Dog's Life: Lifestyle
DNA matching becomes a bustling business
Motivating people to pick up after their dogs is a frustrating problem that never seems to go away. Judging from the poop I often see right next to garbage cans—and even next to poop bag stations!--some people have a stubborn aversion to the less glamorous side of being a responsible pet owner.
There have been creative approaches, such as the Spanish town that used volunteers to monitor parks and mail poop left behind to the corresponding offenders house. While a clever campaign, it relied on dedicated volunteers and the fact that almost all dogs were in the town's license database.
Residential complexes have long struggled with the poop scooping problem, which often causes a rift between dog loving and non-dog loving residents. Many condos are turning to DNA testing as a definitive way to crack down on offenders.
When a Baltimore condo started DNA testing three years ago, it seemed like a fancy gimmick. But now more residential complexes are getting on board, while companies like PooPrints are thriving.
PooPrints was started by a veterinary laboratory in 2010 when one of their scientists came in annoyed that they had stepped in dog poop. Their business has grown rapidly since.
One of their new clients, a complex near me in Riverdale, New Jersey, has required all residents to bring in their pets for a DNA mouth swab by November 1. Going forward, all abandoned poop will be tested for a DNA match and offenders will incur a $250 fine for the first offense, rising to $500 and $1,000 for subsequent offenses.
DNA testing has been very successful in past applications. In Braintree, Mass. the Devon Wood condo complex instituted testing this summer and has already seen a 90 percent reduction in the number of messes left behind.
Some may think that DNA testing is an invasion of privacy, but it seems to be the most efficient and effective way to get people to pick up after their pets. The reality is that residential complexes, as well as public spaces such as parks, will start to ban dogs if people don't start being responsible about their pets' messes.
Pet friendly businesses have increased tremendously in the past few years. It will be a shame if we let poop reverse that trend!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Struggles of a new dog
Among the themes I hear from clients repeatedly is that their new dog just isn’t like their old dog. Maybe this dog is just lukewarm on retrieving but their previous dog would happily fetch at any time. Perhaps the new puppy still isn’t housetrained, but their old dog was perfect at it by the age of three months. It could be that the new dog just isn’t that willing to cuddle on the couch for hours, but the other dog did, and it was so nice. Whatever the specifics are, the commonality is that the new dog is facing expectations based on a dog the family had before, and it’s all but impossible to measure up.
I’m a younger sister myself, and I well remember the expectations of teachers that I would be just like my older sister who was an extraordinary student and never got into any trouble at all. It was a lot of pressure. It makes me very empathetic to dogs who are dealing with excessive expectations because of another, older dog. In fact, I often say to clients who are making such comparisons that I myself know what it’s like to have a perfect older sibling, and I urge them to find what they love about their new dog and focus on that.
It’s natural to compare a new dog with a previous dog, but exercising caution is wise. Thinking, “Wow! This dog is more energetic than our other dog,” can have great value if it makes you realize that you really need to find a way to give more exercise to the new dog, who is clearly an extra peppy individual. On the other hand, if the previous dog was 14 years old and arthritic, it’s important to remember that your new dog is an adolescent who obviously isn’t going to be anything like a geriatric dog, and thank goodness for that.
While comparisons are inevitable, it’s so important to remind yourself to treat each dog as an individual, without assuming that there will be similarities with your previous dog. That’s true even if they are the same breed or happen to look just alike right down to the black eye patch or you trained them the same way. Not only is this fair to your new dog, but it may help you recognize what is really special about the dog who may be the new love of your life. The new dog may be great at learning tricks, or may not be interested in chewing on your only ridiculously expensive pair of shoes. The new dog may be easier to hike with than your previous dog or may sleep through thunderstorms at night. If you pay attention, it’s likely that you’ll notice traits that compare favorably with all the dogs who you’ve had before.
Have you ever struggled with a new dog because you couldn’t help but make comparisons with the “perfect” dog you used to have?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
What pet would you choose?
Perhaps it’s too horrible for many of us to contemplate, but if you couldn’t have a dog for some reason, what pet would you choose instead? There’s no replacing dogs, but other pets do offer some of the same benefits. Whether it’s companionship, exercise, training fun, participating in activities together, the peacefulness that comes from being with animals, or the satisfaction of caring for others, dogs offer so much to our quality of life.
There’s a reason they’re called our best friends—dogs seem to do more for us than so many other pets, but it would be dishonest to suggest that they are the only ones that can provide any of these benefits to us. Rabbits, cats, birds, rats, ferrets, fish, hamsters, snakes and horses all provide some of the same benefits to various degrees. They are all common pets for people who have dogs and for those who don’t.
There are many reasons that people who have always had dogs may decide not to acquire another. It may be too difficult to provide them with enough activity in the face of aging or a health problem. A housing situation such as those designed for the elderly may not allow dogs. A new job with an extensive travel schedule may raise concerns about properly caring for a dog. Allergies in yourself or in a family member may make a dog problematic. A new relationship in which no dogs becomes a key compromise may mean not having a dog. (I realize many readers have expressed their disinterest in developing a relationship in which dogs were a point of contention, but this is an issue for many people and there’s no right answer.)
I know it’s the stuff of nightmares—not being able to have a dog—but if you couldn’t have a dog, what pet would you choose instead?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Study looks at canine and robotic behavior
Several studies have shown that dogs can understand human gestures better than other primates, thought to be the result of evolving alongside people for so long. But what if it were a robot doing the pointing?
Researchers at the Hungarian Academy of Science and Eötvös Loránd University set out to see how dogs would react to robots that exhibited social behavior, but didn't look like a human.
The dogs were divided into two groups to individually observe a set of interactions. One was between two humans (a researcher and a member of their family) and the second was between their human family member and a robot. One group used a robot exhibiting social behavior (such as talking) and the other used an asocial robot.
These interactions were followed by a food session in which either their person or the robot pointed out the location of a hidden snack.
Not surprisingly, it was difficult for the dogs to find the food when the robot pointed it out. But interestingly, the dogs were were better at understanding the gesture if the social robot pointed it out, as opposed to the asocial robot. Researchers believe that seeing people interact with the robots influenced how the dogs saw the electronic creature.
This reminds me of research done last year on social referencing and canines. That study found that dogs will mirror the behavior of their handlers, particularly when it comes to something they're not sure about. In this case, the robots would be the strange, novel experience.
As more canine cognition research is completed, it's very cool to see how the findings tie together. Studies like this make me really think about how the things I do (consciously and unconsciously) affect my dogs' behavior!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
App developers create a game to raise money for animal shelters
Mobile app games are addicting, but what if you could help homeless pets while feeding your guilty pleasure? Two brothers are hoping to do just that with their company Bugbyte.
The mobile app company was started in 2012 by Allan and Aksel Junkkila, two Finnish brothers with a passion for gaming and a love of animals. Last year they released their first game, Daredogs, which donates 10-20 percent of the profits to pet rescue organizations all over the world.
Allan and Aksel are now setting out to create Ace Tales, a more sophisticated game that lets people play towards charity challenges that will ultimately lead to donations. The main objective is to collect dog biscuits, which are found floating around in the game and earned after missions are accomplished. The biscuits can then be donated to a pool that is connected to fulfilling charity challenges collectively with other players.
Ace Tales will be available as a free app for Apple and Android phones. The donations will be funded by in-app purchases and advertisements, so you can help animals by simply playing the game.
To create Ace Tales, Allan and Aksel are using the crowd sourcing web site indiegogo to raise the money needed to bring the more complex game to the market. Perks for donations include an interactive toy by Nina Ottosson (one of the project's partners) and having your name (or dog's name) appear on one of the game's ships or planes.
Obviously it would be nice if Ace Tale's donation were higher than 10-20 percent, but this is a great way to combine the fun of mobile games with helping a good cause. And if this app is successful, 10-20 percent of profits will make for a nice sized donation!
For nearly 30 years, Best Friends has helped pioneer the no-kill movement. Perhaps, best known for operating the nation’s largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals, over the years they have branched out to include a diverse program of outreach and education that ranges from a popular television show to Strut Your Mutt events, and one of their most valuable projects—the No More Homeless Pets® conference. Each fall, Best Friends brings together experts in the no-kill movement, experts in animal care and behavior, marketing and fundraising, animal welfare professionals, rescue groups and volunteers to share knowledge, strategize and work together to save animals. This year’s conference is October 10–13 in Jacksonville, Florida. The Bark spoke to Barbara Williamson, Best Friends media relations manager, about this important event.
How did the No More Homeless Pets Conference come about? It’s a collaborative approach to a big problem … which is great to see.
Can you talk about the kinds of people and organizations that attend, and what kind of impact this shared knowledge is having?
Denise, founder of BWAR, has been involved in animal rescue for years. She’s been to three No More Homeless Pets Conferences and intends to be at the conference in Jacksonville. What she hadn’t planned on at last year’s conference was meeting the person whose organization would help her move 25 dogs, many of them seniors, out of the South up North, where forever homes have been waiting in the wings. “It’s been amazing working with Emma and Friends of Homeless Animals,” shares Denise. “We’re saving so many more dogs. FOHA really takes the time to match the dogs with the right adopters, and they start to promote them before they even get on the road. FOHA also shares the amazing updates from their new adoptive families, which continue to inspire our volunteers.”
FOHA is able to take so many dogs, in part, because they are helping the market meet the supply and demand. While they regularly pull from local shelters and accept owner-surrendered animals, they have found that those dogs alone do not fill the need for smaller dogs in their region.
Both groups are looking forward to attending No More Homeless Pets Conference in Jacksonville. As Denise puts it, “I think the conference is an invaluable resource for anyone in animal rescue, from volunteers to staff that share the Best Friends mission, and this conference has so many opportunities to network and really grow your organization.”
If there is a major trend that is shaping animal rescue and sheltering what would it be? This fall Best Friends is unveiling the call-to-action “Save Them All™.” In many ways this program crystallizes what Best Friends has believed all along and was a strong impetus for the No More Homeless Pets Conference in the first place: Alone you can save many, but together, we can Save Them All. More than 9,000 animals are killed every day in America’s shelters—that’s about 4 million a year. It doesn’t have to happen. We know that by increasing the number of people who adopt animals, and implementing more spay/neuter programs to reduce the number of animals who enter shelters, we can SAVE THEM ALL.
What speakers, topics or workshops are you most excited about this year?
Can your share some good news with our readers about the impact that the No Kill Movement is having?
For more information on the No More Homeless Pets National Conference go to: conference.bestfriends.org
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
As a child I was surrounded by dogs and was always fascinated by them. When I was 5 years old I walked up to a neighbor’s dog as it was chewing a bone. I reached to pet him and received a minor bite to the hand for my inattention. As I recall, my parents sternly reminded me not to bother dogs, especially if they were eating, sleeping, or chewing a bone. Lesson learned. It was the only bite I ever received as a child and to this day I consider dogs to be one of the greatest gifts in life.
When I was six my parents divorced and I went through a long period without a dog. I missed having a dog so much that I ended up moving to my dad’s house because I could have one there. My first dog that was all my own was a little shaggy mutt that followed me everywhere and slept in my bed at night. That dog was my constant companion through several moves, childhood traumas and a few teenage heartbreaks. His presence in my life is something I still feel the effects of today.
Kids and dogs can be one of the most wonderful or one of the most tragic pairings of childhood. As an animal control officer, I investigate dog bites almost daily. Most are minor, a few are severe, and many of them are to children. I have seen nice dogs euthanized for the most minor of bites and children scarred and traumatized for life by the more severe ones. In almost every case they could have been prevented.
Children are most likely to be bitten by their families own dog and yet for many children, the dog is their most precious friend and confidant. The value of dogs in many children’s lives is so precious that it should not be missed but children and dogs must both be kept safe.
Many breeders, shelters and rescues have hard and fast rules about what age the children must be for the family to adopt a dog. In my many years of fostering, I am often faced with the decision of deciding whether a family with young kids is suitable for a dog that I am caring for. There are so many variables that I find it impossible to pick an age and take each family on a case by case basis. The most important factor is the parents. Many parents want a dog that the children “can do anything to.” They tell me of some dog they know of that just lets the kids bounce on their backs, dress them in doll clothes and drag them around all day. I have seen dogs like that but I think it’s shocking that the parents allow the child to treat the long-suffering dog that way. And what happens when the dog gets arthritic or painful or just reaches a breaking point? Or when a child visits a friend whose dog is not so tolerant? When I see parents that understand a dogs needs, and teach them to their children, I know it’s a good start.
The second most important factor is the dog itself. Some dogs have a natural affinity for children while others don’t care for them. Unless a dog is truly dangerous, even grumpy dogs can succeed in households with children if the parents are diligent and the children respectful. Of course choosing a dog that is tolerant, easy-going and enjoys children is your best bet. It’s up to the parents to provide boundaries. In the case of children too young to follow directions adults need to be diligent and not put the dog in a situation where he feels the need to defend himself. Dogs try very hard to communicate with us but often we ignore their attempts to express their discomfort until it’s too late. A dog isn’t able to tell us in words that the child is hurting him, bothering him or invading his space. Careful observation of body language is critical, as is teaching respectful behavior toward dogs and separating them from kids if they aren’t enjoying the interaction.
I would love to hear about readers experiences with dogs and kids. Even negative situations can be a learning experience for us all and the positives between dogs and kids are truly priceless.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Different strokes for different folks
The dog had a lush coat and I couldn’t keep my hands off of it. Touching his fur felt so good and I couldn’t stop petting him and luxuriating in his glorious coat. It is my favorite sort of fur—thick, healthy and soft. He’s a mix that is not possible to identify with certainty, and his coat was all the better for it.
I’m not picky when it comes to petting dogs and loving it—corded, wiry, heavy, double, smooth, wavy, curly, or a combination. I love the feel of canine fur and like to spend a lot of time in contact with it. (My dry cleaner can confirm this.) Yet, certain coats appeal to me most.
I especially like the dogs whose coats are between the double coats of the northern breeds like Huskies or Akitas and the combination coats of Border Collies or Tibetan Spaniels. I like the thickness of the double coat combined with the silkier texture of the combination coat.
There is tremendous variation in coat preference among people. I have friends and colleagues who are drawn to wire-haired dogs or who love any dog with a curly coat or who always choose short-haired dogs. I suppose some of the preference is about what we were exposed to as children. Another piece of it may be about a special dog we met quite by chance, and whose coat type becomes our standard of perfection. Many of the preferences may be random personal choices that are no more explicable than why one person might choose blueberries over raspberries or prefer the color blue to the color green.
Do you have a favorite coat type, and if so, do you have any guesses about the origin of your preference?
It is inspiring and moving to hear stories about people performing wonderful things for their communities. A new campaign, 5-hour ENERGY® Helps Amazing People, is putting the spotlight on these unsung champions by recognizing outstanding people who, despite their own challenges, also give their time and energy to make the lives of others better. Every week one these “local heroes” has been awarded $50,000—think of it as a MacArthur award for everyday people doing good work.
The idea came from Manoj Bhargava, 5-hour Energy Drink’s founder, who posed the question to his marketing department: “Why only pay celebrities or athletes? Why not give to the real heroes?”
One of the recent honorees is Kristina Rinaldi, the Development Associate and volunteer coordinator for Detroit Dogs Rescue (DDR), an organization founded in 2010 to help the plight of the dogs in Detroit—both the thousands of homeless dogs who roam the streets, and those living with people in need of support.
Rinaldi has helped or rescued more than 1,500 dogs and in many ways, she relates to the dogs she helps. She spent most of her childhood and teenage years in and out of foster homes or sleeping on couches of friends and relatives. At age 13 she was working for drug dealers helping throw Rave parties and by age 15 she was rapping in the hip-hop scene. There she became friends with Daniel “Hush” Carlisle, a rapper who founded DDR and who became her mentor. After putting herself through college and getting a job at a hospital, Kristina joined DDR to follow her passion of helping dogs.
Now Rinaldi coordinates volunteers to help rescue and foster many dogs who would otherwise be put down. She also does community outreach and brings dog food and even doghouses (made by local Eagle Scouts and other youth groups) to pet owners who won’t surrender their dogs but need extra help taking care of them.
And it was a total surprise when she was handed the $50,000 award. When we spoke with her recently, she acknowledged that she had no idea that she was going to win any money and “was completely blown away by it.”
I asked her why they don’t have more help with this horrible situation. As she describes it, “Detroit looks like a looks like a Third World country. There are dogs everywhere living in abandoned buildings, fending for themselves.” It is estimated that there might be as many as 50,000 living like this—in a major U.S. city! And adds that she wonders why the “National Guard isn’t coming to help us.” A question that we certainly want to ask as well.
But DDR is now has plans to build the first no-kill shelter in Detroit. And while they are trying to raise money for that project, they still provide vaccination and spay and neutering clinics. They also “do a lot of community outreach. There are many people who lost their jobs in the auto industry and who have dogs, but now they have to choose between feeding their dogs and feeding their families. Hush will go out to them and give them six months of dog food to help them to get back on their feet,” Renaldi added.
As for those doghouses, Kristina admits that she just “loves Eagle Scouts, they are fabulous and they also tap into at-risk youth, combining the building of the houses with a shop class. We are always try to keep the youth involved.”
I asked why helping dogs is so important to her and she replied that, “A dog has always helped me, helped me through whatever. No matter how you unfamiliar and lost you feel, that a dog will make you feel at home and that they are your best friend. I’ve always had a passion for dogs.” So it is fine with her that, as she says, she and her colleagues “have turned our lives over to the dogs, this is all we do. It consumes our lives.”
It is great that 5-hour ENERGY® Helps has chosen Kristina Rinaldi, and her work with the DDR, as a recipient of one of their awards, but DDR still needs our help. See how you can help.
For your listening pleasure—tune into Alexandra Horowitz, author of the bestselling, “must read” book, Inside of a Dog, being interviewed on the “Person Place Thing” radio program by Randy Cohen. You can listen at any time.
As their site notes about Alexandra:
A professor of psychology at Barnard, Alexandra Horowitz is the director of that school’s Dog Cognition Lab. What we particularly admire about her: she is one of a very few scientists who can write about current ideas in her field in a way that a lay audience finds not only comprehensible – dayanu – but intriguing, which she did to great effect in her book “Inside of a Dog: What dogs see, smell and know,” and more recently in “On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes.”
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