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News: JoAnna Lou
Promoting Happiness
Animal Farm Foundation creates innovative fliers to encourage adoption

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I find myself ignoring the “dog for adoption” photos that my friends post on Facebook or the fliers that get posted at the pet store. There are just so many of them and sometimes it feels overwhelming how endless the overpopulation problem is. Obviously this kind of promotion works. I found my puppy, Scuttle, when a friend posted her photo online and I'm so thankful for that!

But I recently saw this really cool idea that aims to encourage a happy feeling when talking about shelter pets. The Animal Farm Foundation started creating fliers that promote two key messages to their community: choose adoption and when you do, choose our organization. Instead of spending energy creating individual dog fliers, they chose to show how much fun people have when they adopt a dog from AFF and become a part of their family. AFF considers their adopters their best marketing resource.

I love AFF's fliers because it really gives you a happy feeling to see all the photos of dogs in their new homes. I think it also challenges shelters and rescue groups to think of innovative ways to promote the positive side of adoption.

News: Letters
Service-Dog Dilemma

I am a disabled woman who requires a certified service dog to assist me. I find that if I take my dog where other dogs are, some owners think that a service-dog vest ensures that my dog won’t bite theirs, and they allow their dogs to maul mine, climb all over her and essentially have no boundaries. This prevents her from working and quite frankly, scares her. When I have asked nicely for the dogs to be removed, I often get “bitten” by the owners, who make sure everyone in the vicinity knows what a problem I am. Who does one call in any matter concerning service dogs who are not allowed to perform their jobs? Who protects the legally trained, certified, registered service dogs and/or their owners? Perhaps your readers would like to comment, or have solutions.

News: JoAnna Lou
Bully Stick Danger
Study finds bacteria and a hefty calorie count in the popular treat

There are a lot of pet treats out on the market and it seems like every week a new brand is getting recalled. I don’t even touch any chicken jerky manufactured in China due to the widespread contamination problems.

More recently I’ve been choosing deer antlers and bully sticks, thinking that they’re safer since they’re all natural. But according to a study published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, there are two potential problems with bully sticks (also called pizzle sticks).

The first concern is an excessive amount of calories. The scientists calculated nine to 22 calories per inch, meaning that a 6-inch bully stick could represent nine percent of the daily recommended calorie count for a 50-pound dog or a whopping 30 percent of the requirements for a smaller 10-pound dog. This I’m less worried about as I usually adjust my pets’ dinner if they get a large treat during the day.

The second finding is much more serious. In testing 26 bully sticks, the researchers found one contaminated with Clostridium difficile, one with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and seven with E. coli. The scientists admitted that the sample size was small, but recommended that people should at least wash their hands after touching bully sticks.

I hope that they repeat the study on a larger scale, differentiating by finishing process. Some bully stick companies sun-bake their product, while others irradiate or bake the sticks indoors. I’m sure that these differences can affect bacteria levels.

It would also be good if they gave recommendations on how to get rid of the bacteria. I know that some people bake bully sticks in the oven before giving them to their pets, but it’s not a proven method.

I think that this study goes to show how careful we have to be in researching our pets’ food. I already know a lot about picking a good kibble, but this study has inspired me to do a better job at finding out the origin and manufacturing process for the treats I feed my crew. And it underscores the many benefits of making your own treats at home!

News: Guest Posts
Behavioral Differences Between Dogs and Wolves

Dogs and wolves share a similar genetic profile. So why are their behaviors so different?

The reasons aren’t clearly understood. In a recent paper in the journal Ethology , evolutionary biologist Kathryn Lord's doctoral research (University of Massachusetts, Amherst) suggests differences in later behaviors might be related to the pups' earliest sensory experiences during the critical period of socialization, the brief period when a puppy's exposure to novel things results in long-term familiarity.

Lord's research demonstrated that dog and wolf pups acquire their senses at the same time:

·     Hearing:  Onset 19 days, reliable by 28 days

·     Seeing: Onset 26 days, reliable by 42 days

·     Smelling: Reliable by 14 days (onset likely earlier)

What's different?

·     Dog pups wait until 28 days to explore their environment when all senses are operational.

·     Wolf pups begin exploring the world at 14 days, relying solely on scent, when they are still blind and deaf.

Although wolves are tolerant of humans and things they were introduced to during the critical period, they don't generalize that familiarity to other people or novel things when they mature. Dogs on the other hand, can generalize, and if properly socialized are not spooked by novel sounds and sights.

Why do mature dogs and wolves behave so differently?  Lord's conclusion is that at the gene level, the difference may be when the gene is switched on, not the gene itself.

What could that mean? Research has shown that the brain is capable or rewiring itself in dramatic ways. Early loss of a sense affects brain development. For instance, even though the developing auditory cortex of a profoundly deaf infant is not exposed to sound stimuli, it doesn't atrophy due to lack of use. Rather it adapts and takes on processing tasks of other senses including sight and touch. Perhaps wolves see the world in smell, and dogs see it a lot more like we do.

Click here to read the paper, A Comparison of the Sensory Development of Wolves (Canis lupus lupus) and Dogs (Canis lupus familiaris), by Kathryn Lord, Ethology, February, 2013.

 

 

News: Shirley Zindler
Animal Control Officers
A Dangerous Job

As animal control officers, we put our lives on the line every day trying to make a difference. We go in with other law enforcement to dangerous situations, drug busts, domestic violence, murders and other crimes. We deal with aggressive animals and unstable people.  Often we are called in because someone has lost everything, their money, their home, their pride. When we arrive to take their animals it can be the last straw.

The recent shooting death of a fellow animal control officer in the Sacramento area is a grim reminder of the dangers we face every day. Officer Roy Marcum was called to a home where the owner had been evicted the previous day and left some pets behind. I've lost count of how many similar calls I have responded to. As Officer Marcum approached the home, he was shot and killed by the former resident.  Officer Marcum was described as a devoted animal lover and was there to help. What a loss for his family and the community.

I've been bitten, kicked, scratched and run over in my years in animal control, but the human encounters have been by far the scariest. I have been threatened, had the wall punched next to me and gone into homes with armed suspects, all to try and make life better for dogs and other animals. I wear a bullet proof vest and carry an asp, pepper spray, a shotgun and a rifle. I hope they will keep me safe.
My love of dogs and other animals keeps me coming back in spite of the risks. It's such a thrill to make a difference. A fun rescue or finding a beloved lost dog can keep me smiling for weeks. Removing a dog from a bad situation and finding a better home for it feels like such an accomplishment. For the most part, the good, responsible people are glad to see us and abusers and law breakers aren't. That tells me I'm doing my job but those who would abuse an animal, may also harm a person.  It's critical to stay alert and aware on the job, and sometimes that's not enough.  
My thoughts got out to Officer Marcums family and friends.
 

News: Shea Cox
ASPCA Poison Control Center
Emergency help only a phone call away

ASPCA Poison Control Center, 888-426-4435: 10 digits every dog owner should know!

A number of calls we receive in the ER are inquires about whether or not a substance is toxic to their pets. These inquires can include questions about specific pet or people medications, vitamins and supplements, both common and unusual household items, as well as various food stuffs.

With literally thousands of medications and oddities that our pets can get into, it becomes nearly impossible to know what is toxic, at what dose toxicity becomes a concern, and the treatment for each of these substances. Because of this, when we receive a call, we frequently refer pet parents to the Animal Poison Control Center for further information regarding the “dietary indiscretion.” This amazing service provided by the ASPCA is truly invaluable when there are questions or concerns about the potential for toxicity of any given substance. The center is staffed 24/7 by veterinary toxicologists who have at their disposal an expansive data base that includes every imaginable substance ever to have been known to meet a dogs mouth.

There is a nominal fee of $65 for this service, but a call might actually save you a trip to the ER or to your veterinarian, as well as give priceless peace of mind. When you call from home, you will actually be able to find out whether or not your pet needs medical attention, if you can induce vomiting at home (this becomes especially important for those people who live far away from veterinary care), or if you can potentially give some other home treatment. At the completion of the call, owners are given a case number that can be referenced again later should your pets condition change or clinical signs develop. If your pet does happen to need medical attention, once you arrive at the hospital for treatment, your veterinarian can call the center, also referencing this number, and can continue your pets care based on the toxicologist's recommendations.

This is truly priceless information, especially considering all the misinformation you can come across during a consult with Dr. Google. In fact, I have had to treat pets whose condition actually worsened because of an inappropriate treatment given at home. A situation that comes to mind was a good-intentioned owner who induced vomiting at home, based on what she read, after her dog ate Tide laundry detergent. Detergents can be very caustic (making vomiting a big no-no) and her dog subsequently suffered from erosive ulcers along the entire length of its esophagus as a result. Her pup required the placement of a feeding tube to bypass the esophagus, allowing it to heal. 

I would also like to add that part of our responsibility as veterinarians is to call back the toxicologist and report the response to treatment. This follow-up information continues to help others in the future as each toxic exposure, treatment and response to treatment gets added and stored in the ever-growing data base.

I cannot say enough good things about this invaluable pet resource. Every pet owner should have the ASPCA Poison Control number (888-426-4435) on their speed dial or refrigerator—this number may save your pets life as well as help other pets in the process.

 

News: JoAnna Lou
High Tech Treat Machine
Feeding cookies remotely via e-mail.

When John created the NYC CNC Machining and Prototype Shop back in 2007, he started a video blog documenting the successes and failures he learned while mastering the art of machining. His latest project is a fun combination of many aspects of his work—CAD, machining, fabrication, powder coating, Raspberry Pi, electrical engineering, and programming—and his love of dogs. John used all of those skills to create an interactive automatic treat dispenser!

E-mailing juddwouldlikeatreat@gmail.com activates a treat dispenser which gives John's 2-year old Vizsla, Judd, a cookie. The program also takes a photo of Judd and sends a thank you e-mail in return. John's project became so popular that Google temporarily disabled Judd's original e-mail address due to high volume. Fortunately John runs with Judd anywhere from five to 30 miles a week, which should help to offset the frequent treats. The machine is also turned off at night and at other times of the day when John and Judd are busy.

If you'd like to create your own high tech treat dispenser, John made his venture an open sourced project, meaning that the Python code and CAD model are available for free on his web site. Very cool!

News: Karen B. London
Dog Fighting Museum Exhibit
“The Voiceless Victims”

A temporary exhibit at the Crime Museum in Washington D.C. allows guests to see some of the equipment used by the illegal dog-fighting industry. Among the items in "The Voiceless Victims" exhibit are tools for conditioning dogs, for forcing breedings, and for antagonizing dogs through pain. There are also sticks used to force dogs to release other dogs, and an electrocution device used to kill dogs. It’s not a pretty topic, but it’s educational to see the true horror that is dog fighting.

Though dog fighting is illegal throughout the United States, it is happening all too often in far too many communities. Besides showing the tools of dog fighters, this exhibit also includes items that forensic scientists use to assess the suffering and deaths of dogs who are the victims of dog fighting.

The exhibit includes evidence that was taken from the Michael Vick dog fighting kennel as well as from a case in 2009 that was the largest dog fighting raid in our country’s history. The exhibit has been assembled by the ASPCA, and will be up through September 2013.

News: JoAnna Lou
Revisiting Fake Service Dogs
A growing problem which has no easy solution.

A few years ago I wrote about people passing off their pets as service dogs so they could ride in the cabin together (thus avoiding the hazards of cargo and extra fees).  Although the practice is  unethical, and makes travel harder for people with legitimate service dogs, the problem seems to only be growing.

Heated discussions crop up every time there's a national dog competition.  The latest discussion around the American Kennel Club’s Invitational event led some to call for organizations, such as the AKC and the United States Dog Agility Association, to get involved.  There's also a lot of false information floating around (like that it's a felony to pass off a pet as a service dog or that a limited number of service dogs are allowed on any given plane--both untrue).  Bottom line, it's a sensitive subject and the more I research the topic, the more I realize how complicated it is to regulate such behavior.

The biggest challenge is maintaining the privacy of those with legitimate service dogs.  The law is intentionally open ended to allow for a large and growing number of disabilities.  Most people with service dogs oppose any sort of registry because it's hard to figure out a fair and equitable way to determine criteria for eligibility.  

Tightening laws and giving businesses more leeway for questioning people causes unfair scrutiny for those with legitimate service dogs.

I think it has to come down to people having a little more respect for true service dogs and compassion for those who have no choice but to rely on these animals.

I'm also very disappointed by dog show/sport people who falsely pass of their pups as service animals.  It looks really bad when planes headed towards a big show are filled with an unusual number of “service dogs.”  I always think of dog show/sport people as being exemplars of responsible pet care and this kind of behavior casts a negative light on all exhibitors.

I understand that many people do it because it's safer for the dog to travel in the cabin, but it’s important to remember that getting to a national competition is not a necessity.  

And finally, the root cause is a lack of safe and affordable air travel options for medium to large dog breeds.  But until airlines cater to that need (which I doubt will be any time soon, if ever!), people have to consider the impact their actions have on others.

What do you think the ideal solution is to the faux service dog problem?

News: Guest Posts
Latest Genetic Research about Dogs' Diet

“Where goeth the food, so goeth the dog.”  (old proverb)

The earliest archeological evidence dates dogs to about 14,000 years ago. Remains of small dogs in Israel go back 12,000 years. When people settled down in agricultural communities, they began to tinker with the natural environment, bringing about modification, intentionally or accidentally, in plants and animals. Of course dogs joined the party. They always do.

Not everyone agrees about why, where, when or how dogs evolved. But we all believe this:  Whether dog domestication was accidental or intentional, abrupt of slow, happened 10,000 years ago or 80,000, domestic dogs descended from wolves and evolved with people. Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that we ask the same questions about dogs that we do of ourselves: How are we unique? Where do we come from? And when did we get here?  

On Wednesday, January 23, canine geneticists announced they have identified key mutations in three genetic regions that allowed the wolf, a traditional carnivore to thrive on a carbohydrate diet. This adaptation was surely useful for opportunistic animals that were scavenging waste near ancient farming communities.

How they did it

Geneticists Erik Axelsson and his team at Sweden’s Uppsala University looked at DNA from gray wolves and domestic dogs, searching for small differences that might have shown up early in evolution as wolves transitioned to dogs. They zeroed in on specific mutations that dogs have and wolves don’t. In all, researchers found 36 genomic regions that reveal differences. Nineteen of those have to do with brain function, eight are related to the nervous system, and the rest are linked to starch digestion and fat metabolism, three of which carry instructions for making a protein that’s necessary for the digestion of starch. One is an enzyme that turns starch into sugar maltose. Another is an enzyme that turns maltose into glucose.  And the third makes a protein that moves glucose from the gut into the bloodstream.  

What does it mean?

If you think it answers the question as to why, where, and when dogs were domesticated, you’d be misinformed. It’s really more interesting than that.

1. Dogs eat more starch than wolves. The mutation explains why. Keep in mind that just because you have a mutation that lets you digest grain, it doesn’t mean, when given the opportunity, you wouldn’t rather have pork chops than cheerios. Just ask my dog, or my spouse for that matter. Wolves, dogs or proto-dogs (depending on your position) could have had the mutation long before humans planted grains. The study doesn’t suggest a time line.

2. Because all the breeds in the study have the mutation, the mutation occurred before these breeds radiated out from their direct ancestor. However, don’t assume that our modern breeds are representative of any dogs older than 500 years. There is a ginormous gap, at least 8 thousand years, between the ancient agrarian gang of dumpster diver dogs and the not-so-old proto dog that begat our modern breeds. Scientists don’t know if the missing link dog is extinct, and if she isn’t, they don’t know what living dogs would represent her. There’s plenty more work to be done.

3. The birth of agriculture impacted canids. But it did the same to humans, birds, insects, pigs, cows, and goats to name a few.

4. The study is a vindication for all the veterinarians who are treating dogs with kidney ailments as a consequence of the strange trend toward very expensive low-carb, raw meat diets. There’s a reason dog food is only 20- 30 % protein and 40 to 50% carbohydrates.  

What others are saying

“Dogs are not just ‘tame wolves’ but have clearly adapted in a host of different ways to a very novel niche over a relatively short evolutionary timescale," said Adam Boyko, an expert on canine genetics and assistant professor of biomedical science at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Village Dog Diversity Project. “I think a lot of focus on dog domestication in the past centered on behavior and tameness. Clearly, they were important for domestication, but this paper also demonstrates genetic changes involved in diet adaptation.”

“The bigger question about the paper, said behavioral ecologist Ray Coppinger, is whether it sheds any light on the evolution of the dog -- whether they were domesticated "purposefully" by humans, or were they a result of humans creating a new niche which several species (including some Canis species) moved in and adapted to.” He added, “The researchers have done a great job showing that dogs and wolves genetically differ in their potential ability to digest starch. But it’s a fallacy to assume that the genes of the modern dogs included in the study are descended from original dogs. Thus the paper, sheds little light on the original dog, and does nothing to answer the question of artificial verses natural selection as the prime cause.”

What’s important about the study is not that it indicates when or where dogs originated. Rather, it’s a new tool that will help us understand how dogs and wolves are different. The research is groundbreaking, but it represents analysis of only 10 of the 36 genomic regions that the team identified. That means more exciting news is just around the corner.

Scholarly study takes on issues that are controversial. The dog origin debate continues to be particularly provocative.  As for me, I just want to know who to thank.

Also:

Mark Derr, author of When the Dog Became the Dog has a very interesting post on this subject as well.

The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet, Journal Nature, published on-line, January 23, 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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