News: Guest Posts
I had watched the dog origin wars as a chronicler of the dog-human relationship for several decades when in 2009 I was approached a young editor The Overlook Press about writing a book on the origins of the dog. I readily agreed, and the result was How the Dog Became the Dog.
Pondering the conflicting dates, places, and theories associated with the emergence of the dog, I concluded that as soon as our forebears met wolves on the trail they formed an alliance of kindred spirits, and the process began. Their basic social unit was a family with ma and pa at the head and young ones of varying competency. They worked and hunted cooperatively. They were consummately social but capable of prolonged solo journeys.
It made sense that the Middle East, if not North Africa, was where this all started because that would have been the region of first contact. But because of their natural affinity, wolves and humans got together wherever they met. Some of the resultant “dogwolves”—my phrase for doglike wolves or wolves that act like dogs—created lineages that survived a while then fizzled out; others endured.
I identified several hotspots for early dogs across Eurasia and a group of humans that at least according to genetic evidence might have made its way through the cold of the last Ice Age from the Persian Gulf oasis, then a fertile land, to the Altai Mountains of Central Asia, a region that also hosts the headwaters of the Amur River, still famous for its wildlife. This group’s dogwolves mixed and matched with others along the way, especially the big mountain dogs of the Caucasus. This group of hunters and foragers gathered in the Altai around 40,000 years ago and from there ultimately took the New World.* They also went with their dogs, I calculated, south and east into China, Korea, and Japan and west again with their giant dogs, now mastiffs.
I based that conclusion in part on the types of dogs found in the New World. It made more sense that the possibility for the phenotype was present even if the phenotype itself was not manifest than that it was introduced later.
It was with some interest, then, that I read in PLoS One for July 28, 2011, about a 33,000 year old ‘incipient” dog from the Altai Mountains—that is, an early attempt at a dog that went nowhere. The finding was immediately challenged, and the fossil dismissed as a wolf, even if a strange one. So a new team of researchers redid the work in Robert K. Wayne’s evolutionary biology lab at UCLA and on March 7, 2013, published an article in PLoS One confirming that the 33,000 year-old-fossil is that of a primitive dog.
Writing for their colleagues from Russia, Spain, and the U.S., Anna S. Druzhkova of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Olaf Thalmann of Turku University, Finland, state that when compared with other canids, the Altai dog, as it is known, shows closest affinities with New World dogs and modern dog breeds, ranging from Newfoundlands to Chinese Cresteds and including cocker spaniels, Tibetan mastiffs, and Siberian huskies.
Equally interesting from my perspective, the Altai dog does not appear to have been related closely to wolves in its immediate vicinity or to modern wolves. It came to the Altai from elsewhere, probably with people.
The researchers emphasize that there is uncertainty in their findings because they are based on a single region of mitochondrial DNA. But from my standpoint, the work provides one bit of evidence that’s I’ve not been barking up the wrong tree—and that seems worth noting.
*Ted Goebel et al., “The Late Pleistocene Dispersal of Modern Humans to the Americas,” Science, March 14, 2008. Connie J. Kolman et al., “Mitochondrial DNA Analysis of Mongolian Populations and Implications for the Origin of New World Founders,” Genetics, April 1996.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Real estate jumps on the pet industry bandwagon
With Americans spending more than $50 billion a year on their pets, the companion animal industry has been a lucrative one to capitalize on in recent years. The real estate business is no exception. Particularly with the economic downturn, I’ve seen a lot of apartments in New York add special perks to woo dog lovers. We’re an attractive bunch since the pet industry was less affected by the recession.
Metro areas are where the most swanky amenities are showing up. Washington D.C.’s Senate Square apartments offer a rooftop dog park and side-by-side water fountains for humans and canines. And they’re not alone. A nearby complex that recently broke ground will have a pet spa with an outside dog walk area. Perks at other buildings include dog washing stations (very convenient for a small apartment!) and dog swim hours at the pool.
For apartments that can't build amenities (New York City is pretty tight space wise!), The Spot Experience has been partnering with residential buildings in Manhattan to offer a canine concierge of services that include daycare, dog walking, grooming, and training services with special shuttle service.
These amenities are really cool, but given that non-pet friendly housing is one of the top reasons people abandon animals at shelters, it's interesting to read that more apartments are catering to pet lovers. I’ve found that it's not hard to find high-end apartments that roll out the red carpet for pets, but it can be difficult to find dog friendly housing that’s also affordable. In my searches, I've always had to pay a little bit more than market value to rent in a pet friendly building, particularly one without breed or weight restrictions.
What has been your experience finding dog friendly housing?
Few, outside of the pet “industry,” have probably heard of the trade organization PIJAC—Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council. Part of their mission is to “ensure the availability of pets,” [in pet stores] because, as one of their members notes on a promotional video, “... without the sale of pets, there is no pet industry.” PIJAC is about to host their annual meeting in Napa, California in April. Looking through their conference agenda was an eye opener. It leads off with what is sure to be a lively, but rather one-sided, panel discussion. (I called around to various national humane organizations but it doesn’t look like they were invited to share their views.)
The Future of Pets in Pet Stores
It was interesting looking through their list of attendees, the Hunte Corporation (one of the largest puppy producing/mill businesses), is represented, as too is the lobbyist Rick Berman, of Humane Watch, aptly named because it mostly targets, i.e. “watches” the HSUS (see this New York Times article about Berman).
One of the many ways you can combat the lobbying power that groups like the PIJAC weld, is by supporting stores who sponsor or host pet adoptions from local shelters and rescue groups. Or by supporting programs like the ASPCA’s “No Pet Store Puppies” campaign aimed at reducing the demand for puppy mill puppies by urging consumers to pledge not to buy any items—including food, supplies or toys—from stores or websites that sell puppies. You can also tell your elected representatives to support The Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act, that was recently reintroduced by U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and David Vitter (R-La.), Reps. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Bill Young (R-Fl.) and Lois Capps (D-Calif.). This bill will provide a measure of protection to dogs sold online. It would require commercial breeders who sell their puppies directly to the public, sight unseen, to be licensed and inspected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Currently, only breeders who sell dogs to pet stores or to puppy brokers are subject to federal oversight (what there is of it) but breeders who sell directly to consumers, whether via the Internet, newspaper classifieds, or other outlets, are exempt from any federal oversight due to a “retail pet store” exemption.
News: Guest Posts
Debarking ban bill passes NY Assembly
Despite the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) efforts to stop a debarking ban bill (A01204), the New York State Assembly overwhelmingly voted for its passage on March 5, 2013. AKC argued that the government should not interfere with a dog owner’s decision making. While I understand and value the freedom to choose what is best for my personal pets, I make an exception to acts of cruelty such as debarking.
Devocalization is a surgical procedure in which the dog’s vocal cord tissue is cut to soften the bark. If you’ve heard a dog whose vocal cords have been damaged, the bark sounds muffled or raspy.
The AKC claims debarking could help a dog stay in its home rather than be abandoned at a shelter. Yet the question remains: why is this dog barking so much? Its quality of life will not be improved after surgery; after all, it has been maimed as a convenience to its owners. In which case, let’s hear the honest justification – that it is for the human’s benefit – rather than pretending that it will help the dog.
Could you imagine if a five-year-old child was “despeaked” because she talked too much? The ability to communicate should be the right of all animals, not just humans.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), devocalization should only be performed by “qualified, licensed veterinarians as a final alternative after behavioral modification efforts to correct excessive vocalization have failed.”
I would be curious to know how many owners have genuinely tried other options, such as increased attention, physical exercise, mental stimulation or regular training classes and socialization opportunities.
For example, an elderly dog who lives next door to my brother was debarked years ago. His home is a concrete pad surrounded by a chain link kennel with a plastic doghouse for shelter. His constant raspy woofs are still cause for surrounding neighbors to call the police to complain.
Instead of devocalizing him, the owners should have brought him inside their home. He barks all the time because he is kept in solitary confinement. He is lonely, bored and even though his voice can still be heard, ignored.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The sobering statistics of puppy mills and shelters
The pet overpopulation problem can feel really overwhelming at times and it can be hard to see if rescue efforts are making a real difference. I recently read an article that looked at the juxtaposition of compassion and cruelty--the side of the pet world that pampers our animals like children versus the side that kills millions of them each year. The statistics are sobering, but also provides a little hope (we've greatly reduced euthanasia numbers over the last few decades). I found that looking at the statistics helped me better understand the problem and some of the possible root causes, so I wanted to share a few of the most haunting numbers.
The article also talked about the rise of puppy mills after World War II. According to dog rescue organizations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture encouraged farmers devastated by the Great Depression to breed puppies as a new "cash crop" for the growing pet store market. That combined with a general view of animals as disposable, overcrowded shelters by 1970 and led to the euthanasia of over 20 million animals.
The good news is that the euthanasia number has decreased significantly to three million. While still huge, we've certainly made a lot of progress since 1970. I think this is due in part to a changing view of pets as part of the family and the internet as an educational resource. This has also spurred spay/neuter efforts, an increase in rescue and advocacy organizations, and an increase in legal action for animal cruelty.
So while the numbers can feel insurmountable, it’s important to see the progress we’ve made and how we can use the statistics to fuel future efforts.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Champion Samoyed dies four days after Westminster
Earlier this month Cruz, a Champion Samoyed, was at the top of his game, trotting around the breed ring at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Just four days later the three-year old was at the emergency vet, dying of symptoms consistent with ingesting rat poison. No necropsy was performed, so it's unclear what killed Cruz. But if the suspicions are true, Cruz would have had to have eaten the poison while in New York for the show. Ingesting this type of toxin takes approximately three to five days for physical symptoms to surface.
The mysterious tragedy stirred up long held tensions between show breeders and animal activists who believe that purebred competitions are inhumane. Cruz's veterinarian felt that it was unlikely the Samoyed had been deliberately poisoned, but Robert Chaffin, Cruz's handler, believes that the activists may be to blame.
Robert has been retracing every step--a flight from New York back home (Cruz didn't even have to ride in the cargo hold), a pre-competition steak dinner, and conversations and remarks from show attendees--but is at a loss for what happened. Show dogs are watched carefully and Robert doesn't think that Cruz could've ingested anything bad under his watch.
Over the years I've heard rumors circulate about PETA supporters targeting show dogs by adding antifreeze to water bowls or throwing unidentified liquids at crates. The fear isn't exactly unfounded and goes back as far as the late 1800's when eight dogs were poisoned at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The scandal made the front page of the New York Times and the motive was believed to be jealousy. But in the case of the extreme animal activists, I rarely see concrete proof to back up the rumors.
Nonetheless, it's a horrific thought that an animal lover would deliberately harm a dog. The accusation continues to divide a community that should be working towards the same ideals--promoting the best interests of the animals we love. Is there no way that we can find common ground?
The missing socks caper has been solved. This morning I was catching up on Spring weeding, when I spied a strange blue object peeking out from under the wet soil. Much to my delight it turned out to be one, of the many, socks that have gone missing recently. This one actually disappeared earlier in the morning as I was dressing for the dog walk—but came up minus one “Falke” hiking sock (a sturdy brand from Germany). I thought that the culprit could be our little Charlie who, for a while, would sneak off with a sock and hide it in dog-bed cushions, or, at times, would simply sleep cuddled up with one. How sweet is that? So I looked in all the usual spots but came up with nada. Taking his finds outside and burying them is a new feat for my precious Terrier. Hopefully further weeding will unearth more socks, and, who knows, what else.
Beyond bones and balls, have your dogs ever buried stolen treasures? Would love to hear your stories! The photo, by the way, is a re-enactment that Charlie enjoyed posing for especially since I rewarded him by letting him carry the purloined sock back into the house.
If you go to dog parks, I am sure you have run into this problem—people who give your dog treats without first asking your permission. I had a run-in this morning over such an offering.
The park that we go to is around 25 acres, with ridges and swales, easy for a dog to be nearby but be hidden from your view. Being able to spot my dogs even though they are off sniffing or playing with others, is important to me. What I don’t like is for well-intentioned humans to provide “incentives,” in the forms of treats, as I am trying to call to my dogs and instill reliable recalls. This morning that is exactly what happened, with the same person who has been “treating” Kit for some time now. This time I was close enough to her to ask her politely to please not treat my dog. Her reaction? She blew up at me, and wouldn’t let me finish explaining how important it is for Kit not to run to her when she sees her (or even hears her dogs), knowing that she will get a treat, and that only enforces a behavior (running off sometimes at a great distance) that I am trying hard to redirect. The “treater” seemed insulted that I brought this up.
A long time ago, when I was new to the whole dog-walking scene—years before I helped to establish the off leash area we were at this morning—I was one of those “treat” ladies. I loved that dogs seem to respond to me … and my homemade liver treats! Who doesn’t enjoy having a group of dogs sitting around you, waiting politely for a reward? But even then, I would first ask permission. I realize that I overplayed that a bit and realize now that there is a whole host of reasons not to feed someone else’s dog including how it might impact training, health, diet, etc.
Obviously there are exceptions as well. When we first got our under-socialized, fearful pups from a Southern shelter, I would ask others at the park to treat them, even providing them with treats. This helped ease the pups’ fear of humans. It also quickly made them into little roly-polies, so I would substitute kibble for treats and kept track of how many they got as “treats,” subtracted that from their regular meals.
To treat or not to treat other dogs—let me hear what you think.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Nonprofit seeks to keep families together by giving out kibble
The downturn in the economy has meant difficult decisions for many people, including pet lovers. Animal shelters have been inundated with relinquished dogs and cats, while families worry about how they will put food on the table.
In recent years, food banks have realized this struggle and many have added pet food to their shelves. There’s even been a rise in dedicated pet food pantries. But unfortunately many people don’t live near any of these resources.
That problem inspired Marc Okon to create Pet Food Stamps earlier this month, so that people wouldn’t have to give up their pets or choose between feeding their families or their beloved animals.
There’s clearly a real need for the new organization. In the first two weeks, the nonprofit got more than 12,000 requests for pet food. To qualify, families must prove they’re receiving assistance from the state. If approved, they’ll get a monthly allotment to spend at Pet Food Direct.
Pet Food Stamps will be looking for federal funds and grants, but in the meantime they’re in need of monetary donations to carry out their mission. Marc's organization is a great way to reach people across the country, no matter where they live, and will hopefully help keep families together in these tough economic times.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Veterinarians divided when it comes to immunity
For years people suspected that pet vaccines didn't need to be administered annually and that immunity was more similar to human shots. Fortunately in the last ten years, veterinary colleges and organizations, such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), revisited their guidelines and now recommend administering core vaccines every three years. It's even becoming more common to find veterinarians who measure antibody levels through blood titers instead of defaulting to regular booster shots (this is one of my requirements when choosing a vet).
But even with the AVMA and AAHA constantly revisiting their guidelines, pet vaccines remain a tricky topic. It's further complicated by the fact that many studies are sponsored by vaccine manufacturers, which creates a potential bias. Dr. Richard Ford, a 2003 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines Task Force member, has said that the decision to recommend a three year re-vaccination schedule was an arbitrary compromise that was not based on science.
And frequency isn't the only controversy. Earlier this month, a Connecticut veterinarian had his practice taken away from him after Banfield found out that he had been administering half-dose vaccinations. Dr. John Robb believes that it's not safe to use the same dose for all dogs and cats, particularly for the smaller breeds.
Dr. Robb bought his Stamford, Conn. Banfield franchise in 2008, a year after the veterinary hospital chain was acquired by Mars and PetSmart. He believes that the corporations are not only unfairly targeting him because they want to ultimately cease franchise ownership for their hospitals, but are jeopardizing the health of his clients' pets.
There are definitely arguments for both sides of the issue, but I can see where profits and insurance risk could create a conflict for a medical organization owned by two big corporations.
AAHA President Dr. Mark Russak believes that Robb is putting pets at risk and creating a potential public health concern with incorrectly administered rabies shots. He says that vaccines are manufactured through scientific trials to determine the correct amount of antigens needed to stimulate the immune system.
But while many veterinarians disagree with Dr. Robb's vaccine protocol, Jean Dodds, a leading expert in this area, says that dosages can be adjusted safely. She has been vaccinating toy breeds with half doses for years and is currently spearheading a campaign to increase the rabies vaccination interval from three to five years with the hope of eventually changing it to seven.
A 2002 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association showed that there are potential problems with using a universal dosage. The research documented a higher incidence of vaccine-associated adverse events in dogs less than 22 pounds (27 percent versus 12 percent for dogs over 22 pounds with each subsequent shot).
The fact that there is so much division among veterinarians on this topic just goes to show that more work must be done in this area to develop guidelines we can trust.
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