PHOENIX (AP) — Spa treatments don't stop with people. You won't see any aromatherapy candles around, but animals get massages, too, and it's become a regular service that many pet owners value as more than just glorified petting.
"People call me because their dogs are having problems," said Shelah Barr, a San Francisco dog massage therapist. "The work I do is important for animals so they have a high quality of life."
Practitioners say massage can be a preventive measure for younger animals and rehabilitative for older ones by boosting flexibility, circulation and immunity. As its popularity continues to grow, primarily among dog and horse owners, so does the debate about regulation. Some veterinarians argue that pet massage is a form of veterinary medicine that requires a license, but whether therapists need one varies by state. The issue has sparked a lawsuit in Arizona, where three practitioners are suing the state veterinarian licensing board.
Pet owners spent $4.4 billion last year on "other services," a category that includes grooming, training and services such as massage, according to the American Pet Products Association, which tracks national spending trends in the pet industry. That is a 6.1 percent jump from 2012.
Massage sessions can last 30-40 minutes, and therapists travel to homes, hotels and even an owner's workplace, said Barr, who has been practicing in San Francisco since 2006.
"There are a couple of tech companies I go to. They have a quiet office I can go into and work on the animal," said Barr, who typically sees about 15 pets a week.
The treatments don't necessarily mean incense burning around a massage table. Barr is guided by what the dog desires, which sometimes means the pet chews on a bone the whole time.
Grace Granatelli, an animal masseuse in the Phoenix suburb of Scottsdale, said she would play new-age music or "spa sounds," which help relax dogs.
In her sessions, Granatelli would have the dog lie down on the floor or its bed and start by massaging its neck. She would then move to other areas, including legs and hips. But it's not crucial that the dog lie down or sit still.
"There are times where the dog is either very distracted or anxious or isn't quite receptive," Granatelli said. "So I just do the best I can doing the strokes while they're standing — whatever I can do to get the strokes in and get some relaxation in their muscles."
That was until Granatelli became one of three animal massage practitioners who received cease-and-desist letters from the Arizona State Veterinary Medical Examining Board earlier this year. The trio has sued the board, arguing that the statute is overly broad in defining veterinary medicine. They aren't practicing while the lawsuit moves through the courts.
The board says "I was doing more than just pampering dogs and that was breaking laws," Granatelli said.
The American Veterinary Medical Association classifies animal massage as a form of veterinary care that should require a license. It is up to each state's veterinary licensing board whether to categorize it that way.
"We do consider them veterinary procedures, and we feel the same standards should be used because a lot of harm can come from them," association assistant director Adrian Hochstadt said.
Carol Forrest, a former client of Granatelli's, said her Dachshunds, Maxie and Lucy, got regular massages for five years. The two, who have since passed away, were able to relax after a massage despite dealing with issues such as arthritis. Forrest said she truly believes massage benefits dogs as much as people.
"It's like if you go to one regularly that you like, they get to know you and you get a better treatment out of it," she said. "The same goes for the dogs ... versus going to the vet — my dogs aren't relaxed at the vet."
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Dave Mitchell is tired. Cancer will do that to you. Chemo treatments leave him sick, his energy zapped.
But he has no time to rest. Not now.
Mitchell, 58, is the "turkey man" at St. Luke's United Methodist Church. He's responsible for roasting upward of 110 birds for the church's Thanksgiving meal for its community — both on the Far Northside and in the heart of Downtown.
"My doctor wanted me to do chemo this week, but this is my busy time. I told him it would have to wait," Mitchell told The Indianapolis Star as he prepared to put the first 20 turkeys in the oven Saturday morning at the Indianapolis church.
For 18 years, Mitchell, a former chef for Eli Lilly and Co. and Purdue University, has been the man behind the meal served Thanksgiving Day to parishioners, struggling neighbors, senior citizens and the homeless.
"That first year, we cooked three turkeys and fed 37 people. Last year, we cooked 157 turkeys, and we fed close to 2,000," he said.
The single father of three adult children opened his kids' eyes to the needs of the homeless when they were in elementary school. He took them to shelters; they served holiday meals. This year on Thanksgiving, his daughter will join him at Cathedral Soup Kitchen in Downtown Indianapolis, where they will feed hundreds; his son and daughter-in-law will volunteer elsewhere in the city; another son is in the military.
The past several years have been tough on Mitchell. He lost his job and almost lost his home. Five years ago, he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. He fought it with every treatment doctors suggested. And, after two years, he beat it.
"This year, I was celebrating three years of being cancer-free. Then I got a cough."
A diagnosis on Father's Day seemed a cruel joke. Stage 4 lung cancer. Inoperable. Doctors subsequently found cancer cells in his bones.
"They gave me a year."
Mitchell is undergoing treatment, hopeful he can beat it again, but he knows the fight he's up against. The treatments are grueling.
"I'm sick every day. I don't want to live the rest of my life this way," he said.
Still, he works part time as a caregiver and he volunteers his time at St. Luke's. Friends and family have stepped in to help when he needs it. He plans to meet with his doctors and his kids after the holidays and talk about his prognosis and his options.
But first, the turkeys.
By now, they're all roasted a golden brown. "Chef Dave," as he's also known around church, spent the weekend working in St. Luke's kitchen, pausing on Sunday afternoon to catch a little of the Colts game. Teams of volunteers would come in later to carve the birds; others are in charge of beans, dressing, corn, all the traditional dishes.
Mitchell has someone shadowing him in the kitchen this year, learning the ropes. He plans to let her take the lead next year, and he hopes to be in a supporting role. Then he'll hang up his chef's hat for good. "That'll be my 20th year, and I'll step out."
Jamalyn Williamson, pastor of outreach for St. Luke's, can't imagine a Thanksgiving without Mitchell.
"He's the nucleus of it all. The way he gives so a thousand people can eat, it's really his calling in life — feeding the hungry," Williamson said. "It's quite a legacy of what it means to serve when others are more worried about trying to make Thanksgiving 'perfect' or wondering if their pants have enough elastic in them."
On Thanksgiving Day, Mitchell will arrive at the Cathedral Kitchen at 5 a.m., before most of the volunteers arrive and well before the guests.
"I'll walk through the kitchen and the dining room, and I'll pray," he said. "I'll ask God to bless the food, bless the people coming through the line, bless the volunteers."
Once the last person has been fed, hundreds of meals delivered and cleanup finished, he'll head home.
"I'll take a shower, turn off my phone and sleep for 18 hours."
NEW YORK (AP) — Falling gas prices. Soaring stock market. Unemployment at a six-year-low.
All signs point to a successful holiday shopping season. Despite the economic tail winds, though, retailers are finding themselves having to work to get shoppers into stores.
Why? Five years into the economic recovery, most Americans still are struggling.
Gas prices may be hovering at a four-year low, but Americans are paying more for food, health care and other costs. Unemployment is low, too, but then so is wage growth. And even though the stock and housing markets have improved, Americans haven't changed their deal-hungry shopping habits.
"Retail therapy is out the window for most Americans," said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics LLC, a research firm.
Not that this holiday season is expected to be a dud. In fact, the National Retail Federation forecasts holiday sales will grow 4.1 percent to $616.9 billion — the highest increase since 2011. But retailers already have had to resort to discounting to get shoppers into stores.
But heavy discounting eats into profits. For example, over the past weekend, online sales rose 18.7 percent, but the average order value was $112.86, down 5.4 percent for the same period a year ago because of promotions, according to IBM Digital Analysts Benchmark, which tracks sales at 800 websites.
Reflecting the tough environment, major department stores, including Macy's, J.C. Penney and Kohl's, reported sales shortfalls in the quarter preceding the holiday shopping season. Discounters like Target and Wal-Mart turned in better-than-expected sales, but acknowledged that shoppers are cautious.
Take Amanda Simpson, 39, who works in public relations in Denton, Texas. The mother of two young children plans to spend $700 on holiday gifts, down from last year's $1,000.
Simpson says now the economy is improving, she's focusing on building her savings. She and her husband, a government worker, are juggling daycare expenses and higher health care expenses. Even the extra $20 a week from falling gas prices is going toward bills.
"I definitely feel better," she said. "But as a family, we are trying to be more fiscally conservative."
Here are three reasons many Americans plan to spend conservatively this holiday season even though economic factors have improved:
1. SLOW WAGE GROWTH
Paychecks have barely stayed ahead of inflation since the recession ended more than five years ago.
Average hourly wages, adjusted for inflation, rose just 0.3 percent in September from a year earlier. And many Americans, who once worked full time now have part-time jobs. There are still nearly 2 million fewer people working full time in December 2007, when the Great Recession began.
That's one reason shoppers might not spend briskly during the holiday despite the fact that the U.S. jobless rate hit 5.8 percent last month, down 1.5 percentage points from a year ago.
"The unemployment number is a bogus number," said Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, a retail consultancy. "What drives spending is income growth."
1. HIGHER COSTS
Gas prices have fallen 20 percent from a year ago to $2.81. While that puts an average of $50 a month into the pockets of American households, they're still grappling with higher costs on lots of other necessities like food and health care.
Overall food prices are up 1.7 percent from a year ago, according to the latest Consumer Price Index. Meat prices are up 8.5 percent, while egg prices rose 6.7 percent.
While Wal-Mart noted lower gas prices have helped to fuel more trips to the store, it said shoppers at its Sams Clubs are trading down from red meat to chicken and ground beef.
J.C. Penney's CEO Mike Ullman told investors he expects customers will still be "very savvy" this holiday season even if they have more money to spend because of low fuel prices.
1. SHOPPERS WANT DEALS
Shoppers may feel a little better about the overall economy, but they're still focused on a deal. And they're still sticking to lists.
According to a recent survey of 500 shoppers by Accenture, 29 percent said it would take a discount of 50 percent or more to persuade them to make a purchase. Two years ago, that figure was 21 percent.
That's why a number of retailers have been heavily discounting holiday items all month. Many, including Target and Wal-Mart, have pulled forward some of the deals reserved for Black Friday.
A survey of 100 retailers by BDO, a consultancy, found that 34 percent will have already run most holiday deals by the time shoppers sit down for their Thanksgiving dinner.
"Everyone is still looking for a deal," said Mikael Thygesen, chief marketing officer at Simon Property Group, which operates 228 shopping centers.
AP Economics Writer Chris Rugaber in Washington contributed to the report.
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A lawmaker in Ohio wants stores in the state to pay triple wages for employees who work on Thanksgiving — an effort that comes as Macy's, the holiday's quintessential retailer, is allowing its workers to choose whether to work that day.
Both are attempts to counter frustration among workers and their families over holiday store hours that have expanded into the holiday.
State Rep. Mike Foley, a Democrat from Cleveland, said his bill would allow employees to bow out of the holiday shift without job sanctions while protecting family time from excessive consumerism.
It comes after a federal complaint filed earlier this year accused Wal-Mart of illegally firing, disciplining or threatening more than 60 employees in 14 states for participating in protests over wages and working conditions.
Worker organizations — especially the AFL-CIO labor coalition — have organized additional pickets around holiday staffing this year, alongside social media campaigns publicizing workers' personal accounts. They're pushing shopper boycotts on Black Friday — the day after Thanksgiving — and on the holiday itself, which is sometimes referred to as Gray Thursday.
Foley said the idea for his bill came from a call last year from a Cincinnati woman who said both she and her 82-year-old mother had been scheduled to work their retail jobs on Thanksgiving.
"I was offended by it," he said. "Can't there be one day that's carved out of this consumerist, materialistic society we're living in?"
Macy's, Wal-Mart and about two dozen other major retailers open on Thanksgiving Day say consumers demand it. The list also includes Kmart, Target, Kohl's, JCPenney, Sears, Toys R Us and Office Max.
Macy's spokesman Jim Sluzewski said Thanksgiving is when many customers prefer to shop, citing National Retail Federation figures that show 44.8 million people shopped on Thanksgiving Day last year, up 27 percent from 2012.
He said the company conducted an employee survey on holiday staffing preferences and found many Macy's employees appreciated the opportunity to work on Thanksgiving. He said only full-time employees who volunteered are working the holiday this year, and they'll be paid the overtime rate of time-and-a-half. Remaining staffing needs will be met with seasonal workers.
"The positive response to working on Thanksgiving was strong," Sluzewski said. "In fact, many associates told us that working Thanksgiving evening and overnight means they can be home or with family and friends on Black Friday, which is very unusual in the retail industry."
Seana Shannon, a 31-year-old Target worker in Columbus, volunteered to work an earlier shift on Thanksgiving, leaving the remainder of her time free for family.
"I actually picked the earlier shift on Thursday, so I could be home for the weekend," she said. "So it worked out. I'm used to it."
Macy's is opening at 6 p.m. on Thanksgiving this year, two hours earlier than last year. The store's annual Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City has made its name synonymous with the holiday.
A call seeking comment from Wal-Mart was not returned.
Other retailers — among them Neiman-Marcus and Nordstrom department stores, bookseller Barnes & Noble and warehouse clubs Sam's Club and Costco — will remain closed on Thanksgiving.
"Our employees work especially hard during the holiday season and we simply believe that they deserve the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with their families. Nothing more complicated than that," Costco said in its statement.
Gordon Gough, president and CEO of the Ohio Council of Retail Merchants, said the trade group doesn't take a position on whether stores should be open on Thanksgiving. But he said the group disagrees with Foley's proposal to impose a triple-pay requirement only on retailers.
Gough said it wouldn't be fair because some restaurants, gas stations and other businesses have long been open on the holiday.
"We would be opposed to the triple pay for retail employees, which would be discriminatory," he said. "There are many industries that are open on Thanksgiving."
The Ohio proposal, from a Democrat in a Republican-controlled Legislature, is unlikely to progress beyond the first hearing it got last week.
Associated Press writer Dan Sewell in Cincinnati contributed to this report.
BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. (AP) — Black Friday isn't just when shoppers rush to stores for holiday sales. It's also one of the busiest days of the year for gun purchases.
In the U.S., there are nine guns for every 10 people. Someone is killed with a firearm every 16 minutes. And every minute, gun shops make about 40 new requests for criminal background checks on people wanting weapons.
On Black Friday, the rush accelerates to nearly two checks a second, testing the limits of the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
"We have a perfect storm coming," says Kimberly Del Greco, a manager in the FBI division that helps run the system, known as NICS.
Much of the responsibility for preventing criminals and the mentally ill from buying guns is shouldered by about 500 men and women who run the system from inside the FBI's criminal justice center, a gray office building with concrete walls and mirrored windows just outside Bridgeport, West Virginia.
Granted a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the NICS, The Associated Press was able to see first-hand why 512 gun sales a day effectively beat the system last year.
By federal law, NICS researchers must race against the clock: They have until the end of the third business day following an attempted firearm purchase to determine whether or not a buyer is eligible. After that, buyers can legally get their guns, whether or not the check was completed.
This clock ran out more than 186,000 times last year.
The problem is the data.
States voluntarily submit records, which are often missing information about mental health rulings or criminal convictions, and aren't always rapidly updated to reflect restraining orders or other urgent reasons to deny a sale. It's a particular problem on Black Friday, when so many background checks are done at once.
There are more than 48,000 gun retailers in the U.S., from Wal-Mart stores to local pawn shops. Store clerks can use the FBI's online E-Check System, which federal officials say is more efficient. But nearly half the checks are phoned in. Three call centers — in Kentucky, Texas, and Wheeling, W.Va. — take these calls from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day but Christmas.
NICS did about 58,000 checks on a typical day last year. That surged to 145,000 on Black Friday 2013. They're bringing in 100 more workers than usual for the post-Thanksgiving rush this year.
The call centers have no access to privileged information about buyers' backgrounds, and make no decisions. They just type in their name, address, birthdate, Social Security Number and other information into the system. On Black Fridays, the work can be grueling: One woman took a call that lasted four hours when a dealer phoned in the maximum 99 checks.
"Rules had to be stretched," recalled Sam Demarco, her supervisor. "We can't transfer calls. Someone had to sit in her seat for her while she went to the bathroom."
In the years since these background checks were required, about 71 percent have found no red flags and produced instant approvals.
But ten factors can disqualify gun purchasers: a felony conviction, an arrest warrant, a documented drug problem or mental illness, undocumented immigration status, a dishonorable military discharge, a renunciation of U.S. citizenship, a restraining order, a history of domestic violence, or an indictment for any crime punishable by longer than one year of prison time.
Any sign that one of these factors could be in a buyer's background produces a red-flag. FBI researchers then investigate, scouring state records in the federal database and calling state and local authorities for more information.
"It takes a lot of effort ... for an examiner to go out and look at court reports, look at judges' documents, try to find a final disposition so we can get back to a gun dealer on whether they can sell that gun or not," Del Greco says. "And we don't always get back to them."
The researchers must use their skill and judgment, striking a balance between the rights of gun owners and the need to keep would-be killers from getting firearms.
Researcher Valerie Sargo says outstanding warrants often come up when they examine a red flag, and that can help police make arrests.
"It makes you feel good that this person is not supposed to have a firearm and you kept it out of their hands," she says.
It also weighs on them when red flags aren't resolved within three days, which happens about two percent of the time, or 512 checks each day on average. Tacked to a cubicle wall, a sign reads: "Our policy is to ALWAYS blame the computer."
These workers have considerable responsibility, but little independent authority.
"They won't proceed or deny a transaction unless they are ABSOLUTELY certain the information they have is correct and sufficient to sustain that decision," FBI spokesman Stephen G. Fischer told the AP.
FBI contractors and employees oversaw more than 9 million checks in the first full year after the system was established as part of Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1998. By last year, they oversaw more than 21 million. In all, only 1.25 percent of attempted purchases are denied. Denials can be appealed.
People can get guns without background checks in many states by buying weapons at gun shows or from individuals, a loophole the National Rifle Association does not want closed. But even the NRA agrees that the NICS system needs better data.
"Any database is only going to function as well as the information contained within," NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam says.
Del Greco doesn't see the states' data improving soon, which only adds to the immense challenge of getting through huge numbers of requisite checks on Black Friday.
"It's really critical that we have accurate information," Del Greco says. "Sometimes we just don't."
Associated Press Writer Matt Stroud can be reached through Twitter @mattstroud.
NEW YORK (AP) — For three weeks, Dr. John Fankhauser and his family lived in two RVs in a meadow in North Carolina, watching movies, playing cards and huddling around a fire pit — with no other campers around.
But their isolation was interrupted each morning by a visit from a public health nurse, who came to ask Fankhauser how he was feeling and to watch him take his temperature.
The doctor is one of the more than 2,600 people who have undergone the 21-day ritual ordered by the federal government to guard against cases of Ebola from entering the country from West Africa. Now, anyone who has traveled from four West African nations is monitored for three weeks for fever and other signs of the disease.
The program reaches the one-month mark on Thursday, and so far, it hasn't found any cases of Ebola.
It's up to local officials to decide how to keep track of the travelers who end up in their states, and determine what — if any — restrictions to impose. Most checking is done through daily phone calls, often with the person calling in to report their temperature and any symptoms.
And by all accounts, most travelers have been cooperative. Last week during a Congressional hearing, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden said health officials lost track of only a tiny proportion of travelers — "less than 1 percent."
Success varies from place to place, but overall more than 95 percent of travelers from the countries are promptly contacted and monitored daily, according to CDC officials.
"State and local health departments have really stepped up to the challenge," said Randolph Daley, a CDC epidemiologist helping to coordinate the effort.
But there have been headaches. In the beginning, local health officials frequently complained they were getting bad contact information, or that travelers were getting or using the wrong phone numbers to dial in. Officials had to send their disease detectives out to track down the travelers.
"The first week was really bad. I went out to eight homes because no one was calling," said Jeanette Oliveras, a nurse for Trenton, New Jersey's health department.
She and health officials say the quality of the contact information has improved, but the extra work has been a burden. On an average day, 90 to 100 passengers arrive in the U.S. from the West African countries struggling with the worst Ebola epidemic in world history — Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and — more recently — Mali.
Those passengers are added to the lists, as others drop off.
"As it continues, it has become a strain," said Dr. Marcus Plescia, head of the Mecklenburg County Health Department, who was sending a nurse out to see Fankhauser, a 25-minute drive outside of Charlotte, North Carolina, until this week.
The U.S. didn't start checking passengers from West Africa until a Liberian man visiting Dallas came down with Ebola in September. At first, travelers were only checked upon arrival for a fever. But as Ebola anxiety spread across America and some in Congress pushed for a travel ban, the Obama administration began to ratchet up its measures.
Today, anyone who is traveling to the U.S. from West African countries with Ebola is funneled through one of five major airports. They are given thermometers and told to check their temperature twice daily. They are also required to provide contact information for themselves as well as a friend or relative, which is relayed to state health officials.
The program also tracks workers at U.S. hospitals where Ebola patients were treated.
It was created more for political than medical reasons, said Stephen Morse, a Columbia University infectious disease expert.
"Everyone in office wants to be seen as doing something," he said.
Monitoring is not the best way to control Ebola in this country, said Dr. Jay Varma, deputy commissioner for disease control at New York City's health department. Better approaches would be sending medical help to West Africa to stop the epidemic and preparing U.S. hospitals to handle Ebola cases here, he said.
In Trenton, Oliveras said many travelers have gone beyond what health officials ask of them. None has been required to stay in quarantine, but roughly half have isolated themselves in homes or hotels. Most are Liberians aware of Americans anxiety about Ebola, and they did it to prevent people in the community "from getting upset," she said.
Fankhauser was a different story. He had worked at an Ebola hospital in Liberia, and local officials restricted where he could go and required in-person symptom checks.
When he returned from Liberia earlier this month, he agreed to stay at a campground on the campus of SIM, a North Carolina-based medical aid organization. His recent work for the group in Liberia was administrative, and he said he was in full personal protective equipment during his one encounter with an Ebola patient.
Still, he had to ask permission to visit a friend's home or visit a coffee shop. The county denied his request to go to dinner with family and friends at a restaurant.
Local media had reported on Fankhauser, and the idea of him being seen at a crowded restaurant seemed problematic, the health department's Plescia said.
Fankhauser said he had no problem being monitored, but some restrictions were about "appeasing people's irrational fears."