Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
July 6 2017
Silicone bakeware is all the rage lately, and one type—a 16" x 11.5" nonstick baking mat aptly named the Pyramid Pan—can be used to whip up more than 500 dog treats in a jiff. The mat has lots of little pyramids and was originally intended for cooking meat using less fat. But flip it over and the pyramids become 556 little indentations, perfect molds for tiny dog treats. A friend pointed me to a recipe from Eileen Anderson's website that was designed to be used with these mats. In her preamble to the recipe, Anderson notes that you can use your favorite non-chunky treat recipe, but will probably need to run it through a food processor first. The dough should be smooth and about the consistency of pancake batter rather than cookie dough.
Place two upside-down mats on large cookie sheets or baking pans. Now comes the tricky part: filling the little holes. Using a spatula or silicone scraper spread the batter back and forth; you don’t want any on the boundaries between the holes, so it will take a few swipes.
TINY CHICKEN TREATS
Optional add-ins: Small amounts of flaxseed meal, chopped parsley, kelp
This recipe makes two full sheets, or around 1,100 tasty tiny treats.
Adapted from Eileen Anderson’s recipe for Simple Baked Chicken Treats at eileenanddogs.com
For the past few years, I have been using a dehydrator to make sweet potato jerky treats as well as to dry a summer’s bounty of fruit (especially luscious strawberries), tomatoes, herbs and mushrooms. It works great. Now, the experts at Excalibur® have a new product, a smaller counter-top, six-tray model, designed especially for making treats and other small-batch goodies. It comes with a pet treat recipe book, a plastic jerky gun and cookie cutters. Great for making trail mix for those summer camping trips as well! Crafting nutritious treats for yourself and your dog has never been easier (and this model is much quieter than the standard dehydrator).
The Excalibur EPT60W 6-Tray Compact Pet Treat Dehydrator 10"W x 12"H x 8"D, around $50
Cut meat into small pieces, put into a blender or food processor and blend.
Add 1/3 cup water, then puree into a thick paste. Remove to a bowl.
Add oatmeal and flour, stir well. Knead dough until well mixed. Roll out the dough on a floured board, to around 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes.
Place in dehydrator for about 8 to 16 hours or until crunchy. Or bake on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet at a very low temperature for 2 to 3 hours or until crunchy.
Adapted from Pet Treat Recipes by Excalibur®.
June 27 2017
Researchers have come up with another reason why we are attracted to irresistible photos of puppies and kittens, and another reason that we can never get our fill of these adorable photos.
Psychological scientists from Florida State University, led by James K. McNulty, are using cute animal photos to rekindle marriages that might be in the doldrums. These researchers were tasked by the Department of Defense to come up with a strategy “to help married couples cope with the stress of separation and deployment.” McNulty and his team set out “to develop a procedure that could help soldiers and other people in situations that are challenging for relationships.”
Using techniques developed by none other than Pavlov, they employed a positive feedback mechanism called evaluative conditioning. They would show images of a spouse that were repeatedly paired with very positive words or images (like puppies, kittens and bunnies). In theory, the positive feelings elicited by the positive images and words would become automatically associated with images of the spouse after practice.
Each spouse was asked to individually view a brief stream of images once every 3 days for 6 weeks. Embedded in this stream were pictures of their partner. Those in the experimental group always saw the partner’s face paired with positive stimuli (e.g., an image of a puppy or the word “wonderful”) while those in the control condition saw their partner’s face matched to neutral stimuli (e.g., an image of a button). Couples also completed measures of automatic partner attitudes and explicit marital satisfaction at baseline and once every two weeks for 8 weeks
The study concluded that “spouses who viewed their partners paired with positive stimuli demonstrated more-positive automatic partner attitudes than did control spouses, and these attitudes predicted increased self-reported marital satisfaction over time.”
As McNulty noted that the positive completion of the study:
“I was actually a little surprised that it worked,” McNulty explained. “All the theory I reviewed on evaluative conditioning suggested it should, but existing theories of relationships, and just the idea that something so simple and unrelated to marriage could affect how people feel about their marriage, made me skeptical.”
The Race to Save Animals in Peril
June 20 2017
Laura Schenone, author of The Dogs of Avalon: The Race to Save Animals in Peril, was not always a dog person. Afraid of most animals, she couldn’t understand those who devoted themselves to animal welfare causes, especially in light of the number of people who needed “saving.”
But then proded by her sons and a chance meeting with a dog rescuer, she adopted a Lurcher from Ireland and was inspired to learn more about sighthounds—in particular, Greyhounds and their mixed-breed relatives. In exploring Greyhound rescue, she has written a work that merits high praise and appreciation.
In this country, the phrase “dog rescue” is almost synonymous with Greyhounds, an elegant breed that until about 50 years ago was rarely seen as a pet. Now, it would be hard to find a pet Greyhound who has not been rescued. Many devoted rescue groups focus on rehabilitating and rehoming these dogs and, as importantly, on exerting intense political pressure on the racing industry. As a result, many U.S. tracks have been closed, a development I heartily applaud. According to the author, this movement, “by and large created by and led by women,” has its origins in both the U.S. and England.
I learned many interesting factoids in this book. For example, I live within a stone’s throw of the world’s first Greyhound racetrack, which was constructed in 1919 at Emeryville, Calif., by engineer Owen Patrick Smith. Smith developed the mechanical lure that took the blood out of the coursing bloodsport and made it less horrifying to watch. By 1931, betting on dog races became legal in many states, especially in Florida (one of the six remaining states that still has active racing).
As Schenone writes, “Greyhound racing took a feverish hold in England, Ireland and Australia.” She also notes that Ireland quickly became the European leader in breeding as well as in exporting dogs to tracks in other countries.
The Irish Parliament established the Greyhound Racing Board (Bord na gCon), which, since 1958, has funded all aspects of this industry. It was, after all, a business that provided people with jobs and “entertainment,” regardless of what it did to the dogs. As an unfortunate consequence, the breed was stigmatized as high energy and fierce, making it hard for them to be considered as suitable companion animals. Thus, even within humane communities, their plight was easily overlooked. Until, that is, 1974, when the Retired Greyhound Trust was established in England and became the first formal Greyhound adoption organization in the world, funded in part, it must be noted, by the industry itself.
While adoptions became popular in this country and in England, Ireland was a holdout. Enter Marion Fitzgibbon of Limerick Animal Welfare. For years, Fitzgibbon had worked tirelessly, tending to animal welfare cases, but it wasn’t until 1994, when she was asked by Louise Coleman of the Massachusetts group Greyhound Friends about the welfare of Ireland’s racing Greyhounds that those dogs came into her purview. Friends cautioned Fitzgibbon that “the Greyhound thing is just too big,” but even though she was recovering from cancer surgery, she was game to take on their plight.
In her book, Schenone describes just how severe that plight was. The Irish racing industry was responsible for killing thousands of dogs (in some truly grisly ways) as well as multiplying the dogs’ misery by selling less successful racers to tracks in Spain. But as the press published exposés, increasing numbers of people joined the rescue ranks, volunteering to help the dogs. Fitzgibbon was the lynchpin. As the Schenone notes, “Once Marion got started on the Greyhound cause, it was as though she had a fever inside her brain.” What she and her colleagues were able to do with scant resources is truly remarkable, and makes for a very compelling read.
The book’s title references the sanctuary funded by another admirable woman, Johanna Wothke, former schoolteacher and founder of Germany’s Pro Animale. After reading a report about the Irish racing industry, she offered Fitzgibbon her assistance. Almost singlehandedly, Wothke rallied donors to contribute more than 200,000 euros for the construction of a paradisiacal, cage-free sanctuary on 38 acres in Ireland’s County Galway. Marion named it Avalon and they created a shelter in the truest sense of the word. In bright airy rooms grouped under names such as Patience, Tolerance, Faithfulness, Honesty and Strength, rescued racers are cared for until new homes can be found for them (oftentimes in Germany).
Work continues for Ireland’s animal protectors, who have accomplished a lot in a country where, as the author notes, “the government gives the racing business so much money.” Let’s hope that momentum for the Greyhound cause continues to build. With people like those profiled in this engrossing book still very much part of the effort, and with the publication of this book itself, things just might change. Schenone does a splendid job in providing a history of a movement that has important cultural significance worldwide. The stories of animal welfare leaders who have been able to achieve so much powered by their love for dogs is truly inspirational and definitely worthy of your notice.
See book excerpt and author interview.
June 15 2017
In the spring of 1967, I moved to San Francisco and had a couple of months to become acclimated to the West Coast climate—both social and meteorological— before summer hit. Hard to believe that 50 years have passed, but that summer has stayed in my memory. In retrospect, it was a seminal moment, although the magnitude of this cultural watershed wasn’t apparent at the time. Even so, we knew that something was definitely happening here: be-ins; love-ins; and music by the likes of Janis, Jimi and Jerry and a long playlist of others flowing almost nonstop from clubs and parks. I think of that time now not only to mark its golden anniversary but also because, while so much has changed, some societal and political similarities have persisted over the past half-century. Still, for me, it was a great time and place to be a young adult—to actually be there. The good times really did rock (and roll).
Back to the present … I just read a research paper in Science Daily with the intriguing title, “Lifting your spirits doesn’t require many reps,” which concludes that simply getting out of your chair and moving around can reduce depression and lift your spirits. As I was reading it, my three dogs urged me to do just that, barking their need to see what that darn squirrel was up to in our back yard. Even though I was mildly annoyed with them for breaking my concentration, I knew I had something to thank them for. As a bonus, the paper’s lead author, Gregory Panza, observes that the study’s results suggest that the “more is better” mindset may not apply when it comes to the connection between movement and our sense of well being. So, even short bursts of mild activity, like walking around the block with your dog (or chasing them around the yard, as it was in my case), can improve your mood.
To help you tap into some good vibrations this summer, we chose “Journey” as our issue’s theme, trippin’ in both the metaphorical and the literal sense. To start off, we’ve packed this issue full of reasons for you and your dog to get out and about. We have 51 tips —one for each state and the District of Columbia—for exploring with your dogs, from “California to the New York Island,” as Woody Guthrie famously sang. We also give a special nod to the fine city of Austin for its five-star dog friendliness, as well as to New Mexico’s Sunrise Springs Spa Resort, where guests relax while helping with the socialization of future assistance dogs.
If you’re thinking about wandering overseas, you’ll be inspired by Belgian photographer John Thai’s work at Thailand’s Headrock Dogs Rescue, where he contributed his talents during a working “volunteer vacation.” Similar opportunities to help animals in need abound, many in scenically beautiful locales.
For our literature coverage— what would summer be without lots of good reading material?—we travel with author Laura Schenone as she covers the stories and meets the people who started Greyhound rescue in Ireland and beyond. We interview her and excerpt her book, The Dogs of Avalon, a thoroughly enthralling and inspiring read. We dip into our archives to bring back Michelle Huneven’s essay, “Lala the Loot,” from our anthology Dog Is My Co-Pilot. Her story, about a charming little dog whose cuteness inspires others to snatch her, has a happy ending, so be prepared to smile.
In another entry with a journey theme, Laurie Priest tells us how a kayak vacation to Baja California’s Sea of Cortez netted her a honey of a dog, along with an amazingly complicated return trip with the dog to her home in Massachusetts. Dana Shavin’s essay, “There Is Now Only This,” comes with another twist—how being dogless just doesn’t feel right. As she notes, “My meticulous tending to the ever-expanding needs of my dogs became the point of my life. It was what defined me.” Without that, who are we? Finally, our “Backstory” features a man who traveled into outer space with the support of his pups, whom he considered to be his family.
On the department front, Karen London tells us why bite inhibition matters and how it develops; Carin Ford provides pointers on starting a rescue; and Ernest Abel explains how the R.E.A.D. program, which is now in just about every country, came to be. Heather McKinnon gives us another reason to consider getting a doggy-pack for our dog; Erica Goss reveals how research into human color blindness was helped by a Poodle aptly named Retina; Sarah Wooten, DVM, shares new treatments for arthritis; and we interview the star and writer of “Downward Dog,” a new TV comedy we hope hits it big.
In this issue, you’ll find a new short feature, “Dog-eared.” If you’re like me and read a lot, you have no doubt encountered references to dogs in books that are not about dogs at all, perhaps as a refreshing plot turn or as part of a character’s environment. We’ve started collecting these dog-eared finds, and if you run across any you’d like to share with us, we would love to hear about your discovery (be sure to note the source’s title/author/page number). To kick it off, we found the perfect paragraph in Louise Erdrich’s wonderful LaRose; in a very few words, we come to know both characters better (see page 20 in The Bark Summer 2017).
Finally, as always, we have some unforgettable artwork for you to feast your eyes on.
We hope you take a liking to what we’ve put together, and that your own 2017 summer of love goes well. We look forward to connecting up with you again in fall. You can purchase a copy of The Bark Summer 2017 here or subscribe to get all these wonderful articles.
Dog's Life: Humane
June 12 2017
Laura Schenone’s new book, The Dogs of Avalon, is a quite departure from her two previous works, both of which focused on food. (Her first, A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove, won the James Beard Foundation Book Award for culinary writing.) When she adopted an ex-racing Greyhound-mix from Ireland, all that changed. Bark editor-in-chief Claudia Kawczynska talks with her about the humane activists she profiles.
Bark: Why did you write this book, which is basically about the recent history of the Greyhound rescue movement?
Laura Schenone: When my oldest son was around 10, he really wanted a dog, but I had been putting him off because I didn’t want the trouble. Then I happened to meet a woman who was bringing Greyhounds over from Ireland and finding them homes in the U.S. because, as she explained, no one wanted them there. It seemed very strange to me, and I wasn’t interested.
But she got my attention when she sent me an email about a dog named Lily who needed a home. Lily had been found in terrible condition on the side of the road in Cork and brought to a sanctuary. The email came with photos chronicling her recovery from a bloody mess to the most beautiful dog in the world. I was captivated, and agreed to adopt her.
Later, I had the chance to meet Marion Fitzgibbon, former head of the Irish SPCA and one of the people responsible for Lily’s recovery. Marion told me about her decades rescuing animals and her fight against the Greyhound racing industry. When she said, “Every living being has the right to live and die with dignity,” I was quite taken aback. I’d never considered this. In many ways, the book is my effort to understand whether or not such an idea could possibly be true.
BK: What did you find most surprising about the movement’s Irish leaders?
LS: How brave they are. Marion and the women of Limerick Animal Welfare received calls on an emergency hotline that sent them to dangerous places to investigate reports of abuse. They found themselves in housing projects where there was frequent gunfire, and they went into camps of Irish itinerant people known as Travellers. I was also surprised by how big their concerns were. There is a stereotype of animal-rescue people being interested in helping animals to the exclusion of humans, but this wasn’t the case at all. Marion was clear that animals were her priority because they are at the bottom of society, but she saw people as a responsibility, too, and she demonstrated this in some very surprising ways.
BK: What did you find the most difficult to write about?
LS: The suffering of animals was very difficult for me. I had not been aware. But I really believe that if we look away from abuse, we continue the cycle. I coped by focusing on the compassion of people who were trying to make a difference, and also some of the comic foibles I found along the way.
The other difficult topic was the complexity of rural versus urban culture. I met dogmen who had very traditional values and believed, without reservation, that they were doing nothing wrong by breeding and racing dogs. A lot of these guys had grown up in racing and learned from their fathers, so there were deep emotional connections to the whole business. Many dogmen and women treat their animals well. I wanted to be fair and give them their due as human beings, but still be true to the reporting, which revealed enormous and needless animal suffering.
BK: Avalon sounds like an ideal sanctuary. Can you tell us more about Johanna Wothke and her Pro Animale organization, which helped fund and develop Avalon?
LS: Back in the 1980s, Johanna Wothke was an ordinary schoolteacher and mother of two young children living in a small village in Bavaria. She began taking stray animals into her home, and raised funds for their care by writing a little newsletter that described her work. Over the years, she got such tremendous support that she was able to expand and start sanctuaries all over Europe. Her daughter Natascha now runs Pro Animale with her. Today, they have 30 sanctuaries that give safe haven to abused and abandoned horses, cows, sheep, cats and dogs. These places are in beautiful settings and highly enriched; the level of care is extraordinary. Each sanctuary is a utopian paradise for animals. When Johanna learned about the plight of the Irish Greyhound, she called Marion to ask if she needed help. She is a very unusual person, greatly influenced by her father’s persecution under the Nazis. Marion calls her a miracle worker.
BK: How did Ireland became the leading breeder of Greyhounds and why/how does the government support this industry (including the race tracks)?
LS: Greyhounds have been in Ireland and England since the Celts brought their ancestors thousands of years ago. Because of the agricultural nature of Ireland, with its farms and open spaces, it became the leading Greyhound breeder. In the 1950s, the government got in the business and invested huge amounts of taxpayer money to subsidize it and create jobs. This continues today, even though there have been many reports and exposés about corruption, misguided financial decisions, dog abuse and doping. Somehow, the Irish parliament manages to protect the industry and make it untouchable even when it’s losing money. Most critics say that this is because so many high-ranking politicians own racing Greyhounds themselves and are personally and emotionally involved in the industry.
BK: What changes can you attribute to Marion’s work?
LS: When Marion became involved in the 1990s, she was a lone voice. Now, there are many more advocates, and several Greyhound adoption groups in Ireland now find the dogs homes in Europe. Because of this, the Irish Greyhound Board cannot ignore welfare issues, and has made greater investments in adoption. And that’s great. I do believe that the government will eventually have to give up its addiction to Greyhound racing if for no other reason than it simply does not make financial sense.
BK: It seems that the U.S. is ahead of Ireland in making these improvements in the lives of racing Greyhounds. Is that true?
LS: Yes. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, tens of thousands of dogs who couldn’t run anymore were put down in the United States, England and Ireland each year. People didn’t think that Greyhounds were suitable pets. They were considered high-strung and possibly dangerous. But then some people—largely women—in England and the U.S. began to change that, diverting the dogs from death into family homes. As more Greyhounds showed up on leashes in parks and on streets, people began to understand the dogs better and see them differently. Greyhounds have a natural prey drive, but otherwise, they are docile and sweet creatures and make great pets. This still hasn’t happened in Ireland for many reasons, some of which are related to the fact that Ireland didn’t escape British colonialism until 1922.
BK: What’s your goal for the book—what would you like readers to pay special attention to or help with?
LS: I hope the book will surprise people and make them think in new ways about how much animals contribute to our lives and the planet. I would be happy to know that people are inspired by the Greyhound advocates in my book and take some kind of action to build a more compassionate world. I include the web addresses of the organizations I wrote about so that my readers could learn more if they want to help.
BK: Since finishing this book, do you have any news (ideally, good) to share with us?
LS: More Greyhound tracks have closed down in both the U.S. and England, and even in Ireland, one track has been shut down. Overall, the world is moving toward a dramatically improved understanding of animals. I have complete faith that people like Marion Fitzgibbon will continue to carry us forward.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
May 17 2017
Our good friend, vet nutritionist, Donna Raditic, DVM, and her colleagues over at CANWI (Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute) are devoted to do research into the best ways to provide nutritious, healthy meals to our pets. Their next round of study involves investigating the possible drawbacks to feeding dogs solely with high heat processed, commercial foods. All the various aspects that are involved in manufacturing pet food are important: such as, ingredients, recipes, sourcing, the manufacturing plant and equipment, even the lining of food bags and cans, but CANWI now is going to be looking at the actual chemical reactions that take place when food is processed at high temperatures (which is the case in most commercial diets).
As Dr. Donna told us, “It is known that heat treatment of foods can cause a reaction between the proteins and sugars called the Maillard reaction which results in the formation of what is termed dietary Advanced Glycation End- Products or AGEs.” She further explains that:
Other “Studies have shown that elevated levels of AGEs in tissues are associated with age-related diseases in humans, rats, and dogs including diabetes, cataracts, osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis, renal disease, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers.”
So they are undertaking an independent study, not funded by the pet food industry (that is usually where food studies are performed). Their study will compare the levels of AGEs in processed and fresh food pet diets and evaluate the influence of feeding differing intakes of dietary AGEs. Preliminary data suggests some pet foods may contain over 122 time the AGEs found in processed human foods! Now imagine this is at every meal, on every day for the life of our dogs. It is so easy and convenient, and true that most of our dogs eat processed pet diets for their entire life.
The study will involve a team of veterinary nutritionists, food scientists and one of the most prestigious Veterinary Colleges in the country. And as Joe Bartges, DVM of the University of Georgia notes, “The study will also serve as the foundation for more research to help us identify and improve pet nutrition. It is an exciting and novel approach to the role of nutrition in the health of dogs and cats.”
We too are excited that this kind of study is being investigated from outside the pet food industry and by a team of dedicated (dog-loving) researchers. To get their study underway, they are reaching out to animal lovers during the week of 5/21 to 5/28 for a fundraiser drive seeking contributions (no amount is too small), so they can undertake the next phase of this critical research.
You can do to www.companionanimalnutritionandwellnessinstitute.org for more information and to donate, or check CANWI on Facebook too.
[What We Are Reading]
May 16 2017
There was a very interesting piece in a recent Washington Post advice column by Carolyn Hax. With a headline of “My girlfriend is crazy (maybe literally?) about her dog”, you can probably guess where this one is headed. A 32-year-old guy writes about the girlfriend he loves and hopes to marry but is complaining about the attention she is paying to her beloved 10-year-old dog who has an incurable kidney disease. But instead of having her dog put down, she is, as he writes:
“… spending insane amounts of money every month on “supportive care” (specialty vets – yes there is such a thing, meds, supplies, etc.) and plans to keep him alive as long as his “quality of life” is good.” She is even “she has to give him fluids under the skin every day, cook him special food and so on.”
And according to him, he thinks her level of care is misapplied, because, as he believes, he can’t help “but think of all of the worthwhile things she could be doing with that money rather than throwing it away on her dog, who as I said, is going to die anyway.”
And he then asks the advice columnist if girlfriend Amy has her priorities “screwed up” or if he is being insensitive.
Carolyn’s response was spot-on, leading off with “You’re going to die anyway. Should anyone cook you special food? Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”
She then explains that the same argument for putting this level of care into a dog can also apply to discussions surrounding human health care. Why have palliative treatments or hospice care, if in fact someone is about to die? These are ethical questions that can apply to both species. She then explains that the compassionate relationship many people have with their dogs is based on the responsibility to provide care for them, in all phases of their lives. Some people, like Amy, take that responsibility and commitment very seriously.
And she explains that Amy “has her priorities, you have yours. A crucial area of compatibility is in respect for each other’s priorities where they differ. If you can’t, then you and Amy can’t.”
She wisely continues in analyzing his rather binary position—he had suggested that perhaps Amy was loving the dog more than she loves him:
“Instead of looking at it as a place to be right or wrong, try looking at the possibilities for acceptance. Is there room in your relationship for both of you to be right in your own ways?"
Love certainly is not a zero-sum game, in fact, many experts believe that opening your heart to loving animals can make us more accepting to loving and being loved by others. We don’t have a limited supply of “love” and expressing compassion and care just expands our ability to love and to be empathic. I do hope that Amy’s boyfriend took this wonderful advice to heart.
What advice would you have added? Have you experienced something similar yourself where a friend, lover or family member thought you were too over-the-moon for your dog?
April 11 2017
For the past couple of decades researchers have been looking at the role that pets, especially dogs, have to play in rates of allergies in children. Many have found that, what is being termed the hygiene hypothesis, is indeed correct, meaning that a little dirt early in life helps to stave allergic diseases, including obesity.
A new study by Anita Kozyrskyj a pediatric epidemiologist of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, found further evidence of this dog-human linkage and how this lessens the development of everything from obesity to asthma.
Starting in 2013 she wondered if she could pinpoint what and how this might be happening. Her team collected fecal samples from 4-month-old infants in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) pilot study. Of the 24 respondent infants, 15 lived in house with at least a dog or cat.
What they found was that within the households with pets, the children had a higher diversity of microbes in their guts. Microbes, as we now know, can be a good thing for our gut microbiome and immune systems actually develop alongside our gut’s “germs.” Meaning that if babies grow in a more “sterile” pet-free environment, they would be more unprepared to “fight” germs as they grow up.
Kozyrskyj noted, "The abundance of these two bacteria (Firmicutes microbes) were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house," and added that the pet exposure was shown to affect the gut microbiome indirectly—from dog to mother to unborn baby—during pregnancy as well as during the first three months of the baby's life.
Also interestingly, this study suggested that the presence of pets in the house reduced the likelihood of the transmission of vaginal GBS (group B Strep) during birth, which causes pneumonia in newborns and is prevented by giving mothers antibiotics during delivery.
Kozyrskyj’s study confirms and expands on the work that many other researchers have shown that some “dirt” can be beneficial and help to ward off disease. Including one, conducted at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland in 2012, that concentrated on infants during their first year, and investigated the effect of contact with dogs on the “frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections.” Information about the length of time a dog spent indoors was also gathered, and turned out to be one of the key indicators.
The results were eye-opening. Children with dogs at home were healthier overall, had fewer infectious respiratory problems, fewer ear infections and were less likely to require antibiotics. Researchers considered these results supportive of the theory that children who live with dogs during their early years have better resistance throughout childhood. They also found that the effect was greater if the dog spent fewer than six hours inside, possibly because the longer dogs are outdoors, the more dirt they bring inside with them. The more dirt, the more “bacterial diversity.” This diversity is thought to have a protective influence by helping the child’s immune system to mature — that is, respond more effectively to infectious agents.
Then a 2013 study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, found that living with dogs may prevent children from developing asthma. Mice fed a solution containing dust from homes with dogs developed a resistance to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a childhood airway infectious agent. RSV, which is common in infants, is linked to a higher risk of childhood asthma. According to Dr. Susan Lynch of the study team, “Exposing the gastrointestinal tract to pet dust and other microbes early in life prepares it to respond appropriately to a variety of invaders. But since our modern lifestyles involve living in immaculate houses, our immune systems often overreact instead.” Early childhood is a critical period for developing protection against allergies and asthma, and exposure to pets can help.
The idea that our microorganisms may to some extent be collectively beneficial is intriguing. People and dogs have been exchanging microbes for at least 30,000 years, since the first little cave girl kissed the first proto-dog puppy smack on the muzzle. That’s a long history of sharing. It’s possible that our microorganisms are at least symbiotic, and perhaps even played a role in the dramatic domestication of the dog.
As was reported in Nature: Researchers suspect that our long association with canines means that human and dog microbiomes may have developed in tandem. The microbiome of a baby growing up without a dog (and of a puppy growing up without a human) is, in a sense, incomplete. “All of the people alive today probably had ancestors who lived in tribes that hunted with dogs,” says Jack Gilbert, director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago in Illinois.”
Since 2013, Canadian researcher, Kozyrskyj has expanded her pilot study from 24 to 746 infants, around half of whom were living in households with pets. Her team then compared the babies' microbial communities.
The results were basically the same, microbial life flourished in the infants living with pets. And not only that but the “team was now able to show that babies from families with pets (70% of which were dogs) had higher levels of two types of Firmicutes microbes — Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, which have been associated with a lower risk of allergic disease and leanness, respectively.
“Pet exposure can reduce allergic disease and obesity” later in life, added Hein Min Tun, a veterinarian and microbial epidemiologist and a member of Kozyrskyj’s research team.
And while it might be too soon to predict how this finding will play out in the future, they don’t rule out the concept of a “dog in a pill” as a preventive tool for allergies and obesity. Or, as we much rather see, “dog as the pill.”
April 3 2017
Seems like our two species, human and canine, have gotten really good at reading each other’s faces. Which shouldn’t be a surprise— after all, we’ve spent a long time together, anywhere from 15,000 to more than 100,000 years, so we have a lot of practice in mastering this important social indicator.
Researchers have looked at how dogs distinguish between our positive and negative expressions, and a recent study also investigated how well we’re able to get a read from dog faces. In the current human-looking-at-dog investigation, participants (some dog people, some not) were asked to evaluate dogs’ emotional states based on their facial expressions. Options ranged from sadness, fear, disgust and anger/aggression to happiness and surprise; participants were also asked to rate the degree to which these emotions were expressed. Results showed that humans, even those who were the least empathic, were pretty good at this (the more empathic observers got the highest grades). We seem to be naturals at it. As Charles Darwin observed, our facial expressions are similar to those of dogs, so if we can understand human frowns and smiles, we can similarly deduce how our closest nonhuman companions are feeling.
In an earlier study,* researchers wanted to see how dogs perceived both human and canine emotional states. Photos were paired with auditory cues: dog faces/dog vocalizations, unfamiliar human faces/audio in Portuguese (to prevent dogs from recognizing specific words). In this test, dogs scored 67 percent, meaning that they looked longer at facial expressions that matched the audio cues. The researchers concluded that dogs can discriminate “between positive and negative emotions from both humans and dogs,” and therefore demonstrated that these adaptive benefits enabled them “to evaluate the social intentions motivation of others.” An intriguing first take on another example of interspecies communication and further evidence of our very long term relationship with dogs.
Lots of us talk to our dogs as we do to children, pitching our voices higher and speaking more slowly. Some only speak this way to puppies, others do it with adult dogs as well. But do tone and cadence make a difference to a dog? A group of researchers asked this question, and the results of their study showed that puppies do indeed respond better to the higher pitched, “Who’s my baby” approach by becoming more attentive and responsive. Adult dogs didn’t seem to have a preference. (I know, though, that my dogs just like to hear me talk to them, no matter how I do it.)
This brings up another recent study, in which researchers in the UK explored the effects a variety of sounds had on canine behavior in a shelter. As a control, they used regular kennel sounds, to which they compared the effects of classical, pop, psychoacoustically designed canine music and an audiobook. Not surprisingly, they found that pop music provoked the highest rate of barking. But it wasn’t classical or specially designed canine music that calmed dogs down the most. First place went to the audiobook—dogs spent more time resting and less time displaying vigilant behaviors, such as repetitive pacing. The researchers concluded that their findings show a strong potential for auditory enrichment that can improve the welfare of shelter dogs.
*Albuquerque, Natalia, et al. Dogs recognize dog and human emotions. Biology Letters 12:1. DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0883
Dog's Life: Humane
March 27 2017
Bark has long admired Amy Sutherland’s commitment to animals, as well as her smart and engaging writing style. In her new book, Rescuing Penny Jane, both are on display as she tackles the issue of homeless—or, as she says, human-less—dogs, and gives readers an insider’s view of the many challenges shelters face and how they respond to them. Bark editor Claudia Kawczynska recently caught up with Sutherland for a quick one-on-one.
Bark: What advice would you give people who want to volunteer at a shelter or foster a dog?
Amy Sutherland: I have found volunteering and fostering each to be enormously rewarding, but I’ve also found that you need to have (or develop) a thick skin. As a foster, it can be wrenching to send a dog to another home, even though that was your goal. And as a volunteer, some of the dogs’ stories or conditions can be heartbreaking. If you volunteer in a shelter that euthanizes dogs for medical, behavioral or other reasons, you will also have to contend with that. The dogs—helping them—keep me going.
I’d also suggest exploring various shelters and rescues, private nonprofits and municipals in your area to find one that makes the most sense for you. Some might be more flexible about how often you need to volunteer, for example. Keep in mind that municipal shelters often are the most in need of volunteers.
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