Claudia Kawczynska is The Bark's co-founder and Editor-in-Chief.
August 1 2017
An article today in The New York Times takes aim at temperament testing in animal shelters hopefully this article will get the attention it deserves from the shelter community. The effectiveness of these kinds of tests, that can result in a dog being swiftly killed if she doesn’t score a passing grade, has long been under examination by humane advocates. Back in 2003, our article, Dog Is In the Details, by Barbara Robertson, looked at this very issue. And more recently Jessica Hekman, DVM, wrote an indepth piece about more recent studies that, “could be interpreted to mean that the two most widely used behavioral assessments in the United States are not doing even a passable job of predicting aggression, and that shelters are not doing much more than flipping a coin when they use an assessment to decide whether a dog will be put on the adoption floor or, potentially, euthanized.”
All these articles noted that testing an animal in a shelter setting is fraught with problems. Even the most modern of shelters can be a place for many dogs, as Dr. Sara Bennett, a vet behaviorist, detailed in the Times piece:
“Dogs thrive on routine and social interaction. The transition to a shelter can be traumatizing, with its cacophony of howls and barking, smells and isolating steel cages. A dog afflicted with kennel stress can swiftly deteriorate: spinning; pacing; jumping like a pogo stick; drooling; and showing a loss of appetite. It may charge barriers, appearing aggressive.”
But there are more and more studies, such as the one done co-authored by Dr. Gary Patronek, adjunct professor at the veterinary medicine school at Tufts, and Janis Bradley of the National Canine Research Council suggesting that shelters should instead devote limited resources to “to spent the time in maximizing opportunities to interact with dogs in normal and enjoyable ways that mirror what they are expected to do once adopted (e.g., walking, socializing with people, playgroups with other dogs, games, training).”
“The tests are artificial and contrived,” said Patronek, who roiled the shelter world last summer when he published an analysis concluding that the tests have no more positive predictive value for aggression than a coin toss.
“During the most stressful time of a dog’s life, you’re exposing it to deliberate attempts to provoke a reaction,” he said. “And then the dog does something it wouldn’t do in a family situation. So you euthanize it?”
Plus in many of the overcrowded shelters, the assessments are left up to staff members, who aren’t well trained, and who certainly aren’t behaviorists, to make the final say. “Interpreting dogs, with their diverse dialects and complex body language — wiggling butts, lip-licking, semaphoric ears and tails — often becomes subjective.” As Dr. Hekman noted, she had “observed a behavioral assessment in which a dog was repeatedly harassed with a fake hand because the shelter staff had a suspicion that he would bite. As the tester continued to provoke him long after this sub-test would normally have ended, the dog froze, then growled, then finally bit the hand, but not hard enough to damage it. Despite his restraint in the face of persistent harassment, he was labeled as aggressive by the shelter staff and was euthanized.”
So when space is such a limiting factor, as it is in many shelters, those dogs that attack a fake hand, just make space available for another dog.
The Times pointed out that one of the tests that is most disputed is the one involving the food test. Research has shown that shelter dogs who guard their food bowls, do not necessarily do so at home. And even Emily Weiss, the A.S.P.C.A. researcher whose SAFER behavior assessment is one of the best-known has stepped away from food-bowl tests, saying that 2016 research showed that programs that omit them “do not experience an increase in bites in the shelter or in adoptive homes.” And is study of this study, showed a stunning revelation: of 96 dogs who had tested positive for food aggression in the shelter, only six displayed it in their new homes. This raised more interesting questions: Is it possible that dogs are showing food aggression in the shelter due to stress? Is food-aggression testing completely useless?
Tests that try to assess dog-on-dog aggression using a “fake” dog also have been shown to be less that ideal, a 2015 study showed that shelter dogs responded more aggressively to a fake dog than a real one.
Good news is that the A.S.P.C.A is reporting that annual adoption rates have risen nearly 20 percent since 2011. Euthanasia rates are down, although they still say 670,000 dogs are put to death each year. Some veterinary schools, like the University of California, Davis, Tufts University and Cornell University (that was the first one to offer such a program) are offering shelter-medicine specializations. And more and more shelters are employing more humane, and effective methods such as programs like Aimee Sadler’s Dogs Playing for Life that matches dogs for outside playgroups.
As Natalie DiGiacomo, shelter director of the HSUS has noted: “There is a reform movement underway to improve the quality of life for animals in shelters, and playgroups are pivotal to this effort. Play enriches dogs’ lives and reduces stress so their true personalities show.”
What is important is to get the word out to your local shelters about the unreliability of behavior testing, it is surprising how many still employ them, including the Sue Sternberg’s “assess-a-pet” and the food bowl test. And while the Times piece is valuable because of the large audience it will receive, it did feature a behaviorist who used the fake-hand and food bowl test, but at least accompanied by a more thoughtful examination about the overall behavior of the dog. That dog was saved, but many who fail that test, in most other situations, without the benefit of expert opinion, would not have been. This is a complex situation that no one approach can truly fix. But it is important to heed the findings from Patronek, "Nothing in the prevalence estimates we reviewed suggest that overall, dogs who come to spend time in a shelter (and are not screened out based on history or behavior at intake or shortly thereafter) are dramatically more or less inclined toward problematic warning or biting behavior than are pet dogs in general."
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
Human Grade, Human Made
July 29 2017
This marks the first in a series of articles about making home-prepared meals for our dogs. The series is inspired by our belief that the best way to feed both our human and canine family members is to select the ingredients and whip up meals ourselves—not to mention the sense of satisfaction that comes from presenting a well-filled dish or bowl.
Even if we’re confident in the kitchen, when it comes to putting our skills to use for our dogs, many of us waver, concerned that we won’t be up to the challenge of producing the “complete and balanced” meals we’re told are critical for canine health. We rely instead on processed food that comes in bags, cans or boxes.
To offset this concern, we turned to experts who have experience with home-prepared diets. With their help, we can learn how to provide our dogs with nutritious, delicious meals that are reliably safe and made with little or no fuss. We start with the one of the easiest of preparation methods. Dust off that slow cooker (aka Crock Pot®) Auntie Em gave you, and let’s get started.
Our first expert is Greg Martinez, DVM, who practices at Gilroy Veterinary Hospital in Gilroy, Calif., and is a rising YouTube star. He’s been a vet for more than 30 years and is passionate about the benefits meals made in slow cookers have for his own dogs and his patients. He recently followed up his first book, Dr. Greg’s Dog Dish Diet, with a new volume, The Dog Diet Answer Book. He turned out to be the perfect guide to slow cooking for your dog.
Over the past year, I have tried a variety of recipes and cooking approaches. To begin with, I cooked each ingredient individually. Meats would be poached, braised, roasted or stir fried; veggies, steamed and ground up in a food processor; grains and pulses (legumes), well cooked; eggs, hardboiled or made into a frittata. I would then weigh each ingredient class on my go-to digital scale (a must for homecookers!), ounce by ounce, and combine them in each dog’s bowl. Alas, two of my three dogs consistently refused to eat their veggies. No matter what combo I gave them or how I tried to disguise them, those two always pushed the vegetables off to the side.
That changed after I switched to the slow cooker for most of their meals. Stewing veggies—from kale to parsnips to sweet peas—with the meat meant increased palatability, and they gobbled it all down. Today, slow cooking is my preferred method. I can produce around nine pounds of food each in my two seven-cup cookers, alternating the protein sources from turkey and chicken to beef and pork, (with white fish and a variety of livers/gizzards/hearts) and varying the vegetables, fruit and carbohydrates.
Once I established the slow cooker as my tool of choice and refined my technique and food choices, I found that feeding my dogs for their optimal benefit required answering a few more questions. These questions, by the way, apply whether you’re 100 percent home cooking or using home-cooked food to supplement or enhance your dog’s commercial diet.
How Digestible Is The Meal?
As the head of quality control for your dog’s food, you need to know about digestibility, or, as the dictionary defines it, “the percentage of a foodstuff taken into the digestive tract that is absorbed into the body.” As Linda Case pointed out in her excellent book, Dog Food Logic, pet food manufacturers claim that their food is “highly digestible” or “easily digested,” but rarely back that up with proof. Since digestibility has a direct effect on how much nutritional value your dog gets from a particular food, it’s an important indicator that ought to be available to consumers. As Case also points out, digestibility is increased by “the inclusion of high quality ingredients.” And this goes for not just the protein sources but for the grains, legumes and vegetables too. So all ingredients have quality levels that can provide different levels of nutritional quality to the food with the potential for a wide variation in nutrient composition. That is one of the reasons to consider home-prepared meals that are made with ingredients found at the supermarket, farmers’ market or from your garden—they are not only fresh but human grade too (a claim that few pet food companies can make)—even if you use it to supplement a manufactured diet.
I recently attended SuperZoo, a mammoth pet industry tradeshow in Las Vegas, where I talked to representatives from many pet food companies. Few knew what I was talking about when I questioned their products’ “digestibility index” (which should be higher than 82 percent). Or actually even knew how their feeding guidelines were derived—or the formulas used to calculate them.
How Much Should I Feed?
Figuring out how much to feed your dog can be rather confusing. In the past year, I’ve read most canine nutrition books, talked with vet nutritionists and read articles online. What I’ve discovered is that when it comes down to it, the number of calories a dog needs on a daily basis can be determined via a variety of formulas.
The first thing to do is to confirm or calculate how many kilocalories your dog requires to be fed on a daily basis (Daily Energy Requirement or DER). The total calorie requirement should be divided by the number of meals (usually 2) fed to your dog daily. All treats and snacks also need to be accounted for and their calories should be subtracted from the total that will be provided in their meals. It is always recommended that before making changes to a dog’s current diet you discuss this plan with your veterinarian. Do keep in mind that there are a number of different approaches that are used to calculate a dog’s caloric needs so while our app [link to app] calculates your dog’s DER, there are other formulas with slightly different results (we have included a chart that uses another popular measurement, the Maintenance Energy Requirement, that you can also follow.)
It is important to note that nutrient and caloric needs are not linear: for example, a 50-pound dog does not require five times the amount needed by a 10-pound dog.
How Active Is My Dog?
The feeding guidelines that most pet food companies provide on their packages usually offers wide ranges of weights such as from “30 to 50 lbs.” and some offer scant activity levels beyond “average and highly active,” but in order to not over or under feed your dog, it is vital to know more precisely how much your dog weighs, along with her Body Condition Score. It’s important to truly understand your dog’s activity level too; few pet dogs fall into the “highly active” category. Christine Zink, DVM, a leading expert on canine sports medicine, provides good thumbnail guidelines: “An inactive dog is one who rarely gets more than a jaunt around the yard, a moderately active dog is one who gets 15 to 30 minutes of continuous exercise every day, an active dog is one who walks twice daily for about 45 minutes each time, and a highly active dog is one who gets at least several hours of exercise every day.” Some food companies do provide more specifics online, and most should be able to tell you about them if you call their customer service departments.
How’s My Dog’s Weight?
In order to avoid over- or underfeeding your dog, it is vital to know precisely how much she weighs, along with her Body Condition Score, which can be determined in consultation with your vet. With this score in mind and a realistic understanding of exactly how active your dog is, you can determine just how many calories your dog should be fed. Note, too, that you need to consider everything your dog eats during the day, including treats and chews. Those calories have to be taken into consideration when determining how much to feed at mealtime. Note, you might have to check with treat makers for calorie counts, unfortunately a few put that useful information on their packaging at this time.
It’s important to remember that dogs are individuals. No matter what type of calculation you use, the best way to judge a feeding plan’s efficacy is by simply keeping track of any weight loss or gain, and then adjusting accordingly.
Go to our calorie calculation Apps.
Slow Cooking Tips
• For optimum performance, fill the cooker to about two-thirds capacity, and not less than halfway; don’t over- or underfill.
• Use the right size slow cooker. For making dog food, the larger 6- to 7-quart sizes work best.
• Keep the lid on. Slow cookers can lose 20 to 30 minutes of cooking time if the lid is removed.
• One hour on the high setting equals 2 to 2 ½ hours on low.
• Remove excess fat from meats and the skin from poultry. Since it’s wise to control the amount of fat in a dog’s meal, brown ground meats and drain off the residual fat before putting them in the cooker.
• Never put frozen foods into a slow cooker; defrost ingredients before adding.
• Cut all ingredients into uniform pieces so they cook evenly.
• Put the densest ingredients—sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots and heavier root veggies such as parsnips, turnips and rutabagas—on the bottom. Then add the meat/fish/organ meat and top off with other veggies and fruit. I like to top it all off with green leafy veggies, great way to use beet greens and other more “exotic” greens.
• Grains absorb a lot of liquid; if you cook them with the other ingredients, you may have to add more water during the cooking process. This is especially true if you are using brown rice. I have found it best to add the grains and legumes that require only light cooking (oats, millet, whole wheat couscous, barley, bulgur, quinoa or lentils and split peas) three-quarters of the way through. Or, cook them separately and then mix them in afterward. (If you do prepare them separately, cook them in the excess broth from the stew, which is so tasty and rich in nutrients.)
• Meat and veggies may need to be broken into smaller pieces before feeding to your dog. Transfer the cooled meal to a large bowl, then use a potato masher, a spatula or the back of a wooden spoon (or your fingers, as I do) to mush it all together and tearing apart the chunks of meat. You can even put it into a food grinder or processor, if you like.
“A stick [immersion] blender works fine to combine the food (and liquefy the veggies which can be hard to digest if too large), even while hot. I then spoon the hot food into various sized mason jars, which speeds up the cooling process.”
• Let the food cool down before packaging it in whatever containers you intend to use for the refrigerator or freezer. Meals stay fresh for three to four days in the refrigerator. Defrost frozen meals in the refrigerator, not at room temperature on the counter.
“If you are camping, freeze meal-size portions as flat burgers.”
• Meat contains a lot of water and shrinks during any kind of cooking process. Find out just how much by consulting the USDA’s website, where you’ll find a table at catalog.data.gov/dataset/usda-table-of-cooking-yields-for-meat-and-poultry. This is important to understand because cooking a pound of chicken or meat results in much less meat in the finished product, meaning less calories and assorted nutrients. So in calculating calories and nutrients, it is the “after cooking” weight that should be considered.
• You can adjust the protein to carb levels by simply adding more meat to your recipe. You can even cook some additional meat separately and add it to the finished product at mealtime.
July 6 2017
Silicone bakeware is all the rage lately, and one type—a 16" x 11.5" nonstick baking mat aptly named the Pyramid Pan—can be used to whip up more than 500 dog treats in a jiff. The mat has lots of little pyramids and was originally intended for cooking meat using less fat. But flip it over and the pyramids become 556 little indentations, perfect molds for tiny dog treats. A friend pointed me to a recipe from Eileen Anderson's website that was designed to be used with these mats. In her preamble to the recipe, Anderson notes that you can use your favorite non-chunky treat recipe, but will probably need to run it through a food processor first. The dough should be smooth and about the consistency of pancake batter rather than cookie dough.
Place two upside-down mats on large cookie sheets or baking pans. Now comes the tricky part: filling the little holes. Using a spatula or silicone scraper spread the batter back and forth; you don’t want any on the boundaries between the holes, so it will take a few swipes.
TINY CHICKEN TREATS
Optional add-ins: Small amounts of flaxseed meal, chopped parsley, kelp
This recipe makes two full sheets, or around 1,100 tasty tiny treats.
Adapted from Eileen Anderson’s recipe for Simple Baked Chicken Treats at eileenanddogs.com
For the past few years, I have been using a dehydrator to make sweet potato jerky treats as well as to dry a summer’s bounty of fruit (especially luscious strawberries), tomatoes, herbs and mushrooms. It works great. Now, the experts at Excalibur® have a new product, a smaller counter-top, six-tray model, designed especially for making treats and other small-batch goodies. It comes with a pet treat recipe book, a plastic jerky gun and cookie cutters. Great for making trail mix for those summer camping trips as well! Crafting nutritious treats for yourself and your dog has never been easier (and this model is much quieter than the standard dehydrator).
The Excalibur EPT60W 6-Tray Compact Pet Treat Dehydrator 10"W x 12"H x 8"D, around $50
Cut meat into small pieces, put into a blender or food processor and blend.
Add 1/3 cup water, then puree into a thick paste. Remove to a bowl.
Add oatmeal and flour, stir well. Knead dough until well mixed. Roll out the dough on a floured board, to around 1/4 to 1/3 inch thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut out shapes.
Place in dehydrator for about 8 to 16 hours or until crunchy. Or bake on a parchment paper-lined cookie sheet at a very low temperature for 2 to 3 hours or until crunchy.
Adapted from Pet Treat Recipes by Excalibur®.
June 27 2017
Researchers have come up with another reason why we are attracted to irresistible photos of puppies and kittens, and another reason that we can never get our fill of these adorable photos.
Psychological scientists from Florida State University, led by James K. McNulty, are using cute animal photos to rekindle marriages that might be in the doldrums. These researchers were tasked by the Department of Defense to come up with a strategy “to help married couples cope with the stress of separation and deployment.” McNulty and his team set out “to develop a procedure that could help soldiers and other people in situations that are challenging for relationships.”
Using techniques developed by none other than Pavlov, they employed a positive feedback mechanism called evaluative conditioning. They would show images of a spouse that were repeatedly paired with very positive words or images (like puppies, kittens and bunnies). In theory, the positive feelings elicited by the positive images and words would become automatically associated with images of the spouse after practice.
Each spouse was asked to individually view a brief stream of images once every 3 days for 6 weeks. Embedded in this stream were pictures of their partner. Those in the experimental group always saw the partner’s face paired with positive stimuli (e.g., an image of a puppy or the word “wonderful”) while those in the control condition saw their partner’s face matched to neutral stimuli (e.g., an image of a button). Couples also completed measures of automatic partner attitudes and explicit marital satisfaction at baseline and once every two weeks for 8 weeks
The study concluded that “spouses who viewed their partners paired with positive stimuli demonstrated more-positive automatic partner attitudes than did control spouses, and these attitudes predicted increased self-reported marital satisfaction over time.”
As McNulty noted that the positive completion of the study:
“I was actually a little surprised that it worked,” McNulty explained. “All the theory I reviewed on evaluative conditioning suggested it should, but existing theories of relationships, and just the idea that something so simple and unrelated to marriage could affect how people feel about their marriage, made me skeptical.”
The Race to Save Animals in Peril
June 20 2017
Laura Schenone, author of The Dogs of Avalon: The Race to Save Animals in Peril, was not always a dog person. Afraid of most animals, she couldn’t understand those who devoted themselves to animal welfare causes, especially in light of the number of people who needed “saving.”
But then proded by her sons and a chance meeting with a dog rescuer, she adopted a Lurcher from Ireland and was inspired to learn more about sighthounds—in particular, Greyhounds and their mixed-breed relatives. In exploring Greyhound rescue, she has written a work that merits high praise and appreciation.
In this country, the phrase “dog rescue” is almost synonymous with Greyhounds, an elegant breed that until about 50 years ago was rarely seen as a pet. Now, it would be hard to find a pet Greyhound who has not been rescued. Many devoted rescue groups focus on rehabilitating and rehoming these dogs and, as importantly, on exerting intense political pressure on the racing industry. As a result, many U.S. tracks have been closed, a development I heartily applaud. According to the author, this movement, “by and large created by and led by women,” has its origins in both the U.S. and England.
I learned many interesting factoids in this book. For example, I live within a stone’s throw of the world’s first Greyhound racetrack, which was constructed in 1919 at Emeryville, Calif., by engineer Owen Patrick Smith. Smith developed the mechanical lure that took the blood out of the coursing bloodsport and made it less horrifying to watch. By 1931, betting on dog races became legal in many states, especially in Florida (one of the six remaining states that still has active racing).
As Schenone writes, “Greyhound racing took a feverish hold in England, Ireland and Australia.” She also notes that Ireland quickly became the European leader in breeding as well as in exporting dogs to tracks in other countries.
The Irish Parliament established the Greyhound Racing Board (Bord na gCon), which, since 1958, has funded all aspects of this industry. It was, after all, a business that provided people with jobs and “entertainment,” regardless of what it did to the dogs. As an unfortunate consequence, the breed was stigmatized as high energy and fierce, making it hard for them to be considered as suitable companion animals. Thus, even within humane communities, their plight was easily overlooked. Until, that is, 1974, when the Retired Greyhound Trust was established in England and became the first formal Greyhound adoption organization in the world, funded in part, it must be noted, by the industry itself.
While adoptions became popular in this country and in England, Ireland was a holdout. Enter Marion Fitzgibbon of Limerick Animal Welfare. For years, Fitzgibbon had worked tirelessly, tending to animal welfare cases, but it wasn’t until 1994, when she was asked by Louise Coleman of the Massachusetts group Greyhound Friends about the welfare of Ireland’s racing Greyhounds that those dogs came into her purview. Friends cautioned Fitzgibbon that “the Greyhound thing is just too big,” but even though she was recovering from cancer surgery, she was game to take on their plight.
In her book, Schenone describes just how severe that plight was. The Irish racing industry was responsible for killing thousands of dogs (in some truly grisly ways) as well as multiplying the dogs’ misery by selling less successful racers to tracks in Spain. But as the press published exposés, increasing numbers of people joined the rescue ranks, volunteering to help the dogs. Fitzgibbon was the lynchpin. As the Schenone notes, “Once Marion got started on the Greyhound cause, it was as though she had a fever inside her brain.” What she and her colleagues were able to do with scant resources is truly remarkable, and makes for a very compelling read.
The book’s title references the sanctuary funded by another admirable woman, Johanna Wothke, former schoolteacher and founder of Germany’s Pro Animale. After reading a report about the Irish racing industry, she offered Fitzgibbon her assistance. Almost singlehandedly, Wothke rallied donors to contribute more than 200,000 euros for the construction of a paradisiacal, cage-free sanctuary on 38 acres in Ireland’s County Galway. Marion named it Avalon and they created a shelter in the truest sense of the word. In bright airy rooms grouped under names such as Patience, Tolerance, Faithfulness, Honesty and Strength, rescued racers are cared for until new homes can be found for them (oftentimes in Germany).
Work continues for Ireland’s animal protectors, who have accomplished a lot in a country where, as the author notes, “the government gives the racing business so much money.” Let’s hope that momentum for the Greyhound cause continues to build. With people like those profiled in this engrossing book still very much part of the effort, and with the publication of this book itself, things just might change. Schenone does a splendid job in providing a history of a movement that has important cultural significance worldwide. The stories of animal welfare leaders who have been able to achieve so much powered by their love for dogs is truly inspirational and definitely worthy of your notice.
See book excerpt and author interview.
June 15 2017
In the spring of 1967, I moved to San Francisco and had a couple of months to become acclimated to the West Coast climate—both social and meteorological— before summer hit. Hard to believe that 50 years have passed, but that summer has stayed in my memory. In retrospect, it was a seminal moment, although the magnitude of this cultural watershed wasn’t apparent at the time. Even so, we knew that something was definitely happening here: be-ins; love-ins; and music by the likes of Janis, Jimi and Jerry and a long playlist of others flowing almost nonstop from clubs and parks. I think of that time now not only to mark its golden anniversary but also because, while so much has changed, some societal and political similarities have persisted over the past half-century. Still, for me, it was a great time and place to be a young adult—to actually be there. The good times really did rock (and roll).
Back to the present … I just read a research paper in Science Daily with the intriguing title, “Lifting your spirits doesn’t require many reps,” which concludes that simply getting out of your chair and moving around can reduce depression and lift your spirits. As I was reading it, my three dogs urged me to do just that, barking their need to see what that darn squirrel was up to in our back yard. Even though I was mildly annoyed with them for breaking my concentration, I knew I had something to thank them for. As a bonus, the paper’s lead author, Gregory Panza, observes that the study’s results suggest that the “more is better” mindset may not apply when it comes to the connection between movement and our sense of well being. So, even short bursts of mild activity, like walking around the block with your dog (or chasing them around the yard, as it was in my case), can improve your mood.
To help you tap into some good vibrations this summer, we chose “Journey” as our issue’s theme, trippin’ in both the metaphorical and the literal sense. To start off, we’ve packed this issue full of reasons for you and your dog to get out and about. We have 51 tips —one for each state and the District of Columbia—for exploring with your dogs, from “California to the New York Island,” as Woody Guthrie famously sang. We also give a special nod to the fine city of Austin for its five-star dog friendliness, as well as to New Mexico’s Sunrise Springs Spa Resort, where guests relax while helping with the socialization of future assistance dogs.
If you’re thinking about wandering overseas, you’ll be inspired by Belgian photographer John Thai’s work at Thailand’s Headrock Dogs Rescue, where he contributed his talents during a working “volunteer vacation.” Similar opportunities to help animals in need abound, many in scenically beautiful locales.
For our literature coverage— what would summer be without lots of good reading material?—we travel with author Laura Schenone as she covers the stories and meets the people who started Greyhound rescue in Ireland and beyond. We interview her and excerpt her book, The Dogs of Avalon, a thoroughly enthralling and inspiring read. We dip into our archives to bring back Michelle Huneven’s essay, “Lala the Loot,” from our anthology Dog Is My Co-Pilot. Her story, about a charming little dog whose cuteness inspires others to snatch her, has a happy ending, so be prepared to smile.
In another entry with a journey theme, Laurie Priest tells us how a kayak vacation to Baja California’s Sea of Cortez netted her a honey of a dog, along with an amazingly complicated return trip with the dog to her home in Massachusetts. Dana Shavin’s essay, “There Is Now Only This,” comes with another twist—how being dogless just doesn’t feel right. As she notes, “My meticulous tending to the ever-expanding needs of my dogs became the point of my life. It was what defined me.” Without that, who are we? Finally, our “Backstory” features a man who traveled into outer space with the support of his pups, whom he considered to be his family.
On the department front, Karen London tells us why bite inhibition matters and how it develops; Carin Ford provides pointers on starting a rescue; and Ernest Abel explains how the R.E.A.D. program, which is now in just about every country, came to be. Heather McKinnon gives us another reason to consider getting a doggy-pack for our dog; Erica Goss reveals how research into human color blindness was helped by a Poodle aptly named Retina; Sarah Wooten, DVM, shares new treatments for arthritis; and we interview the star and writer of “Downward Dog,” a new TV comedy we hope hits it big.
In this issue, you’ll find a new short feature, “Dog-eared.” If you’re like me and read a lot, you have no doubt encountered references to dogs in books that are not about dogs at all, perhaps as a refreshing plot turn or as part of a character’s environment. We’ve started collecting these dog-eared finds, and if you run across any you’d like to share with us, we would love to hear about your discovery (be sure to note the source’s title/author/page number). To kick it off, we found the perfect paragraph in Louise Erdrich’s wonderful LaRose; in a very few words, we come to know both characters better (see page 20 in The Bark Summer 2017).
Finally, as always, we have some unforgettable artwork for you to feast your eyes on.
We hope you take a liking to what we’ve put together, and that your own 2017 summer of love goes well. We look forward to connecting up with you again in fall. You can purchase a copy of The Bark Summer 2017 here or subscribe to get all these wonderful articles.
Dog's Life: Humane
June 12 2017
Laura Schenone’s new book, The Dogs of Avalon, is a quite departure from her two previous works, both of which focused on food. (Her first, A Thousand Years Over a Hot Stove, won the James Beard Foundation Book Award for culinary writing.) When she adopted an ex-racing Greyhound-mix from Ireland, all that changed. Bark editor-in-chief Claudia Kawczynska talks with her about the humane activists she profiles.
Bark: Why did you write this book, which is basically about the recent history of the Greyhound rescue movement?
Laura Schenone: When my oldest son was around 10, he really wanted a dog, but I had been putting him off because I didn’t want the trouble. Then I happened to meet a woman who was bringing Greyhounds over from Ireland and finding them homes in the U.S. because, as she explained, no one wanted them there. It seemed very strange to me, and I wasn’t interested.
But she got my attention when she sent me an email about a dog named Lily who needed a home. Lily had been found in terrible condition on the side of the road in Cork and brought to a sanctuary. The email came with photos chronicling her recovery from a bloody mess to the most beautiful dog in the world. I was captivated, and agreed to adopt her.
Later, I had the chance to meet Marion Fitzgibbon, former head of the Irish SPCA and one of the people responsible for Lily’s recovery. Marion told me about her decades rescuing animals and her fight against the Greyhound racing industry. When she said, “Every living being has the right to live and die with dignity,” I was quite taken aback. I’d never considered this. In many ways, the book is my effort to understand whether or not such an idea could possibly be true.
BK: What did you find most surprising about the movement’s Irish leaders?
LS: How brave they are. Marion and the women of Limerick Animal Welfare received calls on an emergency hotline that sent them to dangerous places to investigate reports of abuse. They found themselves in housing projects where there was frequent gunfire, and they went into camps of Irish itinerant people known as Travellers. I was also surprised by how big their concerns were. There is a stereotype of animal-rescue people being interested in helping animals to the exclusion of humans, but this wasn’t the case at all. Marion was clear that animals were her priority because they are at the bottom of society, but she saw people as a responsibility, too, and she demonstrated this in some very surprising ways.
BK: What did you find the most difficult to write about?
LS: The suffering of animals was very difficult for me. I had not been aware. But I really believe that if we look away from abuse, we continue the cycle. I coped by focusing on the compassion of people who were trying to make a difference, and also some of the comic foibles I found along the way.
The other difficult topic was the complexity of rural versus urban culture. I met dogmen who had very traditional values and believed, without reservation, that they were doing nothing wrong by breeding and racing dogs. A lot of these guys had grown up in racing and learned from their fathers, so there were deep emotional connections to the whole business. Many dogmen and women treat their animals well. I wanted to be fair and give them their due as human beings, but still be true to the reporting, which revealed enormous and needless animal suffering.
BK: Avalon sounds like an ideal sanctuary. Can you tell us more about Johanna Wothke and her Pro Animale organization, which helped fund and develop Avalon?
LS: Back in the 1980s, Johanna Wothke was an ordinary schoolteacher and mother of two young children living in a small village in Bavaria. She began taking stray animals into her home, and raised funds for their care by writing a little newsletter that described her work. Over the years, she got such tremendous support that she was able to expand and start sanctuaries all over Europe. Her daughter Natascha now runs Pro Animale with her. Today, they have 30 sanctuaries that give safe haven to abused and abandoned horses, cows, sheep, cats and dogs. These places are in beautiful settings and highly enriched; the level of care is extraordinary. Each sanctuary is a utopian paradise for animals. When Johanna learned about the plight of the Irish Greyhound, she called Marion to ask if she needed help. She is a very unusual person, greatly influenced by her father’s persecution under the Nazis. Marion calls her a miracle worker.
BK: How did Ireland became the leading breeder of Greyhounds and why/how does the government support this industry (including the race tracks)?
LS: Greyhounds have been in Ireland and England since the Celts brought their ancestors thousands of years ago. Because of the agricultural nature of Ireland, with its farms and open spaces, it became the leading Greyhound breeder. In the 1950s, the government got in the business and invested huge amounts of taxpayer money to subsidize it and create jobs. This continues today, even though there have been many reports and exposés about corruption, misguided financial decisions, dog abuse and doping. Somehow, the Irish parliament manages to protect the industry and make it untouchable even when it’s losing money. Most critics say that this is because so many high-ranking politicians own racing Greyhounds themselves and are personally and emotionally involved in the industry.
BK: What changes can you attribute to Marion’s work?
LS: When Marion became involved in the 1990s, she was a lone voice. Now, there are many more advocates, and several Greyhound adoption groups in Ireland now find the dogs homes in Europe. Because of this, the Irish Greyhound Board cannot ignore welfare issues, and has made greater investments in adoption. And that’s great. I do believe that the government will eventually have to give up its addiction to Greyhound racing if for no other reason than it simply does not make financial sense.
BK: It seems that the U.S. is ahead of Ireland in making these improvements in the lives of racing Greyhounds. Is that true?
LS: Yes. Back in the 1980s and ’90s, tens of thousands of dogs who couldn’t run anymore were put down in the United States, England and Ireland each year. People didn’t think that Greyhounds were suitable pets. They were considered high-strung and possibly dangerous. But then some people—largely women—in England and the U.S. began to change that, diverting the dogs from death into family homes. As more Greyhounds showed up on leashes in parks and on streets, people began to understand the dogs better and see them differently. Greyhounds have a natural prey drive, but otherwise, they are docile and sweet creatures and make great pets. This still hasn’t happened in Ireland for many reasons, some of which are related to the fact that Ireland didn’t escape British colonialism until 1922.
BK: What’s your goal for the book—what would you like readers to pay special attention to or help with?
LS: I hope the book will surprise people and make them think in new ways about how much animals contribute to our lives and the planet. I would be happy to know that people are inspired by the Greyhound advocates in my book and take some kind of action to build a more compassionate world. I include the web addresses of the organizations I wrote about so that my readers could learn more if they want to help.
BK: Since finishing this book, do you have any news (ideally, good) to share with us?
LS: More Greyhound tracks have closed down in both the U.S. and England, and even in Ireland, one track has been shut down. Overall, the world is moving toward a dramatically improved understanding of animals. I have complete faith that people like Marion Fitzgibbon will continue to carry us forward.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
May 17 2017
Our good friend, vet nutritionist, Donna Raditic, DVM, and her colleagues over at CANWI (Companion Animal Nutrition and Wellness Institute) are devoted to do research into the best ways to provide nutritious, healthy meals to our pets. Their next round of study involves investigating the possible drawbacks to feeding dogs solely with high heat processed, commercial foods. All the various aspects that are involved in manufacturing pet food are important: such as, ingredients, recipes, sourcing, the manufacturing plant and equipment, even the lining of food bags and cans, but CANWI now is going to be looking at the actual chemical reactions that take place when food is processed at high temperatures (which is the case in most commercial diets).
As Dr. Donna told us, “It is known that heat treatment of foods can cause a reaction between the proteins and sugars called the Maillard reaction which results in the formation of what is termed dietary Advanced Glycation End- Products or AGEs.” She further explains that:
Other “Studies have shown that elevated levels of AGEs in tissues are associated with age-related diseases in humans, rats, and dogs including diabetes, cataracts, osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis, renal disease, cardiovascular diseases, and cancers.”
So they are undertaking an independent study, not funded by the pet food industry (that is usually where food studies are performed). Their study will compare the levels of AGEs in processed and fresh food pet diets and evaluate the influence of feeding differing intakes of dietary AGEs. Preliminary data suggests some pet foods may contain over 122 time the AGEs found in processed human foods! Now imagine this is at every meal, on every day for the life of our dogs. It is so easy and convenient, and true that most of our dogs eat processed pet diets for their entire life.
The study will involve a team of veterinary nutritionists, food scientists and one of the most prestigious Veterinary Colleges in the country. And as Joe Bartges, DVM of the University of Georgia notes, “The study will also serve as the foundation for more research to help us identify and improve pet nutrition. It is an exciting and novel approach to the role of nutrition in the health of dogs and cats.”
We too are excited that this kind of study is being investigated from outside the pet food industry and by a team of dedicated (dog-loving) researchers. To get their study underway, they are reaching out to animal lovers during the week of 5/21 to 5/28 for a fundraiser drive seeking contributions (no amount is too small), so they can undertake the next phase of this critical research.
You can do to www.companionanimalnutritionandwellnessinstitute.org for more information and to donate, or check CANWI on Facebook too.
[What We Are Reading]
May 16 2017
There was a very interesting piece in a recent Washington Post advice column by Carolyn Hax. With a headline of “My girlfriend is crazy (maybe literally?) about her dog”, you can probably guess where this one is headed. A 32-year-old guy writes about the girlfriend he loves and hopes to marry but is complaining about the attention she is paying to her beloved 10-year-old dog who has an incurable kidney disease. But instead of having her dog put down, she is, as he writes:
“… spending insane amounts of money every month on “supportive care” (specialty vets – yes there is such a thing, meds, supplies, etc.) and plans to keep him alive as long as his “quality of life” is good.” She is even “she has to give him fluids under the skin every day, cook him special food and so on.”
And according to him, he thinks her level of care is misapplied, because, as he believes, he can’t help “but think of all of the worthwhile things she could be doing with that money rather than throwing it away on her dog, who as I said, is going to die anyway.”
And he then asks the advice columnist if girlfriend Amy has her priorities “screwed up” or if he is being insensitive.
Carolyn’s response was spot-on, leading off with “You’re going to die anyway. Should anyone cook you special food? Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.”
She then explains that the same argument for putting this level of care into a dog can also apply to discussions surrounding human health care. Why have palliative treatments or hospice care, if in fact someone is about to die? These are ethical questions that can apply to both species. She then explains that the compassionate relationship many people have with their dogs is based on the responsibility to provide care for them, in all phases of their lives. Some people, like Amy, take that responsibility and commitment very seriously.
And she explains that Amy “has her priorities, you have yours. A crucial area of compatibility is in respect for each other’s priorities where they differ. If you can’t, then you and Amy can’t.”
She wisely continues in analyzing his rather binary position—he had suggested that perhaps Amy was loving the dog more than she loves him:
“Instead of looking at it as a place to be right or wrong, try looking at the possibilities for acceptance. Is there room in your relationship for both of you to be right in your own ways?"
Love certainly is not a zero-sum game, in fact, many experts believe that opening your heart to loving animals can make us more accepting to loving and being loved by others. We don’t have a limited supply of “love” and expressing compassion and care just expands our ability to love and to be empathic. I do hope that Amy’s boyfriend took this wonderful advice to heart.
What advice would you have added? Have you experienced something similar yourself where a friend, lover or family member thought you were too over-the-moon for your dog?
April 11 2017
For the past couple of decades researchers have been looking at the role that pets, especially dogs, have to play in rates of allergies in children. Many have found that, what is being termed the hygiene hypothesis, is indeed correct, meaning that a little dirt early in life helps to stave allergic diseases, including obesity.
A new study by Anita Kozyrskyj a pediatric epidemiologist of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, found further evidence of this dog-human linkage and how this lessens the development of everything from obesity to asthma.
Starting in 2013 she wondered if she could pinpoint what and how this might be happening. Her team collected fecal samples from 4-month-old infants in the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development (CHILD) pilot study. Of the 24 respondent infants, 15 lived in house with at least a dog or cat.
What they found was that within the households with pets, the children had a higher diversity of microbes in their guts. Microbes, as we now know, can be a good thing for our gut microbiome and immune systems actually develop alongside our gut’s “germs.” Meaning that if babies grow in a more “sterile” pet-free environment, they would be more unprepared to “fight” germs as they grow up.
Kozyrskyj noted, "The abundance of these two bacteria (Firmicutes microbes) were increased twofold when there was a pet in the house," and added that the pet exposure was shown to affect the gut microbiome indirectly—from dog to mother to unborn baby—during pregnancy as well as during the first three months of the baby's life.
Also interestingly, this study suggested that the presence of pets in the house reduced the likelihood of the transmission of vaginal GBS (group B Strep) during birth, which causes pneumonia in newborns and is prevented by giving mothers antibiotics during delivery.
Kozyrskyj’s study confirms and expands on the work that many other researchers have shown that some “dirt” can be beneficial and help to ward off disease. Including one, conducted at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland in 2012, that concentrated on infants during their first year, and investigated the effect of contact with dogs on the “frequency of respiratory symptoms and infections.” Information about the length of time a dog spent indoors was also gathered, and turned out to be one of the key indicators.
The results were eye-opening. Children with dogs at home were healthier overall, had fewer infectious respiratory problems, fewer ear infections and were less likely to require antibiotics. Researchers considered these results supportive of the theory that children who live with dogs during their early years have better resistance throughout childhood. They also found that the effect was greater if the dog spent fewer than six hours inside, possibly because the longer dogs are outdoors, the more dirt they bring inside with them. The more dirt, the more “bacterial diversity.” This diversity is thought to have a protective influence by helping the child’s immune system to mature — that is, respond more effectively to infectious agents.
Then a 2013 study conducted by the University of California, San Francisco, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, found that living with dogs may prevent children from developing asthma. Mice fed a solution containing dust from homes with dogs developed a resistance to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a childhood airway infectious agent. RSV, which is common in infants, is linked to a higher risk of childhood asthma. According to Dr. Susan Lynch of the study team, “Exposing the gastrointestinal tract to pet dust and other microbes early in life prepares it to respond appropriately to a variety of invaders. But since our modern lifestyles involve living in immaculate houses, our immune systems often overreact instead.” Early childhood is a critical period for developing protection against allergies and asthma, and exposure to pets can help.
The idea that our microorganisms may to some extent be collectively beneficial is intriguing. People and dogs have been exchanging microbes for at least 30,000 years, since the first little cave girl kissed the first proto-dog puppy smack on the muzzle. That’s a long history of sharing. It’s possible that our microorganisms are at least symbiotic, and perhaps even played a role in the dramatic domestication of the dog.
As was reported in Nature: Researchers suspect that our long association with canines means that human and dog microbiomes may have developed in tandem. The microbiome of a baby growing up without a dog (and of a puppy growing up without a human) is, in a sense, incomplete. “All of the people alive today probably had ancestors who lived in tribes that hunted with dogs,” says Jack Gilbert, director of the Microbiome Center at the University of Chicago in Illinois.”
Since 2013, Canadian researcher, Kozyrskyj has expanded her pilot study from 24 to 746 infants, around half of whom were living in households with pets. Her team then compared the babies' microbial communities.
The results were basically the same, microbial life flourished in the infants living with pets. And not only that but the “team was now able to show that babies from families with pets (70% of which were dogs) had higher levels of two types of Firmicutes microbes — Ruminococcus and Oscillospira, which have been associated with a lower risk of allergic disease and leanness, respectively.
“Pet exposure can reduce allergic disease and obesity” later in life, added Hein Min Tun, a veterinarian and microbial epidemiologist and a member of Kozyrskyj’s research team.
And while it might be too soon to predict how this finding will play out in the future, they don’t rule out the concept of a “dog in a pill” as a preventive tool for allergies and obesity. Or, as we much rather see, “dog as the pill.”
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