research first. Rabbits need to carry out their natural behaviors, including running, jumping, digging and foraging. They are social animals, so they enjoy the company of other rabbits in addition to daily human interaction.

Rabbits also have special dietary needs. A proper diet consists of timothy hay supplemented with pellets and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Proper enrichment is essential for a happy and healthy rabbit. Sherlaw recommends toys and chews such as applewood sticks or willow branch balls to help keep their ever-growing teeth worn down.

Paper bags, cardboard boxes or boxes filled with shredded paper and treats are great ways to fulfill a rabbit’s curiosity, allowing them to explore, forage, scratch and chew. Or fill a paper towel or toilet paper roll with hay to give them more exciting challenges.

“A proper diet and proper enrichment are the key factors that help you build a friendship and trust with your rabbit,” Sherlaw said.

Rabbits require regular veterinary care, just like cats and dogs. You’ll need to seek out a veterinarian that specializes in small animals or exotics, as rabbits will need annual checkups and vaccinations.

The idiom “reproduce like rabbits” exists for a good reason. Rabbits can produce a large number of offspring very rapidly.

Because they are prey animals, this high fecundity rate serves them well in the wild and ensures their existence. But as a household pet, your rabbit should be spayed or neutered. In addition to unplanned litters, spaying and neutering reduces unwanted behaviors and can extend their lifespan by reducing risks of certain cancers.

If you are ready to add a rabbit to your family, please consider your local animal shelter. Adopting from a shelter or rescue ensures your rabbit is spayed or neutered, and they often have bonded pairs that are ready to go home together.

Just last month Virginia Beach Animal Care and Adoption Center took in 150 domestic rabbits from a household. These rabbits are friendly and used to being handled, so it’s the perfect time to adopt if a rabbit is a good fit for your home.

Local shelters regularly house rabbits and other small animals for adoption, including Chesapeake Animal Services, Chesapeake Humane Society, Norfolk Animal Care Center, Norfolk SPCA, Portsmouth Humane Society and Virginia Beach SPCA.

Please refrain from purchasing rabbits from pet stores. Similar to the puppy mill industry, pet stores source from pet trade breeders with inhumane practices, mass breeding rabbits in small, dirty cages. Pets that come from pet stores often don’t have access to proper nutrition or veterinary care. Shelters, rescues and reputable breeders are your best resource.

Wildlife killing contests should be banned

Animal Connections
Published by the Virginian Pilot on 05-18-2021
Written by Lacy Shirey, Chesapeake Humane Society Executive Director


Wildlife killing contests — it’s as gruesome as it sounds, and yet, it is legal here in Virginia and many other states. However, there are efforts to ban this cruel blood sport, and it has the support of animal welfare advocates, wildlife officials and traditional hunters alike.

Virginia is home to a plethora of wildlife species. We take pride in our natural resources, and most of us want it to remain this way. Our healthy biodiversity plays an important role in a balanced ecosystem, and our native species are here to live harmoniously with us. Killing contests can result in harmful imbalances by removing vital species from the region, and the practice of taking a life for the sake of a game to kill animals for cash and prizes is beyond disrespectful to any living being.

A coyote in Yellowstone National Park. Courtesy of Wendy Keefover

Coyotes, red and gray foxes and bobcats are the most common targets of these contests in Virginia. Now, if you own livestock or pets, you may not have warm thoughts about some of these natural carnivores. Coyotes and foxes are unfairly persecuted and can be killed in unlimited numbers. They have adapted quite well to both urban and rural areas. Even though they are both primarily active at night, they can be active during the day to seek resources or if they are caring for offspring.

Seeing wildlife such as coyotes and foxes can be alarming and unsettling to some, but chances are they want to avoid you as much as you do them. Seeing a fox or a coyote active during the day is not reason enough to fear them — and in fact, we should welcome them. These animals provide critical ecological services including controlling rodent populations, protecting flowers and crops from other critters and boosting songbird biodiversity.

Studies show that killing species such as coyotes is not an effective means of controlling their populations and often has counterproductive results. Coyotes can respond to population declines by increasing their reproductive rates with larger litters and reproducing at younger ages, resulting in more coyotes. Disrupting the coyote pack structure can also increase conflicts with livestock.

According to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, the most effective and humane way to deal with problem-causing coyotes and avoid conflict is through prevention and hazing methods. Prevention refers to removing incentives for them to visit your property such as not feeding wildlife, securing trash containers or other food sources and keeping pets indoors. Hazing is a way of deterring an animal from an area with loud noises or with projectiles or sprays. Hazing can help instill a coyote’s innate fear of humans.

Proponents of wildlife killing contests wrongly assert that their actions help control “nuisance” wildlife. This blood sport involves the killing of the animals, piling them up for display and photos, and then most often, the carcasses are simply discarded once their prize is won and their day is done. It’s a life truly wasted.

A ban on wildlife killing contests is not aimed at hunters. In fact, these inhumane contests reflect poorly on ethical hunters who have a great appreciation for their game and consume or use as much of the animal as possible.

Seven states have already banned killing contests, including Arizona, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont and Washington. Maryland is set to become the eighth state with the successful passage of a legislative ban in early April.

A prohibition on wildlife killing contests would simply make it unlawful for animals to be killed for prizes; it is not intended to affect hunters and will not reduce opportunities to hunt any wildlife species.

If you’d like to take action, please join me in contacting the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Board and ask that they move regulations forward to outlaw cruel and ineffective wildlife killing contests. For more information, visit

Chesapeake Humane Society’s New Building Will Have A Special Crisis Shelter

Click here to learn more about our Crisis Boarding program!

A Letter from the Executive Director

Dear Friends of Chesapeake Humane Society, 

We are quickly approaching the one-year mark of modified operations and restrictions we would never have imagined feasible due to the pandemic. The care we provide to the pets in our adoption program and through our veterinary clinic is essential service so our team hasn’t skipped a beat over the past ten months. It’s been stressful and trying more often than not, however, we are grateful that we have not had to furlough or lay off any staff members as so many other companies have had no choice but to do so. 

Throughout the pandemic, Chesapeake Humane Society’s (CHS) services continue to be in high demand. We have seen a significant increase in adoptions and fostering as families are home more often. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have seen an increase in need for our low-cost veterinary services and pet pantry assistance as folks are financially impacted by the pandemic.

A little back story about CHS – as you may know, our sheltering model is a bit different from the traditional shelter model. Throughout the years we have refined our program to help shelters in our region as they need support with caring for homeless pets. We work to transfer animals in from our shelter partners as they need assistance due to space, behavioral needs, or medical needs. 

We often take in animals that require a lot of time and money to care for such as heartworm positive dogs, litters of kittens and puppies, and FIV+ felines, to name a few. All of these animals deserve a second chance at life and we are here to help provide that for them. 

This model works well for our region and we plan to continue building off this structure as we expand our shelter program. Last spring, we embarked on a plan to expand and by happenstance, we had an incredible opportunity presented to us by one of our long-time partners, The Las Gaviotas Pet Hotel and associated Animal Assistance League here in Great Bridge. It’s an opportunity many organizations only dream of – the gift of a building and property.

 It was certainly a poignant moment as they brought their operations to a close and turned the building over to CHS. The Pet Hotel and Animal Assistance League was a staple in our community for nearly 30 years.  We are committed to put the property to good use and save the lives of many shelter pets. Our mission is aligned with that of Animal Assistance League and we vow to build on the good work that they’ve accomplished in our community. 

 In the coming months, we will be doing some renovations to our new building located at 1149 New Mill Drive to suit our programmatic needs. We hope to be open to the public later this year. Once renovations are completed, the New Mill Drive location will serve as a dedicated sheltering facility for CHS and our location on Battlefield Blvd will continue as our low-cost veterinary clinic.

This new building will greatly expand our shelter program and we plan to offer a new, much-needed service in our community for crisis-based boarding. We are currently exploring partnerships with local human service organizations to offer pet boarding to individuals and families escaping domestic violence or facing other hardships such as displacement from a fire or boarding needs due to unforeseen medical procedures. Our new crisis-based boarding program will help pets stay with the ones they love at a time when that human-animal bond and companionship is so important.

Whether you are familiar with CHS or not, I invite you to get to know us better over the coming year. We have a lot of exciting goals ahead of us and I hope you’ll continue to support us in our venture.

If you’d like to make a gift to support our expansion project, please reach out to CHS Executive Director, Lacy Shirey, at 757-401-6201 or


Warm Regards,

Lacy S. Shirey, Executive Director

Chesapeake Humane Society

Crate Training a Beneficial Tool

Animal Connections
Published by the Virginian Pilot on 01-06-2021
Written by Lacy Kuller, Chesapeake Humane Society Executive Director

All three of my dogs were adults when I adopted them, and they all lived their lives outside before being welcomed into my home. One of them was pretty scared of everything in life when I first took her in, and the other two were not housebroken at all. I mention that only to prove that crate training can be used with dogs of any age and with a wide range of backgrounds.

In their first six months or so with me, I implement crate training methods consistently. Usually, it’s harder on me than it is on them.

Having a routine and remaining consistent with any training is often the most important factor. It’s also hard for me because when I say good night to them and tuck them into their crate, I secretly wish they were snuggled up with me in my bed. But it’s worth it. The result is that they see their crates, or their dens, as a safe place.

And don’t be fooled because I work with animals — my dogs are not the most trained or well-behaved dogs. Thankfully, they were housebroken pretty quickly, but they bark more than I’d like (they are hound dogs), they jump up on people when they are excited to see them, and my bloodhound will dig a giant hole in my backyard if I turn my back for too long while he’s outside. I’m not perfect, and neither are they.

After the initial training is over, I leave their crate doors open for them to come and go as they please. To this day, some nights they snuggle up with me in bed and some nights they curl up in their crates — both of those scenarios make me happy.

Foster puppy from Portsmouth Humane Society working on crate training!

They rarely get closed in the crate, but if I do close them in, they are comfortable, not anxious, and I know they are safe. If a thunderstorm rolls in or if fireworks can be heard, I often find my dogs in their crates that’s where they feel protected. If I have a contractor in the house who isn’t fond of dogs, I know I can put my dogs in their crates without causing them stress.

I never use a crate as punishment. Their association with the crate should always be positive. I feed my dogs in their crate, which helps with creating a rewarding experience, especially if you have a food-motivated dog.

I have certain toys that only come out when they are in the crate, making it exciting for them. The toys I use for crate training are very durable, like a large Kong or a Nylabone, so I know they won’t destroy and swallow parts of a toy while unattended. I never use plush toys or rope bones unattended as those could easily be ingested and lead to a harmful blockage.

I’m careful to close my dogs in their crates for different scenarios so they don’t associate going into the crate with me leaving the house. So when they are being trained, they’ll periodically have crate time for 20-30 minutes at a time while I’m still home. This helps to build their independence and can help with or prevent separation anxiety — especially since many of us are home more due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

I will mention, I have worked with dogs that just don’t do well in a crate. Despite working with them in a positive way, the crate causes them so much anxiety that they are physically harming themselves in an attempt to escape. In my experience, this has been with dogs that have extreme separation anxiety or have a negative association with a crate from previous experiences.

Thankfully, this is not the case with most dogs, but it is something to keep in mind. If you are having issues to that extent with your dog, hopefully you are working with a behaviorist and your veterinarian on that behavior.

If your dog continues to be anxious in a wire crate, try covering half of the crate with a blanket or try using a more enclosed airline crate. For some dogs, this simple trick makes a world of difference in making them feel comfortable, so it’s worth trying if you are struggling with crate training.

Lacy Shirey is executive director of the Chesapeake Humane Society. She can be reached at