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Culture: DogPatch
Talking Dog with David Rosenfelt
Author of Dogtripping
dogtripping rosenfelt

Mystery-lovers know David Rosenfelt for his “Andy Carpenter” series. The fictional Andy is an exceedingly reluctant attorney whose real passion is dog rescue, particularly Golden Retriever rescue. He’s most likely to be persuaded to take a case if a dog’s somehow involved.

What his readers may not know is that Rosenfelt is himself dedicated to dogs. He and his wife—whom he credits as the real force behind their dog-welfare work—started out volunteering in the LA shelter system and in short order, found themselves running a home-based rescue and placement group. At times, they had as many as 40 dogs, some of them unadoptable due to age or infirmity.

His recent book, Dogtripping: 25 Rescues, 11 Volunteers, and 3 RVs on Our Canine Cross-Country Adventure, is nonfiction, the story of relocating the pack from the West Coast to the East—an improbable and wildly complicated exercise made possible, he says, by the extraordinary help and generosity of friends and fans.

While on a Dogtripping book tour earlier this year, Rosenfelt gave a reading at a local Berkeley bookstore that benefited a northern California rescue group, and The Bark took advantage of the opportunity to talk to him in person. Following are the edited highlights of that conversation, which took place in our office and included an inordinate amount of laughter (which we didn’t transcribe).

Q: Why did you choose Maine?
A: My wife and I are both originally from the East Coast, and we wanted to have real weather. Also, we have grown kids and two grandkids in NYC. We chose Maine after my son, who went to law school with a guy who lived there, went to his wedding and said we should take a look at it. We did, and we liked it.

Q: In Dogtripping, you suggest that the move happened in spite of you. Would you do it again, and would you do anything differently?
A: I wouldn’t do it again. What would I do differently? I don’t think anything. We had a great group of volunteers. If everybody else had their option, they would’ve done much the same, just left me at home. They literally say it was one of the greatest adventures of their lives. It was just terrible, but everyone else loved it.

Q: How did the dogs take to RV travel?
A: They all found their favorite resting places; it turns out that there are many places for dogs to sleep in an RV. They were fine, really—no trouble.

Q: What’s a typical day like at casa Rosenfelt?
A: The dogs wake us up at 5:15 every morning. I go downstairs and they get quiet. (The first day I was gone [on the book tour], they let my wife sleep until seven. She woke them up.) Around 6:30, I feed, I clean up the outside after that, which is quite a job. We have a doggie door that’s like the Lincoln Tunnel, they go through that, and there’s a 60-by-60-foot fenced-in concrete area, because we didn’t want them to bring mud inside. Then we decided that’s not good enough. Last year, we put in a gate that gives them access to about an acre of forest to run around if they want, and now we’re adding another acre to that (all fenced). But they want to be inside.
Then I give the medicine, which is a major production. That’s it, unless I go to the vet, which happens with alarming frequency—I go there three times a week at least, and it’s a 40-minute drive. Around 4:30 or so, I feed again. It’s not really that hard. A day only becomes a hassle if someone’s coming over; then you have to prepare.

Q: Over the years that you and your wife operated the Tara Foundation, you must’ve become quite an expert on dogs.
A: I’m much more of a dog lunatic than an expert. You’d be amazed how little I know about dogs, and certainly nothing about breeds.

Q: Do you work with behaviorists?
A: We’ve never worked with behaviorists for our dogs at home. They’d tell us we couldn’t do what we do. For the foundation, we had a trainer who did temperament testing.

Q: You mentioned that you’re particular about vets. What are your criteria—what do you look for?
A: Everything with us is magnified, so a vet has to “get” us—he or she has to understand us. A vet also has to be responsive. I want to know things; I want information to be quantified. We flew east to interview vets before we moved and decided on one who turned out to be not as great as we initially thought. Then we found a vet in the phone book and he turned out to be fantastic. He understands me. He talks to me like I know what I’m talking about. Quality of life is his key concern. He really knows what he’s doing.

Q: You take in older dogs and dogs with health problems. How do you deal emotionally with the loss of a dog?
A: We take in dogs who are doomed if we don’t take them. You just have to adjust your mindset. It’s all about the dog’s quality of life. You have to focus on the fact that for whatever time you had them, they were happy and safe and loved. It’s very sad, but there’s something peaceful about it, too.

Q: Are you involved in rescue now that you’re living in Maine?
A: There’s no need for us to function as a placement group, but we do still take in dogs. We just got two seven-year-old Great Pyrenees—sisters—who are just fantastic. Sometimes we’ve gotten dogs who came as a pair but once they were in our house, they never saw each other again. These two are bonded at the hip; wherever one is, so is the other.

Q: How would you compare living in Maine to living in California?
A: It’s night and day. There are no pretentions in Maine. If you see a pickup truck, you can bet there’s a dog in it, always. In California, people would come into our house—workmen—and they were like deer caught in the headlights when our dogs mobbed them. In Maine, it’s business as usual.
Someone said to my wife recently that in LA, they ask what kind of car you drive, and in the South, what church you belong to. In Maine, they ask what kind of dog you have.

Discover more at davidrosenfelt.com.

Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Henrietta Morrison Talks with The Bark about her home cook secrets
Q&A with the founder of Lily’s Kitchen
henrietta_morrison_cooking

Henrietta Morrison is the founder of Lily’s Kitchen, voted the UK #1 pet food company for the last four years. Now she has a great new recipe book, Dinner for Dogs, written to inspire dog-loving home cooks everywhere. The book has 50 easy to make, delicious and nutritious recipes for your dog. We had a chance to chat with Henrietta recently.

Why do you think that people are reluctant to cook for their dogs?

Pet owners can be quite nervous about cooking for their dogs—I had lots of concerns when I started to cook for Lily. Initially, I was worried that what I was cooking for her might not be nutritionally complete, I was also concerned that she may love my home cooked food too much and never eat shop bought pet food again!

You started cooking for Lily because of skin allergies, but what inspired you to expand this into your very successful pet food business (in the UK)?

When I first started to cook for Lily it was really out of desperation. I had tried almost all pet foods on the market and she would either refuse to eat them or they just exacerbated her itchy skin. Cooking for her was a real eye opener—the first recipes were very much based on the kinds of food I love. I would say I’m a pretty healthy eater and have always been on the look out for interesting ingredients and alternatives—e.g. oat flour instead of wheat flour etc. I would use really healthy ingredients such as blueberries and squash as well as grind down herbs like rosehips. Lily just loved it! Not only that, but her skin finally made a radical improvement and the itchiness disappeared within a couple of weeks. I was delighted but also furious! I could not believe that I had been feeding her ready made pet food that was actually making her itchiness worse rather than providing her with the nutrition she needed. I was determined to do something about this and produce a pet food that would be perfect for Lily and help other dogs with similar issues.

What are the 5 common misconceptions people have about canine nutrition?

  • Well, we are all guilty of believing the marketing hype on pet food labels and not being picky enough about what exactly is going into our dogs’ stomachs.
  • Feeding kibble all day, every day is not always the healthiest choice—most kibble is pretty laden with fat in order to make it palatable to dogs. I often think it must be pretty boring to have the same meal every day too! Pet parents are often worried about feeding wet food because of concerns that the poop will be too soft. A really good quality wet food will be made with digestible ingredients so your dog poops a smaller amount and they are easy to pick up too!
  • That kibble will keep your dogs teeth clean. Nothing beats brushing I’m afraid!
  • Check the treats you feed you dog! You may be feeding a great diet, then treating your dog with snacks and treats that are full of preservatives, sugars and tons of fat. It’s very simple to make healthy treats you can keep in a jar—and cheaper than buying them.
  • If your dog has a greasy smelling coat and bad breath it is a lot to do with their diet. This is something that we don’t seem to connect.
  • What is Lily’s all time favorite recipe?

    Tricky question! Lily used to be a very fussy dog and turn up her nose at most things. Now she adores everything I make. I guess one of her favorites is the Wonderful One Pot from my recipe book—it has lentils, chicken, salmon and lots of other yummy ingredients.

    Were you involved in food/cooking before you started cooking for Lily?

    Yes, I have always been a very keen cook and I am a very keen gardener so I always have a glut of fruits and vegetables that need to be turned into recipes.

    Did you work with veterinarian nutritionists to formulate your recipes?

    Yes, I spent a long time collaborating with a number of veterinarians from different fields—holistic, herbalist and conventional. My brother is a veterinarian so he has also been very helpful as an adviser.

    How important is it to use locally sourced ingredients? (I couldn’t find info on where your pet food ingredients are sourced.) I ask this because one of the pet food recalls that happened in the US happened because of organic basil from Egypt.

    In an ideal situation you would always use locally grown ingredients. However it is not always possible to do this as it can depend on the crop outcome in a given year —for example for us last year it was very hard to source apples locally as the crop yield was extremely low in the UK, so we had to bring them in from other parts of Europe. What is critical is to have stringent food safety procedures in place wherever the ingredients come from and always ensure you are sourcing the best quality you can.

    Who oversees pet food and the regulations and recalls in the UK or in Europe? Have there been many large-scale recalls like there have been here? I am thinking of the recent one that impacted most Natura brands.

    In the UK we have the Pet Food Manufacturers Association as well as a variety of government bodies that put together regulations as well as carry out testing. At Lily’s Kitchen we carry out very regular testing on all our foods which get sent off to the government lab for testing—although there is not the onus on companies to do this. But I like to be extra vigilant as my dog’s name is on the label!

    Culture: DogPatch
    Zuke’s—Living What They Believe
    Finding a balance of work and play

    Zuke’s began over a decade ago, when Patrick Meiering was hiking in the Colorado Mountains with his energetic dog, Zuke. Noticing that Zuke had become exhausted, Patrick broke off a piece of his energy bar and tossed it to him—Zuke perked right up. The idea that pets need healthy, all-natural treats was born at that moment. Today, Zuke’s offers a host of treats that are formulated with only natural ingredients providing the specific nutrients needed by dog and cats. The company embraces a healthy lifestyle of work and play, including a dog-friendly workplace—making them the perfect partner to sponsor The Bark’s Best Places to Work contest in 2013.

    Tell us about Zuke’s office environment and an average day on the job …
    Zuke’s offices went to the dogs a long time ago. In fact, they have really always belonged to the dogs. Zuke, a chocolate Lab who had the honor of being the company’s inspiration, namesake and mascot, was the first employee, setting the stage for over a decade of canine-inhabited cubicles and offices furnished with as many dog beds as chairs. Now, on any given day there are as many dogs as humans at work. They are welcome everywhere by everyone. During work hours, they are our taste testers, quality control experts, de-stressing specialists and relaxation authorities. On their breaks, which are frequent throughout the day, there is a beautiful creek that runs through the property with trees, grass and toys for the pups to enjoy. They are an integral part of our team, the reason we come to work each day and our reminder that life with dogs is the only way to live.

    Is there an official dog policy in place?
    Although there is no official policy in place, there is wide latitude given to all of Zuke’s canine employees. They can come to work whenever they want to, their humans can take a break at any time to feed, walk, play or care for them, and they are permitted to sleep on the job.

    What is ownership/management’s view of allowing dogs in the workplace?
    Living our lives with our dogs in tow is the Zuke’s lifestyle. From the top down, Zuke’s is guided by our passion for pets and our desire to show them our devotion. The management at Zuke’s honors this passion and upholds the values that make us a unique company. While having your loyal companion at your heels all day, everyday may be overwhelming to some, for us it’s a way to give back some of the unconditional love our dogs show us.

    Can you give some specific examples of how the dogs add to the work environment in a positive way ....
    Whether we are putting in long hours of overtime to develop the newest treat recipe or debating the best name for a new product line, our dogs help to diffuse the stress, lighten the mood, increase collaboration and restore our energy. Although, some of us go running with our dogs or play in the backyard during break times, it is really more about having a dog stroll through a meeting and rest his head on your lap for a quick pet or curl up under your desk as a sleepy sidekick. Their quiet (and sometimes not so quiet) presence is ingrained in the culture at Zuke’s and a great reminder of why we do what we do.

    What are some of the tips and pointers you can offer a company who is looking to start a dog-friendly work policy?
    We believe a dog-friendly workplace works best if it is embraced and promoted by management and human resources. Rules should be put in place to ensure the safety of the people and pets in the office and there must be a high level of respect and patience shown to the pets, their owners, and the non-pet-owners in the office. There will be the occasional accident and barking will become part of the background noise, but as long as all of the dogs are well-trained, confident, dog-friendly canines, it will be a fun place to work.

    Though we are a pet products company and are thus unfairly biased, we believe that the positives outweigh the negatives for workplaces considering dogs. Aside from having a ready and willing taste test team on hand at all times, our management and employees universally believe that there are huge benefits to having canine coworkers.    

    Culture: DogPatch
    Interview Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
    Dogdom's Grande Dame
    Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

    The 80-plus-year-old writer Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has a new book, A Million Years with You: A Memoir of Life Observed. We had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her amazing life and her observations of the natural world.

    Bark: What first drew you to dogs?
    Elizabeth Marshall Thomas: Our family always had dogs. I grew up with dogs, and one of them, a Newfoundland named Mishka, was our nanny.

    Bark: In this book, you write that the Bushmen regarded and respected lions, and were rarely attacked by them, unlike their pastoralist neighbors, who attacked lions and, in turn, were attacked by them. Do you think the same dynamic may have existed between early humans and wolves (and protodogs)?
    Thomas: A study was done in the 1970s that found no attacks on people by wild wolves except for a man who dressed himself as a bear cub and rolled around on the ground as if he were injured or ill. Wolves attacked him, but that should come as no surprise —they thought he was an injured bear cub. I [once] spent a summer alone in a small cave on Baffin Island next to a pack of denning wolves. They could have had me for lunch, but they never as much as threatened me. They did tear up my [anti-mosquito] head-net and a sweater, but I had carelessly left these at my lookout post on top of a hill. Those wolves worked very hard to find enough to eat, and I would have been easy prey if they had decided to attack me. Now and then, they would come to my cave to look things over, but always when I was asleep. I felt no fear of them whatever. They, on the other hand, felt cautious of me but tolerated my presence very well. If they were worried about me, they would have taken their pups and moved to another den. But no, they stayed. I don’t think it’s known why wolves seldom, if ever, attack people.

    Bark: The Hidden Life of Dogs was perhaps the first best-selling dog book; have you been surprised by how many have followed? And do you still believe that dogs “want” other dogs?
    Thomas: I don’t have an answer for the popularity of dog books, but I do think that dogs enjoy the company of other dogs because, like wolves, they are highly social animals. We, their owners, could almost be called surrogate dogs, usually in the role of pack leaders, but not always.

    Bark: What do you think inspires our ongoing fascination with dogs?
    Thomas: One reason might be that dogs represent something “other.” They are perfectly comfortable with people, but they are not people. Dogs fascinate me because they are windows to the natural world—they have thoughts, dreams and emotions; they make plans just as we do. What this tells us is that human beings are not the only creatures to have such abilities and do such things. To a great extent, dogs show us the “one-ness” of the animal kingdom.

    Culture: DogPatch
    Q&A with Wilfred
    TV’s baddest dog gets philosophical

    The dog days of summer officially begin June 20 with the third season premier of Wilfred, television's cult hit on FX. Aussie Jason Gann is the show’s originator/writer/lead actor who embodies Wilfred, a cantankerous lug in a dog suit who drinks beer, smokes pot and humps a giant teddy bear. The show ran for 16 episodes in Australia before jumping stateside. We spoke to Wilfred’s alter ego between takes recently.

    How are you?
    I’m good thanks. We’re three days into shooting the new season. I can’t say much plot-wise but we’re trying to get just the right mix of psychological and strange darkness.

    Have a dog?
    I don’t currently have a dog, I felt that it would be disloyal to Wilfred, but it might be time. I’ve always enjoyed their … humanness.

    Is it tough getting into character?
    I think it’s the power of suggestion … simply putting on the dog suit and nose does the trick.

    Where’d the idea for Wilfred come from?
    I was staying with a friend of mine, and he was telling me about coming home with a girl on a date, to her place and her dog looked at him like … what are you going to do to my missus? I just started to improvise on a conversation. A week later we made a short film, it became a hit on the festival circuit, including Sundance. The Australian television series followed, and now our current U.S. show.

    Surprised by the show’s success?
    What surprises me is how much we’ve gotten away with—loads more than we thought possible! Wilfred is both angel and demon. His character has that dark edge where he can do doggy, base destructive things that a human character couldn’t get away with on TV.

    Do you have many doggy encounters?
    We were filming and I was outside on the steps in front of the house, and this guy goes past walking his dog, and I turned around and when his dog saw me, he literally pissed himself, couldn’t believe what he was seeing … dog-man-god, he’s still having flashbacks, and telling all his mates. Or, I’ll be at the counter at the store, and somebody’s dog will be going crazy, jumping on me and stuff … and people say to the dog “what are you doing? You’re never like this …” I go “No, it’s OK, I’m Wilfred …”

    How would you sum up Wilfred’s philosophy on life?
    Act first, think later. Basically, trust your instincts.

    Look for the new season of Wilfred on FX June 20.

    Culture: DogPatch
    Interview with Sue Halpern
    Author of A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home
    Sue Halpern

    In 2009, her daughter away at school and husband traveling the world for work, Sue Halpern found herself in a quiet home, and restless. Pransky, her seven-year-old dog, was bored. Both were ready for a new engagement. Halpern wondered: could Pransky call on her Labrador and Poodle roots and become a service dog? Could they work together to bring joy to some new corner of their world?

    Author of five books and dozens of articles for leading publications, Halpern turned to an expansive library, delving into everything from Aristotle to Temple Grandin. After a rigorous—and occasionally hilarious—training regimen, the two became a certified therapy team and soon were making weekly rounds at a local nursing home. Halpern recounts the story in her new book, A Dog Walks into a Nursing Home: Lessons in the Good Life from an Unlikely Teacher. She spoke to Annik La Farge about their adventure.

    Annik La Farge: Your book left me interested in putting my own dog to work as a therapy dog. What advice would you give us? How does a person know if she and her dog will make a good team?

    Sue Halpern: For years, I thought Pransky would make an excellent therapy dog because she was smart, attentive, open and loving, which are necessary attributes, but I also knew that she was a bit too playful. I had to wait until I knew I could absolutely count on her to do the right thing— to not go frolicking down the hall if I accidentally dropped her leash, for instance. She always had the right temperament, she just had to grow into it completely, which seemed to happen when she was around five. I think you’ll know, instinctively, if your dog will do well in a therapeutic setting because you’ve watched him or her interact with people of all ages, sizes and conditions. Pransky has always been one of those dogs who sits patiently while small children pull her tail. And she never jumps up on people. Jumping is a therapy-dog sin.

    La Farge: At the heart of this book is the idea that dogs love—and even need—to work, just as humans do. Pransky was a bit bored before she found her calling as a therapy dog; how did working change things for her, and what turned out to be her special gift?

    Halpern: Pransky is a social animal, like most dogs. She loves to be around people and she loves to be around dogs, but most of the time, she just gets to be around me, which is not so interesting. When I say, “Today is a work day!” or “Do you want to get dressed for work?” she perks up and gets quite excited. Tuesday, the day we go to the nursing home, orients her week. I don’t know if it would be too anthropomorphic to say that she looks forward to it, but it sure seems so. Her special gift—and I’d argue that this is not really special to her, but to all therapy dogs, which doesn’t make it any less special—is the joy she brings with her and spreads around. Pransky is an enthusiast. She’s always happy to see you. Her (self-controlled) exuberance is infectious.

    La Farge: Death is a constant presence in a nursing home, and you write about it with real poignancy. How does it affect Pransky?

    Halpern: On a day-to-day basis, I don’t think it does affect her. But when someone is actively dying— a situation we’ve only encountered three times in four years—her compassion is visible. It’s something I write about in the book, and something I’ve found quite moving. Most of the time, though, she’s unconcerned by people’s infirmities, which is a gift. She lets people be their essential selves, which has nothing to do with being sick or being old. When they’re with her, they can forget that they had a stroke or have diabetes or a heart condition.

    La Farge: I loaned your book to a friend who works with dogs for a living. Interestingly, what most captivated her was your description of life in a nursing home; she was relieved to see this institution, which fills most of us with dread, humanized— and by a dog, no less. What’s the takeaway here for institutions, and for professionals who care for the sick and aging?

    Halpern: I entered the nursing home with a certain amount of trepidation and was shocked to find out how much fun it was to be there with my dog. By the end of our first day, most of my preconceptions were blown to bits, which was a very good thing, since most of my preconceptions were not only wrong, they were grim. The literature on the positive effects that dogs (and other animals) have in hospitals and nursing homes is getting more robust every year. Dogs lighten the mood for everyone, staff included. Pransky dispenses the best medicine there is, indiscriminately and without a co-pay.

    La Farge: The first part of the book is about what you teach Pransky—the complex matrix of training and behaviors required for a professional therapy dog. What did she end up teaching you?

    Halpern: My dog has taught me that with her by my side, I can do things that my normally reticent self would never be able to do, like spend time with infirm strangers. But more importantly, and somewhat paradoxically, she’s taught me that by following her lead and being more like her—which is to say, not seeing people as a collection of disabilities, but simply as potential friends—I become a better human.

    News: Editors
    John Oliver's New Job
    Is he up for it?
    John Oliver and Hoagie

    For the next three months John Oliver will be temp hosting “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” while Stewart is off making a movie. Last year when I had the good fortune to be invited to do a behind-the-scenes feature about The Daily Show’s dogs, I talked with Oliver about his Golden Retriever pup Hoagie, his first-ever dog. I asked him about imagining having her on the show with him, perhaps playing the “straight woman” to his more biting, take-down persona that he assumes as a “news correspondent” on the show. He replied that just wouldn’t work because “fundamentally” she would “humanize” him. And that Hoagie wouldn’t let him “do my job, it would bring up too much compassion whenever she is around.”

     We were reminded of that seeing a recent interview with the New York Times when Oliver noted that “all of my interview training is built around trying to take someone down.” But he recognizes that has to change now that he is sitting in Stewart’s chair, and he goes on to say that “When you have, say, Seth Rogen in front of you, the point is not to destroy him and the construct of beliefs he’s built up over his lifetime. It’s going to be talking to him about his new movie. It will be nice just to have a broader conversation where jokes can occur, but the primary focus is to have an interesting interview. It’ll be nice to be nicer to people.”

    So can we suggest to Oliver that if he finds it challenging making the leap into jocular “nice host” affability that he look dogward to his Hoagie who can “assist” him to play the part. Or as Jon Stewart told us “there is nothing better than dogs, and they bring on the best in us too, nothing better.” Being a Golden, she definitely would be a natural and have the guests eating out of her hand, or vice versa.

    Either way, we’ll be rooting for Oliver. He really is a hilarious guy who kept us in stitches and howling throughout our chat.

     

    Culture: DogPatch
    Q&A with author of Wilderness
    In Conversation: Lance Weller and Katherine Griffin
    Q&A Weller, Wilderness

    First things first: tell us about your dogs.
    We have a Border Collie, an English Mastiff and one who has a lot of Shepherd in her, and maybe a little Dane. And then we have a mutt we found in a parking lot; he was really on his last legs. We were going to take him to the pound, but he gave me the look, and that was that. Then he promptly threw up all over the car.

    Who was your first dog?
    Her name was Tessie—she was a Miniature Collie. My parents got her for me when I was three or four. She wandered away when we were on vacation and I never saw her again. That helpless feeling of loss found its expression through Abel’s journey.

    The book is many things, but at heart, it’s a story of woundedness and healing. How do you see dogs as a part of that?
    I’ve never gone through the sort of travails I put Abel through, but I spent a long, long time trying to be a writer—trying to get Wilderness to the table. I could not for the life of me figure out how to get anybody interested in it. And then I got sick and couldn’t work on anything for the longest time. It was a nasty bout of Bell’s palsy—a nerve branch that feeds half of your face seizes up and dies. So half your face is paralyzed. For six months, I didn’t leave the house, and it really started to wear on me.

    But I had my dogs. And they didn’t care what I looked like, and they licked my face. (Not to say that my wife wasn’t the same way, except for the face-licking.) But I could always count on throwing an arm around my dog, or my dogs, and feeling a lot better. People have said that Abel suffers from PTSD. I don’t know about that, but I do know that dogs will heal you.

    How do your dogs help you write?
    I always have a dog here in the room with me—usually two. One lies right behind me, or right on my feet. It keeps me connected and honest.

    Dog's Life: Humane
    Earth Angels NYC: Dog Rescue
    People Who Matter: Emelinda Narvaez, founder of NYC’s Earth Angels
    Emelinda Narvaez, founder of NYC’s Earth Angels

    Emelinda Narvaez, an animal rescue advocate working in both Manhattan and the Bronx, has become a familiar face to people visiting the city’s pet stores. She calls her rescues “earth angels,” and fittingly, that is also the name of her animal-rescue group. Narvaez Emelinda, who says she’s rescued over more than 10,000 animals over a span of 45 + years, was a nurse in a Bronx hospital. Until she retired about 15 years ago, she (and her late husband, who helped her) devoted evenings and weekends to animal rescue. Since then, it’s become her fulltime occupation.

    A long-time admirer, I always dropped something in the donation box when I saw her in front of one of lower Manhattan’s pet stores. Then one day, I sat down and asked her to tell me more about herself and her work. That particular day, she had a terrier-mix puppy and an adult Poodle, as well as an elderly Chihuahua and a Shih Tzu who were not available for adoption; she felt the two seniors were too fragile to weather a big change, so she was caring for them herself. As we talked, she continued to work, answering my questions as well as those asked by passersby interested in her “angels.”

    Catherine Johnson: I understand that you were born in Santurce, Puerto Rico, and raised in the South Bronx. Where did you get your gift?
    Emelinda Narvaez: My connection with animals came from my parents; they both loved all animals. My father was very dedicated to rescue work and would take us to the ASPCA to volunteer at very young age. We cleaned cages and learned to handle both cats and dogs.

    CJ: Did you have any favorite animals growing up?
    EM: I can’t say I had a favorite. We had so many—we were always taking in animals. My mother had a rule that we would not have more than 15 at a time. The whole family helped her take care of them. She had a lot of help!

    We lived across from St. Ignatius church in the Bronx, and every Sunday at the end of the mass, the priest would recognize my family’s work with animals. He would also let the congregation know they could adopt one from us, which is how we found homes for many of our animals.

    When I was around 15, I realized that we needed to be more formal about these adoptions. So we started having the person adopting fill out an application. We developed a screening process—that was my idea.

    CJ: What were your early years working in rescue like?
    EM: It was a very different time. Of course, there have always been animals who are neglected because of people’s ignorance or lack of education as to how to care for a pet. People losing their job and not being able to afford their pets has always been a problem, and will continue to be a problem. But cruelty cases were rare. Today, our ugly culture of violence has also affected the way people treat their animals. The stuff you see in NYC regularly is hard to understand. It really is.

    CJ: What do you consider to have been the worst crisis period in the city’s history?
    EM: It is now. Here’s why. Rules to protect animals and people living in apartments have been established, but those rules are too broad and not always reasonable. The public housing law that doesn’t allow pets over 25 pounds and certain breeds is ridiculous. A dog who is considered unsafe by tenants should be evaluated. A gentle dog who is considered too large thrown out of a project? That is inhumane and cruel to both the owner and the dog. The big-dog law banning big dogs from housing? This has created an unnecessary crisis.

    [In 2009, the public housing authority prohibited residents from keeping purebred or mixed-breed Pit Bulls, Rottweilers and Doberman Pinschers, as well as any dog (with the exception of service dogs) expected to weigh more than 25 pounds when full grown. This ban affected residents of approximately 178,000 public-housing units.]

    Dogs should be fairly assessed. Behavior has nothing to do with a dog’s weight. Of course, there is no place for a vicious dog in any apartment situation. But a policy for evaluation on a case-by-case basis needs to be put into place.

    CJ: How could our state government help city shelters?
    EM: The top priority should be a more thorough and fair assessment of whether an animal is fit for adoption. You cannot fairly assess a dog who has just been brought in from an abusive situation and is hungry, cold and traumatized. Rescued animals should be allowed to sleep, eat and heal. And then be evaluated. I don’t think money is the answer. I think policy and procedure need to change. The rules are random and arbitrary. That has been my experience (and my opinion).

    I also think they should be more proactive in letting people know they can foster an animal. Most people don’t know that’s an option.

    The best thing the government has done within the last 10 years for the rights of people and their pets was the law that allowed owners to keep their pets after three months, regardless of what the lease states.

    [Section 27-2009.1 of the NYC Housing Maintenance Code essentially says that if the owner of a multiunit rental has a lease prohibiting pets but doesn’t object to the presence of a tenant’s pet within three months, the lease provision is considered to have been waived.]

    CJ: Where do Earth Angels’ animals come from?
    EM: People know me and know what I do. I work directly with my community. People call me or drop off pets. What about your own life?

    I have cancer, which is in remission, and lupus, but I think my work heals me and gives my life meaning and purpose. I truly believe that. And I have a son and a godson whom I adopted and raised. They are both homicide detectives and I am so proud of them. My family of animals and my sons keep me going.

    CJ: Do you have one particularly memorable story from your rescue work?
    EM: About 20 years ago, my husband and I were caring for and feeding Pit Bulls who were living in the garage of an elderly man who was ill. One night, during a blinding snowstorm, I went to feed them and accidentally locked the door behind me. I was locked in, and I was freezing. The cold was intense. The dogs huddled around me and kept me warm. I kept yelling until someone heard me; I asked them to go the precinct where my son was working and send him to help me. I was stuck in there for hours, but the dogs kept me from freezing.

    CJ: What keeps you going?
    EM: I love knowing that I saved an animal from a kill shelter or from harm or starving in the street. I love what I do, and I believe it is my gift. I couldn’t do this alone, however; I have foster homes and volunteers who help. For a $200 to $250 adoption fee, my animals receive all their necessary shots and are neutered or spayed; a few vets help by donating their services.

    Also, the angels that I have had in my life: my mother, father, sister, brother and husband. I had a strong family. And I could not have done this work without a woman who helps me, Judy Ross. When I am no longer alive, I hope to still be of help; my will states that my house will be given to an animal rescue group working in the Bronx.

    CJ: How would you describe the bond between a rescued animal and the person who takes that animal in?
    EM: That bond is very strong—a magical connection. They know what you have done, and are grateful. And if you doubt me, rescue an animal and you will see!

    Editor's Note: There is going to be an adoption event and fundraiser for Emelinda this Sunday, June 2 from noon to 3 pm at one of NYC's finest dog parks, Stuyvesant Square Park. Her friends and admirers are hoping to raise enough money to buy her a new van to replace the very old one she uses to transport the animals. If you are in NYC, do try to attend. See their flyer for this event.

    Culture: Science & History
    Scientists Searching for Clues to The First Dog
    Village dogs’ genetic code may hold clues to canine evolution and health

    Like classic twin studies that investigate the interplay of nature and nurture, comparing the genome of village dogs to modern dogs may help disentangle the long-term evolutionary effects of genetic and environmental influences.

    Mastiff to Min-Pin, Corgi to street cur: all dogs share the same set of roughly 20,000 genes. What makes one dog different from another—or, in the case of purebreds, almost the same— is how the genes are expressed and restricted from being expressed, and how they communicate with one another. Therefore, it may be safe to say that each of the world’s 800 to 900 million dogs is a distinct combination of different versions of the same genes. Or maybe not. At least, that’s what some scientists suspect, and they think they’ll find answers in the DNA of the ubiquitous, free-ranging canine outcasts that populate developing countries throughout the world.

    While village dogs were being socially shunned, modern dogs—a subpopulation that likely split off from village dogs thousands of years ago—were serving society. So tightly woven into the fabric of our lives that we rarely think of them as human-engineered, dogs have been refined for increasingly specialized tasks such as hunting, transportation, protection, warfare, ornament and companionship. As a result of rigorous artificial selection over a long period of time, many of their ancestral gene variants are suppressed. Some have disappeared altogether, creating a fragile homozygous genome that has little diversity.

    In contrast, village dogs are barely tolerated by society. Although considered a domestic species, they are the products of thousands of years of natural selection. Consequently, their heterozygous genomes are robust and extremely diverse. In addition, it’s possible that long after modern dogs branched off from the family tree, some village dog populations may have developed new gene variants that protect their immune systems.

    Evolutionary biologist Adam Boyko, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, is confident that comparing and contrasting the two branches of the domestic canine family tree will provide answers to some of the mysteries that continue to surround the evolution of the domestic dog: When and where were dogs domesticated? What were the global migration paths of humans and dogs? What genetic changes occurred when wolves became dogs? Which genes are responsible for extreme size, shape and behavior differences? What are the underlying causes of genetic diseases? And how do parasites have an impact on canine well-being?

    As a postdoctoral student at Cornell, Boyko worked under the tutelage of Carlos Bustamante, now professor of genetics at the Stanford School of Medicine. Curious about how the underappreciated and even less-studied village dog genome might reframe our current understanding of canine evolution and domestication, Boyko and Bustamante persuaded Ryan and Cori Boyko (Boyko’s brother and sister-in-law, who were then both graduate students in anthropology at the University of California, Davis) to add a few side trips to their otherwise romantic African honeymoon. Their instructions were to catch semi-feral, uncooperative village dogs and draw blood samples, then ship the samples back to the lab for analysis. Information from the preliminary DNA samples indicate that the researchers are on the right track. I asked Dr. Boyko about his research, and if it has future application to invigorating the health of our companion dogs.
     

    Jane Brackman: How will mapping the genome of the village dog help us understand the mechanisms of traits in modern dog breeds?

    Adam Boyko: Geneticists have spent a lot of time looking at purebred dogs. When something is selected for, either by natural or artificial selection in a population, geneticists can tell because of the patterns that are left in the genomes of individuals in those populations. In humans, for example, we can clearly see that lactase persistence, the ability to digest milk into adulthood, was selected for in some populations.

    When we look for these patterns in purebred dogs, we find that things like ear f loppiness and tail curliness are driving these patterns, or short legs or small/big size. Basically, we find the effects of artificial selection by humans for breed standards. If we did a similar scan for selection in village dogs, perhaps some of those same genes would show patterns of selection, but I think we’d also see a new class of genes showing patterns due to natural selection.

    For example, maybe there was a lot of selection in early dogs for genes in certain metabolic pathways because there was such an extreme dietary shift from wolves to dogs. Or maybe new parasites and pathogens caused selection at genes influencing the immune system. Or maybe we’ll see selection around genes that influence behavior and temperament.

    Basically, there are all sorts of theories about how dogs became domesticated and what makes a dog a dog. When we look at purebred dogs, the main thing we are able to see is what makes certain dog breeds look and behave one way versus another. Maybe by looking at village dogs, which are much less influenced by the strong and recent artificial selection taking place in breed dogs, we’ll be able to see patterns of selection that occurred earlier in dog history.

    JB: Might your findings have application for the future? For example, if you were to come across genes influencing the immune system, would breeders be able to use that information to revitalize the pedigreed-dog immune system?

    AB: It is certainly true that my research may find a new MHC-type immunity gene [the major histocompatibility complex mediates the immune system’s white blood cells] that has been lost in many purebred dogs and which could reinvigorate their immune diversity. Or perhaps it will find variants associated with diet, and make us start considering a dog’s genetic makeup when making dietary recommendations. But I’m really not comfortable speculating, since I’m likely to be quite wrong in these predictions.

    For example, I would have never guessed that deliberately infecting patients with intestinal parasites [Helminthic therapy] would cure ulcerative colitis, but that seems to be the case, and signatures of selection in the human genome help explain why.

    But having said that, I think looking at the genomes of village dogs will be extremely useful. For example, we could get a better picture of the kinds of traits that were selected for in natural dog populations, including disease resistance, which might give us useful insights into diseases we diagnose in our pet dogs.

    Conversely, as veterinarians and geneticists find more mutations that cause disease or unique traits in dogs, we can look at the genomes of diverse village dogs to see when and where these mutations arose, and whether they are also found in any other village or purebred dog populations.

    It’s a really exciting time to be a canine geneticist, as we have all these new genetic tools at our disposal and many, many purebred and free-ranging populations that have yet to be characterized genetically.

    JB: Some populations of village dogs, such as those you’re studying, have been isolated for many thousands of years, evolving under pressures that the stem parents of modern breeds were never exposed to. Is it possible that these dogs have “new” gene variants that don’t exist in the genome of modern breeds?

    AB: It’s certainly possible, and it’s something I’m very interested in. For example, my lab is looking at free-ranging dogs in the highlands of Peru to see if they have any genetic adaptations for high altitude. Perhaps more importantly, some village-dog populations might harbor disease-resistant variants for parasites or pathogens that are prevalent in their area, but these variants might not have made it into modern purebred dogs, since those breeds were mostly founded elsewhere.

    JB: How urgent is it that we learn more about these ancient dog genomes?

    AB: We know how quickly pre-Columbian Native American breeds were lost when Europeans brought dogs with them to the New World, and we see that it will happen like that very soon in other remote parts of the world. So we’re working as fast as we can to get the data before the dogs are gone.

    JB: What’s going on in your lab now?

    AB: We’re collecting DNA samples and the genetic information we need so we can start piecing together what’s going on in these interesting but largely neglected free-ranging dog populations. We are seeking insights into dog population history to discover patterns of selection around certain genes that can then become the basis of further study. Our work is very hypothesis-driven. We have certain hypotheses about how dogs evolved, and we try to collect the right samples to test these hypotheses.

    As geneticists learn more about how genetic variation controls complex traits in purebred dogs, we find it’s quite different than what we see in humans. Why? There are at least two competing hypotheses, and by gathering data from free-ranging dogs, we can start testing them to figure it out. Some of this gets into technical discussion about genetic architecture, recombination, epistasis and pleiotropy and such, so I’ve avoided getting too academic. But I also don’t want to be dismissive of it since those technical, hypothesis-driven aspects of the project are the bread and butter of my lab in terms of student training.

    JB: In longitudinal studies such as the Morris Animal Foundation’s Golden Retriever Lifetime Study, researchers gather information from participants’ DNA and then match what they find to traits the test dogs may display over a lifetime. Will you have an opportunity to see how, for example, an immunesystem mutation affects a village dog’s health as it ages?

    AB: Our project is a huge undertaking, and there’s a ton of data we’d love to gather on each dog but just simply aren’t able to since, at this point, we’re focused on sampling as many dogs from as many populations as possible to maximize the amount of diversity we can analyze. I really don’t want to overstate what we’re able to do in one visit to check out a dog and draw blood, which is limited to looking for genetic signatures in the genome of these dogs showing signs of selection and/or local adaptation.

    But, since we have a fairly good idea of what genes do in modern dogs, at least in a rough sense, if we see a genetic signature in village dogs for positive selection around a gene we know is involved in immune function (for example), that’s a big discovery.

    JB: At the risk of oversimplifying, say you’re looking at a region that you know to be linked to a negative trait and you see that the switch is turned off in the village dog DNA and turned on in modern dog DNA—would you feel that you’d found a “smoking gun”?

    AB: It’s possible. Then, of course, as you allude, we would want to go back, look at dogs carrying that mutation versus other dogs, and see if there are different health outcomes. Perhaps [dogs with the mutation] are more resistant to intestinal parasites or perhaps they are more prone to autoimmune disease or something. Until we find the mutations, it’s a bit speculative to make predications about what exactly the findings will mean to owners. This is certainly “basic research” in the purest sense.

    JB: In people, size is determined by hundreds of genes, each with a small effect. In purebred dogs, body size can be regulated by a single gene. Is this unique to dogs?

    AB: It depends. There are other traits in other species controlled by a couple of loci [location of a gene on a chromosome]. I would argue that yes, it’s pretty unique. Whether or not dogs are special in that there is something about their genome that predisposes them to this type of diversity, or perhaps because humans worked so hard at creating them, we don’t know. This debate is still raging in the literature. It is definitely the case that genes have many, many effects. Rather than being a blueprint in which each gene is responsible for just one part of building the whole organism, the genome is more complicated, with each gene taking on different roles at different times or in different tissues.

    JB: Do multiple-trait relationships also show up in village dogs?

    AB: I think this would also occur in village dogs if the mutations were in those populations. The difference is that selective breeding has actively promoted these large-effect, diversifying mutations in dog breeds, making them relatively more common. Natural selection usually selects against such large-effect mutations in natural populations. You won’t see a short-legged wolf because it couldn’t hunt.

    In fact, most of these large-effect mutations probably first arose in village dogs. The difference is that these mutations aren’t usually beneficial to village dogs, but the ones that aren’t too detrimental might persist at low frequency long enough for humans to start trying to promote breeding of that trait. Take achondrodysplasia [a type of dwarfism]. It almost certainly arose in village dogs, but to a free-ranging dog, super-short legs and all that comes with them probably aren’t much of a selective advantage. But once folks started looking for dogs to turn their spits, they found these super-short dogs to be useful, and eventually that genetic variant made its way into a whole host of modern breeds.

    For the specific achondrodysplasia mutation, I don’t know if that is the exact story, but I do think this is likely to be the case for many large-effect mutations. Depending on how early in dog evolutionary history the mutation arose, it could be found in most regional village dog populations, or it could be restricted to certain populations that are close to where it first arose. Lots of research still left to be done!

    JB: As a lifelong dog lover, you must find it difficult to see the deplorable conditions in which some of these dogs live.

    AB: There’s so much disease in these high-density populations. As these communities become more urbanized, dogs are living like rats and pigeons. Getting DNA on these populations is not enough of a reason to allow the animals to exist like this. Life on an urban street is rough existence.

    JB: If you adopt a village-dog puppy and raise it in a typical Western environment, what kind of dog will you have?

    AB: Adopting the dogs is not part of our project, but we know people who have done this. They can be great dogs. They don’t have some of the aggression issues you might see in some of our dogs, because they are culled for aggression, or for eating a chicken. There are some things that aren’t tolerated. So you might say that people in the villages impose a form of selection. The dogs are smart and resourceful. They seem to adapt.

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