News: Guest Posts
On the whole, human breeders have not improved on nature.
On a flight last year, I sat next to a woman from India on her way to London from New York, where she had been visiting her first grandchild When she heard I wrote about dogs, she turned her attention to the one aspect of her daughter and son-in-law’s life she could not understand—their dog. On her walks around Central Park with the dog and her granddaughter, the dog drew the most attention and comment.
He was a black, blue-eyed French Bulldog for whom they had paid $3,000 to a veterinarian/breeder in New Jersey. They had already spent that much again on veterinary bills in less than a year.
Defenders of the purebred dog industry talk a lot about responsible breeders, and I once tended to follow their lead. But shortly after the Atlantic Monthly published my article, “The Politics of Dogs,” in March 1990 [It is hard to find on-line because of a class-action lawsuit regarding electronic rights, but it can be found.], I began to hear from people who had, like this couple, gone to a responsible breeder only to end up with a dog with problems. Many of the genetic conditions to which pedigreed dogs are prey do not follow strict lines of inheritance—they skip generations or move through aunts and uncles. They do sort by breed, but that is because those breeds have arisen from a small number of founders—in short, they are inbred, dangerously so, and this tight knit extended family shares most strongly genetic diseases and physical characteristics. Outer beauty conceals inner flaws.
French Bulldogs, for example, are prone to von Willebrand’s Disease, a blood disorder, as well as spinal problems, a cleft palate, and heat stroke. Many airlines no longer carry brachycephalic breeds—those with pushed in faces—because they have a tendency to die in flight from breathing problems related to overexcitement.
In light of that, the woman asked, why do so many people spend so much money on these dogs? This conversation occurred months before the sale of a Tibetan mastiff puppy at a luxury pets’ mart in Hangzhou, China, to a Qingdao property developer for 12-million yuan (about $1.9 million), reportedly a record price for a dog. It is easy here to invoke the 19th and early 20th century economist, Thorstein Veblen and his theory of conspicuous consumption.
To Veblen, such dogs are objects of conspicuous consumption, animals with no intrinsic value that nonetheless are made valuable by the fact that someone goes to great lengths to obtain and maintain them despite or because of the expense involved in doing so. Put another way, possession of such a being marks you as a person with so much money that you can obtain and maintain an animal with no useful talent.
That would certainly be the case with the Tibetan mastiff, which according to some assays is merely a reconstruction of a once mighty landrace of large livestock protection dog, which it resembles the way a teddy bear resembles a grizzly cub.
Clearly spending that much on a dog must be considered conspicuous consumption of the most extreme sort. It is also a mordant commentary on the Chinese Revolution, for half a century ago, Mao Zedong sought to rid China of pet dogs he considered objects of bourgeois recidivism—that is, conspicuous consumption.
Currently the recidivists have won. In China and other countries with a growing urban middle class, people are buying more and more dogs, eschewing their local dogs for Western pure breeds. To them, the pedigree signifies quality.
When Veblen used the Pekinese as an example of an object of conspicuous consumption, purebred dogs were relatively new on the scene and well beyond the means of most people. A century later, the dogs are no longer rare, nor are their prices, even at $1,000, so outrageous, especially when buyers are convinced they are getting excellent bloodlines, superior quality, and specific behavioral characteristics.
Those beliefs fuel demands for purebred dogs produced by commercial breeders—let’s just call anyone engaged in the large scale “production” of puppies for profit, a commercial, or mass, breeder, and recognize that some are better than others, which is not an endorsement of any of them.
Demand for purebred dogs shot up following World War II when returning veterans, establishing their lives in burgeoning suburbs, sought them out as accompaniments to their new homes, cars, and families. The pedigree provided by the rapidly expanding American Kennel Club, the largest registry of dogs in the world, proved these acquisitions were not the old family mutt, but refined and sophisticated pets. Demand fueled the growth of mass breeders, pet stores, dog shows, regulations to fence and leash dogs, and unwanted dogs.
I estimate that by some point in the 1990s half of all dogs In America were purebred, and a great many of them were from mass breeders. That was a problem because they too frequently bred dogs without regard for their temperament or genetic soundness and failed to socialize them during the critical first three to four months. If dogs are not socialized to humans during that time, they might have difficulty ever becoming fully socialized and often have behavioral issues.
The problem with these breeders has been known for decades and several national animal advocacy groups have campaigned against them for years without much result. Although there are many political explanations for the failure to end the retail trade in dogs, these groups have not invested in the sort of intense, dedicated campaign required to shut it down.
Instead, we get things like the Humane Society of the United States forming a group, Breeder’ Advisory and Resource Council, to advise it on matters relating to responsible dog breeding.
Mass breeders are a significant part of the problem of purebred dogs, but not the only one. My colleague and fellow Psychology Today blogger, Marc Bekoff, has argued for a full halt to breeding more dogs as long as millions of perfectly fine, adoptable animals await new homes in shelters or the homes of breed rescue group volunteers. With so many dogs in need, he says, the compassionate and humane thing for someone wanting a dog is to adopt one.
I believe he is right, and I would add that the breeding of dogs as it is now done should stop until ways can be found to minimize the risk of a dog being born with an inherited deformity or illness. That includes behavioral problems. These conditions disproportionately seem found in puppy mill dogs, but not exclusively. Some of these conditions, especially cytoskeletal ones like brachycephaly are so extreme that puppies must be delivered by caesarean section and subsequently have difficulty breathing normally and dissipating heat. The book on these inherited ailments is long and growing longer. Most are due to the heavy inbreeding and common use of favored sires in breed formation.
It is worth remembering here, that breeds are formed through consolidation from an existing population, when a few animals are used to create the Platonic ideal of the ‘breed,’ and through amalgamation, in which representatives from several similar landraces are crossed to create the perfect representative of all.
No matter which method was followed, the resulting dog was said to represent the breed in its pure essence and be more intelligent and talented than any of its naturally breeding predecessors. With few exceptions involving specialized behaviors that have been enhanced through selective breeding, that is untrue. Nonetheless, like mantras, the histories of these new breeds and accounts of their prowess were repeated so often, they became truth—to everyone but the rulers of the American Kennel Club. For decades they have publicly maintained that the AKC issued pedigree proving that for three or more generations the dog in question is an official Chesapeake Bay Retriever or whatever the case may be does not represent quality, does not guarantee that the dog is healthy or possessed of a good temperament. They did that because they wished to avoid possible consumer lawsuits involving dogs with serious defects and flaws.
Despite those disclaimers, the AKC has continued to a promote the virtues of purebred dogs, like the problematic French Bulldog, the eleventh most popular dog it registered in 2013, and the larger English bulldog. It was the fifth most popular breed registered in 2013, even though nearly 72 percent of the bulldogs evaluated by the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals had crippling hip dysplasia; none could whelp naturally.
The argument is sometimes made that breeds are important biological artifacts but, in fact, over the decades breeders have altered their appearance—and perhaps their behavior—and perhaps their behavior—substantially. Many breeders say that they are attempting to improve the breed they love, but the very notion that a breed needs improvement suggests that it has problems.
Few if any breeders can predict that all puppies in a litter will be free of congenital defect, but in many cases the odds are stacked against them from the start by a plethora of problems and conditions associated with their breed. Breeders and kennel clubs should focus on ridding the breeds they love and promote of those inheritable conditions, and the way to do that is to stop engaging in dangerous breeding practices and to avoid breeding dogs who have them in their bloodlines.
Dogs deserve no less.
This post first appeared on Mark Derr's blog, Dog's Best Friend on Psychology Today. Used with permission.
Dog's Life: Humane
Act Locally and Globally
According to the 2013 World Giving Index, an annual survey conducted by the Charities Aid Foundation, in 2012, the United States topped a list of 135 countries as the world’s most generous nation. As director of Animal-Kind International (AKI), a nonprofit that supports 10 (soon to be 11) existing animal-welfare organizations in poor countries, I was thrilled to read these statistics. But do they apply to animal welfare? Have animal welfare advocates moved beyond national borders to support animal protection efforts wherever they are needed? If not, why not?
Thanks largely to social media and international travel, interest in and awareness of global animal welfare issues are certainly growing. These days, I less often hear, “Why should we help over there when we have so many animal problems here in the U.S.?” Rather, I meet people like Maritha, an AKI supporter, who has traveled to Jamaica and who designates an AKI partner organization, Kingston Community Animal Welfare, for her donations. Maritha’s reason for donating to an organization thousands of miles away? “A dog is a dog, and it doesn’t matter which country he comes from. Where the help is needed most and where you know you can make an impact, that’s where you should put your money.”
Even though awareness and interest are growing, my AKI experience tells me that animal welfare advocates have yet to wholeheartedly join the trend of donating beyond borders. Certainly, U.S.-based animal welfare organizations deserve our support, but if American dog- and cat-lovers knew of the tremendous strides animal welfare organizations in poor countries are making (and their tremendous needs), and if they knew that their donated funds were well accounted for and were making a difference, the boundaries to giving would break down.
AKI fills those knowledge gaps: We report on our partner organizations’ successes and challenges. We provide details of how these donations are used. We do the due diligence to ensure that our partner organizations spend funds only for animal welfare purposes. And we send 100 percent of all donations to our partner organizations, all of which were started and/or are now run by local people who deeply care about animals.
It’s an exciting time to be involved in international animal welfare; things are happening so quickly! In the past few years, Pilar, who runs the AKI partner organization Helping Hands for Hounds of Honduras, noted that “people now take their dogs to the vet for vaccinations and when they are sick (although often they wait too long due to their financial situation). They also buy dog houses, and dogs are less often chained and left out in the sun and rain with no shelter. People are now buying dog food (often the cheap kind) instead of giving them old, moldy tortillas. Many people now bury their pets when they die instead of throwing them in the trash.”
Our AKI partner organizations do so much with so little; they are often the only animal welfare organization in the country. They work in countries where donations to animal welfare are so hard to come by, and where American expertise, lessons learned and generosity can have a huge impact. It’s not about us v. them; it’s not a matter of local v. global. We all have something to share.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Leash
The San Francisco Bay Area is blessed with a majestic natural setting. Thanks to forwardthinking citizen activists and environmentalists, generations have been able to enjoy the scenic beauty and open spaces of Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo Counties.
In 1972, Congress established Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA)—a unit of the National Park Service—to, among other things, create an area that “concentrate[s] on serving the outdoor recreational needs of the people of the metropolitan area.”
For decades, these traditional “outdoor recreational needs” have included off-leash dog walking. In GGNRA’s San Francisco-based sites alone, off-leash areas (OLAs) from Crissy Field to Fort Funston occupy prime spots along the bay’s shoreline. Currently, a little less than 1 percent of all of GGNRA’s approximately 80,000 acres of protected lands are accessible for any kind of dog walking, and now even this small amount is in jeopardy.
In 1979, GGNRA adopted a Pet Policy that outlined off-leash rules and defined OLAs in its San Francisco and Marin County sites. However, over time, GGNRA began closing some of these off-leash areas and, in 2001, rescinded the 1979 policy. During this period, and throughout several subsequent legal challenges, howls of protest were heard across the region. Consequently, GGNRA stopped enforcing leash laws and began the long process of creating a special rule to manage dogs in its parklands.
In 2010, GGNRA released its draft dog-management plan, in which they proposed restricted alternatives in 22 areas. After roughly 4,700 people submitted comments regarding this deeply flawed document, GGNRA went back to the drawing board and recently released a supplemental plan.
Unfortunately, the new plan is just as restrictive, proposing extremely limited off-leash and on-leash areas, as well as no-dog areas, for historically dog-friendly Crissy Field, Muir Beach, Baker Beach, Mori Point and Rancho Corral de Tierra, among others.
In its attempts to balance off-leash dog recreation with other park uses, it appears that GGNRA is abusing its discretion by curtailing this use without adequate scientific support for the impacts they claim, and ignoring or discounting the demonstrated impact on existing recreational uses. The outcome of this final plan could have repercussions nationwide as policymakers watch to see what kinds of restrictions to dog-walking access the public will accept.
Crissy Field Dog Group supports a modified alternative to the 1979 Pet Policy that includes responsible offleash dog-walking in GGNRA lands (including those in San Mateo County), provides clear and concise signage and continuing-education opportunities such as fee-based off-leash training classes, allows each permitted professional dog walker to handle up to six dogs, and creates a monthly recreation roundtable so that different user groups can address visitor concerns.
We need you to become involved in this process. Please write to your elected officials and let them know what you want. The current deadline for public comment is December 4, but we have requested an extension.
If dogs are this severely restricted in GGNRA, city dog parks and neighborhoods bordering the parklands will be inundated with dog walkers, and there will likely be more conflict. Let’s create a dog-management plan that protects these scenic areas and allows everyone to enjoy them.
Details on the current proposal can be found at parkplanning.nps.gov/ dogplan. Go to crissyfielddog.org, eco-dog.org and saveoffleash.org for more information on the commenting process.
News: Guest Posts
A Missoula man is living my worst nightmare. My heart goes out to him.
On Sunday, November 17th, Layne Spence took his three family members – Malamutes Rex, Frank and Little Dave – out into the forest near Lolo Pass in Missoula County for some recreation. They drove to a campground that is closed for the winter. Spence was x/c skiing while his dogs did what Malamutes love to do – trot up the road just ahead of him, enjoying the snow. Because it’s hunting season, Spence’s dogs each wore a special collar with lights.
Suddenly, without warning, their peaceful winter outing was destroyed by the sound of gunfire—as reported in the local paper—two quick, muffled shots. Horrified, Spence watched Little Dave’s rear leg explode just yards ahead of him on the road. Yelling “Stop! Stop!” to alert the shooter, Spence stood helplessly on his skis as the camo-wearing hunter quickly fired four more times at Little Dave, with at least one bullet piercing the dog’s neck, killing him. The hunter then came down out of the trees, saying he thought Little Dave was a wolf and asked if he could do anything. Spence did exactly what I would have done—screamed at the guy to leave.
In 2005, my Malamutes Maia and Meadow and I moved to the West Central Mountains of Idaho, a rural ranching and logging area adjacent to the Payette National Forest, just outside the tourist town of McCall. Wild wolves had recently been reintroduced and were gaining a toe hold in the State, over the vocal objections of many Idahoans, including most hunters and ranchers. I had been living in the Seattle area, where strangers were always interested in meeting my girls, rarely showed fear and never thought they were wolves. In Idaho, I discovered the opposite was true: most locals assumed they were wolves, were immediately afraid of them, and only with reassurance from me that they were dogs— very friendly dogs—would they come closer to meet them. One of my new neighbor, a rancher who—like so many there—bought grazing allotments from the forest service and grazed his cattle in the Payette every summer, letting them roam freely, making them possible targets for wolves—assured me that no one would mistake my girls for a wolf, that wolves have longer legs, don’t hold their tails curled up on their backs, etc. I wanted to believe him, but…I couldn’t, based on the fearful reactions the girls kept eliciting. A couple years later, as I was walking my girls on leash up a country lane, this same neighbor stopped his truck beside us. Without preamble, he pointed at Maia, the one who looked most wolf-like, and said, “I shot a wolf that got into my cattle yesterday. It looked just like that one.” He then drove away. I felt threatened and didn’t sleep easy for weeks.
During my time in Idaho—2005 through 2008—wolves were still protected as an endangered species and it was illegal to hunt them, although they could legally be shot if they “worried” livestock or threatened a pet. Despite those protections, I quickly learned that most locals would shoot any wolf they happened to see in the forest, any time of year, the Feds be damned. They bragged about it, or wanting to do it. So I made sure, any time I took my girls hiking or trail running in the forest, they stayed very close to me. During hunting season, I covered them in orange and even then—because I feared they would still be mistaken for wolves—I took them trail running in the only two nearby places where hunting was always illegal, a State park and a ski resort. I referred to their orange vests as “Do Not Hunt Me” vests. In fact, my fear was so great, I embellished the first vests I found (ironically sold by gun manufacturer Winchester to be worn by bird hunting dogs) by adding several lengths of orange flagging tape to their collars. The vests had nothing covering their chests so that head on, my girls could still be mistaken for wolves. Eventually I found bright orange vests made by VizVest that covered virtually their entire chest, backs and sides. I relaxed only slightly.
By 2008, it became clear wolves would lose federal protection and hunting them would be legalized in Idaho. Despite my love of the breed and having at least one Malamute in my life since 1985, I vowed that if I continued to live in Idaho I would not get another because the stress of worrying they’d be shot was too great. When I did add another dog to my family in 2008, I got an Aussie—a ranch breed no hunter would mistake for a wolf.
Trying to understand everyone’s perspective, I asked lots of questions—of locals, hunters, fish and game experts. Here’s my opinion, based on those conversations and living with the issue in a far-too-intimate way: Hunters out to kill wolves do so based on myth and fear. Their motivation is far different than the typical game hunter. Wolf hunters aren’t hunting for food, or even a trophy (although there are some really sad people out there who consider wolves a trophy animal and pose proudly next to one they’ve killed). An ethical elk or deer hunter will aim carefully to take the game with one shot; they don’t want the animal to suffer, nor do they want to follow a wounded animal over rough terrain to finally kill it. Many give thanks to the animal for the food it will provide. But a wolf hunter? They want wolves to suffer, they want to exterminate the species all over again. Wolf hunters seem motivated by an intense, almost irrational hatred borne of fear, believing wolf actively seek to kill humans. When I was building my house in Idaho, a concrete contractor told me with a straight face that the wolves the Feds were forcing on Idaho would come down onto school playgrounds and snatch children. (When I asked my 80-something father, who as a Kansas farm boy grew up hunting, why people were so afraid of wolves, he replied with his usual insight, “I guess they still believe in fairy tales.”) Add to that fear a strong anger based on the misguided belief that wolves are decimating elk populations, making it harder for hunters to find them. (This hunter complaint is common, despite research in Yellowstone showing that reintroducing wolves improves overall herd health, and reduced elk populations allow aspen trees decimated by the elk to thrive once again, returning the entire ecosystem to balance.)
Mix misinformation (myth), fear and anger and you have a combustible combination leading to rash, irresponsible shootings like the one that killed Little Dave.
I moved back to western Washington in early 2009. By then, wolves were delisted and states like Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were eagerly issuing hunting tags for them or planning to do so. Idaho’s governor boasted he wanted the first tag. The blood lust for wolves was palpable, and for me, sickening. Locals complained how the wolves didn’t belong in Idaho, saying they weren’t even “native” which totally ignored their extermination decades earlier. Rumors spreading around town of the evils perpetrated by wolves grew to fantastic proportions. As one sympathetic dog-loving friend said to me, “It’s like religion. They believe what they want to believe and can’t be persuaded they might be wrong.” It was clear to me that tragedies like that suffered by Little Dave and Layne Spence were waiting to happen in any state allowing wolf hunting.
Even more tragic for Mr. Spence? There’s nothing the State of Montana—the Fish, Wildlife and Parks Department nor local Missoula County law enforcement—can or will do. Apparently the shooter had a tag for wolf hunting, the season in Montana for wolves in all winter long (September 15 – March 15), and the killing occurred in an area where hunting was legal. (If Montana is like Idaho, legal hunting territory is pretty much everywhere outside city limits.)
However, Mr. Spence may have a civil cause of action against the hunter for intentional or negligent infliction of emotional trauma—seeing his beloved pet shot and killed on a public road—depending on Montana’s statutory and common law. I hope he finds an animal law attorney and pursues it, because these sorts of cases, whether won or lost in the early rounds, can slowly change laws and people’s perceptions of what’s okay and what isn’t. When the pets we take onto public lands with us are afforded the same protections from harm that we are, others will be more careful. There are better, safer ways to “manage” wolf populations than issuing cheap hunting tags to people whose hatred and fear turns them into vigilante exterminators, overcoming their ability to hunt safely.
Read the original article in The Missoulian on November 19th, which has since posted several follow-up articles.
Dog's Life: Humane
Creating a snapshot of the state of animal sheltering in the U.S. can be a challenge. Bring up the topic in any group of dog-or cat-lovers and be prepared for a conversation that can move quickly from meaningful discussion to explosive argument. State and local political candidates are often confronted with questions regarding public-shelter policy, and even President Obama was criticized for not adopting a shelter dog.
Since at least the 1860s, animal sheltering has been an industry at odds with itself, splintered between 5500 welfare and humane associations and public, governmental animal control and sheltering groups and deeply torn by philosophical differences on strategies and programs intended to address pet overpopulation. However, all of the battling factions care very deeply and feel they are doing the best they can for the millions of dogs and cats in their care.
Most shelters operate on tight budgets, often relying on volunteers to supplement small employee rosters. Tending to the animals consumes the majority of their resources, and collecting and maintaining data come in a distant second. Further muddying the waters, most states don’t legislate direct oversight, although a few assign advisory boards, which tend to function in a cursory manner.
Though sociological research into human and animal interaction focused on family, shared meanings between people and pets, euthanasia work and identity reflects a paradigm shift in how we view our companion animals, applied research—studies of animalsheltering operations—has inched forward more slowly. This issue of The Bark features a trio of innovative programs that concentrate on increasing adoption and significantly decreasing euthanasia. Many other shelters also work to creatively address similar problems.
Applied research can assist these dedicated leaders and volunteers. To determine the validity of new strategies and establish a baseline for future comparisons, basic statistical analysis and data collection are required. Regrettably, at this point, we hit another wall. Not only are organizations reluctant to share essential data for fear of being stigmatized for euthanizing companion animals, when data is available, shelters may code or define intake or outtake procedures differently, which negatively affects reliable data collection.
As a PhD student in the University of Louisville’s sociology department, I have spent summers collecting information on policies and programming from public animal shelters in Kentucky, and on the canines and felines held therein. Right now, I’m working to transcribe in-depth interviews with animal-shelter directors about their day-to-day work and leadership. This research is important and necessary to help improve Kentucky’s shelter system.
My next project will focus on nationwide data collection and, from my current position as an intern with The Bark, I’ll be asking for your help. Over the coming weeks, look for a survey request and an opportunity to participate via in-depth interviews. I hope that leaders of organizations, animal-shelter workers, volunteers and readers who have adopted furry family members will contribute to this research.
News: Guest Posts
Why we need research and how you can help
I was asked by health researcher, Jessica Chubak, PhD, to post this notice of the work that she is doing on the effects of pet visitation programs on children with cancer. To me, her study—which she is trying to raise crowd funding for— seems to be very worthwhile, so thought you would be interested in learning about it too. —Claudia Kawczynska, Editor
Animal-assisted activities for kids with cancer: why we need research and how you can help
Can pet visits help kids with cancer? Ask children with cancer who get to see and touch therapy dogs. Ask parents, doctors, nurses and animal-assisted activities volunteers. The answer is unequivocally: yes, pet visits help.
I’m an animal lover and have been since I was a kid. I’m also a scientist who is trying to prevent cancer and make life better for people who have it. I’m planning a study on pet visits for kids with cancer. You might reasonably ask: Don't we already know those visits help? Do we really need more research?
Here’s why we do:
1) We need to know about the safety of pet visits for kids with cancer. I've talked with pediatric oncology clinics around the country. Many cancer programs don’t allow animal-assisted activities, primarily because of safety worries, specifically infections, in this vulnerable group of kids. They want hard evidence (see #3).
2) We have to learn exactly how animal visits can help. Visits from pets won’t make everything better for kids with cancer. Pet visits might reduce anxiety but not pain. Or they might relieve pain but not fatigue. If we know what parts of pediatric cancer treatment are easier with pet visits, we’ll know how to make effective animal-assisted activities programs for kids with cancer. If we identify areas where pet visits don't help, we know where to focus our attention on developing other interventions.
3) It’s all about medical evidence. Doctors, nurses, and parents of pediatric cancer patients want to see solid support from careful studies before starting animal assisted activity programs. It’s important to have evidence for any treatment, including supportive care. And even when research gives us expected answers, it often provides additional information. We might not be surprised if a study shows that visits from pets relieve stress in kids with cancer. But we also want to know if group or private visits work best, and when and where visits are most helpful, in the waiting room or after a procedure? How often should visits happen and how long should they last? We need answers to help design effective animal-assisted activities for young cancer patients.
My research focuses on developing safe and effective animal-assisted activities for kids with cancer, based on ideas, concerns, and solutions from the kids, their families, and their health care providers. My crowdfunding campaign will help fund this research. I hope you'll support this project, maybe with a donation (even a small amount), but especially by spreading the word to others.
I’ve thought about this study a lot and I think it is important to do. If you are interested in sharing your ideas on why you think it's important—or why it isn't—please leave a comment. Thank you.
More about Jessica Chubak
I am a faculty member at Group Health Research Institute, where my research focus is improving cancer screening, care, and survivorship. My new project is inspired, in part, by my volunteer work after college. I helped in the pediatric ward of a hospital. Working with children and families I saw how play distracted them from the stress of being in the hospital. As a lover of pets, I find animals to be incredible companions. After learning about the Pet Partners program and promising preliminary work in Canada, I decided to include animal-assisted activities for children with cancer in my research program.
News: Guest Posts
Erica Feuerbacher smiles when she talks, and why shouldn’t she? As a doctoral candidate at the University of Florida with the Canine Cognition and Behavior Lab, she spends a lot of time with dogs (or at least dogs in the form of data). Through her research, she meets many, many, many dogs, some of whom live in animal shelters. This is the story of her latest research and a special subject named Raleigh.
What do you want from me?
Feuerbacher’s research investigates dog preference for different types of human social interactions, or simply put: What do dogs want from us, and under what conditions do they want it? For example, your dog might happily hang out with someone doling out hotdogs, but is your dog also likely to spend time with someone offering petting only and no hotdogs?
In Feuerbacher’s latest study, shelter dogs and owned dogs were put to the test to see whether they chose petting or food. Because dogs, being dogs, often prefer food when readily available, the researchers ran an experiment with multiple sessions where food became more and more scarce.
Feuerbacher wondered, “If food’s not available, will dogs shift their preference to the person who’s offering petting, hang out with nobody at all or continue to hang out with the person who had been giving out food but has stopped?”
During a 1-minute pre-exposure period, dogs learned that one experimenter gave out food while another gave out petting. Then, dogs had 5 minutes to spend time with whomever they chose, and they could move back and forth freely.
Petting or Food?
Many shelter dogs and all owned dogs had an initial preference for the person giving out food. But in sessions where food was not available, many shelter dogs spent time with the person offering petting. When food again became available, dogs almost always went back to the person with food.
Some of the shelter dogs initially showed a preference for the person doing the petting, not the person giving out food (although, eventually, they all opted for food). As you might imagine, dogs in animal shelters are frequently deprived of human interaction, so it isn’t all that surprising that shelter dogs would opt to spend time with people when given the chance. Alternatively, owned dogs initially went for the food person and stayed with the food person, even when food became more scarce. Owned dogs have ready access to petting from their loving owners (raise your hand if you are petting a dog right now), but food is not always available.
Raleigh, a mutt who had been picked up as a stray, was game for any interaction with humans. As the graph shows, when food was available (triangle), Raleigh was all over it, but when food stopped, Raleigh was all about the petting (circle) — he was quick to say, “bye bye food person,” and “hello petting person!” And when food came back into circulation, he was more than happy to accept.
“He’s a food type of guy, but he’s also a petting type of guy” Feuerbacher explains. In the session where dogs were exposed to continuous petting but food was doled out at 15-second intervals, Raleigh approached the food person. He waited about 8 seconds, and when he didn’t receive any food, he then went to the petting person, where he remained for the rest of the session. His social behavior was much more extensive than a lot of dogs.”
When the study ended, Feuerbacher kept an eye on Raleigh at the animal shelter. When he still hadn’t been adopted after 2 months, Raleigh joined the ranks as a foster dog in Feuerbacher’s home, where he now spends his time with three other dogs doing doggie things like waiting for food, snuggling on the couch and frolicking with his foster siblings. But he is also waiting for a home.
Raleigh is available for adoption through Phoenix Animal Rescue in Gainesville, Florida.
Raleigh, of course, has a Facebook page.
You can meet Raleigh this Saturday, May 18, 2013 at PetsMart in Gainesville, Florida.
Feuerbacher has good reason to smile when she talks about Raleigh: “I liked that he liked food because that helps with training. But I also liked that when food wasn’t available, he was really social. Everything he did was gentle. I just thought he was a really neat dog.”
Feuerbacher, E. N. & Wynne, C. D. L. Dogs’ preference for different types of human social interaction in a concurrent choice test. (In prep)
Images copyright E. Feuerbacher
This story was originally published by Scientific American. Reprinted with permission.
About the Author: Julie Hecht is a canine behavioral researcher and science writer in New York City. She wriites a behavior column for The Bark. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Twitter @DogSpies.
Dog's Life: Humane
Old Dog Haven accommodates senior dogs
It’s not easy to catch up with Judith Piper, founder and executive director of Old Dog Haven (ODH). She reschedules our first interview when one of her charges starts having grand mal seizures and another needs immediate treatment for glaucoma. The following week, she cancels when a tumor sidelines a pup named Pearl.
So, even before meeting the 15 mature dogs on Piper’s five acres north of Seattle, I have a pretty good idea that rescuing homeless seniors is a more-than-full-time vocation. What I’m not prepared for is how Piper—dressed in fleece, sweatpants and sneakers—gives herself fully to the moment. Talking about her work, she betrays no impatience. She introduces each dog: A Spaniel named Byron may have Cushing’s disease, a little black mutt named Jet has flunked out of several adoptions, a yellow Lab named Malik has Horner’s syndrome, a Cocker named Biscuit is “a little bastard” and so on, until I have stroked nearly every graying head.
Inside, the décor is “donated dog bed,” and everyone quickly settles onto a soft surface. Only one dog fails to join in the greetings. Off in the kitchen, a Terrier-mix named Snoop sleeps on a bed. He’s a recent arrival—underweight, with untreated dry-eye, ear problems, and terrible skin and fur. “I think he’s going to be a short-termer,” Piper says sadly. “He’s just not here.” She confides later that cases like Snoop’s, when she can’t provide even a few hours of real contact before death, are the most difficult.
Talking in terms of hours is not your typical rescue timeframe. But Old Dog Haven isn’t typical. It’s one of only a handful of organizations around the country that focuses exclusively on the unique challenges of old dogs. With the help of 148 foster homes and 62 volunteers up and down Western Washington, the three-year-old nonprofit provided placement assistance, assisted living and “Final Refuge” (hospice care) for as many as 400 eight-and-older dogs last year; about 85 percent are Final Refuge dogs.
Although Piper and her husband, Lee, who is a key collaborator in the organization despite a full-time job, always had space for rescue and shelter dogs in the past, it wasn’t until a few years ago that they became aware of the particular plight of old dogs. In 2004, a friend asked them to save an ailing oldster named Liza, who had been dumped at a shelter. In a loving home, Liza rebounded, and though she didn’t live long, she had some happy days. It took only a few more elderly shelter dogs for the Pipers to realize that it wasn’t all that rare for people to abandon an old companion, and to see that in shelters, these dogs were passed over for adoption. At some point, they looked at each other and said, “You know, this is the pits. They can’t be dying like this.”
Piper sold the tack store she’d run for 18 years to dedicate herself to the mission of providing quality of life for old dogs for as long as possible and then letting them go surrounded by friends rather than alone in a concrete cell. In 2005, news stories about her fledgling group drew calls for help from as far away as Florida. “Be careful what you ask for,” Piper says, as the dog in her lap—Alice, a 14-year-old deaf Schnauzer with four teeth—looks on adoringly with her only eye.
“She is an amazing person who has focused on a population that most would rather forget,” says Kathleen Olson, executive director of the Tacoma-Pierce County Humane Society, which operates the busiest shelter in Western Washington. Old Dog Haven rarely takes dogs from owners, although it will post notices on its site for owners who need to rehome old dogs. Mostly, ODH takes in those faring poorly at shelters or on euthanasia shortlists. As many as 75 Pierce County dogs find homes through Old Dog Haven each year.
“It’s hard to think about the hundreds of dogs who would have died in shelters by themselves if it hadn’t been for Judith,” says Ron Kerrigan, a longtime shelter volunteer on Washington’s Whidbey Island. He runs the ODH website (which is key to placement and fostering efforts) and serves on the board. He and his partner live with nine old dogs—including Calypso, who is blind and deaf.
After making a career out of taking in dogs no one else would adopt (including more than a few “psychos”), Kerrigan’s switch to ODH’s Final Haven dogs has required a change of mindset. “We do it to give them a place to die in a loving home,” he says. “We don’t do it to have pets.”
On the other end of the Old Dog Haven volunteer spectrum is Lisa Black. She has two traditional rescues, plus a Final Refuge Pointer named Betty and an elderly mystery-mix foster named Lucy (for whom she finds a new home within days). Black lives and breathes the faith that these can be the best years of a dog’s life.
“They are easy,” Black says. “They’re usually housebroken. They don’t chew your stuff. If you want to take them for a walk, they’re ready to go. But if you want to hang out at home, they’re happy to do that too.”
Piper’s phone rings frequently, and during my visit, she lets the machine take messages. But when her cell phone sounds, she answers it. A new dog has been diagnosed with a grade-4 heart murmur. As the main contact for more than 130 dogs in ODH care, she is a seasoned sounding board and fairly expert on geriatric health.
“The great thing about Judith is that she has so much practical hands-on experience,” says Julie Nowicki, who volunteered for ODH before launching a national senior dog advocacy group, The Grey Muzzle Organization, in May 2008. Because Piper is so immersed, she is often a better judge of an old dog’s condition than many vets, according to Nowicki.
“By the time we get them, it can be years and years of neglect,” Piper says. Sometimes their guardians were too old to manage. Other times, aging pets’ special needs (and accidents) overwhelm their people both financially and emotionally. Unlike shelters, which vary greatly in the information they gather, ODH makes sure their dogs receive thorough checkups, blood and urine analyses, dental exams and treatment, and sometimes ophthalmology exams. The group has even financed open-heart surgery and eyelid lifts. Piper has a standing veterinary appointment every day of the week, and the organization’s bills can run $20,000 a month.
One-eyed Alice switches to my lap as talk turns to the future. Piper admits that the 18-hour days are catching up with her. Even as her organization has accomplished so much so quickly, she sees problems for old dogs exacerbated by the recession.
“Right now is a disaster,” Piper says. “I’m getting calls about every two hours from people wanting to surrender their dogs. At least half to two-thirds of those are, ‘I lost my house. I lost my job. I can’t keep my dog.’ It’s really hard—I get these people who are just hysterical, and I don’t have any more batteries in my magic wand.”
She has learned to say no. She has also had to counsel some people that euthanizing an old dog in the company of loving familiars is far kinder than dumping him at a shelter, where he will most likely be put down alone after days or weeks of stress and discomfort.
After a couple of weeks, I e-mail Judith to check up on poor old Snoop. I’m expecting the worst. “He’s actually doing better!” she replies. “Getting much brighter ... started eating everything in sight last week … seems to be enjoying himself … and gives tiny little kisses and tail wags every so often.”
It looks like there’s still a little power in her wand after all.
News: Guest Posts
“Where goeth the food, so goeth the dog.” (old proverb)
The earliest archeological evidence dates dogs to about 14,000 years ago. Remains of small dogs in Israel go back 12,000 years. When people settled down in agricultural communities, they began to tinker with the natural environment, bringing about modification, intentionally or accidentally, in plants and animals. Of course dogs joined the party. They always do.
Not everyone agrees about why, where, when or how dogs evolved. But we all believe this: Whether dog domestication was accidental or intentional, abrupt of slow, happened 10,000 years ago or 80,000, domestic dogs descended from wolves and evolved with people. Perhaps it’s no coincidence then that we ask the same questions about dogs that we do of ourselves: How are we unique? Where do we come from? And when did we get here?
On Wednesday, January 23, canine geneticists announced they have identified key mutations in three genetic regions that allowed the wolf, a traditional carnivore to thrive on a carbohydrate diet. This adaptation was surely useful for opportunistic animals that were scavenging waste near ancient farming communities.
How they did it
Geneticists Erik Axelsson and his team at Sweden’s Uppsala University looked at DNA from gray wolves and domestic dogs, searching for small differences that might have shown up early in evolution as wolves transitioned to dogs. They zeroed in on specific mutations that dogs have and wolves don’t. In all, researchers found 36 genomic regions that reveal differences. Nineteen of those have to do with brain function, eight are related to the nervous system, and the rest are linked to starch digestion and fat metabolism, three of which carry instructions for making a protein that’s necessary for the digestion of starch. One is an enzyme that turns starch into sugar maltose. Another is an enzyme that turns maltose into glucose. And the third makes a protein that moves glucose from the gut into the bloodstream.
What does it mean?
If you think it answers the question as to why, where, and when dogs were domesticated, you’d be misinformed. It’s really more interesting than that.
1. Dogs eat more starch than wolves. The mutation explains why. Keep in mind that just because you have a mutation that lets you digest grain, it doesn’t mean, when given the opportunity, you wouldn’t rather have pork chops than cheerios. Just ask my dog, or my spouse for that matter. Wolves, dogs or proto-dogs (depending on your position) could have had the mutation long before humans planted grains. The study doesn’t suggest a time line.
2. Because all the breeds in the study have the mutation, the mutation occurred before these breeds radiated out from their direct ancestor. However, don’t assume that our modern breeds are representative of any dogs older than 500 years. There is a ginormous gap, at least 8 thousand years, between the ancient agrarian gang of dumpster diver dogs and the not-so-old proto dog that begat our modern breeds. Scientists don’t know if the missing link dog is extinct, and if she isn’t, they don’t know what living dogs would represent her. There’s plenty more work to be done.
3. The birth of agriculture impacted canids. But it did the same to humans, birds, insects, pigs, cows, and goats to name a few.
4. The study is a vindication for all the veterinarians who are treating dogs with kidney ailments as a consequence of the strange trend toward very expensive low-carb, raw meat diets. There’s a reason dog food is only 20- 30 % protein and 40 to 50% carbohydrates.
What others are saying
“Dogs are not just ‘tame wolves’ but have clearly adapted in a host of different ways to a very novel niche over a relatively short evolutionary timescale," said Adam Boyko, an expert on canine genetics and assistant professor of biomedical science at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Village Dog Diversity Project. “I think a lot of focus on dog domestication in the past centered on behavior and tameness. Clearly, they were important for domestication, but this paper also demonstrates genetic changes involved in diet adaptation.”
“The bigger question about the paper, said behavioral ecologist Ray Coppinger, is whether it sheds any light on the evolution of the dog -- whether they were domesticated "purposefully" by humans, or were they a result of humans creating a new niche which several species (including some Canis species) moved in and adapted to.” He added, “The researchers have done a great job showing that dogs and wolves genetically differ in their potential ability to digest starch. But it’s a fallacy to assume that the genes of the modern dogs included in the study are descended from original dogs. Thus the paper, sheds little light on the original dog, and does nothing to answer the question of artificial verses natural selection as the prime cause.”
What’s important about the study is not that it indicates when or where dogs originated. Rather, it’s a new tool that will help us understand how dogs and wolves are different. The research is groundbreaking, but it represents analysis of only 10 of the 36 genomic regions that the team identified. That means more exciting news is just around the corner.
Scholarly study takes on issues that are controversial. The dog origin debate continues to be particularly provocative. As for me, I just want to know who to thank.
Mark Derr, author of When the Dog Became the Dog has a very interesting post on this subject as well.
The genomic signature of dog domestication reveals adaptation to a starch-rich diet, Journal Nature, published on-line, January 23, 2013.
Culture: Readers Write
The human-dog interconnection is the way forward
Our relationships with animals are challenging, complicated, frustrating, awkward, ambiguous, paradoxical and range all over the place.We already know a lot about animals’ lives and what they want, more than we often give ourselves credit for. Indeed, their lives aren’t all that private, hidden or secret.We know that animals experience deep feelings, and care about what happens to them.When people say they’re not sure if dogs have emotions, if they feel joy or grief, I say I’m glad I’m not their dog.When people tell me that they love animals and then harm or kill them, I tell them I’m glad they don’t love me.
The best way to make the world a more compassionate and peaceful place for all animal beings, to increase our compassion footprint, is to “mind” them.“Minding animals” means that we must mind other beings by recognizing that they have active and deep minds and feelings.We must also mind them as their caretakers in a human-dominated world, one in which their interests are continually trumped in deference to ours.We easily mind dogs, and this close relationship is a way forward.
It is also essential for people with varied expertise and interests to talk to one another, to share what we know about our animal kin and to use this knowledge for bettering their—and as a result, our—lives. And what could be a better place to do this than at dog parks?
There are many ways of knowing, and figuring out how science, the humanities and non-academics—including those interested in animal protection, conservation and environmentalism (with concerns ranging from individuals to ecosystems)—can learn from one another is essential. We observe animals, gawk at them in wonder, experiment on them, eat them, wear them, write about them, draw and paint them, move them from here to there as we “redecorate nature,” make decisions for them without their consent, and represent them in many and various ways, yet we often ignore who they are and what they want.
We also double-cross animals. I can imagine an utterly exhausted polar bear asking, “Where’s the ice?” as she attempts to swim with her offspring from one floe to another as she has in years past, only to discover that the ice is gone due to climate change. Despite global attempts to protect animals from wanton use and abuse, what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working; “good welfare” just isn’t good enough. Excuses justifying animal exploitation, such as “Well, it’s okay, I’m doing this in the name of science” or “in the name of this or that,” usually mean “in the name of humans.”We’re a very arrogant and self-centered lot.
Existing laws and regulations allow animals living on earth, in water and in air to be treated in regrettable ways that demean us as a species. Indeed, in the eyes of the law, animals are mere property and thus can be treated like backpacks, couches and bicycles. The animals’ own eyes tell us they don’t like this at all. They do, of course, have a point of view.
Enough is enough.We all need to coexist peacefully and gracefully, and it’s mutually beneficial to make every attempt to do so in the most compassionate ways possible. Compassion for animals will make for more compassion among people, and that is what we need as we journey into the future. I’m reminded of something Albert Schweitzer once wrote: “Until he extends his circle of compassion for all living things, man will not himself find peace.” Of course, animals aren’t living “things,” but let’s not worry about that right now.
Each of us can make a difference.We can make positive changes for all beings by weaving compassion, empathy, respect, dignity, spirituality, peace and love into our lives. We also need to focus on what we can do rather than what we can’t, or what hasn’t worked in the past. I’m an unrelenting dreamer who remains unflaggingly hopeful about what we can do collectively if we put our hearts and heads together and agree to work harmoniously toward shared goals.
We always need to mind animals—as well as earth, water and air—from deep in our hearts. We can always add more compassion to the world. Animals are asking us to treat them better or to leave them alone, and we need to listen to them now. Time isn’t on our side.We’re truly lucky to be able to work together to increase our compassion footprint. Animals and future generations will thank us for our efforts. So let’s get on with it. Never say never. Let dogs lead the way!
Copyright © 1997-2017 The Bark, Inc. Dog Is My Co-Pilot® is a registered trademark of The Bark, Inc