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Originally published January 15, 2011 at 4:59 PM | Page modified January 15, 2011 at 5:28 PM

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Spokane animal expert studied dog 'laughter'

Patricia Simonet, 51, a well-known animal behaviorist whose research in Spokane on the calming effects of dog "laughter" has been a boon to animal shelters around the country, died Dec. 2 after a three-year battle with cancer.

The Spokesman-Review

SPOKANE — Patricia Simonet, 51, a well-known animal behaviorist whose research on the calming effects of dog "laughter" has been a boon to animal shelters around the country, died Dec. 2 after a three-year battle with cancer.

Dr. Simonet worked at the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service (SCRAPS), where she studied what she called dog laughter, the happy panting that dogs do while playing.

She appeared twice on "Good Morning America" to talk about her work, and created a CD of dog laughter to play in the SCRAPS shelter and other shelters around the county to keep the dogs calmer in their cages.

A public memorial service is planned for 1 p.m. Jan. 22 at the Spokane Buddhist Temple, 927 S. Perry St.

Nancy Hill, director of SCRAPS, will deliver the eulogy. She describes Dr. Simonet as someone who was "deeply caring about people and animals. Very intelligent. A scientist, really."

Dr. Simonet was hired at SCRAPS in April 2003. She was in charge of testing the temperament of dogs in the shelter and training them to make them more adoptable. She also taught shelter employees how to work with the dogs. Over the years she also did fundraising and other tasks. "She wore a number of hats," Hill said.

Hill said Dr. Simonet apparently discovered her calling with animals while working at the San Diego Zoological Association's Wild Animal Park. "She always did love animals," Hill said.

Dr. Simonet earned a Ph.D. in animal behavior at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she also did research on mirror recognition with Asian elephants.

Hill said her shelter still uses the CD of dog laughter that Dr. Simonet produced to help calm the dogs. "Their ears are so much more sensitive. It does seem to have a calming effect," she said. "A lot of people don't realize it because it's turned down so low."

Keeping the dogs calm is important. "One of her goals was to have animals present better at the cage, so they would be perceived as being more suitable for adoption," Hill said.

Dr. Simonet quit her job at SCRAPS for health reasons in 2009. She had previously had breast cancer and thought she had beaten it, but then received a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer, Hill said.

Kennel manager Cindy Taskila trained under Dr. Simonet and feels her absence. "You always think you have more time to learn from people. It went too fast," she said.

She was impressed with Dr. Simonet's work on dog laughter. "I got a kick out of her," she said. "She could mimic them, and that was fun."

Taskila remembers Dr. Simonet, when she was ill, going with her to evaluate some wolf hybrids. "She would recognize things, if I needed to be a little more cautious," she said.

"She was really helpful in me learning to determine what actions the dogs were doing and what it meant," she said.

In June, Simonet was recognized for her tireless work with dogs when the Spokane County Board of Commissioners voted to name a dog park at Gateway Regional Park at Stateline the Patricia Simonet Laughing Dog Park.

Hill said Dr. Simonet was pleased by the recognition.

"She had hoped to come to the dedication, but a few days before the dedication she was hospitalized," Hill said. "It clearly meant a lot to her."

Dr. Simonet is survived by her husband of 26 years, Robert Brost, as well as her mother, five brothers and two sisters.

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