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News: Guest Posts
Law & Order: Canine Unit?
New DNA database to aid dog-fighting investigations

On the heels of Charles Siebert’s eye-opening examination of the links between animal cruelty and other types of violence (“The Animal-Cruelty Syndrome,” New York Times, 6/7/10), the University of California, Davis, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have announced the creation of the nation’s first criminal dog-fighting DNA database. Known as the Canine CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), the database is designed to support criminal investigations and prosecutions in dog-fighting cases. As Siebert pointed out, the conviction of Michael Vick on dog-fighting charges in 2007 and the growing awareness of links between dog fighting and domestic violence and other crimes has made dog fighting a higher law enforcement priority. I’m thrilled to see advanced technology and new energy brought to this terrible practice.

 

How will it work? The Canine CODIS contains DNA profiles from dogs seized during dog-fighting investigations and from unidentified samples collected at suspected dog-fighting venues. DNA analysis and matching will help law enforcement identify relationships between dogs and establish connections between breeders, trainers and dog-fight operators. Blood collected from dog fighting sites also will be searched against the Canine CODIS database to identify the source. Am I the only one seeing a new Law & Order franchise here?   The Humane Society of Missouri is also a partner in creating the database, supplying 400 original and initial samples of DNA collected from dogs seized in July 2009 during the nation’s largest dog-fighting raid, as well as the Louisiana SPCA. The database will be maintained at the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Genetics Laboratory.

 

News: Guest Posts
Must Read
Connecting animal cruelty to other forms of violence

Bark contributor Charles Siebert explores how we are taking animal abuse more seriously than ever before—with tougher legislation, law enforcement, veterinary forensics and explorations into the neuroscience of empathy. “The Animal-Cruelty Syndrome” (New York Times Magazine, 6/13/10) is a tough read in parts, with graphic examples (be prepared), but hopefully signals a turning point in this previously underreported and inadequately addressed violence.

 

View the accompanying slideshow of abused and/or neglected Pit Bulls in New York shelters.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Double Checking
New law requires Ga. shelters to scan pets twice for microchips

Last year I wrote about a study of animal shelters that found 12 percent of microchips go undetected on the first scan. Thanks to a new law, lost Georgia pets can rest assured that there’s a greater chance of being identified and reunited with their families. House Bill 1106, sponsored by Representative Gene Maddox and Senator Greg Goggans, will go into effect on July 1st requiring shelters statewide to scan pets twice for microchips--once at intake and another time before euthanasia.

In the bill’s infancy, there was concern that the cost of requiring microchip scanning would prevent the legislation from being passed. To ensure the bill’s success, the American Kennel Club Companion Animal Recovery (AKC CAR) pledged 25 microchip scanners to Georgia shelters. HomeAgain and Bayer followed suit by pledging an additional 20 scanners each.

Microchips are inexpensive and easy to implant. According to the AKC CAR, microchipped pets are up to 20 times more likely to return home. Hopefully, Georgia’s legislation will encourage more people to microchip their pets and will help reunite more lost pets with their families.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Which Pooch Pooped?
DNA has the answer

A fancy condominium in the Baltimore area is plagued by a problem facing many neighborhoods around the country and indeed the world. At least one dog guardian is not scooping the poop, and the result is a mess that has residents upset. Steve Frans is a board member who has a dog, and is embarrassed by the mess that residents and guests must deal with. He has proposed a solution to the problem.

  Frans’ idea is to require everyone who lives there with a dog to submit a sample of the dog’s saliva and pay $50 for the DNA testing of that saliva. There would also be a $10 per month fee for having the staff scoop the poop that is not cleaned up so that it can be tested for a match. Both saliva and feces contain DNA. Whoever is responsible for not cleaning up the mess (the person, not the dog!) will be fined $500.   Using DNA to identify offenders of this kind is not new. In Petah Tikva, Israel, as Julia Kamysz Lane wrote about in 2008, dog guardians were rewarded with pet supplies for submitting their dog’s poop for DNA identification and offenders whose dog’s poop was found unscooped (based on DNA matching) were to be fined.   Do you think using DNA to identify the offenders is a reasonable option? In what other ways could they solve the problem?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Only the Good Die Young
Science doesn't back that up

According to a recent study, The Pace of Life Under Artificial Selection: Personality, Energy Expenditure, and Longevity Are Correlated in Domestic Dogs, there is a link between personality, metabolic rate, and life history traits. Researcher Vincent Careau and his colleagues conclude that dogs of obedient, docile and shy breeds live longer than breeds that are more typically bold or disobedient. They also found that aggressive breeds have higher energetic needs than breeds who are not typically aggressive. It is well known that large dogs don’t tend to live as long as small dogs. This study corrected for size and found that personality is related to canine life span without allowing size to confound their conclusions.

  Some specifics of the study’s findings are that both the German Shepherd and the Bichon live a long time for their size, and that Labradors and Newfoundlands burn less energy for their weight than other breeds. On the other end, Fox Terriers, Great Danes, Beagles and Pomeranians had short life spans relative to their size. The basic idea is that dogs who expend a lot of energy and don’t live that long are consistent with a pace-of-life syndrome that goes with a “live fast, die young” model. It has been used to explain varying life spans of a number of species.   The scientists who conducted this study assert that these results could be a result of either humans selecting for particular combinations of traits, but they believe another possibility is more likely: They think that these correlations probably arose from inadvertent correlations of these traits with the trait humans were truly selecting for—personality.   Many people will no doubt find this study fascinating, but there are already critics who view dogs as an unusual case in that the smaller breeds tend to live longer whereas in other animals, the longest-lived animals tend to be bigger. I myself am curious about how the breeds were categorized as bold, obedient, docile, aggressive etc. What do you think about this study?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Creating a Monster
Labradoodle creator regrets breeding the first “designer dog”

Ever since the Labradoodle led the “designer dog” craze, pet stores have spawned countless spinoffs that include Puggles, Schnoodles and Maltipoos. These mutts fetch hundreds of dollars, while an abundance of mixed breeds continue to wait in crowded shelters.

The Labradoodle dates back to 1988 when Wally Conran of the Royal Institute of the Blind in Australia received a letter from a woman who needed a seeing eye dog, despite her husband’s allergies. In response, Conran bred a Labrador from the Institute’s breeding stock to his manager’s Poodle to combine proven guide dog qualities with a non-shedding coat.

With the subsequent commercialization of the Labradoodle, Conran recently said that breeding the first “designer dog” is the greatest regret of his life and that he wishes he could turn the clock back.

I know Conran feels guilty, but if it weren’t Labradoodles, it would be something else. I believe that everything always comes back to responsible pet care. Until people start doing their research, puppy mills will continue to exist, catering to impulse buys and uneducated consumers. One day its “designer dogs” and tomorrow it will be “accessory puppies” or Dalmatians.

And, of course, the best kept secret remains that “designer dogs” can be adopted from the local animal shelter for a fraction of the price!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Collaborate for a Cure
New study aims to use doggy DNA to understand cancer.

The Translational Genomics Research Institute and the Van Andel Research Institute, in partnership with the National Cancer Institute, the University of Pennsylvania, and Michigan State University, have created the Canine Hereditary Cancer Consortium to better understand cancer in dogs and humans. 

The research features an unprecedented collaboration of veterinarians, scientists, research institutes, government entities, and corporations to accelerate the development of a cure.

By using the DNA in canine saliva, blood, and tumor samples, the scientists hope to better understand the genetic causes of cancer that will lead to treatment for both humans and canines. Having access to canine samples will allow researchers to study diseases, like sarcomas, where the scarcity of human samples makes it difficult to study.

The Canine Hereditary Cancer Consortium will be funded by a 2-year, $4.3 million federal stimulus grant and an additional $1 million provided by PetSmart and Hill’s Pet Nutrition. The research is also endorsed by the American Kennel Club and the Morris Animal Foundation

In addition to cancer, TGen and VARI eventually will study neurological and behavioral disorders as well as hearing loss and other debilitative conditions.

In a world where one of three dogs, one of two men, and two of three women will be affected by cancer, it’s important to pool our resources to finally beat this horrible disease.

News: Guest Posts
My Idiopathic Pup
Pondering one Border Collie's genetics

This post is really a spontaneous one. I’ve thought about this for many years, and I’ve had discussions with many a dog person on the topic of breeding. I am not a breeder and I have great empathy for those that truly advocate for their breed and those who attempt to maintain vigor and health in their breeding practices.

I am prompted to write today because of a scary episode that happened a few days ago with Cowboy, my five-and-a-half-year-old Border Collie. I was outside playing ball with him—doing our usual go outs and recalls. In the middle of one of the recalls, Cowboy started to arc in a circle, as if he were chasing a bee. Alas, no bees running around Wisconsin at the end of November.

Within seconds, he was down on the ground in the midst of a grand-mal seizure. I stayed by him, and watched him for 15 to 30 seconds that seemed like forever. When it was over, he was a little weak in his hind end and I rushed him to the emergency vet. By the time we arrived, Cowboy was his usual self and we did the customary “rule out” blood work and neurological exam. Everything came out normal, and it is likely that Cowboy may have a diagnosis of “idiopathic” epilepsy.

Time will tell how and if this progresses, but it made me think about the word “idopathic.” As a nurse I know that idiopathic refers to an unknown or indefinable cause. Well, it seems that my Cowboy, has hit the jackpot in the idiopathic category. He is definitely another heart dog—beautiful in appearance and sound in temperament. But Cowboy came to me with an interesting genetic package: He was cryptorchid, developed osteochondritis dessicans in his shoulder, had an unusual idiopathic swallowing problem as a pup, and now may have idiopathic epilepsy.

What is known about the Border Collie and their genetics is that in the past ten to twenty years as their popularity has dramatically risen, the vigor of the Border Collie’s genetics has been seriously compromised. It is not unusual to hear from a working stock dog breeder, “If you have a dog that works, don’t worry about the genetics.”

Well, my response to that, albeit sarcastic, is a similar word, but a different meaning.

Idiotic.

And sorrow.

This problem, often called “kennel blindness,” occurs all over the sporting world of dogs and the Border Collie is likely one of the last breeds to be affected by impulsive and unwise breeding programs. This stems from the concept of line breeding, that in order to produce outstanding traits, breed within the lineage of your successful dogs and accept the risks of outing recessive genes that carry pathology with them. After all, the breeder can choose to keep a few dogs that look promising, cull others, or place them in pet homes.

Cowboy will be fine. He is in a loving and safe home. He has people who will accommodate him and pay for potential medical needs. I worry about the future of this breed as well as others. I wonder what truly motivates such shortsighted and cavalier breeding practices. I hope that breeders will start to be a little introspective and honest and share their information about their bloodlines. Too many hide the history or make statements like “my dog got kicked in the head by a cow and then developed epilepsy.”

Anyone with experience and dedication to a specific breed can identify the weaknesses that circulate through each breed. The ER vet told me that there is a line of Labrador Retrievers that suffer from exercise-induced seizures. Those who know Flat-Coated Retrievers know about the challenges of lymphoma in the breed. And so it goes.

This is nothing new of course, but really worth thinking about and discussing. It’s actually quite extraordinary how quickly we can influence genetics. Think Belyaev and his foxes. The great concern is, that once we’ve opened Pandora’s box of pathologic genes, how then, do we clean up the mess?

Well, thanks for listening. I’m wise enough to know there are no easy answers. But, I do hope that those who breed and love their breeds will start responding to these challenging questions.

Often times, things just aren’t so idiopathic.

News: Guest Posts
The Age of Ruppies
Scientists clone dog with muzzle that glows

Have you heard the one about the Beagle that glowed? No. It’s not a joke. And it’s not a Claymation Christmas special. It’s another dog cloning experiment out of South Korea (home of RNL Bio, which is steadily building a commercial dog-cloning operation). According to a story in the Lexington Herald-Leader (with photos), the Beagle clones, infused with a gene from a sea anemone, have a rosy flush in their muzzles and paws. There are reportedly as many as 30 of these transgenic dogs, known as Ruppies (an amalgam of ruby and puppies), living in research facilities at the University of Seoul.

According to a University of Kentucky project researcher paraphrased in Herald-Leader, the glowing beagle represents a scientific advance that could lead to the commercial development of dogs bred with specific traits, “such as green eyes” (that’s an advance?) or as alternative to shorter-lived mice in developing genes that could address specific diseases.

I was dismayed by this story, not merely saddened for what is probably an unhappy lab life for current and future Ruppies but worried about the potential commercial applications in a world with too many designer dogs. Already, there is interest in glowing dogs as pets—hardly a big marketing leap in a world with genetically engineered glowing fish.

Also, I can’t help wondering about the role of American researchers working in South Korea’s labs, where—at least it’s been reported in the case of RNL Bio—they can ignore safeguards to ensure the wellbeing of dogs. Are they doing things over there that they couldn’t get away with here?

To my way of thinking, Ruppies are a step backward in a year when we reported good news for animals in lab settings. In May, the University of Cincinnati banned the use of purpose-bred animals for educational purposes (including surgeries and dissection). In October, we blogged about efforts to make experimental treatments available to dying pets, as an alternative to inducing sickness in otherwise healthy animals for research.

A shout out to Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan’s Atlantic magazine blog, where I first read about the Ruppies. Sullivan has a pair of Beagles and occasionally sprinkles news from dogdom among his political fare, including earlier this week, this adorable YouTube video of Waffle the Goldendoodle versus an ice cube.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Researching Social Cognition
Dogs finally get some respect

Science recently ran an article about the importance of dog research. It’s an understatement to say that times they are a-changing. The fact is that times have changed so much that it’s a whole new era. This journal is among the most prestigious of scientific publications, and to see a big article about the value of dogs as research subjects is mind-blowing to those of us whose discussions of dog research over the years were usually met with derisive comments about dogs that all fit into the category of “familiarity breeds contempt.”

Although Charles Darwin and Nobel Laureate Konrad Lorenz studied dogs and found them scientifically interesting, there soon followed a gap of many generations of researchers who mocked attempts to study dogs. In the last decade, the tide has turned, and now excellent research on dogs is being done in many areas of the world. Some of the most exciting studies are coming from a lab in Hungary where scientists, such as Vilmos Csányi and Ádám Miklósi, are exploring the canine mind. Along with American scientists, such as Marc Bekoff, Alexandra Horowitz, Colin Allen and Clive Wynne, some very revealing studies about the canine mind have come out in recent years. Canine research is finally getting the respect and attention it deserves. Hurrah!

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