Patricia Simonet, a well-known animal behaviorist at the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service, died Dec. 2 after a three-year battle with cancer. She was 51.
Simonet’s most notable achievement was her research into what she called dog laughter, the sounds dogs make 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. next Saturday at the Spokane Buddhist Temple, 927 S. Perry St.
Nancy Hill, director of SCRAPS, will deliver the eulogy. She describes Simonet as someone who was “deeply caring about people and animals. Very intelligent. A scientist, really.”
Simonet was hired at SCRAPS in April 2003. As an animal behaviorist, she was in charge of testing the temperament of the dogs in the shelter and trained the dogs to make them more adoptable and 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 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.
According to her obituary, 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 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.
Simonet quit her job at SCRAPS for health reasons in 2009. She had previously been diagnosed with breast cancer. She thought she had beaten it, but then received a terminal diagnosis of brain cancer, Hill said.
Kennel manager Cindy Taskila trained under Simonet and feels the void left without her. “I’m in that void now,” she said. “You always think you have more time to learn from people. It went too fast.”
She was impressed with 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 Simonet going with her to evaluate some wolf hybrids when Simonet was ill. “She would recognize things, if I needed to be a little more cautious,” she said.
She learned a lot from Simonet but Taskila said she still thinks she has only scratched the surface. “She was really helpful in me learning to determine what actions the dogs were doing and what it meant,” she said. “People tell me I know quite a bit, but I feel there is so much more to learn.”
Simonet has not been replaced and Taskila said she does the best she can with the assistance of some local dog trainers. “Now we’re at a bit of a loss,” she said.
Last 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 Simonet was very 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.”
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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