Stephen Newman

Professor Shares Vast Dog Knowledge With ICIO Inmates by Stephen Newman

Roughly 30 ICIO inmates, a few staff members, and zero dogs were in attendance on June 5th at the Robert Janss School, as a University of Idaho professor (and private-practice veterinarian for over 28 years) gave an interactive lecture titled, “The Anatomy of the K-9.”

Fittingly, the inmates in the audience were all participants of ICIO’s dog program. The GED classroom, packed with chairs, was abuzz with energy even before the lecture began. “I’m so excited about this” said one inmate. “I ain’t seen nothin’ like this before,” said another, referring to the Smartboard technology that Dr. Denise E. Konetchy would soon be using to discuss dog history, anatomy, physiology, nutrition, behavior, and heath.

Instructor Manley introduced Dr. Konetchy to the crowd, then added, “This is an experiment to see how many people we can get in this room…kind of exciting.” It was a packed house. Fortunately, the fire marshall had other plans on this particular Tuesday afternoon.

The audience seemed particularly interested in the segment on dog nutrition. “All dog foods now are good, because the public demands it,” Konetchy said. While she firmly believes nutrition has improved significantly in recent years, she cites dog obesity as the biggest nutrition-related problem. “Our canine counterparts are following in the paths of humans,” she said. “It’s a hard conversation to have with an overweight human about their overweight dog.”

Inmates also asked questions about foods that are poisonous to dogs. Onions, grapes, raisins, and artificial sweeteners should always be avoided. Avocado and garlic may not be as bad for dogs as some used to think. And chocolate…well, she gave a colorful anecdote as to how milk chocolate isn’t dangerous for dogs — it’s the “real chocolate” they should avoid. She once treated a dog who had eaten an entire bag of Hershey’s Kisses. “The foil probably did more harm than the chocolate,” Konetchy said. As for the dog’s owners? They had a very colorful yard the next day.

Dogs and humans began co-mingling at least 14,700 years ago, according to Konetchy. Back then, those dogs willing to interact with humans got bred (and became the ancestors of dogs we have today). Dogs show more variation in size, appearance, and behavior than any other domestic animal. This extreme variance, from a 4-ounce Yorkshire Terrier, to a 343 pound English Mastiff, is due to thousands of years of manipulation of breeding programs by humans, trying to mix just the right genetics for each person’s individual needs and wants. With dogs, there’s no one-size-fits-all. This makes canine veterinary work quite challenging.

While the average dog lifespan is 10-13 years, Konetchy treated a dog at her veterinary practice who lived to the ripe old age of 25. “A good old mutt,” she said, “(who) just had great genetics and never got sick.”

A dog’s behavior, breed, energy level, size, shape, health, and intelligence, are all derived from thousands of years of interactions with their human counterparts. “A dog’s behavior parallels some of the social-cognitive skills of human children,” Konetchy said. She estimated a dog to have the mindset of a 6-year-old child.

As the lecture concluded, Instructor Manley, from the back of the room, asked Konetchy to share her thoughts on dogs that bark incessantly. “They’re annoying,” was her answer, eliciting laughter and applause from the crowd — a crowd of inmates who, at least for 90 minutes, could forget that they were in prison.
Stephen Newman had a 35-pound Shepard mix named Daniella…much to the dislike of Carson Daly’s mom. He can be reached via email at

Stephen Newman
DOC #90843


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