News: Guest Posts
This weekend I’ll be the keynote speaker at the 5th International Symposium on Non-Surgical Contraceptive Methods of Pet Population Control. The conference title is a bit of a mouthful, but the basic idea is this: Can scientists develop a drug that will permanently sterilize dogs and cats? Or, put even more simply, can we make “the pill” for pets?
Now a lot of you may be asking, “Don’t we already have birth control for our companion animals?” Well, yes. Spay/neuter has been around for decades. But it’s not a perfect solution. For one, it’s expensive. That means not everyone can afford to sterilize their pet, even at a low-cost clinic. For another, it’s time consuming. That’s been a huge problem for non-profits trying to tackle America’s feral cat problem. With tens of millions of these felines on the streets, volunteers can’t catch and sterilize them quickly enough to keep up with their numbers. And if you think things in the U.S. are bad, consider China and India, which are home to tens millions of stray dogs that bite and spread rabies, yet these countries lack the resources to implement even meager spay/neuter programs. As a result of all of these limitations, millions of cats and dogs are euthanized in U.S. shelters every year, and millions more are shot and poisoned around the globe. If scientists could develop an injection or pill that would work as well as spay/neuter surgery, we might have a shot at eliminating the world’s homeless pet problem.
Enter the Alliance for Contraception in Cats & Dogs (ACC&D). Founded in 2000, the Portland, Oregon-based non-profit has been working with scientists and animal welfare advocates to create a non-surgical sterilant for pets. In late 2009, the mission got a huge boost from a U.S. billionaire named Gary Michelson, who announced $75 million in grants and prize money for the development of such a product. The announcement spurred dozens of research teams to begin brainstorming a solution. Some have proposed drugs that would kill the cells that produce sperm and eggs, treating them, essentially, like cancer. Others hope to go after the brain, shutting down pathways involved in fertility and reproduction. I covered these efforts in my award-winning 2009 article in Science, A Cure for Euthanasia?
ACC&D is behind next week’s symposium. It will be giving an update on these efforts and describing some new approaches to the problem of pet overpopulation. I’ll be talking about the topic of my book and what feral cats teach us about the changing status of pets in society. I hope you’ll check out the important work this organization is doing!
See more from David Grimm who is a reporter for Science magazine, you can see more from him at davidhgrimm.com
Is he up for it?
For the next three months John Oliver will be temp hosting “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” while Stewart is off making a movie. Last year when I had the good fortune to be invited to do a behind-the-scenes feature about The Daily Show’s dogs, I talked with Oliver about his Golden Retriever pup Hoagie, his first-ever dog. I asked him about imagining having her on the show with him, perhaps playing the “straight woman” to his more biting, take-down persona that he assumes as a “news correspondent” on the show. He replied that just wouldn’t work because “fundamentally” she would “humanize” him. And that Hoagie wouldn’t let him “do my job, it would bring up too much compassion whenever she is around.”
We were reminded of that seeing a recent interview with the New York Times when Oliver noted that “all of my interview training is built around trying to take someone down.” But he recognizes that has to change now that he is sitting in Stewart’s chair, and he goes on to say that “When you have, say, Seth Rogen in front of you, the point is not to destroy him and the construct of beliefs he’s built up over his lifetime. It’s going to be talking to him about his new movie. It will be nice just to have a broader conversation where jokes can occur, but the primary focus is to have an interesting interview. It’ll be nice to be nicer to people.”
So can we suggest to Oliver that if he finds it challenging making the leap into jocular “nice host” affability that he look dogward to his Hoagie who can “assist” him to play the part. Or as Jon Stewart told us “there is nothing better than dogs, and they bring on the best in us too, nothing better.” Being a Golden, she definitely would be a natural and have the guests eating out of her hand, or vice versa.
Either way, we’ll be rooting for Oliver. He really is a hilarious guy who kept us in stitches and howling throughout our chat.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Well-suited for fighting pollution
If ever there was a situation of a working dog doing what comes naturally, it’s Sable sniffing out sewage leaks. A dog whose job is to smell poop is about as natural a fit as a teenager whose job is to play video games.
Sable is a 7-year old rescue dog who is helping the people of Beckley, W. Va. by finding the source of sewage leaks that are polluting local waterways. She was hired through a state Department of Environmental Protection grant to the Piney Creel Watershed Association. Sable works for a group called Environmental Canine Services in Michigan.
The sewage system in the area where Sable has been sniffing out leaks is old and needs repairs in a lot of places. Because much of the system is buried, it is difficult for people to figure out where to put their efforts. When Sable catches a whiff of human waste, she barks to let her handlers know. By pointing out the areas of actual leaks, she is saving the community a lot of time and money so that they can focus on those areas that need immediate repair.
I’ve had several jobs that I truly loved and that really suited me, but I don’t think I’ll ever be quite as well matched to my work as Sable is to hers.
Web alternatives to kennels
If cage-free, off-leash accommodations were the last big trend to sweep the boarding business, than sleepovers with regular folk are the new sweet spot between home and kennel. Today, several websites connect dog owners seeking a more hands-on, affordable boarding experience for their pups with dog-loving hosts eager to open their homes to canine visitors but with varying degrees of pet care experience.
Launched in Phoenix in 2004, the same year as Facebook, SleepoverRover.com helped pioneer the current web-based wave of hosting dogs as guests in private homes. With experience in pet retail and grooming and a desire to find a low stress alternative to kennels, co-founder Maggie Brown set about recruiting retirees and stay-at-home parents to take care of dogs in their homes.
Unlike newer sites, Sleepover Rover representatives evaluate each host and inspect each home, in some cases, providing dog-proofing and behavior advice. Sleepover Rover actively facilitates each match, handles payment (splitting the fee with hosts), and follows up on each home stay. Sleepover hosts are located in Phoenix, Tucson, Las Vegas, Denver, and in Southern California from San Diego to Santa Barbara.
In 2011, two sites—DogVacay.com and Rover.com—launched more open-market versions of the same concept. Like AirBnB, these sites allow dog owners and dog sitters to post profiles for free. Owners are responsible for selecting a sitter and making arrangements, although they pay through the site, as well as checking references, which include onsite and other social media reviews. The sites take a percentage, from 3 to 15 percent, of fees collected by the dog sitters.
Started by a husband-and-wife team, DogVacay was originally limited to Los Angeles and San Francisco, but now has more than 10,000 qualified hosts (DogVacay interviews hosts and checks references) around the country, concentrated in urban areas also including New York, Miami, Dallas, DC, Chicago and Atlanta. The hosts make an average of $1,000/month.
A well-funded, Seattle-based startup, Rover.com started by putting down roots in the Pacific Northwest but is now actively expanding in 52 cities.
In a recent New York Times blog specifically about DogVacacy the important issue of insurance was examined. While traditional homeowner's policies provide coverage that protects you in the event that your own dog bites someone, typically if a “guest” dog does likewise, this wouldn't be covered. You would need to acquire specialty insurance coverage for pet businesses, similar to groomers, boarding kennels, etc.
The Times article, explains:
"DogVacay's Web site says it includes “complimentary” insurance for hosts and guests with every booking. The free version covers veterinary care for guest dogs and dogs owned by the host, up to $2,000; it doesn't, however, include liability coverage for the host.
Hosts can pay to upgrade to “premium” insurance that does include liability coverage of up to $4 million, said Aaron Hirschhorn. The coverage is offered through Kennel Pro, an affiliate of the insurer Mourer-Foster.
DogVacay's site links to Kennel Pro's site, which says its policies start at $350 a year, which sounds a bit steep for someone hosting a dog only occasionally. But Hirschhorn said DogVacay was able to offer expanded coverage for $48 a year to its hosts through a special arrangement with the carrier. (The more affordable premium isn't cited on the Web site.) The fee is deducted from the first booking, so hosts don't have to pay the premium upfront, he said. He estimated that half of DogVacay's hosts bought the upgraded coverage."
Some local jurisdictions might also have laws about the need to have a business license. In Houston, for example, you might need a kennel license and an inspection.
Even though a few of these services do initial “vetting” of the hosts for you, and urge you to meet the “host” before you finalize your arrangements, some comments on the Times piece express concerns about leaving a dog with someone you only met on the internet. Have you used any of these services? Would you be interested in using them, or even being a host?
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Blind dog wins Palm Dog award
This year, a blind poodle has won the Palm Dog award for his performance as Liberace’s dog Baby Boy in the film “Behind the Candelabra.” He did not travel to France to accept his award, which consists of a leather collar that says “PALM DOG” in gold letters. Baby Boy is blind and has cataracts, and his ailing health played a part in the plot of the film. He beat out the Chihuahua who was nominated for playing Paris Hilton’s dog in the film “The Bling Ring.”
Since 2001 the unofficial Palm Dog award has been a part of the Cannes Film festival. It is presented to honor the best canine performance of the festival, and owes its name to a play on words relating to the Palm d’Or, which is the top award at Cannes. Previous winners include Uggie, the Jack Russell Terrier who played Uggie in “The Artist, and Lucy in the film “Wendy and Lucy.”
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Rescue group is currently fostering them
The three women who were held for a decade in Cleveland lived with three dogs—two terrier-poodle crosses and a chihuahua—in addition to the alleged kidnapper. Following the escape of the three victims, the dogs were taken from the man who was arrested.
So far, there is no indication that the dogs were mistreated. After their guardian was arrested, they were groomed and microchipped. They are now being fostered by Dogs Unlimited Rescue. They will stay in their foster homes until the women who spent such a long time in the same house with them decide if they want to adopt the dogs.
The chief animal control officer in Cleveland has said that the women may have bonded with the dogs. Because of that, if any of them want to adopt one or more of them, he wants them to have the opportunity to do so. If the dogs were a source of comfort to the women, it is good to know that the option of adoption is there.
Coming on June 1 and 2
The Maddie's Fund is hosting an adoption extravaganza sponsored—so get ready for another memorable Maddie’s Pet Adoption Event. Their fourth annual event is sure to be one for the record books. On June 1 and 2, 2013, more than 200 shelters and rescue groups from eight communities across the nation (see complete list here) will participate in the adoption event, which will place thousands of pets into their forever homes. Maddie’s® Pet Adoption Days is America’s biggest FREE pet adoption event. Yes you can adopt priceless dogs and cats free of charge.
Maddie's Fund® decided to expand this year's event to include adoption sites across the U.S. because of the continued success of Maddie’s® Pet Adoption Days on a local level. Every year, the number of adoptions has increased with a total of 6,722 dogs and cats adopted during the event's three-year history.
This event is being held to increase awareness of shelter animals and their need for loving homes, and to shed light on the tireless efforts of the shelters and rescue organizations across the country that work so hard to save the lives of countless dogs and cats every.
What is also so great about this, besides it being free to adopters, is that it’s also a fundraiser for shelters and rescue groups because the Maddie’s Fund will pay organizations $500 per regular adoption. And it even will sweeten the pot for those who adopt out senior dogs, or pets with medical condition. So it will donate $1,000 for each adoption involving a dog or cat who is seven years of age or older or who has been treated for one or more medical conditions and $2,000 for each adoption involving a dog or cat who is seven years of age or older and who has been treated for one or more medical conditions (a list of medical conditions can be provided upon request). This is a remarkable generous act from the good people at Maddie’s Fund. So hopefully this year is the perfect time for you to expand your family by adopting from one of these organizations, but for you to show your support for their good work by adopting during this event. Everyone, including the dogs and cats, win big with this one.
We would love to see a photo of the dog or cat you adopt during this adoption weekend, email them to me, and we’ll publish them online and perhaps in the next issue of The Bark!
For the complete list of participating groups and their locations, click here .
About Maddie’s Fund
Maddie’s Fund® is a family foundation endowed by the founder of Workday® and PeopleSoft, Dave Duffield and his wife, Cheryl. Maddie’s Fund is helping to achieve and sustain a no-kill nation by providing solutions to the most challenging issues facing the animal welfare community through Maddie’s® Grant Giving and Maddie’s InstituteSM . Maddie’s Fund is named after the family's beloved Miniature Schnauzer who passed away in 1997.
News: Guest Posts
Yes, If a Proposed Amtrak Bill Passes!
Wouldn’t it be nice to travel with your canine companion on Amtrak, just as passengers with pets on airplanes are allowed to do?
A bi-partisan bill has been submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives that would start the process of allowing dogs and cats to travel on Amtrak.
Short and sweet, the Pets on Trains Act of 2013—co-sponsored by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.)—would require Amtrak to submit a proposal for allowing pets on at least one car of each passenger train. Just as with airline travel, the bill requires Amtrak’s plan to allow pets to travel as carry-on luggage in a passenger car, in a pet kennel that meets Amtrak’s stowage size requirements, with passengers traveling less than 750 miles. The bill also requires Amtrak to provide a proposal for pets to be carried as cargo, which—while not as pleasant for the pet as riding in the passenger car—would allow larger animals to travel by train without many of the risks of traveling as cargo on an airliner.
Each sponsor of the bill confesses self-interest in seeing the bill become law. Denham’s dog Lily regularly travels with him to and from California. Cohen considers pets to be family members who should be allowed to travel with their owners on trains, rather than left at home.
Let your representative and congressperson know you support this bill.
News: Guest Posts
The more I consider the continuing debate over the “time” and “place” for the transformation of wolf into dog, the more I become convinced that the puzzle remains unsolved because of human devotion to a simplistic, clever-sounding idea that never made sense in the first place. As first put forth by Raymond Coppinger, that idea was that wolves feeding on the garbage piles of quasi-permanent Mesolithic villages grew tamer over the course of generations until they no longer feared or threatened humans. In the process of taming themselves, those wolves also became less fearful of and aggressive toward humans. They were cute, too. For reasons that were never clear to me, people took these cute obsequious dump divers into their homes, where they blossomed into dogs.
Coppinger pinned his argument on Dmitry Belyaev’s experiment, begun in 1959, at a Siberian fur farm, in which a group of foxes was bred for tameness alone and within ten generations was producing foxes that resembled dogs with floppy ears, piebald coats, and a high need for attention. They were juvenilized in behavior as well as appearance.
There are a number of reasons why the foxes are not a good model for origins of the dog, and I have elsewhere addressed them in detail. For now, suffice it to say that dogs arose not in quasi-permanent Mesolithic villages but in Paleolithic hunting camps. They were not sought nor selected because they solicited attention and showed no aggression—these are hardly traits of a good guard, which was one of the tasks of early dogs. Guarding remains a major reason why people keep dogs.
But the greatest problem with the self-domesticating theory is that it shuts the most creative creature on the planet out of the process. To put it bluntly, that makes no sense. Humans have always collected, tamed, and trained animals. It is inconceivable that they would ignore one as intelligent and inquisitive as the wolf.
Genomics and its offspring have shown that living organisms are not biological machines but energetic systems supported by layers of complexification. Genomics has also contributed to a more dynamic view of “domestication” as a process involving the interplay of biological, environmental, and cultural forces. The hard line between “domestic” and “wild” –always imaginary but not less real for that—has for the dog become increasingly difficult to find despite the distortions that define the current period of breedism. I am using “breedism” to refer to all aspects of the cult of the purebred dog that began to take hold about 200 years ago. Of course, there are significant differences between dogs and wolves, when they are in their own environments, but what happens when the dog goes native or the wolf becomes a lay-about?
It sometimes appears that every new find simply raises new questions while leaving old ones unresolved. That trend is apparent in two new papers by Ya-ping Zhang, a leading Chinese geneticist, who collaborated with geneticists from China and two different labs in Sweden and California on two new papers promoting Chinese indigenous dogs—native or village dogs—as the closest dogs to the ancient type.
Working with Peter Savolainen, of Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology, Zhang has over the past decade or so insisted that dogs originated in southeast China no earlier than 16,000 years ago, and many researchers elsewhere adopted his argument despite the notable absence of dog or wolf remains from that region at that date and the presence of dog remains from other places considerably earlier.
The researchers redid the numbers using new chips that spot changes in the genome including so-called single nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs, and indels—insertions or deletions of small amounts of genetic material. SNPs and indels can be used to measure degrees or years of separation of discrete groups of organisms. Crunching the numbers and running regression analyses, they found that southeast China village dogs separated from wolves 32,000 years ago. There were a lot of them by then, too, they reported in an article in Nature Communications [subscription required], with Guo-dong Wang and Weiwei Zhai as first authors and Zhang as senior author—8,500 dogs by their estimate.
The new date fits nicely with some “early dogs” identified from the Altai Mountains, Belgium and the Czech Republic, although Zhang and his colleagues are not quite willing to admit that those animals are dogs. In fact, they appear to want to deal with the early date by using it to mark the beginning of a long period of self-domestication for a group of scavenging protodogs.
Zhang’s group declares: “Early wolves might have been domesticated as scavengers that were attracted to live and hunt commensally with humans. With successive adaptive changes, these scavengers became progressively more prone to human custody. In light of this view, the domestication process might have been a continuous dynamic process, where dogs with extensive human contact were derived from these scavengers much latter [sic] when humans began to adopt an agricultural life style.”
The operative words here are “commensally” and “scavenger.” Together, they say that wolves were drawn to human garbage or some other waste and so started hanging around and hunting with them but without having a discernable effect or bringing them any benefit—thus, the term “commensally”—until the biped started farming. Then the scavengers showed their true worth as crossover omnivores and became dogs.
That is not complex, but it is convoluted. At a basic level, it is not clear why protodogs could not have arrived in southeastern China from the Altai Mountain region, for example, where the people who would come to enter the New World and spread through much of the Old World as the glaciers began to retreat, had gathered, presumably with dogs some 35,000 years ago. A population of dogs and people could easily have gotten to southeast China and radiated outward from there. The much trumpeted diversity of dogs in the region could be a result not of their origins there but an accident of geography and history, including intensive breeding of dogs for food and a settlement pattern that featured many small riverine villages along the Yangtze River, one of the world’s largest.
Zhang’s defense for the lack of wolves in southeast China is that wolf populations have changed everywhere, and so no one has an ancestral wolf for study and comparison. But the Chinese indigenous dogs and a couple of related breeds, are the dogs closest genetically to wolves, and that makes them all the more important as living artifacts, Zhang and his team reason. Specifically, they looked for genetic loci that might show positive selection pressure in dogs and humans and therefor might represent parallel evolution in the two species. The genes they identified as likely candidates are involved in diet, specifically the ability to digest grains; metabolism; cancer and neurological processes, especially some involving the neurotransmitter, serotonin.
Zhang is also corresponding author with Dong-Dong Wu, both of the Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Kunming, China, on a Molecular Biology and Evolution paper involving the laboratory of Robert K. Wayne, dean of canid evolutionary biologists, and several of the next generation of dog geneticists who have already published important work—Bridgett vonHoldt and Adam Boyko. They were especially focused on the prefrontal cortex and on parts of the brain that appear involved in fear response and sociability.
I say “sociability”, but, following Zhang’s lead, the researchers on these pages say “tameness,” while continuing to cling to the Soviet fox experiment as evidence that the dog was self domesticating, becoming obsequious and ingratiating and nonaggressive while eating garbage and offal. Standard descriptions of this work are abundant, and I won’t repeat them here. But it is fair to say that grand pronouncements about the working of the brain must be treated cautiously.
Most of these searches for genes involved in the transformation of wolves to dogs are based on at least two significant, faulty assumptions about the behavior of dogs and wolves. The first faulty assumption Is that wolves are now, and were in the late Pleistocene, aggressive competitors with humans. There is evidence documenting not only friendly but also mutually beneficial relationships of humans and wolves going back thousands of years. There are suggestive associations of wolf and Homo erectus remains going back hundreds of thousands of years.
The second faulty assumption is that a group of wolves effectively said to humans, “Because we like your leavings so much, we will stop vying with you and aggressing against you. We will be abject before you if you will give us excretia to eat because we cannot live by ourselves.” The question I always ask is, would you want such a creature in your house, in your bed? That is unlikely. This assumption is faulty because there is no evidence that wolves generically dislike or even fear humans. The global wolf recovery with wolves living in ever closer proximity to humans proves that wrong. It is humans who hate wolves.
That wolves and humans, similar as they are in so many ways, should make common cause, should surprise no one. Hunters study hunters. Species cooperate. It would be more aberrant if they did not. Coral groupers, Napoleon wrasse, and moray eels were recently shown to hunt cooperatively, for example. Around the world, hunting cultures had dogs that often interbred with, sometimes were indistinguishable from wolves. In the New World and elsewhere that situation was contemporaneous with the rise of multiple refined breeds in the Anglo-English speaking world.
In a real sense, then, what we call domestication of the wolf was really a rolling and flexible bringing into human culture of wolves who had the psychological and emotional capacity for sociability, for forming strong bonds not just with another individual but also with another species.
Some years ago Adam Miklosi and his colleagues compared hand reared wolves to dogs. The lengthening of the first critical socialization period and a greatly increased capacity to form strong bonds to another species were clearly central to the appearance of the dog, they concluded.
Yet for all of their problems, these two new studies are useful for their focus on indigenous dogs, the landrace dogs who although they might have several uses are generally not bred by humans to any purpose, but who still live, reproduce, and die in human society. How ancient or basic these dogs are is not really known. But they are found around the world, and I think that comparative studies of them and resident wolves and truly self-sustaining feral dogs, where they still exist, will prove most interesting. The same applies to comparison of DNA from ancient dogs and wolves. We do not yet see them clearly.
This article first appeared on Dog’s Best Friend at Psychology Today, it is used with persmission.
Mark Derr is the author of six books, ranging from Some Kind of Paradise, an environmental history of Florida, How the Dog Became the Dog, Dog's Best Friend, and A Dog's History of America. As an expert on the subject of dogs, he has been a guest on such programs as The Charlie Rose Show and Fresh Air. His articles and opinion pieces have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, Wall Street Journal, Huffinton Post, Natural History, The Bark, Smithsonian and The New York Times. He lives in Miami Beach, Florida.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
A separation of almost a year ends
Marine Sergeant Ross Gundlach and bomb-sniffing dog Casey served in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012, completing over 150 missions together, but then they were separated. They both came back to the United States eventually, but Gundlach returned to his hometown of Madison, Wisc. to go to college and Casey began working in Iowa as an explosives detection dog.
While they were in Afghanistan, Gundlach promised himself and Casey that if they made it out alive, he would do whatever it took to find her. Once he learned that she was working in the Iowa state fire marshal’s office, he wrote to the director, Ray Reynolds. Gundlach explained that he had a strong connection with Casey and that he loved her. Over a couple of months, he worked on convincing Reynolds to let him have Casey. Gundlach was told that if it worked out, he would have to drive to Iowa to get her, to which he replied, “I would swim to Japan for my dog.”
Reynolds invited Gundlach to Des Moines, Iowa, supposedly to plead his case to a committee at the state capitol, but Reynolds had actually already arranged for Gundlach to take Casey home with him. When Gundlach arrived, he was told that the meeting had been postponed, but invited him to participate in an Armed Services Day celebration. At that event, Reynolds surprised Gundlach by bringing Casey to him and letting him know that the dog was now his.
This happy reunion was made possible because Reynolds and his colleagues understand the importance of the relationship between a Marine and his partner, a detection dog who saved many lives with her flawless work. It was also enabled by a donation of $8500 by the Iowa Elk’s Association to purchase another working dog for the agency. Casey was officially retired from active duty by Iowa Governor Terry Branstad at the ceremony in which Gundlach and Casey were reunited.
Gundlach has a tattoo of Casey with angel wings and a halo sitting by a Marine, and he gives her credit for his survival in Afghanistan. It seems only fitting that the two of them are together again.
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