Robocalls to the rescue
Many pets go missing in September, says Colleen Busch, spokesperson for FindToto.com, the country’s first lost pet phone alert system. She thinks it may be due, in part, to all the distractions of getting kids back to school. But whatever the reason, when your dog escapes or, worse, is stolen, FindToto is there, like a search party in your laptop. Simply input the details of your dog’s disappearance, a physical description and a photo. The service sends out recorded phone alerts to residents in the area where your dog disappeared (as quickly as 5,000 calls in 45 minutes). Costs run from $85 for 250 calls to $875 for 10,000.
As of June, the nearly three-year-old start-up claims to have located more than 3,000 pets, from a Siberian Husky in Brooklyn to a Toy Poodle in San Francisco. It’s logging a 75 percent success rate for alerts ordered within the first 48 hours of a disappearance. And it’s not just for dogs and cats — FindToto has helped track down goats, turtles, birds and a wallaby.
When the Dog Yawns, Sleep Follows
Getting catty over cats — jealous even — is not our intention. But it seems like every really juicy superstition, every prickles-on-the-back-ofthe- neck story, every bit of old-fashioned, been-around-forever folklore is in the cat’s corner, leaving dogs out in the cold, pawing at the back door, dolorously.
Exhibit A: A black cat crossing your path at midnight stirs up all kinds of heck. Forget animal superstitions; this is probably one of the best known of all superstitions, ever. And we’ve been a mite jealous about the whole thing. Not just the mystery and allure and glamour of inspiring such an oft-told tale, but that it is hard to even think up a dog-based superstition when put to it.
Being fond of folklore, and being fond of pups, we went nosing about for some told-and-not-so-true fables inspired by canines. Many millenniaold stories are based on wolves, wolf packs and all manner of moan-at-themoon lycanthropes, of course; few are as potent and as widely repeated as the ol’ black cat chestnut. But we were more curious about myths surrounding dogs living as pets or companions, not those animals found running over moors, howling romantically (and creepily).
We came across an eyebrow-cocker in the 1949 Encyclopedia of Superstitions, which reads, “It is unlucky to meet a barking dog early in the morning.” Really, though, does that make just about every dog owner on the planet unlucky? Hardly a day goes by when, before noon, the furry ones at our feet aren’t yipping to go out, giving the mailman what for, or simply telling one another to step away from the chew toy, pronto.
That said, the same encyclopedia predicts that “a strange dog following you is a sign of good luck.” True. We would add that it is a sign that you’ll be on the phone for most of the afternoon, looking for the dog’s family, and you’ll be photocopying fliers, and you may well be adopting that strange dog if no one ultimately claims him. That’s the modern retelling of the superstition.
Superstitions from Europe, translated by D.L. Ashliman, features a number of delightful folkloric nuggets, especially this: “Girls should pay attention to where the dogs bark on Saint Andrew’s Eve. Her groom will come from this area.” Mutts as mystical matchmakers? We like this.
The Dog Hause, a website with a bevy of beastie-based yarns, touts a superstition we adore, mostly because we’re mad for Matt Groening. According to the creator of The Simpsons, “A dog with seven toes can see ghosts.” You believe this, right? We do. In fact, we’ll call this one nearly verifiable truth. Call in the paranormal researchers. Art Bell, even.
Gaze between a dog’s ears while the pup is staring at seemingly nothing, says the same site, and you’ll see a ghost. We might add that if the dog has seven toes, you’ll be in for a major supernatural startle.
And while we’re always fond of a spirited spirit tale, we like the timeliness of this superstition, which we eyed at HistoryofDogs.com: “If you scratch a dog before you go job hunting, you’ll get a good job.” Positive words. Of course, we’re curious how thorough a scratch is required — are we talking a quick ear-stroker, or a full-on, get-thegrowler- on-his-back scratch-a-thon of the belly? Two different things, as every dog lover knows, though the justpressed interview suit might need to take care before heading out to the big meeting.
(The asterisk on that one, of course, is that if your interviewer is a big dog person, then a little Pug hair on your lapel may inspire instant rapport.)
Over at Writing.com, we came across a bit of folklore for fans of the Dalmatian, that celebrity of spotty snouties: “It’s good luck to meet a dog, particularly a Dalmatian.”
And dog + eating grass = rain, a superstition we’ve come across somewhat frequently, also receives play in the same list. Maybe the grass is dewier, fresher and tastier before a rain? Again, a question for the experts.
The more we perused, the more we got to pondering: Superstitions are always developing, changing, evolving; the tales we know now will be different 500 years hence. And the negative bent of some old superstitions — the barking-at-the-beginning-of-the-day bit — wrong-way-rubs us. So why not develop some of our own sayings, even if we mean to enjoy and retell them just within the confines of our own home?
Here’s a few we’re toying with: “When the Golden Retriever lingers at the door, a walk you shall take within the hour.” Tell us this isn’t nearly 100 percent accurate!
Or, “Stand not over the kitchen sink, but over the Brussels Griffon, as you consume your buttered toast; the morning sun shall later reflect a clean, un-becrumbed floor, and a dog that is licky-of-lip, and well-satisfied.” Also true. Might we add, we’ve seen the sun’s first rays reflect off the buttery lip of a Griffon, and there are few sights more heart-gladdening in the world. This is lucky indeed.
And, while we’re on a roll, let us consider the two words before us: dog superstitions. Doesn’t this also mean superstitions held by dogs? Our own pups hold (we think) a couple of credos: “If lady stands near treat bin, within minute, treat.” Or: “When water in tile room runs, soon fur shall be wet.”
All dog-loving humans should possess at least a half-dozen household superstitions of their own, to lend color, joy and fun to their houndfilled households. And likewise, every dog should be the taddest bit superstitious. After all, one needs something to ponder in the long hours stretched out in the sun or snoozing on the couch. One’s thoughts can’t be about “next walk, next treat, next walk, next treat” all the time. A hint of mystery, a little superstition, does the heart good.
Giving voice to Hollywood’s dogs
“Can we try that again?”
“Okay, one more take.”
Hollywood has been home to countless hounds who’ve acted in film and television. And while the sounds those pups emit have sometimes been their own unadulterated, 100 percent doggie growls and whimpers, often what we’re hearing when we watch a cartoon canine (and the occasional live-action mutt) is, well, very much human in origin.
Of course, since the invention of celluloid, human actors have often provided impressive sound effects for numerous fish, insects and various animals and other creatures. Flies buzz, salmon burble, squirrels chitter, kitties purr convincingly, often due in large part to an accomplished bipedal, Screen Actors Guild card–carrying actor at the microphone. But many artists who voice dogs aren’t merely playing the wisecracking, pants-wearing woofer who likes to drink beer and play baseball (in short, the played-for-laughs, extremely humanized hound). In addition to numerous animated animals, humans are ably voicing honest-to-goodness, real-life, silver-screen dogs, the kind of pups we live with.
“It seems like half my life, I have been barking…and some of that has been professionally,” says Frank Welker, an industry icon who has voiced a bevy of big-name bowwows, from Scooby Doo and Dynomutt to Goddard on The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius. “When I go to the doctor’s office for a physical and the doctor asks me to cough, I bark! It’s just a natural response.”
Feeling Like a Dog
It isn’t simply a matter of asking an actor to bark or growl with abandon, however. As real dogs can express fear or excitement or joy, the humans impersonating —or “in-dog-onating” perhaps—a pooch have to be able to convey the feeling the onscreen animal is experiencing at the moment. “When you’re making animal sounds, you still have to emote an emotion even if you’re not using words. Often the sounds will imitate the way a word sounds—the same amount of syllables,” says voice director Donna Grillo. “You know you’re going to have fun when you’re recording animal sounds.”
And while it is certainly a specialty in both the fields of animation and live action—being able to bark, with emotion, on cue—there’s more work for bipeds who can snorfle like a four-pawed pup than one might expect.“There’s usually a dog in the family and there need to be sounds for it,” says Grillo,who has directed her share of grunts and wheezes and sniffs while working in cartoons. “If it’s a comedy, I look for funny sounds. If it’s a serious or action-type show, I go for realistic.” Maybe the breaking-into-thebiz part is a bit harder than arriving at a traditional casting call with a headshot in hand, but, if you’re a film fan with a gift for growls, it might be a career course that will surprise the folks back home: Really? You bark for a living? Really?
But aspiring snarlers should know ahead of time that the recording process is quite rigorous and consists of much more than just yipping and zipping. You have to truly become the dog. “In Disney’s film Homeward Bound, I did all the actual dog [and cat] sound effects while celebrity actors did the spoken voices,” says Welker. “This was so much fun. They put the film up on a screen in a darkened studio and I would just roll with it and fill in the sounds as I felt them—it’s a process I love, called looping. Mostly it was breathing to make the audience buy into the strange reality of real live dogs speaking. It really works to help to make the transitions. The director was great and liked what I was doing. He said it was so realistic that the sound editors were not sure when the real dogs stopped and I started. That is the highest compliment I can get: being [mistaken for] a dog!”
Welker also favors a more realistic approach rather than a highly stylized, overly artificial performance.“Sometimes the project requires a dog who has a lot of personality that isn’t obvious on the screen. That is one of the more difficult things to do, trying to stretch it but keep it believable. I remember when I did the horror film Cujo—you had one of the most lovable creatures on the planet, a Saint Bernard. And it was supposed to be a rabid killing machine. I looked at this dog’s sweet face and thought No way ... but with good makeup (foaming jowls) and some of my most vicious growling and barking (I’m getting a sore throat now just thinking about it) and a mix of real dog sounds and some very good camera work, they did indeed create a classic horror flick. I leave it to the audience to judge if it worked, but I will tell you that I won’t watch it just before bedtime.”
Truly becoming the dog is key to the performance. The human self has to be stashed for the moment and the canine character fully assumed. “I picture myself as a dog, literally get into a stance, but stay on two feet, and prance around in front of the microphone as the dog, and then bark as if I were talking with that dog’s point of view,” says actor Barb Heller.When asked to play a Poodle,Heller modified her woof. “I had to come up with a higher pitched, feminine and spoiled bark. If I were doing a Terrier, I might have been a bit smaller and gruffer,with a bit of a squeak.”
For Heller to summon a particular “hound”sound, attitude is essential.“Figuring out what pitch and what type of ‘attitude’ s/he has” is part of the challenge of creating realistic dog f/x, according to Heller. “For all animals, this is the most challenging part in speaking as them.We only have their animal sounds and sighs or breathing patterns to work with.”
And while actors look to the fictional Fido they’re voicing to inform their performance, it’s no surprise that a real-life buddy is often the inspiration. Before one audition,Heller observed a pal’s pooch.“My friend Erin has a super cute Toy Poodle, and although he was smaller and more masculine than the older female Poodle I was playing, he had the right stuck-up, no-nonsense style. I started with his walk and high-pitched bark and went from there.”
Frank Welker lived with his furry muse for well over a decade. “I had a wonderful German Shepherd I loved dearly,” remembers Welker. “She lived with and tolerated me for 14 years, and I still dream and think of her often. She was a great friend and companion. I know she taught me a lot more dog than I taught her English—but then, there were days when I swore I heard her say, perfectly clear, ‘Uh, you’re not really going to wear that shirt with those pants, are you?’”
Merrill Markoe shares a few funny bones, and then some.
If you’ve watched much television during the past 20 years, chances are that Merrill Markoe has made you laugh. As the original head writer for Late Night with David Letterman, she hatched Stupid Pet Tricks and garnered five Emmys for comedy writing. She was a regular contributor to Sex in the City, Not Necessarily the News and Moonlighting, to name but a few of her television credits. She is also the author of several books, including What the Dogs Have Taught Me, How to Be Hap-Hap-Happy Like Me and a children’s book, The Day My Dogs Became Guys. Recently, Bark’s Alison Pace spoke with Markoe about her new novel, Walking in Circles Before Lying Down, and the dogs who inspire her.
Q One of the things I loved most about Walking in Circles Before Lying Down is that the dogs actually speak to your protagonist, Dawn. You’ve vividly brought to life the thought that so many dog owners have had: If only I knew what my dog was thinking. What sort of literary decisions, hesitations and big leaps went into deciding to make the dogs converse with Dawn?
A One of my favorite things to do is write conversations with my dogs. I get a kick out of imagining a serious backand- forth on topics like “Why did you pull the face off of the brand-new stuffed frog? We’ve only had it less than 10 minutes!” Or, “How can you possibly have to pee so many times in a row? We just went 30 seconds ago!” There are a number of these kinds of conversational pieces in What the Dogs Have Taught Me.
Before W.I.C.B.L.D. was published, when I was trying to figure out what to write my next novel about, I realized that I had never really gone the distance with the complexity of my feeling for dogs as a long-form topic. So I decided I wanted to flesh it out and go on record in a bigger way.
Q In your essay collection What the Dogs Have Taught Me, many of the essays were based on the life you share with your dogs. Are the dogs in Walking in Circles Before Lying Down based on real dogs—specifically, your dogs? If not, who and/or what provided the inspiration for the characters of Swentzle and Chuck?
A Swentzle was based on Lewis, one of my favorite dogs ever. Lewis was kind of a Flatcoated Retriever, or maybe a Golden/Newfie mix, which I read is what a Flatcoated Retriever was to begin with. I dedicated the book to Lewis, and I wrote the piece “Greeting Disorder” [in W.T.D.H.T.M.] about Lewis. He was the greatest guy.He’s one of those dogs I’ll never get over.When you came in the door to my house, he was so happy to see you that he greeted you in a way that was, for some people, occasionally confused with assault. And then, after you had been greeted to the point of physical and mental exhaustion, Lewis was still so glad to see you that he would go downstairs to my living room and have sex with the sofa for the whole rest of the time you were at my house. That is just how welcome he felt you were! In a way, he was a litmus test for friends—those who were utterly grossed out by this display were doomed to the discard pile. (And probably happier there.) I used to think that if Lewis was a songwriter, his hit tune would have been called I’ll Never Stop Saying Hello.
Chuck is based on one of my four current dogs, the incredibly hilarious and very smart Puppyboy. Puppyboy is kind of a Shepherd mix.He is very attentive and obedient and interactive, but he has that doggy fetch-obsession to the point of mania. From the first thing in the morning to the last thing at night, Pupp is bringing you stuff he hopes you will throw.He is dropping them into your lap and staring at you. And he never stops staring at you in this way until you go home. (Sometimes he keeps it up after you leave.)
When I take a nap on the couch, I often wake up to realize that Puppyboy is poised behind me, staring at my back, holding something in his mouth for me to throw —no hurry, he’s just waiting. And when I try to turn over, I realize he has been piling all kinds of other fetch options on the couch behind me… like, say, the squeaking ice cream cone and a torn stuffed animal and a ball.As though he’s thinking, Well, I guess she’s not into the headless froggy right now. But this’ll get her: the latex bone! I wrote about this particular aspect of him in W.T.D.H.T.M. also, in a piece called “Something Extremely Important.”
Q A life lived with dogs has clearly been an inspiration.What else inspires you?
A I am greatly inspired by all things in the natural world—biology, the different species of animals and their sociology. I find physics really inspiring. I don’t understand it too well, but I keep trying. That goes double for string theory. I am inspired by astronomy and marine biology and everything about evolution. And geology. And ancient civilizations.And plants. I love to read about human psychology. I love anything having to do with aberrant behavior and crime. In college, I had a minor in criminology because I like all of that stuff so much. I still get very inspired by anyone who is really going the distance in any of the arts—music, painting, film, theater. I don’t know if you can include comedy in the arts, but I love comedy and am very happy when someone does something that is actually funny on purpose. I am hypercritical and it doesn’t happen much. Currently I am completely inspired by the movie Idiocracy by Mike Judge (just out on DVD).He is my comedy hero right now.
Of course, I like reading. But I also like collecting stuff that is weirdly phrased, like misconceived advertising campaigns. I get stimulus overload in the grocery store. I feel like I’m on an archaeological dig, collecting samples of a weird culture. I am very inspired by the cheap plastic crap that our culture and every other culture on this planet spews out on a daily basis.
Suffice it to say that I find most of the outside world pretty interesting and inspiring, even if it’s only in a negative way. Sometimes the stuff I react to negatively is the most inspiring of all.
Q You were a judge on the excellent Animal Planet show Who Gets the Dog, in which each week you helped a shelter dog on his quest to find the perfect family. Any special stories to share from that experience, and is there any chance of that show making a return?
A I am pretty sure the show is not making a return anytime soon. I’m glad you liked it. I don’t think it got very good ratings. I can share with you the fact that the vet on that show, Dr. Dean Graulich, is my real vet. So I still see him quite a bit, often under less-than-ideal circumstances.
I can also share with you that everyone concerned with that show really meant well and really fretted and worried about giving the dog to the right home. I used to interrogate the members of the crew who had gone out on location to the potential homes— I wanted to find out what they had observed, because sometimes they would see something in person that was not obvious in the footage we watched, some sign of irresponsibility or weirdness. We didn’t want to give a dog to someone who would end up abandoning it.
Tamar and Dean and I were almost always in agreement about who should get the dog, (with a couple of spectacular disagreements where, of course, I am sure I was right). But we usually unanimously agreed to eliminate the people who had a big problem with dogs getting on their furniture. We really liked those dogs and I hope we did well by them. I would have taken half of them home.Hell, I would have taken all of them home. I’m lucky no one let me.
Q There have been a lot of changes in the dog world in recent years.Among other things, I don’t think I recall there being such a vast array of dog commerce a decade ago.What do you think about the state of dogs today, and how it has shifted over the years?
A Certainly, dog food has gotten a lot more nutrition- conscious, if the packaging is any indication. Even the worst dog food has drawings of carrots and apples on the sack now—and boasts of fish oil and glucosamine and every kind of vitamin and mineral. (I always think if dogs were in charge of making their own purchases, there would be drawings of garbage cans and kitty litter boxes and dirty napkins on the package.)
I have also noticed how even airports now have franchises that sell all kinds of dog and cat gift items—figurines, outfits, bowls, treats—and whimsical, overpriced, supposedly funny things,T-shirts, ridiculous crap. So clearly, dogs (and cats) are now a profitable moneymaking arena for big business.
I would wish that this meant that the dogs of today are being catered to in a nice way. Certainly some of them are.You and I both know their owners. But then, what are all those signs I see on bulletin boards and telephone poles, where people are moving and giving their dogs away? The only violent feelings I ever get happen when I read those signs.How dare these morons give their dog away just because they feel like changing apartments? How about getting a new apartment that takes dogs, you creep! And if things are so great now, how did all those abandoned dogs wind up in rescues and in shelters?
And then there’s the horror of what is going on in other countries. For example, China, where they have been killing thousands and thousands of dogs (including people’s beloved pets, even though the dogs have been inoculated) as a response to a relatively small number of people getting rabies.Not offering rabies shots, just killing every dog for miles and miles! The animal- abuse horror stories all over the globe are so widespread that it is difficult to know if any progress has been made, overall. Sometimes I say to myself, I don’t know why I am surprised at the way people treat animals. Look how awful we are to each other.
Q Having spent time on both coasts, do you see a big difference in the dog world between the East Coast and the West?
A For me, it is much more pleasant having a dog on the West Coast.When I was in NYC, I found all things involving my dogs to be stressful and difficult. I am thinking right now of that cozy moment in the middle of the night when your beloved dog comes up to you at 4 AM and whines and nuzzles your face, indicating that it would be a good idea if you would get up; put on several layers of outerwear, including sweaters, coats, boots, gloves and a hat; and then leave the apartment, travel down in an elevator, walk through a lobby and stand on a freezing cold street full of potentially dangerous strangers so he can pee. Or maybe he didn’t really have to pee, maybe he just wanted to see what was going on. Or bark at something that he thought was going to be there but is now gone.
Same situation here in LA means that the dog can just jump off the bed and go out the doggy door without so much as a permission slip needing to be signed.
I also love how, on the West Coast, I can drive to Costco and get a nice 75-pound sack of food, then drive home. It made me crazy in NYC to buy a four-pound box of dog kibble, serve it for dinner to the team and then be out of dog food.
Q Which rescue programs and shelters are closest to your heart?
A I like PETA because they seem to actually get things done. I like Best Friends. I love Jane Goodall. My friend, comedian Elayne Boosler, has a rescue foundation, Tails of Joy. My friend Sam Simon, one of the creators of The Simpsons, also has a rescue, the Sam Simon Foundation; they take dogs out of shelters and train them to work with disabled people. My “daughter”Hedda came from a rescue called New Leash on Life.
I pretty much like every rescue until I read an article in the National Enquirer about how they are a secret hell on earth. I have donated to so many dog charities that taking in my mail is a traumatic experience, because every day I get 10 envelopes seeking donations, and every one of them is decorated with a photograph of a poor, sad, miserable-looking animal who appears to be on death’s door. It certainly takes all the fun out of getting mail.
Q What advice might you have for someone whose dog is constantly eating vile things off the street?
A Boundaries, Alison.You must maintain your foundaboundaries. No matter how much she goes on about what a great experience it is, how surprisingly delicious and exciting, do not let her talk you into joining her. Take it from someone who learned her lesson the hard way.
Q What’s next for you?
A I’m writing another book. Once again, it is dog-intensive.Other than that, I have a few freelance assignments. I think I am going to get to make a short film based on “Something Extremely Important”— someone is threatening to finance it. If it works out, I will definitely link to it on my website, as I will be very, very happy to give Puppyboy his first starring role. If it doesn’t work out, I think I will make it anyway.
Notable second acts: Lydia Best
From corporate executive to dog walker is an unusual career trajectory, but Lydia Best doesn’t regret a moment of it. As director of recruiting for several IT consulting firms, Best logged thousands of miles of travel a year, which kept her from adding a dog to her life, as she and her husband— who was also a well-traveled citizen of corporate America— were so rarely home. Tired of being dogless, she changed jobs and adopted Daisy, an English Bulldog. When travel threatened in her new job, she decided it was time to quit altogether and consider what she wanted to do with her life. In 2000, she traded her Ann Taylor wardrobe for more casual wear—“You should have seen my husband’s face when I told him his six-figure-executive wife was going to pick up dog poop for a living”—and now, almost eight years later, her company, Everything and the Dog, coordinates the work of 78 independent contractors providing services to more than 1,600 active northern Virginia clients. Pet sitting and dog walking are on the menu, as are errandrunning (grocery store runs, dry cleaning drop-offs, etc.) and concierge assistance (reservations, vacation planning). Everything and the Dog is a family affair—Best’s mother is her office manager and her mother-in-law is one of the dog walkers. Completing the trifecta, her husband quit his corporate job and is now the company’s private chef, adding party planning and hosting as well as in-home chef services to the list. Best says she feels very fortunate that she gets to make a living doing something she loves, plus be with Daisy all day.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Q&A with musician Moby
For the past decade, multiplatinum-selling composer Moby has been showing his affinity for dogs, cats and other critters by partnering with HSUS to raise money and awareness for animal rights programs. Among these endeavors is mobygratis, a generous trove of instrumental film music he’s written “for anyone in need of free music for their independent, nonprofit film, video, or short.” The music on mobygratis remains gratis as long as it’s used in a noncommercial, nonprofit way; if it’s licensed for a commercial film, all money generated goes to HSUS.
Bark: Why mobygratis?
Moby: Friends who are into experimental filmmaking said that one of the most difficult things is licensing music for their work. So I set up mobygratis as a way of helping students and others making these types of independent films.
B: Tell us about the music—is it mostly extra tracks?
M: In some cases, they’re extra tracks, and others, they’re pieces that I wrote specifically for the site. There’s a pretty wide range of music up there.
B: How has the response been so far?
M: Good! I haven’t really publicized it, but the music has already been used in about 3,000 different films. A few features, but for the most part, they’ve been short pieces—five to ten minutes long.
B: Why did you select HSUS?
M: I’ve worked with them quite a lot over the years. One of the things that impresses me most about them is their diligence and their persistence. And also, because they’re such a big organization, they’re actually able to accomplish a lot on a legislative level.
B: On your site, to promote your new album, you made an animated video of yourself being interviewed by a dog. Why?
M: I don’t know how to draw cats!
B: Beyond companionship, what do you think dogs teach us?
M: I’m certainly not the first person to say this, but they teach the idea of loyalty, and the capacity to find joy in just the simplest things—to be uninhibited in our emotions.
Find out more at moby.com.
Good Dog: Studies & Research
A new study of the genomes of domestic dogs and wolf populations has determined that the domestic dog most likely originated in the Middle East. The finding strongly contradicts earlier mitochondrial DNA studies that put the origins of the domestication in East Asia. In comparing the various genomes of different populations of wolves and dogs, researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, concluded that dog genomes and Middle Eastern wolf genomes contain the greatest similarity.
The research team, led by Dr. Robert K. Wayne and Bridgett M. vonHoldt, used a genome-wide methodology to determine which populations of wolves were most closely related to dogs. SNP or “snip” chips (devices similar to computer chips than can “read” the DNA down to a single nucleotide polymorphism), looked at 48,000 different locations in the dog genome. SNP chips have been used to scan humans for susceptibility to disease, such as cancer predisposition. In this study, the chips mark regions of common variation within the DNA, allowing researchers to make more accurate comparisons across populations.
It turns out that dogs have more similarities at these 48,000 different locations with Middle Eastern wolves than with other populations of wolves. The findings strongly suggest that today’s domestic dog descends from ancestors in the Middle East.
The original mitochondrial DNA studies looked at only one part of the genome, which is inherited from the female ancestors. Such studies found greater variance in the mitochondrial DNA of East Asian dogs, and since organisms have greater genetic variation at their point of origin, it was then thought that dogs were originally domesticated in Southern China. Because mitochondrial DNA is but a small part of the genome, inferences gleaned from its study may not be as valid as those from a genome-wide study.
Now we know that Middle Eastern wolves likely were among the first populations of wolf to encounter humans; thus it is from these populations that our oldest friend evolved. Researchers also looked for signatures of selection in the genes, and one of the notable genes identified has a human counterpart — implicated in Williams syndrome — which is expressed as extreme friendliness disorder in humans.
Interview with the actor, writer, and director.
Alan Cumming is best known for his appearances in movies such as X2: X-Men United, Son of the Mask and Nicholas Nickleby. This winter on the Sci Fi Channel, he stars alongside Richard Dreyfuss in Tin Man, a miniseries based on The Wizard of Oz.
In most of his films, Cumming takes the roles of creeps, geeks or crazies. “Subtlety’s not my forte,” he says. “I think you can be as big as you like as long as you mean it.” But in real life, he is a glamorous and charming figure. Even though he’s in his 40s, a boyish enthusiasm infects everything he does—and he does a lot. A native of Scotland, he now splits his time between Manhattan and upstate New York; in between acting jobs, he oversees his various other projects. His latest, Suffering Man’s Charity (which he directs and stars in), is making the rounds of the film festival circuit. He’s also a well-known campaigner in the fight against HIV and AIDS, and a novelist. His book, Tommy’s Tale, was published in 2003, and he’s currently at work on the screenplay.
All in all, perhaps, not the sort of celebrity who would have a lot of time for a dog, you might think. But in fact, Alan is crazy about canines, and it’s all thanks to his dog Honey. To find out more, Bark caught up with him on a recent visit to the UK to ask him a few questions about life with his beloved doggie companion.
Bark: Did you have any dogs before Honey?
Alan Cumming: As as child, I had two West Highland Terriers. They were my constant companions growing up. But no dogs as an adult, which seems crazy to me now. I can’t imagine life without one.
B: How did you come by Honey?
AC: A friend was working at Cause for Paws, a charity in New York that rescues dogs from dog pounds on the day they would have been put down. They foster them out, and Honey was fostered with my friend. The weirdest thing was, I had no intention of getting a dog. But Honey was so amazing, I had to have her.
B: What do you think her background was?
AC: I think it was pretty difficult. At first, Honey was quite freaked out—she had paint all down her side and she slept the whole time. She was scared of bin bags [garbage bags] and skips [Dumpsters] —and she loved homeless people! My theory is that she was thrown in a skip and homeless people looked after her.
B: What does having a dog bring to your life?
AC: Obviously a huge great amount of love. And also, there’s a new kind of responsibility. I really enjoy having to make time to walk her—it’s not only about me anymore. And when I’m on walks, I see parts of the city I never would have seen otherwise, and talk to different people. A new world of camaraderie has been unlocked that I just didn’t notice as a non-dog-owner. But I can find myself getting judgmental too: I’ll see someone being rough with their dog or something and think, There’s no need to talk to him like that!
B: Honey has been forging her own show biz career recently.Can you tell us about it?
AC: Well, she helped me with my makeup on X2—it took four hours every morning to get that blue face! (Cumming played the role of Nightcrawler). Honey had her own chair, although she hated sitting on it. Last year, she played herself in a film called Sweet Land, about rural Minnesota in the 1920s. I play a farmer, she plays my dog. I got her a part in another film but she was cut out of it, so I was determined that it wouldn’t happen in Sweet Land. I made sure she was in the film’s biggest scene, which happened to be everyone running towards the camera, so it suited her quite well.
Honey also has her own show on the Sundance Channel, Midnight Snack. She and her stepbrother Leon (Cumming married his boyfriend—Leon’s dad— last winter in London) review all the new DVD releases. Honey puts her paws up or down, depending whether she likes the film or not. Leon (he’s a Chihuahua) howls if the films meet his approval. To get Leon to sing, we had to record the sound of a fire engine. It’s so funny! When we press play, he starts looking interested in the tape player, then he just goes crazy.
B: What do Honey and Leon request backstage? I know some celebrities can be quite demanding.
AC: They have their own dressing rooms, with their own beds in them. They have their own rider: dog food. There are special rules too. For example, you can’t leave tape in Honey’s dressing room because she’ll eat it. And she doesn’t like noise either.
B: Does Honey travel with you when you are on location?
AC: Quite a lot. She has her own passport and chip and her own account with Virgin—you can get doggie air miles. At first she was frightened about traveling in the hold in a cage, but now she’s a seasoned traveler; she knows it’s going to end. Sometimes, if I’m working in Vancouver, I travel with her across the U.S. in my campervan. It’s a great way to see the country.
B: Describe a typical day in Honey’s life when she’s not on the set.
AC: She’s up late, forced out of bed by Dad. Then off to Tompkins Square dog run [in Manhattan] to see her friends. Leon goes to the little dog park—they’re quite strict; no dog over 23 pounds is allowed in the little dog park. So if I have both, I have to position myself where both dogs can see me.
Also, non-dog-owners are frowned upon, but a few come in just to look. I see Moby there sometimes and I think to myself, I’m sure you haven’t got a dog! At the weekend, everyone hangs over the fence to ogle the dogs. It’s great, it’s very sociable. I often see the same dogowners and we chat.
After the dog park, Honey takes a walk around the East Village. Then she goes into the office to hang out with my assistant and deal with her correspondence. Then she’ll probably take another walk before dinner.
B: What’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought for Honey?
AC: Swimming pool steps. I was so worried about her drowning that I installed these special steps she can climb up to get out. She goes swimming with me a lot; she’s quite trepidatious at first, but she gets into it.
B: What are Honey’s best traits?
AC: She’s aloof. She’s not a dog who seeks love from everyone—she doesn’t need affirmation all the time. But when she sees someone she knows, she just goes nuts.
B: Her worst?
AC: She’s a scavenger. She’ll make a dive for something even though I’m trying to pull her away from it.
B: If Honey was a person, who would she be?
AC: A posh English actress. She sits in the window with paws crossed looking out like a character in a Bergman film. We joke that when Leon tries to hump her, she looks as though she’s calling for her agent to come and deal with him.
B: What kind of dog would you be if you had to come back as one?
AC: A Scottie. Happy all the time, but also feisty.
B: If you could be a dog for a day, what would you do?
AC: I would be in my house in upstate New York. It’s become Honey’s place— it’s great for dogs. There was a deer standing there the other day and Honey was furious, as though she was saying, “Get away from my house!” I’d love to know what she saw and what she smelt and heard. It would be great.
Editor's Note: Unfortunately, Honey was diagnoised with cancer and passed away in 2014. Alan has adopted a new dog Lala and you can check out their adventures on his instagram page.
Dog's Life: DIY
Lovable companions crafted from pebbles and paper.
You will need:
• teardrop punch
Pebble focus: for the body, you will need one broad bean-shaped pebble that is slightly plump at one end to suggest the rump. It should be about the same size as a hen’s egg. For the head, you will need one oval-shaped pebble, approximately half of the size of the pebble used for the body.
1. To make the ears, use a pencil, ruler and scissors to mark, measure and cut out two 3 x 4cm (11/8 x 1½in) rectangles for the inner ears: one each in pink handmade paper and white craft paper. For the outer ears, cut out two 2 x 3cm (¾ x 11/8in) rectangles: one each in reddish-brown and white handmade paper. Using the template below, make up the ears using pink handmade paper for the inner ear colouring. Be careful to make one ear’s outer colouring reddish-brown and the other ear’s outer colouring white. Set the ears aside.
2. To make the tail, use a pencil and ruler to mark and measure out an isosceles triangle with a base of 2cm (¾in) and sides of 3cm (11/8in) onto the white handmade paper. Tear it out and smear glue mix* all over the paper. Place the florists’ wire on top of the triangle’s apex. Slant the paper at a slight angle and wind it spirally down, covering the wire by rotating it. Make sure that one end is pointed to create the tail’s tip and the other end is slightly thicker to form the base of the tail. Set the tail aside.
3. Use the glue mix to cover both pebbles completely with pieces of white handmade paper. When the glue is dry, use a pencil to outline the place on the body pebble where the head pebble is to be attached.
4. To attach the patch and ears, tear out a circular-shaped patch from reddish-brown handmade paper, the size of which should fill half the forehead. Using the glue mix, attach this onto the appropriate part of the forehead. Attach the ears onto the back of the head using a little PVA adhesive. The pink inner ear should face towards the front of the dog. Use small pieces of reddish-brown and white handmade paper to hide the join between the ears and head.
5. Apply a little glue mix to the muzzle area and attach small pieces of pink facial tissue over the glued area. Tear out a thumb-tip sized circle from brown handmade paper. Apply a little glue mix to the paper and mould it into a triangular-shaped nose. Using a little PVA adhesive, attach it onto the tip of the muzzle. When the adhesive is dry, cover the nose with a layer of clear nail varnish.
6. To make the eyes, use a teardrop punch to create two teardrops from black craft paper. Using a drop of PVA adhesive, attach them onto the face in the desired position and add a tiny dot of white acrylic paint to each eye. When the paint is dry, cover the eyes with a layer of clear nail varnish. Use a grey brush-tip pen to draw on an upside down Y for the bull terrier’s mouth.
Take your time creating the facial details to get them just right for each breed. Bull Terriers are known for their long, slim ears and slanted, closely set eyes, so take care when positioning these.
7. To make the body, tear out one circular-shaped patch from reddish-brown handmade paper, the size of which should cover one side of the back. Tear out another patch of a suitable size to cover the rump. Attach these patches onto their appropriate areas of the body using the glue mix.
8. Using a little PVA adhesive, attach the base of the tail onto the underside of the body’s back-end. Use a small piece of white handmade paper to hide the join between the tail and body.
9. To join the pebbles, use a pencil, ruler and scissors to mark, measure and cut out a 1 x 6cm (3/8 x 23/8in) rectangle of white handmade paper. Join the head and body pebbles together, making sure that the paper ring is glued onto the outlined area created in step 3.
10. Create the collar with a nametag from black handmade paper and a gold coloured brass paper fastener. Fasten it around the dog’s neck to hide the join between the two pebbles.
*To create a glue mix, make up a small amount of wallpaper paste that is lumpy in consistency. Add an equal quantity of PVA adhesive (white glue) and mix it into a smooth paste to make an ideal mix for attaching handmade paper onto your pebble. While not in use, cover the dish with a piece of plastic to prevent the mix from drying hard.
Henry’s collar is functional as well as fashionable! In addition to giving him a smart appearance, it cleverly hides the joins between the head and body pebbles.
Indie rocker Derek James—with his sultry voice and genuine talent— has been called a bluesy Buddy Holly for the iPod generation, and his life has been as eclectic as his music. Stray, James’s debut album, was written while he was working as a live-in nanny for a suburban New York family. At night, while the family slept, James stayed up writing songs in his basement quarters in the company of Clueless, the family dog. He repaid Clueless’s devotion by titling his album Stray and his record label Howling Clue. Nanny no more, James is now making the rounds at premier East Coast music venues.
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