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March 18, 2015

Animal-assisted therapy can help healing and lessen depression and fatigue

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Is medicine going to the dogs? Yes, but in a good way. Pet therapy is gaining fans in health care and beyond. Find out what's behind this growing trend.



What is pet therapy?

Pet therapy is a broad term that includes animal-assisted therapy and other animal-assisted activities. Animal-assisted therapy is a growing field that uses dogs or other animals to help people recover from or better cope with health problems, such as heart disease, cancer and mental health disorders.

Animal-assisted activities, on the other hand, have a more general purpose, such as providing comfort and enjoyment for nursing home residents.

How does animal-assisted therapy work?

Imagine you're in the hospital. Your doctor mentions the hospital's animal-assisted therapy program and asks if you'd be interested. You say yes, and your doctor arranges for someone to tell you more about the program. Soon after that, an assistance dog and its handler visit your hospital room. They stay for 10 or 15 minutes. You're invited to pet the dog and ask the handler questions.

After the visit, you realize you're smiling. And you feel a little less tired and a bit more optimistic. You can't wait to tell your family all about that charming canine. In fact, you're already looking forward to the dog's next visit.

Who can benefit from animal-assisted therapy?

Animal-assisted therapy can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression and fatigue in people with a range of health problems:

  • Children having dental procedures
  • People receiving cancer treatment
  • People in long-term care facilities
  • People hospitalized with chronic heart failure
  • Veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder

And it's not only the ill person who reaps the benefits. Family members and friends who sit in on animal visits say they feel better, too.

Pet therapy is also being used in nonmedical settings, such as universities and community programs, to help people deal with anxiety and stress.


Does pet therapy have risks?


The biggest concern, particularly in hospitals, is safety and sanitation. Most hospitals and other facilities that use pet therapy have stringent rules to ensure that the animals are clean, vaccinated, well trained and screened for appropriate behavior.

It's also important to note the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has never received a report of infection from animal-assisted therapy.


Animal-assisted therapy in action


More than a dozen certified therapy dogs are part of Mayo Clinic's Caring Canines program. They make regular visit to various hospital departments and even make special visits on request. For example, one dog and his trainer worked with a 5-year-old girl recovering from spinal surgery. The therapy dog helped her relearn how to walk, taking a step backward each time she took a step forward.


March 4, 2015

This female black Labrador retriever, named Jesse, shown here at the Hardin County Animal Shelter, was rescued Tuesday after falling through ice into a pond.A Labrador retriever is safe and warm following a close call on a melting ice-covered pond in Vine Grove.

Hardin County Animal Control and Vine Grove and Radcliff Fire Departments responded to a call Tuesday afternoon that a black lab had fallen through thinning ice in the middle of a pond on Deckard School Road.

The dog, named Jesse, had been treading water for a few minutes before Debi Dirolf saw her and called authorities fearing for the dog’s safety, Animal Control Director Jerry Foley said.

Animal control officer Mike Patterson said when he got to the scene, Jesse was 35 to 40 feet away from shore and appeared to have been treading water for a while. Another black lab, named Jake, was running around the shore line directing the rescuers to his sister, he said.

“If it had been any other type of dog, she probably wouldn’t have made it,” he said.

Jesse weighed just enough that if she tried to pull herself back on to the ice, it would collapse and she wasn’t able to break the ice to return to shore, Patterson said.

Patterson said he and Dirolf were able to break the ice to get almost to the dog and Radcliff Fire Chief Jamie Henderson waded in the rest of the way to pull the dog to safety.

Henderson said he waded into the pond up above his waist to retrieve the dog.

“Everything was on its way, but it was the right time (to go in and get her),” Henderson said. “She made her way back quite a bit, but she was just wore out. She was just exhausted.”

Henderson estimated he was 15 to 20 feet out when he grabbed the dog.

“She was pretty happy to see us,” he said. “She was wagging her tail.”

Patterson estimated the dog had been in the water between 30 minutes and an hour. She was wearing a blue collar and the other dog, a male, was wearing a red collar.

After checking her vitals, both dogs were taken to Hardin County Animal Shelter to warm up and dry off, Patterson said.

The dogs' owner, Jane Jones, said she was thankful to find out where her dogs were and that others cared enough to save her dog.

Jones said when she returned home from work and couldn't find her 10-month-old dogs, she felt "sick to her stomach."

"They love being outside," she said, adding the dogs are protected during the day by an invisible fence. "They're best buddies."

Jones said she's had the pair since they were 6 weeks old because their mother got sick. Now the dogs are part of the family. 

"They love people," she said. "I don't know how long Jesse would have lasted. Thankfully everyone got wet and saved her."

Although animal control was closed by the time Jones returned from work, she said she looks forward to being reunited with her dogs "first thing in the morning."

By Gina Clear
The News-Enterprise


INSIDE THE LAZER - Eagle Ridge News- See new March story HERE

MONDAY, MARCH 16, 2015

While Great Lakes states are contending with an influx of invasive Asian carp that are threatening the fishing industry, business is booming for fisheries in Kentucky that process the species to be shipped to Asian countries such as China and Korea, Jere Downs reports for The Courier-Journal in Louisville. Carp, a favorite for fish balls and dumpling filling, is the second most eaten fish in the world. (C-J photo: Fisher-processor John Crilly hefts a 25-pound Asian silver carp into the hold of a fishing boat on Kentucky Lake)

Two Rivers Fisheries, located in Wickliffe, where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi, "shipped 264,000 tons of Asian carp—beheaded, dressed and frozen—overseas last year, said operations manager Jeff Smith. Two Rivers buys between 6,000 and 8,000 tons of Asian carp daily from fishermen in Kentucky and Missouri and expects to ship 440,000 tons this year overseas, he added."

RCB Fish Co., which has only been in business since February, is already taking big orders, with a bulletin board displaying current orders that include "12 tons of fish heads, six tons of silver carp meat, one ton of grass carp, and nearly seven tons of surimi, a paste of fish and natural ingredients like egg white that is most often processed to become imitation crab meat overseas," Downs writes.

"A third new Asian carp processing plant, Riverine Fisheries, aims to moor a fish factory barge on the Mississippi River in Hickman, Kentucky, to create 110 new jobs by year's end," Downs reports. The three companies "have received preliminary approval to receive state tax incentives worth a combined $5 million to process and market the carp to consumers worldwide," she writes in another story.

Written by Tim Mandell

Date: 02-26-2015

White nose syndrome in bats

Some bat populations across Kentucky have fallen by up to 90 percent as the full force of the deadly white-nose syndrome settles in, three years after it took hold in the state, according to the latest scientific surveys.

That loss means more mosquitoes and insects that are active at night and are normally on bats' menus, expert said. Some of them are serious pests, potentially costing agriculture billions of dollars, and help to spread human illnesses like West Nile virus.

"The long term affects could be pretty devastating," said Brooke Hines, a bat ecologist with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Mammoth Cave National Park scientists said this week they have completed their winter bat counts in six of the caves they use to track bat numbers, and for three species — little brown, tricolor and Indiana — the preliminary results are grim.

It's not that researchers are finding hordes of dead bats, said Rickard Toomey, director of the Mammoth Cave International Center for Science and Learning. "They simply are not there."

Kentucky wildlife officials wrapping up winter surveys of more than 70 caves in 21 counties are seeing the same thing for tricolored and little brown bats, which had been among the most common bats in the commonwealth.

"Our declines are 80 percent for the tricolored, and up to 98 percent for the little brown," said Hines.

"As it is now, it's very sad, walking into a hibernaculum, and seeing just a few bats or in some cases just a few species where you had seen many," she said.

Indiana Department of Natural Resources completed the last of its bat cave surveys on Tuesday.

"We hope to have some preliminary numbers for this season in approximately two weeks," said Marty Benson, agency spokesman.

It reported an 80 percent decline in little bat populations last year, compared to two years earlier, and a 21 percent decline in total bats counted.

Fungus from Europe

White-nose syndrome is a cold-loving fungus from Europe that affects bats' muzzles and wings during winter hibernation.

It damages their wings, causes irritation and makes them wake up early and expend energy they cannot afford. Some have been leaving their caves early this winter, then freezing to death with Kentucky's unusual late-winter polar plunge, Toomey said.

Hines said she's worried that crazy weather patterns possibly fueled by climate change could be a double-whammy for the troubled bats.

The losses regionally mirror those in other states that were hit first.

Indiana and Kentucky both documented the first cases of white-nose syndrome in 2011, making its way to the Midwest and the South from where it was first detected in New York state in 2006. Named for the white fungus on the muzzles and wings of affected bats, scientists say it is killing millions of bats in North America and has no known cure.

It's now in 25 states and five Canadian provinces and is likely killing millions of bats, said Catherine Hibbard, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which is coordinating a national response to the problem. The federal government and its state partners spent a combined $40 million from 2007 through 2013 on surveys, research and other responses to the disease.

There are several promising areas of research looking into treatment methods, including using different bacteria for biological control, or chemicals, she said. But she said none are ready yet, and that scientists want to be sure any forms of treatment don't damage other cave life or animals.

Gray bat populations are still increasing in the park, and that's good news, Toomey said. And big-eared bats so far don't seem to get the disease, he added.

Elsewhere in Kentucky, populations of the Indiana bat, already a federally protected endangered species, have not been crashing, Hines said.

Tracking the changes

Toomey said Mammoth Cave National Park has research partners at Eastern Kentucky University and University of Kentucky trying to document how the loss of bats may be altering the park's ecological systems.

"This may be among the first studies where we are getting pre- and post-white nose results," he said.

Bats can eat half their weight or more in insects every night, when not hibernating, so fewer bats likely means more insects.

That could mean damage from insects that attack plants in forests and more annoyance to people, Toomey said.

Some bugs eaten by bats are also big farm pests, including cucumber beetles, he said.

There are also species that have evolved to live on guano, or bat waste, and that will go away as the bats die out, altering cave ecology, he added.

State and federal officials in recent years have responded by closing caves to people as a way to slow the potential spread of the fungus. At Mammoth Cave, cave tours continue and visitors walk on special mats to remove spores and dirt before leaving the cave. They are also asked to wash hands, change clothes and footwear before visiting other caves or mines.

White-nose syndrome can cause bats to behave erratically, and last year there were 11 reports of such contact between bats and people in the park. But park officials said the bats represent only a small risk to park visitors.

For now, Hines said, there's not much state biologists can do, other than document bats populations, and hope research provides some "tools for our tool boxes" to fight back.

I don't know whether we will ever be able to make it up," she said. "Most of these bats have just one pup per year. They are not like mice. They are not prolific in their reproduction."

Mammoth Cave National Park bats*:

Little brown bats: 768 in 2013; 137 in 2015; down 82 percent.

Indiana bats: 2,751 in 2013; 558 in 2015; down 80 percent.

Tricolored bats: 651 in 2013; 203 in 2015; down 69 percent.

*Survey taken this winter by the National Park Service at five key caves where bats hybernate.

By James Bruggers
The Courier-Journal