News: Guest Posts
I had watched the dog origin wars as a chronicler of the dog-human relationship for several decades when in 2009 I was approached a young editor The Overlook Press about writing a book on the origins of the dog. I readily agreed, and the result was How the Dog Became the Dog.
Pondering the conflicting dates, places, and theories associated with the emergence of the dog, I concluded that as soon as our forebears met wolves on the trail they formed an alliance of kindred spirits, and the process began. Their basic social unit was a family with ma and pa at the head and young ones of varying competency. They worked and hunted cooperatively. They were consummately social but capable of prolonged solo journeys.
It made sense that the Middle East, if not North Africa, was where this all started because that would have been the region of first contact. But because of their natural affinity, wolves and humans got together wherever they met. Some of the resultant “dogwolves”—my phrase for doglike wolves or wolves that act like dogs—created lineages that survived a while then fizzled out; others endured.
I identified several hotspots for early dogs across Eurasia and a group of humans that at least according to genetic evidence might have made its way through the cold of the last Ice Age from the Persian Gulf oasis, then a fertile land, to the Altai Mountains of Central Asia, a region that also hosts the headwaters of the Amur River, still famous for its wildlife. This group’s dogwolves mixed and matched with others along the way, especially the big mountain dogs of the Caucasus. This group of hunters and foragers gathered in the Altai around 40,000 years ago and from there ultimately took the New World.* They also went with their dogs, I calculated, south and east into China, Korea, and Japan and west again with their giant dogs, now mastiffs.
I based that conclusion in part on the types of dogs found in the New World. It made more sense that the possibility for the phenotype was present even if the phenotype itself was not manifest than that it was introduced later.
It was with some interest, then, that I read in PLoS One for July 28, 2011, about a 33,000 year old ‘incipient” dog from the Altai Mountains—that is, an early attempt at a dog that went nowhere. The finding was immediately challenged, and the fossil dismissed as a wolf, even if a strange one. So a new team of researchers redid the work in Robert K. Wayne’s evolutionary biology lab at UCLA and on March 7, 2013, published an article in PLoS One confirming that the 33,000 year-old-fossil is that of a primitive dog.
Writing for their colleagues from Russia, Spain, and the U.S., Anna S. Druzhkova of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences and Olaf Thalmann of Turku University, Finland, state that when compared with other canids, the Altai dog, as it is known, shows closest affinities with New World dogs and modern dog breeds, ranging from Newfoundlands to Chinese Cresteds and including cocker spaniels, Tibetan mastiffs, and Siberian huskies.
Equally interesting from my perspective, the Altai dog does not appear to have been related closely to wolves in its immediate vicinity or to modern wolves. It came to the Altai from elsewhere, probably with people.
The researchers emphasize that there is uncertainty in their findings because they are based on a single region of mitochondrial DNA. But from my standpoint, the work provides one bit of evidence that’s I’ve not been barking up the wrong tree—and that seems worth noting.
*Ted Goebel et al., “The Late Pleistocene Dispersal of Modern Humans to the Americas,” Science, March 14, 2008. Connie J. Kolman et al., “Mitochondrial DNA Analysis of Mongolian Populations and Implications for the Origin of New World Founders,” Genetics, April 1996.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
George W. and Laura Bush grieve
Barney Bush has died at the age of 12 from lymphoma, according to a statement by former President George W. Bush. Along with a statement, Bush released a photograph of his own oil painting of Barney, which he signed “43.”
Barney the Scottish Terrier was a cherished member of the first family throughout the Bush presidency. Cookies shaped like him were a popular part of the press preview of the White House holiday decorations in 2006. He was well known for his enthusiasm when accompanying the President on hunting and fishing trips and for seeking treats from those working in the White House. Perhaps his greatest fame came from an incident in which he bit a reporter in 2008.
Bush spoke lovingly of his dog, “Barney was by my side during our eight years in the White House. He never discussed politics and was always a faithful friend. Laura and I will miss our pal.” Barney’s niece, Miss Beazley, who shared some of those years at the White House with Barney, remains in good health.
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.
News: Guest Posts
Gratitude and honor prompt participation
WASHINGTON — The 2013 Presidential Inaugural Parade played host to another inaugural event.
Santa Rosa, Calif. based Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) made their inaugural debut in the parade, which also marked the first time a dog organization participated.
According to CCI National Director of Marketing Jeanine Konopelski the mother of a Skilled Companion Team from Virginia was the catalyst for the organization’s involvement.
Carina Elgin said her daughter Caroline’s Service Dog, Sajen changed her life and she wanted to show her gratitude to CCI and provide a platform for people to learn about the organization.
The Labrador - Golden Retriever mix black dog was partnered with Caroline 9 years ago.
The now 19 year old has grown up with her 11-year-old dog. Cerebral Palsy has limited Caroline Elgin’s mobility and impaired her speech.
And through the years, Sajen has opened more than just threshold doors for his partner.
He opened the door to a world of opportunity through his unconditional love that bridged barriers to socialization and resulted in building Caroline’s self confidence and independence.
As a young girl with a young Service Dog, Caroline joined a 4H Dog Club.
Despite her limited verbal ability and restricted hand motion, Caroline was able to command Sajen as she took him through Rally Obedience and Agility Trials.
She and Sajen earned a rainbow of ribbons each year in the annual Virginia Dog Show. Though she paced her dog through the rings from her joystick controlled wheelchair, she never asked for any special consideration and competed on equal ground with the other 4H dog handlers.
But Sajen’s ability to help open the door for CCI participation in the 2013 Inaugural Parade is perhaps his biggest achievement to date.
“I was so proud to be walking with Sajen. He has been my best friend and helper for nine years and will be retiring soon, but it was so special to walk with him down Pennsylvania Ave.,” said Caroline Elgin. “ He trotted along and wagged his tail the whole time like he knew this was something special.”
The inaugural parade includes representatives from all 50 states. Though CCI didn’t have a representative from each state, they had participants that stretched from the Atlantic to Pacific coast and included all five CCI Regions.
All four types of CCI Dogs were represented, including Skilled Companion Teams, Hearing Dogs, Facility Dogs, and a CCI Wounded Veteran Initiative Service Dog.
Puppy raisers from around the country also marched in the parade. The youngest puppy in the parade was 4-month old Shyla who is being raised by the Slater family in Upperville, Va. Sajen was the oldest dog in the parade.
“It was amazing how good all the dogs, even the little puppies were, but they are CCI dogs and just really know how to behave,” said Caroline Elgin.
The puppies were wearing their yellow training vests and the graduate dogs were wearing their blue CCI vests. However their human counterparts were all dressed in matching yellow hats and jackets with the organization logo on the back.
Caroline Elgin said some people commented that the outfits made them look like bananas, “but they were warm.”
CCI introduced their balloon dog mascot “Independence” who rode on the parade float with some of the participants. The large yellow dog wore a blue CCI vest and collar.
Caroline Elgin said, “I thought the float was "Labrador able"!
Event though the teams had a long day, she said it was great to be with all the other CCI participants.
She noted that it was already dark as they headed up the street, but when they turned the corner towards the White House reviewing stand the parade route was flooded with bright lights.
Caroline Elgin was on the side of the float closest to the President’s reviewing stand
“Vice-President Biden got really excited when he saw us,” said Carline Elgin. “He knows about CCI and his face really lit up when he saw us. He gave us the “thumbs up”.
She said President Barack Obama was busy having his picture taken, but turned around and got a huge smile on his face and waved when he saw them.
With Sajen by her side, Caroline Elgin matured from a young girl into a young woman. She is a currently a second year Graphic and Web Design student at the Art Institute of Virginia-Dulles and designer at www.labradorabledesigns.com. Her company makes a donation to CCI for each item sold.
Though Sajen’s paws help in many ways, she used modern technology to provide her first hand account of their participation in the 57th Inaugural Parade.
The day after the parade Caroline Elgin and Sajen were both pretty tired, but she said, “It was so exciting to represent CCI and people with disabilities. It was history.”
CCI was one of about 60 applicants chosen from nearly 3,000 parade applicants. Even though CCI made history marching in the 57th Presidential Inaugural Parade, the dogs trained by CCI to assist persons with disabilities make history on an individual basis every day.
“We’re so grateful for this chance for the world to know about Canine Companions for Independence,” said Carina Elgin. “The volunteers are thrilled to show everyone that this opportunity is out there to help enrich the lives of people with disabilities. I want more people like my daughter Caroline to be able to have a dog change their lives.”
CCI was founded in 1975 by Dr. Bonita Bergin and is the largest non-profit provider of trained Service Dogs. They have five regional training centers in the United States and are recognized worldwide for the excellence of their dogs and programs.
CCI provides Service, Hearing, Facility, and Skilled Companion Team dogs free of charge to approved applicants.
For more information, visit cci.org or call 1-800-572-BARK.
There is a buzz of excitement radiating through the San Francisco Bay Area—the annual Mavericks Invitational, a big wave surf contest held 20 miles south of the city, is a go! And it's happening this weekend!
You might be asking yourself, "How, exactly, does this relate to dogs?" Well, you see, it's a rare event to visit a surf break that doesn't have a dog or two hanging on the beach waiting for her person to paddle in, and sometimes you'll come across a dog who is bold enough to paddle out to join the fun. In early March 1961, this is exactly what happened when surfers Alex Matienzo, Jim Thompson, and Dick Notmeyer decided to explore the big waves breaking about a 1/2-mile off the shore of Pillar Point, CA.
Alex Matienzo often brought his roommate's white German Shepherd, Maverick, to the beach, and Maverick was used to swimming with Matienzo when he was out surfing. On this particular day, Alex, Jim and Dick started to paddle out, leaving Maverick on shore, but the dog decided he wanted to be part of the crew and swam out to catch them. Matienzo (a wise man) was concerned for Maverick's safety and took the dog back to shore, leaving him tied to the car bumper in order to keep him from swimming out again into the dangerous surf.
The three young men had limited success that day, spending the morning surfing unremarkable overhead peaks about a 1/4-mile out. The conditions for surfing the much larger outside waves were simply too dangerous. The trio decided to name the wave break "Maverick" after the creature who seemed to have the most fun that day… before being tied to the bumper, of course.
The Mavericks Invitational has been held on those outside waves since 1999 (conditions permitting). This year, the contest is taking place on Sunday, January 20. You can watch a live feed of surfers battling Maverick's giant wave at MavericksInvitational.com.
News: Guest Posts
Beagles being used by food industry
What happens when a 15-year-old vegetarian learns that a controversial food additive, one that is patented as a flame retardant, is allowed to be added to her sports drink?
Sarah Kavanagh, of Hattiesburg, Miss., started a petition on change.org, asking the manufacturer to remove it. Brominated vegetable oil is allowed by the Food and Drug Administration as an additive “generally regarded as safe.” It has, however, been linked to health problems in some studies, so why put it in a sports drink, her petition argues?
Dog lovers, too, are posting petitions about practices involving food additives that make no sense to them—like testing such ingredients on animals. The requisite safety tests performed on BVO included animals; even dogs.
While rodents are the usual subjects in toxicity tests, dogs are also an important test tool for food additives such as olestra (of gastrointestinal fame); cyclamate (a banned sugar substitute); and countless other compounds, which are administered at high doses in studies.
Supporters of the practice view dogs as “whole, living systems” vital for testing the effects of additives in products sold to humans. Opponents see a cultural disconnect in using dogs to study products to be sold to…well, them.
Surveys show that nearly half of U.S. households have a dog. Another subset have Beagles; the most common laboratory breed. Yet the long-domesticated dog—subject of endless stories of devotion and cultural indulgence in the form of goods and services aimed at their comfort—is, in another context, a disposable species.
Petitioners say that dogs have limited protections in a research setting. Cages restrict their movement, puppies may be weaned early and caged individually, and procedures may hurt, particularly in vivo toxicity tests.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website, the Animal Welfare Act of 1966 “is the only Federal law in the United States that regulates the treatment of animals in research, exhibition, transport, and by dealers.”
The Act was prompted by media reports on the theft of pets by dealers who sold them for research. Now most research dogs are “purpose bred,” but they can still be supplied by Class B dealers and legally sourced from shelters, auctions, and ads. As of June 2012, the Humane Society of the U.S. estimates that there were 3,303 USDA Class A breeders and Class B licensed brokers!
The animal welfare law is enforced “primarily through inspections of every licensed or registered facility in the country.” It regulates cage size, cleanliness, and food and water, but not the tests performed or their duration. The BVO feeding study spanned two years (in dog-years, how long is that, owners may wonder?)
Even when dogs emerge from a study in good health, there is still the “frequently asked question” of what happens when an experiment ends?
According to the website of the American Association for Laboratory Animal Science, “The majority of animals under study must be euthanized in order to obtain tissue for pathological evaluation and for use in in vitro tests.”
The association is a membership group of professionals from academia, government, and private industry that promotes “responsible laboratory animal care and use to benefit people and animals.”
In one petition on whitehouse.gov, the Dogington Post “internet newspaper” offers this appeal to the Obama administration: “Beagles aren’t reliable test subjects.”
In fact, many food additives such as BVO remain controversial long after tests in dogs were used to determine what a safe dose might be in human foods.
Like olestra, a substitute for fat. A 20-month olestra feeding study in dogs states that the objective “was to assess the potential chronic toxicity of olestra in a non-rodent species.” The study found that “olestra was not toxic when fed to dogs at up to 10 percent of the diet for 20 months.”
The dogs, 4-6 month old Beagles divided into groups of 10 for testing, were euthanized when it was over and the study was published in 1991. Yet olestra garners plenty of consumer complaints.
The sweetener Sucralose aka Splenda was also tested in Beagles. Sourcewatch.org describes one test that involved 32 Beagles caged for 52 weeks at the McNeil Specialty Products laboratories in New Jersey. At the end of the study they were anaesthetized and bled to death, which made the examination of organs easier.
An alternative to BVO in beverages, the Eastman product Sustane SAIB (sucrose acetate isobutyrate)—though not a source of consumer complaints—was tested in Beagles, too.
The list of additives is long, and some say, getting longer. Consumer interest in health keeps the food industry experimenting with flavors, plant extracts, supplements, stabilizers and more. As they strive to churn out the substitutes, animal petitioners hope to see new substitutes for dogs in their toxicity tests.
Also promoting humane alternatives is the Physician's Committee for Responsible Medicine, which is pulling for a robot to the rescue. Like the promising “Tox21,” a collaboration of federal agencies to test chemicals—including food additives—with a machine, at blazing speed. The evolution of technology, they say, will minimize the use of animals.
As we watch The San Francisco 49ers go deeper into the post-season playoffs, we are rooting for linebacker Patrick Willis to do well. Willis is widely considered to be one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Known for his fearless, physical style of play on the field, Willis has a gentle persona off the field and a soft spot for dogs. The Bark spoke with Patrick last year about his new (then) housemate, a young Pit Bull named Zeus.
The Bark: Tell us about your dog.
B: What’s he like?
B: During the season you must travel a lot …
B: How did you name him?
B: You are involved with a scholarship program sponsored by Duracell that provides tuition and transportation to attend ProCamps run by professional athletes like yourself. To underscore their mission, they’ve produced a short video on your young life, and it is quite inspiring. Tell us about it.
B: Watching the video depiction of your childhood and all that you’ve overcome, do you feel a special affinity to Pit Bulls, a breed who are often misunderstood, and in a way the classic underdog?
B: What is the biggest thing you’ve learned with Zeus?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Author offers a character in next book
When author Dennis Lehane’s dog disappeared late last month in Massachusetts, he offered a highly unusual reward for her safe return: He will name a character in his next book after the person who finds Tessa, a rescue beagle. Lehane writes mystery novels, and his works include “Gone, Baby Gone”, “A Drink Before the War”, “Mystic River”, and “Shutter Island.” Ironically, his current project is a script for a movie, which is based on his short story “Animal Rescue.”
Tessa apparently wandered out of the yard when a gate was not latched properly. She was not wearing tags at the time, but has a microchip.
Lehane has been busy searching for Tessa and publicizing her disappearance via Twitter, Facebook, and with fliers near his home. Her return can be a no-questions-asked situation. Lehane is interested in getting Tessa back and cares only about her safety. Lehane has also offered a monetary reward.
What kind of reward, beyond money, would you be willing to offer for the safe return of your dog?
News: Guest Posts
Recent news reports about house fires with dogs trapped inside are a keen reminder how valuable a pet oxygen mask can be to firefighting crews. Check if your local fire department has these tools, and if not, consider donating one to them. They're not expensive.
In Lima, Ohio, a house fire broke out the morning of January 3, 2013. An adult occupant escaped from an upstairs room, but the family dog Cola hid in the basement. Nearly fifteen minutes after firefighters started attacking the fire in the freezing cold, they discover the dog-apparently lifeless-and bring her upstairs and out onto the snow. Luckily, the Lima Fire Department had been the recipient of a gift: pet oxygen masks, made to fit the long snouts of dogs and other pets. Firefighters worked on Cola for nearly five minutes, giving her oxygen, until she started breathing again. Her emotional owner, anxiously watching nearby, cried tears of relief and gratitude.
The house fire was caught on video; toward the end, near the 16:00 minute mark, you can see the firefighters bringing Cola out of the house and laying her on the snow to start resuscitation efforts. Unfortunately the video does not extend to her successful recovery.
Nearby Delphos Animal Hospital had donated the pet oxygen masks to the Lima Fire Department just a week earlier. According to news reports, they plan to donate two more, soon.
Also on January 3rd, firefighters responding to a house fire in Forth Worth discovered two dogs inside. One was alright, but the other was unresponsive. Using an oxygen mask, the firefighters were able to revive the dog.
The fire department's spokesperson noted that firefighters attempt animal rescues several times a year, and that some of their trucks are outfitted with animal oxygen masks. Otherwise, they use those made for humans.
Wouldn't it be nice if all fire trucks and other first responders were equipped with animal oxygen masks?
This year the Tournament of the Roses Parade (Jan. 1) will be showcasing a float with a theme near and dear to our hearts—“Follow The Stars—Adopt a Pet!” Be sure to watch this on New Year’s day, the float will appear in parade order 42. The float, sponsored by the Beverly Hills Pet Care Foundation is sure to be the parade’s favorite.
The pet float hopes to raise awareness of the millions of pets that are euthanized each year, and all the float’ s human participants have adopted pets and have dedicated themselves to improving the homeless pet problem.
Shelter animals from the Los Angeles Department of Animal Services, such as this one-year old Maltese mix, Bo Jangles, will ride on the float. The shelter animals will be joined by others like Uggie, the imitable Jack Russell Terrier dog actor from the Academy award winning film, The Artist—he had been rescued from the pound by animal trainer, Omar Von Muller. So he makes the perfect “spokesman” for this event.
Better still after the parade, The Pet Care Foundation will be sponsoring an event for animal shelters and pet rescue groups. The adoptable dogs on the float will all come for Los Angeles Animal Services and will be up for adoption immediately following the parade.
If you are in the area, do think of adopting a pet that day (or any day!), and definitely lend your cheers and tweets as the float drives by.
And for now, check out the coverage of the float prep from KTLA5
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